Ken Ross | Rolling the Dice & Preserving the Legacy of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
SHOW NOTES SUMMARY:
Ken Ross has a theory for the way he lives his life and, it didn’t come to be without the influence of his mother, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Ken and I dig deeper into his life experience growing up in a home where grief, death, and dying were a daily part of life and the topic of conversation. His mother, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s first book, On Death and Dying, was the conversation starter for society to take a deeper look into the dying process and all of the feelings one goes through. She started a hospice movement and became known as the founder of The Five Stages of Grief™️, which we also talked about in this episode. Aside from his mother being the pioneer of grief and dying education, his father was a neuropathologist. It wasn’t unusual to have a human brain sitting at the kitchen table while his mother brought terminally ill children his age to the house for a visit.
Growing up around death, dying, and grief set the stage for Ken to understand the fragility of life and not live with regrets. His mother, Elisabeth, was also a huge proponent of living life outside of the box, as she very much expressed in her own life. One of her several final books, The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying, is the story of her extraordinary life as she prepares for death, in her words.
We also discuss Ken’s mission to preserve his mother’s work and legacy so future generations can learn, too.
Victoria Volk 0:08
This is Victoria of the unleashed heart calm, and you’re listening to grieving voices, a podcast for hurting hearts who desire to be heard. Or anyone who wants to learn how to better support loved ones experiencing loss as a 30 plus year griever. In advanced grief recovery methods specialist, I know how badly the conversation around grief needs to change. Through this podcast, I aim to educate gravers and non gravers alike, spread hope and inspire compassion towards those hurting. Lastly, by providing my heart with yours and this platform, Grievers had the opportunity to share their wisdom and stories of loss and resiliency. How about we talk about grief, like we talked about the weather? Let’s get started. Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. today. I’m very excited to have my special guest can Ross. He is the son of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, the founder of the ek AR foundation in 2006. And President and he’s also served on the board of the Elisabeth Kubler Ross center from 1989 to 2005. Ken was the principal care provider for his mother in the last nine years of her life until her passing in 2004. His responsibilities include handling over 80, publishers of Dr. Kubler-Ross’s work in 43 languages, public relations, copyright and trademark issues website maintenance, developing international Kubler Ross chapters, developing strategic partnerships as well as preserving her archives. While growing up he traveled with her extensively while on her numerous foreign trips witnessing her lectures and workshops. Ken has lectured on his mother’s legacy for hospices and various conferences in South America, Asia and Europe. There are several film projects that Ken is currently a consultant on including a major motion picture, a television vision series and various documentaries both foreign and domestic. He is a professional photographer by trade and he has photographed 102 countries. He is also the author of real taste of life, a journal by Ken Ross and Elisabeth Kubler Ross from 2002. And tea with Elizabeth, thank you so much for gracing me with your presence in fireside today. It wasn’t awful, but it you’ve led a very interesting and fascinating life, as has your mother, I started to dig into her book, the wheel of life and a memoir of living and dying. I felt drawn to that one of all of all the choices that are there out there. I think just because I have had recently gone through end of life doula certification, I think the the dying process and just the end of life experiences is kind of fascinating me at the moment. And I’ve picked some stuff out of the book that I would like to talk about at some point. But Sure, thank you, thank you so much for being
Ken Ross 3:03
my pleasure. That’s what I’m here for.
Victoria Volk 3:06
So let’s start with you. As I kind of mentioned at the beginning, before we started recording, we could make this whole podcast episode about your mom, there’s lots of content out there available about your mom, but I am curious and interested in learning about how having Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, as a mom has shaped you into the person you are today. And the impact that Her work has had on your life.
Ken Ross 3:32
You know, you don’t see things as are happening, right? You never realized what’s happening as it’s happening. You have to go back and go, Oh my God, that’s why I did this. That’s why I did that. So, you know, at the time, I had two parents growing up who are doctors, and they both worked with dying people or dead people. My father was a pathologist. So my father was bringing home human brains into the kitchen, leaving them you know, because I had to go to new hospital next day. And my mom’s bring home day and people who are my age, sometimes younger, sometimes older, but you know, dying people coming through the house. human brains are sitting in the kitchen, it was very unusual childhood. And so you know, death was something we heard about, if not every week, every day, and we heard at the dinner table. And I met people who are my age who are dying, so certainly made a big impression. And every time I went on a trip with my mother, you know we’re meeting dying people backstage after our conferences and at the workshops and you know, people stopping over in the airports and so forth. So it was death death death made me quite paranoid neurotic about like every little bumping, no, no, I had on my body. But so at the time, you know, it kind of freaked me out because I heard about it too much. But it did impress upon me that life is short and precarious for many people. And even for people who live a full long life. It still seems short because I’m meeting people in their 70s and 80s who are dying in their Like Ken My God, like you know just a few minutes ago I was a kid like what happened like, life went by in a blip and so they’re like yo really go out and really think about life just don’t take it for granted. You know really seize this opportunity you have and you have beautiful opportunity with your mother to do things that a lot of people don’t get to do and kids don’t get to do so anyway, my dad had his National Geographics, and I thought Wow, well if life is short and precarious You know, this would be an amazing way to spend your life these photographers go out and see all these tribes and hang out you know of helicopters and climb mountains, they meet movie stars, that seems like an amazing way if life is so short to go out really live it big. And I was very shy very quiet. And so I thought oh well with a camera I don’t really have to talk I can still be in my shy comfortable space. But I can go out and photograph landscapes nature and meet tribal people and and that would be amazing way just to see the world which is kind of a mysterious place. So I set out to go to 101 countries and that’s what I did. But I studied banking just as a backup because my father was a traditional family guy. And he didn’t want me going off on some flaky concept of being a National Geographic photographer. So state of banking like a good Swiss boy my mom was Swiss. So I thought well that’s my backup you know I can be a good Swiss banker but what I really wanted to do was travel and take photographs and my mom really pushed me to be like a gypsy basically and live my life outside the box. Whereas my father wanted me in the box so constant struggle between the parents right and my father did not believe in life after death my mother did so a lot of conflicts growing up between the parents because you respect them both. They’re both geniuses know their stuff, but you know, you’re kind of pulled in two directions at the same time. And that was a little challenging.
Victoria Volk 6:55
I want to circle back to that the opposite belief system but first I just want to say that I like just when I was a kid, I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. Oh, and I was my dad was diagnosed when I was six with cancer and I watched him you know slowly decline over the next two years and he died when I was eight and so I had that first early exposure and people my grandma had died too in that time of cancer and so I had been exposed to death and dying and you know, maybe not really not necessarily understanding the the fragility of life how fragile it is, but are really grasping that idea but I grew into that wanting to this urge to travel was in me if it wasn’t a National Geographic photographer, I wanted to be an airline stewardess. I mean, you know, like the idea was to get out and get away and traveling. Yeah, yeah, participate in like yeah, see what else is out there beyond my own four walls? No, did you actually shoot for National Geographic or that was just something that sparked your
Ken Ross 8:03
I wanted to be a National Geographic, you know, kind of photographer I wanted to go out and travel like hardcore. Yeah, get into, you know, remote villages in Africa and South America and, and so I didn’t shoot for them. But I have sold them a number of photographs over the years as stock photography.
Victoria Volk 8:19
Can I ask then how that experience because when you started doing that, and you were on this excursion of 101 now 102 countries, how did that morph into the work that you’re doing with death and dying? And how did that actually in being exposed to those different cultures? What have you taken away from what you’ve learned,
Ken Ross 8:40
so I was doing photography as a hobby as a kid, I was shooting concerts and, and things like that, and traveled with my mother. And when she was given a workshop, I would go take pictures, right? So because she is working for 810 12 hours a day, so I go shoot and at the end of the day, I’d hook up with my mom and then we’d be meeting you know, shamans and Eskimos and fortune tellers and Zulu witch doctors and you name it because my mother loved indigenous people he thought these people really get life and death and are not like hung up on death and they really see it everything as a circle. So she really wanted me to meet all these people, you know, and I saw tables floating in the air and everything you can imagine that’s all building up inside of me. And I’m traveling with mom and going off to college and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was like, Well, you know, bankers realistic but photography is really fun, so and getting exposed to death more and more. And I’m still traveling with my mom even after I got out of school and trying to figure out which way I was going to go. So anyway, I did become a professional photographer. I moved to Australia and then moved to New York and I ended up living in like 13 cities and poor countries. No, because my mom was never like go out and be a gypsy and be crazy and you know, not only live outside the box, but just realize there is no box right? Let’s do it all. And, you know, being a photographer, I’m climbing mountains, I’m going To discos in Beirut, I’m hitchhiking in Zimbabwe, and really living what I think is a fantasy life for most people, even with no training as a photographer, I just did it. So that was great. So as as all about counting your fears, right? And having the perspective that life is short, you know, don’t live your life with regrets. So most people, I think 90% plus of their regrets are things they didn’t do versus things they did do, right. So we have to remember like, all these regrets are things we didn’t do. We lived our lives fear based, we were afraid to tell these people we love them. Embrace people we had fights with you name it, you know, the time to make amends is now the time to take chances. Now, you know, I just went to Iraq for a vacation, right? I mean, that’s a little unusual, but I’m challenging my fears. I’m challenging the preconceived notions of Iraq is a dangerous place. You know, I’ve read about it. I’ve embraced different cultures. I love diversity. And, you know, I just found my rhythm and just I went there, I had a great time, I had no hassles. And so just, you know, and also seeing my mom and the press, I just see how much the press kind of misrepresents things, they focus on the negative, you know, and when I go out, yeah, I’d have an amazing time when I travel, like, I’ve rarely had any problems in 102 countries, I’ve been to nine countries, the Middle East, and done all sorts of crazy things, and met strangers and ended up sleeping in their house in Africa and Asia in different places. And I never had a problem, really. So you know, I just don’t focus on that negativity that we’re fed so much, like, we’re just fed all this fear. I hate that. Because I just find like, a very positive experience. It’s not meant to be perfect. But you know, you can take any experience, and you can find a positive outcome from it, even from death and grief, it can help you grow and learn and embrace love. Even more and more, I did that for, I don’t know, maybe 2530 years. And then, as you may know, my mom’s house was burnt down when she was trying to start a hospice for abandoned babies. And so I brought her down to Arizona, and I ended up taking care of her for nine years, that was crazy, difficult experience. And then after she died, we had people writing us everyday from around the world. So again, it wasn’t my plan. But, you know, after taking care of my mother, I was handling all our business affairs, realizing how complicated it was, and how a lot of people are, you know, misrepresenting her work and abusing her and cheating her and, you know, all the stuff that goes along with the theme and having a brand. So as a son, it really bothered me. And so I began working with all our publishers, and all the press and all the stuff that I wasn’t used to and had no experience with. And then I started the foundation, thinking the foundation would do all the work and get to be a photographer. So now it’s been 16 years or so. And I realized that’s not how foundations work. still kind of figuring out how foundations work after 16 years. But yeah, I’m slowly getting better at it. And last three years been great time for the foundation. We’ve grown a lot internationally as been some nice big press articles on mom, they’ve named a couple of streets after mom and hpcl just had a nice memorial to mom, they have a whole exhibit on her and their headquarters in Washington. And then American Journal bioethics just devoted his entire issue to her that’s donated all my mom’s papers to Stanford are going to develop a digital library. So very exciting. And mom’s legacy, even though she’s not around. Yeah,
Victoria Volk 13:29
I, like I mentioned before we started recording, it’s like you hear all the time on TV and the news and different things, it’ll save five stages of grief, you know, and that’s what people seem to latch on to. And in all of her amazing work that she is accomplished and did in her life. And I was just listening to something this morning that talked about, was talking about, it was about mindfulness. And the one thing that in mindfulness at the end of life, it was like research that was done, and they interviewed people at the end of life. And all these people, every single person had said that their greatest regret was that they had not lived true to themselves, right? And
Ken Ross 14:09
you’re not driving the right car, you’re not the right neighborhood, or the right friends or whatever I like, you know, it’s like society imposes all these guilts and fears and expectations on you, which are so artificial.
Victoria Volk 14:21
And there’s this part in her book, where in the wheel of life where she had talked about where she quit her job because she had decided to work with dying children. Someone had just asked her the question, why don’t you work with dying children? She’s like, you know, good question. Why don’t I you know, but she had quit her job. And then that’s what really led her because they wouldn’t allow her to kind of counsel people who couldn’t pay. And she says, I was not about to stop that practice. If you hired me, you also get what I stood for. There’s like conviction that I you know, I feel that sense of conviction and what she said there and that’s what led to her doing the lectures. But that’s what I also hear what she’s kind of passed down to you and that nope this is what I’m going to do I don’t want to live put myself in a box I don’t want to limit myself and that’s a beautiful gift she gave you I think
Ken Ross 15:11
yeah it’s been amazing it’s been exactly my fantasy when I was a kid I like did everything just about he could possibly do that’s you know the cause it reasonable what’s up so yeah I feel like you know I want to live a life that I wouldn’t mind doing 100 times over and not be bored ever you know you want to live that dream life right and it’s never going to be a dream there’s going to be heartache and sorrow and betrayal and everything else but you know you embrace it and just move past it
Victoria Volk 15:42
so what do you think do other cultures have a one up on us when it comes to death and dying then than we do here in Western society?
Ken Ross 15:50
I think it’s kind of like 50 years ago my mom you know began our official work with death and dying is that we hide death in a closet right now old age homes so we can like not see people get old because we don’t want to deal with it just stick them in a home and hide them away so you know we don’t have to face it you know and funerals you know used to be at home dying people used to bring your uncle home and leave them in the living room for a couple days so that you could see him and have that death be a part of your life and now you know it’s like oh we’re gonna hide them in the hospital we’re gonna hide them in old age home we’re gonna hide them in a whatever a hospice whatever so that’s the problems that we hide death right?
Victoria Volk 16:30
Yeah they would even take pictures with those deceased loved ones
Ken Ross 16:34
you know and they and they make a body so look like they’re artificially they had the rouge and pretty up to here and you know make death look like it’s they’re just sleeping You know? So that’s the problem I was problem 50 years ago and it’s still the problem 50 years later like in other countries, you know, death is a part of life you see it, you know, in front of you. They don’t really hide it the way they do in Western culture,
Victoria Volk 16:58
other cultures Do they have their own rituals and their ways of doing things and I think that’s like with our rituals in the West here with funerals we’ve kind of gotten away from being participants as family members right in the process and you know, we we hire a funeral home to basically handle everything for us and handle the details
Ken Ross 17:19
that made my mother critic closed casket like come on, you got to like say goodbye to the person who can’t say goodbye to a box. Think right? Saying goodbye.
Victoria Volk 17:28
Right? What is your most favorite part of of all the work that your mom had done and accomplished in her life? What is been your favorite piece of it?
Ken Ross 17:38
That’s a tough one. So I’ve got my cat here is going to be pushing against the screen here. Um, you know, I love the way my mom brought in humor to you know, her work, you know, everyone thought, oh, Kubler Ross must have been really serious, right? You know, you look at Radio labs Instagram page right now. And their last photograph they published was my mom wearing an ETL fit, right? She’s in a wheelchair, but she’s still an ETL fit. Like, given people call it the finger because she had chronic pain syndrome. So she didn’t like being hugged. So she’d given the finger like, 80. But yeah, she brought a lot of humor into her work and lightheartedness. And, you know, even though it’s you’re working with dying children all week long, she was totally funny and totally full of life. And, you know, just give you energy, right? So she just showed that it doesn’t have to be depressing and sad, you know, I mean, it is to some degree, of course, but, you know, you can also refocus your energy on life. Two,
Victoria Volk 18:39
so you mentioned that there was this difference in opinion of life after death between your mother and your father. And how did that play out? Ultimately,
Ken Ross 18:52
it was challenging because my father had, I don’t know how he had like, 200 brains in his office, like in a room, right? And he’s, you know, he changes director of his department at Loyola in Chicago. He’s writing all these papers and doing lectures and you know, he was you know, they’re gonna name NEMA library after him, right? The guy was a smart guy he studied. You know, he went to medical school in German, he didn’t speak German. So imagine going to medical school, the language you don’t speak. I mean, that is a driven, intelligent person, right? So, you know, he knew what he’s talking about. And so to my mother, all right, she’s the world’s leading expert on death and dying here talking to those genius neuropathologists you know, it’s hard for the kids. Why do we say like, nothing we can say it contribute to that conversation. But you know, they, they didn’t fight. they disagreed, but they disagree. politely. No, no, Elizabeth, it’s this chemical and that chemical in this and that and this was like, No, we had a blind person come in, and they could tell you how many people were in the room and what color they were wearing, and And so, you know, as like, as like a no win this agreement, so they just agreed to disagree. And that was fine. It was just like that a father had a great sense of humor, and they both kind of laughed about it. So it wasn’t a big deal. But you know, it left us both going home, I went went to a kinesiologist. And they did their little, you know, kind of Hocus Pocus thing and they said you are conflicted between your parents because you respect them both. You love them both. But they were in different energies. I’m like, wow, this person is really good. Pick that up.
Victoria Volk 20:34
So your dad’s opinion of that never changed. never wavered
Ken Ross 20:37
didn’t waver. But of course, there’s this famous rose story that goes along with my mother, that when my sister was like six or seven years old, he said he’s gonna send her flowers on the first snowfall after he died. And that’s basically what he did. He sent flowers, and he died that afternoon. And then next day, my sister got flowers on her front doorstep in the snow. You know, 2530 years later. So what did that mean? Right? So my mother’s like, I told him. My mother think she’d won that argument. Did she? I don’t know. We’ll find out.
Victoria Volk 21:13
There was a beautiful story about a boy named jeffie. And in her book, The Wheel of Life really, like, moved me. But jeffie was a boy that she had worked with and he was had leukemia much of his life. Are you familiar? Do you remember the story?
Ken Ross 21:30
I remember the name, but I can’t remember that particular story. Because I’ve heard like, 10,000 structure.
Victoria Volk 21:35
He had the tricycle or the bicycle. He had gotten a bicycle for his birthday. And he told his dad or
Ken Ross 21:41
one with a brother. Yeah, yeah. Right. Right. The beautiful thing
Victoria Volk 21:45
about her work is that she helped families. I mean, she gave the family a beautiful gift in that in this boy too, because he wanted to go home. And he helped him he helped him communicate that to his parents. And so they took him home, because there was nothing more he didn’t want to do. And he didn’t want to do any more chemo, he was done. So they took him home. And then he said to his dad, because he had gotten this brand new bicycle, but he never got to ride it. He told his dad take this bike down. And he said in you, Dr. Ross, you’re gonna hold my mom back. Right? Because he knew that she could not not, you know, ride with him and hold him and make sure it doesn’t fall and or something. Yeah, he ended up giving the bike to his brother for his birthday because he knew that he was going to pass away. But even before they left the hospital, he told Dr. Ross he had said to her, you know, cuz she said, Well, I don’t have time to go home with all my patients or, you know, all the all the children I help. And he’s like, Don’t worry, it’ll be 10 minutes, like he knew he was going to go home and die. But it was just a beautiful story. It truly truly touched me. But I just think that that’s the beautiful thing about her work is that she assisted so many people in having good deaths.
Ken Ross 22:54
My mother was a master at kind of pulling out symbolic, nonverbal language. So what she called it and said, like a very important part of our work is that my mother, she had like antenna and she could just pick up things that were not said verbally, but she could pick up things and she has new like, she’s like head Oh, radar station on her head, she was picking up all the stuff, nonverbal communication, and she could just find out stuff about patients in seconds, and go Okay, all we got to talk here because this person’s about to go. Or this person needs to say something that’s gonna be a big breakthrough. And she was just a master at that. And she did it to me too, which made me crazy, couldn’t keep any secrets from my mom, cuz she just pick up stuff.
Victoria Volk 23:40
very intuitive and empathic, likely to
Ken Ross 23:44
incredibly, like just the stories that, you know, I heard about my mom picking up stuff or just out of this world.
Victoria Volk 23:50
I mean, that’s just one little blip of her work of what she did
Ken Ross 23:54
hundreds and hundreds of stories I’ve heard just on that particular topic. And I have my favorites. But I mean, you know, everyone I talked to, oh my God. He said, assuming your mother did, I’m like, Oh, yeah, she does that all the time every week.
Victoria Volk 24:06
Give me one of your favorites. my very
Ken Ross 24:09
favorite I heard after she died. I heard it from her best friend in the late 60s was this the hospitals are really mad at her or doing this work with dying patients. So they assigned her this big, like six foot three African American priest, who turns out was also a Black Panther. Right? So here’s my mom, five foot tall Swiss accent with a six foot three African American Black Panther priest come down the hallway. It’s quite the scene, right? In the 60s, that was pretty heavy duty. Yeah, so anyway, within a few weeks, the priests like like fell in love, not romantically but with my mom and her work and said, Okay, I’m not going to stop her. I’m going to protect her. So if any doctor got my mom’s face, this, you know, six foot three guy said, you get out of here or else it’s going to be trouble. And so they weren’t about to get in a fight with a priest so they’d head out and Elizabeth would do her work. But anyway, he said, like one time we came into a room and this woman had cancer of the jaw and throat and had her mouth wired shut. And we sat down. And he said, Your mother seemed to have an entire conversation with her, even though she could only grunt and you could not understand a single word. The woman said, Your mother understood her and was answering her. And a woman would grant your mother would talk the woman grant. And this went back and forth for a few minutes. And then your mother turned to me and said, Get this woman an apple and walked out of the room with no explanation. He said, Well, why would I get a woman whose mouth is wired shut, and Apple didn’t make sense. They said, Your mother’s very famous. And he didn’t say no, your mother. So I went down to the cafeteria, got swollen and apple and she started crying. And so I said to her, can you please explain what transpired between you and Elizabeth? If I get a piece of paper and a pen? Can you write down what happened? And she wrote that she had been school teacher, and she wanted to get one more Apple like our students used to give her before she died. And and disguise like, she did not say a word like you cannot. How did Elizabeth come up with this? That’s just unbelievable. But your mother does this? Did this like every day? It’s incredible.
Victoria Volk 26:10
Wow. Wow. That’s a good story. Yeah. That’s a good story.
Ken Ross 26:15
Yeah. I mean, he has lots of and she did it in our workshops every week to just craziness. Like, there was 100 people sitting around in a workshop, and one person wouldn’t participate. And my mother wouldn’t allow that. So I brought the guy into the circle, and said, Look, I’m homeless, I only came for the food. Somebody gave me this as a gift. I appreciate what you’re doing. But you know, there’s nothing you can do or say, to get me to participate. I am dead inside. So my mother sat there for like, 15 minutes, not a word. And the staffs like, Oh, this guy is stumped Elizabeth finally. And so she said, Let’s sing a song. And my mother picked a song. They also 100 people started singing it and this guy broke down crying uncontrollably. And when he composed himself, he said, that’s a song. I used to sing to my son before he died. He was 16. How did Elizabeth pick that song? Right? I mean, unbelievable.
Victoria Volk 27:06
Yeah, I literally have goosebumps.
Ken Ross 27:10
It’s like, you know, she had the hotline to the big guy upstairs.
Victoria Volk 27:15
Wow. I wonder someday she’ll be a saint and be a sainthood.
Ken Ross 27:21
Saint and devil. She was naughty, but nice.
Victoria Volk 27:26
So what is it? You know, that’s the thing like she seems like this feisty, like, don’t you’re no one’s gonna stop me. Oh, yeah. You know, like, very driven. And where does that come from? Where did that come from?
Ken Ross 27:38
From her father. Her father was incredibly stubborn. And she was constantly butting heads with her father, because she was stubborn, too, naturally. But I think her father was like the thing like, who was going to be more stubborn? And so yeah, my mother’s is driven from day one. She was doing things which were totally ridiculous. And no one was going to stop, right? I mean, when she was a kid, she had a pet monkey. Nobody in rural Switzerland in 1930s had a pet monkey. My mother had a pet monkey had African dolls. Swiss girls didn’t play with African dolls. Where did that come from? You know, my mother went to one of the neighbors who was dying and asked him what it was like to be dying, which was like seven years old. Swiss girls didn’t do that. No, but my mother did. Right? I mean, just everything was always focused on like, inquiring want to know what life’s about what’s death, about what you know, I want to know, I want this. Don’t get my wife. She would beat up the school bully if you picked on like her sister. Yeah. And she was tiny. So she was just driven from day one.
Victoria Volk 28:44
Do you have any doubts that when we come into this world, that the path is kind of laid out in front of us? And yes, it’s our freewill to choose and follow those insights or follow those intuitive things that Barker interest or our curiosity. But do you believe that that is just something that like she knew her path? Like she just followed the her curiosity wherever it led her?
Ken Ross 29:09
Yeah, absolutely. I think she said, You know, we’re all here to figure out what our path is. And most people don’t really find it, or they find pieces of it, but they don’t really find the center of the river. And my mom was like, you know, in the center of the river from day one. She just knew what she had to do. And she was always striving for more and more and didn’t matter if it was realistic or possible. She just did it.
Victoria Volk 29:32
Well, and she didn’t listen to the naysayers even as a young child, right? she just, she could have felt like when someone said to her well, who has a pet monkey? Well, oh, yeah, that’s kind of weird, you know, and, you know, but she didn’t she continued on like, she marched to the beat of her own drum. Oh, yeah, I mean,
Ken Ross 29:50
her stubbornness is like legendary during her one of her last Tia strokes after the fire, like I’m sitting with her, and she’s In the middle of having a stroke, right, and I’m trying to get her to go to the hospital and she’s like, no, get me a cigarette, you know. You’re having a stroke. Yeah. Okay, get me a cigarette like him have a stroke who asked for a cigarette in the middle of a stroke? I mean, you don’t take me to the hospital, they’ll kill me. You know, I mean, just insane.
Victoria Volk 30:22
Do you mind sharing what her last words for you were?
Ken Ross 30:25
Well, it’s really interesting. It wasn’t her like very last word. But you know, for nine years, I took care of her. And you know, she was angry to some degree, and then she gets bashed for that too. It’s like, Okay, well, let’s say your house has burned down. All your research labs research has burned down. Your favorite animal shot, the police declare an accident. You know, you have paralyzing stroke. He can’t garden you can’t do your work. You can’t do anything. You sit in a chair. Why would you be angry? Like, oh, she’s a human being. So she was expected to be like, you know, Buddha or something. But, so for nine years, he’s like, you know, if he was angry, he can see on the Oprah interview. It’s on YouTube, but her version of angry is like, you know, she’s so like laughing and smiling too. So it’s not like he’s like wow, with a knife. But anyway, she said, Oh, I want to die. I want to die. Shot suicide. Oh, she’s like, okay, I’ve done all my work. I’m ready to check out it’s no big deal. Let’s just go so after nine years of saying she wants to die, she’s ready to die. Like out of the blue. I’m in a room as Kennet. I’m not ready to die. I don’t want to die right now. I’m like, What? So I’m like, What did you say? And then to change the subject, like, go get me talk or something, or just totally like, oh, give me some flowers? Or I’m like, wait, no, what did you say? She would not go back to it. And I’m like, What did that what was that after nine years. And then a few weeks later, she died. And it took me like two, three years to realize that, oh, my mom learned her final lesson. That’s what she’s always saying, when we learn our lessons, we’re allowed to graduate, which means die, make our transition. And so when my mom like over all of her anger, and learned her final lesson to let people love her and take care of her, not being the one in charge, and she was allowed to graduate, right away is like, Wow, it was totally right. That’s exactly what she said her whole life. And she learned her final lesson, she was allowed to make her departure
Victoria Volk 32:30
that reminds me of I did a podcast interview with a medium who mentioned one of her most memorable clients was mother who had lost a son to suicide. And the mother was so concerned that the son was not in heaven, because like he was really being his soul was tormented or whatever. And the medium told her, Well, the son told the medium and the medium communicated that. No, he’s in school, because he didn’t learn his lessons in the physical plane that he had to learn it. You know, his soul had to learn it after. And so that he was in school, learning his lessons. So it made me think of that. And so what I’m curious then to like, what the lessons that your mom has passed on to you about the afterlife, what has stuck with you, mostly?
Ken Ross 33:22
in that department, I have to say, I’m torn between my parents because my father did not leave life after death. Mm, smart guy, genius. Great guy, mother? Absolutely. You know, I saw any number of things that have no rational explanation. So I guess I kind of take a hybrid view of both my parents. And my only concern is like, what’s now today? I have no interest. Like if you had a fortune teller medium, who could? Who was absolutely you knew was like the real thing and tell you everything. I would have zero interest because I love the surprise. I don’t want to know. And I don’t think pragmatism is the right word. I don’t know what the word is. But I’m just like mother taught me is that whatever happens is, what happens is fine, it’s like, everything’s fine. That’s what’s gonna happen. You know, my only fear, I guess, is, I have no fear of death. I only fear like, the things that I can control. So I can’t control death, but I can control how I live. My fear, I guess would be like wasting my life or not living to the max, right? So that’s my only fear is like, oh, I’ve got to use every opportunity, I’ve got to look for the clues. Because that’s what I can control. I can control if you know, a meteor falls on my head. I’m not worried about that. I’m not worried the planes gonna crash or, you know, I’m gonna die or whatever, because I have no control over that. So I only fear the things I can control the things that are in my power. I have no interest in life after death, in that, whatever happens can happen and that Nature and I totally embrace whatever, whatever is real. You know, in the afterlife. That’s great. If there’s no life after death, that’d be great. There’s life after that great if there’s reincarnation, that’s great. I just, I just totally maybe as Buddhist I don’t know, I just whatever happens, I accept, because that’s what, that’s the nature of the universe. And so I accepted 1,000%. So I’m not, I don’t care what happens. Does that make sense? Yeah, yeah. Like I just like, at peace with the reality of what is
Victoria Volk 35:35
very much you’re in the present. And that’s a lot. That’s a very big problem for a lot of people. And so I congratulate you for that. Because, I mean, like, either a lot of people are stuck in the past, or they’re stuck in the future, they’re always thinking ahead. And they’re always, you know, planning for the, for tomorrow or next week in the next year, but yet, they can’t like just be still in the moment, you know? Yeah, it was a good wake
Ken Ross 35:58
up. And I have this thing called the dice theory, like, every day, I want to like roll the dice, meaning, I want to make something happen. Right? I don’t know what it is. Sometimes, you know, I feel like Oh, you know what I should call 10. People today, call 10 people and see what they’re doing. Maybe they’ll give me an idea. Or maybe I’ll give them an idea. Maybe call 10 strangers go on LinkedIn and just contact 10 people and see what happens. It’s like I’m just rolling the dice of life going, Hey, let’s make something happen. Well, let’s let’s go and take a drive and move on discover new restaurant or new thing. Or maybe I’ll meet somebody or so it’s my dice theory, like everyday, make something happen just by chance, or by feeling the groove like, you know, today, I think I should work on my mom’s tapes are my mom’s books or call some publishers and just make something happen. So I have a everyday I want to throw that dice to like make things happen, because a dice will bump into other dice, and start something you wouldn’t have expected had you not throw the dice, or create a chain reaction. I’m going to call my group and prove and see, hey, maybe we can come up with an idea just by having a talk. So I’ve worked my dice theory every day.
Victoria Volk 37:12
I absolutely love that. Is that how you connected with me on LinkedIn? Yeah, rolled the dice.
Ken Ross 37:19
Part of the dice theory,
Victoria Volk 37:20
and I rolled the dice right back at you. Well, I’ll take that as a handshake, leave you my podcast. Yeah. Here we sit, right?
Ken Ross 37:27
That’s totally the dice theory, right? Like if I didn’t like reach out, then we wouldn’t be here today. And maybe you’ll meet somebody else from my mom’s family. And you’ll have something that’s not only for me, it’s for other people, I
Victoria Volk 37:39
impact roll it for,
Ken Ross 37:41
for the universe and for everybody and to make things happen for everybody. Also, for other people,
Victoria Volk 37:48
I love that.
Ken Ross 37:49
I have the dice series as my
Victoria Volk 37:52
maybe that’s a book title.
Ken Ross 37:54
That isn’t dicey living your life.
Victoria Volk 37:57
Yeah, you better not chop that down. I get the first copy.
Ken Ross 38:02
Okay, you’re part of a dice theory. So right, it works. You’re here. I’m here. And this is like, you know, but every day I want to roll the dice and like, I still want to sit back and wait, you know, if you sit back, and maybe it’ll happen, but if you throw the dice, then you’re participating. It’s like, and you know, it’s like, I walk down the street and I talk to people in countries where I go and things happen. Oh, here’s the dice theory. I had two weeks off, and I bought a one way ticket to Chile. I got the first night hotel and and I had no plans. I didn’t study a book. I didn’t make no idea what’s happening in Chile or Santiago. I just flew down there one way. That’s it, I’m walking down the street first hour, nice doorway, I take a selfie. An hour later, somebody on Facebook says, oh, I’ve been writing you from Colombia for three years. I wanted to meet you. Can we have dinner tonight? I’m now in Santiago with my boyfriend. I’m like, yeah, cuz I have no plans. I’m just throwing the dice. So she said I’m going to bring a translator on speak English. So we met for dinner. And she had my mom’s beliefs tattooed on her arm, right? So like a hardcore mom fan. He said, I want to start a foundation in Chile. I go great. Well, I mean, you got these tattoos you’re like, seem like you’re really a lovely person. You’re really like enthusiastic. I said, if the board doesn’t agree within the next 90 days, I will just give you permission to do it. Because I feel this is right as part of my dice theory. Right? So within 90 days, the board said yes, she started a chapter. And her dream was to start the first pediatric hospice in Chile and Santiago. So he kr initiated the first pediatric hospice in Chile, because of the
Victoria Volk 39:38
dice theory, because he took a selfie in front of a picture that someone
Ken Ross 39:41
because I just bought a one way ticket to Chile, I thought, Oh, I just feel like I want to do this. I need to do this. So this is a nice theory. Like there’s a pediatric hospice being built out in San Diego because of the dice theory, right? It’s like,
Victoria Volk 39:52
Ah, yes. Amazing. Yeah, it’s following the intuitive hits. Like you get this intuitive thought like Oh, just book it. It’s One thing to have a thought it’s another thing to follow up and take action on that thought. And how many thoughts in a day do we let just slip by us? You know, just picking up the phone and telling someone, Hey, how are you doing? I’ve been thinking about you. I do that a lot.
Ken Ross 40:14
You know, maybe next week, they died in a car accident, something but at least you reached out and like, you didn’t have unfinished business. So I’m saying like, Don’t die with unfinished business.
Victoria Volk 40:24
So we stay in grief recovery, too. Yeah, so that was a thing
Ken Ross 40:27
I like in the 70s. Her workshops. Were all about dealing with your unfinished business. Right? Oh, so you can have a good death? Yeah, yeah. So I just went to Kurdistan in northern Iraq, right? And I’m like, Well, okay. It’s as nice as for me, but it’s kind of, not maybe not hedonistic, but it’s like, okay, I want to give back to. So I reached out to a board member who travels a lot. And I said, Do you have any contacts in Iraq? He said, Oh, yeah, I know, an oncologist in the eastern part of Kurdistan. So I wrote her. I didn’t hear back. And when I got there, I thought, I’m gonna try one more time. I reached out. She said, Oh, yeah, well, can we have a meeting tomorrow morning? I’m like, Yeah, great. So I went there. And we had an hour long talk, I tour the hospital, it was very depressing. It was the best hospitals, supposedly in Iraq. And so should we really need help? So I said, Oh, well, we’ll give you our palliative care trainings from the foundation, if that would help, right. And so then I reached out to the board member who connected us, I said, we need to help this woman. So he’s connected her to this worldwide palliative care group. So I’m hoping that will lead to things too. But it’s because of like, Oh, I should, like, do something for mom and the foundation while I’m in Kurdistan, right. So it’s also part of the theory of just like, I was like, you know, it’s great for me having a nice trip and my photography, but let’s like, it works better with karma, if it goes both ways, and I do something for other people. So, so that was a nice example, too. It’s like, we’ve just given them 11 classes, and we’re gonna be sending them to more classes. And I tried to connect them some people to get some more trainings, and they have a lot of problems there with money and lack of pain medication, and so forth. And that I can’t do anything about but at least we can help train their doctors,
Victoria Volk 42:19
which will be huge. So the ripples impact? Yeah. Oh, I love that. The dice theory, I want to kind of come back to something, you know, that I asked earlier about your mom, and at the end of her life? Have you had any moments of where you felt like, Oh, that’s my mom, like, tapping me on the shoulder. Oh, after she passed,
Ken Ross 42:43
Oh, yes. I have a drum set. I’m part time drummer. Because I don’t do enough. And my mom had sense of humor. So three or four times, within the first year after she died. Every time I bend over to tie my shoe, the snare drum would hit just once. I mean really loud. And it would scare the bejesus out of me. Only when I’m bending over, like, you know ones, like maximum freakout effect in the house by myself and bang,
Victoria Volk 43:16
undeniable, right? Yeah, that’s like,
Ken Ross 43:19
mommy gonna give me a heart attack. And then once I was in my bedroom closet, my cat had kittens sitting on the floor with my girlfriend at the time. And I clearly heard my mom’s voice say hello with her Swiss accent. I’m like, wow, I totally projected mom’s voice that time. I was like, I was the loudest I’ve ever heard my mom’s voice. And I look up and my girlfriend’s like, what was that? There’s a woman in here. Like you heard that? She’s like, yeah, there’s is a housekeeper in here. I’m like, is Sunday night at 11? What would a housekeeper be? Like? Like, know that? I think that was mom. Because Yeah, she had an accent. I’m like, yeah, that was mom.
Victoria Volk 43:59
Wow, that was weird. So that still hasn’t swayed your her thoughts on afterlife? Oh, no,
Ken Ross 44:05
I totally not saying it’s not. But if it is, I don’t know what form it is. You know, is it the Buddhist idea is that the Christian idea is, you know, I mean,
Victoria Volk 44:17
yeah, beautiful mystery, right?
Ken Ross 44:19
It’s not like, saying I don’t care sounds too irreverent. But it’s like, whatever it is, is like, you know, I certainly I’m not saying there’s not I’m saying, I don’t know, 100% maybe I know 99%. But the only thing I know 100% is I’m here today and and that’s great. And I just work on today and what I know and what I have and throw those dice and when I get to that point, then I’ll know that for sure. Yeah,
Victoria Volk 44:45
do we ever really know like till battle. It doesn’t matter.
Ken Ross 44:48
To me if there’s life after death, or it’s not or it’s in this form or I come back 100 more times. You know, I just accept it because that’s what it is. You
Victoria Volk 45:00
brings to mind a thought I have just in bringing that up. It’s because for a lot of Grievers, or people who are bereaved and had to say goodbye, and maybe it was a traumatic death or whatever they have, you know, unfinished business with that person or whatever it is, to feel that connection with someone to know that there’s a connection or that there is something after can bring people a lot of comfort. But But I can imagine, though, and just in knowing who your mom was in the work that she did, like, you feel connection with her and everything that you do, I imagine.
Ken Ross 45:38
Oh, yeah, I mean, you know, I mean with especially with my mom, because I’m totally spoiled because I have, you know, her two dozen books and I have 100 audio tapes. And I have 100 videotapes, and I have her on YouTube and I have an everywhere I go, like on the planet, people like Oh, I know your mother, I make our mother like, you know, like, everywhere, it’s like, and I hear these, I keep hearing new stories, like how many stories can there be how many people have met on this planet? Like, Everywhere I go, it’s like wow, like is is like she lived 10 lifetimes or something because it’s not possible that one person did so much in such a short amount of time. You know, I mean, she basically started when she was 40 years old, and retired in her 60s and she wrote two dozen books and hundreds of chapters and did hundreds of workshops around the world and started the hospice movement to some degree and started the belif Kermode son degree and she you know, I mean she was seeing patients she had a working farm she was a mother she was answering hundreds of 1000s of letters she was you know cooking for the workshops she didn’t have enough to do and you know is just insane how much he did as I say impossible that one person did all this but she did
Victoria Volk 46:55
do you think she had any regrets or did she ever voice any regrets?
Ken Ross 46:59
She was just pissed off about her paralysis at the end but I was out of her control yeah was out of our control so other than that pin boys any
Victoria Volk 47:10
you know like wishing that she would have started sooner like oh if I just started my 20s I would have had you know this many more years to
Ken Ross 47:19
you know, at the end she said yeah, Kenneth is Do whatever you want if you want to do my work great if you don’t want to do my work great. Do whatever feels right. And destroy no guilt. No expectations. No. pressure.
Victoria Volk 47:31
I was a gift to Yeah. So Kim, if you if you were to summarize her life in five minutes or less sure. What what has I mean, just do a rundown list of like, over life over work.
Ken Ross 47:53
Um, so I think the the main overview, the umbrellas fabric, would say that she was trying to fight the depersonalization of the dying, the the dehumanization of the death process and of patients, you know, because she said, patients are just like, numbers in a bed is disgusting, like, treat these people as individuals, right? You know, and, and respect them and at least give them a few minutes of personal dignity. Just don’t treat them like okay, this is the cancer patient, this leukemia patient, that’s the whatever, you know, so she was fighting the dehumanization, and a medicalization of, of dying, right? So that’s her big thing was treating people as human beings not as patients and in numbers of beds and things. Right. And, and fighting for hospice because she really wanted people to die at home with their families with proper care and pain medication. She said, No one should ever die in pain. It’s ridiculous that, you know, in the late 19th century and 20th century and 21st century, we haven’t made more progress with this. said there’s pain medications, why are people dying in pain in Africa? Why did I go this hospital in Kurdistan? There’s no pain medication in the 21st century. It’s just outrageous. It’s about her talking about the the four quadrants was really big for her. Nobody talks about but everyone uses but think they don’t realize I think it came from my mother is that imperative care, we have, you know, the balance of the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual. I think this idea came from my mom, which she got it I think, from young but not used in palliative care. But in early 70s, my mother was saying you need to treat patients with the four quadrants. If you just treat the physical you’re not healing a person you need to deal with the emotional and intellectual and the spiritual, as well as the physical right so the four quadrants was huge for my mother, I was part of everything in my mom’s world was a circle a wheel right. So The four quadrants of of health is the basis of palliative care, but I think no one realizes it came from most of this work. And then what else externalizing our emotions. Learning to everything in life is perspective. Her work is very much like logotherapy she was friends with Viktor Frankl you know, they really do their work was very tied together. challenging your fears, embrace embracing unconditional love. bioethics, listening hope. I think these are the wheel that makes up Elizabeth work.
Victoria Volk 50:35
Yeah, I actually had Dr. Chris Kerr, who was he’s been studying end of life experiences in the surviving death series on Netflix, I had him on the podcast and, and that, and again, like that just comes back to the end of life training that I had, we that’s what we talk about is the whole person. Because when you when you die, you come into this world, a whole person, and you go out a whole person spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, like all of those things, right? So yeah, it’s very important that the all the whole person is addressed. Right? So they can have a good death is really what it comes down to.
Ken Ross 51:15
What else that’s and learning, of course, to listen to symbolic verbal language and symbolic nonverbal language is also extremely important. When you’re a death doula or end of life worker doctor working with dying patients, really learning about the symbolic, non non verbal language of people is hugely important because a lot of people don’t have the words children don’t have the words they don’t have the vocabulary. Older people are beginning to lose over vocabulary. But they give you science, like look for the science.
Victoria Volk 51:45
Absolutely. What is, I mean, can you just kind of quickly go over like, because I know her life has been it? You just you kind of touched on it at the very beginning. Like just the all the stuff that she did? What’s the highlight reel?
Ken Ross 52:05
highlight reel? another tough question. For me, it’s like, you know, the day World War Two ended, she joined a peace group. And you know, living in Switzerland, comfortable food, no dangerous, no, nothing, you know, she could have just easily stayed there and lived a happy, comfortable life. But she she needed to go out and always help the underdog. And so she joined a peace group. And her father said, If you leave the house, you’re never going to come back. And my mother said, I don’t care. Like, this is the right thing to do. People are suffering, and we’re so comfortable. How can we sit here and not just be horrified how, you know, we have all the stuff and everyone else is suffering around us in Europe. So she hitchhiked you know, through France and rebuilt the village. Right. And you know, she was starving. I mean, she was like, you know, looking for scraps of bread on on the ground when she could have been comfortable at home. And then she went up into Denmark, she almost died. And then she went to Germany, and she almost died there from burns from a pot that broken boiling oil spilled on her legs, you know, and then she went to Denmark, Sweden, went into Poland, she worked in a camp, she lived with the gypsies, she went to the concentration camps. I mean, those two years alone are just, you know, beyond belief, what she did, and so brave, and risking her life over and over and over just to help, you know, dying people and people who are just barely hanging on with nothing. And so that was amazing by itself. And then she, she snuck in a German convoy. They put her in a box of vegetables, and locked it up. And she snuck through the Russian lines, and went back to Berlin where she caught a train back to Switzerland. So it was crazy. And then, you know, she went to medical school when women were not going to medical school. And she didn’t have the money she needed to have the proper accreditation. But because of her relief work during World War Two, after World War Two, I kind of let her slide in Wow. You know, went to America and then you know, the whole story with the University of Chicago and fighting the establishment and having doctors spit on her in the hallway and people leaving nasty notes. How do you talk to dying patients, you know, your vulture should be ashamed of yourself. I’m going to try to take your license away horrible, you know, just for trying to lead dying patients have a chance to say goodbye to the families.
Victoria Volk 54:45
so incredible. And that wasn’t even that long ago. And I think about this grand scheme of things.
Ken Ross 54:51
Yeah. And she has so many stories that, you know, patients dying and their families literally 10 footer in the hallway and because it’s not visiting hours, they don’t let the family To say goodbye and the patient dies alone in a room because of the hospital rules. And also, she was also fighting against the hospital rules and the rules that they can’t bring in children and all these ridiculous things that were going on around this kind of sick death culture in America,
Victoria Volk 55:14
what do you think, helped change that the most? I mean, just because what was there something a part of her work that really changed that aspect of the dyeing process,
Ken Ross 55:25
you know, she shined the light on it, between her book and that article in Life magazine, you know, a millions of people read about it. And here’s this woman willing to talk about death in an open and honest way. And no one was doing that, I mean, almost no one that was doing that anyway. And my mother had a capacity to kind of use a simple language, in part because she was a foreigner, and didn’t have a big command of the English language. But she had this way of just communicating way that people could understand whether it was a doctor or a patient or anybody. And, you know, this Life magazine article is shine so much light that they could no longer deny that there was this huge problem happening in America. And you know, in Western culture, Europe, and elsewhere. So, so much light shined on it, that they could no longer like, hide it. So they had to face it.
Victoria Volk 56:17
So in the midst of COVID, in the process of ways that people have not been able to be with their loved ones, and the impact that has on the bereaved and those dying, and what do you think your mom would have said to that? And do you think that that has actually highlighted how far behind we are?
Ken Ross 56:42
I think it has, because there’s been a lot of articles talking about Elizabeth and, and the stages of grief and all that more than usual. But I think my mother would compare COVID to the AIDS crisis, because she said it was just like a crisis, and that there was so much misinformation, so much fear, there’s so much anger that was being mis directed at things which had nothing to do with the conversation. But people were angry, fearful, there was like, a lot of attacks, all these things going on, which is very similar to COVID. Right? You know, people’s fear, you know, death and a brings out their fear of death, right? And that comes out in various ways and hostility and all this air rage and all these things going on now is misdirected anger over their fear of COVID and death. So, you know, she was a great parallels because, you know, the whole age crisis was a big thing for my mom and demonstrating how the society had so much further to go with the conversation about death and dying. And grief and facing an honestly and, and dealing with our unfinished business. Right. So just, you know, COVID, again, demonstrates we haven’t dealt with our unfinished business.
Victoria Volk 57:55
Now, many of us. And you since you brought it up the five stages. Can we go there? Can we talk about that a little bit?
Ken Ross 58:05
Speaking of anger,
Victoria Volk 58:08
yeah. Tell me what, tell me really lay the truth out today.
Ken Ross 58:14
Talk to 10 people get 10 versions of the truth.
Victoria Volk 58:17
Yeah, yeah. Get it from the horse’s mouth, like I guess. Yeah.
Ken Ross 58:21
My version of the truth. So we have on death and dying of the real book, right? Yes, my my dummy copy. If we go to page 251, I believe Yes. Sophie, look in the actual book, right? So we look here, we see that Elizabeth clearly writes about 10 stages, right? It says 12345. And yet those 10 boxes. So I think to some degree, the publisher, kind of when they were putting together the manuscript kind of focused it into five stages. I’m guessing it’s a guess, because my mom did an entire chapter on hope. But why isn’t hope, a chapter big? You know, a sage because she does a whole chapter on anger or chapter on bargaining. denial. There’s a whole chapter on hope, but they didn’t consider that a stage or why not? I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. But anyway, basically, Elizabeth was trying to say that grief is complex. And back in the 60s, grief was this monolithic thing. And Elizabeth was trying to say that grief is made up of different components, right? So it’s very ironic that people say to me, oh, you know, Elizabeth didn’t get it right. Because grief is complex, and it’s not made up of five stages. I’m like, Well, okay. The point is that she was saying that grief is made up of individual emotions. That you know, it’s not one thing you can add anxiety you can add, you know, my mom talked about preparatory grief which is the same as anticipatory grief, right, which became Kind of trendy to talk about, I think the last two years, because that’s part of COVID this anticipatory grief, but Elizabeth mentioned it in on death and dying 50 years ago, and some people are acting like, you know, it was just like discovered or, or identified just recently, but you know, Elizabeth, not a half a century ago. And she talked about shock. And she talked about hope. And she talked about, you know, Claire Bidwell Smith, I think, did a book on the missing stage of anxiety. Elizabeth mentioned anxiety, 14 times in on death and dying, right? So But no, she didn’t identify it as a stage. But he identified it as an element of the process that we sometimes go through. So the stages are not meant to be like a ladder, or some way to graduate to acceptance, it’s just meant to be a way to have a conversation is a models, not the only model is this one model that you want to contribute, to have a conversation about grief, which people weren’t having, and still don’t really have in healthy ways, quite often. So again, it’s a model, it’s not meant to be the only model is meant to be a flexible model. And if you look on our website, AK ar foundation.org, you’ll see there’s various demonstrations of how she talked about the stages, as circles, you know, as as one line going back and forth. She talks about dreams as being part of the stages, talks about a lot of things which are not generally talked about in society that will fix fixate on the five stages. But Elizabeth talked about many more things. And after 1975, she rarely talked about stages at all. She those, I think she was on a show with O’Brien’s 7475. And she goes, Oh, let’s not talk about the stages are so old, right in 75. And then they bash Elizabeth, because that’s all she talked about. I’m like, No, that’s all you guys are talking about. She talked about 50 other things in society and popular media that just can’t let go of it. Right? They say it doesn’t exist. And yet it is the most popular grief theory on the planet. It is like, you know, not making it up. Because it’s my mother. It’s like, it’s been used in over 100 TV shows and movies. Right? It. There’s, like plays about the five stages, there’s novels, there’s cartoons, there’s games, there’s, you know, I’m teen doesn’t plays about the five stages, right? So I mean, you know, I’m sorry, but it is popular, like what does that mean? Does that mean it doesn’t exist? I don’t know, it must trigger something. To some people. There’s 10s of 1000s of articles by people who experience the five stages. So you can’t say it doesn’t exist because 10s of 1000s of articles by people said I experienced it or it helps me so you can say it’s not appropriate to everybody. You can say it’s good for some people, but it hurts other people because they think they need to go through it. You know, I would accept that. But you can’t say it doesn’t exist or it’s been disproven. That’s just you know, denial. That’s a model period.
Victoria Volk 1:03:18
Do you think Can I ask Can you clarify is is how the media and how her work has been interpreted around that has that is that not what she is? Is that what she intended? Did she you don’t I mean,
Ken Ross 1:03:36
I was with her sometimes, you know, she’d see like the Simpsons episode where something goes through the five stages. You’re like, What? Why does that bullshit love to say that word with her Swiss accent? That’s bullshit.
Victoria Volk 1:03:53
Oh, that wasn’t her intention like and in the book was in the book was written in that context, in the work of working with the dine correct.
Ken Ross 1:04:03
But I mean, I would say like, even though like the BBC just did a story saying the rise and fall of the five stages. PS we use it to train our workers. I mean that that doesn’t make sense. Like, how can you say, the fall of the five stages? pS we’re using it to train our entire staff. That’s like,
Victoria Volk 1:04:23
I think it’s one of those things that people love to hate and they love to just sink their teeth teeth into I’ve even said that it’s like of all her amazing work that she’s accomplished and done. That’s the one thing that like you said, just the people can’t let it go.
Ken Ross 1:04:39
Right? And then they blame Elizabeth because she couldn’t let it go and like she let it go. Like in 75. Yeah, that
Victoria Volk 1:04:44
wasn’t even her focus. Like that wasn’t such a small part of her work.
Ken Ross 1:04:49
So we just said the five stages used in the first was the Marvel Comics, as in Deadpool two and then Disney just use it as Their central focus of their movie krewella. And the is an actual advertising for the movie, they talk about the five stages. Yeah, and I really think it’s more popular than ever. I mean, it’s just everywhere I look. It’s used. There’s been over 60 musicians I’ve identified, who’ve done songs or albums based on the five stages or Elizabeth. I mean, how many grief theories have 60 songs written about it, or albums written about it, or like EP is like, every song is one of the stages. There’s even two bands named Kubler Ross. You know, she’s like part of popular media, like not only her stages, but she is part of it. Her voice is used in rock songs. It’s so bizarre to me sometimes.
Victoria Volk 1:05:46
Wow. She’s embedded in our culture, very much. so
Ken Ross 1:05:50
bizarre, though. It’s like, wow, where’s this gonna continue going? Like one’s gonna stop.
Victoria Volk 1:05:55
So did she clarify more of that in her later work in books.
Ken Ross 1:06:03
She really tried not to talk about it. She was like, fed up with the conversation. But right before her death, were contacted by another grief worker, David Kessler. And you know, we were contacted literally every week, can I write a book with your mother? Can I do this. And finally, I was kind of sick of it, too. So I said, you know, maybe it’s a good idea. Maybe we should talk about this way, agreed to let David work with my mom. And they did a book which just happened out here on grief, and grieving in which she further clarified and David helped clarify the five stages of grief. And again, this book is like in the top 20 or so sellers, you know, of all grief books, even now, you know, 1617 years after mom died. And sometimes it sells better than on death and dying. is still 17 years after she does. So the book came out in 2005, I think. But it’s still selling extremely well. And we’re still selling it. I think just in the last few months, we sold it in Vietnamese, Cantonese, in Mongolian. In Thai, I mean, it’s just like, it has a life of its own. It’s just unbelievable.
Victoria Volk 1:07:29
Now it’s almost it’s as if her work has a life of its own. Now it’s
Ken Ross 1:07:33
your soul to work in Farsi for the first time. And it just wow me just keeps on spreading out.
Victoria Volk 1:07:42
And you can you share quickly too on the death and die on death and dying her that first book you had mentioned to me before we started recording where how many languages and I just found it very fascinating. The fact that you shared about
Ken Ross 1:07:57
Yeah, love about this book is that is both in Hebrew and Arabic. We sold Arabic for the first time about six months ago in Saudi Arabia. So they have a psychology book in Arabic and Hebrew at the same time is just incredible. It’s really unusual. And it just speaks to the university ality of the language and message of what’s held in this book, which is not just about the stages, of course, it’s about the experiences that Diane go through, and find this language that we can have between the doctors and the patients, and make it easy to have a conversation where there’s not normally a common language between medical staff and and laymen who are dying or their families. So the new edition, the 50th anniversary edition also includes her testimony before Congress in 1972. she testified before the Committee on aging, that the way people die in this country was disgusting, and unacceptable, and we had to do something about it. So it’s just amazing to have this little Swiss hillbilly lecture in the Senate. how people should die in this country. The whole whole testimony is now in the 50th anniversary edition, which has the blue cover.
Victoria Volk 1:09:12
And I’m not sure anything has really changed. You know, I mean,
Ken Ross 1:09:16
it’s happened slowly. We have the death doulas now we didn’t have Yes, that’s true. That’s true years ago. So that is a sign of progress. Yeah, it’s so slow, but it’s, you know, it’s kind of glacier. Like,
Victoria Volk 1:09:28
is that what gives you the most hope for her work?
Ken Ross 1:09:31
Well, the fact that you know, we have four new languages in one year that we never had in 50 years is just incredible. Like, you know, I think after 50 years, the thing will have died a peaceful death. But, you know, the fact that in this last year for the first time we published in Albanian, Arabic, Farsi and Mongolian You know, that’s amazing for a book that’s half a century old. And that, you know, we keep having new foundations pop up around the world. And have this beautiful honor. So Elizabeth, and people wanting to, you know, start like book clubs in Mongolia. And we just got contacted by a group in Kenya that wants to do something with the foundation. And, you know, I really see her legacy is very much alive and appreciated, and some people are stuck on the five stages, there’s realize that, you know, Elizabeth work is very broad spectrum, and universal, you know, culturally and religiously and everything wise, it just speaks to people. And something, the way Elizabeth lived, her life just inspires people, because so many people write about the wheel of life and say, just radically transformed our life and they were suicidal. But after they read the book, they want to devote their life to hospice, or the dying, or they want to live again, it’s just, you know, amazing that letters just keep on coming in for decades and decades.
Victoria Volk 1:10:55
That’s amazing. I know, as a grief recovery specialist, and we kind of talked about this briefly before, but because there are people that poopoo, the five stages, and, and there might be some grief recovery specialists out there listening to this, that maybe were taught that I don’t know, but I personally wasn’t my training, what I was taught was that the five stages were about people who are going through terminal illness. And that’s when, you know, that’s when she was conducting that work, and that it was misinterpreted to be about,
Ken Ross 1:11:25
right, that’s a common thing people say, but
Victoria Volk 1:11:28
but I would add, it’s not, I would not deny that all of those things that she mentions don’t happen, like I absolutely full heartedly. And I think any grief recovery specialist would agree that there are emotions and feelings that someone goes through sometimes in the same moment, you know, you just, you’re angry, and you’re sad, and you’re all the things. You know, it’s that’s the complexity of grief.
Ken Ross 1:11:56
Right? So here 1974. In our second book, she said, I hope I’m making it clear that patients do not necessarily follow a classical pattern from the stage of denial to the stage of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most of my patients have exhibited multiple stages simultaneously, right? So here’s the saying is not linear. So right. Now, if you look up the Google critiques complaints about the five stages there, many of them are, they’re not linear. Well, she said this herself in black and white in a book. And then here in the same book, she says, Please tie in the stages of dying with loss of sight, meaning that they apply to other loss and change events. Right. And this later became the Kubler Ross change, which is used, you know, by 1000s of companies, and nobody complains about that. Identify, you know, a reaction to loss and change, which could be applied to grief. And yet, maybe not, but it seems to be applied to everything.
Victoria Volk 1:12:58
I think it’s just the context in which people refer to it. And how people interpret it think people put their phone filler words in, you know, like, instead of really looking at, like what you just read, people hear what they want, right? I think that’s really what it comes down to people are going to hear what they want. And
Ken Ross 1:13:17
yes, it was like, while she’s writing at the stages of dying, but I think within months, she changed it to the stages of grief or stages of loss. So I mean, she was also learning about it as she was writing about it. And I think, I mean, I think within 12 months, she was saying, okay, it’s not just that I’ve realized it’s applies to other people on things. So technically, yes, but I mean, by a few months. So I mean, are you going to hold her? Like you’re inventing the light bulb? Like, well, a light bulb was only meant to be a light bulb? And then six months later, it’s used for something else does that mean, they were wrong? It’s like, no, they were still learning. Right? Yes, originally, in a six month period of mean, but over the last 50 years, you can hold her to that six month period, like, you know, you want to be a technocrat, yes. set up for that. But for a very brief moment, and even though boxes already beginning to identify, you know that the families are going through it, if you look on page 162, you’ll see she’s already beginning to refer to other people from through the stages.
Victoria Volk 1:14:26
Right? And they’re not stages, right, though? That’s not Yeah, that’s, I think that’s that word,
Ken Ross 1:14:33
inverted comments to say, Hey, I’m using this word, but I mean, don’t hang me on this word, right? And that’s what they’re doing, or phases or periods or whatever. It’s, it’s just a way to describe something. It’s not, you know, a I’m from Switzerland, and I don’t have a great command of the English language. And be you know, I’ve never written a book before. So don’t hang me on like, every nuance of every word, right? I’m trying to have, you know, give you a tool. To build a conversation around this thing that no one’s talking
Victoria Volk 1:15:03
about, so which she did, yeah, ultimately, we’re still debating it.
Ken Ross 1:15:07
50 years. Like that there’s 10s of 1000s. People said, I went through the five stages says, hey, there’s something to it. The fact that it’s the most popular brief theory in the world 50 years later says, hey, there’s got to be something to it. So it’s not the only one. It’s not right. It’s not wrong. It’s just a tool, you can use it, don’t use it, just don’t get hooked into it being like this, like written in stone is just a tool to begin framing a conversation. So that’s all it is.
Victoria Volk 1:15:40
You know, when we don’t ask like, Oh, well, what stage are you in? You’re asking, How are you feeling? Right? You know,
Ken Ross 1:15:47
people do say that. Really? Well.
Victoria Volk 1:15:50
Yeah. I guess I haven’t had people on my podcast to talk about grief, their grief. They haven’t been asked that like, Oh, well, what stage are you in? But do people probably say behind their back? Or what stage? Do you think she’s in? You know, probably.
Ken Ross 1:16:05
Yeah. I mean, if you look at any number of dozens TV shows,
Victoria Volk 1:16:08
like, Oh, for sure. like
Ken Ross 1:16:11
Michael Douglas, Alan Watts, or like, what was it the bucket list? Right. Morgan Friedman. Yeah. having a conversation. What stage are you in? denial?
Victoria Volk 1:16:22
Yeah, certainly, and TV and things like that. But I would hope in like real conversation. I don’t know that that is necessarily that
Ken Ross 1:16:29
within that projects, like, Oh, well, maybe I should know what stage I’m in. Right? Yes, there. Yeah. Morgan Freeman talking about it, you know?
Victoria Volk 1:16:37
Yeah, well, oh, I shouldn’t be I should be out of anger by now. And on to, you know, denial or
Ken Ross 1:16:45
at all whatever. Nicholson said he’s in denial. What stage Am I in? Yeah.
Victoria Volk 1:16:49
Crazy how that has just evolved over time. And I imagine where we could probably sit and have the same conversation, maybe 510 years from now?
Ken Ross 1:16:59
Yes, for sure.
Victoria Volk 1:17:01
What has your grief taught you? I mean, because you’ve lost obviously, you lost your mom and your dad, and you’ve lost people and throughout your life, and what has your grief taught you?
Ken Ross 1:17:14
Yeah, it’s just a reminder that, you know, time is finite, everything is finite. Every living thing is finite. And everything you’re doing is finite. So enjoy it, love it, absorb it, appreciate it, but just realize that
Victoria Volk 1:17:27
he got let go and roll the
Ken Ross 1:17:28
dice over everything, including yourself. So yeah, just realize that everything is transitory in life. And don’t get you know, it’s one thing my father said to me when I was young This is the people who succeed the best are the people realize that everything in life is transitory, right? You know, whatever you’re comfortable with. Don’t get too comfortable with it. Because people succeed when they learn to roll with changes and everything changes everything. You know, the love of your life, your pets, your whatever, your your health, your youth, your job, everything is transitory. So you know that people succeed who realize that, you know, he can’t hang on to it too tightly.
Victoria Volk 1:18:08
Sorry, good advice. So where do you see yourself 510 years from now? Where would you like to see yourself? 510 years from now? Where would you like to see the foundation? I have like three questions in there.
Ken Ross 1:18:22
Um, I’d like to see us have a bigger staff. So I get some help, of course. And, you know, I’d love to have like 30 chapters around the world, and the staff to support it, not just me. And I’d like to see Stanford continued to evolve that digital library, because I gave them 64 boxes of material. So there’s tons of tapes that have never been transcribed really made public. So I just released a few on our YouTube channel. But there’s a lot of stuff they said they want to go what they say they call it they want to go gold mining in my mom’s paperwork and and find amazing things and they are they want to devote just a person does full time to kind of mine through Elizabeth’s archives.
Victoria Volk 1:19:08
Wow. That’d be a cool job.
Ken Ross 1:19:11
Victoria Volk 1:19:12
Is there anything else you would like to share? Either about your life, your mom’s work? Anything else? What do you want people to know the most?
Ken Ross 1:19:23
Well, I feel like I’m doing what I want like five years. Like I’m doing it now. Like there’s no like I’m aiming towards like, like I said, I want to do everything now. So I’m trying to grow the foundation. I’m trying to preserve our work for future generations, trying to kind of fight them Miss information about the five stages. try and do this feature movie on mom because that will help younger generations get to know her who didn’t grow up with her in the press so much and in honestly my mom’s legacy in a way that’s realistic and describes what she really did. And that kind of wide breadth of her Work not just the silly five stages. Yeah. So and you know, I, I went to 101 countries so now maybe like 125 135. So, but there’s no particular number I’m in competition with my cousin. He’s at 104. So the competitions on Oh funny. Want to keep doing it until my back goes out
Victoria Volk 1:20:22
well where can people find you if they want to either your personal work and also your mom’s work?
Ken Ross 1:20:29
Well, we have numerous websites and numerous languages we have websites in English, French, Flemish, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, we have maybe a dozen Facebook pages again in various languages. We have aka Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross foundation in Chile, in Argentina, or Uruguay and Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Japan, Belgium, French, hopefully starting Colombia soon and so numerous websites just type in Elisabeth Kubler Ross Foundation, and pick your language. We’re on Instagram Of course, and we have that in three languages. We’re unlinked in we are on Pinterest, and I am on Instagram Kinross, photography, and Ken rose photography calm, and I’m on LinkedIn. And I think we do everything except tik tok so far. We draw the line Snapchat, yeah, Snapchat. We don’t do that either. And then we you know, we’re working with other groups. We’re working with, like Colin Perry, you know, her American fan apologist. She does some really interesting work. We’re doing a conference with her called the nature of grief. Talking about our nature and grief combines like how our flowers used in Santa otology. You know, or trying to not, you know, not just do old school, but do new school too. And kozun some great work we’re doing. Yeah, I know more interesting things with different universities around the world. We’re trying to some project with Stanford with St. Christopher’s the press hospice in England. Oh, and a number of different people. Yeah, when US, Canada, Mexico, I think we’ve got over 50 collaborations going. So it’s a wide world out there. So trying to get the word out there and be part of the conversation. You know, there’s other great groups like reimagine and Michael hubbs group is great. You know, the death cafe’s the death over dinner. A lot of great groups doing interesting work out there. The green burial council trying to bury people in a more ecologically sound manner. So we’re beginning to work with them. Leaving a lot of stuff happening. We’re doing our education series in the fall. We have people usually from about 30 different countries attend that. We’ve had interesting speakers like William Warden IRA Byock, some my mom’s workshop staff, Joanne cacciatore. Do you know about her and the Miss foundation? She does amazing work, you should have her on your on your call. She has a grief farm up near Sedona. And she rescues animals and she finds there’s this beautiful bond between rescued animals and people going through grief especially when they’ve lost children. And somehow they really attach on to rescued animals. There’s like a shared grief and pain. So she does amazing work and she is a Brainiac. I love chatting with her. She is so wicked smart. She did a book called bearing the unbearable, beautiful book, got great reviews. I definitely recommend that book to anybody. And she was principally with parents who have lost children meaning a lot of great people out there. I’m doing a project with open to hope next week or shooting a video in Los Angeles. Okay, so Gloria and Heidi Horsley and they’ve they opened hope channel on YouTube.
Victoria Volk 1:24:12
It’s just amazing to me that I pinned you down for this conversation. So again, thank you again so much for your time and sharing about your mom’s work and about your life and your amazing insights into what you’ve learned from her from your mom and what you’ve applied from that in your own life.
Ken Ross 1:24:36
Victoria Volk 1:24:37
Yeah, the dice theory. I love it. Yeah. I will put I guess I can’t put all of those links to everything in the show notes but I will definitely put where to contact you. station
Ken Ross 1:24:51
with them and Facebook and the website. Yeah. Oh, and if you can also if people want to learn more about mom radio lab, just did a piece National Public Radio’s radio lab. Yes, I’ve been radiolab Kubler Ross, they have an hour long piece that just came out last week. That’s a great piece. That’s kind of young hip, and I know how to drive it. This is very different.
Victoria Volk 1:25:15
I think you mentioned earlier, it’s about 91%. accurate.
Ken Ross 1:25:18
Yeah, it’s like, you know, the MTV version of Elizabeth has been trendy and irreverent. But they get pretty close. Right? You know,
Victoria Volk 1:25:27
okay. I will link to that one in the show notes
Ken Ross 1:25:29
and argue with a few odds and ends. But what they say the Mick Jagger of death, had trouble dying herself. I’m like, well, she had no trouble, you know, dying. It’s like the stroke part was hard. It’s hard for anybody, but she had no trouble of death. It’s just being in pain for nine years, and not being able to work or have fun. You’re going to be a little angry.
Victoria Volk 1:25:50
Right, especially living the life she had led, right? I mean,
Ken Ross 1:25:53
wild overachiever. So to go from 10,000% you know, 1% is hard. Yeah. And, but I really like the you know, Rachel did a great a great PSA, I have no issues with it. I really like it a lot.
Victoria Volk 1:26:09
It just makes you wonder like just being a human being. It just makes you wonder someone who has sparked such an amazing conversation to have about grief and opened up the conversation in the first place. And all the work that she’s done, and then that’s what her last nine years were like, it’s disheartening. Even for me, you know, to know that that’s what that was like for her.
Ken Ross 1:26:34
Take a look at that Oprah interview on YouTube. And you’ll see she still has a lot of spark left. And even though she was retired and paralyzed, she still had like four books. Yeah, that’s true. couldn’t quite Stop, stop.
Victoria Volk 1:26:45
Well, that’s true. And that’s again, that’s speaks to don’t put yourself in a box. Like don’t limit yourself. And I think that’s one of the greatest messages today on this podcast from you and from her life is it can’t teach wrote the only limitations you have are the ones that you put on yourself.
Ken Ross 1:27:02
Absolutely. I mean, I didn’t study photography, but I went out and shot 101 country isn’t. And I did endless number of wacky things.
Victoria Volk 1:27:11
Do you think though that grief, in part was her teacher in that like, really, too, because what I believe is that grief is the the illuminator like it really shows us the contrast of what we don’t want that we really see what we do want
Ken Ross 1:27:29
the equalizer and how much how much money or fame or whatever we have, we’re all gonna die. Exactly. You know, we all end up at the same base their range, what do we do with this little short time we have, you know, make it seem like 100 lifetimes, you know, if you live it, right, you can make Yeah, I feel like I’ve lived 100 lifetimes already with all the stuff I’ve done. So yeah, I’m just a wee while Wow, that was amazing. Like, I have no complaints like, lucky me.
Victoria Volk 1:27:56
I’m a I’m just a wee bit jealous. But again, it’s accepting where we are, in our lives like exactly where we are. And this is where I’m meant to be as a mom of three kids. And National Geographic just wasn’t my calling. I guess, when I was a kid.
Ken Ross 1:28:15
I didn’t get married, because I knew I wanted to travel. And I didn’t want to be an absentee parent, like my mother was not that I have an issue with my mother. But I knew like, you know, I was different. I didn’t mind it. But I didn’t want to assume that my kids wouldn’t mind me not being home, because I really had to do that. So I said, I’m going to go photograph 101 countries, so and they have all the experiences with golf.
Victoria Volk 1:28:40
Since you went there, and since you mentioned that, can I ask them if that lies last nine years was really kind of a gift for you, in that you had nothing but time with your mom to kind of connect in a deeper way.
Ken Ross 1:28:53
It was ironic because you know, for the first nine years, she was regular mom, and then she left to do our stuff. And for the last nine years, I was her parent, right? So it’s kind of ironic that nine years here and nine years there, and in between were like weaved in and out and hung out in you know, funky places around the world. So but last night, he was Yeah, I got to spend, you know, all the time with her even though she complains I was never around much. But her ideas like not much is like, you know, three, four times a week. I’m like mom, I you know, I have a huge pile of your mail that I’m working on at home. It’s like, I don’t care about that I want some tea or I want to go shopping or I want to go somebody has to do this stuff and
Victoria Volk 1:29:42
the problems with leaving a legacy right?
Ken Ross 1:29:44
Yes. So like I’m gonna inherit it one day, my sister and I so you know, I’d like to inherit something that’s kind of his structure and I can digest not a chaos. Wow. So I mean, I have like 7000 emails right now. And hundreds of messages. And this is you know, 17 years after she died, so.
Victoria Volk 1:30:06
And I’m so grateful you answered mine. So again,
Ken Ross 1:30:11
oh, my pleasure. It’s nice to hear and smell the roses. Yeah.
Victoria Volk 1:30:16
Well, thank you again so much. I could just hang out all day. I really could. Would you? Sure? Oh, yay. Okay. I’m holding you to it. Sounds good. All right. Thank you again. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love. From my heart to yours. Thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, please share it because Sharing is caring. And until next time, give and share compassion by being hurt with yours. And if you’re hurting, know that what you’re feeling is normal and natural. Much love my friend.
Takeaways & Reflections | We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
SHOW NOTES SUMMARY:
When you find yourself the observer of a situation that brings up some emotional dis-ease for you, it may be helpful to say the following to yourself: “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
This helps me to feel better when I have felt wronged in some way or when I find myself raising an eyebrow at a situation that may or may not involve me.
Society isn’t short of judgment and criticism these days. I think there’s plenty of it to go around the world a few times. However, each of us can help change that and intentionally, instead, pause and take a moment to reflect and attempt to be empathetic, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you.
Some may say we need to be more sympathetic, but even that can come across as pity. Maybe it’s just easier to say that sometimes, our opinions are best kept to ourselves.
Whether you believe in the afterlife or don’t, or think every mother should fight tooth and nail to keep their children with them, I hope this episode leads you to listen to both Episode 64 with Kristjana and 65 with Sirry because, they couldn’t be any more different but yet, the common theme comes down to how we don’t know what we don’t know.
Today, it’s a takeaways and reflections episode, about Episode 64: A Mother’s Heartache and Sacrifice with Kristjana Hillberg, and Episode 65: The Spirit World Walks Among Us with Sirry Berndsen. A perfect example of grief that hadn’t yet been represented on this podcast, which I do like to share all different types of losses, just to give people a different perspective. Because you may know somebody who has been in the situation, or you may know someone who is going through something similar, and maybe you want to support them. But you’re not sure how, or maybe it’s you, and you find yourself in that Griever’s story. Regardless of the loss, regardless of the story that comes to this podcast, we can all find a little bit of ourselves in the stories, especially if we’ve experienced a lot of loss in our lives. And through that stories, and the different perspectives that I bring to you is an opportunity for you to reflect on. Well, what would I do in that situation? How would I respond? What do I think about that? What do I believe about that? Those questions that help us really grow into who we want to be, who we desire to be, and maybe even have some more compassion towards those who have a different life experience that we may have judged, or had some criticism around. Because those are often too a result of our upbringings and our experiences. And we see other people’s situations through the lens of our own experience. So I do appreciate when people give me their time to share their stories with my listeners, because it is a service to us all, we can all learn something from each and every one of them.
A Mother’s Choice for What’s Best for Her Child
When I first heard about Kristjana’s story, I knew I wanted her on the podcast because she shares a very different perspective of divorce and child custody. As a mom, it’s natural for us to feel like we want our children to be with us. But for Kristjana, it wasn’t as simple as that. She was living five hours away from her husband, so that she could be with her daughter that she shared custody with from a previous relationship. And this worked fine for quite some time, over a year, until she found herself expecting with her new husband. And she knew that this decision was going to have to be made to either go be with her new husband, or in the same town or area as her daughter. And just think about that. What would you do? Now with that natural instinct of wanting your child to be with you? Kristjana had the emotional awareness and really tried to put herself in her daughter’s shoes and knew that there was so much love there for her in this large extended family with her father. And she felt tormented on pulling her away from that. But she also felt tormented or not having her daughter with her. So what would you do? I’ve never known anyone in the situation before Kristjana. Probably three to five years ago, if I would have heard of this situation, I probably would have passed along some judgment or criticism because that is a natural thing for us when we don’t find ourselves in that similar situation. For really, what would you do? When you know what’s best for your child, it’s not always the easy decision to make. And Kristjana by no means has an easy decision to make. And so she really put it off for quite some time. Until one day, the answer came to her, almost like a lightning bolt and washed over her in a moment of peace, She’s described it as she had realized what was best for her daughter. And in that moment, she felt peace with that decision. And she knew what she needed to do. And that was to leave her daughter behind and work on us shared custody arrangement that would be in the best interest for their daughter. And that would also serve and nurture her marriage as well, and new family to be, and not not necessarily a new family, because their daughter was very much going to be a part of that. It just would look different than what she imagined.
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
And so I really encourage you to listen to Kristjana’s episode, because aside from the difficult decision, and all the thought process that went into making that, and the unhelpful and hurtful things that people said to her. The helpful things that she learned along the way of what she needed for herself. We talked about boundaries, we talked about values, we talked about how she came into her own knowing of what was best for her and her family, regardless of what anybody thought of her or their situation. And here’s the thing, because no one knows your situation as well as you do. People hear stories, or they make assumptions, but no one really knows. Unless they ask. And so I think I’ve mentioned during the episode, and I try to remind myself of this is, I don’t know what I don’t know. And that is the message that applies to both the episodes that I’m talking about today, because whether we’re looking at someone else’s situation from the outside, or were trying to wrap our heads around, something like the afterlife, we don’t know what we don’t know. And we can have these thoughts and feelings about the afterlife, which become our beliefs, or which are our beliefs. But if we can be open to what we don’t know, we can allow ourselves to receive new information, we can allow ourselves to receive messages.
There Are Things That Death Cannot Touch: Love
And that’s what I loved about the episode with Sirry, in that she shared so many tips and ways that people who have lost a loved one can keep that relationship going in a positive way. Because regardless of what you believe, when someone dies, the relationship doesn’t end. There, you may have an unfinished business with that person. So even if that person is no longer on the physical plane, you still have a relationship with them in your heart, you still may have emotional residue from maybe an argument that you had right before that person passed, or maybe the relationship was less than loving throughout your life. And there were things that you could never communicate or never share, because you didn’t feel safe to. Or perhaps it was something that you knew was coming or the person was going through a terminal illness, and you knew it was coming and you had the time, the luxury of time. And you took advantage of that time to make it an impactful learning and deep experience with that person to help you gain insight into what they were feeling, what they were experiencing at the end of their life. But so many people too are afraid to ask those questions, those deep questions. They’re really thinking about that person, leaving them of no longer being there. And that gets in the way of this opportunity to have that deep connection with that person.
Those We Love Never Truly Leave Us
And Sirry had shared how helpful working with a medium has been for so many Grievers in her practice. And she’s also a certified grief recovery specialist as well, which really adds to her professionalism and to her ability to really help a griever have the best experience possible for connecting with their loved ones. I personally had a session with Sirry it was unexpectedly amazing. It was the only session I’ve ever had with a medium or of any kind. I learned a lot about with my children because not only was it a spiritual connection session, it was also intuitive guidance as well. And so I learned some things about my I practice as a Reiki professional. But her professionalism and her strong desire to help me as a griever, who had only recently in the last couple of years really addressed the relationships that have left me feeling conflicted in my life. It’s really hard, I think for many of us to wrap our heads around the idea that we are supported in ways that we can’t even imagine that our loved ones are truly watching over us, guiding us bringing things to our attention, if we only would pay attention. I remember as a kid, I’d be walking down the street in the winter, the snow would be falling and it was my favorite time to go for a walk. I hate the cold but there was something about it when you hear the church bells in the night, and you could hear him across town dead silent. I’d hear the church bells and the snow would be falling and I’d walk under the streetlight and I would go out, and that’s happened to me many, many times, or the light would just go out, it would happen when I’d be driving, a light would just go out a streetlight, and I don’t know, he could say I made it up in my mind, but I felt like that was my dad, he was watching out for me just making sure I knew getting my attention. Because the light coin out is going to get your attention, a street light at that will get your attention. And it did, it did many times.
We Are Not Immune To Grief
Talking with Sirry, I recognize that is something I can ask for. I can ask for that as a sign. I just really encourage you to listen to Sirry’s episode with an open mind and an open heart as you listen, even if you feel like that isn’t something that’s for you. I hope you listen to her tips to help you personally connect with someone who has your heart, but they’re not here. Both episodes offer so much wisdom through their stories. And I’m just really floored at the quality of people who I have drawn to this podcast, everyone has a story. And I don’t care if you’re a celebrity, or I just I don’t care who you are, we all put our pants on the same way, right? We all grieve someone or something and we are not immune to grief. Regardless of who we are, we will all meet death at some point. And stories like Kristjana’s and Sirry’s help bring another perspective that we all can learn from, as I mentioned before, and there’s so much more I could probably say, but honestly, it’s beautiful outside.
We’re having some unusually warm weather here in the Dakotas and my spirit is calling me to the outdoors. And so I will leave this episode there. All the goodness is in those two episodes. I just don’t know that I have anything else to add to the conversations because the tips were that good. It’s important for us to always remember that we don’t know what someone is going through the depth of it.We don’t know what we don’t know.
P.S. If you want to listen to more takeaways and reflections episodes you can click here. And if you find this helpful please share it because sharing is caring. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.
Through the challenges and struggles of life, we often find our strength and learn what we’re capable of as we search for meaning in our pain.
This episode shares two stories of the tenacity it took to dig deep, while also acknowledging the need for help and support and seeking it for themselves.
Rachel battled with her husband for two years as he fought hard to beat his cancer, only to lose his fight to ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) in the end.
Eric battled the struggle of guilt after finding his daughter after she took her own life when she was 15.
Two very different stories but similar in how the human spirit is capable of finding strength through struggle.
It is my hope that Rachel and Eric’s stories, although very different experiences, help you to see yourself through their struggle. And that you, too, feel hopeful that you can find your strength on the other side of the struggle.
Today, I’m going to be talking about Episode 61 with Rachel Engstrom, Life as a Cancer Wife, Widow and Never a Mother-to-Be, and how she shares the story of her husband’s diagnosis and death two years later, as well as how she found her way to feeling better. And Episode 62 with Eric Hodgdon, Opening the Door to a Parent’s Worst Nightmare, and how he went from struggle to strength. He describes a defining moment that set him on a path of empowering and leading himself through his devastating and life-shattering loss.
Human Spirit is Stronger than Anything that Can Happen to It
When I’m hearing the stories of Grievers who come on my podcast, I try to put myself in their shoes and through their story, feel what might have been like to go through that experience. And what struck me about Rachel’s story is the time that from diagnosis until her husband passed away and still holding on to hope that entire time that he would go into remission, and he would be healthy again. But we never really know when our time is up, or when we’ll receive a diagnosis that could drag on for years and years. I know people who are on dialysis, or who have been on dialysis for many years for their kidneys. And it takes a toll on people’s mindset. This is where the human spirit is remarkable in adapting to our circumstances. Whether you’re a child who’s being abused, or an adult who’s going through a terminal illness, the human spirit learns to adapt. And I think we find our resourcefulness in times of struggle and challenge. And that’s just what Rachel and her husband did. They found their resourcefulness and had support come in to help them. Her parents had lived with them for quite some time during that period. And I just imagine that had they had kids at that time, that would have been even more helpful. And I think we get so scared to ask for help and support. In those times, we think we can do it all, or we should be doing it all, especially as mothers and nurtures, we think we should be doing it all. And I personally had many challenging times asking for help and support of others. I’m only learning now in my later years that support is really where it’s at. Whether it’s in grief, in our grief or in our businesses, just bringing on support in and help which I did this year which has been incredible. So I think that is probably one of the lessons that I’ve learned in my grief recovery and talking with other gravers and hearing their stories. It’s in the support that you find your own strength in a lot of ways because when you are able to take a break, when you are able to just step back for a moment that can help to recharge your own battery and tackle the next day. And that’s a huge takeaway in Rachel’s episode, and in many episodes. I wanted to highlight that it’s important to ask for support, and whatever that looks like for you.
Be Compassionate to Others
I love this one line to where a friend of hers had told her you can choose to be bitter or better. And that was kind of a turning point for her. She didn’t want to be bitter anymore, she wanted to be better. And after her husband’s passing, she started to pick up the pieces. And really wanted to find some meaning in her experience and it ended up writing the book: Wife, Widow, How I Navigated the Cancer World and How You Can Too. And I’ve talked to many Grievers who, through their stories, through their experiences, you want to find meaning for what you’ve gone through, you want to make something of it. And that’s been really a common thread. And also, among all of the guests that I’ve had, whether that’s helping others, or in a quiet way, it doesn’t have to be writing a book or it doesn’t have to be becoming a grief recovery specialist. It can just be a more compassionate friend, or spouse or what have you. Because I do believe that the more challenging experiences of our lives have makes us more compassionate people towards others. And after a year in of this podcast and listening to people’s stories, the other tip I would give to as the quickest turnaround to feeling better is to helping others. And that was really a turning point for me personally as well. And that’s been Rachel’s work as well. She’s really been an advocate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and, and really just cancer in general she’s really tried to raise awareness and money as well. So there are many people doing amazing things in this world because of the challenges they’ve experienced. And Rachel is one of them.
Heal Yourself First
There is another aspect of Rachel story I want to share in that what if someone with whom you are in a relationship with is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and you are, let’s say the significant other but it’s been a less than loving relationship. You’re probably going to experience a lot of conflicting feelings about that. There’s a part of you that feels like you should help that person, you should be there for them till death do you part, you would want the same for yourself, you would want that person to help you if it were you or support you if it was you that was diagnosed with a terminal illness. But truly, if it’s a less than loving relationship, I can see where during Rachel’s episode she had mentioned that one of the nurses had told her that 70% of marriages or couples separate during cancer. And that struck me but in all honesty, it doesn’t surprise me because I think there are a lot of less than loving relationships out there. I think there are many people who get into relationship who haven’t healed their own wounds. And so you have two people that come together with their wounds, not healed emotional wounds. The other person can be someone who’s either going to help you evolve and grow and challenge you to do that and maybe in hopefully you do that together. Or you can be like the child that picks the scab and you can do that for each other where it’s just kind of a toxic thing. It’s like you don’t know how to be with someone else.
As long as you have this wounded inner child in you. And we’re all walking wounded inner children, as adults, until we recognize that our past and the behaviors that we resort to as adults, and the problems we see in our lives, that are usually repetitive. We find ourselves in the same bad relationships or you find yourself with the same cycle of money issues time after time, or you find yourself abusing different substances, different stage of life. These are the things that are still there, when you get into relationship with someone, marry someone, unless you can recognize and have that awareness of what your issues are, and you work through them either together as a couple, to grow through it. Or you work on that beforehand, which I highly recommend. I would recommend to anybody who is thinking about getting married, to go through grief recovery. You know, they have these pre-marriage classes and things. But I think that the most significant thing that you can do for your future and your future life with someone is to work on your own crap. And that’s what grief recovery offers. It’s a gift to you. But you have to be willing to do the work, of course, and many people are not. And it’s just where you’re at at the time where you look for someone else to heal those wounds for you, you looked for someone else to give you the love that you should be giving yourself. And I could go on a tangent right now, but I’m not, I just wanted to highlight how can it be that in a terminal diagnosis, couples can just shatter. And I believe that’s why it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Be Your Best Advocate
There is such a level of intimacy and struggle for the person that is both the supporter and the caregiver, but also the person who is the one that is diagnosed. It’s reckoning, it’s an awakening. I’ve never been diagnosed with cancer, but I imagine it is a great awakener. And it’s grief, it is grief. Imagine the grief that it causes someone to just have learned while you have six months to live. It is capable of knocking the wind out of the sails and sinking the heart of even the strongest person you know. And I do think that how you’ve handled challenges in your life before that experience or before that diagnosis is a precursor to how you handle the harder stuff that comes your way. And maybe thinking about how you’ve done that in the past, how have you handled challenging parts of your life in the past. And do you want to be emotionally prepared? and I don’t even know that anything can really prepare you to be honest, I don’t think anything can. Nothing can for this life altering diagnosis, these changes, or these big losses that we experienced, like I’ll talk about next with Eric story, nothing can prepare you for that. But I do feel there are tools out there that can help to support you in discerning what it is you need and helping you to become your best advocate for yourself. And we will learn those things by digging deep into ourselves. And also I want to say that, the worst thing is always what happened to you because no matter what, you will always experience it at 100%. There are no half Grievers out there. So just keep that in mind. So please check out Rachel’s Episode 61: Life as a Cancer Wife, Widow and Never a Mother-to-Be because there’s so much more to her story than I even covered here today. But I do like to keep these takeaways episodes kind of brief, there is definitely more to his story. So I hope you take a listen.
Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare is Losing a Child
Now I’d like to share my takeaways from Episode 62 with Eric Hodgdon, Opening the Door to a Parent’s Worst Nightmare. In 2014, his 15 year-old daughter, Zoi, had taken her own life. And as he shared the story of how he learned about how that was done, I listened so intently. And I could visualize the story, I could visualize the moment as he was telling me, and it literally broke my heart. I have a 16 year-old, a 14 year-old, and a 12 year-old, and just even thinking about it makes my eyes welled up. I cannot imagine. That is why I titled his episode, which I struggled with, on what to title it, but it really came to me, that would be any parent’s worst nightmare. It would just be your worst nightmare. Doesn’t matter how it happened, but just stepping into your child’s bedroom, expecting them to be in their bed, asleep, or falling asleep. And just the unimaginable instead is what you find. It truly hurts my heart. So it was a difficult episode for me to listen back when I had to edit it. But it’s so important for me that I personally edit my episodes because well one, it’s usually a few months from editing. I’m usually a few months out in editing from when we initially record. And so I feel like I need to hear it again in order to freshen up on the story and avoid it to be able to articulate what it is that I felt when I first heard it. And to hear it a second time because I hear every Grievers story a second time when I go to edit. I walk away from editing, just amazed with the tenacity of the human spirit. We can endure so much more than I believe we give ourselves credit for. But in the moment, and the moment of that deep despair and sorrow. It’s really hard to see three? five? ten? years into the future, maybe even tomorrow. And this is why I’m loving in doing this podcast so much, that the people who come on this podcast brings hope to other Grievers. But here’s the thing, if you were listening to this podcast, that is you too. That is you because you can take so much more than I think you give yourself credit for. There comes a time where you can only take so much. And I think that’s when most people seek out help and support. And I’ll come back to the first part of this episode where I talked about support and help and how important it is. But for Eric, and for many gravers, it does take having this moment within ourselves, I meant for more than this. My life is more than this, more than this sorrow, more than this anger and more than this pain.
I want my life to be fruitful and thrive. I want to thrive and I want to make something out of this crap that I’ve been handed. I do think there are many of us that come to that place too. And unfortunately, there are many who stay in that place of sorrow and pain. And feel like this is just how it is. This is just what life is going to be. This is my new normal, they say now but it doesn’t have to be. You have so much power of choice. You don’t even probably realize it because grief does make us feel like we don’t have a choice. But we do. You do, you do have a choice. And that’s what Eric talks a lot about in his episode. There was a defining moment where you felt like he heard Zoi’s voice. He did. He said he heard Zoi’s voice. And she was in so many words, I’m just paraphrasing, but just like “snap out of it, Dad, snap out of it.”. And when we are so deep in it, it’s really hard for us to do that. Sometimes it’s a prayer that you just say out loud. And something happens within you, something turns within you, something flips.
We Thrive by Supporting Each Other
And that’s really when my life kind of flipped, when I finally surrendered. And I started to pray. To be honest, I hadn’t stepped in a church and many, many years. And it happens differently for everybody. It doesn’t happen for everybody, of course, because there are many Grievers out there who are still feeling hopeless. Again, that’s the premise of this whole podcast is to bring hope to people. I think it’s fitting that he titled his book, A Sherpa named Zoi. And it’s because of what he has learned about himself through her, and through that experience. And not to mention what he also learned about Zoi herself through stories that people shared with him after her passing. So we have an impact on people and we often just never realize it. And that was one of the things Eric and I talked about. And it’s so unfortunate that we don’t feel like we can share with other people while we’re alive and well, how much that person means to us, or how much impact they have in our lives, or they have had on our lives. And just feeling this gratitude and expressing it for what they bring to our lives and what they mean to us and being grateful for the connection itself, because we are beings that thrive on connection. And again, it comes back to the support and feeling supported. And there’s so many people who I know, that walk throughout their lives and don’t feel supported. And I can offer my support in a thousand different ways. But as a person, they don’t feel it within themselves. That’s a really unfortunate space to be in. And I think a lot of it comes down to trust. We also have to trust that we are supported. It has to come within us first before we can feel it from other people. And that’s what so many things, obviously, love, connection. If we’re feeling disconnected from ourselves, which often happens in grief, how can we then feel connected with others?
Continue Living for a Reason, Find Something to Live For
Feeling really begins when we start with self exploration, when it comes to grief. And I want to share a quote that Eric had shared during the podcast episode. And he said, “just because your loved one lost their life doesn’t mean your life is lost, too.” And I thought that was such a beautiful, poignant thing. And it’s true. And that’s easy for me to say that it’s true, because I haven’t lived that experience. So don’t take it from me take it from Eric, who’s lived it. He’s lived that experience. And many guests on this podcast have lived through terrible experiences. And if they would have settled for the fact that their life was lost too, their gifts that they could have given the world wouldn’t be out there. So let that settle in a minute. And just think about what your hopes and dreams were before grief, before the loss that you’ve endured. What were they before? They’re still there, there’s still life left to live. And I hope that Eric’s story gives you hope that it’s still possible to move forward. I hope Rachel story gives you hope that it’s still possible to create a life that you love, even if it’s the love you lost, even if it’s your child, Eric has become an amazing mentor and leader in helping others really find their own strength through their struggle.
P.S. I encourage you to check out Eric’s website, you can find it at erichodgdon.com. And I think just looking at his website, you’ll feel that he really made something out of this tragic, terrible loss that he’s experienced. And there are so many tips too that he walks through on our podcast episode. He talked about the pressure that teens feel today and shared tips around that, as well as being a parent of a teen. It really was a great, great conversation. So I hope you check it out. And I do hope, again, that you find hope in through their stories. Like Eric said, gratitude played a huge role in what he was experiencing when he was deep in his sorrow. And he had to constantly remind himself that gratitude of what is in my life right now. And so that is the question for you today, what is in your life right now that you can just feel so grateful for? of what is today in your life. And it was thanks to him that he shared about the Five Minute Journal, and I’ve now been using it for three months. I love it, I absolutely love it. It’s become part of my morning regimen. And I highly recommend it. And I do link to that in the show notes of Episode 62 of his episode, and I will link to it here as well. So and as well as to the episodes, both 61 and 62. You’ll also find in the show notes, and I, again, encourage you to listen to those.
P.S. I just want to share about an energy quiz that I’ve launched a little while back. And if you haven’t gone to my website, theunleashedheart.com, you can find a link for that either on the top banner, or it should pop up at some point. And it takes less than 90 seconds, it has 10 questions and at the end you’ll discover your energy type, and what to do with it, and how to nurture your energy type, what drains it, all of that stuff. I think it’s a very informative quiz, and the results are very informative. And I think it would be beneficial and helpful especially for Grievers who often feel their energy being drained. You’ll have a PDF that you can resource that you can use to figure out what nurtures and what drains your energy, what your energy type is. And I just am really proud of what I created with that. And so I would love for you to enjoy it as well. And it’s free. You’re not going to get any further emails from me. For my newsletter or anything like that, it’s you’re just getting the guide. And if you wish to join my newsletter, which is bi-weekly, every other Wednesday, which is filled with content not shared anywhere else. There is a link in the show notes to that, if you would like to join that. I would love to have you in my sacred space I call it it’s where I share things I don’t share elsewhere. So I’d be happy to have you. Until next time, take care and remember, when you unleash your heart you unleash your life. Much love
Grief can either suck the life right out of you or, it can build you into the most compassionate heart for others who will look to you to lean on for support in their grief.
They say grief shared is grief diminished, but many people find sharing their grief difficult. Some turn to writing as a way to express and soothe the soul like I had and like my guest, Faith shared, in episode 59. Or, they turn to others in support groups or friendships, only to be let down or disappointed, as my guest Sherrie was and talked about in episode 58.
There is one question I encourage you to ask yourself; one that I challenge you to ask yourself. If you have listened to episode 59, then you may already know what it is. If you haven’t, then listen to this week’s episode because I mention it again.
Also, this episode is dedicated to the founder of The Grief Recovery Method®, John James, who passed away on 8/10/2021, only three short months following his cancer diagnosis. GRM changed my life and, I will forever be grateful to James for creating this beautiful gift out of his own grief. What a gift to humankind he was and will continue to be to the many hurting hearts who feel led to doing the deep, inner-work through GRM. His legacy will endure; I do not doubt that. Love + Light, John. 💛
Today is the takeaways and reflections episode where I’ll be talking about Episode 58 with Sherrie Dunlevy, and Episode 59 with Faith Wilcox. Sherrie had lost her infant son 29 days after his birth, and also her beloved pet. And so she talks about each of those losses and the impact they had on her as well as her experience of going through grief recovery and how that changed her life. And Faith talks about the loss of her 13 year old daughter. She was diagnosed at the age of 13 and died 365 days later in her mother’s arms of cancer. And the curious thing about that is she didn’t know she had one year to live when she was diagnosed. But I think it’s an important question to ask ourselves, what would I do? If I knew I had one year to live?
People are Often Consumed with Their Own Grief
Starting with Sherrie’s episode, she brought up a very important topic that I want to bring up in this takeaway’s episode and she talked about her this desire that she had when she lost her son. She thought that time that followed, she was really struggling with why she felt abandoned, why people weren’t there for her that she thought would have been or should be. And she said she came up with a few reasons why this happened. One was it hit too close to home, that if it happened to them, thinking about that makes them sad, it’s just too sad for them. Another reason why she came up with why people abandoned her was they never had to deal with a situation like that before. And they just didn’t know what to say. Also, people really want to say something, but don’t know what to say, or afraid to say the wrong thing. And they want to help and they want to do something, but they just don’t know what to do. And so it’s easier to do or say nothing than the wrong thing. And one thing I would like to add to that is that, I think also too, people are often consumed with their own grief, consumed with what’s going on in their own lives. Maybe not even grief at the time, but just the just all. Especially women or head of households, you wear all the hats. For me personally, I can just say I have days where it’s just feel so scatterbrained, it’s hard to focus, my attention is pulled in many different directions and, and so trying to hold the capacity for compassion and empathy and trying to hold that space for somebody else. In a really trying difficult emotionally challenging time. I’m struggling in my own mind, I’m probably not the best suited person to sit with you during those days. But also I think it comes down to communication. If I am feeling that way if I am because here’s the thing, too, in that situation that would cause me grief is like a really want to be there for you, but I just can’t right now “this is what’s going on, this is how I’m feeling, this is what I’m experiencing”. You know, and I might feel like it’s nothing in comparison to what you’re feeling. You know, the person that just you know is going through a loss but all the same. How do you do to be there for somebody who you really want to be there for? and yet, just you don’t have the capacity to do it. And
How Can I Help?
I think it’s where we tend to complicate things, we overcomplicate things, and sometimes we think that we just need to do these big grandiose gestures, or these big expressions of our love and care. But sometimes it can just be as simple, “I don’t have the brain capacity today. I hope I do tomorrow. But in case I don’t, know that I’m sending you love, know that I’m sending you a hug“. Maybe you put that in a card, and you mail a card to that person? Or maybe you send them a fruit basket? It can be something small, a small gesture. Maybe if they have a pet, maybe it’s like, “Okay, I know, I need to disconnect a bit. I need to, like reboot my brain.” But maybe you don’t have a pet. Right? And so maybe that person that had a loss, has a pet. “Hey, can I walk your dog, it’d be good for me, it’d be good for your dog, and it would help you out.” Right? So I think sometimes we have to think outside the box, and maybe a little bit creatively about how we can be of service to other people when we really, really want to, but no, we’re just not there yet in full capacity, but still want to do a little something. And if you are feeling in full capacity, you know, mentally, emotionally, physically, all of those things where you can be there for other people, then it’s like, by all means balls to the wall, I mean, put all your effort and energy into that, because you wouldn’t be surprised how life-giving that can be for somebody else, and for you as the giver of your time and energy. And it doesn’t even have to be a financial expense to do anything special. I just encourage you to think about maybe what you would like, I think that’s also where we tend to overcomplicate things. It’s like, “what would I appreciate today? what would I really like? what would lift my spirits? Or what would be helpful to me today?” .And then do that thing for that person, or somebody else who is going through a challenging time, who don’t have to be grieving something. Just maybe it’s a challenging time, right? And, you know, all of this desire for Sherrie to find why people abandoned her is kind of what led to her writing her book, “How can I help?” your go-to guide for helping loved ones through life’s difficulties, and it is on Amazon. And I did link to her book in the show notes of her episode. So I do highly encourage you to check it out, and to listen to that episode in its entirety.
There’s a Clarity That Can Come From Grief
And I’m going to go through a few more things that Sherrie and I talked about. Next, I’d like to share just how contrast really shows us what we do want. And therefore, it’s a knowing of what we don’t want. And we had talked about during our episode about this post traumatic growth. And I had heard this term before, but I think it’s true in that when you go through something traumatic, or you have a really difficult, challenging experience, loss of a loved one or just natural disaster. Things like that we realize, what we don’t want, like, “this isn’t working for me, that’s not working”. How do you know we start to think about what we do want. And so there’s a clarity that can come from grief. It is a clarifier that brings us to our awareness, all that probably isn’t working in our lives, things that we would desire to change. Even if we don’t know how or what that looks like. You can feel it in your body. Your body responds to what isn’t working, if we just kind of tune in. We just take a moment to tune in to what our bodies are telling us because our bodies are always speaking to us, especially in grief. Especially with that post traumatic growth journey that all gravers go through
There is No Timeline to Grieve
And because there’s no timeline to grieve, I think that experience or how long that experience takes is very different for everybody. I think it also relies on how open we are to learning something new, to see in our lives and other people from a different perspective. I think one of the beautiful things about grief is it brings us more compassion, we become more compassionate people, I believe. And so it’s really leaning into that compassion for ourselves first. Because it’s really hard to give others compassion, when we don’t have it for ourselves. It comes back to that old thing. You can’t pour from an empty cup, right? I think that is one of the lessons that Sherrie had received in her grief, and what made her seek out grief recovery, help in the grief recovery method, and I just loved how she shared her experience in that, she said it has the most amazing tool, and it was the best gift that she had ever given herself. And I would wholeheartedly agree for myself personally. Grief recovery has been the gift that keeps on giving. I certified in March of 2019, in Austin, Texas, and I was just telling someone about it the other day. And I was telling this friend, there are pivotal moments in our lives. Times where we can think back and, and think well, that conversation or that bumping into that person or, being in the right place at the right time, or that choice I made or that decision. We can pick out these moments in our lives that are very pivotal to us, that really changed the trajectory of the rest of our lives, where we understand and are aware that had I not done that thing, my life would not be where it is today. A happenstance conversation, and I’ve had so many of those instances, just the perfect conversation at the perfect time, or hearing something exactly when I needed to hear it, or stumbling upon a resource or something that would inevitably change my life. And that was grief recovery, to be honest, which opened the doors and led to many other things such as Reiki and end of life doula and the clients that I’ve been working with in Reiki and what I’m learning starting to learn now to further my Reiki and deeper my practice there with crystals and sound healing.
We evolve with our grief, we are always evolving with our grief. It’s just truly sad to me, I feel sadness when I see people, especially online, often in the grief community, that feel like their life is destined to be how it is today. I was that person who thought my life was going to be how it was, and I was going to feel how I was going to feel for the rest of my life. You can’t see the label from inside the jar. Right? I mean, that’s another quote. But it’s so true, it’s really hard to see a path forward when you’ve tried something and it didn’t work or you’ve tried that thing and it didn’t work or or you constantly feel like you’re judged, criticized or analyzed. And that’s what grief recovery is absolutely different. The approach is different in its individual, because you’re an individual like it is individualized to you, because your grief is unique to you. I could go on and on on a tangent on that but grief shows us what needs to be healed, grief is a clarifier it and it will force you to evolve.
Grief is Like a Sinkhole
I think eventually, unless you are unwilling to surrender to what it has in store for you, the gift that it could give you and I can just see the eyes rolling because when you are deep in grief, you do not want to hear how there’s gifts in grief, you don’t want to hear that there is purpose to your suffering, like you just don’t want to hear that stuff. I didn’t want to hear that stuff. But eventually, there comes a point where you just get sick and tired of being sick and tired. And like my friend Sherrie said in her episode, and honestly, we had recorded that many months back. And I had never forgotten this phrase that she said, but when you lay you decay, and if that’s not true of so many other aspects of our lives, whether let’s say you have a cancer diagnosis. Of course, there are days where absolutely all you can do is lay. But if you just laid, right, if you just laid and you’d never got up and you never had a reason to get up, or you never tried to get up, you never even tried or, granted, there’s all kinds of scenarios and situations. This is a very blanket statement, but that statement lay or decay. It’s like our bodies are meant to move. And, I don’t I’m not even sure who said it. But a body in motion, stays in motion like the laws of physics or something. I’m not sure. I think you get the idea, though, of where I’m getting to, but we must stay in motion. And that’s true with grief too, or you do get stuck. It’s like you’re in a sinkhole. Grief is like a sinkhole, it’ll swallow you whole. If you let it ,grief will force you out of your comfort zone and bring change whether you like it or not. The more you fight these changes that grief will bring in, the more resistant you are to these changes, the more your suffering will persist. And that was no different in my grave.
Grief Recovery is About Addressing the Pain
I had many days where I cried more tears than I thought I could ever possibly cry. When you’re crying from sadness, it’s much different than when you’re crying from pain. Just like Sherrie had mentioned in her episode. She said you will someday at some point cry so much that you’ve cried enough from the pain. And I agree, I think there comes a point where you just run out of tears and crying from the sadness is much different. And I think it’s once you actually process that pain, and you work through that pain, what left is the sadness. That doesn’t go away. You know, grief recovery isn’t about getting over or putting behind you the person that passed away or the relationship that is less than loving, grief recovery is about addressing the pain. Any sadness you feel isn’t just going to go away, there’s still going to be that empty seat at the table. And just this week, as I’m recording this, on Tuesday, the founder of grief recovery passed away from cancer after three months of senses diagnosis. And for me personally, it’s a very sad loss. It’s a sad loss for all of us grief recovery specialists, I believe, because he founded something that is incredible, that has changed and impacted all of our lives. And I am in awe of the legacy that he has created and his left. And I feel deeply honored to be able to carry on his work and his creation of the grief recovery method in the work that I do with my clients. Again, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And it was an incredible gift that he has given me. And so I dedicate this episode to John James, who created the grief recovery method out of his own pain in his own sorrow. And if you are interested in learning more about his story, I encourage you to pick up the book the grief recovery handbook. It is linked in the show notes. And if you don’t see the show notes, or don’t go to the show notes, you can also find the grief recovery handbook on Amazon. And I highly recommend it.
Voice Out Your Feelings
Moving on to Episode 59 with Faith Wilcox, she shared her story of her 13 year old daughter being diagnosed with cancer and actually passing away in her arms 365 days following her diagnosis. And this was over 20 years ago, she just recently published a book, which is also linked in the show notes for Episode 59. It’s called “Hope as a Bright Star”. And it was developed from her writings that she wrote at the bedside of her daughter, and what she had learned throughout that whole process of sitting with her daughter in that year, in and out of the hospital, chemo radiation treatments and also navigating being a parent to her daughter’s sister as well. And the dynamics of how you function as a family when you have such a sick child and you’re in and out of the hospital. And I can’t imagine what that’s like, I cannot even imagine. I resonated with what Faith had shared about how writing was such a pivotal healing tool for her. Because I too, have been writing since I was in my teens and I journaled, I wrote poetry. I found much comfort in expressing myself in that way. And I think for a lot of introverts or empathic people, we find that it is much easier for us to process our feelings. We often do internally, but it’s a great exercise in expression, to give your feelings a voice in some way. And so for me, it was always writing. And that was the case also for Faith. And she gives some tips for other parents at the bedside of a loved one, going through the same situation that she experienced.
What would you want to do if you only have one year left to live?
And I just thought when I was listening back and editing, I just thought to myself, like, had she known she had one year to live? Would she have made different choices? What would she have wanted to experience? I mean, what a good question to ask yourself to get some fire under your butt. You know, if you had one year to live, you were told today, you have one year to live? What would you want that year to look like? I don’t know about you. But I feel very overwhelmed by that question, to be honest. Because I feel like there’s so much more that I have to offer people and want to do in my life. I think grief in that question is a clarifier. I have a pretty long bucket list. I don’t know about you, but I do have a bucket list. And I seem to be adding to it year after year. But it is a daunting feeling isn’t it? To think if you were given only one year. Probably many of the things that you might have on your bucket list aren’t things that you would probably prioritize.
Maybe it’s putting your feet in the ocean or feeling the beach, sand in between your toes for the first time or swimming with dolphins. I’m reminded of a story of Jeffie which is shared by Elisabeth Kubler Ross and her book “The Wheel of Life” , a memoir for living and dying. But she shares the story of this little boy named Jeffie who is dying of cancer and was sick much of his young childhood and the last thing he wanted to do was more cancer treatment, more chemo and radiation and he just wanted to go home. And so his family took him home, and when they got home, the one thing he wanted to do was to ride his bike. And I’ll actually share this, you’ll hear the story of Jeffie brought up in a future episode, I had the privilege of having a conversation with Ken Ross, who is Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s son. And I brought up that story because I was moved to tears when I read it. But Elizabeth’s life is just one of many stories. She was actively doing her work, but it’s like the amount of work, the amount of accomplishments that she had in that time, is just, I’m in awe. So anyway, I was made to think of that story of Jeffie. When I thought of that question, what would you want to do if you had one year left to live and turns out with Jeffie, he knew intuitively, that he had but a few hours at most. In fact, he wanted to go home so he could die at home. That story was just though a beautiful example of just this little child, young child taking ownership of the kind of death he wanted to have. And I just think, imagine if we had that kind of authority, and took that authority to have that kind of conviction when we’re alive, right? not when we’re on our way out. And so again, it just comes back to that whole question. And my biggest takeaway from Faith’s episode is, how would I want my next year to be if I knew I had one year to live? And so that’s, that’s the question I want to leave you with today to truly ponder on, and think about, and what do you want your next year to be? Like? If you are grieving right now, what do you want your next year to be like.
P.S. In case you don’t know if it is something that you want to move forward working through your grief, I offer grief recovery, both online and in person, and both one on one and in a group. So if that’s something that is of interest to you, I encourage you to please reach out to me at Victoria at http://theunleashedheart.com or you can head to the show notes. And there will be some links to my social media there and you can send me a message. I highly encourage you to do that. If you have any questions or reservations about moving forward in your grief, because you got one life to live? And how about we make the most of it. Right? Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode, which as I mentioned, I’m dedicating to John James, the founder of the grief recovery method, and the grief recovery Institute. A program that has very much so changed my life and has been the gift to me that has kept on giving. If you would like to learn more about this amazing program, I encourage you again to reach out to me check out the show notes. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.If you liked this episode, please share it because Sharing is caring. And until next time, give and share compassion by being hurt with yours. And if you’re hurting know that what you’re feeling is normal and natural. Much love my friend.
Eric Hodgdon | Opening the Door To a Parent’s Worst Nightmare
It was a great day; nothing seemed off with his daughter Zoi. They enjoyed a meal together; she headed to her room while he went downstairs to do some computer work.
Sometime later, before heading to bed, he went to say goodnight to his beloved daughter, Zoi. The music she loved blaring from her stereo; he opened the door only to see an empty bed.
What he discovered next changed his life forever – changed him forever.
No parent should ever have to experience the death of a child. And, it feels like one of the cruelest experiences a heart could ever possibly endure.
Listen to Eric’s story of how he went from struggle to strength. He describes a defining moment that set him on a path of empowering and leading himself through his devastating and life-shattering loss.
Victoria Volk 0:08
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is Eric Hodgdon. He is a best selling Amazon author TEDx speaker and coach after losing his 15 year old daughter Zoe to suicide in early 2014. He fought for his family and his friends to find their pathway to better days, he found a way to get back up and walk his grief journey. Now he is sharing the lessons he learned so that no one else has to walk alone on their journey. Eric has trained 1000s of people who want to go from struggle to strength in the face of their worst setbacks. Thank you so much for being here.
Eric Hodgdon 1:34
Thank you so much, Victoria. I’m deeply honored to be here with you.
Victoria Volk 1:38
And this is a very important topic, we’re talking about suicide, and teens. And before we started to record I shared that I had looked up some stats for my own state of North Dakota, I would like to open with that. And then kind of if you want to piggyback off of that in what it’s like where you live. So in the state of North Dakota, one person every 60 hours dies by suicide. Wow. In my State, it is the first leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. In my State, and the North Dakota teen suicide rate is three times higher than the national average. Well, North Dakota has the second highest rate in suicide from 2000 to 2018. And we’re just behind New Hampshire, New Hampshire is number one. And where do you live? Eric?
Eric Hodgdon 2:39
I live now in Tampa, Florida. But I grew up in New England. I grew up in Maine, very close to New Hampshire, of course. And while those numbers are staggering and shocking, in some cases, it doesn’t surprise me with how the struggle is being dealt with in folks lives, especially teens.
Victoria Volk 3:07
And in rural more rural areas or major areas that aren’t as progressive or as cities that aren’t as progressive and maybe states that aren’t as progressive when it comes to mental health. Correct? And
Eric Hodgdon 3:19
where are the resources for them? Where are the resources to help them figure out that there are options out there that don’t include taking their life as that only option to remove the pain that they’re in? Or the struggle that they’re dealing with? That they don’t believe is the there’s a way out of and so finding and getting access to the resources that help them is missing? I think a lot of cases and I don’t think that that’s why you and I are here, I think you and I are here to provide a different optic on on those resources and where to find them and how to get them and how to how to show that there are there setbacks in life that we will always face. But there are tools to help you to get from that struggle to the strength that you need to make it to the next day and sometimes the next hour.
Victoria Volk 4:17
So share, if you wouldn’t mind share the start of your grieving story.
Eric Hodgdon 4:24
Thank you. So seven years ago, I was fighting for custody of my 15 year old daughter Zoey. It was a reluctant decision that I made to follow that process but it was to protect and to ultimately care for Zoe’s well being at very formative ages and, and so Zoey was trying to handle things as best possible. She’d been hospitalized four times in adolescent units and each time I did see a progression in her strength, I saw her capacity to help others and to be available to them when they were struggling, and ultimately, in the beginning of 2014. Zoe went quiet. And one Saturday, I picked her up and I brought her back to my house, she was able to come home and stays with me on weekends, which were awesome, honestly, because we would go to a mug and muffin restaurant in our town for breakfast, maybe or we would go to the beach, and we have to collect rocks in the middle of winter, or just freeze our hands. Or sometimes Oh, he would be up in her room, playing music listening to her music, or playing the ukulele and but I brought her back to my house for this one particular weekend. And she was upstairs, burning some Jasmine incense and applying this really cool henna tattoo on her hand. And I went up and asked her if she wanted to hang out with some friends. And she told me that she didn’t have any and I I pushed back a little bit on that with her. And she, I said, Well, do you want to make something to eat instead? And just hang out? She said, Yeah, let’s do that. So afterwards, we’re cleaning up and she’s told me that she was tired and she wanted to go to bed and say I love you pumpkins. And she said, I love you too, dad. I went back to my computer to do some work. And a little while later I went upstairs to say goodnight to Zoey and eyes opened her bedroom door. I could hear her stereo playing Jonathan Ashanti’s music very low. She had a string of Christmas lights that were lit around the perimeter of her room. But she wasn’t in her bed, out of the corner of my eye, and in a dim light. I could see that. So he was standing in our closet and I saw sure she was going to jump out and scare me. I said Zoe, what are you doing? But she didn’t answer me because she wasn’t standing in her closet. I called 911. And what I thought was going to be another hospitalization. After we got home from the ER that night, turned into awake Five days later, we’re over 900 people came to honor my family and Zoey. And I think when I experienced that loss, I wasn’t sure that I was going to survive it. I remember driving home from the hospital that night with my sister in utter disbelief, and they had my hand gripped on the seatbelt. And I told her I don’t think I’m gonna, I don’t know anything, I’m going to survive this. And she looked at me and just said, I’ve got your back. I don’t know what to do. But you’re, you know what, we’ll find a way to make it happen. And so
Eric Hodgdon 8:06
obviously getting through that next week until we laid Zoe to rest was challenging. Just a ton of emotions. But I think something incredible happened in that week is that all of her friends started to come over to the house and they were staying at the house with me. And Zoey was there in energy. It was really a strange feeling. Her physical body wasn’t with us, but her energy was there. And and that really helped. I think a lot of us understand what survival was going to mean for us, especially May. And so in the weeks and months after we lost Zoey, I found myself sitting in my couch in my living room, everybody had gone back to their lives. Because typically a couple of weeks after you lose somebody, you feel like you’re kind of at a crossroads. What do I do with this because everybody has gone back to their lives and you’re left to walk this new path that you didn’t choose to be on. It feels very lonely. It feels like you have no direction or no energy to even get in a bed some days or you’re going through boxes of tissues. And you don’t want to be but you What’s the other what’s the other choice. And so I feel like now, having the resources for kids having the resources for adults is going to be so important because I think there are resources out there right now are focused on survival being the end game. It’s a handoff point. And I believe that there are other ways to encourage others to empower folks to lead themselves first, so that they can get back up and and not only survive, but as you would say Victoria to thrive after their loss, I think it’s so very important. It’s much needed.
Victoria Volk 10:05
My eyes welled up I am my heart. I’m a parent, I have a, my son’s going to be 16, my 14 year old and a 12 year old and I cannot imagine the it’s like your heart is ripped out, I imagine.
Eric Hodgdon 10:27
It is. It is. And if I can share something really personal with you is that I remember being at the week. And I was not upset during the week because I was ultimately convinced that Zoey and I were going to be able to communicate like you and I were going to communicate. I was just waiting for that message that that voice. And it didn’t come. And I figured that I would use what everybody else told me would heal all my wounds, time time would heal my wounds. That didn’t work. You know, how’s that working for me? I’d be asking myself, how’s that going right now. It probably wasn’t until about 18 months later that I was in such a state of self sabotage for beating myself up is probably a better way of putting it. Where I was just, I was stuck in a pattern. And I, I did hear Zoe’s voice one day, and it scared me in a very unique way, I was in a pattern where I would get off the commuter rail train. In my town, it’s a two mile drive to my house. And inevitably, by mile one, I would start to cry. And that’s when I would start the little beat up process the self beat up process and I’m so sorry, Zoey, I should have been a better dad for you, you should be here. And it was a pattern. And when I pulled into my driveway, I pulled myself together and went in the house for the night. And then the next day, I do the same thing and over and over again. But it built up to one day where I left work and the second I left work that’s when the the self sabotage started. The the head chatter if you will, and I just let it go when it cascade and by the time I got off the train and got in my car, and second, I shut the door. I was sobbing. I was crying so hard that my windows fogged up. And now I was screaming at myself. Not giving myself any permission to figure out what was going on. But rather expending energy, valuable energy, healing energy. I’m beating myself up and I I screamed in my car. I’m so sorry, Zoey. And it was if she was sitting in the seat next to me, Victoria, and I heard her say, Dad cut it out. Geez, I’m okay. I froze. And I didn’t make another sound until I pulled into my driveway. And I sat there for what felt like probably an hour and probably 10 minutes, but so was right. What am I doing? She’s okay. I did everything I possibly could for her while she was here. I did the best that I could with what I had. And that wasn’t serving anybody, her friends, my family, even myself in terms of healing, if I was yelling at myself, and putting myself down and beating myself up over something that I didn’t have any control over. But at what I did have control over Victoria. And I think I’m going on here. What I did have control over was how I approached getting back up and surviving this because the alternative was just more of that. self sabotage?
Victoria Volk 14:03
Can you speak to that? What actually what was the so that sounds like it was a defining moment in your healing?
Eric Hodgdon 14:09
Absolutely. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. As the month started to tick by, I don’t know about you. But I remember every Saturday night at a certain time, I would watch the clock. And I would watch the clock at the time that they called 911 would watch the clock It was like I was going through it every week at the same time. But once I had this defining moment in the car, I started to look at things a little differently. That Zoe would be really upset with me if I was wasting all of the good memories from her life by not living mine. And I could still honor her and carry on at the same time because it’s okay to do that. And I released Anything internally that was telling me otherwise. And I’ve never been more grateful for so he talking to me that day. With that message now, I’m sure it was in my head. But nonetheless, I feel like it was a very powerful message that I needed to hear at that moment. And so I started to look at, okay, now I have to accept that I did everything that I could. I have to forgive not only Zoey for taking her life, but myself, especially, then I think it was the moment that I started to really focus on the gratitude of what is in my life now that I found some opening, if you will, on my path, some light started to start, the path started to be illuminated. With some hope that Wait a minute, there is something beyond this, this yuckiness of survival. That is just not going to get me anywhere. But there’s a light that I can actually start to work walk towards. And I know eventually I’ll get to it. So does that. Does that help?
Victoria Volk 16:14
No, thank you for sharing. And I would ask you, well, first, just tell us about Zoe, who she was,
Eric Hodgdon 16:21
you guys, your audience can see this, I just got a big smile on my face when you said that this, Zoey isn’t Oh, I feel like she’s an old soul. She was always so eclectic in her thinking in her activities. In her humor, even in with her music that she wrote, and she would sing for us on her ukulele. It was just, she just had this way about her that was all about connection. And after in the days and weeks after, so he died, I started to receive many handwritten letters from her hospital friends. And each one of them told me that it was Zoey that helped them when they first went to the hospital, because she just knew that it was their first time. And she would go up to them and she would hug them. And she’d be like, Hey, guys, I’m Zoey. Look, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I know it’s scary, but there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s gonna be okay. And when the staff isn’t looking, we can draw on the loss. And I did wasn’t too happy about the drawing on the walls. And I didn’t know all this was going on Victoria. And so Zoe’s energy, her, her desire to help other people, even when she was struggling, I couldn’t be more proud of her. I couldn’t be more proud of the person that she was and the energy that she brought. And that’s still to this day, what her friends talked to me about how much she helped them to get through that time in their life, because no one else was coming to help them. The staff was doing their jobs, the doctors were doing their jobs. But these kids were there to support each other shoulder to shoulder because they knew that this is how they were going to get through those days. Sometimes those minutes of being in these adolescent units. And I’ve never seen a more creative set of kids a more create immense intelligence with the kids that were in these units. And she would always introduce me to her friends of the staff of the doctors, she was, this is my dad, hey, Zoe’s Dad, you know, and, and so I was so grateful for that. And I am just so ultimately proud of the person that she, I still say is, because I feel like her energy is always going to be with me. I, her body might not be here. But Zoe will always live on in my heart. And I’m just so grateful for that. Because I don’t know about you, I was always afraid that eventually I was going to forget about her, or that the love would stop. And it does it. In fact, I love Zoey more than I did the day that she was born. And I’m so so grateful for that. Is that been your experience as well?
Victoria Volk 19:08
Yeah. And actually, I just want to highlight something that you just said and that I think if we’re it’s when we’re able to actually think of the person the loved one and not get pulled into and sucked into the the the traumatic memory or the horrible memory, the the sadness, that’s when we really honor our loved ones. Yeah. And remember remembering them, as they would want us to remember them? Absolutely. And how we would want to be remembered if it was us, someone was grieving. And I think people fear like you just alluded to I think people fear that with healing comes this. I’m going to forget or I’m going to, it’s by not feeling sad and tormented by this loss. It’s somehow dishonoring my loved one and the total opposite is true. And in the seat at the table is never is always going to be empty, that sadness will always be there, but it’s not going to it there it is possible like you have said it is possible to think of that person with joy and love and carry on in your life, in their in, in their memory that is honoring. Absolutely. How have you been doing that?
Eric Hodgdon 20:27
I found a tremendous energy and direction about two years after Zoe died. I knew I wanted to talk about Zoe. And I didn’t want it to be in a place of, you know, of, I’m just always going to be sad about this. I wanted it to be a place of sharing who Zoe is, and was as a person. And I was invited to attend a leadership event in Dallas, Texas. And I was introduced to one of my mentors, his name is Bo Easton. He’s a former football player of all things. And Bo invited us to come out to California and write our story. And I’ll never forget that experience. Because the day one of this storytelling event, Beau asked us specifically and explicitly to write about a pivotal moment in our lives. And he said, You typically this pivotal moment is anywhere from eight years old to 14. And so I got stuck there. And something really happened between eight and 14, a lot of stuff happened, I was a kid, and it’s kids are always awkward and all that. And so I wrote about a very benign situation where I told on a girl that I had a crush on because she smashed my devil dog at lunch, and she got a detention. I’m like, that’s not my story. But I was so upset with myself because I was trying to find a way to make that story work. And the challenge was, is that that was the story. I was telling myself that I needed to kind of stop that I didn’t know how to talk about Zoey. So I’m not going to. And that was really showing up that weekend in a very powerful way. And the knock on the head came from one of the story coaches at this event. And I went up to him afterwards. I said, Man, I don’t know. I’m just not feeling it. He’s like, Well, what do you got? I said, Well, I, a girl I had a crush on I crushed her. She crushed my devil dog at lunch. And I told her, he’s like what else he got? I said, Well, my daughter took her life two years ago. And he’s like, Dude, what’s your story. And it just gave me permission to talk about it. And I felt so open to the point where I went back to my hotel room. And for the next four hours, I wrote, I just bled on the page for the next four hours. Which I still have the notebook about the moment that I walked into the ER that night, and my experience of living for the last for the previous two years. And I felt this tremendous weight come off of my shoulders. One because I wanted to share Zoey in a way of who she was, and how she impacted my life, how she impacted all of our for her friends life, how she impacted my family and such a very positive way. And the biggest lesson that she ever taught me was that life is gonna knock you down, you’ve got to get back up again. Because I saw her do that time and time and time again and I understand that ultimately the weight of her of what she was feeling was too much. But in the the odd thing is is that in Greek, the name Zooey means life. And so knowing that when we get knocked down in life, we have to fight to get back up every time. I that’s the story that I wanted to tell. And so honoring Zoe became about telling not only my experience of losing Zoe, but working through that battle within yourself to honor your lost loved one and yourself at the same time because ultimately that’s okay. And and you can find some energy and some direction you can find some you can leave that nasty survival mode behind you because is it really serving you right now? Yes, at the beginning, it’s necessary and I think Victoria You and I were talking about at the beginning how important that is to survive first, but survival should be temporary. You can let yourself remain in survival mode like most people do, or you can let it sink in that just because you lost your loved one that your life is not lost to
Victoria Volk 25:01
That’s a quotable right there. Let’s hit the rewind a little bit. Okay, who was the Eric before Zoey? before? So he was born or before? So we took him for it before this experience like, what was what what do you feel like the trajectory of your life was Did you have a certain passion or something that really lit you up? And was the reason you got up every day? Like,
Eric Hodgdon 25:28
yeah, I’m a career IT guy. I was in it from a very early age, it was all self taught. And it spoke to me when I was 22 years old. And it was a career that I could just continually move up in. But what I was finding was that I was, I was continuous. I was in a job of service, it was helping people to get their computers to get back up to a certain point where they could use them. And so that fulfilled me. And I liked that line of work. It gave me a sense of accomplishment if there was a massive, complex problem that needed to be solved, and finding a solution to it. And storing that in my memory banks and how I could use that moving forward and other situations that came up. And I think everybody experiences that too. It’s those big lessons in life that you actually store and you can pull from and they just, that’s where your strength comes on, you know, and so 25 years and it and it was, you know, Zoey and I, I was divorced in about 2005, so about 15 years into my career. And I would have my girls every weekend and every week, throughout the week, and it was a fantastic opportunity for us to bond and connect. And we used to do a lot of things, we would go to concerts, we would go to the beach, we did the beach, a lot of in New England, that’s just a thing you do up there. And we would take day trips, sometimes we would come down to New Orleans and visit some friends who live down there. And I just valued that time with them. And there was some weekends that that Zoey and her sister, those two were like peas in a pod. And they would just spend all weekend upstairs in their room with the pile of arts and crafts, supplies, just making stuff and sometimes those don’t, that’s really good, you know. And, of course, every parent says that about their kids artwork, I have saved every scrap of paper that they drew on. I have saved every every trinket that they made for me or craft that they wanted to give to me. In fact, behind me this painting, Zoey painted this for me for Christmas, the month one month before she died. And and I absolutely loved this because it she’s at peace in this image. And I know it’s her, even though it’s supposed to be a Buddha. And so I’m so grateful that I have this gift. And I think of everything that they did everything that they drew every experience that we have as a gift. And so when I started to focus more on the gifts that I was getting along this path of being a single dad with them, I was I was starting to recognize the value of of what it means to be a parent. And I started to think that’s where a shift started to take place in me I wanted to do more how to do something that was bigger than myself. And so I had actually a few years before so he died, I started to look at other ways of earning a revenue that was not earning income that wasn’t based on a nine to five job. And so I tried my hand at some network marketing I tried to get I got into some personal development because I just found such great depth in that and, and what made me tick, how I could help others. And when Zoey died, I felt like I had a good set of tools to work with. Even though I had to access them through all the fog. It took a while to really get a good handle on what I had at my fingertips at this point. And I and and yet at the same time, I still had some defaults. I still had some of that baggage that I was pulling into this situation that was not helping me. And I think that just there’s been so many gifts since so he has died that have just shown up on the path only because I’ve continued to walk and let those things come to me and be open to them coming into my life and have you had a similar experience Victoria, to that.
Victoria Volk 30:00
Absolutely nice. Did Can you give me an example of that? Well, if it wasn’t for me actually working through my own grief, I wouldn’t be a Reiki Master, I would not be a grief recovery methods specialist, I would not have this podcast, I would not everything that I’ve done since clearing out my baggage has been as a result of taking ownership of my baggage and doing something with it. Like not working through it and getting rid of it.
Eric Hodgdon 30:37
Yeah. And that’s not something that happens overnight. Right. I mean, that takes time. And and where did you start to feel like you were gaining some traction with that process?
Victoria Volk 30:48
Well, and as we kind of talked earlier, my personal development started in 2014. And my youngest was starting kindergarten. And I was closing, I was really contemplating at that time closing a business I’d had, that was really my creative outlet, I was a photographer, and I built that business from scratch, and not having an online social network, not having people to tell me what to do, you know, there wasn’t, I wasn’t even in a Facebook group, you know, till well into my business. And so it was really grassroots, have a have an experience in entrepreneurship. And that taught me a lot. And all of that all of that prepared me to really dig as far as I was, I had never gone before in my grave. Right. Yeah. And so my question for you is, given that you have done some personal development work, and you know, what we learn, and we tend to give off what we? Yes, I think is, okay, so like, if you’ve done, I look at myself before person, like digging into personal development, wanting to learn about myself, I think of myself as the pre personal development parent. Yes. And then I look at myself after and I’m like, Whoa, there is a stark contrast. Yes. Because, again, like you said, we resort to the defaults, what we know and what we’ve been taught in childhood, and for what the work that I do, particularly around grief. And because I didn’t deal particularly well, at least I thought I was that’s the thing, we think we are ready for dealing with it. I think we’re, I’m fine, you know, sure. Yeah, I got this. But yet all of these behaviors are showing up on a on a daily basis, or we are just angry people. We’re just angry, or our kids show bring out in us what is not resolved within us. Right. And that was happening a lot, huh? You know, when I look in hindsight, and so that’s what I’m kind of curious about for you and as a parent that you were before, versus how these experiences have shaped you as a parent now?
Eric Hodgdon 33:17
Wow, that’s such a powerful question. And a great one. One, because I’m going I’m thinking back to how I dealt with difficult situations and challenges as a husband, as a father, early on. There’s I think there’s two ways the personal development has taught me that I could look at it one of two ways I could look at it that that’s just the way it’s going to be, take it or leave it? or How can I get better at talking to my children? How can I get better at talking to my spouse? How can I get better at talking to my family, friends, and connecting deeply with others who we may not know what they’re struggling with? But how can we make those deeper connections with those around us that we love, because that’s typically what suffers first, when we’re struggling. And I don’t know if we can afford to do that. In this day and age with those statistics that you were sharing with me at the beginning of the podcast Victoria. We, I think as a human race, not as an American, not as any other country or a citizen of a country in this world. But as a human. I believe we have to get better at connecting with others on a deep level, showing them that it’s not just about sending a text to say, hey, Call me if you need anything, it’s showing up at their door. Or it’s sending them a text and asking them how are you doing? It’s doing some outreach to the people that are closest to you, teenagers are a good, a good point. I just heard this the other day for one of my mentors, his name is Scott man. And Scott was saying he goes, you know, if you ask your child or a teenager how their day was, they’re going to blow you off, they’re not going to talk to you much. But if you ask this one question, what annoyed you today? Oh, man, the floodgates open up? And just ask that question of your team who annoyed you today or what annoys you today? And they will give you the goods, they’re going to answer you in a narrative format. Because we are story animals. We’ve been communicating with story long before we could actually speak language. And so that is one of the biggest ways that you can make deep connections these days, his story. And going back to when I went to that story workshop out in California for the first time, I saw the power of that, and how that connects people who might be struggling with their own grief that you and I would not be talking if I didn’t share my story. And likewise, you wouldn’t be talking with me if you didn’t share your story. And so it is healing. Our brains are wired for story. And it has been scientifically proven. That story helps our brains heal. And so I use that opportunity to to heal at any time. I can. Somebody just checked my door, and it’s somebody that’s staying here with me for a few days. Hold on one second. Sure. Thank you. Sorry about
Eric Hodgdon 36:33
that. That’s okay.
Eric Hodgdon 36:34
I didn’t realize I locked my front door. So I’ve got some family friends here. It’s interesting. One of my guests Her name is Cory. And Cory. I wrote a book a couple of years ago called a Sherpa named Zoe. And corys. Dad is at the epicenter of this book. Before I got to my story of Zoey losing Zoey, I wrote about my experience of of being a friend to Corey, his brother, Cory, his brother and I have been friends for 42 years. And we were in 19 at the time, and she lost her dad, my friend lost his dad. And it was such a powerful experience to, to know what to do with that. And even speaking to what you and I were talking about in terms of how you connect with others, especially after a loss, was just talking with Cory before this podcast. And she just said, she said, you know, you did something different than other people didn’t do. And I don’t know, you know, I just had the, she said, You showed up and you were there with us. Even if you were just hanging out with us, you were there. And she said, that meant more to my family in me then then you could imagine. And so I think that’s where we can continue to make deep connections is to show up for those that we love and care for, and be there for them. I don’t know about you. I did not want to hand my grief off to somebody else. What I wanted to do was to have somebody just be an empathetic witness and here and actually listen to I don’t want them to solve the problem because they can’t walk that path for me. But no, I don’t think people are going to dump their grief on you. I think they just want to be heard.
Victoria Volk 38:19
Absolutely. In grief recovery. Call it a heart with yours. Yes, perfect. Oh, that’s perfect. But some people aren’t that person. Right. That person? Yeah. And I think that’s important to mention in that. And I think too, we this is my belief in that we we can we are able and this is why healing ourselves is so important. And working on ourselves is so important. Because the deeper that we allow ourselves to go with our own grief and our own challenges and, and whatnot. Is that’s the depth that we are able to go with others and for others, I believe. Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. What were some of the on helpful or hurtful things? Did you hear any of those types of comments?
Eric Hodgdon 39:08
I always laugh at this because I think the personal development helped me get to a place where I didn’t let it get me angry or frustrated. There were some folks that didn’t show up that I expected to show up for Zoey and for our family, some close relatives, even some family friends that I was just okay. I don’t understand why this is happening. But that’s not for me to understand right now. I remember about four years ago, I was visiting Zoe’s resting place, one, one summer afternoon and I always went over there. I went over there once or twice a week just to say hi, sometimes I would take a little Bluetooth speaker and just set it down and play some of the music that she used to like to listen to and so it just felt I felt closer to her there. And I was I just showed up at the At the at the cemetery and got to her resting place. And there was a woman that was walking by and she said, I’m so sorry for your loss to thank you so much. And you know, who is this? I said it unfortunate. It’s my daughter. And she said, Oh, what happened? Do you mind me asking us and unfortunately, she took her life. And without skipping a beat, she said, Ah, you’re young, you can have more kids. And I didn’t get angry with it. Right? I my eyes, kind of like an you know what I imagined Victoria, imagine that Zoey was standing in front of me looking at me, like you just looked at me like, Did she just say that? Right. And so I couldn’t get mad at it, that the personal development and the growth of understanding that people are where they are, and I can’t expect them to be in that same place, allowed me to kind of release it and be like, that’s where she is. That’s how she deals with a loss in her life. And so no judgment, that’s just where she’s at. And so I wasn’t in a place where I was going to take offense to that. In fact, I misheard, you know, I need to remember that so that I have conversations later on, I can share that. So I think that there are times when things are not done or not said that can feel make you feel a bit lonely. In all of this, there are, you know, when somebody says you aren’t, you know, you just need to get over it. Again, that’s their level of healing in any setback that they’ve had in life, their baggage, their defaults. And so it’s typically not about you, when they’re when somebody is saying something to you like that. And so if you can let that thought or that statement, or the words that are you read, or are said to you, literally and figuratively pass through you and go out the other end.
Victoria Volk 42:04
You are better off. Because Yeah, yeah, I was just gonna say I think is reverse you almost need to have selective hearing.
Eric Hodgdon 42:12
Yeah, I think so. I mean, is it going to help you in any decision that you’re making? On the grief journey? Is it hurting you? Or is it helping you heal?
Victoria Volk 42:23
And here’s what I was gonna add to that, too. I think that’s reason why that’s like, reason 385 million to, you know, work on yourself, because someone who hasn’t really allowed themselves to process what they’re feeling. They really could take that in an eco just downward, spiral them that day. Of course, that’s that’s why things like that are very hurtful and harsh. They can actually be harmful to people. They can I think, especially with teens. Can we speak to that a little?
Eric Hodgdon 42:57
Yes, absolutely. I can’t tell you how many times I had conversations with always friends where a thought turned into a problem that they had the one thought and and so I remember, it was about a month or so after Zoey died. And I’m standing in my kitchen with one of her very good friends. His name was Jerry. And Jerry was just somber that day, he was the weight of the situation was really settling in for him. And he was missing. So he’s like, so he’s gone? What am I going to do? I just I was taking a lesson that I learned from my therapist, because I asked my therapist, the same thing. When I was going through my divorce, what am I going to do. And she was very explicit. And I shared the same thing with Jerry and I said, Jerry, you’re going to get up in the morning, and you’re going to put your feet on the floor, you’re going to get dressed, you’re going to get breakfast, you’re going to go to school, you’re going to come home, have dinner, and you’re going to practice the guitar for hours like you have since you were four years old. And after that, you’re going to go to bed and just do the same thing over and over again, until that becomes the norm, despite how you’re feeling. That’s how you keep going. That’s what you’re going to do. And so it’s giving those resources, it’s reminding the kids, the teens, anybody who’s struggling, that there are resources out there, whether it be people, parents, others, teachers, others in your community, even good friends that have walked this path before and can meet you where you are on your path and help you walk with you on it. Give you some solid advice make you laugh when you didn’t think you were going to be laughing again. And I used to share a story about Zoey with some of her friends. I got a call one evening from one of Zoe’s friends. I’ll call her Cammy Cammy. His mom called me and it was probably 1130 at night, and I didn’t recognize the number. But I answered the phone anyway. Because those calls on a Saturday night 1130 are always good, right? And so kameez mom is like, Hey, this is kameez, Mom, just want to let you know that. We think Cammy is going to end her life tonight. We just want to let you know, like, wait, she’s going to or she did like what’s going on here? And she said, No, we’ve just we tried everything. We don’t know what else to do. I just want to let you know, because I kind of are throwing our hands up like we just don’t know what to do. I was pissed like that. No, this, I said, Look, I could tell you right now, as long as your daughter’s breathing, you’re fighting for her. And you please put Cammy on the phone right now. And she’s I don’t know if she’ll want to talk to I please, if you need to throw the phone in the room. I’ll scream it out. I don’t care, but get her on the phone. And so I got Cammy on the phone. She was embarrassed. Because her mom called me and I said, Look, kid, this is me. I’m Zoe’s Dad, you know this. I’m okay. You can tell me anything. I’m not your mom and dad. What’s going on? She said, I just don’t care anymore. I just don’t care anymore. And I asked her to tell me more about that. I wanted to ask her some thoughtful open ended questions that weren’t yes or no, I wanted to find out what she was struggling with in the moment. And so I may have had to ask her a few times What’s going on? Like, what I just don’t care anymore? Like I just don’t, I feel like I’m a burden. So that Oh, okay, we’re getting somewhere. And I shared with her, I said, you know, there are people in this world that probably could be a burden, you’re not one of them. You know what, you know, you’re 18 years old. And you’re not a burden. we all struggle. We all have moments when it feels like nobody cares. When it’s too hard to go on. We feel like there is just no other way. And so we just settle on some really dark thoughts. And it’s that scary. said that, sweetie, you can find
Eric Hodgdon 47:17
something that is that lights you up and and makes you excited and motivated. She said, I just don’t feel like I want to do anything else, you know? And I’m like, I feel like I’ve done everything I can do in my lifetime. She’s 18. I said, Well, what did you like to do when you’re growing up? Now? I said you like to take pictures now sometimes. Did you like to draw a little bit said, What about animals? And oh my gosh, I love animals used to go to the zoo. Like sure I heard the turn. And so so keep going with that. Tell me more like what do you what will? What would it be like for you to do something with animals and she just started talking? I would be fantastic. You know what I want to I always do, I was wanting to be a vet tech. Okay, so Cammy, here’s what we’re going to do. Tomorrow morning, we’re going to get back on the call and get back on a call. And we’re going to go through the phone book, or we’re going to go online. And we’re going to look for that tech positions and how you start that process. And she was so excited. It’s that’s where we have to get really deliberate and intentional about connecting with kids. Because they need to be heard. They need you to know they they need you to know that. Even though they may feel like you’re not going to get them understand where they are that through open ended questions. They’ll tell you exactly where they are. And Cammy ultimately didn’t go for a vet tech position. But it was enough to pull her back from the edge to give her a different optic on that there were options out there for her. If that makes sense.
Victoria Volk 49:00
Do you think for especially older teens, maybe 16 1718. I’ve often wondered this just in the last couple of years. If it’s just this pressure of making something in your life doing something with your life, pressure to please our parents, you know, please the parents are pleased the community are pleased. Because what I see often not well, not often, but I see a trend in especially with teens that are high achievers. I don’t know the statistics of the suicide rate of high achiever. teens, right, but sometimes it’s just the pressure, right? It’s too much. Yes. What have you found? I don’t I don’t know. Do you work specifically with teens now?
Eric Hodgdon 49:50
I work more with folks who were on the other end of a loss. Okay, and so I What I will always do, and will always have my door open to, I give my phone number out all the time. And I have talked to a lot of parents who have struggling teens. And I say, here’s my number, give this to your kid and tell them to call me. But I don’t leave with that I always follow up and check in how are how you know, how’s your child doing, how’s your kid doing? And I, here’s the thing that I think is, is, is going to be important. And I’m seeing this now, especially now I’m hyper focused on it, seeing how my my boss talks to his three boys and connects not talks to but connects with his three sons, and how he asks them questions. And because all of them are in high pressure situations, teens, you know, an 18, you’ve had 18 years on this planet. And at that age, I think that there is a pressure to become something bigger. Now that could be an external pressure that’s coming in. But a lot of times, it’s an internal pressure that you’re feeling. And that can be overwhelming. And I guess the best piece of advice I would give there is that it’s giving yourself permission to figure things out on a pace that works for you. If you try to figure out your life, for somebody else, you’re just adding fuel to the fire of that pressure. But gave yourself permission to fail, give yourself failure is not a bad thing. Failure is a learning opportunity. You know, failure, you fail at john Maxwell say you fail forward, Oh, my gosh, I wish I would have had that advice A long time ago. And so being able to give someone permission to learn and grow and adapt, I think that helps with the pressure. And I know that some people aren’t necessarily they’re not only kids, but even some parents and adults, they, they may have had that same pressure when they were growing up. And so they’re just kind of bringing that that forward into their family as well. And so, but but giving yourself permission to figure things out, and permission to fail, permission to learn, and giving yourself the runway that you need. You know, I think that when we place ourselves in a box, that’s where I think this anger and frustration really comes out. Because if we step outside of that box, it’s almost it’s almost like we’re conditioned to that something’s going to happen. You know, we’re either going to be shunned or shamed or cast out of the group or whatever it might be. And that’s very old. That’s, that’s why are deep within us as well. But it’s okay to give yourself that permission, that box can be as big as you want it to be. There’s no limit to that box, and doesn’t even have to be a box. How about removing those borders and just saying, I’m going to figure it out on my own pace at my own time. And, and I think that that can even help some adults as well. When they’re talking about grief in kids, if they’re talking about grief, kids, if they’re talking about situations that they feel like there’s no out from there in that box, they cannot see a way out of that situation. And there is never just one solution to getting out of that pain or that struggle, that situation, there’s always a multitude. And sometimes you need others to kind of help you figure out what those other options are. And that’s okay to get it’s not a weakness. It is actually it’s actually a strength. When you think about it, if you’re struggling, you’re on the precipice of figuring out something very important for your life. And if you look at anybody out there in the world who has faced a deep struggle, and they’ve come out of the other side, we’re wired for that. And so there’s there’s make those options available and connect deeply with those around you. And you’ll find that you’ll be able to have those options that you didn’t think you had previously.
Victoria Volk 54:07
Well, that’s a lot of advice and best tips and how, you know, that’s great. Thank you for sharing that. So what has your grief experience taught you?
Eric Hodgdon 54:18
It is taught me that there are so many things to be grateful for in this world. Zoe was in my life for 15 years. And I am so grateful that she was I got to be her dad. I’m grateful that I have the capacity to wake up in the morning and take another breath and see the sun or even the clouds doesn’t matter to me obviously. It’s it’s gratitude for the folks that I have in my it’s gratitude to be able to share with you and your audience. I mean, it’s there’s so many things that are are so beautiful in this world. That I feel like gets us back to our nature. And that’s been probably the biggest lesson for me is that I’ve, I’ve gotten back to my nature, what matters most in life. And when you look around you and you say cheese, I’m really grateful. I’ve had a rough day at work today, or Yeah, my kids were frustrating me and all that stuff. But you know, I’ve got a roof over my head, it’s the things that you that are invaluable. You know, I have eyesight, or I have the capacity to breathe, and the capacity to see some nature of that outside or plan a trip or even during the pandemic, families coming together, you know, board games selling out, because what else you gonna do? You know, I mean, just, there’s so much that there is grateful that you can have gratitude for. And it is really getting back to what matters most.
Victoria Volk 55:50
Is gratitude, the foundation of the work that you do with the people you work with.
Eric Hodgdon 55:57
Ultimately, yes, I think that it certainly was an accelerant to my healing. Because I was just I was even though I every day, I was using a journal called the Five Minute Journal, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this journal or not. It’s straight, six months, journal, and every day, it’s one page, where you write down three things that you’re grateful for, in the morning, an affirmation and three things you want to accomplish that day. And then at the end of the evening, you know, you write down what’s your biggest takeaway from the day. And there were days when I would write the same three things down, grateful for life. I’m grateful for Zoey. And I’m grateful for the roof over my head. And sometimes I would introduce new things to be grateful for. But I think overall, it was focusing on that. That that kind of pulled me out of those doldrums of feeling like this is going to be really hard. Yeah, it’s hard. But you know what, I’ve got a roof over my head. I got to be Zoe’s dad. I’m still Zoe’s dad. I’m connected with her friends. And Zoey, by the way, if I say, you know, Zoe, I mean, I, in my mind, Zoe is everything that encompasses Zoe, her, my family, her friends, the energy her, her voice, all of it. And so yeah, gratitude is at the heart of it. Victoria.
Victoria Volk 57:35
I have a curiosity question, please. So I hope you don’t mind me asking because I think it would be helpful for listeners who may have found themselves in the same situation of losing a child. Okay. I’m curious if you have kept her room as it was.
Eric Hodgdon 57:55
Well, now that I’m down here in Tampa, I did for five years. I did for five years. I did not touch a thing, if anything I added to it. It was a few months after Zoey died and I was invited to go down to her school. A few towns away. It was a therapeutic school that she was attending. And they wanted just to share with me two things, one that they were planting a tree and Zoe’s honor in their courtyard, and then to to present me with a shelf that Zoey had started to make. And that’s the shelf right there that the kids finished. And I brought that back to my house. And I placed the shelf up in her room and I set it up as if I think Zoey would set it up all of her Chuck tees were in one of the cubes. And all of her art supplies were another cube and some of her incense was on top and you know, some rocks. Every time I took a trip I would collect a rock and I would bring it home and put it up in her room and but everything else in the room did I didn’t move it I didn’t find the energy to move it. Because I was afraid. I felt like if I were to do anything in this room, that I would be cutting myself off from Zoey completely. And nothing could be further from the truth. And when I made the decision to sell that house, five years later, it took me two days and three boxes of tissues to go through that room. And she had clothes that other kids could wear that I donated to a goodwill. I can’t remember the name of the company. There were boxes of her drawings and notebooks with poems in it. I still have all those. Her ukulele is with her brother. Her drum set I donated that to A kid who was eight years old in town who needed a drum set. It was time. And I didn’t want to do anything with her room until it was time. And there’s no timeframe on that. And so there’s some folks that might be with that same room at their house for one year, one month, 10 years longer. It’s okay. When it’s time, it’s going to be okay, you will find a way to make that make it happen. And so what’s the biggest lesson, I think afterwards when the room was done, and I was looking at this room was just a mattress on a bed frame. So he’s still with me, I never got rid of Zoey. I’m not leaving her behind. If anything, she’s still with me. And so I took a ton of pictures. And I have those pictures. And when I look at them today, they don’t bring me sadness, they actually bring me joy, because I get to see a snapshot of who so it was, it’s always going to be with me. And just like Zoe’s memory is always going to be positive. It’s just stuff at the end of the day, and the memories are always going to be with you. And so nobody can take that away from you. And so you’re not really letting them go. In the sense of forgetting them, you’re actually helping yourself heal. I think, when you do have those moments in your journey where you can actually move on, it’s just another step on the path. Thank you for sharing that. You’re welcome. Thank you for asking.
Victoria Volk 1:01:41
So what gives you the most joy and hope for your future that I can continue to share Zoe?
Eric Hodgdon 1:01:50
You know, one of the I think one of the most profound events, I guess, if you want to call it that that happened was when I joined option B, many years ago, I was asked to be a moderator later on. But early on, when there was about 500 people in the group. Option B was started by Sheryl Sandberg, who’s the CEO of Facebook, and she lost her husband in early 2015. And she wrote a book called option B, it’s fantastic book. And I would recommend that to folks. But She subsequently started this community. And I joined in early April of 2017. And the next month, when Mother’s Day was approaching, it was the day before Mother’s Day. And I wanted to make a post for the folks in the group. One because I was thinking about so his mom and how hard it must be for that. For that Mother’s Day that was coming up, especially for Zoey not being I know what it is on dad’s Father’s Day. But I just think about this. So I know that there was some mothers in this option B support group. And so I just did a video and I just said, Look, if you’re a mom, if you’re a mother figure, if you’re missing a mother figure, anybody in your life that reminds you of Mom, I know tomorrow’s going to be difficult for you. But if it’s okay, I’d like to offer a little suggestion for you. So that when you wake up in the morning, the tendency is to let the pain make you feel like you just want to stay in bed with the curtains drawn. But I would invite you to sit up in bed first, then put your feet on the floor. Open up the shade, go get dressed, and go do something in honor of your mother figure that day. Even if you’re a mom. And you’re missing a spouse, it doesn’t matter. Or wife, you’re missing a spouse doesn’t matter. Get up and do something that honors your loved one. And later that night. My my phone lit up with a message. And I looked at it briefly. I was half asleep and it was it said Sheryl Sandberg on it. I’m like, there’s no way. So I opened up my phone and looked. And sure enough, that was Cheryl. And she basically said hey, look, I just wanna let you know, I’ve just shared your video with all of my friends and family. And would it be okay with you if I shared this on an interview with Oprah next week? No, no. So I said no, please do and thank you so much. And I was so touched by that. And so what that taught me was that it doesn’t matter who we are in life. We could have billions of dollars. We could be working as a car mechanic or in a corporate job. We could be a child, we could be a teen doesn’t matter who we are. We’re human, and we’re all wired pretty much the same way and grief is going to hit us No matter what we do, no matter how much money we have in the bank, no matter what gender or ethnicity we are, we’re human. And so we can always find ways to make a connection that changes someone’s life. And if we don’t step into the arena and do that, then I think we’re leaving a lot of value on the table for those that are around us family, friends, or otherwise,
Victoria Volk 1:05:24
my kids roll their roll their eyes whenever I give him a quote.
Eric Hodgdon 1:05:30
I think that Thanks, Mom. Yeah. Is it? Is it worse than a dad joke? I mean, because those are pretty bad, too. Right?
Victoria Volk 1:05:42
Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Eric Hodgdon 1:05:46
No, I’m just I’m deeply grateful for being able to share Zoey with you and your audience. Victoria, it means the world to me that, that that I can still say her name. And it brings me the same amount of joy, as it always has. And I just am so grateful for the opportunity to be here with you and us fantastic questions. And you’re really made me think about what has really made a difference. And I’m gonna walk away from this discussion, feeling like I’m full today. So thank you so much, it really means the world to me.
Victoria Volk 1:06:27
Thank you, likewise. And I think that the theme of this interview, conversation I prefer to call it is impact. Yes, we don’t often realize the impact that we have on other people. Right? And that is regardless of our age. Yes, regardless of our age. So if there are any teams listening, you might think you have no friends. And I would argue that that’s probably not true. But I would also add, I have no doubt in my mind. If you’re a team, if you’re anyone listening to this, you have an impact on people in their lives, you impact people. And your presence would be lost. And missed. 100% so true. Thank you so much for sharing, where can people find you if they like to connect with you?
Eric Hodgdon 1:07:30
Thank you, Victoria. People can find me online at Erichodgdon.com, and they can also pick up my book. It’s called a Sherpa named Zoe. It’s available on Amazon. And I hope it helps in some way. And finally, I have a TEDx talk that I performed two years ago that is available and I can provide the link for your for your audience as well.
Victoria Volk 1:07:58
Perfect and I will provide the links in the show notes for everything mentioned. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love from my heart to yours. Thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, please share it because Sharing is caring. And until next time, give and share compassion by being hurt with yours. And if you’re hurting know that what you’re feeling is normal and natural. Much love my friend
Rachel Engstrom | Life as a Cancer Wife, Widow, & Never a Mother-to-Be
SHOW NOTES SUMMARY:
Eight years following the death of her husband from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Rachel reminisces on the love she lost and also the pain and lessons that came from his death as well.
Rachel found purpose through her pain in writing about her experience, which later became her book, and also through cancer advocacy.
In this episode, she shares the story of her husband’s diagnosis and death two years later, as well as how she found her way to feeling better.
On top of the loss of her spouse, she would later have to come to terms with the fact that she will never have biological children and, also experienced a health setback herself, later being diagnosed with a disease of the colon.
Victoria Volk 0:56
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. This is your host Victoria Volk, and today I have Rachel Engstrom with me, she is has a masters of social work. She is a certified health education specialist and has written a groundbreaking memoir self help book on her experience as a young cancer wife than widow with the increasing number of young women and men becoming widows or widowers due to not only cancer and serious illnesses, but also now COVID-19. This resource is needed more than ever, Rachel shares her journey in a raw and honest way while providing step by step resources to help you navigate your own journey. Never before has there been a combination of the personal grit of the healthcare journey, along with steps and how to navigate treatment diagnosis, the ins and outs of hospital life employment, finances, insurance, self care, grief and loss, and much more. You can find wife widow now what how I navigated the cancer world and how you can too, on Amazon, which will be linked in the show notes. Thank you so much, Rachel, for being here. Thank you for having me. So let’s talk about the birth of your book. And really how this probably what started out as a passion project was which was your life unfolding? How? Where did you? Where does your story begin?
Rachel Engstrom 2:25
I am about to be 39. And I moved here I’m in the Minneapolis St. Paul area I moved here in 2000. So almost 21 years ago, to go to the University of Minnesota. And in myself, I moved here not knowing one person, no family, anyone was here that I knew. And in my sophomore year, first semester, I went to a birthday party. And a friend of mine it was she was having a party for her boyfriend and his friend from work came. So this tall guy who’s six, two, who’s, you know, almost seven years older than me showed up. And I just thought that he was really cute and nice and you know inquired about him to the friends the next day. And he did the same about me. And we dated for three years. And then when I graduated from college, three months after that, I got my first job right away. And then I got married at 22. And he was about to be 28. And then so he worked nights the whole time we were together. So that was pretty cool. I mean, I missed him a lot. But that was pretty cool. And that I was able to become my own independent adult person within my 20s and still have that relationship and that consistency in my life of being with him. And then when I was 28 and he was about to be arxys. I was 28 and he was 35 he just really didn’t feel well one day and went to the doctors that turned into go to the hospital for blood transfusions turned into go to this clinic. That didn’t tell us it was a cancer clinic that he was mis diagnosed with something and then the next day had a bone marrow biopsy and two days later he’s diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. So at age 28 I’m already grappling with a few months before that learning that I have endometriosis cyst, whatnot that had ruptured on my reproductive organs. I’m grieving that I might not be able to have children things like that. And then this couples with that and I have to very, very quickly learn how to navigate the serious illness world insurance, disability all these things which is why you list that all of that along with having this cancer life become my norm. So I’m working eight hours running back home to let the dog out then running to the hospital for a few hours then running back home you know, petting the animals trying to pay attention to them for 20 minutes before a you know pass out rinse and repeat the next day. So that was quite a lot. So that was my life. I did have a lot of support. From my parents who are in a different state, they came and lived with us for 18 out of the 27 months that my husband was sick, and he got a lot better and then relapsed, unfortunately, a year and a half after his initial diagnosis, so we had to hospitalized him after he relapsed on the day of her eighth wedding anniversary. And what was interesting is going back a year when he in so we got sick in January of 2011, he had a fever and had to be hospitalized in August of 2011. And one of the nurses said, Oh, my gosh, you guys are still together, I can’t believe you’re together. This is amazing. And I was like, What are you talking about? And she told me that during cancer, and serious illnesses, that in her experience of 25, plus years, she’d seen 70% of more people come back, that needed medical care that their significant others left them, or the marriages didn’t work her out, or things like that. And that just totally blew my mind. Because we had, we knew very quickly on that this is scary. You know, of course, we’re hoping he’s not going to die. But that we’re in this together, we can’t afford to fight or you know, disagree that much, or those types of things, because this is such a serious thing. So in January of 2013, he had a bone marrow biopsy, or excuse me, he had a bone marrow transplant. days after I had a surgery for endometriosis. And he had had a lot of chemo and radiation to prepare his body, when you have a bone marrow transplant, they have to wipe out your entire immune system. Like you’re a newborn baby to take the stem cells from umbilical cords, that was his donor. And just the chemo, the radiation, all those side effects ultimately ripped up and shredded his kidneys, his bladder, lungs, things like that. So he was in the ICU once, you know, it was preparing for him to die miraculously, within a two week turnaround, he was out of the ICU out of the hospital in a rehab, was learning to walk again, do all those kinds of things. And then he went for an appointment and things kind of went downhill. And then on April 17, I was told,
Rachel Engstrom 7:19
I got a call early in the morning, and he said I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. And he had been on regular like oxygen. But they needed to put them on high flow oxygen. He just he wasn’t breathing well through the night. And then they called me and said he needed to be intubated. And he got on the phone. And we said I love you to each other three times. And then when I got to the hospital, he was kind of freaking out. And I asked them to give them a high dose of pain medicine. So it would just knock them out. And then once he was comfortable, I was sitting in this chair and I had three doctors come and tell me I’m sorry. And they said we’ll decide within 48 hours, you know, when’s the appropriate time basically to take them off life support. And two days later, when we’re gonna do this is my 31st birthday. And two days after that, so then they said, Okay, well wait another 48 hours, but I just knew with him that he was gone. It wasn’t even him anymore. You know, he’s just seeing him slip away. And what was amazing is what carry me through significantly was my my faith, my faith in God and all of those things. But I just had so much peace and so much grace within it, I was just very numb to all of it. And I believe that, you know, the biggest factor was my face for feeling that way. But what I learned later learned later, when I was trying to be in learn more and being young widow groups and things like that. What I was seeing that I didn’t quite realize is I had I was given so much grace and that I was able to be with him as he was dying. So many people have their significant others die at war, or, you know, a freak accident at work or those types of things. I was actually able to be with him. So on the 21st I signed the papers and everything. He was so amazing. He did extra bone marrow biopsies and spinal taps and things like that for research at the University of Minnesota. So I signed the papers that morning for him to donate his body to the University of Minnesota, which is what he wanted to do, and then called our Mr. It’s Sunday. So he’s in church, then we had to wait for him to come and then had the few family members that were there say bye. And then I had made a heaven playlist the night before because I knew that he was going to die the next day. And I had them unplug him. We cleaned up his face a little bit and then I played a playlist and help my husband my life. My best friend, everything that I knew is I waited for his heart to stop. So I was two days after I turned 31 and then I walked out of the room and I was very 2.0 I was a widow. So I just I had to restart. And I had to reboot my life literally like a computer. Because I had been thinking I was going to have, you know, little feet running around the house that are half me half him, I’m going to have someone, help me pay for this house, we’re going to go on trips, we’re going to do all of these things. So I had to figure out how to navigate all of it. The cancer part was hard enough, but this was navigating all of it. And especially with being a 28 year old cancer wife is hard. But being a 31 year old widow is insanely hard, because you don’t know anyone else in your circle of people going through that. So ultimately, that led me to the idea of writing a book. So my book wife, widow, now what is chronological order of my caringbridge Medical posts that got emailed out to everybody, my Facebook post. And so it’s my narrative between all these real time post. So when I’m figuring out insurance, I walk you through, bam, bam, bam, this is how you do it. This is diagnosis, treatment work, when people want to help, these are tangible ways to tell them they can help getting counseling for yourself getting counseling for the patient, ways to adapt your house, you know, I had no idea I’d be 28 and be needing to get you know, a shower chair and all these things. And so basically, my book is a love story, but the tips and the tricks of how I navigated all the illness part and then how I navigated all the widow part, the anniversaries, the holidays, all those first, all those feelings, and it’s very gritty, in that I don’t, it’s beautiful, but I don’t sugarcoat anything. You know, when I one day, I may be like, oh, today’s a great day. And the next day I’m like, again, so grooming. So it’s really unique in that this is the first of its kind memoir, self help, how to merge the narrative and the realness of the journey with the medical aspect of how you do both. So I put all that together. And it was very much a labor of love and a lot of PTSD. But I’m really proud to have it out. There’s There’s nothing like this to help people navigate it.
Victoria Volk 12:07
So a lot. Yeah, thank you. So how many years ago was this now? I am April 21, will be eight years, what is life been like since so it was really
Rachel Engstrom 12:18
hard. It was really hard at first. Just for fun, just for kicks, I took classes to get a certification and grief counseling, because I wanted to know about grief, the process all of those things, learning about you know, ambiguous loss of suicide and you know, all the different kinds of grief what people go through my bachelor’s degree in anthropology such as culturally, it was fascinating because I was part of this culture I knew nothing about it’s like, literally being dropped out of an airplane into a foreign country. You don’t speak the language you don’t know anybody you don’t know where you are, you have to start over. It was it was really difficult. Working three part time jobs to try to pay for a house like I said, I thought I’d have someone helped me with lost a lot of friends, not because people didn’t care. But I think they didn’t know how to adequately help. And kind of like you have, you know, when you have a job, you have your work family of friends there and then you leave and then you’re like, Oh, you know, I don’t really talk to them that much anymore. The really hard part is about going through something as catastrophic is your friendships, your relationships, ebb and flow and change that way as well? I will I purposely with a lot of intent, I stepped away from the cancer world, the illness world, all of that for years, because it was just too close too hard. You know, there were movies that came out like I remember like a fault in our stars, a couple different ones where people were like Rachel do not watch those do not even don’t even touch it. Those things are really difficult. My brother who’s 14 years older than Wayne told me in the very beginning when he came right before Grayson got sick or excuse me when he got sick, you know, you you can choose to be better or better. And I wasn’t always better. I have a chapter called bitter Betty. But within that I had to, I had to I didn’t have anyone else that I was responsible for besides my pets, besides me, so I had to know that Like it or not, I had to reboot. This was my new life. And within that I chose to surround myself with positive people. I had a couple of very long term friendships that ended up not appropriately supporting me and being very judgmental and toxic that I had to cut out of my life. Just a lot of growing pains of being this new person this new role this not definitely not asked for a role. So navigating all that was really tough navigating just having enough money to afford the house and everything that was just insanely tiring. I worked for a year and a half worked three part time jobs to with autistic children one with the lady with multiple sclerosis, running all across the Twin Cities and be like five or 600 miles a week navigating all of that I forgot to say six months after my husband died, I had had so much pain I could barely walk. So I had a hysterectomy. So then I gave up the ability to have kids, which was another huge loss. But then, you know, later on victoriously, I’m in target walking past like the tampon aisle, and just like so excited, you know that it’s the little wins. But three months after he died, I actually went to Alaska for almost three weeks by myself took a cruise was always like, you know, I’ve seen the Titanic, tell me which well, I Well, you know, that they’re safe these days, I will never go on one. But I also didn’t think that I would be a widow at 31 either. So I gave myself space and time to see nature all these places you can only get to by boat plane, things like that. So it was a lot of a lot of trial and error. Over the years, I had met my husband when I was 19. So dating again, in my 30s wasn’t sane, I got her I got my heart broken, I was naïve, I was stupid. I didn’t make the smartest choices sometimes. But I was I was just believing the whole time that God had a plan and like footprints, I wasn’t going to be dropped, you know, the second set of footprints in the sand. And that’s ultimately what carried me through. And then also finding out surrounding myself not only with the appropriate people, but you know, funny TV shows up lifting music, things like that, because there are a lot of really sad things out there. I didn’t always Excel taking care of myself. So those are some learning points. You know, when your spouse dies, you don’t want to sit around and eat salads, you want to eat cake, you want to eat pizza, you want to eat things that necessarily don’t fill you up with endorphins that make you more sluggish. But you do what you need to do. So in time, things got a lot better. And I don’t really speak about love life or anything except in my book. That’s my one disclaimer, you have to you have to read it because it’s at the end of the book, that’s kind of my happy ending. But what’s truly incredible to me is where I am in my life now.
Rachel Engstrom 17:20
Besides, it’s hard to articulate this sometimes without feeling like offending people. But it’s true, like losing your parent losing your sibling losing your grandparent, those things are so hard, they’re so hard. But the only thing I could equate with losing a spouse to would be how I can’t imagine losing a child. But losing a spouse is definitely not planned. Especially as young as you know, I was 31 he was 37. So it’s very, very tricky to find adequate support and those types of things. Because when people say oh, my mom died or my, my whoever died, I I understand you don’t understand, you really don’t understand it’s a different kind of grief. It’s more complicated. It’s the person that was in your house every day, you know, even a year after he died, I would look at the door and expect him to walk through it. All those types of things. So what’s incredible to me is that I went from being the saddest of the sad not able to get out of bed. You know, my reproductive organs are have been taken out of me my my hope of being, you know, a mom and all these different things and my husband’s gone and whatnot, that I went from there to writing a book, despite how painful it was writing a book and now speaking about the positive things I focused on the positive things you can focus on. It will be over by the time this is aired. But right now in the state of Minnesota, I am running for a woman of the year trying to raise $60,000 for blood cancer. leukemia Lymphoma Society did so much for me I did two half marathons walking them I’m not a runner, two half marathons walking on my dead one the year after he was diagnosed and one that you’re after he died. So in 2012 and 2014 and within that I found friends for life people that backed me people that supported me. And if I can get $50,000 I can get a grant in his name. And you know, I’m just I’m pumped to help people because as great as advancements are, every three minutes someone’s diagnosed with blood cancer every nine minutes someone dies from blood cancer, one in five people are going to get cancer in their lifetime 80 It’s the number one childhood blood cancers, typically acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the type of leukemia my husband had, which usually children get or elderly people get 80% of childhood cancer survivors of this have catastrophic, like chronic health conditions whether it be so my husband a year after he was I was diagnosed, he’s 36 looks great, you know, full head of hair, he’s super healthy. You know, no one knows he has cancer, if you saw him, the steroids that he took for the first part of his treatment had rotted his hips to the point where there was a crack, and it was the hip bone was falling out of the socket. So I have another friend that his son, excuse me, his that I met while my husband was actively dying, this person I met, because he was he was so nice. It was a friend through a friend. And he gave me money to stay in the hotel across the street because his wife had died. Five months before that, when his twins were three. And then three years ago, when the twins were nine, one of them got diagnosed with the kind of blood cancer. So this little he’s lost his wife, now one of his two sons has cancer. And he’s getting the little boy got really, really sick. His name’s Jake, he’s an insane warrior. Now he’s fine, his treatments are done. But he’s had to wear leg braces, because his legs are just his bones are you know, so there’s so much that’s amazing. Like the leukemia, Lymphoma Society has cutting edge research, which actually informs other forms of cancer, their treatments and things are helping all forms of cancer. So it’s not just blood cancer and trying to get funds for. But the side effects are awful. We can acutely treat them when they’re happening and get you into remission, but the side effects are not quite there. So I feel really privileged and proud to be able to do this in honor of my late husband, because he did these extra bone marrow biopsies donated his body to the University of Minnesota, he wanted to help people. So in a way, I’m really proud to be able to have him live on through my story live on in this way. And this usually does not make me cry, but I’m just really excited. He would just be pumped to know that I’ve turned my life into advocacy in his honor. So that’s where I’m at today.
Victoria Volk 22:01
I love that quote into this a little bit about him.
Rachel Engstrom 22:04
Oh, he was funny. So his name is Grayson and he was just like, gosh, golly, nice to the point where he’d say like, I’d hand them something and you’d say appreciate it.
Victoria Volk 22:13
Maybe like, What?
Rachel Engstrom 22:15
He’s so nice. He had, he would ask the nurses like, Can I trouble you to get me something and they would like fall over laughing like, it’s our job, of course, we’re gonna help you. He loved New Order in the Pet Shop Boys and techno music and going with his best friend Oh, and for craft beers and discovering breweries and different things. And from his best friend that I spent a lot of time with, after that I was friends with anyway, but spent a lot of time with after Grayson’s death. He’s like, he would just have any rolled his eyes when he told me he’s like, he would just talk about you all the time. It was just all the time. And, you know, we really were the best of friends. And we had what I call Space Age marriage where we rarely ever fought granted, we didn’t really see each other Monday through Friday because he was working. But you know, when we did have arguments, it was over piddly stupid stuff. And I was in my 20s having those growing pains and whatnot. And as he works nights, you know, we didn’t have a dishwasher in our little apartment, and I would want him to wash his dishes, but he couldn’t wash them at night when he got home late at night because the kitchen was by the bedroom and it would have woken me up. And then he was a serial procrastinator, so he would be so tired, he’d get up late, you know, work and then he’d get up at like, one 130 then have to work at three. So I just passively aggressively would stack those dishes on a cookie sheet on
Victoria Volk 23:44
Rachel Engstrom 23:46
Because they were his. But um, he was just a joy. He was a lot of fun. Everybody loved him. The nurses told me they fought over him, you know who that they had everybody’s index cards and patients in the room who had who when they would fight over who got to take care of him and you know, I would bring blankets and a lamp and you know, different things to make the hospital room like a little home and they would say oh lovebirds are in their apartment, and you know, things like that. So we just made the most of it. And despite him being sick, we actually were given the gift of time, you know, that we hadn’t had our entire time together Monday through Sunday being able to spend time together and we’d have sleepovers and I’d be on my little hospital cot on the floor and he’s you know, two feet above me and we’re holding hands, you know, watching movies and stuff like that, but he was just a really good guy. And I know that you know, with from, from what I’ve learned, you know, different marriages, different things, different relationships. You don’t always get to have that nice story and closure. Where there’s a death, you know, you’re left with, you know, what was or I wish I would have said or I wish, you know, I did have what it could have shut us but Not in big ways, not in big ways. You know, I felt guilty for a couple years because while he was sick, he would always want me to come snuggle with him on the couch, and I’d be across the room on the other couch, just insanely tired, exhausted on the couch and not wanting to move. He’d be like, Come snuggle. And I’m like, whoa, whoa, last thing I want to do. I’m so tired. So I feel bad, because I’m like, he wanted that. And I could have done that. But besides that, I really don’t have any regrets. And, you know, I asked him a couple days before he died. He was awake for a couple minutes, just his eyes were barely open. But you know, I knew it. And we had a health care directive and everything. But do you trust me? Do you understand what’s going on? Do you understand what’s going to have to happen? And you know, he shook his head. Yes. And ultimately, I was just prematurely. Obviously, in my head, I know that I’m, you know, devastated. My world’s been thrown a grenade. But while I was while my mom and I are waiting in the snow for my dad to pick us up, after I’ve left the body of my husband upstairs at the hospital, I just have these immense feelings of relief, because he’s not in this diabolical pain. He’s not going through horrific things anymore. That wasn’t really him anymore. Anyway, you know
Rachel Engstrom 26:19
what was the it was unfortunately, like, you know, you change sounds like a really awful example. But you know, you when you get new carpet in your house, and you can go look at samples and they’re those remnants, you know, he was remnants of who he was, that’s what was left the last few days he had given it his all, he had thought so hard. I had confirmed with the doctors many times, especially the day he died, you know, there’s really nothing else they can do. And within that, I had the peace of knowing in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t make sense why he had to die. But biologically, his body just gave out. And, you know, God loves them. He did the he did the most that he could and the love that I had for him and that he had for me, ultimately, help set me on the path of who I am today
Victoria Volk 27:07
was hospice care, never talked about
Rachel Engstrom 27:12
No, because he was, um, so it was an unnecessary thing to have because he was in the hospital. So he left her house on January 21. He died on April 21. So it literally 90 days, because it took 60 days for his stem cell transplant to take for the bone marrow transplant, and things like that. He was like in the cancer ward. So he had that high level of oncology care specific for what he was going through. So, I mean, I was assuming I was praising like, walkers and stuff like that, you know, I was thinking because he’d been to rehab and things like that. I was thinking that he was going to come home and I had someone asked me a couple weeks ago, on a different show, like, Did you really think that he was going to be fine and get better? And I was? I said, Yeah, she said, Why? And I would, because he we were so young. You know, when you’re 31, and you’re 37, you assume? You know you are unbreakable, unbeatable. You feel like you’re a superpower, you have the whole rest of your life in front of you. So I really did not I, when you’re the caregiver, the spouse or the main person caring for someone you don’t, at least in my opinion, you don’t get the luxury of believing that your person is going to be anything but fine, because you’re the cheerleader, you’re the you know, manager, the captain, the rah rah, we can do this of the ship. So I really until they told me I’m sorry, on the 17th I really thought that he would make it. And then at that point, because he was in the ICU, that was the adequate care, he needed to take care of him.
Victoria Volk 28:51
I had Dr. Chris Kerr, he’s the author of death is but a dream. It’s all about end of life experiences. And he has done extensive research on the subject. And he is part of that docu series on Netflix called surviving death. And Episode Five. And you might find that episode interesting just because he talks a lot about the medicalization of dying. Hmm. So that’s why I was kind of curious on the hospice aspect of that. Sure. So what what are some of the things that I know you kind of spoke to like the some friendships fell away, which naturally, often happens with grief? But what are some of the things that were helpful to you, that people shared with you or said, and some of the hurtful things too?
Rachel Engstrom 29:43
Oh, yes. Well, that I I know how you feel is really hard. I had a lady that she was she was very sweet, very well intended. And she was a lady in her 60s. from church that helped do a fundraiser different things for me, but she would come and she you No, I never let her in my house because I know she never really, she would stand on my porch and come and check on me and different things like that. And she kept telling me like, Oh, I know how it feels. I know what it is, you know, I’ve been there data da. She told me how she lost her mom. And she was saying she was a widow. And I’d be like, Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, to the after like four or five of these visits. It turned out like she was like, Oh, no, I’m married. It’s just my husband volunteers at church so much. I feel like a widow. And I was like,
Rachel Engstrom 30:32
just like I just wanted to slam the door on her face. I think the toughest thing, I had someone really close to me in my life, tell me after about six months, just just decide to be happy. Just like pick a day decide to be happy. I think it’s really tough when people don’t realize that grief doesn’t have a start and end date. It’s on your own timeline, especially with every buddy his grief, journey is different. The circumstance of death is often very different. You know, you could put 10 people in a room and they all have different ways someone died. Mine, you know, being able to be there with him, like I said, For me made it a lot easier. And what was interesting is his, his pa is what can I think of it? What the acronym is, physician’s assistant, who was was like junior doctor. She was the one that after he was unplugged, and everything, you know, I laid down next to him and covered, she covered us up and I’m you know, I laid there and we did an hour for his heart to stop. She said, Give me your phone. I said why? And she said, Let me take a picture. And I said no. And she said, Yeah, you’re gonna want this. And she was right, because I wanted to look at these horrific pictures of what he looked like to really get and formulate, that’s not him. He had to go. But yeah, it’s, it was just really interesting to know and see what it was for me, versus what it was for other people. Being part of those widow widow groups online, different things like that. You know, it’s, it just sounds. I’m having a hard time articulating this because it just sounds very odd. But like, there was a woman in the group that her husband, apparently she was like, barely five feet tall. Her husband came home from Afghanistan. And one day, her 10 year old son found him hanging in the garage. And because she was so short, and he was already like five, three at like 10 G. They were trying to get him down. So she had her 10 year old son cut down dad. And it’s just there was someone else that it was her husband, she knew he was really sad. But he she was like sitting on the front porch. And she’d been out there maybe like 510 minutes and her husband came out and said, Hey, come, you know, I’m going to take a nap come lay down with me on the bed, she found out. After laying down with him for like 20 minutes, she thought he was taking a nap underneath, like the pillow or something like that he had taken a whole bottle of pills. This is another soldier that came home. So he had died. And she had no warning and she knew nothing. So listening to those things, it made me feel better in people’s grief. And that sounds awful. But it’s like you compare your situations and those things that I just felt so extremely grateful to have been with him. And I mean, I had no words for these people. These are the most catastrophic, tragic, horrible things to happen. And when people are trying to tell you, you know, you need to be happy, or you need to move on or you need to do this. There are a lot of people are really well intentioned, but they and they want to help and they don’t know how to help. And that’s what I’m trying to do with this book, whether it’s you or your family, or a friend or a friend of a friend or whatever, I have ways to talk to people ways to help people ways just to be more sensitive, because grief is such a taboo thing that so many people don’t know how to talk about, I think the most helpful thing people did is just listen, be willing to listen. A few weeks after he died, I created a healing blog, which was like, maybe 1/3 of the people that I had on Facebook, where I would just kind of bleed on paper and write how I was feeling and be open and honest. And I have all these posts as well in the book as they’re happening in real time. For me, it was just really helpful to feel like I was getting it out, getting it out to the world. I wasn’t holding on to it. And just having people respond, you know, I’m here any time or you know, those types of things. I initially thought of calling this book a few years ago when I thought of it, how social media saved my life because it really is. I mean even you know, pre COVID we’re all very isolated. We’re all very stuck to our phones and all of these different things but if you can feel that support those types of things, that was really helpful, and it was really an irate about this as well. It was really hard for me to ask for help. You have a lot of Pride.
Rachel Engstrom 35:02
And, you know, it’s really tough. But you’re, you’re the spouse, you’re the, you’re the caretaker, you’re the team captain when your person’s ill, and you’re taking care of it. And you are glad to be giving updates and asking for help. Because you know, you can only do so much later when it’s you. I felt like a hamster that had lost my wheel. But I was still running because I was so used to taking care of him and needed to know all these different things. So when it came to taking care of myself, it was a lot harder to ask for help. And I ended up posting in this blog a few times, like, Will someone text me or call me or, you know, someone came in took me for a walk? Yes, like a dog. Like she was like, I left my dog inside. And she was like, Rachel, let’s go for a walk, you know, put on your shoes. Come on. So I think the biggest thing I had to learn the hard way is just asking for help. And knowing that it’s okay not to be able to do it all yourself. That’s the thing about being a caregiver is you, a lot of people shelve their needs. I say, I think I was about 5050, I would go to a concert every now and then, or a friend would come for a cup of coffee to the hospital or whatever. But it’s really tough to realize, this is me now, nobody else is going to be able to do it. You know, you got to suck it up, you have to do it. And within doing that, ask for help. And like today, present day, I have alarms on my phone that I have set to check in with different people that are going through some tough things. So I don’t forget, in my busy life checking in with them, like I had people check in with me. So those are, I would say the biggest takeaways and things that were said that were helpful and that we’re not
Victoria Volk 36:38
like that last tip. So what is one tip that you would give? Well, I think there’s a lot of tips actually rolled into that too. For other people hurting and going through something similar. What was the best piece of advice that someone while you said your was your brother that gave right was your brother then told you to be better or better? Mm hmm.
Rachel Engstrom 37:01
That was a really good one. Um, what was really helpful to me as I had an aunt Tell me like when I was like six months out, so I would have this countdown, count up, I guess you could say, so each month after his death, like the the day to the you know, every month after he died, so it’s like may 21, June 21, digital, I got more empowered and excited as the months would go by because I would be just excited that I’m making it I’m surviving. And my aunt said something like, I was just like, Oh, you know, I wish I could speed this up did that so hard. And she said, this is so fresh, you have to give yourself time and I think people don’t realize. So I’m eight years out. And on his death anniversary, I used to have like my sisters get together or I’d go to a friend’s house like people that actually knew him, I would spend time you know, go do something fun. This year. I’m just working It’s been eight years. It’s it’s I’m very displaced from him in that within writing about it so many times but I’ve worked really hard to get here of course, he’s dear to my heart. The reason I’m doing all of these things, but I have successfully moved on. Of course it’s taken a ton of work to get here. But I think that just knowing that you know doing things on your own timeline doing what works for you is the best thing. So I remember watching friends and Everybody Loves Raymond and Frazier and things like that and just belly laughing and being like I can have joy like real real realizing these things about yourself creating these new traditions creating these new things that’s not you know, the easiest thing to do but but doing that is great because when you are six months one year two years that’s still really fresh. And I think that having my aunt say that to me, let me know every Let every bit of laughter I had every like those were gems to put in my little bag of I’m making it I’m being successful are those things that it does take it’s like a staircase it takes and you don’t know where the top is it’s going into the clouds. So I think that hearing that little bit of wisdom helped me rephrase my urgency because you just want to get it over with you want to feel better you want to zoom into this place and that’s not really a tangible thing.
Victoria Volk 39:36
I want to bring circle kind of circle back to like all these the different losses that you had mentioned earlier and like the groups and stuff and I think it’s easy for people on the outside to make assumptions to that. It was you know, it’s a loving relationship, right that Yeah, whomever you lost was a loving relationship, but I just want to feel the need to bring up that sometimes that’s not the case. And so especially if you’re someone that is going to say something like, let’s see, for example, they’re in a better place now. Yeah. I mean, just some of the things that people say it’s like, well, you know, you don’t even know, we don’t know what the intricacies of the relationships are like, right? We don’t know, behind closed doors, what how the relationship really truly was, we know people for the, for what they show us. Right. And so I just, I don’t know, I felt the need to bring that up that sometimes you can lose a spouse, but it might not have been a loving relationship. They might be relieved, because they were being abused. Right. You know, so I just wanted to bring that to attention. I just felt like I had to, I don’t know why. Yeah, no, it’s very true. So I mean, it sounds like grief is taught you a lot as it does for all of us. Even me, 30 years out 30 plus years out of my own losses. What gives you the most joy, though, today? That’s a loaded question.
Rachel Engstrom 41:11
Well, my faith, my faith and knowing that I went through the toughest thing possible. And not that I want more, I’m hoping that you know, like Sam about to be 39 I’m hoping that the bad stuff happened when I was younger, knock on wood on my fake wood dust here. But
Rachel Engstrom 41:31
Rachel Engstrom 41:33
not that I want bad things to happen, but I’m like, Here I am, hear me roar. I’ve been through the worst thing ever. And since I’ve been through that, I know that I can get other through other things as well. You know, I had, I was eating like ice cream before bed, like, almost every night for a couple weeks, like a couple years ago. And I was sweating at night. And I didn’t know the correlation between like your sugar levels. And you know, then you cover up with covers that, that if you have that before you go to bed, it will make you sweat. And sweating at night is one of the signs of leukemia. So, you know, I’m panicking, like, oh, we’re going through cancer, and I’m going to the doctor, because it’s all these things that you know, from being there. And just knowing that you need to take everything as it is, as the day things totally changed. God says, you know, if you make plans, you laughs that those plans, you really can’t pre plan too far ahead. I think that that brings me a lot of joy of living in the moment, being there for what’s going on. You know, I’m a planner, but being able to step back and you know, check myself on that. Five and a half years ago, I started a job but a new place that launched a new life for me. And two weeks after I started, I had dental surgery took antibiotics that ripped up my GI tract. And I had that I was diagnosed with IBS and a colon disease. Awful as that was because I was very sick for a couple years. I’ve become an amazing chef and Baker. I was good before. So that makes me really happy. Sometimes it’s really annoying because I have to make everything from scratch. But I really enjoy baking I really enjoyed cooking here in Minnesota was at the other day, it’s been raining, but you know, I’m trying to get out and hike and do those things. And physically, I can’t do as much as I could with digestive things. And I still have endometriosis because I still kept one ovary. But you know, getting out, being outside, walking my dog, the same dog that she’s 10 she just turned 10 that’s been with me I talked about my book since we got her as a rescue puppy. At four months old, my when my husband was first sick, all these little regular normal parts of life just make me really happy. And knowing that, you know, whatever happens, however, you know, I will gladly take IBS, Nicole and disease because I’ve seen the cancer world I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve seen it all. Being able to I feel like I just have this wealth of knowledge and experience of I’ve seen the worst. I’ve had the worst thing happen and knowing that whatever may come is much as I hate the cliche, like it couldn’t be worse. It really could. And what brings me joy is to know that the experience that I have can truly connect me with people to tell them I am so sorry, it doesn’t make it easier, doesn’t make it prettier, doesn’t make it more fair. What you’re going through, it’s so tough, and I really I’ve been there. And you know, within this book, I just want to get it into millions of hands because when you’re in it, you really do feel alone You really do feel isolated. And you know, I’m just really proud of this book, by the grace of God to be able to give people some tips and tools on how to navigate And you can see, you know, I have this amazing love of my life and my life went, Oh, and then it took a while, but it went back up. And now I’m, I’m just excited to help advocate and tell people, I went through it. I’m okay. And you’ll be okay, too.
Victoria Volk 45:17
Is that what you would like to scream to the world? Yes. That was what that’s, you know, really the premise of my podcast and why we wanted to start it too is that the education piece that bring this topic to the forefront and talk about grief, like we talked about the weather make it just an open conversation that we feel we can have with each other, and without criticism and analysis and judgment, and, and that there’s hope. And that’s why stories, you know, like yours and other guests that I have on my podcast. That’s the whole point is to show that there is hope? And is there anything else you would like to share?
Rachel Engstrom 45:59
I don’t think so. I feel like I put a lot. There’s a lot on the table for people to think about. There’s a lot on your buffet.
Victoria Volk 46:08
I think just their story, people that’s I mean, that’s how people see themselves is through other people’s stories. And, you know, we all agree that 100% there’s no half Grievers. And it doesn’t matter what your losses, it’s, it is hurtful to you, regardless of what it is and what caused it. And it doesn’t need to be a big t trauma loss to deeply impact you. And can we do can actually, can we speak to the whole? Because this isn’t the whole point of you being on but I do feel it’s a topic that actually as a topic, has those not been covered on my podcast, but knowing that you will not be a mother? How have you navigated that?
Rachel Engstrom 46:58
Yeah, um, so I actually looked into adoptions and different things like that. And it was just, I mean, it’s, I feel like it sounds stupid, but the expensive it was something that I couldn’t, I couldn’t afford. And, you know, I, I’m an aunt, I have four nieces, one of them just turned 15. other day, there are seven, almost 17 1511 and 11. And I actually was a professional nanny raising babies and things like that. You know, I see Gerber commercials, all that kind of stuff, it’s tough, I had to take some time off social media. Because I’d seen people with their happy couples and babies and things like that when I was grieving. So I think abstaining from those things, it’s smart. Because we all compare, you can’t not compare, I do still to this day, sometimes grieve it a little bit. But I also know that the amount of time and energy that I’m putting into advocacy to help other people, I wouldn’t have that time if I had a child. So this is my baby. Trying to help other people is is my baby. So I’m okay with that. And that’s
Victoria Volk 48:09
a beautiful reminder, too, that the fastest way to help ourselves heal is to put that put our energy to others to feel better. Probably the quickest turnaround you’ll ever get to feeling better is to focus on others. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I thank you. Sorry, I put you on the spot. It just is something No, no, it’s okay. And I know, I can imagine that people have said all kinds of things. Well, you
Rachel Engstrom 48:44
can. You can adopt. And it’s like, I don’t think people realize it’s like minimum like $40,000. Yeah. And you know, I have several hundreds of dollars a month in student loans, and you know, all these things. It’s just it’s not easy. And it’s very, I mean, the mental health aspect. It’s very complicated as well with an adopted child and all of these things, and I’ve already been through some really hard things. So.
Victoria Volk 49:11
Yeah, I think too, like people might assume, if you don’t have kids, if you’re of a certain age, and you don’t have kids, we can make these assumptions of well, either you can’t. Or and if you choose not to what uh, you know, there’s there’s plenty of people out there that choose not to, oh, my gosh, yeah, I’ve met a couple friends that don’t and it’s just it’s a choice. And it almost seems more offensive to other people. You know, that. choose not to but yeah, we project, don’t we? We project do? Yeah, yes, we’re projecting society. But I hope that through just talking and having these conversations So we can just bring some compassion to and know and leave the assumptions at the door, right? Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing anything else you’d like to know. So
Rachel Engstrom 50:12
you can find wife widow now what? Victoria will have the links, but you can find it on Amazon and it’s in paperback, you can actually write in the budget sheet finances all these different things. Or if you get the eBook version, you can actually click on the hyperlinks and they will take you to all the different websites to navigate what you need to. And then you can find me, wife, widow, well, Rachel, wife, widow now on Facebook and Instagram, and you can ask me questions, anything you want. I’m open.
Victoria Volk 50:39
All right. And I will put those links in the show notes. And, you know, to the organization that you are currently raising money for that will be over probably by the time this airs, but I will still put the link for that. If you Yeah, you can
Rachel Engstrom 50:53
still donate. I’m very, very needed.
Victoria Volk 50:56
All right. Well, thank you so much for being Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love. From my heart to yours. Thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, please share it because Sharing is caring. And until next time, give and share compassion by being hurt with yours. And if you’re hurting know that what you’re feeling is normal and natural. Much love my friend.
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