The Language of Grief

with Jayson Greene

When Jayson Greene’s two-year-old daughter died in a random tragedy, he was forced to find a way forward. What does it look like to hope again after loss? How do you be brave when the world is so terrifying? Jayson and Kate discuss how to stay open to love in the face of fear, especially as parents.




CW: death of a child

Jayson Greene

Jayson Greene is a contributing writer and former senior editor at Pitchfork. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vulture, and GQ, along with other publications. Once More We Saw Stars is his first book. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.

Show Notes

To learn more about Rachel Held Evans, click here.

Jayson read from his poignant New York Times Op-Ed, “Children Don’t Always Live.” Click here to read it in full.

To order your copy of Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir by Jayson Greene, click here. His book releases on May 14, 2019.

To learn more about Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate Bowler, click here.

Jayson wrote another gorgeous New York Times piece, ‘What Does Daddy Cry About?’ Click here to read.

Follow Jayson on Instagram, and Twitter.

Follow Kate on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

The voicemail clips you heard at the end were from actual listeners. We received so many of your heartbreaking and beautiful stories. Thank you. A special thanks to Halen, Matt, and Olivia for sharing your voices with us on this episode.

Show MoreShow Less

Discussion Questions

1. Kate begins her conversation with Jayson by asking him to read, rather than tell, the story of how his daughter, Greta, died. What did you hear in listening to Jayson’s opening reading from his New York Times op-ed? What do you know about sharing a story too tender for words?

2. Jayson describes the moments leading up to his daughter’s death—when the impossible becomes possible—as being imbued with a strange clarity in which “you can hear every thought landing.” Have you or someone you know experienced this kind of clarity in the wake of calamity? What was it that became clear? How did the body see, hear, smell, taste, or experience this clarity?

3. There is no word in the English language for parents who have lost their children. Jayson wonders whether that speaks to a religious or magical belief that naming something gives it power. Why do you think such a word does not exist? What do you think would happen if one did?

4. Immediately after his daughter’s accident, Jayson begins searching for something or someone to blame. Can you remember a time when you turned to blame as a balm for sorrow? What was re-assuring about the blame? What was limiting about the blame? What came after the blame?

5. Kate notes the different expressions of grief in Jayson’s memoir, Once More We Saw Stars. For instance, Jayson’s grief took on words while Stacy’s, his wife, took on a color. What have the expressions of grief looked like in your life? If you’ve shared grief with someone else, what did you notice about the differences in your displays? Did the differences make you feel more/less connected?

6. Grief is a language of love, Jayson says, but so too is it a language that requires listening to the non-verbal. What is the language of grief in your family/cultural/spiritual tradition? What aspects of your traditions feel most life-giving? What new traditions would you want to introduce?

7. Jayson defines first responder friends as the people who drop everything for you when the sirens are still blaring. Do you have friends like these? Have you been a friend like this? Share a short story about showing up for someone in a major way.

8. Although Jayson and his wife Stacy grew up in secular homes, after the death of their daughter they engage in what he describes as a series of “spiritual stumblings.” Have you ever experienced a season of spiritual stumblings, where something less like belief and more like overwhelm, compelled you to search for meaning? What did you try? What did you find? What found you?

9. The decision to have another child came from a soft place, Jayson says, not a hard or defiant one. What do you know about the soft place of love after loss? How did hope sneak up on you?

10. The most powerful letters Jayson received after writing his New York Timesop-ed piece on Greta’s death were from adult children who were born after their parents had suffered the loss of a child. Through them he learns that “your fear is meaningless” to children, and that our job is to make them believe that although the world is a dangerous place, it is also a welcoming one. Do you believe this to be true? How does this belief compel you to make brave choices when there is no going back?

Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate and Jayson’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?

Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane (

Show MoreShow Less


Kate Bowler: Well, hello there. I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. When I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at 35, it was like I was suddenly on a planet far away. I know people are suffering all the time, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was absolutely alone. Whenever I met people, I struggled. I struggled with questions like, “How are you, and what are you doing next year?” Small talk was an Olympic feat. It was the absence of language, but it was also the absence of community. I was lonely for other people who understood what it felt like to stumble around on a new planet. The life after. It was out of that season that Everything Happens was born, a place to be together, and have rich, and even funny conversations about what it’s like when things fall apart.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’ve joined me here and hung on when we had huge breaks between seasons. Life has been really unpredictable, as you can imagine. But, I’m back with a new season, and I hope you don’t mind a little honesty about what today feels like. I’m feeling weighed down by an overwhelming sense of grief. A really incredible person, a writer and a speaker, Rachel Held Evans died suddenly this week at 37. And along with everyone who loved her, and her husband, and her two kids; we are all gutted. She was a spectacular person and a champion of the marginalized, and many of us are struggling to know what to do or feel. You may know what these moments are like, when the world feels random and cruel, and you feel like you will drown in the impossibility of it all.

I want this podcast to help us form language and community for times like this. Impossible moments, moments when the world falls apart and there’s nothing anyone could do to prevent it. We are forced to find a way forward when we can’t go back. So I’ve asked Jayson Greene to be with us today and share his own experience of coming to terms with grief. Jayson is a contributing editor to Pitchfork, a music publication, and a beautiful writer. His articles have been featured in fancy things like The New York Times, Vulture, and GQ. Jayson I am so grateful to be speaking with you today.

Jayson Greene: Thank you Kate, that really means a lot.

KB: You wrote the most gorgeous memoir Once More We Saw Stars.

JG: Thank you.

KB: I was … Honestly, totally blown away by your honesty and your ability to describe, I think what most people can barely even think. So, I just wanted to start by saying that I know that just because you wrote this stuff that it doesn’t make it easier to say.

JG: Well, thank you.

KB: I did find in introducing people to my story that it was hard for me to get through the first little bit so I wondered if maybe in introducing people to your story you might be willing to simply read the first couple paragraphs of your New York Times Op-Ed where you describe what happened.

JG: Of course. Yeah. “My daughter Greta was two years old when she died. Or rather, when she was killed. A piece of Masonry fell eight stories from an improperly maintained building and struck her in the head while she sat on a bench on the upper west side with her grandmother. No single agent set it on its path. It wasn’t knocked off scaffolding by the poorly placed heel of a construction worker or fumbled from careless hands. Negligence coupled with the series of bureaucratic failures lead it to simply [inaudible 00:02:17] loose. A piece of impersonal calamity sent to rearrange the structure and meaning of our universe.”

JG: “She was rushed to the hospital where she underwent emergency brain surgery, but she never regained consciousness. She was declared brain dead and my wife and I donated her organs. She was our only child.”

KB: You, I mean, you bring the reader with such care and intimacy into those first moments, and there is a way that you describe that time, especially those first few moments in the hospital when you’ve made that decision to donate her organs and find a way for her to live on in some way, but there is this exquisitely painful and intense time when you’re saying you’re with her, but you know you have to let her go.

KB: You’re able to hold us in that space where every thought you’re having is impossible.

JG: You enter through a space and it’s almost like a physical space. You know, in some ways you are. We were in a hospital, we were next to the body of our daughter, we were living in an impossible space and all of a sudden all the thoughts that come through that archway with you go from impossible thoughts to immediately possible ones.

KB: Yeah.

JG: I mean, in fact, they become your immediate reality. They become the texture of your day.

KB: Well, because people say that all the time right? They say, “I can’t imagine what you went through.” Or, “That must have been unbearable.” But there really is a kind of love that a parent has for a child that makes that separation truly impossible and like completely unthinkable until you’re forced to think it.

JG: I think that anyone who has ever had something happen to them can attest there is a strange clarity to each decision and each thought in this sort of, pin drop silence that happens in your own mind where you can hear every thought landing.

JG: And I remember thinking that I could hear and almost see every thought I had with such clarity and it is truly an altered state of being.

KB: And there’s no words, right?

JG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KB: I thought that was so beautiful how you said you know, “There are words for orphans. There are words for widows.” But tell me what you said again about parents. There isn’t that word.

JG: “There are no words for parents who have lost their children. We have no label or name for that.”

KB: Yeah.

JG: And I don’t actually know what that lack speaks to, I don’t know if it means that there could never be a word or if it truly just speaks to our fear, religious fear that naming something is to empower it. I think it speaks to our magical belief that to not give things a name we somehow deny their existence and we wish it away, we give it this power of an ancient curse as opposed to an everyday fact of life. Something that does in fact happen.

KB: Yeah. Like, Zack was two when I was diagnosed and I thought, “I can’t imagine a world in which I’m not your mom.”

JG: Right.

KB: Like, “In which these words don’t tie us together into this durable thing that everyone can see and know.”

JG: Right.

KB: It feels impossible to give them up when our love is the most defining thing about us.

JG: You know, what I realized about my love for my daughter is that there is no way to … And there’s no world in which you are not Zack’s mother. There is no world in which you cease to be his mother, and there is no world in which Greta ceases to be my daughter.

KB: Yeah.

JG: The outward evidence, the things that people around me can point to, to tell me that I am Greta’s father have disappeared from this world in a lot of ways. And I think that there is a part of me that has produced this book out of that void to testify to the fact that I am Greta’s father and Greta is my daughter to the point where her picture, a picture I took is on the cover of the book.

JG: And when I see the book out in the world I am seeing her.

KB: Yeah.

JG: So, the disappearance of a body does not equate to the disappearance of a love, or the disappearance of a relationship between two people and that’s one of the first things I think that I learned after Greta died.

KB: Man. You’re so good at taking people into this space that trauma has created and showing us, holding up a gemstone to the light what each thought means. And one of the thoughts I thought was so acute was, your world collapses in an instant and then almost immediately your brain is searching for reasons why it happened. So, even in the hospital, you write, “The thought flashes once like a pinprick on my consciousness. The city killed her, we did this. Stacy and I were foolish enough to attempt to raise a baby in the heart of this crowded and glamorous place.”

KB: Oh my gosh. That really struck me. What is it about our brains that immediately need there to be a causality such that even a building brick comes alive?

JG: Right. And becomes an agent of some sort of judgment. I was, In that moment I was thinking I was being judged. Stacy and I were foolish and hubristic. That was my immediate grief-stricken thought. We had allowed that brick, in the sense that you want to control your child’s life, we had allowed that brick somehow to fall on her head.

KB: Yeah.

JG: That was, I think in a way, in a perverse way, I was groping for reassurance. It would almost be easier I think, or I thought so in the hospital, if it were my fault somehow.

KB: Yeah.

JG: Because then I could ascribe a cause and an effect to the accident and to my daughter’s death.

KB: Yeah, yeah.

JG: And so, in a way saying, “Oh, well it’s our fault. We moved to the city.” As if bricks fall from buildings all the time here and that’s something that happens and people know about it.

KB: Yeah.

JG: That’s a complete freak accident.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And in fact, it hadn’t happened for 37 years. I know this because we received a letter from a woman whose sister was killed by a piece of falling masonry 37 years ago. That’s how newsworthy and unusual this sort of event is.

KB: Yeah.

JG: So, the city, of course, didn’t kill Greta. The city can’t do anything. The city is an idea that I have in my mind.

KB: Yeah.

JG: It’s a brick, it fell and there is no inherent meaning.

KB: Yeah. You know, I was talking to the author Elaine Pagels recently and she said something really similar though about losing her child at six to a rare disease. She said that, “After he died …” She said, “I chose to feel guilty rather than feel helpless.”

JG: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s powerful.

KB: She’s like, “It’s my job as a parent to keep him alive so I just needed to have done my job.”

JG: Of course.

Kate Bowler: I thought, you know, that’s so painful and so real that we’re looking for traction even if it’s also a really cruel self-punishment.

JG: Yeah.

KB: But we want traction. Especially when everything just feels impossible.

JG: Absolutely. I mean, when your child hurts themselves in your home you look around for what did you leave out? Everything about your child and their environment, especially when they’re so young, I don’t think the feeling that you’re responsible for their well-being ever goes away, but when you are a parenting a toddler that need is actually visceral and immediate, you have to actually put childproofing on your stove, and you have to block off stairs, and you are constantly scanning your own physical environment for ways that your child could hurt themselves and, or die.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And it’s very real. I mean, you install a car seat and while you install it you’re looking at a picture of a little baby breaking its neck.

KB: Yeah.

JG: The word death is imprinted in red letters on the side of a car seat and everyone installs a car seat. You can’t even leave the hospital without a car seat.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And it says right there, “Child death.” So, your entire existence when you’re raising … You know, I’ve heard parents make this morbid joke, it’s a common one. You ask a new parent of a infant how they’re doing and they’re like, “Well, she’s still alive.”

KB: Yeah.

JG: Because that is your job.

KB: I have this friend named Lori and she has adult children and she says that she has this weird sense of satisfaction just watching her adult children eat. She’s like, “It’s weird, but it never goes away.” You’re like, “I am sustaining your life even though you’ve been out of the house for at least two decades.”

JG: Well, you can say, “I taught you how to do that you know?” “You lift that fork because I showed you how to lift that fork [crosstalk 00:11:01]”

KB: Yeah, “Where’s my thank you?”

JG: Yeah. I’m sure that’s true.

KB: I do find too, I think one of the things that really struck me in your writing was how differently grief looks and feels for everyone. So, your mother-in-law, and your wife, and you, you all have very different expressions of grief. I was wondering if you could talk me through that a little bit?

JG: Well, I’m actually quite curious from your perspective as a reader, how did you perceive the differences between say, my grief and my wife’s grief?

KB: Yeah, yeah. Okay. For real, I’ve thought about this a lot, because I’m a word person and you’re a word person, and I married a not word person. And I’ve been trying to account for why, I know they’re different experiences, but why very often grief or trauma makes people feel like they’re on different planets.

JG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KB: And part of it I wondered is you said, you know, that you had all these words to deploy for your grief, but that for Stacy, her grief was like a color. And I thought that was such a gorgeous description of how we can feel things and live inside of things, even the same experience in completely different ways.

JG: In the aftermath of the accident, in the immediate aftermath I, in the midst of, sort of calculating my losses I thought, “Well, I’m going to lose Stacy too. How could I not? How could this blow not dissolve our marriage?”

KB: Yeah.

JG: And obviously, it did not. It drew us closer together, but I think that there are moments where you sort of learn the nature of the person that you’ve chosen to live your life with.

KB: Yeah.

JG: More closely and more intimately than you ever have before. You marry someone or you choose to live with someone your whole life and you know, days and weeks go by where you talk to them and you notice them, but are you paying close attention to who they are and the way that they’re moving through the world?

KB: Wow.

JG: And having this shared grief, it made us tune to each other so intensely and made us consider each other so profoundly as if we were the only people on each others stage.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And it slowed time down, it slowed everything down.

KB: But you’re like, “Are we the only people in the world?”

JG: Yeah, exactly.

KB: Yeah.

JG: Well, and there is a beauty and I think that’s something I really wanted to write down, and to sort of get at and explore. That there is a beauty to the intimacy and that the sheer power of the feelings that come to you when you are in grief. That grief is terrible in many ways, but terrible has many meanings. Terrible can mean powerful. Grief can be beautiful in the way that it lashes you to the most profound experiences you can have.

JG: And in the example of Stacy and me, it taught us to listen to each other so closely. And it taught me new things about myself and the way I know how to listen. And you listen for the language you speak, right?

KB: Yeah. And then grief is a whole new language.

JG: It is.

KB: And most people don’t speak it.

JG: Well, it’s a language of love. I mean, maybe that’s [crosstalk 00:14:15].

KB: No, I love it. Yes. That’s true.

JG: Too cheesy, but I actually do think so. It’s the language of love. Grief is … Grief only precedes out of love. There can be no grief where there is no love.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And so, you know, loving someone is signing up for the possibility that you may, in fact, grieve them at some point. And in Stacy’s case, I learned to love her in such a more total way, and to your point about her words I think that you learn to listen to someone who isn’t going to tell you what they feel, not only not in your words, but maybe not in words.

KB: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JG: And so, you start studying the person’s body language, what they repeat and you ask yourself why they repeat it. And what does that tell me about what she’s really saying to me? Because what she’s saying to me of course, is some version of, “I’m lost.”

KB: Yeah.

JG: “I don’t know what life means anymore.”

KB: Yeah.

JG: And, “I don’t know how we can live in this world with peace now that it has done this to one of our children.” But she didn’t say those words to me, I had to learn how to listen to her. And so, to your point about the book, I’m just a word person, they just kind of spill out.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And I joke to people that I’m like a toothpaste tube. You just squeeze me and stuff just … You know, words just shoot out. Like, just apply pressure. You know, it doesn’t take much. But not everyone reacts that way. It doesn’t mean that they’re not having feelings.

JG: You know, there’s a dangerous invisibility to pretending people who aren’t yelling in a room are not feeling anything. And so, I think and hope it made me a more empathetic husband and partner. Learning how to watch Stacy grieve, and to grieve alongside her.

KB: I think you’re right. It’s really hard to make grief obvious. Like, it makes me wish that everyone still wore black to mourn.

JG: Yes. Sure.

KB: You know, because then you have to bring the news yourself. And then you get to watch people realize that it’s you. And you write about that so beautifully when you just walking into rooms that don’t yet know of Greta’s death. I thought, honestly that line you said, where you said, “We bring the news with us into each room like smallpox.”

KB: And honestly, that made me wish that everyone understood that. That you’re changed, and yet at the same time it feels impossible to let everyone know that in a way in which they need to know it. And what a burden for you to have to tell them.

JG: You know, on the one hand, it is difficult to live with a piece of news and then having to relay it to people. Yes, it is always a struggle, and on the other hand, I cannot tell you how many people poured into the breach that opened up in our lives and the ability to tell them was also the ability to be lifted up by people who wanted to aid us when we were suffering.

JG: I think you called cancer a casserole illness, which I thought was the most beautiful and apt way of describing a community in response to you, and we had a very casserole type situation and we had people bringing us food and just sitting with us. And where would we have been without the ability to tell people how we felt? What kind of bleak existence would we have been consigned to if we didn’t have those people?

JG: So, I’m very careful when I talk about and think about the visibility of what happened to Greta, and Stacy and I, and our family. Because on the one hand that was very difficult for me personally because I did not feel protected in some ways due to the fact that our story was newsworthy and in the papers.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And so, there was a sense in which I couldn’t quite police the boundaries of my own life.

KB: Yes. Of who knows? And why? And what they want?

JG: But on the other hand, there was so much support and love poured out unconditionally towards us.

KB: You have this amazing phrase that you introduced to me. You talk about first responder type friends.

JG: Oh yeah.

KB: And I’d love to hear your definition of first responder friends.

JG: We have a lot of those.

KB: I think that’s a great term.

JG: I mean, they’re the people who, it doesn’t matter where they are they’re going to be there.

KB: Yeah.

JG: I mean, they’ll drop everything and they’ll be there when the sirens are still blaring, you know?

KB: Yeah.

JG: They’ll step over the police line, they’ll you know, wipe up the blood, whatever it is. They are there to do the dirty work with you.

KB: Yeah.

JG: You know? They’re the friends who you would show secrets, or bodily fluids, or whatever, unsightly growths to because you need an opinion. They’re those friends. You know?

KB: They’re the friends where you’re like, lifting up your shirt and being like, “Does this look weird?” And they’re like, “Yeah. Maybe not in this restaurant.”

JG: Yeah. Exactly.

KB: “It is a Denny’s after all.”

JG: Yeah.

KB: Totally.

JG: But those are what I mean by first responder friends.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And often those relationships are reciprocal, right? You know, you give that to them too you know?

KB: Yeah.

JG: And there’s something really anchoring in having friends like that, you know?

KB: Yeah. I like the ones that are kind of bruisers too.

JG: Yeah.

KB: Like, you know that they’re in for like … They’re a little scrappy.

JG: Totally.

KB: Like, my friend Katherine is super scrappy. It’s like, “Oh, is there a nurse that’s not going to bring me my ice chips and also ignored last time I gave my pain threshold? Oh, Katherine’s here.” Yeah, Katherine will be in the hallway having words.

JG: Yeah.

KB: Yeah.

JG: So, we had a friend like that, and we had many friends, but we were home from the hospital, it had been not even 12 hours I think, since we left the hospital and surrendered Greta’s body for surgery to donate her organs. And we came home and we were very aware of the fact that we might be confronted by press because we were still very in the moment of the story, and people wanted to get a comment from one of the two of us.

JG: And you know, we parked around the corner from our building, we snuck up on our own building and there was a note on our door basically saying, “Keep away press.”

KB: Awe.

JG: Right. And so, we had this weird sort of, barricade mentality and also, we kind of sat a informal non-denominational shiva so we weren’t leaving the apartment anyway.

KB: Yeah.

JG: But I did go out once. I think to test myself a bit. And of course, I saw a car parked across the street and there were two women sitting in the car, clearly on some sort of stakeout and I suddenly just said, “You know what, I don’t want to be perched inside of my home feeling the presence of these people orbiting my home.”

And so, I waved them over because I knew that what they wanted was to talk to me and then they would go away because there was nothing further to do. So, I waved them over, I gave them a brief statement that I had written on my phone and they backed away. And the statement appeared in the paper online about an hour later. I kept track because I was like, I wanted to know that I had done this thing.

And so, in the statement, I am pleading for privacy. That’s the headline I think, “Shattered father pleads for privacy.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s me, that’s weird.” But we had some friends in the apartment and one of them went downstairs and came up and said, “Do you have a friend named Ben?” And I said, “Oh, yes.” And she’s like, Well, he drove over from Williamsburg when he saw that your name was in the paper again, and he’s standing in front of the door asking everyone if they’re a reporter.”

KB: Oh, Ben. Ben is having none of it.

JG: Ben was having none of it. He was patrolling my building making sure nobody …

KB: Go Ben. Yeah. We all need a Ben.

JG: So, yeah.

KB: I love that.

JG: Another first responder. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

KB: I did have a question about, you mentioned non-denominational shiva. So, you were both raised in secular homes, but really quickly I mean, you felt like you might do anything just to stay connected to Greta and so, I was wondering if you could tell me about how this opened you up to maybe, some different spiritual experiences?

JG: You know, you can’t survive a loss that massive without searching for a larger meaning in it. You can’t. And where that larger meaning comes, it’s different for everyone.

KB: Yeah. Yeah.

JG: For us, it meant seeking this higher plane of existence and we never really, and still haven’t bothered to locate it or define it in some tradition, or in any kind of language.

KB: Yeah.

JG: I know that early on, and I write about this moment. About 10 days after I go running in the park and I see her, I see Greta as clear as day and she steps out from behind a tree we used to play hide-and-go-seek, and she’s waiting for me and I say, “You chose the park, thank you. What a beautiful choice.” And I run and I pick her up, and I lift her up over my head and she’s looking down at me and I bend my elbows and kiss her on her face and I set her down. And I go running in the park and I just feel everything at once.

KB: Yeah.

JG: I feel her everywhere. And those experiences, they don’t belong to belief because you aren’t asked to believe, you are simply overwhelmed. Belief almost implies some sort of series of rational choices and that’s not what happened to me, and I don’t think that’s what happens to most people who feel something deep inside themselves.

KB: No. [crosstalk 00:23:29]. Yeah.

JG: And so, what it became was a sort of, spiritual stumbling. I mean, I would describe the book in many ways, and I hope that there’s comedy there. There’s a spiritual stumbling more than a journey as we just lurch around looking for that place.

And our only rule was that we do the thing, we acknowledge that the thing, whatever it might be might make us deeply uncomfortable. We acknowledge the discomfort and we do it anyway.

KB: Yeah.

JG: You know?

KB: Yeah.

JG: Whether that was a spirit quest with a ceremonialist who made us slice the wings off of a dead dove, which happened. Or going to a grief seminar where there’s a medium who’s tapping into spirits in front of a room of 50 people on folding chairs.

KB: Yeah.

JG: Whatever it is do it, acknowledge that it makes you uncomfortable, and then do it anyway and find whatever you can find.

KB: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I’m a huge believer in … Not lessons, I don’t believe in lessons, but in finding beautiful things in the dark.

JG: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

KB: And watching you keep love and hope alive in little sparks, and one of the great joys is in watching you hope for another child. And I can only imagine that was a really difficult decision. Maybe a certain kind of loving defiance.

JG: Yeah. You know, I don’t know if I could be ever said to have felt defiance in our decision to have a child again. That decision felt soft, not hard, if that makes sense.

KB: Yeah.

JG: It felt like an acknowledgment of something we already knew. We knew when we met that we wanted to be together and we wanted to raise children.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And in the aftermath of Greta’s death, we were still together and we still wanted to raise children. I think it was a month that we admitted to each other and the context I think of Stacy and I discussing moving. We decided shortly after not to be in the apartment that we raised Greta in. Not to live in that space because it was so full of ghosts. We were saturated with her and with her absence, which was felt so acute, and profound, and painful.

KB: Yeah.

JG: It was like touching a hot stove every room you walked into, you know? We decided in that moment to move even though all the grief books tell you not to make any huge life changes within the first … I mean, they give some arbitrary deadline and I’m like, “Is this like how it’s okay to smoke when you’re 18?” Like, “How did you decide this threshold exactly?”

And when we were having that discussion it was Stacy who said to me, “We can’t do it all over again here.” And I think that was the first moment either of us spoke aloud what we both knew, which was that we were going to try again.

It was a way of honoring the love that we developed for Greta. I mean, we loved her from the minute we met her of course, but that’s the sort of abstract love that you feel, then you develop a love based on the person you get to know.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And so, we knew. We didn’t really try to get pregnant, it was kind of like rolling the dice.

KB: Yeah.

JG: Like, “Well, maybe we’ll get pregnant and then we’ll see what happens.”

KB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

JG: It was sort of, a plan to non-planning.

KB: You just opened a door. I get that. Yeah, and I think hope is sneaky like that.

JG: Yeah, exactly, or leave a door open.

KB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. I do think hope is kind of sneaky, because you can’t … I mean, sometimes you can’t face it full on, right? You just got to let it be sideways.

JG: Right. You can sneak up on hope for sure.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And you know, something that’s real about grieving while also expecting a new life is that, there is a way in which you are casting yourself forward because you have set a process in motion, and you are not always in tune with the feelings that are supposed to be accompanying that moment.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And I think that disjunction, “Do I feel ready for this child? Do I feel love, and hope, and expectation? And to what degree do I feel those things colored by grief, and pain, and trauma, and fear?”

KB: Yeah.

JG: I’m also very cognizant of the burdens that people can feel when they are assuming the weight of another person’s needs and expectations.

KB: Yeah.

JG: In the aftermath of writing the New York Times piece about losing Greta and having Harrison, I heard from people. I got emails, and I got handwritten notes, and they were all so transcendently beautiful, but the ones that really lingered with me and haunted me in good ways mostly, were the ones from children, adult children who had been born after their parents had suffered the loss of a child.

And in some ways, I would feel like I was receiving letters from a future version of my own son. I read them and it was almost like I was reading branching future paths, “This is one version of Harrison’s life, here is another.” I am being handed from complete strangers the key to possibly understanding how I want to raise my child.

And so, what am I going to learn from these strangers?

KB: Yeah. What did you learn about parenting through fear?

JG: What I learned I think, and what I am learning over time about grieving and how to parent through fear is, it’s honestly just a magnified version of the lesson that all parents learn about parenting.

KB: Yeah.

JG: Which is that, your fear is meaningless to the child.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And your fear does not save the child from experiencing anything.

KB: It’s not work you’re doing for them. Yeah.

JG: Absolutely not.

KB: Yeah.

JG: And there is no way in which your fear serves them. There is no way in which your fear serves them.

KB: Well, and I really like what you just said that “The weight of a parents love rests hard on a child’s shoulders.”

JG: Yeah.

KB: That everybody’s life is a surprise and a discovery. And giving our kids the freedom to learn to manage their own fear without managing ours.

JG: Exactly. And to make them believe that the world is in fact, it’s a big place and yes there are dangers within it, but that it is a welcoming place because you want them to go out into it.

KB: Yeah. Well, it kind of reminds me of your beautiful note to yourself, “There will be more light upon this earth for me.” And to give that to our kids.

JG: Yeah.

KB: As the promise like, “Yes, there is darkness, but there will be more light,” is a beautiful gift you’re giving. And you’re writing, and obviously, who you are, I just want you to know it helps other people be brave. It really does. And I’m really grateful we got a chance to talk.

JG: Well, thank you so much, Kate.

KB: I love what Jayson said about parenting through fear when he and Stacy decided to love again, to love a second child after knowing what it was like to lose a first. He had to face his fear head-on. He had to decide that his love could outweigh his fear. I think I’ve had mixed success with that. My brain is always toggling between two paths. One that assumes that everything will work out, and the other that is absolutely convinced that it will not.

And I felt so honored to watch Jayson’s brain in this conversation just think through how he made the decision to move through fear. The decision to have another child he said, “Was not a hard one. It felt soft. It was the realization that grief only precedes out of love.” I loved that.

Loving Zack, it feels soft, it feels like that daily nudge that asks me to wake up and to stay as awake to my love as to my fear. To say to both of us, “I know the world is full of things to fear, but that our love will make a path. Even if it means that love itself makes us terrified that we cannot be without each other.”

Let’s keep fear in that place in our minds and in our hearts where we can make those brave, soft choices to find our way forward when there is no way back.

Halen: When I miss my brother I put on his shirt, and it wraps around me like one of his big, strong hugs. When I miss my dearest friend Carol I touch the gifts she’s given me over the years for my birthday’s. I’m so thankful she took the time to write me cards over the years that are treasures.

Halen: I wish I had notes from my brother in his handwriting.

Speaker 4: I still have all of my dad’s Pendleton wool shirts, but they don’t smell like him anymore.

Matt: My mom passed away last summer. She was a wonderfully, hospitable hostess, supremely southern, and a great cook. This trifecta converged with the production of the most perfect pecan pies you’d ever have tasted. This year on her birthday, using her recipe, I baked her a pecan pie.

Olivia: Each day I take a moment to dance like a crazy person in my room knowing my best friend is watching and smiling from above while I’m honoring him by enjoying life and getting some endorphins, and a few kickers out of it too.

KB: The Everything Happens Podcast is made possible thanks to the generosity of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC, Faith and Leadership an online learning resource, the Issachar Fund, the Lily Endowment, the John Templeton Foundation, and Duke Divinity School. Not to mention, my team who I love. Beverly Abel, Jessica Richie, and Be The Change Revolutions.

I would love to know what you think of the show. Head on over to Apple Podcast and post a review, or come find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at Kate C. Bowler. This is Everything Happens with me, Kate Bowler.

Show MoreShow Less