Do you happen to know anyone who is stuck in the in-between place, that place between the life they had to leave behind after a tragic loss and the new life they have yet to experience? Brian Hartzman, who is a certified Life Re-entry Practitioner and a Death Doula, can help a person leave that safe, comfortable but inhibitory holding pattern which is keeping that person both out of danger and out of life.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- A fascinating story about being a Death Doula to a transgender.
- Brian’s proudest moment with his son after their tragedy.
- How grief is a strength, a superpower and a DNA upgrade.
- How a widowed man’s life was changed in Brian’s Widower’s Group.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS BRIAN:
- What are the two different ways the heart breaks after a traumatic event?
- Can a person “get over” grief?
- What is the process of leaving the “waiting room” to re-entering life to love, dream and thrive again?
Listen to the podcast here
Brian Hartzman— Grief Coach, Life Re-Entry Coach And Death Doula
Before I begin this interview, here’s a reminder to please be sure to like Irene Weinberg and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I’d like to begin this interview by posing a question to each of you. Do you happen to know anyone who is stuck in the in-between place, that place between the life they had to leave behind after a tragic loss and a new life they have yet to experience?
Our guest is Brian Hartzman who is a Certified Life Reentry Practitioner and a Death Doula. Brian can help a person leave that safe, comfortable, but inhibitory holding pattern which is keeping a person both out of danger and out of life. After growing from his grief following the loss of his wife, Brian began exploring and pursuing ways to support others who have also experienced loss. He provides counseling and coaching services both in person and remotely for individuals seeking to find a new footing in life following a life-altering change or loss.
Brian also founded and is the leader of a widower’s group in Seattle where men can commune and socialize with other men like them who understand what they are experiencing in their world of loss. Brian, welcome to the show. I can certainly relate to your heartbreaking experience of losing your beloved wife as I’m a widow. This is certainly a club to which none of us ever wish to belong but here we indeed are. Brian, to begin our conversation, could you please share with us your own experience of loss and how it changed your perspective on life?
It’s one of the things that I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with sharing over the years. I remember my first year or so after my wife died. Any time I could even talk about it, I got hooked up. My wife and I were together for about five years before she died. We were married in October of 2012. In January 2013, the lump was discovered to be an aggressive form of breast cancer, and two years later, she was gone. She was 36 and I was 39 at that time. I thought I’d arrived. I thought I’d figure it all out and had the rest of my life ahead of me. The next thing I know, I’m standing here like, “What do I do now?” My whole future just evaporated in front of me.
I struggled with every concept that I had of both what my life was and what my future was. I had become something that I felt very angry and betrayed by. On top of that, I have two kids from a previous marriage and she was very much their parents. I found myself in this place of trying to demonstrate what I thought a healthy grieving was to them and to help them through it but it was all a show even for myself and I was unraveling inside. Another thing that got me to finally go to a support group was someone who lost their mom a few years earlier and their dad said that they had plenty of people to do things with but they missed having someone to do nothing with. I felt that.
I finally was like, “If someone else can say something that draws out what I’m feeling. I guess I could go to a support group and try to start working through that.” I was working in IT at that time and completely unmotivated by everything in that world. As I started working through my grief, I found a lot of comfort in the concepts of presence and impermanence. One of the authors I read at that time says, “Empathy is knowing your darkness of being able to sit in someone else’s.” I found that resonated with me.
My wife, when we were together, would always get on me about not trying to fix things. Sometimes she wants me to hear her and not try to fix whatever she was feeling. I didn’t get that until I got comfortable with my grief and was able to be in someone else’s grief because you realize you can’t fix it. Grief is not something that you can fix or get over. That’s what so many people struggle with, especially people who aren’t grieving but are trying to support someone who’s grieving. They always try to save the right thing or do the right thing to try to make it better.
That’s what alienates the people who are grieving. You can’t fix it. You need to be able to sit there with it. Once I got that, I started being able to support the people in my support group and found that to become my calling. It got me going down this path into Life Reentering Grief Culturing and ultimately now doing death doula work.
This horrible loss you had, I can relate to it myself. It opens a door you never knew existed into your real calling in life. I would bet you that your work in the group helped you support your children better because it gave you a whole different perspective and they weren’t watching you shouldering through it. If you could start to level with your grief, I would imagine that would help you to encourage them to do likewise.
One of the dullest moments that I’ve had over the past few years was before death or before that hit all of us, my son who’s now fifteen said, “Before, you were my dad, but now, you’re my father.” He went on to explain that. In the reflection, when he was younger and I was younger, I played the role of what I thought a dad should be and should look like. Since this has crushed all of us, I’ve now become so much more authentic and genuine with everything that I do in my life that both my kids have a much more real authentic relationship. It makes me sad that we had to go through that death for us to be able to have that relationship but I’m grateful for the growth that we’ve all had out of that.
It turned into a blessing. My son has said to me, “Mom, there’s been nothing worse than seeing you in despair and nothing better than seeing you be able to have joy again.” You help people with reentry and everything and because I worked with a transition coach after my husband died, that was helpful to my relationship with my son. I role-modeled a very healthy way of being after loss because we all have lost. I can relate to what you’re doing, Brian. What inspires you to pursue the calling of a death doula and how do you as a death doula assist the dying and family members?
I always say a linear type of path in the growth of my empathy. First, I recognized early on with the different widows and widowers in my group that you can’t compare losses because what you experience is so unique to you, especially with all of us. There are people like me who went through a couple of years of illness and watched our spouses deteriorate before they died and there were other people in the room who had a sudden loss like a car accident or a heart attack. They would look at me and say, “What you went through must be so much more than what I went through because you had to watch this person die before you.” My thought was the same thing. I can’t imagine coming home one day and being like, “What do you mean they’re not coming home?”
We realized very quickly that you literally can’t compare. What one person is going through is so unique to them and very often, what someone else outside of you is experiencing things that is so much worse because it’s not what you’ve experienced. As I started to empathize with other people in their grief, it started to grow. I started to recognize it well. It’s personal so whatever is particular to you is the biggest thing that has happened to you that causes grief.
Someone’s divorce versus death is the biggest thing that’s happened to them and it’s changed their future and their lives. As I got more comfortable with that and started supporting people whose grief extends beyond losing a significant other, my community started to grow with people supporting people going through trauma and emotions. I got tied in with the death of a community out here. I was like, “If I’m supporting people after they experienced the loss, so much of what they go through is because they were not prepared for how to anticipate that loss, how to understand what was happening, and how to process the grief and go through it afterward. What if I could work with them beforehand?”
Many of us who were widowed were completely unprepared for what we were about to go through, especially those of us who are in our 20s, 30s, and 40s when it’s so unexpected in our lives at that point. The people around us don’t understand our grief. As I started to think about and relate with those people, and then naturally with death doulas, you work not only with the families who are in the process of potentially losing a family member but also the person who is nearing death themselves.
Do you work with hospice or do you go to the person who’s dying? Do the people who are dealing with it get in contact with you? How does that work?
Getting in contact with people is the tricky part. That’s where the community comes into play because doulas operate in between a lot of the other official fields. We’re not trained as nurses or anything like that so we cannot play the hospice roles. Very often, we establish relationships with people in the hospice field. I’ve established relationships with people who do estate law. It goes either, one way or the other. We’re working with someone and you need to work on your estate or vice versa, or someone is working on their estate. It’s approaching the end of life for yourself or your family. It’s such an emotional state that hopefully, estate lawyers will be able to include us in that.
The organization that I work with out here is associated also with hospitals in the area. In that sense, working with hospitals is almost like more with the religious. If you want to have a minister, a priest, or a rabbi, we get involved with the social work aspect there to help people. There’s a spiritual aspect through it also. It can be, as a death doula, helping the person reconnect to their spiritual community that they perhaps have been distanced from and they want to reconnect with that to resolve whatever feelings, emotions, or guilt they might have as they’re approaching the end of their life.
A lot of it is also figuring out things with your end-of-life care as you’re approaching that point. Do you want to have hospice or do you feel like you want to hang on as long as you can for your family, but what do you want to do for yourself? You start answering the questions that you may not even necessarily want to look at.
It sounds like you fill in a lot of blanks.
A lot of blanks and a lot of unknowns. With my wife, I knew her living will wishes. I knew that she didn’t want to be kept alive unnecessarily. Beyond that, the only things I knew about her wishes for end of life were things that we’d talked about from attending funerals together and things like that. I had to figure it out on my own in a hurry. With the feedback of family members, who, fortunately in my case, did not have strong opinions. I know plenty of people who have had to fight against family and determine what to do with their significant other. I know someone who had to fight with the family about taking them off of the machine.
Even though they knew the wishes, the family disagreed and they had to go to court to be able to take them off of machines. Likewise, whether you’re going to bury, spread the ashes, or all those things. There are a lot of things that people don’t think about. One of the death tools works a lot with transgender people. This one person was physically male but identified as female. They wanted to be buried and addressed, and the father was determined to not let that happen.
They control to the end.
Exactly. He was able to figure out what they needed to do legally. Even though she wasn’t a lawyer, she was able to bring in a lawyer who can help them, but these were things that you don’t necessarily always think about. I know a number of the widows in my group got these glass balls with some of the ashes. It’s called artful ashes. They mix the ashes in with colors in a glass sphere that you can keep in your house if you want to keep some of the ashes. I didn’t even know that was a possibility. My wife’s ashes are spread, and now I’ve learned about this. I’m like, “I wonder if I would’ve liked to have had that.” I don’t dwell on it because I can’t go back and retrieve her ashes but if we’d had a death doula, these were things that we could have understood.
Some of the organizations out here work with green burials, sitting vigil, and some of the more spiritual aspects as well. It’s working with a person and their family to not be afraid of what’s coming, not only the logistics of it. I spent a lot of time talking about the logistics but also the emotional aspects of it. If you’re in the room with the family and the person passes, while you’re there, put your hand on them so that the family knows that the person has died but their body isn’t scary. It’s not this oogie thing. You can touch them, love them, and caress them.
Leading by example of some of that, I’m helping the family get through it because touch is such an important aspect of grief. You can physically get it and understand that this person died. One of the other things that I’m still catching myself on is using the word died instead of lost. Past is okay but when you say, “I lost my wife,” it implies that I did something wrong. Even though no one believes that, mentally, that’s the connection that you’re making. Getting in the process of saying, “My wife died,” it’s what happened to her. I didn’t lose her. I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not something wrong with me. She’s died. A lot of it is that emotional coaching with people to get both the individuals who are dying as well as their family to make it a death-positive experience.
That’s wonderful. In a tragic situation, that’s a critical aid to people. Let me ask you also, could you explain to our audience what a life re-entry coach is and how you provide a person with the supportive structure needed to begin shifting? This an interesting concept, too, from a waiting room concept or mindset to want of re-entry. Did this life re-entry work lead to your being a death doula? How did that happen in your life?
When I was looking for ways to expand how I was supporting people, one of the widows in my group had taken a seminar through the Life Re-entry Institute and I learned that they were training practitioners. I jumped immediately into that. It’s a fascinating approach, and it helped me to understand not only my grief but also other people’s grief. The concept behind the life re-entry model is that, back in the cave days if you’re down by a river with your baby and a lion comes along, you enter fight or flight. It’s something that we’ve all heard about. Your amygdala takes over, your prefrontal cortex shuts down, you take your baby and you run.
Once you’ve entered a safe place, your amygdala, which controls your fight or flight responses, shuts back down and redirects your energy to your prefrontal cortex, which is where your logic and reasoning. Other parts of your brain where joy and happiness and things. It re-releases the ability for you to control those things. When you’re in fight or flight mode, joy, happiness, and logic reasoning are not important. It’s to get out of there.
In our modern society, especially as emotional beings, we’ve become as attached as we can be to significant others or other things in our lives. When we have a traumatic loss like that, the prefrontal cortex takes over. It says, “This is scary. We need to be safe.” We don’t because once we have this traumatic event, it doesn’t go away. Our lives have forever changed as a result of these traumatic events. We don’t get to go back to a safe place, so our amygdala never really releases. As a result, logic doesn’t start happening again. Some of our deeper, more emotions don’t come out again because the amygdala is still controlling where we are. That keeps us stuck in what we call the waiting room because we’re waiting for safety to happen.
You’re waiting for your life to resume, but it never can because the aspect of your life that is lost now can never come back. You end up being stuck in this room. For me, I always describe it as sitting in a screening room for a movie. The movie ends but the wheel of the movie projector is still rolling and flapping. There’s nothing on the screen and the walls are there. I’m sitting there and I’m like, “Now what?” The life re-entry approach recognizes that. Doing anything of any significance or insignificance that would lead you towards this new life that you weren’t planning on is scary to even venture out into.
Let’s figure out what are the smallest things that you can do to take a step into this new way. If you can peek out the door and see the world out there, isn’t it as scary as you think it is? Your husband has a boat that they absolutely love, but you don’t know how to boat. You don’t ever want to take the boat out again because you’re emotionally tied to it. You just stare at this boat all the time, you’re paying for it, and you’re feeling stuck. You’re like, “What do I do with this?” “Are you ready to sell the boat?” “I need to sell the boat. I can’t afford it.” “What’s the first thing that you would do?” “I’d go to a boat dealer.” “Is that really the first thing that you would do? The first thing you do is email or call them and get an appointment.” “Can you send an email?” “I think I can send an email.”
All of a sudden, you’ve done something for something that seems impossible and scary to do. Now, that makes the next thing a little bit less scary. That’s scary to start to demonstrate to your brain, “This isn’t as scary as I thought it was.” All of a sudden, the neurons start remapping and releasing control so that other centers of your brain can start taking back over again. You can start to experience joy and do things that not only turn out aren’t scary, but you can start to do things that you never even thought you would do before. You start to enjoy a new life.
It reminds me of the concept. For me, it feels like you’re a person in quicksand. Whether they’re in that boat or can’t give up that boat, they have a place they live with the person and they can’t let go of that, or whatever that is, they’re in quicksand. They don’t know where to go with it and it’s so scary. Someone like you is extending your hand saying, “Let me pull you out of here and show your first step to get to move on past this quicksand in your life.” Would you say that’s appropriate?
Very much so. For me, it was a pile of clothes that my wife had sitting in the corner of my room on a chair because she couldn’t find comfortable clothes that fit her in her final weeks with all the steroids and stuff from the chemo. I couldn’t even look at this chair. I wouldn’t even touch it. People come by like, “Let me help you.” “No.” I couldn’t even think of it. Finally, someone said, “Tell me the story.” I bawled through the story, and then all of a sudden that weekend, I was able to start putting some of the clothes and storing them for keep and give away.
It still took me probably about a month to go through it, but it was that first scary thing that I couldn’t even recognize. I couldn’t even see the clothes in my room until someone mentioned it to me. It’s someone who can help hold your hand to tackle some of the things that you feel are way too scary to even think about. It’s a structured way to pull you along that road and show you that even though it’s not the future you planned on. Not only is it going to be okay, but chances are it could be pretty great.
Brian, how does the Life Re-entry model bring about a shift from the heart to the brain, and what typically takes place when a person re-enters life?
As I was starting to describe it, you’re in pain and you don’t want to go back to the things or towards the things that scare you, even confronting what is painful and what keeps you up. Many people, when they’re in grief, avoid it. They’re in a phase of avoidance whether they up binging TV shows on Netflix all night, not leaving the house, or ordering instead of going out to go to the grocery store and make things. They become in this survival state where they exist and live because their heart hurts too much.
When you’re able to start to encourage those tips by taking little small steps into something that feels like it could be scary or even you hate the fact that you’re constantly ordering food in but you can’t bring yourself to get out. Instead of ordering food to eat, maybe order a blue apron so you have to do something. Start to open up neurological connections in your brain to the pre-cortex and the emotional areas of your brain. It gains momentum.
In the program as a coach, it’s to help you keep that momentum because it’s so easy to slip back into that safe place that is catatonic. Someone who can help bring you along and start to peek out of that waiting room and see that you can go from surviving to thriving. Those are some of the words we use. When you’re in the waiting room, you’re just surviving. When you’re working with someone and start to identify, “You did this today. That’s your thriver engaging.” Helping them recognize and see, “I did do something.” Often, you’ll downplay it.
It's so easy to sit back in that safe place that is catatonic. You need someone who can bring you along, where you can start to peek out of that waiting room and really see that you can go from surviving to thriving. Click To Tweet
Also, through things like journaling, having regular calls with somebody, or some way to demonstrate and show you evidence of your success. I know so many people who have thrived in areas of their lives. One of my widow friends has transpired in an RV and has gone on RV trips. It’s something that she never would’ve done before. Once she got out of her survival and started thriving, “What could I get enjoyment out of in this new life?” Another one started a nonprofit for autistic young adults. It’s different things that were important to you or things you thought about in your previous life, but now that you’ve re-entered this new life or a new way of being, all bets are off. People have started to step into things that they never would’ve had the courage to even consider before.
Please tell us about the many layers of grief and the steps unique to each person for re-entering life. A life where it is possible to love, dream, and thrive again, which we’ve touched on some of that. Does this concept also apply to other losses, Brian, such as divorce or the loss of a job?
Certainly. When we talk about the layers of grief, especially in modern times, fortunately, we’re starting to break out of preexisting notions that we’ve had of it. Before World War I, grief was very accepted among most cultures. It was almost prescribed in the cultures of how one was supposed to grieve. You go through, whether it’s shiva in the Jewish religion or in other religions, it’s wearing black. You were having a year of mourning. Everyone was encouraged to grieve.
One of the things I’ve learned is after World War I, death on such a massive global scale, the narrative shifted. Part of those who have died back up and carry on. The statues in the world shifted from statues of generals. After World War I, there were statues of soldiers, and it was glorifying and honoring the dead. Also, when you lose your whole family or you can’t sit there and grieve for everybody, you get through and have to carry on for the good of the nation. That shaped modern grieving. It didn’t shape the fact that grieving is still painful and difficult.
Kübler-Ross studied people who were dying and came up with the five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then ultimately acceptance. Everyone was like, “That makes so much sense. This is what people go through.” You can go through that, and then six months later, you should be fine. You have to go through each of your stages. All these misconceptions came up around the stages of grief. Kübler-Ross had finally come out and said, “When I wrote the stages of grief, they were for people who were dying. The final stage is acceptance. You accept this fate that you’re dying and there’s a level of peace that comes over you. For those of us who aren’t dying, it ends with you accepting what happened.” It’s not get out of bed and try again.
The sixth stage of grief is to get up, carry on, and try again now. That’s starting to gain some acceptance. The fact that the grief model, the traditional Kübler-Ross model is not linear. It’s not, you do one and then the other. Very often, you bounce around between the different things and get to visit them multiple times. People are starting to finally understand that. A society hasn’t necessarily come around to that yet. There’s this expectation that you go through stages of grief and you should be over it within six months or so.
Unfortunately, what most people don’t understand is that year 2 is harder than year 1 for most people because you’re revisiting a year ago was the first anniversary of this happening. This is what I was feeling like a year ago. Year two can be daunting for people, but society doesn’t accept or expect the fact that when you’re at work, you don’t expect that your coworker in year two is still having some low days. It may not be every day. The active grief that you go through right after someone dies where you’re pretty much not functional, you’re in shock. That’s what we talk about in the Life Re-entry models. Once you get out of the active grief, then you’re in that waiting room where you’re figuring things out.
The waiting room can take a year or two for people, especially if they’re stuck and they don’t have someone helping them, encouraging them through it, and they don’t have the initiative on their own to get through it. Very often, you need to hit your low point. You need to break before you’re ready to finally accept that this is happening and a change needs to happen. For a lot of people, their analysts sustain above breaking point. They are stuck. The life differentiate model is encouraged to hopefully not have to get down to that breaking point but we can start to demonstrate to you how to carry on and live in that new life and start thriving. That’s the last stage of grief. It is post-traumatic growth instead of post-traumatic loss.
Could you tell us about your uplifting story about that widowed man who became the inspiration for your work?
You mentioned earlier the instruction that I have in this support group that I run for widowers. There was a guy who was in my group and I noticed that he stopped coming to the group. When he was in that group, he wouldn’t talk very often, and when he would, he would crack up and cry. He was able to share a little bit, but he didn’t share a whole lot. He eventually stopped coming. If we had social gatherings, he would come to some of the social gatherings that we had as the widows would get together and have a potluck or something like that.
As I was talking with him, he said, “Brian, I don’t like being around people who don’t get it.” The reason why he comes to the potluck is because he feels at least that his friends expect him to be over it and his friends expect him to be better. They don’t understand his grief and he feels judged by it. Especially as a man, it’s so expected in the culture that you buck up and carry on. Brenè Brown talks about how women have a web of expectations of what they’re supposed to be. Be pretty, but not too proactive. Be confident, but not too strong. Women have always this matrix that they are supposed to try to fit into.
For men, it’s just one box, be strong. Don’t be vulnerable. People say they want you to be vulnerable, but if you are vulnerable, then they get turned off or scared by it. He was like, “I’m supposed to be strong. These people expect me to be this way, and I can’t be, so I don’t like to be with them.” At the same time, he didn’t like having to go to a group where he had to talk about it. He didn’t want to have to talk about it because he wanted to be strong. He didn’t want to revisit those feelings. At the same time, he didn’t want people to see that he wasn’t as strong as he felt he should be.
It was about removing his mask, but how do you get that?
Also, he felt very weak and unique in that. As I started working with him and talking with him about this, I was describing the waiting room, the survivor, and the thriver. He was like, “That’s me. Clearly, I’m in the waiting room. This is what’s going on.” He started to get it and see that what he was going through wasn’t unique to him at all and there wasn’t anything wrong. It was completely natural. It’s what we go through when we grieve, but there are things that we can do to step out.
He didn’t end up coming on as a client because he was a friend of mine. He’s someone who I worked with a lot, almost like a Guinea pig. He became the inspiration for me doing the widowers group. It’s because the idea that I came up with was to get men to get together and potentially talk about it but also to fill that gap between not having to talk about it and not being around people who don’t get it. How do we solve that? We get a bunch of widowers together in a social gathering and we don’t have to talk about it. Inevitably, because we’re in a room full of widowers, it comes up.
Now as it becomes a widower’s ownership and protection in it, we have a new guy come in who’s about six months out from his spouse dying. In year 2 or 3 comes around and what are doing for your anniversary? You take the younger guys under your wing. Also, I’m the senior guy in the group. I’m now a few years out, and for some guys in their 60s who I’m helping, the roles are completely turned up on their heads.
First, you don’t have to sit down and say, “Hi, my name is Brian. I lost my wife to cancer four years ago, and this is how my week was.” That clinical feeling is gone. He became my inspiration for doing that. He’s come to a number of the gatherings and it’s one of the things that he looks forward to. Since he and I were talking and doing some Life Re-entry work, he went from secluding himself in his house. He’s gone on international trips to visit people who are casual friends overseas. He started stepping out and starting to enjoy life in a way that he didn’t think was possible at this point. It’s been great.
That’s a great story. This leads me to the fact that you see grief not as a process of indefinite mourning and weakness, but as a strength, a superpower, a DNA upgrade no less. This a surprising, life-changing concept. Could you explain, including how this dramatic change in attitude affected you?
It can become a superpower for so many people and for me especially. I’ve seen this in both people that I work with and many of my colleagues and fellow widows and widowers. I was at a point where I didn’t want to say I didn’t see the point in continuing on or living. I wasn’t at the point of being suicidal, but I was like, “I got to ride this out now, at least for my kids, but now what?” It was when the days felt longer than the weeks. It was tough.
I finally started to get ideas of impermanence, presence, and living in the moment. If I think back to my first marriage, I had a fantastic relationship with my first wife. We wanted our kids feel great, but when we were going through our separation, it was traumatic and life-ending for me. My parents have been married for 50 years and they’re inseparable. I don’t have that. Now, what am I going to do if I’m not going to have a life anymore? It weighed me down and it was traumatic until I met my next wife.
She was everything to me. It was everything that I even knew was possible. It showed up for me in that and then she died and I was like, “Now what?” I can never do better than I did then. I finally got that that’s not what it’s all about. I now am in a fantastic relationship with a woman that I’ve been seeing for the past year, and the only reason that relationship is possible is because of who I am now. I realized that it didn’t make my relationship with my wife who died any better or worse, because when I was with my wife, I wasn’t a widow. There’s no way it’s not possible for me to be the same person. I am an entirely different person. It doesn’t mean that I’m glad that that happened because when I was that person, that was exactly everything that I needed at that point in my life.
Now that I’m who I am, this is great for where I am now. Once I started to accept that, it was not about carrying around who I was or who I thought I was supposed to be. If I lived entirely by who I believed I was supposed to be, I would be held back in my life by those preconceptions. I wouldn’t say I’m quite fully impervious yet, but when things do knock me down, they don’t last anywhere near as long as they could have, because I’ve been like, “That was what I was now.”
The fact that we got hurt, now it’s time to go on and do something else. It makes me almost improve on anything that anyone could say or do to me. My empathy is the way I see people and the world now. I remember the first time I was standing on a street corner and I saw an ambulance go by. I had a flashback to the last ambulance ride to the hospital with my wife. I don’t know how long I was sitting in that corner, but I probably was mumbling to myself and tearing up. I was in the middle of the street. The next time I saw a homeless person walking around mumbling, my first thought was, “I wonder what happened to them.”
The way I see the world has completely shifted now because of what I’ve gone through. I chose to grow out of it rather than be beaten into a whole out of it. When you talk about your heartbreaking and those few things that can happen, it can break and stop functioning or it can break open and more can come out of it. Those are pretty much the only two paths that you can go when you have a traumatic event like that when your heart breaks. Does it break open and I continue with more now or does it break down? It’s up to you whether or not you can do that. When you break open, there’s so much more that comes out of you. It’s like a superpower.
That is fantastic. You’ve experienced different types of losses, so you’re an incredible role model for people because you’ve experienced divorce and death. You’ve made trans changes in your career and all of that thing. You’re a tremendous font of information for people. Do you have a message about the importance of healing, which I guess we’ve been talking about all the way around, that you would like to share with our audience?
To echo what I was saying, you can choose to heal or stay hurt and broken. When you heal, you start to find that you are stronger in the broken places, especially in life. A traumatic event can be life-changing and debilitating when it happens because your presumed future evaporates before you. That was one of the big empathetic awakenings that I had. It doesn’t matter if it’s a death loss, a job loss, or a marriage loss. It’s anything that you anticipate to have in front of your life when it disappears from your presumed future. You grieve that. It can be hard to get through that and over that.
I’ve seen memes about this online. I think it’s in Japan when a vase cracks. They don’t try to fix it and make it look like it used to because there’s no way you’re always going to see the crack. Instead of trying to fix it, they pour gold in the crack, and now the cracks shine. They become a new feature of this new wave that is now beautiful in its new way. That’s what healing does. You get stronger in the places where you’re broke. Some of my widow’s humor is something that has become very comfortable with my widow friends. A lot of us joke that for people who haven’t been widowed. When we enter our widows’ humor, it’s not fair for them because they can’t quite get it.
One of the things we joke about is we almost feel sorry for people who haven’t gone through such a traumatic loss because they don’t know what they’re capable of. You go through something significant enough. You can’t necessarily teach people how to embrace living unless you’ve gone through something that makes you see the value of life. It’s one of those catch-22s. It’s some of these things you almost can’t experience until you’ve gone through something that breaks you hard enough. Healing is the only way to become simpler.
That’s a wonderful analogy, Brian. How does our audience connect with you? Do you have a special offer for them?
I tried to keep my website simple. It’s BrianHartzman.com. You can contact me there. There’s a place where you can sign up for a session with me directly on the site. Most people end up contacting me and we arrange it independently. I do a free introductory session. When you work with someone, it’s something so intimate as grief and your loss and areas where you might be feeling stuck in your life. It’s important that you feel comfortable with the person.
I do a free introductory session to tell you more about me, who I am, and how I work and get a feel for my personality. Learn a little bit more about what you are struggling with and then what we can do, whether it’s a more detail-oriented Life Re-entry plan, more general grief coaching, or if you need death dual services and different aspects of what that might look like. We can talk about other things and see what’s comfortable.
That’s great because a person could call you and say, “I can’t move forward. I’m stuck. I don’t think there’s any solution for me,” it challenges you. If I go with you, how can you help me with this? You can show them that you can and that they can move forward. Brian, what’s your tip for finding joy in life?
The biggest tip that I usually tell most people is that it’s not about you. If you can embody that concept that it’s not about you, especially when you’re dealing with other people and other things in life, it makes life so much more enjoyable and easy. Realize that if you’re dealing with someone, they’re mad at you, yelling at you, or they’re ignoring you, chances are it has absolutely nothing to do with you. It has to do with something that they’re going through.
If it’s a relationship, it could be tied to their past, or if it’s a person at the counter that when you’re trying to buy something, it is not being helpful or whatever. They set up that day that way or the things that happened in their life have brought them to that point. Once you start to get that, it’s not about you. The way they’re reacting is not because of you. It’s because of them. It releases this burden of taking ownership of other people’s problems in their lives. All of a sudden, at the very least, it doesn’t weigh on you anymore. It opened up to being more happy with it.
It’s done because it was never about you in the first place. That’s the bare minimum but then you can start to feel compassion for these people. Once you start adding compassion and authenticity to your life like that, joy starts throwing up everywhere. Once you start taking it on and asking yourself that or reminding yourself that, “It ticks me off. That person did that. It probably wasn’t about me. Probably they had this going on.” Often it’s gone, and now you can start seeing joy in places where you haven’t seen it before. It’s a gateway drug.
It takes you from being a victim and not to take personally to say, “That’s fair stuff, but I can continue to do, go on do my thing.” That is great, Brian. I don’t want to end this interview. I just love that you are providing an important shift in attitude for those who are ready, helping them to work through their losses and find peace in their new world following loss. I have to say that I worked with a life transition coach after my husband died, and it changed my life in so many positive ways. I know that you’re doing that for many people.
I also do not doubt that there are people in our audience who are greatly resonating with this interview and will want to find out more about the help you can give them and their loved ones to re-enter their lives in a new way after loss. Thank you, Brian, for the wonderful work you do to help people heal and move forward from all of our hearts. Everyone, here’s a reminder to please be sure to like Irene Weinberg, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Thank you and as I like to say, surely, to be continued. Bye for now.
Thank you, Irene.