Ep 127 | Melissa Reilly

Melissa Reilly | A Longing That Never Leaves


Melissa’s episode embodies several different ways one may experience grief. And as she shares each story, she also provides insight into loss from her perspective as a clinical psychologist.

At age 4, her older sister (age 7) died of leukemia. Melissa’s earliest memories are related to her sister battling leukemia for eighteen months and being bounced from house to house while her parents were away with her older sister for her healthcare.

And, once her sister died, life went on as if it had never happened. Many peers didn’t even know she had a sister until she was in high school. Her sister’s death was something that was not talked about.

Once a young adult, grief was once again a part of her life when her grandfather passed away. It would be the first time she and her sister would begin to talk about their grief from the past and present with each other.

However, grief would knock on Melissa’s door not once, not twice, but five more times. When Melissa was 25, her mother died unexpectedly at age 51 of a heart attack. Even more heartbreaking in that loss was that she and her mother had had a falling out eight months before her mother’s passing, only adding to her grief.
Seven months later, her younger sister of a pulmonary embolism. She would then experience three miscarriages before welcoming a healthy baby boy after a challenging and trying pregnancy, where she managed to carry her son to 36 weeks gestation.

Melissa goes on to share how not all grief requires medication. She provides insight into her belief around this (a belief we both share) and the four women personality types that women (moms without moms, in particular) would benefit from having in their lives.

This is an episode that moms without moms (due to a myriad of circumstances) would benefit from hearing, and anyone who has experienced devastating loss or trauma as a child.




Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is Melissa Reilly. She is a clinical psychologist, parent, coach and mom without a mom. Although grief had been a part of Melissa’s life from the age of four, she was shocked to find that a resurgence of grief would be a part of her birth experience. Through her personal and professional life, she has come to recognize that moms without a mom experienced grief during the years postpartum and beyond, even if they don’t recognize it. She’s passionate about helping moms without a mom heal through grief, build community, feel joy and motherhood and move from feelings of isolation, insecurity and overwhelm to a place of confidence and resilience. Thank you so much for being here. And for your time.

Melissa Reilly 0:48
It is my pleasure.

Victoria Volk 0:50
We’re gonna dig right in. And I’m interested always to talk to other child Grievers like myself, because we have a lifelong relationship with grief that a lot of people don’t experience or can’t even understand or comprehend or wrap their head around. And so your grief experience was even much younger than my own mind was around. My dad got sick or wound when I was six. And so then he passed away within 18 months, but yours started when you were four? Yes, so let’s start there.

Melissa Reilly 1:28
Sure, sure. So I was born into a family, I was the middle child of three girls, and both my parents were living in together. And when I was two and a half, three years old, my older sister was diagnosed with leukemia. And so back in the 1970s, leukemia was almost always terminal. I mean, it’s still extremely dangerous and scary diagnosis now, but back then there was there was very little reason for hope. So my parents did the best they can and provided as much treatment as they could, for my older sister, we lived in a rural upstate New York community. And so the best treatment that was nearby was in New York City. So my parents would spend lots of time in New York City with my older sister, as was appropriate. And then my younger sister and I, she was 18 months younger than I, you would be in the care of anybody that was able to care for us. And then unfortunately, after, you know, a year and a half battle with leukemia, my sister passed. And I was at the age of four when this occurred. And so my earliest memories include trips to New York City, being masked back with nobody was, and just the, you know, everything that came along with that, that long process. And then, of course, the the grieving process. In fact, one of my earliest memories is a dream that I had after my sister passed.

Victoria Volk 3:14
Blank, can you talk about them?

Melissa Reilly 3:17
Absolutely. So as you can imagine, a four year old does not have a very strong understanding of what death means, right? So I was very used to my sister, and my parents being gone for periods of time, and then they would come back and things would feel happy or good or safe, right. And so it was common for me to ask, you know, my first question is, when’s Kim coming home? When’s Kim coming home? Right? And so my parents would always answer well, you know, the day of her funeral, which my sister and I were not at. I remember, you know, the ride home in the car. And just playing in the backseat with my sister and then asking, you know, the obligatory question, when’s Kim coming out? And there was silence. And it was pretty obvious that that something was wrong. And so I don’t remember who answered it was likely my mother who said that she died. And I remember not knowing what to feel, knowing I should feel something right. But all I could think about was wanting to get home so I could keep playing. I was four. Right. So that’s a typical response. But so I didn’t quite understand. And then I would keep asking my mother that question over and over. So when’s Kim coming up? Well, she died. How do you remember, you know, we talked about that? Oh, yeah, I know she’s dead. But When is she coming home? So really kind of struggle with that. So one night I had this the stream and my sister when she was ill were this night gown that I remember, you know, it was way too that blue flowers anyway, So in this dream, she was in the psych round, and she came down, I was in my garage, she came down kind of from the sky. And, you know, greeted me. And we started to play. And she’s like, I said, Oh, good, good. You’ve come home. And she’s like, No, no, I’m going to take you to where I live. So she took my hand, and we floated up, you know, to my four year old version of heaven, which was puffy clouds and little sheep. And, again, we played for a little while. And then she said, Okay, it’s time for you to go home. And I was like, okay, so she brought me back down. I’m like, great, you’re staying. And she said, No, you live here. I live there. But it’s okay. We’ll see each other again someday. But not now. You stay, I have to go. And it was extremely profound. Because at that point, I stopped asking the questions. And I know that to be true, because I’ve since looked in, you know, my baby book that was barely written, except the few passages that talked about it. Melissa is having a hard time. And then all of a sudden, Melissa seems to be better. She stopped asking. So that was just always there. But you know, I, you know, that dream, I always found comforting that idea that that she was okay. And she was up in the puffy clouds with the sheep. My version of heaven.

Victoria Volk 6:27
How old was your sister than when she passed away?

Melissa Reilly 6:30
She just turned seven. And unfortunately, in fact, the day before we’re recording right now, yesterday, was her birthday. So she would have been the D52.

Victoria Volk 6:45
What do you think when you look back in hindsight now, as a professional, doing the work that you do, in knowing about grief that you do? What do you think could have been handled? How do you think it could have been handled differently? For you and your younger sister?

Melissa Reilly 7:06
Well, that was a great, great question, because of a number of things. One, my parents did the best they could. But my mom was so determined, right? To make sure that my sister’s death was not going to impact me and my younger sister’s life. So they just plowed forward as if nothing happened. And again, it was with the best of intentions, right? We had just all suffered, and she didn’t want us to suffer anymore. So a couple of days after, you know, a couple of days after my sister died, my younger sister turned three. And my mother had a birthday party for in our house, right? So she’s, like, just buried her oldest daughter, and now she’s having all these, you know, little toddlers around for birthday. I mean, she did everything she could. And then, you know, I started kindergarten at the age of four, because she wasn’t gonna let anything stop me. Right. So, but But clearly, you know, I wasn’t ready. And then, you know, again, with the best of intentions, it was so painful, but we never talked about that at Victoria, our family, just one day she was here. And when they she wasn’t, and life went on as if nothing happened. And we literally never talked about it. We never talked about my older sister. And we never talked about the experience of her dying. And so what happened and I realized this, at the time, until it was much later that what that did is that created the sense that death was something that was so terrible, you could not even talk about it, or it would destroy you. And, and I didn’t realize that until I was in my young 20s. I was blessed off for my grandparents lived until my adulthood. And me and my younger sister, were talking at the time in which my my first grandfather was having major medical problems and was becoming clear that he was at the end of his life. And so we were talking and both of us we’re expressing our fear of him dying. And she made this this comment, I don’t think I’ll survive it. That’s pretty startling response. Right? And so that so a man in his 70s, who’s lived a full life having a natural death, right? I don’t think I will survive it. I don’t know how I will get through this. And so thankfully, I was in therapy at the time, right? And I mentioned that to my psychologist, and she was stunned. She was like, wow, that’s that’s, that’s not a usual response to a normal death. And I was like, really? Well, why not have it? It’s that hard, but how are we going to be okay. And it was at that point that we were able to discover that that unintentional thing that my parents said by never talking about it right to me Let us have a happy normal childhood. What it did is it created this undeniable terror of death. Right? which thankfully, you know, worked through, you know, that’s not an issue anymore. In fact, I’m very comfortable with death. But you know, this idea that your children don’t remember, or children don’t grieve in the same way as the so maybe that’s your children do not grieve in the same way. But the profound nature of childhood grief is still present and evident. We just don’t have the language in the prefrontal cortex to process it in the same way as adults do. So,

Victoria Volk 10:41
Oh, so much to unpack there. I had a similar experience, like it just wasn’t talked about. I take that back. And this isn’t to vilify parents, right? You know, because I’ve had guests where they just want to be clear, like, they did what they could, they did what they knew, right? And that’s what I talk about all the time, as we resort to what we know. Yes. And if we didn’t receive this education, of how to address grief, and how to process it, and all of these things that I talk about on a regular basis, we resort to what we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know. Right. And it does create a lasting impact in a negative way, it just does when we don’t take ownership of learning this stuff. And that was, you know, a lot of my experience in a lot of ways, too, but a little different, of course, because my situation was different. But yeah, not talking about it. Children will create their own stories. Yes. You know, what I talk about a lot, too, is how grief, we kind of grow up with grief as a child Grievers. And it changes with us, and we take us everywhere we go. And so it’s always there. How did that change for you? I’m especially curious into your teenage years.

Melissa Reilly 12:04
Well, I, you understandably, so became quite depressed at the age of 13. I mean, it was clearly genetic, in my, in my family history anyway, and growing up with grieving parents, you know, has an impact. But I remember, you know, becoming a teenager and just becoming utterly, you know, depressed and feeling this intense sense of something missing, and just something wrong with me, and just never, never enough. And, you know, again, parents did the best they could, right, but, but they were impacted by their own grief experience. And so part of then what I learned to do was try and be the best that I could be right, to make them happy. without ever knowing I was doing that. It just became part of who I was. and AM, you know, I mean, I don’t know that I’d be the person I am today, if it wasn’t for the experiences that occurred early on, but in adolescence, always needing to be what others wanted me to be, you know, which can become quite problematic, as you can imagine, always trying to make people happy, and just internalizing all those feelings of bad thought being good, never good enough, and just miserable, and not really feeling like there was any place for me to talk about those things. Again, I think my mother would be horrified to hear that that’s how I felt. But but that that is how I felt right and hiding her process from me to the best ability that she could only meant there wasn’t an openness about it, which meant, I never felt that permission to be open about it. And, you know, it was an unusual experience. Nobody, I went to a small little school, nobody that I knew had siblings that had died. I wasn’t really exposed to other child Grievers. In fact, interesting story. So my sister would have graduated high school two years above me, and when her senior year would have been one of the people that gratefully took took us in, during that time was aware, right that I had an older sister, in fact, the same grade, as her oldest daughter was. So that’s one of the ways that we were connected, because my sister did go to kindergarten periodically and a little bit of first grade when she wasn’t in the hospital or when she wasn’t, you know, in danger. So there was a little bit of awareness there. But anyway, so So she said, Oh, your sister would graduate. We should include her picture, you know, in the senior picture section. So, you know, we got this picture, which was, you know, again, that that quintessential picture that’s always in your head it right that the one that’s always given. And for her it was right before her her final relapse until it was like when she looked her best at her oldest picture. So that was put in the yearbook. And it was, it was beautiful. It was a full page tribute right of this little seven year old, barely seven year old little girl and her name. And I remember when the yearbooks came out, I had a whole bunch of people come up to me and ask, Who is this little girl? She was your name? Like, nobody knew I had a sister, like, oh, well, that was my older sister. So then I had to keep you know retell the story. And what struck me Victoria was how people kept referring to her, that little girl’s your older sister, is the phrase, little girl, because I didn’t see a little girl. And I didn’t realize I never saw a little girl, I only ever saw an older sister. And I didn’t realize that actually, until just a number of years ago about how significant that was, because I could never see my sister through my current lens. I always saw from that lens of the preschooler that the tiny person like always, just constantly, just back through that set of eyes, which means means I was always can go back to that place of early life experience without without knowing it. I mean, it for most of my life, when I looked at the picture, I was startled by how I never saw this little girl ever. I do now thankfully, no, because I’m in a much different place. But it just really struck me as odd.

Victoria Volk 16:43
There’s so much in that because when you don’t have anyone to relate to you, you do feel like you’re all alone. And I relate to much of what you shared small school, same thing, like I didn’t know anybody that lost a parent and adults didn’t know what to do or say and know is we all we just we aren’t taught this stuff, you know, how did this experience? And you know, grief is it’s never just one thing, right? It’s always it’s cumulative, and it’s cumulative ly negative, and I have not yet met a single Griever, who has not had multiple grieving experiences, even though like you said, in your information that you would submit it to me, you just don’t even realize it. And so, what have been some other experiences that have informed your life today, work you do?

Melissa Reilly 17:41
Well, um, like I said, I was I was blessed to have all four of my grandparents until adulthood. And then, you know, I started to lose, you know, I lost my first grandfather, and that was it an end of life death after a fulfilled life, you know, with us having a good relationship. So, with regards to grief experiences, it was, it was natural and normal. You know, there was nothing complicated about it, other than the sadness of the loss. So I was very thankful to have that experience, because it was, in many ways, a healing, corrective experience for me, to know what it was like to grieve as an adult, when everything was, was healthy and appropriate. And then unfortunately, not long after that I had a series of losses. So my mother passed away at the age of 25. I was 25. She was 51. Wow. Yeah. So very, very young died from a heart attack. Suddenly, my little sister bless her heart died seven months after my mom passed away. So those two losses were were very significant and very difficult. And a complicating factor for my mom’s dying was the fact that we had a falling out eight months prior to her death. And that falling out, never was completely healed. So so we were pretty much estranged for those last eight months. So that made that difficult. And then, you know, my younger sister had mental illness, and she was just really struggled, and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, probably four to five months out of those seven months, you know, not in a row, but in and out, in and out, in and out. And then in supportive housing after my mom passed, unfortunately, I was the one that told my sister, you know, about our mother’s death that my dad had called me when my mom died. And you know, so I went, you know, we lived in different places. I lived in Pennsylvania. I was living here, actually in Pennsylvania. At the time. They were in New York. So I went right up. And then my sister was living in Connecticut. So soon as I got there, you know, we drove to where my sister was living, and she was living in a supported housing community. And so we told the staff members, what was going on and it’s Make sure she was there and to have a staff member present. And my dad just couldn’t do it.

Victoria Volk 20:05
This couldn’t do it. So I did. I needed to tell her and your dad is still living.

Melissa Reilly 20:12
Yes, he is. He is God bless him here. He is. So, you know. And then, you know, when my sister died, seven months later she was in the she was in the hospital when it happened, pulmonary embolism Go figure. But yet the doctor called me because he couldn’t do it. I get a call in the middle of the night, the psychiatrist in a mental hospital telling my my sister had died. Again, yeah, drove up to my dad. And then so then he was just beside himself. And, you know, he’s like, I’ll never forget, his comment was like, I can’t put everybody through this again, we’re not going to have any funeral or anything. I said, No, that’s not acceptable. You know, you’re not putting anybody through anything, she died. And so we had funeral and, and did all that. But I needed, you know, to arrange it and make it all happen. And again, I’m not angry at my, my dad. I mean, the, you know, this was the second child he had buried and it was only seven months after he buried his wife. So oh,

Victoria Volk 21:28
It’s amazing that he is still alive, you know, in a lot of ways because grief, it takes a toll. It’s exhausting. And is there a part of you that maybe isn’t even surprised in a way about your mom’s sudden death? And even your sister’s like sudden death?

Melissa Reilly 21:46
No, no, not at all. I mean, it’s just a lot. You know, my sister’s best friend when she was in seventh died in a house fire, you know, and both my parents were there, because they were part of the community ambulance and fire squad. I mean, so just so so much that and then, you know, my dad remarried and his second wife died after 15 years. So we buried her. And now he’s married to another woman. But But yeah, it’s just, yeah, yeah. So she, she died after my son was born, my, but my son doesn’t really have a memory of her because he was too young.

Victoria Volk 22:22
And that’s just it, right? Like these experiences. Never leave us. Because then you become a mother. And then all of these insecurities come up. And all of these moments that you don’t have your sisters, and you don’t have your mom and you don’t have these shared experiences. And this is where people, I think, kind of, I mean, I fell into the trap of thinking, Gosh, I guess I’m just here to suffer my entire life because it was just loss, trauma, loss trauma. And you can get easily in that downward spiral. And I kind of want to circle back a moment to where when your sister older sister did pass, because and why I asked how it kind of showed up for you as a teenager, because what I’ve come to realize lately is there’s always there’s like two camps of kids, child Grievers. It’s those that act out anger, slipping grades, go down a different path. And then there’s the other that don’t want to rock the boat. Don’t know, boundaries are people pleasers try to be the best at everything they do. You know, there’s two kinds of kids that are child gravers. And what’s interesting to me, and what is what society does, and really what is damaging to children is that in my opinion, is that we look at these children like you and I, who wanted to be the best we could at everything we did and had this underlying perfectionism about us and didn’t want to rock the boat. And, you know, everything I just said, and then the children that other children that are deemed as problem, children, and neither really received the support that they need neither. No, but the children that choose a different path. This is where I’m not surprised that we are a society of addiction. Right?

Melissa Reilly 24:27
Absolutely. My sister struggled with addiction terribly. And, you know, it was a way that she coped with the mental illnesses that she experienced. And just, you know, I mean, she encountered death she was barely old enough to talk right you know, I mean, her own life was was filled with it. Their own. It was just terrible. You are a licensed right? You’re a licensed psychologist.

Victoria Volk 24:54
Okay, so in your professional opinion now, was it grief that your younger sister Did she have like a diagnosed?

Melissa Reilly 25:03
Yeah, my grief, grief was part of both of our lives. Right. And, you know, kind of fueled the development of personality. She also definitely experienced she had bipolar one. And there were times when, when when there would be, you know, a psychotic process to it as well. Now, would she have had that had our life been filled with grief from the beginning? I don’t know, I think both of our lives would have been extremely different, right. But you know, both of us through our childhood, we experienced our emotions through physical problems, right. I had migraines that were so bad at the age of 13, I was taking in China medicine, and I was the only child I knew that would go to sleepovers with her heating pad, because I would get leg pain so bad, just all these weird physical things that weren’t physical. I mean, they were I mean, they were true physical symptoms, right. But they were caused by emotional distress. So the brain, as you know, forms over 25 years, our brain isn’t done growing until 25 years old. And so when it is flooded continuously by the stress chemicals, and constantly in this place of hyper vigilance, our whole physiology is impacted, and our whole sense of self is impacted. And our whole ability to regulate emotions is impacted. And so your mental illness and grief become intertwined in many ways. And so I don’t think they could have been teased apart for her or myself, or, you know, my aunt, my, you my mom was an only child. My father had one sibling who was 15 years his junior, so she was closer in age to us. She’s more like a sister to me. And yet she was kind of this last child also, because, you know, nobody talks about my family. Certainly, you know, for her, it was like nothing ever happened. And so in more recent years, thankfully, her and I actually been able to talk about what it was like living, you know, our childhoods and the ramifications of that one experience or sequence of experiences and how it impacted us, you know forever.

Victoria Volk 27:18
Well, and that’s just it, right? You can have one event, but the ripples of it is everlasting. Yes. And so as a mom, now, you have one child? Well, I

Melissa Reilly 27:32
Well, I have two sons, my oldest came into my life when he was three years old when I married his father. And then I birth our younger son, and he’s the only child that I gave birth to.

Victoria Volk 27:45
And so what I know, you spoke a lot, you spoke of that in your information you submitted in So how has that you know, and that shapes a lot of the work that you do and the people you work with? So can we talk about that?

Melissa Reilly 27:59
Absolutely. So, you know, it had been 15 years since I had my that, you know, my mom had had died, I you know, was married now and unfortunately, had three miscarriages prior to the pregnancy with my son. So just kept experiencing grief up to a degree, right?

Melissa Reilly 28:20
And I was just blown away. I was like, you know, and I knew a miscarriage was was common, right? One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. So it is pretty common, but by the time you have three, that’s pretty rare. And so at this point, I was like, Oh, my goodness, what is going on. And we are in the process of finding that out when I became unexpectedly and unintentionally pregnant again, and was terrified. And really, as that pregnancy progressed, I knew I was extremely high risk these feelings of longing, again, that I hadn’t had for a while this longing for someone who is missing resurfaced, and was just overwhelming and continuous. So now it was all of these people. I felt like I was missing as well as the fear of losing another and I was having these distorted thoughts that I wanted a girl but having a girl was frightening to me because all the girls in my life died. So the men seem to be okay, but females not so good. So, I went into labor with my son at 26 weeks until the remainder of my pregnancy was either in the hospital or in bed and back and forth, getting shots and doing all kinds of things to sustain that pregnancy. which thankfully, despite only being given a 10% odds of maintaining the pregnancy, I carried him until exactly 37 weeks. Wow, gave birth and and, you know, he was healthy. What we discovered late, he’s got some neurological Oh issues based on some of the shots that were given, which had to be given. But you know, in general, he’s doing amazingly well. But it was at that point during the pregnancy and then giving birth that I realized just how alone I was and how unprepared I felt, and how isolated and insecure and what an imposter and this was coming from someone who was just days shy of her 38th birthday, who owns clinical practice, who taught Child Development at the graduate level. So I had all these resources behind me, I was very confident in who I was, as a woman as a professional. And I was so blown away with insecurity, and isolation and overwhelmed and not knowing what I was doing by this little infant. And I felt like I didn’t have anybody to ask, because I felt such an intense feeling of shame over not knowing what to do. And nobody understood. You know, I was getting all these platitudes. Well, moms feel that way. Sure. Yeah. All moms Yeah, that’s normal. That’s normal. That’s normal. Well, it isn’t. It isn’t normal to be a mom, without your mother, and to be going through all of this. And that’s why I’m doing this because I know now my son is now 11. And I still look back on those first few years. And it still pains me by just what a difficult time it was for me. And it saddens me that that my son’s first few years of life involved all of that. And it saddens me for me to write it was just such an intensely difficult and troubling time, and nobody was talking about it, nobody is talking about it, nobody talks about it. So so that’s why past couple years, I made the decision, you know, in my clinical practice, I was starting to see more moms without a mom. And it became something that I began talking about with them about how different the experience is, and how real that that sense of isolation and lack of community impacts us and how draining it is, and how grief for a mom, you know, either a mom that’s died, or a mom that you don’t have a relationship with. And I can get into that in a few minutes. How that is real, even if you’re not recognizing that as a grief process. And so, after working with a number of moms within you know, my clinical practice, you I realized there was this this real gap that I thought I was well positioned to fill. And so that’s why I began you might my coaching program, specifically designed for moms that have mom this way I can reach a broader audience, right. And so not just those that are coming into my clinical practice, because of mental health issues, but but those that that you know, are from a place of health, and just needing some specific assistance related to mothering is as a mama.

Victoria Volk 33:14
What are three things? Or I don’t know why three came to my mind. Maybe I think I know that you have three things to share. But so three things came to my mind, what three things, tips, suggestions, things that you’ve learned? I don’t know three somethings about your experience, your own experience, and what you try to get across to those you work with in terms of moms without moms.

Melissa Reilly 33:45
Okay, so absolutely, I do have three things. So it was perfect. But first, I want to define who a mom without a mom is. So you are a mom without a mom, if you are a mother who is separated from your own mother, by death, by emotional estrangement, or physical distance. And the reason I include all three of those things is because there are three or three categories is because there are three things that all women in those categories seem to, to share. So one is that grief process I talked about. So you’re either longing for your for your own mom, that can’t be part of your life, or you longing for the presence of a mom who is loving and supportive and can provide guidance. So those moms that are separated from their own mother by emotional strange men, you know of their mother may be alive, but they’re not in their life because of either toxicity, emotional abuse, and so they still don’t have the ability to connect to go to the They have emotional baggage themselves related to memories of their mom, right. And so it creates that difficult piece. And then those mothers that are separated from their mom by physical distance, they also experienced this grief, this this loss, this sense of not having what they thought they would have when they became a mom. And again, that’s somebody there. So, so we experienced grief, right? Second thing is there is difficulty with community. All right, so Mom’s got a mom don’t have the same go to person that other moms have. And so I have some strategies for that as well, right? So Mom’s got a mom need to build strategically their mom community, they can’t just rely on a relationship they they’re comfortable with that being their mother. And then the third thing is mom identity. Right? So who am I as a mom, when I don’t have my mom to mirror myself after. So there’s lots of moms out there whose moms died when they were really young. And so they they may not even have, you know, that role model figure, right? Or they had a mom and their relationship was, you know, not good. And so how do they, you know, figure out who they are, that’s like their mom, but not like their mom. And so all those factors get pulled into play, you know? So those, those are three common threads brief difficulty with community and then struggling with mom identity. All right. So when it comes to grief, specifically, the one of the things that the three things that are really important, right, is first to be able to recognize that what you’re feeling is grief. All right. So, you know, grief, can show itself in many different emotions. So we’ve got sadness, hopelessness, anger, fear, right? We also can experience different ways of thinking, right, this longing, the questions of what would have been those conversations that we never had, or would like to have replaying over and over in our head. And then of course, physical symptoms, right? The the decreased energy, changes in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, right? So we have all those grief experiences that we may or may not label as grief. And I think many moms, particularly in postpartum, get identified as having postpartum depression, which they may or may not have. But the underlying contributing factor is a grief process. So first, we have to recognize right, identify, oh, you know, I’m not necessarily thinking about my mom. But I’m just feeling really kind of alone and isolated, and just yucky. Right? Let me identify that that’s okay. You know, maybe that’s part of grief. So I can normalize it. The second is to be able to express our cultures, you know, all too well, Victoria, is so uncomfortable with grief, right? And so people don’t like when we express our stories, even the happy ones, right, they try and cheer us up, or take us down a different path, right, and distract us, you know, get her mind off of it. While it’s not really helpful, we need safe places to be able to express our stories, right? The good ones, and the not so good ones, then the third is to be able to fill in some of the gaps, right, and that kind of leads into that community piece I was talking about. So filling in the gaps means getting the support in ways that you’re needing that that person that you’ve lost, would have felt or filled. But in different ways.

Victoria Volk 39:07
All good stuff. I can identify with some of what you said there. Even with a postpartum you know, I experienced that after my second but even more so after my third child and it was kind of a struggle of a pregnancy. Yeah, as well. But go see your doctor. Right away. They want to give you a pill, you know? It’s yeah.

Melissa Reilly 39:30
Yes. Oh, my goodness. And you know, don’t get me started on that, that you don’t medicate grief.

Victoria Volk 39:35
Hey, let’s go there. But what I’ve seen in your practice or what have you all this what can what guidance can you give people listening before they take that step? Like how do you? Here’s a good question. Yes, I think it’s good. How do you discern for yourself? Well, you know, I guess I just need to get on something. They’re trying to say that I should you know, you can just a small milligram, right? I don’t know what else to do, I’m overwhelmed with all these feelings and emotions just going to get on this thing. And that’s, you know, they suggest this.

Melissa Reilly 40:09
Well, first and foremost, grief hurts, it is painful. It hurts to the core of your being. And it is normal, I think that is so important to realize that grief is painful, not all hurt, creates wounds that you need to do something about. So for example, if I were to pinch you, it would hurt, but it would not create a wound, the hurt would diminish, and you’d be fine. But if I were to pull off a piece of your skin, that would cause a wound that we then need to treat, you need to do something about. We, in our culture, when we’re exposed to pain, we become distressed, and we fear that it’s creating this wound, something that we need to do something about. And that just is not the case, most of the time, grief hurts, it is supposed to hurt, we have lost someone or something very dear to us, and it is going to hurt however, you have the ability to be okay, even with the hurt, the pain, the hurt itself, is not damaging, and the intensity of that pain is not lasting. In that way, forever. Grief lasts forever, right? I will grieve the entirety of my life. And I know that but my grief experience now feels very different than my grief experienced it at earlier times in my life. So the first and foremost thing is if you are experiencing pain and you are crying, if you are struggling to get out of bed, if you are distracted, and you are in the early stages of grief, that is normal, it is really okay, that most of your energy is going to simply functioning, I want to give you permission to just let all of your energy go to simply functioning. It’s really okay. Now, it is not appropriate to medicate an uncomplicated grief process. Many physicians, medication is their primary tool, right. And they are physicians because they want to help people. And so they give the tool that they have, unfortunately, they give it too quickly, I don’t need a hammer to push in a tack into a piece of cork board. It’s not appropriate. So when you make a decision for medication that should occur. After several other things have happened, you’re one that you’re talking and you’re getting support around your grief process. And that talking can be with friends family, it can be with a you know, professional, so counselors, therapists, psychologists, a coach that specializes in grief healing, and after a period of time, so I’m talking several months, you are still not able to function in basic ways, right? So caring for yourself caring for your loved ones, functioning within your place of occupation, or academics. You know, if you’re in the academic route, that’s when you start to consider medication. But, again, simply because you’re not back to normal self, after, you know, three days, three weeks, three months or a year, that isn’t necessarily a reason to then go on medication, that if you meet criteria for a diagnosable mental illness, then certainly medication could be part of your treatment process. But if that’s the case, then I highly recommend, you know, getting support through counseling, and not just medication, because medication alone is no more efficacious than counseling. In fact, in long term research, medication alone is less efficacious than counseling, because you don’t learn anything simply by taking medication.

Victoria Volk 44:17
And that’s where I think the biggest pieces is you learn you have to learn new knowledge in order to apply it and integrate it into your life. And there is a fabulous quote, I shared it on a different podcast episode, I think, but I got it in my inbox, and I just I just love it. And it talked about how knowledge isn’t power. It’s the application of knowledge that truly empowers us. Yes. And so that’s what we talk a lot about in Grief Recovery. It’s, as you know, in the work that I do with specifically grief, it’s multi layered. And so I would even say, even if it’s not within the Year, give yourself some time. Oh, gosh, it’s layered, and it’s yours, especially if you’ve never had therapy or never addressed anything you’ve got probably decades. Right?

Victoria Volk 45:12
It’s tough to work through.

Melissa Reilly 45:13
Right? And one year is simply the achievement phase. Right? Because it’s the year of firsts. Which doesn’t mean it gets easier or better necessarily, right? For me many times your three was a bigger struggle. And then, you know, depending on your own experiences, right, so, you know, when your child, especially if we start thinking about milestones with your own children as they age, right, so your child turns, for me, you know, the year they turned seven, was was a trigger year, right? It was constantly hyper vigilant about how they were doing, and constantly thinking about, Oh, my God, I can’t imagine their life being over. Oh, my God, I can’t imagine what this was like for my parents, right? So there was a real increase of my own grief process, you know, coming, you know, at a time that knew had nothing to do with their milestones, right? It was just the age in which I had my first grief experience. So so it gets gets triggered at many different times.

Victoria Volk 46:21
And that’s where to I think childhood, grief is very different than opposed to someone who may have first experienced grief as an adult. Is it really is this lifelong relationship?

Melissa Reilly 46:36
Yeah. You know, and I think one of the blessings that I recognize now is that I’m very comfortable with death.

Victoria Volk 46:46
I go there. Yeah,

Melissa Reilly 46:48
I don’t fear it, right. I don’t like it.

Melissa Reilly 46:52
I don’t fear it.

Melissa Reilly 46:55
Which provides me with a sense of comfort, and a sense of resilience. And so I feel very comfortable going to those places of fear and grief, and with the people I work with, right, and I can hear their stories, and I can just sit with it, knowing not only that I am okay. But they are okay to even though their feelings so badly in the moment. And that the best gift I can give them is to honor the space that they’re in. But to change how they feel, to simply honor it and give it the space it deserves.

Victoria Volk 47:39
That probably never was given. Correct for a lot of Grievers. Right. Right. Is that one of the things that grief is taught you?

Melissa Reilly 47:51
Oh, without a doubt, without a doubt.

Victoria Volk 47:55
Is there anything else that you feel? I mean, you share it a lot woven into your personal story and in the work that you’re doing? And, and thank you for the work that you’re doing. Thank you. That’s a really probably an untapped area of grief. I haven’t seen it before, I guess. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Melissa Reilly 48:15
Well, you know, I think one of the biggest things, takeaways today, I want listeners who are moms, that a mom to know is that you are not alone. And that what you’re feeling is real. And significant. And so I encourage you to reach out to talk about it, to let people know that you need support when you need it, you know, to build up a sense of mom community. But most of all right to know that you are okay you’re doing the best that you can. And your mothering may look different than other people’s mothering. And that’s okay, because you’re doing it on your own. And I applaud you.

Victoria Volk 49:00
So do you have a community?

Melissa Reilly 49:03
I do. I have my my personal community. And then I have, you know, my professional community. So my personal community? I include four people, right? So wise woman, this is the woman that can answer your questions and, you know, has lots of information and that could be a professional, right? Your emotional support. So this is the person that will listen. Anytime that you just need to express your emotion. They don’t try to cheer you up. And they don’t give you advice, they just listen.

Victoria Volk 49:35
Like a personal showman.

Melissa Reilly 49:37
Yes, absolutely.

Melissa Reilly 49:39
The fourth is the go getter. So this is the one that can get things done. So you need laundry done. She’ll do it right. So the we all have friends like this that are always busy and always doing something and we think oh my god, I can’t keep up. Right? So the one that you can ask to help at any time. And then the fourth is the late night talker. So this is somebody that you can call Part, basically, anytime. So those are the four people, I recommend all moms, but especially moms, that a mom to have in the corner. And, you know, I have those in my life. And then you know, professionally, you know, I’m building a community of moms without a mom. And so I would invite your listeners, if you’re interested to reach out, you know, offering recall, you know, we can connect, I can hear about your particular situation, right? I encourage people on social media there are, I’m on Instagram. So you know, I talk a lot about moms without a mom. In fact, that’s my my name. My mom said that among you. And so to become part of your community of people that get it.

Victoria Volk 50:47
So people that work with you then get into a, like, you have an online community?

Melissa Reilly 50:53
I will be creating an online community. I haven’t formed that yet. But that’s in the works. So hopefully, I’m hoping by this summer that I’ll have a group, you’ll probably start with a Facebook group, but I will be developing a larger coaching program. But right now I’m doing just individual coaching. And I’m part of that community so.

Victoria Volk 51:21
Wnd where can people find you, for your website?

Melissa Reilly 51:25
My website is momswithoutamom.com. So very easy, and it’s moms with an s some moms without a mom.com.

Victoria Volk 51:36
Nice, and I’ll put the link to your social and website and things in the show notes. And awesome. I love those four kinds of moms to have in your corner. That’s, that’s wonderful. That’s a wonderful tip just for anybody. Yes, really?

Melissa Reilly 51:51
Yes. And no, the strengths are your friends, right? Because none of us are all for those. Right. So if you know that, you know the person, that’s the go getter. She may not be the person that’s great at just listening. And vice versa. I mean, I’m a great listener. And, you know, at this point, I’m, I’m kind of a wise woman as well. I am not the go getter. My laundry stays in my own machine for about a week. So you know, we all have our strengths. So, so, you know, don’t expect one person to do it all.

Victoria Volk 52:24
And that’s the thing, you know, like my, for my podcast, cover art. It’s me on an island with a megaphone. And I didn’t have that sense of community. You know, when I, I was a new mom. I mean, I had some family here, but you know, it’s the girlfriends. You know, it’s I think that’s so important. As a mom took me a long time to develop that and curate that for myself. Yes, yes,

Melissa Reilly 52:52
Yes, yes, it is difficult. And I was an older mother. So you know, my friends all had teenagers and young adults.

Victoria Volk 52:58
Oh, sure. I mean, that’s another grief. Right? Like,

Melissa Reilly 53:01
Yeah, being out of sync? Absolutely. So but yeah.

Victoria Volk 53:07
Oh, good. Thank you so much for everything that you share today. And it’s unfortunate that we have to go through some really difficult challenging times to be in a space of healing, helping others heal. But I wouldn’t change anything. And I don’t suspect you would either.

Melissa Reilly 53:29
No, no, I wouldn’t.

Melissa Reilly 53:31
And not at all. Again, you know, I am the person I am today because of all that I’ve experienced and learned and then what I’ve done with it.

Victoria Volk 53:41
But there can be guilt and shame in that too. It’s like, you know, this is where I want. I had a fleeting thought when you were talking earlier about, you know, the emotions that grief brings, you know, you’re talking about sadness, and anger and all these things, but there’s also joy. Yes. And then we feel guilty for feeling joy.

Melissa Reilly 54:00
Absolutely. Because, you know, I talked about having containers, and we can hold multiple containers, right? And so you can grieve for the loss, you know, of a mom, you know, and the longing for that and have the joy of being mom and love your child, right? You can experience all of that. And so you don’t need to feel guilty that this may be you know, front and center right now. That doesn’t mean this isn’t there. Just that front center, and it’s okay.

Victoria Volk 54:33
Yeah, so yeah, moment to moment. Absolutely evil. And that’s absolutely not as normal and that’s natural. You’re not crazy.

Melissa Reilly 54:40
No, not at all.

Victoria Volk 54:41
Well, thank you so much for being here today.

Melissa Reilly 54:45
You are very welcome.

Melissa Reilly 54:46
Thank you for having me. I’ve enjoyed it very much.

Victoria Volk 54:49
And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.

Ep 125 | Tim Heale

Tim Heale | Glass Half-Full Approach to Life


Tim’s grief was compounded by the loss of his best friend and then-wife within a year of each other. It’s enough to send anyone into a tailspin as it did for Tim.

He found himself at the lowest point in his life. Grief-stricken, he found solace in a bottle until a friend asked him if he thought he had been drinking too much. From then on, he considered his path and decided to change his approach to life.

Love found him where he least expected it; in the arms of the widow of his deceased best friend. He and his now wife found themselves in the same grief boat and decided to give love a chance – to give their capacity to love a chance.

In this episode, Tim shares how grief from past experiences of losing the people closest to him shaped his outlook on life. Additionally, he shares how his experiences serving in the British military gave him a unique perspective on life.

Love helped to turn Tim’s life around. More importantly, however, his renewed hope and outlook opened his heart to life again.

“Life’s too short to muck about. You need to do as much as you can with what life you’ve got.”




Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is Tim Hill. Having spent most of his adult life in the British Army as an infantry soldier, he has seen a lot of action in some very dangerous places from Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq to name a few, and has lost some good mates along the way, which is always hard to deal with. But as we know, grief is cumulative. And as cumulatively negative. And thank you so much for being here and being open to sharing your loss stories. And so because we tend to accumulate these suitcases of grief, you know, one after the other, and they kind of stack up. Let’s start with your first experience that was really difficult for you.

Tim Heale 0:50
This thing, the very, very, very first loss that I experienced was her dog lady, when I was growing up was, was by 11, when she and she was around from before I was born. So no, no for a long time. And it was, it was a bit of a messy time. My mother split up our Father, and we had to move away. And he wasn’t able, we weren’t able to take the dog with us. And they had put down so when we moved back, we didn’t have adult. So that was our first real bit of grief that really properly experienced.

Victoria Volk 1:34
Which is really common for a lot of people. Yeah, in childhood.

Tim Heale 1:39
Lose a pet. It’s, it’s devastating, especially if you, your dad pet for a long time. So for me, that was that was a first time I’d experienced proper grief. The next time was 1980. I’ve been spending the last two and a half years in Berlin on a posting, which was one of the best postings you can imagine. there then. Then we moved to Northern Ireland in January of 1980. And I was on the advice party, or a very important job, very important role at the time. And just about then my grandmother died. And fortunately, I couldn’t get away to come back for a funeral. My grandmother’s spent, I spent a lot a lot of time with my grandmother growing up. Especially in my teen years, I used to meet Remy grands. And she used to feed me quite well. And yeah, so I spent a lot of time with her. When I was working as a lead. I used to call round now at lunchtime from from the place I was working at. And she she could be large. And we’ll sit in chat and watch Emma dial 500. So before going back to work, so so her loss was did hit me quite hard at a time.

Victoria Volk 3:14
I’m just curious, what would you say is one of the greatest lessons that you’ve taken away from the time that you knew you knew your grandmother.

Tim Heale 3:22
I mean, she taught me so much really, over the years. I mean, we used to chat away about all sorts of stuff and because my granddad died before I was born, I used to chat about him. And now looking back, and having done a bit of research and putting a few bits and pieces together. Why understand what he did, but his life he was in a Royal Navy. In the in the first world war he was injured down in the Dardanelles off of Turkey. It was a was in the Navy. He was a writer, sonnets, a scribe in the Royal Navy, and he was injured and he had a bone replaced in his forearm with a titanium one, which I guess back in those times was was something of a novelty to replace a bone in an army in our arm to replace any bone I guess. So that was one of the things that we used to chat about grandfather and the rest of the family. Yeah, I think just the the ability to sit and listen on a nap that was wanting to hear from my grandmother because she did like the talk. And I’d ask you a question and and then I’ll get the full explanation and and I just love set setting and a few times I was I was like back to work because I did like the solid say, Well, man, we’ve got a clear off we’ll get back to work that but yeah, a real real fond memories of Madame.

Victoria Volk 5:03
That’s wonderful. I think in you know, she didn’t know it, but she was teaching your patients to, right?

Tim Heale 5:08
Absolutely. And, and I guess it’s paid off over the years where I’ve, I’ve had jobs where you’ve had to sit and wait. And there’s nothing worse than then than sort of sitting waiting for somebody watching for something to happen. And somebody sort of fidget in a way in determining, you know, the type of person that calls itself for a second. Now, I’m currently married to one of those. You just go on sale for five minutes? And if she does, was it then crap phone, or I didn’t want to watch in the first place. I want to watch this. So two minutes later, you’re gone. For a count. And if I chose you over, I was watching it like you would? Yeah, it certainly patients, I think that was one of the things I took from and then to be able to sit and do nothing. And just watch. And listen, I think that’s that was one of the keys.

Victoria Volk 6:15
And be present, right? Be present with the person or when this deep listening and presence.

Tim Heale 6:22
So I think those boding well for what I do nowadays, with my particular podcast, where I try to get other people’s stories, and I’ll give them the opportunity to tell it and occasionally just give a little prod to, to bring out a little bit more information or, or bring them back when I’ve gone too far ahead.

Victoria Volk 6:44
So that was your first initial hard boss, but that’s not your last, of course.

Tim Heale 6:51
Not, I mean, no got a list as long as you’re on rock and rock and roll off. I mean, there was there was one year just recently, I attended 20 funerals, in the cyber six months of law lost mates that I’d served with years ago. And on regimental net, we may publish when somebody has died in the regiment, whether they are a veteran or serving, and then they give details at a funeral and, and lots of guys turn out to pay respects and law in the street for for their coffee when it comes in and attend the funerals. So yeah, 20 funerals inside six months was was a tough, tough nut to crack. And particularly some of the guys I was close with. They’ll work closely with and they were, I mean, we’re in the same sections, and the same pattern, in some pretty rough. rough times, is where I was scenes, we all know, one day you were going to die. We all know that one day, somebody’s going to grieve for us. And we all know that we have to accept loss, and move on. And I think that’s the hardest part is accepting that somebody’s gone, you’re never gonna see him again. And you want to be accepted that you agree for them. And then you have to move on with your own life that you can’t live in the past. And I think that makes it maybe easier to deal with knowing the fact that they’ve gone and they’re not coming back. And you’ve had the best of times with them. Does that make a lot of sense?

Victoria Volk 8:45
Yeah. And you know, one of the expressions that, you know, we say in the Grief Recovery Institute, which I’m certified through is a grief recovery specialist is that, you know, people say you have to move on, but they don’t tell you how. And so what has the how looked like for you?

Tim Heale 9:07
Or do you try and bury in a bowl, and that doesn’t work. I mean, it’s just you feel, particularly when I lost my best mate. And a year later, I lost my wife and losing the two lows within a year of each other. I’ll get it into something of a bit of a depression. And yeah, I started to drink thinking that I’ve got nothing else so it didn’t take long to sort of start knocking back half a bottle of rum. Sometimes three quarters of all of ram a night for me was a fairly short time it was it was a couple of months but young and I was thinking an awful lot of RAM and somebody said you that pointed out the fact that you think you should be drinking quite so much. And the problem is, I inherited my father’s ability to drink, he could drink an awful lot, and get out and function perfectly well the following day. And I’ve, I’ve got that ability on me I can, I can go Happy St. Arthur Butler RAM, and before and the next morning and go out and just function a normal. So to become a functioning alcoholic, would have been really, really easy for me. But I lost another friend, and went to the funeral. And I looked around some of the other guys that were there and thinking, when they did all of it, all of this is going to be gone. I need to move on with my life. So did I don’t pull the pin out, I just said, That’s it. I’m not drinking avenues off on a social function. So I stopped drinking. I was feeling pretty low, pretty lonely at the time. And I’ll go into Internet dating.com I mean, kids are grown up and moved away, which sold the house, I was living in barracks. So I had an awful lot of time on my hands in the evening, which is one of the reasons I was doing an awful lot of drinking. I was going in the bar in the evening and starting there and then going back to the room and, and polishing off what was left at the bar from the day before. But I decided something somebody says to me, you need to get yourself sorted out and and get back on the circuit. It’s nicer density, you’re going to have internet buying.com. So I did. So I started that game, I went out met a couple of dozen really nice ladies went out for a meal and a chat. And there was one lady that we got together with for a bit. We were together for I guess about a year and a bit. The problem is you can’t if you put two areas together, which is a fire sign that the flames are down a bit. So it was never going to be but it was fun while it lasted. And then because my best might. His wife was best mates with my wife. We were godparents to both for the kids. She was by herself lonely. I was down saying the kids and we decided what aren’t we may come up make a go of it. So when it was, what, 13 years ago now? 13 years ago? Yeah, there abouts. And here we are been happily married. Together we can we can sit and talk about Dave and Sandra, quite happily, because we’ve got so much history by and when we’ve known each other for the best part of this is about 35 years now. So yeah. So from that point of view, I mean, when it’s or birthdays come up, we can remember that we could of course talk about them. And we’ve got that shared experience. And that’s how we cope with both the loss of two soulmates. Is that Is that Is that gonna help somebody?

Victoria Volk 13:42
That’s a beautiful story. It’s our lives are never, they never unfold as we expect them to. And sometimes they unfold even better than what we could have ever imagined.

Tim Heale 13:56
The one thing to take away for me is that it doesn’t matter what you do in life, you have to live it and live every day, as though it’s going to be your last one day will be and there’ll be people grieving for you. But let them know that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to shed a tear but get on with your life it’s over my life have been over get on with your own life and and I think that’s what Dave and Santa would say is you hats off to get on with it. Enjoy your life while you’ve got it, because once your elf stars and you start falling the bits, then life gets a bit tougher. Especially if you see so Many people that go through a long, long illness, and their lives are curtailed, they can’t get on, they can’t do anything, there just isn’t, it’s not like seeing a dog in pain that you can you can put down. You can’t do that on a human at the moment, by they frown on it, particularly if you saw using a pillar to open along the way. But it’s except in fact that one day, you’re not, they’re not going to be there. And, and when you’re not there, you will either have to go.

Victoria Volk 15:39
I think there’s a an important aspect of what you shared that I want to highlight and that someone had the courage to say to you, hey, what’s going on? You know, I think you need to clean up your life and maybe look at you’re drinking too much, you know, just having the courage to ask that question. I’m curious what that relationship was, was it a close friend was an acquaintance. I don’t have to say who? Okay, we’re calling.

Tim Heale 16:12
Look a like, dummy did the arm is a fairly close knit community anyway. And we were on pre deployment training. And yeah, it’s insane. It’s in a bar a few times and above, I must have said something. And they’re not gonna not gonna refuse to give me a drink because this money got across the bar. But they said, Yeah, you need to cut down your drinking a bit. And, and maybe my BS, right. Especially if you’re going out on arranges getting ready to deploy out into somewhere hostile that way, you could lose your life anyway, here, just a little bit of a wake up call. And I think, I think that’s what might do for you. Particularly in the army, you look after each other, you look after each other, you cover each other’s back, particularly, you have to trust these guys that you’re working with. And to be out on patrol. You got to know that the talent Charlie’s doing the right thing. And you’ve got to know about the guys in front there on the sweep below mine detectors that they’re doing their job properly. It is that trust that somebody says something, and they do it for your own good. So I think that was a little bit of a wake up call for me at that time. And occasionally, I’ll slip back to having the Spiced Rum hotter or an evening. But I mean, locked down was particularly tough, because I’m retired, couldn’t get out anyway. And initially, it was it was pretty tough, because we’ve been fairly active we couldn’t get access to, to the boat, we couldn’t go sailing, we couldn’t do anything. And apart from knit to the shop and got the bowser spice runner these the way through so but it didn’t take long to realize that Thomas stopped drinking so much. He does run in my family, unfortunately. Alcoholism. So it isn’t all that much of a coping mechanism.

Victoria Volk 18:43
No, it’s not. It’s a it is definitely a band aid. It’s always Sue theirselves and no amount and not not feel. Yeah. So your service was that something that you always knew you wanted to do growing up?

Tim Heale 19:03
Well, kind of up until the age of about 10 and a half. I was gonna be a farmer

Tim Heale 19:13
With my grandmother, grandfather worked on a farm on my mom’s side. And we used to spend a lot of time most of the summer holidays Down on the Farm helping out with the pigs and stuff like that. And I thought this what I want to do want to be a farmer. And then at the age of about 1010 and a half, I took the the 11 plus, which is if you pass out you got the opportunity to go to a grammar school and get a really a really decent education. So I took the LM plus and found that quite miserably and, and then I was we were looking at I was gonna go to a boarding school That was an agricultural boarding school. So you do your normal sort of studies, but you also do farming studies, animal husbandry, that sort of thing. So we went over to this place called Haddon Hall, in half a chair. And I took an entrance test for that. And found that quite spectacularly. Got no jobs are coming in to college. That’s a boarding school. So that was it. My life, my life as if I was gonna be over.

Victoria Volk 20:39
Was there grief in that?

Tim Heale 20:41
Well, there was a bit of shock. Although, I mean, it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock because I was pretty rubbish at school. Anyway, I got put off fairly early age, I was about six, when I got put off school, there was a bully in school and this was like the infant school and, and he started picking on me one day, when he got fed up with picking on other people. And I spoke to the old man or CD, or God is bullied at startup pick on my watch the derby derby. He says, Well, son, first thing you do is give him a thump. And make it a good cause if he is going to give you an idea. So anyway, the next thing anybody saw was me, giving him a good thump him flying backwards straight into school pond, me and dragged off to the headmaster’s office, the sixth and the best. I felt quite a bit of an injustice. And that kind of put me off school. It was also burnouts. Some a lot years later, don’t suffer from dyslexia. So that didn’t help either. I spent more my secondary school years, I guess you call it high school, going in getting registered and earning clear enough. And it wasn’t until go into join the army. So the age of 11, I thought, well, I’ll go and join the army instead of being a farmer. When I take the test to join the army and failed out fairly, fairly miserably as well. And an recruiting sergeant, he says to me, Son, if you can’t read and write proper, you can’t come in. And he only saw that weekend, over and over. I took a long, hard look at myself and figuring what you’re doing your map it, get your finger out, get some sort of education, and then go back and try and get back into the art or try and get into the army. Because if you don’t, you’ll end up in prison or at some of these other Tigrex. So that was it. I went into school that following Monday, turn over complete new leaf. Instead of getting registered and bunking off, I went through every single lesson that week after the teachers, so I was a new student come in.

Victoria Volk 23:11
You’ll find yourself.

Tim Heale 23:13
Yeah, I’ve also got my finger and got stuck in Stein read reading books and soaking up as much as I could. And then it was about six months. Seven months later, I went back to the recruiting office with a mate who kindly helped out with somebody else’s. And I managed to get a place to join the army at 16. And I look back since I’ve done I’ve done a pretty good career. All in all. Do I have studied a bit over the years of minister? Yeah, I can read books nowadays. I’ve read all the Harry Potter’s for free of all times, I used to collect war stories, escape stories from the Second World War and then die for my best might. We used to go out and order the bookshops looking for these books if we get first editions and stuff like that, and then we’d read them and swap them about and yeah, so I’ve made up for it since but it was a tough outbreak upbringing, I must admit and it was a rough area as well. When I when I where I grew up. But here I am. 60 odd years later, looking gorgeous and then dealing with life as it comes along. And gives us a ride ride club rally.

Victoria Volk 24:45
Do you think that experience of you know overcoming that, you know those setbacks of I wanted to be a farmer and then you realize that wasn’t going to happen? You wanted to join the military and then that wasn’t going to happen and then you realize like, I have to do Turn this around and even despite your dyslexia, yeah. Also you had this determination to make something of yourself. Was that kind of emulated or encouraged in your upbringing by your parents? Or was it this something? Was it just something that was within you? Do you think?

Tim Heale 25:23
Or think I’ve always had a glasses off full. Always offered, I did. I’ve never, never let things get me down for too long. I’ve always bounced back from from, in the jaws of defeat and, and some of our some real, proper knockbacks. I mean, in my life, I had some real disappointments and losses as well. But I’ve always learned to sort of sit back, analyze it slightly and just get on with life. It’s life’s too short to muck about with, you need to do as much as you can with the life you’ve got. And at the moment, if I was to die tomorrow, I could be at the pearly gates have been himself. Well, I’ve had a fair Oh life, and pretty much one of my own choosing. So if I can die that happy that I’ve lived a life, full life, and I’m one of my own choosing, then why are you doing so bad? Oh, my God. Having said that, I’ve got a ticket until 102. I’m gonna die a Chelsea pensioner once I get my second telegram off the King, I say. But we’re close.

Victoria Volk 26:46
So what do you think has been the greatest lesson that your military service has taught you? And do you think that the grief experiences and those have kind of prepared you for this stage of your life?

Tim Heale 27:01
Well, one thing I learned is to stay low, move fast, and watch where you put your feet? Because if you don’t, he’ll probably end up without any feet. And I’ve seen that an awful lot. Yeah, I think my life has just been one long lesson of just dealing with stuff. I mean, the Army is a great, great place to learn to deal with stuff. The training that you go through, is all designed fear to, to just get on and deal with it. That’s what I mean, whenever there’s a crisis in this country in the UK, whenever there’s a crisis, I mean, the there was a foot and mouth there was the firemen strike, there was the rollout of a vaccine, that the first thing they do is call in the military. There’s a reason that they call in the military, because the military instill in you in training to get the job done. And that’s, I think that’s one of the things that that has helped me certainly is, is if somebody needs don’t just get on and get it done, doesn’t matter what he takes. And I think they, they don’t get it instilled in in civvy street. They, for some reason, is not taught is not taught to get the job done. It’s like on the stage, the show must go on. That does not happen in a lot of places. So first, there is a crisis. The first thing they call is a military. But what I’ve done with the military at the moment is stripping it of its key asset, which is the soldiers coming back going back since when I joined the British Army in 1974. It sat around about 160 170,000. Today, as we sit here, it’s about 66,000. We’ve lost somewhere over 100,000 troops over the last 4050 years. And they continue to be cutting back. They’re investing. Yeah, they say they’re invested in a lot of money. I mean, we got two brand new aircraft carriers. Of course, a few bob, we got some new submarines that’s coming on. We’ve got the FA five that we’re buying from the Americans cost an absolute fortune, but we haven’t really got his boots on the ground.

Victoria Volk 29:49
Do you think that’s in part two less people serving?

Tim Heale 29:54
But I don’t think it’s less people serving I think, because we’re not fighting a war. At the moment, and it’s Oregon, for example, when we’re in in the midst of award brought through the 20 years where was in Afghanistan, we didn’t have much of a recruiting problem. It’s a boy’s own adventure. I mean, guys sign up for four years. But the do their training, they go to Afghanistan or do a six month 12 month tour, come back, job done, and move on in back in civvy street. Where we haven’t where we not got warfighter. But we are probably as a military in a moment, though far more than what we were when we were in Afghanistan, we’re far less if we get into another conflict, similar to to Afghan we couldn’t sustain. We just couldn’t sustain it at the moment, we have, we could get the first first brigade out on the ground. But we would really struggle again a second brigade to go and do a rip a relief in place for him.

Victoria Volk 31:06
It’s not a recruiting problem?

Tim Heale 31:09
Is a recruiting burden. And it’s been going on for quite a while now. But it’s also a funding problem. I think where they’re, they’re spending huge amounts of money on capital investment in lighter carriers, aircraft. They’re part of hold our tanks that just bought them all up, left them in Germany. They’ve only got I think, one squadron the tanks, the US for training purposes. It’s it’s, it’s just a continual cutback. And my regiment, our first battalion a moment and serpins served in Cyprus, when they come back from Cyprus, they’re going to cut it from a 450 battalion down to 250 battalion. So and it’s going to be a battalion that will go out on and deliver small training teams around the world for different places. The Second Battalion will pick up the ones that they’re not going to use in the first battalion and now become a Ranger Regiment. So, what they’re doing with the regiment, ethos, instilling people, regimental pride, they’re slowly slowly chipping away at the the MES software system. And when it’s asked message is what holds the regiment, the army together CD rights, senior ranks over decades now, they’ve been chipping away at mess life, where we used to have mess stewards, that was soldiers, they’ve got rid of them, mess manages the soldiers, they got rid of them. And they they subbed it out to subcontractors to civilian sub contracts. And it’s destroying the mess life is made it you can’t have a function like we used to, you can’t have a dinner night because it’s it’s now become too expensive, because they’ve got civilians have got try and make a profit. So the regimental system is being chipped away. And before long, we won’t ever regiment the system you won’t have the pride in in regiments that we’ve, we’ve had for decades, for centuries. Now when the See what I did to toward the Scottish regiments, they there was six or seven Scottish regiments that they amalgamated into one regiment. And at the time, I mean, there was a lot of a lot of pushback, a lot of fighting over it. But I’ve done that to two English regiments now, and they had done for a long time so.

Victoria Volk 34:01
I had never given much thought to the military be coming. You know this where they start to subcontract, right, where they start to farm out certain things for the military. But I mean, I see it all the time in the corporate world, right? You didn’t hire third party contractors for things in it or, you know, infrastructure, things like that. But, boy, if that were to happen with the military, that’s a slippery slope.

Tim Heale 34:32
And I think they’re saving money by doing it.

Victoria Volk 34:36
Yeah, well because, right, because you have to invest every soldier is an investment, you know? Yeah. A long term investment for some, for many. I know here in the States, the statistic has been, I think it still is that less than 1% of Americans serve in the military. Less than 1% You know, it’s crazy. It is crazy to me that it is I mean, by far some of the greatest lessons that someone can ever distill and, you know, experience and really carry with them throughout their entire life.

Tim Heale 35:16
Yeah. Well, what, so when I joined the Army, but I joined a battalion in Germany in 1975, the battalion was around about 1000 strong. And it was made up of we had saved the infantry companies, we, that we were a mechanized battalion, so we had armored personnel carriers, so it needed a few more blokes in in the platoons to be able to do it. And I guess each company was about 100 and 150. Strong. Then you had all the debts and debts that may made up the assault pioneers of domestic pioneers, where their own own chefs also started battalion was about 1000 strong. When, when we came back from Germany in 1976, the battalion changed to a 650 battalion, which was a light roll battalion. So lots of guys were, were getting out anyway at that time and natural wastage. And some of them were posted to, to one or the other battalions. When we came back, we dropped down to a 650 battalion, and then order the like the chef’s and then we got chefs from the army catering call it started then that’s where Condor, the rot sets in. And successive governments over the last 100 years, I guess, have been cutting back getting back cutting back during the Cold War, in the Cold War years were great for for a standing army set in Germany. I mean, the Americans were there as well. And they were good times. And there was no real real threat from Russia to come across the because there was no need to do it. Not like now. Now, because we’ve been deployed the so Batchi. He’s, he’s gone into the Ukraine. And if he would have got away with that, he would have then pushed on into, into into the Balkans and the Baltic states.

Victoria Volk 37:38
What do you think is his greater greater strategy? Because I’m thinking it’s like, you want the power? Right? It’s he’s power hungry. And but you know, you, let’s say you he obtains Ukraine. He’s just destroyed the very country he’s trying to obtain. So financially, it might be a drop in the bucket for him. I have no idea. But what do you think is his greater strategy here? I mean, I know it’s to just infiltrate further and you know.

Tim Heale 38:14
How many goes back to the old USSR days? And I think that’s what he’s kind of misses.

Victoria Volk 38:21
Stuck in the past, right? Maybe he needs to listen to this podcast.

Tim Heale 38:26
Absolutely. Yeah. If you if you’re listening to this, Mr. Putin, you kind of got your strategy wrong. Listen. I would just stick with what you go. Yeah, that we we’ve watched you go.

Victoria Volk 38:41
Yeah. Never

Tim Heale 38:42
To be friends than enemies.

Victoria Volk 38:44
Yeah, he hasn’t gotten that memo yet. Unfortunately. So I’m curious too, because of all your service and experiences and, and hotbed places. Did you ever experience PTSD symptoms or have you know, troubles with flashbacks, things like that?

Tim Heale 39:08
I can the early days in the knowledge 77 was in Belfast was in a place called the belly Murphy. And every single day, we had some sort of major type of incident going on. We had shootings, we had rocket attacks, we had bombs. We had riots and adjourn at all at the end of that so I came home and we got some leave and I was stopping my parents house. And I was walking up the town we’d be mum. And she was chatting away and ran away. And a cold backfired, immediately took a hedge Jawwad gone on, only took a few seconds to work out what was going on. Up But you silly sod. So I’ll go back up and got back along so she hadn’t even noticed I’d gone earlier. But that was just a tiny kicking in, in lady is particularly Afghanistan or done three tours of Afghanistan I was there in 2000. So after 911, I had a wonderful time. I had a brilliant, brilliant time in Kabul. I got there in late January, and I left there on the 20th of June in 2002. For me, it was a fairly benign area. At that time, I was able to go out around the streets around I was at the the main headquarters for ISEF. I was working to the general everything we did was directed at the locals. I was in psychological operations. So we were we had a few campaigns that go in with reporting crime and bits and pieces like that. But one of our main focuses was, we put together a tri service, toy language, newspaper, with good good news stories mainly for and we distributed out throughout the city. I was able to go out with just myself and an interpreter and walking around the streets and the bazaars, talking to people getting stories and stuff. If I had to go outside of the city, we went up to Bagram a couple of times with my boss. We had to have an escort to go that road, because the road from Kabul to Bagram. There was lots of legacy mines looking around. And you could see him wash down at the site in a row. There was a big tank battle up there. You can see where the tanks had been. This was in the Russian area. So more timing in Kabul into zone two was awesome. Then, the next thing I found myself in Iraq and Iraq, in southern Iraq, my job was pretty tough on me, I was just on a hide into nowhere with it. Or had to come up with a campaign directed at the population of southern Iraq, particularly, this is where we’re operating to enhance the perception of the Iraqi police service in the eyes of the locals. The Iraqi pursuit police service for decades have been mistrusted. They were corrupt, and it was just a hide into nowhere. But I got to travel around an awful lot around Southern Iraq went up to Nigeria, where are you Italians were a sound were up. But the Dutch and the Japanese were now to LMR where we add troops and into badger city. And he used to go down to QA once a fortnight and printers to get some stuff printed up the way we’re distributing. Well, I didn’t, I saw a couple of incidents, but nothing that bad. Going back slightly, a few years. Prior to that in 1999. In 2000, I was in Kosovo. And I spent the best part of a year in Kosovo. And because so many decided that psychological operations and media operations should operate at the same office. We thought it was a particularly good idea at the time. But I didn’t have an awful lot sign it. Their driver that drove what we call an FFR. Land Rover FFR, which is fitted for radio had to leave and I was the only person that was qualified to drive this this vehicle with a secure fit in the back. So as a crypto radio set in the back, we had a satellite phone on board and mobile phones and the media ops jobs was to go out to incidents to be the focal point for the media. So they didn’t bother the commander on the ground. So we will be the link between the media and the guy on the ground. On top of that, I was doing my psyops work. And one of our main projects was a newspaper for the Serbs just outside of Christina in a bicycle Gretz in nature, so we were putting together a newspaper for him never As my other main focus, but occasionally I’ll get crashed out to go to incidents. And a few of the incidents that went out to were the the mass graves, we’ve only got a few mass graves that were turned over turned out at the time, particularly in the early days. And seeing some of that sticks in your mind a bit. And then went back to Afghanistan in 2000 2006 2007. And the future ones all went out on the ground. Regarding some trouble one particular day we’re going to travel we got dropped off my helicopter to patrolling the village. And then in chapter one, we will speak to locals and then we arrived upon by the Taliban. That time it was a shooting type wall. And I know quite a bit of a stand up shooting match with us. And we spent nine hours trying to break off his contact, our radios have gone down. And we were trying to extract back towards somewhere where we could get picked up by helicopter. So we were dropping Taliban like folding plates. Fortunately, we didn’t lose anybody. We we almost got down to So one round left per man, and expanded on a drunk call of water that we’re carrying. And then I started off on going out on patrol with 42 kilos on the back. Now got back in with about 20. So we’d used up an awful lot of ammunition, awful lot of water. And that’s pretty much all we carried on in body armor and helmet and weapon system. That was a tough day. And everyone went back into Thursday nine I only went out on the ground four times. Twice, we got hit by IDs and a few guys lost their lives. And the few guys survived but bits missing so it does play on your mind a bit I tend to view that is part of the job you are gonna see this stuff is if you let it affect you Yes, occasionally you get off we live somebody incidents but you just say well as part of job and not let it affect your life doesn’t matter how tough somebody is. Some people it will affect and it’s difficult not to let it affect you. Personally, I take that view that it’s it’s something that that is part of the job it’s it’s part of what I like to say when you see enough more films and stuff like that, and I think one of the one of the most graphic films to watch is the the opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan and and that was done fairly well in seeing what’s happening. Rounds coming in and hitting around that type of experience is what we had on that particular day. And how we didn’t get anybody called I don’t know or hit. They must have been pretty rubbish shots. Use an AK 40 sevens foreign it like that over you aid. You’d be like anywhere a barn doors or two feet where we’re trying to take aim shots.

Tim Heale 49:03
It did have a habit as slowing them down a bit. And my last job in the army I was a unit welfare officer for London central garrison. And I’ve seen a lot of guys coming through with issues. I mean, we had the three companies or Foot Guards coming neezy fairly much young lads come in straight from training. And we had one lead done filming this day. You couldn’t make this up. This young man who was only and only about 17 grown up playing Call of Duty apparently so by Call of Duty most was young a young knife. You go around Boston place up but he’s all over the place. No problem at all. Coming through training. They they Use, I think Athena will use an old pig carcasses or something like that, but a bidet practice with sticky and twisted put out as far as we could work out from our basic knowledge, that was possibly the catalyst that sent him into PST, PTSD is poor lad never seen anything in his life other than was Call of Duty. You start these binary peacocks. And is is it reality. And it sent him over. Unfortunately, knowing that should have been picked up in training, it didn’t, it hadn’t been picked up in training, they could have got rid of him a bit sooner. But it was left to us to pick up the pieces. But yeah, I would say quite a few guys at that time, coming back from Afghanistan, because I was not just a welfare officer, but was also visiting officer. So the British military kinda look after their wounded, injured soldiers. The notification officer, he’ll go and see the families tell him what’s happened today, their loved one. And then you get a visiting officer that then come along after and then look after the family liaise with the hospitals and stuff like that for a family and, and make sure that they get everything they need, during that distressing time of either having a loved one killed or seriously injured. And that’s a pretty tough job. And I did it three times. And it puts you to the test. Especially seen going out to the hospital. That time I was in Selly Oak, and seeing guys with with missing limbs and, and seriously injured guys that does bring home some of the horrors could have been me. And that’s one of the things that corner corner does play on occasionally. But not too often. Normally could have been made symbols that may have been so many situations where it could have been made. But it wasn’t. And I think that’s where my half a blast comes in. It’s somebody smiling down on me, looking at me.

Victoria Volk 52:30
Thank you for your service, first of all, and all that you shared. And I think one of the things that knowing what I know now about grief and military service, for my own personal experience, too, is that I don’t know why the military doesn’t have a more, and maybe they do now I shouldn’t say that they don’t. But my thinking is, you know, there’s something called the ACE study, which was done years, many years ago in the states here, but its adverse childhood experiences. And the more ACEs that you have, let’s say, you know, you had a parent that died or, and then you were sexually abused. And then like, that’s my experience, and then on and on and on or you had a parent that was incarcerated, and then your other parent was had a drug addiction or substance abuse disorder, you know, so all these different scenarios that are possible that create this fight or flight experience for a child that’s sustained for a long period of time. And then and then you train them to kill, essentially, in the military training, right? And then you put them into an environment that’s, again, that fight or flight, you know, so it’s not surprising to me that the suicide rate is really high in the military returning soldiers from deployment and things like that, because I don’t think that that those childhood experiences are even really screened. In someone who’s looking to be in the military.

Tim Heale 54:15
I certainly not done in the British Army because as a welfare officer, I’ve seen dozens and dozens of cases that guys have come through training and got problems. And they don’t deal with it in training where the thing is in though they’ve been training for about 18 weeks. They identify it fairly early on on site. So right so right that they’ll do everybody in a battalion. Problem is during training, they can get rid of people very easily because they haven’t done a form they own taped all the right boxes so they can they can pass them out. Put them back into series straight before before they go too far. Once you get to the bottom When I say that, it’s it’s so much more difficult to get rid of somebody.

Victoria Volk 55:06
And then their potential liability, because if they’re unstable emotionally, Yes, yep.

Tim Heale 55:12
And the reason the reason that they don’t do it in training is because it’s numbers, that plan that numbers game, they got to get people through the door, or out the door. Once they got me in, they got to get them out. And if I kicking them out, that’s affecting their, their stats. And that’s why they try and pass these guys through an AI is just not helping the situation at all further down the line, it just causes more and more problems. And particularly when you’re in a hostile area, you don’t need people with problems. Because it just compounds the issue. It just compounds everything that makes things so much worse than they could be. But there you go.

Victoria Volk 56:08
No, I completely agree with you. So what gives you the most hope for the future?

Tim Heale 56:19
Live in 202

Tim Heale 56:20
It’s a good goal.

Tim Heale 56:24
we’re gonna get down to it and so there’ll be a Chelsea pensioner when she when she’s gone. And Olga, I’m going to offer Chelsea give me red coat on, go out and order on the jollies. And once every second telegram off King, because there’ll be a king by then I’m sure because you get a telegram when you get 200. So once about the second one, is it time to depart?

Victoria Volk 56:55
What is something that’s on your bucket list that you would like to do experience or accomplish?

Tim Heale 57:02
Good grief. The problem is my bucket list is quite a long one.

Victoria Volk 57:10
Give me your number one, what’s your number one

Tim Heale 57:12
be number one right at the moment. Number one bucket list now.

Victoria Volk 57:19
It could be tied with something else.

Tim Heale 57:21
Well, I’m hoping not to get my hip done. So I say to specialists who have awakened we had a look at the x rays and all the rest and we we decided to delay it for for another years. And then compare it say what it’s like been where I’ve been getting a massage every week. On now Stein is eased off an awful lot among some pills for it and stuff like that. And I started doing a bit of training on a on a recline cycle machine. I’m able to go skiing again. There you go. I want to go probably Telemark skis on and go go and do some skiing lessons. So that’s one of my goals at the moment. I’d also like to come up on a lorry and help.

Victoria Volk 58:16
Being able to use your legs in a way that you want, right because you know our hips. That’s kind of a big deal, right? That’s a good goal to have not gonna let my hip get me down, right?

Tim Heale 58:27
Absolutely. No. The problem is and we what goes on up here. And I’m what this says I can do.

Victoria Volk 58:36
And you’re pointing to your head for people who don’t can’t see.

Tim Heale 58:41
What my brain is telling me I’m still not 25 And oh well was done at 25 My body said we slow down your dark mica you can’t.

Victoria Volk 58:54
There’s grief and not to raise.

Tim Heale 58:56
Oh, yeah it’s not that depression. No, me. You just accept the fact that yeah, you might be saying you’re 25 your body’s saying Look, you’re 64 Leave it alone.

Victoria Volk 59:10
But for a lot of people who are aging can be a really difficult thing for a lot of poeple.

Tim Heale 59:16
Slowly. I mean, I know people that don’t want to go old mothers for one. I mean, she’s, she’s she’s had a problems recently, but she says odd I want to get too old. I’ll come around with a pillar, shall I?

Victoria Volk 59:37
Nope, that would be illegal.

Tim Heale 59:39
Yeah, know, but a problem is she’s still spending more inheritance while looking at it.

Victoria Volk 59:48
Oh, jeez. So what is what is one thing that you would like, like to share that maybe you didn’t get a chance to?

Tim Heale 59:57
Just tell him I loved him every day. Yeah, got it pretty much. But just to know that I really, really loved. And I don’t think. And that’s all I want to do is just give me as much love as I can do that with the current Mrs. Hill lover every night.

Tim Heale 1:00:28
We have a date on the first day, because I’m busy off. I don’t know why I was, I don’t know how I had time to go out to work. And I’ve been retired now for years. And I’m busier now than there was when I was at work. And we waited a bit more when I was at work. But nowadays I’m so busy doing stuff when you retire. Yeah, it gets busy. So we, so we, we take Thursday off, and we go out somewhere and do something special on the first day. And then Thursday evening, I do my Thursday, Thursday live stream. And there’s quite a bit of fun.

Victoria Volk 1:01:11
So where can people find you and your podcast and all the things if they want to reach out to you?

Tim Heale 1:01:18
Well, if they want to, if they want to jump on to any of the podcast platforms, on Buzzsprout, which pushes out to Spotify, Google, Apple, all the rest of them stitch out these and all that. If I just type in the Tim Heale podcasts, or ordinary people’s extraordinary stories, they’ll find us there. And if you do go on there, give us a like and pop a comment in if you liked the episodes. Or if you go on to YouTube, the Tim Heale podcasts on YouTube. Or if you’re putting in a Thirsty Thursday live stream, you can join in on a Thursday Thursday goes on from seven until nine or BSD, British summertime or Greenwich mean time during the winter. And we do like to have a laugh. We we do some specials. We’ve had veterans mental health specials we’ve had boating special. I’ve had a pre election special. I’m planning on doing a post election special this week. But a moment I’m having a bit of difficulty getting the getting the counselors to turn to and come and join us on the show. I think they’re a bit worried that I’m gonna ask for too many serious questions. But being a taxpayer and an elector then of I feel that I’d put them there is their duty to come and have a word with us. So my might just have to let them off this week, give him a chance to bed into the new the new council. And in a couple of months time once the dust settles a bit. I’ll get him back in. And I can we can see are outperforming then. But it’s their duty they come onto a public platform and tell us they’re wasting their taxpayers money.

Victoria Volk 1:03:25
Hey, kudos to you put the hand to the grindstone.

Tim Heale 1:03:32
I know we have some open forums, and we talk about anything. But we’ll come comments in in a chat box and about one hour what I want us to talk about or ask questions from the panel. And we can have some real good fun. We have a real good laughs on Thursdays because there’s a serious as well.

Victoria Volk 1:03:56
And that I will put the link to the YouTube and all that in the show notes. And much. Thank you so much for your time today and sharing your experiences with the military and all the loss that you’ve had in your life. Grief is cumulative, and it’s cumulatively negative and we all address it and deal with it in our own ways. And you have found a way that has served you and worked for you and I I congratulate you on that and in your inner drive to live life to the fullest and how you choose now.

Tim Heale 1:04:36
Got one life, live it and live every day as though it’s your last because one day it will be.

Victoria Volk 1:04:45
And on that note, remember, when you unleash your heart you unleash your life. Much love.

Ep 124 Betsy Smith

Betsy Smith | The Bulldog Advocate & Caregiver


According to Johns Hopkins, 240,000 medical error deaths occur every year. Betsy learned that when it comes to the healthcare system and being a caregiver, becoming informed and a fierce advocate is the only option.

Betsy learned real-life experience about medical advocacy while her husband survived prostate cancer, only to be diagnosed with bone marrow cancer five years later. Four years after his bone marrow cancer diagnosis, he passed away.

Within six months of his passing, she went against the advice generally given to widows not to make any big decisions the first year and sold her home and moved. But her move wasn’t to start over or escape; rather, she was moving toward support and people who knew her. In her words, she moved to where her “colonoscopy friends” were.

Once she was surrounded by everything familiar, the loss of her husband hit hard, and she sought weekly support from a grief therapist. Through that support, she navigated the devastating loss of her husband, Jack.

What followed was a strong desire to write a book that could offer support to other caregivers navigating the healthcare system. Through her writing, she shares with others the lessons she learned, caregiver tips, and practical advice for becoming the best advocate you can be for your loved one.

Not everyone is assertive or forward in their approach to situations. And Betsy learned that southern charm and politeness don’t move others to action. She has made it her mission to help others find their own inner bulldog. Because, when it comes to those you love, or yourself, there will never be anyone who cares more than you.



Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is E L. Betsy Smith. And she’s going to be sharing her grieving voice today on the podcast. And I’m so happy to have you here. Thank you so much for being my guest today.

Betsy Smith 0:17
Thank you. I appreciate the invitation Victoria, and I am a recent widow read not so recent four years ago, my, my husband was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2014. And he died in 2018. And we were in North Carolina at the time. And as a widow, one of the first things they tell you is don’t make any major decisions. For the first year. Well, I had sold a house bought a house moved within six months. So and it was exactly the right thing for me wouldn’t be the right thing for everybody. So during my husband’s illness, I realized that there were a lot of people that were very intimidated by the health care system, and the professionals. And it became my passion and my purpose, to spread the word about advocacy, as well as caregiving. My first career was with a huge community college, in Pensacola, Florida. I was the dean, I was a provost, I was the vice president, then I opened my own consulting business. And my business is the overlying theme is is advocacy. The leaders that advocate patient advocacy, of course, and self advocacy are women in the workforce.

Victoria Volk 1:43
So it’s almost as if that you were built for this work?

Betsy Smith 1:47
Yes, I think I can remember, I think or maybe it’s family folklore. When my mother brought my baby sister home, she’s five years younger than me. And my memory says My mother said to me, Betsy, you’re the big sister. And you’ve got to take care of Molly now. And I took that very seriously. My five year younger sister thinks I was just bossy. But that’s not true. I was sort of advocate.

Victoria Volk 2:13
So did you have a lot of grief experiences in your childhood that prepared you for this experience that you’ve had in the last four years?

Betsy Smith 2:22
I did not, of course, people lived and died in my family, aunts and uncles and grandparents. And my mother and father were my mother was in her late 60s. My father was 83 when he died. So I went through two divorces. But that’s not really grief. That’s kind of annoying. Yes.

Victoria Volk 2:43
I’m curious why you think that’s not grief? Or, or how it how you view it as not being grief for you. Because even in less than loving relationships, or loving relationships, there’s conflict there, right? And so grief isn’t necessarily sadness, or depression or about loss of a loving relationship. It can be anger and frustration and disappointment and all of those other you know, grief is so much more than that. So I’m, I’m personally curious, your view of that, and how those divorces work grief.

Betsy Smith 3:23
I would not have said that if I hadn’t just lived through the death of that’s different in divorce. somebody chooses. And it may not be you but somebody makes the choice. And, and I’ve always been a bit. I was a child of the 60s have always been very independent. And yes, the two divorces were game changers. Absolutely. But compared to grieving over the death of the spouse, it for me pales in comparison.

Victoria Volk 4:07
I totally Yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from I for people listening, you know, because the premise of my message in what I share with people is that grief isn’t just about loss. No, you’re right. It’s a lot of things. Now, there’s I mean, you can have even moving right when your husband passed away and then having to move and loss of the neighbors you had and the co workers and colleagues and things.

Betsy Smith 4:33
Right, right. And I relocated back to Pensacola, Florida, where we live for 20 years before we moved up to North Carolina, so I came back to a loving environment. I came back to France who’ve known me for 30 years. I came back to a place I knew well. And that we had some wonderful time, Stan,

Victoria Volk 4:58
Do you think subcon Interestingly, it was to seek out support, and maybe security and safety in your environment. Yeah

Betsy Smith 4:58
It absolutely was. And as I jokingly say, I have colonoscopy friends down here. I have friends, I can call up and say, have a colonoscopy scheduled next week. Can you drive me and spin for hours with me?

Victoria Volk 5:22
I have one of those Fred’s. I have to have one every five years. So I yeah, I totally get you so. Well, I’m curious about that, too, did you you obviously must have had a scare of some sort when it comes to polyps or something.

Betsy Smith 5:41
My My father died of colon cancer when he was 83. Okay. And because of that history, as I got closer to 83, they shortened the time of colonoscopy. He’s never had a bad report. I mean, a polyp or two, but I’ve never had any bad reports. or scary reports.

Victoria Volk 6:00
My father passed away at 44.

Victoria Volk 6:04
Oh, my colon cancer. Yeah, I

Victoria Volk 6:06
Had goodness. I had a polyp removed when I was 33, 32. Yeah. 32. I think so. Yeah. Probably five years since then. So yeah. So with your, how long were you married to your husband? When you found out that you are when he was diagnosed? How long had you been married?

Betsy Smith 6:27
We totally were together. 22 years. We were married 14. So we’ve been married about 11 years when he was diagnosed?

Victoria Volk 6:40
Did he have a family history? Or was it just tiny? Okay,

Betsy Smith 6:44
His mother was a heavy smoker. She got lung cancer. And long before me, he and I met late in life, his father died of some form of cancer. And Jack had already survived prostate cancer, had had radiation and came through that fine. And then five years later.

Victoria Volk 7:10
So you’ve actually had previous experience with the health care system. Before his second diagnosis? Yeah.

Betsy Smith 7:17
And Victoria. In my tenure at the community college, I was Provost of the health related campus. And we had nursing and we had physical therapy assisting and we had dental assisting, and we had radiology. So and I was sent out there. But not because I have a health background, I was sent out there, because I am a community builder. And the President wanted that campus to become more of the community. And, you know, I used to take hospital CEOs to lunch and ask him for a million dollars for a new medical building on the campus so that those five years gave me lots of information about healthcare and doctors and CEOs and how they think and how that whole system works. Now, that’s been 20 years ago. So things have changed significantly.

Victoria Volk 8:14
What was the one thing or maybe a few things that you disliked or that you thought could be better or that prompted you really to write your book, and to be become this advocate for healthcare?

Betsy Smith 8:30
According to Johns Hopkins, there are 240,000 medical error deaths a year, the first incident that happened that made me realize my husband was in a clinical trial. We were at the hospital every day. Fortunately, it wasn’t very far away from us and North Carolina. And one day, they said we’re going to do to test today, we’re going to do one appear on this floor. And then when we finish in exactly 30 minutes, they have to start a second one down on the second floor. And the nurse said, you check out I’ll take him down there. So I checked it out. And it took about 30 minutes and I went down to the appropriate writing waiting room and looked around. Now we’re at 30 minutes. And there was Jack in a wheelchair in a corner. asleep and I shriek Why is my husband still out here? And a tech came out? He said, Can I help you? And I said yes. He was supposed to bed, whatever it was started five minutes ago. And why isn’t he in there? And the tech said we didn’t know he was here. And that’s when I realized I couldn’t trust the health care system to take care of my husband.

Victoria Volk 9:56
And what was the experience like throughout those four years?

Betsy Smith 10:00
We had some good experiences and we had some horrible experiences. At one time when he was in the hospital, his name tag, got switched with another person’s name tag on the blood vial.

Victoria Volk 10:14
Oh, my

Betsy Smith 10:16
Thank God, the nurse that was checking his count at six o’clock in the morning realized something was very wrong. And she went screaming down the hall in hospital. And then there were seven people in the room, the phlebotomy department and vice president of quality control. And they assured me that they had found the problem that it would never happen again. And I wrote a memo, I wrote several members to the hospital CEO. But this one started as a former provost of a health related campus for over five years. I understand mistakes happen. But this is unacceptable. Another time, we were 1000s of miles away from North Carolina, which we should not have been but we work because he wanted to get and he was hospitalized. And I wanted to get him back in North Carolina. And so I started a tirade to get him released. And one hospitalist told me, I’ll release him to go back to North Carolina by ambulance. And I said, you have got to be kidding me. We’re not putting this man in an ambulance for 27 hours to get him back to North Carolina. And in the back of my mind, I knew if anything happened, they would stop and he would be admitted to another hospital. And a week later, the same hospitals came in I said, I’m gonna release them to fly commercially. I said, No. What do you think and he can hardly walk. His immune system he has now now we’re not getting on a commercial flight. And then I live to see the hospital CEO. And the hospital paid to add Jack Lear jet flown in a Learjet ambulance back to North Carolina. Those are big things. And Victoria, I know not everybody has my personality. Not everybody grew up in Texas. Not everybody was provost of a health related campus. But I wrote the book, to let family members and friends understand. You’re not powerless. ask the hard questions. If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you. Ask them to use language you can understand. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Keep up with the meds that they’re being given, and doctors and nurses and everybody else in the healthcare system and human beings. And we make mistakes, and they get tired. And they’re overworked. And they have lots of patients. We have one.

Victoria Volk 12:54
Yeah, I think we give a lot of power away, especially as the family. Like you said, we it’s almost as if I think what happens in that and tell me if you think I’m wrong or share your input as well. But I’ve had personal experiences, as recent data’s towards the end of this last year where my son was in and out of the hospital for something that’s really rare. And one physician saying one thing, and everyone else is saying something different. And here’s me like, kind of being the Bulldog, right? Yes, exactly. And annoying the piss out of everybody around me, I’m sure of it. But you know, he’s my son, right? Yeah, I’m gonna be his advocate. So but what happens is it I think just like as we medicalize dying, you know, if someone is on hospice, or someone is, has cancer, but they’re in the hospital, not on hospice, which is tirely different situation male, completely different dynamic. Please get on hospice, if you can. Yeah, that’s, that’s what I would say. We just leave the whole process to people we think and believe no better, who know that individual better than we do. Right. So what are your insights, say? A few things that you would like to share with listeners to keep in mind if they have a loved one who is has a terminal illness?

Betsy Smith 14:29
Or even a just a long term illness? Correct? Yes. And one is, always have somebody with your patient, always take note, copious note. And if you can’t have somebody with you who can or ask the doctor if you can record it, that that would happen, but you could. I asked projects medical records every day he was in the hospital so that I can film. I just, I don’t know why I thought that was important. But I felt that was important. Because he was in and out of hospitals so much for such a long time. I got I, we both of us got to know the custodians, the food service people, the student nurses, the residents. Because those relationships make you part of that family. And they know things other people might not. And when he was in the hospital for three weeks, and I’ve valet park for three weeks, the valets and I became buddies. And when he died, and I went downstairs to get my car, and of course they could tell it had happened in this one young man said, may I pray with you? It still brings tears to my eyes. But that meant a lot to me. A Grief therapist asked me shortly after Jack died, was I afraid when he was sick? And I said, No, I was pissed. And she said, pissed, it was at him. I was just pissed. Now I can see that’s how I was manifesting my grief. I just kept hammering, just kept camera and just kept hammering. And until I got relocated, and it really hit me that I went to a grief therapist weekly, to sort through that and, and grief is interesting. I perceive it as yes, they say it’s like a wave of give you I can viscerally feel layers lifted from me, not always at the same place at the same time, but I could feel it off my shoulders for months. And I just felt lighter and lighter and more willing to go on. And eager to write this book to share with others to as, as my grief therapist said, I don’t know what this looks like. But your new work is advocacy.

Victoria Volk 17:20
So what would you say? changed? How you change like the version 2.0 of you, versus who you were before? You think this has softened you a little?

Betsy Smith 17:35
No? No? No. As a matter of fact, I have a dear friend who’s also a coach like I am and she said, I perceive you lead from your head, not your heart. I said my heart’s worn out. Out, I’ll get back to that. But some people would, what every human being reacts differently to every single thing that happens. So what we can do is tell our story through our lens through our filter and, and start the conversation. get the conversation started.

Victoria Volk 18:14
You know, even though people I mean from what you shared this tough exterior, right? This, you know, Bulldog mentality, like just getting in there and getting to work. Do you feel like this grief though, has cracked you open? In a way that nothing else in your life had?

Betsy Smith 18:37
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Victoria Volk 18:41
Do you feel like you see yourself differently, and others maybe differently with this lens, maybe a lens of compassion,

Betsy Smith 18:53
Compassion, empathy. One of my purposes is to give family members and friends the courage and confidence to be that advocate. And your idea of courage and confidence is probably different than my idea of courage and confidence. I have a story in in the book from a retired hospice chaplain, a female retired hospice chaplain. And we were swapping stories and I’m telling her how I did this and how I did that. And she was telling me how she gently and persuaded people to do this and that and it was a great conversation because that worked for her. And I tried that. I’m a southern girl. I know how to be nice, but there comes a time when nice isn’t working. So you get insistent. You get passionate. You get assertive, and sometimes across the line over into aggression. serve. And I love your term Bulldog. That that’s what an advocate is. Whether you’re advocating for a political policy, whether you’re advocating to get a new neighborhood built a new park bill, it, you got to stay with it. Stay with it. It’s not not for the faint of heart.

Victoria Volk 20:22
I think that’s with anything in life that we’re passionate about, right? To be a bulldog to pursue it with a bulldog mentality. You know, for me, grief is, isn’t just about loss. And that’s a big part of my message. It’s, I want people to see themselves in the stories that people share. And understand that you don’t, someone doesn’t have to die for you to experience all the feelings that come along with grief.

Betsy Smith 20:48
I have a just that just brought to mind another experience I had, I worked for the same man at a community college for almost 20 years. And he got liver cancer, and he died in six months. I competed for the presidency of the college, against another internal candidate, there are only the two of us. And the six foot 255 year old white boy that used to play football at Florida, got the presidency. And immediately started taking pieces of my job away from me. That was a time Victoria when when I was hit with grief as well. Because I loved working at that college. I love doing what I did. I was really well respected and to be treated. It wasn’t forthcoming with it. It was like I was on a three year revolving contract. When I got my contract it was for two years. And I went up to his office and said, Tom, what’s this about? You said, Well, did we talk about this? No, we didn’t talk about this. So I handled that grief by requesting that the board by F my contract, so that I could leave and get out from under him because it wasn’t good for me. It wasn’t good for him. It wasn’t good for the students. And they did that. And then that’s when I started my coaching business.

Victoria Volk 22:29
And I’m glad you went there. Because toxic work environments is a real thing. And especially for women, I think in industries or in careers that are generally male dominated, or masculine ly dominated. Can you share a few tips for those who may feel marginalized or discounted, or, you know, almost like they’re pushed out?

Betsy Smith 22:57
I, in the last couple of years have created what I call bet seats, rules. And I didn’t sit down to write them, I’ll send you a copy. I didn’t sit down to write them. It’s just that every day something would come to me at that time. I was going to the gym three days a week and working with a trainer and I’d say I came up with a new rule. And they’d say, Oh, yeah, yes. So the first rule is for women in the workforce you get to choose. You get to choose whether you say you get to choose whether you ask for the race, you get to choose if you want to go the second one is stop apologize. Because as long as you are apologizing people will make you responsible for the mistake. And as you know, women are the worst about I’m sorry to interrupt you, but do you have a minute. I know this may sound silly, but and so stop apologizing. Another one is sit at the table. Another one is when you introduce yourself stand up and speak up. So they’re just little snip, snippets of things I’ve learned over the years building my career. I learned to play golf, because I got tired of being left out when the boys would go play golf. And I wasn’t very good at it but had a good time. And they were okay with it as well.

Victoria Volk 24:37
Yeah, I think it’s just exposing yourself to those different situations and experiences that just really help make you be a little bit maybe a more well rounded in those environments to to when it comes to time to speak up for yourself. Yeah. And so was that something that was emulated for you as you grew up?

Betsy Smith 24:59
Well, I lived in Texas when Ann Richards was the governor and and was at least to say, a tuffeau. Cookie. This is not a political statement. But she used to refer to George W as shrub. Because they were both in politics and Texas at the same time. She was a front runner. I mean, she made history. Not everybody didn’t like that history, but that’s okay with me. I learned. I can’t remember when that. And one of my rules is Why do you care what anybody thinks about you?

Victoria Volk 25:34
Was your mother. That type of person though was your mother, someone that spoke up for herself and asserted herself when she had to?

Betsy Smith 25:41
She did now. My mother was 411 I think she weighed 120 pounds when I was born. Square jawed German just like me. And you’re right, she she stood up for what she believed in, never worked outside the home a day in her life. So I give that caveat, because she didn’t have a lot to lose. I was five years older than my sister. So by the time my sister got in high school, I was Gone was the day of miniskirts. My sister and two of her friends went to high school with their mini skirts. And the principal sent him home. And my mother was the only one home so they went to our house. And my mother dressed those three girls in my old prom dresses, that were what we used to call T. Ling that was between your knee and your ankle, took him back to the high school, marched him up to the principal’s office, looked at the principal and said, Nobody tells my girls how to dress go to class girls. And they did. Now, I tell that story. And some people are horrified because it was so disrespectful. Other people say she was a feisty little a woman was she here she was especially when it came to her kids.

Victoria Volk 27:09
Yeah, I think of people like generally, this might be a generalization. But often people who are advocates are like social workers. And, you know, the Bulldogs of our culture? are in those types of roles. Are those often the people that you that are drawn to you, or what type of people are generally drawn to your consulting.

Betsy Smith 27:32
99% of the clients that I have, or the groups that I run are either executive and professional women or business women? And I have a speech that I start with that says, Do you know why women don’t get the races? They don’t ask?

Victoria Volk 27:51
Probably true. Yeah, I think that has a lot to do with self worth, right? Like not feeling you’re worthy.

Betsy Smith 28:00
Or that they’ll know I’m doing a good job, they’ll recognize it. No. And they may recognize it. And until you ask for extra compensation, they will never think about giving it to you. I had a I had a mentor group in North Carolina before young, professional women who worked in the pharmaceutical companies. And one of them wanted a promotion to a position that had become vacant. So we coached her on how to do that, you know, get all your success points together. Is this the right time in your company’s financial history to ask for it? is are they what’s going on in your company? So we got all that. And then I said to her, are you ready to walk? And she’s wondering, well, when you ask for this promotion, are you ready to walk? And that’s what Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean in. You got to be ready to walk. So this young woman goes to her boss and says, I’d like this promotion, here’s what I’ve done your spot I can contribute. And he said, Let me think about it. Of course, he was back the next day and he said, I’ll change your title and let you go ahead and take the job. But let’s wait six months to see about the money. She had another job three weeks later because she was already getting ready to walk.

Victoria Volk 29:35
I’m glad the conversation went here because it’s something that hasn’t been talked about on this podcast yet. You know, this type of grief that many women in these environments experience and you know, it has ripple effects right because if we are forced, forced but you know, we want to stay true to ourselves. It may require change and that with that change comes, you know, new bosses, new colleagues, you know, you might have to move. And so all of our choices, right have ripple effects and consequences and things. I do want to circle back to your husband, though, because that really is the heart of what we were initially talking about. And what is the what would you share with people who have someone who is going through a similar situation? And and I know you like the the tangible, not the tangible, but the practical things that you’ve already shared? But like, what is the hardest thing you think that is for people to navigate in the healthcare system?

Betsy Smith 30:45
Well, I think the, the entire language of the healthcare system is foreign to us. And every drug has at least two or three names. At one time, Jack had a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, a endocrinologist, and they were all treating their disease. They weren’t treating the person. And the sooner you can understand that, the sooner you can say, okay, so how does that relate to this? Or if that happens, how’s it going to? How’s it going? How’s it going to affect his afib, or how’s it going to affect is, whatever, medical professionals, they read notes, they all have copious notes, I can’t imagine how they could read all of them, and remember all of them. And I suspect they don’t. But again, they’re human beings. And that’s why it’s important to have what an advocate by your side. And even in business, if you want to go up the corporate ladder, you want to find an advocate, you want to find a mentor, and you want to find a sponsor, and the advocate can tell your story. The mentor can help you develop a strategy, but the sponsor is the one who will get you into the right place at the right time. The sponsor is the one who works at the same company, who provide you the opportunity to get to know people at a different level.

Victoria Volk 32:29
The connector, a connector, yep. What is the one thing that your grief has taught you?

Betsy Smith 32:35
To be able to enjoy every second of every day. And to you don’t ever get over grief. You just by God lived through it. And even a couple of weeks ago, I was giving my speech and tears are just rolling down my cheeks. I haven’t cried in weeks. And you just never know. And, and I said to the people in the audience, it’s part of the process. I’ve never been a crier in my life. But when it happens, now I just wipe my eyes and say it’s part of the process. And early when you meet people after your husband dies, and they’ll say, hey, they’ll hug your neck and say how you doing and the tears will start and they’ll say, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry. You didn’t make me cry. I cry. It’s part of the process. Don’t worry about you know,

Victoria Volk 33:35
The tears. Were already in there. Right? Yes. Yeah, yeah. Love can bring that out. Right. And that’s a good thing. You know, when you feel love and support from others, it can. It’s a good thing. Absolutely. You can have this Bulldog mentality and this approach to life. But you also asked for help. And you searched for help. And I really want to highlight that because what do you think, was the catalyst for that? Because so many Grievers do grieve alone and think they need to do it alone.

Betsy Smith 34:10
I know and because I have a counseling degree, and I am a certified coach. I feel like if I have tonsillitis, I go to the doctor. If my heart hurts, I go to a counselor. So I don’t and I’m as you can tell, I’m an extrovert of the chart. So I don’t understand grieving alone. And of course, now, friends will say my nephew died and my sister’s really not getting over it well, and I’ll say Did she see a grief therapist? No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t want to and then I go into how it helped me. And just to have that safe place where you can say things you can’t say to anybody else. To have someone say you I don’t know what it looks like but work is the advocacy is your new work. It’s a different level of work

Victoria Volk 35:08
Well, and I think someone to have someone that can reflect back to you what you don’t see yourself is a part of a healthy part of the process.

Betsy Smith 35:17
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. contacted a friend in North Carolina instead of writtens book. I’d like to be on your radio show. And her radio show is about business, small business. And she said, how does that fit in with business? So I did some research on the economic impact of caregiving on business. And the Will it very soon, people the age of 65 will be there will be more of us than there are people 45. And it’s affecting business. People, some people, some caregivers won’t tell their employer. I mean, they’re just running themselves ragged. And the typical caregiver is a 49 year old woman working full time and taking care of a parent or a child or, or somebody.

Victoria Volk 36:13
Or both, or sandwich generation. Exactly. Yeah, there is an economic cost to grief, empathy, the company empathy, they have an empathy, the empathy app, it’s called, they recently published a study. And I’ll put it in the show notes. It’s an ebook. And that has a lot of statistics and things. But also the Grief Recovery Institute, through which I am a certified Grief Recovery method specialist also did a study years ago on the economic impact of grief, and it’s, it is crazy. I can actually include that in the show notes as well. It’s the grief index study. And it truly is something that business corporate world, they don’t consider how unproductive people can be at when they’re grieving and how unsupportive their company really is to those grieving. I mean, they expect you within a week to be back and your typical self and performing at what how you were before. Yeah. And so you had your own business right at the time. And so what was that impact for you?

Betsy Smith 37:38
Oh, my business shut down. There was not enough of me to run a business and be by his side. I’m building it back now.

Victoria Volk 37:53
And there’s grief in that too, right? Exactly. Yes. Yeah. It’s never just one thing. It’s always grief just has ripples. We just do not understand that until we’re in the thick of it.

Betsy Smith 38:08

Victoria Volk 38:11
What has been the greatest help for you then as you’re rebuilding your life?

Betsy Smith 38:19
Book is making a difference in people’s lives. And that’s was my intention. My intention also, Victoria is to approach businesses and say it very probably you have this many people who are caregivers, and bring me in a couple times a month, get us together, and let me debrief them and work with them so they can regain their productivity. Or, let me work with people who are grieving. Although that’s, that’s not my specialty. Because I’ve been through it, I can at least have a conversation about it, and possibly refer. But you’re right. And I predict that eldercare just like maternity Lee, I think you’re gonna see I’m not gonna call it caregiving leave or elder care leave or something. To give give people the opportunity to go attend to that and know that their position is safe.

Victoria Volk 39:31
That’s a great tip. I actually, do you have another? Do you have a tip to share for caregivers? Like what is one thing that you would share with caregivers that you learned from your experience that maybe surprised you?

Betsy Smith 39:43
One thing is that I could give my husband shots in his stomach. That was a pretty big surprise to me, but you have to do it. I’m gonna give you tips and they are tips. Self care before care of others. Eat well On rest, exercise, talk to friends. Forgive yourself for not being superhuman. share with other people what you’re going through because they may learn from it. And they may have tips or advice for you. Now I have a dear friend down here who’s both our both our sister just died. And her husband has been in congestive heart failure for a long time. She’s very private, I would keep up with her. Because I had been through I had been where she was with a sick person, but she didn’t stay in touch with very many people. And it will be interesting, and I’ll be here to help her get back into whatever her new normal is going to be. The other thing is, maintain your sense of humor, which is sounds strange. But when we were in that little tiny town in the middle of Texas, his four adult children, me we would just get hysterical over dinner over nothing. But it was a bonding and fortunately, my husband’s family, my family shared that laughter is the best medicine My my, my mother’s mantra was you might as well laugh is cry. So fine, find something funny and allowing yourself to laugh. Laughing is like exercise for your innards.

Victoria Volk 41:41
That’s a great tip. Would you like to share about your husband, who he was? What you loved about him?

Betsy Smith 41:50
Is my sister said he’s the smartest person she ever met. And I said, Hello, I have a PhD. He was one. He was brilliant. Give him an Excel spreadsheet. He was a happy man. He found tennis very late in life. So he played tennis three times a week with people a third of his age. He loved being with me when I presented. And I have another book that I co authored 10 years ago, you’d go to the boot signs, and he’d take care of all the finances. unique sense of humor. We just hit it off. But we were late in life. I was almost 50. And he was almost 60 When we, as we say started hanging out together. So we came at love and marriage from a different perspective than than at 40 year old one.

Victoria Volk 42:49
Yeah, I think you kind of cut the BS at that point, right?

Betsy Smith 42:52
Yeah, exactly. There was not much dancing around. It was cut to the chase. Right? Yeah.

Victoria Volk 43:01
What was his name? Jack his name? Jack Jack Harkin. Thank you so much for sharing that. Is there anything else you’d like to share that you didn’t get to?

Betsy Smith 43:13
No? I’m good. We we had a very interesting conversation. But I enjoyed it very much.

Victoria Volk 43:20
Yeah, I think it went I think we covered a lot of good ground from,

Betsy Smith 43:24
Like you said we we kind of weaved around and intertwined and was very enjoyable for me. Thank you.

Victoria Volk 43:32
You’re welcome. Thank you for being here. And and where can people find you and the book?

Betsy Smith 43:38
The book is on Amazon 15 bucks. And then there is a Kindle edition as well on Amazon. And I do work with families and friends of people individually or in groups, not to teach them how to hit handle the Medicare papers. But just to talk about strategies for dealing with the healthcare system.

Victoria Volk 44:06
Do you do that online or in person?

Betsy Smith 44:08
Either way online, in person on the phone, however they need to reach out?

Victoria Volk 44:13
And where can people find you to learn more about that?

Betsy Smith 44:15
Look at betsysmith.com

Victoria Volk 44:18
All right, and I will put your information in the show notes. And thank you so much for being here today. I I am really glad a lot of the topics came up because like I said they haven’t been covered yet on the podcast and I really appreciate your time and sharing. Thank you for the invitation. All right. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.

Ep 123 | Jen Kidwell

Jen Kidwell | Death, Legacy, and the Law


What do you want to happen if you are incapacitated while on your deathbed or after you die? If you don’t have a will, that decision may be left up to the state.

These are big questions that often don’t have answers for those who are left behind. In the most emotional moments, the family is left to make decisions that weren’t theirs. Each of us has a responsibility, not only to ourselves but those who would be left behind, to address our matters before those things are left to someone else to decide for us.

With a lack of preparation, this is the position we put our loved ones in, and it happens because we have an aversion to discussing these sensitive issues with those we love.

We don’t like to think about the end of our lives. However, considering we may not know when that is, preparation negates some of the pain for those left behind in the wake of loss. For those who may be struggling with terminal illness/diagnosis, it’s imperative to address as many of the topics as possible that Jen and I discuss in this episode.

As a lawyer and seminary-trained pastor-type who specializes in creating wills and trusts for families, this is one conversation everyone needs to hear. Jen creates comprehensive plans through her values-based approach and helps clients reflect on their legacies and relationships.

In this episode, you will learn the two mistakes most people make regarding estate planning and much more!




Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is Jen Kidwell. She is a lawyer and seminary trained pastor type who specializes in creating Wills and Trusts for families. She uses a value based approach to create comprehensive plans and helps clients reflect on their legacies, and their most important relationships. Estate planning is more than a series of decisions. It’s an opportunity to engage with big questions about what a good life and a good death look like for you. Jen loves to be invited into these conversations with their clients and finds her work fulfilling and meaningful. And it’s very much needed. And I as an end of life doula, although I’m not working in that capacity, yet, I’m still trying to figure out what that’s going to look like for me. But education, I know is a huge piece of it, because so many people don’t realize that it is possible to have a good death and that and the all the stuff that goes into it that we’ve kind of left until we have to face it. When we’re emotional noser. That’s really not the best time to make those important decisions. Would you agree?

Jen Kidwell 1:14
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, the these decisions are always going to have emotional components. Right. But when you’re approaching them more on your terms, and you have a sense of agency around it, and you’re not also trying to feel all of these other things, I think people really wouldn’t when they have space to do it, I think is really the it’s really the best time.

Victoria Volk 1:34
Yeah, so I’m really excited to dive deep into this conversation, of course, we’re going to talk about your losses, and what has kind of led to this work that you’re doing. And so let’s start there, grief touches every single human being whether you’re LeBron James, or Jen Kidwell. Or, you know, it doesn’t matter who you are, it touches everyone. And so how has grief touched your life?

Jen Kidwell 1:59
Well, I mean, I think in a lot, I mean, in a lot of the ways that that that people maybe are introduced to it at first i The first kind of loss, I remember was my grandfather back when I was in high school. And then my, my last remaining grandparent, my grandmother passed away this January, you know, experiencing these things is so different at different times in your life, especially after having had some, some training and some, you know, a lot more, a lot more life a lot more experience in these things. And so yeah, like lots of journeys. And I think grief also, I mean, the loss of people is obviously the primary place where people experience grief. But then there are other ways of, of, I don’t know, butting up against grief, or maybe journeying alongside grief at other times in our lives to write the loss of dreams, the loss of relationships, not to not because of a because of a death. And so I have become a lot more familiar with using grief language. And those experiences, which I held, I think really helps me to process and reflect on them. And gives me sort of a, you know, a box isn’t the right word, but a process maybe to to experiencing them instead of just, you know, Oh, these are hard emotions. And I don’t I don’t know, sort of what to do with them. So I think it’s, it’s touched me in lots of ways, the most recent loss of my, of my grandmother was, was was difficult, but also she’s almost 98. And her death was really very beautiful. And, and so that has been, I’ve learned a lot from that experience. And I think that’s something the way that she that she died is something I would aspire to, right. Like we were all able to be there we were singing hymns around her, we were, we were just able to surround her and remind her of who she is. She wasn’t conscious, but I like to think that maybe she could she could hear us or at least be aware of our presence. And we were carrying her into that space. And so while that was that was difficult. It was also it felt like the best way to love her in that moment. And I’m so glad we had the opportunity to do that.

Victoria Volk 4:03
Hearing is the last sentence to go. And so I’m curious, given your background, is there anyone else in your family that works in this type of arena? If not, did you find yourself resorting to these tools and this information and knowledge and bringing that to your family so that you could make that experience of family inclusive one?

Jen Kidwell 4:28
I’m the only person who has had some like, you know, training around these things, but my, my mom and her sister are close and my mom is kind of familiar in the in the medical field. And so I think we all sort of brought different things to that space, right? Like I we had to I got a call that she my grandmother was not was was dying and drove up to Boston, which is like an eight hour drive from from here. You know, packed my ukulele and my hymn books and other things and just was I was prepared to sort of occupy this space, however, it felt best for my, for my mom and her sister, and the rest of our family. And Gigi. So it was, it was nice to sort of to be there all together. And with each person sort of offering their own their own part, and, and it was, it was nice to, you know, after after my grandmother died to find some ritual and to offer some ritual, because that that transition, the the leaving, leaving the hospital afterwards was was really that was the hardest part, I think for me, because I would like to just keep caring for her right, like, I would like to be able to take care of, to take care of her to, to bury her not to have to turn her over to an institution, right, that was really hard for me kind of unexpected, that that was a kind of intense part of that process. But it was nice to be able to offer some ritual to kind of help with that with that process for others. So I definitely found some of that, that training to be helpful. And I hope it was, it was helpful for my family.

Victoria Volk 6:05
So given what you do for a living, is this something that your family has embraced for themselves and planning ahead, and, you know, I can see, as a daughter, you know, you would want to encourage your parents to make these decisions for themselves. And, you know, you’re kind of like, I know, for me personally, like, I’m, I’m like coaching my mom along like, hey, you know, do you really want to leave these decisions to us? You know, I don’t want to have to make this decision. You know, all of those things. Have you found? Like, is there? Can you go into that a little bit?

Jen Kidwell 6:39
Yeah I mean, it’s a process, right? Like, my, my parents are, they’re very, very responsible with all parts of their life, including their their financial life, they’re both in the have worked in pharmaceutical, healthcare related industries, and so are aware of, of many, many things. And so but there’s a lot of these conversations we haven’t had yet we are we we sometimes bring it up from time to time, but some things we just haven’t discussed, right. So I they have they have a well, I know, they have their advance directive planning and some of that that done, which is great, although we haven’t talked about it, so I’m not sure how done you can really, you can really call it and that’s one of the things I appreciate about this work is that, you know, I do the the legal documents, and then if if folks want to have a facilitated conversation between them and their designated healthcare agent, right, so that’s the person who would make healthcare decisions for them if they weren’t able to do so themselves. I’m I have some some training and how to facilitate those conversations. And and I’m happy to do that. But I think these documents are I when I when I you know, give people their their final kind of signed and executed documents, I always remind them that like, Okay, so now you have a checklist, right? These, each one of these documents is sort of now its own checklist for you. So you have to decide what you what you’re going to do with it. But I highly recommend you you sit down and have some some detailed conversations with the people that you’re giving, you’re giving these powers to and these responsibilities too. Because they’re these conversations now are gifts for the future, if they ever need to do that, right. Having somebody wonder what you would have wanted, when they’re faced with these, like really intense choices, is really hard and can really plague people I think for a long time, if they feel like they maybe didn’t make the right decision, or they still have doubts about it. And so offering that kind of clarity, you know, when people talk to me, they’re often very clear, oh, I want you know, a lot of people, a lot of people are, you know, I want I want the plug to be pulled like, as soon as the digit like, as soon as the doctors are clear that like there’s I’m not coming back, I’m done. We don’t want to waste financial resources, I don’t want to waste healthcare resources. This is the plan. And so they have strong feelings, many of them, not all of them. And, and so I always encourage them to speak very clearly and with detail with their with their agents. And so, you know, my you know, we haven’t had those conversations yet and my family, but we’re getting there, I think, and I know that my parents have done these these types of planning already. Oddly enough, my grandmother had, had not updated her her will from before I was born. So it was done in the early 80s. And many of the people in decision making roles in her estate planning had passed away. In fact, all of the people I think she had named had passed away. And she had also like expressed that she had wanted certain things changed in her like financial documents that she I guess was under the impression that they had been changed, but really they had not and so her estate is not particularly complicated. But there are these sort of complicated factors that have come into play because I don’t think she got great advice, you know, over over time and wasn’t kind of maintaining her plan the way That would have been ideal. So it’s all it’s all fine, or at least working through it. But it’s just like a little ironic that I am. I wish, I wish I had been invited into some of those conversations a little earlier, I guess I might have been able to help.

Victoria Volk 10:13
Well, that’s a great tip. It’s a working document, right, until the day you die. It’s a working document. So if anything changes, you know, it’s best to address those changes in a timely manner. Because we have no guarantees, right?

Jen Kidwell 10:26
Yeah, that’s right. And so I always, I tell folks that they’re, they enter into a maintenance phase. And so that is, and you know, we depending on their, on their goals, and their family, we try to build a lot of flexibility into their plans, so that, you know, if they don’t get around to updating them, that’s, that’s not there, but still will still be options for the decision makers or, or the people who are managing the estate. But But yes, I try very much just like this is a partially checked off item on your to do list, I’m a big fan of checklists. And, you know, and so I send emails, you know, after you know, every every year, to remind folks to update things, or to reach out if they need me to talk about something or have additional questions. It’s also true that the law changes a lot, a lot, actually, in this area, some big changes recently, have really, if people did their planning prior to 2020, some, some big changes have influenced how that that planning may end up playing out. And so that’s another reason why it’s just something to, to maintain. So, you know, once a year to like, spend a little spend a little brainpower thinking about it, and and check in.

Victoria Volk 11:39
I have a confession a long time ago, we had gotten like this booklet, or like a, like a full actually, I ordered it, I ordered this folder that had like all these documents in it like stuff, you know, basically it would be in my written words, what I wanted, and you know, different things like to prepare family and my wishes and things and even like financial stuff, right? Like the account numbers, and just all this stuff, and especially like having a business, oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine like my and my husband hates like, he kind of loads technology, like he hates computers he hates? Yeah. So he would be in total struggle bus. And so that is something really truly that I need to make easier for him. You know, I do have like a password book, you know, so that’s all in one place. You know, so that makes it easy. But yeah, so what are some quick off the cuff tips like that maybe people aren’t thinking about that they maybe should prepare for their family for and, you know.

Jen Kidwell 12:50
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, it’s so family specific. So that is, that’s one of the things I really enjoy about the kind of planning meetings that I do with people is, is really, that people, often when I do this process, and when other folks do this process as well, people will submit a worksheet that kind of lists lists, all all the stuff, right all of their, their financial life, their relationships, their physical assets, all of that. And, and that’s sort of the the first pass for our, our work together, kind of making sure that everything is taken care of, but Right, like if folks have oftentimes, like people who have young children think about life insurance, for you know, being able to care for their children, if they’re not here anymore, which is wonderful. But I think often as baby boomers age, there are more families that have minor children and also have parents living with them. And, you know, they got to think about what’s going to happen with their parents too. And so what that life insurance, maybe that maybe they need more life insurance, maybe they need to kind of figure out how to take care for the aging relatives, as well as the as the younger as the younger generation. I think there’s a lot of a lot of life happens online these days. And so you mentioned you have a password book, which is great. There are there’s software out there, you know, one one password and other kinds of things that some folks find helpful. One of the things that I think a lot of folks don’t don’t realize is that a lot of the accounts that you set up online like in social media, for example, those are not those accounts would then not be governed by a will so they are contracts that you are establishing between yourself and the you know, say Facebook for example. And so there’s in Facebook, there’s a way for you to go in and designate like a legacy person, you can sort of name someone who can have access to your account, you know, if you if you pass and and maybe like they can’t get into it otherwise and so sometimes these social media spaces will will have those kinds of options. Sometimes they won’t, and you might you know, that’s another password to make sure that’s in your it’s in your list if it’s an account that’s important or that you want to be maintained. cryptocurrency is like a bigger thing these days. Right. And like that’s, that’s also something that’s kind of hard to deal with in a will, because it’s governed by these by these contracts that you make with these, these companies that that run these kind of off the grid spaces. So that I was working with someone recently who just sort of like, for a hobby, you know, has some cryptocurrency and I was like, Okay, you we need to deal with that separately. That’s not like this is not in the same category as like a bank account. And she was like, oh, and it was a, you know, it was a new a new thing. So yeah, so a lot of those those kinds of things kind of come up. And depending on people’s businesses, or their or their hobbies, right, there might be other things. copyrights are a thing also to deal with, right? If you have a blog, then you own the copyrights to your blog? And like, do you want to do something with that? I mean, maybe not. Right? The answer might be no, but it’s a it’s a good conversation to have, because copyrights live out. They outlive people for a long time. And so sometimes there, there might be ways to monetize those copyrights for your descendants in the future. And so passing those passing those copyrights along is also something that, you know, people don’t necessarily think about these days, too. So there’s a ton of there’s a ton of stuff that can that can get wrapped up in these conversations.

Victoria Volk 16:11
And I just suddenly felt myself get very overwhelmed. I’m just, yeah, I, first of all, thank you for that tip, too. With the legacy account of Facebook, I had no idea at all because people put a lot of pictures on their personal accounts. And it’s like, well, maybe those are gone, you know, the person passes away. And then now my question too, is like with teenagers, you know, you can be a parent that outlives your child, and then they have all this stuff to write. And so I think it’s important for us, as a parent, me as a parent, I three teenagers to, like, how do you convince your kid? You know, I need your password? You know, maybe write it down somewhere that, you know, maybe I’ll find it? You know, I don’t know, like, how do you any tips on that?

Jen Kidwell 16:59
Yeah, like, so that, and that’s going to be different for everyone. Right? Yeah. When I do planning for folks, I give people a big binder, it has tabs and has all the things in there spaces for like other documents, or, and I encourage people to write letters. And so and to keep the letters in, in the, in the binder. So maybe the letter will letters will say like this is where XYZ is, this is where I didn’t want to keep the passwords with everything else, because that didn’t feel safe. So but I’m keeping them in this other place. Or like this is the name of a file on my computer where you can find this kind of thing. And so having one place one, one binder to kind of rule them all is is something I recommend, but the binder itself doesn’t have to have everything in it, it just has to point and point the right people to kind of where where they need to be. I do also, you know, when I do work with folks, I give them emergency cards, just like little business card size size guys, that, you know, they can do what they want with them depending on their life. And some people will take them to car seats, some people keep them in their wallets, some people like put them on their fridge. And then that is a usually I focus on decision makers and if there are minor children of emergency caretakers for minor children, but there’s no reason you couldn’t also include like the binder is d if you know if that feels like something that’s that’s useful to you so so yeah, like every family every person is going to it’s going to feel differently about that because they may may have different levels of trust for the people in their life other people who are likely to be in their home, but it’s it’s always a good thing to work I try to work work through that with each of each of my clients to come up with a plan that fits for them. And that works for their for their lives.

Victoria Volk 18:47
I just thought of a tip for myself and maybe even for anyone listening you know because I’m big into technology and stuff and I’m thinking like if I have a binder and my house burns down unless that’s in a safe that binders like poof right? I’m sure you have a backup personally Yeah, yeah, that information Yeah. But I’m just thinking for people who do this on their own right like I do have documents but they all filled out no, that’s my confession but to have an encrypted file on your computer or on your computer and a USB you know or something that then that USB is maybe with a family member or maybe if that’s in the safe you know that’s a little bit easier. Maybe it’s in the glove box of your vehicle right right.

Jen Kidwell 19:32
Yeah. That’s like access to a secure cloud storage space right that’s another.

Victoria Volk 19:38
Yeah or safety deposit box at the bank right that’s pretty secure spot.

Jen Kidwell 19:42
Yeah. So and you know, they make like the fireproof boxes or you know, some other some other things that that I know some people some people use as well. So So yeah, there are having in promote for many of these documents the well it depends but for like for a will like the original there. Very important. But if you have a copy and the family doesn’t disagree, right, depending on your state, that still might be enough. But but for other documents, like a health care directive, or maybe even a financial power of attorney, depending on the terms, a copy would, would work. So it again, it depends on the state. And it depends on the what the documents themselves say. But, but yeah, so those having those, those backups in other places can definitely help you out, depending on what the needs are.

Victoria Volk 20:27
You know, in my mind, I think of having all of this stuff prepared and ready and all the personal decisions made for you know, for your family members, like for yourself, but for them, it really can help negate any bad blood that can happen, right? The the inner fighting between the family of disagree, and like you mentioned, and I’m thinking though, like, there can still be that, even if you’ve done all this, have you seen that?

Jen Kidwell 20:58
I mean, I haven’t at well, there’s always stories, right? So there’s, there are, there are tons of stories that people share about families that just think that they’re their descendants, or that maybe their siblings will, will just get along, and it’ll be fine. And that, you know, say, you know, an elderly elderly relative moves in with their child and then puts their child’s name on their bank accounts or on these other, you know, financial institutions, financial accounts, and then when they pass, they expect that that child will evenly share all of those things with the other children like that. It doesn’t actually happen that often. And and it’s, it can be, it can be quite contentious, right? People go from from intending to share, to thinking I did, I did a lot of this work, right? Like I did all like I took care of mom, right? Like this is this should be mine. And then like it becomes it can get real messy. Yeah, I mean, I think even this is another place where writing letters can be really helpful because the the legal documents, you can put some of like the rationale right? A person creating these documents can put some of the rationale in there. But that’s not what they’re for. Right? These are decision documents. And so but the rationale, I think, is often things that really helps family Sorry, I got a little dark there for a second. So the the rationale are really things that that help families and help them understand why certain decisions were being made, or certain assets were kind of given to one, one person over another, or kind of how, however, whatever feels important to share can be shared. And I think that does help in in dealing with those kinds of disputes. Kind of nipping them before they they creep up.

Victoria Volk 22:47
Yeah, cuz I think for a lot of family members context, can change everything, you know, just having an understanding of why a certain decision is made. You know, we don’t know what we don’t know. And I think maybe that’s one tip, other Another tip I would think of, in how you compose a letter would be what is something they don’t know, but I feel is so important that they do know, that can change your perspective of this decision.

Jen Kidwell 23:18
Right, right. And I think always, and again, this makes like a lot of assumptions about the dynamics going on in any given family. But I think the things that we as humans want from our loved ones that pass on is like more conversation more assurances of love, more expressions of identity that help to ground us in who we are. And so these letters can serve for the to meet some of those needs to and so I think they can be super powerful. I also, you know, if people feel up to it, and are either have a buddy who is tech savvy, or maybe tech savvy themselves, the like audio audio recordings, or video recordings are, are maybe even more powerful than letters, because you know, it’s in, it’s in the person’s voice, they have the opportunity to kind of share stories in addition to like, you know, information about decisions, right. And so, then you can get more into these, like legacy interviews and those those kinds of things that are that are, you know, valuable in different ways, but in some similar ones too.

Victoria Volk 24:25
Yeah, there are actually there’s several apps out there now. I did a podcast episode, there’s one called after cloud. There’s been a couple others too, that I’ve come across, but yeah, where you can really it’s an archive of your family. You can put all kinds of things you legacy planning, like you had said, like what you Yeah, that’s a great tip, too. So what led you to doing this work?

Jen Kidwell 24:50
Any things right, the long and winding road? Um, I I’ve done a handful of things. You know, as you mentioned, I have a seminary degree and a law degree but She’s not like a super common combination. And so I have found ways to use each of them sort of separately in my in my career. But in thinking a lot about kind of the next step after my, my prior job was sort of feeling like I was ready to move on. I was thinking a lot about what I love the most about working with people. And I think that that is meaning, right helping people create and we I love the the metaphor of weaving, meaning helping people weave meaning in their lives. And so the law is not great. It’s a great tool for that. But it’s this is definitely a space where I feel like I’m meeting a legal need, right? Like, you know, I enjoy enjoys maybe a strong word, but like, I appreciate a well written statute. I appreciate, you know, legal research and sort of combing through all of these these things and finding answers to complex problems. So I enjoy that personally. But then the broader context of conversation around like, what is what is the meaning of your life? What is the meaning of your death? Like, how do you want to talk about that? And how do you want to integrate that into the decisions that you’re making? Right? Like, your will, is probably not going to go into details about how you reflect on that. But ultimately, it should be a reflection of all of work that you do, to come to answers around those questions. So yeah, so I think I think that’s one of the things and also, I just I think our culture has such as an aversion to thinking about deaths, I think the healthcare industry has an aversion to acknowledging that, like death is the outcome for everyone eventually. And so I appreciate to invite people into some of those conversations, you know, my prior job, I was working at a church, I worked with youth and young adults, and then regular adults to do to do a bunch of programming and why teenagers, my youth loved to talk about death, they had so many questions, they, you know, adolescence that lots is happening, a lot is happening in adolescents, especially, like now with, you know, more and more awareness of, of mental health and, you know, trying to learn skills to support their peers, or, you know, even strategies to help them themselves in these spaces. And so, we used to spend a ton of time talking about death, and I thought it was wonderful, the opportunity to reflect on these things with them, and to create a space where they felt safe doing that, in the context of a faith that they that they claimed that maybe can could help provide some light posts along the way as they as they figure these things out. And so, so all of those things kind of wove together. And, and led me to this space, which I I’m enjoying and finding, quite meaningful.

Victoria Volk 27:57
That’s wonderful. And I’m not surprised that the teenagers love to talk about death or enjoyed that. Because for like you said, the many of them don’t have a space where they can ask their questions. And because like you mentioned, as adults, we have an aversion to death and dying, and we don’t want to talk about it. And even just attending a funeral or someone in the family passing away, it brings up all types of stuff for ourselves, because we’re reminded of our own mortality. And that’s confronting for many people, like, Oh, I am going to die. And I don’t know when no, like, that’s, that’s life. Right? That is life. And so I think it is important that that is important work that you were doing, do you still kind of dabble in that from time to time?

Jen Kidwell 28:44
So um, I mean, the, I have young kids myself, and so the schedule and the balance seems to change week to week kind of what is possible. But I love you know, my, my younger, my younger one isn’t ready to have any of these conversations yet, but my six year old is like, right, they say that like three is the Europe death, right? When when kids are three, they are very curious, they have all the questions like this is the time, but she’s never grown out of that. And so we talk about death all the time. And after, after my grandmother died, we and we, we still talk about it a lot. And before her before her memorial service, we went to the cemetery. And we spent we walked around, we spent a lot of time kind of thinking and feeling and and talking about that space that she’d never, you know, she’d never been there before. And you know, at her service, we went up to the altar, and we sort of touched all the things and we like talked about how the the rituals that are that are part of this kind of help us to to make meaning out of what’s happening and to kind of understand what’s happening in some different ways. And so having those conversations with with her has been has been really wonderful and she has her own beautiful way of understanding these things and of kind of interpreting, interpreting all of it too. So I mean, the way that many kids Do so that’s been a gift of that experience as well the opportunity to reflect with her. So So yeah, I mean, the the balance, I think will continue to shift over time, but I certainly still still love my teenagers and, and then you know, I mean adult groups to churches and other kind of faith or kind of ethical spaces I think are, are also I mean, they’re sort of made for this, I think right there. They’re made, not just to like, I mean, I love the fellowship, I love the fellowship of these spaces to write, go have a potluck, like go plan a fundraiser, like go go do good work. But some of the good work is going to be kind of sitting with each other in these like big questions that are really scary that we’d rather maybe avoid.

Victoria Volk 30:43
So here’s another tip that I thought of as I was listening to your talk. So there is a for parents listening, there is a book called when children grieve. It is the foundation of a program, the Grief Recovery Institute has called when helping children with loss. And I think that that would be a great book for parents to read or caregivers or caretakers to read. And then an invitation to take the child like you said, like a great segue to like, Well, how do I start that conversation? Right? Is go to a cemetery. And ask your child, ask the child like, what are your questions like? What are you curious about? What are you wondering, What can I answer for you, especially a child who is grieving, it opens up that conversation, but you have to be open as a parent to, or as a caretaker, you have to be open to that conversation yourself as well. It’s so important, I cannot stress it enough how, as children, like by the age of three, you’ve learned 75 That’s why they say since probably age three, you’ve learned 75% of how you will cope with certain insert certain situations like how you will respond to certain situations. By 15, you’ve pretty much taken in everything in your environment that has taught you how to respond to life. So it’s so important that we start early, and we start young to have those conversations so that future generations aren’t as have don’t have that same aversion to death, right, that we do. Or that even probably even 20 somethings do.

Jen Kidwell 32:21
Yeah, yeah. I mean, the and I think one of the most important things about approaching these conversations, I mean, regardless of who you’re having them with is like a, an openness to the kind of mysteries, right like even as even people of faith who feel certainty around certain or you know, whoever whoever write for President faith or not, who feels kind of certainty about how how things work, during death or after death, I think creating space for that mystery, especially when when talking with with kids, and letting them kind of work their way through instead of kind of providing them with an endpoint and kind of shutting down some of that reasoning process. And some of that discovering for them is, is also is super important. So that they they come to a sense of ownership of it themselves. So I could talk about this all day. Yes, yeah.

Victoria Volk 33:17
Thank you for mentioning that. Because I actually mentioned that yesterday in another podcast conversation about how beliefs that are passed down can really pigeonhole us, you know, we get so set in our ways of, there’s no, that openness kind of goes away. Right to, you know, so I love that you’ve mentioned that, because I think it’s so important, like, just be open and curious to the questions and leave something to be discovered. You know, don’t answer you don’t have to have an answer for everything. I guess that’s that’s the lesson there.

Jen Kidwell 33:50
Right. Right. And there’s nothing wrong with coming to a different answer over time. Right. I think so often, is one of my favorite parts of leading isolate a confirmation class at my at my church, which, depending on people’s familiarity was sort of a an opportunity for middle schoolers to think about whether they wanted to sort of formally declare that they were wanting to continue in this tradition, opportunity one way or another. And so, but that we only talked about the questions, right, like we are embracing the questions. So we’re going to talk about some of the possible answers. And I would love to hear sort of how you’re navigating these things. Here are some of the the answers that your tradition has offered over time, because I don’t want you to be 40 and stuck with like the faith of a 12 year old, because that’s sort of what you think faith means. Right? Like, it has to be a certain way. Yeah. Right. And so that I used to have so much fun with them doing that. And, and I think my experience kind of working with them, led me to have different conversations with adults as well around sort of like where did you learn the answer to this question, like, Does it still feel true to you? If the answer is no, maybe that’s what Okay, and we can kind of we can work on on discovering something else within this big tradition that might feel like it better reflects your experience and the way that you know, you feel called to respond in any given situation. So, um, yes, the mystery is a good thing.

Victoria Volk 35:16
Yes, I’ve actually just had a post about that. Good Friday how, you know, I don’t care what you believe it’s, you know, maybe there are just some things that are a mystery. There’s, how can anyone on this physical plane possibly know for sure, right, impossible. Right, in a lot of ways, like, we don’t know everything, look at how much is undiscovered in the cosmos. And under the, in the ocean, right. And even our bodies, like what our physical bodies are capable of, like, I think we’re, we, we just don’t even have, we couldn’t even wrap our head around what we don’t know yet. About everything under the sun. So yeah, thank you for bringing that. Yeah, I think it adds just a childlike wonder to, to what what is possible at end of life. And I think that can bring people comfort too. And you know, there are people that really struggle with I think death and dying because of an indoctrination sometimes of you know, I did this thing, I’m, I’m guess I’m destined for hell, or, I’ve done this thing and all these good works. So I, I know, I’m going I know there’s a place for me in heaven. I think there is a mystery there that we just, we won’t know until we know, for ourselves. But anyway, I’m sure I could talk about that all day. So how long have you been doing this work like specifically helping people with estate planning.

Jen Kidwell 36:53
So this is like and again, like I’ve had sort of different points where I have I have done done this over time. But I’ve only been kind of really dedicated kind of 100% of my professional time to it for about a year and but again, like it’s it’s sort of has found me at different points along along the way but but yeah, so it’s it’s still a newer endeavor.

Victoria Volk 37:18
So have you personally gotten your ducks in a row for years?

Jen Kidwell 37:23
You’re still in process we’re still in process so like you mentioned the having a business makes it all makes things more complicated and so we have been kind of in in process of updating and trying to figure out the best the best way to move forward with the I have another kind of another a second business as well it’s sort of more of a hobby space. And you know, talking a lot with my spouse about the best you know, does he does he feel like he could sort of step in and do these things or like do I need to like a point unusual which is a lot of conversations to have like with uh, you know, other attorneys who might be willing to be like a triage person to come in and work with my work with my clients and you know, make sure that everything is wound up right so there’s there’s a lot that goes into it and so yeah, so we are we are still updating although we have a goal of the middle of next month as our as our like as our time so I think it will it will be wrapped up pretty soon and then you know if things need to change we will we will change them right just like just like with others and so as I am really enjoying my work now it’s it’s just me but I am I’m busy and so you know as I may grow my business may may grow and other other folks are involved like that that plan may may change over time. So we will we will maintain the plan just like I advise everyone else to do.

Victoria Volk 38:50
I could totally like I just had a bit I had a vision for you. Visit for you. I don’t know if you have an interest in like Do you have a brick and mortar?

Jen Kidwell 39:01
No not yet again with the small kids I am woman juggling and all of that most of the time but we hope to have one in the near future.

Victoria Volk 39:10
Yeah, yeah, I envisioned this brick and mortar have like this one stop shop for like, end of life. Planning like end of life. doulas, like all these resources like in this one place and,

Jen Kidwell 39:24
I have I get more pride I tried this with you but I have I have flirted with end of life doula training, often and and I’m in some of the Facebook spaces and sort of passively learning from all of the wisdom that is that is shared there. But that was that was one of the there are there’s at least one or two. There’s at least one end of life doula training program I can think of that was started by a woman who is an attorney and sort of backed into this work kind of going with Grace maybe is what it’s called. And she used to sort of do both of these things. And I think at this point has just shifted to the end of life doula And now she has training and she does all these other things. But yes, I have often often felt like, like a team of folks who were similarly minded, who understood the interplay between all of these things would be a valuable resource for for the world. And so we’ll see where that vision takes us.

Victoria Volk 40:20
As you’re talking to, I just, I was like, Oh, my God, because you were talking about like, your clients. And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, like, I hadn’t even thought about that. Like, if I’m in the middle of a grief program with one of my clients, like, who? Who do I refer? Like, who to where do they go, right? And that’s horrible. Because in the work that I do, it’s like, I can be in, like, I can be at session seven or eight. And then there’s 12 sessions, and it’s important, meaningful, deep work, and it’s like, hang them dry, like, oh, my gosh, I need to plan that stat. First of all, so thank you for that. And then also, I thought of to like caretakers. Like, if you are a parent, who’s caring for a parent, like that sandwich generation, if something happens to you, what happens to that parent? That’s huge. That’s a huge. Yeah, that sounds very overwhelming to me.

Jen Kidwell 41:17
I know, I know. I know. Yeah, it did. And it can be I think, but, but even sort of think thinking through what it could look like for your family, and, and what you know, what the aging parent wants, what their values and their priorities are. So that sandwich generation is, is in a, in a hard place, because they, they need to make sure everyone gets what they need, and they themselves are spread very thin. And I know that can be super hard. And so you know, seeking support, whether again, that’s in some sort of community space, or a faith space, or a like a space to like intentionally plan these kinds of things out rather, whether that’s with an attorney, or, or a financial adviser, or, you know, whoever that structure can maybe can maybe be helpful to organize all of these interests into something that makes sense.

Victoria Volk 42:09
I was gonna mention too, so I trained through in Elda, I N E LDA. So I can put that in the show notes if anyone listening has an interest in end of life type of work. But yeah, I highly recommend that organization. I can I share that with you. So of course you’re in Maryland. And so a lot of the things that you share kind of generalized in people have to look at their own state specific stuff. Are there some things that you know, for sure, that definitely vary from state to state that people need to keep in mind?

Jen Kidwell 42:43
Well, yeah, I mean, there are there are a lot lots of things like it’s it’s tricky, because there’s nuance in every state, the general shape of what the documents can do are often very similar, but the even the the intestacy statute, right, so that is 50 cent word. But that is the default for what happens if you die without a will. Right. And so a lot of people say like, you know, if they don’t have a well, they’re like, Oh, well, I don’t I don’t have a plan, you do have a plan, it is the state’s plan, the state’s plan is what will happen if if you die without having kind of looked at that and made a plan for yourself. And that is different in every state, right? Sometimes it you know, divides everything evenly between children, sometimes the spouse gets everything, sometimes it’s divided between a spouse and children. Sometimes it’s, you know, it’s divided, sometimes parents are factored in if they’re their surviving parents. And so that’s something that’s different in every state. And so it’s different that it would have to be sort of worked around with with a with a will, or trust, depending the ability to name Guardians is something that in most states, or guardians for minor children, is something that in most states is only something you can do on a will, there are a few states that allow you to have kind of a separate document that that appoints a guardian for minor children, but in most, it’s just a will. So that is, that’s a big deal. Because there are a lot of people who feel like they don’t have anything, which may or may not be true. Sometimes when you start to think about like, you know, retirement assets, and just kind of little pieces of property here, they’re kind of adds up maybe to more than one might expect. And so they feel like they don’t really have anything but they come to me for a well because they want to name guardians for their children. And so that’s, that’s a big thing to think about. If you do have minor children and you don’t feel like you have anything you can get a will that is I always recommend going to an attorney because again, you don’t like you were saying earlier, you don’t know what you don’t know. And there are a lot of forms that you can get online or forms from other spaces. And depending on your situation those like might be they might like get you started, but but they might not ask the right questions. They might not sort of you know, they’re not able to reflect with you and kind of enter in the process with you and so or, you know, talking to an attorney, even if you feel like you have a simple situation and only need it for one thing you may find, you may find that a couple other couple other points are important. So but otherwise there’s there’s variation, right in some states probate. So probate is the process of retitling assets that are in your name when you die. And so if you’re thinking about like, so assets that you hold by yourself, if you when you die, you can imagine that you drop the assets and then the court is like, oh, assets on the floor, this is we have a process for how to like pick those back up and like get them where they need to be. In some states, probate is not so bad, right? It doesn’t take a super long time, and maybe only takes like nine months to a year, it may not be super expensive. And so there may be great resources in your state for how to how to go go through that without needing to hire an attorney. And then in other states, it may be crazy, right? Like in California, people work really hard to avoid probate, because it’s very expensive. And it takes a very long time, and things get tied up forever. And so that’s a that’s another thing that really varies a great deal. by state. I think in culture, people just really want to avoid probate because they’ve heard terrible things. And depending on your situation, that might be true. But depending on your state and your and your family and your life, it may not it may not be so bad. So lots of variation.

Victoria Volk 46:20
So would you say the biggest mistake that people made make at end of life planning, estate planning, all of that is not going with a lawyer.

Jen Kidwell 46:30
Again, it really depends, I really do think that even if even if it’s just like attending an information session, or you know, a lot of attorneys have, I care a lot about the education and counseling parts of my role, as hopefully you could tell. And so I do a lot of educational like seminars, and I go to mom’s groups, and I go to church spaces and talk about all of these things, to try to help people you know, feel confident that they can like attack the process. And, and there are a lot of attorneys out there who will, you know, sit down and have a conversation with you. And not, it’s not, it may not be quite as friendly as you think, depending on depending on your needs. And so it’s definitely worth looking looking into, even if it’s something that you might need to budget for a little bit, having the peace of mind of kind of going going through that with an expert, who knows and understands how the laws have changed, what what changes may be in the pipeline, and how to kind of plan for those two is a big deal. Like I mentioned, they’re big changes went into effect in 2020. And so people who planned, these big changes primarily have to do with retirement accounts. So people who planned to do certain things with their retirement accounts as part of their estate planning before 2020. Like those, some of those things are just not possible anymore. And so they if they haven’t updated, if they haven’t stayed in touch, they haven’t reached out to an attorney who has been wrestling with this crazy law for a long time. They’re not they’re not going to know. And they’re not going to know if they need a different structure, or if they need to kind of update their plan accordingly. So, so yeah, I mean, I think seeking professional advice from an attorney is always a good call. But as it relates to the biggest mistake, it’s hard to tell between not speaking to an attorney, and then not speaking to your decision makers. These are, these are sort of similar, I think, in terms of their, their importance, in terms of how the plans actually play out in the end,

Victoria Volk 48:38
I just had a scenario cross my mind. And I’m just like, oh my gosh, I couldn’t even imagine like, if you’re college age, but you but let’s say you’re a parent, your parents, right, and you have college age, but you also have kids still in school, high school, and something happens to both you and your spouse. So you got student loans, you’ve got kids that are still in school that need, you know, a parent role model like oh my gosh, that is such a complex, like, I cannot even imagine the situation, what is like the most complex, complicated situation you’ve come across that maybe people haven’t considered for themselves.

Jen Kidwell 49:16
Oh, man. Um, so again, like the the retirement, the change in the retirement roles has really impacted what the best, the best thing to do with some of these retirement cards aren’t right. And so the reason that the laws changed in 2020, is because Congress was looking, they were like, hey, these people have some of these people have a lot of dollars or their retirement accounts, and they’re not actually spending it in retirement. They’re using it as like a wealth transfer vehicle to share it with the next generation or with, you know, with children or with grandchildren. And so that’s not why retirement accounts were made. And so we could probably tax those a little differently and, and incentivize people sort of using them more during retirement. it or you know, tax them create a different scheme where they end up being taxed differently, so that we recoup some of those dollars. And so that has meant that people who have like charitable intent, right, so maybe they want to, like benefit another person during like, so they, they die, and they want to benefit another person during their lifetime. So they want to use a trust and benefit that person during their lifetime, maybe they’re not super great with money, or maybe they have some special needs, or maybe, you know, there may be other reasons. And so they’re gonna have a trustee manage that account and, you know, meet the person’s needs. But then if there’s anything else, they want to go to charity, that seems like a very reasonable thing to want to do. And it’s actually not quite complicated, because of the ways that charities are treated under the new law, and the ways that people within certain degrees of relationship to the plant owners are treated to so dealing with retirement accounts has gotten much more complicated. And, and that is, that’s frustrating, because a lot of folks have have retirement accounts, and they started contributing to them a long time ago. And, you know, they viewed them as savings vehicles, not just for themselves, but for their families. And so with this change, those those folks have have different different options. So now, people who have maybe some charitable intent, but also want to benefit their families. Now we’re looking more at doing charitable remainder trusts, which are cool, cool things that allow you to continue to benefit your family. Now, over the course of you know, the lifetime of the beneficiaries you choose, and then ultimately, then the rest would go to charity. And that, so that may end up being a better vehicle than a more traditional retirement trust. So yeah, I know, that sounds like a little, a little nitty gritty. But um, but those those rules have gotten have gotten pretty complicated. Yeah, and I think it is also thinking about folks with children who have who are like far apart in age, right. So if you have, you know, a 10 year age gap between two kids maybe or if you have kids that are sort of really spread out creating a trust that meets all of their needs, given that they will have very different needs when one is like 17, and one is 30, right like that, that can sometimes be challenging to design a trust to that will, that will work well for for everyone and make sure that the younger child has all of the has access to the opportunities that the older child had, you know, as it relates to maybe going to college or graduate school are other things. And so, and that’s a very like, back to the specific situation that you just sort of deal with as it comes up. But but sometimes can be tricky.

Victoria Volk 52:51
Well, this has been a wealth of information. I feel like, I’d probably come up with 50 More questions easily. But is there anything that you feel is of utmost importance that you didn’t get to share that you feel the listeners need to hear?

Jen Kidwell 53:07
I mean, I think that we’ve you’ve mentioned many times, and I totally agree that at some points, just considering all of these things can be very overwhelming. And, and so when you have that kind of overwhelm experience, I really encourage folks to like return to your values and return to something that is grounding to you. Right? Whether these are kind of stories, that that help you reflect on what is really meaningful to you are stories, that you’ve things you’ve experienced that you’re like, Oh, well, I definitely don’t want that to happen, or I don’t want I don’t want to feel like that, right? I want to feel like this, those kinds of resources, from your own reflections and from your own life are, I think, a great place to go and retreat when you have that kind of overwhelm. And so So staying staying true to those things and and finding, you know, a home in those things, when, when these kind of technical pieces feel a little overwhelming, I think is a is a good call. So I would I would encourage that and and hopefully that is that is a helpful tip.

Victoria Volk 54:09
What is one thing that you would love to scream to the world about your grief experience or this work that you’re doing?

Jen Kidwell 54:18
Hmm, I mean, I think one of my favorite metaphors for grief and there are so many good ones is that and it works really well with my like weaving the way that I understand sort of meaning in the world, but that that grief is like a drop stitch. So I’m not really a knitter. I really enjoy spending time with knitters because I find their knitting to be very soothing. I have been known that family functions just sort of curl up next to someone knitting and b b suits. But my understanding is that when you are knitting and you drop a stitch, you can either go back and fix it. Or if you don’t, it just leaves sort of a little hole in the in the finished garment or the scarf. I think that’s such a good metaphor for grief because You can’t really go back and fix it right? Like you can’t, you can’t undo it, you can’t make it go away, it is just it becomes a part of you, it becomes a part of you that you carry into all aspects of your life, right. And there will be moments when all you feel like you can see is the whole and there will be moments when you can zoom out and see the whole the whole garment and the garment, your life is still beautiful and meaningful, even though it ends up with all these little holes in it. It is uniquely yours. And those people that the love of those people is still with you, right? It’s reflected in these in these little kind of absences. And so I’ve been reflecting a lot on that, as you know, we we just celebrated Easter, right. And actually, so many holidays, this season is so great, they all overlapped all these like religious traditions and very beautiful to see reflections of that. But my my grandmother was a singer and sang beautifully, right, she died, she was almost 98 and had a beautiful voice. And I have so many recordings of her singing that I did very sneakily. So she didn’t know, and, and I think, you know, in the choir on Sunday, and thought of her a lot like it was it was a beautiful way to feel close to her. And so I think as we get through sort of the first year of of her not being with us, there will be so many of those opportunities to feel close to her. And to feel all the feelings, right joy and humor and sadness. And, you know, wishing she could be here to tell us some of the stories that that we’ve heard before, but that she you know, she tells the best. And so, so I think it just is cycling, we will I will cycle through it. And that is okay. That’s how it is.

Victoria Volk 56:47
Thank you for sharing that. What’s your grandma’s name was Gigi?

Jen Kidwell 56:52
We Yes, we called her grandma. And then after she had great grin. great grandchildren, they called her GT great grandma. So yes, so she got to spend a lot of time with them in the in the month before she died. And and that was a that was a gift, a gift to everyone.

Victoria Volk 57:08
Yeah, no, a lot of kids get that opportunity. It’s amazing. What is one thing that your experiences have taught you like grief and the work that you’re doing?

Jen Kidwell 57:18
I think it’s that the default is not a good death. Like the medical system, there are so many things that really push people towards an institutionalized death experience. And that’s not always avoidable. But there are, there are times when it feels like doctors, other people are not kind of brave enough to talk about these things with families. And so like families need to be brave, and to be aware of the options and be able to like assert the vision and the options that they have. And so the opportunities for whether it’s hospice, whether it’s working with an end of life doula, whether it is kind of just finding ways to claim a space for your loved one in an institution, right, like using using music using art using reading, right, like there are so many tools that we have to create an influence a space to reflect to the the personality and the the joys experienced by the person who is needing to be in that space. So I think just being aware of that, like, what a good death is to you is probably not the default of what like the system is is going to provide you unless you you act within it. So I know that’s not like one of the shouldn’t I should have probably thought of illegal take away but that I feel like is a big really important thing. That is you know, then loved ones carry with them for the rest of their for the rest of their lives. And so yeah, it’s a it’s a it’s a big deal.

Victoria Volk 59:04
It is a big deal and I’m I’m very glad that that was your your share because we do medicalized dying, and death. And I had Dr. Chris Curry. He’s I’ve mentioned in his episode many times throughout all different conversations and I’ll put it in the show notes again on this episode because he was an ER physician whose job was to keep people alive. And what he saw in the work he was doing at that time was people were not physicians were not being honest with family about what was truly happening with their loved one, that they were actively dying. And so he said we medicalized we’ve medicalized dying, and then they die in the hospital. They die in the nursing home away from their family or loved ones, and oftentimes alone, and he’s, you know, so he’s a huge he’s actually he switched gears completely and has been a hospice physician now for many yours and is studying has studied the end of life experiences of people who are dying and was featured in the Netflix Docu series. Surviving death. You might be interested in if you haven’t yet, haven’t seen it, I’ll have to look into who you would like that. So yes, I’m completely on par with what you just just shared. What is one thing I’m putting on the spot? So what is one thing that you can think of off the top of your head that this I want present? Like, if you have that agency, you have that choice, you’re, you know, have a good death? What is one thing that is an absolute that you want? At your end of life?

Jen Kidwell 1:00:45
Hmm, I think I’ve thought about this a lot, especially after, after being there with with my grandmother and I think laughter is something that I want kind of around around me right laughter of my laughter of my loved ones and my kids, right? People telling stories and carrying the joy that I hope that I bring into the world, right, carrying that, that forward, I think about some of my favorite children’s books, and how I would love for people to kind of people to read them to me, whether I whether I can experience them or not, but so that they can experience them kind of together. So I think laughter is a is a big thing. I remember it was that was a significant moment, when we were together, around right GG had passed, but we were still sitting sitting around her and talking about her and playing music and, and sharing stories and laughing and that just felt like a really lovely way to honor her honor her spirit. And, and so yeah, I think I think laughter should be in the room. Even though you know, it might be sad. Hopefully, it’ll be a little sad. But I don’t want people to be to be afraid, too afraid to tell stories and to and to be silly and playful. So yeah,

Victoria Volk 1:02:08
I just got full body chop up. That was good. That was very good. Thank you for sharing that. And it is true. I think, you know, we it’s almost like you feel guilty for feeling joy in a moment like that. You know, and it’s like you just expressed it’s, that’s the juice of life is joy. Really. It’s all the things.

Jen Kidwell 1:02:29
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We were embodies all of that. Yeah. Yeah, I was with my daughter in the cemetery before the day before my grandmother’s service. And my mom and I were there together. She has a My mom has done done a ton of childcare for us and is much beloved, by my by my kiddos, really, by all children, she encounters. But and so Lucy, my daughter was was there and we were she was sort of like skipping around and, and I could tell at first that my mom was a little uncomfortable with the fact that she was like, being a six year old kid kind of, you know, dipping in and out of the of the reflection and being kind of silly. And I, I wanted to say something to kind of help both of them maybe feel a little more comfortable. And so I I told I told this is like Sweetie, you. I want you to be joyful. If you’re if you feel joyful here be joyful, right? We are respectful. We do not, you know, we don’t touch the gravestones, we don’t you know, there’s a lot of things we don’t do. But think about all the people who were buried here and all of the life that they loved, right? They all had a favorite joke, right? They all they all had moments in their life when they couldn’t stop laughing. And so think about how it’s like it honors them to bring that spirit to this place. Right? And so and so yes, we are respectful. But absolutely, we are also playful. We are also you know, if you’re feeling joyful, then then you’re joyful. And we live in that space, too. And so that was a I was really glad for both of them actually to be able to kind of share that and then talk about it a little bit with them. Because again, like we don’t work somber, right, where cemeteries are somber, and maybe that’s okay, sometimes. But, um, but maybe not all the time. So,

Victoria Volk 1:04:16
That’s, that’s the gift that children give us. Righ? Yeah. And lighten up, lighten up a little. And here’s another tip. You know, when I was when I was listening to, it’s really considering that person that you’re there to support and their their transition. What did they love? What did they enjoy? Bring that to the room? You know, it’s like you love children’s books. So Exactly, exactly. Like you said, like, what are some of her favorite books and when I used to volunteer at the nursing home, I don’t have the time like I want eventually I want to get back to that. But I would read to the residents, the newspaper whatever it was they wanted me to read because you lose You know, your eyesight isn’t the best you get to a certain age, you have glaucoma, cataracts, all these things you can’t. And if you loved reading the paper, and you can’t do that anymore, you’re not you can’t enjoy the paper anymore. And so having someone to read it to them, right. So, I think that’s a good tip for to leave people with as well. If you have someone who’s transitioning, just think about what they truly what juice them up, what did they love doing? What were their hobbies? And I’m curious, what is your side hobby business?

Jen Kidwell 1:05:29
Oh, um, so I did, I dabbled in some web design for for fun. And also for, you know, for clients. And then also I, I sell some curriculum that I that I written mostly for, for youth groups, and for adult small groups, some there’s sort of an anti racism series, and a couple series that I loved using TED talks to in in ways to kind of bring that in conversation with with Scripture and with the experience of, you know, whatever, whatever the group was. And so I have a handful of those, and that, you know, a bunch of other things, games and other things for mostly around the ministry ministry world.

Victoria Volk 1:06:12
Well, I send that my way, because I would love to include that in the show notes as well, because that could be a resource for people, especially with inclusion and all of that, you know, so I think,

Jen Kidwell 1:06:22
Absolutely, it totally well, and the, and I do, as you mentioned, I am, I am in Maryland, but I do do values, values based coaching for anyone who is feel stuck or overwhelmed in the process and wants some some guidance and interaction to sort of, really ground themselves in, in their, in their values and in their stories of identity to so I do that sort of as a It’s not I don’t, you know, provide legal advice as part of that. But as someone who, who knows the types of questions that would be part of an estate planning journey, in any given state, I offer some of that as well. If that, if that sounds helpful.

Victoria Volk 1:07:04
I love that you brought up the values piece, because I’m a certified Youmap coach. And we through that process, we there’s like four assessments that basically ultimately create what’s called a you map. And it’s basically a map of you, that includes your top five strengths, your values, how you’re wired, and your skill set that you you know, the your most preferred skills, and all of that together creates a U map. But what the U map really does, too, is through the values, it really creates a it’s a pathway for making decisions, right. And I, I hear that, and what you’re saying is that our values really dictate if we tune into that guidance that we have instead, you know, not let it be filtered out through other people’s perceptions, or what we think they think or what they want, or whatever, if we stick to what our values are, and use that as our guide, we can never go wrong in our decisions.

Jen Kidwell 1:07:58
Right? Right, then our story is always ours, right? Because it come out of it has come out of us. And we can we can use those values and those sort of those those words and those phrases as we as we tell our stories, too. I think that’s that’s a big anyway, talk about this forever.

Victoria Volk 1:08:15
But I know where can people find you?

Jen Kidwell 1:08:20
Yeah, so I am at www.marylandlegacylaw.com You can check out some things there. Again, if you’re interested in chatting about some some values based stuff as it relates to estate planning. That information would be on my website. And then if you if you happen to be interested in the in some some ministry resources, or even a book about storytelling, that said, jenkidwell.com, so I’ll send those to you and you can include them if you’d like to.

Victoria Volk 1:08:49
Awesome. And how about on social media?

Jen Kidwell 1:08:52
I am mostly just on Facebook. Just my self. Jen Kidwell. Well, you can you can find me. I have a picture of me with my cute little ones. So if you if you need some some kiddo joy. They are they are on my on my Facebook feed from time to time, primarily where I am.

Victoria Volk 1:09:13
Thank you so much for being here. I think this was a very much needed conversation that I’m glad to have brought to my listeners. So thank you so much for your time today. Great. Thank you for the invitation. And remember, when you unleash your heart you unleash your life. Much love.


Ep 121 | Christian de la Huerta

Christian de la Huerta | Awakening the Soul of Power


Christian was one of nine children born and raised in Cuba and in the Catholic faith.

His father, a psychiatrist, and anti-communist, as was his mother, instilled in him the importance of excelling in reading. These early lessons laid a foundation. However, those lessons also set the stage for a desire to escape and not be seen.

Introversion and depression plagued his adolescence, as was his knowledge of being gay. With courage, he came out to his family. Christian speaks about this challenging time in his life and the ones that came to be in the future, including the recent (and unexpected) decline of his mother’s cognitive health.

Through his breath and deep, internal work, Christian paved a path to personal empowerment and now leads others in doing the same. Through the lens of 30+ years of experience, he shares two of the biggest hurdles others have to personal freedom and empowerment.




Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today my guest is Christian de la Huerta. He has 30 years experience and is a sought after spiritual teacher, personal transformation coach and leading voice in the breathwork community. He has traveled the world offering inspiring and transformational retreats combining psychological and spiritual teachings with lasting and life changing effects, and award winning critically acclaimed author he has spoken at numerous universities and conferences and on the TEDx stage. His new book, awakening the soul of power has described by multiple Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan as a balm for the soul of anyone searching for truth and answers to life’s difficult questions, and has received a novelist Book Award and a nonfiction book award. So thank you so much for being here. And we are gonna go deep today.

Christian de la Huerta 0:52
Thank you so much, Victoria. I’m so happy to be here with you.

Victoria Volk 0:56
I actually really want to start, because I know you’ve done a lot of these podcast episodes, interviews, and then on the stage and things like that. But I really want to get to know you as a child, because I think our childhood really shapes our adulthood because adulthood is childhood reenactments. I say a lot. So I’m interested in learning about you as a child. So would you describe yourself as a child and your life? What it was like, for you?

Christian de la Huerta 1:24
Yeah, that’s, that’s interesting. I was I was born in Cuba. And so lived in a communist regime for the first 10 years of my life. And I’m one part of a large family of one of nine kids and only 12 years between the oldest and the youngest, and my mom was pretty much pregnant the whole time. Which I can’t even imagine having any kids, I’m happy if I don’t kill my plants when I travel. The scene so it was it was a beautiful and challenging in different ways. Childhood, I’m really appreciative of the fact that we grew up without watching TV, we had a TV, but there was nothing worth watching, really. So we grew up reading and I’m really grateful for that. We grew up creating, inventing our games and our pastimes and spending a lot of time out outside. So you know, when I see some of my kids in my life, you know, just like with their nose to the to the screen, just lost in there’s, it’s, it saddens me a bit. To see that. I was, you know, it was interesting, because my parents were involved in counter revolutionary activity. So they were conspiring against the revolution, or the Communist revolution, there was this kind of interesting push pull between, like an implicit, wanting to be seen and wanting to excel, like there was sort of sort of a family message like most of us were, like, really good students. I think we all were, and then because of their cattle revolute with the right kind of revolutionary activities, there was an innate, another message not to be seen too much. So So I see that, that, you know, I’m basically introverted, which, which means that you know, that I that I process internally that I need time off, if I don’t have time alone, that’s when I’m liable to lose my center. And so this was an interesting childhood me surrounded by kids and then having this also introverted streak like looking fighting for I was looking for my own space. And what I think your your, your audience might relate to also is that my adolescence, if you don’t, going forward a little bit, was one long depression with suicidal fantasies, like, I don’t think I know, I wouldn’t have done anything about it. But I did have thoughts about not not being alive and sort of like that escape fantasy, and and what’s important for your audience, because another another depth of the work that you do is that flash forward now, no matter what the details, or the circumstances are in my life, whether a relationship works out where it doesn’t, whether a project succeeds or it fails in quotes. I never, ever, ever questioned my sense of self, my level of self love self acceptance, are established, and unshakable and so that I know that that we can all break out of that stuff, the traumatic the difficult stuff, the self esteem, stuff from from childhood that all that stuff can be healed and transcended.

Victoria Volk 4:47
In your TED talk, you spoke a lot about this fight, flight or freeze and would you express that that was your adolescence, like was it like a, like a lack of stupid ability or security, like what was the? What was the grief? Of of your experience, then?

Christian de la Huerta 5:07
Yeah, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say that I was in that. Maybe No, I didn’t know that I would say that it was in the fight flight or freeze mode. I think it was just numbed out. And for me, it was an existential struggle. You know, I knew at a young age that I was gay. And I was raised in a very Catholic, very Catholic environment. So trying to reconcile, you know, those two parts of who I am, there was a part of me that that’s always had a spiritual sense, sense of mission sets of helping humanity making a difference in other people’s lives, with serving the sacred that’s interpreted that in different points in my life. So there was a huge part of me, and this other part of me that was told by the religion in which I was raised, that I was, you know, another I’m an abomination in the eyes of God, that I was gonna burn in hell for eternity. So that was the struggle, which, you know, looking back on it, I’m grateful for that now, for several reasons. But one of the reasons is that it forced me to struggle with those tough, existential questions of, you know, who am I? What am I here for? What’s life about? What, why do we do the things we do at a younger age that most of us have to struggle with. And so, for that, I’m grateful. And it also gives me an ability and an ability to deeply empathize with another person’s pain or their grief, you know, the details might be different, but the experience is similar, for most of us, so so I’m grateful for all of that.

Victoria Volk 6:43
Where you accepted your loved ones?

Christian de la Huerta 6:48
Eventually, yes, I mean, my siblings immediately, my parents, you know, it took a little bit longer for it to, you know, for my mom to get to the place of, I just want my kids to be happy, which, you know, which that foundation was always there, so that I know that I’m blessed in that area that many other people don’t have, which was that I knew that the love was there. And no matter what, even though I spent years, you know, with with that deep, dark secret, not telling them, but once I finally did come out to them, you know, it’s it took some navigating for sure. And my father was a psychiatrist. So there were other layers around that of, you know, his philosophy about that, but but I knew that deep down inside the love, was there always.

Victoria Volk 7:43
Can I ask for those listening? Who might get a sense that their child may be gay? Or be struggling with their sexual identity? What is one piece of advice that you would give them? Is it to confront it, and just start the conversation or allow the child to express it in their own time?

Christian de la Huerta 8:11
You know, it’s hard to make a blanket choice about that, or suggestion about that? I think it depends. My inclination, my initial inclination would be to let it let it come out in the child, but I’ve also heard stories where the father, the father, or the mother, just opening up the space and, you know, creating an environment which, in which the kid feel safe, and you know, kind of setting them up, to be able to come out to them, but that’s also very helpful. Here’s the thing that I think will be helpful, because I know that the reason that all of us you know, but especially parents, you know, struggle with that, how can I accept this in my child, when my religion may be telling you that this is wrong, or that it’s sinful, or whatever. So it’s going to take work, right? It’s gonna, it’s, for me, it was it took years to get to that point of self accepting and reconciling my sexuality and my spirituality. But But here’s what’s really key is that a lot, there’s about six, and I’m going to go immediately to the majority religion and in this country, and the West, which is Christianity. There are basically six biblical texts that are interpreted, and I would say misinterpreted, to condemn homosexuality. And the thing to remember about about this is that they’ve been taken out of their cultural and historical context, and they’re very selectively interpreted. What allowed me to get through this into healers and myself is that I started doing a lot of research and discovered and realized that before the patriarchal times and cultures and religions, people that we today would call gay or lesbian or LGBT, or Q or whatever. We’re not only spiritually inclined, but wherever actually honored, respected, in some cases revered for the roles of spiritual service and spiritual leadership that they played all over the world. So my first book was called coming out spiritually, and dives deeply into that, because there are examples of that all over the world and all inhabited continent. And so that begins, like, once we’re able to reconcile that for ourselves as parents, then it becomes easier to arrive at that point is like, you know what, all right, well, I don’t know about this stuff, and where these teachings come from, but I know the love I have for my child, no matter what, and I help them to arrive to a place of inner peace with that.

Victoria Volk 10:43
Isn’t that the goal? Just to find inner peace with it on both sides? Right? Yes, yes. It’s better than creating, destroying the bridge between that relationship, there’s ripple effects in that for sure.

Christian de la Huerta 10:57
Oh, my God, and it’s so unnecessary. And so unnecessary. By the way, it’s important to remember to that because the more I think about this, the more that I realized that homophobia and misogyny are two sides of the same coin. And the more that I think about it, I think misogyny is really the deeper one. Because if you look at any culture, any religion, that persecute homosexuality, or you know, LGBTQ people, 100% correlation, they are the same ones, where women do not have equal status. And so, you know, taking one of those, you know, what are called the holy text of terrorists, those six biblical injunction injunctions that are used to condemn same sex behavior. One of them is like, you know, you should not lie with a man as you do with a woman. But what about two women together? You know, that, that doesn’t even come up? And why is that? Because at that time, in that culture, you know, women weren’t even human. Women were property. And so am I going to base my my choices about what’s right, and what’s wrong on stuff that was written, you know, 1000s of years ago, that was translated and re translated and mistranslated, stuff was taken out stuff was put into those those those, you know, sacred texts that were written by humans. And so I’m personally not, you know, and even if we, if we flash forward to today, you know, for, you know, like, the many examples of homophobic, straight men, you tell him, Oh, two women, or you show him a movie with two women, it’s like, Ooh, I want some of that. But how different two men together, it’s like, wow, you know, either either, you got to shoot them, you got to kill them, get rid of them, or the yuck factor comes out. So why is that? And I think is because of two women together. We’re not a threat to the status quo. Right? Because again, they weren’t seemed to hold the same kind of amount of power in the world and still don’t, which connects to the book that, you know, that I just published last year, whereas two men in their mind, I think they believe that one of them is willingly forfeiting giving up their superior male status, and that is a threat to the status quo.

Victoria Volk 13:19
Do you think that if men, just straight men in general got more in touch with their femininity, their feminine side? You know, the yin and yang, equally balanced? Do you think that would change things?

Christian de la Huerta 13:39
Of course it would. And, and, you know, because we’re part of the cosmos, the cosmos is equally balanced between masculine and feminine energies. So that means that those masculine and feminine energies course through every one of us, no matter what kind of body we’re in, and for some reason, you know, at the rise of the patriarchy, the feminine was made, was turned us into weakness into something less than, and whereas, whereas, you know, from my perspective, if you want to talk, strength and power and resilience and courage, let’s talk about the power of creation that lies in a female body and to lighten things up a little bit, you know, read about an interview of Betty White Pass to not long ago, the one and only inimitable Betty White, but apparently she was in one of those group interviews and somebody said something about having balls and she goes, Wait a minute, I don’t know where we got this connection between having balls and encouraging strength and strength you thumped those little things in the guy collapses bends over in pain. You want to talk courage and strength, let’s talk vaginas. Those things take a pounding.

Victoria Volk 14:56
You know, just yesterday, my soul i you actually mentioned her in your TED Talk Joan of Arc. And so my daughter, she’s going to be confirmed. I’m actually a convert to Catholicism. But I, you know, I struggled spiritually and religiously for many years because my dad died when I was a child, and I was sexually assaulted and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So I wrote off God, I was angry at God, and I didn’t, you know, that relationship, I cut it off. And so I struggled for a long time, but I found something I could set a foundation of faith in. And it’s still evolving, it’s always going to evolve. And I think that’s where we kind of get stuck in our thought process. And then in our, we get stuck in our ways. Like, this is how it is, this is how it’s always gonna be. But I feel like I’m more spiritual now than I would say, I’m religious, you know, and that took a long time to get there. Anyway. Sure. My daughter, my daughter chose Joan of Arc, though as her patron saint. So anyway, I just said to her, I said to her yesterday, she has to do this paper on her and I just said, you know, well, you know, she was she’s like, she’s a badass. She, I don’t know how, how I will describe her. But I did say she has lady ball. That she had lady balls, you know, when you mentioned that, it’s like, oh, my gosh, my language, right. Like it is. It is in so this is my question, because I wasn’t gonna go here. But I feel like it’s, it’s just coming up. So currently, there’s this all this talk about gender neutral clothing, and I haven’t even seen the story I it was just shared with me and, and my thought is let the kids wear what they want to wear. Just let them wear what they want to wear. Let them express themselves. You know, here it’s us as parents and society, that places these places, children in a box, well, let’s just give them gender neutral, because they look male, and they they see male, so let’s just put blue clothes on him. But as adults, we were all kinds of colors. I’m wearing blue today. That make me male. You know what I mean? Like, it’s not a big deal as adults. It’s ridiculous. Why do we make it a big deal? I think we as a society, we make mountains out of molehills, where there doesn’t need to be just compassion, and kindness and free freedom of expression. Right? I have a picture of my child sheet my youngest girl, she, I don’t know, one time, it’s one of my favorite pictures. But she was dressed literally like a clown. Like just mismatched, and stripes and solids and all kinds of it. And she looked silly, ridiculous. And she had like a wellness check that day, I let her dress like that. I don’t care. Like what, you know, people get so afraid of what it what it says about them. You know? So I think that’s yeah, anyway, that’s my schpeel. What are your thoughts on that?

Christian de la Huerta 18:01
I think you’re absolutely right. It’s ridiculous and tragic. How much power we give away to others, and how much weight we give to what other people think how many choices we make, based on what we think they think. Right? So it’s all made up in our minds, and based on whether other people are gonna like it or not. And to me, it goes back to self esteem, right, the stronger our sense of self, the deeper that our level of self acceptance, the less and less and less that we care what anybody else thinks. And, and we get to that place of freedom, which I think is what we all have, we’re all longing for freedom just to be who we are, wherever we are. Because we spent so much time like with, you know, with masks, and being this way at work, and this other way, with, with our friends this other way with our family this other way with, with our lovers, it’s exhausting. It’s right, what if we were just able to, to be who we are, right, of course, selectively, unconsciously and intelligently. We don’t have to share every part of who we are with everybody in our lives. But it’s such a relief, we spend so much energy, worried about what other people think and then presenting ourselves in a way that we think they’re going to like exhausting.

Victoria Volk 19:21
Exactly. You mentioned in your TED Talk, too, which I’ll put that in the show notes link to that. But you mentioned you’re speaking the language of Grief Recovery. When you were talking about are you familiar with grief recovery method at all?

Christian de la Huerta 19:36
Not the method method specifically my degrees in psychology so and from personal experience I’ve also dealt with you know with grief, but I don’t know that particular methodology Grief Recovery, recover.

Victoria Volk 19:46
Okay. It Well, it’s based on the Grief Recovery handbook. But you were talking about particularly there was a spot where you’re talking about drugs and alcohol and shopping and gambling like all these ways that we call opened to distract ourselves from what we’re feeling. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, she’s speaking the language of Grief Recovery. Because in Grief Recovery, we call those stirpes short term energy relieving behaviors. And so as a teenager, when you are going through all of this struggle with self self acceptance, and you know, this tog, and what were some of the ways you were coping with that.

Christian de la Huerta 20:24
Yeah, you know, that’s, that’s a good, great conversation too, because we all do that, right? We, like most of us, I’m gonna say most of us, like, have become really adept at running away from numbing out or emotions. So and there’s so many creative ways in which we do that, right, that we numb out and not to not feel to not remember whether it’s substances, drugs, alcohol, food, whether it’s behaviors, exercise, social media, shopping, work, workaholism. Yeah, yeah, and not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with any of those. It’s how we do it, how we a relationship to all those things, TV, and, you know, all of them have potential to be have good or negative effects not so good effect. I think for me, I definitely hit at my books. And I love you know, the fantasies science fiction, it was it was easy for me just get lost in these worlds, whether it was Lord of the Rings are the foundation series are so many other series like that, that I could just go get lost in book after book after book after book for your Pisces, no, I’m a Gemini.

Victoria Volk 21:42
Oh my son’s a Gemini, but just how you’re describing getting lost in the fantasy. I’m like, okay, that’s, that’s like me.

Christian de la Huerta 21:48
And you know, and it’s understandable, it’s easier to go through it with, you know, to not want to feel stuff that wasn’t pleasant, or to remember stuff that, you know, may not have been great experience. So it’s understandable that we want to run away from that stuff, but the price we pay, the reason that it’s not an effective strategy, as you know, is that that stuff doesn’t go away, just because we don’t want to deal with it. So we stuffed it in we stuff our emotions, and you know, what used to be spiritual teaching that everything is energy. Now we know from quantum physics, that everything is energy. And we know that energy cannot be destroyed. And by everything, I mean everything like this cherub sitting on the table, or the computer, the body, the emotion, even though it might feel solid, it’s just energy, just vibration. And so whenever we stuff those emotions, whenever we numb out and run away from them, it doesn’t go away. It gets it gets lodged in the tissues of the body. And after years, and decades of doing that, we walk around with layers upon layers upon even more layers of repressed emotional crap, and unhealed past situations. And here we are trying to have a relationship in the present moment. And all of it is getting filtered through that lifetime of unhealed trauma, and repressed emotions like Yikes, how any relationship can work is it boggles my mind, because we haven’t been taught how to hold on how to approach them. And we certainly haven’t been taught how to clear ourselves of that cauldron of repressed emotion, because what happens is we suppress, suppress, suppress, and then the next unfortunate one just says something to us the wrong the wrong way and boom, volcanic eruption. And because our, to our relationships, sometimes irreparably, or suppress, suppress, suppress, suppress, that energy has to come out, and it begins to start seeping out of the body and showing up as physical symptoms, like cancer, heart attacks, ulcers, so we’ve got to get this we’ve got to get a relationship to our emotions and accept that they’re not weakness. Emotions are not good. They’re not bad. They’re not strength, they’re not weakness. They’re just energies coursing through our bodies, we get into trouble with them when we when we suffer, because what happens when we stuff sadness, as you know, it congeals it turns into grief. And when we stuff anger, it turns into rage and we walk around like a raging cauldrons. So better to nip it in the bud and learn how to first identify what we’re feeling because most of us are clueless about our emotions, including my psychiatrist, that including myself up until I started doing this conscious work 20 years 30 years ago, I had no idea no clue as to what I was feeling. I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling because I had no idea and so we can talk about processes, you know, like simple techniques to become more emotionally intelligent to increase our EQ and then learn how to communicate them responsibly like owning their our emotions, so that nobody can make us feel any anything, unless there’s some little button there that they’re triggering. But it’s here, right? So we’ve got to own that stuff. And then learning how to communicate them responsibly not not courageously, because it takes courage for sure, responsibly just not having a tantrum like a two year old and in a way that they can be heard that they can be received. And so, so level of mastery, so it’s the opposite of weakness, it’s a level of mastery.

Victoria Volk 25:27
I love that. You said so much that we talk about in Grief Recovery to just you know, the implode or explode, that’s we either implode or we explode. We either suffer from disease and illness and you know, all these symptoms, these physical symptoms, or we explode and have these dherbs Right, these behaviors and angers in anger can be a sturb I was very angry as a child and I grew up. I was very angry as an adult too. And if solidly I yeah, I would argue that at the root of grief and sadness and, and fear and anxiety is grief, like all of those emotions. It just is the embodiment of grief. And I always say to like grief was our pandemic long before COVID-19, long before your teenage years. And growing up, that was just the start of your experience with grief. But there’s more to your story. And I would like to get there. So you had shared in your information with me that your brother, you had lost your brother when he was 26? you mind sharing that story with us?

Christian de la Huerta 26:31
Yeah, of course. And I want to say to that there’s that it’s important for us to realize that there is there is an end to suffering. Right? Like there is an end to that. Not so much for sadness, like there’s always going to be stuff in life, that’s going to be sad, that’s going to evoke those emotions in US people are gonna come people are gonna go crazy traumatic stuff, crisis level stuff is going to happen in the world, as we’re witnessing right now. And global pandemic wars, the things that humans do to other humans, it’s just like boggle the mind. So what once we get to the level where we can feel our emotions, we are no longer running away from them, or numbing them out or stuffing them? Well, we can just let them course through us, then we can get to that place of freedom, where we just allow those energies to course through us and we don’t get stuck in and and so yes, you know that what happened with my brother and my nephew? Later, it’s just stuff that shouldn’t happen. You know, my brother was 26. And he drowned in a kind of freaky boat accident, riverboat accident and attempts in London. And I can’t even imagine, of course, we’re all impacted. But I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for a parent to lose a child. I don’t have any kids myself, have many kids in my life. But no, none that are mine, so to speak, because and then I witnessed that again with my sister, my nephew was also around 2627. He was 27 incredible. I mean, both of them really creative and smart. My my nephew shown because he had these amazing leadership qualities. He his passion was being a DMT. He was a firefighter DMT gave up a scholarship to Harvard because of his grades, because that was what he really wanted to do. And at 27, he, his wife was seven months pregnant with their first child, which they never met. He got this really aggressive form of brain cancer. And within weeks, like four or five weeks, it was gone to everybody’s Chuck. And again, like how do what does one do with that, of course, it’s sad, of course, takes the parents years degree that stuff, some of that lingering grief doesn’t ever really leave you we heal it for sure. But there are layers of the sadness and the missing somebody like that. And I guess I guess what I’m saying is that the more work that I did on myself, the more that I was able to get to that place of feeling these incredibly sad emotions and not be stuck with them. Either we can we can weave it into the fabric of our lives and realize that one thing we know for sure, is that life is going to continue throwing curveballs our way, whether it’s a global pandemic or a 26 year old getting brain cancer or an an unexpected drowning like there is not one thing that any of us can do about that. So we can that can help us add you know the to the feeling of grievous grief and sadness, it can add a layer of feeling helpless, and even some people feel victimized by life. Like I got such a horrible deck of cards this lifetime. And if only this hadn’t happened or that had happened if I had only been born in a different place a different time, a different culture. You finally You know, the system was set up differently. As long as we’re doing that, if only and feeling victimized by life, we’re giving our power away. And sometimes even to the perpetrators, as you know, as long as we’re holding them responsible for our emotions for our state of being. And it’s not to minimize any of that, or to excuse anything. If we want to be free, we’ve got to get to that place of healing and acceptance. And one thing that helps to reframe that is knowing that no matter what happens going forward, no matter what new curveballs come our way, no matter what happened in the past, we always, always get to choose how we show up in response and that element of choice, just remembering that and knowing that it’s liberating, and it’s empowering.

Victoria Volk 30:49
And I just had a thought to it when you are someone who isn’t there yet, in their heart and their mind, because forgiveness, too, can be very, very difficult for people. Again, like you said, it always comes down to choice you can you can have grief in the back seat, you can, because it’s going to follow you, right? You take you everywhere you go. But you have a choice, if you’re going to continue to look in the rearview mirror at it. That’s where you can look forward to but what if what if you’re stuck looking at the rearview mirror, I think that’s where finding support in someone who is a little further along than you, who maybe is an example of of where you’d like to be in your life. So when you were going through these losses, had you already been at this place in your life with the breath work and on your spiritual journey and things like that, like had you because we never fully arrived? Right? But had you already started.

Christian de la Huerta 31:46
In this in the case of my brother’s death, it was synchronous, it’s right around that time, is when I did breathwork for the first time and were in when I started to, to reclaim my spirituality, right, because like many people and like you were referring to, I threw the baby out with a baptismal water, I didn’t know that there was a difference between religion and spirituality. And I didn’t know that spirituality is just an inherent part of who we are. That is just as ludicrous for you to for me to have tried to repress and reject and run away from my sexuality, as it was to ignore it and repress it in in with my spirituality. It’s just part of who we are as humans. So yeah, I did have much better tools in those situations. And I want to go back to something I want to highlight something you just said, which I think is really important, because we just hit on the two biggest hurdles on the on the on the journey to freedom and personal empowerment. One is that victimization, you know, poor me, woe is me relationship to life. The other one that you mentioned is forgiveness. Because we know we’ve heard this, we’ve heard that forgiveness is really for us. But how do we forgive? You know, the what feels unforgivable? How do we do that, because if we think about it, as long as we’re holding someone, right, looking in that rearview mirror, where we’re holding somebody over the fire for what they did, or failed to do, our hand is also getting burned or hand is in the fire. So, so it helps us to understand the necessity for forgiveness. Another way to convey that visual, if you think of the heart center, not the organ or the chakra, the energy center, it opens and closes in the same way that like the shutter of a camera, or the iris of the eye. If I shut my heart to my sexual abuser, or to my father who left or to mom who did who was emotionally abusive, or to the teacher, or the minister, or society, or sexism or misogyny or racism, or homophobia, I can’t close it selectively just to that, or to the boss who fired me or the ex who cheated on me, right? We I can’t close it just to them. If I close it, I close it. So it’s not even about them. Because in closing it we’re giving our power away again. So this is between me and my heart. This is a bit in my heart and love between my heart and life. And so how do we do that? How do we even begin to forgive the unforgivable and this is something that I picked up along the way from a teacher that begins to open the door to the possibility of forgiveness. And it’s forgive two syllables, flip them around, give for what we do, when we forgive, we’re giving others and ourselves which is often even more difficult to do. We’re giving them the space to be human, to make mistakes, to fall short of the mark to to make a royal mess of things like to really if things up.

Christian de la Huerta 34:50
And it’s it getting off the self righteous stance of the ego. Like we don’t have time to dive into what the ego construct is here. But it’s really important To understand what the ego is, I spent the first quarter of the book, maybe even the third talking about the ego mind, and and how it keeps us in a self made prison of fear and lack and limitation and self doubt, and reactivity and the victim and defended victim mindset and defensiveness. So really, really important. If we want to be free, if we want to step into our power, if we want to have relationships that have a chance of working, that we understand that how the ego is and how it works, so that we can get ourselves out of it out of its self made prison because nobody else can. So the ego one of the aspects of it is it’s very self righteous, again, knows, it went to law school and appoints itself a judge, jury prosecutor, it knows exactly what the other person did that was wrong, what the punishment should be and delivers the punishment. So forgiving means getting off, like stepping off that self righteous stance, I know I’m right, I would never do anything like right, because that closes the heart. And again, a highlight it again, it’s not about making it okay about denying what happened about rationalizing. It is not about any of that. It’s not about minimizing, or making Okay, whatever they did or didn’t do, but it’s not about them. This is about us, and how do we free ourselves from that. And so when we forgive we make we give the other and ourselves the room to make all those mistakes, to to forgive to get off that self righteous stance, and say maybe right, all it takes is that question mark MIDI, I can’t see it, I cannot even begin to imagine that I would ever do that. But maybe if they had been raised in their situation with their parents, their culture, their time, in whatever way their parents raised them and their parents before them, raise them. Who knows what was going on in their brain cut biochemistry? Who know what, who knows what happened in their own past? Who know what traumas they had, because we know trauma is the gift that keeps on giving, especially in sexual abuse and that kind of stuff. And right and again, not minimizing it not making it okay. We don’t have to hang out with them. We don’t have to be friends with them. We don’t have to ever see them again. But that question marks like maybe, maybe I might have done that. I might have I might have done that. And here’s like an extreme way to be able to do that a terrorist like it’s really hard for us to otherwise them we because we can’t imagine like anybody listening to this for sure. Watching this cannot have Woods is not about to wrap their bodies in explosives of walk into a crowded mall and detonate ourselves. So it’s really difficult for us to understand that standard is easy to say I would never do that. And have we ever terrorized others emotionally? Have we ever terrorized ourselves emotionally and that I know every single one of us has done. So we have an inner terrorist inside me that inside of each one of us, the details are different. But we have that potential. So it’s again not to make it okay not to minimize it. It just begins to soften that harsh separation of I wouldn’t ever do that, because that’s what makes forgiveness difficult. Like when we soften that then it begins to to free ourselves from carrying that weight and being stuck in the past.

Victoria Volk 38:19
I can bring a visual to this that can lighten things up. Because when you were talking about emotions, and how like what came up for me is like yeah, we’re just all walking around a little bit emotionally constipated some more than others. Right? And I when you were saying how we terrorized others emotionally. It’s like if we think of that emotional constipation, right? It’s gotta go somewhere. So either it’s gonna, we’re just gonna have, we’re gonna let it come out of us, or we’re going to just throw it at people, right?

Christian de la Huerta 38:50
Yes. You know, it’s so funny because I called breathwork. Virtual Drano. Oh, cool. Yeah, emotional and spiritual drain, and we get rid of all that crap that we’ve been carrying inside of us. Quickly, and it works fast. Well, that’s so profoundly at so many levels. It’s just a really amazing and for lack of another word, miraculous.

Victoria Volk 39:12
That’s a great segue. So I do want to talk about that. What is I had a personal experience, a friend of mine, she does Kundalini yoga, and she’s in a training right now to become a practitioner in that. But she does breath work. She does breath work practice every day, and she walked me through this breathwork practice was about 30 minutes, but I tell you what, I learned the power of our breath. In that one session that blew my mind. I felt I’m a Reiki Master, but I had my hands were vibrating to the extent of nothing a comparison like my hands are starting to tingle just thinking about it. I felt so alive. Like the Most alive that I had felt in a long time after experiencing that it was so powerful for me, can you give our listeners something that they can do today, if they are in a moment of panic, fight flight or freeze, grief, whatever they’re experiencing right now can you share some a technique with them.

Christian de la Huerta 40:20
Of course, and you know, breathwork is a, it’s a really broad umbrella, there’s a lot of breathing practices, a lot of breathing techniques, yoga, practice yogic practices, pranayama, it’s called in that yoga tradition, you know, whether it’s Kundalini yoga, or any other kind of yoga. And so the breath is at the core of all those practices, and at the core of every meditation practice at the core of every spiritual tradition. And so the particular breathwork that I do, it’s longer, it’s about an hour, an hour and a half, there’s different modalities, it’s you. So you can use breathing techniques. for different purposes. If you’re if you’re stressed out, if you’re stuck in traffic, if you’re, like, stressed out or nervous about right before a difficult conversation, or an important meeting, you can do take slow, deep breaths, to calm yourself down and the body has to slow down. Like there’s Swamis in India have that much control over their body, they can tell their hearts to slow down. And they do you know, they can, some of them can mimic states that are really, really hard to distinguish from death, they can slow down the body that much, most of us are not gonna be able to aren’t there. And I’m probably not going to learn how to do that kind of stuff. But anybody can slow down the breath, anyone can slow down the breath. When we do that, the heart has no choice, the heart has to slow down. And and when the heart slows down, the nervous system begins to quiet down, the body begins to relax. Right? So it’s, it’s slowly and under breath. It’s like it’s your best friend, your most effective practice. There are also breathing techniques that you can use, like in place or the afternoon slump, you know, a cup of coffee, you know, there’s the faster, more energizing more focusing practices, the type of breathwork that I do, it’s a different model, it’s more of a, to me, it’s part of my psycho spiritual therapy, you know, approach to healing. I was on a trip my father was a psychiatrist. As I said, my my degrees in psychology, I was on a track to get a PhD. When I discovered breathwork, this modality that I that I practice, I jumped tracks, I never went for the PhD because it works so fast and heal so profoundly at so many levels, including, by the way, I don’t know anything more effective that healing past traumas, including sexual abuse, including, you know, just violent stuff that people have have experienced, that I’ve worked with over the years, and it gets healed. And so not only that, which will be hard enough to believe, but it heals spiritually, mentally, even physically. And yes, you know, even like more than 30 years saying this or talking about this, I know to my mind, it still sounds hard to believe, to my logical, more scientific, more skeptical mind. But I can’t argue with the result. It works with permanent effects. And you know, they haven’t studied it yet. They’re starting to do more research now about what’s happening in the body scientifically. But even that, it doesn’t explain it to me, like, like the stuff that happens. Because you can also have incredibly ecstatic moments like moments of oneness, moments of feeling connectedness to to everyone and everything to all of creation. And so just from breathing, but here’s what ultimately helps me understand that the way that I can understand if you look at any religion, any culture, some even languages, in many of them the same word, one word, can mean breath, or spirit, depending on the context. So for example, from Numa, from that Greek word Numa, from which we get pneumonia, that word meant or it meant soul, and lung, from the Latin root speed at A, we get both respiration and inspiration or exploration. So that breath spirit connection is is available, like I said, most spiritual traditions and even several sets of regular languages. And that’s what ultimately helps me understand that is when we breathe in this conscious, intentional way, that the effects of which are undeniable like you felt your body was you will beginning to notice your body more as vibration. So you popped out of that limited perspective of separateness as like I’m just over here, this is this description as Victoria which is what the ego is that artificials you know, sense of of separate separateness, and you began to experience yourself beyond the confines of your body as a physical thing, and that that’s what that vibration was, and that we can access Not only profound healing, but ecstatic states, which by the word, that’s what the word ecstasy means means out of ourselves. And that’s what that breathing practices and breathing practices help us to do. So that we can pop behind the illusion of separation of the ego, and reconnect with our, no our ultimate nature.

Victoria Volk 45:20
There was a conversation one time about psychedelics, and she’s like, you don’t need to take a psychedelic to have that experience, you can find that through your breath. And I totally, totally agree. I actually had written down just before you said it, I wrote the soul is in the gut and grief is in the lungs. So isn’t that just really ironic in a way that the breath connects us to? Both right is part of both, essentially. So I’m curious. Is it was it just breathwork? Because, you know, I’ve dabbled in different healing modalities. I’m currently actually learning biofield tuning, which addresses the energy field that’s around us the stuck energy that’s outside of us, you know that, because our bodies are a mirror of what’s out here, stuck in this energy field, and that extends five to six feet beyond us. So was it just breathwork? Or have? Were you kind of dabbling in a lot of different things? And breathwork? Is what stuck? Or was it always breathwork. And that’s just kind of been your thing?

Christian de la Huerta 46:28
I think the combination I mean, there’s so many tools to help us heal and help free. The ones that I include in every single retreat for over 30 years. No matter whether the retreat is on conscious relationships, and having relationships that can actually work, whether it’s stepping into our personal power, and reconciling the conflicted, ambivalent relationship we have to power? And how do we step into power in a way that’s not about hierarchy and control, and fear and force and domination? How do we do it in a way that’s a match for who we are? Whether it’s about life purpose, and what are we really, really doing here? And how do we stop selling out for that illusion of security of a biweekly paycheck, because we sell ourselves so cheaply for that illusion, as many have had to discover the hard way during this pandemic, but no matter what the theme of the retreat the to constant, or the breath work, because I’ve yet to come across any tool that heals as quickly and as profoundly. And in many ways, the other one is understanding that you go, because it’s to me, there’s that’s step one, understanding the mind and why we do the things we do and our patterns, why do we get triggered what? Well, the same behavior would have could have a completely different response in you. And yet, it’s got me just out of control and got my goat. So why is that? Understanding our patterns? Like, why do we do the things we do? Why do we attract certain people into our lives? Why do we have certain what are we recreate patterns and situations? What? Why do we keep creating patterns of relationships that sometimes feel like it’s the same boring movie, different actor different co lead, but the same crap? Same argument, same patterns? Why is that? Right? So it’s so again, a lot easier to go through life numbing out and running away from these questions. But then we get stuck in a there’s no way to this, we’re just going to recreate and recreating, and keep creating the same stuff. What we’re talking about is like having the courage to face our grief, to face our memories to do whatever it is that we need to do to heal ourselves and declare ourselves that is nothing less than heroic. That’s why there’s no book awakening this whole power is the first of a series of three, which is the tide the series is titled Calling All Heroes, what does it mean to live heroically in the 21st century? And so yes, you know, I honor you for the work that you’ve done to not only heal your past trauma, but to now use that to make a difference in other people’s lives. And I honor anybody who has stuck with this conversation thus far. It’s, you know, this stuff is not easy. It’s not for the faint of heart. This is And speaking of heart, you know, that’s courage comes from that root, the same root core which a Latin means heart, courage, courage, and in French, the big heart, take this word takes big heart, big courage. Nothing short of heroic. incredibly rewarding, like freedom, empowerment.

Victoria Volk 49:40
Empowerment. Yes. That’s huge. Yes, absolutely.

Christian de la Huerta 49:44
Like you were telling me when we were connecting right before we started recording like this podcast is like, the best thing you ever did. Like wow, and you using your own? Like that’s what he lives there, right. We use our own stuff to bring healing to others for On lived experience, not just stuff that we read in a book, and we all have access to that.

Victoria Volk 50:05
You actually mentioned that your mother’s presence is diminishing slowly is is that did you? Do you mean cognitively? Yes. Okay. And I asked that because a friend of mine mentioned this, you can have cancer and you can have disease and things like that, which is really difficult for the person going through it. Right? They have to reconcile their life right when you’re faced with this is what’s happening to me, whether it’s, you know, MS, or muscular dystrophy, or, or any kind of debilitating progressive disease, cancer, anything like that. It’s really difficult on the person experiencing, and of course, the family and people watching it happen. But when it’s someone that’s going through a cognitive decline, they aren’t necessarily aware of it. And so that’s really more impactful on the family and the loved ones. And that struck me because I hadn’t really thought about that. But what do you say? How is that different? for loved ones? In your, in your experience? You’ve had both experiences, right? You’re your nephew, and now your mother.

Christian de la Huerta 51:12
Yeah I think this one’s even more difficult. Because what I’ve realized is that I’ve been preparing I’ve been preparing for the for the inevitable, which is my mother’s passing for years, she’s not in good health, physical, like she, you know, nine kids is take a toll on my body, She’s diabetic, she’s overweight, from that generation that never took care of her bodies of her body. And, and that dealt with everything. Like from the perspective of Western medicine, my dad being addicted to it just medicated it, rather than addressing the symptom, I mean, the addressing the symptom rather than addressing the source. And so I never thought for a moment that my mom, my mom’s body would outlive her mind. And so I didn’t see that coming. That one I was not prepared for it. caught me off guard. And, and it’s, it’s, it’s difficult to experience not only to see her and this beautiful, vibrant, brilliant, loving woman to be like a shell of who she was, to be caught in, in fear, which, which it’s heartbreaking. And there’s nothing, nothing that as a family we can do except no lover and create, you know, like, try to improve the quality of our life as best we can. And, and be one thing to connect to everything else. We’ve been talking about the importance of doing the heroic work of, of self discovery and, and healing ourselves. What I’m beginning to see is that is her undone work. Like sometimes when she goes into these places of fear that, you know, she’s living or reliving something that we can’t see. And beginning to feel that as she’s recreating, like, there’s this one kind of actor that keeps coming back into her her her moment. And it’s, it’s beginning to realize it’s a young woman, like a teenage girl, and my mom calls her all sorts of names, like stuff that she would never say in real life. Like now it’s like, unleashed. And so what I’ve what I’m beginning to put together is that when she was in high school, there was a moment where they were put into they were taken to boarding school and Cuba, my aunt and my sister and her aunt Amy. And her sister, my aunt, and I think she had to, you know, just piecing together stories, there was a there was a group of girls, you know, I mean, girls that were kind of bullies and they were rich, the rich girls in the school. And I think because she never really worked with with her feeling, I’m projecting I’m making it up in my own mind that a feeling rejected or feeling unloved because she was put away were taken away to a boarding school and then having to deal with this bullying, that she never really worked through that and so now when the filters are off, it’s coming back up. And so important for us than to do this kind of work whether we’re using traditional therapy whether we’re using breathwork you know, it’s really important to do or your your energy work, whatever whatever it is that were guided to do. To to have that courage to to clear to face and clear or inner demons.

Victoria Volk 54:23
I just got chills as I heard you talking about that, because it’s like the same. It’s almost like reliving a nightmare over and over and over that you can’t just push stop on.

Christian de la Huerta 54:34
I know it’s it to me, that’s hell, she’s still going to Hell yeah, weaving it back to the religion and it’s, you know, that it gets tragic to me, that in her end, the end of her life, that the religion to which she devoted her entire life is not a source of love and support and support and inner peace, that because of the teachings about hell, which, you know, I personally don’t believe like there’s a physical place that you go to When you die, I don’t believe in a punitive micromanaging didi. But don’t take away my mother effer to, to fear that she might go to hell, like why? It’s nothing that she could have ever done. And it to me, I found that tragic that that fear was put into her head, which to me is not even real.

Victoria Volk 55:19
I had a medium expressed to me once, it was a teenager experience, spirit that had come through and she just her experience was that what she’s learned through her work was that it’s even someone who’s done not great things are good things, you know, good deeds, who have maybe done some bad things, right? It’s, they’re going through school. They’re just they’re going through school, and they’re having to learn these lessons. And they’re kind of in school until they can graduate, I suppose in a way to, to be with the good spirits. I don’t know how to explain that, you know, but that’s kind of how she said it. How, you know, because the mother was so worried that he because he died by suicide, she was so worried that he was in hell. And that brought so much peace to her. But you know, how the Son explained, he’s like, No, I’m in school. I’m having to learn these lessons that I never was open to learning on the physical plane. Yeah, I just thought that was beautiful.

Christian de la Huerta 56:23
I think it is beautiful, and very, very liberating. And to me, you know, from my current perspective, heaven, and hell are not places that we go to after we that I think their states of being heaven, and hell can be right here right now. It’s not your truth. Yeah. And, and it’s a state of mind. And I think that even if we’re going to, you know, stick with a Christian frame of belief, philosophy, mythology, whatever you want to call it, teachings, Jesus said, You know, these greater things you will do. And so, that comes from that state of mind, which he had access to, and to which he never claimed exclusivity. He never had never really did.

Victoria Volk 57:08
And I think there’s just so much we don’t know, that we’ll never know. And even when it comes to healing to the forgiveness piece that we talked about earlier, and, you know, trauma and stuff, it’s, or we feel like we were a victim in our own stories, we just we don’t know what we don’t know. Yeah, if I want to learn this method of breathwork, especially as a Griever, where do I go to learn that.

Christian de la Huerta 57:31
I mean, if anybody’s interested, they can email me, or, you know, just go to my website, soulfulpower.com. And I can either try to help them find somebody local, where they can do it, there’s some people that do it virtually now, I do it virtually very selectively, because it’s really powerful, that the modality that I teach is very powerful. And you never know what’s underneath the surface of somebody’s psyche, what’s going to what’s going to come up. And as you know, so many of us have memories that we suppressed. So like in person in live, I have no hesitation, like, I know that I can handle anything that comes up. And I’ve had some really traumatic stuff come up for people virtually, not so much, right? There’s because there’s my what I’m able to do to support intervene, to, to hold space for them is limited by and all they have to do is click, and then there’s nothing I can do to help. So I do it only with people that you know who have come to my retreats, people I know, people that that are part of my year long coaching program, and that I don’t even start with breathwork that’s only like halfway through once I get a sense of who’s in the group and what kind of stuff they’re dealing with. Or if it’s somebody maybe who has a support system. So sometimes therapists refer people to maybe therapists, you know, where they’ve been with a client for some time, and they’re plateaued, they’re stuck, they’re stagnant. Even one breathwork session can can change your life it did for me, my first session, I knew that I’d never be the same. And I wasn’t. And I knew that I had to do it again, I didn’t care where I had to go what it cost, and I knew that I had to make it available to others. It was just the most amazing thing that I’ve ever experienced. And by the way, you mentioned psychedelics in a different, like branch of breathwork, which is called Holotropic. To more, it’s longer you do for like three, four hours, kind of very similar technique, but longer. And there are other differences, but the founder of that modality. Stan Grof, was a psychiatrist from the Czech Republic. When he was over there, he was researching LSD. And what he realized, you know, once he came to the States, he couldn’t, you know, continue that research. But somewhere along the way, he discovered because when once people attain certain levels of pain, through the chemical substances are the sacred plant medicines that so many people are working with these days. The breath that kind of breathing pattern sometimes gets triggered automatically. spontaneously. And so he realized, by just using the breath, you can access the same levels of non ordinary beings or states of being. So yeah, and I hear that constantly from people who come to breathe with me, it’s like, yeah, I got to the same place that I did with on an Ayahuasca journey or, or whatever, mushrooms, whatever they were doing, it got to that same place, that same ability to perceive myself from from a different perspectives. And that sense of oneness of connecting with all of it. Because here’s a great metaphor for that for the ego goes back to the ego, right? If, if you think of the ego as a baseball, it’s a part of who we are, that’s a very limited experience of who we are. It’s like a tiny, tiny, tiny part of who we are. Yet we think it’s all who we are. And we make really important consequential choices in our lives from its very limited small and always fear based perspective, once who we are. So imagine the ego in a center of a stadium, that’s the the baseball in the center of a stadium, that’s the ego, who we are, is actually the stadium. And we’ve allowed this tiny, tiny part of us to think and then to make choices from its from its small perspective. So part of what happens in breathwork. And with sacred plant medicine work is, you know, we experience ourselves, we pop out of the, the false limitation of the ego, that false sense of separation. And we reconnect with our essence with our interconnectedness with everything with all of it.

Victoria Volk 1:01:32
Is just hanging on your every word there.

Christian de la Huerta 1:01:34
And it’s accessible to all of us like it’s our breath, it’s just in the beginning, we and you can be taught how to do it yourself in the beginning, that’s the first 510 sessions, it’s important to do it, somebody who knows what they’re doing somebody who has been trained that can hold space, and so that the ego can feel safe enough to release a lot of stuff that’s been suppressing and allow it to come up to consciousness and call you and by the way, the psychologist said that the process of enlightenment is making the unconscious conscious, and breathwork is really speeds up that process.

Victoria Volk 1:02:07
Love it, love this conversation. And we could go so many other directions, too. I want to be respectful of your time. But is there is there anything else that you would like to share that you didn’t get a chance to address?

Christian de la Huerta 1:02:21
Well, I just give a brief overview about the book on empowerment, because as I started to say, most of us have an ambivalent conflict, the relationship to power, we part of us wants it part of us is afraid of it. And I think what we fear the more that I work with people around this issue, what we fear is that if we really stepped into our power, if we really stepped into all of who we are, that other people wouldn’t be able to handle it and that we might end up rejected that alone, and who wants that? We also fear that we might abuse it. And no wonder like how many abuses of power have you on I experience and have all of us experience? Like all we got to do is turn on the news any day, any given day to witness at least one abuse of power. So and then on top of that we’ve been in court, it’s been ingrained in us that power is bad, that power is negative, you know, with quotes, like power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Who wants to be corrupted. But what they didn’t tell us is that Lord Acton who said those words, were speaking specifically about political power, not personal power. And so, add to that mix, what we were talking about the emotions, we’ve turned the emotions into weakness, you know, we hate conflict, we avoid confrontation. And so what happens when you put all that together, we we end up giving our power away our power that nobody can give to us, nobody can take away. We are the only ones who can give it away. And the sad part, the tragic part is that we give it away for the lamest of reasons. Like we say yes, when inside we really feel no inside, it’s really not okay with us. But in order to maintain that illusion of peace do not rock the boat too much. We override our desires or preferences or dreams. And we say yes, when inside we feel no we stuffed ourselves into tiny little packages that the you know that not gonna rock anybody’s boat. So we limit ourselves we play small for an illusion of security for a false sense of acceptance. And for crumbs, we settle for morsels of pseudo love. So it’s not a good strategy. It’s a really good strategy in life. And so what the this book walks the reader through in a very doable way I know how crazy busy and overscheduled everybody is. So designed the book and with very readable, doable short chapters with power practices. Do you have to rush through the book one chapter a week Do the practices because those practices are designed to integrate and apply the teachings to our lives. So they don’t stay at the level of information, we don’t need more information. We’ve got information overload, what we need is transformation. And that only comes from taking on the stuff and really living it. And so so the, if they will do that, it’ll begin to transform the relationship to power and began to discover ways that we can step into and express our power. And we’re in the in the wet in the world in a way that’s not about fear, hierarchy, force, control, domination, that kind of power that that requires that we step on, somebody push them down. In order for us to feel powerful. There’s a different way to do this.

Victoria Volk 1:05:48
I recently, there’s so much so many synchronicities. And what you say is because just the other day, I shared a quote on my social media about it was in a podcasting email of all things, and it just it hit me it’s, it’s stuck out. So I created a quote, for knowledge isn’t power. It’s the application of knowledge. That gives you power. Exactly. Right. So it’s the application of the knowledge. And that’s just what came to my mind as I was hearing you sharing that? Yeah, that’s a great quote, for sure. So where can people reach you, I know you have your website, just share all the things.

Christian de la Huerta 1:06:25
Yeah, I think the best way to reach me, well, the book is available anywhere where books are sold, you can get it at your local bookstore, you can order it there, if you want to support them. You can also get it on Amazon. In terms of reaching me probably the best way is my my website soulfulpower.com, and by any for anybody who of your audience who signs up goes to soulfulpower.com, and get to my email list. And we all know how easy it is to click unsubscribe down the road if it doesn’t work for you. And I’m not going to take it personally. That’s one of the benefits of doing this kind of self love and self acceptance work is like you don’t take stuff personally anymore. And so anybody who signs up for my email list will send them a sample chapter from the book, and it’s one that talks about what it means to live heroically. In the 21st century, we’ll share some of the power practices we were talking about, and a guided meditation. And it’s on trust that I created last year, with a year before in the midst of the pandemic. And so how do we find a place of inner peace and trust? How do we become that eye of the storm? In a world in a time of chaos and fear and uncertainty? How do we move into trust?

Victoria Volk 1:07:42
It’s a big word. Trust, right?

Christian de la Huerta 1:07:44
It’s a big word.

Victoria Volk 1:07:46
Thank you so much for this conversation today. I could talk even longer about energy and all of that more about the ego. Maybe around two,

Christian de la Huerta 1:07:56
Maybe around two. Yeah, it’s clear that you and I would not run out of stuff to talk about.

Victoria Volk 1:08:01
Never. No, I don’t think so either. Maybe after I get a chance to read your book. Okay, well, thank you so much for being here today.

Christian de la Huerta 1:08:11
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on the show and for having the show.

Victoria Volk 1:08:15
And remember, when you unleash your heart you unleash your life. Much love.

Ep 120 | Scott Deluzio

Scott Deluzio | Seeing Red: A Gold Star Brother & Brothers in Arms


Less than 1% of Americans serve in the U.S. military. That leaves 99% of Americans who will never understand the cost of serving their country, particularly during wartime.

Scott shares his path to emotional freedom from the scars of war after deploying to Afghanistan with his brother, Steven. Rather than Scott celebrating homecoming with his brother, he accompanied Steven, killed in action, in a casket draped with the American flag.

Although Scott was scheduled to return to Afghanistan two short weeks after his brother’s funeral, the mayor of Connecticut declared that he would not return to duty with his National Guard unit in Afghanistan because the family should have to endure the potential of another loss.

But there is so much more to Scott’s story. Because coming home after being in a war, doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re home. Scott put his grief to the side and picked up anger, and over the years, his grief ate away the core of his very being. He became someone he didn’t recognize. His drinking got out of control, along with his anger, and he realized he could no longer go it alone and sought support.

Like many grievers and veterans, Scott thought he was doing okay after a couple of years of therapy and stopped going. However, a life-threatening event with his spouse would occur, and he would later find his old patterns resurfacing. He sought support again and learned that growth and healing are ongoing processes.

Whether you’ve served in the military, know or love someone who is serving or has served, or not, please listen to Scott’s story. It may help bring a deeper understanding of the scars and costs of war – and America’s 1%.



The real divide in the U.S. is that only one percent of us fight in war, and the rest don’t understand the true cost of conflict.¬†¬†an op-ed piece by “60 Minutes” producer Henry Schuster,¬†Operation Proper Exit

Victoria Volk 0:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today, my guest is Scott deluzy. Oh, he is an Army veteran having served six years with the Army National Guard, including a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. Scott’s brother Steven was also deployed to Afghanistan also in 2010. Unfortunately, Steven was killed in action on August 22 2010. After returning home, Scott struggled with coping with the stresses of combat the loss of his younger brother and adjusting back to civilian life. Thank you so much for being here, Scott.

Scott Deluzio 0:34
Thanks for having me. I’m really glad to be able to come on and share my story with you and your audience.

Victoria Volk 0:39
And it is a story that hasn’t been expressed on the podcast. I know I was on your podcast Dr. On a little while, a while back and not sure when that episode will go live for sure. I don’t remember anymore. But at the time of this recording, it doesn’t matter. But we have that in common where we both deployed, I was deployed in Iraq, but I have not had this type of loss represented on the podcast. So thank you for being open to sharing your story. We have a lot of acronyms, right in the military. It’s all acronyms. And one acronym that we also have in Grief Recovery is our stirpes. And it means short-term energy relieving behaviors. And you mentioned a STERB in your information that you shared with me and yours. It sounds like was alcohol, is that correct?

Scott Deluzio 1:32
Yeah, that’s, that’s correct. When I got back from Afghanistan, I was home with with my family and I couldn’t sleep to for anything I sleep was just eluding me, it was night after night, where I would just be laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, not able to fall asleep. And the pain of losing my brother was significant. And I found myself drinking more and more and more, you know, it started off just normal, like casual drinking, having a glass of wine with dinner or something like that. But then it became more and more after, you know, after dinner going going in later into the night. And I found that I was helping myself to fall asleep by basically drinking until I passed out. So it wasn’t really sleep, it was really just making myself pass out. Which obviously has the issue of you know, the next morning, I was hungover, I wasn’t the the friendliest, nicest person to be around. And, you know, I would, I would kind of get through the day just by drinking more and more coffee throughout the day just to keep myself going, you know, energy drinks, things like that. But then that that’s sort of affecting my sleep too, as I was drinking it later. And later in the day, it just became this vicious cycle. And, you know, I would use, like sleeping pills trying to help myself get to sleep and, you know, combining that with the alcohol that doesn’t isn’t exactly the healthiest option, either. And, you know, it was just, it was just one of those things where I was looking for that, that relief that basically numbing the pain getting getting rid of that, not not addressing it not facing it head on and dealing with it in a healthy way. And and that was that was causing a lot of problems caused problems with my physical health, my mental health, my relationships, my my job, I was going into work basically hung over, you know, on a regular basis, and it wasn’t exactly what you want to do. And when you’re, you’re working in a professional kind of corporate job, it’s not what you really want to do, you’re kind of looked at a little bit differently when you’re, you’re walking in still still kind of shaking off the cobwebs and everything. So, you know, it was it was just really hard for me to be able to deal with the stuff that I was going through. And it was it was hard. It was hard for me to get through all of that.

Victoria Volk 4:09
How old were your kids at the time.

Scott Deluzio 4:12
So I had a before I deployed my my first son was born. So he was nine or 10 months old at the time so young enough that he doesn’t remember this part of of life. I now have two other kids who fortunately, were not around during that time period either. And so, you know, they don’t they don’t remember that obviously either. So, you know, but I also wasn’t the best at either, you know, I would have and this was like when he when I got home he was about nine or 10 months but this obviously went on for a little while afterwards too. So you know he was a toddler he’s getting into trouble like all little kids do right and I would just have a short temper with Just about everything. And when he would do things that normal kids do, they spill their food off the their highchair, or they, you know, make a mess in the living room or whatever it is, you know that he was doing it, I just would would flip out and I’d started screaming and yelling, and, and it was that was just not who I was. That’s not the type of person who I was before I deployed. I was a pretty easygoing type of person I didn’t get I wasn’t too high strung, I didn’t get upset over little things like that. You know, sure. There’s, there’s inconveniences, but you just deal with them as you go along in life, right. And, but I was finding it harder and harder to deal with even these small, little inconveniences. And so I found myself just getting angry and frustrated, upset at all these little tiny things. And it was just about everything that I was getting mad at. And anything that that was even slightly inconvenient or off or whatever, I just would, I’d be flipping out about it. And, and I realized that’s not the kind of dad I wanted to be. That’s not the type of person I wanted it to be. For my son, for my wife, for the people who are around me that I cared about who cared about me, I didn’t want to be that kind of person, because then then you just end up pushing those people away. And so, so yeah, it was kind of a long answer to that question. You know, how old they were. But, but yeah, that was that was kind of that situation that I was going through?

Victoria Volk 6:34
When did that change for you? And did you notice that? How you are reacting to situations, then your children? Sort of that’s how they responded to to situations? Like did you how were their behavior, things with the kids then being reflected back to you?

Scott Deluzio 6:52
Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I started noticing my my oldest son, I would, I used to do this thing, when I would get frustrated or angry, where I would grit my teeth. And I started noticing him doing that anytime he would be getting upset at at small little things, you know, things that weren’t going his way, you know, it’s it’s time for a nap. And he didn’t want to go take a nap. And he grit his teeth and he’d get angry. And it was like looking in the mirror. It was a it was an ugly mirror, I didn’t want to look in that mirror, you know, I wanted to I wanted to have a happy, healthy child not not one who was getting angry at these little things the way I was doing. And really, for me, the moment where the light bulb went off and I realized Something is definitely wrong is this time when my my dog that we had at the time, she’s since passed away. But back then she she had gotten sick. I don’t know if she ate something that didn’t agree with her or whatever. And she was walking in our bedroom. And she was right at the edge of our bedroom and in the master bathroom that we had which had nice tile floor and the bedroom which had a nice brand new white carpet. And she started to throw up and she’s standing right at the edge between the bathroom and in the doorway and to the to the bathroom. And she throws up right on the white carpet. And ice flipped out. I started screaming and yelling and everything as if the dog can understand the anyways Right? Like she she didn’t know what I was saying. She knew I was mad. Probably just by the tone of my voice and you know how loud I was and everything like that. But I mean, she’s sick. She’s not feeling well, what good was all of that yelling and screaming going to do anyways? You know, I was I was just mad that she didn’t take two seconds to go walk into the bathroom where it had been so much easier to clean up on a tile floor versus, but the white carpet right now I know I probably have to go rent a steam cleaner and you know, get get that out and everything. But again, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty minor inconvenience, to do things. And like that’s not the kind of person that I am. I love dogs. I am not the type of person who’s going to be you know, getting upset at at a dog for doing something that you know, is natural. She’s feeling sick. So she that’s just what dogs people that’s what anyone is going to do. You know, quite frankly, I I feel like I like like more dogs than than certain people. It’s at times too, right? So I was like, Who is this person? Who am I wouldn’t have I become and my wife and I at that time, we kind of sat down and she said you know I thought you might be able to handle some of the stuff on your own. You know the stuff that you’re going through, but it seems like you’re having some tough time with it. It might be time to reach out and get some help and so So I did. And I kind of realized that at that moment, too, I was like, this isn’t this isn’t me, this isn’t who I want to be, and I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong and what, what I need to do to change. And so I reached out to the Vet Center, which is kind of affiliated through the VA. I’m not sure exactly how but but no, they are. And they, they offer counseling services. And they, they helped me to get my my anger under control, so that I wasn’t having these outbursts all the time, wasn’t perfect. It’s a slow process. It’s not like you go in, you sit down on a on a couch for one session, and then boom, magically, everything’s rainbows and unicorns, right? It, it’s a process and it takes time. But you have to, I what I realized is that you have to let the process work, you can’t just go in expecting that that Amazon overnight delivery, where you get the results instantaneously, it’s something that you have to work at, and you have to be conscious about what you’re doing and, and how your things are affecting you in your life. And, and that’s what kind of helped me to get away from being so frustrated and angry all the time.

Victoria Volk 11:12
There is a quote, and I’m going to add live because I don’t know exactly how it goes. But something to the effect of I sat with my anger long enough until he told me its name and its name was grief. And I really relate to your story in that in the anger because I would call myself a read I would have called myself a raging mom, you would call yourself a Rayji dad at that point by just so much anger, which really is grief and sadness and all these feelings unexpressed and undealt no not dealt with. But I didn’t connect the dots to a situation I experienced and tell your story when my son was three years old, and I had three children in four years. So I had a three year old I had an 18 month old and I had a boy she’s six months old. Something I mean boom boom boom like I was like a walking zombie angry raging mom right but my son just would not listen He wanted to take his bike out and I couldn’t watch him get my kids in you know I pulled into the garage and I need to get the car seat and the 18 month old or you know I wrote she was I think 18 months at the time. They’re 18 months apart actually the older two are 18 months apart and then the girls are two years but anyway a baby in a car seat then the younger one or the middle one had to get them in the house and he was like just going on and on about needing his bike and wanting to ride his bike and I said I can’t be outside with you right now and I can’t let him just ride around outside all by himself so right i lat I did what I thought I could do in that moment and I locked his bike in the van. Take the girls into the house next thing I know my middle one is coming in Mommy Mommy is Xavier is to is hitting the van with a bat what? And I step out in the garage and no crap he is slugging my van with the bat. So angry that I locked his bike in there that he couldn’t have his bike, broke our window, ended up costing over $2,000 to get that replaced. But I didn’t connect it until your your story of how our anger is just reflected back to us from our kids. If there are behavioral issues with your children, how about you look at your own behavior? Parents listening. Right? And what grief Do you have those on expressed? So thank you for sharing all of that. Because I really feel like that is a very good message for this podcast today.

Scott Deluzio 13:53
Yeah, and there’s there’s another example of this to where it not from my own personal life, but just from some TV shows that I’ve seen where there’s a show that it used to be on I don’t know if it’s still on or not. But it was with this dog trainer is a Cesar Millan the dog whisperer, right. And I remember, he would go into these households where the dog is out of control, and they’re acting all crazy and out of control. And he walked observes how the owners are, are acting in interacting with the dogs, and they’re just as out of control. And so he looks at them and he says, I think I need to train you before I start working on on your dogs because you’re the problem you are the one who is is basically making this dog so crazy. And once when he starts addressing those behavior issues, then the dog starts starts behaving a little bit differently. And maybe there’s still some work that needs to be done with the dog itself but but it’s it’s really reflecting from from the the owners, right? And so, you know, it’s the same idea, I think, Where where are our behaviors and our reactions get reflected to those who are around us.

Victoria Volk 15:14
Back to us, right? It’s like a boomerang, the energy you bring to a room, you’re gonna get it back. Yeah, exactly. So well, let’s rewind the clock before you were raised you Dad to where it all started, because you deployed with your brother.

Scott Deluzio 15:33
So we were, he was in the Vermont Army National Guard, I was in the Connecticut Army National Guard. And both of our units, there was some reorganization that took place before we deployed. And both of our units ended up in the same brigade. And so this deployment was a brigade wide deployment. So we are both deployed, just about the same time, you know, give or take a couple of weeks just with, you know, training and other cycles that we have to go through. Before getting there. I actually got to Afghanistan first, he got there, maybe a week or two later, but we were stationed far enough apart that we never saw each other once when we were there. And as a matter of fact, the only communication really that we had between the two of us was kind of playing that telephone game, when I would call home to our parents, they would they would tell me what was going on with him and vice versa with with him. So when he would call home he’d find out what was going on with me and everything. So. So we really didn’t talk at all, we may have sent an email here and there, but but really not much. And quite frankly, we’re kind of focused on our, our jobs. So we didn’t really have all that much time to take off to go give each other a phone call or you know, find out what’s going on with each other. So, so yeah, so we were we were deployed at the same time, but not together. If that makes sense.

Victoria Volk 16:59
I asked that because I think it’s important that people understand listening to this, that that’s a scenario that played out, often, still does, likely where you have siblings or people who are married, like my husband and I deployed together, not in the same place, but we knew each other was doing right. You knew what he was doing. He knew what you were doing. And yeah, you don’t have that same level of communication as you did calling home. Right? And so it makes it harder, I think, because you know what you’re doing, and you can’t communicate as openly and freely. And so, I mean, was that always in the back of your mind, like this worry, knowing what he was doing too.

Scott Deluzio 17:42
You know, what? It wasn’t really and I think it was like a defensive mechanism that I put up this the shield, telling myself, basically lying to myself saying that he nothing was going to happen to him, nothing bad was going to happen to him that he had previously deployed to Iraq. He was in Ramadi, in 2006, which was a really rough time to be in that area. And I said, if he made it through that, he’s going to be able to make it through this deployment, no problem. You know, I wasn’t even worried about him getting injured, or killed. That wasn’t even a thought on my mind. I didn’t even entertain that thought we were both going to come home. As far as I was concerned, we’re both going to go back to our lives, I was going to come back to my wife and my son and us, he was engaged to be married about a year after we were scheduled to come back home. So he was going to come home, he was going to get married, he was going to start his family start his life and everything with with his his fiance. And I just figured that’s what’s going to happen. And I didn’t give it too much more thought than that. I wasn’t worried that he was gonna get injured or killed or, or anything like that. Because that’s just not what happens. That happens to other people. That doesn’t happen to you that that’s what you read about in the news. That’s not what you experience firsthand in real life, that that’s just stuff that happens to quote unquote, other people, but it’s a it’s real punch of that gut when you become those other people. You know, and it truly was unexpected. As far as I was concerned. I knew what he was doing. I knew it. It was a dangerous job. Just never occurred to me that it would be a job that could ultimately take his life.

Victoria Volk 19:30
So what was that? How did that play out? Like how did you find out?

Scott Deluzio 19:35
You know, both happened to be on missions that day, where we were out in patrolling in these remote villages. His was not that remote. They were able to drive from their base to this village and then dismount and walk into the village. The village I was in we we actually had to fly in on helicopters the night before to this mountaintop, just outside the village and then we we patrol down into the village As soon as the sun came up reason why is because we were working alongside with the Afghan army and they they didn’t have night vision capability. So they weren’t able to walk on that uneven rough terrain in the dark, to go do the mission that we’re planning on doing so. So we had to wait for the first light. So we went through the village, and we’re doing our, our job looking, looking through everything. And at one point, kind of partway through the day, I got a call on the radio, and they said that there was a helicopter coming in, and I needed to take my squad out to go secure a landing zone for it. And so we did, we went over, we found a clearing, kind of at the far end of the village. And we secured that area formed a perimeter around it, there’s some smoke in that area, and the helicopter came down and landed. And when we were just told that there’s some VIPs on the helicopter, we didn’t know who but it was an American general and a couple French soldiers. So we are operating in French controlled territory, they kind of had that that area. But I think they’re just there to kind of check up and see what kind of intelligence we found and what kind of stuff was going on that day. Since I was a highest ranking guy, next to the general, I went to go greet him and show him where everything was in everything, which as a sergeant that was kind of a little nerve wracking, going and interacting with that general. So but he was, he was a nice enough guy. And you know, we were chatting for a little bit. And he gets a call on the radio. And it tells him and I can hear the radio, just by the nature of the microphone that he had. It says that there were two American casualties. Now anyone who’s been in the military knows that we don’t use names on on the radio call signs that at best, but we’ll never we never use names going over the radio. So there are no names spoken. So at that point, I was just like that, you know that that sucks. That’s, that’s terrible. I feel bad for those people for their families. You know, I feel bad for him. But there’s nothing I can really do about that situation right now. So so we continued on, I passed off the general to my my platoon sergeant and, and then I continued on with our mission. It A little while later, I don’t remember exactly how long later it was. But I got a call on the radio from my commanding officer. And again, for anyone who’s familiar with the chain of command in the military, for a sergeant to get a call directly from the commanding officer, either you did something really good or really bad. And, you know, they usually work their way through the chain of command. And I couldn’t think of anything particularly good I did that day. You know, I did my job, but it was nothing spectacular. And I wasn’t getting any medals for what I had done that day. And so my first thought was okay, what, what did I do wrong? What would I screw up, my guys lose some equipment, whatever, you know, and I’m flipping out trying to figure it out. And I couldn’t figure it out. So eventually, I linked up with a commanding officer. And he told me to come over to the side kind of away from everybody else to take my helmet off and and take a knee. And that was another red flag because they never tell you to take your helmet off when you’re outside the wire. Like that’s, that’s like a big no, no, You never do that. And so I was like, Okay, what, what’s going on here, something screwed up. And so when he told me it was that my my brother’s unit was involved in an ambush and that my brother had gotten hit. And so now it’s like the first time it’s It’s dawning on me that he’s not invincible, that something could happen to him. And so, of course, I’m just thinking, he got hit, and you know, maybe he’s wounded. And he’s he’s injured. So I start going into big brother mode thinking, How do I handle the logistics to get to him? How do I how do I get to him to be there for support? Or if he needs blood or an orchid? Or something like that? How do I get to him? And I guess what I didn’t understand was that, that he was killed in action. And so when, when the commanding officer finally told me that he was killed in action, I look anyone else I broke down, I was crying I was I was a mess. Except for I was a mess with with a rifle, you know, fully loaded rifle, all the ammunition that I could possibly need. So it was a little more of a volatile situation than then maybe if I was to find out when I was still at home, you know, and so I didn’t realize that at the time. But they they constantly had people with me, basically to make sure I didn’t do something stupid to either myself or to somebody else. And so there was there’s always at least a couple soldiers around me to just make sure that I was okay. Within about 20 minutes or so of finding out that my brother was killed. Our own unit started taking fire from the village that we had just come out of. And so, at that point,

Scott Deluzio 24:55
I realized I had to I had to do something I couldn’t just sit there feeling sorry for myself. But that grief that I had that I was experiencing in that moment, turned to straight anger. I was so angry at the people of Afghanistan for not being able to handle this, this fight on the road to require people like my brother and the 1000s of others who, who came there and gave their lives for these people. Why couldn’t they fight their own fight? Why did we have to be there? Why do we have to lose good people like my brother, I was so angry, in fact that I had actually this this fleeting thought of me just running back down into this village, and just killing everybody that I saw. And because I was just so angry at, at these people, not even just the the enemy who were fighting it with us, I had this vision of I just want to kill everybody. I was that angry. But I realized, if I was to do something like that, first off, I

Scott Deluzio 26:03
I wouldn’t make it. You know, just one man running down into a firefight like that. This isn’t a Rambo movie, I’m not going to, I’m not going to survive that. So I started thinking about my wife, you know, I don’t want her to become a widow. I don’t want my son to grow up without a father. And God forbid, my parents ended up getting a second knock on the door that day, telling them that that now both of their kids have been killed. I couldn’t do that to them. So I realized that I needed to suck it up, put this anger aside, put this grief aside, and I needed to focus on on my job. I had about 10 soldiers or so that I was responsible for that day. And if something happened to me, or if I wasn’t doing my job, I’d have my head on straight. something bad could happen to them. And then how do I explain that to their families? How do I tell them that, hey, your loved one is no longer here? Because I couldn’t keep my stuff together. I couldn’t, I couldn’t keep my head on straight throughout this whole ordeal. You know, how do I how do I say that to them. And so I realized I now had another group of people that I needed to get myself straightened out for. And so I did, I was still angry. But I went and made sure that my my men were positioned where they needed to be. And I said men, because we are infantry. And at the time, there were no females in the infantry. So they were all men. And I made sure that they were positioned where they needed to be, I made sure that they fire on their targets was going in the right direction, made sure that they were they were conserving ammunition, made sure that they were doing all the things that they were supposed to be doing. And they did a phenomenal job, I was very proud of how well they were able to operate under under fire during that time period. And, and some of them had already known about what had happened to my brother. So they were just as mad as, as I was maybe not quite as mad as I was, but they were they were pretty mad. At one. One of my my soldiers had a the two or three grenade launcher and he just wanted to launch all of them in just annihilate whatever was standing in his way, because he was just so mad. I had to remind him to conserve some of the ammunition, because we didn’t know what else was coming. And so you know, so that that took place just that was about 20 minutes after finding out that my brother was killed. And it was just horrible for me. After that attack died down, and we came out on top. Fortunately, we didn’t have any any American killed in action in that fight. But we we managed to stop the attack. I was I was told that they were getting a helicopter to come back and take me out of that that area to start me on my journey home. When the helicopter landed. I got on the helicopter and I was sitting directly across from that same general that I talked to earlier in the day. And he recognized me and he said, What Weren’t you the soldier that I was talking to just a little while ago? And I said, Yeah. And I said, Do you remember that call that you got about the the two soldiers who are killed? And I said, well, one of them was my brother. And he and I both just couldn’t believe the coincidence that I happen to be out of all the 1000s of soldiers who were in Afghanistan, I happen to be the one who was standing next to him when when he got that call, you know, thank God they didn’t use names on the radio because I don’t know how this whole situation would have played out differently, but it would not have ended very well. I don’t I don’t think so. That would have been a terrible way to find out but but yeah, that was that was my day. And then that that that started my journey home. So they flew me to Bagram Airbase the next day. I was I was able to be a part of what’s called the ramp ceremony, which is where they bring the bodies of the fallen soldiers onto the plane that that takes them out of Afghanistan. And and there were There were two soldiers. The other soldier Tristan Southworth, he was he was killed in the recovery efforts of trying to recover my brother’s body. And so I was able to be a part of that. And I felt actually felt very fortunate that I was able to be there for that. Most soldiers don’t have anybody who is like a blood relative that is that close to them, who is able to be a part of that. And so I felt fortunate that I was able to be there and, and thank all of the people who came through there were high ranking American soldiers, generals, colonels, things like that. There were foreign soldiers, Polish and German soldiers who came through who were paying their respects to soldier that they didn’t even know. But they felt the need to come and pay their respects. And I was able to be there and thank them, and, you know, really just show my appreciation that they were able to take that time out of their day to come in and do that. So from there I was, I was actually able to get on that same flight with my brother, we flew to Kuwait, where he and I parted ways. I continued on to Germany, Atlanta, and then back, back home from from there. So all in all, it took me about two days, from the time that I found out that my brother was killed to the time that I was standing back home in Connecticut from from the time that I found out that my brother was killed, it took about two days, which is breaking all sorts of records. As far as deployment travel is concerned. Usually you don’t get home that quickly, but but they bumped me to the head of the line for for all these all these flights.

Victoria Volk 31:39
Wow. And so did you end up having to go back on.

Scott Deluzio 31:42
I did not know, I originally was scheduled to go back, they they gave me two weeks to come back home for the funeral and, and things like that. But at the funeral with with any kind of high profile deaths, like a military death or things like that, there were a lot of politicians and, and things like that, who attended the funeral. And one of one which happened to be the state governor. And for anyone who’s not familiar with the National Guard, the National Guard falls under both federal and state jurisdiction. So so the the commander in chief is also the Governor as well as the President of the United States. So at the funeral, the governor of the state of Connecticut told, told my family and I that I was not going to be going back, she was going to issue an order that I would stay back, stay at home because she said no, no family should have to go through that a second time. And, and so from there, I stayed home. I was I was home for the most part. Since the day that I came back. The only time that was that was that I had to leave was to do the out processing. When you when you get back from a deployment, you have to go through various medical and mental health screenings and, and process all the paperwork and all that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, that that took me back to Indiana, and Camp Atterbury. So I had to leave my family for a period of time, they scheduled me for about three days to be there. And I was like, There’s no way I’m gonna stay here for three days. This is just too much for me. So I ran through everything. I lived through my teeth through all the mental health screenings, just just to check the box and get it over with because I wanted more than anything I wanted to be home with my family. And the only thing that was standing in my way was a checkbox on a piece of paper from the these counselors saying that I was I was good to go. I wasn’t good to go. I was nowhere near good to go. But I was like I don’t, I don’t care at this point. I just want to get home.

Victoria Volk 33:44
And I think that’s the case with anyone whenever they come home off a deployment. Let’s just get this over with and check the boxes. And you know, there’s no real transparency and honesty, and not just because you want to get back home. But it’s gotten a lot better. But I think you know, your rank your career, like all those things come into play when you’re looking at those boxes. And was this earlier on in your deployment? Or did it happen later? Like did you feel guilty about that?

Scott Deluzio 34:15
Yeah, it was towards the end of the deployment. So we I had gotten there in like early February, and we were scheduled to be there until October, sometime in that timeframe. And he was killed at the end of August. So so we only had about a month and a half or so left, maybe two months left in this deployment. And so yeah, did I feel guilty I felt guilty about a lot of things. I I started questioning, you know why I joined the so my my brother had joined the Vermont Army National Guard, which I think I mentioned earlier, but he had joined before I did. And I felt guilty that I didn’t join with him in Vermont. I I joined the Connecticut Army National Guard. And had I joined the same unit is, as he did, I may have been able to be there with him, I may have been able to do something to help him to prevent this from happening. And so I kept going through all those what if scenarios in my head, like what if I had joined the Vermont National Guard? What if I had to talk to him out of re enlisting when he did, which would have made him ineligible to deploy because his enlistment was going to be up at some point during that deployment. And so he wouldn’t have deployed. What if I had done any number of other things, you know. And so I felt guilty for all of those those things, that I didn’t try harder that I didn’t try to talk him out of reenlisting that I didn’t try to join the Vermont National Guard that I didn’t do any of these things. And all of that was starting to eat away at me too. It just made me feel like I was just a terrible brother, you’re a big brother, like, that’s your job, like, your job is there to protect your younger siblings. And here I was, and I, I screwed that up. And I couldn’t be there for him when he needed me the most. And so I felt terrible about all of that. And it really it just ate me up inside.

Victoria Volk 36:23
You said you reached out the Vet Center and and things started to turn around? When did you start to feel like you were really reconciling your grief and what what you had been through and experienced with the loss of your brother, and how did that transform your life.

Scott Deluzio 36:39
It took a while. Like I said earlier, it’s not a immediate overnight transition that takes place. At least it wasn’t for me, I don’t know, some other people may have different experiences, maybe they have that light bulb moment earlier on in the process, and things just get started getting better. But for me, I was going to the Vet Center for almost two years. And at the time that I stopped going, the counselor that I was seeing he was being transferred to another location. And my family and I we were we were planning on moving to Arizona where we live now. And it just seemed like a good time to kind of cut off the treatment. I said, you know, I feel like I’m in a better place right now, I feel like I’m not having these angry outbursts all the time. Maybe I’m not perfect, maybe I still have them occasionally. But I’m getting better at this. And I think I can I can handle it from here. And I wasn’t drinking nearly as much as I had been before, you know, and the goal was never to quit drinking altogether. For me anyway. So because I still, you know, enjoy a beer every once in a while, you know, with family or friends or whatever it’s not, but it’s not like, I need this every night kind of thing. And that’s what I was trying to get away from I didn’t need to drink to make myself pass out and go to sleep. I that’s what I wanted to get away from. So. So it got me to the point where I was able to kind of manage my life a little bit easier. And I knew I still had some work to do. But I felt like I had the tools to do it and handle these things on my own. And so we moved out here to Arizona stopped going to treatment for for a while. And a few years after, after being here, I started noticing that I was slipping into some of these old habits and patterns that I was that I had successfully gotten away from for a little while. But but they were creeping back. I was starting to have a short fuse again, where where I just get mad and angry at the littlest things. And it wasn’t until actually late last year, where I really realized why I was getting so angry at the little things when you’re in the military. And you know, this probably just as well. When someone tells you to do something, they give you an order. It’s not one of those things that’s up for debate. Like oh, well, you know, maybe if we do it this way and change it. No, it’s no, this is what needs to happen. And that needs to happen. Now it just do it. Yeah, there’s some times when that might be appropriate. But but in the heat of the moment, you kind of just have to follow those orders and and do what is asked of you. And if it’s not done as as it’s intended to be done, then that’s when lives are at stake when people start getting injured and killed. And I felt like I was carrying that same level of intensity just into my everyday daily life. And like that’s, that’s no way. There’s no way to live life right like constantly acting as If everything is a life and death situation, when my son spills a glass of milk on the floor, that’s not a life and death situation, when my dog throws up on the carpet, that’s not a life and death situation, I don’t need to have that level of intensity with, with those kinds of situations. Yeah, I can be frustrated that something like that happened. But I don’t need to be, you know, turning into Sergeant Scott mode, you know, insert gelling with the knife, hands and everything. And, and, you know, going absolutely crazy about these situations. And, but that’s what I was doing. And I found myself falling back into those old patterns, I was having more and more trouble sleeping. So I found myself drinking more and more, and getting it back into those old habits. And,

Scott Deluzio 40:48
And I realized at that point that our mental health is, it’s not like some things with your physical health, like, if you were to break your arm, you go to the doctor, you get the cast put on, it’s healed, you take the cast off, and it’s good, you don’t really need a follow up unless you break your arm or you reinjure it somehow, right. So you’re kind of just just good after that, right. But your mental health is a little more fluid, it comes in waves, you know, certain things can set you off sights, smells, times of day, or even times of year, can can set you off anniversaries of of things like the loved one staff that have their birthdays, or certain holidays that you enjoyed celebrating together or things like that, those kinds of things can set you off. And so what I realized is that it’s it’s worthwhile to just like with your physical health to go get a checkup, every once in a while, go go in, just have a chat with someone and just make sure that everything’s still ticking the way it’s supposed to be ticking, you know, you go to the doctor for an annual physical, to make sure that your cholesterol is in check to make sure that you’re, you know, you’re maybe do a cancer screening, you know, on an annual basis to make sure that something didn’t pop up in the last year, right. There’s nothing wrong with going and continuing to get mental health treatment on a periodic basis, whether that’s annually or more or less frequently, whatever makes sense for you. But there’s nothing wrong with that. If there’s, there’s something that could be popping up for you. Go talk to somebody. And lately, I’ve been in several different treatment options for PTSD. And currently, I’m doing prolonged exposure therapy, where you basically are talking about these, these trauma memories that replay in your head over and over again, and you talk about it. And the idea is sort of like if you were to watch a scary movie, the first time you watch it, it’s pretty scary. But if you were to sit down and force yourself to watch that movie 2530 times by that point, you kind of know when the guy is going to jump out of the closet, and you know what, what’s coming, and it’s not so scary anymore. And so that’s kind of the idea with with this as well is that you kind of relive some of those, those memories over and over again, to the point where they’re, they’re not as traumatic to you, there’s still, it’s not taking away the impact that they may have had on your life, but it’s reducing your response to it, you’re not jumping out of out of the seat in that scary moment in the movie anymore. You’re not waking up in the middle of the night, you know, having nightmares about these things anymore. And that’s, that’s kind of the goal. And so, so that that’s what I’ve been doing. And this is this is 12 years after, after the fact. And it’s okay, it can be one of those things that that goes on for for years. But you just manage the situation differently. And I it’s been 12 years for me, but I did have a significant time period in between where I took took a break. So it wasn’t like I was continuously working on this for 12 years, you know, so not to discourage anyone who who might be looking for that type of thing. It’s not like, this is a normal results. Where Yeah, this is gonna take me decades to get through. It may it may not I don’t know. But you know, for me, it’s one of those things where I just realized it’s okay to ask for help, even all these years later, and the help that I’m getting is, is helping in various areas. And so, you know, it’s just being open to getting that treatment.

Victoria Volk 44:38
I commend you for reaching out a second time. You know, we often think that you had that gap and you think you go through life and you think I’m good, I’m fine. I’m fine. I got this right. Did you have another loss that kind of catapulted you back in time to that heart Break, because you mentioned, you know, this is the perfect part to say this too, because you said, when you have a broken bone, you go to the doctor and we say in Grief Recovery, you have a broken bone, you go to the doctor, why do we not go to the doctor when we have a broken heart? Right? It’s it’s more than just our mental health, it’s a broken heart. Did you have a broken heart again, during that, that you found yourself realizing, Oh, I’m falling back into these patterns?

Scott Deluzio 45:31
You know, I, I didn’t have a loss to the same extent that, that losing my brother was I didn’t have a loved one passed away, like that. But what I did have, and this was, this was about four years ago now. And this was kind of in the middle of the process. So I don’t know if this was exactly, exactly what was the catalyst for, for this change for me or whatever. But it may have helped push me over the edge a little bit. But my, my wife had pretty significant medical issues where she started having some seizures. And she had never had seizures before in her life. And she, she ended up in a coma. And the doctors and the nurses weren’t sure what we were gonna get when she came out of this, this coma, they weren’t sure if, if she was going to be responsive. They didn’t know they didn’t know what was going to happen when she eventually came out of a coma. And so, yeah, that was a scary situation for me, because here I am, with three kids, you know, I’ve always relied on her. We’ve always relied on each other, I should say, to build this family. And now I’m questioning whether or not she’s going to be there anymore. And and that was, that was really scary for me. And I’m not saying that that necessarily caused me to start drinking and start, you know, falling down that this path because I think there were some other warning signs early on that I was starting to slip back into that that pattern but but that’s when I realized that I needed to get some help for myself, too. I needed to get back into it and start seeking out some sort of treatment. And I tried, you know, several different things, but but it really was once when when we found out that she was going to be okay, I realized I needed to get back in and start taking this seriously and not just say, Oh, I’ll be okay, I’ll just deal with it. I needed to do more, be more act proactive with my mental health.

Victoria Volk 47:47
I think that a situation like that, too, is such a reminder for us that we are not in control. Right. So when you’re in the military, and you’re wearing the uniform, and you’re the one that has to be in control, and everything is precise, and accurate, and you’re giving orders and taking orders and everything is you know, you know how it is. It’s a controlled, you know, we do our best to have it be a controlled environment, and respond like that when it’s not. Right. Right. And so when there’s a situation like that, like with your wife, I can see it could pull you right back into that when you lost your brother in this feeling of no sense of control out of, you know, but I also know, you had lost a dog, didn’t you?

Scott Deluzio 48:35
Yeah, well, this was this was later on. This was in the summer of 2020 that that my dog passed away. And that was that was a pretty significant loss too, because she had been with our family for, let’s say, we got her probably two months or so after my wife and I got married. So pretty much our entire marriage. She was there throughout this whole grieving process. And she was the dog that I was yelling at for throwing up on the carpet. You know, and, and the cool thing about dogs is as much of a jerk as I was to her during that time period, she still for the day that she died, she still was wagging her tail and happy to see me and we actually called her my my co worker because I work from home. And whenever I would go into the office, she’d be right at my heels she she’d always come into the office with me as she got older. She was an English bulldog. So very low energy. She would just come into the office and sleep at my feet all day and and she was happiest can be to be able to do that like that was just was was so awesome for her. So much so that on the weekends when I wouldn’t go into work, she would stand by the door and just start barking because she’s like, No, this is where we need to be right now. I need to be here and so, you know, so hurt the loss of that dog was, was significant. She had been there for the entirety of my my children’s lives up until that point. They never knew what it was like to live without a dog, my wife and I actually found it because the dog is so used to sleep in our bedroom, which had a little bed next to next to ours. My wife and I actually found it difficult to sleep at night because we didn’t have her snoring in the room with us. Which, which sounds weird. Like, you might think, like, Oh, my God, that’s so annoying, but it actually became like a, like, white noise kind of thing. Where were we almost came to expect it to be. And so yeah, it had some impact as well on on us. And, you know, we’re coming up on two years. As of the time of this recording, by the time this recording airs, it’s going to be a little bit after that, but even just last night, I was talking with my daughter, and and she was saying how she still misses the dog. And and, you know, so it’s had an impact on our family. And, you know, yeah, you can say it’s just a dog, but the people who live with the dog, like that’s, that’s a part of part of your family. And you don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

Victoria Volk 51:24
And you don’t want to break a dog owners heart by saying it’s just a dog, don’t people. Right, right. breaking their heart all over again.

Scott Deluzio 51:33
Exactly. Yeah. So

Victoria Volk 51:34
Yeah, I bring that up. Because it’s grief is cumulative. It’s cumulatively negative. So all of those things that you experienced it just stack up over time.

Scott Deluzio 51:45
Yeah, yeah. And it’s what really got me. And I knew that she didn’t have much time left with us. Just because English Bulldogs ate tend to live for about eight to 10 years, and she was pushing 12 I kind of knew it time was limited for her shoot, she was basically on borrowed time, as far as I was concerned, because that’s, you know, that they just don’t live that long. And what killed me though, was seeing my kids reaction when they found out that that she had died. The heartbreak in them was, was like, just stabbing me too, because like, I never, I don’t want my kids to be sad and upset over over things like that. But at the same time, I was glad that they knew the love that they had, right. But I’m glad that they were able to experience that because without the highs, you can’t have the lows, or maybe the other way around. Right? If you don’t have those lows, you don’t appreciate the highs as much, right? And so, you know, in a way, I was sort of glad, but at the same time, it was just it was like stabbing you with a knife. It was hard to see them experienced that.

Victoria Volk 53:06
So how do you because I know like, in those earlier years and the angry years and experiencing the grief years, you felt very angry and things and guilt and all of those things that we these feelings that we punish ourselves with, and we don’t give ourselves compassion or grace. What does that look like for you today? Now that you’ve, you’re in, you know, you’re getting help again, and things or you’re feeling more, maybe more like yourself? How has that changed for you? How you give yourself compassion and things like that?

Scott Deluzio 53:44
I think what you you said earlier about how grief is cumulative. I think that’s true for a lot of the experiences that we have in life. So you know, as you experience things, you you learn and grow from them all the way back from when you’re a kid and you touch something that was really hot for the first time. You’ve learned really quickly not to do that again, right and, but that’s like one experience that you you carried on throughout your entire life. Everything that you experience is something that you’re going to carry on throughout life in grief is included the loss of a loved one, a pet, family member, what whoever it is, there, that is something that’s going to carry with you, and how you deal with those, those things will also carry it with you. And I think I had a really hard time for for the longest time letting myself just just accept the fact that that there are certain things that are out of my control that that no matter what I did or didn’t do. It was it was his time. It was his time. wouldn’t have happened, whether I was standing right next to him or not. And so I just had to be okay with that. And, you know, it took me a while to start to accept that there are certain things just out of my control took me a while to learn how to grieve when I had lost loved ones before, you know, grandparents and things like that earlier on, but never, never someone is as close to me as my, my brother was, and I, I didn’t really know how to grieve that kind of loss. When we got into that firefight, right after I found out that he was killed. I felt like I put the grief aside, I stopped being able to grieve. And I picked up the anger. And that’s all I really knew was just how to be angry in the military. It’s almost like, applauded when, when you’re going around being angry at things all the time, like, Okay, well, this person is serious, and they’re intense. And they, they’re, you know, they’re, they’re really taking their job seriously. Okay, yeah, I get that. But when you’re coming home, and you’re screaming at your, your one year old, and you’re, you’re yelling at your dog, and you’re, you’re just being an absolute jerk. That’s not the same thing. And that’s, I think, I’ve replaced my, my grief with anger. And so for the longest time, I don’t, I don’t think I was actually even breathing, I think I was just actively being angry, trying to do something, trying to be in control of a situation I had no control over. And so it took me a while, but I eventually figured out how to accept the things that I had no control over to accept the fact that, that he was gone, that that no amount of yelling and screaming and losing my temper was going to bring him back. But what I could do is, remember the good times with him, remember, the things that we used to do the trouble we used to get into as kids remember the fun that we would have? Even as adults, we, we would go to hockey games together, and we’d have fun. i There’s various stories, I probably could tell about all that, that kind of stuff, too. But you know, I started thinking about those those things. And then I started thinking about, would he be okay with how I’m reacting to this, like if, you know, whatever people believe if they believe in heaven, and hell, and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, just imagine for a minute what, regardless of what you believe that there’s some portal to wherever they are, and they’re able to look down at us and see how we’re behaving, knowing what you know about that person, would they be proud of what you’re doing with your life and how you’re doing? Would they be upset? Would they be sad for you with?

Scott Deluzio 58:14
And I thought, you know, why not try to whether there’s that portal that I’m talking about? We’re not, why not try to live life in a way that would make him proud. And, and that’s what I’ve done, I think anyways, with, with my podcasts, you mentioned it earlier, the drive on podcast, where I I’m trying to help out other veterans who are struggling with various issues, whether it’s PTSD, or addiction or job transition, things like that. I want to help people, and so that they’re not struggling by themselves. And I’ve also written my book that talks about this whole experience of surviving son, which my goal for that is to hopefully have the other people who needed the service members who were dealing with, with stuff similar to what I was dealing with, to make sure that they realize that there are healthier ways to deal with the grief and the losses that they may experience. Maybe that those those people didn’t lose a blood relative the way I did, but maybe they lost a close friend in combat or in a training accident or something like that. There’s healthier ways to deal with it than what I did. But I also want everyone else who reads it, to realize that there is a real person behind the name that you hear on the news. Anytime that you hear about these combat deaths, you know, last year had the 1313 troops that were killed in Afghanistan during the end of that withdrawal period. Each one of those people had a family and had people who cared about them, and they had a life before that. They had a hobbies and interests and and things that they were known for. And, you know, we don’t know, every single one of them, we don’t know, maybe even don’t even know their names. But why not? Why don’t they were people who went out and laid their lifestyle down, we should take some time to get to know who these people were not that that would ever replace their being here, but it helps if their memory lives on. And so that’s, that’s what I wanted to do in my book is talk about my my brother and his upbringing and how, how we were as kids and everything. So by the time you get to the point where, you know, he’s killed, you sort of feel like you knew him before, before he was killed, and almost gives you that, that sense of like, you almost lost someone that you knew to not, not necessarily to that same extent that, that I would have grieved him or anything but but it just gives you a little perspective, little little insight into those names that you hear on the news.

Victoria Volk 1:01:08
It humanizes the story. Yeah, it does. So what is one of your most favorite memories with Steven or have Steven or a memory that like would embody who he was.

Scott Deluzio 1:01:21
So he was, he was kind of a goofball. He would, he would always do things to make people laugh. No matter what, no matter what the situation was, if you were having a bad day, you came home from work or school or whatever, and you’re having a bad day, he’d figured out a way to get you to laugh. If you were telling a story, talking about something that was boring to him. If he was standing there, he would literally collapse on the ground and pretend like he was sleeping. Because that was his way of saying, Hey, this is boring. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. And so we’d all start laughing because it was it was just funny, right? There was there’s one time and I talked about this in the book, because I think I’m gonna steal that. You know what the, we’ve done that, too. Like after, after he passed away, sometimes we’ll be sitting around, I’ll be sitting with my parents and talking and they’ll be saying something and I’m like, This is so boring is stupid. And I’ll just like put my head down and like

Victoria Volk 1:02:19
I wanna do that to someone see what the reaction is.

Scott Deluzio 1:02:26
But so so this other story that I talked about in my book, I think really shows how much life he had in him and how lively of a person he was. So we were up in Boston, watching a Boston Bruins hockey game, and they were playing the Montreal Canadiens. And it’s big rivalry between Montreal and Boston and, and everything. And so the Bruins had won that game. And so there’s this whole big, like, USA, USA kind of vibe in the arena, right? Everyone’s like, you know, all this patriotic kind of thing. Like, oh, Canada, you know, yeah. Okay, whatever, Canada, you know, that kind of stuff. And so, he and I had been a few few beers deep at that point, you know, really enjoying the game. And so if you’ve ever walked out of a pro sports arena, you know that the sea of people, you’re waddling like penguins trying to get out of place, right. And there’s, there’s this hole, as far as your I can see almost, there’s people, right? Well, we’re standing there, and with this whole big patriotic vibe going, my brother starts yelling, USA, USA, and he gets the entire arena, all of these people to start chanting that too. And, and it’s amazing. It’s like deafening how loud it was because we’re in the small, like, hallway corridor kind of thing. And it continues all the way into the stairwell walking out of the place, going down out into the street. And it’s just funny, right? So he and I had nothing but the or up until that point. And so we were pretty hungry. And we found a burger place across the street, and we went in to go get some food. And so we sit down and the waiter comes by and it takes our order and and he asked my brother is Canadian bacon, okay, on your burger. And my brother looks at him like he was about to rip his face off. And he goes, hell no. I want American bacon on this burger. And then he cracks a smile and we realized that he’s just joking, right? And then the waiter goes Would would you like french fries with that? And he has that same disgusted look on his face. Because hell no, I want American fries and the guy is like, I don’t even know what to do with that but you’re gonna get price whatever, you know, but, but you know, that’s just the kind of guy he was where he could get an entire arena to start chanting you USA USA. And then he can flip to just joking around with a waiter at the restaurant. And it was just to me, it was a very memorable time. You know, if he was still here today, I don’t even know if he would remember that he had done any of that. But to me, it was just like, that’s him. That’s that’s his personality. And I think that that gives a good good example of who he was.

Victoria Volk 1:05:25
Wit and humor. Yeah, I love that. I’ll probably share that story later. Thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing everything that you have, I have no doubts that this is going to be helpful for many people I could have, I wanted to like dig into more the alcohol and you know, because that’s a stir by talked about that earlier. And anger is also a sturb. And I could have gotten there too in the conversation. But I feel very whole and complete with what we’ve talked about. And I want to give you an opportunity to share anything else if there if you have anything else to share?

Scott Deluzio 1:06:03
Yeah, a couple of things. You know, for people who are going through grief, like like this, or any kind of grief, some people say it gets better with time, I don’t know that that’s true, I think it gets different. You kind of learn to live with that difference in your life. You know, you learn to live with that loved one, not in your life anymore, you start to learn how to not rely on that person being there, and you adjust. So life gets different. And the sooner you get Okay, with the fact that life gets different, I think the easier you’ll use your time you’ll have with the whole process. Not I’m not trying to say that it ever gets easy. It just gets different. And when you have that difference, and you’re okay with that difference, it does get easier. Because you’re not, you’re not swimming upstream, you’re not fighting against the current or whatever you’re, you’re, you’re kind of accepting it and, and moving on and learning how to how to live life. Without whatever that thing is in your life that you’re you’re grieving. So you know, anything from loss of a loved one or pet, a job loss relationship that ends, all of those are different types of grief. But the sooner you you learn to accept the fact that things are just going to be different. I think that the sooner you can get on with with life and have a happier, more fulfilling life, if I can. I know we mentioned my podcast earlier, the drive on podcasts for any veterans or loved ones of veterans who might be struggling to drive on podcast, you can find it at Drive on podcast.com. And then my book, Surviving son, you can get that on Amazon. Just search for surviving son, and it should should pop up there. It’s also at surviving son book.com. And you can find it there. But, but ultimately, the goal for me is to help people find hope, where they might feel that all hope is lost. So you know if there’s anything that I’ve said or have worked on that that might help people. That’s really the goal for me is just to get that information out there. And I can help as many people as possible.

Victoria Volk 1:08:42
Thank you so much. And I’ll actually I’ll put the links to those mentions in the show notes just to piggyback what you had shared. It’s about time, it’s making the choice to take action in that time. That really is the catalyst for change. It’s making a choice to make a change and taking action towards that change that you want to see in your life and in your grief. So, thank you so much. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.

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