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September 15, 2022 53 mins

In episode 5 of Death, Grief and Other Sh*t We Don't Discuss, Kyle McMahon discusses the immediate hours and days after his Mom passed. 

Then, Kyle talks with Dr. Kenneth J. Doka,  Senior Vice-President for Grief Programs for the Hospice Foundation of America and best selling author of books such as Grief Is a Journey: Finding your Pathway through LossThey discuss what are some helpful things to do in the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one, how to have less regrets with your loved one and more.


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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
I'm just a fool. We fear welcome to death, grief
and other ship we don't discuss. I'm Kyle McMahon. I

(00:27):
woke up early and I immediately thought of her. I
actually could feel her with me. It's not a feeling
I can explain easily, but I just felt her presence
with me, as if she was in the room next
to me. In fact, I felt her presence so strongly
that I actually thought to myself, I wonder if she's

(00:48):
slipped out of consciousness and now she's just with me
right now. I had read somewhere in my Google marathoning
that towards the end of life, some may slip have
been and out of consciousness, And in some other readings
that I found, I read that sometimes it's believed that
they can put their conscious in another place, almost like

(01:10):
they're transporting somewhere else. And I realized that sounds unbelievable,
but there are numerous accounts of people saying just that.
And since I could feel her with me now, that's
what went through my mind then, Like I did every
morning since the day she was diagnosed, I texted her

(01:31):
good morning. Immediately my dad called me, and I knew Kyle.
She passed, and there was a complete and total silence
for a moment. Okay, I said, what do you say

(01:58):
to that? My entire world had ripped open with those
three words. No matter how prepared you think you are,
you aren't. The world has suddenly become a darker place.
My light had burnt out. The worst thing for me
that could ever happen has just happened. And strangely, I

(02:18):
was calm well, I knew it was coming. I was
still in shock. When you actually hear those words, it
knocks you off your feet. She passed. Dad asked me

(02:41):
to give him a bit of time to get her
cleaned up before I came over. I hung up with him,
and then I calmly went downstairs and went out on
the balcony with Blue, just trying to process at all.
I didn't even know what to think, what to do.
I was in a fog. A few minutes later, Aunt
Kim k out on the balcony and I just immediately

(03:02):
blurted out to her. Mom passed. Kim immediately began sobbing
and ran into the living room, falling down on the ground,
supporting herself on the chair. I went over to her
and hugged her. She was crying out, not my Joanne, No,
not her, not my Joanne. All I could say was, Kim,

(03:28):
she's not in pain anymore. And I was telling myself
that too. I was trying to justify it, explain it away,
make it not feel like there's a giant knife in
my heart and I'm just bleeding out. At this point,

(03:48):
I still wasn't really crying, although tears were welling up
over Kim's devastation, I think I was still in shock.
Kim and I hugged, and then we both cried together.
This was hard, really really hard, harder than you can
ever prepare yourself for it. Mom had touched so many

(04:11):
lives that this was bound to be a rough ride
for a lot of people. After a while, Kim got
ready to go over to my parents, and before she left,
she asked me if I wanted to go alone or
ride with her. I needed some time, so I told
her I would meet her there. I took a really

(04:34):
long time to get ready. In fact, I took so
long that I wasn't sure if I'd ever actually be ready.
How does one get ready to see their mom who
had just passed away? Does it matter what you wear?
Does it matter what you look like? You fix your hair?
Do I switch out of this T shirt into something else?

(04:55):
All of these thoughts were running through my mind. What
do I do? I guess in reality, in many ways,
I was simply the laying seeing her like that. I
would have done anything in that moment not to be
in that position, but I was. When I finally made

(05:17):
my way over there, Aunt Kathy and Kim were already there.
Dad was coming outside and he had gave me this
giant hug and kiss, and we held that hug for
a few moments. I asked him where he was going.
He said he was going to take Mom's car to
get air in the tires because he's gonna start driving it.
And at first I thought that was odd, but then

(05:39):
I realized he probably needs some time to get away
from the house and the entire situation, and he was
doing it constructively by getting something done that would keep
one of his attachments with Mom going. As Dad drove
off in Mom's car, I went into my parents as
I had a thousand and times before, but this time

(06:03):
was different. It just felt different. This time. It felt cold, uninviting, sad.
Something was obviously very very wrong, and I knew just
what it was. My Aunt Kathie and Kim were upstairs

(06:28):
with my uncle Tom and my cousin t J. But
I couldn't go upstairs yet. I couldn't walk up those
stairs that I had done so many times before where
I was greeted with her smile or kiss or a hug,
because that smile wasn't going to be there this time.
That smile wasn't gonna be there anymore. And that's something

(06:53):
that I just couldn't face yet. Of course, the reality
of the situation is that it's something I did have
to face. I could go upstairs and see her where
I could give up the last chance to see my
mom in our house. I prolonged it. I sat on

(07:15):
the couch and my parents living room in an absolute days.
I was simply a shell. My physical body was there,
but my mind wasn't. It was like I was literally
unable to process this, Like my mind couldn't handle it.
It had to shut off. At some point, Aunt Kathy

(07:46):
or Kim had called me from upstairs, and I went
up to my mom's extra room and I made sure
that my eyes didn't go towards my parents room, where
my mom was. I couldn't face it. I could not
see her like that, not yet. I sat in my
mom's extra room and sat there with my aunts, told

(08:06):
them that I couldn't do it. I just couldn't go
in there yet. They gave me words of advice and
love and support and comfort, and I don't exactly remember
what they were, but I knew that I was going
to have to do this. After a little while longer
of delaying, I got up with my family and I

(08:28):
went into my parents room and I laid on the
bed next to my mom, and I cried hysterically. I
was screaming. I had never cried so hard in my life.
It was uncontrollable. It was primal, It was pure emotion.

(08:51):
This is not how this was supposed to be. This
was not how this is supposed to happen. I couldn't
stop sobbing. I was absolutely hysterical. Kyle Han, they're pulling
up and you're gonna pass out. My aunt Cathy said

(09:16):
she was referring to the funeral home professionals who we're
gonna take mom. I don't remember which, but one of
my family members had come over to help me up
off the bed, and Aunt Cathy wasn't being rude or
and considerate. I was literally crying so hysterically that I
was within a minute or two at max of actually

(09:36):
passing out from wailing and sobbing so hysterically. I didn't
know what to do. My entire world had broken apart,
my heart had been ripped from my chest. And now
the wonderful gentleman from the funeral home we're coming up
the stairs to take Mom away. What do I do now?

(10:01):
Where do I go? Do I go home? Like, go
somewhere else? What am I supposed to do? Now? For
the first time in my life, Mom wasn't on this
earth with me, and just like that, the world had
become darker, and just like that, the world was unsafe,

(10:28):
and just like that, Mom was God. After some time

(10:58):
crying with and talk king with my family, I eventually
went home. I had been renting Kim's house, and now
that my mom had passed just a few months before,
Kim and moved back into her home after living with
my mom for years to assist her. Kim and I
met back at the house and we talked for a

(11:19):
bit tears, of course, kind of confusion. What do you
say you just kind of exist? But I needed sleep.
I was so drained, so stunned, so confused. I hadn't
even processed it yet. Really, I couldn't process a world

(11:42):
without my mom. It's not something that was registering with
my brain or my heart. Him and I finished talking
and hugged and kissed, and I went into my room
with Blue and got in my bed under the covers
and turned the lights out, and I just slept for hours.

(12:03):
Dad eventually called and I woke up and picked up
earlier at my parents house. We had talked about planning
on having dinner together, so he was calling about that.
He came over to our house and we ordered pizza
and Kim and me and my dad. We just eate together,

(12:26):
my first meal without my mom in this world. I
know it seems silly, but everything I was doing I
couldn't help but think that it's been four hours since
Mom has been gone. It's been eight hours. Everything I
was doing or thinking was in relation to Mom. This

(12:47):
was uncharted waters for me. I didn't know a world
without Mom. I didn't want to know a world without Mom.
But here I was forced to live in that world.
My phone was ringing constantly as news spread about Mom.
Phone calls, text messages, tweets, Instagram messages, Facebook messenger emails, voicemails.

(13:15):
I wanted to talk to every single one of them,
but I couldn't talk to any of them. I couldn't
talk about it. It made it too real. What do
you say, she's gone? What else is there to say?
I try to send a text back as I could,
thanking them for their support and love. I'm sure I

(13:36):
missed responding to every single one of them, and I'm
sorry for that, but I was just trying to survive,
minute by minute, second by second. The next couple of days,
I continued to just go through the motions. I was
obviously in shock and disbelief. None of it felt real

(14:00):
at all. It felt like Mom was at the hospital
and she'd be home soon. There's no other context that
my brain could relate to. That's that's what it was
for me. It was just like Mom was at the hospital,
but life just wasn't the same. Life is harder, Life

(14:21):
is scarier. A few days before she had passed, Mom
had asked me to sing the rose for her at
her funeral. She had always loved when I sang, and
she loved that song so much that in her final
days she asked me to write her eulogy, and she

(14:44):
asked me to sing the Rose. I recorded me singing
it for her into my phone and sent it to her,
and my dad said that she would just keep playing
it over and over and over again. Yeah. I had
asked my good friend Jordan Demerist, who's an incredibly talented musician,

(15:05):
to play guitar for me, because I certainly couldn't do
that and saying and the eulogy at the funeral. So
he met me at my parents house to rehearse a
guitar version of the song. Dad had said he'd like
to sit in with us if that was okay, and
of course that wasn't a problem. I wanted to spend
time with Dad too. One half of my two parents

(15:28):
had just been torn from me, torn from my life,
torn from my world, and I'm terrified of losing the other.
And of course I knew how important it was for
Dad and I to remain close and to lean on
each other through the pain of Mom's passing, not just
today but for the rest of our lives. This is

(15:49):
gonna leave a scar, This is gonna leave a really
big scar, and Dad and I would have each other
to lean on doing it this way. We got to
sit in my parents living room that I had sat
in thousands of times before, and I'd be singing as
Mom would love, especially as it's a song that she picked.

(16:13):
Jordan and I rehearsed a few times, and Dad said
quietly listening in the chair he always sat in. I
sat on the couch Mom always sat in, and we
ran through the song a few times. I thought to myself,
I have no idea how I'm gonna pull this off,

(16:33):
but I'm going to pull it off. I have to
for her. Over the next few days, we were getting
things ready for the private viewing we were having, as
well as for the funeral. Thankfully, there wasn't a ton
to get done because my parents had long planned what
they wanted for their end of life and how it

(16:55):
was to all be done, and that really seemed to
make it so much easier. To this day, I'm not
even sure how much of a part of that process
I really was. I don't remember. I remember doing some
odds and ends for this or that, but it really
is just one big blur, like I wasn't even there.

(17:15):
I remember the day after she passed, I had to
write her obituary. I must have written it twenty times.
It took hours and hours and hours. I remember stopping
and saying, how am I writing this? Oh? My writing
mom's obituary? This has to be a nightmare. But even

(17:37):
if it was my literal nightmare, and I was living
in that nightmare that I'm hoping to wake up from,
still that obituary had to be written on this morning

(18:12):
in March. Joanne McMahon passed away peacefully at her home.
She was born to James and Catherine. She attended Corpus
Christie Grade School and Conrad High School. She worked for
decades at St. Francis Hospital before starting her own business
teaching dance. Joanne was a strong woman with a huge

(18:37):
heart who loved nothing more than to be with her
family and friends. Her sense of humor, her love of dance,
and her selfless nature were on exhibit by the many
dances she organized for charity. Her intuition and forethought were unmatched.

(18:58):
She was a devoted daughter, a devoted wife, exemplary mother,
loving sister, aunt, cousin and best friend. Always generous to
a fault. She loved going to musicals at Three Little
Bakers in the Playhouse, and of course she loved oldies,

(19:20):
line dancing. She loved all things Irish, and she supported
her husband throughout his naval career. Her home with her
beloved husband, Captain Don United States Navy was always open
to family and the numerous close friends who were also
her family. Their son Kyle, was the joy of her

(19:43):
life and always the center of her world. Joanne loved
music of all types, especially oldies. She enjoyed scrap booking
and genealogy. She was a wonderful interior decorator. Joanne was
preceded in death by her parents, your grandmother and grandfather.

(20:09):
She has survived by her husband, her son, her sisters,
her brother, her nephews, her niece, her great nephew, her
great niece, her aunt, and her second son Jason and
their son j j as well as numerous cousins, her

(20:30):
grand dog Blue, and many many close friends. In lieu
of flowers, please consider a donation in Joanne's memory the
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. How How am I going to

(21:09):
get through this? How am I gonna survive this? How
do you handle grief like this. How do you get
through the day, How do you get through tomorrow? How
do you get through at all? I wanted to know

(21:34):
how do we do these things? How does anybody do
it when you lose somebody you love so much? When
we come back, I speak with Dr ken Doka, Senior
Vice President for Grief Programs at the Hospice Foundation of America.
We dive into grief and how you can get through
when we come back. Dr Kenneth Doca is a licensed

(22:04):
mental health counselor and one of the country's pre eminent
experts and grief. He is the Senior Vice President for
Grief Programs for the Hospice Foundation of America and one
of the authors of the text Dying and Death, Life
and Living. He's also written books like When We Die,
Extraordinary Experiences at Life's End, Living with Grief, and Grief

(22:28):
as a Journey finding your pathway through loss. I wanted
to talk to Dr Doka because of his wide swath
of knowledge on grief. Over decades, he has studied grief
and grieving and loss, and with the Hospice Foundation of America,
has stared it directly in the face. And Dr Doka

(22:51):
is a pretty happy man. I traveled to Poughkeepsie, New
York to speak with him, and he just has a
gentle manner about him. So my first question, of course,
was how do you do this? You know, how do
you talk with people about such heavy topics about their
lives and how do you do it while staying positive

(23:13):
and quote unquote normal. Here's what Dr Doka had to say.
I guess we can always define what normal is. That
spent a lot of time looking at that one. I
think if you're going to survive in the field, you
have to develop that, and I think, um, some good
things have come out of it. I think I'm much
more sensitive to the issue of unfinished business, you know,
so if if I have a fight with somebody, I

(23:37):
really try to resolve it, which was always a family value.
Right on the bat, I don't want to leave a
lot of unfinished business. I uh, just was talking to
a client whose sister had died. Um, they hadn't spoken
to each other in fifteen years, and now she had
a lot of regrets. I've never been in that situation.
And then the second thing is it it kind of
really allows you to understand, um, the fragility of time.

(24:02):
So you know, I think in many ways it's enhanced it. Uh.
There's a film we used to watch. I used to
watch with my classes about a guy named Albro who's
who's dying, and he talks about the fact that he's
dying in his late fifties. He just really worked his
whole life and he never did anything. He was always
going to do it when he retired, you know, and
that I always remember that film. And uh, he bitterly says,

(24:23):
what did I do instead of going to a movie?
I cleaned the house. So I got somebody else to
clean the house and I'll go to the movie. Yeah. Yeah.
So you're an author of you know, many books that
you've done. You know, you're a public speaker, you're an
expert in this field. For grief. One of your books,
and I love this, one of your books talks about

(24:43):
how grief is not a linear five step or whatever
it is seven step process and you know, and then
it's done. In fact, your book is called Grief is
a Journey. Can can you talk a little bit about that?
What does that mean that grief is a journey? One
of the you know, in in many ways, we owe
Kubler Ross a great debt. She was the first. She really,

(25:07):
even though she wasn't the first person doing research in
the field, hers was the first popular book that came
out and sold to a wide audience and broadened our
conversation about death and dying. Uh. And actually Coubler Ross
wasn't even talking about grief. She was talking about dying
the dying process. And I think she taught us some
important lessons. One is to listen to dying people, and

(25:29):
the other one is, uh, you know, not to pretend
that people don't die. Um. But I think the stage
theory ultimately did us a little bit of a disservice
because it's become so popular now and it was applied
to grief where it was never meant to be applied
at least in the beginning, and has become almost a
kind of grief is very individual, very unique to every person.

(25:51):
We all have very distinct relationships. Um. I don't know
about the relationship between your family or you know, but
if you have a mother and a father, you may
grieve their deaths differently because they had different roles in
your life, different places in your life. So I like
to say it's a very very individual journey and you know,
there's no You're going to go through a lot of
different kinds of reactions, some emotional anger, said is guilt?

(26:16):
When have you some cognitive some behavioral that you physically
affect your spiritually. Uh, And each of us will have
our own set of manifestations and will go through our
journey in our own way, in our own time. I
love that so much. You know, it's it's uh, just
the truth. It's a truth bomb. How you know, how

(26:39):
do you know when it is healthy grieving or or
it's unhealthy grieving? If there even is such a thing
as unhealthy grieving? How do you know if this is
healthy or not? Yeah, not words that I prefer to use.
But certainly we can talk about a process of what
most people can typically expect in their grieving, And certainly

(27:00):
we can also talk about the fact that grieving can
morph into depression, It can morph into a disorder, adjustment, disorder, separation,
anxiety can morph into a lot of different things. And again,
to me, the key signs are that for most people,
I would say, the I look at grief is kind
of a roller coaster. You have to be careful with that. Uh,

(27:21):
you know. I always joke with my class when I
talked grief counseling about being careful on metaphors. So if
I say to you, have you ever been on a
roller coaster before? And you said I love them as
a kid, I'd say, yeah, well, grief is kind of
a roller coaster. You're gonna have good days, you're gonna
have bad days, You're gonna have ups and downs. But
then if you said to me, no, I was dreadful.
I never scared the life out of me, I would say,

(27:44):
what grief is like a roller coaster, I'd use another metaphor,
But here's what I will be looking for using that
roller coaster metaphor. Most people, over time, say maybe a year,
maybe two, say I still have my ups and downs.
They're not as severe as they were a year ago.
They don't last as long, they don't go as far

(28:05):
down as they used to. And that to me is
a pretty saying saying I'm doing well. The other thing,
and I think the most important thing is, you know,
after a period of time, are you able to function
your key worlds again? Are you able to you know,
go back to work, go back to school. Um, you
know it may not have the same pleasure for you,

(28:26):
but you're still doing that, and that I think is
an important sign. If you can't really function after a
period of time, that really says you should get help.
That really certainly if you're using, if you're doing self
destructive things or other destructive things, that's a sign. So
there are a variety of different signs of that grief
has gone into more complicated forms and you should seek

(28:48):
professional help. But those would be some of the key
things that I'd be looking for. Thank you, and is
it possible to let me put it into my terms.
You know, there were some people who told me as
my mom passed away, you know there will be a
day you know, you don't miss her as much and
it won't hurt as much. And I'm like, what are

(29:09):
you talking about. It's my mom. I'm always gonna miss her,
I'm always gonna hurt. You know, that's never gonna like
go away. But one of my friends really kind of
blew my mind when he said, you know, it doesn't
get any better, it doesn't ever hurt less, you don't
ever stop missing them, You just learn how to live

(29:30):
with it. Yeah, I think that's not an unfair statement.
I mean, again, we all you know, we all have
our own ways of dealing with it, and certainly what
I would say to people's lifelong journey, you know, most people,
as I said, over time, say yeah, the lows don't
come as often, they don't last as long, they're not
as bad. But but even years later, you never get
over it. You never get better, even years later. And

(29:52):
you know, for instance, when you have your first child,
maybe uh, you'll say, I wish my mother were here
to see this. Um. When my first grand child was born,
I dialed my father just because I think he would
have really enjoyed. You know, my son named him after me,
so that was very special to my father, and Michael
was very special to my father. And as I started dialing,
I said, wait a minute, he's been dead for ten

(30:14):
years now, you know, so so that's very common. You're
always going to have those surges of grief later in life.
Matter of fact, my first thing when I do last thing,
when I do counseling with the person, is I talk
about what some of those times might be, you know,
just so so you're aware that ten years later, when
you have your child, you're saying, I don't know why
I feel so bad. And then you'll say, no, you know,

(30:35):
I really wish I could share this with my mother. Yeah,
you know, we had been talking before. I had mentioned
that I bought my first house just a couple of
months ago, and that was something you know, my mom
and I had always talked about. She was gonna help
me decorate because I'm not, you know, good at that
sort of thing. And uh, then you know, she passed

(30:56):
before that happened, before I actually made settlement. But and
that was so so hard for me because this is
something I've been you know, talking about my whole life
and then she's not, you know, physically there when it happens.
But I tried to reframe it in some ways to say, look, Kyle,
this is her close friend Karen's house that that you bought.

(31:21):
So my mom had actually been to the house a
million times, so I'm like, wait, Mom's been here before,
you know. And the first thing I did when I
bought that house and went to settlement, I went to
settlement and then went over to the house and put
up a photo of us, you know, my family, my me,
my mom, and my dad. And then I went to

(31:43):
work because I had an event that I had to
go to. But you know, trying to find ways to
honor her in that space has helped me with that
a little bit. You know, I have a garden that
I made for her with her favorite flowers, like those
kinds of things where I'm trying to, you know, keep
her present and they're in my house. Has has helped

(32:06):
me a little bit. So what is the advice that
you have for somebody when they go to have their
first kid, or they get married, you know, or or whatever. UM,
and that's the time you instinctively reach out for your
mom or your father or you know, whoever it is
that you UM have lost. UM, just validate your grief

(32:30):
on number one, just acknowledge it. And you know, sometimes
you can do some sort of ritual to acknowledge their
presence symbolically. You know. Uh, it's not unusual, for example,
that people at holidays, those are times that we often
experience a revival of grief. You've been in the joy
because we missed that person being there. But one of
the things that we do in our house is UM,

(32:52):
when we decorate our Christmas train and my son and
the grandchildren come over, the first three ornaments we put
on a memorial ornaments to my mother and father and
then my godson's father. That's amazing. I love creating these
kind of rituals, you know, like throughout your life that
continue to keep them present and with you while honoring

(33:13):
them too. I really love that they're part of the
holiday and we can acknowledge their presence and acknowledge that
we missed them. Yeah. Yeah, that's powerful. It's it's really
a beautiful way to keep them present and with you. Uh.
For somebody that's just has just lost somebody and has
somebody that's close to them that they love that has
just passed, where do they go and that immediate aftermath?

(33:37):
What do they do you know, to stop from spiraling?
Because for me it was it was hard not to
sink really low in those first forty eight hours week month. Um,
what do you do to not get yourself into that
or at least to try to keep from that spiral. Well,
that's a hard question to answer because we're also very

(33:59):
individu jewel and what might work? And when I used
to lead a support group, I used to say one
of the rules was you can't say what you should do.
You can you can say what I did and how
it helped me. But you can't say here's what you
should do. And I would tell people, you know, as
you listen to people's the ways that people cope, you know,

(34:19):
ask yourself the question would that work for me? Is
that something I should try? Or it really is something
that that I've find uncomfortable or or the like. So
I think the first rule is, you know, is to
validate your grief and um to recognize this is a
tough period to look for support both internally. How does
your spirituality come into play here? You had said you

(34:42):
went through twelve years of Catholic instruction. Uh, you know,
I I don't know how active you are or how
practicing you are now, but certainly would be a legitimate
question to ask yourself for for me to ask you, Okay,
you have this faith system, how does it speak to you?
Does it speak to you at all? And in what ways?
What messages is it giving you? And do you find

(35:03):
comfort in that? And if you don't find comfort in that,
what other messages might give you comfort? And then I
would say, also look at your external support system. One
of the things that that I've developed in counseling that's
been widely replicated and it's one of my sort of
like little tricks that's out there in the field is
I would I would have you write down your support system,

(35:24):
write down all the names of people you could look
for for support, and then I would say, now, put
a D next to all the people who are in
the list who are good doers. And these are people
who if you need to arride you know you can
count on them, they'll give it to you. And then
put an L next to the people who are good listeners.
You can call them at three o'clock in the morning
and they'll be honored that you called them. And then
put in our next to respite people. Um, I'll say,

(35:47):
grief is hard work and just like any hard work,
you need time off. And these are the people can
go out to dinner, ware, to go out to a
movie and they're never going to ask you how are
you doing, because they hope, against hope that you're not
going to talk about it. But that's their gift, you know,
they give you time away. And when I find when
I do that with people, people realize I'm not using one,

(36:07):
I'm not using my support system well, and they begin
to accept the gift that respite people give them because
it's really pissing them off. It's really annoying them. I
never said anything about my mother since like the day
of the funeral, you know, or never say anything about
my father or my spouse or my child. But that's
that's what they do. They give you time away. Wow,
that's really that's uh, that's really insightful. You know. It's

(36:32):
interesting because I have a close friend of mine who
didn't come to the funeral, and I mean he had
been to my parents house all kinds of you know, functions,
and he knew my mom really well. And I'm like,
what do you mean you're not coming? And he's like, oh,
I don't do that stuff with like people crying and stuff.
I do things in my own way, and that's not

(36:53):
one of them. And uh, you know, I took that
very personally because I'm like, uh, what do you mean?
Like everybody is coming? So, you know, you actually just
gave me some insight into the fact that he has
been there in other ways for me since then, you
know what I mean, And he made just there. He
clearly is just the type of person that functionally doesn't

(37:15):
want to talk about that stuff, can't talk about that stuff,
you know, So I really love that. Thank you so
much for that with the support system that you're able
to call on when you need that strength when you
need it exactly so you know, as as one person
one of my clients once said, when I did this exercise,
I was really asking my doers to listen and getting

(37:35):
frustrated because I wasn't being heard and my listeners to
do um and I was getting frustrated as nothing was done.
Learned to make the shift. Well, that's awesome. That's really
powerful for people, and you know, as they move on

(38:01):
their grieving journey, how can you kind of like check yourself,
you know, for me the example, how can I check
myself to make sure that I'm on And again, I
hate using these terms because as you said, it's a
it's a journey, and that journey is different for everyone.
But how can I check in with myself and make
sure that I'm in a healthy place, a good place

(38:22):
considering the circumstances. Do I bounce it off family, like
you know, where I am that day or that week?
Do I make a checklist? Well, you know, I think
there are a couple of things there, and the answer is,
first of all, don't expect to always be in a
good place. You know. That part of the journey is
just like you're walking on a trail. Some sections of

(38:44):
that trail are going to be relatively easier and some
are going to be more strenuous, you know, And and
that's gonna be the same thing with your grief. You're
not always going to be in the place you'd like
to be. But I think overall to ask yourself, um
as I look at this process, where am I am am? I?
Am I able to function? Um? Am I engaged in

(39:04):
good self care? Am I engaged in self destructive or
other destructive behaviors? Um? You know, those are questions to consider,
you know. And it's also people not only cope with grief,
they sometimes grow from grief. You you know, you you
learn new talents, new abilities, you take on new roles,
You realize different ways of being independent that you hadn't realized.

(39:25):
So that's you know, we we also experienced growth. Wow, Yeah,
that's very true. There's you know, even though you're grieving,
there are areas that you can grow while also grieving,
grow as a you know person personally developed yourself. So
in regards to your career, I mean, I know, You've
dealt with a lot of death and dying on both

(39:47):
ends up to people that are you know, going to pass,
people that are dealing with the aftermath of somebody that
has passed. What, Um, what have you found and all
of the people that you've worked with and all of
the research that you've that you've done, What are some
what are some truths that you found in working with
all of these people and in various facets of grief

(40:11):
and loss and death. UM, it's a hard question. I'm
not sure that I know the answers of that. I
would certainly say, um that one truth is again that
it's a very very individual process. I think another truth
is that it's not a romantic process. Some people, you
know kind of death is the final stage of growth.

(40:33):
I don't want to grow soon. That's soon, you know.
So I think we have to be careful of that,
of over romanticizing the dying process or the death process.
I guess the biggest truth I've learned is, you know,
people say, well, what are the stages and what affects you?
And the answer is the best lesson I ever had
was from a teacher of mine, Constantino Civilians Ross Child

(40:54):
and graduate school and she one day looked at the
class and she was from Greece or something, and she
had this Eastern European accent, and she said, I can
tell each of you how you're going to die. Would
you like to know how you're going to die? And
almost thought you were like in a medium, right, I
just say, don't take the thruthaway home. But but what

(41:15):
she said was really a great truth, and I think
it goes for dying and bereevem and just look at
the way you deal with crisis, and the way you
deal with crisis is the way you'll deal with the crisis.
He said that you experience at the end of life.
If you're an angry person, you're gonna die angry. You're
gonna grieve angry. I always joked that I had a
lovely brother in law, my my sister's husband. And but

(41:38):
one of the things that he was just so soft
spoken and so apologetic that you know, like if I
said if he if I came back from a trip
and he said, how is your trip? And I said,
now we hit some turbulence. He looked at me and apologize,
I'm really sorry, you know, I said, why were we
with a pooplane. You know, you know you have control
the winds, you know, uh. Um, And you know when

(41:59):
I knew, you know, his last words were essentially apologizing
for dying in an inconvenient time and you know, having
his kids come up all the way to Pennsylvania to
be with him. Uh. You know, it's classic. And that's
how we are. We you know, we die and grieve
the ways we live in the ways we cope. That's
probably the best truth. Wow. Yeah, and that's that's a

(42:23):
really incredible Um. Say, I'm diagnosed with terminal illness. Are
there any steps that you know, you suggest that I
should take? Were you know a person in that situation,
either for the benefit of themselves and you know they're
loved ones to to to remember you know, what steps
do you suggest? And I know it's individual. Well, I

(42:44):
would say, you know, um, review your your end of
life wishes with your family. I would say, you know,
make the final preparations, choose your sir gets, but always
love them to be their own person. If you look
at the New York's Attorney General's manual about end of
life decision making, he'll say, choose a surrogate who's going

(43:05):
to do what you want to do. I chose my
son as my surrogates, my only son. I chose him
as my surrogate. I suspect he's going to keep me
alive longer than I would originally like to be. But
the way I figure it is that's my last sacrifice
for my son, and and for me to say I'm
going to choose some other person as a surrogate. I
don't want my last message to my son to be

(43:26):
I don't trust you, you know, and you know what
I've told him. You know, do what you know. Here
are my wishes, you know what they are. But in
the end, you have to make the decisions and make
the decisions that are gonna that you're going to be
able to walk out with and say I'm comfortable. You know,
when my mother was dying, one of the emergency and
that emergency was one of the intensive she was in

(43:47):
intensive care. She took a bad fall in your late eighties,
and one of the people, you know, one of the
I guess interns or residents, came over and said, well,
you know, your mother has a very clear set of
directives and I and yeah, I know, I helped to
write them. You know, I know what what the directives are.
And he says, I think we should terminate treatment, and
you know, and my brother and sister and I said,

(44:10):
let's give her a day. Let's let's wait a day.
And and the next day she died naturally, which I
think was was easier on us. And I don't think
it was that, you know, And I think if we
would ask my mom, was that okay, she would have said, yeah,
you know, ultimately, And so that's the message I've given
to my son. And and again some people disagree with that.
You know, you make those decisions, but I've always had

(44:32):
a theory of ethics and end of life that a
friend of mine, Bruce Jennings, has written about, which he
called the socio ecological perspective, which means you have to
look at how these decisions are going to affect the survivors.
And that's always been very important to me. Yeah, yeah, yeah,
And you know, that's a beautiful message that you know

(44:53):
that you've given both to your son and you know yourself.
Really so thank you so much for sharing that with me.
And and and that brings up an interesting thing, you know,
in regards to ethics that were and I'm using this
as my experience, but you know, questioning it in a
broader experience. You know, there were decisions that my mom
made in her cancer journey that I wouldn't have, you know,

(45:15):
made for myself. Uh, and I certainly wouldn't have made
for her. And you know, I tried to remember, Kyle,
it's not your journey. This is her cancer journey. She
has to do it the way she wants. How do
you deal with that? What is a good way to
deal with those kinds of issues where I want her
to do X and she wants to do Why? How

(45:36):
do you remind yourself that these aren't my decisions, even
if you think it's in her best interests, you know,
your loved one's best interest. What's a good way to
deal with those kinds of issues for both the loved
one and the person you know, um going through it. So,
in other words, if there's an ethical disagreement, yes for

(45:57):
so for instance, you know, my mom had stated one point,
if it gets to X point, I don't want to
do treatments anymore, because you know, I wanna live out
the rest of my days without radiation or chemo or whatever.
And I'm like, no, You're gonna do whatever it takes.
I'm I want to save your life. But you know
what I mean, Like, at the end of the day,

(46:18):
it's not it's not my call, it's not my body,
it's you know, not my journey. How does somebody in
this situation like I was in, how do they deal
with those disagreements where it's like, no, you're my mom
and I want you to do everything you can to
live and blah blah blah. You know what I'm saying. Yeah,
I think it's just being open to it. Um, I

(46:40):
think it's it's it's good communication with the person. You
know what, what makes you make these decisions? I think
it involves good decision making. Me the physicians where you
you say, you know what are the you really get
the information. But I think it's important that you you
ultimately make decisions that you can live with, even if
it takes some time. As I said with with my mother,

(47:02):
I'm sure they wanted to clear the bed, but you
know we we weren't there yet. And um, you know
when I I figured you as I said, I I
know what my mother had said in an advanced directives,
but we need a time, right And then how how
about On the other end, you had mentioned that, you know,
there are people that have guilt for things that they
didn't say or whatever. You know, I didn't, Um, I

(47:24):
never got to say I love them or whatever. And
I'm so blessed that, you know, my mom and I
got to say everything we wanted to say ten times over.
But there are people who, as you know, who are
afraid of saying it, or they're in a strange relationships
or whatever. How do you, like, how do you deal

(47:46):
with that? I think the question is, first of all,
to find a way to say it, even if it's
going to the grave and you know, reading a letter
that you've written in uh and burning it at the
grave side, or you know, doing some kind of ritual. Um,
there a ritual internal self, I think. But the but
the technique is a variation of the empty chair. So

(48:07):
I'd say, pretend your mother's over there and tell her
what you want to tell her. And then I would say, okay,
now sit in that chair. You have an internalized sense
of your mother what would she say to you? And
and that really works. UM. I had one thirteen year
old boy whose um father had died and and maybe
a year before when he was about twelve or even eleven,

(48:30):
and he had he had an unfinished business. Is the
last day had visited his father. He was very uncomfortable
visiting his dad because his dad was emaciated by cancer.
Was not the person that that he remembered. And the
dad asked for a hug and he kissed before he
left the hospital room, and he had some you know,
a sports I think a basketball practice, and just wanted

(48:50):
to get out for a lot of reasons. And then
the father died that night. He felt very very bad,
and so now he's in counseling and and I hadn't
do that. I said, I want you to look at
that and tell your dad what you wanted to say,
and he very tearfully responded that, you know, he's sorry.
He walked out so quickly, and I sitting there, I
sit in that chair and tell what your dad would

(49:10):
say to you. And he got in a chair. All
of a sudden, he turned in. He said, is that
what's been bothering you for two years? Sport and started
laughing and said, that's exactly what my dad would have said.
You know, is that what's bothering for two years? Did
I know you love me, Wow, that's really powerful. Yeah, yeah,
that's a really powerful That's him saying that to himself

(49:32):
but knowing that's what his dad would have said. Absolutely,
you know. And I as you were saying that, I'm
thinking of like if that had happened with my mom,
and you know, for an instant, you know, the last
day my mom was with us, I I said, Mom,
I'm sorry for that time that I said I hated you.
You know, the times I said I hated you and

(49:53):
I was little, you know, and I'm sorry for you
know that time I was whatever mean and blah blah blah,
blah blah. And she was like, Kyle, yeah, I'm not
thinking of any of that, you know. She was like,
that wasn't even on my radar at all. It wasn't
even the game. I think we have loved ones of
those people hold that, you know, so that that's an

(50:14):
incredible way to channel that. Um, all all of the
work that you've done over decades, all of the people
that you've counseled and mentored and helped, and the stuff
that you've you know, gone through yourself, the books you've written,
the research you've done, the studies. What do you dr Doka.

(50:35):
What you know, what do you want people to know
about grief? That you can't hide from it, that you're
not gonna get over it, that you've got to learn
to live with it, and that you can't grow from it. Wow,
you can't hide from it, You're not going to get
over it. You've got to learn to live with it

(50:58):
and you can grow on it. Powerful, powerful words from
Dr Kenneth Doca. And it's sort of comforting to know
that this isn't something that I'll ever get over. How
do you ever get over the death of a loved one?
How do you ever get over the death of your mom?

(51:18):
You don't. But I can't hide from that. I'm not
going to get over that. I've got to learn to
live with it, but I can grow from it. Thank you,
Dr Doka. Next time on death, grief and other ship.

(51:46):
We don't discuss viewings, funerals, and other death rituals. I
could not go into my mom's private viewing. I could
not deal with that finality. But did I? Then I
talked with Todd Harrah, vice president at McCreary and Harrah
Funeral Homes and Crematory and Amazon best selling author of

(52:09):
Last Rights the evolution of the American funeral. We dive
head first into the traditions of viewings and funerals and
end of life care throughout history. If you haven't, please
check out our website at Death and Grief dot show.
We have a wealth of resources and handouts that will

(52:32):
help you for each topic covered on every episode of
the series, with videos, books, blog pieces and more all
designed to help you further dive into these topics. Mother

(52:56):
me when I come, I'm just school of Antora. I'm
just school wind Over. I'm to the school
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