Joann The Life Coach

Joann Filomena is October’s (and our very first) Reimagining featured profile. Joann is a professionally certified life coach and weight loss coach, as well as producer and host of the Widow Cast podcast and author of two books, Widowed and The Widow Coach. Through her business, Joann The Life Coach, she trains and certifies widows to become Widow Life Coaches.

Headshot 300 dpiJoann Filomena says about every 20 years she has the opportunity to reimagine her life.

“From 20-40 I was a wife and mom raising a daughter in northern California,” she said. “After my divorce, I met and married my second husband, Jim, moved to the Bronx and we were married 20 years. That was my second reimagined life. The third reimagined life I will have, the next 20 years, will be coaching.”

Joann’s husband, Jim Filomena, died suddenly at the end of 2014, and as she sat alone on New Year’s Eve, less than 48 hours after his death, two thoughts went through her mind: Jim didn’t know when they celebrated 2014 that it was going to be his last year, and she had no way of knowing if 2015 would be the last year of her life.

“I determined as a resolution that I would face this New Year in my life as if it were the last. I told myself that there should be no day of this year that I waste my life doing something that makes me miserable. It was the way I wanted to honor Jim. Because if Jim had known when we welcomed in 2014 that it was going to be the last year of his life, he would have squeezed out every last drop,” she said.

The first change Joann made was leaving a job that had become stifling; one that in the past had given her the opportunity to coach her teams, which was fulfilling, but recent reorganization in the company removed that opportunity.

Joann knew that she had innate coaching abilities, a passion to share knowledge and encourage others, but had never heard the term “life coach.” After some research, she found a school and received certification. Her first coaching was on weight loss through her podcast, Weight Coach. Meanwhile, as she tried to navigate her new life as a widow, she looked for books and other resources to help her, turning also to iTunes to find podcasts for widows, but found nothing.

So one day she turned on her microphone and started recording about how she got through the first year after Jim’s death and how coaching helps. Ninety-six episodes later, Widow Cast is still helping widows regain the confidence to rebuilding their life. Joann covers everything from managing the early days of “widow fog,” that she describes as a way the brain protects us through shock, to managing fears about money. She also has created a 12-week Widow Coaching certification program, where she trains her students on how thoughts and expectations impact the life we live. Students who go through the training are certified as Widow Life Coaches so that they can go back into their own communities to help coach widows while also, as coaches, gather clarity on how they want to move forward in their own lives.

“So many widows were coming to me after trying grief counseling, grief groups or being sent to a therapist. They were all saying the same things—that they didn’t go back after the first or second appointment. Or they continued on, but didn’t feel better. I would ask, is your therapist a widow? Was your grief counselor a widow? The answer was always ‘no,'” she said. “How can anyone really understand what becoming a widow does to you if they have not experienced it?”

One of the biggest hurdles a woman faces after losing a spouse is loss of self-confidence. It’s as if the ego is ripped bare, Joann says.

“After becoming widowed, no matter how independent you may be, you begin questioning your ability about everything. It can create fear of making decisions and of moving forward.  And widows can stay stuck in the misery of emotions. Grief is a gift, but when it gets mixed in with guilt, resentment, anger, and denial, grief gets distorted. When that happens, the misery becomes a widow’s new comfort zone–misery and isolation,” Joann explained.

“This is the widow who will stay stuck in her life 15 or more years because pain and suffering is the new normal and it’s hard to push out of what is the new normal–to move from darkness to light,” she said. “For some, the idea that they could create a whole new life is foreign; that you get to hold on to those memories you had with your husband while also creating a new life.”

On the contrary, when a widow says to her that she doesn’t really know what she needs to do, but she’s tired of being stuck and of just going through the motions, Joann knows that widow will do the work and gain skills that will change forever how she looks at life.

“When widows begin to rebuild self-belief, that they can do something to move life forward again, they lift their head up and begin on a path of reimagining their life,” she said.

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