How Show up For People In Your Life Who Are Grieving

suzanne jabour grief educator showing up

Podcast Description

If the title didn’t already tell you, we’re talking about grief and loss today. 

Suzanne Jabour is a transformational coach, certified Grief Educator, and grieving mom who has found meaning in her loss through opening up conversations about grief, including how we can support people experiencing it and how to help grievers to chart their unique “grief path.”

Suzanne and I really get to the heart of it in this conversation. We open up about how we are showing up for the people in our lives that are grieving, which can often feel uncomfortable. But the only way we’re going to grow and change and show up better for the people that we love is by reflecting and choosing to consciously do things differently the next time. And luckily, this episode has so many tangible, real life examples. 

And if you’re looking for more examples of how to show up for someone in grief, contact Suzanne via the links below.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • The fear and shame cycles we can fall into when a friend is experiencing grief, and how it prevents curiosity and creative problem solving
  • How to support a grieving person in the early, initial stages of their grief (and how it can be most helpful to “show up messy” and offer your best skill set)
  • The beauty of picking out the smallest possible actions and actually doing them – for your grieving friend, it may be a one-way street, but a simple heart emoji or “thinking of you” text can mean the world
  • People need support for much longer than we think – don’t show up wholeheartedly in the beginning and then fizzle out. Think about how you can continue to support the griever even months later
  • How to deal with probing questions from well-intentioned friends and shift the energy in the room back to a safer ground
  • Grief is a constant in our lives, and we have to normalize it! Grief can sometimes be a small loss, other times it can feel like an earthquake. No matter how big or small the grief is, all of those losses need to be grieved

Reflection Questions:

What skill set can you offer a grieving friend, even if it’s a tiny action you can take to support them?

Notable Quotes from Suzanne

“As parents, we make so many of our friends through our kids. I had a huge circle of friends whose kids were the same ages as mine. So I’m watching their sons who were 22 when Ben was 22, who this year are turning 25, and graduating from university and kids are getting married, and some people have grandkids and all that. And that’s so hard for me. Because it’s all things that aren’t going to happen for him. And I have to hold that paradox as still really wanting my friends and acquaintances to feel joy in those accomplishments and to feel excited about these amazing things that are happening and not feel like they have to hide that for me. But then I have to be really practicing exceptional self-care, and paying attention to how I feel in those circumstances when I’m with those kinds of groups of friends that are all sharing about their kids.”

“I needed them to remember. I needed them to reach out every once in a while. And the deal was, they would text or they would phone with no expectation that I reply or answer, and that was beautiful. I couldn’t really form sentences or find words and texting was a lot of work. It’s a whole thing, because the brain fog is real. The deal with them in our shared agreement was it’s okay if it’s a one way street, if they’re just texting all the time. Sometimes they would just send a heart or just send a ‘thinking of you’. It doesn’t have to be grandiose. We want to do something really impactful, yes. But the things that are the most impactful are the little things over the longest time.”

Resources & Links

Connect with Suzanne on her website, A Lived Experience and follow her on Instagram at @a.lived.experience and on Facebook.

Leave Alex a voicemail!

Ideas From a Grief Educator

Until next time…

Take the conversation beyond the new podcast on friendship! Follow Alex on Instagram (@itsalexalexander) or Tiktok (@itsalexalexander), or send her a voice message directly with all your friendship thoughts, problems, and triumphs by heading to AlexAlex.chat and hitting record. 

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Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   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 [Narration]  00:50

Hello, hello, if you are into the episodes where we dive deep into the real life, tangible examples of how… how are we doing this in our life, then today’s episode is for you. Today, I have Suzanne on the podcast. Suzanne is a grief educator. But more than that, she is somebody affected by grief and loss. So if the title didn’t already tell you, we’re talking about grief and loss today. And I say that because today may not be the day for you to listen to this episode. And if that’s the case, then turn this off and go take care of yourself or pick another episode in the long list of episodes that we have in this podcast. I see you. Some days, it’s just harder than others. Some seasons, it’s just harder than others. Now, Suzanne and I really get to the heart of it in today’s episode, like how are we showing up for the people in our lives that are grieving. And this episode has so many real life examples. We talk about a variety of situations, ways we can be there for each other. In this episode, I don’t actually have any narration in it. Because, one, it’s a bit on the longer side, and I couldn’t possibly figure out what to cut out. But two, this episode is really just full of so many tangible examples. I don’t even know what to add. What do I add? And also, if I was going to cut it down, how do I pick what to pull out? Because that might be exactly what you or someone you know needs. So with that, let’s get to today’s episode. 

Alex Alexander  02:44

Hi, Suzanne, how are you?

Suzanne Jabour  02:46

I am well thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Alex Alexander  02:51

Oh, I’m excited to hear you’re willing to have this conversation. I am so appreciative of anybody who wants to come on here and like talking about the things that… I mean, we just hop on and we hit record. And we’re like, yeah, let’s talk about grief. And most nights, you know, if you’re sitting around with your friends, this is the conversation that after sitting there for like, you know, a couple of hours finally somebody like gets up the nerve to go for it. Were just like, yeah, hit record. Let’s go.

Suzanne Jabour  03:21

We’re in. Yeah, and really if you have friends that are prepared to do it after three or four hours, you’re lucky because most people don’t want to talk about it at all. So we’ll find a balance there somewhere. But we’re pros, we can do this.

Alex Alexander  03:33

Yeah, that’s like such a great intro into this episode. I’ve mentioned this before that anybody I’ve never met before, we do a little call, we chat a little bit, just get to know each other. And I ask every guest, like what is it that you want to talk about when it comes to friendship and community? And you have this one line, I have it bolded underlined and colored in my notes. And it says, ‘Grief will change your address book’. And I’m going to use that forever. I’m gonna credit you for the rest of the time.

Suzanne Jabour  04:07

I don’t know who came up with it. It’s everywhere in grief circles. And it just felt so wrong to me. It’s absolutely what happened. But it feels so wrong. So I love this opportunity to talk about friendship and community. And that weird opportunity that grief presents for us to enhance that, that it doesn’t need to fall apart. But we all need to learn the skills and mindsets and you know, ways of being that will allow that to create connection instead of isolation. So it’s wonderful to talk about it, you know, through that lens.

Alex Alexander  04:41

Yeah, I think this is a conversation that is just so near and dear to my heart and will be on the podcast until my listeners are tired of it and then I’ll still record about it because I really think it’s so important that when the hard things happen, like that’s the moment we’re all hoping our friends will be there for us. And time and time again, you hear stories about how that’s what ends friendships, which is so sad because this is the moment we’re hoping our friends will be there for us. So do you want to tell us a little bit about your experience with grief and how your address book changed?

Suzanne Jabour  05:21

Sure. So I came to becoming a grief educator and starting to talk about this anywhere that will, you know, have a conversation after my most recent loss, which was my son, Ben, in September of 2020. He was 22. And there was something about that out of order death that just really hit me in a different way than other losses I had before. You know, my dad died when I was 31. And my mom when I was 45, or 46. So I had losses of people close to me before. And so I kind of had a sense of how grief worked. But, you know, when Ben died, that was nothing that I had ever experienced before. And that’s when I discovered kind of this idea, because the interesting thing that I didn’t feel like that had happened when my parents died, you know, people had rallied around us. Big groups of people had rallied around us. And when Ben died, that wasn’t the case. And I, you know, I have all kinds of theories about that. They’re all theories, and it doesn’t really matter why people weren’t able to show up. It’s more important as a bigger conversation of why we as a collective can’t show up, right? Why as a collective, you know, in this western, North American culture anyway, we’re so scared, you know, that’s the thing that holds people back the most is fear. And we’re so scared of doing the wrong thing. We kind of know the cliches and the casseroles like, aren’t quite right anymore, but nobody’s talking about what to do instead. So now, we don’t know anything. And… and so then we just get caught in that fear cycle. And, you know, with fear over time often comes shame. And when you’re in shame, you can’t learn and be curious and creative problem solve. You know, shame is a great, you know, it shuts us right down, right, we spin internally in that place, because we don’t want to share that we’re ashamed. Right? It’s that awful spiral shame. It is terrible. And so I think, for me, what’s really important is to have those conversations about, you know, what can we do differently? Like, how can we show up when the person we care about is in such extreme pain? Like, I know, in those early days, I was a lot to handle, right? I wasn’t grieving out loud, bereaved mom. Like, everything I thought was big. And it was all on the surface. And I didn’t stuff any of it for anybody, so…

Alex Alexander  07:47

Rightfully so. 

Suzanne Jabour  07:48

Yeah, I think so that was the only way I was going to survive. Like, for me, it wasn’t an option.

Alex Alexander  07:52

Yeah, I mean… I mean, rightfully so in the sense of like, people should be able to grieve, however they want to grieve, there’s no right way to grieve. It’s whatever feels right to that person. And for some people, it’s going to be quiet, and other people, it’s going to be loud. And I think that’s hard for people sometimes, too, is what they’ve seen of grief is one thing. So then, you know, if all they’ve seen is really quiet, shut down grief, and somebody else is grieving loud, it’s like, well, wait. What are you doing? It looks different for everybody.

Suzanne Jabour  08:19

And I don’t know how to do this. Either maybe when you’re quiet about it, but like, if you’re going to be all over, you know, it’s really hard. So I could really understand that it was really hard, but it still really hurt. So then you’re having, you know, secondary losses on top of your original one. So for me, you know, as a parent, I had the death of my son. And then I had the loss of myself, because there’s… it was a huge disruption of my own identity, and he died. And then you have the loss of friends that you thought… and family members that you thought were 100% there for you, you know, that we’re the kind of people that when the poop hits the fan, they would come, you know, running into the burning building, right, not running away. And that’s just not the way that it works this time. And so, you know, as my capacities got bigger, and my curiosity became about, you know, bigger aspects of grief than just my own experience and what I was having to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but that became less overwhelming and I can start to think about things other than survival, I became really curious about why that was and why it was so accepted. Like if you’re on any forum, where grievers are talking to each other, or someone who does grief education is talking about grief, inevitably, people are talking about how it changed their address book. And when I talk to grievers, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, all the time. Like I look back two years after the loss or five years after the loss, and almost nobody from before the loss is still in my life and I have all new friends.” And that to me just feels so sad. Like that makes me sad to think about that. And navigating those existing relationships is really tricky. It’s so… this is such funny timing because I just was writing my blog for this week and it’s all about watching other people’s lives go on. And you know, as parents, we make so many of our friends through our kids. So I had a huge circle of friends whose kids were the same ages as mine. So I’m watching their sons who were 22 when Ben was 22, who this year are turning 25, and graduating from university and kids are getting married, and some people have grandkids and all that. And that’s so hard for me. Because it’s all things that aren’t going to happen for him. And, you know, I have to hold that paradox as still really wanting my friends and acquaintances to feel joy in those accomplishments and to feel excited about these amazing things that are happening. And not feel like they have to hide that for me. But then I have to be really practicing exceptional self-care, and paying attention to how I feel in those circumstances when I’m with those kinds of groups of friends that are all sharing about their kids when my one… you know, I have two, so one of mine is no longer here, one of mine, I’m thrilled to share about her accomplishments. And it’s really hard, so I get how hard it is. And I still think we can do better.

Alex Alexander  11:08

Yeah, the thing about grief in my experience is just like, there’s so many emotions in the room when you get people in there, right? When you were saying that scenario about your friends, it’s like you’re sad and grieving that your son can’t be there for these milestones. You’re happy for your friends, and that you’re watching their kids go through this. Your friends are probably happy that you’re there. There’s probably some guilt that they get to have this experience that you’re no longer getting to have. There’s, you know, the actual kid that’s been celebrated that’s like, super happy, but maybe sees you in the room and doesn’t want to be too excited, because that might make you upset. Like, the thing about grief is just, there are so many emotions and feelings happening. The more people you put in the room, all at once. No one ever really… not ever. But a lot of times nobody’s talking about it, right? Everybody’s tiptoeing around it, or they’re in the kitchen saying like, “Oh, did you see? She looks kind of sad. Are we talking about it too much?” Instead of just acknowledging the feelings. So much is going on at one time. 

PODCAST EPISODE! I talk with Aly Bird, Author of Grief Ally, about how grief impacts our friendships, how to show up for a friend, and the fact that grief is everywhere. Listen here.

Suzanne Jabour  12:23

You know, it’s interesting, because it’s a really hard topic to talk about. Because the griever also doesn’t want to be the perpetual wet blanket, right? I mean, I could ask these circles of friends to maybe not do, you know, the big brags when I’m there. But that doesn’t feel right either. Like, it’s not actually all about me. And it doesn’t need to be, so then I get to be responsible. And I’m lucky enough that, you know, in each of my sort of circles of mom friends, there’s one or two in each of those groups that have been really, you know, that really did show up for me, and really have been there through the many, many mucky, messy, yucky days, and mucky and messy days that still come two and a half years later, and I’m sure will continue to come for the rest of forever. You know, we hope further and further apart. So it’s nice to know that they… and they will often say to me beforehand that, you know, I’ll get a message from them saying, you know, “How are you feeling? It is going to be a big group of people, what can I do to support you?” Which is amazing. So if you can be that friend, like if you’ve shown up in the mucky, early days when most people have scattered, but you’re one of the ones that showed up, you can almost like run interference a little bit. Or, you know, I’ll just get up from a conversation and go… and go back to the food table. It’s my go to like, “Oh, my plate’s empty, I’ll be right back.” And then I just go to a different conversation. Because I just can’t, I… stay there for some of it. And I really want to support them and the exciting things their kids are doing. And it’s really hard. So it is, as you say, it’s, you know, everybody is feeling multiple emotions all at the same time. And nobody who’s showing up in their grief and just doing the best they can in that moment wants to be that wet blanket, or wants to be the sound person in the room. It is so tangley. And as you said, if we just all present those emotions, if there wasn’t an elephant in the room, no one was talking about, you know, that would shift the whole dynamic, and I think create ease for everyone, even though the emotional conversation is uncomfortable for most. You know, once it’s been said, and it’s present, then it’s easier. 

Alex Alexander  14:27

Right. I think it’s like… I talk about it sometimes like, we want an easy button. And all options are hard. So option one hard is spent the entire time with all these emotions happening where nobody’s talking about it and you’re feeling kind of awkward and like, oh, what… am I doing right/wrong? I think she’s upset but I don’t know. Did I do that? Is that just the room? Like nobody knows. Right? That’s hard. That is hard. 

Suzanne Jabour  14:53

And nobody’s having a good time, right? 

Alex Alexander  14:55

Yeah, option two is it’s hard to say out loud, I’m having a hard day. I want to be here with everyone. If I look sad, please know I’m just having a sad day. And if it was actually you, I will tell you later. But otherwise, it’s just a sad day. I want to be here with you all. And then like somebody else acknowledging, whatever it is. That’s also hard, but it’s just a different heart. So, I guess to each their own on which one they prefer.

Suzanne Jabour  15:24

Yeah. And I saw a beautiful post that is very, you know, right along this same idea. I loved the work of David Kessler and he posted a few days ago. Okay, except it’s grief time. So it might have been a few weeks ago. Time is tricky in grief. Anyway, he posted before today that he calls them David Jr. moments. So his son who died was also called David. So David Jr. and he calls him David Jr. moments. And so his friends and family just know, if he looks sad, or like he’s getting overwhelmed and they’ll just say to him, “Oh, are you okay?” And then he gets to say back. “Yeah, it’s just a David Jr. moment.” And so then they know, okay, it’s about what’s going on for you. I thought that was such a beautiful way to present it. So, I’m totally stealing that. And I will, you know, forevermore be able to say, yeah, it’s just a Ben moment. And it’s okay. Like, I get to have been moments as a griever. We should all get to have moments for whoever we’ve lost, you know, whoever’s died. I have moments that are about my mom and moments that are about my dad, even though those deaths are further behind me. I just thought that was such a beautiful way to present it because it’s less awkward than any of those big conversations about emotions that most of us aren’t super comfortable with. But it was such a beautiful way for him. And then he said, “Now his friends will say, ‘Oh, is it just a David Jr. moment?'” Not just, you know, but like, is it a David Jr. moment? And then he could just say, “Yep, you know, I’ll be right back”, or whatever it is. And I thought that was such a, you know, a way that we get closer to the easy button, right? Where we don’t have to have a big, you know, touchy-feely moment, right.

Alex Alexander  16:53

I love that actually, also, because it acknowledges the person, right? That like, when you’re grieving someone, sometimes quite often, it is nice to have somebody acknowledge that that other person that you’re missing existed, so like naming it like that is almost acknowledgment from the other people too of, that person was real. It makes sense that you feel this way. Because sometimes when you’re caught off guard with your moment of grief, you’re like, why am I overwhelmed by that, you know? And so I just… been able for me maybe to, you know, be like, oh, it’s a mom moment.

Suzanne Jabour  17:31

Yeah, I thought that was so beautiful. Oh, I’m stealing that. That’s genius. He’s certainly such a wise and vastly experienced, you know, grieiver personally. And you know, he’s worked with millions of grievers. And I just thought that was a piece of genius that I’m going to… I’m going to use forever. 

Alex Alexander  17:47

So I think something… maybe a good way, I’ve thought a lot about how to proceed, I guess with this episode, and we’ve talked a lot about grief, changing our address book, and kind of how the pressure and the shame and the guilt like compounds the longer you wait. So I thought it might be nice to kind of talk maybe like, from when you lost Ben. And what was impactful and helpful in those, like, very initial stage, and then kind of like the further you moved out, what was helpful or impactful? And also, what was… maybe if there’s moments that stand out that are not great, right? You mentioned the casseroles, the moments of not showing up, rewriting. On his podcast, we really love the tangible examples for people. So you know, in those first days, is there anything that stands out as moments where people really did show up? Or people you thought would show up that didn’t and you were disappointed?

Suzanne Jabour  18:54

Yes. There’s lots of that. So I think, you know, it’s so interesting, because the people who showed up the best, and I don’t really like to rate it, because if you tried, that’s the best, right? If you just tried, amen, right? Because it’s so hard. And I get it. Like I am working on my own skills of showing up to support other people in my life, who are grieving, and it’s hard. So I understand how hard it is. And I don’t want to minimize that. The thing that was, you know, as I look back and contemplate sort of the commonalities in the people who were able to show up in the way that was the most helpful is that they showed up with a level of vulnerability and honesty about how skilled or not they were. And most of us are unskilled, right? So the people who were the most helpful, really, that I felt the most supported by were the ones who equally felt disoriented, unsure of what to do, that this thing that had happened was terrible. You know, I fully believe it’s okay to present how terrible what happened is. You’re not going to shock your griever they Oh, it’s terrible. They’re in it, they know it, right? So people who said things like, “Oh my gosh, this is so terrible. You know, Ben was so amazing”, if they knew him, one of the biggest gifts that I got was from a coworker who didn’t know him very well, who asked me to tell her about him. Like, what would you like to know about him? Oh, that was just massive, right? That opportunity to share some of the wonder that was him, right? So that vulnerability to be able to say, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say. If you just need me to sit quietly beside you, I can do that. If I can take you for a walk. Let’s do that. If you need a cup of coffee, let’s go do that.” Tangible practical things. Our favorite, favorite, favorite was ski the dishes and DoorDash like Uber Eats gift cards. Because feeding yourself as a griever is really tricky. Our rule in those early acute days was if we felt hungry and not nauseous at the same time, we would eat something, because we hardly ever felt hungry. And you felt nauseous most of the time. So if we managed to feel hungry, and not nauseous, then that was a huge gift. Because, you know, we have this impulse that we want to feed each other. But most of us now don’t have an ability to have a whole bunch of tin foil casseroles in our freezer. We don’t have big freezers, we don’t have big families around us. You know, for us, we were grieving in a time of COVID, where it was very restricted how many people you could come and how often and all that stuff. Luckily, we have a big outdoor space. So we just all gathered in twos outside, and sat far apart and all that stuff from those days. So, a way to support food that’s not ‘I’m bringing you what I want to eat.’ Right? Another friend who did it, she cooked for me for months. And she finally said, “You know, I love to cook and I would love to cook for you. Can you send me three of your favorite recipes that freeze well? And I will cook big batches of them for you.” You know, if you have a great skill set, bring it. Most of us don’t, right? We don’t talk about grief enough to really know how it works. And so we’re walking into an unknown, and the person who’s experiencing it, a lot of the time is experiencing an unknown. So that’s a really tricky place to meet and support each other. So we just all have to show up messy and being okay with it being messy. One of the things that I think is the most important and it’s a place where I ended up feeling really deep hurt and disappointment, for me, I had to really manage the number of people because I couldn’t handle big groups of people. And we couldn’t handle more than one visit a day. Like that became very apparent to us really early on, we just couldn’t. It was like, okay, you can come, like you get this day, you come at this time, and then do it. And some people didn’t show up. So for me, like if I knew, you know, Sally Sue was coming at three in the afternoon, it would take us the whole day to prepare ourselves that someone was coming into our space, and we had to like, be at least dressed, right and maybe have a ponytail, because someone else was coming into our space. And then when you don’t show up, that’s brutal. Brutal. And like didn’t show up, didn’t call, probably didn’t remember that they had said they were coming, to be honest and fair, right? They probably didn’t remember. But to us, that was something we had to plan for and build ourselves up for. So just being really respectful of the commitments you make and following through as best you can. We all know stuff gets in the way. So phone or text or say, oh my gosh, whatever it is, but if you say you’re going to do something, do it.

Alex Alexander  23:41

I often think that when… like I’m currently struggling with this, we have some friends who have not had a loss. The thing I keep reminding myself, right, is when these big things are happening, we want to take actions that are equal to how big it is. This is so intense for my friend, right? Like extended periods in the hospital, things happening, right? I’m at the point of I want to get on a plane and fly there and get a hotel room and I would do all of that for 10 minutes to give her a hug. That’s where we’re at with how intense this is. There’s not really anything I can do at all, except the small things I am doing, which I’ll explain in a moment, but I would love to get on a plane and go take care of her and her family for a couple of weeks. I would love to go and fill their entire freezer. Like the actions I want to do, I want to equate to the intensity of this experience she’s in and I think people get caught up in that sometimes, right? Like you lost your son people want to do something big. So if they don’t have the capacity to come and sit with you for a few hours, they’re like, I should do that. They sign up, but then you can’t carry out the actions. So I often have to remind myself that like when these big things happen, nothing you do, one, is going to fix it. And two, it is few and far between that those big grand actions play out as they should.

Suzanne Jabour  25:26

Yeah, 100%.

Alex Alexander  25:28

We can get caught up in that. So instead, just like from the beginning, trying to pick the smallest actions, one that seems so insignificant that they could never possibly really be that helpful is probably what you’re telling yourself, pick those and do them because they’re maintainable. So like for this friend of mine, in the very beginning, when things were happening, I messaged her, and I was like, “Hey, I just wanted you to know I took you off do not disturb. You now have access, my phone will ring through 24 hours a day. And if you are in the middle of the night, really upset, and you don’t want to wake up your partner because they also need rest and whatnot, you call me. I will wake up day/night anytime, right?” Saying I would check in and text and following through. Now, I’m going to give myself maybe a B on that. But a B is better than an F.

Suzanne Jabour  26:28

I bet… and I bet to her it’s better than a B. I’ll bet you any money it’s better than a B as far as she’s concerned. Yeah.

Alex Alexander  26:35

I could be mad at myself that it’s not an A. And instead, it’s like, this is a B. You know, it’s a plane flight away. So as much as I would love to go down there, she has some other people there, she doesn’t need me right now. She’s very aware that I would happily do that if she needed. It took me months, months to get together a care package. And I could have told myself like, oh, it’s too late. It’s whatever. But I did it. So where I’m going with this is just pick the small things and start doing them. Because if you wait to do the big thing, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever do it. And that’s where that shame and guilt starts creeping in that you haven’t done anything. It’s like a reverse pyramid almost, you know?

Suzanne Jabour  27:30

Yeah, it absolutely is. You know, that’s so beautiful. You know, I had a number of people who… that’s what they did. They just messaged. They live far away, they couldn’t get to me. And you know, really, I didn’t need them to come. I needed them to remember. I needed them to reach out every once in a while. And the deal was, you know, they would text or they would phone with no expectation that I either reply or answer. And that was beautiful. I have some friends who just like texted and texted and I never answered them. Because you just can’t necessarily. Like it hits you in a moment where you’re overwhelmed already. And I couldn’t really form sentences or find words and like texting was a lot of work. You know, it’s a whole thing. Because the brain fog is real, right? And to release me to from that pressure that we feel a lot of the time of having to answer messages or answer phone calls, because the deal with them… you know, our shared agreement was it’s okay if it’s a one way street, if they’re just texting all the time. And sometimes they would just send a heart or just send a thinking of you or just send a whatever it was, it doesn’t have to be grandiose like, and I think you’re so right in saying, you know, we kind of feel like we want to do something really impactful.  But the things that are the most impactful are the little things over the longest time.

Alex Alexander  28:47

Yes, that you can sustain amidst the rest of your life. Because there’s another piece of that too, right, which is, if it’s one person who has given up everything, and like, say moving in with somebody to help them to take on that caretaker role, that caretakers life is now kind of falling apart. And they’re going to have to come out of this at some point and pull themselves together too. But if it’s a collective group of people who can all take these tiny, little insignificant steps around one person, that’s meaning that less people are having to completely drop everything to caretake.

Suzanne Jabour  29:25

Yeah. And we don’t all have the same skill set, right? So I had some people who were really great at showing up in the emotional, mucky and you know, they were fine with sitting when I was a complete mess. We would go for a walk and I would cry and we talked the whole time. They were really good at that. And I had this one brilliant friend who cooked for me. I had a different friend who did most of my grocery shopping literally for like, I don’t know, probably almost two years, took forever for me to be able to grocery shop again. The grocery store is really hard for grievers. So I had another friend who did grocery shopping. You know, I had friends who did all tons of different things because it was things that they like. I say that to people all the time, if I’m doing a workshop about what can you do, like the practical stuff. What can you do? Pick something you really like to do. Because first of all, you’re way more likely to do it. Why in this most awkward, uncomfortable circumstance, would you pick something that is outside your comfort zone, go with the easy button, pick something that’s easy for you to do, you’re more likely to follow through. And it will be done with love, because you’ll enjoy doing it. They’ll enjoy receiving it, you know, always with permission, always in conjunction with your griever, unsolicited, precleared offerings are not necessarily that helpful. But you can say hey, and I just think they’re super practical. Like if you know, your neighbor is grieving, you know, when their garbage day is. Say to them, “Hey, I know garbage days are on Thursday, when I’m taking my cans out, can I sneak into your backyard and take yours out for you?” Because you probably don’t even know what day it is. Because they probably don’t.

Alex Alexander  30:58

Yeah, it’s all the super practical.

Suzanne Jabour  31:00

Easy, tangible, small, you’re doing it anyway. It’s easy, right? And those easy, small things over time, because just to do a complete circle back to your sense of like your care package being too late, grief goes on way longer than we’ve been told. And you need support way longer than we’ve been told. Like I’m just now probably at about two years and like a couple of months, I started to be able to actually cook for myself. Like a full meal. I could reheat, I could assemble, I got to the point where I could like assemble, I could buy the pasta and the sauce. And I could put those two things together. That to me is not cooking, right? Just assembling. I could assemble. But to actually cook something from a recipe where I had to go to the store and get the right things and bring them home and prepare them in a certain order or a certain way in order to end up with something edible, that took a really long time for me. And I know that’s not the same for everyone, everyone loses and gains different skills at different rates. But people need support for much longer than we think. So if you feel like, oh, but that was a couple of months ago, like it’s too late to say something, it is never too late to say something. And in fact, you know, I was at a gathering a few months ago. And most of the people there for various reasonable reasons, I hadn’t seen since Ben died. And there was maybe like 15 of those people at this gathering. One of them came over to say something to me. Which to me felt so weird. But I get it because they’re thinking, oh, well, but it’s like it’s over two years later. And like, I don’t want to remind her or make her sad, or whatever it is. You will never remind the griever that they lost their person. They remember, right? I remember every moment of every day that Ben is not here, that my mom is not here, my dad is not here. You’re not going to remind them. And you might bring a tear to their eye. But that doesn’t mean you made them sad. And you remembering years later means to me that then had an impact on you too. And that’s the gift, right? Whereas if everyone is pretending that it never happened, that to me felt so bizarre and so strange that it was like, Kevin, I haven’t seen any of you since this happened. And none of you are saying anything. And I don’t need to be the center of attention. I didn’t need a big production number. You know, the one person who said something just sort of I was sitting eating dinner and they just leaned over and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t get a chance to reach out to you when it happened. I think of him so often. And I’m just thinking about you.” And that was it. Like, it doesn’t have to be a big production number, it can be very simple. And that’s back to what we’re saying. It’s the small things over time. Or the small thing once. If you’ve only got it once, or it’s just someone you know very well, but you want to do something, do a small thing once. They’ll be so grateful. I

Alex Alexander  33:54

Well, I was gonna say earlier that I quite often think that a lot of times when you talk about like strengths and whatnot, and I fully agree with that, by the way. My book actually has a section in which I tell people to figure out what those strings are like now, before something bad happens. And then offer it and become known for it so that when bad things do happen, they know what to look to you for. You have a sense of what to offer. But I also think that quite often, right, somebody kind of ends up being a, like an organizer or a communicator, right? Somebody really close to the bereaved ends up being somebody that other people might reach out to and say, could they use this? That is a skill set and for that person to remember that when everybody suddenly starts showing up right immediately to remind the other people in the outer circles like, hey, this is a long process. If you feel like you were up for it…

Suzanne Jabour  34:58

Yeah, I have you on the list for four months later, yeah.

Alex Alexander  35:01

Yeah, like send a card in six months, send a meal in six months, check in on her and just send a message saying you’re thinking of her in a while. This is something I’ve been trying to be mindful of is like reminding everybody else, that it’s a long process. And we can’t just show up in mass in the beginning and then have it fizzle in a few months. And, you know, they’re alone in the dark kind of thing.

PODCAST EPISODE! Let’s talk about Chosen Family! I talk with someone who is my chosen family about these relationships, what makes them work, and the importance of Chosen Family in our lives. Listen here.

Suzanne Jabour  35:32

Yeah. And that’s what happens most often, right? There’s tons of support at the beginning. And it’s funny I was… one of my co workers, had a death in the extended family, and they’re in Europe, and he really, really wanted to be there for the memorial service. But it was going to be really hard and really expensive to get there. And he wouldn’t able to stay for very long. Or he could go about two and a half weeks later, and be there for a long time. And I said to him, there’s no contest. Go later. As much as you want to be there that day, you know, your cousin doesn’t need you that day. They’re surrounded by support that day. But by two weeks after that event, the support has all waned away for the most part, and you can be there for them.

Alex Alexander  36:16

They’re also frozen in the beginning. Yes, somebody’s frozen in the beginning. So yes, they need people around them. But I think there’s often this push right to just like, keep their life together. And it’s like, honestly, their life has fallen apart. They don’t need 50 people to pick up every piece of their life. It’s gonna fall apart. They’re gonna have to rebuild it. That’s okay. So, you showing up with 60 other people today? They may not even know you’re in the room. Honestly, it might be better to show up in two weeks, in two months, in six months, in a year when the feeling is coming back. Now, that doesn’t mean completely ignore them for next few months, six months, a year. You know, do the small. The card, the note, the text, the ‘I am coming on this date’, whatnot. But sometimes it’s better to come later. Because that’s when we’ve gone out of the freeze mode into the, holy crap, this hurts.

Suzanne Jabour  37:23

Yeah. And you’re feeling it all. And the rest of the world is carrying on without you. And you’re left there in a shattered life that you don’t understand how to rebuild. That’s when we need our people. Right? So yes, the beginning is lovely. All those things in the beginning are important. And this is a long game that we’re playing. And just to piggyback on what you were saying too, one of the things that I suggest to people all the time is, we have all so much great technology now, put an event in your calendar for the anniversary date of the passing. And put a reminder on it the week ahead of time. You are not going to remind them. They know. But to have people reach out to you, and again, simple. Thinking of you today, thinking of you this week on the lead up, it must be so difficult. Hoping you’re managing okay. Whatever it is, right? Your right words, I can’t give them to you. They have to come from your heart, not mine. Your heartfelt words, what you want to say to them. I’m thinking it’ll be brilliant. If you don’t have a big repertoire, use that one, right? 

Alex Alexander  38:25

Yeah. Or like, I know today’s a hard day. 

Suzanne Jabour  38:27

Yeah, I bet today’s a hard day, I’m thinking of you. Sending you lots of love. And if you have a story about their person, if you knew their person, I’m thinking of them today, too, because I know it’s the anniversary date. And I was remembering this time when… or I was remembering these stories you told us, whatever it was. If you have a little memory to share, that’s lovely too. Because we want to know that our loved one lives on for other people as well, not just us.

Alex Alexander  38:50

And even if you send that message, the message could just be like, “Hey, I know. Today’s a hard day. I have time today if you want to talk about Ben. Call me.” 

Suzanne Jabour  38:59

Yeah, love that. 

Alex Alexander  39:00

I think after a certain period of time in the beginning, that might be hard. And they may not take you up on it. But my mom passed away, right, when I… for a long time, mother’s day in particular is like incredibly hard because everyone is inundating social media. Right? She passed away when I was 13. So, age of technology. I mean, I used to just turn my phone off on mother’s day.

Suzanne Jabour  39:26

Yeah, I still turn my phone off on mother’s day. Yeah, I… when my mom died, now I do it because everyone’s… now for me, it’s all the moms with pictures of them surrounded by their whole family. And I’m like, yeah, not doing it. Sorry.

Alex Alexander  39:32

It’s too much. Right? And so, acknowledging that and people… friends would text and be like, “Hey, I’m just sending you love today”, right? And a lot of times my phone was off so I wouldn’t even respond. And it’s been 20 years since my mom passed away and now I’m in a different stage of life where a lot of my friends have kids. So mother’s day actually now has turned into this like beautiful thing for me where I’m excited for my friends that are moms. I don’t have any kids. And kids are big question mark in our life at the moment. So I’m not over here sad that I’m not a mom. So I’m… like, now that’s not a layer of this. Ignore that layer.

Suzanne Jabour  39:37

Which it is for some people, but not for you. 

Alex Alexander  39:43

Which it is for some people, but it’s not for me. So I actually spend mother’s day quite often texting my friends who are moms telling them how much I love watching them be moms. 

Suzanne Jabour  40:29

Oh, I love that. Oh, that’s beautiful. 

Alex Alexander  40:32

Now, mind you, I’m 20 years into this. But it’s given this day that like has always held this heavy sadness, something that I actually look forward to and like, really appreciate watching them get to mother, their kids and how lucky their kiddos are. And I love their kids so much. So that’s never… like don’t push that on anybody by any means. But all I’m trying to say is just allow the people that are grieving or having the hard day to let it be whatever they want it to be. So maybe it’s shut off their phone. Maybe it’s “Hey, if you want to talk about your person today, call me I have time.” That’s a beautiful offering. And if it’s receiving a text message on mother’s day of me telling you how much I love you being a mom, I accept it and say thank you, because I really wanted to give that today.

Alex Alexander  41:29

No, yeah. I mean, that’s the thing. I’ve talked about this before on the podcast is like when grief happens, right, we talked about like, you’re a new version of yourself, you have to rebuild your life, whatever. But there is now this label that is with you forever. So I am, in every room no matter what, I am the girl whose mom died. That is always a layer of me for the rest of time, 20 years later. And even in rooms where all my friends are sitting around and talking about their moms and their plans and whatnot, right? Like, I don’t have anything to contribute, because it’s been so long. Like sure I could tell… story went up, but like, I don’t have anything recent. So that is forever me and it’s something my friends forever have to acknowledge is that I’m not going to contribute. And sometimes, I’m just going to sit there quietly, and I’m not even going to think about it. Sometimes, I’m gonna ask them more questions, because I want to hear about their moms because I love their moms too. Sometimes, I’m gonna get teary eyed. And you never know which version of me you’re gonna get. But I am forever the girl whose mom died, it’s never gonna go away.

Suzanne Jabour  41:29

Yeah. And I’m super curious too, Alex, how would it land for you now 20 years later if someone sent you a message back and said, or someone who is with their mom, right? One of your friends is with their mom and just said, “Oh, I’m thinking about you today? And you know, guessing you’re missing your mom and she was so great, right? But that’s so important for people to understand. That’s 20 years later. And nobody is reminding you that your mother died, right? You remember that day is joy filled and tinged and that’s okay. Grief is all about holding paradox, right. But it’s never too late. Like it is never too late to say something. It’s never too late.

Suzanne Jabour  43:21

Yeah, and I think that’s so important that you name it that way. And not in a way that you expect, really have any expectation that anyone else change how they behave, except for them to be okay, that sometimes you’re going to be teary eyed. And sometimes you’re going to participate. And sometimes you’re going to be on your phone playing Angry Birds, because that’s how you have to get through the moment, right? Or whatever it is. But we don’t want to be isolated. And we want to have the choice, right? Having the choice as a griever is so important and being able to be… you know, it’s hard, like it is still hard for me to be like, “Oh, but that’s that woman whose son died.” And I know, I will be that forever. And that’s okay. Because I will be that for myself forever, too. So it’s okay. And it’s hard if it brings with it expectations that have nothing to do with me. Right? So it’s also really important for us to understand as supporters and just as, you know, humans in the world, that even though you know, you will always be, oh, that woman whose mom died when she was young, and I will always be that mom whose son died. I don’t want to play a part for you about that, if that makes sense. Like I’m okay being that, that’s who I am. And I know that too. You know, that’s not a shocking revelation that that’s part of my identity, right? And I don’t want to be representative for everybody else. I don’t want to be pitied or, you know, worried about in ways that are unnecessary or weird. So it is that really interesting kind of dance of, yes, acknowledgement, and then not placing expectations or, you know, changing what we might do or say, in anticipation of how that might make you feel if you have never expressed that that makes you uncomfortable. And it’s a whole different thing if you said, you know what, guys? I’m having a rough day, like, as you were modeling so beautifully in the beginning. I’m having a really bad day, can we just talk about, you know, what we… watch on Netflix today, and I’m not gonna stay long. And then you can all share about your mom’s? That’s different. But I don’t want to feel the expectation from people that they don’t want to talk about their kids around me, because it might make me sad. Because I don’t want you to make that choice for me, I can get up and leave. I’m a grown woman, right? I can take care of myself for the most part. And if I end up crying on your coach, well, we’re all gonna feel a little bit uncomfortable. And that’s okay, too, right? Nothing wrong with that. But it’s that sense of trying to navigate you know, how do you support the person who’s grieving, without making it so uncomfortable for them. Like, I don’t want my friends whose kids are the same age as band or close to the same age as Ben, to feel like they can’t tell me about what their sons are doing and accomplishing. And when they do, it’s hard. And both of those things are okay. You know, I was talking with someone the other day who was saying she actually left a job, because they did a great job at the beginning. And I talk a lot about how companies can better support grievers because it’s really a place where we need to step up our game. They did a great job at the beginning. And she felt really supported, they took on tasks for her, they… you know, it was great, really good support. But then months went by and years went by, and she still was that woman whose son died, that they still kind of felt like they had to be cautious around and she just didn’t want that anymore. So she ended up leaving because the care was almost too good. So there is a really delicate balance that, you know, welcome to grieve, folks, it’s going to be different for every person. And it’s never going to be easy, right? And we just have to be… you know, we just have to be respectful and responsive to each other. And really, you know, if you could just have an open conversation about it, that is all the better for everybody. Because then none of us are guessing, right?

Alex Alexander  47:13

Yeah, there’s this thing that happens, I have yet to meet somebody who’s been on an intense grief journey, who doesn’t know what this is. But maybe you’re different. I think it’s pretty universal. There’s this like bracing yourself for the pity. When somebody asks you a question, you know, right, I know, I’m about to say/have to say, oh, my mom died. And now it’s like just such a fact, the pity doesn’t bother me. But in the beginning, it’s so hard, because you’re bracing yourself for the, oh my gosh, like the complete shift of somebody. And I have a variety of all sorts of friends who have grieved all sorts of things at this point. But when I was younger, you know, like dead parent friends. And it’s so uncomfortable. You don’t want to lie necessarily, because then you’d be lying. But you almost want to lie because you don’t want to deal with what’s about to happen after you say it. And my dead parent friends and… make fun of it later. Because it’s so uncomfortable. You have no choice but to laugh about how ridiculous the responses are, that come out of people’s mouths and like the complete shift of the room. And when you’re first grieving, you really are affected by repeatedly having to say this new fact about your life and having the whole… the worst. Having worse, energy sucked out of the room.

Suzanne Jabour  48:51

Yeah, that’s what I say. It’s the question that has the potential for my answer to suck the air out of the room. And so then what do you do?

Alex Alexander  48:58

And, you know, I’m 20 years out on the mom thing. So when I say it, I watched somebody change. But I’m so far away from my mom’s passing most days. I mean, there’s some bad days, but most days, that I can get the energy back in the room. If you are a friend, a great skill set to try and practice and learn is how to affect the energy in the room. Because your friends got to say it and they can’t… they’re upset, they can’t shift the energy back. And I have no idea how to describe this. But I do know I can do it decently well at this point. But if you have any sense of what this is that I’m talking about, if you… if you experienced this, this is a great skill set to practice. This will make such an impact on your friends, and you’re going to mess it up and it’s going to go wrong, and it’s going to fall flat and that energy is still gonna get sucked out of the room. But that’s what… you’re talking me about the company makes me think of is like, nobody was able to help that person in my mind shift the energy in the room. And it’s nearly impossible, I think, to do it for yourself in the beginning.

Suzanne Jabour  50:12

Oh, yes. You could just barely breathe. So it’s too hard. Yeah that’s brilliant. And the other thing I would add to that is, you know, getting to know you kind of questions are actually really probing and uncomfortable for a lot of people. Like, how many kids do you have of anyone over 20 is just a dumb question. Because it can be difficult for someone who wished they were pregnant, but they’re not. It can be difficult for someone like me who’s lost a child. It can be difficult for someone who has a lot of kids, and they’re really mad about them right now. And they don’t want them in this party. It can be difficult for all kinds of people staying with the mom questions, the dad questions, the, you know, for my daughter. She can spend the rest of her life with people asking her if she has any siblings. What if her question about all of those things became, tell me about your family? And then the person gets to decide what to share. Because when you asked me how many kids I have, I have to make an instantaneous decision about who you are in my life. Whether you’ve earned your way into my real story, and I’m pretty public about my real story, so pretty much everyone’s gonna get my answer. But you’re not necessarily equipped to deal with it. So careful what you ask. You don’t necessarily know what’s coming at you. And so, and I have to make that snap decision. Now I’ve come to the place where I see that, for me to sometimes say, “Oh, my daughter lives with me”, and that’s all I say, is not a betrayal of Ben. But a lot of people feel like it is. Like you’re having to lie and kind of deny your loved one. And we don’t want to be in that position. But sometimes it’s just self-protection, right? That I just don’t want to go there here. And so I’m just gonna say, oh, yeah, my daughter’s over there. And that’s all I say.

Alex Alexander  51:57

Oh, yeah, the number of times… 

Suzanne Jabour  51:59

You know, because I’m so lucky, I have another child that I can talk about her instead, right? Not everyone’s in that situation. What if we just all started to say, “Tell me about your family”? Because really, I just want to hear your story, I just want to get to know you. So what’s important to you is what I want to hear about. I don’t really need to ask probing questions to get to that. So tell me about your family gives you space. And then we don’t have to worry about all of that. But yeah, if you get to that point where you learn how to shift that energy, you know, when my daughter was a preteen, as preteen girls do, she gave me one of those looks one day that I could tell meant, she just thought I was the stupidest person on the planet. And I said to her, I totally get that you think that. And I’m fine with you thinking that, it’s very normal. And you’re gonna think that for the next number of years. However, it is not going to be good for our relationship for me to see that on your face. So when you’re thinking that, you’re going to point off to the middle distance, and yell squirrel and I will turn and look and you can make whatever face you want. And by the time I turn back, you won’t have that face anymore. She only needed to do it a couple of times. And we just… it was ridiculous and hilarious. But all of that to say, I don’t want to have to point and like, you know, the shift of the energy is not pointing and going, “Oh, squirrel”, and we all turn and look the other way, right? It’s that nuance of being able to shift the topic. You know, you just send out rays of love. If you believe it or not, I don’t care. Just send them anyway, because it’s a real thing. And it’ll work. Right? But it’s that sense of like, how do we make the very uncomfortable less uncomfortable for our people that we’re supporting?

Alex Alexander  53:36

I think what happens quite often is somebody, right, asks… would ask you that question about how many children do you have. You would give your answer. And a lot of times, you’re left to deal with the energy. And nobody will say anything, because they don’t want to step on your toes. But if you’ve been through it, you know that you would give all the gold bars in your bank account for somebody to help you here. So there’s something to be said, and you’re gonna get it wrong. I’m gonna put this up, you’re going to get it wrong sometimes. And the more you do it, the less times, right? But there’s something about being this like really self assured friend where if somebody asked you that, and you made your answer, and the person looked like they’d eaten a lemon, because that’s quite often what happens where they just like are… in the headlights don’t know what to do or say. I might step in right now. And I think the natural inclination for a lot of people is to then proceed to ask more questions, because in their mind, they’re like, oh, well, she just shared this really vulnerable thing. I shouldn’t look disinterested. I should ask her more. But they don’t want the answer normally. They don’t want to go there either. But now we’re all stuck right? And the further you get away from it now, i somebody asked me that question, I’m able to say like, “Oh, well, she passed away when I was 13. And I miss her very much.” And like, I have the ability to just move on. But if you’re the friend, if somebody asked you that, you answered, you know, I have my daughter and my son passed away two years ago… deer in the headlights look, there’s a real skill set here to be the friend that you have to be very, like, you can’t be tentative about it. No, you have to come in, like, Ben was such a beautiful human. And we all miss him so much. And you know what? He would have loved to be here tonight. He loved to be with everybody. He loved to support this cause. Have you talked more about the squirrels and how we’re saving them?

Suzanne Jabour  55:53

Yeah, yeah, what’s your connection is like, if you could shift that conversation back to safer ground.

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Alex Alexander  55:59

Correct. Like acknowledge. Very self assured, don’t get tentative. Don’t whatever. If the grieving person wants to continue talking about it, they’ll go find someone safe to talk about it, they’ll keep talking about it. But I would bet you 99% of the time, they just want to move on. Yeah, they want to go take a breath, honestly. They want to go outside and take like two deep breaths. So as a friend, there’s a real skill set to just owning this moment, acknowledging it, and pivoting it to some other conversation. And honestly, like drawing the attention to yourself, so that the person who just had to admit that their son passed away can go away if they would like take a breath. They can have space if they want it.

Suzanne Jabour  56:12

Beautiful advice. Yeah, that’s a great suggestion.

Alex Alexander  56:56

And like I said, you’re gonna get it wrong. 

Suzanne Jabour  56:58

Yes, it makes me think of a phrase we use in theater, my daughter says all the time, and she’s like, “Just do it strong and wrong”, like strong and wrong, because you cannot be timid about it. Because if you’re timid, then it’s just a whole lot of now we’re all in the muck together, strong and wrong, and just practice. 

Alex Alexander  57:14

Exactly. If you are timid about it, and say I like looked back at you, I’m drawing attention back to you. And now the person is looking at you to respond. You have to really like draw the attention to yourself. It’s like you’re putting a shield in front of that other person. Like, it’s okay, you’re fine. Now, you can step behind the screen.

Suzanne Jabour  57:32

Yeah, go behind the curtain. Go pull the levers. Yeah, you’re safe here. And that’s what we really need is to step up for each other in those kinds of circumstances and millions of other ones right? To just create safe spaces and create safe moments. And again, it’s that’s not a big production number. It’s not a big deal. But those little things over time, and those skills that we can learn together. And you know, I just think if we were talking about grief and how it worked, if everyone understood that there are these like minefield questions that you could help deflect, and we all talked about how we’ve done that for each other, you know, then we don’t know how to do it. And we wouldn’t have to feel so scared that we’re going to do it wrong. Now I’m all about, you know, it’s messy. I did it wrong. I was also brilliant. And it was imperfect. I’m comfortable there. But a lot of us aren’t comfortable in that place. Right? We want to get it right. And especially in grief, where we’re trying so hard to not hurt anybody, we want to get it right. And getting it right unfortunately, it’s not really a thing. It’s getting it as good as you can. And that’s always going to be good enough, right? It’s always going to be good enough. If you say you’re gonna do something, do it. If you can deflect those difficult questions, do it. If you can, you know, do something you’re really great at that will help the person, do it. And really… I think it’s really smart to think about, you know, what are you good at what skills do you have ahead of time? You know, I always encourage people to practice with the small losses, right? We all have small losses all the time. Everything that’s a change brings a grief of some sort, right? Any transition, there’s something lost and we need to grieve that. A friend breakup, a friend moving away. Nevermind, you know, divorces and lost businesses and lost jobs and lost promotions. Like there’s bigger little ones and little little ones. 

Alex Alexander  59:20

A small investment you made that isn’t gonna work out. 

Suzanne Jabour  59:23

Yeah. 100%.

Alex Alexander  59:24

A million.


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Suzanne Jabour  59:25

There’s still many. That’s the place to practice, right? Because probably with a grieving mom who’s choosing to grieve out loud, I am not your good first assignment, right? But if you’ve practiced a little bit with smaller losses, and started to have open conversations, especially right now, you know, if any of us were honest with ourselves and looked at the last three years of our lives, we have lost tons of things. Many people have lost loved ones or multiple loved ones. And all of us have lost things other than loved ones. But we’re not talking about that really actively and if we were, we would find community, right? We would find ways to support each other, we would find commonalities and we would feel less alone. So starting those conversations is really powerful, because you’re talking about the lesser losses. And how was that? How did that show up? What happened in your body? How did your brain work? You know, could you sleep? Could you eat? Let’s find out, let’s find out about each other and how grief works in different circumstances. So when there is a big loss or something intense, like you’re helping your friend work through and with, you know, then you’ve got some tools, and you’ve got a little bit of confidence that you can show up with more love than fear. Because right now we’re all stuck in fear. And not a lot of good stuff happens when you’re stuck in fear. Right? We need to shift and get a little more comfortable, get a little more love focused. And then we could do amazing things.

Alex Alexander  1:00:53

Those little losses, also just acknowledging them and being present with them, like it’s practice, but it’s also just normalizing that these are constant. Yes, this is a constant and some are big earthquake, shattering ones and other ones, you know, are just a little shaking the… the floorboards, but they’re always there. So it makes the earth shattering ones seem less like they came out of nowhere. Because you see that some are just bigger than others, but it’s all happening no matter what. 

Suzanne Jabour  1:01:30

Yeah, and really, to just normalize for people that all of those losses also need to be grieved, right? We have this weird sense of some kind of odd hierarchy of grief. And I would guess for you as a 13 year old whose mom died, you probably found yourself on that weird peg system pretty high up, right? Because you’re young, and your mom died. And that’s, you know, unusual. But I feel the same way. I’m like, but me being in some kind of hierarchical system of grief doesn’t help anybody. Because the little losses need to be grieved. And it’s so hard for me, because so often I’ll have a friend or someone who I know, has a smaller loss. And they’ll say, “Oh, but I don’t want to bother you because like, your loss is so much greater than mine.” And I’m like, greater how? Like it all needs to be grieved. And it may take you less time and maybe intense for less time. It may not, it may be as… as you know, shattering as mine was. I have no judgment about that at all. We need to grieve those little things. Because right now, they’re just all compounding, right? They’re all adding up and adding up and adding up and our backpack is getting heavier and heavier and heavier and eventually/now, you know, what we’re seeing is we’re all lashing out at each other. Because our weight that we’re carrying is so heavy, and we’re not doing anything to lighten it and to release some of those emotions and some of that fear. And when we’re in fear, we want to, we go into protection. And when we’re all in protection, that has to be against something. So you have to pick a villain, and it just turns into this whole big mess. That’s part of what we find ourselves in.

Alex Alexander  1:03:02

And if we acknowledge all the grief, it just shows that we’re all human. We’re all having similar experiences. And in those moments where you are grieving, tiny things, big things, tiny things that feel big to you, whatever, whatever it is, you don’t have to feel like you’re the only one who’s ever grieved that, especially the little ones. The moments where you’re like, Wow, well, I just can’t seem to get over this. But everyone else is moving on, they probably haven’t. They probably didn’t. They probably just had to suffer in silence.

Suzanne Jabour  1:03:38

Yeah. And you know, no good ever came from suffering in silence. I don’t think. You know, stuffing emotions, nothing good ever came from that. And I just thought, oh, that just hit me right in the heart. And I think for me, that’s part of what I felt in those early days was like, this is big. And this will wait to attack me in the dark one day if I don’t just face it now. So I’m gonna face it now. Well, I have the support that I do. And I have the grace that I do from others who have this expectation, because I’m up on that hierarchy that I shouldn’t be a hot mess. So if I deny that now and try and do it later, that’s gonna be even worse. So it was like, no.

Alex Alexander  1:04:19

Let me tell you, Suzanne. We’re gonna have to cut this off because it’s gonna be a long episode. But for anybody who’s listening, that’s thinking about shutting it down, right? My mom passed when I was 13. I had a lot of other crappy things that happened when I was a kid. I did not have the capacity. So it’s not like I tried to shove it down. I just… my survival technique was to proceed. And, quite frankly, it has made me a thriving, successful adult in everything you can see. And I’ve been very public about this on my social media. Well, not very… not like very public, but I’ve acknowledged it quite a bit and that all this stuff, the grief is patient? You are right, right? It was there, it has been there. And it led to all these body reactions and panic attacks in my late 20s, early 30s. And I have had to go back and do weekly for three years. Again, my childhood was very bad. Therapy, and by all rights, I don’t look like I’m having these problems. My life looks great. But then it will catch up to you. And again, I didn’t try to shove this down. This is just how my pattern played out. But it’s very hard to explain to people that when it does catch up to you, and everything else looks fine, and you have to be like, yeah, but every week, I have to go to this really intense therapy that basically forces me into bed, sometimes for multiple days. And people like, “Really? Really? That’s just as… people. Like, like, it’s just as vulnerable to be 20 years down the line having to deal with it, as it is to be messy and do it in the moment. No matter what, it’s messy.

Suzanne Jabour  1:06:16

it’s messy, there’s no way to pretty it up. It’s just messy. And that’s okay, most of life is messy, if we’re honest about it. So grief is super messy, because we’re not very honest about it. And so then it feels messier and more isolating and more lonely than it needs to, I think, because we don’t see the commonality with other people’s experiences, right? So, you know, for you and I to share our stories of our losses and the way they impacted us, you know, there’s so much similar in our experiences too, even though mine is two and a half years ago, loss of a child and yours is 20 years ago, loss of a mother. You know, there’s so much commonality in grief and so much consistency in the way that it shows up. Even though every time it’s unique. And for every person, it’s unique. But some of the same things happened maybe in a different order, maybe with a different intensity. And if we were talking about that, like think about what a conversation around the dinner table could look like with your family, or really close friends where you said, hey, like, how’s everybody doing? Like, what losses? Are you thinking about? Are you thinking about that at all? Like I’m thinking about that a lot right now, because of the last three years. So like, let’s talk about it. And you don’t have to do that with people that are… that when you say that, get that deer in the headlights, just that look, maybe they’re not the people for that conversation in that moment. But try it out. See if we can find some connections, see if we can find some commonality because we’re all there together. And we need to shift this together. This is a cultural shift that needs to happen where we normalize that loss brings grief, grief is normal. It’s going to happen to all of us. Let’s do better. 

Alex Alexander  1:07:56

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode. There are so many ways we could spend an hour.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  1:08:04

And I am beyond grateful that you chose to spend it here with me and Suzanne talking about this topic. Grief and Loss. And especially how we’re showing up for people is not an easy topic to think about. It is very possible that this episode might have caused you to reflect on places where you could have done something differently in the past. Or maybe where you wanted to show up perfectly, but you let fear get in the way. And I know that conversations like this aren’t comfortable. But they’re important. The only way we’re going to grow and change and show up better for the people that we love is by reflecting and choosing to consciously do things differently the next time. Luckily, this episode gave us all so many examples of ways that we can show up, that we can try again next time. And if you’re looking for more examples of how to show up for someone in grief, go down to the show notes, find Suzanne’s information, go give her a follow, reach out, send her a DM. She is a certified grief educator. And this is the kind of work she’s doing day in and day out. There are so many more tangible tips if you go and follow her work. With that, talk to you again next week.

Podcast Intro/Outro  1:09:31

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.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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