From Grief Literacy to Grief Humility

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.

Welcome to another episode of the What's Your Grief Podcast. I am Eleanor. How are you today Litsa?

I'm good today. I am finally finally finally, after weeks, slowly starting to feel like I am on the roads to recovery from a respiratory and sinus infection that would not quit. So, yeah. That feels (that feels) good. It has been amazing. I mean this is such an obvious statement. I hesitate to even say it. But just the degree to which my mental health has been impacted by being sick, it has just been significant. So, it has felt really good, yesterday I, like, left the house for the first time in far too long. That was really good. So.


Yeah. I'm feeling good to finally feel, like, I'm on the mend.

Awesome. Well it seems like you're feeling better. I can tell. Your whole aura is a little brighter and more clear. It seems.

I mean, one can hope.

I don't know that it goes without saying that it impacts your mental health though. Like, I don't I don't think I ever, like, made that connection until maybe recently. I mean, I think now I'm more in tune to it but I wasn't always in tune to like the brain-body connection.

No. Truly. And I think for me, I (I) have been incredibly lucky that, I think, I have a generally pretty good immune system. I usually, I don't get sick too often. And when I do, I feel like I usually get over it pretty quickly. The same cannot be true, said for my histamine and anti-histamine system. My allergy situation can be a disaster. But my, just when I get a cold, when I get the flu, usually it is not a really long road to recovery for me. And I think that is one of the things, this time, that really made the difference. Like, being sick for a couple of days doesn't really, I think, take a toll in the same way. As like, this was truly, I mean three and a half weeks really where I felt awful and fatigued. And you know, I may have said this to you at some other point, I truly felt this, I don't know, empathy in a new way for people who suffer from chronic illnesses. And I mean, I feel like I've always, I have (I have) friends and family members who have chronic illnesses. I feel like I always understood in a (a) theoretical way just how mentally devastating that can be in addition to the physical components. But I (I) don't think I ever sort of personally was able to take an experience that I had had, that I could connect to it. And I don't want to minimize chronic illness, like, me having a respiratory infection for three weeks is nothing compared to people who are living with chronic illnesses long term. But it really was the first time that I had this feeling where my mental health was so impacted by not knowing if or (or) when. I mean that sounds so dramatic, but I truly was starting to feel like, Is this going to go away? Is something permanently? You know. I do have asthma, is something permanently wrong with my lungs? Like, I was definitely getting in my head about it. And so, I do think it (it) just, I (I) just reflected on it a lot. I thought about it a lot. And it really made me appreciate in a new way, that impact, that chronic illness has on, not just physical but mental health.

And something I was hearing from you, because I've been talking to you throughout the last couple of weeks, was just this, like, I think frustration. Like, correct me if I'm wrong, but you, it (it) seemed like you were just ready or felt you like the pressure like you needed to get back to your work and the things that are kind of required of you as a (as a) person in this world. And it seemed like you were getting really frustrated that you weren't physically able to be the person you were previously.

Absolutely. Like, I am one of those people who I think I (I) like to believe, and I certainly do believe, right, that our mindset impacts how we are functioning. And that, like, I (I) do believe that the mind-body connection goes in a lot of different directions. And also, there were just these ways where I was like I can't (I, I can't) will myself to be able function today. Like, that's not how it works. But of course the world doesn't stop. And certainly I know there are plenty of grief comparisons to be made from that, in just that reality that, you know, there are so many times that we feel the pressure of the world continuing and the pressure of life and jobs and all the responsibilities and all of that. And when you're struggling, like, there are the things that you can do with that are within your control of mindset. And there are then plenty of things that are just our body and minds need to recover and rest and heal and like do all of those things. And yeah, it's (it's) brutal.

Yeah. I think it's just, I mean, it's (it's, it's) one example and you you tied it to kind of like the grief parallel of not expecting us to be who we were before, you know. Comparing ourselves to who we were, you know, before something happened. Whether it's (whether it's) a long-term illness or whether it's grief or, there are so many things that put us in a place where we need to give ourselves a little like time and space and self-compassion. And maybe be more mindful of what would actually be gains and steps forward. And comparing ourselves to where we were, maybe, yesterday. And so. I don't know. We're sorry, we didn't intend to talk about any of this, we're all over the place with this.

Yeah. I mean, I don't know. That's where I've been mentally for the last three and a half weeks, so it's really hard for me to not start there, I think.


When asked how I'm doing, that is that there is the long and honest answer.

All right. Well. What else? Anything else new? I know, actually, you texted me, you said you were watching a movie that we had talked about discussing, there's a new movie out that's specifically about grief called Good Grief, right.

Yep. And it's starring Dan Levy, who we love. Love, love, love from Shitt's Creek and many other projects.

You know when I saw that it was (was) posted, you know, that it was coming out, I think I saw it maybe a year ago that Dan Levy was writing this writing and going to star in this Netflix movie, and I was excited about it. I didn't jump on and watch it, like, immediately when it came out. But I think it came out maybe what a, two weeks ago, a week or two ago? So I did just get around to watching it. I know you had watch watched it as well. And some in our grief professionals community, somebody had just posted about it. There, I had seen a couple people, though not as many as I expected, kind of talking about it on social media. And I (I was) I was disappointed. I feel (I feel) guilty. I feel guilty saying it, because I (I) love the idea that Netflix had a movie about grief that was kind of so forefront. I love Dan Levy. But yeah, I was (I was) kind of let down.

I mean I do think, I said this to you, I think whenever there's anything dedicated to grief, we get like a little overly excited because there's so little that is in that lane like explicitly. As we've talked about there are so many different movies and music and books and works of art that have grief themes. Like, they're everywhere, right. But very little is explicitly about grief. And so, I think whenever there's something that's in up that alley like Oh, yay! We want it to be like everything right. And I think that this movie had some, I (I) thought there were like two key things that I think were like interesting about grief. But aside from that I didn't, I, I'm with you. I feel like it wasn't, I don't know. I don't know what I was expecting really, to be perfectly honest. I don't know what I was expecting.

But, well, wait, wait. What, because we haven't actually talked about this directly, what were your (what were your) two things that you thought were like the.

Well, I just, well I, I don't even know if I would say. I'm not, this is not to say, it's not a bright point but things that are like unique and interesting and multifaceted about grief.

And the first thing, I think, well it's been two weeks and this happens about 15 minutes into the movie. So, maybe 20 minutes in the movie, so it's a spoiler, if you're going to watch it fast forward like a couple minutes. But he finds out about, after his partner dies, I think it's a year later, he reads a note that his partner had left for him the night he died that says he has someone else in his life that he wants to explore a relationship with. And this was a big surprise to him. And so, I think that it spoke to that element that we hear a lot of people talking about where they find out something about their person who died that they didn't know before, that they weren't expecting or that doesn't really jive with what they thought was true about the person. And so we hear this in like really big and small ways all the time. And so I think that that is an interesting element that it explored, just what it means to have that love for somebody but to also now know something about them that you cannot go and like have that fight with them about or have that conversation about. And I think that that is something that can be immensely complicated for people because they end up just living with all these unanswered questions, they're not able to go and have a conversation with the person about.

Yeah. I completely agree. I thought that that was the most compelling, one of the most compelling things about the movie was that storyline. And I think that it is not uncommon. Like, we hear from a surprising number of people who find out some sort of secret after a death. It might not necessarily be that there was another relationship that was going on, but sometimes we certainly hear those stories, but there are so many situations that people, you know, that people had addictions or debt or, you know, things that were going on in their life that they had not shared at all. And it is complicated when you can't have it out with that person, when you can't talk to that person and try to understand it when there's always going to be these things about it that are sort of unknowns about the situation. And so, I really did like that. I appreciated that. I think it's not a story that is told very often in me. Like, I don't know that it's one that we really see in this in-depth way, that, that Dan Levy tried to tackle it. There is a great documentary about learning a secret after a death, and of course I'm blanking on the name of it right now but I will (I will) dig it up and put it in the show notes and we've written about it on the website before. It's really good. It's about a a daughter though who learns a secret after her mom's death. And you know, I think for people who have had that experience, it can feel like a really lonely experience because it feels so unique. And sometimes the secret you've found out, and this is a little bit what happens in the film at least at first is something that (that) you feel either so many complicated feelings about or shame about or would paint the person in a bad light. And so, you don't always want to open up to other people about it or at least right away. So, I think it can be a really isolating experience if it's happened to you. And for that reason, I really appreciate it, that it was like a big movie shining a light on the fact that this does happen and it's really hard.

I think the other thing that highlighted that fact was that he found out a year after and at a point where his friends were really pushing him to move forward and move, not move on but move forward, start dating again, things like that. And so he was really stuck focusing on this piece of it while they were really expecting him to reintegrate with life in different ways. And so, I think that there was, it definitely emphasized that kind of clash. Some of the things that he did were a little bit self-serving and selfish because he was trying to explore this secret and he didn't really clue his friends into it. And so I think that that was a good illustration of how sometimes when we're grieving we feel, you know, we're guided by different values, different urges, different needs, than we are in other settings and other times when we're able to really think about everybody.

Yeah. And I think that that, you know, the thing that that also, I guess, the movie did, I don't know that it did a spectacular job of highlighting it but it certainly did highlight that dissonance between the expectations of the people around him, of being able to tolerate that. And there are certainly some places where you get that feeling that his support system does feel like he is being pretty self-involved. And I think, you know, grief makes us self involved sometimes in ways that are important to like, we've talked about this before, sometimes you do need to really turn inward in order to sort certain things out. And it makes us self focused and focused on the loss and that can be complicated with support systems. So I thought they at least tried to kind of capture that. What was your (what was your) other, so that. Oh go ahead, if you had something more to say on that, before you jump to.

No, I'm (I'm) definitely done with that piece. The other thing, I thought was a good observation or illustration was how the character whose partner had died, one of the things he was really grappling with and grieving and talking through was how he experienced his mother's death and, I don't think they say when that was, I think it was years and years ago, and so I did appreciate them kind of highlighting that a new loss can bring up a lot of feelings and unresolved, maybe not even unresolved, maybe they're just feelings, right. That felt strong at the time, they were experiences that felt strong at the time. They were maybe things that you wish were different that you're always going to wish were a little different, so I'm not going to use the word unresolved. But it brings up a lot of stuff. And we talk about that a lot. About how new losses often bring up old losses in ways that you really would never expect them to. And so, I did appreciate that because there were a lot (lot) of monologues. There were a lot of monologues in this movie.

So many monologues.

But one of the monologues was, and one of the (one of the) more major monologues about the main character's grief was not about the partner but it was about the (the) grief for his mother. Did you pick up on that too?

Yeah. No, I (I) did pick up on that. And I thought that it was (it was again) something that you don't necessarily see pointed to that often. And I think that it was also, this is different than that but interesting, with another thing that jumped out as sort of interesting to me too, is how our losses and talking about our losses often bring out other people's losses. And maybe that was in part that this movie was monologue heavy, sort of drama heavy in a lot of ways. But I (I) did sort of think it was interesting that it highlighted in good and bad ways. I think the way that when we share our loss, the people that we're talking to, it connects them to their loss in ways that they want to share with us. And I think sometimes, and in the film I think it kind of captures this like, in one moment when it happens it's not particularly relevant or helpful to him, in the other moment that it happens it really does seem to be like it really touches him and there or it really seems to be something that's at least more thoughtful and connects. So that was, I don't know, that was kind of one of the other things I noticed in some of the monologue moments was that they highlighted that phenomenon, for (for) better or worse that phenomenon.

Right. I don't know, did you have anything else that you like about it that we haven't talked about.

Wow, I (I) want to come up with something and yet I (I, I) feel like I'm being really negative, but (but) I guess I appreciated that at the one-year mark, or like the the mark of things happening, that it was trying to show in some way, that you continue to have new things to deal with. Like, it wasn't just learning the secret, it was also things that were related to the estate, and the book publishing deal, and like just the complications of the logistics of managing things. It was a little hard for me to appreciate that part because part of, one of the things I struggled with about the movie is that, it is not the most relatable movie in terms of the fact that, like, they're really wealthy, the issues that he's dealing with, even with like the logistics of the estate and book deals, like, it's just not something your average person is dealing with. And so, I think that made it, even though I appreciate it, I think that they were trying to show like Wow. This is ongoing, like a year later you're still dealing with this. Like, BS around, estate stuff sometimes and managing all of that fallout and making decisions, but it was just in these ways that like most of us cannot even begin to be able to relate to, so that made it tough.

So, that was my, from a grief standpoint, that was my main, I want to say criticism, because because it did do that thing where all (all) needs are taken care of, from like any logistical, financial and I do have to take a step back and say Well, that is some people's grief experience. And so, you know, we always tell people like Well, not everything is going to, everybody's grief experience is so unique. So, so many things that you're not going to relate to, even when it's someone else's grief or someone else's grief experience. So, I have to like take a step back and tell myself that. But at the same time, I, I don't know, I (I) do feel like we tend to hear from a lot of people who fall in this category interestingly, where they don't have to worry about all the many different stressors that a lot of people do, when you have a lot, a ton of money and a ton (ton) of resources.

No, I mean I think that's I think it's like a fair assessment. We, I think part of the reason the the movie can (can) have so many monologues and these kind of dramatic relationships that are…

Yeah. Run off to Paris for weeks on end.

Yeah. It's because they, you're not, it didn't deal with a lot of the kind of day to day, like all of that stuff was in place for that be, to be able to happen. You didn't see a lot of that and (and) obviously a movie is always going to kind of take a specific story and focus on specific issues. It's not (not) somebody's real life. It's not a documentary. But, you know, I think with this, like the (the) plot itself, even how he goes about having some insights maybe into where he is and how he wants to move forward and (and) certain things, like they happen in these sort of dramatic ways that, I (I) don't know, it like weirdly reminded me of being 20 again. Like, of having these, like, weird romantic flings that were really, like, intense in a way that, I don't know. It was, it, it's, I can see how for some people, like, it probably was really tapped into something appealing. For me, I just, I like struggled with the relatability.

Yes. I think that's what I'm trying to say. Like, no shade to like anybody's story, right. Because there are so many different grief stories. Just because everybody grieves and we have people who have all different types of life experiences. But there are a lot of different stories that it's like, Okay, grain of salt like this. I can take a few things from this, but for the most part I don't find this relatable. Because there are so many things about my life that are (are) just very very very drastically different. And that's okay.


The thing is, I do feel like we hear from so many people who do struggle immensely just to find the time and space for their grief and just to deal with so much of those little things because a loss does happen within (within) the context of their life where they're paying bills and going to work and raising kids and things like that. And so it's almost like, we talk about the Dual Process Model of Grief where you have on one side we're dealing with our loss related stressors and on the other side we're dealing with our life stressors and our adjustment stressors, this is an actual model of grief, and what the theorists say is that we kind of have to ping-pong between the two. And then and it's almost almost as if this movie was like, well you don't have to ping-pong, you can just stay focused on that grief piece fully. Because you have no other no other things to worry about. And that's just not how it works for so many people.

And interestingly, I think there is a (a) story, sort of, to be told about when you do have that luxury of being able to afford, like what (what) we assume in the film is that he has been able to, as (as) someone just said from the community, afford to hire someone to deal with all the little things that might wear them down. And he has presumably, it sounds like not really had to work at all in this entire year up until we kind of jump into the film. And that bouncing back and forth it can be really difficult and draining for people. But also, just being in the grief side all the time can be draining. And there is something to be said for the fact that having to survive the day-to-day, having to figure out how you're going to get up and go to work and pay the bills, it forces you out of bed sometimes, for better or worse. It forces you to re-engage in the world. And I think sometimes when we talk to people who, maybe not even because of being financially in this place that he is in but because of being retired or being in a situation where they're not responsible for a lot of other people and grief has actually created an enormous amount of time, empty time and space on their hands, it takes you a whole different direction. But we don't see that in the movie either because the movie skips over the whole first year. Like, we (we) see the very beginning and then we get to the first year and then we're thrust in to, like, him learning the secret, and then this whirlwind trip to Paris where there's like all these relate like stuff going on. And so I did find myself thinking when (when) you kind of learn he hasn't been, you know, he hasn't been working, he hasn't been doing his painting, he hasn't been, I was kind of like Wow. What has like, what has this first year looked like for him. Because I don't really know. So we didn't even get to see the other side that maybe could have been, I don't know, something.

Yeah. I (I) was thinking about that as well. The fact that we didn't see the first year. And on the one hand, I was like Oh well, what happened. Like, I want to see the first year. But then, when I think about it, I do appreciate, like, I feel it was like respectful of grief and grievers to say Okay, we're fast forwarding a year and now is when we're talking about all these other things because so many movies and television shows don't do that. They say, all right, it's like two months later or three months later, let's talk about dating. Let's talk about like getting back to to being normal, and being the guy you were before. And so I did kind of appreciate that that they put that padding in there to, like, acknowledge Hey. We're not even going to talk about this stuff till a year down the line. So, I appreciated that. I mean, I'm not saying that's why they did it, they might have only done it because it made sense to say he read the letter on the year (year) mark. But whatever. For whatever reason, I do appreciate. But I, I'm with you. I'm like What was that first year like. I am curious.

Yeah. And I, I agree. Because I did like the fact that it picked up a year later for those reasons that you just expressed. But it's funny because it became all about the secret. Like, we didn't get to see him maybe grappling as much as I would have expected with his identity. Like he, there's a little bit of it, of touching on it, but, you know, he had worked for his husband, like he presumably, there's a lot that was probably going on in that year with time and sense of self and identity, on all these multiple levels. It impacted his personal career and all of these things. But yeah. I mean, again, you can't pack it all into one film. I love to know what other people…


…thought. We've spent a long time talking about a movie we didn't love, so. It's all right.

It's about grief and so I do feel like, you know, people, I'm sure even if people haven't watched it, if you have Netflix, you may have at least seen it on your For You page on Netflix being recommended and been curious, so don't take our word. You might have a totally different experience of it. I would encourage people to still, if they had been looking forward to it, or interested in seeing it, to still see it because we may have had a very specific take because we spend all of our time thinking about grief. And maybe it makes us hypercritical.

No. And you know what, we love watching television and movies. So if you have a movie or a TV show you want to do a little watch for and then we can have a discussion on the podcast, we would love to speaking of that. I'm not going to take us on a tangent, but I did watch The Holdovers last night and there was a lot of grief there but.

Oh, so much grief there. Oh my gosh, we can talk about that another time because there's a lot of grief in The Holdovers that was not conveyed in the trailer.

No. No, no, no, no. But I liked it, I thought it was a good movie. So, yes I would love to talk about it.

Okay. So we actually do have a real topic.

So, I, to talk about.

Yeah. Could you get us started with it because this was something that came out of one of your conversations, I think.

Yeah. So it, I mean, it's something, I think, that has come up a lot but it was just, it came specifically on this webinar the other night. Somebody made a comment about, just was so much information out there about grief on the internet and books and again, I would say even in media that we do see it all over the place, why are people still so grief illiterate. Why are, like, friends and family and community, like, why hasn't (hasn't) this changed. And I didn't really have time to dive in and address that question in the context of the webinar, but I do hear people express this frustration a lot and I actually see people sort of doing work to try to change it, right. To, like, improve grief literacy and educate and you (you) know, you see stuff out there. But I think it's (I think it's) really complicated, I guess. For a lot of reasons. And so that was why I had sent it to you as a possible topic for us to talk about today because I (I) just think there's a lot to say about it.

Yeah. I think it's interesting when you brought it up, I went on like a whole tangent before being like, Wait a minute. What even is grief literacy. Like, what does that actually even mean. Because I think, when you hear the term, any (any) term, you know, like "literacy" right, I think it, for me personally, it implies that you know a ton about it, right. And so for grief literacy, I was like Oh well, I don't know, actually does that mean you know a lot about grief. What does that mean. Because as I've commented to you, the more I feel, I know, like know intellectually about grief, the less I feel I know about anyone's individual grief, right. Like I know what I don't know basically. And so I went and Googled it. I'm going to tell you like the top one that Google gave to me. I didn't like go clicking through a ton but this is from the College of Nursing at the University of Utah, so. And it seems to echo some of the other ones that I see but, a shared understanding on how best to respond to person's experiencing grief and loss in ways that bring comfort and do not bring harm. So it's like extremely vague and and broad, right. I think, interestingly.

A terrible definition. Okay. That's not. I find that not (I find that not) helpful, I should say. Maybe not a terrible definition but I find that not to be a very helpful.

Well, it interest me because, you know, I wonder who should, I wonder if ADAC has one. But a lot of the other ones I saw, like, kind of were broad, along those lines as well. And so I don't know if anyone has a definition that they really think is good, share it with us because I would love to hear it. But I do think it's like one of those terms that we use but like, What is it even mean. Like, What does it even mean, you know, to know. What does it mean to know about. I guess.

Well, and I think…

Maybe we need to decide.

Well, what you described, I think, is that, is the problem I have in some, to some degree, with the the concept of this. Like, I do believe that obviously there are ways that people can be more informed and less informed about grief. So, I think that (that) that's (that's) real, right. There are cons, there are some, maybe conceptual things about grief that I do wish that most, that more people knew. But what those things are, I think are things that point to the fact that a lot is very subjective and different, right. I (I) mean, my experience is the same as yours, which is the more I know about grief, the more I spend, time I spend with people who are grieving, the more that I have, longer that I have done this work, the less I feel sure about, the less I feel like is true, the less about, I think, certainly a huge thing for me is that I think early in grief and I think this happens for a lot of people, you experience a loss and you think that what you have experienced has taught you something about what other people have experienced. And then the more time you spend around other people and like learning about grief, the more you realize your experience has actually taught you very little about what other people have experienced, because it is so uniquely different from person to person. And I think maybe that's what is hard about grief literacy is, to me at its core, the thing I want people to know about grief is almost nothing is universally experienced.

Right. There are commonalities. There are things we might share. There are threads that might connect us. But we certainly do not know what anyone else's grief is going to look like. And I wonder if 60 years ago would we have defined grief literacy in a way that really accommodates a lot of those stage theories and models that really predominated in the 21st century. We had a century almost of grief theory that was about tasks and stages and phases. And really what that led a lot of people to believe, even people working in the field, even professionals, even theorist was that there was a way to kind of categorize and predict grief. And so I do wonder if maybe even in our not so recent past, the grief literacy means something totally different. I have no idea what the answer to that is. But I (I) do wonder that because I do think where we are now, a lot of what it means I think is (is) budding up against those things and saying like actually no, those theories they all serve a purpose. They're used, you know, in certain contexts. You can take them with a grain of salt. You can take pieces of it, but no. Those are not going to describe everybody's experience. No, the five stages of grief are not what people are going to go through. No, we should not be telling our friends Oh, it seems like you're in the anger phase, you know. So, I (I) do think that it's interesting because I feel like it's not that long ago that we really felt very differently about what grief looks like. As a society.

Oh yeah. Absolutely. And I think that it, you know, that it varies culturally. I think we, you know, we see all of those differences too that make it really challenging. And I think it is, to me, I think it also speaks to something that we, as people grieving, sometimes want or wish could exist. Which is that we wish that people would just magically know how to support us without having to communicate. Like that's, I think sometimes people's dream is that somehow everybody around them is going to know exactly how to support them and we're not going to have to do any work to help to get those people there. And I think that that is sometimes why people are like, I want people to be grief literate. And I get (I get )that, right. When we're grieving, (it is ex) it is exhausting to feel like we're surrounded by maybe people who don't necessarily know about grief or how to support us or what to do. And we wish that society had just done a better job at, you know, educating people about that. And also, this I feel like is going to sound really negative and maybe like a very unpopular opinion but in many ways that's also not a reasonable expectation. Like, most things in life we can't expect that people are just going to know what to do, especially when it's so unique to each of us. Like, our grief experience, our support needs. Like, it's so unique to all of us. And so, we do have to communicate.

If we are (if we are) willing to accept or wanting to accept that our grief is unique to us, as individuals, to our relationship with what the person we're grieving or (or) the loss that we're grieving, to all the other factors that influence us about our background, about our resources, about our life in the present, then we have to also be able to accept that the way to support us would be incredibly unique and not following a template. And if you think about it, a lot of the rules of etiquette that we have are really outdated. Like, they go (they go) back a long ways. And they really only cover the very beginning of grief a lot of the time. Like, we really have to encourage people very strongly to remember a year later to reach out, things like that. Because that wasn't always in that etiquette handbook, you know. And so, not, there's not really a handbook. I'm just saying that. But I think that we, if we are, if we can acknowledge that we're incredibly unique, then we have to also be able to acknowledge that the support we need is incredibly unique. And how would anybody able to, be able to predict that. Like, I consider myself pretty grief literate, that does not mean that I know how to support a person perfectly going through grief because they're unique. Like, I need to (I need to) hear from them or I need to be able to interact with them to (to) really learn that from them. And so, it (it) is unfortunate because I do think, when you're grieving, you just want people to know, like you said, and your (your) bandwidth is low. Some people just aren't great at communicating about their needs or communicating interpersonally at all. I (I) definitely consider myself somebody who does not want to ask people to do things for me. But that is sometimes what we have to do in order to get our needs met. And I think when you see people who are good at this you're like, Oh, it's actually not that unreasonable or hard. Oh, that person asked me to do something and it didn't make me feel terribly put out or bothered. Actually, I, I'm relieved and happy to know what they need. Like, when you see it in practice, and I do feel like it's pretty rare that you see it in practice, you see like, Oh, actually wait, this (this) does make sense and it works.

Yeah, completely. I mean, I have a (a) particular friend group who, I think, does this incredibly well. I think that, and I think that actually because they do, because people and maybe some people in that group started doing it well it made it easier for other people to do it well. But where people are really able to communicate and say, Hey, here's what's going on with me. Here's what I need. Here's what I'm kind of asking from you all. And they're able to be able to come back and be like, Hey everybody, I am feeling sort of ghosted. Or I'm feeling like people, the way people responded to this particular thing I said, I ended up feeling X Y or Z. And people, I just watch how people can communicate and then how it makes me, as somebody who's also not great at asking for help, better at being able to ask for help. Because the (the) culture of that is there or better able to express, yeah, certain things. And I think one of the things that watching that friend group has made me aware of and I think ties back to grief literacy is, I think sometimes, especially when people are not good at asking for help or for maybe wanting to give somebody direct feedback about something that was helpful or not helpful, it's easier to generalize and be like, Oh well people grieving need this and they don't need that. It's good to say this or it's not good to say that. And what people usually mean is What I am asking you for is this. What is helpful for me to hear is that. And what is not helpful for me to hear is this. But because I'm struggling to want to be able to express that directly about myself, because I'm not good at being able to maybe ask for what I need, say what I don't need, give direct feedback about stuff that has been helpful or hurtful, I want to generalize it to some checklist that exists for all grievers, that just isn't real. You know, I look at the number of things that I see online where I think people are trying to maybe update that etiquette book and give people these new tips and tricks of what to do and not to do to be grief literate or to support grievers. And sometimes I'm like, Oh my gosh. If someone did that or said that to me I would want to curl up under my bed and not have to talk with them ever again. And I don't think that that thing that that person has suggested is then objectively wrong. I just recognize that's something that really works for other, for some people and doesn't work for me or doesn't work for other people. Like, I've said this a thousand times before, Don't you dare ever show up at my house unannounced and bring me anything, ever. And like the, it is like my biggest nightmare is people coming to my house unannounced and coming to my house and like bringing me stuff. And I (I) think it goes back to a lot of different things. But like, including right after my dad's death, when people showed up with like so much food we ended up throwing away. Like, my godmother, like I just wanted time to myself and my godmother came over with somebody to clean the entire house which, like, I see objectively how that is such a kind thing. And of course, I think, I don't want to (to) ever minimize how having more support than less is always probably a good thing, right. To feel like people have tried and and screwed up rather than not tried at all. But, it was so upsetting for me at that time, that I think it has really stuck with me in so many ways. And then I see kind of some of the recommendations. And I want to be like, Well, maybe we should give that with some caveats. Like, maybe we should say, like, ask somebody first. You know. But I think it is put out there in this way of like, Oh here's what helped me. Here's what, so do this thing. And, I don't know. I just, I struggle with it.

Jennifer from our community shares experience books and podcasts have been the way I've grown with grief literacy. And Joan added learning about others experiences is helpful as well. And I appreciate that because I think that that is such a wide range of sources. There's books, there's podcast and there's actual personal experience and other people's experiences. And I do think that really thinking about it in a layered and more in-depth way can be really helpful. And some of the stuff that you're referring to right now really make me think about a lot of what we're "learning in these like sound bites", or not even sound bites, but like, I don't even know what I would call it, like infographics, pictures, images on Instagram. And it's like Instagram, learning about grief. And I (I) think that it's too unnuanced. It's (it's) too, it's not multifaceted. It's not layered. It's very like one off. Like, this is what to do or this is what not to do. And they get a lot of likes. A lot of these things. Because there are a lot of people who can relate to that one thing. But then, there are so many people who can't that might not (not) like it, but you don't hear from those people. And so, it does create this situation where somebody who's a casual observer is like, Oh. Am I supposed to do that? Am I supposed to be like that? Like, a lot of the stuff that people suggest just is not like the way I am as a friend or as a family member. And I'm like, so I got to be that person to be able to be a good grief supporter? And in reality I know, No. Like, there's a lot that I can offer that is in my, you know, personal strengths. There is in my wheelhouse that could be really helpful to somebody that doesn't look exactly like what the Instagram graphic is telling me it needs to look like. And so, I do think we need to get a little more in depth. And if (if) something doesn't jive, like, we could speak up, we could comment or we could, you know, if we're curious like Oh, is that true? Is that, right. We could look it up, and like, look a little more in depth about it. And not just take what we're seeing on, you know, an Instagram comment or wherever we are as (as) the gospel truth. Because, you know, a lot of those things are really based on personal experience or something someone heard or you know a more cynical view is based on what people think is going to get likes.

Oh yeah. I mean, I think that the latter part of what you just said sadly is very true. And we know that people really do like the reinforcement, sometimes, that comes around when they've had a difficult experience or not felt supported. That is something that often gets a lot of likes on social media. And so, sadly I do think that influences the conversation. But I (I) do think the other thing is just, as you said, it's hard to capture a nuance in a very sound-bite society. And so, I think the real piece of grief literacy, so much of it comes down to I think something similar to the shift that has happened in the idea where we used to talk about cultural competence and now we talk about cultural humility. And that cultural competence was this idea that you've got to learn things about other cultures so you can be competent about other cultures when you're working with people from those cultures or meet people from those cultures. And then this huge shift of course has happened where it's like, No, no. That's (that's) not how it works. That's unreasonable. Cultures are not one dimensional. Humans are humans. When we meet people, what we need to do is approach every individual from a place of humility and be able to say, I don't know a lot about your culture and I (I) want to be able to understand and be the best possible friend, therapist, physician, teacher, whatever it is to you. Can you talk to me. Can you help me to learn. Can you point me in the direction of things that you have, that you find helpful so I can then research those things. And that that humility is what allows us to be able to be a good support to that particular person whose culture in impacts them in a very particular and unique way that might be totally different than someone from another from the same culture who the impact of their culture is just different in their life. And I think with grief, it's so similar, right. We, I, I'm not sure we should be striving for grief literacy so much as grief humility to be able to just sit down with the people who we know and love who are grieving and be able to say like, I, I'm not sure, right. I'm not sure what you're experiencing. I'm not sure what would be helpful or not helpful. I have some thoughts about either my own experiences with grief, things I've seen, things I've thought maybe, could be helpful. But, like, I want to just talk about those things and see what you think, see what you need, see what you want to communicate to me. If you have podcasts you want me to listen to, books you think that it would be helpful for me to read, things that have really resonated and captured your grief. Like, tell me what they are so that I can absorb that. But then that allows me to be able to really understand where (where) grief intersects with you a human being.

Yeah. Absolutely. I think that that really is when I think about, when we first started talking about grief literacy, what I ended up coming around to is having the knowledge to know what you don't know about anyone (individ) individual. As it relates to supporting people, you know, like there's a ton to know about grief and what's, you know, "normal", typical experience. And, you know, normalization of so many different things are important, what's a myth, what's a misconception, there's lots of concepts. There's lots of theories. There's a ton to learn. But none of that is going to specifically inform you about what your, you know, next-door neighbors going through when they experience a loss. And so, I do think that that is where I come around to when I think about this is that it does have to be that knowledge of what you don't know, about any one particular person what you need to learn from them to be a good support person, if that's your aim, if that's what you what you care about in this conversation.

Yeah. Absolutely. Like, I think about myself as somebody who has been through a plenty of personal loss who has worked, you know, in grief for so long. When I am supporting somebody who is grieving, whether it is a friend or family member or a client that I'm working with or anybody, it is not any of my knowledge, like some sort of grief literacy knowledge, that I feel like I lean on the most or that makes me the most helpful support person to them. It is the fact that I am not scared to have conversations about grief and that I'm be able to be present with messy, messy, messy feelings and thoughts and whatever people say. And that I know to keep coming back and revisiting and asking for feedback and to, you know, kind of keep it evolving. And those are the things that I, no question, rely on the most when I'm in any individual situation working with people. So, I guess to me that, yeah, I don't know, that's (that's) what feels the most important more than some sort of literacy guide that could exist.

Right. Yeah. I agree with that. And again, I mean, you know, supporting other people might not be your main concern, right. Maybe you want to learn a ton about grief, and that's (that's) okay too. There's a ton to learn, right. But if (if) we're talking about being able to unders, you know, help other people, and be there for other people, and understand the best way to approach other people then I think it's kind of this understanding that you need to learn from them. That's should be the guiding light there.

Yeah. And (and) that you know, hopefully, that maybe that's what when we talk about what we can ask for, from other people that, that you know, can guide us a little bit, right. I think about going (going) back around to where we started, with maybe my, how (how) recently I have been thinking about chronic illness even more than have in the past. But with a friend, in that friend group I talked about, who is really good at being able to communicate needs and where I think people are able to do some of this question asking to help understand. You know something, there is someone in that group that has a chronic illness, and they have been able to do such a (a) good job of (of) saying Here's how you can learn more about the illness that I have. Where people in that group, I think, do approach it from a place of humility and will say Can you help me understand this. Can you you know tell me about that so I can better know how to be a good support to you. And I, so I think there's just so many areas. Like I said before, where again we would love to just snap our fingers and know that people could support us without us having to do anything. But in so many moments in our life, of what we're going through, whether it is you know grief or chronic illness or going through a divorce or you know job loss, any of it, as so much of what we have to do, I think, is ask people questions and ask the people around us to please do some understanding based on your unique experience and your unique needs.

All right, well, I think that we have solved the problem.

Done and done.


No. I wish there were like some nice sound bite answer that I could Instagram about it. But.

Yeah. And Jennifer shares, I think, if we could teach people that grief is normal. That (that) would be immensely helpful. And I do think that that's, when we talk about grief literacy, I do think that that's like a foundation that one does need to have is just understanding. Like, what (what) is true and what is not true about how grief might look. A lot of those misconceptions out there are where we start to think that people can be a little more predictable and that people will fit into categories and that people will move along on certain timelines. And so, just understanding what is maybe a myth or an overgeneralization about grief and what is considered okay and normal and healthy is (is) pretty important.


There's a really really really wide range of normal thoughts and feelings and responses. Hopefully people who are listening to this podcast are with us on that by now. Because I feel like that's a drum we're constantly beating. But maybe not. Maybe this is your first time listening to us, so.

Well, and you know interestingly, I just one more thought that that brought up for me is that that grief is normal. And also that like talking about grief is normal. I (I) mean, I think when I think about us when we going way back to 2010, 2011, you know, when we were in the early days of talking about what ended up becoming What's Your Grief. It was just feeling like, Wouldn't it be great if there was a place where people just talked about grief like a normal person. Like, no tilted heads. No, like, quiet voices. No feeling like we can't make jokes. But just like, it's a, it's a life experience that we all go through. We just need to learn how to talk about it in our day-to-day experience with the people around us. With like, you know, in (in) normal ways and not kind of hold it in this space where we (we) don't talk about it. And maybe though it was portrayed in a way I didn't quite relate to because of all of the monologues in the movie Good Grief, one thing that maybe the movie Good Grief did do is, I mean it did portray this friend group that just like Whoa, they talked about their feelings. Like, they talked about their, there was (there was) a lot of that in a way that was portrayed as just normal. Like, it was how they interacted. Again, it was maybe a little bit more dramatic than the way I am used to interacting with people. But I do think, maybe, one of the things it was trying to capture was that idea that like This is ongoing. It's just part of our life now. And so, we've got to figure out how to just talk about it normally with the people who are around us all the time, who love and care about us, and who we love and care about. And sometimes I worry that this idea of grief literacy, not grief literacy per se but like all the like, This is the right thing to say. This is the wrong thing to say. This is the right thing to do. This is the wrong thing to do. That it scares people into silence of like, Oh gosh. I'm gonna say the wrong thing and, you know, screw it up. Like, people have all already always feared that. And if we approach the idea of grief literacy, you know, in the same way of like, you know, speaking another language where you can make objective mistakes, then I do think maybe it scares people a little bit rather than just kind of viewing it as something normal that is just part of human experience and human conversation.

Right. I know, I agree. I do think part of it is that fear of, not just a fear of somebody who is maybe a support person saying the wrong thing or asking about something, but even grieving people, I think. The fear of bringing it up and making it awkward or, you know, making people think that you're not doing well enough, you know. There's all sorts of reasons why grieving people don't bring it up. But then I also think going back to that, you know, a lot of our etiquette comes from a long time ago. I think that there is that idea that Oh in polite, you know, polite conversation we don't bring up these (these) things that are so unpleasant. And so, I (I) do think that there's a lot of stuff that we're kind of like budding up against. And oftentimes, it's those we talk about finding your grief friends. Like, it might not be your partner. It might not be even like a sibling. It might just be somebody who like gets it and wants to talk about it and the same way you do, who you really find Okay, I can be open about this. I can talk about it. And it's not necessarily going to be everyone. And maybe, maybe that's okay.

Yeah. I (I) think that (that) that's true. And helping people around us to understand that when we bring it up, whether we bring up our emotional state, whether we bring up logistical stuff, remembering the person, like whatever just helping people to get comfortable that they don't have to be scared in that moment. Like, they're not gonna, it's not suddenly that they have to start walking on eggshells or being scared that they have to fix us in that moment. Just being able to be present for it and be able to have the conversation goes so far. And I think that is all just go, goes back to kind of how does it become just more of a normal piece of what we, as humans, do.

All right. Well, I think this brings us to the end of our episode today. Thank you all for joining us. As always, we will share information about what we have coming up, what we have going on, our Griever Hub where we do lots of different sessions and talking and conversation, we'll share information about that. And next week we'll be back on Monday.

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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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