Meet My Life Coach, Ira Glass

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa Williams

Okay, to be fair, I am not even sure what a life coach does. It is probably way more than Ira Glass does for me through my radio. But here is the thing about Ira Glass: Every week, he brings me comfort or inspiration or insight or humor or knowledge or normalcy or motivation or a reason to self-reflect. He makes me feel connected to other people in totally unexpected ways.  No matter how crazy I feel, Ira makes me feel a little less crazy. I find an hour a week of peace and solace in his soothing, nasal voice. There are more moments in life than I care to count in which I utter the phrase, ‘Hey, this is like that episode of TAL when . . . .’ and I am shamelessly okay with that.

That’s right, I called it TAL.  Stop judging.  Let me back up, because I am sure a few people are a little confused right now.  We are talking about ‘This American Life’ for those of you who don’t reference the show enough to require an acronym.  For those of you who don’t know the show at all, or who Ira Glass is, I have been typing and retyping this sentence trying to figure the perfect way to make this introduction.  After a few failed attempts, I went to the TAL website to see how they describe themselves.  Apparently I am not the first to have a problem briefly summarizing the genius of this show:

“One of our problems from the start has been that when we try to describe This American Life in a sentence or two, it just sounds awful. For instance: Each week, we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. That doesn’t sound like something we’d want to listen to on the radio, and it’s our show.” 

They go on to give a pretty-okay description of what the show is (and isn’t) here, if you want to check it out.

I will say, in case you are too lazy to click over to their site: TAL is a show on public radio about real, everyday life.  I know. Biggest. Cliché. Ever. But it really is. They tackle the every day and they tackle the big stuff, but in a way that is personal and connected to real people. It is funny and it is sad. It makes you love people and hate people. It gives a glimpse into the experiences of people, the everyday lives of people, the neuroses of people: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Everyday life when you’re grieving makes you feel the opposite of normal. We talk about it on this blog all the time: You cry in the Target sock aisle. You feel like you can’t relate to anyone and they can’t relate to you. People say all the wrong things. Grief just makes you feel totally crazy. TAL is one of the unexpected places I have found myself feeling a little less crazy over the years.  Or, at the very least, I feel a little more normal knowing that everyone else is a little crazy too.

I remember the voice of Ira Glass coming from our kitchen radio in high school, but it wasn’t until college, after my dad died, that I developed a love for the show. At a point in my life where everyone around me was in the blissful, carefree wonderland of college, I was dealing with overwhelming grief. I felt disconnected, I felt alone. This American Life was a window into real life; an assurance that there were other people who were hurting, other people who were surviving, and even more people who were transforming.

This week was the 500th episode of This American Life. The episode was the staff of the show sharing some of their favorite episodes and clips. It only seemed appropriate that I share some of my favorite stories from over the years: Things that brought me comfort in my grief, that made me feel connected, made me think and reflect, gave me perspective, and even made me laugh when I could use it most.

Sorry, you will have to click the link right to the player on the TAL site, because the embedded players crashed our site. Sorry, but it is totally worth having to leave the page to listen to these shows – I promise!

Stories of Loss

I wrote a review a while back of an incredible book called The Disappearance by a mother who lost her two daughter’s in a car accident. It was none other than Ira Glass who introduced me to this book when passages from it were read on the show (for the first time in 1999 and re-aired in the episode that immediately followed 9/11). The very first act is the reading from the book (starts at minute 5:56), but the entire episode is great. The second act is a story of a father and daughter unexpectedly writing his obituary together (starts at minute 34:39), and the third is a funny, tragic, and honest reflection by David Sedaris on his mother’s lung cancer (starts at minute 45:27).  Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site. 

The Real Story 

In the last of act of this episode in 2003, John Hodgeman talks about his ongoing effort to re-write Star Wars Episode I in his head. I can’t begin to explain why this segment resonated so much with me. You really just have to listen to it (starts at minute 46:40).  Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site. 

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

In Act III of this episode, Dan Savage talks in an incredibly honest and candid way about the death of his mom, his struggles with the Catholic Church, and his deep hope to someday see his mother again.   This is truly an incredible piece (starts at minute 37:52).  Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site. 


In an episode about conventions, you wouldn’t expect to find an act about love, connection, loss, and healthy reminder that grief makes us all a little crazy.  Leave it to TAL to surprise us. John Berry Parlow gives an incredible account of losing the love of his life and how life is never the same.  (starts at minute 37:44)  Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site. 

Life After Death

We posted a while back about guilt after a death.  Guilt it something you just can’t reason away and that people are very uncomfortable allowing others to feel after a death.  This entire episode was dedicated to, “Stories of people haunted by guilt over their role in others’ deaths, even when everyone agrees they’re blameless.”  Both acts are worth a listen, with the first about a teenager who kills a girl he knows in a biking accident that was not his fault (starts at 9:42) and the second about the struggles a veteran following his tour in Iraq (starts at 36:20).  If you are going with one or the other I would do the first. Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site. 

What Doesn’t Kill You 

The prologue and first act of this episode are a discussion with Tig Notaro about her standup act just after her cancer diagnosis, where she gives an honest, painful, funny, and uncomfortable glimpse into her life in a way that perhaps only a comedian could. (starts at the beginning).  Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site. 

Our Friend David

After the death of regular contributor to TAL, David Rakoff, last year the show compiled many of his contributions in a tribute episode. Though the whole episode is great because David Rakoff’s contributions to the show over the years were great, this video shared from one of their lives shows is truly inspiring. Click here to stream this episode on the TAL site.