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Loss can be one of the hardest parts of life. It’s a shared experience that we each go through in our own personal way. You might feel you’ve journeyed through your grief and reached a good place just to have a smell or sound send you right back to step one. Reverend Amy Greene, DMin, MDiv, joins us to talk about grief, its stages and ways to find joy as you embark on your journey after loss.

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Talking About Grief with Reverend Amy Greene

Podcast Transcript

Intro:
There's so much health advice out there, lots of different voices and opinions, but who can you trust? Trust the experts, the world's brightest medical minds, our very own Cleveland Clinic experts. We ask them tough, intimate health questions, so you get the answers you need. This is The Health Essentials Podcast, brought to you by Cleveland Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic Children's. This podcast is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician.

Molly Shroades:
Hi, and thanks for joining us for this episode of The Health Essentials Podcast. My name is Molly Shroades and I'll be your host. It can be hard to talk about grief. Some days, it can be hard to even think about your loss. It's something that's unique but also a shared experience, something we all go through. Today, we're joined by Rev. Amy Greene to talk about the stages of grief, support groups and the complicated nature of this part of our lives. Thank you so much for joining us, Rev. Greene.

Amy Greene:
Well, thank you for having me.

Molly Shroades:
So starting off, can we talk a little bit about what grief is and a brief definition of it?

Amy Greene:
Sure. I think grief is any strong feeling that is provoked by the loss of something or someone that's important in our lives. So by that, a strong feeling that can include joy. Joy can be part of grief. And I think maybe that's the biggest message I want people to hear today is that they're tied in together. Those feelings are all part of the same experience. And if we try to push away the hard parts of grief, we'll also push away the good parts of grief. And we can talk maybe a little more about that later, but it's that strong visceral emotional response to this new reality that someone or something or all the above is no longer in our lives in a way that we wish it were. Still there, still part of our life, but it's not in the way that we want.

Molly Shroades:
Great. So let's talk a little bit about stages of grief. I feel like we hear about these a lot in popular culture, but are these stages carved in stone? What are they exactly?

Amy Greene:
Yeah, not really at all and wonderful and brilliant, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, God rest her soul, really helped us a lot with naming some of these stages that we do, a lot of people do to attest that they're very much a part of grief. They don't work in the same order. I think people were shocked to find they didn't just come and go, they come back. Sometimes they come back together and have a party in your head all at once. She added another grief later in life with, I can't remember his name now, but an author that she worked closely with, has written a book about the sixth stage of grief and it's about meaning.

And I think that's a really cool important part of being able and willing to go through the grief process and work our way to a different place. I won't say to get past it or over it or finished with it. I'm not sure it's ever really gone, but to get to a different place, a different relationship with our grief. So the stages are helpful as long as you don't get to ... It's not a roadmap. So it's more like an abstract Pablo Picasso painting. You can make out an eye and a nose, but don't get too hung up on how literal it is because it will not, it's not a map. But they'll probably all be there at some point.

Molly Shroades:
Now for people who aren't familiar with those five or even six stages, what are those?

Amy Greene:
Oh, gosh, good question. I'm not sure I've got them in the right order. So it's anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think I got it right. Those are the five but I'm not sure I've got them in the right order, but again they don't come in the same order. Some people have acceptance really early. And then later, they have denial and sadness, anger. The bargaining is pretty normal to even if it's not ... Typically, that means bargaining with a deity or with the universe or whatever you believe is in charge of the universe, but it could be with yourself. It's not necessarily bargaining with God, but that's another stage. That often precedes the grief, I mean the death and then the person hasn't given up bargaining after the person dies. So again you might not see all five of those guests at the table and you might not even see the six, but they're there really for a lot of people.

Molly Shroades:
Now, what's the sixth one?

Amy Greene:
That's the one about meaning, that this colleague of hers, this younger colleague has added and he got permission from her family actually to add this sixth stage and it's really a very interesting work.

Molly Shroades:
That's awesome. So one thing I definitely was curious about whenever I think about these stages of grief is that nonlinear path there. I think anyone who's lost someone knows that it does circle back on itself and it makes no sense sometimes. Can we talk a little bit about that?

Amy Greene:
Yeah, I'm really glad you asked that because I think we probably suffer more from our misconceptions about grief than we do from the grief itself. And what I mean by that is some of what you just alluded to that it doesn't go into natural order and then we think it's our fault like, "What's wrong with me that I didn't do my anger and then I didn't get to my denial homework and then I didn't get to ..." It's not like that. It has its own ... It's organic and it has its own life and its own trajectory. Grief doesn't care about us. It's like the COVID virus. It doesn't care about us. It doesn't care when we're busy, "I don't have time for this." It doesn't care. It's your unconscious, your spirit, your soul, whatever language you put on that part of yourself that you can't touch or measure or poke or stick. That part that makes us who we are, that's got to work its own way through.

And so you might be struck by overwhelming sadness in the middle of the Walmart or at the traffic light or you don't know what might trigger it and that's okay. I think the more we can befriend it and not be so alarmed by it and not think that we're doing something wrong or otherwise it would be in control or somehow more manageable, that's just not true. And it makes us feel worse. And again I really honestly believe if we had a different relationship to our grief and a different understanding of it, we would actually suffer less. And we can talk more about that as we go through the time together.

Molly Shroades:
That's definitely interesting about those preconceived notions that we have almost as a society there.

Amy Greene:
Well, we just have a very low tolerance for grief and sadness and loss. We don't like that in this culture. We like to win, win, win and we like to feel good all the time. And even pain is not a signal to do something different. It's something to be powered through. I remember this commercial for Advil or something, "If you have pain from running, just take a bunch of Advil." I'm like, "What if you need to run less?" Some pain is good. Some pain tells us what we need. Sometimes pain is a really important signal. And grief can be a really important signal that our spirits need some time and attention in some healing environments that help us heal from this very big loss.

Loss is an enormous part of our health. Grief is an enormous impactor on health. Often when patients would come into the hospital with a new illness or a new diagnosis, I'll be like, "What stressors have been going on your life in the recent past?" because I'm not their doctor. I'm not there to figure out what medically or physically caused it, but I am often struck by how much stress can help precipitate or at least make things worse for an illness or a condition that then causes people to go get attention for it. Sometimes there's big stressors in their lives that are related to loss and grief.

Molly Shroades:
A lot of things to that you need to listen to your body and what you need.

Amy Greene:
Exactly. We don't do that very well, I don't think in this culture.

Molly Shroades:
Well, you mentioned earlier about triggers and I wanted to talk a little bit about that. I know some people might be not thinking about it, and then suddenly, a song or smell might spark a memory of their loved one and cause them to go back into those stages of grief, if you will. Let's talk a little bit about those triggers and what is going on there?

Amy Greene:
Yeah, that's such a rich topic because the triggers are our senses. So a lot of what we remember about our loved ones is the smell of the cookies they baked or the feel of their cool hands on our hot foreheads or the sound of their voice or the feel of their scruffy beard when they hugged us or their sensate. So it makes sense that our bodies register those memories. And when something comes along that's similar, of course, we're going to trigger it, attach it to that memory of that very specific event or person. And that's going to bring up everything that goes with it, "Oh, my God, I love my grandfather so much. And oh, my God. Now of course, he's gone. He's been gone for a very long time, but that's okay."

And we'll talk more about that too of how we can use that time to not just run away because, "I don't want to feel sad and it's been 40 years and I'm not supposed to feel sad anymore. So let me run away from that. But if I run away from it, then I can't feel his beard on my cheek and I want to feel it and I can feel it. I can conjure the memory in such a strong way that I can feel as comforted." Honestly, this is true. It's a meditation practice that goes back in many traditions. It's a real thing. It's a cognitively based analytical training tool that you can use with your own brain. You can literally feel the scruff of your grandfather's beard on your face if you stick with that memory long enough and you don't run away from the fact that you're sad that he's gone.

And that's kind of a superpower because then you're not scared of that grief, sneaking up on you. If we're always walking around, waiting for something to trigger our grief, we're going to get it. There's a lot of stuff that can trigger it. It's a different again back to a different relationship with the grief. And rather than seeing it as an enemy, seeing it as something that actually is trying to help us, trying to help us stay connected to our whole story, our whole lives, we don't want those people suddenly not be a part of our story. They're still there. They're still in us. We're their DNA, is who we are. So we don't need to try to disconnect from it. And I think that's easier done with support. And so talking about it is so important. Having conversations like this, it's just so important because when you talk to other people about your grief, as long as they're not just mainly interested in not feeling it, then you're going to have a good conversation.

If the only thing they want to do is not feel it and be over it, you're probably not going to have a great conversation, but the triggers can be anything that was something we saw, smelled, tasted, touched, heard. That's by definition, it's just registered in our bodies. And so it gets triggered. As many as 40 years ago, I think, I was trying to become a hospice volunteer. And I learned a phrase called seasonal grief. And it's proven true over literally 40 years that the seasons evoke grief in a different way. The holidays are big because those are times when we would get together naturally with our family. We'd have our favorite meal or our favorite drink or our favorite sledding event or whatever we did.

And so it's really normal that again the body remembers those things. And when that season comes around, we automatically think it's time for pumpkins in the fall and hot chocolate in the winter and Easter eggs in the spring. And it's just natural that that's going to trigger that. And there are ways that we can use those to our advantage. They don't have to just be sad. They can really be this superpower that I was talking about, that boost us into remembering the love and care and joy that we've had all throughout our lives and that will probably still be available to us for most of our lives.

Molly Shroades:
As you were talking, I was absolutely thinking of certain foods or items or smells that are connected to a person that might not be here anymore and how they're actually can be a joy in that in having that person with you. Now, when we're saying about coping with those triggers is the key to it, embracing it? Is that one of the key things?

Amy Greene:
Yes, thank you. I didn't even plant that. That's great. That's exactly the answer, it's embracing it. Because again, I think if you can see it as again like a pain in your leg is a signal that something's wrong, that you need to pay attention to, maybe slow down a little, ice it down. Don't stop running, but don't just run harder. Pay attention to it. Do something to help it feel better and then maybe you can run farther the next day. In the same way, our emotions are trying to help us. They're trying to say, "Slow down a tad. Feel this. This is something that you had that is gone in its present state and the state that you enjoyed so much and that you're remembering right now, that's gone and it really, really is."

And I think it's very important to not gloss over that, to not say, "Oh, they're still with us and we'll see him in heaven," and all the platitudes and cliches that people say. That's just not helpful at all, at least not to me, it never was. Especially just was never helpful to me. But what I mean by embracing it is saying, "Yes, those memories or that reality is gone in its own way, but this pain is so vivid and so real and I feel it very keenly. I can also feel the joy that went with the fact that I had a mother like that, a father like that, a grandparent like that, a cousin like that. I had that person in my life," and then that says every time we think of them and remember them and we feel that longing and love for them, that's still there. That love is what's empowering and what's so important to us.

And so to embrace it is to give yourself this gift. This is a little bit of an aside, but I always love to tell people, as a chaplain, I always tell people, "You're not going to cry forever. People think they will. They think if they just feel it, they'll never stop crying." And they'll say, "I can't start crying, I'll never stop." And I'll say, "Yeah, let's time it." And I'm like, "Seriously, get a stopwatch and go in your room and shut the door and see how long you cry over this." It's probably going to be about, honestly, 15 or 20 seconds. It's really not going to last very long. Scientists have studied it and they say most emotions, good and hard, and I don't say bad, but good and hard, last about 90 seconds. And they will naturally dissolve the way they naturally arose. Just as much as they popped up without your consent, they will also dissolve with or without your consent.

And they go by pretty fast. It feels like a long time, but if you give yourself an experiment and just say, "Okay, I feel my tear's coming. Let me just have let myself cry. What's the big deal? Let me let myself cry. Look, there. It's 60 seconds. I'm done." And now you can remember the good stuff. Now you can start telling someone ... I think that's a really important part of grief is when you have those moments, find a friend, phone a friend like the old TV show, phone a friend and say, "Listen, I really want to tell you a story about my grandfather," or my mother or my dad or whoever died and say, "They died a couple years ago," or, "They died this year and I really just want to tell you a story and I might cry. Is that okay?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

So I'm always telling people, "Please call me and tell me your stories." I love to hear those stories because they don't only help you to tell it, they help me to hear it, to hear about someone's fantastic grandmother's, what crazy things she did and it's wonderful. That's what makes us human. So yes, embrace, embrace, embrace. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to go to my room and watch every sad movie I can find and stoke the flames and try to get those tears to keep coming as long as I can. That would be messed up. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about letting it just happen naturally and don't be so afraid of it. And then it can be fearful, so we call someone. Call a chaplain. It's what we do all day.

And it doesn't scare us. It doesn't depress us. It's just we don't pathologize it. We don't pathologize sadness and we don't pathologize anger or regret or all the feelings that are going to probably stick to that ball of grief and start tumbling out. We just don't see them as a problem. So yeah, definitely embrace, embrace, embrace. Good question.

Molly Shroades:
I'm curious too about people that stall out when they can't quite get to that joy point. I've heard the phrases, long-term grief, chronic grief. How do they work on moving into that point where they can find that joy and what do you do if you're on the outside of that and that's a friend of yours or a family member? How do you cope with that?

Amy Greene:
That's a great question too. I think that usually when that happens, there are other things that work, other issues, sort of bigger picture things like life, sort of bigger life story motifs, for lack of a better word. So I would say that in those cases, I do think long-term counseling can really help. Getting in with a person who's expert at grief, so either a counselor or chaplains who are trained in grief and bereavement, especially hospice chaplains, really well trained and any board-certified healthcare chaplain is going to know how to do this to help people explore more deeply, what is it exactly that is ...

Because it might have to do with the grief of that lost person, that lost a loved one, but I promise you, it won't be just that. It's probably going to be connected to a lot of other threads, that someone can help you unravel and maybe follow those lines out, so that maybe there's some reconciliation that needs to go on with someone else in the family. Maybe there's some therapeutic work that needs to be done with childhood trauma. Maybe there's some spiritual work that needs to be done if you had positive or negative religious experiences as a child and that's part of the block.

So there's almost always all these other threats tangled up in there and that is rarely in my experience not something you can sort through all by yourself. All the therapists I know, other advisors and all the ministers I know have therapists. All grief experts have other grief experts. Nobody can really do that all by themselves, I don't think and maybe that's part of the point of it too is that we reach out and connect better to the ones we do have still alive because we need each other more.

Molly Shroades:
It's good. It's a web of support.

Amy Greene:
Exactly. We just get back to spinning that web. That's exactly it. And the same way a spider just gets right back. You knock it down, you push through it, you spray it with your hose, it just goes right back to work, just like, "Fine, whatever. I knew this was going to happen." It just goes right back to spinning its little web of support.

Molly Shroades:
Awesome. So you already touched on this a little bit, but I want to dig a little deeper here is if grief ever really goes away or does it just get less intense?

Amy Greene:
Good question. I think yes. Yes, it can go away because it transforms so much that what we were talking about when we said grief is no longer what it is. Does that make sense? So that feeling of, "Oh, my God, I miss my loved one so much," that never goes away. I don't think, and in some ways, maybe I don't want it to. We'll always love those people that we love. We'll always love them and we'll always wish, we'll almost always wish we could have had more time. I think when people are really, really old or really, really sick or both and you just feel so relieved that they're not suffering anymore, it is actually possible to be a little bit relieved when death finally comes, a little bit. But it's also true that you still just wish it hadn't happened. And that doesn't go away, I don't think and that's okay, but the raw aching searing pain, I guess I would say it's really important to remember.

Time does not heal all wounds, but all wounds need time to heal is really different. It is not that time is doing it. Time is not doing anything except passing, but we need that time to heal. And so healing can come in such a way that the grief is more richly embedded within the whole of the experience. It's not the only thing we think of when we think of that loved one, "Oh, they're gone. I'm sad." It's not the only response we have. We have all the other responses of all the things they gave us, all the ways they loved us, all the ways they still love us. I don't even really know what I believe about the afterlife, which I'm not supposed to say because I'm a reverend, but I really don't. We don't know.

And people are going to say, "Well, if you're a Christian, you knew you would know." I'm like, "Whatever, fine. We don't really know. I don't know," but the point is, when I'm doing a grief group with loved ones who've lost their close family members, I will say to them, "What would your loved one say to you right now? Would your loved one want you to be this sad all the time? They want you to miss them, I bet. I bet, they're glad you miss them, but I bet you they don't want you to just suffer all the time over it. They want you to go on with your life and make them proud and do cool things and tell them about it. And if they exist and I think they do, I think they still exist somehow, someway, somewhere and they want us to be okay, that they loved us. If they loved us on this side, they're going to love us on that side."

So I think it's really important to just realize it will change. Grief will change over time, and because it changes so much. It might feel like it's not grief anymore, but I think it's the same thing. I think it just evolves and matures if you work at it and if you give yourself the tools and the support and the time to work at it. If you don't do that and you mainly run from it and you mainly just don't take your Advil and go run again farther and faster and farther and faster, I think your leg is still going to hurt.

Molly Shroades:
It definitely sounds like it transforms over time.

Amy Greene:
It does. I think it does.

Molly Shroades:
Can you grieve for too long?

Amy Greene:
Great question again. I think if you are grieving for too long, you've probably tapped some other vein of again like emotional therapeutics, psychological or spiritual pain that's bigger than that one event. That's my, I guess, you could call it my expert opinion after 40 years in the ministry, that it's tapping something bigger and it would behoove that person to get some help somewhere. Talk to somebody. Again start with a grief support group. Not just to toot our own horns, but I think that's a really low risk way to start, is to just join in with bereavement groups that can allow you to just say things out loud and hear how many other people feel this exact same way and are going to, "Yeah, oh, I feel that too," and it normalizes it.

And when we can normalize it, we don't feel so alone and bad. That's just so basic, but it's so true and then if you gain the courage or the wherewithal or you just sick of feeling bad. Sometimes people go to therapy or spiritual direction or spiritual counseling or grief counseling or any number of things that you can do, sometimes people just don't go until they feel so bad that they're desperate and they'll go in desperation, but you could you can go way before you feel that bad. And the main thing I think is to find help, find guidance. Keep looking, keep asking, keep reading and you will find it, you will find fellow travelers on that journey. It's a journey. And so if you find fellow travelers on the journey, it's just easier and it's, I would say, more fun.

You would probably be shocked to know how many times sometimes I'm the grief support group that I do for family, people who have lost family members at the clinic and usually it's people, loved ones have died in very difficult circumstances. And after trying very, very hard and it's pretty ... No loss is easy, ever, but it's striking how often they end up laughing, they end up sharing funny stories about their loved ones and then they'll feel guilty, "Oh, my God, I'm laughing about ..." Like, "No, no, no, I bet your loved one is really happy that you're laughing and not just crying." you know. So asking for help. That's like my main mantra.

Molly Shroades:
Now speaking of those support groups, I think a lot of us have seen them on TV and movies and things like that, everyone's sitting in a circle and sharing. Can you talk a little bit about what a support group is like, how it works and what are the benefits?

Amy Greene:
Well, I'm so glad you asked because we have had several support groups through the Cleveland Clinic System. The hospice at home is sort of the source for organizing them. The bereavement program through our hospice at home organizes the bereavement group. So we've had four or five monthly groups for quite some time now. Most of them are led by the hospice chaplain team. I do the one that's for the main campus, I mean for all the campuses, but for people who have lost loved ones, not necessarily through hospice, who just want to come on the loosest of all. Some of them have, they're great and they're run by great people. And I say to everybody, "Go to as many as you want. Go to a lot of them and also shop around for the one that fits you."

Some of them are very structured, so they are age specific. The Cornerstone of Hope is in Cleveland that's not directly connected to the Cleveland Clinic, but they've always been a great partner of ours and we send lots of people there to do their grief work because they're very, very good. They're based in Independence and they do age group selection, so loss of a parent, loss of a child, teenagers with loss. They'll break it out and make things very specific to that age group and that's fantastic also. So you might get a group that's everybody's had a similar loss or you might get a real mix and you just have to go looking and asking who is it led by. Is it led by a certified counselor? Is it led by grief chaplain? Who's it led by?

And then what's the tone of the group? Sometimes they're eight weeks and you sign up for all eight weeks and you have readings and you have exercises and they're very helpful. They can give people really concrete skills to work through, literally work through their grief. Mine in particular is very open ended because I think grief, it's so erratic. You don't know how you're going to feel. You can come or not come. It doesn't have a time limit. You can come and then disappear and come back in a few months. And we're going to probably start some more in 2022 for caregivers specifically, so that they're not taking the chance that they're going to be in a grief group along with family members of a patient that they might have cared for her. We don't want to do that. So we're going to have only caregivers in these groups.

And they're very open ended. You just come and listen for a little bit and see if this is maybe fitting what you want or need. There's no rules about ... The only rule I ever have is that people can't tell another person how to feel. That's as the only rule and otherwise ... And they really don't because people that are grieving know not to do that. You can always tell who hasn't had a big huge loss yet. They're the ones that say the really dumb stuff. The really dumb stuff that is innocent in a way, but it's not helpful.

Molly Shroades:
And that actually touches exactly on what I want to ask you next, which is about people who feel that grief is very private and personal and they're afraid of that kind of interaction where someone says how they should be feeling. And they might be feeling very skeptical about joining a support group for that reason. What would you say to them?

Amy Greene:
I would say choose carefully. The nice thing about it now is it's almost all ... Everything's gone for us anyway. It went all online, which I would have thought would have been a terrible thing and it's actually been great. Because for one thing, far more people can participate. They can click the camera off. If they hear something stupid and insulting, they could just hang up, which they can also get up and walk out of a group, which I would totally do, but that's a little bit harder. But yeah, if they hear something they know, they can either raise their hand and say, "Wait a second. I don't agree with that or whatever," but they can also just not listen.

And I think most of the groups, again, I would just make sure people have had some training before they leave the group. So make sure when you look for them, look under established legitimate organizations because everybody that wants to lead grief support, sometimes they're just doing that to try to work out their own grief, but they haven't done it yet. They haven't done enough their own work. That's not a great idea. So if you hear people say ... You just turn away, say, "Thanks for your input," or whatever and just walk away because people, again, they don't know. They just don't know what to say and they don't realize that sometimes it's better to say nothing at all.

They don't really mean any harm. I probably get more angry about it than it's fair or appropriate for a woman of the cloth, but it is hard for me because I just think, "That's just not helpful. You clearly haven't been through this," and they will and that's the part where I can find some mercy is they'll get their turn. If we live long enough, we're going to lose loved ones. We're going to have grief. It's just a matter of time. And once they're in it, you're not going to be glad that anybody's suffering. It does help to share it and I think sharing it in support groups is a really, really good way to do it. Or ask someone. If you do have a friend who's ever done one or somebody who's just ...

Ask to talk to the person who's leading it. Most of them will have who's leading the group. You can have a private conversation with the chaplain who's leading it or the counselor. I think you can probably send them an email and say, "What's it like when someone gives advice that's not helpful?" Most of them are really well done, I have to say that and everything is welcome, except telling other people not to feel what they're feeling. That's, I think, any good leader is going to say, "That's not really helpful right now," without shooting that person down verbally or any other way, but just to say, "That's not really helpful right this minute."

Molly Shroades:
That's definitely a big challenge for sure when you're going through grief is that when people don't fully understand, but they mean well and they're trying to support you.

Amy Greene:
And when you show up at a grief group, you can be pretty sure that everybody else is feeling that, right? That's the thing that's so great about it. And I tell people all the time in my grief group, I'm like, "You guys, this is such an amazing beautiful group of people. You would never ever, ever want to have to join this club, right? The prerequisite for joining this club is awful. You do not want it. However, now that you've joined it, you've got this group of really wonderful people who really do get how you feel." A good leader isn't going to end up doing much talking. We're there to just create the space and make it possible for everybody to feel like it's safe and somebody is in charge.

That's our only real role. Otherwise, it's folks who are going through it talking to each other and sharing tips about how they're dealing with it and how they're handling it, what helps and what doesn't and they almost never say dumb things to each other because they're going through it too. And that's part of why they're there. They're like, "I need to be around people who aren't going to say dumb things."

Molly Shroades:
Now one thing I'm curious about as we are continuing on this vein of talking to each other about your grief, now within families, there can be an interesting dynamic have different levels of grief. Now how do you interact with each other when you're aware of that? If one person doesn't want to trigger the other person, but they want to talk about it because they need someone to talk to, how do you deal with all of that?

Amy Greene:
Honestly, another great question. I think I would just use a rule of ... I'd use the Thanksgiving dinner rule. If this is a relative that you would talk to at Thanksgiving dinner, then you'd probably say ... If you were talking about something personal at Thanksgiving dinner with this relative, then you'd probably say, "If you're mostly trying to cut it out and get through it without a disaster, then probably don't bring this up either." Because I never really thought about it, but I think that grief is just a, what's the word I'm looking for? It's just a blown-up version of what's going on all the time anyway. So in other words, if the relationships are there that they're used to sharing hard painful things, they'll be fine. If these relationships don't bear the weight of hard difficult things very well, don't bring it up because that's a hard difficult thing.

It's like that rickety stool you have in your kitchen or I do like, "Don't sit on that one. Sit on this one. It's really strong." So I think you just test the relationships. What do these relationships do in other less fraught times and less fraught conversations, and if they're okay then and can bear the weight, then there'll be fun with this one too.

Molly Shroades:
Wonderful. Now, I'm wondering about celebrations and holidays and big moments here. So after a loss, it can be really difficult to find joy in those celebrations, weddings, birthdays, births and all of that. So how can you find some ways ... What are some tips you have on finding ways to find the joy in those moments again?

Amy Greene:
I love candles. I love candles all year long, hot days, cold days, every day in between. And I think you've seen that weddings now in the last several, really a couple decades that people would light candles for the loved ones that have died that would be at the wedding if they could and we'll light a candle in those people's memories. And sometimes it's named out loud and sometimes it's just in the bulletin and sometimes it's just unspoken, but I think the holidays, all the great religions, the Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, all the great winter solstice holidays celebrate the light.

So get a special candle, a really special one. For each person, you may have lost more than one loved one, get a special candle for each one of them and light it together as a family and tell your favorite thing about that person, your favorite and it might make people cry. And you know what? Again we watch movies and cry and we don't freak out, right? So we can do that we can cry. We won't die from it, I promise. And have every person go around and say one memory of that person. And before you know it, everybody will be laughing and smiling and crying, but laughing and smiling too.

And the thing about it is if we try to shut off our sad feelings, we're shutting off all our feelings. It's like saying, "I'm only going to feel the hot water in my house. I'm not going to feel the cold water. I don't like cold water." Well, you can't feel hot if you can't feel the cold. So if we don't cut ourselves off from those feelings, we won't cut ourselves off from the beautiful wonderful memories that make us laugh and smile and have the courage to get up and keep going and even thrive even more than then we might be. And holidays are a great time to do that. It's a great time to slow down and remember.

And who needs one more piece of apple pie? We're all going to do that too. And we're all going to want to veg out in front of the television at some point and we're all going to have our different ... Some are going to go, hear and do that and some are going to go do that. That's normal families, but you can take a few minutes and do that and just see what happens.

Molly Shroades:
Yeah, I mean, it could even also maybe be having their favorite TV show on or a-

Amy Greene:
Yes, absolutely. Or a movie-

Amy Greene:
Yes, the favorite Christmas movie that everybody or that person loved and everybody else hated. "Go ahead and watch the one that everybody hated, but let's give it a go because grandpa loved it, so we're going to give it a try."

Molly Shroades:
Which I'm sure everyone would end up laughing about it.

Amy Greene:
They'll laugh and then they'll probably like, "Oh, I wish we'd watched this when grandpa was here," and they'll all cry and that's okay too.

Molly Shroades:
It's just keeping that memory in there.

Amy Greene:
Yeah, and you'll survive it. That's the good news.

Molly Shroades:
And I think some people definitely find comfort in that roadmap vibe, having a way to navigate through their grief. What kind of tips can you give those folks?

Amy Greene:
I love that one too because I think it's very much like a big trip that you plan to go on or an outdoor adventure. I'm looking around for pictures of past ones and I don't have any. You plan it as well as you can. You want it to be planned. So having some guidance and having some goalposts or markers, having some idea of what it's going to look like is fine. That's a good idea. That's what the grief support groups are for. That's what podcasts like this are for. That's what talking to each other about it is for, is you get some idea of, "Where are we going? When are we supposed to get there?" but you don't, like any person who really, really loves travel, you don't get too tied to the exact moment of arrival.

Part of the journey is you're going to get slowed down here and there. This is not going to go exactly the way you planned. It's not going to go exactly the way you planned. And so if you can treat it like that as it's a suggestion, it's not a hard and fast itinerary. I think that's part of the ... I don't know if you could call it an adventure, but it's part of the ... I think what it shares with adventure is it does require some courage and some flexibility. And if you can be courageous and flexible as you would on a big adventure, the people that have the most fun and keep doing it are very adventuresome and very flexible.

So adventuresomeness and flexibility will help a lot. Still have a roadmap of some kind and there's lots of good ones. The Kubler-Ross stuff still really stands the test of time and there's lots of stuff written since and loads and more people. COVID's forced us all to talk about it more, which I think is maybe the one gift it's given us, is that more people are willing to talk about it because it's hitting everybody one way or another. And have a guideline, have some traveling buddies. Find some people that you'd like to travel with and go with them. And it'll be safer to travel in numbers.

I would suggest that it would even be fun. You can see these grief groups. Sometimes I come off the phone and my husband is down the hall in his office at our house and he's like, "There's a lot of laughter coming out of there." I know That's their point. It's not all about the sadness. It's about the wholeness of that person's life and the wholeness of your life as you now find a way to go forward.

Molly Shroades:
That's wonderful. Now, as we wrap up here today, I want to continue a little bit more about that idea of grief being a part of our human journey. Is this a natural part of our life and what words of wisdom can you leave us with today to figure out how we deal with grief throughout our lives?

Amy Greene:
Well, a lot of people have heard me tell this story and I'm sure I'm not telling it perfectly and apologies to real Buddhists because I'm not a Buddhist, but I have learned enormous amount from Buddhist traditions, several of them. There's a great story told that a young woman had a baby and it died instantly. And she was, of course, overwhelmed and she took the baby with her to see the Buddha. And she asked the Buddha, "Why? Why did my baby die?" And the Buddha said to her, "I'll tell you why, but first, I want you to go and get me a handful of mustard seed from the house that has had no suffering." I don't know if she ever goes back to the Buddha because she has her answer.

And so I think if we just can all really remember that, we all will suffer and we all will die. People don't want me to say that, but it's true. So far, nobody's lived beyond, I don't know, 120 something. And so if we can just not see that as some horrible thing that's gone wrong, but as just like that's the way it's always been and somehow that's part of why life is the way it is. It's part of why life is so rich and sweet because it isn't static. The only thing that isn't going to die is something that wasn't ever alive in the first place. So it does require a degree of being more philosophical, being a little more contemplative maybe, but not in a way that's morose or scary. It's just life is kind of the way it is and it's wonderful. And we will all suffer if we live long enough. There's just no way around it. And we don't have to do it alone.

That's the part that gets us into trouble, I think, because we think we have to do it by ourselves or it should have been easier. I would just channeled the Buddha and say, "Good luck, go find a handful of mustard seed from a family that's had no pain, a household that's had no suffering. Come back to me when you find it."

Molly Shroades:
I definitely like what you've said today about that balance of joy. With that sadness, there is joy. There is always that circular balance finding that on your journey through grief. Yeah, yeah.

Amy Greene:
And whoever that person was, they wouldn't have left such a big hole if they hadn't been such a great presence and that part is still there and it's still available all the time.

Molly Shroades:
Well, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insights today.

Amy Greene:
Thank you for asking. I've really enjoyed it.

Molly Shroades:
To learn more about grief support, visit clevelandclinic.org/grief.

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