Relief in 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. Welcome back to another episode of the What's Your Grief Podcast. My name is Eleanor and as always I'm joined by Litsa. Hi Litsa. How are you today?

I'm doing pretty well, how about you?

I'm doing okay. I'm trying to start my week off right. Got myself a coffee. I didn't go back to sleep this morning after making my kids lunches, so that is a good foot for me. So it's the little things for me in the mornings.

Just little things? I feel like on a Monday morning that is that's a big accomplishment just keeping it going.

Yeah. I have to apologize to you that I was texting you, I know you're ahead in the time zone and I was texting you late at night last night about my frustration about an article that I read.


So sorry if you had a lot of ding ding ding dings going off in the middle of the night.

Luckily my phone was on silent. But yeah, no, it was very clear that you were pretty concerned about the article, and it was a grief article so it seems appropriate to talk about it. I mean it was sort of a grief. Maybe it was a grief article but like a weird grief article.

It is. I mean it has certainly has implications for, I don't know, just like the future of what we might see. It was called the race to optimize grief and it was on And first and foremost, I have to say thank you to grief expert Joanna Cacciatore for giving her insight because her insights were exactly what we would have said. And I just feel very grateful for that because the article was all about. Well there was a lot going on in the article, but I think the thing that stuck out to me was there was a lot about AI. And how people are really racing to use AI to provide, I don't know what the word is. I don't even know if I would use the word grief support. But I guess, to comfort people, I guess, in their grief by kind of in a way replicating their loved ones way of talking, voice etc. And so it was all about how people are and companies and entities are trying to kind of jump to creating services to provide those sorts of things to people who are grieving. And this is a gigantic conversation. Not one that we are really equipped or have the time to get into today. um Of course it has a lot of implications but the thing that kind of bugged me was some of the quotes that were pulled from people working in this space, particularly one that said that they are trying to, I can't remember the exact quote but basically rid the world of grief, of the emotion of grief, was what it said. And that to me feels pretty misguided. Would you agree with me? Or are you on the other side of this?

Oh. I am certainly not on the other side of this. And it's funny because when I looked at the article and I opened it, after seeing your text and skimmed through it, I actually realized that I had listened to a podcast a while ago with the same guy who talked about wanting to rid the world of…

The quote is "the ultimate hope is to eliminate grief as an emotion".

Eliminate grief as an emotion. Okay. And you know, for a little more context of what we're talking about, if this isn't immediately intuitive is sort of different ways that they are looking at using existing video, email, text, social media, language like different things from a person from while they were alive to feed it into computerized systems that then will allow that system to be able to replicate that person's voice and try to predict what they would say in a certain situation. How they would respond. How they would sound. I think probably you've seen, you know, everybody has seen now all these different AI. Things that are coming out about how really uncanny it is. They can create replicas of people's voices and what that sounds like. So, it started from this place of people, I think, being interested in what you could generate. I think that there is this huge leap that comes from that of Okay, what's AI gonna do to be able, can we use this to to replicate the voice of people and think about what they might say or have a bot to saying and we're trying to eliminate grief. It's almost like, to me it's like two separate issues. It, and both I see lots of problems and questions and ethical considerations about. But each one feels that and I think for me the second one feels even nor more enormous and absurd than the first one. Like, it's one thing to go, Oh let's see what we can do with AI replicating people after they've died. That's weird. That has ethical concerns. But like the leap to go, And if we can do that then we're going to eliminate the emotion of grief. I think that's exactly points to what you just described which is, that like, that feels like a misunderstanding of grief and emotion.

I think that's my, the moment where I was like, Whoa. Because I know that there are a lot of possibilities on the horizon with AI. And that is a whole can of worms. And like you said, there are so many ethical concerns. The article does a good job of getting into a little bit of this. And like I said, they also talked to a grief expert who had a lot of things that kind of balance this out. So it might be an article worth reading if you're interested in all of this. But I think the thing that bothered me was that the people who seem to be at the forefront of trying to get into this world have a motive that just feels like steeped in humors, first of all. Like We're going to eliminate grief as an emotion. An emotion that is a a very human emotion that we've been experiencing since the beginning of time. We're going to eliminate this human thing. We're going to make us essentially less human, right, by let's start eliminating our emotions. We're going to eliminate this thing and that's our driving force, when that's just not possible. And we're not going to eliminate grief. First of all, it's just such a simplification of the things that we grieve and why we grieve. Like, no bot is going to take the place of being able to put my arms around my loved one, give them a hug, smell them, talk to them, sit across the table from them. It's not going to replace, maybe if it's my partner who was able to be a parent to my kids or go to work and earn half the income. Like, there are so many layers of grief that, yes you could say we're going to create a tool that will provide a comfort to people in their grief, but to promise people that they're going to eliminate grief or to even think that's possible is so, in my opinion misguided. And maybe in a hundred years I'll be wrong or sooner. I don't know. How fast this is all going to progress, but I just don't see it. And I think that it's a fool's errand to say it's possible. And frankly there's a lot of people who are probably going to be very tempted to believe it because grief feels terrible. And when you put this in front of them and say Oh look, I can kind of to replicate your loved one and eliminate your grief, I think plenty of people are going to be like Oh Okay, great. Sign me up.

You know, it's interesting, because I think some people, especially in that pain of early grief, may be really interested in this. And also I think that there will be other people who will certainly be like No. I, you know, I don't see the goal as getting rid of grief by trying to replicate someone I love who died. Like, I think there is something about that, that for many people will strike them as just antithetical to what it is to have an authentic human relationship, you know. Part of that is even if we could imagine a world where they can completely predictively make you feel like this is your mom and it looks like her and it feels like her and it's essentially like a fully AI Android version of your mom, there's always going to be a piece of you that knows like But this isn't my mom, right. This is, this synthetic replica of something that meant so much to me. But it's not the thing itself. And that isn't to say that there might not be some value in certain ways about the fact that these things could exist. I don't know. Like, right now, it sort of blows my mind to think about it. I don't feel like I can fully wrap my head around it or think about all of the implications. But I do feel like it's very safe to say that part of authentic human relationship is just knowing that we're having a human relationship with another person and that's something that by nature will never be able to fully replicate. Like, that's just the reality of it.


Yeah. I, so to me, it it is though, I mean I'll also say for anyone else who's listening and thinking about it, like there was a Black Mirror episode that was exactly this. Like it really truly was and the fact that we're at this moment that it's really happening. That Black Mirror episode was probably 10 years ago, I'm guessing now. I don't know, I'm so bad at time. But that it was truly exactly this. And it was a wife and her husband and it starts with a bot and then the company kind of upsells her, right. First, she just starts by putting all of his twitter and his email in there and then she can chat with him online and then they kind of upsell and upsell until she does have this like android robot version of her husband in her house. That then brings all these like weird complex things that goes with it. Because even though, yes, he does feel perfectly like her husband in many ways, she is continually aware that it is not actually her husband. And that's the piece that I think, I don't know. Like that's part of our humanity is the fact that we are all impermanent and that we do grieve people. And that the other side of love is loss. And I just, the idea that we would want to set a goal of eliminating that to me feels so strange and misguided.

That's and that's my main thing. Like I don't, this is not grounded in like me being a lot, I, who's afraid of AI technology. Like, I am a little afraid of AI Technology on a side note. However, I can recognize that with every new innovation comes the ability to do amazing things and to find new ways to find comfort and different sources of positive experiences and emotions in our lives. So I'm not eliminating the benefits. I'm not, like, closing my eyes to the fact that there could be benefits. What bothers me is what seems to be driving it at according to this article. And, you know, I want to know that we are being thoughtful and realistic and really understanding what grief is before we go out saying we're going to eliminate it. And you know, when I described this to my daughter I just was like having a, you know, side conversation with her she said that just sounds kind of like avoidance, right. Like, it's like avoiding the reality that your loved one has died and they're no longer here. It's kind of, and that's not to say that finding comfort and their voice and those are things that I treasure any sort of bit that is a visual or audio or like my mom's handwriting or words, like it's not to say that those things are all avoidance. But to try and replicate them and ignore the fact that they've died in essence does feel a little like avoidance, so.

Well, I was just gonna say one more thing. And I think that that's, you know, in the conversations about continuing bonds there is this really interesting discussion in some of the academic research and literature that is When is continuing bonds helpful and when is it not helpful. And when are there situations where holding on to certain objects that remind us of a person are useful and a function that actually make it easier to move forward in the world because we can hold on to those things versus when is it that we can't let go of any anything and we feel terrified and sort of in a way that makes us stuck in the past. And one of the ways that the research has differentiated a little bit of this is when we have things that help us to bring the person with us from the past, like those memories, into the future that that can be really helpful, that it is sort of dynamic, it's a way to remind us that our connection to the person is internal, and so therefore wherever we move, wherever we go, at any given moment we are internally connected to that person who has died so we're bringing them forward with us. And when it is external, when we're really focused on the idea that no it's the object itself. I can't move from this house where we lived together because that I'll lose the connection, that can be some of the stuff that keeps us struggling to move forward. And I think in a lot of ways this idea of creating an external replica of the person who died, it feels to me a lot more like the ladder, right. It's trying to keep us in the past connected to this external thing rather than saying No, the connection is internal, right. Like, we, the connection to that person is something that we have to figure out how to hold it within us. Because if we're always looking for it externally, if we have to run to the bot or the android or the whatever it is, that is something that is kind of holding us to a past and denying the reality of what it means to fully engage in a world without them.


So, I think, to me that is a big part of why it also makes me so uncomfortable is it misses the reality that like grief is learning how to have this relationship with someone who died that is this internal relationship that we have to learn how to create as we move forward in the world. And creating an AI version of people who have died feels like it actually holds us back from doing that.

Actually that ties to a point that was made in the article. Because when we have a relationship with somebody it obviously evolves and changes and flows as we as people and then as we in a relationship evolve. And also, when we have a continued connection with someone who died, one thing we know is that that relationship evolves. It doesn't stay fixed and finite where it ended on this earth, right. When we have that bond, we carry it with us, we continue to think about how it might change, we continue to look at the person through the lens of where we are in our life. And one of the points that the article made is that when you input information about a person at a certain point in their life that is a very fixed and finite representation of where they were stuck in like 1999 or what whatever. I, you know the year I graduated, right. If I were still stuck in 1999 what, you know, that would not be me today. So, it's, I do think that there's a lot to consider here, obviously. And I guess, I don't know, it just felt like a topic worth, I mean maybe approaching. And also just adding our input, because I do want, people who are thinking about this, to really realistically understand what it means to grieve and to love someone who's died and let that be at the forefront of how we move this forward. And I'm, I know I'm not a fool, like I know that's not, I know that's probably not going to happen, but I do wish it would so. Anyways, there's that.

Yeah. There is that. And it is, it is really amazing to me to think I that, when that Black Mirror episode came out I remember thinking Wow. This does really feel real to what will happen in my lifetime. I think I never could have guessed it would have been so quick that we would be in a place that we're recording a podcast that's not just about this idea in theory but that there are real companies that are actually out here offering this in the world. That, to me, is absolutely mindboggling. So, I, I can't imagine where we'll be in 10 more years.

I know. I, trust me, I know. I have a four-year-old and I'm constantly like Oh my gosh, the world you live in will be nothing like the world I'm living in. And this is the way the world is, right. This has been happening forever. And my parents probably thought the same thing when AOL came along, you know. But this one does feel pretty big, I think.

Big. Its true.

Anyways, we, our main topic that we wanted to talk about today has nothing to do with this. But, it's, you know, one that I think is really relevant to a lot of people, so I guess we'll do, like, a real hard transition into talking about "relief" is what we wanted to talk about today.

Yeah. Absolutely. And the question that came in about this that prompted us wanting to talk about it, was from someone who had experienced the death of their daughter and the, had been really surprised by the relief that they felt. And their daughter had been sick with cancer but only relatively briefly just for a few months. But before that, for their daughter's entire teenage and adult life, severe and kind of persistent mental health issues had really impacted every aspect of their daughter's life, of the relationship, of the family. And so that had just been present. So there was that, then with a cancer diagnosis and then ultimately their daughter's death. And you know, the question about relief that was interesting was just Am I alone in this? And this is somebody who had been looking online. They were like, I've been searching for it. I've been Googling. Like, this was not somebody who hadn't tried to seek information about this but felt like they were kind of coming up empty and feeling really alone in the experience which is why they are a podcast listener who was interested in our thoughts about this. And it did make me think Oh this is an important topic. Because though we have written about this before, we've never recorded an episode of the podcast about it. And I do think it's a topic that it's an emotion, I would say, that is common in a number of different loss situations. And also that isn't talked about enough, where there really are a lot of reasons that we don't talk about it enough. So, I'm glad we're talking about it.

Yeah. I mean I think that it's an emotion that's considered positive and therefore I feel like not only are grieving people less likely to talk about it, I think a lot of people in the grief support space might be less likely to address it. But the thing is it's a positive emotion that then, often for many people, not everybody but many people brings on a negative emotion of feeling guilt or concerns that they're not normal, and so I definitely think that it's something we need to address. I think the reason people often feel guilty is because they're doing an equation that's just oversimplified, right. They're saying to themselves my loved one died I now feel relief so that must mean I'm relieved my loved one died, which is not the actual equation, right. The actual equation involves so many different factors on the one side of it where there are so many different facets to your relationship with the person, your life with the person, and any of those factors could cause you to feel any number of emotions at any time. And so I think, what we aren't really doing is parsing out what are we really actually feeling relief about.

Right. I think that that's where when we start to look at what are the situations when relief is especially common in grief and then what are people feeling in those situations. Often, the common denominator in those is it's situations where there has been suffering, where there has been pain, stress that have come in all different forms, right. So there is certainly caregiving which comes to mind as a one where we know when there is anticipatory grief. And someone has been ill and you've been taking care of them that you've often had to see that person suffering. You, as a caregiver have potentially been overwhelmed and suffering yourself. And there has been a lot of pain that has been part of that. And so, when the death comes, inevitably, right, that suffering is alleviated, that person isn't suffering anymore, you're not suffering anymore, and so there is a feeling that relief, of relief that comes with that. It can be, not necessarily just traditional illnesses like that we might think of like cancer or like a hospice related illness, but like in the question that came in it could be because of a persistent mental health diagnosis. It could be because of an addiction that has been going on. It could be because of an abusive relationship where there have been a lot of problems that came from everything, from you know, personality to emotional and physical abuse. But in all those situations, right, there has been suffering. Suffering of the person's, your own suffering because of how it has affected you within their relationship. And so then, when that person dies or even in cases of ambiguous grief, maybe it is when that person when we become estranged from them or separated from them in some other way, sometimes there's a relief that comes because our suffering from how it has been affecting us has changed. Or, you know, in the cases of a death we've seen their suffering and so I think, the suffering is often and that pain is often that common denominator. But, what people often acquainted to is that death. Like you said, it's that, I must be glad that they died or I must have been wishing that they would die. And where it can be really helpful I think, for people to see this nuance and really look for where, what is the relief about, is that it's a reminder that what we're relieved about is the pain and suffering ending. If we could have chosen how to end those things, 99.9 times out of 100 we would have chosen for a cure to that person's illness, right. We, an end to that suffering that allowed that person to still be here alive in the world with us, engage in a healthy relationship. That would have been our ideal. It's not that we were wishing for them to die but we were wishing for that suffering to end or feeling at least relieved that it is over. In a way that is, just I think important for us to note that those are different, right. It comes from a place of compassion and care for ourselves and for that person that we're glad that they're suffering has ended. And it makes sense that that's what we, that we're feeling that relief that that has ended and that's really different than feeling sort of glad that they died.

You're glad of an aspect of the relationship or an aspect of their life or your life has ended. Not that the life has ended. It's the aspect of it. So whether that's cancer or addiction or severe mental illness, you're glad that the thing that had a foothold on you and your loved one and your relationship is gone. But you would wish it would have just been that piece, so I think that we really need to kind of separate those things out. In the case of a really toxic relationship, maybe it was an emotionally or physically abusive relationship, often times there is immense relief that that relationship has ended for whatever reason like you said, it might be a death, it might not be, it might just be that the relationship is ended and may maybe it's total relief. But it could be relief along with grief for the good parts of a relationship, right. Not most relationships are not all good or all bad. Some are, but most are not. And so there's good and bad in there and we grieve the good and maybe feel relief about the bad. So, and then of course sometimes people die and we are glad because they were abusive or our relationship was terrible and we feel relief and then we feel guilt for feeling that because someone has died. Maybe it's a parent who's died and we're supposed to feel grief when a parent dies we're never supposed to speak ill of them but actually we know that we feel relief and that's not something that is validated by other people or our society or maybe even ourselves. And so, there are so many different reasons why we might experience this and I think what we want to say is that it's not wrong. It's not wrong to experience it for whatever reason and you experience it. And it may just be one of a hundred different things that you feel.

Absolutely. And it doesn't diminish, you know, it doesn't diminish your grief that you felt relief. It doesn't diminish your love for the person that you also maybe felt a lot of anger and frustration and hate about things that were part of your relationship. Those things can all exist. And I think that's the thing that's so tricky for us is as humans we get into that very black and white, all or nothing thinking, where it feels like it's either or. Or if I'm feeling relief it must mean that that is taking away from my grief or this anger and frustration and pain of the relationship means I loved that person less and therefore grieve them less. And it can be so important to remind ourselves that that isn't how emotions work. That you can still be fully grieving them and that that relief is part of your grief. It doesn't take away from the grief. It's part of your grief. And that sometimes because that relief leads to feelings of isolation and misunderstanding and shame and guilt for feeling the feeling that that actually adds more complexity, sometimes, to the way that we grieve. And so I think, being able to really give ourselves that permission to see how multifaceted and nuanced these emotions are is so important.

And something you said, I think, is important to really just pinpoint it's seldom selfish. You know, it's often because they were suffering, it might be because they were suffering which caused you to suffer, maybe you were living in hypervigilance because you were worried about them all the time which relates to your care for that person. And so it's seldom selfish. I won't say it never, I'm sure there are times when it is, but it is seldom. And so I think that's important to note it's okay to experience the things that feel maybe more comforting and positive in your grief alongside all the other things. And so, one thing I think maybe we could just end on is talking about a little bit like, if you're having a hard time, really kind of understanding where your relief is coming from, what are some things that we can do I think obviously if you're somebody who feels comfortable, likes to talk things out, that's a good place to start. If that's you, if you have a good friend, you can talk to a therapist to support group. If not, I know that many people, I can say for myself, have found just writing about it helpful. Just kind of getting it down on paper and really thinking about it in a, like, more multifaceted and nuanced way can be really helpful, if you don't have someone to talk to. Are there any other things that you would add that might be helpful.

Yeah. I think just, I mean one thing I would add to maybe build people's confidence with what you just described in terms of opening up to other people as a consideration, one thing I would remind people about is that though it can feel like we're really alone in relief, research has shown that relief is actually a really common emotion in grief. And so, it is one of those things where if you are sitting in a support group and you feel like no one has mentioned relief as an emotion, I must be the only one, that is very unlikely. There's a much better chance that there are other people sitting in that room who have also experienced that emotion. So, I just say that, I don't know, to kind of piggy back and reinforce what you just said. The other thing that I would encourage, I think, is one that might be relevant especially if it was one of those complicated relationships, and we could spend a whole episode on grieving after a complicated relationship, but if some of the relief is feeling like, Wow. This complicated part of our relationship has disappeared because of their death, is being able to spend time acknowledging that that sometimes opens up space for being able to have a relationship with them that wasn't possible within they when alive. Because of maybe those really complicated parts, the parts that felt either abusive or maybe where there was, it was so overshadowed by an addiction or another mental health diagnosis. There's a great exercise that Bob Neimeyer, grief expert, talks about which is a life imprint exercise. And he says that when people die they, or when people live, when we, in our lives they all leave imprints on us. And that some of those imprints are imprints that we really want to affirm. And some of those imprints are imprints that we want to relinquish. Like, they are things that were not the healthiest or things that did cause us harm. And when someone is still alive it can be hard to do some of that relinquishing because it's like it's still, you're still in it. It's still happening. But when they're gone, sometimes we have more ability to be able to recognize, acknowledge the things that we want to relinquish and start to figure out how to let go of them while, we then create more space to affirm the things that were positive or the memories that were good or other things about that relationship that feel like the legacy that we kind of want to keep in our relationship with a person. And that doesn't mean like, we never speak ill of the dead or we like undo the negative things. It just means that we acknowledge that sometimes within relief there is a space to create something that is really affirming about the positive aspects of the relationship.

And that's not to say that if you don't find positive in a relationship that that's wrong either right. Like, you can, I think, a lot of people will say, you know, there was a lot that was bad of a relationship but it didn't start that way or there were good times. And so, we want to normalize that because a lot of times people will be black and white and say Oh they were terrible. Why are you even grieving them or why do you still think about them. So, we kind of want to normalize that there's stuff
in there that people may still grieve. But also on the other hand, if you're somebody who's like, it's healthiest for me just to like let it go and to be relieved, that's fine too. There's really no right or wrong way. It's what is right or wrong for you. And what's, rather than saying right or wrong, I guess we should say healthy or unhealthy for you. So, we know that this is incredibly unique to the individual and the relationship and it's really nuanced, so if you take anything from this it's just to acknowledge that experiencing relief is incredibly normal. It's just one of many things that people experience. You do not need to feel guilty. I know, I, we were always hesitant to tell people not to feel guilty because it never works but we encourage you to think about what it is that's really causing you to feel relief because I think sometimes that can alleviate some guilt, when you really do kind of identify those pieces. And you can always find us on social media. We're on Instagram and Facebook mostly at whatsyourgrief. And you can also email us at
And we will be back again next week with another episode.

And if you're interested in that article that we were talking about at the beginning we'll link it in the show notes.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
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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.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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