Eric Hodgdon is a coach, an author and a trainer who experienced the struggle that grips us after the loss of a loved one when he lost his precious 15-year-old daughter Zoi to suicide. When he became frustrated with grief support resources that focused on survival as the endgame of a grief journey, Eric made it his mission to change the way we approach grief support.
He has coached and trained thousands of grieving women and men on how to navigate one of the worst setbacks in life, his inspiring, #1 Amazon bestselling book titled A Sherpa Named Zoi serves as an insightful guide along the journey through grief, and he has a TedX Talk titled “What My Daughter’s Death Taught Me About Life.”
A few weeks after losing Zoi, Eric told his friend, “This feels like I am walking through a chasm with no map.” His friend replied, “Zoi will always guide you.” Tune in for an insightful, meaningful, and touching interview with this special man.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- The life challenges Zoi was struggling with before she took her life.
- The way Eric discovered that he had lost Zoi to suicide.
- How a therapist, counselor or mentor can help a person move through the “fog of grief” to find purpose.
- How connecting with Zoi in a meditation saved Eric’s life, and how Zoi now guides Eric in his life.
- Why most people merely survive the loss of a loved one and struggle for the rest of their lives.
- How forming new core values help to fuel movement up and out of grief.
- Eric’s concept of forgiveness, both to our loved ones for dying and to ourselves for what we perceive were our failings with them.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS ERIC:
- What is your guidance for walking through grief with all its challenges?
- How is expressing gratitude a huge positive disruptor on our journey through grief?
- What is your 3-step process to finding joy in life?
- Why is forgiveness one of the best gifts we can give ourselves in our grief?
- What did Zoi’s death teach you about life?
- What are “the tracks” we leave that are our legacy?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Eric Hodgdon: Why Do Most People Merely Survive the Loss of a Loved One and Struggle for the Rest of Their Lives?
I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview Eric Hodgdon, who will be speaking to us from Riverview, Florida. He is a coach, an author and a trainer who has experienced the struggle that grips us after the loss of a loved one because he lost his precious fifteen-year-old daughter Zoi, to suicide in early 2014.
When he became frustrated with grief support resources that focused on survival as the end game of a grief journey, Eric made it his mission to change the way we approach grief support. He has coached and trained thousands of breathing women and men on how to navigate one of the worst setbacks in life and his inspiring number one Amazon bestselling book titled, A Sherpa Named Zoi serves as an insightful guide along the journey through grief.
Eric also has a TEDx talk titled What My Daughter’s Death Taught Me About Life and he has been featured on Option B and he moderates an online grief and loss support group of over 27,000 members. A few weeks after losing Zoi, Eric told his friend, “This feels like I am walking through a dark chasm with no map.” His friend replied, “Zoi will always guide you.”
I’m looking forward to talking with Eric about why most people merely survive the loss of a loved one and struggle for the rest of their lives, how to walk through grief and live with intention, the way connecting with Zoi and meditation saved his life and how Zoi guides him and much more for what is surely going to be an insightful and meaningful interview with an incredible person. Eric, a warm welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Irene. I’m grateful to be here with you, to speak with you and your audience and to help them to get to the other side of what they’re struggling with.
This interview’s going to help a lot of people. I am excited about it. Let’s start by getting everyone to know who Eric is. Would you start to tell us about your childhood, your early career choices and how did Zoi come into your life?
I’m a son of a Navy pilot. We moved around quite a bit when I was a child. Dad got orders every 3 or 4 years to go to a different base. We wound up landing in Brunswick, Maine of all places when I was seven years old. We moved in the day Elvis died, strangely enough, and he was supposed to be playing up in Maine at that time.
I had a pretty normal childhood. I grew up in this town that had about 15,000 to 20,000 people and pretty much everybody knew each other in a lot of ways. When I graduated from high school, I was into computers. Computers were starting to come online back then in terms of popularity and usage. It piqued my interest. I didn’t have any interest to go to college. I wanted to learn how to write video games. That was my thing but they didn’t have any schools back then that taught that.
A couple of years after I graduated, I was working in a local shipyard as a computer programmer but it wasn’t the ideal situation. It wasn’t resonating with me. I didn’t find any passion in it. I got an invitation to move down with my best friend in Tennessee. I took that opportunity at 22 years old to move to Memphis and within 3 months, I found myself building computers. That became a passion for me.
That was a turning point in my life in terms of understanding that going after something that you’re passionate about can give you purpose and it also helps other people to achieve goals or whatever that may be. In this case, I was building computers for people because they wanted computers but that career gave me 25 years. I was so grateful for that.
Probably towards the tail-end of that career, I moved back up to New England and I was working for a mobile phone company at the time. I was introduced to Zoi’s mom. Her name is Maria. We got together. We had a great relationship up to a certain point and ultimately, Zoi came into the picture in 1998. On October 18th, 1998 at 5:10 PM, Zoi was born. It was one of those moments where a father looks at a child and says, “I’m going to do everything I can to be the best dad for you.”
That’s the moment you fell in love.
It’s different for dads than it is for moms. Moms are carrying the child for all those months and dads are being introduced to the child at that moment. It’s a very strange but beautiful connection that’s made instantly. Zoi had a fairly normal childhood. She had Graves’ disease as a child.
Can you explain what that means for people who aren’t familiar with it?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune deficiency. It attacks your body. Your body feels like it is constantly under attack. Your immune system goes into overdrive. When she was four years old, she had her thyroid removed because her thyroid was also inflamed. Her body was attacking itself. Once her thyroid was out, they put her on some medication that seemed to stabilize a lot with Graves’ disease. She didn’t have any long-lasting issues with that. Her mom and I ultimately did break up.
Probably about six years into that, there was a situation that came up in the family where I needed to step in and take custody of Zoi. Zoi’s mom was not in a place to take care of her at that point. I stepped in and Zoi was struggling with it. She was thirteen at the time. She was struggling with life in general and a lot of changes. It’s a very tough age. When Zoi was struggling, I had to have her put into an adolescent unit but at that point, it was probably the best option for her because honestly, I wasn’t equipped as a parent to deal with those situations. I wanted her to be safe and healthy as much as possible.
She took her life, right?
She did, yes. Unfortunately, in January 2014, I thought we were on the other end of this struggle.
How long had she been in the facility?
She’d been in and out of 4 different facilities over the course of 18 months. They weren’t terribly long stays but there’s something that happens, I believe, to kids when they go into adolescence where they don’t come out and feel like, “Everything’s good. I’m good to go.” It was like, “No, I’m still struggling with this. I don’t know how to shake what I’m feeling and feel better.” Kids that age, their brains aren’t fully developed. A lot of times teenagers are thinking an hour ahead at the most. They’re not thinking long term that they might be able to get through the challenges that they’re dealing with. Yes, Zoi did take her life. It was a very hard and unbelievable event.
You found her, right?
I did. She had moved from the hospital down to what’s called a group home. She was able to come home and see me on weekends. This one particular weekend, I picked her up and we were back at my house. She’s upstairs in her room and she’s trying on different outfits. She’s putting this henna tattoo on her hand. She’s messaging a few people and some friends. I asked her if she wanted to get something to eat. She’s like, “I’m not hungry. I don’t want to hang out with any friends tonight.” I said, “Maybe we should relax tonight.” She’s like, “That’s a good idea.”
At some point, she came downstairs and gave me a big hug. She went back upstairs and I went back to my computer to do some work. A little while later, I went upstairs. I opened her bedroom door and I found her. I could not believe what was going on. It did not seem possible. Any thought process, this is not something that you would ever expect to see.
You were shocked. It’s like, “You did everything you could and what is this?” You probably felt, “Did I have something to do with this?” You have filled the guilt and everything. In your book, you talk about how Zoi’s funeral service reminded you of a colorful pile of a string with knots in some areas intertwined and tangled with the end of the string sticking out from the bottom of the pile. Do you want to tell us a little more about that? This is what symbolized what was ahead of you.
I try to think of things in metaphor and analogy. When you’re trying to explain to some people what grief is like, it’s a big mess because everything is tangled. There is no straight line through the stages of grief. It is taking a step forward and taking ten steps back. It is crying all day and then wondering how you’re going to carry on.
It is wondering what your purpose is for being here but you are looking at this ball of string. All of those emotions, the guilt, the worry and certainty about the future are all wrapped up in this mess of string and it’s got knots in it. If you want to untangle that, the only thing you can do is start at the beginning and unweave this ball one knot at a time, one inch of string at a time.
However, in the middle of all this unweaving, you’ve also got this big fog that you’re dealing with. It’s because we go into this humongous fog of grief. You speak about how a therapist, counselor or mentor can help a person move through that fog of purpose. Do you want to share that with us?
I believe that when you’re going through, especially early grief, there’s loneliness. You feel lonely in a lot of ways because your loved one isn’t there. It’s like you’re standing on the Shore Island and there’s a dense fog bank that’s right there in the ocean. You can’t see the waves but you can hear them. This fog bank represents the grief and the barriers that grief puts in front of you because you’re disconnected from your loved one and the people that care about you.
It’s not your fault. It’s just the way that grief shows up for you. It’s very isolating. It can feel like you’re all alone and that nobody is there to either understand you. There could be people right next to you talking to you but the grief brain, the fog, you can’t remember things. It’s hard to concentrate. You almost feel like you’re going crazy and you’re not. It’s that your brain is protecting itself. It’s protecting you with a form of shock. It’s very difficult to navigate that and also deal with the grief at the same time.
How does a counselor or mentor help a person move through that? You’re a coach so you must help people to move through that too. How do you guide people to move through that or be patient with their process?
First of all, I believe that time is not the driver of your healing. It is a companion. There’s a myth that time heals all wounds and you’re going to be waiting a very long time if that’s the case.
There are people who live with the grief forever and they never heal.
They don’t. It’s almost as if, “Any day now, I should feel better,” but it does involve you taking some steps forward. In the loneliness of grief, there is something that happens when the grief doesn’t serve you any longer. As you emerge out of that fog and the emotions start to hit you, you’re processing and metabolizing those emotions but at the same time, the thing that can help, not only with the loneliness but the grief, is to find some companionship that if you feel like you’ve been pushed down into this abyss when you start to emerge from that abyss, imagine stepping out into this very lush garden.
There are other people there who are also going through the same situation as you in terms of grief but it’s a sense of community. It’s a sense of companionship. It’s not the companion that you had when your loved one was here. It’s a sense of companionship here that is also filled with empathy. People get what you’re dealing with. It is a good way to move away from loneliness and connect with people, no matter if that’s an online community or an in-person group but connecting with others.
Even a therapist or somebody, a guide or a coach because I have to say that’s what happened to me. The first thing that I did when the soul transitioned was I found a life transition coach. That made a huge difference to me. You speak a lot about beaches and you’ve got a great story about the Zoi stones that you found on Santa Monica Beach, California. Do you want to share that with all of us?
This is one of my favorite stories of Zoi. It’s wonderful because I feel like there are still stories that are being made with Zoi and it’s been for several years. I was out in California and LA for a trade show for the company that I was working for. I was responsible for making sure that all of the equipment that we shipped out there got shipped back and everybody left the day before.
My boss left a vehicle that he was supposed to bring back to the airport but he left it with me. At first, I’m like, “You can’t leave me a car like this,” but he did. I’m like, “I’m in LA with a gassed-up vehicle. I’m going to go places. I’m going to go check some things out.” I had never been to LA before. I was super curious about what was around there and I drove.
From downtown, I found myself over at Santa Monica Beach. If you’ve never been to that beach before, I’m describing it. It is a very wide beach. It means if you park in the parking lot on the road and then you walk to the water in a straight line, it’ll take you 15 to 20 minutes. It’s a good hike but it’s a beautiful beach.
I had always made a promise to Zoi after she died that on any trip that I took, I was going to find a rock from this location and bring it home. I was going to put it in her room on a special cabinet and tell her a story about it and where I got it from. This was no different. I started to walk from the parking lot to the water. The problem is there are no rocks on Santa Monica Beach. It’s all sand. I’m like, “This is going to be interesting. There are no shells and rocks.” However, I’m walking and I finally find this one rock. I’m like, “My job is done. I’m going to go put my feet in the water,” but I’m zigzagging.
I walk in another direction for another five minutes and I find another stone. I walk in another direction and I find two more stones sitting next to each other. I put them in my pocket. I do go down to the beach, down to the water. I take my shoes and socks off. I’m standing in the surf and looking around. There’s nobody there because it’s that May rain and June gloom time of year. It’s overcast but it’s very warm. I say, “Zoi, I know you would’ve loved it here.” She was a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and they’re from Santa Monica.
It was all these things happening at this moment, I’m realizing. I took a few pictures. I took in the sights, sounds and smells while I was there. I was probably there for about another 15 or 20 minutes and I made my way back to the car. I go back to the hotel and go up to my room. I’m emptying my pockets and I put the rocks on the table.
I was like, “Wait a minute. I take two of the stones and I move them over and it’s spelled her name.” I started to cry, Irene because she was there. I’m not that creative. I could not have ever imagined the four stones would write her name and it was the exact spelling, ZOI. I knew at that point that we were always going to be able to connect in some way. It wasn’t going to be direct like you and I are talking but through other means.
You have another story about how you connected with Zoi in a meditation that you say saved your life. She guides you in your life. I love that. Would you tell us about that? I get guided by Saul also.
I’d love to hear about that too. This one situation, this was a few months after she had died. I had gone back to work and I had one of those moments where I was sitting at my desk and it hit me. All of it hit me at once like, “She is not here anymore. She’s not coming back.” There’s some fantasy I had in my head that at some point, she was going to walk through the door and, “This is just a bad dream.” She wasn’t coming back and that hit me like a ton of bricks.
I went into my boss’s office and I said, “I’m sorry.” I was trying to fight back some tears. He saw it. He’s like, “Go home. It’s fine. It’s all good.” I go back and took a commuter rail from Boston to where I lived. I got on the train and this was early enough in the afternoon that there was nobody else on the train. I went up to the second level of the train and I sat down. Boston is a city. It’s noisy downtown.
I closed my eyes. I imagined being in the most peaceful place possible at that point. I needed to feel some peace. I needed to feel that something was going to be okay. When I closed my eyes, my third eye, if you will, my mind’s eye opened up to this high-elevation lake. It was beautiful. I was able to look to my left and my right and looking down on the sand was like this black onyx stone that was smooth and beautiful. Across the lake, on the other side was a mountain.
Behind the mountain was the sun setting behind it. The sky was this beautiful purple, the blue to pink and so serene. I felt that peace as I was seeing this in my mind’s eye. What surprised me was that on my left, I see Zoi coming to me. I’m not upset about this meditation. I see her and her hair is the same color as it was when she died but she’s wearing this beautiful, flowing, chiffon-type dress that has all these layers in it. It’s the same colors as the sky.
She comes up to me and we embrace and I say, “Are you okay?” She’s like, “Dad, I am more than okay.” I started asking her a bunch of questions, Irene. Honestly, I don’t remember half the questions I asked her but what she said to me was, “Everything’s good, Dad. It’s okay.” The last thing she did say to me was, “Dad, I’m always going to be here. There’s no time and space where I’m at. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 day or 10 years, you can come back here and I’ll be here.” When I came out of that meditation, it was my stop on the train.
You probably didn’t want to come out of it ever either, right?
Yeah, but I didn’t fall asleep. I know when I’m asleep. I was not asleep but 40 minutes had gone by and it felt like it was 5 minutes. It was the most beautiful experience and I felt so warm after that, Irene. It was a wonderful thing. I’ve had several of those since that time. Each one is a different message for me or a different piece of advice. It is awesome. That’s how Zoi and I communicate, I believe. A lot of people may not agree with that but that’s fine. It is what works for me. Other people have what works for them.
Other people have their other experiences but this works for you and you’re validating the experiences that people have that are similar to yours. The other question I wanted to say is I love that you called it A Sherpa Named Zoi because a Sherpa is a mountain guide. That was very clever, Eric. The challenges of grief can feel like mountains also. What inspired you to write your book, A Sherpa Named Zoi? Can you explain your four-part process called MAPS, which addresses certain difficult questions that arise through grief? I’m sure you do this with people you coach all the time.
What inspired me to write the book, honestly, was the catharsis of writing about losing her. I had no intention of putting it together in a book but what I found to be very helpful in my journey about a year or so was that I didn’t want to forget these wonderful experiences of Zoi’s life. I was concerned at that point that the brain fog was going to cause me to forget about her, which I haven’t and you won’t or that I would stop loving her for some and you haven’t and you won’t.
I found myself writing these stories about Zoi’s life but then I wanted to dig in and understand how I’ve come to be able to navigate losing Zoi because it didn’t just happen at that point in my life. There were certain events that had happened earlier on in my childhood through my teens and into my early adulthood where I had experienced loss.
I’d never understood much about that until I started writing about it and how those earlier experiences affected me. What I found was that at each point in a loss, no matter if that happens when you’re a child or later in life, at some point, you are guided through. Zoi, to me, is my Sherpa. She is guiding me, not only when she was here but after she died.
There’s so much growth you’ve had since all of this. Talk about having an amazing guide.
It’s so true. I developed the process of MAPS, which is a four-step process. M stands for Mindfulness, which is being mindful of the thoughts that you have around your loss. You have thoughts that come in. You don’t necessarily have to accept them but give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel and to know that it’s going to be a challenging process for you.
Mindfulness also helps to relax your stress to some degree in the sense that you don’t have to let your mind go into these areas where you’re struggling and panicking. Sometimes, you can’t avoid that. Sometimes the emotional ups and downs are challenging but being mindful allows you to come back down to the ground.
Being mindful helps you to accept the situation a little bit more and observe it as opposed to being victimized by it.
Also, you don’t judge those thoughts. It’s hard though. Don’t get me wrong. We are thinking creatures. It’s very easy for one thought to become this and this and cascade into something scary. Be mindful of the practice of helping you to stay grounded as much as possible in that acceptance. The next is Approach and that is looking at options of ways that you can approach a situation or struggle that you’re facing in your grief.
Oftentimes, there isn’t only one option here. A lot of times folks think, “If I can’t have this person back, I can’t move forward.” We have to find something that allows us to carry on and honor not only them but ourselves. It doesn’t have to be just one thing. There’s some flexibility in there about what approach you take in that certain struggle. Know that you have choices in that struggle.
There isn’t any one right way to navigate grief except for the one way that works for you. That’s so important that people remember that because we struggle but we also get stronger with that struggle. An analogy I can use there is that if you’re into bodybuilding, you’re not going to build muscle without struggling to lift that weight. “No pain, no gain,” as they say. That may not be the greatest way to say that but you get my point.
In this case, it’s to predict. This is you thinking about and envisioning your future. Where are you going to be a year from now with this new approach that you’re taking? If you think about what isn’t working and you want something to change, it’s that definition of insanity. It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. In this case, it’s about taking that new approach that you’re going to try and if it doesn’t work, you can always do it but you’re thinking about what’s going to be on the other side of you working through that approach.
When I was working with my life transition coach, she would say to me, “I want you to walk through new doors,” and I’d cry. “I don’t want to walk through a new door.” She’d say, “I’m giving you permission to walk through and if you don’t like the feel of it, you can walk out and we’ll find another door but you have to.” Would you say that’s in sync with what you’re saying?
Yeah. You’re thinking. There’s worry there but at the same time, when you go through that door, you probably will find that it’s not as bad as you think it is. You’re bracing and protecting yourself. You don’t want to feel hurt anymore but take those steps forward. Please know that you’re not beholden to that single path that you might have to adjust and that’s okay. That helps. There are so many other examples probably in your life where you’ve had to make adjustments as you go that will get you to where you want to be. It’s okay if you need to do that.
Your final step is my favorite.
It’s embracing the suck. I stole that term from the Navy SEALs but it’s a very powerful representation of embracing that this struggle is going to be hard but there is something that’s already within us. We already have what we need inside of us. It’s about unlocking that and giving ourselves permission to take that journey and discover what is at that next step and then the step after that and after that.
Eric, why do you think that most people nearly survive the loss of a loved one and struggle for the rest of their lives?
I feel that people struggle because they don’t know what to do and where to go. They also don’t necessarily have a good support structure in place early on. They feel like they have to do this alone. When you’re feeling isolated, feeling lonely or nobody gets you and you don’t feel like you’re supported, that is a good time for your mind to say, “It’s probably going to be like this for the rest of my life. If I can survive it, I’ll be good.” I can tell you that it’s harder to survive than it is to try to find your way through your grief.
You and I are proof of that. I love this too. You speak to forming new core values that help to fuel movement up and out of grief. That is so great, Eric. Could you guide us a little bit about that, please?
Our core values, I didn’t think about that much. When I was writing the book, I wanted to think about what was driving me. What’s giving me energy and direction here? Without having identified my core values at that point, I may be wandering around. When I sat down and I thought about what drives my values, I came up with a list that is relatively long. I didn’t put it in the book and I probably should have but let me give you an example of some of these. Some of the core values I have are understanding, support, community, compassion, empathy, energy, family, gratitude, forgiveness, acceptance, growth, love, purpose, integrity, strength and stability.
That’s a very positive core value as opposed to other core values that other people have that could be very negative that keep them stuck.
It’s a story that we tell ourselves. I get it. I had moments. This was not an all-positive journey. I hope it’s not coming across as that. These are things that I had to discover along the way but we have as much opportunity to create the positive aspects of our journey as we do to let the negative ones come in as well. It’s a choice that we can make and I know that it’s hard, especially if you’re new to grief and you’re like, “This is not going to get any better.” I get it.
A lot of people say, “I’m never going to be the same again.” You’re right. We’re not going to be the same. However, we certainly can become another version of ourselves that reconnects with life, reconnects with others, works through that fog bank that I was describing and into that garden of compassion, connection, companionship and support.
Wherever you go, that person that you lost is still embedded in your heart. They’re probably very happy with what you’re seeing as you’re moving through. Another subject that you touch on that I love in your book is the concept of forgiveness. You talk about forgiveness both to our loved ones for dying and to ourselves for what we perceive as our failings with them. You talk about forgiveness being one of the best gifts we can give ourselves in our grief. Educate us. Speak on.
A lot of times, we feel like we were responsible for our loved one dying. Zoi took her life and believe me, when a child takes their life, as a parent, you take on a lot of that as like, “No, this was me. I can’t even raise my child to adulthood.” The questions and the things that you say to yourself could be pretty dark. I said some pretty dark things along the way.
“I was at the computer working and why I wasn’t there or I entered the room. I could have seen it. She seemed fine but I should’ve known somehow.”
The challenging thing is that there’s some empowerment there when you do forgive yourself. Why? Gandhi would educate us on this one as well and say that the forgiver is blessed with the release. Even if that’s with yourself, it’s okay. We did the best we could with what we had. I didn’t have a crystal ball. I did everything that I could have. I do believe that if the situation was reversed and I died and Zoi was still here, I wouldn’t want her to feel guilty that she didn’t do everything for me. I’d want her to carry on, live her life and be as happy as possible. I feel like Zoi would want the same for me if that makes sense but that’s part of the self-forgiveness. It’s important. You don’t have to do it but it helps.
It is a great gift you can give yourself because you’re not carrying it around. You’re not flagellating or torturing yourself. Another huge positive disruptor through grief is gratitude. Talk to us about the importance of gratitude and acceptance when you’re dealing with grief.
I remember early on when I was talking with Zoi’s friends. We were keeping in touch with each other very often. They were talking 10 to 15 kids that were 15 to 18 years old. Collectively, every one of these kids reminded me of Zoi. She impacted and imprinted herself on their lives in such a powerful way that when I was around them, I felt still connected to Zoi.
I remember having conversations with them early on because I would check in with them, “How are you doing?” “I’m having a hard time.” “I feel you. I am too. What’s going on?” They would say to me, “I’m having a hard time accepting that she’s gone.” I’d tell them the same thing. “So am I.” This isn’t an age thing. It’s a grief thing. It’s something that is hard but accepting that she’s gone will allow you to move on to that forgiveness piece because as hard as that acceptance is, it is honestly the start of your healing journey in a lot of ways.
I’ve had some folks message me over the years and I ask them in their healing journey what they want the most. They say, “I want my loved one back.” “I’d love to be able to provide that for you or for that to be the case but we know that that’s not an option. What’s the next thing that you can do then?” A lot of them say that it’s learning how to accept this and then knowing that there is somebody there to support them on the other side of that acceptance. I feel like for a lot of folks when they do accept it, it’s a big, “Oh, no. Now what?”
Does acceptance lead to gratitude also?
You have to forgive before you can get to gratitude because you’re freeing yourself. Gratitude for what is and honestly, for what was. I am so grateful that I got to be Zoi’s dad. I still consider myself Zoi’s dad. I always will. I’m so proud of her. I’m grateful for the fifteen years that I had with her. I’m grateful for her sister and her brother.
I’m grateful for her mom and the rest of the family. I’m grateful to her friends for staying connected. Several years later, we’re still very connected. I’m grateful for the people that I’ve met along the way, the things that I’ve learned and the things I’ve been able to help other people with. I feel like when my life is filled with that gratitude, it accelerates the healing.
One of the things you speak about is you talked about this in your TEDx Talk, what Zoi’s death taught you about life. You share this through your book, coaching and training. Do you want to give us a little taste of that?
I was so honored to be able to share Zoi with the world on that stage.
It takes a lot of courage to do that.
Thank you. It was scary. I remember walking out from the backstage towards the red circle. My legs are going forward but I felt like my body was pulling away. It was a very surreal experience but the practicing and my coaches were unbelievable because they understood the impact that I wanted to make with the talk.
I can’t describe the experience of being in that room. I could hear a pin drop because I got to tell people about my daughter. I hopefully made them laugh. I know that it impacted a lot of folks and I wanted to make sure that everybody understands that life can go on. Just because we lost our loved one doesn’t mean that our life is lost too. It’s important for us to survive first but then get back up and live beyond the loss of a loved one.
You also talk about the tracks we leave that are our legacy. I’d like to know what will be your personal tracks left. I have a feeling I know but do you want to talk about those tracks? You and I are both laying down a lot of tracks, Eric.
I want to share that I learned this from one of my former coaches. His name is Retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann. He is a former Green Beret. He learned this from his father who was a wildland firefighter. They spent a lot of time in the woods growing up. What tracks are is not so much the footprints but it’s those indelible marks that you leave on other people’s lives that last long after you’re gone.
When I first did this exercise at one of Scott’s workshops, it made me break down in tears. I’m talking three years after Zoi died and I’m boohooing in the corner because I’m discovering what my legacy is going to be for the rest of my days on this planet. Whether that’s another day, another 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years, I don’t know and that is that I’m going to do everything in my power to help people walk through grief and get to the other side so that they can reconnect and live beyond the loss of their loved one and not just survive.
You’ve coached and trained thousands of women and men on how to navigate these terrible things that many of us experience in life. You explained the difference between asking, “Why did this happen to me,” to a new mindset that asks, “Why is this happening for me?” That’s a great thing to imbue people with. It’s wonderful.
I appreciate that because when we suffer setbacks in life, it keeps us stuck. We say to ourselves, “Why did this happen to me? Why me? This is ridiculous. All this stuff always happens to me.” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get unstuck with that mindset. It’s not your fault if you’re thinking that way. It’s that maybe there’s a different way to approach this, “What can this setback do for me that can help me grow and become a better person stronger and more resilient?”
It doesn’t matter what that setback is. You lost four jobs. I’ve been laid off from four jobs in the last several years. Each time, while it’s been a shock, it was a setback. Instead of it bringing me to my knees, I’m like, “There’s a different opportunity available here for me to grow and figure something out. I have to figure something out.”
I’m not saying that you lost your loved one as a lesson. That’s not what I’m saying here. What I’m saying is that there is an opportunity here to honor yourself and your loved one by learning new ways to take care of yourself, get stronger and navigate your way through the setback, no matter what it is. In that case, it’s working for you. Instead of saying, “Why me say,” say, “Why not me? I can do this. I can get through this. I can find my way. I can survive, get back up and live beyond the loss.”
There is an opportunity here to honor yourself and honor your loved one by learning new ways to take care of yourself, to get stronger, to navigate your way through the setback, no matter what it is. Click To Tweet
I hear you saying that you’re taking yourself from a victim mindset to an empowered one.
It’s difficult when you lose a loved one. It taps into something deep inside of your core when you lose a loved one. You’re going to react or respond based on the highest level of training that you’ve had in your life. When I say training, I’m talking about ways that you’ve learned how to deal with setbacks up to that point. If you were a kid and you had some setbacks and you were able to navigate this, survive getting through that, you’re bringing that same type of mindset into this and on top of the grief that you feel.
It feels amplified. It’s not your fault. Somebody told me something that I thought was very powerful. It may not be your fault and your responsibility for what happened to you but it is your responsibility for what you do with it moving forward. You can’t change what happened but you can certainly change what happens next.
Everybody wants to get ahold of you, those who are grieving and all. Let’s tell them about your online courses, online community and live workshops. You also have one-on-one coaching. Do you have a special offer for us in this episode?
Yes. I have a course that I put together a while ago called MAPS. It walks people through the four steps of navigating the questions that they have most in the grief of their loss. I have a membership program that I put together for folks to come in where I’m walking with them hand in hand on the journey through what I call the five steps of that. That’s getting support, getting steady on your feet, feeling like you’re stable in terms of being okay, finding some sturdiness and then getting to strength.
That membership is something that I put together because I want people to make progress. It’s so important. It’s easy to stay stuck but if you can get a great foundation of support, you’re more likely to keep that momentum going through and figure out with other people in that community how to move forward.
I do also have a one-hour workshop that I put on that’s called The Emotional Relief Workshop. It’s a one-hour workshop where I walk through how to navigate and reduce your emotional overwhelm in less than 90 seconds using breathing exercises. I’m certified as a breath coach so I take that. We have the capacity to be able to reduce our emotional overwhelm, especially when we’re grieving in a very quick way if we learn how to do that. I teach that in that workshop.
I also do have a special offer for you. I do one-on-one coaching if folks want to work with me one-on-one to dive in on the struggle that they’re going through in their grief. I work with folks one-on-one on a weekly basis. I go in and talk to them. I find out what’s getting at them and then we work together to develop a plan to help them move through that. It’s all about progressing through that.
What’s your special offer?
I appreciate this so much that I wanted to make my book free for everybody. I’ve covered the cost of the printing. All I ask is that folks cover the cost of shipping and handling. I want to make sure that people have another resource available to them to know that they can walk through grief and live with intention with their lives as well, especially after they lose a loved one.
Should they get on your website too?
It is a wonderful book. I read it. I recommend it. In what ways do you continue to revisit your path of grief so that it will collapse the time it will take others to heal? Why do you say it’s important to heal and then healing takes place in the present moment? We’re talking about my sweet spot. Let’s talk about healing.
I appreciate that question, Irene. I do feel like it’s important to heal because I don’t think I’d be honoring Zoi. She’d be upset if she didn’t see me trying to live my life again. I will see her again. We will be reunited. I’d rather sit with her and tell her about the experiences that I’ve had since she left. It’s going to feel like no time has gone by at all.
She’s learning from you because she’s with you.
She’s always with me. It’s okay to heal. We don’t have to stay stuck in our grief. We did everything we could for our loved ones. We’re human. We’re not wizards. We don’t have magic or crystal balls. We have to figure out what’s going to work for us and it’s okay to take that path because there are better days ahead. You can honor your loved one much better in that space than if you’re stuck. If you’re stuck, it’s not your fault. I invite you to look at opportunities to grow and move through that grief so that you can get unstuck and get back up.
What is Eric’s three-step process to finding joy in life?
The three-step process to find joy in life is to accept where you are, give yourself permission to figure out what you’re working on and take the next step in front of you each time.
We’ll then get to joy.
Keep walking. Keep on taking that next step. You can’t take all the steps at once. You can only take the next step that’s in front of you.
Eric, since we’re talking about your book, which you’re so generously offering to people in our audience, I love this quote from your book, A Sherpa Named Zoi. “When we have energy and direction in life, we lead more purposeful, meaningful and happier lives. We thrive. Moving toward these better days is a journey and not a destination, just as life itself is.”
While your work is centered around grief support, you share a wider message that syncs with this podcast that no matter the loss or setback in life, we can find ways to get up and live beyond our loss, fill the gap between loss and love and ultimately, honor the ones we love for the rest of our lives. Thank you from my heart, Eric, for this insightful, inspiring and very meaningful interview.
Thank you so much, Irene.
It was my pleasure. Make sure to follow us and like us on social @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook and wherever you get your shows, including YouTube. As I like to say, to be continued, many blessings. Thank you so much, Eric. Bye for now.
- Eric’s book: A Sherpa named Zoi
- Eric’s TEDx Talk: What My Daughter’s Death Taught Me About Life
- Eric Hodgdon’s website
- Connect with Eric Hodgdon on Instagram and Facebook
- Irene Weinberg on Instagram
- Irene Weinberg on Facebook
- Irene Weinberg – Grief, Rebirth + Healing Podcast on YouTube
About Eric Hodgdon
Eric knows first-hand the struggle that grips us after the loss of a loved one. After losing his 15-year old daughter Zoi to suicide in early 2014, Eric was frustrated with grief support resources that focused on survival as being the endgame of a grief journey. For the past 9 years, Eric has made it his mission to change the way we approach grief support. He has coached and trained thousands of grieving women and men on how to navigate one of the worst setbacks in life.
Eric has spoken on a TED Stage authored an Amazon bestselling book “A Sherpa Named Zoi” and now works 1-on-1 with his clients, helping them to survive first, get back up and ultimately live beyond the loss of their loved one. He is most active on his Instagram account where he posts every week about how to move from struggle to strength in the face of loss.