Baby daughter's death put woman on path to her business

Posted: November 18, 2018 / Source: Ahwatukee Foothills News

You don’t expect someone who wins a business award to talk about death at the luncheon when they make their acceptance speech.

But Terri Waibel of Ahwatukee not only did that, but told the throng at the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s ATHENA Awards luncheon last month that she had left an empty chair at her table in memory of any loved one whose death the guests were mourning – along with a box for them to drop a card with that loved one’s name so she could light a candle in their memory that night and say their names aloud.

Waibel’s business is “listening to grieving hearts.”

The longtime Ahwatukee resident, a 2001 Mountain Pointe High School and ASU graduate, is a psychotherapist and grief counselor whose Center for Compassion in Chandler offers counseling for a wide range of people with problems – but specializes in helping those whose grief is seemingly insurmountable, particularly in the wake of sudden, traumatic death.

A licensed clinical social worker by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners she also is certified as a grief counselor by the MISS Foundation, the Center for Loss and Trauma and the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust.

Her ATHENA Young Professional Award was the Phoenix Chamber’s recognition of “exemplary achievement,’ leadership within her profession and dedication to the community.

Waibel hadn’t set out on that career path when she got her bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s in social work from ASU.

In 12 years of social work, she has had a diverse array of jobs counseling a diverse array of populations and also is a field supervisor for ASU students pursuing a master’s degree in social work.

But traumatic death nudged her into developing the specialty she and her business focus on.

The unexpected death of her brother in 2006 began what she calls “my own grief journey,” but it was the 2012 death of her second of three children at birth that propelled her into what she mainly does now.

“Terri Waibel harnessed her personal grief to create a space for others to feel and honor their grief by founding the Center for Compassion,” the Phoenix Chamber said in announcing her award.

Waibel recalled that as she grieved the death of her daughter, “it was difficult to find well-trained providers who could help me in my grief, good therapists who were trained to work with grieving people.”

So, she immersed herself in study that eventually positioned her to be that person she couldn’t find and in 2014, she became a certified grief counselor.

“It was really important to me that I honor my daughter to do that work,” she said.

Citing her work of providing “therapeutic support to individuals, children, and families enduring the death of a beloved family member,” the Chamber said, “Every day, Waibel illustrates how to have a mindful relationship with grief while living a life of meaning.”

Indeed, the luncheon itself illustrated the depth and breadth of the need she aims to address: At the end of the event, 50 people had dropped names of loved ones into the box.

“Many people approached the table after my acceptance speech to share the names of their beloveds that have died,” she said. “It was simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful.”

She said that while pastors or hospice counselors provide valuable support to people mourning the loss of a loved one, traumatic death often inflicts a deeper, more stubborn kind of pain that can paralyze people with grief.

“Our culture is not good at handling sudden death,” she said.

Moreover, such death often triggers other long-standing trauma and issues that a person had put on a shelf or thought they had been managing.

“I come to this work with a broken open heart and a willingness to explore unanswerable questions,” she tells people on her website. “My approach to therapy is ‘eclectic’ in that I call upon many ideas and theories to be present with the unfolding path of others.

“I carry a deep reverence for being present with those who are suffering as a result of grief, trauma, and loss. I have been profoundly honored to work with individuals, groups, children, and families coping with traumatic grief following the sudden death of a loved one, including the loss of a child, sibling, partner, or parent.”

Along the way, she makes personal discoveries as well, and talks of how “my heart has also been touched by the many stories of trauma that have been fully entrusted to me by some of the bravest humans I’ve known. Bearing witness to broken hearts is truly the most meaningful work.”

Her practice is relatively small, but Waibel said she hopes to grow it so that she can build a staff and eventually provide free or low-cost counseling to the many people she feels need it.

It’s not about making money or success as most people understand that term.

When the Phoenix Chamber asked her the key to continued success, Waibel replied: “My deepest wish is that when I die, because I will, that people will remember me for a legacy of love and compassion always.”

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