issue #197 - the one about grief

Madison's advice on living and supporting through it

From Hitha - Madison submitted this essay before Hamas’ attack on Israel and the attacks on Gaza. Many of us are feeling a palpable grief that can’t be explained, but has affected all of us. Madison’s words are even more timely, and I encourage you to heed her advice to care for yourself and for your people during this tragic time.

As a 31-year-old who owns a company in the grief industry, I always feel pressure to lay out some sort of loss resumé before I go any further. Like in order to validate my ability to speak on the topic of grief, I have to share that my older, only sibling passed away when he was 18 and I was 15; my soccer teammate when we were high school sophomores; my childhood best friend the summer before my junior year of undergrad; my college roommate just a week after we graduated; all four of my grandparents, uncles on both sides of my family, and the list continues.

This is because life in the United States intrinsically teaches that grief and loss and death are topics for people in the final chapters of their own long- and well-lived lives. There is, of course, some truth to that. I can remember tearing up each time my maternal grandmother scanned the newspaper’s obituaries to see which of her friends had passed away. Today, I regularly feel an anticipatory sense of grief for the few older relatives I have left, because that’s the order that death ‘should’ happen in: the oldest go first.

We’re taught similar intrinsic lessons about which boxes we ‘should’ check after someone we care for experiences a loss: Send a sympathy card within a few weeks? Check! Offer our support in the form of ‘If you need anything, I’m here’? Check! Don’t bring it up again in case it makes the person cry? Check!

Let me pause here. Before my brother, Garrett, passed away, I’d done all of the above. I thought I was doing a good job, and being a good friend, grandchild, community member. Honestly, I think that most of us have been there, done that, but wanted to do better, so I’d like to use this space to share a couple of well-known secrets in the grief community:

  1. There’s no timeline on grief support. This March will mark 16 years without Garrett. I’ll have officially lived more than half of my life without him. And myself, my mom, my dad, automatically tear up at the idea of someone sending us a sympathy card to let us know that they still miss him, too. The same has held true for everyone I’ve discussed this with. So when you miss that supposed 3-5 week sympathy card window after a loss, know that you actually haven’t missed out on anything.

  1. Grieving people are not likely to reach out when they need support. The first year is a blur, like walking through the boggiest of quicksands. The second year is worse, truthfully, when it starts to settle in as a new, unavoidable reality. Getting through, one breath at a time, is almost too much. So stop by with groceries, Venmo cash for a coffee, offer to go on a walk, drop flowers by their porch, text your favorite memories and promise that you don’t need a response. A grieving person needs immense support; but the capacity to ask for it? Not as readily available.

  1. More often than not, we want to talk about our people. We want to hear that something reminded you of them, or that a new song came out that you think they’d have liked, or that you tried a new bar and wish they could’ve had a particular drink with you. When you share these moments, we’ll most likely cry. It happens a lot -- hell, I’m doing it now, as I type this. Tears aren’t dangerous or contagious or a sign that you’re doing something wrong. They’re an ongoing part of grief. It’s okay if we cry because of your kindness, your remembering. I promise.

Grief Cards is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of work I want to be a part of in the realm of grief and loss. The company’s first collection of cards has eight designs, like laying the crumb coat on a cake, like the initial layer of change, covering what I deemed the much-needed basics. The second collection was recently released and has fifteen designs, extending into topics we’re told are taboo, like suicide and mental health and palliative care and miscarriage. The third collection will contain cards for pet loss, health diagnoses, and caregivers, but the rest remains to be seen. (And I’m always open to hear ideas.)

I do know a few things for sure: I’ll continue to create sympathy cards that don’t suck as long as other members of the grief community continue to identify situations that aren’t accounted for by greeting card corporations. I’ll continue to print them as locally and as sustainably as possible, and always ensure they are made for grieving people, by grieving people. And I’ll continue to cry my way through it, because grief is exhausting, building and rebuilding new lives is hard, and that remains true no matter how many years might pass.

Smart Snacks

Can you imagine if this was your first baseball game? - I own and love this set and it’s currently over 50% off! I also have my eye on this one - this talented artist lost her job and she’s 8 months pregnant. I’m buying a few of her digital prints to help support her, and I hope you do the same - the most wholesome video (my kids loved it) - Hotel Lobby Candle did it again with the most perfect fall/winter candle. I’m obsessed (and I also recommend this candle warming lamp - it makes your candles last so much longer!) - give Pavit an apple next season, RHONY - here’s my “stop procrastinating on that thing” recipe - I either get the strangest looks or a high five whenever I wear this sweatshirt - who else is planning on reading Britney Spears’ memoir? This review will have you preordering it immediately - been swapping my second cup of coffee with this chai, a decision that has been delicious and better for my overall health.

What We Read This Week


Under the Influence by Noelle Crooks - being a content creator is a really strange job - a wonderful one, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a job that lacks an external structure or feedback, and critical feedback is hard to come by or can be cruel-spirited (not from y’all, though - you’re the best and keep it very real, and I value you). Crooks worked for a certain massive influencer with a bestselling book series and podcast and growing conference series, which influenced this novel. It was the entertaining distraction I sorely needed this week, but also lifted up a mirror to this strange industry and had me reflecting on my own content and the kind of creator I want to be (and not what’s expected of me).

The Playbook Series by Alexa Martin - I’ve been re-reading these every football season for the past few years, and it feels especially apt during the Tayvis hoopla (which joyfully distracts me from this dark moment in human history).

The Chutney Life by Palak Patel (out October 24, 2023) - Palak’s recipes have been a mainstay in our dinner rotation (enchilada quinoa, hangover spaghetti, green curry), and her much-anticipated cookbook exceeds my already high expectations. The recipes are delicious, to be sure, but the book is a love letter to our mothers who merged Indian flavors and spices with the American dishes we requested when we were kids. Palak’s own recipes represent the best of this country, pulling together inspiration from all over the world to create one-of-a-kind, absolutely delicious dishes that are so simple to make (made even easier with a solid food processor).

Trust by Hernan Diaz - It’s been a while since I’ve read a work of fiction that totally surprised me. This one absolutely delivers on that score. It chronicles the life of a Wall Street financier who cashed in during the market crash of 1929 by short selling thousands of shares. The storytelling is exquisite, with multiple layers. I highly recommend!

Nora Goes Off Sript by Annabel Monaghan- My life has been really really crazy lately, with lots of really great things (like a Disney trip with my daughter!) living alongside some very stressful things (mostly at work). Books like this one are made for times like that - when things in your real life feel out of control, it's comforting (and fun!) to read something where everything works out and all conflict gets wrapped up in a pretty little package. The Skimm called this the perfect book to get you out of a reading rut, and I couldn't agree more!

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire And The Creation Of The Modern Middle East by David Fromkin - This book was assigned reading for me in college, but I returned to it this month in light of everything going on in Israel. It's an older book and some of the analysis is likely a bit outdated - and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it's QUITE dense (I am reading it in spurts these days b/c it's a lot to take in all at once) - but it's a good place to start if you want to grow your understanding of how the Middle East came to be what it is today.

This Week’s Tops Reads

Your Questions, Answered

What’s the last “shimmer” (lil moment of awe/grounding/magic) you experienced?
Watching Rhaki read a book aloud, by himself.
I take zero credit for it - I may have modeled reading and enjoying it, but the credit goes to his amazing teachers and his own interest in reading, which makes me so happy.

A rom com to make my heart happy?
If yesterday’s smart reads didn’t convince you to watch Practical Magic yet, then that’s what I’m recommending again! It’s the perfect October movie.
This isn’t a film, but I just love Miss Scarlet & The Duke (a historical murder mystery series on PBS) that is smart, witty, and has very attractive lead characters.

Going the distraction route…thoughts on this season of RHONY?
I loved it.
What I appreciated about this reboot is how widely diverse the cast is, which felt like the perfect reflection of New York City. I loved watching the stupid fights over cheese, not enough food, and maintenance hosting/guest drama.
One gripe of mine was how some of the other wives responded to Jessel’s family history, claiming it wasn’t her story. That coupled with the offensive hoopla about Pavit’s Vietnam trip showed a willful ignorance about the world and culture that I’m not surprised by, but didn’t love watching. Jessel handled it with more grace than I ever could.
I could and would watch a show featuring Jenna and her son, exclusively. I loved their scenes together, and I hope to have that kind of relationship with my boys.
I’m excited for the reunion - and the next season!

How are you protecting your peace this week?
A LOT of offline time.
Reading, needlepoint, being fully present with the kids, seeing friends, getting good sleep…that’s been the best way to protect my peace this week.
I went down to Pennsylvania on Thursday to check on the new house and meet with our designers, and it left me so grateful and happy to create this beautiful, multigenerational home to enjoy with my loved ones.

How’s your heart? Also, so very proud of you for honestly sharing your mental health journey
My heart remains heavy, but a lot of offline conversations have been uplifting and clarifies that we stand for the same things - the safety of innocent lives, peace, and to not lose our humanity during this time.
Thank you so much for your kind words about my mental health update. I’m really grateful my psychiatrist increased my dosage two weeks ago - it really did help me process this darkness better.

Incredible to know that your son is reading at 4! Any suggestions on how you taught him?
I honestly think it’s just him - he’s interested in reading, his teachers supported it and nurtured it at school, and we all modeled it at home. Whenever he’d ask me to read my book aloud or to read a book he brought me, I almost always did. He’s loved these flashcards since he was 1 or 2, which I think helped him with early reading as well.
Rho wasn’t earnest about reading until he was 5, and it was Tracey West’s Dragon Masters series that got him to fall in love with reading (I honestly love the books as well).

How do you help your kids who are moving to a new school, and they’re not happy about it?
I haven’t had to deal with this as a parent. But as a kid, I remember my parents approaching every move we made as an adventure. They were keen on making a new school feel like an opportunity to make friends, and also had a plan to help me stay connected to the friends I moved away from or no longer saw every day.

Self-employed, how not to tie my worth to my fluctuating busyness/income?
Decoupling my self worth from my financial worth is something I’m still figuring out. That said, here are some practices that have helped me:

  • listing all the things I enjoy because I’m self-employed and can do them. I still review and update this list (I call it a “freedom list”) on a weekly basis.

  • I try to prioritize something from this list once a week. Right before the pandemic hit, I would work from a local wine bar on Friday afternoons, wrapping up the final emails and planning the next week while enjoying a cheese plate and a glass of wine. A friend would almost always join me afterwards and we’d catch up. These days, I love to meet a friend for a walk and chat in Central Park on a weekday morning.

  • create a ritual around lunch or ending the day to break up your time at the desk working. When I can, I’ll catch up with a Bravo show while eating my lunch, or I’ll take a bath or shower before shifting into mom mode in the evenings. I’m also trying to end my day when my work is completed, and to fill that time doing the things I actually want to do (finish the book I’m reading, needlepoint, take a nap).

One of the most valuable things about self-employment is the freedom it offers - savor it when you’re able to!


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