Befriending Grief

What's Your Grief Podcast / What's Your Grief Podcast : Litsa Williams

The What's Your Grief Podcast: grief support for those who like to listen.

In this grief podcast, Eleanor Haley, MS and Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C, the mental health professionals behind the website and book 'What's Your Grief', leave no stone unturned in demystifying the complicated and messy world of living life after loss. One digestible topic at a time, Haley and Williams distill topics ranging from grief theory to coping. Grief is sad and confusing, but your grief support doesn't have to be. You can listen here by using the player above or listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Below we have provided a transcript of the episode.

Hey and welcome to the What's Your Grief Podcast. I am Litsa. And today, excitingly, I am joined by Mary, who is a member of our team, who is uh filling in this week for Elanor. Though, I say filling in, but in general, we hope to have people coming in more often for some conversations with us. It just happens that this week, Eleanor was juggling a lot of family obligations. So, it made the most sense for Mary to tune in her stead with us and chat. So I wanted to kind of kick off by giving Mary a chance to introduce herself. I know those of you from The Hub who are turn tuning in live already know Mary well. But some of you who are just regular podcast listeners might not know Mary. So, Mary welcome and please introduce yourself to everybody.

Thank you. This is my first podcast appearance. I'm very, I'm excited about it. Hi everyone. I'm Mary Monera. I go by she/they pronouns. And I'm based in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. I've been working for What's Your Grief now for a year and a half and I'm all about What's Your Grief. And I also have a background in hospice work, chaplain, SE work. I do, I have been doing a lot of work in the grief space and in the death care space for a long time. It's just what I do and how I'm wired. So, I'm really glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Yeah. I'm really excited too. And you know, today I think when we were thinking about a topic for today to chat about, the topic that came up really naturally, I think because it's one of the points, at least for me and how I think about why you have been such a great, there's lots of reasons you've been such a great fit for the What's Your Grief team, but I think one of the reasons is just sort of even though our styles are like really different in many ways about things, I think our philosophical approach to grief is so similar. And I think you integrated into our little, our small but mighty team really easily because because of that. Like, because of that lens. And so I think for today's topic, I, we generally just kind of said befriending grief, which is obviously one of the sessions that you facilitate in the Grief Hub is called Befriending Grief. But I think, it is bigger and broader in that it is really just like an approach to thinking or I don't know if approach is even the right word. Just like a relationship with grief, a way of thinking about grief. And so that's what, I don't know that's what we wanted to talk about or that I thought it would make sense for us to talk about. And I don't know, I guess I'd put it to you. I have my thoughts from the What's Your Grief side of how we have thought about it and how that has been the place that we come from for a long time. But I guess I'd love to hear you talk about your perspective. And like where that goes for you, where it starts. Like, how it's kind of evolved for you.

Yeah. uh Well, the term, sort of Befriending Grief, really came in for me early in the pandemic actually. So, it was before I started working at What's Your Grief I was, you know, like so many of us, I was really just completely unraveled at the beginning of the pandemic and really through the pandemic. And because I have a language for grief, I could identify what was happening. I could say I'm, there's a lot going on in me and the people around me and a big part of it is grief. And so that was really helpful. Really helpful to have that framework. I agree with you about how there's so many ways that the way What's Your Grief has always approached educating and supporting folks who are grieving and folks who are helping grievers, we're so aligned. And my focus has been more from, I would call sort of the um esoteric, maybe is a good word. A framework around it, I like to start by saying I'm not certified in anything. I don't have, you know, I don't have a professional degree in counseling or I have some degrees. I don't have, you know, I'm not a licensed person. I'm not a certified in anything. I have had a lot of experience and I'm just wired to do this work. That's, I'll just simply say it that way. So, I was in conversation with an organization that I had have a close relationship with called Hope Springs Institute. It's in the southwest part of of Ohio. And at the, you know, around the middle of 2020 and of course they had shut down. They're a retreat center, so they're completely shut down. They're wondering how they can, in a sense stay afloat and also offer help in this really hard time. And I said Well, let's get people together online and talk about grief and that's when, I'm like, let's call it Befriending Grief. And that sort of birthed this way of thinking and talking about, what I have really come to understand is this this natural capacity we have. This necessary capacity we have to grieve in order to metabolize the losses that we experience, that every human being experiences. And to start to unplug the languaging around grief is there, it's a, there's pathology in it or there's something to be fixed or that it's a problem to be solved, rather than a capacity that's we have and we can perhaps nurture our relationship with it that will help us when **** goes down. Like, when you're in the midst of it. So.

Yeah. No, I think that, you know, I think especially what you're describing has always been so much how we conceptualize things. But I think recently, it's felt even more important because, like you said, like the pathologizing of grief. I think since this addition of prolonged grief disorder to the DSM, there's just been this like renewed conversation about grief in this way that like, I don't know, I feel like we have backtracked in many ways. And I don't think, I mean that's a whole other conversation, right, about the prolonged grief disorder. Like, I don't think that it was necessarily the intention of some of the people who were doing that work that landed grief in the DSM, to create a backslide in the cultural conversation that put us back in this place of thinking of grief as a problem that we have to solve or something that people need to find some way to recover from or to cure themselves of. But I do think that inadvertently that's absolutely what has happened. And one of the things that makes me nervous connects to what you said about you know the fact that you lead by saying I'm not certified in anything, you're not a clinical practitioner in some way, you know. I am a clinical social worker and that is my background and one of the things that has always frustrated me is that there wasn't enough training in the mental health space. For those who were getting these clinical trainings where people would assume Oh yeah, they probably got a lot of training in graduate school about grief. And it was like No. We didn't.

We consistently hear that that's not true, don't we.

No, oh my gosh.

No one. Almost no professionals get any training or get very little training.

Not even Funeral Directors, I mean which is madness. But. It is crazy. And a lot of times people will ask like Well, why? Why don't, why isn't psychology and mental health and counseling and pastoral counseling and you know chaplaincy, all these different things, why isn't there more about grief? And I think interestingly, frustratingly, it is because a lot of times in those fields the curriculum is based around pathology. It's based around Well, we teach things that are diagnoses. People who are working in these roles are supposed to be helping people to get over their depression and their anxiety and their post traumatic stress. And so, there was not a space for grief because grief wasn't a diagnosis. It wasn't in the DSM. It wasn't making its way into these curriculums. And that was a problem. But now I worry that it is in the DSM but it's in there as a diagnosis and a pathology and so now maybe it is going to get into the curriculums but it's going to get into the curriculums from that lens of pathology. And now suddenly we're going to have people who are clinically trained and the way that they are approaching grief, the way they're thinking of it, maybe the way they've first been introduced to it is by seeing it as a diagnosis in, and that scares me so much. And I think like there's this push and pull of, yes we want people who are providing grief support, who are grief informed and who are able to do that. And also being a clinician is not, by any stretch, something that defines that. I think in so many ways it creates, you know, coming from a trained mental health perspective, provides incredible tools and resources and literacy among lots of different things, but it also puts blinders on and it creates barriers and it creates its own biased way of seeing the world and seeing grief and seeing everything. Now you're seeing it all through that Mental Health Training lens, that academic, you know, research and journaling and, you know, that lens, this a very.

I think, the part of the issue, well one of the interesting things or and unique things about grief, for me and maybe this might be pretty myoptic but or myopic, but all of us are going to experience it. It is one of the few things that every human being will experience. Every single human being. There's, you know, there's no getting out of that. And that's not true about a lot of other things that are diagnosable, right, that's physically, emotionally mentally diagnosable. That's just, it's not true. Not everybody's going to have every one of those experiences. So, when we take something that's literally, universally human experience, not even just human, we know animals grieve, we can tell now. We know this now, that they have their own grieving process. If we take that and go every time it happens something in there needs to be fixed then it is a bit of a backslide. And I do think there is, for better or for worse, lots of people are talking about grief now, you know. It doesn't take very long to, you know, you go online and you can find 10 podcasts right off the bat about grief. Some of it is not worth listening to but we know, you know, so you got it's like anything else you got to be careful about who you go to and where. But I think, that's sort of the counter to this sort of continuing to pathologize it. And then there's the, there are folks who are just going No. No. Let's support each other. Let's acknowledge that they're suffering. Let's acknowledge that people are going through some big stuff. But that's different than pathology. That's different than something that has to be fixed.

Yeah. And that pain, right, that, I think that it comes from that place where there are people now, a lot of people who are more willing to engage with this idea and conversation that pain isn't the enemy. Like, painful experiences are not, by nature, something that we need to be avoiding, curing, running from, getting over, but rather that they are part of an authentic human existence. Like, it being a human isn't about feeling good all the time. It's not about, you know, striving for every moment being happy and joyful. Like, if that was the goal we could all just like take MDMA all the time and it would all be good. But like it's not that, like, I think when we really get down to it, what people want is to feel, like, they're able to be authentic in feeling the full range of human emotion but also feel that they're capable of surviving in the world and being the person they want to be in the world even with all of the hard, heavy, devastating, overwhelming things. But that's so much more nuanced than I think, you know, the history of Western Medicine and Mental Health, like that framework, where it was just, how do we get rid of the symptoms that are painful or difficult or, you know, anything that falls into that category we need to start eliminating that.

And it's been the, about we, I think part of what's been broken. I'll put it this way. Because I have, maybe this is a bit of a fantasy or a idealization, but I do have it be that in archaic times and up till, you know not all that long ago, grief was, because death was so present. Death was present everywhere. People die early. Children, lots of children die, this was not, yeah, it's only, it's a very recent in the last 150 years let's say, where death has been removed from our homes. Absolutely. And they've gone to hospitals and nursing homes a lot of the time. You know, we've taken death out of our day-to-day experience. We're not, most many of us aren't rural people anymore, so we're not on a farm where we see animals be born and die. We're not, we don't have, we don't take care of our dead in our homes anymore, which, again, is a recent phenomena. That's been, so all of these things, I think, have contributed to us saying Grief is to be avoided. We're, we don't, we're too fragile to handle the hard moments of loss, which are inevitable. And we've also removed ourselves from the community, piece of it which all of my teachers say, You will not be, you won't learn how to grieve if you don't watch other people doing it. If everybody else around you is stuffing it then you're not gonna have modeling for what it's like to sit in, just sit with the people who care about you and wail or care yourself when you're grieving, you know. We, we've taken so much of that has been broken down in modernity, in our modern age. And we're, I think, we're trying now, I think many of us, we may be sort of um doing it sometimes not so gracefully, but I do think there's a reclamation happening where we're saying This isn't healthy. Look what it's done, what, look what it's done to me or my family members. If it doesn't take too long, just look back in your, just in the people that you've known in your life and go Yeah. They didn't, they shut it down. They went numb. They, you know. I didn't see them cry when their parents died. I didn't see them manage it in any way that I can now go, I understand how to do this. That's, yeah, you know, healthy in a way so.

Yeah. I, you know, you're, what you were saying just reminded me of, this was a number of years ago now but I was at, Elanor and I were at a Compassionate Friends Conference which, you know. For folks who don't know the Compassionate Friends, they're a uh peer support group that exists around the world for uh bereaved parents, so parents who've lost children, also for bereaved siblings, um but primarily they started for bereaved parents. And you know, there was a woman who was speaking at that conference and she had a child die and one of the things that she talked about was in the early days of her grief, how isolated and alone she was. How this was, you know, before she had or it was when she was just getting connected with Compassionate Friends but because of the circumstances of her child's death which was a very disenfranchised type of death, even there she didn't really feel like she was fully kind of in community with other people. She felt kind of othered from even these other bereaved parents. And she shared this experience where she was in this kind of like Why me. And I'm so alone in this experience. And she was a college professor and she shared that in something totally unrelated to her grief that she was researching, she read this statistic that in the year 1800, one out of every two children died before age five. And she said it just like stopped her in her tracks. And she was like To imagine that 200 years ago, rather than feeling like as a bereaved parent who had a toddler die, you know, in certain circumstance that I am alone, alienated that no one can understand me, that I need to be quiet about my grief, that I need to keep it in my home and not make other people uncomfortable by talking about it, that at that time, 50% of pregnancy, 50% of the time that parents had a child, they were anticipating probably that that child was going to die, right. Like, that was how high the mortality rate was. And she just talked about how it shifted so dramatically the way she thought about the human capacity to grieve. The fact that this is something that for all of human history, we have been doing, in these ways that we I think in 2024, like, can't even fully wrap our heads around. You know, I think about even my grandmother's generation and the number of her siblings who died. And we're just at this time that now, I think, we can't even imagine what it was like even 100 or 200 years ago. And it's really, it just, it does, it feels like it's hurting us. It's now allowed us and modern medicine by pushing it, like you said pushing it into hospitals, into nursing homes, into facilities and then funeral, you know, home funerals like which were the norm are now.

There were funeral homes until right after the Civil War in this country. There weren't, that wasn't a profession, there were undertakers, there were cemetery, there were coffin builders, you know. But when someone died they were put on the kitchen table.


And there was a wake.


And your home was opened and you, and that, and then from there, the, that body, that beloved one was taken from the home to the cemetery and you dug the ground yourself. You put them in the ground yourself. It wasn't taken care of by a professional. And many people in the funeral home industry are beautiful human beings. So I just want to say they've got a tough job and they, it is a business. And it has taken, I think, from us as grievers one of the opportunities we have to really acknowledge and begin the process of building a world without this person in it. When we're not doing a lot of that taking your time and hands-on sort of caretaking of when our person has died. And I'm speaking now as someone who all, you know, I'm really passionate about natural death care and home funerals. That's a passion of mine so I have feelings about things. And I've worked in a funeral home. I know what that's like. And I know what it's been uh you know, some of the beautiful, beautiful work that happens in those spaces too. So you know, all of that is true. I want us, Jennifer in the chat, I noticed that you mentioned something about the death. It is the fact that death looks like, a it feels like a failure because of our medical, advances in medicine have created, you know, extensions of life. And when we, when that is true then what we can do becomes what we must do.


And so, or some we feel ethically we must do it. If we have the ability to extend someone's life, regardless of what that life is experienced as by the person or by the family or then we've introduced a whole another realm and layer and flavor of grief that we've talked about some in the hub, you know, which is it comes up periodically this aspect of medical grief. Like, the loss happens but also what happened in the course of the medical system or facility or treatment were also causes of grief.

Yeah. In so many ways, I feel for physicians, because in the work I used to do, I used to do a lot of training with residents and fellows about in hospital settings, about talking to families at end of life or when the prognosis was really poor. And so many of them were in their fellowships. They were at the very end of their training these were folks who were at mostly at Johns Hopkins University, they were in the last years of their fellowship, they were about to be like real live full doctors who had received no training in any anything around palliative care, hospice, end of life or even just thinking about the idea that prolonging life isn't always the thing that is in the best interest for the patient, for kind of everyone. And so as a result we have these providers who feel like death is the ultimate failure, right. They feel like it is their professional failure if they've allowed your loved one to die. And in so many ways, you know, we want physicians who, to a point, are doing everything they can to help keep us and the people we love alive. And then we want physicians who are able to see when their role is to be able to help people to die the deaths that they, can I guess, that they would like in a, in some other world where they could have imagined or predicted this situation to that they would want to die in a way that feels like it wasn't, you know, unnecessarily prolonged or unnecessarily painful or unnecessarily doing I think treatments that we know are futile but for the sake of doing them. It's so complicated. And I think it does, it comes from that place of thinking this is the worst that can happen. And so we should fight it tooth and nail at all costs, not recognizing that in doing that, sometimes, we create more harm for everyone. So hard to, so hard to see.

The, I think the thing that keeps coming to me lately about many many things about our modern way of doing lots of things, including medical care, including death care, has me remembering that part of the reason why it's a struggle, I think for me and for many of us, it's my theory anyway, we are in some ways experiencing grief that didn't exist 200 years ago before all of this modernity happened. So, not only are we just doing sort of the archetypal, you know, what we're wired to do grieving which I have it bid, we have, I'm inspired by Martin Patel's, you know speaking about it where he talks about it being an enzyme. Grief is an enzyme that you're born with. That it's a natural, just like your, you know you digest food, you also, we also have to metabolize loss. And that we have this enzyme called grief that is our friend, it's our ally. It is our ability to make the change we've now been thrust into making because of a loss. And so we have, we're descended from people who grieved. We've all, you know, so we've got literally, it's in our DNA. I really believe this. And over the last couple of centuries, we've now added a whole lot of different kinds of ways we must grieve while we're also saying Grief's to be avoided.




Combination of all that is why, you know many of us are going, This can't be the only, this can't be the way. This can't be, I, why am I so lonely in this? Why am I, why am I stuck in this place of suffering? Why does, why am I invisible? How many believers just say like, you were saying, People treat me like I'm not even in the room because they don't know how to be with me. They don't know how to be with me, they don't know what to say, they don't know how to be. So, you know, they either say things that don't help, sometimes they harm more or they just act like we're not even there. And that's not the way grief is supposed to work. Grief is, to be a communal community connected sort of experience and that we get help with. And then when it's someone else's turn in our community we know how to be with them. We know how to do it. We've lost so much of that now.

And we've lost, you know that, I think that sense because we've we have hidden it away, I mean both through medical, through funeral homes, through just again you have to go somewhere to get grief support, right. You have to go somewhere for all of these things. We don't know how to find it as easily in our communities, right. Like, I think about when home funerals existed. Like, I, or I guess maybe I will say the opposite. I think about right now. I live in Baltimore City, like, in a little tiny row house, compact with tons of other little tiny row houses all around me. I, I'm in a densely populated area with neighbors. What, I could not tell you the last time one of my neighbors experienced a death in their family. I have no idea, right. Because, I, there's nothing visible about that, right. Like, a home funeral like that space, like, it by nature created something where we were just literally able to see that our neighbors were going through something, that they were going through something difficult, we were able to then, you know, figure out how to acknowledge and support but also know kind of the other people in our communities who were going through some of these things without talking about it. I mean, again, things like we, there's lots of discussion I think that comes up here and there about people lamenting that there's no longer mourning attire. And I come from, you know, a Greek family and my godfather, I mean, I remember only probably 15 years ago when his mother died he still wore a black a physical black tie every day for a year because it's still part of that Greek culture that gives a silent way for other people to know that you are someone who has experienced loss in your community. And I think those things, they seem small but in so many ways they're huge, right. Now, if I've been through something, I don't know who else in my community has, I, unless I'm so close to them that they've told me about it and I knew that that was. We've lost like those external physical ways, that were just, I don't know, like a part of the fabric of how communities worked and mourned. And I think that's a huge loss, for just being able to find the people that we can find connection with and support from. And, again, just put grief out there as something that is just part of all of us, that we're naturally doing and it's happening in all of our communities all the time, you know. But instead we've hidden it away.

And we've uh the, this sort of outward showing that I'm a person who's grieving. I've had a loss, you know. Wearing an armband or renting your clothes or where, like in some cultures you literally put ashes on your skin just so people, everyone who sees you goes Oh something's happened to, this person is grieving. And here's ,and we know how to be, we know how to treat them. We know how to be with them. We know that perhaps we need to give them a bit of food. We know that we might, we, they, we might have to invite them in so they can lay down and rest. You know, those we're, we do the opposite in our culture. We say, Oh you're so strong. Oh my gosh. You know, your person just died, oh wow you're so strong. You don't, you're not crying, you know. You're just, wow. That's great. That, you know, that doesn't help.


When we elevate, you know, shutting it down, packing, uh stuffing it down and looking strong, and I think part of what's the, I call it the tyranny of self-improvement which I have some of that in me too. You know, where I just constantly, I should lose weight and I should walk more and I should, you know. Like, there's never a time where I'm like, You know what, I'm just fine. I'm fine the way I am, in my imperfections, in the way I am. We we're, that's another industry.


And unfortunately has kind of gotten subsumed in that Here are your 10 steps, not so much the, you know, that we talk a lot about, you know, debunking the stages of grief here in the What's Your Grief space. And I think a lot of people are getting that message. But we also, but on the other side there is this piece of how many people have written, I've written a story about how I got over my grief, how I got to the other side and this, and you can do this too.


Here's my book, you know, here's my webinar, you know.


And I'm not saying that sometimes those things don't help some folks. I bet they do. But it's another piece of that message of You're going to be normal again. You're going to be the, if you do these things you will be okay. You will be back to where you were. You might even be better.

Better, right. Yeah.

And that message is also part of what has us going, I'm never going to be that. So, I must be doing this wrong. I must be broken. I must be broken if I can't do this the way this person says or this theory says. And you know, that's, that hasn't helped us. It hasn't helped us befriend this necessary part of who we are.

Absolutely. And I think those are like it's those two extremes, right. I think it's either that We've been in that okay, I have to fear grief and recover from it and you know I have to avoid it and run from it. Or grief has to transform me into a butterfly. It has to make me, you know, be in this place of post-traumatic growth where I have somehow now transformed to this greater meaning and purpose. And I think one of the things that's hard is that, that is something that does happen for some people. And it is, I think really incredibly meaningful for folks when it does. And they often want to share that story, right, of how there has been, for them, a real transformation that they value. And that they want for other people.


But it's so important to remember that like though that sometimes happens, that is not the the goal of grief. It's not a marker of whether we have grieved well or not. Whether we experienced some sort of radical transformation as a result, or radical growth. Sometimes, what we do is we just, you know, we befriend, we survive, we figure out who we are in the world after this loss with our grief alongside of it, we keep moving forward. And like that's enough. Like, it doesn't have to be more or less than that. Sometimes it is, but that's not what we need to feel like we're aspiring towards or that we're failing if we don't achieve. And that is something.

Now, it's either I get to that point or I'm doing it wrong. Exactly. Like there's only the two, there's only the two pieces. And I do think, I feel, I believe, I've observed in myself and other people that folks who are willing to let go of some of this, what we've been trained into by our culture, we'll just put that big broad thing on it, and be with it in a different way, and in a way that is honoring, that is respectful of the process, the mysterious process that it is because it is not hard. I mean it's you know, in it's often in art and poetry and song where you start to come close, you know. Just kind of speaking with regular words often isn't enough. But I do believe it is the process of that makes us mature humans. If we engage with, and recognize, and engage our grieving and our grieving nature that it's going to be, in my mind probably an ongoing process. It's either sort of low grade grieving or everything feels like it's on fire grieving and everything in between, that it is the process that makes us adults. It makes us, in some ways, are the elders where we have the potential to become to the people who are coming behind us, who are watching us grieve, who we have, I believe we have some responsibility to the ones coming behind us to say, Gosh, I don't want to leave, this is not the legacy I want to leave them. And that means I got to walk my talk. I gotta, they gotta see me.


At my low. They've got to see me asking for help. They have to see me saying, You know what that I know you mean well, but that's not really helpful. Here's what I really could, this would be really helpful. Like, I want to be a model so that my people, my descendants have some modeling of Oh, it's possible to ask for help. It's possible to not medicate this necessarily. It's possible to not avoid it and and be okay, better than okay. Like, more yourself. You're more yourself. And that, for some of us, feels terrifying because, you know again we're told all the time, Oh you're not good enough for some reason or another. Well, guess what.


I am fine and part of the reason I'm the complex, skilled person I am is because of my grief. Because I navigated, I am navigating my grief all the time.

I completely agree. And I think the thing that you said that really jumped out and that I've thought about so many times is that I'm shocked when I look, and I'm not a developmental theorist, so please someone feel free to call me out, message us, you know whatever if there is a developmental theory that really takes this into account. But I look at the the big developmental theories. You know, the ones that we go back to, of Piaget and Erikson, and that we think about as so formulative in thinking about human development. And I'm shocked that there isn't a theory of human development that doesn't more clearly and coherently think of grief and loss as one of the stages of human development that we have to go through in order to sort of move forward to a different place in human development. I think that most people who have been through a devastating loss see the ways that that loss has pushed them through a developmental place that they would not have gone through without that loss. I mean for better or worse, right. But I think that is something that when we go back to that idea of just what does it mean to authentically live as a human who experiences the full range of human emotions and experiences, loss is I think one of them. I think it's something that is fundamental to who we are as humans and what we go through as humans. And it is bizarre to me that, I don't think it's more clearly articulated in Developmental Theory as like a really, like, this is one of the things. Like, this is one of the markers that we go through that sort of changes our human development in some way.

Well, I think what you're speaking to, I love that you brought this because I think what you're speaking to also is one of the losses in modernity. Which is when we stopped being village dwellers, I'll put it that way, you know, in modernity, in you know the development of Agriculture and then the Industrial Revolution, all that, we lost this sense of being a village member. And, you know, through antiquity that you see, almost every culture had some structure for initiating people. Especially when you were going from child to adult. You know, we, an adolescence. Those rituals existed in every culture. And part of that, like that was your village saying to you, All right, it's time. I see you're standing at that cusp. We're going to now take you out and put you through an ordeal an initiatory process. And that means, that's like your first big experience of losing who you were and becoming who you're becoming. And that initiates you into grief.

Yeah, no.

And also, all of those young ones have been watching people, again death was a lot more present, they there. You know, it was a part of their lives this was not a big it. And they knew it was coming because every, they knew everybody, they knew lots of people had been through this initiatory process, so it wasn't a big surprise. But Francis Weller, Martin Prechtel, they all, these folks who I really respect in their view of this, say When we lost these initiatory experiences, which we mostly have in modern culture.


We, one of the things we lost was a recognition of this change in, you know. We have graduations, we have you know confirmations, we have some semblance of them, but these big processes that was recognized by everybody in your village, they were waiting when you came out to welcome you this new you that you were. But you were also, it was rough. It was not a party. It, they took you through something. They took you close to death in many of these cultures.


Close to death. And you came out of it the other side and a different person because you just had to and that was your first experience of sort of the bigness of grief, you know. And I think they spoke about it in that way. So we've lost those things have, we don't have those most of us in modern culture don't have anything like that in our experience. And so, that's one of the reasons why we get to a loss, some of us, I know adults who have like I've not lost anybody yet. I haven't had, I have not been, I haven't been to, I've been to like two funerals of people I barely knew when I was younger. My parents are still alive, my grandparents are still alive, I haven't lost any siblings, I haven't lost any friends. And then they get to like their 20s and they go to their first funeral and they are just like Whoa. They are, it is such a not traumatic, but it is such a jarring experience when you have had no experience up to that point.

Well, and a terrifying experience, I think you know, I was, I certainly talked about it on here before, right. I was raised Greek Orthodox. My parents did not shy away from anything grief related from very early age. From when I had a brother who was still born when I was four and they, my parents, all in, right. We, they were all in. And in Greek culture, like, you go to every funeral of every person you have ever met from a very young age. And so, I, that, this was just part of how I grew up. When I was in my mid 20, I was probably 26 or 27, and had a friend who was really tragically murdered and I drove with another friend down to the funeral and we are going down in the car and I can see this friend of mine, who's also probably 27-ish and he is just physically, I mean like the tension, everything is just oozing off of him and I, sort of naively I guess, felt like well the circumstances of this death were devastating and shocking and traumatic and you know, I had sort of written it off to that. And then, as we were talking, he tells me he's never been to a funeral before. This is the first funeral that he's ever been to. And he, we had to pull over the car at one point because he was so anxious just about the idea of the funeral. And he, you know, we got to a point where we start, he started asking me questions about what to expect, what would happen, you know. I walked him through, I said, well I don't know, you know. Everything's, little, but here's what I've been to a lot of these and here's my guess about what we can expect and getting down there. But just that experience and as we talked about it, it was just as you described, right. His, because of the wonders of modern medicine and the advances in, you know, health and mortality and sanitation, right. We do,

And probably that he was protected from going from funeral because many people do that out of some strong sense of, I'm protecting my kids from the sadness and hardness. Guess what? You are not protecting them from anything. You're probably setting them up for an experience like your friends have had.

This is exactly, this is and and he did say that that was the case as well. That when he, that there were people, extended family things like that, but as a child and a teenager you know, his parents never took him to any of those things. And what I saw, it was the first time, I really, I think, I recognized just how there was this devastating loss that he was trying to cope with and process. But then layered on top of it was this fear of the unknown of just the world of death and dying and rituals and exposures to grief and exposures to the kind of emotions that you have to be present with. And so, it made it all the more complex and difficult and hard for him because it had come to this point in his life without any exposure to it. And I really felt for him in so many ways and I, you know, really tried to do my best to be the best support I could be to him in going through this experience. But I do think it's something that, again 200 years ago no one would have had the luxury to have been able to get to, you know, age 27, nearing the the true halfway point of life at that point and not have had more experience with just this world of loss and being around other people who were grieving deeply and seeing that this is something that is on the one hand the most devastating and worst thing that can happen to us happens. And also it is this thing that we do as human beings and that we can support each other through that we can survive, that we can learn to see as something in ourselves that will be part of who we're continuing to become in life, right. This evolution of ourselves as humans and it is hard sometimes to think of it as something that is, something that we will need to befriend in the earliest moments of grief when the intensity of those emotions are there. But when we can get to that place, I think, it's like you can just almost relax and be like Okay. You know, I'm devastated but I am safe. Like, I'm not, I don't need to be as fearful of what grief is, as maybe I have been led to feel all my life.

Of course. Because it's the truth, you know, we've been.


We've been trained in this way, you know. This is part of the cultural training and I think we could end on a, oh but the good news is, and the good news is. It is a capacity we have. We know how to do this. Part of what we're doing in this sort of turning into this space of befriending grief is that at the core of it we're going, this is a capacity I have. I don't have to learn how to do it because my I am doing it. I am grieving. It is happening. Perhaps it's teaching me, perhaps it's, it has its own wisdom that's out beyond what I think I know and what I think I have to learn, that it has its own timing wisdom that's mysterious and not and often not easy but we do know how to do it because it's a capacity we have not something we have to learn how to do. And part of it is uncovering, like taking off all these layers of, you know, what we've learned through our schooling, our churches, our families our Psychotherapy, you know. Unfortunately it hasn't always helped, right. Sometimes it's been hugely helpful, sometimes it has not helped in this realm. So, the good news is you know how to do this. You do.


And knowing how to support yourself while your being does what it knows how to do is, as a practice, those are, you have choices in that. You do have some choices in how you support yourself. What you learn about the process that you're auto, you are in, it is happening and you can do things to support yourself in it. Including finding other people who can be with you in it. Which is, I think, one of the beauties of the Hub. It's one of the really big beauties of the the griever's Hub that we host is that that is, I think, a primary thing it's offering is We're All in This Together. We all acknowledge that we're grieving. And there's no, and that's pretty magical, actually. That doesn't exist in very many other places on the planet, in my opinion, so.

Yeah. And it just lets you tap into the things that help you. You know, to develop what's already there. I, as you were talking, I think, I, it made me remember I once heard someone describe in frustration of people's misunderstanding of what resilience is. Somebody described the idea of thinking about resilience as something that we're all born with. Just like we are all born with the ability to tap into music, or art, or other types of, you know, things that are in us. But then also, there are things that allow us to and help us to let those things grow and flourish, right. Like maybe I have a natural inclination towards music but if I never learn to play an instrument or listen to anything or meet other people who are musical then it might stagnate a little bit, right. It might not be able to kind of grow and evolve the way that it would. And that resilience is sort of the same way, right. It's this natural capacity we have. It's there, but we also need to figure out how to tap into the things that will let it grow and flourish and emerge in the the way. And I think, you know, it made me think of the way you were just describing that with grief, it, you, very similarly, right. Like, it's this natural capacity we have to grieve as humans. That's part of our humanity. And also when we tap into to the community and the people and the things and the resources and the, whatever it is the creativity that allows us to kind of open that grief up and connect with it in a new way, then it unfold, you know. It unfolds in ways that can really be transformative in not that growth, you know, where we're trying to get to some new ideal but just in that way where we can feel like we're able to walk with it in a way that we couldn't have imagined in the earliest days of grief. So.

And that's not the time you're to realize it which, you know.


I think the other thing too the word, you know. When we talk about growth and we, you know, most of us think of growth as it's, you know, it's linear. It's you go from here and you come to here. Well, that happens, sure. It happens all over. It happens in us, happens in our lives and I think what grief does is it deepens us. It deepens us. It makes us more complex. It makes us more wise. It does. It wisens us in ways, it, we lose our innocence, which most of many of us resist. You know. Like, when I say deep, I'm, it's serious. Like, it's, it has a gravitas to it is different than I'm a bright shiny new person because of what I've been through. And there, maybe that may be true. And I'm going to guess it's also deepened you. It has also, some things that were no longer yours to be are now gone. There are ways in which you understand the world that aren't so polarized. It's either this or this. Grief tells you it could be 27 other things, that grief teaches you that. You know, so those are, we get, we're deepened by grief which is part of what if you're fortunate enough to live more than three or four or five decades, know deepening is going to happen. And we, it really, it serves us and it serves our community which is part of what we're, if we're, if we live long enough, hopefully we're a little more attuned to what we're offering to our people, our families, our communities, our churches, wherever it is that we find Community. That's, you know, it's not just all, it's not all about us anymore. Grief teaches you that you go Oh, why me? Why me? Why not me? It happens to everybody. So, that's a deepening that happens. I also just, I do want to say I've been talking a lot about, you know, modern society and the way we cover these things up, and many of us don't have much experience until some of us, until we're theoretically adults. Anyway and there are places on the planet right now that where This is not true.

Oh yeah.

Where death is around those folks now all the time. And I just want, I don't want to pretend like my little Western Way of being in the world is the primary the only way. It's not. There, you know, there are a lot of people right now who literally, I've read accounts from you know, people in Gaza, for example, where they say I smell death everywhere. I smell death everywhere It's that intense. It's that bad and those folks are living something that I can't even imagine. And I think many of us can't imagine. But there are, and that's just true all the time is that there are places where,


death is present all the time. Grief is a constant, you know. Fire burning in them all the time because of what they're experiencing, so I just…


I want to keep myself in perspective here.

No, I absolutely appreciate you saying it because I think it's something that, you know, we, it should always be something that we're aware of and that we're remembering because it's so easy to be in that self-focused place that we get in. In our own worlds and our own bubbles and our own, you know, really really in so many ways privileged Western culture and society. And it's easy to lose sight of just how much loss there is all the time all the time.

And what it brings, in terms of the communal grief we've been speaking mostly about like personal grief, our personal losses or, you know, what's happened in our own timeline that has created, has activated the grief in us. But again, my teachers they talk a lot about it's not just your personal grief but there's grief that runs through groups of people.

Oh absolutely.

And through communities and through societies and through identities.

And through generations.

Yeah. Our ancestral, whole writings about ancestral grief and what we might be carrying literally in our DNA. Literally. Because we know now that, you know, unprocessed traumas, unprocessed experiences, or maybe they even were process, but they change that person's DNA. They know that now. And that, those changes get passed on to the people, you know, their descendants. So we literally are also carrying what may be a huge load. Most of us who live in this country are descended from people who left their home, their homelands, not that long ago. And they didn't leave because it was just a fun thing to do. They left because they were fleeing, being killed or starving or oppressed. That lives in us too, you know. That trauma, that just a couple of generations ago is probably in us as well. So we, when we start, you start to uncover this. It's, it can feel really overwhelming. It can be really, if you dig around in this, it can really feel like a lot. So my suggestion to anyone who is like I really do want to explore this more is to take your time. There. Actually isn't any urgency here, take small bites.


And let yourself be with the little small bites because you could, it could feel like a tidal wave if you really let it, and that's… Yeah. I don't think that serves anything really.

No. Agree, agree. Well on that note, I will share in our show notes today some of the resources that are Mary some of the books that you kind of referenced throughout a couple of those things that came up I'll make sure that we link those there. We have a free webinar that we did recently that was also just if you're kind of feeling this weight of the collective grief in the world in this moment, I will share a link to that if that feels like it would be supportive. Our Hub link is always down in the show notes if you want to join the griever Hub where we do, Mary does offer befriending grief sessions which are amazing every month. And, yeah. otherwise we'd love to as always, you know, answer any questions or hear from you. If you need any thing from us, you can reach us at and follow us everywhere on social media at What's Your Grief. Leave a review for the podcast if you haven't already. We always really appreciate that. And then visit the site whatsyourgrief. So thanks so much Mary for joining today and we will see everybody next week.

Thanks Litsa, thanks everyone.

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

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