As different as loss and grief can feel for people, there is a sense of familiarity in the way we search for answers and understanding. There is almost a hunger to know more about grief; how long will it stay with you, whether you will ever feel like yourself again, and importantly, how to move forward.
In 2020, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called grief a cruel kind of education. “You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language,” she wrote in the essay Notes on Grief.
It seems that in recent times, with the covid-19 pandemic, disasters brought about by climate change, conflicts, and the challenges of everyday life, grief and loss have become constant companions.
Today, more people are on the lookout for something to hold them together. Here are some podcasts that explore the many facets of grief and loss, and might just have the words you are looking for.
In January 2020, author Brene Brown, who has written books such as Braving the Wilderness, launched a new podcast, Unlocking Us. Little did she know it would be the year that people needed such podcasts more than ever before.
In a March 2020 episode, Brown talked to grief expert, David Kessler, a protégé of psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of the ground-breaking book, On Death and Dying. It was in this book that she introduced the five stages of dying. Later in her life, Kübler-Ross, worked with Kessler on the book, On Grief and Grieving, her last one. Continuing their work after death, Kessler found a sixth stage of grief and grieving, which he talked about in the podcast.
Kessler had been working on the sixth stage, finding meaning, for a few years before his world was shaken up when his younger son died in 2016. While grieving and surviving, it was this stage of grief that he decided to hold onto. In the conversation, he tells why he shifted focus to meaning and gratitude. “The worst tragedy would be if I never got to meet him (my son) this lifetime.”
He added that gratitude is one way of finding meaning in death. Just like meaning, gratitude is not about death but life. “It’s gratitude for the life, the person you got to know. It’s gratitude that that person got to be your father this lifetime. It’s gratitude your mother was your mother this lifetime, your husband, your wife, your partner, your kids. It didn’t have to happen that way.”
For those who are haunted by the question of finding meaning in grief, this is a podcast that might help explore that aspect.
Where: Spotify/Apple Podcasts
Podcast host Loryn Denise has known grief intimately, losing both her parents within a span of four years a few years ago. In the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, Denise launched the podcast, This Too Shall Suck, in April 2020, in honour of her parents, and as a way to support people navigating grief and loss.
At funerals, one thing that follows grief around like a shadow is silence, of one’s own and others. People drop voices, you can barely hear yours and as people start making their way to the door, silence feels encompassing and overwhelming all at once. In this June 2022 episode, Denise talks about this silence and the quiet moments that tie different people experiencing grief.
Sitting with the moments of silence, and allowing people who care about you to do the same, goes a long way to getting through the grief, Denise says. “Processing the moments of silence are going to the thing you will look back to and then they really got me to where I am today,” she adds. She suggests embracing the quiet as it allows time to evaluate yourself, who you were, where you want to go, and your relationships.
Where: Apple Podcasts/Spotify
This episode is part of the Peabody-winning podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and explores how to carry grief through language. In this May 2019 episode, Tippett talks to poet and author Gregory Orr about using poetry to understand and express grief and loss.
Talking about using words and poems while in crisis or grieving, Orr says it helps make sense of a world that suddenly feels unfamiliar. “Turn your confusion, turn your world into words. Take it outside yourself, into language. And poetry says I’m going to meet you halfway. You just bring me your chaos. I’ll bring you all sorts of ordering principles. I’ll bring you story; if you want sonnets, I’ll bring you sonnets,” he says. It’s a way of ‘restabilising yourself’ after experiencing a crisis, Orr adds.
In the conversation, Orr talks about how loss and grief hit as chaos and poems can turn this into order and make something of it. He also says how words take the trauma or the grief outside of you and make it a thing in the world.
Where: Spotify/Apple Podcasts
This episode of the podcast, On with Kara Swisher, popped up on my Instagram’s Discover page a while ago, and the words have lingered. In a clip from the podcast episode, hosted by journalists Kara Swisher and Nayeema Raza, the latter recounts what psychotherapist and author Esther Perel said when her father passed away, “The first and the last are always the hardest.” Perel adds, “The last time you did this and the first time you did it without the person. There is something really granular about it.”
In this August 2023 podcast episode, dedicated to their senior producer Blackeney Schick, who passed away suddenly, the hosts talk to Perel about how to live with grief, cope with untimely deaths, the connection between grief and love and discover new things about person after loss.
One of the interesting things that Perel says is the need to not look at grief through a singular and typical lens. She talks about how people deal with grief differently and expecting a familiar response only shows the lack of awareness about the emotion. “When going through this big change, shift or loss, some of us will want to talk about some of us will not. Some will want to remember her (Schick) out loud and some will do it privately. You lay out the many facets of grief and you normalise it,” she says.
Where: Spotify/Apple Podcasts