This episode shares a powerful conversation about the highly misconstrued and often avoided topic of grief. Grief therapist and co-founder of the online grief community, Litsa Williams of What’s Your Grief, shares misconceptions about grief, helps us understand what types of grief we might experience, and how to cultivate a healthy relationship with grief.
Whether you have lost a loved one, or something else significant, there are many losses that we grieve and this episode shares how to cultivate a relationship with the many kinds of grief that we carry.
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Hello, everyone, and thank you so much for joining me today. This week's episode is really pertinent to me, so much so that I had to bump it up in the queue. In episode 43, I share a powerful conversation about the highly misconstrued and often avoided topic of grief. I actually had the honor to speak with grief therapist and co-founder of the online grief Community.
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Litsa Williams of What's Your grief? A couple of weeks after the passing of my grandma. This conversation has been such an anchor and support for my grief process. Let's shares misconceptions about grief and spoiler alert. She even debunks the five stages of grief and helps us understand what types of grief we might experience. Whether you've lost a loved one or something else.
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There are so many kinds of losses that we grieve. Grief is a part of life. And Litsa and Eleanor, of What's your grief share impactful insight to help us cultivate a relationship with the many kinds of grief that we carry in this life. Also, if you're watching this on YouTube, you get to watch one of the ways I am processing grief, which is through ceramics.
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The art that I've practiced throughout my life that my grandparents have always supported.
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to How the wise one Grows. I am really grateful for the opportunity to share today's conversation with you. Before we get started, let's begin with three deep breaths. So just situate yourself wherever you are, get any wiggles out you need, and then just notice where your body touches the earth.
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Let yourself feel the support of the earth beneath you. Think about the head reaching towards the sky, the spine lengthening the shoulders soft and down the back and take a big breath. Then. Then a big breath out again. Inhale. Fill your chest. Fill your belly with air. Exhale. Open your mouth. Let it all out again. Inhale. Chest and belly.
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Expand. Exhale. Open your mouth. Let it all go. Last one. Inhale and exhale. When you can slowly open your eyes as you return to this space. So today we are here with Litsa Williams. Litsa is a grief therapist and co-founder of the online grief community. What's your grief? She has 15 years of experience working with people who have experienced all kinds of loss and life transitions and has a specific interest in traumatic and unexpected loss losses to addiction and ambiguous loss.
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Litsa met Eleanor, who's What's Your Grief cofounder, a sponsor supporting families who have lost loved ones to unexpected deaths in Baltimore, drawing on their personal and professional experience with grief. What's Your Grief was built as a resource offering concrete, practical, creative, down to earth and relatable support founded on the values of psychoeducation and creative coping is grown to serve more than 5 million visitors each year.
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Litsa received her master's degree in clinical social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, as well as her master's degree in philosophy from the University of Warwick in the UK. She has been interviewed as a grief expert for the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NPR and The New York Times. She is the coauthor of the book What's Your Grief List to help you through any loss?
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And I personally just ordered that book and have been sifting through it this past week and cannot recommend it enough. But thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Yeah, I'm really grateful for you. This timing and episode is is really important to me because I just had the loss of my grandmother about two weeks ago and have saw your account through a friend who had some traumatic grief experience and have just been so comforted by your words and your book has been just such a impactful support system to have during this time.
00:05:16:23 - 00:05:39:16
Oh, I'm so glad to hear it. You know, I feel like we have this working in the grief space that such a strange thing has. Every time someone finds us, there's this double thing about, like, I'm glad you found us, and I hate the reason that you had to find us, but I. I think oftentimes when we're going through those moments, we're just looking for something.
00:05:39:16 - 00:06:02:06
And so we're always glad when people somehow, one way or the other, through a friend or through Instagram or Google, find their way to us. Yeah. Well, do you mind sharing with us? Like, what exactly is grief? It's something that, you know, I feel like we have heard that word, but the experience can almost be sort of elusive.
00:06:02:16 - 00:06:32:15
So I'm curious about your your perception of that. Yeah, I think this is so true. I was actually just just writing something about this because the Internet, especially is filled with these. Like, grief is love. Grief is love with nowhere to go. Like grief, you know, all these sort of different things. And and also there's this other end of the spectrum of where you'll hear, you know, grief is sort of we need to let it go and overcome it and we need to get to the other side.
00:06:32:16 - 00:07:03:02
And I think for me, the most helpful way to think about grief is that it is sort of our normal and natural human response to losing anything or anyone that we really care about and the normal and natural human part of responding to loss. I think has always been what is most important for me and in thinking about grief is that it's not a problem that we're trying to solve.
00:07:03:02 - 00:07:32:10
It's not a pathology. It's not something we're trying to overcome or let go of. It's often something where after a loss, it's a companion that stays with us for the long haul and our relationship with it changes and that grief evolves over time. Our our reactions are responses change, but it's always there in some way. And so I think that's at least in simple terms, where we like to start.
00:07:32:10 - 00:08:03:12
I think the other thing we like to remind people in thinking about what grief is, is that it's more than an emotional experience, you know? And I see a response. Our response to loss, our human responses are so much more than just our feelings. It is an emotional, cognitive, physical, relational, spiritual, existential experience. And so it's really oftentimes important to remember that grief comprises all of that, not just that emotional experience that we're having.
00:08:04:07 - 00:08:27:22
Yeah, there's so many important threads there. Like first thing that comes to my mind about what you said is I think at least in the West, in my experience, things like grief are seen as an uncomfortable emotion. And it's like that rhetoric of like overcome it, push it away, like be positive, don't fall into it. But I the what?
00:08:27:22 - 00:08:52:04
The death of my grandmother, the way she passed was she really released the resistance to death. And then in that I was like, okay, now it's my turn to release the resistance to life. And right now that means grief. And I think that here, like in my head, I thought because it was such a beautiful passing, like the grief would be okay, like it was, you know, not a thing.
00:08:52:04 - 00:09:18:21
But then it was like, Oh, your you're here and now it's my work to, like, not resist this. And how can I be with this and explore this experience with I see it as like a gentle curiosity of like, okay, what's it like today? What are we feeling? What are we needing? And then what you said too, about how it's not just an emotion, like it definitely is affecting us in all these other realms.
00:09:19:10 - 00:10:01:04
And I think as I was looking through your book, the list of misconceptions about grief was also one that sometimes you can experience pain like physical pain in the body, from grief to Oh yeah, I think that we're I think we're just starting to understand so much more. And you probably with your background in your work, are more aware even than I am of this, of just how much we're learning about how things manifest in our bodies and how loss, how difficult experiences, how stress, how trauma, how all of those are things that we experience in really physical ways.
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And there's all these interesting physical manifestations that people often won't even realize are connected with their grief. And then once somebody kind of makes that connection for them and they start to work on it, they realize, wow, like this, this really was where some of that was coming from. And so I think being just open to seeing all the different areas that are being affected is so it's so important to how you're just kind of living every day after loss, realizing it's affecting every oftentimes every piece of the day in some way.
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Yeah, 100%. I when you explain your definition of grief and you said it's like a natural response, that definition reminded me of the way I explain stress. Like stress is a natural response to a threat or challenge. And that's not bad. Yeah, but it's what we do with that energy and how we rebalance those hormones that are produced in the body and get yourself to to deal with it in an impactful way versus when we resist it and hold on to it.
00:11:04:23 - 00:11:27:15
It builds and builds, and that's when we can have those negative impacts. But in and of itself, it's not a bad thing. Yeah, absolutely. I think most people, once they've experienced a significant loss, they're like, I, I don't imagine or desire my grief to go away because my grief isn't just the pain, it's also all the connections to the person.
00:11:27:15 - 00:11:52:02
It's all of my memories. It's all of those things. And yes, I'm going to have to learn how to carry the hardest parts of this differently. I'm going to have to learn with time, like what are my coping skills to be able to deal with some of the really hard parts of this when it comes up. But that's not because it's abnormal or a natural, it's because that's, of course, what happens when we love somebody and they're gone.
00:11:52:02 - 00:12:12:19
It's like we feel this incredible, incredible, difficult pain that we can learn to carry differently with time. And so I think most people at first they can feel like, wow, it's daunting to think of the idea that maybe we we sort of grieve in some form forever, but at the same time, they're like, I also know I will always be connected to the person who died.
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So it also makes sense that if if grief is that connection, that of course it's always going to be with me. It just won't always feel as terrible as it does in the beginning, because we do learn how to sort of metabolize some of it and change how it feels over time. Yeah, and I love what you said about how it it's kind of a gift and it carries that connection to the person which is really special, really sacred.
00:12:43:01 - 00:13:09:06
And it kind of reminds me of at the beginning of your book, there's a list of like all these misconceptions of grief, which I think there are so many, so many, so many that touches on only a few of them. But I think one of those themes, like when you're thinking about the loss of a person, one of the misconceptions you all shared was like, you can grieve your past and your present and the future you wish you had.
00:13:09:06 - 00:13:51:18
Like you can grieve things more than just right here, right now, more than the past. And I found that one. So fascinating. Oh, yeah. I think this is so, so common, right? We build so much of our lives by imagining our next steps. You know, we're thinking about where where we're going, how our life will look, and we imagine the people we love in our lives, whether that is a partner, where we're really building a life together and a family, you know, or our children, or whether it's our parents or caregivers who we think are going to be there for the life milestones As we get older and we imagine all the holidays will look
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a certain way. And so all those things in that future, we imagine, I mean, they're so important to the decisions that we're making, all of the things that we're doing every day. And then when that person disappears or if it's another type of loss, it's not just, you know, it's there's death losses and non dark losses that change that.
00:14:12:21 - 00:14:33:09
And suddenly this future that we imagined, it just dissolves, you know, in front of us. It feels like it's dissolving. It feels like everything we imagine now is going to have to look different or if there are certain people somebody is going to be gone from these holidays and milestones and not that part of my day to day life anymore.
00:14:33:20 - 00:14:55:16
There is this feeling that everything is forever going to be sad, right? There's never going to be a a time that I won't be reminded that they're gone. And so I think we do in so many ways grieve that future, and we don't always create space for it because it feels feels like what we're grieving is the person or the pastor, you know?
00:14:55:16 - 00:15:27:15
But really, so much of it is what we thought we would have together. Yeah, I think that's something we often don't even think about how much our mind is projecting those future memories and experiences with someone. And I think somewhere in your book said to like on one level there's that grieving of the memories missed. But when we think about the future too, like, you know, I've had many moments where like, Oh, grandma would love this right now.
00:15:27:15 - 00:15:55:12
And it's like, Well, she's not here, but you're carrying that memory into your future as well. And that's kind of like maybe the other side of that double edged sword. Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think it absolutely is. I mean, I think that that idea that we have a relationship with the people who've died, it just looks different. You know, I think we they're still very much part of our our lives and the way we see the world.
00:15:55:12 - 00:16:17:08
And all of that, though, is like I mean, we talk about those sort of like would have loved this moment. It's like you just have this moment where you're like, oh, my gosh, they would have absolutely loved this. And I think it's helpful when we understand that and in grief, because I think sometimes we feel like, okay, all I have is a set of memories of the past and that's all I'll be able to access of the person.
00:16:17:08 - 00:16:32:15
It's like they're all kind of in this box and I'll be able to open the box up and be with the memories sometimes, but then I'll close it up and there's not going to be anything new. Like I'll never be able to add anything to the box. And then I think you realize, like, Oh, no, that's not true.
00:16:32:16 - 00:16:52:15
Like, I'm actually always going to still be adding stuff because I'm going to have those moments of like, Oh my gosh, my grandmother would have loved this, or I'm going to travel to a place I know she traveled to and loved, or I know that, you know, I'm going to to always be thinking about things in some way through maybe values that she taught me or things like that.
00:16:52:15 - 00:17:33:07
So we're always kind of building, but certainly especially in early grief, it doesn't feel that way. I think it feels like their relationship is is over, but it's not. There's still, you know, so much in our connections. Yeah, I think that parallel is really interesting too, because in your book you talked about like kind of the evolution of how we think about grief and help people deal with grief and like maybe it was around like the twenties, the theories about grief were saying like the end goal is to sort of like sever the relationship and like, that's in the past.
00:17:33:07 - 00:17:57:07
Now we're moving forward. And I really love this shift that we're getting to have this. I mean, to me, it reminds me of in mindfulness, when I like this concept of interconnection and inter being that like there's this oneness, just because something isn't physically here doesn't mean there's still not a connection and a presence to it. So the evolution of the way we're talking about grief today is so different from that.
00:17:57:07 - 00:18:41:04
Let's like sever the ties. That's how you know, you've moved on from the grief. Good job. And now it's about like holding this complexity of relationship with you as you continue in this world and seeing that someone else has still a pull with you. Yeah. And it's such a it was such a transformative evolution in the history of grief theory and but what's interesting is, like, it really didn't happen until relatively recently, like it was I mean, the worst of it, the worst of the language was like, if you go back to Freud and Lindemann and were like, we need to emancipate ourselves from bondage to the disciples, was that they were so harsh.
00:18:41:07 - 00:19:00:19
It's so harsh and you read it and you're like, Oh my gosh, That's what they were telling people. And then you people felt awful, right? And no wonder that we had a generation of people who were like, We can't talk about our great When people die, we don't mention them again. We like maybe keep one photo up and then we, you know, take that down and then it's gone.
00:19:00:19 - 00:19:25:12
You know, we really you can see it in the language. And even as it started to evolve, there were, you know, the stage models and that were there was many wonderful things that came with Elizabeth Kubler Ross's introduction of the five stages of grief. But she introduced them actually as stages of death and dying, not of grieving. That was never her intention.
00:19:25:12 - 00:19:56:15
And then because of that acceptance word, which she was again talking about people acceptance of their own term, mental illness and their own death, not about grief, but it reinforced kind of that idea of, okay, the goal of grief is closure, letting go. Like we've got to get to this acceptance, I think probably in part because of that language that predated it, left people feeling like that's that's still the goal.
00:19:56:15 - 00:20:34:14
We're trying to tie this up and put it behind us and and move on. And it really wasn't until the mid 1990s that a bunch of researchers who were and clinicians who were all trained in those stage and task based models said, Hey, we're working with people and lots of people were working with seems like a naturally are creating these ongoing connections to their loved ones that are always with them and they seem pretty healthy and well-adjusted, like it doesn't seem like they needed to move on and emancipate themselves from bondage to the deceased.
00:20:35:10 - 00:21:07:03
And they started writing and researching and, you know, put out a book. But it wasn't until 1996 that that book came out where they really challenged the existing paradigm and it shifted everything. And unfortunately, it's taken on. It's it's still taking a long time to trickle down to, I think a lot of society, a lot of everyday culture, a lot of what people still hear in their lives is this feeling of like, oh, it's ten years later and you're still doing, you know, something for her birthday that's weird.
00:21:07:03 - 00:21:30:08
Or, you know, people still get this, you know, Oh, you're still upset about that. I didn't realize. And it it's interesting because you just see that carryover, I think from those ways that were so ingrained in the in the last century that we're trying to shake off now. So we'll see how long it takes for society to shift a little bit.
00:21:30:10 - 00:21:53:11
Well, you doing good work at making that shift possible and opening people's eyes to it? I think when I think about like that evolution of the theories of grief to I mean from my work shines in young has a saying that in life suffering is pain times resistance. So if you're like there's the pain, that's grief that's going to be there.
00:21:53:11 - 00:22:18:17
But if society is telling you like, oh, like it should be over now, like the timeline, it's done. You've gone through these five stages, like enough like wash your hands of it. That's going to make that's resistance to the pain that you're feeling because you're saying I shouldn't feel it anymore and it feeling more and then you're going to suffer so much more in grief is we don't need to add any extra suffering to that in our horrible.
00:22:18:17 - 00:22:43:10
Oh, it's so true. And there's actually this there's a there's actually a study they did that found that people who believed they were supposed to be grieving and in five stages, like people who had heard the five stages and internalized them, actually had a much harder time adjusting and adapting after loss than people who didn't believe in the five stages.
00:22:43:10 - 00:23:20:05
And they think that it was because of exactly what you just described, this feeling that the five stages were proscribing something that their grief was supposed to look like. And so then they were experiencing this tension of sort of feeling like, okay, I'm supposed to grieve in this way, and now I'm not grieving in this way. And I feel a sense of failed failure that I'm not moving through the state or whatever it is, whereas those people who are just kind of letting it come as it comes and being able to accept it for what it was and not put expectations on grief tended to be able to adjust a lot better after a loss.
00:23:20:20 - 00:23:54:00
Yeah, and I think that's why the work you're doing is so important, because it helps not only the person whose experience is in grief come to more of like a true acceptance of like grief is here and it can look like all of these things, but it also helps like people in our lives be like, you know, maybe there will be a moment where you're talking to someone and you're having that thought like, Oh, like they're still like grieving that, or like, maybe I feel like I've experienced a harder loss and like, comparison can come in.
00:23:54:00 - 00:24:36:07
But I think kind of when we can acknowledge that it's always going to be there, it's going to look different for everyone, no matter what that relationship looks like. The more not only can we support ourselves, we can support one another in a more authentic way, too. I think that that's such a huge part of it. I think when we look at how we can learn to take care of each other and support each other, it's huge because I think you know that so much of when we think about grief, when I think about it from a stress perspective too, is like it's the ultimate it's the ultimate stress and strain on our attachments system.
00:24:36:07 - 00:25:06:21
Like we're we're relational beings. We're designed for love and attachment and care and all of those things. And our deepest fear is often losing people we love. And when it happens, and depending on the circumstances, especially, like I said, working with people with unexpected losses, you know, it can be especially abrupt. And so we really feel so in incredibly disconnected and so many ways.
00:25:07:06 - 00:25:32:14
And oftentimes we're hoping for support, but also finding that people are struggling to know what to say and what to do. And it can reinforce those feelings of isolation and reinforce those feelings. And no one understands. So one does that I'm going through. And in some ways, that's true. No one does know exactly what we're going through, that people can be there for us in so many ways.
00:25:32:14 - 00:25:56:08
And so I think when people can find the courage to be able to try and provide support and do their best and be open to feedback, it goes such a long way. Yeah. Do you mind? I feel like we nodded to this, but just for anyone listening to really clarify, do you mind explaining like are the five stages of grief a real thing?
00:25:57:09 - 00:26:17:11
What can grief look like if not those five stages? Yeah, absolutely. I joked at the end of 2022 that if I accomplished nothing over the course of the year, it was that I was quoted in the Washington Post saying the five stages of grief aren't real. And the quote we need is I was like, That's it. That's all I need.
00:26:18:18 - 00:26:45:16
The I. Yeah. So the five stages of grief, I think it's so important to understand where they came from. You know, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is a psychiatrist who is working with patients who are dying and she was trying to, I think, give a little bit of shape to help people better understand the process of dying. And there was really very little room.
00:26:45:16 - 00:27:11:08
You know, everything had been relegated to hospitals. And there she felt like people weren't really showing care and concern to the stories of the dying. And so that was really what she spent so much of her life and her career. That part of her career doing what she developed was the five stages of grief. And then ultimately, when they caught on like wildfire.
00:27:11:08 - 00:27:38:23
Or are they? They were the five stages of death and dying. They were applied to grief. And so people started talking about them as they were related to grief and it was one of those things where, interestingly, Kubler-Ross near the end of her life, it was like 20 plus years after her first book on Death and Dying, she wrote a book on grief and grieving, which is about herself applying the five stages to grief.
00:27:39:10 - 00:28:03:13
If you read that book, it's just it's like you can feel all of her disclaimers and her caveats and sort of like, you know, it's not where she intended, it's not where she started. That's not what she imagined for this. And so she's very quick to say, you know, this is not a linear process. These are the these might resonate with you in your grief, but you might be there for 5 minutes or five months.
00:28:03:13 - 00:28:33:14
You might go back and forth in an hour or a day. You might, you know, all of these different things. And so I think she didn't intend what happened, which was it getting distilled down to these five simple little stages and then applying it to grief? I think it speaks to, you know, what society wants is like, we would love to take this complicated, devastating experience and be able to say, Oh, don't worry, you know, you're just going to go through these five stages and you're going to get to accept ins and it's going to be behind you.
00:28:34:11 - 00:29:03:15
But what we find is that most people who experience when we look at loss, many people, of course, things like anger. Yeah, people feel anger. People feel, you know, but most people depression, at least from a clinical perspective, is not something that most people who are grieving end up experiencing deep sadness. I mean, deep yearning for the person who died just a want to be able to talk to them.
00:29:03:15 - 00:29:27:09
I want to be able to go back to the past and like hear their voice and give them a hug and be with them and all of those things. But, you know, not depression. And so what we look at when we think now, I think at least when I think about how grief looks, is just this understanding of knowing it's so different for each person.
00:29:27:09 - 00:29:57:07
And a lot of it is based on our different styles. Personality types are coping ways of coping. Some people really, really very early on in their grief, find themselves wanting to connect with other people and talk about their experience. They're really emotional and they express those emotions outwardly and they're comfortable with that. And that's often what society kind of, I think, expects and thinks.
00:29:57:07 - 00:30:23:11
That's what grief is going to look like. And in the research they call that intuitive grieving. And then on the other end of the spectrum, and it's a spectrum. So I always like to tell people like, these aren't categories where you're one or the other is instrumental grieving, which is much more cognitive. It's kind of less about emotions, There's a lot more thoughts about things like what is what is the future going to look like?
00:30:23:11 - 00:30:53:11
How am I going to survive without this person? But it might be kind of less of thinking of it in those deeply emotional terms. Mm hmm. Those folks are often not as interested sometimes in talking about their grief or expressing it outwardly. Often they're more interested in doing. And sometimes those are folks who are interested in how they might be planning things or they might be building things or, you know, doing all sorts of different things, planning a memorial event.
00:30:54:05 - 00:31:18:18
You know, there's so many different ways it can it can unfold and we can, you know, kind of move between those different types. But I always tell people that sometimes, at least knowing those generally can help when you're kind of looking at yourself and the people in your family to be like, okay, I think that and that's maybe what's going on way.
00:31:18:18 - 00:31:42:04
Some people like really want to do a lot of talking and connecting and memorializing and showing they feel and other people are maybe feel a little more standoffish or a little less comfortable with that. It doesn't mean anybody's repressed or grieving wrong. It just means we all have different styles and and how we grieve. And so that's important to know.
00:31:42:16 - 00:32:06:14
Yeah, I really appreciated the content about the different types of grief and styles of grieving because, you know, I was noticing like my family was like together so much of the time. And like, there was a lot of beauty in that. But I was also like, I can't like, I can't anymore. I need space and like to kind of nurture this in a different way.
00:32:06:15 - 00:32:26:10
And, you know, at first there's like a lot of guilt with that and feeling that like, Oh, am I doing it wrong? Like, how are they doing it? And I'm not, but, but kind of being able to touch in with the like, okay, I think it almost taps into like a sense of belonging being like, okay, maybe I'm not moving through it in that way, but I am moving in a way other humans have too.
00:32:26:10 - 00:32:49:15
And Oh, absolutely, yeah. I think we often compare, you know, we're often looking for, especially in experiences that are new and difficult and hard, like we're looking to the people around us to figure out like, am I normal? Am I doing something we like? And so I do think it can feel like, Oh, wait, if I'm not doing this the way other people in the family are, what does that mean?
00:32:49:15 - 00:33:13:00
And it can be reassuring to look at it and go, Oh, wait, no, it's just because of course, like we're we're all different in different ways. We talk about in the book like, you know, whether you're just at baseline, an introvert or an extrovert affects how much of your grief is going to happen sometimes in community with other people, especially right after the death.
00:33:13:00 - 00:33:36:14
It can be so overwhelming when you're in me, so overwhelming. And some people like really gravitate toward that and other people really don't. And then some people at different times, you know, it ebbs and flows. But just knowing that that all of those things can really affect it and that the relationship that you had with the person who died, like everyone will, I think, often think, oh, we all lost the same person.
00:33:38:02 - 00:34:04:16
And and yes, like the same person died. But everyone had a unique relationship with that person. And everyone there is a part of everyone connected to that person that you, you know, have each lost. That's a little bit different. And so I think sometimes people don't create the space to recognize that there is a lot of variability within that depending on what the relationships look like across a family.
00:34:04:23 - 00:34:25:04
Yeah, absolutely. And I think do you mind just slightly touching, you shared about some of the types of grief, but I think in the book there were maybe like seven you identified. Do you mind just touching on those lightly so people can kind of be like maybe that one felt a little like me. And to realize, Yeah, yeah, of course.
00:34:25:08 - 00:34:46:00
So I think one of the ones I already mentioned, but I always want to reiterate it because I do think a lot of times people think of grief as a response to a death, and grief is a response to a loss. I think that's so important. It's so important and there's so many losses that we grieve that are not death related losses.
00:34:46:00 - 00:35:14:15
There's so many people we grieve who are still alive. Yeah, there is so much of that. And so I think when we encourage people to think about the losses that they're experiencing, looking now and remembering that our new losses bring up our old losses. And so sometimes there's a lot of interconnection and it's important to really give your self self space to recognize the different losses, death and non death that you've maybe experienced over the course of your of your life.
00:35:15:03 - 00:35:50:14
And connected to that ambiguous grief is what we call specifically grieving someone who is still alive. And there's two main types or ways ambiguous grief can kind of come out. One is grieving somebody. They describe it as who who's physically present, but psychologically absence. So most what comes to mind for many people is a family member with Alzheimer's or dementia or some sort of cognitive decline.
00:35:50:14 - 00:36:25:14
Or it can be someone who has a severe substance use disorder. And so they're just not the person who they used to be and they're there. But you feel like this isn't this isn't them. And so the relationship has changed. And what they look at with this is sort of being able to create space to acknowledge that we can grieve someone who's still there and we don't have to feel guilty about that because like, like so many things with grief and emotional experiences, people are like, oh gosh, I feel I feel badly because my mom is still here.
00:36:25:14 - 00:36:48:05
You know, I shouldn't I shouldn't be grieving. She's still here. But if she's not who she used to be, there is absolutely something that we have to grieve. If your relationship has changed and now you're her caregiver, you know, all of that is is so significant. And then the other piece of the ambiguity is grieving someone who is physically absent.
00:36:48:14 - 00:37:16:06
But then they say what they say is psychologically present. So we keep them psychologically present. So physically absence. So that could be anything from somebody being in foster incarcerated, somebody being on a military deployment where you don't know about their, you know, safety or they're okay going through a divorce, going through in a strange man or a falling out, the family members, there's so many different ones.
00:37:16:06 - 00:37:36:12
And the reason Kubler Ross really coined these terms and the reason she describes that psychologically present is she describes this idea that because they're absent, because we don't know how to get in touch with them or we can't get in touch with them or we don't know what's going on with them, we're thinking about them all the time.
00:37:36:12 - 00:38:02:10
We're wondering where worrying maybe it's a situation where we have had a falling out or an estrangement and now we're wondering, should I, should I apologize? Will this ever change? Did are they ever going to come to their senses? You know, but so we're kind of going over all these things and and present with them. Oftentimes they're getting in the way of our ability to function sometimes and other ways.
00:38:03:00 - 00:38:27:05
So that's a huge one. The effect. Thank you for giving voice to that one, because I think that yeah, that is one that affects so many people and without the language to like comprehend that for yourself or express it to someone else, it can be very isolating, oh, I think it really is. And, and I think that is that that isolation or not not feeling that validation ties into one of the other types.
00:38:27:05 - 00:39:07:06
Yeah it is you know Disenfranchized grief and Disenfranchized grief is really any type of grief where you don't feel like you receive that, that permission to grieve from society or that kind of validation or support. So there is many different types of losses that can fall into disenfranchized grief. It can be losses that are stigmatized, you know, deaths that are things like suicides or overdoses or homicides where people are uncomfortable talking about it.
00:39:07:06 - 00:39:34:13
And, you know, you realize, oh, nobody's bringing over casseroles. Like when my other family member died, you know, everybody was comfortable and now it feels everyone's uncomfortable or there's an elephant in the room. It can also just be any time society doesn't DeMar loss worthy of grief. You know, like not seeing it as a valid loss which many of those ambiguous losses other people don't see them and recognize them and validate them.
00:39:34:13 - 00:40:06:06
So then we can start to think, is it really not significant? And maybe I'm wrong to be grieving or I don't know who I can reach out to, who will understand what I'm going through. So that is a very, very common one. It can also be when the relationship itself was stigmatized or like extramarital affairs. It can be when there are relationships that the other family members don't understand.
00:40:06:06 - 00:40:38:00
And sometimes if there is non-monogamy or polyamory and there is discomfort with family around that, if it's LGBT relationships that all of a sudden the relationships arise and people feel like they can't be part of the remembering, they're not part of the community of grieving, and they suddenly feel like now they're isolated and they're on their own. So there's many different ways that losses can be disenfranchized that are, yeah, death and non non divorces.
00:40:39:13 - 00:41:08:17
So those I'm trying to think which other types we talked about in the book and that we haven't talked that I haven't mentioned already. I wonder so I'll take a look for me. Luckily I have a copy of my book right here. I love you right by me too. So I was going to say suffocated grief. I don't think we talked about that, though.
00:41:08:17 - 00:41:29:00
I will mention it here because it's I think it is really helpful for people to know about suffocated grief. And I kind of regret. It's one of those things where I regret that we didn't put it into the book. It was just an oversight. You know, Disenfranchized grief is sort of when we feel like we don't have permission to grieve, suffocated.
00:41:29:00 - 00:42:09:21
Grief is almost when we feel like we're being punished in some way for our grief experience. This is I, I relate to this a lot because I worked in hospitals for a long time with families whose loved ones were dying or had just died. And oftentimes in the hospital, if your family didn't follow the hospital rules or look the way a family was supposed to look while they were grieving in the hospital, oftentimes there were a lot of sometimes punishments like you, you they would restrict how many people could come back into the bed, into the room and see the person they would call security.
00:42:10:17 - 00:42:43:02
Not oftentimes not because there was anything kind of threatening or concerning, but because families were just bigger or louder in their grief than they expected or people were uncomfortable with something about the way that grief was presenting. And so it would be very common in the hospital for this to happen. People experience it in the workplace. A lot of times you get three days of bereavement leave if you're if you're lucky, and then you have to go back to work.
00:42:43:02 - 00:43:19:17
And many people report feeling like when they got back to work, not only was there sort of no space in the workplace to acknowledge what had happened, but that also they felt like if they needed if they got emotional at work or if they had anything where they brought their grief into the workplace, that they felt like they would get reprimanded, that they would get told that they needed to sort of keep that at home, really feeling like that somehow we have control over making it a separate part of yourselves or something.
00:43:19:20 - 00:43:46:01
It's another example of like, put it in this box and set it to the side. Exactly. Just set it over there and you can you can come back to it after work. So I think that suffocated grief. Many people really, really connect with, oh, the others that we talked about, cumulative grief, which is, you know, a tricky one to define because people often say, well, what constitutes cumulative grief?
00:43:46:01 - 00:44:15:05
I have had a bunch of losses or is it what time frame or what? You know, And I always think it's helpful to understand that it isn't about a certain number of losses in a certain amount of time. Cumulative grief is grief from sort of multiple losses. Obviously, that's accumulating. But what's significant about it is really just when our losses exceed our capacity to be able to cope with them.
00:44:15:15 - 00:44:49:03
And that is is big. And it it varies, but you could also be like already burnt out in your life and that's just the thing that puts you over the edge versus if you're in a where you're feeling supported and okay and something horrible happens, you're more able to move through it. That's exactly it. And so often people will be sort of judging even themselves a little bit, saying, Oh my gosh, you know, my sister's doing so much better than I am.
00:44:49:03 - 00:45:09:22
And why is that? You know, and it's well, you look at what's going on and often times then that person is like, well, but also I got you know, my hours were cut at work and I have this conflict going on in my relationship and it's like, well, yeah, your bandwidth is really low right now. And so to layer grief on top of that is going to make it a lot harder.
00:45:09:22 - 00:45:36:19
And so that cumulative, there's no magic number or number of, you know, months or years or something like that. It really is about just how how we're able to manage it. And the other we mentioned is sometimes called absent or delayed grief. And this one, I think is so important to mention too, because we get so many people who, you know, come to find our find us, find our website, find us somewhere.
00:45:36:19 - 00:46:02:04
And they're like, I'm not grieving. I don't understand what's going on. I'm not I thought it was going to look like this and it doesn't. And it's important to start by just knowing that. There is no one way that it looks for some people. Things emotional impact hits really deeply right in the beginning. For some people, for a lot of reasons, it it doesn't.
00:46:02:04 - 00:46:38:03
And one of the things our brains will certainly self protectively sometimes do is kind of put those emotions in a place until we're able to be able to deal with them and to kind of slowly digest them rather than having them interfere with maybe survival. And if our oftentimes if we're in a place we already our bandwidth is low or we've had other stressors or other traumas that have happened, sometimes we, our brains, just don't let that in right away.
00:46:38:10 - 00:47:02:08
Sometimes if we feel like we have to take care of our kids, we become, you know, we're so focused or we're just worried about that. We get so focused that we're just not feeling or in survival mode. Absolutely. Yeah. And so we always tell people that don't panic, don't, you know, don't have those expectations where you're you're saying, oh, this is supposed to look different instead of you can acknowledge it.
00:47:02:08 - 00:47:39:14
And then if a lot of time passes and it does feel like, wow, this really hasn't changed, I do feel really disconnected from this loss. I want to feel more connected to it. It can be a good space then to either do on your own some work with writing and some work with other creative outlets. You know that work for you to be able to maybe connect with some of the emotional experiences around the loss or some of the memories working with a counselor or a therapist to kind of say, okay, is there something that's really blocking me here from letting this in?
00:47:39:14 - 00:48:05:01
Or maybe is it just that this is going to come out in different ways over and and knowing that that's okay, that when you shift away from that paradigm where we were supposed to, like, go through these five stages and get over it and move on, and then the grief done and instead are able to see like, no, this grief is going to be with us for as long as that person's memory is going to be with us, and it's going to go up and down and ebb and flow.
00:48:05:01 - 00:48:33:14
And so maybe we're we're starting out in a different place and we may find that at another place. It comes up for us in different ways. And that's okay. That doesn't mean we're on the wrong trajectory. It just means that there are waves that look different for all of us. Yeah, absolutely Do you mind? I love the way that when you talk about grief, it's a very like thinking about the person who is grieving.
00:48:33:14 - 00:48:59:01
It's very like seeing the whole person. Like all the elements of your life. It's complicated. You're a human. You're very dynamic. You have these things that's going to look really different for everyone in. And from some of your work, I've noted that you I've talked about like grieving the whole person to like any person in our life. I don't have any relationship in my life aside from my wonderful dog that it's like perfect all the time.
00:48:59:01 - 00:49:22:20
I love you. It's wonderful. Like sunshine and daisies, like people are people and we are flawed and we have mistakes. So when we're grieving, I think often we just tend to like lean to the positive elements of a person that we're missing. But sometimes they were really complicated relationships, and I think that can muddle up when those feelings come in to you as you're grieving.
00:49:22:20 - 00:49:45:14
Oh, yeah. And I think when we go if it's not a misconception about grief, but maybe one of those things that people hear is that sort of don't speak ill of the dead, that kind of reinforces this idea that we're just, you know, just try to focus on all the good memories. And there is this narrative that's kind of telling us, okay, we're supposed to just forget about all of that other complicated stuff.
00:49:45:14 - 00:50:10:23
And I think when we can really look at that idea that your grief is about having or the relationship with the person who died, that the full memories of the best and the worst of them, and being able to also say that like we loved them in life with all the complications. And so we'll grieve them with all the complications too.
00:50:10:23 - 00:50:41:13
Like that's how this works. It's not funny. It doesn't have to be any different than that. And I just think space for that can help. I think sometimes also being able to say like, I love this, you know, we talk about sometimes this idea of like people leave imprints on us and we get to make decisions about sort of which of those imprints we lean into and which of those imprints we lean away from.
00:50:41:13 - 00:51:00:16
And there are things that people like family members may have imprinted on us that are so wonderful and we want to carry them with us forever. And then there are things that family members imprinted on us where we are, like, It is going to be easier for me to release that because they're gone. And it's okay to say that.
00:51:00:16 - 00:51:22:10
It's okay to say my mom, who is always, you know, shaming me about my weight or, you know, whatever, and I internalized stuff about that that came from her. Like it's it's going to be easier now that she's gone for me to let go of some of that. And that's an imprint she left on me that I'm trying to release a little bit.
00:51:22:18 - 00:51:59:19
And there are all the other wonderful imprints that I'm leaning into more. But to really be honest with ourselves about those imprints and figure out how we can get comfortable saying that sometimes when people are gone, it does allow a space for us to let go of some of the hard stuff that they put on us. Yeah, and I saw from some of the work I've done with mindfulness you can do healing work with even like your past and your childhood in the present moment.
00:51:59:20 - 00:52:28:22
Oh yeah, and that's something I've been really thinking about with, you know, my recent loss with my grandmother was she had a lot of complicated things that I also carried and recognizing like I was able to hold on to these some while she was still here and focus on healing those relationships and past things. But even with her gone, it's like I can still heal the parts of both of us that were hurt in this moment.
00:52:28:22 - 00:53:02:06
And and that's another way the relationship can carry through. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And and this I mean, it sounds sort of awful to say it, but it's true sometimes that's a little easier when they're gone, too, because I think sometimes we're able to that care and empathy and like sometimes radical empathy that it requires to sometimes do some of that work around things that were have impacted us from our childhood and my families.
00:53:03:19 - 00:53:25:19
It is hard when we're confronting things with other people who maybe aren't doing the work that we're doing. And so I think part of it is like getting getting comfortable saying like they it's okay that they didn't do that work in their life. And yeah, and I'm here doing the work for both of us now. Yeah, I can carry this one now.
00:53:25:19 - 00:53:49:15
Like The Everly has continued. Exactly. And to to create space and I think there really is a lot that that you can do with that and that many people when they realize okay we can label this, we can talk about it, we can still do work around it. It feels like a relief because sometimes we feel like, Oh, now they're gone now, now that will never be resolved.
00:53:49:15 - 00:54:10:16
Now it's always going to be this this strain, this thing that never we never got any closure for. And it yes, it will never be resolved, maybe in the way that you imagined if they were still here, if it was some sort, especially that happens with a strange business or with, you know if there is a big falling out.
00:54:11:23 - 00:54:39:20
But you definitely we definitely see the ways that that can find a different way to evolve and move forward when people label it and can do some work around it. Yeah, I know we're getting close on time, but I want to know if what would, what advice would you give someone how to support themselves as they grieve? And maybe one way that they could help support someone else.
00:54:39:20 - 00:55:13:02
And again, like I think this conversation highlights that it's going to be very different for everyone. Yes, that's like the caveat for everything. You know, I think the first I mean, coming from that place of non judgment and curiosity for yourself is such a crucial part of grief. I think letting go of as many expectations as you can about what it's supposed to look like, what it's supposed to to feel like and know that you can be sort of an active participant in your grief.
00:55:13:02 - 00:55:37:06
I think that oftentimes we're presented with like one or the other, either, you know, people are treating great like grief, like a pathology and something to recover from and using toxic positivity to ignore it or we are just like embracing everything about grief. And we're being so open to it that we can't say anything is ever a problem.
00:55:37:07 - 00:55:55:04
Like sometimes the way we're responding in our grief, it can be a problem and so it can be helpful to go now like I am. I'm open to all of my grief and I'm an active participant in figuring out what I want this relationship with grief to look like over time and what I want the relationship with the person who died to look like.
00:55:55:04 - 00:56:23:20
And I can make decisions about how my reactions are serving me or not serving me. And I think oftentimes times I always tell people, you know, look at those reactions and know that we can shift them. And sometimes what we do right away as we isolate and we hold ourselves and, you know, with a little bit of time, we might go, yeah, that was the that was the thing that my grief wanted me to do and pushed me to do.
00:56:23:20 - 00:56:46:11
And for a little while maybe I needed that. But now this isn't adaptive anymore. This isn't helping me. I'm going to have to push myself to do something that doesn't feel good, which is to reach out to people. And so looking at those things and then I think the other thing is reaching out, you know, getting getting practice, reaching out.
00:56:46:11 - 00:57:07:16
If that's not something that you are already comfortable with, I think grief is one of those things that's really hard because we often don't know what we need. And the people around us often don't know what to offer. And so there can be this frustration where people are like, Oh, everybody kept saying, let me know what you need.
00:57:07:16 - 00:57:26:16
And I didn't know what I needed. And then I ended up feeling abandoned and ghosted and and part of it is being able to say to a friend, Yeah, somebody that you're close to, to a family member being able to say like, I don't know, maybe I don't know what I need, but I know I need something like I'm struggling.
00:57:26:16 - 00:57:55:06
And even if it's just I need somebody to come over and sit on the couch, I need to be able to just know that there are people who are willing to be there. And to start there is can be hugely important and the other side in supporting someone who is grieving, I think the instinct we sometimes hear other people say is, Oh, I wanted to give them space or I you know, I didn't want to be.
00:57:55:06 - 00:58:19:19
And I always tell people there's no right way, but I can tell you what I do. And it is my friends, which is that I am very like, I'm going to keep checking on you until you tell me not to keep. And and I don't want to be pushy, but I know I'm not going. You're not going to hurt my feelings if you tell me to like, absolutely stop.
00:58:19:23 - 00:58:38:20
But I'm going to keep inviting you to stop. And you're you can definitely say no to all of it. You're not going to hurt my feelings, but I'm going to keep inviting you until you tell me to not invite you. I am going to keep offering to drop by and visit and I'm going to keep offering, you know, whatever it is that for that person that I think might be supportive.
00:58:39:03 - 00:59:17:04
Yeah. Until they tell me not to. Because I would always want someone to feel over supported then under supported. That said, I hate when people show up to my house unannounced. So I do always say yes, don't. So their house on a night like if you're going to do that, like you leave it on the porch and leave, but like don't let on the door and think they should let you and but so doing that and then being able if you're feeling nervous about how to support the person who's grieving, if you're not sure, like being able to just label that and be like, I am, I really want to be here for you.
00:59:17:04 - 00:59:37:03
And I'm also not sure what you need and not sure what to do. And so please, just like give me feedback if I'm doing the wrong thing, if you if there's anything you know you do need that I could do. Like, please, please let me know what that is. But do your best, best giving them suggestions. You know, if you have some ideas.
00:59:37:10 - 01:00:08:15
Yeah. Without without making your suggestions. The only the only offers. Yeah. Yeah. I think that requires a lot of vulnerability and listening on both ends, which is really key to hear it. It definitely does. But I think one of the things that it can be so powerful about friendships that, you know, when people go through difficult losses is that sometimes people will afterwards say, Wow, I like I lost a lot of friendships.
01:00:08:15 - 01:00:33:22
There were people that didn't weather that storm. But often what they say is that the friendships that did make it through are stronger than they have ever been before, and that's often because it required both people to be vulnerable, both people to be able to give and accept support that might have looked different than what they had ever and accept it from each other in the past.
01:00:34:02 - 01:00:59:19
There's all these things that are hard about it, but that ultimately can actually really strengthen those relationships. Yeah, I want to share one quote from your book. Just it was just such a encompassing quote that I think it's a good way to leave us today. Grief opens your eyes to a world in which the sun and rain can exist.
01:00:59:19 - 01:01:28:02
In the same moments, the reality can be disorienting at first, but in many ways it's a good thing. It means you don't have to choose between grieving the past and living in the present. It means that the pain of loss can exist right alongside things like gratitude, happiness and hope. Thank you so much for your time. Do you mind sharing how we can support you and your work and what your grief?
01:01:28:02 - 01:01:53:01
I'm going to like put another shameless plug because there's so many questions I had that we didn't get to from the book. If you don't have this book and you or someone is grieving, I highly recommend purchasing. What's your grief? Is that the official title? Yeah, your grief. What's your grief? Yeah, we kept it simple. Love it. And then any other ways people can support you and your work and Eleanor as well?
01:01:53:19 - 01:02:15:15
Yeah. So now, I mean, just obviously you can visit our website. We if you're, if you're not sure about committing to the book, but want to check out our writing first, we write we've been writing for a long time on our website, so we have hundreds of articles there about grief. AT What's your grief? Scott We have a we have Instagram at What's your Grief?
01:02:16:00 - 01:02:45:16
And then we have, if you're interested in things that are maybe letting you dive a little deeper. We do have some self-paced online courses that are about using photography as a tool to explore grief. I love the creative coping. Yeah, journaling for grief, being able to find kind of the things that might help you to be able to explore more some of your own personal loss and grief so you can find all that on on our website.
01:02:46:17 - 01:03:18:06
Litsa, thank you so much for sharing so much compassion and wisdom with us today and with so many people always. I'm so grateful for this opportunity with you. Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was great getting to talk. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to how the wise one grows today. If this podcast has been impactful in your life, can you support it by following and subscribing to this podcast on your favorite streaming platform?
01:03:18:15 - 01:03:39:06
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