What is it about dark humor and why are we drawn to it when wrestling with painful life events? Laughter, especially the kind that wells up from a shared understanding of heartbreak, can be a surprising aspect of grief. Harry Jensen's father died of stage 4 colon cancer in January of 2017. Harry turned to stand-up comedy as a way to put his grief into words that often spark discomfort and uncertainty, but also serve as inspiration for people in the audience to open up about their own grief.
We discuss prompting uncomfortable laughter, Father's Day, and how the intersections of identity can affect grief.
In 2017, pop singer-songwriter Neil Davis, was about to release his second album when his father died suddenly of cardiac arrest. In that moment, everything in Neil's world changed, including his album release plans. A few months ago in March of 2019, Neil released a new single, Not Better, which explores the heartbreak of grief and the questions we are left with when someone dies. Questions about gone-ness and what does the term better actually mean when it comes to grief?
You can find Not Better in iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your music. Stay tuned for more music from Neil! Music for this episode, Not Better, was written and performed by Neil Davis.
What do you remember about being 3 1/2? If you’re anything like most of us, your memories are hazy. Maybe you have an image of the room you slept in or a vague sense of what it felt like to be hugged by a family member. What you likely don’t have are clear, articulated ones of interactions and relationships, the kind that older children, teens, and adults can access when it comes to remembering someone who has died. Mary Plouffe, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who had a clear and professional sense of how young children understand death and grief. This sense became more personal though when her sister Martha died, leaving behind a 3 1/2 year old daughter, Liamarie. Mary recently published her memoir, I Know It in My Heart, Walking Through Grief With a Child, about her experience of grieving Martha's death and doing so alongside Liamarie, who was wrestling to understand her mother's death and what it meant to grow up motherless.
In Episode 111 we talked with Marie, whose husband Jonathan died suddenly and very unexpectedly from a drug overdose. In this episode we’re talking with another young adult whose spouse died, but this time after almost a decade of living with cancer. John and Melissa met back in the 90’s and dated for a few years before getting married. For John, this was a relationship like none other. One that was rooted in a deep sense of love, appreciation, and care. Melissa helped John to feel feelings he didn’t think he would ever experience. Melissa died just over two years ago and in the past few months, John put plans in place to radically change up his life. He’s exploring the question - How do we love and care for ourselves in a way that mirrors how the people we’re grieving loved and cared for us when they were alive?
In the summer of 2016, Marie and Jonathan were newly married and living in Brooklyn, NYC. One day in August, Marie flew back from a trip, expecting to find Jonathan waiting for her at the airport. When he wasn't there, she thought it was just the continuation of a conflict they’d had, so she spent the night at her mom’s house and headed to their apartment in the morning. What she found when she walked in would change every element of her and her life.
There’s nothing like grief to take us completely out of the moment. We get pulled into the past where we try to remember everything we can while also ruminating over what we wish we had said or done differently. At the same time, we leap to the future, anticipating what events will be like without the person we are grieving.
Dr. Jessica Thomas, PhD, LMFT, who focused her dissertation research on using mindful photography with anticipatory grief, now helps people in grief explore this process of creating images as a way to ground themselves in the actual moment. Dr. Thomas is the president of the board of the NW Association for Death Education and Bereavement Support. She is also a professor at Lewis & Clark College and has a private psychotherapy practice supporting clients in grief, life transitions, and other challenges.
Back before you could ask Google anything from, “What’s the best way to clean shower grout?” to “How do I grieve my parent?” when it came to answering these kinds of questions, we turned to bookstores and libraries to search for answers. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, even if you did go looking for information about grief, you’d be more likely to find a dense, clinical textbook than something that could help you understand what you were going through. Then in 1994, Hope Edelman published her groundbreaking book, Motherless Daughters. A book that spoke to thousands of women grieving their mothers. Brennan Wood, Executive Director of The Dougy Center, was one of those readers. Soon after the release of Motherless Daughters, Hope and Brennan met for the first time on the Leeza Gibbons daytime talk show. Twenty-five years later they’re together again for a conversation about being motherless daughters who grew up to be motherless mothers.
Learn more about Hope's writing and work.
Judith Finneren's husband Ralph, or Ralphie as she liked to call him, was hit and killed while riding his bike in the summer of 2011. Even when grief and anger are close companions, most of the time there isn't a particular person to blame when someone dies. In Judith's case there was. A young man named Brett who in a moment of distracted driving ended her husband's life. Soon after Ralph's death, Judith went to film school where she created the documentary, Ghostbike, which explores her grief and also her attempts to connect with Brett. We discuss love, blame, forgiveness, and the tenets Judith holds onto in her grief.
Judith also wrote Remember His Name, a book about Ralph, their life together, and her grief.
Sweaters, shoes, a favorite coffee mug, the pen always angled a certain way - items, big and small, form the landscape left behind when someone dies. Nicole Leslie was 15 when her mother died and at first it was too painful to go through her things. A few years later, as she and her sister began the process, Nicole discovered clothing she had never seen her mother wear before. This discovery became the originating point for Nicole's turn to fashion and creativity as ways to express her grief. She started Remembrance Wardrobe, a blog where she posts photos of herself wearing outfits that are a combination of clothing from her mother, grandmother, and her own collection. She pairs each outfit with a line from her mother's poetry, opening a window into the life of a woman who lives on in Nicole's memories and creative expressions.
Check out all of Nicole's posts at Remembrance Wardrobe.
When grief enters our world, many of us expect to cry and feel frustrated, but we aren’t as prepared for the intense fear and worry that can also be part of loss. Someone being 10 minutes late getting home sparks visions of a car crash or getting a call from the hospital. A random ache or feeling extra tired leaves us thinking we must be dying. Maybe sleep eludes us as we spin over how to do day to day life without our people. Sometimes the hardest part about anxiety is how it can catch us off-guard, either because we’ve never dealt with it before, or because the anxiety we already knew well has ratcheted up to untenable levels.
Claire Bidwell Smith, a licensed counselor, author, mother, and grieving daughter recently published her new book, Anxiety, the Missing Stage of Grief, that delves into all the ways anxiety can be part of grief. Before Claire was 25, both of her parents died of cancer. Her adolescence and young adulthood were deeply etched with their illnesses, treatment, and deaths. Out of this devastating grief grew her desire to help others facing similar situations.
Be sure to visit Claire's site to learn more about her work.
When someone dies, many of the people left behind seek out formal sources of help like a therapist or traditional support group. What happens though when those avenues don’t feel like the right fit? This is what Carla Fernandez and Lennon Flowers, co-founders of The Dinner Party, ran into after they both lost a parent to cancer in their early twenties. Since their first gathering in 2010, The Dinner Party has grown to over 275 hosts in 100 cities. It is a community made up of those ages 21-40 who are seeking connection, friendship, and meaningful conversations about grief and how it affects our lives.
Check out The Dinner Party to find a table near you or start one in your community.
The list of things that are hard to do when you’re grieving is long - eating, sleeping, focusing, surface-level chit-chat, remembering where you left your phone, planning for the future, or forgiving yourself for the past. Throw work or school into that mix and it gets really tough to feel like you can show up and function at the same level you're used to. When Alica Forneret went back to work after her mother's sudden death, she found the opposite of what she needed in terms of support. That experience inspired her to explore ways companies and organizations can better support their grieving employees as well as small things each of us can do to attend to our grief in the workplace.
Alica Forneret writes for a number of publications and websites, including, SAD Magazine, Modern Loss, and Vancouver Magazine. She also created the Dead Moms Club lapel pins as a way to express grief more publicly and connect with others who are grieving their mothers. Check out Alica's website with articles, resources, and even recipes for supporting yourself and others who are grieving in the workplace and beyond.
In grief, having the opportunity to tell your story can be vital. Grieving children and adults want the chance to talk about the people they are grieving and express how these losses have altered their lives. StoryCorps, a non-profit working to preserve and share the stories of people from all backgrounds, recently launched a new project in partnership with the New York Life Foundation called Road to Resilience, Memories That Move Us Forward. As part of this project, StoryCorps is partnering with children's bereavement programs across the US to offer grieving children and their adults the opportunity to record a conversation and tell their story. The Dougy Center is honored to be one of those partnership sites. Our guest, Modupeola Oyebolu, is a national facilitator with StoryCorps and she joins us to talk about what it's like to grieve both in the US and her home country of Nigeria, the power of storytelling, and resilience she's witnessed in recording conversations with grieving families.
Check out Olivia's featured Road to Resilience story.
What is it like to grieve for a father you know only from stories and photos? In August of 2018, Joy Wallace traveled to Tinian Island to see the place where her father, Kenneth, died when the plane he was flying as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corp in World War II crashed. Joy's father died three months before she was born and she grew up with a longing to visit the place where he died. Her trip, which was filled with synchronicities, broke open the grief she'd been carrying for over seven decades.
Okay, so it’s not really a grief party, but it is Grief Out Loud’s 100th episode. When we started this show four years ago in January of 2015, we weren’t sure we’d do more than 10 episodes, never mind 100 and we have you, listeners and guests, to thank for helping us reach this milestone. In the past four years, we’ve had the honor of hosting 99 storytellers - people coming forward with the emotions and thoughts that may never have been spoken aloud before. For many of us, grief resides in the shadows. It’s tucked behind, kept quiet, and told how to behave. And by behave what most of us mean is please stop existing. Stop tugging on our hearts and taking up space in the vacancy left behind by the people who have died. But what we’ve learned is grief doesn’t take kindly to being told what to do and it really doesn’t love being told to shush. So that’s what we hoped to create with this show - a place where people can talk openly about the swirl of thoughts and feelings that come with grief. A place where those who are feeling lost can come for connection and flashlights of hope. A place to feel less alone and maybe a little less lonely.
As a way of thanking listeners and guests for making Grief Out Loud what it is, we wanted to turn the show over to you today. We asked you to tell us what the show has meant to you. Thank you to everyone who helped make this episode happen!
For Camila, death came barreling into her world with zero warning. When she was 21 her world shifted on its axis on an average morning in September. She woke up in the house she shared with her mother in the Bay Area expecting just another day. Then, she went to check on her mother, only to find that she had died in her sleep. There were no warning signs. No indicators that anything was amiss. Her mom was there and then she wasn’t. In the 9 years since that morning, Camila has grieved intensely and intently. She’s searched for connections with her mother, finding an outlet for expression in writing.
Check out Camila's recently published book of poetry: The Progression of Grief.
Full text of the poem Camila reads at the end of the episode:
November is National Children's Grief Awareness Month and as part of the effort to raise awareness about children's grief, the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) invited people to write a letter to their younger grieving selves. In this mini-episode, we share two of those letters. One by Brennan Wood, the Executive Director of The Dougy Center, to her 12-year-old self. The second letter is a compilation of suggestions and advice for the staff at The Dougy Center. To learn more about the NAGC and their work to support grieving children, visit their site.
On a random Monday morning in the Bay Area of California, Beth Duckles realized too late that she was in the wrong lane of the highway. A lane that would take her across the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. This unexpected trip across the bay bridge would alter Beth’s life. Swerving to avoid a parked car, she watched a man walk to the edge of the bridge, climb onto the railing, and step off. She called 911 and somehow managed to drive across the bridge until she found a safe place to stop on the other side. In ways she couldn’t imagine at the time, witnessing this man’s death would become an experience that deeply connected her to long-standing family grief and her own mother’s sudden death four years later.
Check out Beth's powerful essay about this experience.
When someone dies, we often discover things about them we didn’t know before. Those discoveries can range from mundane preferences like realizing your dad didn’t love chocolate to huge revelations that alter your entire perspective on the person and the life you shared with them. What author Jan Canty discovered about her husband after he was murdered changed everything and left her shocked and angry. Now, 30 years after her husband’s death, Jan is working on a book entitled Till Death We Did Part: A Memoir of Deception/Murder and Recovery.
Ways to connect with Jan and find out more about her upcoming book:
What does transformation mean and how does it connect (or not) to grief? How can people make their way into everything that comes with this kind of loss and still keep track of themselves?
Phelica Glass is a Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker in Topeka, Kansas. In her private psychotherapy practice, Phelica works with children, teens, adults, and families who are facing major life transitions, including grief.
In this episode, we talk about :
As much as schools are places of learning, students don’t leave their lives at the door when they enter the building. They bring their whole selves to the classroom, and for many, that includes grief. We talk with school social worker, Kate Sherwood, LCSW, about how to support students and the entire school community when grief shows up. Kate shares ideas for acknowledging grief, notifying the school community when a death occurs, and the power of bringing students together in their grief.
For more information about Judi's House/JAG Institute's Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM), check out their site.
In 1955 Jack was ten and living with his mother, who was raising him alone. She and Jack’s father adopted him when he was a tiny infant, which meant she was the only mother he knew. Jack’s mother and father got divorced when he was really young, so for the most part, she was also his only parent. One night, Jack’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving him not only in deep grief but unsure of where he would end up and who he would live with.
Halfway through her junior year of high school, Lily's father died suddenly of a heart attack. In shock and angry about everything that would be different in her life without her father, Lily was devastated. As she made her way into this new landscape of grief, Lily sought to fulfill her father’s wish that she do what he didn’t have the opportunity to do - graduate high school, attend college, and grow into the powerful whirlwind of a woman he raised her to be. Lily shares tangible suggestions for teachers, counselors, family, and friends on how to show up and support a teen in grief.
Be sure to watch Lily's powerful documentary about her father.
Ryan's favorite person in the world is his older sister. Seven years ago he got one of those phone calls - the kind that changes your life forever. In that call, he found out his sister was dealing with an aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis. Since then, he's learned a lot about how to be a support for his sister while also taking care of his own emotional, mental, and physical health. Ryan shares suggestions for what to ask (and not ask) when someone's family member is dealing with an illness and also what he's discovered about caring for someone while honoring their agency and independence.