My Dad Died, and All of My Friends Disappointed Me. Is This Normal? - TTFA PREMIUM - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “My Dad Died, and All of My Friends Disappointed Me. Is This Normal?” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

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Hello everybody, this is Nora McInerny. This is an episode of our podcast that is available in its entirety over at TTFA Premium. 

TTFA Premium is our subscribers-only feed where we put bonus content, where we put ad-free episodes, where we put some full-length guest interviews. It is a way to financially support our show, and if that is something you are interested in doing and able to do, it is a couple bucks a month, and you can sign up at TTFA dot org slash Premium. That’s TTFA dot org slash Premium. 

Thank you! And enjoy.

I’m Nora McInerny, and this is TTFA Premium. 

I don’t think of this podcast as a grief podcast, but I know many other people do think of it as one. And that makes sense to me, because this podcast was born out of my own grief. I recorded it … two years after my husband Aaron died of brain cancer? Episode 0 was just me crying. There’s more than one episode like that, yeesh.

This podcast doesn’t just have my own grief. We’ve talked to many people experiencing all kinds of grief. And grief, man. Man, oh man. When you say that word too many times, it seems made up. It seems ridiculous. Grief is present in so many of us, in so many different ways, kind of all the time. I used to think that grief was just crying. You have grief like any sickness, and the symptom is leaky eyes. 

I had grief when my grandpa died and my dad made my brother and I hold our dad’s hands and say the “Our Father.” I had grief at the funeral, when I was walking up the aisle of the basilica in front of my grandfather’s coffin with all my cousins as the bagpipes played. But what was the feeling that stayed after we’d thrown our handfuls of earth down into the hole where he would spend forever? The funeral was over, so it couldn’t be grief. Yes, my sweet little past self, it was. It was.

And in the years since, I’ve realized that we are not great at knowing how to support a person who is grieving. And, today’s episode, we’re going to talk about how to support a friend when they are going through grief, when they are in the thick of it. I called in some help for this episode. Today’s guest knows grief. 

I feel like a sportscaster: “Today’s guest, oh, she knows grief, baby. She’s 5 feet tall with fabulous hair, hailing from New York City. She’s the cofounder of Modern Loss, she’s the author of The Modern Loss Handbook, it’s Rebeccaaaaa Soffffferrrrrr. Woooooooo!”

Now, I had Rebecca join us for a few reasons. One, she literally just wrote the book on grief. I’ve read a lot of books about grief, I’ve written one, and this one might just be it. And two, we got a grief question from a listener that I thought she would be excellent at helping answer, and I was correct. 

This is one of those episodes where I’m making it as an act of passive aggression for anyone who is grieving and needs their friends to Get It, even though they don’t get it. Because eventually, the friend who doesn’t get it becomes the friend who’s going through it, and I think we all really want to be better friends. So, if you need your friends to step up, you can, you know, just casually share a link to this episode and just say, “Wow, so interesting, huh. Hmmm.”

Here we go.

Nora McInerny: So, Rebecca, you don't get to start a community called Modern Loss without experiencing loss. I checked the laws in New York state, and that's just a stone cold fact. Can you tell me about your biggest loss experiences? 


Rebecca Soffer: Yeah, well …


Nora McInerny: Give me your grief resume, as I call it. 


Rebecca Soffer: Isn't it crazy? They're in the plural.


Nora McInerny: Give me your griefs. 

Rebecca Soffer: My griefs are that when I was 30, I was in the build mode of my life. And I was, you know, a single Manhattan woman, which means that when you're a 30-year-old single woman in Manhattan, you're essentially like a 21-year-old anywhere else in the world. I still had a Jennifer convertible sofa in my apartment from college. I, you know, was very much living like this glorified dorm life. I had just graduated from Columbia Journalism School. I had just started working for “The Colbert Report,” because that is, in my opinion, true, true journalism. That was, for me, that's God's work. And I was just so excited to be in the build stage of my life. I was like, “OK, my life is really finally beginning now, at 30.” And I was so excited to build my career, to maybe meet somebody. 

When I was 30, I went on vacation with my parents to upstate New York, to Lake George. It's in the Adirondacks. It's a really beautiful place. It's where we went camping every year. No matter what changed in our lives, in the world, it was the one constant. And it was, like, the place where I really got to kind of have a check in with my parents, cause I'm an only child and they were my people. And at the end of that camping trip, we packed up our car, and we drove back to New York City. It was Labor Day 2006, and I was supposed to be in the studio the next morning. My parents dropped me off at my apartment in the city, and they came upstairs with me. You know, it was like the most innocuous goodbye of all time. And I remember giving my mom a hug and telling her, “I love you,” and I know it was the last thing that I said to her. And I remember not thinking much of it, because I was supposed to see her in Philadelphia — which is where I grew up — I was supposed to see her at my cousin's wedding the next weekend. And they kept driving on to Philly so that they could go home and go to sleep. And I opened my laptop. I was getting ready to go back to the studio the next day for work. I was still in my crappy camping clothes. I mean, I was literally disgusting. I hadn’t showered in, like, seven or eight days. And I got a phone call that there had been a terrible accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. I heard my dad screaming in the background, and I was told that I had to get to a hospital in New Jersey as quickly as possible, because my mom was not OK. And I asked, “Is she alive?” And they said, “Yes, but, but come here quickly.” And for anybody who has lived in New York City, just imagine being, you know, a single, 30-year-old who doesn't have a car, and it's 11:30 at night on Labor Day, and you're told to get to a hospital in the middle of New Jersey. It's no small feat. 

I managed to get there. I have a lifelong best friend who's crazy enough to have always had a car in the city. And she and her husband raced me down the turnpike. And I got to the hospital and halfway there, I remember saying to my friend, to Taifa, “I don't feel her. I just don't feel her, like she's not OK.” And of course, they were saying it's going to be fine, because that's what you say to people, because what else should you say? Like, “She's probably dead”? They weren't going to say that. And I just knew. And I'm not a religious person. I just didn't feel her anymore. 

And I got to the hospital, and it was so quiet and I ran inside like a banshee asking, like, “Where's my mom?” Her name is Shelby Rosenberg. “Where's Shelby Rosenberg? I'm looking for Shelby Rosenberg.” And I somehow found my dad. Because this was Princeton, New Jersey. This was a small hospital. And I found my dad laying in a hospital bed, and he had a couple of bandages, and he looked at me and he said, “I'm so sorry Beck. She's gone.” 

And that was my entry point. Like, that was when I got the card. That's when I got the club card, the grief card. That's when the before became the after, and I was ejected into the world of missing someone who you will never, ever, ever see again, and someone who you really thought was going to accompany you through most of the stuff that you hoped to accomplish in life and also support you through it. Even now, I hate talking about it. I get … I mean, clearly, I get no joy talking about that night, but it still makes me sick to my stomach to talk about it in words out loud. And I remember running into the bathroom and just, like, laying on the floor and not caring. I mean I remember, like, thinking, like, “I'll probably get, you know, a staph infection. Like, I'll probably get something on this floor, but also, I don't care.” 

My friend ran after me and just, I'll tell you, that's a good friend. She laid down on a hospital bathroom linoleum floor with me and just let me look at her and not say anything, because I was just in shock. 

And so, that's grief number one. The kicker is that grief number two came about four years later when my dad died. So I was 30, and I lost my mom, and I was trucking along in, you know, Dead Mom World, and all the things that comes along with that delightful experience. And then when I was 34, my dad went on a cruise with his lady friend who he had met, and he had a heart attack when he was abroad and didn't survive. 

And so, yeah, both my people, both my parents, no longer alive by the age of 34. Definitely not my life plan. And in a life that has a variety of griefs, I would say those are the big ones. 

Nora McInerny: Those are two I would say foundational relationships. And thank you for sharing all of that because I know, of course, it's not easy, but there's something in almost every time you have to tell a story like that, you feel something new, or there's a detail that you just sort of let yourself forget about for a moment, and that was really generous. So thank you for that, Rebecca. 


Rebecca Soffer: I'd say my pleasure, but ... [laughs]


Nora McInerny: “You know what, I wanted nothing more than to recount the deepest losses of my life with you.”


Rebecca Soffer: I'll just say, “Cool.” 


Nora McInerny: Cool, cool. And, it's very, very hard for Americans, specifically in my experience, to know what to do and how to show up for a person who's grieving. It's really, really difficult. And you mentioned right away, that night when you find out your mother has died, you have a friend, a capital F friend, who will lay down on a hospital bathroom floor with you and be present with you. 


Rebecca Soffer: God bless her.


Nora McInerny: God bless her. Was that representative of your friendship experience after having these losses at an age where most of us haven't lost parents yet? Most of us do believe we've got a couple more decades in us. 

Rebecca Soffer: Yeah. I mean, look, it came as a surprise to me that humans are not guaranteed any certain number of days. I wouldn't say that that would have been an active tenet of mine, you know? That I would have stated to be fact. But it was a shock to me that moms could die 45 minutes after you saw them and gave them a hug and were silly and, you know, were being a little bit annoyed by them for encouraging you to get on to JDate, and if you didn't, then she went for you, and that would be really weird. And then all of a sudden she was dead. And that is so surreal. Of course it's surreal. It's happened to so many of us, and I'd like to say that my experience that night with Taifa was emblematic of every day of friendship in grief. And I was really lucky.

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