Rebuilding Life – An Interview With a Pro Who “Gets” Us

You know those stories we all tell about our kids’ care team professionals who don’t have a clue? The ones who clearly don’t know at all what life is like outside their 15-minute office visit with our child and her challenges? My guest today is NOT one of those professionals! Harriet Cabelly is a Life Coach who’s also a mom of an grown child with special needs. She specializes in helping individuals and families rebuild their lives – and grow into even better ones – despite challenges they face. I’m excited to introduce her to everyone here today!

Q: Harriet, please tell us a little about you and what you do.

I’m a mid-lifer, recently transitioned from 20 years as an early childhood social worker in the New York City public school system to working as a Life Coach. My passion is in working with people who’ve been through some kind of loss or life change – ie. divorce, illness, death, disability – and helping them rebuild their life towards meaning and goodness. I had wonderful experiences giving parenting workshops and presentations on my job. I also facilitated parent book clubs from the perspective of personal growth and improvement. I’d like to take these group  interactions/skills on the road and do some ‘privately’.

Some of my highlights of the last 10 years?

  1. a Patch Adams clowning trip to Sicily
  2. being puppy raisers to a gorgeous yellow lab who went on to pass his tests and become a service dog for a boy with cerebral palsy;
  3. two hiking trips – to the Swiss Alps and to the Dolomites (Italian Alps)
  4. a safari in South Africa (one for my bucket list)
  5. ballroom dancing classes (another bucket list item)  

(Does reading these not inspire all of us still-nesters to hope for our own bucket lists and a little adventure later in life?? It does for me!)

Q: How did you come to want to help those who are trying to follow new dreams once old ones shattered?

My middle daughter, Nava, has disabilities. We learned of this when she was 9 months old. Needless to say, I was distraught upon finding out she was not ‘normal’ and would forever have disabilities. Stricken with grief, I went to hear a lecture given by a psychologist on, grieving the loss of the perfect child. His words touched upon every bone and nerve in my body. I called him the next day and started my year in therapy. I struggled with the ‘why’s’ – why my child, why me….I was in a pretty deep dark place.

After a year of hashing out those unanswerable questions and working through some heavy feelings, I came out with the simplistically brilliant answer of… there are no answers to the Why questions. But there are answers to the How’s and What’s.

This  psychologist, Dr. Ken Moses of Evanston, Illinois, spoke of rebuilding new dreams when our old dream of the perfect child has been lost or shattered. After working through the difficult feelings of grief, the work is in rebuilding new dreams and hopes that are more realistic to what is, as opposed to what one planned, hoped for and expected. One has to grief the loss and then rebuild with what is.

This certainly applies to all losses; to anything that hasn’t met our expectation. We must readjust ourselves to the reality of what is. And go from there. Therein lies the work; and hard work it is. It is an ongoing process; one that must be revisited time and again. Life transitions, milestones, changes, bring up old and new feelings of grief, which must be dealt with.

It is most meaningful for me to be a part of this journey with others. It’s painful but can be  wonderfully transformative. It is only by Going through the pain that one can Come through the pain, towards the light. 

Q: What’s one obstacle you’ve faced pursuing your vision to work with others in this way? How’d you overcome it?

A few years after my year of therapy with Dr. Moses, when Nava was about 3, I went back to school for a master’s in social work. I was very inspired by his work; I felt ‘helped’ by him and  I wanted to work with people in the same way. I wanted to  help people work through loss and grief  so they could go on to function and live relatively well despite….

It took me 5 years to complete my degree, part time. Soon after that, I got divorced (a loss to most, but a ‘gain’ to me). I fortunately got a job in the school system where the hours were great for a single mom and the vacation weeks and summers off a real plus. It wasn’t the job I had originally wanted when I thought about being a social worker, but I have to say it was perfect for raising kids. My ‘vision’ had been to go into private practice but reality set in and the school job fit the bill for the time. I did eventually develop a small practice after school  hours, but after a few years I closed up shop. It became too much. I didn’t have the time needed to really work to grow it.

With my three daughters growing up and moving on and out, I knew I wanted to finally think seriously about leaving the school system and go out on my own. I took a life coaching course because I was drawn to the How’s and What’s; the ideas of taking action, taking steps towards one’s goals. Feelings are explored but to a more limited degree. The emphasis is on movement and change.

I wanted to help people create good lives despite their challenges, their losses.

Q. What encouragement do you have for parents reading this right now?

  • Get to the How’s of life –  How to thrive and pursue your dreams anyway. 
  • Work on yourself.  Meditate. Bring forth gratitude each day. Appreciate the good around you, however small you feel it is at the moment. Bring joyful times into your daily life, whether it’s a walk, a book, quiet time; nurture yourself in a way that brings you pleasure. Exercise to keep you strong physically and mentally – it really works.
  • Purpose – hold onto that purpose for it is what keeps you going and getting up each day. When Nava was in the hospital for one year, my purpose kept me going with strength and sanity. I woke up each day to a clear purpose to be by her side as a cheerleader, encouraging her in her most arduous work of recovering and regaining her bodily functions and motor skills.
  • Don’t run away from the painful feelings. Work them through. Allow yourself permission to feel badly. You will come out the other end with daylight on your side.
  • Don’t wait for later. We’ve got one life to live here, live it with purpose and intention. There will always be bad times and difficulties; put in and create the good and meaningful times and experiences. Infuse your life with what you love.  Don’t wait for later. Now is the time.

Q. Where can people find you online?

Please visit my website and blog where you can read articles, blog postings and interviews with inspirational people. See my most recent interview with Temple Grandin. Or check out my recent post on Tiny Buddha here. Please feel free to email me as well. My email address is:

Thank you so much, Harriet! Grateful for all you’re doing to support families like all of us here at 5 Minutes for Special Needs!


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