What Breaks Your Heart?

what breaks your heart

Recently, I was recording with a podcast host and was asked to share one thing listeners could do after listening to the episode. It could be something helpful, a tip, etc. Rather than sharing a tip, two questions came to mind that, in a nutshell, help us to name areas of grief in our lives and those were:

  1. What do you wish (about your life) would be different, better, or more? 
  2. Where in your life do you have a loss of hopes, dreams, or expectations? 

As I have been reflecting on that conversation, there is another way I would challenge you to ask those questions.

What breaks my heart?

What breaks my heart lately is knowing how fleeting time truly is.

Time was also an aspect of the conversation with the host that has gotten me thinking about my relationship with time.

The first question the host asked me was how I felt at that moment, which was unexpected. All the same, I appreciated the question. My response was that I was feeling overwhelmed.

I know the next eight weeks of my life will feel like a time warp; I already feel like I’m in some time machine. Time is moving so fast that it’s challenging to get my bearings, to feel grounded and centered, and amid the excitement, joy, grief, and feelings of overwhelm, there’s a strong desire to make it all come to a complete stop. However, there is no stopping it.

Many events are happening between now and mid-May, when our oldest child will graduate from high school. And I think it’s all starting to hit us. And what’s breaking my heart the most these days is that our family dynamics will soon change. One of our “pack” will leave to start a new chapter of life, shaking up our sense of “home.” And, I think to myself…”My God, if this is what it feels like when one leaves the next, how will I ever deal with the last one leaving the nest?”

Parenthood brings up all of the childhood junk we’ve yet to address in our hearts, and what comes up for us changes with the tides of parenting life. And what if you never had the opportunity to be a parent? Or, what if you had the opportunity to be a parent but, because of any number of scenarios, the child passed away before being allowed to see them leave the nest and spread their wings?

There is grief – no matter which way you dice it.

So what’s been breaking my heart? 

Knowing that my family is approaching change and what will that change mean? How will that change affect each of us individually? I can say that I’ve already noticed small shifts – in a good way. I feel as though communication has improved. We are almost trying to squeeze the juice of each day a little more. These are good things. However, is my heart still breaking? Of course.

I know change is a necessary part of life. Without change, we would remain stagnant; growth would be a foreign concept. Changes that bring challenges are an opportunity to look within ourselves.

It’s a poignant question to dig deep into yourself today. Give yourself an intentional 15 minutes, and immerse yourself in the gift of time to uncover something simmering below the surface emotionally.

much love from victoria




Break the habit of thinking that the solution to your problems is to rearrange things outside. The only permanment solution to your problems is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have so many problesm with reality. – From The Untethered Soul

Ep 74 | Anne Jacobs Checkin 2

Anne Jacobs | 17 Years +++ Metastatic Checkin 2




Imagine being told you have cancer. But then imagine being told you have cancer for which there was no cure. At that moment, in an instant, life is forever changed. And, although many people hear the words “You have cancer” every single day, fewer hear that the type of cancer they have will, without a doubt, kill them. That is unless a cure is found.

Anne shares, in this follow-up, what hearing those words was like and the thoughts that raced through her mind. We talk about what life has been like since we last recorded, and how she’s doing now.

Anne also shares about what her first distance reiki session was like that she had with me.

I encourage you to listen to her first episode. We dig into different areas of her cancer journey in this episode and, as always, Anne brings lightness to her experience and wisdom to those listening.

If you could only plan your life 2 months at a time, how differently do you think you would plan your days?



Victoria Volk 0:08
This is Victoria of theunleashedheart.com, 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 and advanced Grief Recovery Method specialist, I know how badly the conversation around grief needs to change. Through this podcast, I aim to educate gravers and non Grievers alike, spread hope and inspire compassion toward 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. Hello, and welcome, again to grieving voices if you’ve been here before, and if this is your first time listening, thank you for being here. Today, my guest is and Jacobs. And this is actually a follow up episode to just check in and see how she is doing. We had originally recorded in early February of 2020, kind of at the start of COVID-19. And that episode actually didn’t air until April 6. And that episode is called The Road Less Traveled 17 years with triple positive metastatic breast cancer, which Anne has. And so Anne, thank you again for letting me follow up with you in sharing your follow up with my listeners. Thank you for being here.

Anne Jacobs 1:52
Oh, you’re welcome. Again, my honor. To be part of it.

Victoria Volk 1:58
So lots changed for a lot of people since we originally recorded and what I want to give you an opportunity to share really is how COVID impacted you on top of having cancer. And we’ll get into all sorts of good stuff, I’m sure but what is the update that you would like to share?

Anne Jacobs 2:26
Um, well, the the update, which is is good news is that the the current drug that I’m on, it’s called it’s a fairly new drug, it’s called an her to E n h e r t u is is working, which means it’s either keeping my cancer stable or best case scenario is what we call no evidence of disease or no evidence of active disease. And the last PET scan I had showed the cancer that’s in my right lung is stable, which I’m thrilled with because it’s a little bit currently is a little bit more active than my lower spine and my lower spine is is no evidence of active disease, which means the cancer is still there. But when the but the PET scan doesn’t pick up enough uptake to like if you if you went in had a PET scan and you got the same uptake as I did be normal. They you know, they wouldn’t consider anyone else having cancer so, so right now I’m I’m stable, which is wonderful. I always get nervous before my next PET scan, which I’m going to have in August. They call that scan scan xiety Because sometimes you have or sometimes I have a false sense of security that in between scans, oh everything’s okay. And then as you get closer to the next scan, you start to wonder, okay, well what is really going on? And what will the PET scan show? And is the cancer actually more active than than the prior scan? So that it can be a very extreme anxiety or it can be low level nervousness, but either way most I usually experience it so that so cancer wise I’m I’m doing well, I’ve been on treatment every three weeks for the cancer drug and then I also get immunotherapy to help boost my immune system about one to two weeks after my my cancer treatment. So that’s that’s a really good thing. And I’ll stay on in her two as long as it is keeping the cancer Bay. Thankfully, I’ve been here for 17 years doing this, but eventually the drug will stop working and then I’ll get on a new treatment. So that’s sort of another fear is that okay, well What’s next in the pipeline? I’ll probably ask my oncologist at my next appointment, if my next PET scan shows increase, you know, what do you it’s not, you know, a solid decision. But you know, what else is out there? What are my, my options? So, but for right now it’s it’s all it’s good.

Victoria Volk 5:23
It’s so good to hear. So glad for you and your family. I’m sure it’s like a party every time. Good results come back, I’m sure.

Anne Jacobs 5:33
Yeah, it’s, um, well, when I do get the PET scan results, I get them in my online health portal. And actually, I have my husband, read them, I can’t I don’t read them anymore. I used to just, you know, go can’t wait to get the results, read them. And let’s see what it is. But for I’d say for the past two years, I’ll just tell him, okay, the results are in you read them and tell me what they are. Because I’ve asked my oncologist to send them as soon as she gets them. And because I could ask her not to put them in my portal and just wait till my next appointment. But so he’ll read them. And if they’re good, it’s okay. You know, I physically feel myself relax. If they’re not then like, okay, you know, I usually I’ll have a physical reaction one way or the other. And then we’ll tell my kids, and they will react to them. And they’ve been doing it for 17 years as well. And they will be relieved and pumped up. If it’s good news. And if it’s not, then they say, Okay, well, Mom’s gonna go see your oncologist. And they’ll come up with a new plan. And, you know, we’ll go from their, I don’t know, probably someday, I hope it’s not for a long time, might have to have the conversation of well, we’ve done all we can, but I don’t think about that. And I am sure they have it in the back of their mind. But because who wouldn’t, but it’s not something that we we focus on. So it’s kind of like when the PET scan results. Give us like a wave like a wave. It’s not like a big high, high low, kind of in the middle of, okay, yes, it’s good, or no, it’s not. And then, you know, either path, you take either path to, okay, I’m going this way to the left, or going this way to the right.

Victoria Volk 7:33
So you get these wonderful results in the middle of a pandemic. And I’m curious how the pandemic has impacted, really probably your mindset in a lot of ways, I’m sure, or, yeah, I guess, in what ways has the pandemic affected you

Anne Jacobs 7:54
In the in the beginning, I’m not too much, because I have to be careful. Anyway, because my immune systems compromised. So I was wearing masks on airplanes. Before the pandemic, I was washing my hands like crazy. Before the pandemic, I was, you know, doing all that picking and choosing who I could be around when I could be around people, and that kind of thing. But as time went on, I kind of probably joined the rest of the world who wasn’t used to living like that, because I really resented having to wear a mask. I just like as soon as I would walk out of a store, I’d rip the thing off. I didn’t wear my mask outside. Because with my, I have half of a right lung that work. So if I had it on too long, it just affected my breathing. So as soon as I get outside, I just rip the thing off because I just resented another rule that I had to follow that I had no control over. So in that it was a balancing act. Things in our house kind of were the same. My husband is a he works for himself. So he and his assistant works out there their routine, you know, at work, but he got up every day and went to work. So it felt inside the house, it felt normal, but then when I’m home alone, I could I could go out and walk I’d be outside with the dogs, but if I wanted to go anywhere, you know, maybe I couldn’t the things that you know, if I wanted to go lose myself in TJ Maxx, you know, for an hour just looking at stuff. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t do the things that I would normally use to escape to get back to doing things that maybe regular people do. So that that became pretty hard. And then I finally saw my mom laugh earlier this month and seen her body A year and a half, that was pretty hard. We talked every day, but not being able to know that she could fly out or I could go see her that was actually really hard. Because that was part of my life. She we would see each other 234 times a year, depending on my health and her health. So in some respects, I felt like I was holding my breath, probably like everybody else, and you hunker down and you do what you have to do in other respects. I’m sure. It was like another added layer two of constriction. And so I, I resented that end, I had to figure out, like another way, or a way to deal with another restriction, another thing that I had to conform to health wise, that became a little challenging for me.

Victoria Volk 10:51
Well, unfortunately, things have opened up a little bit. Yes. But it’s this time of recording. And towards the end of June here, it’s kind of sounding ominous, again, a little bit with this other variant. And, yeah, so I guess we’ll all see. Right?

Anne Jacobs 11:12
Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, if, you know, if you’ve been through something, you kind of know what, you know, what your experience was, and how you eventually made it, through it, that experience and so you can rely on that information to, you know, prepare you for hopefully, you know, we won’t go through this again. But if we have to, at some level, whether you’re working from home, or you have you know, little little kids at home, or retired or you’ve got parents in a nursing facility, you can lean back on the experience you had and hopefully not make or make life a little bit easier. I guess, you know, we’ll see. But yeah, for for right now. It was when I when I was back in Michigan, they I live in California was back in Michigan, they had lifted the requirement to wear a mask, if you were fully vaccinated. So as soon as I got out of the airport, you have to wear an airport, because it’s the federal regulations and all that and then was with my mom and a doctor’s appointment, you wear it in the common areas, and then in the exam room, you can take it off. But other than that, it was nobody really was wearing a mask, it was just this wonderful, like joyous feeling of awe. You know, we just felt normal again. And then I, when I got back here, just a couple days there to California, is just a couple days later, when they lifted the mask requirement that you know, you’re fully vaccinated. I’ve noticed there’s more people where I live, will wear the mask than than they were in Michigan. But either way, you have the choice, you can wear it or not, you don’t have to. So I don’t.

Victoria Volk 12:58
So what have you found that has been helpful to you living with cancer during a pandemic,

Anne Jacobs 13:05
The thing that kept popping up for me, which, or I should say, percolating to the surface, which means I’ve been thinking about it, or it’s been, I’ve been pushing it down and and then it kind of keeps coming up and up and up is and I felt this for a long time I have, I tend to minimize for myself. Like the smaller losses, which what I consider, I’ll explain in a minute, what I consider to be smaller losses in my life, have three friends whose their, their sons have died to way too early. And one from cancer, one by suicide and one by accidental overmedicating. And that to me, is just admire these women so much. I just don’t know how they go on. But you know, they do. And I look at them, and I say, Okay, well, and just because you, you, you know, your legs hurt today and you can’t walk or all you can do is brush your teeth and go back to bed. But your kids are here, you know, my three sons are here. And so I use that as a as a benchmark. But what I found is that the more that I don’t deal with sometimes I’m even embarrassed to say like, I consider them to be insignificant because the loss of a child I just can’t even imagine. So the rest of it I think, okay, I should be able to deal with this. Because I think God forbid what if I lost a child? Then I would say I would give anything back Yes, I will live with neuropathy in my like from my feet up to my You know, hip bone, I’ll live with that. No problem, I just want my son back, I will live with the fact that, you know, I’m in bed for five days, or, you know, I’m in the hospital for five days with double pneumonia. Like, I could do anything, or I would do anything. And I know they would, too. So it’s this. I don’t know, if you call a push pony, but I had to realize that it’s okay for me to grieve what I consider the smaller losses, like to pay attention to them, and recognize them, they all pile up, and then I become, I’m tired, because I’m not sleeping well. So I have low energy, but at the same time, I’m like, lethargic, I don’t feel like doing anything, I’ll, I can’t concentrate. And if I do concentrate, it takes I have to just pull everything out of me to sit, you know, to do a task, when I get anxious or nervous or depressed. I, I don’t, some people I know, eat my responses not eating. If I allow all these little, what I consider to be little things to pile up, then it becomes this big, huge mess. And then I don’t know where to start. It’s all this stuff in a pot, I pull it out, it’s stuck to everything else. So where do you start and it becomes a little overwhelming. And then I might, you know, react or to emotion when it doesn’t warrant it, like I might become too sad or too angry. And then I know, okay, something else is going on. I really, I have to allow myself to, to pay attention to these little things along the way recognize them into me knowing that they’re they’re not going to go away. And I’ll probably feel the same thing, you know, next month, but if I don’t allow myself that ability to, to touch them to feel them these and I’m talking about the losses, and that’s what it feels like to me. You know, pick it up, hold it right, again, because if they’re like unwanted houseguests, okay, I can’t, this is what I can’t do. But what can I do? That’s sort of been my motto, but sometimes that doesn’t work. And then I know I have to do a little bit more paid more attention to what’s actually happening with me. Instead of saying, Hi, energy, I’m going to do this today. And I’m going to be grateful, I’m going to focus on the joy, I’m going to do something one thing that makes me happy, whether it’s for myself or someone else, you know, I go through my checklist, but then if that doesn’t work, then I know, okay, I’ve really got to, I’ve got to dig a little deeper and allow myself to do that. And it’s my own. I don’t know, comparisons not the right word, but to allow myself to to feel sad or angry that I’m in this situation. And my kids are are okay, and my husband’s Okay. And you know, my family’s. Okay. So that actually has been popping up quite often for the last I would say six months.

Victoria Volk 18:01
I can’t remember when. But it was after we recorded. I offered you a Reiki session. Yeah, you took part in and it was a distance Reiki session, obviously, because you’re in California, and I’m in North Dakota. And what came of that is you had shared with me after that you feel like you need to well, actually what came up during the session, and I told you was that. You need to start painting? Yes. Not knowing that you were a painter. Well, one time you painted that.

Anne Jacobs 18:34
Yeah, yeah. Like today. You look around with it. Yeah.

Victoria Volk 18:37
So have you been painting?

Anne Jacobs 18:40
I did. Actually. I went out and I bought this little, some little watercolors. I just mess around with it. I am not a painter. But so I did. I went out and bought that. And I did for probably about a month and a half. And then life started happening. And yes, that was something that came from the Reiki session. And it felt right. You know, it feels good. I have my I have it all downstairs for I keep some of my craft things. And but I have not done it for the last. I think January maybe because it’s the new year. But I haven’t done it for the last few months. But that does. And I know I’m not saying anything new here because but just to have the brush and you know, stick in the paint, whatever. I don’t even think I just start. It can be just movements of my hand on the paper or, and that’s usually actually what it is. And then I’ll look at it and say okay, well, this looks kind of angry or this looks peaceful. Or I recognize exactly what’s going on. And it’s a way to get it out of my system.

Victoria Volk 19:47
That’s where I was going. Yeah, that’s exactly where I was going to get there. Yeah. No, but that’s where I was going that i You didn’t hadn’t told me that part, but that’s what I was suspecting in what you were saying to about what you were sharing about minimizing. And in just these other losses, these smaller losses that are not small, I’m not minimizing them at all those were your words, but when you’re feeling that way, that might be a wonderful thing to pull out when you’re feeling that way. And maybe even take them outside you know.

Anne Jacobs 20:21
Yeah, that that would be a, that, that would be a good thing. And I was actually I’m headed back to to Michigan for about three weeks. And I was thinking, well, I could, I could take it with me and just have them out, you know, and just walk by, but I can do that at home as well. But yeah, it’s, it’s a good way to, to just either consciously or subconsciously get the feelings out. And I used to, I used to do it a lot. So it was the Reiki session was very sort of eye opening, that you had picked up on that when we had never talked about it before.

Victoria Volk 21:05
Do you like to share more about your experience with that Reiki session?

Anne Jacobs 21:10
Sure. So I had thought about doing one here. Years ago, I had done some research, and I’d found someone and then probably, you know, cancer gotten away, and I couldn’t do it. And then I stopped thinking about so I thought, Okay, we’ll give it a try. And truthfully, like, about how’s this gonna work? Because you’re a nurse, Dakota, I’m here. And, you know, how does the energy you’re not here in the room with me? How does the energy flow? How does this even work? So I was not skeptical, but curious. That will, okay, we’ll just, we’ll see how it goes. But I found that listening to the music, and, you know, knowing you were on the other end, because we didn’t talk for what, like, an hour hour, that that sort of mindful connection, it made a difference. So I kind of in a way I picked I had my eyes closed, you know, as laying down, and I thought, well, Victoria is in North Dakota, but what if she was like right here, and I have my eyes closed, because it’s something you when I get MRI, seguela, when I get MRIs, I close my eyes in the machine, and I just picture okay, my eyes are closed, I’ll just pretend that you know, I’m by a lake or I’m in the river in, you know, near river, it’s usually water. So I do this visualization. So I thought well, alright, yeah, I’ll just pretend you’re here in the room and what how would I be feeling what would that you know, look like anyway. So doing that made for me made this the, I guess, the energy connection. And then afterwards, I was, I felt more focused or in tune to what was, you know, going on with me, I felt a little more, I felt more at peace, a little more energized. Because I felt at peace, I didn’t have the heavyweight of my anxiety or dread, do feel that like as a weight on me, so it felt freeing. So open, and I kept that feeling, probably for a month and a half. And then, you know, real life happens and just kind of piled on again. But I, I found it I thought, Okay, well, this would be a good tool to I have to consciously add this into and make time for this because it was it was more effective, honestly, than I thought it was going to be. But I also realized that the long distance, I had to, like I said, I had to maybe work a little bit harder to make that connection. Because when someone’s in the room with you, you know, you feel their energy, you feel their presence and all that. So I had to just coordinate that with what was happening. And after I did that it, you know, it wasn’t that hard. Because, again, you’re I’m laying down and listening to the music and I’m, I’m kind of doing my work and you were doing your work somewhere between North Dakota and California. They connect him.

Victoria Volk 24:14
Well, that just speaks to the power of the mind. Right. And our intention, and in a Reiki session, there is nothing that anyone needs to do the clients like you there was nothing you would have had to do. Right be open to receive. Right. So you just took it one step further for your own intention. Yeah, but your own intention into it. And that’s, again, I’m just saying like that speaks to the power of intention. And so we can bring that in all areas of our lives.

Anne Jacobs 24:47
Yes, yeah. Yeah, we can because for me to live with intention. It’s a gift because I can’t do it fully as I would like to, but I can do it and Little People So just because of, again, you know, my energy level how I’m feeling and, you know, the other living with this unwanted houseguest have to deal with. And so that I guess, also is part of, you know, when I call some of my smaller losses is to say, Oh, I’d love to do this, but I can’t, I like literally, I can’t physically finish something that I might want to pursue. So I have to do it in little bits and pieces, knowing that I’ll never get to the end result that I might, that I might be able to if I didn’t have cancer, again, it’s and that has actually, that’s, you know, popped up these last few months, because I’ll see people around me doing these wonderful things, you know, you with your, your podcast of the year amazing guests and other friends who are, or they are living with intention. And I know they have their bad days. And I mean, everybody does, but they’re seen through and I know that can’t see something all the way through, I can go partway and enjoy what I can, but then I have to recognize, okay, well, you know, if I can’t, I can’t even think, you know, if I can’t do what XYZ but I can pull up my watercolors and I can, you know just kind of mess around with that for you know, an hour, or I can I can write or I can sit down and write for 15 minutes, which is a participated in a podcast writing with a nonprofit, they help cancer patients and, and, and the woman said, you know, you just for 15 minutes, and you know, she gave us different prompts. And she told us the best way to do it. This is just take 15 minutes, just you know, sit down and write this and come back to it. So I can do these little things in pieces. Would I ever be able to write a book? Yeah, probably not. But I have a real, you know, paint, learn how to really paint, you know, probably not, but this is what I can do. So it’s that balance of recognizing the losses. And then also, I can’t do that, and allow myself the time to grieve it. But yes, I can do this. And so I can live with intention. Not the way I’d love to. But I still can live with intention.

Victoria Volk 27:20
I disagree on that. I disagree on the book writing part of very much disagree on that.

Anne Jacobs 27:25
I don’t know.

Victoria Volk 27:26
I very much disagree. Now speaking of writing, because when we last recorded, we had a came up about writing your children letters. Yeah. Have you gotten back into that? Because I You had said that you had started doing that?

Anne Jacobs 27:42
I did and so I have been I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m writing, you know, life time, you know, I should probably well anyway, I’m sorry. Yes, I’ve been, I’ve been sending them cards, I’ll find a card that I like and then I’ll, I’ll write a note in it. And in I’ll mail it and I don’t do it. Like I could probably do it every day. Maybe like mommy’s lost it so but I’ll even you know, our youngest is he’s in transition for he’s been home for the year for for COVID. Now he’s looking to go back to school. So he’s been loving this as well. I’ll put a letter in the mailbox for him. That just turns around and comes right back. But it’s always fun to get something in the mail. So I have I have been doing that. And then I’ve also been sending them, you know, little texts, here and there. They’re so busy, that the texts have to be super short. I love you or I think you’re amazing, those kinds of things. But I haven’t gotten down to actually do that writing that we’ve that we were talking about where it’s more of a

Victoria Volk 28:50
Lessons from mom.

Anne Jacobs 28:52
Yeah, thank you. Yeah, yeah.

Victoria Volk 28:56
So don’t say I never told you so.

Anne Jacobs 28:59
Yeah. Yeah.

Victoria Volk 29:04
What do you look forward to, for the rest of 2021?

Anne Jacobs 29:08
Well, I take it in, you know, little snapshots. So I leave mid July. And I’ll go back to Michigan for about three weeks. And we have a cottage in northern Michigan. And so Chris and the boys and, and one of my son’s girlfriends, they’re going to come out for the last the last week, I’ll, I’ll be there. They come out maybe four or five, four days after and they stay for a week and then I’ll stay for like another week or so. So I’m looking forward to that and then then we come back and and I get my pet scan. And then you know have the results of that. And that that’s sort of is a go that far out. But beyond that we’re hoping to either go have a family trip to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. So that’s, you know, out there and then my one of my brothers Is, is doing the Half Ironman back in Michigan. So in September, so I would actually like to, if I can, I’d like to go back for that, again, everything beyond the PET scan is possibilities, I’ve lived with that. So that’s not, you know, for the, thankfully again for the last 17 years, so it’s, that’s not a new feeling. And that’s not a new way of living. For us, it’s like, well, if, you know, if I’m feeling good, then we’ll, we’ll do this, if I’m not, then you know, then we won’t. So we’ve either postponed or had to cross off, you know, many different things to do as a family, but I’m hoping, because I am, I mean, I am feeling pretty good. But um, I’m hoping that we can get those participate in those things. And then comes, you know, Thanksgiving, which is a big boy, you know, they love Thanksgiving, and then there’s Christmas, and, you know, everything in between. So, I always look forward to those times, because I know they’re going to be home, my mom might be able to, to come out. So I have the fissures, the possibilities, and then the maybes, you know, the dangling ones. So that kind of keeps me going. And as you get closer to each one, as soon as I get the PET scan results, then I’ll know what the rest of the year can look like, for me. So it’s like, living in two or three months chunks at a time. I don’t really have the luxury of I can plan, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen, you know, past August, but then again, it goes back to getting myself to the point where I’m okay, you know, focus on my, I know I have to deal with because they keep coming up these these losses, and then, okay, I feel like I’ve got my head above water a little bit and then get back on track with the things that, you know, I can find joy and things I find hopeful. And, and the things I have have gratitude for. So it’s a it’s a little slower process this time around.

Victoria Volk 32:06
Do you know of other women in your area that have that are living with metastatic breast cancer?

Anne Jacobs 32:12
No, not right now. I know women who are living with either currently going through treatment or have gone through treatment that they’re not staged for, they might be one, two or three, but I’m in a Facebook group with metastatic breast cancer Facebook group. And that that is that is, is pretty helpful. Because I can if I’m when I need to get on and read I can, I can comment I can interact, or I can just sit back and read other people’s comments, that seems to that helps a lot everyone posts on there, you know, good news, bad news and in between, and you will get so much support. And it’s you know, it’s heartfelt support that you can feel through, you know, the computer like you can with the Reiki, you feel that through the, you know, the headphones, and that. So that, to me is pretty helpful. And you’re talking with women who are going through the same thing, they might not have the same cancer characteristics, and they might be on different drugs, but the issues are usually the same.

Victoria Volk 33:20
Yeah, I was just wondering if there was anyone close to you? Maybe even in that group?

Anne Jacobs 33:26
Um, there probably is. In the past, I’ve said, Yeah, let’s meet for coffee or something that didn’t happen. So right now, I don’t feel a strong need. But it might be in the future. You know, I never never say never to make that connection. I know, it’s I know, it’s there course there’s gonna there’s going to be women, you know, around me or within like, an hour two hour drive, that, you know, you could go meet the Bay Area. There’s a gal I know, she’s, she’s been dealing with metastatic cancer, she lives in Southern California, she’s very active. And I used to see her more often, just because of different things would bring us together. Now. I you know, you interact through the Facebook group, but you know, if I needed to, I could pick up the phone and call or you know, and talk. So that’s always available.

Victoria Volk 34:20
And I think there’s just I mean, it’s a good thing to have people who really get what you’re going through. Right. And so just that you have that support there. Yeah, of people who really do get it. Yeah, he’s I can’t I still can’t wrap my head around 17 years like I When is your 18th anniversary

Anne Jacobs 34:44
Next year. So it was actually July of 2004. And my kids were little, my youngest was had just turned four. We were in at our cottage in Michigan and my back started hurting, I thought, oh, you know, I’m running around in the water and I’m picking kids up and moving and you know, all that. So I tweaked my back. So I got a massage. And it seemed to help but the pain didn’t really go away. And then it became pretty acute. So, you know, I ended up, I came back and I asked my oncologist, you know, told him what’s going on? And he said, Oh, it’s probably sciatic nerve. So he, we got an x ray system, like, right below, you know, my lower spine and off to the right. It came back clear. And then probably a month or so went by, and I called my primary care physician and said, you know, had this backache, it’s not going away. So he x rayed from my waist down, and you know, boom, that’s the cancer showed up in my lower spine and in my left hip, and so I didn’t get officially diagnosed, you know, for months, probably till October. And then I didn’t start treatment until maybe November, December. But I look back on I know, the cancer was there in July. It just, I hadn’t got it diagnosed yet. So I was used. July is my the month. So 18 years will be next year in July. Wow, that’s examinable. Maybe I can be I’ll come back and in July of next year, and we will see how it’s gone.

Victoria Volk 36:31
I would love to have you. That’d be great.

Anne Jacobs 36:36
Yeah, and it’s, you know, I wouldn’t, I would never expect anyone I would never expect you to, it’s too hard to wrap your head around, like, what does it look like to look to live with this? Or, you know, any sort of cancer? You know, what is the day? What do you do through the every day?

Victoria Volk 36:53
Ride the roller coaster?

Anne Jacobs 36:55
Yeah, yeah And it’s, um, it is pretty hard to understand. Unless you live through it. And I wouldn’t want anyone to have to understand it. But 1000s of women who are, you know, doing this every day, you know, you wake up one morning, just what you have, you know, you have cancer, okay. And it’s not never going away. Oh, okay. And, you know, depending on your life experiences and what you’ve how you’ve handled things in the past that will influence you moving forward. And when I got diagnosed, initially, I had this alright, let’s, you know, stage three, we’ll beat it, we’ll go through chemo, there’s a start, and there’s an end date, I’ve got this. And then you get the call. No, it spread, you know, I had no comprehension, I didn’t know where to put my feet down. This was something that I had never encountered before. So I had a friend help me sort of navigate and get get a second opinion. And you go from that to a third opinion. Go back to your oncologist, you make a plan. So it’s just like moving forward without a map doing the best you can. So that’s led me to here. I’ve learned a lot along the way. But pretty amazing. I’m pretty grateful, very humbled by the fact that I’m still here. Very, very grateful.

Victoria Volk 38:15
I love that you’re here. And I love that our paths have crossed, and we will continue to do these follow ups. As long as appreciate it long as my podcast exists.

Anne Jacobs 38:28
Well, you’ve had like, lived to earlier, you’ve had some pretty amazing guests. I was thinking, Why? Why is Victoria want to talk to me? These other people are just there. I haven’t gotten through all of your podcasts yet. Because I’ll sometimes I’ll go back and I’ll re listen to, you know, some of them. Oh, what did he or she say? But just you’ve had some really? Some really impactful conversations.

Victoria Volk 38:55
Oh, there’s so many more to come. I bet. Yeah. I bet. Is there anything else you’d like to share today?

Anne Jacobs 39:03
I can’t think of anything, except I guess to reiterate, what I’m I’m learning or I’m allowing myself to just deal with the, again, what I consider the smaller losses so that I can have a more peaceful existence to do find what works for you and allow yourself you know, if you have that should I should do this, or I should do that. When those shoulds come up too much. I need to really pay attention because then I’m not doing what is best for me to be the best version of myself and allow myself to push the shoulds away and the judgment therefore I have on myself and just focus on if I do this, I’m going to feel better. I’ll be a better version. I’ll be a better mom, wife, friend. I’ll be a better and be a better person for myself too.

Victoria Volk 39:54
That’s perfect. And we will end it there because I think that’s perfect.

Anne Jacobs 39:57
Thank you. Thank you again Victoria,

Victoria Volk 40:01
Thank you for being here and for being you and sharing all that you’re learning along the way. I appreciate you, folks. 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.

Ep 73 | Emma G Rose

Emma G Rose | His Name Is Nicky




The ripples of loss reach far and wide within a family unit; often in ways, we don’t expect. Emma shares the impact the death of her cousin to suicide has had on her life and that of her family.

Emma has found solace in writing her grief in the thirteen years since her cousin Nicky’s death, publishing three books since that time.

Suicide leaves those left behind having to navigate the displaced anger this type of loss often leaves in its wake. Emma shares how her family grieved together and how this loss, which left a gaping hole in their lives, has somehow managed to bring them, as a whole, more together. They talk about the hard issues and what matters to them as if they’re talking about the weather. Which, as the creator of this podcast, is my hope for all of us – that, as a society, we can begin to talk about grief like we talk about the weather.

Reach out to someone you know or love today and, as Emma shares, if they need to, they will reach back. It often takes someone to extend the hand of compassion first. Will that be you?



Victoria Volk 0:08
This is Victoria of theunleashedheart.com, 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 and 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 Grievers alike, spread hope and inspire compassion toward 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’s guest is Emma G Rose. She is an author, publisher and host of the indie book talk podcast, she started writing her first novel as a way to cope with her cousin’s death by suicide. Today, she’s getting ready to publish her third contemporary fantasy novel about people living through difficult situations, including near death experiences, suicide and grief. Thank you so much for being here. Happy to have you. Yeah, no problem. Let’s start with your grief writing journey. And where that begins,

Emma G Rose 1:34
I guess, to really tell this I have to go back to before the grief incident. So I’d always wanted to be a writer my whole life. As soon as I figured out that books were a thing that people wrote, they weren’t just magically created. I wanted to be a writer. And so I was that kid who was always scribbling in a notebook, I was reading all the time. And I started a bunch of different drafts of books as a as a kid in like middle school in high school age. But I’d never finished anything, to a degree that I felt like it was ready to be sent out into the world. And then I was 20. And I got a phone call that my 17 year old cousin, had died by suicide. And of all of the people I knew in my life, if I had had to list, the people who were at least likely for that to happen to, he would have been right at the top of that list. Like it just was completely out of the blue to in my,

Emma G Rose 2:34
in my experience of it, it just you know, it wasn’t like, we saw signs, you know, people talk about, Oh, I saw this and that. And of course, in retrospect, there were a few things. But it’s hard to tell, sometimes as a teenager, like the difference between normal teenage angst and like there’s something really wrong here. So as his cousin who lives in a different state, I didn’t see it. And it completely shocked me. And started kicked off probably the hardest week of my life, which was flying, to be with the family and be it the week and the funeral and all of that stuff. And that all of that process that ritual, helps to helps you to kind of cope in the short term. But it’s just the very beginning of this long journey of dealing with a situation. And my situation was a little complicated in that I this was this happened in March, in the fall, I was scheduled to move to Japan. So very quickly, after this loss, I moved to the literal other side of the planet, and was as far as I could possibly be and still be on planet Earth, away from my family. So I did kind of fell back on old habits and started writing a lot. And at one point this, this scene kind of popped into my head this, these two characters talking to each other, and they were teenagers. And this is where it gets it actually gets a little lighter. There’s these two teenagers and they’re arguing about whether or not they’re dead. And I don’t know where this came from. Exactly. It was just like one of those scenes that sort of falls into your head all at once. And I knew that they were that they were dead, but that they weren’t sure. And that they were arguing that’s what they were arguing about. And I got up from the book I was reading and I went and I wrote down this scene. And it sort of evolved from there into a story. I eventually wrote my cousin into the story, the whole that whole first novel deals with a journey through the afterlife. And so I was able to write him post suicide. And as a person dealing with this decision that he had made, he was both incredibly challenged. and comforting to write that because it was a way of saying he’s not gone forever, right? He’s just kind of in a different place. And for me and for my family, when I share the story with them, it was really comforting to know that like, there was another place, I made a home for him. And this is where he was. And we all knew where he was, he’s in this afterlife place. And he’s okay. And so when I wrote this, and it was, again, you know, very challenging, there were many drafts, I removed the scene, I put it back, you know, there was a lot of that happening. But when I shared it with family, people who have known Him, they kept saying, to me, this is really comforting, this made me feel better. This, you know, somehow changed the way I thought about this so that I could feel like, okay, I can move, I don’t want to say move on, because that’s never real, but to move forward in this feeling, and not just be kind of stuck in this place. So hearing that, I knew that this story needed a wider audience, because we weren’t the only one. Sadly, we’re not the only people who have dealt with this situation. We’re not the only people who have lost someone to young, we’re not the only people who have lost someone to suicide. We’re not the only people to be struggling months and years later with the ramifications of this act. So I wanted to put it out into the world. And even knowing that that was true, knowing there were people out there who needed it, I still sort of dragged my feet for years. Because first of all, there’s all the complication of getting something published, you know, it’s not a super simple process, always. And depending on which avenue you choose, I originally went with the traditional publishing route, I was querying agents I was sending out, you know, cover letters saying like, this is what the books about and do you think you can sell this? And most people said, No, we don’t think we can sell this. A few said, this is incredibly intriguing. But I don’t know where to put it. It was just it was it was a weird story. It bothered people that the whole thing happened in the afterlife. It bothered people that like it was funny. It’s a legitimately funny book, because they’re teenagers and teenagers are hilarious. But it was also dealing with these really heavy issues. So that was this weird balance. And I finally ended up independently publishing it, starting my own publishing imprint, putting the book out into the world. And it took me 10 years from the time of my cousin’s death to the publication of the book, but I think it was a well spent 10 years and learning how to deal with all of this. And the process of publishing the process of getting it out into the world has helped my grieving process. And as I continue to write, I continue to, to find layers of this grief. So the most recent novel, The one that’s coming out in July, is assembling Ella, and that is a story of somebody who 11 years later is dealing with the loss of her brother. So it was it enabled me to look at some of the things that people don’t understand about long term grief. And the times when, you know, I mentioned my cousin, and people go, and they kind of cringe, and they don’t know what to say next. And or they’re like, why are you still upset about that, which is my favorite response, because I’m still upset about that, because he’s still gone. And it’s still awful. But I found myself kind of telling myself the story that I should be better, where even it was a few months before the final draft of this book. So I had sent it out to beta readers, which is like the first readers who kind of give you feedback, and I had sent it out to them. And so I was kind of in this place where I didn’t have anything to do right this second. And it happened to fall during the anniversary of my cousin’s death. And I found myself thinking I should be I should feel better than this. I shouldn’t be so sad about this. Still, it’s been this many years. How am I still so upset? How am I How was it still await? You know, March, as soon as the month of March starts. It’s like I’m holding my breath. And I actually called my mother and I said, Why am I still so upset, and she said something that actually sort of it was true, but it was also kind of devastating to hear, which was, The anticipation is worse than the day because you know what’s going to happen, you know, that this awful thing is going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And so every year, like the week, the few days before, is really, really hard. And I’m learning to reach out to people, you know, to talk to my uncle, who has been amazing, you know, he lost his son, and he’s just, he’s found ways to turn that grief and that loss into connection. In many ways. He’s a role model, too. You know, we do different things. We do it in different ways. But ultimately, we’re both trying to say you are not alone. And this should never happen to anyone else ever again. And whatever we can do to save people from that or to You know, bring them forward just a little bit to know like, you’re not alone. You’re okay. And there’s all these people that be really upset if you left, that, that outreach that, you know, remembering that you’re not by yourself is like the biggest thing. It’s, it’s everything in this. And that’s why I write books, not only to remind other people that they’re not alone, but to remind me, because people come out of the woodwork. When I when I share these books, and I share these stories. I get emails, I get direct messages on Twitter, I get, you know, these log messages on Instagram saying, I read this book, it changed the way I think. I read this book, I realized someone else gets it. I heard you speak. They haven’t even read the book. I heard you speak. And I understood. You know, I felt something. That’s why I do it. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I’m over it. I don’t think you ever get over grief. You’ve lived with it and you live through it. And it’s okay to not be over it. It’s expected because you never don’t love that person. You never are happy they’re gone. So you’re always grieving in some way or another extend you a hug. Thank you.

Victoria Volk 11:06
Thank you for sharing. I think your mom had it right? Because it is it’s the anticipation that is almost worse. And all the work that I’ve been doing and podcast episodes I’ve recorded with Grievers. It is a similar story of the week of the month of the day before the day of even days after it’s it’s when self care is really superduper important, and especially in grief. That is that’s your hope, especially maybe early on. So what did help you? And when did this happen?

Emma G Rose 11:40
This was 2008. So it’s been 13 years.

Victoria Volk 11:46
Yeah. And it’s been 13 years, friends. Yeah, there’s no timeline, right? 30 plus years, my dad’s been gone. There’s no timeline, the chairs still empty. My son’s gonna graduate in two years, I’ll probably think about my dad and how I wish he would be there, right, like life events keep going on and that person is still gone. That doesn’t change. So the grief changes, but the missing doesn’t. Right. And I heard the same thing. Well, she you should be over by now. Yeah, well, I’m not a stuffer like you. Because the people who are saying that are stuffing their emotions, excuse me, they’re stuffers. They’re either turning to the bottle turning to relationships, turning to Facebook or reality TV or something that makes them feel better for a time. And they’re not really addressing what’s going on. And it catches up with people. Eventually, it does. So what helped you I’m circling back to the question now, what helped you and is continually helping you, other than writing because not everybody’s a writer, right? When the time gets closer, and when March because March is my month too. So

Emma G Rose 13:02
I mean, writing is like my primary coping mechanism for most things, but outside of that, reaching out to family members, and just saying like, I’m not okay, you know, sometimes I send my uncle just like a heart emoji. I did on my cousin’s birthday this year, like the day before his birthday, I just sent that. And it’s that little moment of connection. And when you’re grieving, it’s really hard to connect with people, because you want to sort of call yourself inward and protect, you know, you want to protect that thing that’s hurting, which is you. But it really does help to reach out and just say I’m not okay, and to acknowledge that out loud and not feel like you have to be smiley and fine when you’re not. That’s huge. For me, one of the kind of sweet things that my uncle did, he took some of Nikki’s old T shirts, and he cut them up, and he wrote his name and his birth and death dates on them. And Nick had always wanted to travel. So we took the t shirt of pieces of T shirts to just random places. I was in Japan. So he sent me one and I left it in a temple in Japan. And, you know, my my family went out to camp that a camp that they’ve been to several years in a row and they like tied onto a rock and dropped it into the lake. And it was all those things that remind you that the person is not here with you, but that they were and that they’re still part of what you’re doing. We still talk about him regularly. You know, it’s not there’s no taboo against bringing him up. My uncle will joyfully tell stories about the hilarious and ridiculous things that my cousin did. He was, you know, the class clown, the funny kid who was always getting up to something and those stories are told and that I think makes a huge difference to and not not avoiding because yes, it makes us sad, but it also makes us happy because my favorite author Terry Pratchett has a quote. Do you not know that a man is not dead? Well, his name is still spoken. And I think that continuing to speak someone’s name is not only a confirmation that your grief is valid, and that this, you know, it’s not like this bad feeling that came from nowhere it had an origin. And that origin was the love of someone, you don’t grieve someone that you didn’t have some sort of feeling for there. That’s just you know, a name on a paper somewhere, but somebody that you grieve as someone that you loved, or sometimes didn’t get along with really well and had complicated emotions around, or they evoke something in you. And so what you’re grieving is not just the person, but also everything around them, the you that you are, when they’re around and the way that they fit into your relationships in your world. We are eight cousins, a boy and a girl and each family. And Nikki is a part of that, even though he’s not present with us anymore. And so he comes up and we talk about him. And that makes a huge difference.

Victoria Volk 15:55
I think your uncle sounds like a really good mentor. And he’s leading by example. I love that story with the T shirts. It’s beautiful.

Emma G Rose 16:04
Yeah he’s done a lot to both remember Nikki as an individual person, but also to help other people who might be going through similar struggles. So he started in Nicky’s remembrance, he started the Nicholas wind Fernandez Scholarship Fund, which gives a scholarship it’s not a huge scholarship. You know, we’re not millionaires here, but it’s a scholarship to kids who went to the vocational school that Nicky was attending. So that exists. But we also did the out of the darkness walks, which are fundraising events for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And my uncle got really involved in suicide prevention programs in the state of Massachusetts, which is where they’re from, he worked actually with the select the state legislature to get suicide awareness training into schools, which was interesting, because when he started, they asked him to talk at what would have been Nikki’s graduating class. And just before he went on stage, they said, Oh, don’t say the word suicide. And so that, don’t say that word that comes back to the same thing of don’t speak their name, because you’ll make someone’s that Don’t say that word, because you’ll put it in their heads. You’re not putting that idea into anyone’s head. They already have the idea. But when you bring something out into the open, you demystify it, you take away some of the some of that feeling of no one understands no one’s ever been where I am, no one gets what I’m feeling, all of that is connected, the grief, the suicide, all of that is something you have to talk about, and mental health as a stigma. Those are things we have to talk about, and we’re getting better now he can go into a school and give a talk specifically about suicide prevention. And no one thinks that’s weird, but 13 years ago, don’t mention the word.

Victoria Volk 17:49
Tell us about Nikki and the impact he had on you.

Emma G Rose 17:52
He was the the youngest of my cousins, and only my little brother is younger than him. So he’s the youngest of my cousins. And he always had sweaty hands. Some people just do and he always did. Oh, he always wanted to hug you. So get this, this stereotype that like a 1314 year old boy is not going to come hug his female cousin when she walked out the door. Nikki was not he you know, yeah, your hair, give you a big hug. He loved to play video games. He loved to play sports. He did baseball and football and all of that stuff. And he was very much that the life of the party, the class clown kid, the one who came up with the funny prank. He was also he takes after my uncle, he was a bit of a daredevil, you’d have to stop him from doing things like can I jump off the trampoline into the pool? You know, he was that kid? Yeah, to be on watch, because he would get into trouble. But he was just the sweetest person. You know, he was legitimately wanted people around him to be happy and joyful. And he he was that himself for the most part. And I associate the color green with him because he wore it a lot. And so we all wore green for a long time afterwards, their particular shade of green. Yeah, it was my baby cousin. And in some ways, you know, I don’t didn’t know him as well, as I wish I did. You don’t realize until somebody has gone that. Like all the things I wish I knew. I couldn’t tell you what his favorite song was, you know, or my uncle had to tell me some of the things he hoped and dreamed about? What did you want to be when he grew up? And you know, where did he want to travel? All of those things. Like I didn’t necessarily know that because I was 20 and he was 17. And you know, the younger you are the the more those ages matter. And he’s changed our lives since then. I think certain members of our family are much closer than they would have been otherwise. We make more of an effort to be present for things because we’re all very aware that you never know when the last time you’ll see someone will be so you know say I love you go to the event even if it’s boring. Don’t make the effort to do something even if it can only be, you can only go for 30 minutes before work. Okay? It’s better than nothing. Yeah, he was just a really happy kid. I’m so sorry. Thank you

Victoria Volk 20:16
Was the family I was so open and vocal with each other before this happened to?

Emma G Rose 20:23
We’re, we’re pretty good at talking about hard things. I think we got better about it. I think, again, it’s sometimes it’s hard, you know, I was 20. So, the world you live in when you’re a teenager or a young adult, isn’t always 100% reality. But I do think that we were pretty good at being open and vocal, you know, we always said, I love you, we took pictures together, you know, but I just think that we’re much more willing to talk about hard things now. You know, it’s not uncommon for someone to say, Oh, I went to my doctor, and I now want anxiety medicine, and I feel so much better, you know, those sorts of things that maybe we wouldn’t have necessarily shared with everyone, you know, with the whole family. And I think my, my nuclear family, my parents and my brother, we are exceptionally good at talking about things like death, you know, we’ve had very open and honest conversations about what do I want to happen when I die? What, you know, who Who do I want making decisions for me? What do I want to happen to my to my body after I die, all of those things, that, again, people sometimes really struggle to talk about our I don’t want to say comfortable, but they’re not uncomfortable topics. They’re the they’re just as likely to come up well, cooking dinner, as you know, oh, did you see that thing on TV? Or what I’m planning to do next weekend? It’s, it’s becomes a very normal thing to discuss.

Victoria Volk 21:56
That’s very important. Do you think that I mean, was Nikki privately struggling? Did Nikki not communicate some things? Was there any indication that he was,

Emma G Rose 22:06
I think he communicated better, or more, more openly with his father, my uncle, and maybe even to a certain extent, my grandparents who live very close by, I think that I was more removed from it because I was further away. You know, we live in Maine, and third, Massachusetts, we see each other at special events and things and he was definitely struggling. He, you know, he’d had some diagnosis of some sort of depression or something like that. And, you know, and I don’t know all of the details, I know that he was sort of struggling and in the end, and but I, again, it’s so hard. And I think I want to acknowledge this because people who are beating themselves up about this, it’s so hard to tell when you’re when you’re outside someone’s head. Whether this thing that they’re dealing with right now, is this a end of their world sort of thing? Or is this I just feel bad right now, it’s really hard to tell. And sometimes inside your own head, you can’t really tell. So we did that. We did that. Like, well, what if we done this? And what if we’d said this, and if only we’d come home sooner if only you know, this hadn’t happened if only somebody had said this, that or the other thing. But I mean, you could have only all the way back to my uncle never met, who Nicky’s mother, and therefore, Nikki was never born. But I don’t want that. I’ll take this over that.

Victoria Volk 23:28
I’m curious and you don’t have to share. But I’m, you know, just for the sake of those listening, what I know about grief, as a grief recovery specialist is that it’s not just one experience that happens to us. It’s usually accumulation of experiences that takes us over the edge or we either implode or explode. What was Nikki’s life prior to this? Like had he experienced a lot of grief in his life?

Emma G Rose 24:00
I don’t know that I’m qualified to say, I know that he had, in some ways a difficult relationship with his mother. My, my uncle and his mother were divorced. And there was, you know, there was some tension there that we all knew about again, I mean, I don’t know the inside of his head. So I don’t know what thing you know what? Something that can be life shattering for one person might be a Tuesday for someone else. So I can’t say for sure. I do know that. My uncle and my grandparents were always present and loving and supportive. And yeah, they thought about stuff because everybody does. But ultimately, we have always known that they were there for us. And I can’t imagine that Nikki didn’t know that. But sometimes what’s going on inside your head just doesn’t No amount of outside support is enough, you know, you got to find that inside yourself to some degree. So that’s really, I guess the best answer I can give to that.

Victoria Volk 25:09
I just wanted to just highlight though that exactly what you said is that an event can happen to one person, and it can feel like a Tuesday. And it can be an absolutely soul crushing thing to somebody else. And the divorce rate is quite high. And usually children are the collateral damage of that. And this is why too, I’m passionate about the helping children with loss program. It’s for the adults, especially with young children younger, even doesn’t matter the age really, but this is why I’m to I’m so passionate about the education of it, because when we as parents, Are you a parent, as a parent, and I have teenagers, I have three teenagers now it is I have learned the value of cleaning up my own shit. Really, I’m now gonna have to mark this explicit. But it’s the truth, it is the truth, because my junk impacts my parenting, therefore, will impact my children. And I don’t want my junk to interfere with their future. And so if you’re listening to this, and you are maybe getting a divorce, you already are divorced. And if that isn’t even your situation, maybe you’re estranged from the biological, other parent, whatever the situation is, maybe you’re adopt, you know, maybe you adopted children in your divorce, whatever, it doesn’t matter. This is why this is so important. Because when we start to clean up and sweep our doorstep, it ripples in our lives. Your uncle has started, he cleaned up his doorstep, he started, you know, and he’s making ripples in other people’s lives. Look at the influence he’s had on you and the impact and your grief, just by him leading by example, not just in the basics of life, but when it really matters. And when that when it comes to grief, because we don’t know what people are struggling with. But if you can’t allow yourself to ask the tough questions, because you’re afraid of the answer, where you can’t handle the answer. That’s your indicator that you’ve got some personal work to do. I’m getting off my soapbox now. I didn’t expect that. But it’s heartbreaking for me to hear these stories like this. And not just Nikki, it’s just one like it even you know that. We just never know what impact our actions have on others. Not that this is by any means your uncle’s fault. I am not saying that, or his mother’s fault. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying, what do you have to lose by addressing your stuff. And that potential is really high to be a lot, your future, your own future, your own potential, we sacrifice when you when you don’t address the stuff within you, you are sacrificing little bits of yourself. So what has your grief taught you? Because that’s that’s I mean, I’ve learned a lot. So what have you learned in your group?

Emma G Rose 28:29
How do I narrow this down? It has taught me that I am not alone have never been alone cannot be alone. Because there are there’s always another person in the world who has experienced something like what you’re experiencing. And if you reach out, they’ll reach back. That’s I mean, I’ve my whole writing career around that idea that if I reach out the people who need to, will reach back. And I don’t think I would have known that. If I hadn’t had this experience. I think it’s also taught me that life is more complicated than you think. So no single experience is like, Okay, this is everything or network, even something that feels like the ripples of an individual experience spread out through your life. When Nicky died, my brother, my brother’s much younger than me, my brother was 12 and a teacher at his school who also happened to have grief professional training, said that children will grieve as they grow. And I remember as a as a 20 year old I said, That’s stupid. He’s going to grieve and then he’ll just go on with his life, right? Because of course, I’d never had this level of experience. And I have learned that people do in fact grieve as they grow and sometimes they don’t realize that’s what’s happening. And so sometimes that and in some ways, this is what assembling Ella is about sometimes reaching a milestone. Everyone around you is like, Yay, we’re seniors. Isn’t that exciting? And you’re going my brother never got to be a senior. Why do I get To surpass him, my cousin never will get to be 21 years old, he’ll never get to have that ridiculous party that everybody has. And, you know, get into trouble. He missed that. And knowing that no single experience is all happier, all sad, nothing you experience in your life is all good, or all bad. It’s this balance of things. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe that their fates out there making the world BS. But I do believe, and this has taught me that you can find lessons and and guiding principles out of even the worst things. And that if those terrible things happen, the best thing you can do is look for the lesson in them. Because you might as well learn something, if you have to go through this horrible thing, you might as well let it make you a better person, you might as well let let it connect you more to people, because the alternative is to let it break you down. And I don’t want to do that

Victoria Volk 30:58
I had a podcast guest once say I said in grief, and she had lost a child. And she said, when you lay you decay. Yeah. And I like to say that you’re already suffering, you might as well be suffering and moving your feet, taking action, baby steps, whatever you have to do to I had a podcast guest Yes, the who is living with metastatic breast cancer. And sometimes it’s just your goal is just to get out of bed. That’s it, just to get out of bed, and because when you lay you decay, I’ve just never forgotten it throughout your grief experience, which I totally identify with what you said, grieve as you grow, because I was eight. So that’s why I say I’m pretty much a lifelong Griever. But in your grief, experience, what has given you the most joy and hope for the future.

Emma G Rose 31:48
I mean, I’d have to say that the stories I get back from people, when I put when I share my grief experience, and people reach back and say, I understand I feel this, you made me feel better, you made me think about this differently like that, that’s the joy that comes out of this is that I experienced this. And it made us more empathetic people, it made us comfortable people for someone to reach out to if they’re hurting, because they know we’ve we’ve hurt they know that it’s safe to talk to us about these things. And as sad as it is when someone comes to you with a grief it, it’s also it’s also a relief to know that they have someone you know, they’re not having to navigate this, by themselves, sadly, have been there and have kind of blazed a trail and you can walk in those footsteps. So that’s been I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t written books like I don’t know how I would have dealt with it. This was my way. And I think other people are going to have other ways. You know, you could paint tour start a charity, or I don’t know, lay on the floor and cry. I mean, there there are lots of ways there are paths that aren’t this one. But for me, this was the only way forward. And if I had not written this the first book and not continued to write, I don’t know where I would be. It would not be here. Certainly, I don’t know where I would be

Victoria Volk 33:10
Writing gave you hope. It sounds like you’re not the first Griever to that found solace in writing. I’m sure to have one of them too. What else would you like to share today?

Emma G Rose 33:21
I think I just want people to know that I hope this has come across. But I will say it more explicitly. I want people to know that your grief is not wrong. And there’s nothing wrong with you. This is hard, it sucks. It’s sad. It’s feels meaningless and stupid. And why should anyone have to do this and whatever weird cocktail of emotions you get out of that, whether it’s anger or sadness, or any permutation of that, that’s okay. It’s okay, fighting those feelings saying I shouldn’t feel this way I should feel better, I should do this, that that is not going to help you. So it’s really okay to be sad. It’s really okay to not be okay. It’s really okay to block out three days of the month and say, I’m not working because I’m, I can’t because this is my observance. This is what I’m doing. That’s totally okay.

Victoria Volk 34:11
I like how you called it days day of observance, even like days of observance. It’s really observing how you’re feeling. It’s observing, you know, what would you have done with that person if they were here and maybe doing that thing? I like that, like I said that I did think of another question, because I know that the loss of your cousin wasn’t the only loss you had. But I’m also curious if you had grief yourself experiences prior to losing your cousin,

Emma G Rose 34:39
The only person I had ever lost before. Nikki was my great grandmother, which is a very different experience. She had been in a nursing home for many years, she’d had a stroke. She wasn’t herself and she knew she wasn’t herself. And so when when she died, it felt More of a relief almost to say like she’s not she had a full and beautiful life. And now she’s left us. And that’s very sad. And we were, of course, all very sad. But it wasn’t the same. There was no anger. With Nikki, there was a lot of anger. And it’s hard because it was a kind of displaced anger, like who am I mad at not really mad at him. I’m not I’m not mad at anyone. I’m just like mad that this is even a thing. I’m mad that this is possible in the world. I’m mad that somebody who had his his wake was like, there were people out in the driveway, waiting in line for like an hour to walk by the receiving line. His childhood orthodontist was there like that somebody who could have that big of an impact could choose to leave was very upsetting. And I was kind of angry at him. Let’s be honest. I was I remember sitting on the floor during the week with my little brother leaning against me and just being so angry at Nikki like, if he could see what’s happening right now. He would undo what he did. And so it’s very different. But the year Dickie died was actually really hard. Because it was the year everyone died, we lost Nikki and March, a close family friend a few months later, my aunt in law, I guess you’d call her died, complications related to her cancer, which she had fought breast cancer in one, but the treatments have weakened her heart and she died. So my last weekend before I moved to Japan, I went to a funeral. And then in December, my paternal grandfather who granted I wasn’t super close to he died as well. And it was just like that culmination. It was just saying after thing after thing, everyone died. And then I moved to the other side of the planet. And yeah, so Nikki is the he’s, he’s the focal point of my grief often. But there’s more than that, you know, it’s it spreads. And I don’t know, grief feeds on itself, right? You get into this like, like any other mental habit, when I’m sad, eventually, that’s where my thoughts go. And I think it was a very well ingrained mental habit by the end of that year, to grieve. To a certain extent, I think people are grieving now. I think everyone is grieving more or less right now, and may not be the loss of a person though. For some people, it absolutely is. But the loss of experience, the loss of a year or more of our lives in in the world that we thought we were going to have. Because ultimately, grief is about the experiences you miss. It’s the the relationships that didn’t happen. The the tribute didn’t go on. All of that is grief. And we’re all feeling that right now. So I think in some ways, this is the exact right time to be talking about grief. We need it really badly. We need these conversations. And we need them to be open and honest. And things we can talk about and acknowledge

Victoria Volk 37:42
I say too grief was our pandemic long before COVID was a pandemic. To be honest, grief has always been there in the fact is, is for example, two years ago, I attended a VA mental health summit, Veterans Administration mental health summit in I was in a room full of social workers. And I’m not dogging social workers, but I’m just stating a fact here and in aroma soldiers. And there was two soldiers that shared their experiences of coming really close to ending their lives and the social workers that spoke and in the breakout rooms where I attended other speakers not a once in the entire day was the word grief used not a once and that is the problem, because we’re not even addressing the elephant in the room. People I feel like yes, there are mental illnesses diagnosed, yes, that require medication that do require, you know, forms of psychosis, there’s all these things right, that medically can be legitimized on paper, and whatever. But where do these things begin? And how do they get to the point that they get to and knowing what I know about grief, trauma and Childhood Adulthood is childhood reenactments. I’ve said this several times on the podcast I’ll keep saying because when you’ve experienced trauma in childhood, and especially when you are a soldier and you go and deploy, that changes you trauma and childhood changes you It’s proven on a cellular level, it changes your brain chemistry completely. So grief is the pandemic and we just don’t want to talk about it. Like you said, talk about what you want with your body when you die. Like it’s like you’re talking about sweet potatoes for supper, right? Talk about how sad you’re feeling today because your loved ones birthdays coming up and they’re not here. Like it’s a recipe for mac and cheese. Like it’s the weather. Let’s talk about grief. Like we’re talking about the weather, make it normal conversation, because it’s normal and natural to grieve. Yeah. So thank you for the work that you’re putting out the conversations you’re having with people sharing your story, inspiring them and given them hope. Thank you for being here today.

Emma G Rose 39:58
Thank you for having me and giving me another place to connect with people

Victoria Volk 40:01
And where can people connect with you? If they want to find you.

Emma G Rose 40:04
You can find me at Emmagauthor.com. There’s all of my social media and everything there. So I am on a lot of the social media. And if you message me, send me a note. I will absolutely respond. So feel free to reach out. I love that. It’s why I do this work. Tell me your story. Just say hi. Hey, I heard you on the podcast, emmagauthor.com. And then, if you feel so inclined, and have any interest in publishing, you can check out the indie book talk podcast.

Victoria Volk 40:32
And I will put all of that stuff in the show notes. And thank you again for being here. 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


Ep 71 | Kristine Carlson

Kristine Carlson | Heartbroken Open: A Widows’ Work of Unmasking Sorrow



When Kristine’s husband, Richard, suddenly died of a pulmonary embolism while descending on a flight, she had no idea how much she would rely on the tools and insights she had gained while writing several of the books contained in the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” series.

It was the teachings, many years of personal development work, writing, and support of others that gave her the means to process the grief from, what had been at that point, the most profound loss of her life.

Kristine shares what those first years looked like, as well as takes us through what life has been like beyond, and how the loss of her late husband and most recently her soul-sister friend since age 14, Melanie.

Grief brings with it gaping wounds, but if we resolve, as Kristine says, to not allow ourselves to become a victim of our circumstances, a beautiful life with joy can unfold – if we only surrender.

Learn, through this episode, ways to cope that helped Kristine get through the darkest days and lean into joy again.



Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. I’m your host Victoria of the Unleashed heart. And today my guest is Kristine Carlson. She is the co author with her late husband, Dr. Richard Carlson of The New York Times best selling, don’t sweat the small stuff books, she is featured this fall as the subject of a biopic Lifetime movie based on her book, heartbroken, open a true story of coming alive again, after profound loss. Thank you so much for being here.

Kristine Carlson 0:31
Hi, Victoria. It’s so good to be here with you. You have such a calming voice.

Victoria Volk 0:36
People say that. That’s good.

Kristine Carlson 0:38
Yeah that’s really good.

Victoria Volk 0:39
So I mean, I could start in a lot of places, but I really want to start with why you wanted to come on the podcast today and share your story. And really, it’s your grieving voice. Because all the work that you’re doing right now is as a result of a devastating loss. Right?

Kristine Carlson 1:01
Yeah, absolutely. I, you know, just want to be clear that I’m a long ways out, then most people from my loss, well, at least the the profound loss that I write about, and I speak about in heartbroken open. I’ve just recently gone through a very another profound loss with which is one of my soulmate, Sister friends that I grew up with, just passed from cancer about three weeks ago. So I’m reminded again, just about this grieving process, in such a, you know, raw sort of way, my loss happened 15 years ago, from the love of my life, he was only 45. And I was 43. And he was traveling to New York, buy a plane, and on the descent of the flight, have a pulmonary embolism, which took his life instantly. And, you know, it wasn’t something that we expected at all, Richard was an incredibly vibrant man doing his work in the world. And my kids were 14 and 17 at the time. So, you know, we were just really in what you would think of as the peak of our lives, not the end of life. And so it was southern loss, you know, very sudden catapulted us, of course, into deep grief and, and then you know, just how to traverse that territory at that age, without a lot of widows around or knowing you know, how to go through that process. From me about all four of our parents were still alive. You know, I just, I just didn’t really have any experience. But what I found really interesting about how I decided to do it, in a lot of ways I was very prepared in the sense of I have a lot of tools, like I had a lot of emotional tools from studying with Richard, the form of psychology that he wrote about in the don’t sweat, the small stuff, book series, living a very, very healthy and happy life, but not living a life that really knew how to encompass grief. So I began to just really put all those tools to work. And also I was really supported, had a lot of great friends. And I had a great community of of healers around me too. And one of the reasons why I write about loss and I have really used my story to help others is because I remember feeling so blessed that I had the support that I had and the encouragement and the community around me to help me and people like John Walsh Owens who wrote awakening from grief, or Richard’s best friends, I had great friends that knew a lot about how to grieve so they they really helped me and I thought, I don’t know how a normal average person goes through such a devastating loss without their heart just completely shutting down and stopping from heartbreak. And so I felt very compelled. As I witnessed myself go through this process of healing to journal which I find for every person is incredibly healing to journal, I started to realize I needed to empty out grief, that it was not too unlike what natural childbirth felt like to me, where those contractions of pain came in waves. But grief lasted a lot longer than, you know, six to 10 hours.

Kristine Carlson 4:49 Grief is a longer process, but very similar, very painful, but also there’s reprieves and, and there’s an opening that happens and I became very clear To me, that as I was going through this process, what I was really processing was that I was birthing a new life. And I think that’s the hardest thing, that people who lose their spouse or lose a child, which are the two most profound losses that we go through is that we realize we have to let go of the life that we have planned and let go of the life that we had, in order to step into the life that’s ahead of us and step into our future from the present moment. And that is the most difficult part is to, is to do that a lot of people understandably get stuck. Because they don’t want to do that they cannot reconcile this loss of a dream that they had for their lives, they cannot reconcile that they cannot go back. And that’s the hardest, I think that’s the hardest thing to do is in grief is allow grief to help you heal. And recognize that.

Victoria Volk 6:10
Yeah, I like to think of it as you become a version 2.0 You become a different version of yourself, and you really have a lot of choice and what that can look like. But when you’ve had a profound loss like that, which can be from a less than loving relationship to it’s the the secondary losses that often happen that kind of even impacted even more, you can lose friendships, and did you experience or can you reflect on any secondary losses that you experienced or, and then also being a parent and trying to navigate, help them navigate, especially the teen years? Helping them to try and navigate that loss for them as well, while still maintaining your own? Truth about how you are feeling? Can you speak to? There’s like three questions in there. I’m sorry.

Kristine Carlson 7:06
Yeah no no no, yeah. What What’s interesting is that, I felt like as a family, we did a dance with our grief. As a mother, I think my kids were what got me up every day, I was mostly concerned with them, that, you know, we got we were going through just incredibly painful time ourselves, but then to know our kids are longing and missing for the life they had with their father and the dreading the future moments that they won’t have him there in, in form with them. You know, not having the spiritual understanding that maybe I had to because I’ve always had this deep spiritual knowing that we don’t really die a That’s my belief is we don’t really die. And so I while I was super attached, and I wanted my husband in my bed and warming me up and the early morning hours and laughing with me and drinking coffee with me and going on hikes with me and doing all the things we did. I still knew that he was with me and my kids, though, you know, they, they felt certain times that he was with them, but they didn’t have that spiritual depth that I’d spent a lifetime building. And they were still building on that. And so I felt like sometimes I probably looked a little stoic for them. But I but I would grieve when they went to school because I didn’t want you know, for one thing, like as an adult, we have so much more control over our lives. When we have children. They’re going through very deep grief, but they they have this need for normalcy. And also they have this, they have to go back to school or they don’t have to I gave my kids the option. Right away, I immediately started to look into how I could lighten their load and give them space to grieve. I didn’t expect them to do anything that didn’t resonate with them. But my kids wanted normalcy. My daughter kind of wanted to keep playing soccer. My daughter jazz wanted to go back to school so I just did what I could to lighten their load. And then when they went to school, I fell apart and I allowed myself to fall apart. I allowed myself to go through you know deep moments of grief that was building in my body if I didn’t I could feel these feelings build in my body just this morning. You know, I woke up with a horrible stomach ache because I realized I’m having a difficult time processing. My friend Melanie, her her physical death because she doesn’t live near me and you know, we talked every couple of weeks and you know we’re close since the time are 14 years old, but I’m still having a difficult time processing it. And so I think, you know, the body has this innate intelligence. And the body will tell you, when you’re not grieving enough by how it feels, and all you have to do is tune in and say, Okay, how is my body feeling what’s going on in my body. And when I get a stomach ache, for example, I know, I’m not crying enough, I know, I’m not allowing myself to sit and really empty out tears, and be in that space. And so with kids, you know, I think it really was a dance as a family to figure out how to support them, and how to also take care of myself, because I realize now I’m the only parent, and there’s only one life vest in the sea for all three of us, and it’s me. So that’s, that’s the way I looked at it, the secondary losses, you know, I wasn’t as tuned into those I was, but I know they exist. For a lot of a lot of widows, I probably chose my friends more carefully after loss, it was interesting to the women that I spent the most time with were neat neonatal nurses in their early careers. And what that meant is they would spend a lot of time in the ICU holding babies that would potentially die. And so I found that very interesting that my friends that I felt most comfortable with, where those that could really hold me rather than trying to fix me, the ones that I felt least comfortable with, were the ones that were very uncomfortable with grief, you know, that they might come into my house and, and not be judgmental, but sort of like why why is, you know, why is kind of in her bedroom? Why don’t you get her up, you know, get her out of bed, like she needs to get out of out of bed, you know, and I’d be like, no, she needs to be where she feels safe and held and where she can comfort herself, if that’s what she wants, you know, so I was very acutely aware that as individuals, but my daughters and I, that we were there to support each other, but also to allow, you know, allow ourselves to go through our loss in our own way, because we’re very, all very unique that way. And, and so that there were times where I wouldn’t say I had a loss of a friendship because I didn’t, I really made it a point not to make definitive decisions during that first year. I just was going through

Kristine Carlson 12:45 intuitively, my process of what I felt I needed every moment. And, and again, I liken it to childbirth, especially national natural childbirth, because you’ve never, you see women in natural childbirth, and they know exactly what they need, like, there’s no doubt in their minds what they need the next. And it’s like that when you’re dealing with a loss and you’re in grief is if you’re tuned in, and you’re very present to what you need, you know what you need and, and I would just constantly do that for myself and give myself that gift, even if I had a dental appointment. And, and I you know, I remember one time I just called it i There’s just no way I could sit in the dental chair that day, I was in grief. And I just call this I’m very sorry, I cannot make it today I’m in grief. And, and I would just say that and, and it felt so good to take care of myself in those moments, where I would just know that this is what I needed to do with stay home,

Victoria Volk 13:49
You make a very clear distinction there in in what you prioritized was your what you needed. giving, giving yourself permission to do that. And I think so often in when we want to people, please we dishonor our own needs to please others. And so I’m curious how that sense of knowing or, you know, because so many, I think I mean, I can speak to me personally, it took me a very long time to really understand intuition and tap into my own intuition. Was that something that’s always been something you embraced? Or was that something that you grew into over time? Or?

Kristine Carlson 14:33
Well, I think you know, having been a writer and having been a leader in the personal growth world helped a lot because of course I’d evaluated what intuition was. And I mean, Richard and I started meditating when we were very young. I was 20 years old when I started meditating. So meditation is such an incredible tool for grounding for centering for knowing yourself for being able to witness and be mindful of so many things. And so when I, when I, when I say really did have tools, I really did have tools. I, you know, the other thing is, you know, I’m very attuned to fear to and what fear means. And so for me, I immediately noticed that without Richard present, I was afraid and because, you know, there’s this sense of protection that comes from your husband, and from having a man in the home. And, and I thought that was really wow, I’m like, I haven’t felt fear in like, 25 years. And now I feel fear. So it’s very tuned into that. What, what that felt like, and also, I would go to what I know about fear, and I would say, well, if it’s emotional fear, then, you know, I needed to breathe into it. And I just needed to allow it to, you know, dissipate in the moment, like, go to the present moment, breathe into it. And then also, fears of my future I would lean into, I would say, the fear of the future is something that indicates where you need to go, not where you need to back away from, which is also very unusual. So I remember, for example, Richards, Assistant, early assistant, was best assistant, Nicole had asked me, if I would marry she and her husband, and it was four months after Richard died. And I, because she would have asked Richard to marry them. And she said, then it suddenly occurred to me, I should ask you, Chris, and I mean, I really didn’t want to I mean, I can you imagine I was like, Oh, my God, how could I do that? It’s, I’m in such raw grief. I and I thought that’s just the worst thing in the whole world I could think of is setting a new couple out on their marriage, while mine is just ended, through loss, you know, and, but but because of that, I felt this push in a way to lean into that and say, Yes, because I knew that my ego, which was very low, was was telling me no, don’t go toward that. That’s scary. That’s, you know, putting yourself out there, you know, in a way that’s very vulnerable. And, but that there was something inside me that’s that pushed forward and said, Yes, I’ll do that. And so I did that. And I looked at it, like everything I did like that, because we had, of course, that first year is really, I mean, it’s brutal with all those firsts that you have. And then, you know, topple that with, I had jazz graduating from high school. I had, you know, can I was a freshman. I mean, so there was all the graduation there was like, you know, prom for jazz, there was, you know, all these things. Rich’s birthday, it all kind of came back to back and then that wedding came to and I just kind of have this time period where it was just I was being pounded in a way but I looked at that, like, I looked at that, like every trigger that happened, allowed me to empty more and more and more and, and then I just knew intuitively that as my grief emptied, I was opening myself up for something more joyful, and bigger. Of course, I didn’t know it in that moment, I was still very, very sad and very full of sorrow. But I kept going to that quote from Cahill Gebran, in the profit that says, Your greatest joy is your sorrow unmasked. And so I thought to myself, Wow, well, if that’s true, I’m gonna have a lot of joy. Love, joy is coming my way, because I have a great sorrow happening right now.

Kristine Carlson 19:05 I think that’s what it feels like you’re going through the dark night of the soul. And we and it’s a journey through and it feels really icky and feels like it’s never going to end. And then I tell people like something somebody told me, who was ahead of me by four years, she said, You know what, one day you’re gonna wake up and you’re just gonna feel different. And sure enough, one day about, you know, two years, two and a half, three years in, I woke up on Richard’s side of the bed. I come in and I’ve never slept on his side of the bed. And I don’t even remember getting my clothes off and getting into bed on his side, but I had when I woke up in the morning, I felt different. I wasn’t completely out of grief because I was still, you know, I would still cry still feel sad when big momentous occasions came like grandchildren that were born. and weddings that happen. Those kinds of things. I mean, Richard’s birthday, the anniversary time, there were times where I still was in grief. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the dark night of the soul grief, it was manageable grief, it was, it was these times that would be triggers that I would just feel sad. And then I would be, I’d pop back out again, pretty quickly. So. And I think that’s the other thing, if we just don’t resist our feelings so much, you know, if we don’t resist those moments, as painful as they can be that they will pass and they will turn into something else, because that’s what our emotions do. We, our emotions are like the weather, it’s like, they go up and down and up and down. And I think the fear for everyone a great fear is that if they allow themselves, their emotion, if they allow themselves, their sadness, they’ll be like, sucked down underneath a whirlpool of sadness, and they’ll never come out. Whereas it’s really not like that, yeah, you’re sucked down for a moment that you come up just in time to get the next breath. And you always will. Because that’s what we do as human beings, we survive. And that’s what we do. And we are very, very knowledgeable about how to survive. You look at infants, they know how to survive. And as adults, we get in our own way, so much of the time, because of what we think we should do, or how we think we should do it, or what people tell us how to do it, you know, whereas if we just check in with ourselves and say, What do I need today? What is it that my body needs? What is it my spirit needs, what do I need today, and that is at the very core of mindfulness is to really acknowledge and with intent, acknowledge what it is you’re feeling on the inside. And then allow yourself to be in the present moment with that. That’s a very different kind of experience than what we’re taught about how to go through grief or how to busy ourselves, or let’s just get busy. So you don’t think about it. But that’s just not that’s not a possibility when you’re missing, and longing for somebody in your household.

Victoria Volk 22:18
That is one of the myths of grief is keep busy. Sure. Every recovery. Yeah, I have a few things I want to like, just reflect back because one, I just want to share again, reiterate that, did you intentionally give yourself a year to make no big decisions was that like something you consciously like a conscious decision, or that’s just how things unfolded?

Kristine Carlson 22:42
I did. I just sort of knew based on just talking to people like and feeling like I knew that the first year was going to be so raw, and that my mind, you know, I mean, you’ve got a lot of fog, like brain fog, and you’re just, you know, I just, you’re just not yourself in any capacity that first year or so I just didn’t think like, it was the time to make any decisions that didn’t need to be made. Now that said, I mean, there’s still decisions you have to make on daily basis, especially when you have children. And, and I of course, did those. So, you know, I did what I had to do, but not more than I had to do. And, you know, it’s just really trying to survive like anyone else. It’s, it’s really is just survival every time I would go in and change something or go in and write down on a social security document surviving spouse in my head, I’d be like, Jesus, you’re not kidding. surviving spouse. That’s that. And I never had thought about it like that. I just wouldn’t have known to think about it like that. But yeah, you know, you it’s just such a huge, you’re surviving for a while. And so you have to give yourself that space, just survive, and and to do to take care of yourself in a way, whatever way that is, without rules without shoulds and, and have tos and just be in a space of what do I need today? What do I need to survive this? How do I get through this day

Victoria Volk 24:10
So that eventually you can write thriving?

Kristine Carlson 24:14
Right, exactly.

Victoria Volk 24:16
So you mentioned how we’re not really taught how to grieve as kids and I would wholeheartedly agree unless it’s been emulated in a healthy way from our parents, right? Because those beliefs and those things are passed down to us. Can you touch on that a little bit? How grief was emulated for you growing up?

Kristine Carlson 24:34
Well, I I didn’t really have em grief emulated for me growing up because I mean, my parents had normal losses, you know, they had like their parents passed away when I was, you know, growing up and so forth. And, of course, they cried and, and they were sad and but I can’t say that’s really where I learned how to grieve. I mean, I come from a very, kind of a very stoic quick background actually, Swedish background you know, Swedes are very known for stiff upper lip. And German. Yeah. And also the German I have German me as well. So very German matriarch mother, and, you know, so I’m not sure that emotions were really like, well emulated for me, but again, I’ll I’ll say that my work with people like rich and avant Dutra St. John of challenge day, I was sat on their board for several years, and I went to all their workshops, you know, I did shadow process with Debbie Ford, I spent most of my adult life either writing about or doing personal growth workshops myself. So I mean, I knew how to sit on the ground and scream, you know, but this time, I really had something to cry about. So I remember, you know, I didn’t know how to cry when before I was in grief, I used to think in my head, wow, if I can’t be happy, nobody can because I had everything. And then after Richard died, I was like, Well, I know how to cry. I really, really know how to cry. Now. I think that’s a beautiful thing is to learn how to be in the emotions that you’re in without resistance, I do believe we have a choice and how we journey through our losses. And I certainly knew that I did not want to be a victim of my circumstances. I knew that wasn’t the way that said, did I feel some self pity? Of course, I felt self pity. Sometimes I missed my husband, I would say why did this happen to us all the questions that everyone asks, Why me? Why him? Why now? And then there are certain answers that will never come. And you have to just accept that those are the questions that you may always have, and they will not have complete answers to them. Because the life that we have is very mysterious. And that’s the mystery is, we don’t know when we’re gonna die, you know, we don’t know when our last moment will be. What I love so much about the way Richard lived was that he lived as if he could die at any moment. And he actually like left this column around our house, which is if tomorrow never comes, I published it in a little book called an hour to live in our to love. But he left this poem around the house. And, and it was really essentially, it’s it was it was in honor of 911 for those people that went out the door and went to work that day, and then never returned, you know, and that that could happen to any of us at any time. So, you know, I? Well, Richard wasn’t ill, I think he had a sense that his clock was shortening, that his time here on Earth was not going to be long, long time. Maybe he was being called to greater service from the other side. I don’t I don’t know, I sense that I sense that he’s not been in a rest in peace mission. I sense that he was called back home. And early, you know, early, you know, I think about like that there’s always a message in the mess, you know, that, you know, I would not necessarily have discovered my own message in the mass, nor that I was a leader in the personal transformational field, if my husband was alive. And that’s not to say that I wouldn’t have but I’m, I’m it was like a very direct conduit for me, because I am a writer to have this gift from him of expression, and to have this gift of understanding and compassion for other people and deep empathy for people who are going through loss. And I’m just one that I don’t know that I would have that sense of deep compassion. Of course, I felt compassion for people going through loss, but not to the point at which I know how devastating it is, you know, until you go through it yourself, I don’t think you really can know how truly devastating that kind of loss is,

Victoria Volk 29:13
Well we can’t know how it is for anyone really, regardless of the loss because every relationship is unique. Even people in the same household, you know, their, their relationship is unique to them, even with your daughters. Each one of them had a different relationship with their father. And that’s why we all grieve differently, because our relationships are different. So our process reflects that oftentimes, we can have one child that might be very angry and resentful, and all these things because maybe there was conflict in the relationship and maybe the other one was felt really loved and held and supported. And you know, I’m curious, have you felt signs or things that throughout the years that you know that he that You feel his presence?

Kristine Carlson 30:01
Oh, yeah, I mean, I have to say more. So in the very beginning and the first couple of years, I just felt like he was all around us. I mean, we had some pretty wild science actually, like he was, I was like, well, he really knows how to do a lot of light, a lot of light, leaving balls of light flashing around the house, like just a lot of lights flashing, even today, like all I know, is always around when the lights are flickering and flashing. And then as I have to send sometimes just walking across the street, that he’s with me, like, almost like he’s holding me as I walk across the street. Yeah, yeah. And I, you know, I, I’m one that has a lot of conversations with him daily. So I, I think that we can keep our love alive, and also keep that relationship alive the same way we would in life. But we have to be the ones to open the door and ask and to, and to just keep talking, you know, either via our thinking, or via our words to our loved one, and, and just saying, Good morning, and I love you and, and, you know, thank you for being present. And all of those things, you know that I’ve always said that we don’t move on. From those we love, we just move forward carrying them with us. And we don’t have to move on. And that’s one of the great other great myths of griefs, you tell people, they have to move on. And that’s like, you’re going to hit a wall, nobody wants to move on. Like, they don’t want to do that. So instead, just think of it like, you’re living for both of you, now you’re moving forward carrying that person with you. And that when you speak of them, you look at a sunset and you think of them, they’re with you and they’re feeling the same thing. They’re seeing the sunset with you, through your eyes, through your feelings through you’re bringing them into the present moment with you.

Victoria Volk 31:58
I’m a grief recovery specialist, but in Grief Recovery, it’s about moving on from the pain. Yeah, you know, like you’ve expressed it’s, it’s not like after two and a half years or so it was for you that you know that pain or those feelings you felt weren’t debilitating, like they were, you know, wouldn’t take you down for days or hours or, you know, like they used to or maybe even weeks.

Kristine Carlson 32:22
Yeah, maybe that’s what I’m experiencing now with Melanie’s I’m having a hard time going back to the pain. You know, like, because I moved, you know, I think that we do that we we want to be out of pain. And and then I think it’s, it’s, it’s hard to go back into that again.

Victoria Volk 32:42
So curious also to have you found love again. Do you want to find love again? If you haven’t,

Kristine Carlson 32:49
I found love again, for sure. Not in the same sense of the love of partnership that I had with my husband? Yeah, I think we’re like, you know, we’re creatures that are meant to explore love and explore relationship. And I’ve had many relationships since my husband say last about two to four, one last one lasted a long time as a different kind of relationship. Fact, I’m still in relationship with him. It’s just not a physical relationship. It’s a we’re very spiritually soul connected. But I dated him for many, many, many years. And then he was my transitional person. He was the person that helped me and the worst part of my grief. And yeah, but I you know, it’s weird because I have always had this sense that Richard was my person, like, my person to partner with. And in many ways, I’m still partnering with him today. So I look at it more like what is it that I need as a woman? And what are my emotional needs and then I if I need a man that I feel is a good man when that I’m attracted to one that I feel I can have a connection with and I’m willing to explore that I’m very open to exploring that but then a lot of times it just doesn’t something peters out or you know, I have a very fulfilling fulfilled life and very full life with my career with my five grandkids now I’ve got a couple houses that I maintain and visit and and I’ve got aging parents so I’m in that sandwich generation where I needed by my daughters and I needed by my parents so and then I have a lot of friends I have a lot of single women friends that I hang out with I lead retreats for women all over the world. I have, you know, I’m I’m with people a lot so my needs are lower, and if it doesn’t, it’s I start to realize that if I’m not really nourished in the relationship, or it’s just sort of like companionship, I Do you have to think well, would I rather be with my girlfriend on a Friday night? Or do I want to be with him? And then if it’s the girlfriend wins, I know I’m in the wrong relationship.

Victoria Volk 35:09
Hey, there you go, that’s a great tip.

Kristine Carlson 35:12
I’m like, okay, if I’m not missing him, he’s a great guy. He’s just not mine guy. You know? And, and so the answer to that is very loaded. It’s, I’m very open to meeting men and to exploring was a really, really high quality good man. And I’m very specific about that, what I how I define that for myself. And a lot of it is just, I’m looking for a man that has a wide range of emotion, who has a depth to him who’s passionate about his work, who has, you know, created a good, solid, complete life for himself. And that’s what I have. So I’m looking for somebody like that, you know, and I meet men like that, but then there might be a couple things that are off, you know, so over a period of two years, usually takes about two years. And I’m like, Okay, this is run its course. You know, what it’s done about life? You know, it’s kind of it’s really not about life. It’s, it’s, it’s a little bit hard on the heart, because you have to kind of, you know, I don’t like to hurt people, and I hate breakups. I hate going through. I’m terrible at breakups. I’m awful at them. And so I kind of always just hope, oh, hope this just fizzles out, you know. So there’s so that we can be friends without it, you know. So when it becomes very obvious to both people, then you usually can part with friendship, and, and it’s like, I really love you. I think you’re amazing. And we’re not moving forward. So let’s, you know, let’s put the brakes on where we’re at. And let’s regroup. You know, and that’s usually what happens for me, as I do that, with most of the men that I’ve dated, kind of on the more serious side,

Victoria Volk 36:57
Is this something that you address and kind of help women navigate with at your retreats and things like that?

Kristine Carlson 37:02
It is yeah, we do. We talk a lot about what it means to be single Love, the stories come out, it’s a lot more fun than my work. Like, I don’t go into that so much of my work. But yeah, just being single is it’s a great topic for women on retreat, especially women that most of the women that come on my retreats are either in a long marriage, and they’re just yearning for, you know, female company, or they’re single, widowed, divorced, you know, and in that place of wondering, like, how do I navigate this? And, yeah, I would love to write a book about that at some point, just because it is, it is such a, it’s murky water for most people. And, and it doesn’t have to be, you know, you can put some clear boundaries on how you do it as an adult woman, you know, and how, and move through it pretty, you know, it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

Victoria Volk 38:02
I know, society has a lot of opinions about women and remarriage and, and all of that, and, you know, too soon and not too soon, and why are you waiting, and you know, all these things on and out

Kristine Carlson 38:18
Really honest, they they take a lover pretty early, because it’s an alive experience, and they’re looking to live. So I especially, you know, kind of depends on I think when you’re widowed to like, if you’re younger or older, you know what I mean? Like, because if you’re younger, your hormones are raging, and then a lot of times grief and post traumatic stress can make your hormones rage even more. So you have to take that into consideration. You know, I mean, it’s, it’s so when you’re in your, you know, like where I’m at now I’m in my late 50s I don’t you know, I’m like sex. I’m like, I like it, it’s great, but I don’t have to have it like I did when I was in my early 40s. I mean, that was a horrible time for my husband to die. I was basically in the peak of my sexual hurrah, you know, and I’m like, I need to have sex. So the, but the other part about that is just learning as a woman how to be comfortable with your own body, you know, and, and taking care of yourself that way. And, you know, again, like, there are these society rules and expectations, but I think I think that people know, that we have needs, you know, I definitely felt my husband pushing on me to have a lover if that’s what I needed, because I needed to live and, and again, I’ll just reiterate, sex is a very alive, very engaging part of life and so it’s okay. If you’re a widow to find a safe, a safe companion lover if that’s what you need, you know, it’s okay. Hey, now that said, I mean you’re very raw and open, and you have to be careful because, you know, you don’t want to just, you don’t want to just fill that hole with something just to fill it. I mean, I would I mean, whole i That sounded really terrible. I mean, that way I read the whole of loss. So oh my god that’s really love this conversation. Whoa, sorry about that did not mean it like that. But anyways, you just don’t want to bring place the loss, yeah, replace a loss or try to replace that because that again is not going to allow for your grieving process to really happen. But Can somebody hold you in grief? Yes, absolutely. And then maybe you just don’t put expectation on that being the relationship that is gonna replace the one that you lost, you just you allow that to be the kind of relationship that it is, I think that’s the hard part for women is that we get very attached, and especially to those relationships where it has a sexual connection, we can’t help ourselves, it’s just what we do, because it’s a different experience having sex for a man and a woman. You know, he enters you and penetrates you, and then he leaves and you know, and he’s entered you and penetrated to so there’s a totally different experience for a woman that way. And that’s why the attachment is so much greater. So we have to be careful with our emotions and our feelings. And probably for a lot of women, the first year is probably not a good time to take on a lover for that reason, because you are so raw and open and vulnerable.

Victoria Volk 41:43
I’m glad you circled back to that, because I was actually going to say that I think there’s a lot that you could unpack there in your work with women because you didn’t have the tools like you did. And you weren’t as tapped into your own intuition and your own knowing and really did feel like I don’t know what I need. Because I didn’t, maybe perhaps they got into that relationship of the person they lost. Maybe they got into that relationship. And maybe that person was someone who was filling something up for them that they did not fill within themselves. Oh, yeah. So that piece is gone. And now they don’t even know who they are.

Kristine Carlson 42:20
Well, that is so true. And I don’t think we do know who we are after the loss of a long term. Partner. I mean, I knew I didn’t I was I kind of got dropped back to being that 19 year old girl that I was when I met him. And so a lot of the fears, the insecurities I felt, were masked. And I think that happens in our relationship, it masks a lot of the things that we may have thought up until that time. Now that said, you kind of go through an accelerated growth process pretty quick if you’re if you’re open to it. And you know that and you start to realize, Oh, these are old fears, these are these are old fears resurfacing, because he’s not here, he’s not masking them anymore. There’s like not there’s it was like the paper was just over it. And now the papers ripped off. And now those those qualities and attributes are present again. But I think if you realize that, then you can you can address them, acknowledge them. And, and look at that, for what it is. It’s just, it’s just fear, you know, it’s just emotional fear. I have a program called what now and I, I love this program, because I actually designed it for women and for women who are really trying to retrieve themselves because they don’t We don’t know who we are, after we go through any kind of loss of our identity. And let’s face it, I mean, loss of a spouse is loss of an identity, because you are no longer that married woman, and you’re no longer partnered. And that’s a huge identity crisis that women go through, of course, so they can happen the same. through divorce, it can happen. When women go through the empty nest, some women go through incredible loss when their kids are finally out of the house because they don’t know who they are anymore because they were a mom, and they were so identified with that. So so there is this whole process that you need to redefine what it is you value at this point in your life, you know, what is it that you value is a huge question. And then how can you align your actions with what it is you value because that’s what integrity is. That’s what self integrity is, is aligning our actions with what matters in our heart. And that just takes an inquiry, you know, that takes the sole work of really going inside and asking those questions of yourself because we do all have the answers. We all have the answers whether or not we’re honest with ourselves or not. That’s that’s another thing and that’s on each of us to be honest and in integrity with ourselves. And so, you know, my webinar program talks a lot about all of these things, intention, integrity, what we value, how to get back to what we value, how to align our actions with our values, and it’s so important for the whole journey of life, you know, if you want to get back to living a vibrant life, you’ve got to begin to see yourself in life and begin to visualize a new dream for your life. And that’s hard. It took me years to do that I could not ever dream of what my life would be like, without my husband in it. And then suddenly I started to, I was able to start to see things and create goals for myself and, and look at the things I wanted to do. And you know, and I filled my life up with meaningful things, you know, because I did value spending time with women I value travel as value helping others and serving others. So I write books, I do all these different things that honor my purpose here.

Victoria Volk 46:01
That’s huge. When we honor our own values. Yeah, there it is. So let’s talk about your work. The retreats, the book, the movie, lifetime movie that came out.

Kristine Carlson 46:12
Yeah, thank you. Um, well, my book heartbroken, open. A true story of coming alive again, after profound loss was actually my book, heartbroken open a memoir, through loss to self discovery that I wrote two years after my husband died. And it really came right out of my journal from those first two years. So I got the rights back a couple years after I published it, because they asked me to write a how to grieve book and I was like, well, this isn’t that this is a memoir. So I wasn’t ready to write a how to grieve book, my how to grieve book is called from heartbreak to wholeness, the hero’s journey to joy. And it has a lot of the things that we talked about just a moment ago about really going into the sole inquiry of who you are now, after this profound change that you’ve gone through whether it be a health crisis or a huge loss. And so those two books are my, my contribution, you know, to the grieving and the wholeness, you know, how to how to heal from grief. And then I have programs to 21 days of healing or grieving with grace with Christine Carlson. That’s a program I just designed so that you could get a video of me in your inbox every day talking about how to inspire yourself today and how to heal and grieve with grace that and then there’s a journal that goes with that. And that’s only $21 $1 a day for 21 days. So that’s on my website at Christine carlson.com. And then I have retreats, I have the wet now program on retreat, which is really my my favorite of all my work that I do. It’s, it’s what I call my great work, because I feel that’s where I make the most difference in women’s lives is really helping them in that rediscovery process, and how to inspire them to dream a new dream for their lives. And then the retreats are just a blast. I mean, they really are just a huge celebration of life. I mean, I do my retreat, my webinar retreat is at Sea Ranch, California. And I do an Italy retreat, and I do I’ve done Bali, and I probably do Morocco, but you know, I’m really like, love to travel and create amazing experiences for women to travel together and have a bit of a transformational personal growth process in that that deep connection, like very deep connection with women and circle together. So yeah, that’s my work.

Victoria Volk 48:48
Can I ask what your promises like when people come to your retreat, how they come and how they leave? What are some things that people have said,

Kristine Carlson 48:56
Yeah I mean, my promise is that I’m going to be present for them and I’m going to facilitate an amazing container for them to experience pretty much all of it you know, deep connection, joy, whatever emotions come up on that retreat, but they’re with a like minded group of women. I interview every woman that comes on a retreat. So I you know, I’ve definitely turned some women and said to them that I don’t think this is the right retreat for you when I feel like it’s just not the right fit. And my retreats are small, they’re intimate, they’re going to have a great time. I mean, honestly, like I travel in a lot of styles, so I only go to really cool places and really beautiful places. And so that’s my promise for my retreats. And then it was it was really exciting year because lifetime did come out with a movie based on heartbroken open and it’s the don’t sweat the small stuff story because again, like I really wrote books in that brand as well. I’ve don’t sweat the small stuff for women. Don’t sweat the small stuff in love. And don’t sweat the small stuff for mom. So I, I wrote three books in that series. And there’s nine books in the series. And it’s just it was beautiful. It was interesting. It’s, it happened at the 14th year of grief, that’s kind of a pivotal time for a lot of widows. I didn’t intend it for it to happen, then it just did. And I think that the story is really beautifully done so that it’s inspirational. It’s, it’s a sad story, but it’s inspirational for people and meant to be that during these times where we’ve gone through so much loss due to COVID. And due to the state of the world, really, I mean, I mean, the world is is a lot of turmoil right now. So I think stories like this are very powerful and and we have such an amazing love story where that is very present in that movie.

Victoria Volk 50:49
Can I ask what you why you think the 14 years? Is it just like the seven year cycle idea?

Kristine Carlson 50:55
Yeah, I just heard research, modern widows Club does a lot of research on widows. And they they say that there’s something something that happens for widow, she she enters into a different phase of her journey after 14 years, feels more complete. And I started to feel very completed 10. But now I’m in past that four years. So I’m really I’m living in a lot more service. Now. My work is getting more and more about serving others. And in that sense of in a in a bigger way. You know, I think that’s why the movie happened is I was ready for it. I was maybe my kids weren’t but they were like kind of like, wow, really okay. But they were very supportive. But it was it was a little hard, harder for them than I thought it would be. They’re grown women now. They’re, they’re 30 and 32. But it still was a difficult time in our lives for them to revisit that the movie is beautiful. And they acknowledge that it’s a beautiful movie. And they were both portrayed very beautifully. So they you know, it wasn’t as messy in the movie as it actually it was in life. Somebody asked me, they said, Well, was it hard to watch and go? No, it was really hard to live through. It wasn’t as hard to watch.

Victoria Volk 52:09
Yeah, that’s, that would be a good point to make.

Kristine Carlson 52:13
Really hard to live for, though.

Victoria Volk 52:16
Well, thank you so much for sharing all that you’ve shared today. I do want to be mindful of your time. But is there anything you would like to leave the listeners with today, a tip or piece of advice, or what grief has taught you maybe kind of a little bit of all of that. I mean, you’ve shared a lot of great advice and tips. But

Kristine Carlson 52:32
I would just say that when you’re in grief, I know it’s so hard, and it’s so painful. But I also remind you that you’re in very fertile ground, for the ground for your growth, and who you become and how you become after your loss. And just to be aware that this is a time where everything is going to be in a heightened awareness if you’re open, and you have the opportunity in grief to become a better person than you were before grief. And I always say like when we’re in grief and loss, and we’re living the big stuff, we’re definitely not sweating, the small stuff. You know, small stuff isn’t even on our radar, and you have an opportunity to really know yourself, to really know yourself that one of the things my husband said a lot was that the circumstances of life, don’t make or break you, but they will reveal you. And so how you are in this process is being revealed to you is who you really are. And that’s a person that’s growing. And so be compassionate, be gentle. Be kind to yourself during this process. It’s a hard process, but you will if you take your steps forward, every day, you will heal, and you will move into a feeling of wholeness and joy again, I promise you that. But you do have to allow yourself to heal. That’s the main, the main thing.

Victoria Volk 54:07
And you believe that is possible healing is possible.

Kristine Carlson 54:10
Absolutely. I believe that it absolutely we are geared toward healing that we can get in our own way. But if we surrender to the process, we’re going to receive all that we need and we’re going to receive it with grace. But the surrender piece is huge. You have to surrender to the process.

Victoria Volk 54:29
So it gives you the most hope for the future. Your future.

Kristine Carlson 54:33
I think just when I wake up and I’m just feeling so full of joy, for the most part, except for like this morning when I woke up was that was super joyful, but I feel joy now so you know, I just do my best to stay grounded and peaceful and in my own lane and help others and I think what what I love so much about life is that there’s A sense of community that you can draw on for support and that you can offer yourself to. And. And yeah, I think that’s what gives me hope is that there’s a lot of really good people in this world. And it doesn’t really matter. Like, if you’re Democrat or Republican, you know, you’re a good person, if you’re a good person, you’re entitled to your belief, whatever they are. And I think that people, we need to hold on to, you know, the values that make us good people. And that’s kindness, that’s compassion. It’s doing random acts of kindness every day for somebody else without receiving anything. It’s that kind of stuff. And I think there’s a lot of people like that still left in the world. And I and I hope to inspire more people to be like that.

Victoria Volk 55:46
I do want to give you an opportunity, if you do have a little bit of time, like, yeah, so you shared a lot about Richard and, and really just the essence of who he was. And I want to give you an opportunity to to share the essence of your friend, and what maybe she has taught you.

Kristine Carlson 56:01
Oh, well, it’s gonna make me cry. Oh, my God. No, me was an is the sweetest human, just a wonderful, wonderful woman, you know, add courage and grace and beauty and kindness. And she was really, somebody I always admired and looked up to, she was just a year, year and a half, two years older than me, but I always looked up to her. And what I’m gonna miss so much about her is that just having her in my corner here, knowing that she was, you know, like a godmother to my children and in my corner, and somebody that I would also grow old with beautiful, beautiful soul. And I know she’s, well I know, she’s at peace. I feel it. But I’m just gonna miss growing old with her and laughing with her. We were very much alike in a lot of ways. We both would laugh when we get together because we like looking at each other and, and even our laugh was very similar. And we just, we just, we would just melt into each other. And I’m going to miss that beautiful reflection that that she was of a real soul sister.

Victoria Volk 57:16
Thank you for sharing it.

Kristine Carlson 57:19
That’s great. You helped me access my pain. Thank you very. Thank you for that. No, I’m glad I needed to. I needed to go there. So it’s good. Maybe it can stay there a little while longer today.

Victoria Volk 57:31
You’re welcome. I have some soul sister friends and I, you never imagined that you would grow old with them. So my heart goes out to you.

Kristine Carlson 57:40
Thank you. She’s with Richard. I’m a little jealous about. Love her. Thank you very much for asking.

Victoria Volk 57:53
You’re welcome. We have a lot of love around you. I imagine some. Thank you. Thank you. That’ll get you through anything else you’d like to share?

Kristine Carlson 58:01
No, I feel very complete. Thank you so much for doing this podcast. I can see it’s going to be a great service to others. I can’t wait to share it with my community as well. So thank you, Victoria. You have a wonderful demeanor and presence. And now I’m sure you’re doing beautiful work with people. So lucky to have you.

Victoria Volk 58:18
Thank you. Thank you for that. And thank you for your time today and for sharing. Also, of course. And remember when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love


Ep 70 | Scott Mann

Scott Mann | Retired Green Beret on Leadership, Afghanistan, and Grief


  • What do Green Beret special forces do and how do they differ from other special forces?
  • What qualities make a leader?
  • How can everyday people become a leader in their own life?
  • What, in leadership, breaks his heart?
  • How does Scott feel about the pullout in Afghanistan, having worked directly with the Afghans for several years?
  • What is Scott’s take on grief and suicide prevention in the military?

Scott and I address these questions and more. He also opens up about the moment he planned to take his own life.

Grief has shaped Scott into a leader that is not only one of skill and mastery but also one of emotional intelligence. Grief has so much to teach us, as Scott Shares, and it is possible to find a path to leading a life of purpose through the pain.

Listen to Scott’s journey of leaving tracks and hear the possibilities that could also be there for you in your life.



Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today my guest is Scott man. He spent 23 years in the United States Army 18 of that as a Greenbrae, where he specialized in unconventional, high impact missions where he forged bonds and solve problems using values and leadership skills that moved people around the world to stand up for themselves. Since retiring Scott now teaches the same skills and communities and businesses where trusted leadership is more valuable and more vulnerable than ever, empowering local leaders to restore trust and create human connections in places where it doesn’t seem possible. He has appeared on CNN, Bloomberg, Fox and Friends Fox Business News, Newsmax and dozens of syndicated radio shows including National Public Radio, Wall Street Journal radio, Fox News Radio and the Jim Bohannan show. His op eds have appeared in the Tampa Tribune, Washington Post and small worlds journal. And he is a high performance breath coach, also certified by Dr. Belissa. Branchenet

Victoria Volk 1:05 Did I say that right?

Victoria Volk 1:06 Got it right. All right. Thank you so much. That’s quite the quite the resume

Scott Mann 1:12
That 50 Cent’s will get me a cup of coffee.

Victoria Volk 1:14
Thank you for bringing your wisdom to my listeners. I’m been really excited about this conversation, especially in light of what’s obviously been happening in Afghanistan. And I know that’s a lot of your experience. But I do want to start at the beginning. Because I’m really curious about you as a person. Did you always feel like a leader?

Scott Mann 1:39
Oh I feel I didn’t always feel like a leader. In fact, I often don’t including right now, I often felt like I should be leading. You know, I felt like I should be playing a bigger game like there that I should did, I should try and lead. And that was there was always kind of a, an urge for that or a drive for that. But then it was quickly followed by the reluctance of should I actually be doing this? Am I the right person, all of those negative head chatter things that we feel when we do step into the arena and actually try to do it?

Victoria Volk 2:13
Did you have leadership emulated for you as a child as you did?

Scott Mann 2:17
I did. Yeah. That’s one thing that I was truly blessed with. I was surrounded by by leaders. My father would worked in the US Forest Service for 42 years. He he fought big, wildland fires and very humble man from Appalachia, but yet great leader. And same with my mom, you know, she was a civil servant. She was a public school teacher, her entire life. And you know, she emulated leadership for me every day at my school. I mean, she was one of my teachers in a very, very small school. So and and, frankly, in that small school, in that small town in that little logging town in Arkansas, great leaders in my school system and in my community. So I had the opportunities to just see a lot of really, really fine leadership on display all the time. Didn’t have to look far to get examples of what it looked like.

Victoria Volk 3:07
Did you always know you wanted to be in the military?

Scott Mann 3:11
From a very early age. Yes, I wanted 14 years old was when I started to really move that direction. I happen to meet a Green Beret named Mark who came into our soda shop when I was sitting in there one day and it was a transfer transformative event. It really he sat down with me and talk to me about special forces or the Green Berets and what how they work by with and through other people how they work with indigenous cultures. And that’s very different than the seals and the Rangers in that Green Berets are relationship based connectors. There. There’s a degree of lethality in what they do. But it’s it’s typically to work by with and through indigenous people and help them stand up and fight back. And and that really appealed to me. I think it was because I was such a runt as a kid. I was very, you know, I was very small kid. Even though I felt like I should lead I seldom felt like I had what it took always on the outside looking in. So that was a very appealing thing to me. You know the whole do oppressor live bear slogan of the Special Forces forces which means to free the oppressed. I just I obsessed over it. And from that point at 14, I just that’s all I ever wanted to do.

Victoria Volk 4:26
And you did it.

Scott Mann 4:27
Yeah Yeah In fact, I told him I have three sons, Cody Cooper and Braden. And they were at my retirement sitting next to my wife after almost 23 years and I told them I said, you know, the one of the best things is that I get to look at you guys and say that I actually did what I dreamed of since I was a kid and it was better than I thought I would be. It would be when I was a kid and and that’s, that’s a great thing to be able to tell your children.

Victoria Volk 4:51
I just got goose bumps. That is that is I love that. Have any of your children I don’t know if they’re older they can enlist Are they about it or have it?

Scott Mann 5:02
So we have three like I said three boys. We just became empty nesters a couple of weeks ago, right as the whole Afghanistan crisis developed, so we haven’t really had the opportunity to chase each other around the house fully yet, but we, that’s on the docket. But you know our boys, Cody is the oldest and he’s an infantry lieutenant in the army. Now he’s a platoon leader. My middle son Cooper is a junior in college and is pursuing an FBI internship. And my youngest son Brayden is a recently graduated senior, and he wants to play for the Yankees. So we’ll, we’ll see how.

Victoria Volk 5:36
Wow that’s awesome Um, so in your mind, what makes a leader

Scott Mann 5:47
I think a leader, you know that my vision of leadership is what I call rooftop leadership. And it’s a rooftop leaders, rooftop leader, that’s the type of leader that I saw on display in Afghanistan, all the time, in my final tour, where these Green Berets would go into these villages, these little teams of 12, in villages that had been through severe, persistent fear, uncertain uncertainty and prolonged isolation, 40 years of conflict and escapable shock. And they would work with these local communities. And whenever an attack on the village, they would live right there, they live locally, whenever an attack would come, they would go up on the rooftop, the team would have the house they were staying, and then they would fight back in the village would do nothing, they would stay below and just hide. And you know, so when risk was high, they would go up to that rooftop and they would make a stand. And then when when it was over, they would come back down. And they would spend the next day out in the fields working alongside the Afghans. They would sit with them and tribal churros drink tea, build relationships. And so they were building trust when risk was low until eventually, you know, one by one, those farmers went up on their houses and fought back. And that approach to roof leadership that I call rooftop leadership, that ability to inspire people to stand up on their own. You know, that’s what a leader is, to me, a rooftop leader is someone who has like a crystal clear vision of a better world. And even if it doesn’t exist yet, and they have these dynamic interpersonal skills that inspire other people to help them build that world. And when things get hard, that leader goes to the rooftop, even when nobody follows them, and stands up for it. And that’s to me in this day and age. That’s what we need more than ever.

Victoria Volk 7:32
And you have a TED talk about this, right?

Scott Mann 7:35
I do. Yeah, I did. I’ve done a couple of TED Talks. The first one I did was in Santa Barbara. I believe it was I want to say it was like 2017. I’m not certain but it is on rooftop leadership. And and that approach, it’s evolved a lot for me since then, and I think as it should for everybody. But yeah, yeah, it’s I encourage people to watch it, because I think it gives a perspective on it. Because the good news about that kind of leadership, Victoria is that it’s for everybody, like you don’t have to have a title to lead. In fact, I think the leaders with titles these days are not exactly doing the best job in the world.

Victoria Volk 8:09
Perfect segue into what I was gonna, where I was gonna go and that I just read a Forbes article talking about empathy as being the top skill for leaders, how research is showing that empathy is one of the skills that is required of leaders. And actually, it said that empathy is the most important leadership skill, according to research. And there’s two ways to approach that. And you can either with cognitive empathy, like what would I be thinking if I was in that person’s shoes? Or how would I feel if I was in that person’s shoes? Do you feel like empathy is something that’s lacking? Especially maybe in the military?

Scott Mann 8:53
I think it’s lacking across the board. In fact, I would even go as far to say, maybe lacking in the civilian world more than it is in the military. You know, I’ve spent a decade now working in corporate America, nonprofits, small businesses, you know, so I’ve gotten a good look. And I’ve stayed with the military and law enforcement. I think, if you look at the military, let me give you an example. Okay, when Afghanistan fell, and those at risk Afghans were left in the lurch, who ran into the breech and got on their phones and started to try to help them. Veterans, right veterans who understood the moral injury of abandoning someone or leaving them behind when you promised you wouldn’t? Right. The civilian population, you know, did not run into the breach. Some did a few did. And that’s not a that’s not you know, that’s not lambasting the civilian population. I’m simply saying that the the preponderance of the response came from combat veterans who you would think based on the Movies and everything else, right? lack empathy and or, you know, the Door Kickers. And that’s true. But the reality is, that’s why I wrote my play. Last out, most people have no clue what the demand signal is on a combat veteran that they are men and women who are family individuals, they, they have a very, very soft spot in their heart for the for the, for the people who suffer through those wars. Anyway, I think that empathy isn’t short supply. I think that empathy is in short supply. And I think I agree with that article. In fact, if you wouldn’t mind sending me that article, I’d love to see it. Because I talked about this a lot. Dr. Benjamin Hardy talks about this in his book, personality as a permanent, he talks about the importance of being an empathetic witness of bearing witness to people, you know, as we come out of this, as I love the title of your podcast, and as we come out of this pandemic, you know, the longest pandemic in our history, we don’t know the journey that people have been through, we don’t know what they’ve endured, we don’t know where the grief lies below the surface, and where the where the healing still needs to occur. And I believe that one of the most important things that leaders can do and you don’t need a title for it is to be an empathetic witness to simply bear witness to the journey to the person in front of you don’t judge it, criticize it, listen to them, as if your life depended on it, you know, try to see the pictures in their head, the pain, the goals, the dreams, and really get an understanding of it before you even open your mouth. You know, I think if more of us did that, we wouldn’t be in a much different place these days. And that’s not a Republican or a Democrat thing. That’s a leadership thing.

Victoria Volk 11:37
Goose bumps again, absolutely, wholeheartedly, I will send you that article actually came someone. I had thought someone had liked it on LinkedIn. And I definitely when I send it to you read through the comments, as well, because there was actually a leader in there that mentioned how I think he means sympathy. Like he kind of changed the it’s not empathy, it’s sympathy. And I had to put in a comment, and I said, You know what, though, a lot of the times when people offer sympathy, it’s not sympathy, it’s pity,

Scott Mann 12:07
It’s pity, and it’s actually it’s actually for the person who offers it. Exactly. It’s a way to make them feel better to put 10 cents in the jar. And that’s not empathy. Let me break you. Can I can I riff on that for just a second? Yes, absolutely.

Victoria Volk 12:22
I’d love to.

Scott Mann 12:22
So one of the things you know, one of the things that we do at rooftop leadership is we really focus on you, we take the Green Berets skills that we learned to read Human Terrain, to read human nature. And one of the problems that we that I see in society today is we’ve lost connection with our nature, we’ve lost connection with what I say is below the surface, if human nature is an iceberg, you know, 80% of our humanity is below the waterline, it’s but it’s what you can’t see. It’s that 250,000 year old, meaning seeking emotional, social story animal who struggles in other words, we’re a mess. And you know, we are we are story creatures, we are emotional creatures. A lot of people think we’re thinking creatures who happen to feel. But the reality is humans are feeling creatures who just happen to think. And so when you talk about cognitive versus emotional empathy, it to me, it’s hands down emotional empathy. Because that’s how we navigate the world. We navigate the world through emotional responses. Cognitive responses are secondary to that, and they are important. But if we don’t have access to our own emotions, and if we can’t, to some degree, feel what the other party feels. Not only is that unhelpful. I think it spells disaster for our species. Because it’s actually how we’ve evolved socially, to the top of the food chain. It’s actually what got us to where we are. And I think that we are now on a path with these machines, with the blue screens with mass technology, that we’re actually going into almost a mechanistic state where we are we are trying to become machinelike. And we’re losing our relationship with the natural world with each other. And we’re disconnecting. And I think that if we start to, if we tell ourselves, that it’s actually about cognitive empathy, instead of emotional empathy, we’re going off the side of a cliff.

Victoria Volk 14:20
I 100%. Agree. And to your point about the iceberg, what’s under the surface is our grief, at the at the root of all of the issues in our lives and every repetitive problem that we see in our lives reoccurring. It’s, it’s grief. And I think grief is what causes us to disconnect from ourselves. And if we’re disconnected from ourselves, how do we connect with others? You know, because we’re always thinking about what’s going on with us, rather than being able to, I think, do you think this is something that can be taught like you’ve been doing this a while now can this truly be taught or do you think when you when you come and you do a presentation you speak to these organizations, the follow up. Are they implementing what you’re what you’re saying? Or is it just kind of? Yeah. Okay, there you go there.

Scott Mann 15:08
Yeah, yeah, I think it can be taught, I 100% believe it can be taught. The problem is we’re navigating the world right now and a lot of instinct. And it’s instinct that’s informed by the tip of the iceberg, which is the modern transactional world. And it’s only a couple of 100 years old, you know, what we’ve created in the modern world for ourselves, it is punctuated with abundance, and, you know, freedom of thought and individuality. And that’s great. But it needs to be rightly understood. You know, there needs to be a connection to our communal past, there needs to be an under a connection to, as you said, you know, our grief, the fact that we struggle, the fact that we, we navigate the world telling ourselves a story, the fact that empathy and reciprocity are a biological inheritance that actually allow us to build groups that overcomes obstacles in life, like all of that stuff, those are a biological imperative. You know, we have to understand that those are innate human needs and traits that are for us to use. So they can be in first we have to recognize them, we have to recognize what’s below the surface, we have to recognize that 80% of our human nature, we don’t even see it, it but it’s it’s in our tribal past. And we need to tap back into that we need to understand that without purpose, we die, we need to understand that the emotional temperature in the room is one of the most important things to pay attention to as a leader, both in yourself and in others, we need to understand that we are social, that we if we socially distance from each other fine, if that’s the way we’re going to handle the pandemic fine. But we also need to understand that there’s a level of collective madness that will settle upon us for two years of being apart from each other. And it’s going to manifest in certain ways when we come back into the sunlight. It’s not bad or good, we just, we don’t need to politicize it, we just need to understand it, we need to understand that. If you don’t if you use PowerPoint to communicate an idea with 70 slides, they’re going to forget 90% of it in 30 seconds, because it’s working memory. If you tell them a story, they’ll remember it six years later, right? I mean, and then finally, like you said, the grief part, we are creatures of struggle, we are a community of suffers, it’s how we, it’s how we’ve made it through the world. If you understand that, and you tap into that, then you can actually leverage grief and struggle and you can repurpose your scars in the service of other people, you can actually find a way out, that brings not just you into the light, but everybody around you. And so Absolutely, it can be taught I’ve been teaching it for a decade. And I’ve seen people in the darkest of places move into a different position based on purpose based human connection. It’s authentic, it’s what we should be doing. But it requires cognitive awareness, and a change in mindset away from this transactional mass technology world that we’re in, and an embracing of, you know, basically a foot above and a foot below the waterline.

Victoria Volk 18:06
You see, in the veteran community especially, I often see a lot of stories coming out of that where people are making something out of a mess that they experienced the grief that they experienced. And I know, grief is what do you think is the difference between a soldier who is a Griever? And a civilian? Who is a Griever? Can you make a distinction between that?

Scott Mann 18:31
maybe the only distinction would be that loss to a warrior is by design. In other words, you know, you’re going to lose people. And not only are you going to lose people, in certain lines of work, like the line of work I was in, you’re going to take people’s life. I mean, let’s not sugarcoat it, you know, you’re going to take people’s life, and people are going to your people are going to die who are not intended to die. I mean, there’s just a whole you know, war is a horribly, ugly, caustic, corrosive thing, and anyone who glorifies it or makes it otherwise, to me is disingenuous. No one hates war, more than a warrior, if they are in it for the right reasons, and if they are in it with their heart. All that said, when it comes to the grief when it comes to the loss when it comes to the pain, there’s no difference. I mean, there’s no difference at all. And, you know, people have come up to me and they’re like, Well, you know, I lost my mom, but that’s nothing like what you’ve went through. I’m like, what? It’s exactly it’s, it’s your it’s your journey. It’s your pain. Don’t Don’t equivocate it like it you know, just because I chose to go into the professional arms doesn’t make my loss more or less than yours. It’s just it’s just a path I chose to walk. And unfortunately, there is a level of loss that is by design. We can debate the morality of that all day long, but the loss of the loss and You know, that would that would be the main difference, I would point out, but But I will say, and I did another TED talk on this that I hope you’ll check out. It’s called the generosity of scars. And it really speaks exactly to what you’re talking about. Because for me, you know, when I got out of the military after a couple of years, that’s when it really came home to roost. For me, I didn’t do a good job of grieving, I didn’t grieve at all, I just pushed it down and went back into the fight for another deployment. I, you know, I didn’t want that stigma to be attached to me, I didn’t want to have to stop doing what I was doing, because then I’d have to face it, you know, and so I just pushed it down, and I just pushed it down, and then finally, got to the point after my, my retirement, that my kids would, if I walked in the room, they would just get up and leave, they didn’t want to be around me, my wife and I didn’t speak, you know, my life was crap. And it was because I had just denied myself, all of that grieving until finally, you know, I found myself standing in a closet holding a 45. And, you know, had my son Cooper not come home, and he did, I wouldn’t be here, there’s no doubt about it. And, you know, that’s not an easy thing to talk about, even to this day. But what what I’ve learned from that is that, you know, I can’t deny myself that, that struggle or that grief, and there’s a process that has to be that you have to go through and I still go through, I’m going through it now with the Afghan situation. And you know, it is a, that there is a path. I mean, there is a journey, where our scars that are below the surface can be repurposed. And I believe that with all my heart, I believe it with all my heart, I believe it’s actually rocket fuel for leadership. I believe some of the most phenomenal leaders in the world are the ones that have been scuffed up the most.

Victoria Volk 21:48
Thank you for sharing that personal story. Do you feel like the military is doing better in supportive? Soldiers? I think because here’s the thing. Two years ago, I was at a VA mental health summit. I’m a veteran myself and I went to this and I had a booth Grief Recovery. I’m a grief recovery specialist. I had a booth there. And I was listening to the breakout speakers and there was about suicide. And there’s two soldiers that had shared their personal stories. And then they had social there was a room full of social workers, lots of social workers. And there was one speaker and but over time, like even the breakout rooms, I never the whole entire day. I never once heard the word grief. They never said the word grief. Yeah. And it just blew my mind. It blew my mind. I mean, I was surprised, but I wasn’t surprised, you know, but it was I was I was really disheartened and sad when I left there, too.

Scott Mann 22:45
Right. I think you met you bring a great point. I don’t think in that context, that there is a lot of forward movement. I will, here’s what I will say. I do think that, you know, unfortunately, 20 years in Afghanistan and Iraq, you know, we got pretty good at, you know, how we honored our fallen and, you know, the memorial ceremonies and the team would would take time to grieve together. And, you know, there was some of that, but I don’t think to your point, you know, the the more deep dive kind of work that you take, you go through this thing and the right way to process it to metabolize it. No, I don’t think that there. I think that the chaplaincy does the best it can. I don’t think the VA is anywhere near where it needs to be on that. I mean, even just dealing with trauma or survivor’s guilt, or all those things. I mean, I think the preponderance of the work is being done by people like you on the outside, and my nonprofit hero’s journey, which teaches warriors to tell their story. And you know, what part of me says that’s okay. I think that the private public relationship, I think the government’s overwhelmed. I think the military is overwhelmed. You know, and I don’t think they’re going to catch up in our lifetime. And now my son’s a soldier, and he’s had a friend who’s committed suicide. And so, you know, there’s no time for a roof top leader doesn’t wait for someone to give them permission to step into the arena. That’s, that’s what I always tell people, like everybody was with Operation pineapple. They’re like, Wow, man. How did you guys do it? I’m like, What are you talking about? Like, we just, we just, we saw, we saw a gap, and we ran to the gap. I mean, that’s what I do. I didn’t have a plan. I still don’t have a plan. In many ways. I’m so far out over my skis. All I can do is look at the ground and go man, that’s gonna suck when wildland, you know, and a lot of times, that’s where leadership lives. We’re so far out over our skis, and we’re just like, yep, that’s gonna hurt. But you don’t that doesn’t stop you from doing it. And I think to your question here, it’s going to be you. It’s going to be me. Nobody else is coming. Right. If we’re waiting for the government to fix our problems, we are going to be woefully disappointed. regardless of political party, we are going to be woefully disappointed. The only way that things like this are going to get addressed is if you and I do it.

Victoria Volk 25:09
I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying and trying to get federal and government contracts. It’s, it’s not a, I’m not a licensed social worker. So I kind of got door slammed in my face and

Scott Mann 25:19
Don’t quit try, no, don’t quit try, because you know that the victories occur at a much smaller level, you know, and again, this is just a 53 year old dude talking here on metrics, right. And I think the metrics that we tend, we tend to assign to ourselves are these vast metrics of lives saved? And I mean, the reality is, you know, it’s it’s incremental, the impact, you’re already making a huge impact, you’re making a huge impact. Listen to me giving you advice, but like, you’re making a huge impact with this podcast with what you’re doing. And you know, it’s oftentimes, that it’s the it’s the impacts that we don’t even see that are really making a difference. And it turns out, you’re, you’re you’re, you know, you’re you’re making big bass hits the whole time. But, but I hear you on those on those working with the government and getting the doors open. It is maddening. It is maddening. But just don’t quit. You know, I mean, because we need you in the game. Because if you don’t, like my dad says, then who will? You know? And that’s the larger question we need to be asking ourselves is not not who am I to do this? But who are you not? Because if you don’t, you know, what’s the cost of that?

Victoria Volk 26:26
Oh, one of the ideas I proposed or one of the thoughts I proposed, one of the psychologist at this health summit was, why is there not like some in a study screening? Are you familiar with the ACE study, I’m not adverse childhood experiences. So the more basically what the ACE study has, comes out, like it’s research over time, right. And so they have found though, that the more aces or the more adverse childhood experiences that you’ve had throughout your childhood, the more likely you are, the more likely and the more susceptible you are, to suicidal thoughts, to depression, to addiction to mental health issues, all of these things. So let’s say you were an orphan, as a child, or sexually abused or, or neglected, or like all these horrible things that many children experienced. But often I have found and I’ve seen, and maybe you can agree to this or test to this to who joins the military. Often it is young men and women who are looking for a way out who are looking for a way out of their life experience, who are looking for discipline guide structure and escape. Yes. What are they escaping? Probably really tough circumstances and situations that they just don’t know what else to do. And so you’re putting a weapon in the arms of someone who probably is very much a Griever, who has trauma, who you know what I mean? So then you go on deployments and several deployments, trauma after trauma after trauma after trauma. And so I feel like in my bones, in a study evaluation for someone who wants to enlist would be a very good thing. That’s fascinating. You know, cuz she’s a psychologist, she knows about the ACE study. It’s a roomful of social workers. But none of this stuff is talked about, it just drives me crazy.

Scott Mann 28:28
Yeah, well, you’re in the right place. You know, I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s leadership. And, you know, that’s what I try to rail on is that’s, that’s what a rooftop leader does a rooftop leader is going to put herself squarely in the place where she’s unreasonable.

Victoria Volk 28:45
I listened to it was your you had a podcast episode? Navigating the toxic churn of life in business? I really liked that one. But also your TED talk. And I was just I’ve been thinking a lot about before we were actually getting on here to talk that I don’t feel like a leader. And just what you spoke to in the beginning, how you you never felt like a leader either. But you felt like you know, you had like this urn inside of you. But I’m curious. What, as a leader today breaks your heart today.

Scott Mann 29:24
Oh, my god. Um, I would say at home, what breaks my heart is what I call division ism. You know, it really is the veterans dilemma is that, you know, Sebastian Junger writes in his book tribe that, you know, warriors, American warriors, are more than prepared to give their life. They’re prepared to die for their country. They just don’t know how to live for it. And he goes on to say, how do you live for a country that’s tearing itself apart at every possible level, politically, religiously, socio economically, you know, I mean, literally ripping itself apart. So everything that you go off to defend and keep abroad is here, right? I mean, you have people bashing themselves over the head with axe handles, because their guy won or their guy lost. Forget the fact that their guy’s an amateur, you know, forget the fact that their guy, as far as leadership goes, is nowhere near the caliber of a leader in combat in my assessment, right? We assign agency and power to these leaders who are vibe designed, dividing us. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a formal leader literally embody the bridging trust that wants to find this nation, right, that bridges beyond in groups and out groups and ethnicity and religion and finds a way forward to bridge and connect? I mean, that is how highperformance cultures stay intact. You know, and, and in my assessment, that division ism, that dividing that conscious division of people in order to attain one’s agenda, one’s limited agenda is the saddest thing happening in the country today. And the fact that we’re giving our agency and our power away to leaders at every level, who by design practice division ism is is immensely saddening to me. The second thing that makes me sad as a leader is the what’s happening in Afghanistan right now is the fact that we are you we are moving toward a level of moral injury that we don’t even understand that is going to follow us home and is going to sit on our collective soul for many, many years to come. It’s very, very hard for me to to watch that. And it makes me sad,

Victoria Volk 31:49
I would gather that you’re against the pull out of Afghanistan.

Scott Mann 31:53
I am not necessarily against the pull out of Afghanistan, I think it was poorly planned, poorly executed. I think that we could have had a much different outcome in Afghanistan, had we been more forward thinking. And had we been really focused on what our goals were there, I wrote a book called game changers, going local to defeat violent extremist, I wrote it in I think, 2013, it was about a mission that we did in 2010. And it was all about working locally, it was all about working with local Afghans to help them stand up on their own, and kind of what we talked about at the beginning of the podcast. And it was all about the local approach. And and not trying to, you know, Project, a liberal democracy on a primarily tribal culture, there’s a way to go about this, that we didn’t have to do that. We didn’t need 100,000 people on the ground, we probably needed 10,000. And all most of them Green Berets, there was a different way that we could have prosecuted this effort much more like Colombia or the Philippines, that was a lower signature. So anyway, probably not the point you wanted to get into. But my point is that there was a way that we could have done this, it would have required a long term commitment, but it would have been more around capacity building, because that country has been decimated, you know, their their ability to resolve disputes to farm. It’s been decimated by four decades of war, and they need some help at a local level. So if we’re not going to help them, look at what’s happening now, people are hanging from street lamps. They they’re being hung from street lamps, they’re being executed in front of their children. Like, how does that not make the news? How is that not genocide? You know, and that’s the alternatives. You know, that’s the alternative to what we were doing. So I don’t know, I just think that was the wrong answer.

Victoria Volk 33:45
And here’s the thing, too, we have military bases all over the world. What is the difference? If we have a presence there? Yeah, we can say it was peaceful. Yeah, for the most part.

Scott Mann 33:56
I mean, if you look at the number of people who were hanging on to jet on the wheels of jet aircraft falling off, rather than stay in a country, they knew what they were staying with. It’s terrible. And now, you know, we’re trying to make some kind of sense out of it. We’re trying to help people get out trying to get help people get settled here in the United States. And it’s a hot mess, because the government is frankly not that involved. They’re just not that involved. So it’s mostly a private sector effort in a country that is completely taken over by the Taliban. So you know, is the options are very limited, winter is coming. And, you know, there’s going to be a point where this is no longer a tenable solution, we’re gonna we’re gonna end up leaving people behind and it’s not going to end well. And that’s it. That’s that is a very saddening thought for me to think that we leave people behind in the 10s of 1000s that we promised we wouldn’t.

Victoria Volk 34:51
As of today, you have a GoFundMe to raise funds. Correct? Still,

Scott Mann 34:57
We no we’re actually working now and we never intended to be this, we are now we’re a 50123. And that was not going to be, that was not the intent. We are now because we want to, we want to help as many Afghans as we can. We can’t We can’t you know the deal. Like when you first become a 501 C three, you can’t solicit funds for a while, so we can’t can’t take donations right now. However, if people want to help, and I appreciate you asking that the the 501 C three that I was operating, and still afraid before all this happened, I was telling you about helping warriors tell their story. It’s called the hero’s journey. Th e H E R O E S, the hero’s journey.org. And it’s a cool little nonprofit, and it helps with warrior storytelling. We’re putting a film out on Afghanistan, this Veterans Day. And right now that little nonprofit is actually covering the cost of pineapple. So if you wanted to make a donation, and you wanted to help us help Afghans, and you want to help us honor a promise as veterans, you could go there and make a donation. And you can know that you’re, you know, almost all of those proceeds are going to go towards the either the Afghan resettlement Afghan safe passage, we’re helping our veterans cope with this very, very difficult situation.

Victoria Volk 36:18
Thank you, thank you for leading, for leading the way in this. It’s amazing.

Scott Mann 36:24
Well, it’s to your point when you talked about and I appreciate you saying that you talked about like not feeling like a leader, I feel that all the time. I feel it right now. I woke up this morning feeling and I told my wife I said, you know, to be in this game, as long as I’ve been in this game, I don’t feel like I’m leading very well, right now I don’t feel like I’m doing what I need to be doing. And I think that’s, you know, that’s the reality of leadership, I think when we’re in the game, and the stakes are high, and we’re trying to make an impact bigger than ourselves, it is it is not going to feel like an endzone dance. And if it does, we’re probably deluded, we’re probably believing our own press our own hype, and it’s about us, you know, it’s not going to feel that way, it’s going to feel clunky, we’re going to feel like we’re out over our skis, we’re going to feel like, you know, we’re gonna feel somewhat frustrated. Like we’re ill prepared. I mean, that’s actually what leadership feels like. And if you talk to anybody that plays at that level, they’ll tell you, that’s, that’s what it feels like. And it doesn’t mean that it has to suck, it just means that we have to make peace with that, that that discomfort in our belly, that we feel when we’re leading, it just means that it matters. And and and that that resistance is always going to be there chirping in our ear telling us we’re not good enough. And every day it has to be fought in new, it’s a new battle every day.

Victoria Volk 37:39
I agree with that. Just to for me personally, kind of feels like Mount Everest, like I’m climbing Mount Everest.

Scott Mann 37:45
Yeah, yeah, one step at a time.

Victoria Volk 37:48
So can you go a little deep into your personal story of, of what was your, what have been your grieving experiences that have really impacted your life and shaped you to be the leader you are.

Scott Mann 38:04
Um, I would say the grieving experiences that have probably shaped me the most have been the loss of friends who died doing what I asked them to do. You know, losing friends sucks, losing soldiers sucks. But when you lose them, you know, in a way that where they just, you know, they gave you a smile and said, roger that, sir. And ran off to do what you asked them to do, you know, willingly and, you know, enthusiastically. And then they don’t come back, you know, and the next thing you do is, you know, you detail their mom, or their their wife, that to the best degree that you can, you know, how they died. And then you have to own it. You know, you have to own that you have to and you never really, I just don’t think you ever really get over that. And for me, that was a just a ton of guilt that I had to I had to find a way to make peace with I had to find a way to repurpose, I had to find a way to metabolize. For me, it was writing my play. Last out elegy of the Greenbrae that’s going to be a film on Veterans Day. At last out film calm. And again, all the proceeds go to help Afghans but that that process for me Victoria was was cathartic. It was it was using story to tap into that deepest level of grief that I had. I mean, there there were some levels of grief, just you know, in in loss of time with my children and loss of time with my wife and you don’t get that back. But you know, the profound grief or profound loss was at the level of, you know, asking someone to do something and then willingly doing it voluntarily doing it and then they don’t come back, you know, and that for me in the process that followed that was life changing, almost life ending?

Victoria Volk 40:04
And did you feel like that? Because I know there’s so many resources now, like today in the Veterans Administration, there’s many resources there that actually I just had my yearly checkup not that long ago. And the questions have changed very much in the last year. But one thing that struck me was when she was asking me these questions, the first thing she said was, now these are really uncomfortable questions. So if you don’t want to answer, don’t feel like you have to answer. And I’ve been stewing on that since I left. Because as a grief recovery specialist, I’m sitting here thinking, now this is me. And I’m not saying yes to these things, because they don’t apply to me. But if I’m sitting in this chair, and I’m being asked these things, and the answer is yes. I’m not telling you because you’re not a safe person, because you just told me you’re uncomfortable with how I might answer. And so I recognize that I think one of the shifts to that needs to happen is just this grief education in the VA. Because at that level of where they come in, just to the for a yearly checkup, because people lie will lie through their teeth, because they have a promotion coming up, or they. I mean, maybe you even personally did that. Just so you know what I mean? I don’t know. But surely, you know, people who have,

Scott Mann 41:31
Oh, sure I did whatever I had to do to stay in the deployment. You know, and I even talked about that, in my film last out, like I, I did whatever I had to do, to stay in the fight. You know, that was the first priority. And if that meant, deceiving, you know, the psychiatrist so that I could keep going. And that’s what I would do. And I was very good at it. And then in even deceiving my family, upon my return home, you know, trying to hold everything together trying to be whatever it was, I was supposed to be in this new world. Yeah, and there was not, I mean, there wasn’t a lot to choose from in terms of resources, at least that I was aware of. And I don’t think that I would have anyway, I you know, I think now hopefully, that people like you who are getting the word out Eric and others, and hopefully my TED talk, the generosity scars, the play the film, you know, we’re really trying to not just make a case that mental health is part of the journey, but also that, you know, for for veterans, and anyone who endures trauma, that like there’s a certain there’s a certain level to that, that should be expected. And, and and that loss is profound, and and that we all, all of us are holding on to something that we need to let go of. Thank you. Yes, all of us, it doesn’t matter whether you served or not. And that’s the actually the under the overarching message in the in the in the film, is to let go. You know, it even says it on our little green bracelets that we wear, because because that is, you know, at its core, that’s the thing is we’re just holding on to stuff this residue, you know, that that we need to let go of. So I think it’s great that you’re taking this on the way that you are and you know, just keep going.

Victoria Volk 43:25
There was an article recently because I get the VA newsletters and things and there was an article by the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s the most senior enlisted service member by position in the United States Armed Forces and the principal Military Adviser to the Chairman, on all matters involving joint and combined total force integration utilization, basically, the top dog S E AC Ramon. Yeah, I know. You know, he wrote have has this article about soldiers, four part series about Afghanistan veterans and how they can get through how they can get through what’s what’s going on, and how to feel like how to address what’s happening. And his overarching message is that be proud of what you have what you did mattered. And, but he talks about his own experience with PTSD and seeking treatment and help and I think that’s, that’s what needs to be scream from the rooftops, right of the leaders in leadership is I’m getting help. It’s okay to get help.

Scott Mann 44:33
No. Yeah. And it’s not happening. For the most part, I mean, for the most part, and and, and honestly, a lot of these general officers and senior enlisted advisors are jacked up, like they’re hurt and, you know, and they’re not getting help and, you know, that’s a big that’s a big that’s something important that I think the more leaders can demonstrate and just live into it again. I hate to keep harping on the film, but we hit this so hard in the film, it’s like This is a reality of the longest war in our nation’s history. It’s a reality of combat, it’s a reality of leadership. Like if you’re in the business of, you know, soldiering or being a Marine, like, this is part of it. And we’ve got to talk openly about it. And right now we’re not

Victoria Volk 45:15
What is one message you would like to say to those listening who may or may not be a veteran, about how to become the leader in their own lives, in their own communities in their own homes? Like, where do they where do you start,

Scott Mann 45:30
Nobody’s coming. It starts with that is recognized, nobody else is coming. Right? If you’re waiting for somebody to come down and fix it, or handle it, they’re not coming. And you know, that for me when I when I learned that in combat, when I recognized that, okay, whatever we’ve got right here, this is it, this is how we’re going to get it done. The men and women to my left and right right now the resources that are at hand right now, that’s what we’re going to get it done with. And I’m not going to sit here and wait for someone to come rescue me or, or wait for someone to give me permission to lead my family or to lead my community or to lead my school or to lead my business. Right, we have agency and that is a biological inheritance, that is a gift from the higher power the universe, however you’d like to think about it, we have agency in our lives that we have all of the innate resources and skills and gifts that we need to lead, we do not need a title, people follow the person who is relatable to their pain, and relevant to their goals. That’s who we follow, we don’t follow the person with the title we don’t follow when the chips are down, we follow the person who is relatable to our pain, and relevant to our goals. Right. And as long as we’re working to try to make people feel safe, and connected, and that they have a shared future with us, they’re gonna follow, they’re gonna go and you just got to be you know, and so I would just that first recognition, and then nobody’s coming, just just let breathe into that, accept it, and then just focus on being relatable to people’s pain and relevant to their goals. And you’ll be surprised what you can build.

Victoria Volk 47:06
What gives you the most hope for the future?

Scott Mann 47:10
My kids I mean, I always talk about leaving tracks in the world. You know, my dad always says that he says, We should leave our tracks, which to me are those indelible impressions that, you know, don’t serve the people around us. They’re the they serve the people who follow us. It’s our legacy. It’s the it’s the, it’s the it’s the it’s the tracks that we leave in the earth by building capacity in our business or, you know, deep relationships with friends that that last long beyond our time. But it’s also the young people and not just necessarily our children, but but how we how we hand off the world to our kids. And, you know, I that gives me the greatest hope people talking trash about this generation. I think we’re in great hands. I think that the kids, the young folks that are going to lead us into the next ridge line, I look at my own boys I and I have nothing but confidence in them. You know, I have nothing but but but hope for for us, because I think they’re the ones that are going to fix it. I think they’re the ones that are going to take it on. And so the question is, how do we do the best handoff possible to our children, and make sure that we set them up for success, because we’re not the ones our generation is not going to fix it. And we just need to accept that. And but we can do a lot. But how do we responsibly handed off to our children so that they can take it to the next mile?

Victoria Volk 48:34
I think they’ve seen enough contrast to recognize what they don’t want for their future. And there’s been plenty of it.

Scott Mann 48:43
Yeah, I think they know exactly what to do.

Victoria Volk 48:46
What is your message to soldiers? Like on how to find their voice? I know you have, you know, that’s a big part of your work. But yeah, just for this podcast for the purpose, what would you say?

Scott Mann 48:57
I would say for any warrior, you know, your voice is everything. You know, your voice is your point of view, that your purpose, it’s your outlook on the world. And you know, when you leave the military, they don’t get to keep that. But that doesn’t get turned in with your ta 50. You know, your voice and your purpose and your story. You brought those into the military, they were forged and developed further in the military. But you get to take those with you. You know, your voice, your point of view, your purpose, your outlook on life, your story, that’s yours, and that those are the greatest attributes of what you build for your next journey, the next chapter in your journey, and that’s all it is. It’s just another chapter your identity is far deeper than marine Navy, Army or Air Force or Coast Guard, or law enforcement or EMT, your identity is far deeper than that and that and the development and the refinement of your of your purpose and what you’re building and your story. It continues and you have to give yourself permission that it’s going to change Can you even if you’re a Vietnam veteran, if you’re a Korean War veteran, the moment you allow yourself to believe that way, the next chapter in your story starts, and that the next outcome of your purpose will be felt by the people around you. And I really believe that

Victoria Volk 50:18
How do you maintain an equilibrium? Like, because I imagine as a leader, it’s, there’s a lot of stress, it’s high pressure, things like that. But what would be your like? How are you managing stress? I imagine it looks different than what it used to. Or maybe it isn’t, I don’t know, how do you manage stress and maintain that? What does self care look like for you? That’s a better question.

Scott Mann 50:43
I have this acronym that I use for self care, that’s called R four. And it is regimen, ritual, rigor, and recovery. You know, I think that regimen is you know, and what that gives you is it gives you resilience over resistance and it has to be done every day resilience being the ability to just stay in the fight and be happy resistance being that self sabotage that will take you out if you allow it to it’s the negative forces in our body. So you know, I believe that going back to the our four so the first being read Benjamin you know, having a rhythm for your life where you know, Jocko Willink is right, discipline equals freedom. So what what are what are the things that you do to address mind body, spirit and craft every single day with regimen, those should be, that should be a rhythm that is populated by rituals. And those rituals should address mind, body, spirit, and craft. So for me, I get up in the morning, I do 25 Push ups, I hit my knees, I pray I do my cat cow breathing exercises, I drink 20 ounces of room temperature water, like I have rituals throughout my day that I do not change whether I’m at the Marriott in Texas, given a talk or whether I’m at home with my wife money, I’m going to do those rituals every single day that discipline equals freedom. And then I do them with rigor, I don’t do them casual, I don’t do them, like, you know half assed if I’m going to go work out in the gym at 10am, because that’s in my rhythm, then I’m going to give it everything I’ve got found gets put up, I apply myself to it the same way I did when I was a Greenbrae. And then finally, recovery. You know, I have to build time in micro recoveries every day where I’m doing, you know, deep breathing, turning the lights off in my office just being present, sitting on the dock with my wife, those are all micro recoveries. And then macro recoveries, you know, long weekends, vacations, these are the things that are scheduled in our planner, you know, where we actually sharpen the saw and get off grid allow ourselves to do you know, two to three, seven day recoveries? I think all of those, that’s that’s been the rhythm. That’s been the process I’ve used for, gosh, three decades, it’s what I teach high performers in my mastermind. And it works. It’s allowed me to play at a very high level, with a lot of pressure, and a lot of loss and a lot of guilt and all these other things and still be happy.

Victoria Volk 53:06
I love that great tips. Yes, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. And what is one thing that grief has taught you?

Scott Mann 53:14
Oh I think probably that there is purpose in pain, you know, that there’s, there’s there’s actually, you know, there’s there’s something on the other side of grief that will serve other people. You know, and and that will give you a level of self actualization that will make you better than when you went in. And if you just trust that process. That’s exactly how it will come out every time.

Victoria Volk 53:43
I absolutely agree. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Scott Mann 53:47
No, I would just say I love what you’re doing. And wherever you are, in that period of grief, just know that there is you’re not alone. And that there are a lot of people out there that care about you and need you around in this world, and that there’s a lot of value and good that will come from your pain and your struggle. Should you choose to apply it in the service of others, and that time will come it’s not right now maybe, but that time will come and when it does. There’s a higher place for you in the world. And I just you know, that’s how I’ve stayed alive. It’s how I’ve navigate the world. And I think the world needs it. People need they need your leadership. Through the grief. They need grief, informing what you do and say, because it’s authentic, it’s relatable. And that’s what people are hanging on to right now. They’re looking for leaders they can relate to. And so your grief brings with it a level of authenticity and safety that will serve others and it may not feel like it right now. But it will when the time comes.

Victoria Volk 54:47
Yes family would rather suffer with you than without you.

Scott Mann 54:50

Victoria Volk 54:50
Yeah absolutely. Well, where can people reach you where where do you hang out on social or where can they best find your well

Scott Mann 54:59
I mean We’re on you know, anything rooftop leader, we’re on Facebook, Instagram, I think the place where people could really get some stuff that might build on what you’re doing is rooftop leadership, calm. You know, there’s a lot of information, there are podcasts, the rooftop podcast is weekly, and we dive into a lot of the stuff you’re talking about, I think it’s a good supplement to what you’re doing. So those would be the areas that I would recommend. And finally, last out, film.com. Go check it out. I mean, it’s gonna be an amazing film. It’s all combat veterans. It really gets after a lot of the stuff that we talked about today. I’m in it. My acting debut at 50 years old. So check it out.

Victoria Volk 55:38
I look forward to it. And thank you so much for your time today and your wisdom and your experience that you’ve brought to my listeners. And just thank you for your time.

Scott Mann 55:50
It’s my honor. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Victoria Volk 55:53
And remember, when you unleash your hearts, you unleash your life. Much love.


Ep 68 | Ken Ross

Ken Ross | Rolling the Dice & Preserving the Legacy of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


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.


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