TRIGGER WARNING: This episode discusses loss and grief. If that’s too much for you right now, might be best to come back to this episode later.
As you probably know by now, I’m no stranger to grief. My mom passed away when I was 13. It’s the club nobody wants to be a part of.
Today I’m with Aly Bird, a coach, therapist-in-training, and the author of Grief Ally, about teaching people how to support their loved ones through the long haul of grief, which she knows about all too well, having lost her husband to a hiking accident back in 2019.
When Aly’s inquiry showed up in my inbox, I couldn’t have said yes to having her on the show any faster. It’s exactly the kind of conversation I want to have on here. Grief hits people differently every time, and to be frank, it never goes away. It’s been 20 years since I lost my mom, and I still have moments of grief.
In this episode, Aly and I cover it all, from showing up for grieving loved ones to remembering that all kinds of emotions can exist simultaneously – and how, sometimes, the best thing to do is surrender and let yourself feel all the feels.
In this episode you’ll hear about:
- How supporting someone who’s grieving a LEARNED skill set that takes practice and transparency
- The different kinds of grief besides losing loved ones, from new parents grieving their freedom to empty-nesters grieving their full houses
- Grief’s never-ending quality, and how it’s never too late to offer your support, condolences, and willingness to be leaned on
- One great way to support someone who’s grieving: sharing memories of the person lost, emphasizing that this person was real and seen
- Surrendering and letting ourselves to feel things like jealousy (but not acting on them), and how that can shorten the timeline of these unhappy emotions
- Navigating the duality of life, where grief exists for one friend and a happy occasion exists for another at the same time
In regards to helping someone who is grieving, what do you think your strengths are? Are you a good listener? An organizer? Are you better at helping out with physical tasks, like food shopping or dog walking? How can you offer a hand?
Notable Quotes from Aly:
“All grief is different. And the way everybody grieves is very different. And the type of loss depends on how you can grieve, too. So whether you have experience with grief yourself or with supporting someone that you care about, the best thing that you can do when you go into a situation where you want to show up and be helpful to someone is kind of forget all that. Because really, the only thing that’s going to be relatable is the courage that you need in that situation.”
“Early on, I got very jealous quite often. All my peers, all my best friends, were getting married and having babies. I’m like, still sad over here! Until I just gave in to it. And the reality is, if I am jealous, I’m not hurting anyone. If I acted on that jealousy and did anything with malicious intent, then that would be bad, but me sitting in bed having a good cry because somebody else gets something that I wanted now I can’t have? I just give myself space to feel that way. Because the more I fight it, the longer it lasts.”
Resources & Links
Be sure to check out Aly’s amazing book, Grief Ally, and check out her website.
Like what you hear? Visit my website, leave me a voicemail, and follow me on Instagram!
Want to take this conversation a step further? Send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting and use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out!
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Let’s talk about Grief Ally by Ally Bird
Until next time…
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Podcast Intro 00:02
Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!
Podcast Intro 00:18
Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too.
Alex Alexander [0:50]
I am so excited that you’re here, Aly. I mean, if I’m being honest, when your guest inquiry showed up in my inbox, I could not have said yes to having you on the podcast faster. This is exactly the kind of conversation I want to have on here. And these are never the easiest conversations to have. But as I mentioned to you, I’ve mentioned on the podcast, I’m no stranger to grief. My mom passed when I was 13. This is like the club that nobody wants to be a part of. Losing someone so close to you. So I’m really excited to talk to you today about showing up for other people, and grief, and how we can all do better and supporting our loved ones. I mean, I would ask… I mean, I’m going to ask basically like… this is the worst question, well, people that haven’t lost a loved one think we’re nuts. Yes, the thing I’m going to ask you is like, why are you the person to talk about this kind of question. And the answer is sad, which is that you lost someone, you want to tell us a little bit about your loss?
Aly Bird 02:07
So first of all, thank you for having me, when I found your podcast, I was so grateful that there is this resource out there for people, that you are helping people really create chosen families, which I think is some really powerful stuff. But I ended up here because my husband, the love of my life, the person that I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, died in a hiking accident at the end of November 2019. He was 29. I was 30. And I was thrown into the world of grief, without any tools or understanding of what it is like to live with a life changing loss.
Alex Alexander 02:53
I mean, every person that joins this club for the first time, I mean, is never prepared. And as I’m sure we will talk about in this episode, it makes us look at everything we’ve ever previously done. And be like, “Oh, that was terrible.”
Aly Bird 03:10
100%. All the mistakes I had made in a grief support role flashed before my eyes.
Alex Alexander 03:19
And I mean, I’ve had this debate, this is like, again, a debate that no one that hasn’t lost someone is going to ever have. But you know, it’s like the… is it worse to lose someone suddenly or to watch them pass slowly? Like it’s all terrible. It’s all terrible. It has its own grief journey, whether you’re grieving before the loss actually happens. Like the milestone, I guess what everyone else is going to see is the loss. Or suddenly… and yours was definitely in that ‘suddenly’ camp. People were scrambling, I’m sure to try and figure out how to help you.
Aly Bird 04:00
Alex Alexander 04:03
I have warned you all before that when I do these interviews, a million things are running through my mind at once. And it’s so hard. I don’t want to totally derail the conversation. And it’s me popping in like this. But I want to explain where I was going here. As somebody who has experienced quite a bit of loss, but also somebody who has supported a number of people through loss, it’s all terrible. It’s all terrible. But if you are the person helping and there is… it’s a slow loss. Somebody has an illness and you can prepare yourself. It gives the support system, the people some time to set up structures to create conversation around who is going to… so what role for this friend or loved one, what all of our strengths are? What time we have? Can we fly in? Like you can have all this conversation set stuff up. If it’s a sudden loss, people scramble. And when there’s the sudden loss, yes, the people, the bereaved need support right away. But as we cover later in this episode, like the grief journey never ends. You don’t need to do it all right away, that’s where my brain was going. Quite often, you know, it seems like you just need to jump in and do it all. And then if you do it, you know, maybe it’ll not be a thing you have to worry about helping your friend within a few months, but that’s not the case. So if you’re overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a pause for a second, and try and organize your thoughts and try and think of who the best person is. Instead of feeling like you have to jump in and do all the things.
Aly Bird 06:05
And if you know anything about trauma responses, there are a number of ways your body can react. In those moments, I myself identified that I am a person who fonds in a crisis. I was very aware of everything that the people around me were feeling, and I didn’t feel a thing. Which brings me to why I reached out to you, why I created the resource that I did, was that I could see the fear? And the… just all the unknown in the people around me? And them struggling to find the right words to show up to do I cry? Do I not cry? She’s not crying? Oh, no, like I’m doing something wrong. I think it’s really important for people to have something to help them navigate that. Which is why I wrote a book.
Alex Alexander 07:01
You want to know. It’s right here.
Aly Bird 07:05
Oh, it arrived. Amazing.
Alex Alexander 07:07
Oh, yeah. For anyone who can’t see it, I am holding up the book in front of my face on this podcast recording. Oh, yeah, it arrives in like 24 hours via Amazon. So anybody who wants this book by the end of the podcast, you can have it very quickly. The thing is, when I think about the various times I’ve seen someone, whether I’ve been the person grieving, or I have been there for someone who’s grieving, people that have never experienced it before are just completely lost. They have no clue what to do. They’re so concerned about doing it wrong. And people that have done it before, like, it’s just so different every time. So you’re trying to figure out what’s similar and what’s different. So much is still going to be different. So, you’re still terrified? And all you want to do is help, I mean, everybody, but the person closest to the person who’s lost someone, or people.
Aly Bird 08:08
Right, I think that’s an a really important point to drive home is that like, all grief is different. And the way everybody grieves is very different. And the type of loss depends on how you can grieve, too. So whether you have experience with grief yourself or with supporting someone that you care about, the best thing that you can do when you go into a situation where you want to show up and be helpful to someone, it’s kind of ‘Forget all that’. Really, the only thing that’s going to be relatable is the courage that you need to really be in that situation.
Alex Alexander 08:50
You have to be so present. So present, and so like willing to take part in the emotional labor, of wading through it, sitting in the discomfort, dealing with the unknown.
Aly Bird 09:05
Yeah. And it takes a special skill set to be able to do that, right? It’s not something that we are innately born with. And I think a lot of that is a matter of practicing it in our daily lives in the friendships that we have with the people around us. Being willing to be vulnerable in those situations is a great practice to prepare us for when things go bad when people die.
Alex Alexander 09:32
I think that’s a great point. Right? You know, as we both know, having experienced this, you already mentioned like grief, the way everybody expresses their grief is different. And the other thing is that grief is never over. This isn’t just like a moment in time. Somebody like me, for example, I lost my mom. I can’t but I’m gonna say this but, almost 20 years ago. And I still have moments of grief. So while I think a lot of people think that they need to, like be prepared for someone that’s closest to them to lose someone to read this book, I still have friends 20 years later who have to sit with me in grief sometimes, or like account for that, I guess, in our interactions. And they weren’t around 20 years ago to be those number one first responder people. So what you’re saying with the friends and the practicing, like, we can be practicing this instead of shying away from it in all our interactions.
Aly Bird 10:44
Absolutely. You’re so right, that grief does not end. And I kind of adopted the mindset that I will always feel something. So when it comes up, it’s kind of like a permission and allowance to be like, okay, there it is. Hey, grief, welcome back. We are on a good roll there. But okay, you’re welcome here now. Grief, like at its core is just a change in attachment. And as human beings, we are wired to attach to people to places to things to ideas. So there’s so much more grief in life than we really give attention to. Yes, there are losses that we have integrated into our lives and a grief that kind of gets built into the way we operate as a human. But there are also moments like divorce, changes in relationships, when people become parents, changes in jobs, moving to new cities, moving from the house where you live. There are so many moments where grief exists that we really don’t pay attention to and we just label as something else. We just label it as like, oh, I’m feeling sad today. And yes, you might be feeling sad today, but the origin of that sadness is this energetic grief that’s created because you’re changing how you’re attached to a person, place thing or idea.
PODCAST EPISODE! Navigating Big Life Changes with Friends. Listen here!
Alex Alexander 12:06
You’re so right. And we’re coming at this fundamentally, initially, from the loss of a very close loved one, like me, my mom, you your husband. But I do talk about this on the podcast a lot like when friendships change is a good example. Even when like if friends have a baby, the way our friendship works, the ability to just call each other and go out without having to deal with a sitter. Like that is a friendship change that we have to grieve. New parents and their loss of freedom, they’re grieving, we’re grieving. That’s going to happen again someday when those kids move out from home, people become empty nesters. They’re grieving. Like we are literally walking through all of our relationships with people very likely grieving one thing or another somewhere on the spectrum all the time.
Aly Bird 13:02
Alex Alexander 13:03
And no one’s really talking about it, no one’s really acknowledging it unless it’s like a massive grief normally, like the actual loss of a loved one, or the loss of like, a big career path or goal or a life stage or a breakup. Like those get a little bit of, I guess, like leeway or attention that something is grieving, and the rest of them really don’t.
Aly Bird 13:33
No, they don’t. Which is funny, because if you know we… going back to this, like fundamental way that like, we’re looking at grief, like, we’re always going to feel something. If we become parents, like we’re always going to look back at our life be like, “Oh, I wonder what would have happened if I, you know, hadn’t had children.” These like, kind of like, before and after images, like all throughout our life, and yet, we don’t talk about it. And I think part of that is, you know, we’ve become accustomed to a culture where everything is individualized. And, you know, we’re supposed to take care of ourselves, have bubble bath, everything will feel better.
Alex Alexander 14:13
Healthcare is a scam.
Aly Bird 14:14
Yeah. And I mean, like, if you’re in a grief support role, I’m not like there is a chapter in the book that talks about self care, like you have to have an awareness, you have to have an ability to have your needs met. But there is just a level of community care that we really need to be showing up for each other, and in our losses with our grief so that we can continue to have the big full lives and not have to like close off parts of ourselves, so that we can continue to fit in with the people that we have chosen to be around us as we move through life.
Alex Alexander 14:52
Just to clarify, when I say self care is a scam, I mean like the commercialized self care. Like, yes. We still need to take care of ourselves. But it is like you were saying not bubble baths, not nail appointments necessarily. Like, there’s a deeper underlying, fundamental need of that. And quite often, it also is things like getting your finances in order. We’ve already covered this on the podcast, but I’m just saying.
Aly Bird 15:18
Go back and listen to that episode.
Alex Alexander 15:21
Episode 13. Community Care, you’re so right, is really lost from the conversation. We’re not talking about it. And we’re really sold this idea that we are successful if we can self care our way out of it.
Aly Bird 15:39
Yeah. Oh, that’s a beautiful phrase.
Alex Alexander 15:42
And the truth is, sure, we might be able to self care our way out of it, we also might have to put in so much energy to do that, that we have to forego all the other areas of our life. And if we can’t, we feel like a failure. When in reality, we really could have just leaned on someone, and it’s their strength, or they can help us. And suddenly, instead of using literally all of our energy to get out of whatever this situation is, like, it could have been 10 times faster, because we asked for help. Because that’s not our strength, or just because we need an extra hand.
Aly Bird 16:22
Yeah, if you’re showing up for someone that you care about who is grieving, it’s like a team sport. And because grief lasts forever, it is also an endurance sport. So the reality is that you also can’t do it on your own, that person can’t grieve like in a box in isolation, and they need more than just like their one best friend to like, be everything and do everything. So that self care, that self awareness becomes very important. But also what you mentioned, is like playing to their strengths. So if they are the person who is a really great listener, they’re super empathetic, they’re willing to be present and sit with someone, that’s great. But you don’t have to do the… like, the shopping and the cleaning, and the walking the dog, like all the other like things that get put out as options for someone when you are looking for information about how to help. So, play your strengths, play to your assets.
Alex Alexander 17:14
And I think too, that some of those less vulnerable tasks, I’m gonna get that it’s vulnerable to ask an offer help. But sometimes I think those are really tasks that like maybe somebody close to you is the organizer, the person who figures out what you need asks you, all that kind of stuff, and then puts it out to your wider circle. Because so many people want to contribute in some way or another, especially if it’s something that plays to their strengths. They’re already doing, like they’re already going to the store, they’re happy to pick up your groceries and drop and buy. That it’s so easy for somebody to do, even someone that you feel like is just an acquaintance. Absolutely. Which is just to say that I truly think we have more people than we realize. And actually one of the moments where we truly take that in, is in our lowest of lows, like when somebody passes, when some massive life thing happens, which is unfortunate. Because that’s also the moment where we’re so low, it’s like hard to ask for that help, hard to be vulnerable. Like if we realize that before these moments, I think it would be easier to allow a broader circle to show up in small ways.
Aly Bird 18:35
Hmm. No, that’s so true. You’re so right that often when something terrible happens, there are people who are asking the questions of what do I do? And how do I help? I remember people dropping off that I barely spent… I’d spent very little time with who came by. Didn’t say hi, literally, like just left like a little package and a note, like at the door. And it’s true. There are more people around you that want to help. I also think it’s like… it’s okay if you are someone who wants to reach out and support someone. Like there is no wrong time to reach out and offer your support and condolences and to be willing to be leaned on. Because as we mentioned, you know, grief never ends.
Alex Alexander 19:22
Yeah, don’t feel like you’re too late.
Aly Bird 19:24
Alex Alexander 19:25
Yeah, I fully agree with that. So often we feel like when people are past relationships, and I normally talk about this with like, friendships we’ve moved on from but I mean, it just applies here too that we think that they’re gone. And I talked about this idea of friendships, relationships, being like a tree, like you grow roots. If you pull the roots out of the soil, out of the pot, roots are still in there. They’re still there, we still have our memories, we still have like the beliefs that our loved ones, like they loved us, we loved them, we still have all this stuff, it doesn’t go away. And sometimes I feel like when relationships end, whether it’s because we’ve chosen to move on from something like a friendship, or we’ve lost these very important people to us, it’s nice. You’re correct. It’s a nice to have people acknowledge that that stuff is still there. And it’s never gonna go away. Like, the person is still there.
Aly Bird 19:25
Yeah. Don’t feel like you’ve missed your opportunity. Exactly. And it’s actually like a huge gift to, you know, come in when other people and kind of interest has moved into other things to be like, “Hey, I’m just checking on you. I realize that this is still something that’s probably quite present in your life and I want to be helpful to you.” Also, just like asking to talk about the person who died. I don’t know how you feel, Alex, but I… like people who asked me about Will and like, you know, what would he think of like, what’s happening and things today or whatever? Like that is such a gift. And in a way like that is helpful to me that I’m not the one who continually has to bring him up in conversation. It’s kind of like giving me permission in conversation to like, weave him into it and build new memories and ideas with his presence. No. And it’s not just the memories themselves, right? I think about all these moments that I have, like, day to day where like, “Oh, that reminds me of Will.” Or like, there’s a character from this TV show that like we watched together. And now they’re on this TV show that I only watched by myself and Will hated. But now it’s like, these moments come back together and I’m like, “Oh, well would love this.” But if nobody’s like talking to me about Will, they would never know that these two shows have a very like… this is just like basic stuff. But they would never know that like sentimental value that those TV shows like hold in my heart, probably much more than like the average person feels about these like TV show characters. Those moments build on each other. And it’s kind of how we maintain relationships with people who have died. And research shows that it’s like continuing bonds theory, like if we maintain a connection with people we love after they have died, it’s actually better for our nervous systems. We cope better, we adapt better to a life without them. So, I think it’s important when you’re talking about showing up for someone that you want to be helpful too. Like, you can’t make it worse by bringing up the person who has died. And I think a lot of people fall into the trap that like if I bring him up, if I bring them up, it’s going to cause like more harm, when in fact that probably couldn’t be farther from the truth for many, many people.
Alex Alexander 22:47
I think there’s definitely this belief, or fear or something that people don’t want to be seen in grief. Like, if I’m grieving, I don’t want you to see I’m crying and ensure. But in reality, I think we want people to see how hard this is. We want people to acknowledge that these people were here, that we all shared in these memories. And what was coming up for me is like, there’s people that are the closest to us. Like it’s pretty vulnerable to talk about being seen in like the actual loss. Yeah, and maybe we’re not going to do that with absolutely everyone. But I do think we want people to acknowledge how hard this is, or see it, believe it, whatever. And then there’s also feeling seeing that, like this person was real. Yeah, we also have memories of this person, this person would like this, that I think to the general public have at it. Like, that is such a great way to support someone who’s grieving, even if you aren’t their closest person.
Aly Bird 24:07
Absolutely. And if that’s uncomfortable, it’s totally fine to ask permission first. Be like, “Hey, would it be okay? If I asked how they would feel about this thing?” Or like, “Would it be okay, if I asked how you feel about your mom not being here for your birthday or your wedding or all that?” We have far more agency, whether we are the griever or the person in a support role, to really see it, as you put it. Yeah. And I also think too, like there’s a fear that if they get too close to the pain and the suffering that they might get sucked in or that they’re afraid to cry. If they hear things or you know, they feel something in those moments. And I think that’s another myth to like, really hammer home and debunk that like if I am telling you a story about Will, about my loss and you start crying, there is no greater signal to me that you are in the moment, and really listening to what I am saying. I would discourage anybody from feeling like they don’t want to be put in that position. Like, it just means that you… that you really feel like you have empathy for this person, and their story and what they are living through. And that speaks to the fact that we want people to understand that it is hard. And it is not easy to exist in a world with the people who we wish were present with us.
Alex Alexander 25:40
And I mean, this is like a… this is like part of that club, a comment. I mean, I’m just gonna say it like, I think people who haven’t been through it kind of shy away, thinking kind of like, well, this has never happened to me, or I’m not part of this, it’s going to happen to all of us. Everybody is going to lose somebody. You know, you already have probably those smaller moments of grief, whether you’re acknowledging them or not, this is gonna happen to everybody. So just because it hasn’t happened to you yet, doesn’t mean you’ll never understand how this feels. You can’t run from it. This isn’t one of those things that you can sit there and just say like, well, you know, hopefully, this never happens to me, or anybody I love. Like this is gonna happen to everybody.
Aly Bird 26:28
It’s one of the few guarantees in life that it ends.
Alex Alexander 26:32
So whether you feel it now, or later on some smaller scale, like, you’re gonna feel it. I don’t know. Grief, man. All right. We’re just trying to teach everybody how to grieve in a culture that doesn’t know how. It’s fine. Everyone is fine.
Aly Bird 26:50
You know, it’s like, a long time ago… not a long time ago. A long time ago, like I’m, you know, some old wise woman. But you know, it used to be, like, very taboo to talk about sex. And now, we can talk about it freely in almost any platform anywhere. And I feel like as though, you know, grief and death and dying, and loss, like might be the new frontier. And maybe I don’t know how people started the sex revolution of like talking about it in public spaces, but I think it starts with people being willing to do that. So, here we are.
Alex Alexander 27:25
I mean, I agree. There’s plenty of subjects that are hiding, that aren’t getting enough conversation in a public forum. Because I can guarantee you that people like us who have experienced a great loss. I mean, we’re talking about this, which is why I say that, you know, certain people who haven’t experienced it are gonna think certain things I say are like, heartless. But when you’ve experienced it, you have to find some form of like humor, or familiarity or connection, about the awfulness. Like, it’s just there. So, these conversations are happening.
Aly Bird 28:04
Yes. And to be like, quite frank, we like circle back to the book. I remember sitting in a, it was a grief workshop, shortly after will died. And the facilitator in her opening statements said, “You know, thank you all for being here. It’s really courageous work for you to show up and want to work through your grief. And… and once you have, then you can support others, because you will be wise.” I’m paraphrasing, but that was like her mission. And I remember sitting in that session, and I was like, excuse me? I’m like, I just lost the most important person in the world to me, and you’re telling me that the only reason that I should make myself okay again, is so that I can help other people who have to also live with this pain? I’m like, that’s not fair. Like, where are the people who aren’t feeling this pain right now. And that’s kind of the message that I got very early on is like, go find community, go find people like you. And I’m like, why aren’t people being accepted within their own networks? They are still a person who has relationships and robust relationships. Why aren’t we accommodating them within their existing support networks? Because this is such a real fact of life. And if every time you experience like new grief or a shifted attachment, you have to like, go find a whole new group of friends and family, like, what kind of life is that?
Alex Alexander 29:37
and then go make these connections in your lowest moment. Like add this additional work at that time. And that’s not to say that it’s not helpful to find people who…
Aly Bird 29:49
No. Absolutely not.
Alex Alexander 29:50
… have a similar sense of understanding but like, I totally agree with you.
Aly Bird 29:54
Yeah, and I think that’s why we really connected off the bat is, you know, like your mission of like having this circle of people around you is like the best kind of self care that you can have, the best kind of community care that you can have. This chosen family of people who are willing to accept you as you grow and adapt and change and like integrate all that you learn from whatever experiences you have in life. You can stay within that safe group of people and know that you will always be loved and empowered and respected. And that’s kind of like my dream.
PODCAST EPISODE! Listen to my story… and why I believe so firmly that building yourself a support system is the ultimate self care. Listen here.
Alex Alexander 30:31
I mean, building that community and the lowest of low, when you were talking about the grief workshop you went to and the woman was like, “I commend you on your courage.” My brain just like exploded because I’m like, the courage? Screw you, lady. I don’t know who this person is. if she is listening to my podcast, it’s fine. I would say it to her face. Like the courage, you’re at rock bottom. You’re at rock bottom. And that’s the thing. I built my support system, because I had no other option. I had no other option. I was literally a child, I started doing it. I don’t know what I was doing. I did it because it was either be utterly alone… utterly alone isn’t like, literally no parents to depend on. Nothing. Like rock bottom people, or figure it out and get creative and build something that felt right. And that’s the thing about me, I think that’s interesting is, I have no other option. When your back is up against the wall, when you’re that desperate, you’ll be creative, you’ll take risks. I didn’t even know what I was doing. Because I literally didn’t realize I had any other option. And now I want to create this podcast, my book, all the things because I don’t want anybody to be that rock bottom. I don’t want people to be where I was to build a support system for themselves. Somebody told me once like… like if… if I could sum up your entire mission in one sense, it would be, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Because I think what a lot of people do is they find a romantic partner, and a couple of friends. And then I think about if something profound happened, like that partner died, they don’t have a diverse support system. Everything falls on a few people, that’s a lot of weight. So then they might be where I am, and trying to rebuild. And that’s so much work. And people do it. People do it like me and be so desperate and do it. But like, that’s not how we should be setting our lives up.
Aly Bird 33:00
No, absolutely not. That’s the complete opposite of what our species is really meant to do. Right? We are supposed to exist in community, so we can depend on each other, and help each other in moments when someone’s like, “Hey, I’m… I’m down.” And everybody else is like, “No problem. You know, we’ve got you.”
Alex Alexander 33:22
And I’ve given this advice, or commentary or whatever, which is to like, go find people who have similar experiences. And I do believe that in a lot of cases, but when you and I talked earlier, you talked about how you went to find support groups, and did not feel aligned. And the thing is that like no matter what those support groups, although they could fill a very specific niche, if you had found ones that were good, or that aligned with you, maybe somebody already put it, they weren’t gonna be able to do it all. You still needed your existing people to step up in one way or another. Again, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. But like, you didn’t find what you needed in the groups.
Aly Bird 34:14
Absolutely not. And in fact, I couldn’t identify. I couldn’t relate to what my widowed peers were experiencing because so much of the conversation was revolving around how they… they felt abandoned and misunderstood and forgotten by the people who are around them before they lost their loved one. And my experience was the opposite and really why I wrote the book is that my team, my front row I call them, like they were there from day one saying, “Hey, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I love you and I’m not going to let you… like you are not going to face this alone. Like I am here. I will make mistakes. I am not going away.” That’s been so powerful and I credit that front row to… their support has gotten me to where I am today. I would not have been able to adapt without the social support, like social support after trauma, after loss, in loss is everything. And the better your social support is in those moments, the better off you’re going to be later on. So as you put it, like, build these systems early. Build your network early, build your circle early. You don’t want to end up in a desperate situation where you’re going in it alone.
Alex Alexander 35:40
When we say that, like, certainly like, so I should think about if my parent dies, or my partner dies, finding friends who… like no, just go find people who connect with the various parts of your life, who you can start to let in to your life, like they can be in your home when it’s messy. Because guess what? When you’re grieving, your home is gonna be messy. People are…
Aly Bird 36:03
Alex Alexander 36:04
And like, suddenly, you’re gonna be like, Oh my God, I’ve never let them in my home. Just let them in now, let them in now, hang out in your sweatpants with no makeup on, cook together, like do parts of life. It doesn’t need to be everything. It doesn’t need to be one person. Just like start letting people in. This is my theory, because then in the harder moments, you’re not having to rip those vulnerability band aids off as well. Like they’ve already seen parts of your life. They know certain kinds of foods you like because they’ve seen the inside of your fridge. They could be the friend that even if they’re not your closest friend, when trying to figure out what to buy you at the grocery store, they’d be like, oh, I gone over there and cooked dinner. I know what she likes to buy. I can go and pick up some of the things I remember seeing in there.
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Aly Bird 36:53
Yeah, that’s such great advice, Alex.
Alex Alexander 36:56
Like, I think for these big pivotal things, when I think about building your support system, is just finding people that you connect with about other parts of life and letting them in. Because people naturally want to help in these hard moments.
Aly Bird 37:12
Alex Alexander 37:13
What do you think… I know we’ve talked about your front row, any like actual examples of things that your front row did that you feel like we’re really impactful?
Aly Bird 37:26
I can give a couple examples. I’m a teeth clincher. So I have a physiotherapist that I have been seeing for years. And after Will died, I brought a friend with me to my physio appointment, so I didn’t have to say out loud, what was happening, what had happened to me. That wasn’t the intention when I brought the friend along physio. I just want you with me. You feel good with me. But as we’re like in the treatment room, and my therapist came in, and she’s like, “Hey, like, how’s it going?” And I just like… my face was like… like, I can’t say it. And then my best friend Sarah was like, “Do you want me to tell her?” And I was like, “Yes.” She told the story for me, which was super helpful. Later on other examples, I have friends who have a guest room, that is practically mine. And being a person who is bereaved, and lives alone, I got a dog to like, help me with my loneliness. Also in school, like I have a lot of responsibility in my life and just sometimes that catches up with me. They willingly… like I just tell them and be like, “Hey, can I come to your house this weekend?” And they’re like, “Absolutely.” And I literally like walk in the door and I sleep and they take my dog on runs with them. They feed me. Like they have no expectations that like I have to get…
Alex Alexander 38:49
Live their life.
Aly Bird 38:50
Yeah, and I live in their space, and they take care of me, which is really beautiful. And you know, I’m three years beyond Will’s death at this point and they still let me do that. So, you know, there’s really no… no timelines for it. Another example, so Christmas has not been something that I…
Alex Alexander 39:09
Oh… holidays are so hard.
Aly Bird 39:09
Really heart aching. Yeah, and just the… the, ‘Be merry and jolly.” And I’m just like, no. So I’ve opted out of Christmas the past few years, and I have a few friends who have just… we’ve created our own holiday. And they respect why I want to do that. And they’re like, “Yes, like I fully support you. Like, how do we show up on this date? How do we make the best out of this?” And it started out with just one friend and now there’s two and then this year, someone actually just brought me a gift being like I don’t know if this is the right… I can’t… I don’t… not gonna say the name of the holiday because it’s quite vulgar. So it’s celebrated around Christmas time, but it’s… you could just show up in your pajamas and be grouchy and it’s fine.
Alex Alexander 39:59
I love it.
Aly Bird 40:00
Yeah, so someone gifted me something this year. And they’re like, “I don’t know if you give gifts, but here’s some rum.” I was like, “Yeah, that seems appropriate, cool.” But just like come on this journey with me of like building a new holiday around the emotions that I experienced this time of year.
Alex Alexander 40:16
What a beautiful way to be like seen though, and how much the time of the year sucks for you.
Aly Bird 40:20
Yes. I’ve also gotten ‘Fuck Christmas’ cards from a friend.
Alex Alexander 40:25
Yeah. I’ve sent those.
Aly Bird 40:26
Yeah, it’s beautiful, right? Just like little things to acknowledge your reality, and that it might be different than the mainstream is lovely.
Alex Alexander 40:40
Aly’s examples reminded me of a couple, similar ones. So you know, she mentioned going to the physio appointment. And her friend being the one that’s able to say out loud, they’ve died, I have offered friends before, to like be the person that notifies other friends to call people. Now, obviously, I’m asking permission, I would never share that information. But if you’ve lost someone close to you, you know that sometimes in the beginning, especially, it’s hard to say out loud. And having somebody else do that for you is sometimes helpful. Another one is, you know, she was talking about people allowing her to just be in their space with them. And we’re obviously talking about a loss here. But we’ve done this with so many friends after really big life changes, breakups, divorces, when friends are panicked about finding a new place to live, moving, giving them a space that feels comfortable, letting them stay in our guest room for an extended period of time, so they don’t have to scramble to do that. And they can take their time to really find somewhere they’re excited to be, I think can be really impactful. And one of the things I think about a lot is that there are two sets of emotions existing at all times, right? Especially with two people. So, these catastrophic life events happen. Then other people around you are having happy things and like you’re happy for them, but also grieving. Do you have any thoughts about like navigating as a friend? The duality after something like that? This just keeps coming up. People keep asking me about this.
Aly Bird 42:38
As the person who is bereaved, or as a friend?
Alex Alexander 42:41
Aly Bird 42:42
Yeah, as a brief early on, I got very jealous quite often. Because you know, all my peers, all my best friends were like, getting married and having babies. And I’m like, still did… still sad over here. Until I, you know, I just gave in to it. And the reality is like, if I am jealous, I’m not hurting anyone. If I acted on that jealousy and did anything with malicious intent, then that would be bad. But me sitting in bed, having a good cry because somebody else get something that I wanted and now I can’t have, I just give myself space to feel that way. Because the more I fight it, the longer it lasts. And if I just surrender, and say, you know what? I’m gonna feel this way. And I’m allowed to feel this way. It is just what it is. And I think that’s what living with grief is like. You know, it’s this reality of recognizing what you had in the past and what your future has to be like, and always wanting it to be different.
Alex Alexander 43:49
Yes, everybody is sitting always with something that they wish was different. Whether they picked it or not. Like, we just have to hold space for that.
Aly Bird 44:01
Exactly. That’s the best thing that you can do is just recognize, like, hey, yeah. You know, people talk about acceptance, being a big part of grief and just like life and doing the work, right? And I think there’s a misconception that acceptance means that you have to like it. And you don’t. You don’t. Acceptance is just like, oh, oh, here’s that failing again. Here’s that duality. Here’s me, you know, just gonna go into the bathroom and cry a little bit at my best friend’s wedding because I’m feeling things. And I wish it was my wedding.
Alex Alexander 44:37
I’ve gotten some pushback on this kind of duality feeling thing and people have said to me like, “Well, I think that comes when you’re closer to someone. Right?” Like, you could be in the bathroom crying at a wedding. And only the people close to you would know why. You know, my closest friends would know why. And I’ve pushed back and said, no, I don’t need to know the reason you are crying in the bathroom, even if I don’t know you and I’ve never met you before. I can just hold space for like something is really hard here. And that’s okay, that doesn’t take away from the fact that you’re happy for your friend. I’m not gonna walk out and be like, “Oh, she is crying.” And she’s not even happy to be here, this is her best friend’s day. It’s like, can’t give people a few minutes for the fact that other emotions exist? Now, if I’m your closest friend, yeah, I’m gonna walk in and know why. But like this goes through… you don’t need to know why. You don’t need to know. You just accept that something else is going on here. And the jealousy thing, I think it’s so much less about the feeling as it is about the actions that come from it, from yourself, but also other people around you trying to, quite honestly, stir things up sometimes, and make it look like there were actions that came from a feeling there weren’t. It was just a feeling. It was there, hold space for it, move on. They are not connected. The fact that you need a moment for grief, and you’re happy for your friend. This needing to know why, I think, is problematic.
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Aly Bird 46:23
I agree. I think it plays into our gossip culture. Right, which is we like to talk about people and not to people. So much of what is said behind people’s backs and this is just purely from my personal opinion.
Alex Alexander 46:41
I mean, everything on this podcast is personal opinion. That’s the whole point of it.
Aly Bird 46:47
You know, I think people are so much more comfortable asking about someone from someone else than they are asking a person.
Alex Alexander 46:57
Well, if they ask the person, they’d get the real answer.
Aly Bird 47:00
Alex Alexander 47:01
And if they ask somebody else, then they can continue to speculate. That’s the thing, it’s the difference of if I walk in and find you crying, and I walked out and say to someone, it’s like the facts, Aly’s in the bathroom crying, she seems really upset, we should give her a minute. That is facts. Now me walking out and being like, oh, Aly’s in there crying. She’s not happy to be here. She’s really ruining this moment. You have now like conflated this entire thing. Stick to the facts. And if you want to hear more, ask you. Or maybe ask your closest friends like has today been hard for her? Yes. Okay, well, now we know. Like, I don’t think asking some facts. But yeah, I get so many messages about this completed… like the duality of feelings as if you showing up to a wedding, you should only have positive feelings, that like none of your feelings should exist. And I think it’s so problematic. We’re not allowing any space for that grief or loss on whatever level it is.
Aly Bird 48:08
Yeah, or just like a level of like humanness. Like what if like, that person got some really bad news, or got into a fight with their partner before showing up at this event? So they’re a little bit grumpy, they’re a little put off, they really don’t want to sit with like, the person that they came with. Because they’re really turned off by them. Like, we experience so much as human beings, that if you’re not willing to accept people as humans, that just seems really unfair to me to like not give people the space to be themselves, to just be.
Alex Alexander 48:45
I mean, it could be as simple as… this just popped up in my head. It could be like as simple as going to a bachelorette party. And in the midst of the weekend away, or whatever it is, you have a moment where you maybe feel a little guilty that you spent that much money on this trip. You’re wondering if you should have spent it on something else, or if you should have saved it. That is not to say they aren’t happy to be there. They just also maybe have some other worries in the background. But if somebody says that, it’s like, “Well, you don’t have to come.” Like, no, that was not what she was saying. What she was saying is she’s human, more emotions exist. She feels more things. That’s okay. There’s so many things happening with so many people. And I think that you writing this book is such a helpful tool for anybody at any time, because, as we talked about, everybody’s going through loss in one way, shape, or form, and most people are going to see your book… and think, oh, well, it’s good to know I could buy that if my friend’s spouse ever passed away… that away. I can just… share a brief on Amazon. I’m sure it’ll pop up at some point. But the thing is, we could all just spend some time reflecting on kind of like how we build this muscle in these smaller interactions, and that’s going to help when the big moments do happen.
Aly Bird 50:31
Yes, absolutely. And I mean, if you’re in a situation where something has happened, and you pick up the book, like, it’ll help you in that moment, but it will also help you… like, instead of being the person who stays quiet and worried that they’re going to screw up, so they keep their distance, like, you are more likely to lose your friend, then…
Alex Alexander 50:53
Aly Bird 50:54
… getting close, and making mistakes. The closer you are, the more willing you are to show up for that person, like, the more likely it is that you’re going to be in each other’s lives down the road. And that means that you get to be there for like the big exciting, good things too, which I think is… is really beautiful.
Alex Alexander 51:14
Truly. People should go out, I will link the book in the show notes. Keep it around. Add it to your list on Amazon, read it now. It’s a very doable read.
Aly Bird 51:27
Alex Alexander 51:27
It’s… how many pages is it? 115. 120. 120. Like I was able to read it pretty fast, which I’m only saying because if you are in a moment where you really need it, and you’re like cool, I’ll add a book to my to do list plus helping a friend, you really could get through it in a decent amount of time. It’s a very good size.
Aly Bird 51:49
I did that intentionally so that if folks are reading it in a moment of crisis that it was digestible for a nervous system that was dysregulated. It’s also available as an audiobook. And any book, if that’s how you want to consume your stuff, but all sorts of ways to digest the information, depending on how you’re doing that day, and what’s happening in your life. Aly, thank you so much for reaching out, for being on the podcast. I can’t wait to see what people say about this one.
Alex Alexander 52:15
Awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Alex. I come up with an outline before I record these episodes. But I try not to control where they go. Because I just think so many beautiful things come out of the organic conversation. When I planned to record this with Aly, I really intended to talk about that specific… like losing one person. And this turned into such a beautiful conversation about how we are accepting our friends, and our community and our people and our loved ones, as they become new versions of themselves that they didn’t choose. Because that’s the thing after grief. You’re a new person forever. Like I’m always the girl whose mom died. Even if it isn’t overwhelming to me daily, like it was when I first lost her, that’s still who I am. There’s still moments where my friends have to accommodate that or allow me to show up in a bad mood or have a moment. And it’s always there. They can’t get away from it. And I just walk away from this conversation feeling so grateful. Because I talk a lot about when our friends choose something and having to accept that. But there are so many things we aren’t choosing that are changing us all as people. If you are somebody who’s had one of those changes, and you want to talk about it, reach out. This is the place to do it.
Alex Alexander [54:02]
Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.