October 20, 2022
EP. 133 — Holding And Understanding Grief with Megan Devine
Psychotherapist and author Megan Devine joins Jameela this week to discuss what grief is, how it can affect us physically, what we can say to those in our lives who are grieving, and how we can actually help, and then wrap things up by answering your questions about grief and healing.
Check out Megan’s podcast –Here After with Megan Devine – Wherever you get your podcasts
You can get Megan’s book – It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay – wherever books are sold.
133 — Holding And Understanding Grief with Megan Devine
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil. The podcast against shame. I hope you’re well and I’m really excited for you to listen to today’s episode. It’s one of my standout all time faves and an episode I really needed because it’s about a subject that I really don’t know about or really understand beyond a kind of cerebral level. And I have a strong feeling that you need this too considering how overwhelming the amount of questions that came in when I put the word out to you that I was going to do a podcast episode on the subject of grief, and I asked you for your questions and you sent in not just so many questions, but so many such thoughtful, thought provoking questions. Such deep and profound questions and things that I would never have thought to have asked. And so thank you. I should put the word out to you guys more often. You’re brilliant. And it was an honor to be able to ask those questions to our fantastic guest. Her name is Megan Devine and she’s a psychotherapist, a writer, a grief advocate and a communication expert. And I cannot stress enough how much of a communication expert she is, just purely in that I have almost never heard a human being speak so succinctly and fucking perfectly as she did in this talk. It was just like soundbite after soundbite after soundbite. It was a gift to be able to hear her speak. And we talk a lot about grief and she obviously understands that as an expert, but also as someone who herself has lost someone and has been on a 13 year journey with that loss so far and had a very real, very intense and and not a perfect depiction of what we as a society think grief is supposed to look like. And she’s super honest about that, very, very giving with her own story and then talks to me on a kind of fundamental level about what grief is. You know, I’m quite a disconnected person. We get into that in the episode, and so I can’t always relate to people. I don’t know what to do. And so she gives me a lot of advice in this episode about how I can better support other people, which I think are so fucking important to have out there as a resource, because a lot of us don’t know what to do and it’s a case by case basis and we don’t always have the right words and we definitely don’t want to make things worse. And there’s been so much grief and so much loss over in so many different ways in the last few years in particular, and this kind of like nuclear bomb level of trauma that we are constantly needed more than ever by the people around us. And so she is super helpful in giving us all advice in how to serve as best we can. And then we get to your excellent questions about grief from so many different angles and perspectives. And she answers those questions just fan fucking tastically. So sit back, relax, get your notepad out and enjoy this wealth of opportunity to grow as supporters, in my opinion. And I really hope that if you are someone who has experienced grief, that the way in which it’s spoken about and depicted in this makes you feel less alone, makes you feel heard, makes you feel seen, and gives you the permission that you deserve to grieve and the ways in which you see fit and the ways in which you need. And I wish you so much love and so much healing. And to all of those supporting someone in that situation, I wish you all of the luck because it’s fucking tricky and God knows I’m not perfect at it. And so I’m sure many of you aren’t either. But this is a great opportunity for us all to to learn. And so please enjoy the fucking fantastic Megan Devine. Megan Devine, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Megan [00:04:20] I am fabulous. Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
Jameela [00:04:22] Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. And wow, I mean, we put out a request for questions for this episode and they came pouring in. So it appears that you are much needed. You work a lot in the area of helping people grieve. And and you’ve become somewhat you’re known as an expert on grief and Christ there’s never been an amazing time, I guess, to be alive without loss. But the last three years has been particularly hard on a lot of people who maybe didn’t see that coming, who, of course, didn’t see this coming.
Megan [00:05:05] Right I mean it’s kind of impossible to see that coming. And I think even in the middle of it, even in the middle of cascading losses, until it happens to you, you don’t see it coming.
Jameela [00:05:14] Yeah. And rather uniquely, as someone who has been doing this work for a long time, right in the middle of it, you then experienced your own loss. And so this comes from like a deeply personal place, which is also very rare to find in your counselor that someone can actually genuinely empathize with you. Because a lot of people, you know, that I’ve met in the field are coming from a place of tremendous sympathy. But they can’t maybe they can’t necessarily exactly relate to what it is that you’re going through. And so I wondered if you wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about that.
Megan [00:05:52] About my own personal experience?
Jameela [00:05:53] Yeah.
Megan [00:05:54] Yeah. And I think I think you bring up a really good point that there are a lot of wonderful and empathetic and caring people in the world who really want to be there for people going through impossible times. And it’s not that you can’t support somebody if you haven’t been in similar rooms of hell, but it does change things. So I was a psychotherapist for a really long time, did a lot of trauma work and a lot of addiction work and really thought I knew my way around grief and I did up to a point. And then my partner and I were talking about me closing my practice so that I could maybe stop being a talking head and stop listening all the time for a living and take a break. And he was going to take over financial support of our family so that I could do that, so that I could walk away. But we never got a chance to do that because two days after that conversation, Matt drowned.
Jameela [00:06:52] Oh my god.
Megan [00:06:52] In our ordinary. Yeah, right. I mean, it’s been it’s been years. And I still my voice still cracks when I say that because he’s still dead and it still sucks.
Jameela [00:07:04] Yeah. And it was so unexpected. He was very young and very healthy and it was just a sort of freak occurrence.
Megan [00:07:12] Absolute freak occurrence. And what happened for me after Matt died, I mean, I literally quit my job at the Riverside. There was a friend there with me. And I looked at her when they when the warden came out and said, I’m sorry, he’s dead. I looked at my friend and I said, I’m not going back. You have to quit for me. Like I’m not. I don’t talk to anybody ever again. And I really wanted to call all of my former clients and apologize for being full of shit. I felt.
Jameela [00:07:40] Interesting.
Megan [00:07:42] Everything I had done in the face of somebody’s loss was wrong. And I you know, I don’t I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t believe that I was a bad therapist. I don’t believe that I was incredibly wrong. But I think that there is something about having your world dissolve in an instant that lets you sit with somebody else’s absolutely obliterated life. And not try to change it for them.
Jameela [00:08:14] Yeah. What’s so unimaginable I mean, I a I’m quite a I have said this a lot on the podcast, but I’m, you know, a very disconnected person. So, you know, I. My uncle passed away in my arms, like in my, like we were holding him. I was holding him as he passed away when I was nine years old. And even after that, like, I couldn’t really feel anything. Everything I feel goes straight into my body and I get sick. And so I don’t. Nothing connects with me intellectually, very often.
Megan [00:08:46] Mm hmm.
Jameela [00:08:47] And so I, I, I, I don’t fully understand what grief feels like emotionally. And perhaps some other people don’t either, because they haven’t experienced it or because they are similarly, to me, a little bit disconnected. And so this is the stupidest question on earth, but would you be able to try to explain to me what what grief is and what it feels like?
Megan [00:09:11] Yes. And it’s not a stupid question. It’s actually a question I get all the time. Not to worry. So I, I would actually reflect back to you that feeling things in your body is being connected.
Jameela [00:09:24] Right.
Megan [00:09:24] Right. So that’s people experience emotional or relational events in different ways. What you just described as you your body takes on the impact or the weight of what you just experienced. And because we don’t talk about grief. We don’t talk about death. We don’t talk about big, heavy emotional things, especially in many family systems. It’s no surprise that a lot of people are like, I don’t know what to do with this, so I’m not going to do anything with it. If there’s nowhere for that intense sort of liminal experience to go, then of course, it comes into your body. Right. So not feeling like you understand grief or you feel disconnected. I don’t think that that’s a maladaptive response. I think that’s a response to the environment that you’re in and that we’re in and that bodies are very, very wise.
Jameela [00:10:20] No, totally. Well, just just for me personally, I think there’s more that, like, I don’t have a sense of loss. So I don’t like I’m not sentimental. And the second someone’s out of my sight, I don’t connect to them or think about them. And I and so I don’t really feel. Yeah. Tremendous loss. And it makes me sound probably like a sociopath. I’m not a sociopath and I’ve I’ve known and I’ve checked. I’ve gone to doctors. I checked. But I because of that, like I can I can obviously intellectually imagine, like, the loss of someone in your life. But but I would love to understand it better, if only so that I could make sure that I am a better support to my friends. You know, I haven’t known what to do. I’ve I’ve lost people, but I’ve also my friends have lost their parents or their parents passed away on their own because of COVID and couldn’t have anyone there with them. And it’s just like they’ve been through unimaginable loss and are dealing with unimaginable grief in a world that is just not letting up, like is not giving us a second to just stop and process because it just gets worse and worse and worse every day. No. And, and, and also generally even when there isn’t a pandemic and like a sort of like global uprising of fascism and all of our rights being taken away, generally, life rarely stops to allow people to have space for grief because you have to carry on in this sort of rat race. And so I would love to be a better support to those people. And selfishly, that’s why I have brought you here.
Megan [00:11:51] Mm. I’m all for it. So first, I didn’t actually answer your question. I felt like a a sort of answer to what grief is. So let’s do that. I mean, it’s trite. It’s kind of like trying to define what love is. Because grief is part of love. If you when you love someone or something or a life that you’ve built for yourself and that is taken away in some way, in some shape or some form. Often death. But not only death. Right. The experience of no longer having that love that that expression of love in your life. Any emotional, physical, relational response to that loss is grief. That is purposefully vague when I say that, because I think there’s a tendency grief is such a big emotion. And the idea of your dad dying or your friend dying or your kid dying is so big that we want we want to have a parameter, a definition, something manageable, right? To bring it down to a personal and controllable scale. And if you think about it like you, how would you define what love is? Well, that gets tricky, right? So, like, it’s a feeling, it’s a relatedness, it’s a connection. It brings up a whole bunch of stuff. And grief is really the same thing. And I wish that I had a better definition for it, but it really is a collection of somatic relational and emotional responses to having something or someone you love disappear from your life or no longer be in the form that you wish they were.
Jameela [00:13:29] Mm. Yeah, that’s an amazing point, because sometimes we lose the people who are still technically here.
Megan [00:13:34] Yes. Yeah. And there’s I mean, there’s grief involved in chronic illness. There’s grief involved in if you get a life altering injury. Right. We’ve got so many people dealing with Long-Covid these days. That’s grief. Nobody technically died. But if you’ve lost the life or the body that you have been in, then there’s grief in that. So grief isn’t just related to death. I think grief is. I mean, this sounds like really a downer, but like, grief is the is the background condition of life. From big losses to sort of everyday little losses that we don’t recognize. My dad, my dad has always been a very sort of stoic, serious person, and he’s got a lot more emotional as he’s gotten older. And I was talking to him a couple of months ago, and he is like, Maggie, Maggie, I think I have an idea for something you should talk about. I think you should talk about the everyday grief that we don’t call grief. Right? Because, like, I’m still sad. And then he he mentioned a whole bunch of things from like 30 years ago. And I think this is the important part here is that grief is part of every day and learning to pay attention to the things that hurt in yourself and in the people around you and in the wider world like these aren’t conversations that we just need to have when somebody dies. These are conversations that we need to have all the time because life is hard. Yeah.
Jameela [00:15:02] Yeah. It’s funny you say that. Yeah, I, I guess when I maybe I can relate in that when I, when I was little, one of my parents used to disappear for years at a time with no warning. And so now when my boyfriend goes away on tour, I don’t feel like anything in my sort of [inaudible] heart. I’m just like, All right, he’s gone now. And then I kind of he sort of doesn’t really necessarily exist to me while he’s away in my head, I just kind of go and I compartmentalize, but I don’t eat or drink enough or like, bathe. I just sort of stop looking after myself and every single way until he gets back. And it’s like this really weird, bad habit that I sort of we’ve always laughed off. But I wonder now, hearing you speak if that’s like a weird form of of grief, because I think I was quite similar as a baby. I would just sort of stop eating, stop drinking and just stop functioning. And so I wonder if it’s like a weird bad habit and maybe we miss all these things because we look at grief as this huge event. You know what I mean? The words is so evocative of like a massive, overwhelming event. And actually, in a lot of us, maybe it’s coming out in these very, very subliminal ways.
Megan [00:16:18] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jameela [00:16:20] And I think that’s why some people don’t recognize their grief, because they’re expecting it to be full of tears and full of like drama and chaos. And actually, sometimes people suffer a silent grief.
Megan [00:16:30] Mm hmm. A lot of times people suffer silent grief. One reason is, hey, nobody died, right? And that we don’t recognize the impact that these are really, like, formative years type things, the impact that those have on us. Like, I mean, I know you’re familiar with like the body keeps the score and Besser van der Kolk and other trauma workers like Judith Herman. And your body is doing what it needs to do to survive and cope with whatever that existential fear is of somebody I love is not coming back. Right. That’s that’s a dangerous thought to have consciously in your mind. And the emotions attached to that are really big. But the body pays attention to it. And I think that that happens for a lot of people because we don’t we don’t talk about the reality of pain. In Western culture, we really just don’t we don’t talk about. .
Jameela [00:17:27] Why is that?
Megan [00:17:28] Well, I mean, I think it’s terrifying, right? Nobody likes to think about our bodies failing or the people we love abandoning us or the people we love dying. Right. I think you know, I think that, you know, there’s like, oh, you know, we lump in grief with and of life and death and dying and they’re not the same thing. I think that we can actually in some ways get intellectually comfortable with the concept of our own mortality. Like cool. Yep. Do your advance directives, get your living wills in place, all of this stuff, because eventually I’m going to die. But it gets different when you think about your partner dying or your dog dying. Right. Like that. I think that hits us on a really visceral level. I think I think understanding that the people and the the beings that you love will not always be here is really, really scary. And we do whatever we can to shut that down. I think it’s also behind a lot of the unsolicited advice that happens for grieving people. And, you know, it’s not just people grieving a death, but folks in the disability community and the chronic illness community. Like haven’t you tried broccoli? But this this real desperation to make people feel better.
Jameela [00:18:44] Also is any of it individualism, I wonder, because you know that that to me is one of the greatest differences between my culture that I grew up in or that I come from. And then the culture that I actually, you know, was raised in, which was a British culture, Western culture. And I there’s that that feels like it feels like we turn our backs on people who are suffering in whatever way. If it’s a or people who whose lives we don’t consider ideal, we sort of turn away from it because we almost feel like there’s a sort of contagion element. Like, like if I if that, if I acknowledge that this can happen to you, if I acknowledge you, if I humanize you, then I have to accept that this could happen to me, and I don’t want to think about that rather than I see you in your own pain. How can I help? How can we as a community help? And then also feel like we’re going to be helped us because we don’t feel like anyone’s going to help us. If we are in a similar situation, because we don’t have a culture of community like gathering around people. I wonder if individualism is what makes us so terrified of, you know, the kind of finger in our ears and the eyes closed in la la la la la la la la. It’s not going to happen. It’s not happening. And we do it with people who are fat. We do it with people who are disabled. We do it sometimes with people who are struggling with their gender. There’s a kind of like shut down.
Megan [00:20:01] Yeah.
Jameela [00:20:03] And a disconnect because it’s like, well, I don’t want your situation to happen to me, otherwise I’ll be left alone with this.
Megan [00:20:07] Your situation is making me feel things and I don’t want to feel things.
Jameela [00:20:11] Whereas in some ethnic cultures it’s you’re more likely to be like, okay, this person’s suffering, let’s all gather, let’s go bring food, let’s, you know, you don’t feel like you will be alone when this happens to you so much.
Megan [00:20:22] Yes. Yes. And I think that there can be a temptation to look out of Western culture and say other cultures have it better. I feel like there is a a spectrum of responses to grief across cultures, but I think it’s a it’s a really unifying human thing to not like to think about the people you love dying or disappearing. And I think there’s also an element of real helplessness in there. Like, it’s it’s easier to look at somebody who’s in pain. If you can fix that for them. You feel more powerful, more helpful. You don’t feel helpless. So I think we’ve got those twin things going on that seeing, really seeing and feeling somebody else’s pain brings our own physicality and our own vulnerability into really sharp relief. You have to start thinking about, Oh my God, that could be me. That could be my friend. Right. And I think it also, when we’re faced with somebody’s pain and this isn’t like nefarious intent, this isn’t always just like people being jerks and giving unhelpful advice. But I’ve been doing this work for a really long time. And when I have a friend who’s grieving, my very first impulse is to make them feel better. I know better that impulse to make somebody feel better, to comfort them is a really human impulse. It’s just that we have learned the wrong tools to deliver that love and care. Right. So I think there are those those two things going on that facing somebody else’s pain is terrifying for a lot of reasons. And we really haven’t learned no fault, no fault of our own. But we really haven’t learned what our role is in the face of somebody else’s pain and how to deliver the desire to help that we really want to give that person we don’t know what to do. So we do what we’ve been taught, which is look on the bright side, practice gratitude. Have you tried broccoli, cheering people up, trying to get them to remember the good times and think about all the good in their life. Like all of the things that this culture has equipped us with to make things better. And those are all the wrong tools in the face of somebody’s pain.
Jameela [00:22:42] Do you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with loss in that, how you felt and what maybe you realized you would want to change about the advice you give after what happened?
Megan [00:22:55] Yeah. I mean. I can be a kind of cranky person anyway and think that other other people aren’t doing great jobs in communicating. So I’m going to I’m going to start with some of the most horrible things, and then I promise I’ll actually have some people who are fucking stellar. So. Within hours of Matt’s death, I had people telling me he didn’t really love you. So this is this shouldn’t be so bad, which was like where the hell did that come from?
Jameela [00:23:32] Jesus Christ.
Megan [00:23:32] So different people judging the relationship. I had so many people within hours of his accidental death, like patting me on the shoulder and saying, Don’t worry, sweetheart. Like you’re young and you’re smart and you’re beautiful. You’ll find somebody else really soon. As though people are replaceable. I have really good hearing. And, you know, Matt and I met at a at a coffee shop in a relatively small town. And so I was like going back there, you know, sort of like, wait a minute, our life still existed. Like we were here just trying to get a sense of the world still existed. And I could hear people in the coffee shop saying she must not be a very good feminist if she’s this upset about losing a man. What? More than one person said that. And I thought like that that can I’m sorry, that that has to be like nobody has ever said that to anyone before. But as I started talking to more widowed people, so many women had heard that from their communities. It’s just a man like you can’t possibly put that much weight into a male. Like what? What is even happening? You know, she was a she was a therapist before this happened. Like, she can’t have been very good at it if she can’t handle this, like all of this incredibly cruel stuff.
Jameela [00:24:55] Oh, my God.
Megan [00:24:56] So there’s like. There’s like, the real, like, jackass end of things and then sort of moving back towards well-meaning but not heinous. You know, the people who are like he died doing something that he loved. He wouldn’t have wanted to suffer. He wouldn’t want you to be sad, which is something that we say to grieving people all the time. You know, it’s up to you to take on his legacy as though, like my life before he died didn’t have any meaning. And now I have to like do this thing. And because I was a therapist and because I was a writer before he died, so many people came to me and said, you know this, I’m so I’m really sorry this happened and this is going to make you such an amazing therapist and you’re going to help so many people.
Jameela [00:25:45] Ah shit.
Megan [00:25:46] And you know, I think we say that to people a lot thinking that it’s helpful.
Jameela [00:25:52] Oh, my God. I mean, I’m I’m in the creative arts and, whenever something horrendous happens to people, it’s not long before someone says either like to someone or about someone like God the next album’s going to be incredible. That is like fucking so cynical and terrifying.
Megan [00:26:08] Yeah, right. And so then this is, this is so tricky because. I am a really good therapist and I have done a lot of really amazing work and I have hopefully changed the world for grieving people and for supporters. But Matt didn’t need to die for me to be awesome. When we say things like that, when we say This horrendous experience is going to make you so good at serving others. What we’re saying is your life before this happened didn’t have value.
Jameela [00:26:44] Yeah, and our addiction to the silver lining is really tricky.
Megan [00:26:47] Our addiction to the silver lining.
Jameela [00:26:48] And not always helpful, I imagine.
Megan [00:26:49] Yeah. And the transformation and this really transactional lens of looking at what it means to be human. And that if you don’t somehow transform your pain into something beautiful and useful for the world, you’re somehow failing it.
Jameela [00:27:03] Well, toxic positivity isn’t it, you know which is.
Megan [00:27:05] It’s toxic positivity. Yeah, and it’s really a.
Jameela [00:27:07] Huge problem now.
Megan [00:27:07] It’s a really rude thing to do to art and the creative process. Right. Like. You don’t have to make something beautiful out of whatever’s happened to you. You don’t have to make it into a useful commodity for the world to consume. There are plenty of people who don’t transform their experience into something that can be helpful and useful to the world. And that’s a really weird, transactional way to look at life. And the other thing is, I think that we have. I mean, I think you are familiar with the term transformation porn, right? that we you know, you you hold up somebody who has, you know, lost two legs in an accident. And now look at they’re an amazing athlete. And this is what we all aspire to. And I think we do that with grieving people as well. Right. Look at this foundation that somebody started. Look at. Look at the Moms Demand movement and parents who have had their children shot in public places in events of mass shooting. And they have turned it into such a force for good. But you you don’t have to do that. And I think that that gives us this ideal that if you have survived something, the only acceptable path forward is to make it beautiful. And that just leaves so many people out of the equation. So many people who are doing their best to build an inhabitable life for themselves after the life that they wanted is no longer an option. It doesn’t have to be some gigantic gesture. But I think because we hold up those people as the ideals to reach for that there is a correct way to survive a tragedy or a trauma or anything difficult. That leaves sort of the people who don’t take that path out in the cold. Right. How am I supposed to just day to day survive what’s happened to me? How am I supposed to day to day support the people that I care about when they’re going through horrible things? If I can’t use the things I’ve been taught about looking on the bright side and turning this into a gift and becoming a voice for the voiceless, like how? How do we show up for each other if we discard that script of toxic positivity? I think that’s the really big question is how do we show up for each other? In any kind of difficulty from death to. To any number of things. How do we show up for each other if we can’t lean on those old scripts that we’ve inherited about life being what you make it if you just have the right attitude.
Jameela [00:29:46] God, that’s such a great point. It’s such a great point. I’ve never heard anyone talk about that before, about the pressure of and the aspiration of trying to turn your grief into something inspiring. And that absolutely is a pressure that people put upon themselves. And and when we’re talking about anything, be it like addiction, eating disorders or any of the kind of coping mechanisms sometimes people find in order just to survive. I always tried to make a point of saying, you know, like, don’t beat yourself up over it because you’re still here. And maybe that’s the thing that you needed to do to still be here, and maybe eventually we can let that go. But whatever those coping mechanisms are, however unaspirational or uninspiring they may be, you’re fucking amazing. You’re still here and you’re still carrying on. You’re trying at all.
Megan [00:30:36] Yeah. Survival is aspirational, right? Like, it doesn’t matter how we measure that, but the fact that you can get up and brush your teeth after your sister was killed by a drunk driver, like that’s fucking winning. That is winning. The fact that you can still notice the beautiful way the sunlight slants through the window at a certain time of day. Like that’s amazing and aspirational to me.
Jameela [00:31:05] And so what was helpful? What did people do that was actually helpful?
Megan [00:31:10] Right. Like we can’t just leave me with my crankiness. So things that were amazing. Some of it was tactical. I think my favorite supports in the early days and first few weeks in the first month or so after Matt died, the tactical support was incredible. So by tactical support, I mean things like I had to go to the morgue to identify Matt’s body. I couldn’t do it. So I had a friend come with me and he went in and identified Matt’s body for me. That was incredible that somebody would do that for me. I had people come and take the dog for a walk. I had people drop off food and not ask me to talk to them. Right. They would text me and they would say, I’m making you food. Is there anything that you can keep down right now, I’m happy to make that right. So in a way, it’s interesting because I’m like, you know, you want to be able to provide emotional support, but the most helpful support was, in a way, dissociative. Right. I know there’s nothing that I can do about the emotions that are happening right now, but there are a lot of details to take care of. There are a lot of people to inform. There’s a lot of like absorption happening. So if I can keep the world moving around you and underneath you, that’s the best way that I can do it. So really physical support was amazing and I had just incredible, incredible people come out of the woodwork to give that to me. The other thing that was honestly the most helpful thing that anybody said to me, and it’s a a dear, dear friend of mine who has had a chronic illness for a very long time and has nearly died from it several times. And we’ve known each other for a while. And she came to the house the afternoon that Matt died and she said, You have never had to do this before. I just need you to listen to what your body needs and support your physical organism. If you can support your physical organism, you can withstand this. Right. Just those. Those two pieces, that acknowledgment of, like, holy fuck, this is immense, and there’s nothing I can do about it, and there’s nothing I can say about it. And you have never had to live this before. So let’s focus on what did she say? Tend the organism, right? Tend the organism. And again, like.
Jameela [00:33:41] It gives you something practical and tangible because there’s something there’s something so impractical and tangible about emotions. But you can you can feel when you’re hungry. You can feel when you need a piss. Like, there are certain, like, kind of just functional. Everything’s kind of functional. And. And also another thing I imagine, is that people are in shock for such a long time, an indeterminable amount of time. So. So it’s probably a good idea to to I mean, obviously, if they want to speak, let them speak. But but it’s a good idea to be prepared for the fact that someone doesn’t actually know even how they feel or what the shape of the situation because they’re fucking stunned, right?
Megan [00:34:18] Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, asking somebody in that kind of space what they need is really difficult. Like, I mean, we do this all the time, right like, but I’m right I’m here for you. Let me know if you need anything. Well, the amount of energy that it takes to think about things you might need and then figure out who might be able to fill those needs and then feel brave enough to ask for help from people to get those needs met. Like, who does that on an ordinary Tuesday? Right. Like, I need this. I’m going to ask my friend to come walk the dog because I’m working late. Like we don’t tend to articulate our needs on an average day. So asking somebody who’s in a lot of pain for whatever reason, to figure out what they need, figure out who might be able to fill those needs, and then feel brave enough to ask for help. That is, I mean, light years beyond what somebody can do. It’s just not practical.
Jameela [00:35:12] Yeah I’m definitely someone who said, let me know if you need anything. I’m definitely done. Yeah, definitely. I’m a I’m a repeat offender on the. Do you need anything or burdening someone with that. The last time a friend of mine lost someone, the only thing I knew to do was send a lot of pizza. Because I feel like pizza is the easiest food to eat, you know, especially it doesn’t require any utensils.
Megan [00:35:38] And no thought at all.
Jameela [00:35:39] And it’s normally a good it’s normally a good vibe. Pizza and and EMDR therapy. Because I knew that like whenever they felt ready, that would be one of the fastest ways to deal with like a huge shock loss. For that person, it doesn’t work for everyone necessarily, but those are the only things I knew to do is just to send things. but again, I. I wasn’t in touch as much as I should have been or could have been, and that’s because I just didn’t know what to do. And, and we’ve had like we had Dr. Vivek Murphy on this show, who was talking a lot about loneliness. He’s the surgeon general of the United States. And he was on this podcast talking about the fact that after people lose someone, we often kind of at first kind of rush in and try and do whatever we can and then we leave them alone because of our own kind of maybe awkwardness or we presume they want to be alone. And actually, that’s when the worst kind of loneliness can set in. So also presumptuous which I’ve totally done, like leaving someone alone for like I don’t want to bother them. That happens on masse kind of at once.
Megan [00:36:45] It really does.
Jameela [00:36:45] To people. And then that must feel terrible. I, you know, I can’t relate, but.
Megan [00:36:51] Yeah, I mean, for me, I think about it as, as pain and suffering, right? Like the pain. I’ll use my own own example here. The pain of Matt’s death wasn’t going to go anywhere. Right. Suffering was when people said mean things. When. When, you know, three months later I would see somebody sort of in in my peripheral community and they would say, like, how you doin? And I’d be like, not that great, actually. And they were like, Really? Why? What happened? I’d be like, Sorry. Matt died. And they’re like, Oh, is that still bothering you? Like, it’s been three, three months. Those sorts of those sorts of experience. Those are like those are suffering for me, right? Like suffering is the is is your in-laws making crappy comments? Suffering is sort of all of the stuff that surrounds the pain itself and feeling like the rest of the world has moved on and forgotten about you. That is a huge point of suffering.
Jameela [00:37:49] And forgotten about them, right. When when, when you’re thinking about them all the time.
Megan [00:37:55] Yes. Because and, you know, again, this is not a terrible thing. This is part of being like normal humans. Is that for me, when Matt died, I didn’t have a life to go back to because my life had been destroyed in that instant. But everybody else who still had intact families and a partner to snuggle up with and, you know, to talk about like, wow, that could be us any time. I’m so glad it’s not they they have lives to go back to. You have a life to go back to. So this loss is not central in your mind and that’s not wrong. That’s not bad. That’s being human. I think the trick here is being aware of it and doing things like set a reminder in your phone that says, you know, like every six weeks or so, check in with your friend. Right. And say things like, you know, I think of you so often and I don’t want to intrude, but I just want to check with you. If you’d like more contact from me, I would be happy to come and see you. Right. I think our assumptions about what people need, they’re not necessarily wrong, but with any kind of assumption. You want to check it out with a person.
Jameela [00:39:03] A case by case basis because people are so unique.
Megan [00:39:06] It’s a case by case basis. So I like I tend to like to do things on my own can be very, very stubborn. And I had some amazing friends in those early days who would send me texts and be like, You know, that I never expect a response from you. You never have to like you never have to reply if you don’t want to. But I’m going to keep checking in on you on the off chance that you do need an ear. And could you just please reply with any sort of character at least once every two days? So I know you’re not that dead. Like, I love that. I love this permission to not reply. And also checking in about our assumptions about what the person needs. Maybe, you know, your friend really doesn’t like intense group emotional things. They don’t like a lot of contact. I don’t like to be touched when I’m really upset.
Jameela [00:39:54] Same.
Megan [00:39:54] So. You know, people you can you can rely on what you know of your person that you’re trying to support. But check it out. Right? Like, I know that you don’t usually like being touched when you’re having a hard time. Is that different right now? Would a hug feel helpful for you? I’m happy. I’m happy to follow your lead. Right. We just want to check out our assumptions and let that person say yes or no and let them say, I don’t know too is a great thing.
Jameela [00:40:22] One of my best friend and I, he goes through like long periods of not being able to, I guess, use his words and respond to anyone. And so because of my terror that he would take his life, I’ve just asked him to respond with no in caps lock whenever I text. And it doesn’t matter what my text is. If he’s not in the mood to speak, I just get a no in caps lock and then I know he’s alive. He’s well enough to use a word and he’s just not in the mood. And then I know. And then I don’t take it personally, and then I don’t panic. And so that might be helpful if someone out there doesn’t want to talk to people.
Megan [00:41:02] I think that’s perfect. Yes.
Jameela [00:41:02] That they want those people to not because also it’s a bit fucking annoying when you’re going through something and people are checking in on you all the time and then you feel burdened to respond and then you don’t respond and then you feel guilty for not responding to, oh my gosh, there’s too much homework.
Megan [00:41:13] Yeah, it’s so much homework. I really I love that. I think that’s brilliant. I really like, like deciding on a code between friends, right? And like, I will send you this emoji if I’m really sucky, but I’m safe and I don’t feel like talking to anybody. And I’m going to send you this if I’m in trouble and I need help immediately, but I can’t use my words right. Like I’m a really big fan of having honest conversations about how hard something is and really I mean, again, I want to go back to like figuring out systems for how you’re going to communicate when your life just imploded. Like that is a really big request of yourself and of the people around you to like, let’s figure out how to talk in new and more helpful ways. I think that we can start practicing these ways of having relational conversations. Conversations about what what helps you when you’re having a really hard time or how… how are we doing this relationship? I think you can start practicing these kinds of communication skills on really low stakes, no big deal things. For example, if you see kind of a casual acquaintance. And you ask them how they’re doing and they’re like, Not that great. I didn’t sleep very well. And, you know, the dog threw up on my shoes this morning, and now I’m late and everybody’s cranky. I think our impulse is to be like, Oh, my God, I had the same sort of day, but at least we’re here, right? You just missed your opportunity to practice a different way of responding, right? So we just sort of habitually oh me too and at least this. And if we start practicing by saying, that sounds really crappy, I’m sorry that happened to you. That’s all you have to do. They just get in the habit of hearing what somebody is saying and not glossing over it and not correcting it for them. I think it makes it easier when the stakes are higher to be like, oh right, we’ve had this conversation like I know with my friends that if they’re going through a hard time and they text me and I can’t talk to them at that moment, we know that I can just say, I love you. I’m available to talk about this later. Can’t do it right now. Right. And that we’re not going to take that sort of stuff personally because we’ve been doing this for years. We’ve been having these sorts of conversations. We know how to ask each other questions. We also I think my favorite thing that I’ve learned over these last ten or so years is not that I no longer make relational errors because I do it all the time, but that I feel like I’m faster to recognize that what I just did or said was not helpful. And I am much faster to say can I have a do over? That is not what I wanted to say in this moment. And I’m sorry. I would love to say this, right? I feel like that we worry so much about getting it right, about getting our support messaging, right and correct. And honestly, I think if we stopped worrying so much and just use those sort of basic. Basic practices of. I want to hear what’s being said. I want to acknowledge whatever they just said. The suckage, the irritation, the I’m really tired because I didn’t sleep. And then. Follow their lead into how they want to deal with it or what they need in that moment. Right. Like there is people ask me all the time for scripts, for very specific situations like, no, no, no, I need to know exactly what to say to my sister, which will be exactly different from what I say to this person over here. And really, you don’t need 19 million scripts. What you need to remember is that your job is not to make people feel better. Your job is to make people feel heard. Your job as a friend, as a caring person, is to see and hear the person in front of you and help them feel supported in whatever feels supportive to them at that time.
Jameela [00:45:14] Yeah, I sometimes when a friend’s going through a breakup, like to put on that old Bravo show Cheaters, because that’s what I used to do during a break up, as I’d watch cheaters and just see people who are having even worse relationships.
Megan [00:45:28] I love that and I think this is great. So this is a really good example. So if you have if that’s what you love when you have a breakup and a friend of yours is going through a really bad breakup, it is awesome to say I have some ideas about what’s helped me. Do you want to hear some of them? Right. And if they say sure, you can say. Okay. What’s always helped me in the past is to watch Cheaters and to see how terrible other people have it. Do you want to try that together? I can totally come over and watch Cheaters with you. That’s beautiful. Like that is the most elegantly loving thing in the whole world. Because what we did first was we asked for permission before we gave advice. Consent in all things. Consent in all things. And it really is just slowing down that impulse to help and finding out if the person you’re trying to help feels helped by what you’re doing.
Jameela [00:46:29] You are so interesting and there is so much that I could get into with you. But I also really want to honor the people who wrote in with some fantastic questions. So would it be all right if we get to the Q’s and the A’s?
Megan [00:46:40] It is. I love Q&A.
Jameela [00:46:42] Okay, great. All right. So someone said and this is a fascinating question. Any advice for processing or grieving the death of someone that you didn’t like or had a complicated relationship with?
Megan [00:46:55] I love this question. This is one of my favorite questions of all time, because this is definitely something that we don’t talk about very much. I was. I was at a book launch for an amazing book called A Place called Home by David Ambrose, and he is a child welfare advocate and a foster care advocate. And I was having a conversation with somebody who said, you know, my my biological mother died and she was an addict and she was abusive and she was, you know, honestly, a terrible human being. But when she died, I was heartbroken and I don’t understand. I was like, just because there was a complex or adversarial relationship does not mean that you won’t be emotionally affected by somebody’s death. I think that as long as a person is alive, there’s a part of us, even if we know it’s not logical or practical. I think that there’s a part of us that hopes that that parent will see us. Or become the the person or the parent that we’ve always longed for them to be. And now that they’re dead, there’s no possibility of that happening. It doesn’t matter if that isn’t like kind of rational or practical. I think that there is. A a loss of potential, even if that potential was very, very tiny. And that that possibility is off the table forever now. I think the other thing is. We grieve what should have been and what we couldn’t have. What we deserved and what we didn’t get. For a lot of people like the years that I lost because of the damage that they did or because of all of the years that I spent trying to make it better or to fix that relationship. There is. You know, the person who died is sort of a symbol of. All of the impact of that person being in relationship with that person had on you. And when they die, it’s like you you it’s sort of like the black light comes on, right? And you suddenly feel the weight of their presence in your life and everything that that’s created. And I also think that those kinds of losses are so deeply, deeply misunderstood, because on the surface, here’s this horrible human being. How can you possibly have anything other than jubilation that they’re finally dead? Well, humans are a lot more complex than that. Love is a lot more complex than that. And I think. You know, going back to what I said about pain and suffering earlier, there’s suffering in a loss that you can’t talk about because people don’t understand it. So there is that some people call that a secondary loss. Right. Like the people around me don’t think I should be having any sort of emotional grief response to this person’s death because they were so objectively awful. Or you know, I hadn’t seen them in 30 years and we were estranged. If you hadn’t seen them in 30 years. Why does it matter if they’re dead? Right. All of this presumption and honestly judgment that we put on people when really the correct response, the correct and loving respons is that sounds really hard. Do you want to tell me about it?
Jameela [00:50:19] Mm hmm. I also want to flag, though, that there is also this weird like angel ification of people who die. Right. Obviously, that’s not a word, but like.
Megan [00:50:34] It is now.
Jameela [00:50:35] This feeling of like, I have to forgive now because they’ve passed. I have to forgive immediately. And I cannot maintain anger with someone because they’ve died. And so that, I think is also like a tremendous pressure of like but I’m still angry. And that anger, obviously, it would be great for you if that anger could dissipate along with that person, if that anger could die with that person. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Megan [00:51:00] No.
Jameela [00:51:01] And it’s really hard to suddenly feel like we kind of like suddenly all dead people become a saint. We do that a lot in society. They’ll be like a celebrity who everyone shat on during their life, and then they die. And it’s like she was an angel, we do it to women we do it to women we do it with Diana, like, you know, a bunch of different like people in the public sphere. But we it is a cultural thing of like they’ve died you, like you cannot speak ill of the dead if you were to still talk about those things that were so fucked up.
Megan [00:51:28] Right like that is the most OCD anxiety based, it’s like what’s going on happen if you speak if you speak ill of the dead.
Jameela [00:51:30] It’s so weird. Are they going to hear you. Like like for fuck’s sake.
Megan [00:51:33] Are going to get haunted. Like, what is the thing?
Jameela [00:51:36] And I mean, that does scare me, but, but that’s just seen too many films. But, but, I mean, there are some people I know who are literally I’m like, I’d rather you stay alive even if I don’t like you because I think you’ve got less access to me while alive.
Megan [00:51:50] That’s a whole different topic. That like, you know, immediate sainthood when you’ve been when you die like that is so common and even even when the person wasn’t a jerk. Right? Like we actually just did a social media post on this because one of the things that happened after Matt died, if I was like, God, I really miss him. He was amazing, you know, if I’m just like sort of remembering the awesomeness, somebody would always say, Yeah, well, he had some irritating traits too, right? So like, you can’t you can’t gush about somebody. And then if I said, like. Oh, my God. I’m so glad I don’t need to listen to him whine about blah, blah, blah. Then they would say. Do you think you would have broken up? Right. So we’re not allowed to be like the fullness of humans. Like people get to be one thing or another.
Jameela [00:52:43] It’s considered disrespectful. And I think you should just give yourself that space, like whoever you are, whatever you’re feeling, if you’ve still got unresolved rage, if you’re mad at them for dying, if you’re mad at them for dying before you are able to resolve shit, or if you’re mad at them for dying at the peak of everything, if they took their own life. And you feel feelings of rage and resentment, like your feelings are okay, whatever they are.
Megan [00:53:09] That’s right.
Jameela [00:53:09] We obviously have to be somewhat mindful of our behavior or may be saying our most hurtful feelings maybe to other people who could be harmed by those. But find someone you can say those things to and know that you’re not a bad person and better fucking out than in Jesus Christ.
Megan [00:53:22] Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, seriously suppressing the truth of your own feelings, those things are going to come out sideways, right? Those things are going to come out sideways. So finding places where you can talk about the complex mix of emotions that you have, I do want to touch really briefly on the concept of forgiveness. I think that is weaponized a lot that that, you know, as the survivor of something, as the victim of something, whatever language you want to use, it’s sort of like you have to forgive because you’re a bigger person. Like, no, you don’t. Some things are unforgivable. What what we don’t want to do is tell survivors how to survive. I think what you just said about like you don’t want to be a jerk with your feelings. You don’t want to, like, lash out at other people or cause harm to others with how you’re feeling. But this requirement that your own healing requires that you forgive people who harmed you is wrong. It’s a lie. Forgiveness is never mandatory.
Jameela [00:54:22] Yeah. So true. And something I feel very, very strongly about, but I have a very complicated relationship with forgiveness. Um there’s another great question here. I mean, we’ve answered accidentally a lot of the questions that have been here about like how do we support people without burdening them, etc.. But there’s one here that really struck me, which is. How do you stop wasting time being upset about a death that’s about to happen? I don’t want to waste the little time I have left with them being upset. I thought that was fucking brilliant.
Megan [00:54:54] Yeah.
Jameela [00:54:55] Because there are some losses that we do see coming.
Megan [00:54:58] Yes, absolutely. And I think. I’m actually dealing with this with a friend in my life right now. And it’s like the that terror of looking at somebody you love and know that they will be dying. We don’t exactly know when, but any time soon. And you don’t I love the way that this person phrased this. I don’t want to waste the time that we have feeling sad about when they won’t be here anymore. And I think what we tend to do is sort of scold ourselves for having those feelings like, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to waste this. And I think a really sort of creative and interesting response to that for yourself might be to, you know, take a break, take a step back and say, you know, I want to normalize this. I’m having a lot of feelings about what this is going to be like, how much time they have left and what it’s going to be like when they are dead. Of course I’m having these feelings. Are there ways that I can compartmentalize them, give space to them, and also be able to be present and pay attention to what’s actually unfolding in front of me right now? That was sort of a lot of psychobabble jargon in there, so I can make that even more clear. It’s like. Having big feelings about the death that is coming, about the loss that is coming as perfectly normal. And if you try to ignore it or make them stop, they’re going to take a lot more territory than they do if you give them a minute. Right. And that way, you know, if I’m going to give myself. An hour to like really go into this. Then later, when those feelings come up and I’m sitting with my person, I’m able to say to myself those I feel that. And right now I want to choose to be present in this moment. I’m going to come back to this later. Right. Sometimes I when I say this. I hear myself in my head going like, I can’t believe you’re recommending somebody schedule their sadness. No, not really. Not really scheduling your sadness. But I think to acknowledge that to.
Jameela [00:57:03] Permission to fall apart.
Megan [00:57:03] Yeah. Permission, permission to fall apart. And that if you give yourself that permission, it doesn’t have to claim your attention at inopportune moments so that then you can say when you’re sitting there with your person and you’re having a snack while watching television and you just want to not be overcome by racking sobs in that moment, when you feel that emotion start to come up, you can say, Yep, really, really normal. I’m going to miss these moments. And right now I have them. We can be sad another time, but right now I just want to feel their hand in my hand. Right now I just want to do this right. Like you can acknowledge what’s coming up for you and help yourself stay present. And sometimes you can’t like sometimes a great conversation to have depending on where the person is who’s dying and what the relationship is. Sometimes maybe it’s okay to say I want to enjoy every second with you and sometimes thinking about what’s going to happen after you die is so big that I it’s it’s hard for me, too, to not be sad in front of you. I think that sometimes the person who is dying would really love to have those conversations, but we don’t want to burden them with them. So I think, you know, right timing, right time, right place, right situation, but right relationship to ask those kinds of questions. But I think that bringing that struggle into a conversation with the person who’s dying can be incredibly powerful. It’s like the difference between trying to manage the anxiety or manage the emotion versus addressing it. If you’re addressing it, it doesn’t have to keep poking at you.
Jameela [00:58:38] Yeah, I like to sometimes take a friend when I’m feeling upset and they’re also feeling upset about something terrible that’s happening. We go driving and close the windows and then scream expletives. Just scream the most horrendous expletives again and again at the top of our lungs when we’re looking probably quite mad at anyone who’s driving alongside us. But I find that to be a great relief that sometimes you forget that people are feeling the same thing.
Megan [00:59:07] That is the preferred place that is the preferred place for a lot of pain is screaming in the car. Yes, screaming in the car.
Jameela [00:59:12] Screaming in the car.
Megan [00:59:13] I will say that if you are sobbing while driving, you might want to pull over because it does blur your vision. And distracted driving is dangerous. But screaming in the car. Yes, all the time and screaming with others is is really lovely.
Jameela [00:59:29] So in short, give yourself that space to kind of feel those feelings of pain and and know that it’s not abnormal or wrong to not just be, like, endlessly jubilant and grateful because it’s fucking hard and this is they’re two comple- I don’t I always wonder which one I would prefer, you know, knowing I’m about to lose something and not dealing with the trauma of the shock. But also not having that time to prepare. And not having that that like emotional space to kind of come to terms with something and that kind of slow burn, I don’t know which works better for my, my brain, but I think they’re both just fucking awful really fucking hard.
Megan [01:00:16] They’re both awful. I think one thing I want to pull out, two things that you just said. One is being joyful and jubilant all the time when when people are dying, when they’re facing the end of their lives, a lot of them just wish people would say what’s really going on. Right. I think we sometimes go in and we’re like, we want to make these last days and weeks really good for you and like,.
Jameela [01:00:36] Really special.
Megan [01:00:37] But I don’t want you to feel sad about me feeling sad. That that sort of insistence on this is all good. Everything’s going to be good. Like, it really honestly robs the dying person of being able to talk about how worried they are about you, how sad they’re going to be to not have you anymore. Like I think we can. Really be brave in having these conversations, especially you don’t get a do over at the end of this person’s life. Like, you can’t be like, Oh, shit, I wish I had said this and this. Like, if you have something you want to bring up, bring it up, choose your timing, right? You don’t want to do it in the middle of something else, but it’s okay.
Jameela [01:01:19] It’s again about checking for permission, right?
Megan [01:01:21] Yeah, it’s about checking permission it’s like you know. And some people. Some people especially. Like if they just got newly diagnosed, they’re like, I don’t want to talk about dying. I only want to talk about recovery and holding that like, cool, let’s follow your lead. If they, you know, you can occasionally check in and be like, you know, I notice that we don’t usually talk about the the fact that you’re dying or the potential for dying. Do you want to talk about that more? It’s really emotional.
Jameela [01:01:48] That’s very blunt, but.
Megan [01:01:50] It’s very blunt. I mean, I’m a really blunt person. So.
Jameela [01:01:53] Right. Right.
Megan [01:01:53] I mean, that’s my style. It’s not everybody’s style. But I think being willing to have a conversation about how you’re doing this. Right like that’s a process conversation.
Jameela [01:02:00] And if you want to maybe say it in, like a softer way. If someone’s a bit more sensitive, maybe it could be a bit like like, if you ever feel afraid, that’s also something that I feel, you know, comfortable to discuss with you. I’m here for you.
Megan [01:02:13] Much gentler than me.
Jameela [01:02:15] No no I’m just finding altern- I’m also very blunt. No, I’m you know, I’m a bull in a china shop. Okay. So just to just to change to a kind of, you know, different type of grief, for a moment, someone said, how do you deal with the grief related to regrets, i.e., grieving, something you never had, for example, kids.
Megan [01:02:31] Yes, there’s that great Cheryl Strayed essay in Tiny, Beautiful Things. It’s called the Ghost Ship, specifically about whether or not somebody is going to have kids. And whenever I hear somebody talking about, am I going to regret this? Am I going to regret not having children like that essay always comes up in my head. And she talks about. There’s no one right answer. Whether you do have kids or you don’t have kids will stick with that example for the moment. And she’s like, Whatever life you don’t choose would have been beautiful in its own right, but it is not yours and all you can do. All you can do is wave at that ghost ship from your own shore. I love that. There are always going to be things that we look back on in our lives and we say, I wish I had done that differently. Always. You can’t get out of this without regrets. I mean, this goes back to what we were saying about the complexities of grieving an abuser. Right. That the years that I lost to depression, to anxiety, to loneliness, to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we’re always going to look back at our lives and wish that some choice had been different. And this idea that it’s not wrong to feel grief, it’s not wrong to feel angry. It’s not wrong to feel regret or longing for that. It’s really about how will you be in relationship with that with that? Can you stand on the shore you’re on now and bow at that ghost ship?
Jameela [01:04:05] Yeah. That’s beautiful. And when it comes to the kids thing, I, I mean, I don’t know if this is helpful is probably a bad thing, a bad thing to say, but there are no wrong answers except there are.
Megan [01:04:17] There are no wrong answers.
Jameela [01:04:17] There are. But friend of mine, you know, because I’m having a lot of fair conversations about not wanting kids. I don’t want kids. And a friend of mine also doesn’t want to have kids. And she said to me, This is Megan Amram. And she said, Listen, if I get to the end of my life and I. I’m like, Oh fuck, I should have had children. She was like, Then at least only I have to deal with that. She’s like, If I get to the end of my life and I had children cause I thought I was supposed to, and then I hated it, and I fucked them up. And then I fucked up the way that they’re going to raise their kids and their kids or their raise their kids. And I fuck up my life and my partner’s life maybe she was like, There’s a lot more damage. So just as a separate thing. I don’t know if that was even helpful or not.
Megan [01:04:59] I think it’s really helpful because we always do risk calculus assessment, right? If I make this decision, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? Okay. I might be 97 years old and be like, Damn it, I forgot to have kids. If we do, as you just said, and we override that, and you have kids like the risk calculus assessment, like the sphere of potential damage is much larger. You know, I’m a I’m the child of somebody who probably shouldn’t have had kids. And the the impact of that is very far reaching. So, you know, I don’t I don’t say that to be like there is a right decision and a wrong decision here. But just to like, everybody has regrets. And running the analysis of sort of fast forward, which one will be more difficult for me to live with? Right. And I also like doing your future self a favor of like I have really thought about this, I have really run the, the cost benefit analysis and the risk analysis and like here is who I am in this moment and these are the decisions I’m making so that when, you know, 65 year old me who’s like dammit you know, I wish I had had kids can be like, you know you made a really sound decision at the time and yet you wish you hadn’t made that. So how are you going to handle that? How are you going to support yourself and your own regrets?
Jameela [01:06:22] I’m going to get 15 dogs. That’s what I’m going to do.
Megan [01:06:24] Gonna get 15 dogs or I’m going to like foster or, you know, whatever you want to do. But I think that is the thing, is that the the feeling of grief and regret is very, very normal. And you don’t get out of this life without wishing some things were different. And how do you respect the choices that earlier you made, knowing that you made the best decision for yourself at that time?
Jameela [01:06:45] 100%, yeah. So there’s another one that says, and I think this is really important, are there any indicators of unhealthy or abnormal grief? I think that’s really fucking important because there’s also so much talk about like and maybe this comes across wrong, like the kind of giving people like permission and space to do whatever they need and like, you know, you can’t tell them how to experience their loss and this, that and the other. But I’ve certainly been in a situation a friend of mine, you know, lost her partner very, very suddenly in their house, in their bed, and she didn’t want to go back to that house or that bed most nights. So she would get blackout drunk and go home with complete strangers all the time where her safety wasn’t guaranteed. And of absolutely like within the parameters of allowing someone to process their pain in whatever way or avoid their pain or do whatever they need to do. But also that was fucking terrifying as a friend to witness. So, so, so getting back to this person’s excellent question. Is that quantifiable indicators of unhealthy or abnormal grief?
Megan [01:07:54] Yes. And I always love answering this question because we’ve got like the the EPA in the medical model that says, you know, if you’re still feeling sad after your person died six months later, you have a disorder. So we have this sort of medical model that says that any any emotional response to a loss after six months is considered problematic and you need support. So you can’t really fault us for being worried about people like.
Jameela [01:08:22] It’s an arbitrary number.
Megan [01:08:23] It’s so arbitrary. It’s ridiculous, honestly. It’s so arbitrary that whether it’s six months or a year depends on whether you look at the U.S. parameters or the global parameters, like that’s how fucking made up it is. It’s like it’s such bullshit. Well, that’s a topic for a different day. But we because we’ve got like the media portrayal that says that, you know, the sad widower is only sad until he finds love again and then he’s okay. And, you know, you’re supposed to do like five easy steps or go through the stages really quickly, and then you’ll be fine. And, you know, the the APA, the doctors say that if you’re still crying and you still have pictures of your sister up, it’s been six weeks. It’s been six months. It’s been 5 minutes. Right. So we have a really warped idea of what healthy and not healthy is. So I want to say that first, if somebody is still sad, if they’re still talking about their person, if they’re still having a hard time kind of being psyched about life, that’s not cause for concern. It’s cause for support. But it’s not cause for concern. So the things that are cause for concern, the situation that you just described. Absolutely. Cause for concern. Things that are.
Jameela [01:09:33] Because they’re endangering.
Megan [01:09:33] They’re endangering. Right. So they’re endangering and there’s, you know, harmful and risky behavior in there are so we go with like a risk reduction model. So I usually look at things like, are you eating? Are you drinking? Are you engaging in risky behavior, whether that’s drug use or self-harm or risky behaviors like going out and getting blackout drunk and bringing home somebody to your house that you don’t know or hooking up with them somewhere else. Things that are inherently fucking dangerous. So several ways that you can address that with somebody you’re concerned about, pick your timing, right? You don’t want to ambush them with something, you know, when they’re just about to go into a meeting.
Jameela [01:10:12] But also don’t want them to stop telling you about. You don’t want to alienate them.
Megan [01:10:14] Yes, you don’t want them to stop telling you, alienate them. I mean, this is this is has.
Jameela [01:10:18] That’s said with zero judgment.
Megan [01:10:21] Yes. And so we can take a lot of things from the harm reduction model of IV drug use. Right. So you don’t want to shame the behavior, but you want to give support around the behavior so that it’s not so risky. So we’re saying things like, you know, here’s what I’ve noticed. I know that part of the way that you’re dealing with your partner’s death is you’re going out and you’re getting drunk and you’re bringing guys home to the house. I’m really worried about you. I’m really, really worried about you. And I. I haven’t wanted to bring it up because I don’t want you to stop talking to me about it. Can we talk about some ways that we might make this safer for you? Can we talk about some ways to help you feel more supported and help you manage how fucking impossible this is in ways that don’t put you at so much risk? Can we talk about that? Right. I think that’s a really beautiful and elegant way to share your concern. Don’t dance around it. Be a little bit more blunt than you normally would. Unless you’re me and me being more blunt than normal is sketchy territory. But to be able to say, I get that this is you trying to manage something unsurvivable and impossible. And I am really scared for you. Can we talk about this? Can we talk about ways to make this safer? It might be that going out and having hook ups is something that that feels good for them. Awesome. We love that for you. Let’s talk about some ways to make that safer. Let’s talk about some ways to maybe can you do it without getting drunk? Can you do it with, you know, whatever? I mean, this is a whole conversation about staying safe in hook ups.
Jameela [01:12:02] This mostly just it’s just how to approach, I think, is the main thing of needing us to make needing them know that. There’s one last question that. It’s really brilliant that I feel is important and like a very self, impressively self-reflective thing to say, which is, do you think it’s possible to become addicted to grief because it’s when you feel the closest to those you’ve lost?
Megan [01:12:27] Yes, this is a really big thing for grieving people, especially when they feel like the rest of the world has moved on and forgotten about the person and they’re not impacted by the person’s death.
Jameela [01:12:38] They feel guilty.
Megan [01:12:40] They feel guilty. And, you know, I remember this I remember this from myself. And I know that I’ve talked to thousands of people who have had similar experiences. It’s like, you know, people are always saying, this will get better. You’re going to feel better, don’t worry, you won’t always feel this bad and self included. But a lot of people were like, That sounds horrible. If there is ever a day when I don’t think about my child. What does that mean about me? Like, how dare I feel happy? How dare I have a good life when my best friend is dead? So I think that there’s a lot of. As long as I feel ripped open that life is so close to me, I can touch it. As long as I am devastated. That really reflects the importance of this person in my life. I think we have we we equate anguish with love and continued connection. That’s really, really, really common. So when we talk about can you get addicted to grief? I probably wouldn’t use addictive addiction based language. I think I would take a step out of that and I would ask like, what feels scary about feeling better? I think that’s really the question in there. What does it mean if I laugh? What does it mean if you’ve lost a partner? What does it mean if I get partnered again. Does that mean my dead husband didn’t matter or that I’m over it? I think there is a real concern for people that if I look like or if I look like I’m over it to the outside world, they’re going to expect that I’m fine now and I’m not fine. I just happened to have a really amazing life and a dead husband. Right. So I think that it’s really complex and there are that that we can feel like getting better minimizes the importance of that person in our lives. And we’re afraid that if we go out to the movies and have a good time, that everybody will think I’m okay now and they won’t check in. They won’t ask how I’m doing. So it’s just it’s a really tricky it’s a really tricky space to be in.
Jameela [01:14:57] So then can I finish by asking you, Megan, how are you doing now? 13 years later?
Megan [01:15:02] 13 years later, man. I will say. So. My birthday is at the end of September and Matt’s birthdays two weeks later. And this was the first year I forgot his birthday. And. I didn’t find that upsetting. I was just like, Huh. Well, that’s interesting. I still talk to him maybe not every day, but most days, especially when I need something repaired in the house and I don’t know how to do it. I’m like, If you weren’t dead, you’d be doing this right? So we are still very much in relationship. And that hasn’t changed. There is still I mean, it’s been 13 years and out of the corner of my eye, if I see his same kind of truck go by, there is a second where I’m like, Oh, there he is. Oh, no, that’s not him. Right. So. In a way. That that loss has never left me and it never will. But I am not destroyed the way that I was for so many years. And the other thing that’s different is that I’m no longer freaked out by the fact that I’m not destroyed. And to me, that’s the most amazing thing about this life right now is that I didn’t need to let go of the person that I was on the day that he died and in the months after. Somehow all of those parts of me get to be present in a really beautiful life. I still I’m still the person that people go to with grief and hardship of any kind. And there are times when I’m like, Can we please talk about something else? Can I please be known for something other than this. I did build a really beautiful life out of what happened to us. And it’s still weird. And I’m good.
Jameela [01:17:23] Thank you for being so honest and for portraying a side of, you know, grief that I think isn’t much well enough talked about. And thank you so much for answering all of these questions. Thank you so much to everyone who wrote in those questions. I’m sorry I couldn’t get to all of them. But Megan, the way that you speak is just really is there something very like profound in the unpretentiousness and the reality of of the way that you talk and the permission you give people that that all of this comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes and levels of ugliness or beauty. And I’ve learned a lot from this episode, and I will take this and I will re listen to it. When someone loses someone, especially someone who wants to be a support, you know, and as I’m getting older, naturally, traditionally there’s going to be more loss. And I cannot thank you enough for this chat.
Megan [01:18:23] Yeah, I really loved it. I love having these conversations.
Jameela [01:18:28] Thank you. And if we speak again, I promise I will make an effort to talk to you about something completely different and. And utterly alternative to to grief and pain and sadness.
Megan [01:18:39] All right. All right.
Jameela [01:18:39] And I wish you well with your continued, you know, journey.
Megan [01:18:43] Thank you. You, too.
Jameela [01:18:45] Lots of love. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend James Blake. If you haven’t already, please wate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jameela Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher Premium by going to Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly over at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 18186605543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighpodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners. I weigh all the I have overcome to get where I am today. I weigh my fears and my loves and all of my quirks. I weigh the knowledge that I deserve to be here. However long it took me to realize that.
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