Mitch Carmody is a grief educator, a writer, an author, a grief nutritionist, and an intuit who has dedicated his life to helping individuals and families navigate the uncharted territory of death, dying and the bereavement process. After suffering many familial losses from a young age and ultimately the death of his nine-year-old son from cancer in 1987, Mitch struggled not only with the grief journey but also with how grief is processed and perceived in this country. In 2002, he published a book called Letters to My Son: A Journey Through Grief, which has reached the bereaved in every state and 7 countries. As a trained hospice volunteer, Mitch has also helped many loved ones and their families through the dying process.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- Dead is not gone.
- Amazing signs from Mitch’s son that have not stopped in over 30 years.
- The difference between passive grieving and proactive grieving.
- A fascinating story that has to do with the date December 1st.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS MITCH:
- What is the importance of recognizing continuing connections on the grief journey?
- What is a grief nutritionist?
- How do you help to heal the broken hearted?
Listen to the podcast here
Mitch Carmody: Grief Educator, Writer, Author, Artist, Grief Nutritionist, And Intuit
Thank you so much for joining me. I am happy to speak to you from West Orange, New Jersey, and my very special guest, Mitch Carmody, is coming to us from Prescott, Wisconsin. That’s one of the perks of doing this show. I feel like I’m touring the country and the world with all the wonderful people that I’m talking with on your behalf.
By now, many of you may be familiar with Helping Parents Heal, the inspiring nonprofit organization that is dedicated to assisting bereaved parents by providing support and resources which aid in the healing process. I have interviewed quite a few people from Helping Parents Heal, and I have been looking forward to interviewing Mitch Carmody. I was going to interview him at the Helping Parents Heal Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. Sadly, it was canceled due to the pandemic.
He was going to be one of the uplifting and gifted presenters and healers at the conference because Mitch is a grief educator, writer, author, grief nutritionist, and intuit who has dedicated his life to helping individuals and families navigate the uncharted territory of death, dying, and the bereavement process.
After suffering many familial losses from a young age and ultimately the death of his nine-year-old son from cancer in 1987, Mitch struggled not only with the grief journey but also with how grief is processed and perceived in this country. In 2002, he published a book called Letters to My Son: A Journey Through Grief, which has reached the bereaved in every state and seven countries. As a trained hospice volunteer, Mitch has also helped many loved ones and their families through the dying process. Mitch and I are about to have an inspiring, healing conversation about grief and much more.
Mitch, what a true pleasure to welcome you to the show.
It’s great to be here.
You are a sweetheart. I can’t wait to share you with all our readers. Let’s start with this question. You say that the dead are not gone. Please speak to this concept and the importance of recognizing continuing connections on the grief journey.
I had a lot of different losses in my life. I lost my father at 15, then my brother at 28, my sister at 29, then my son when I was 32, and then my mother when I was 42. I had all these different losses, but prior to my son’s loss, my mother always told me, “Dead is dead. Dead is gone. There’s nothing out there. It’s over when it’s over. Put behind you. Buck up.” I learned to buck up and put my tears behind me when my dad died because my mom said that’s it. She didn’t even believe in God. She didn’t believe there was anything after death.
I applied that to any grief that I had when my father died, my brother died, and my twin sister was killed with her two sons in the car. I could not grasp it. My twin sister, all she wanted to do was go see Jesus. When she died, I remember you being so conflicted with that. Back in the day, it was the Jesus people. She was all about the gospel. I was about Hindu and stuff. We were always debating philosophy and whatnot.
I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Long story, I won’t go into it, but this Native American said that she was a twin too. She said when twins are born, one of them, in Native American cultures, races to go back to God because this is a temporary thing and they can’t wait to get back. The first one to get back wins type thing. I know my sister is up there. She said, “I know I’m going to be in Jesus’ arms.” She won, but she left a pair of boy-girl twins behind who was eighteen months old.
I was very conflicted. How could she be happy with Jesus with her two sons but yet she has a pair of twins at home? She was praying to have another set like her and I in our family and she got her prayer because she wasn’t even supposed to have children anymore. The doctor said, “You are done having children. I know you got remarried, but no, you got scar tissue. You can’t have children anymore.” She goes, “I got a direct connect with Jesus and I want boy-girl twins and I’m going to get them.” By God, she never expected that and had boy-girl twins.
However, she didn’t live to raise them.
No, she had her husband. She got to raise them for eighteen months and then her husband got married right away. He raised them but then got the wicked stepmother and they were separated for long.
What I’m thinking about is your mother. Your mother with this stiff upper lip attitude. She lost her daughter.
She lost her husband. She lost her only sister and then she lost her father and then my sons. She has all these losses. She did it the same way like World War II. You get over it and buck up.
She bottled it all up inside.
I know I segue sometimes too, but when her dog died, she called it Karma, I thought that was funny. She has a little Shih Tzu, and it was a horrible little dog. We didn’t like it at all. It died. You thought the world was coming to an end. For three days, she cried. She never cried for one family member. She will buck it up. You get over it. My sisters are so mad at that. I said, “That is her opportunity to grieve for all those losses that she didn’t allow herself to because she’s too strong, but it’s allowable to cry over your dog.”
All that came out and that was a revelation to me. That was the huge beginning of grief and putting it behind you and doing it like your mother. When my son died, I said, “I can’t do this.” I wrote him a letter and I said, “Kelly, I need you to get back to me with a sign that you have survived death. I want to join you so badly. Either you give me a sign or I’m going to come to see you.”
I wrote these letters. I called it Letters To My Son. I moved to a brand-new house because my son had died. We moved to Mexico. We sold everything we had because of his condition in trying to fight the cancer. When he died, we bought a house with a cul-de-sac and a trampoline for our six-year-old who is now a single child. We want to draw kids in.
We bought this house and I said, “Kelly, we bought this house for your sister. We are here now. Give me a sign of something growing in our yard and I will know it’s you. I need this validation to go forward.” In spring, three corn stalks grew up in our backyard. I quit mowing it and the city yelled at me, but I had a natural wildlife habitat sign and I could let it go, which was good because the three corn stalks grew tall and they were in a perfect triangle.
We had healing in Mexico. It pointed like it was a triangle, like an arrow. You are looking for anything that means something. I said, “These three corn stalks in the backyard pointing Southwest. We were in Mexico for three months. We had a miracle healing in Mexico.” God touched his hands. He had all these wonderful things happen. I said, “This has got to be it.” My daughter comes home a couple of days later with a book from her fourth-grade class or third-grade class called The Three Corn Stalks: The Sacred Symbol of Mexico.
Talk about validation. That is synchronicity. We said, “This is it. I got my son. I asked for something growing in my yard. I got three corn stocks validated by Mexico and my daughter.” The corn stocks died when they went through winter came. December 1st is his Angel Day. In Minnesota, snows on the ground. The corn stalks are half under snow and we are doing his yard site. It was horrendous. I didn’t think I could scream that loud a year later. That vibrated from my bones but the numbness was gone and opening my heart up and my wife too. During that point of screaming, a morning dove came to our glass window and pecked at the door.
I opened it and I went out there. It flew over the corn stalk. I go, “What?” I went out there in my bathrobe, and I pulled the corn stalk out of the ground, and there was an ear of corn on it, about six inches long. Tiny ear but it was all moldy from being wet. I opened it up. The cob was rotted but the rot had stained the back of the husk in black mold, DAD. That’s when I said I have got to write a book. I have got to let people know that I communicated with my son and asked him for a sign. I get back a corn stalk that says “DAD” on it. It changed my life.
That reminds me of all the messages the ways my husband came through. It does change your life. These continuing connections are so important. Could you also describe how you helped heal the brokenhearted by empowering them to recognize the power of their intention and resilience in collaboration with deceased loved ones and life influencers?
Yes. I can deal with my son. People call them my guardian angels, inspiration, side-by-side, or whatever you apply to that connection, which is a lot closer than we think. My son is telling me it’s 360 miles away. They are not that far away. You feel that connection and he starts establishing a new relationship, and you are communicating in different ways. Some of it’s by recognizing the things that happen around you that they are guiding, helping, and getting people to meet you at the same table at a restaurant. These things start happening. You have gratitude for it and say thank you that the more of those things start coming in. You want to start doing other things for other people so they know what you are feeling.
I want to shine by example. You can’t say, “You got to do this.” I want to be intrigued. “What about Mary? I will have what she’s having.” They want to know what works for you. People start to question me. It’s because I brought my son back like Lazarus. I started a new relationship and did so many things and that’s when I wrote the book. Do I start talking and grieving with my grandchildren? No. They call him Uncle Kelly, and they have a relationship with him. My granddaughter was born on his 23rd Angel Day on December 1st. I never went to a psychic before, but a psychic called me and she said, “Mitch, do you remember me from high school?”
It was 1973 and I said, “Yeah. I remember your name.” She goes, “My son died too. I’m writing a book. I don’t want to publish it. Your son is coming to me right now and I had to call you. He said he’s going to be coming back into your family. He wants to be born back into your family. You are going to be a grandpa again. Congratulations.”
I didn’t know what to say. For the first time, I was speechless. I go, “Thank you, Robin. I can’t wait to call my daughter.” I called my daughter. I told her what happened. She goes, “Dad, she’s one of those crazy friends from high school. I’m on a pill. My husband is out of a job. We lost a house during the NASDAQ crash. We don’t even have health insurance. We have a three-year-old to take care of. We are not getting pregnant.”
I said, “Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just telling you what the lady said.” Six weeks later, she contacted me and said, “Dad, I have missed my period. I have taken three EPT tests and I’m pregnant.” The doctor said, “Your due date is November 16th.” November 16th is my son’s birthday. I go, “This is way out of the park.” She went late and she was going to induce her, but then she went into labor on midnight December 1st on his 23rd Angel Day. Same weight, same length, same blue eyes, and same bleach blonde hair. If anybody sees the two babies, I have a picture of them, and I go, “You can hardly tell them apart.”
She has always had this identified. We didn’t want to psychologically damage her to call her Kelly or anything, so we didn’t, but I didn’t want to go too far to ignore it either. We played it. This is what happened. This is a fact. It’s in papa’s book. We talk about it. She started talking to him and she was hugging a tree one day.
She’s crying. She’s five years old. I said, “Honey, what’s wrong?” She goes, “I miss uncle Kelly, but when I hug a tree, I can feel him talk to me.” I said, “What’s he saying?” She said, “He says we have to call you Winnie the Pooh now.” I go, “Why Winnie the Pooh?” “I don’t know.” We went and watched it and it’s about Eeyore losing his tail. The whole Hundred Acre Woods is trying to fix his grief for losing his tail. There are five major characters in that story. Those are the big five, in psychological terms, of how people operate in their system, whether you are EFP or INFJ.
I applied it to that and put it in a workshop. I have done it with communication things at the hospital and talking about people. “Are you an Eeyore, a rabbit, or an owl?” I give definitions of all those from my granddaughter telling me what uncle Kelly said. We went to a candle lighting, and during the candle lighting, she closed her eyes and she said, “I felt uncle Kelly. I saw him for a second. He hugged me and then he was gone.” People are crying. She’s crying in front of all these adults. She said, “This is real stuff, papa.” I go, “What does it mean the most?” She said, “He said it to me in a dream. We don’t talk much. I asked him in a dream, ‘Why was I born on your death day, Kelly?’ He says, ‘So I can see the world through your eyes.’”
That is the best answer I have ever heard. A guardian angel or reincarnation. I don’t know what to apply to it but Kelly knows. I still don’t understand it. I know they have a wonderful relationship. We used to say was. “I had a son. His name was Kelly.” Now, “I have a son. His name is Kelly.” We are not grieving 100% because he is not gone 100% because he is still an active part of our family.
I have to get this right. He was reincarnated as your granddaughter or your grandson?
That’s so interesting that he came back as a little girl.
I remember the psychic says, “He may have some identification issues when he gets older,” or something. She is so like Kelly in so many ways but yet she has this little buddy, this boy friend that is her buddy. It’s like Kelly having a buddy. She got a cat that looks like the cat that we had, that Kelly had. I don’t even know how to explain reincarnation. I even think I read a book years ago by Jane Roberts, like splinter souls. Maybe souls can be splintered up. I just don’t know. I know I will go someday.
I could tell you that there are energetic healers on the site whom I have interviewed who work with souls. Sometimes two souls can be in a body and they work with that. We have some wonderful people I have interviewed who are amazing in that way and could give you a lot of enlightenment and information about that. That’s another conversation.
Is there anything special? You have been talking about the book, which is such a well-known book and you are creating another book after it. For our people, our readers who might want to purchase or listen to your book, calling it Letters to My Son: Turning Loss into Legacy. Is there anything you’d like them to know? Why should someone who is grieving and how is that going to help someone to pick up your book and to read your book to give them comfort?
Give them comfort and also hope. When you validate that the dead are not gone, it opens doors for people like looking for signs. A lot of people go see psychics or some people don’t even want to. Being aware of the communication that can happen, finding signs like the corn stalk growing, the butterfly, or the cardinal.
Tell us about the cardinal.
I have heard thousands of stories about cardinals. A friend of mine’s wife from high school died and he wasn’t on board with this stuff. He’s a right-wing Christian. “I don’t know if I believe that stuff.” He said a cardinal appeared the day before she died. He didn’t think anything of it. After she died, his mother-in-law came over to visit and this cardinal came up and flew in front of the window. He goes, “I think that’s the same cardinal.” She goes, “It is. It’s Lori.” I said, “I have heard so many cardinal stories, red bird stories. If you look up cardinal, that comes from Cardo, which is Latin for hinge. It is like the door to heaven.
They call the Cardinals in the Catholic church because they guard the church and they guard the gate to heaven in a way. It’s always been an opening of a door, or it’s called a gate in some translations. It’s an automatic thing for birds. More people know about it. Once they know that you know that they know, “They know what to do and what to send.” More people are aware of cardinals. Monarchs are easy to send. I even ask to be specific sometimes. I was doing a workshop and I said, “You try to be specific like I asked for a corn stalk. I didn’t ask for a corn stalk. I asked for something growing in our yard. That could have been anything. It was the corn stalk.”
There are people who will say, “I don’t get any messages. I keep wanting him to show up in my dreams. I keep wanting to hear from him. I keep wanting this. Nothing is happening.” What would you advise these people who are looking for signs and they are claiming they are not getting them?
I say to be more open and aware. I’m saying two things at the same time about being specific and there’s a story that goes with that.
Can I ask you for that story about being specific in a bit? Go ahead.
Don’t be so narrow. I saw a woman once. She’s looking for an eleven. A lot of people get numbers and she got eleven a lot. She was looking for a dime or a penny because she’s found them. She needs it. She goes, “I’m looking for a dime or a penny.” There’s this butterfly circling her head. She goes, “How come I never get a sign? I’m looking for my sign.” I go, “There’s a butterfly flying above your head.” Don’t be so caught up in what you want. Allow what’s available and let them send it.
They are working hard to get that through to you. I tell people, “Do you think it’s easy to lower your vibration to get to us?”
I tell people that you want signs because sometimes they will go to someone else who’s more intuitive. When I talk about being an intuit sometimes, they can connect with those people. If those people know that you want signs, they are not going to come and tell you because I don’t want to bring them down and talk about their dead kid. That’s what people will talk and say, “I’m not going to say I had a dream about them.” If they know that you want those signs, then they can open up and say, “I had a dream about Kelly. I can’t wait to tell you. It’s wonderful.” Letting all the doors open. There are so many gazillion ways signs can come and intuitions and voices.
Sometimes you have to let go of your control issues and let it go and say, “Show me what you want. Let me know.” You have told us about the cardinal. What is the symbolism of the butterfly? I know it’s a chance for transformation, but you often hear that signs come in the form of butterflies and dragonflies. Do you know why that is?
Energy is energy. It’s only transformed. Energy never dies. It just transformed into something else. When you think about the butterfly, it’s got a brain the size of a pin, but yet it’s happened to so many people. Since I know this and my cousin’s son Luke died of suicide. A young man who had some issues. He was a real loner. An introvert. He had his woods where he lived most of the time. He chose to end his life. I couldn’t make it up there for the funeral. I was speaking out of town. She lived in a town two hours away.
I went up there about a month after he died and I said, “I couldn’t make this funeral, but I’d like to see Luke’s woods,” because they put a sign that Luke’s woods in the back where he lives and his deer stand and all this where he had fun. We went through the woods and I said, “Do you ever get any signs?” Sometimes when you are walking and talking, you grieve from the edges. You don’t talk about, “How are you doing with your grief?” You talk about butterflies or other things that allow them to bring in what’s necessary for their heart to come out.
I’m saying, “Do you ever get any signs?” She goes, “Monarchs all the time.” I said, “They are not unheard of. A lot of people get monarchs and they are available. Not in the wintertime, but they are wonderful.” I talked about that and we didn’t see a butterfly while we were walking around. When we were going home, I said, “I can’t wait to get home,” because we lived on the farm and my wife had brought in a milkweed plant and it had a whole bunch of tiny caterpillars on it. Pretty soon we had a hibiscus plant in the corner. We had a dozen chrysalis hanging in our house. Every time I’d see an empty little chrysalis, we’d see the butterflies somewhere and we’d let it out. I have never seen one coming out of the chrysalis.
I had one left hanging there. It was before I left the house. It was black. You could see the orange. It was ready to come. I said, “I got to go see Luke.” We go up there and rush back. I said, “I want to get back. I want to see my butterfly.” I get home and it’s fallen on the floor. It was still wet wings. I picked him up with a piece of paper and put them out on the deck.
When Luke was small, I used to always say, “Luke, use the force.” It was all Star Wars. This butterfly is laying there drying his wings. I said, “Your mom said butterfly. Luke, use the force and you crawl up on my foot, crawl up my leg, and you land on my shoulder.” Within seconds, that butterfly crawled on my Converse tennis shoes, crawled up my pant leg all the way up, landed on my shoulder, and another butterfly came around and landed right next to it.
“How can you train a butterfly?” I said, “That’s the key. You can’t.” This is spirit. That’s when you asked me about the specific signs. I was wearing a shirt that said, “It’s all about love and penguins.” “That other butterfly must have been Kelly validating that, “You would help Luke.” I said, “No. Kelly doesn’t send butterflies. I don’t think it’s Kelly. I think it’s Raymond.”
They go, “Who’s Raymond?” I’m wearing Raymond’s shirt. It’s all about love and penguins. When I was in Texas, I was doing a workshop and I said, “Try to be specific, but don’t ask for penguins in Texas.” This guy stood up and he goes, “My son loved penguins. We have a penguin in Texas at the Texas Zoo that we named Ramona. We adopted it in honor of him. Don’t tell me there are no penguins in Texas.”
We laughed about that. I said, “You know what I meant. Don’t ask for a mosquito in Alaska.” Now they have been getting people from all over the country. They had to build a big hutch on their wall, hundreds of penguin things from people. When the anniversary comes up or his birthday comes up, not a card or a consolation card years later but a penguin.
My granddaughter did a portrait of a penguin and sent it to them in Texas. It’s one of their most cherished things. She goes, “It’s for uncle Raymond. He’s Kelly’s friend.” I get goosebumps because we are keeping them so present that this generation that my grandchildren are, this is so part of life. It’s so natural. It’s not boogie-woogie. It’s not out of the park. It just is.
Tell me what a grief nutritionist is. I know you are a grief educator, a writer, and an author. What’s a grief nutritionist and how does that help the grieving process?
I learned in my 30 years of processing and talking with people and doing the grief process. I eventually got to what I call proactive grieving, which is grieving body, mind, soul, and spirit. All four distinct characteristics of the grief journey. To identify that each one of those is equally, important, and valid, they need to be balanced and have equilibrium. I use the illustration of a car. Our body is like a car. It’s the vehicle to get us from one place to the next. We have the engine and that’s our body. We have the engine in the car with the blinkers and a computer system that operates the car. That’s our brain. That’s our mind that operates this car.
We have the energy. The gasoline that we put in the car is the energy from God, the spirit that enlivens. It animates the vehicle. We have a soul who’s driving the car. That’s where our emotional seat is. That’s where emotion comes from our choices. We are the choice makers. If we listen to God’s spirit, we listen to the body who’s telling us all the time. We listen to the mind, which we usually vibrate from the mind because we think we are smart enough and good enough.
We are conflicted by being in the brain. We are in cognitive dissonance psychologically because we are holding two ideas at the same time but realizing, no, we can hold three. We can get the input to make that decision. That helps people to move forward knowing that. I did all those three aspects, but I didn’t do body. I was traveling. I was trained. I was working with Alan Peterson across the country in a van eating late-night pizza. I got 230 pounds and that’s not my frame. I said, “I’m not taking care of my body.”
I went on my type of intuition diet. Not diet but more of a practice. It’s moment what we do not so much the diet, but the routines that we do. I found out I’m a Winnie the Pooh in my grief thing. We like to have our routines. I changed the routine. I went to probiotics. I’m making sauerkraut. I met kaffir. I have got a 100-year-old sourdough. I make all my food now that I’m retired. It’s easier.
With all the things that you do, you take time and you make all of your food.
Not all of my nutritional food. The probiotics food, the living food like a fermented pickle. The pickles that you get 100 years ago and they are full of good stuff. Kavas is like a beet turnip and all that stuff. I went off all my medication, blood pressure, cholesterol, and acid reflux. I was on all those things. I went off them completely. I went from 230 pounds down to 178. I came back and balanced out. I said, “Now I’m taking care of my body.” We need to get Vitamin D from the sun. In our grief, if we don’t get enough Vitamin D, the only Vitamin D we get is from the sun, unless from our diet.
If we eat enough salmon and if not Vitamin D, we will have mercury poisoning. You need to get out in the sun and get some sun. We need to drink 8-ounce glasses of water every day. If we are hypoxic, then we are more prone to depression, if we are not breathing, because we are breathing constantly. We got our shoulders almost touching because we want to go into the fetal position because we are grieving. As my dad said, “Stand up, shoulders back, chest out, and stomach in.” Let your diaphragm breathe and then you have good air, you have good water, and go for a walk.
Walk stimulates EMDR, that bilateral stimulation. You are walking, you are breathing, and you are drinking water. Going for a walk, you get thirsty, you drink water, you breathe better, and you are doing bilateral stimulation. There are so many things you can do physically because we grieve body, mind, soul, and spirit. The foundational thing, the first thing that happens when we grieve is our body reacts with hormones and with cortisol. We want to balance cortisol with the oxytocin. Watch a Hallmark movie, buy a puppy, and be around kids and stuff to counteract all that cortisol, which will kill us eventually and damage our interior.
Someone comes to you and you are a grief educator and they are so upset. They lost someone so near and dear to them. Do you give them advice like working with them about how to work through their grief from a body, mind, soul, and spirit aspect? Will you work with them with diets and suggest things to do or do you refer them to other people who can work with them that way? How does that work?
I will do a light primer, especially with somebody early in their loss. Now Zoom is changing things too because with the Zooms I have done, some people are three weeks out and they are joining us. As an instructor, I can’t be as cavalier as I’m talking with someone who’s 3 weeks out and someone’s 3 years out. There’s a difference. I tell people, “Body, mind, soul, and spirit. Try to tap into those.” You can sit on a 3-legged stool or a 4-legged stool, but a 4-legged stool is much more sturdy.
You can live without spirit. You can say I don’t believe like my mother, but she was an angry person her whole life. She got through things, but she didn’t do things with joy. We need joy. She never captured joy again because she did not embrace the spirit side. You can function. We are a mammal. We can function like a mammal, but we all have spirits. That’s what makes us special.
What is this thing about you being an intuit? People don’t know what that is. Do you want to share how this ability helps you to help people?
Intuit is being sensitive. That is what people used to call that. You don’t know if you are a psychic or a channeler. Why do you get these poems or why do you get stuff? I knew it a long time ago. I thought I get ideas. I’m a writer. I like to write poems and I didn’t know where they came from to recognize that you are an intuit or the people that you come around. As you get more sensitive and more in tune with your grieving body, mind, soul, and spirit, you set up a frequency. You start to recognize other people that are helpers and you gravitate to them with not even knowing.
Like energy attracts to like energy. If you vibrate at a higher vibration, you vibrate with other people and then you are not going to have the lower vibrations pulling you down, which can tend to do that because sometimes we tend to hang into those lower vibration levels when we are feeding our mammal side and our pain. We eat chocolate chips and drink beer all night.
I have found that to be so true. What is the difference between passive grieving and proactive grieving?
Proactive grieving is what I talk about like embracing it. Being the CEO of your grief. That is your journey. Everybody’s journey is different. Every circumstance is different. Every accumulative loss is different. Every non-ever experiences loss or a support system. There is so much difference. It’s saying, “No, this is my journey and I will do what works for me.” Not to let someone should on you and say, “This is where you should be by now or you should be doing this.”
No, you don’t have to. Do what works for you. There’s no rush if the rest of your life to get there. Eventually, you are going to have to go through things. If you short-step them or take a shortcut, you are going to go back around and do it again. I didn’t want to do that and I don’t think people do either. They want to move forward and use semantics.
Some people want to stay in the drama that they had this loss and this is where they are for their whole life.
I’m sorry to say, but because of all the thousands of people that I have met and talked to, some people never had a great drama story to talk about. This is their whole life now, the drama. “Don’t take my grief away. It’s my identity now. I never had one before. Now I have one, but don’t take it away from me.”
Would you say that is passive grieving?
I guess that’s somewhere in between passive grieving. It’s more like delayed grieving or putting it off grieving. It’s like, “I’m grieving. I’m doing what I’m supposed to, but I’m not going beyond the pale. I’m not doing anything that is not in the books.” To grieve outside the box, not accept. If you are following the seven stages of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, you are probably a passive griever. Those don’t resonate with me. I came up with a whole new process instead of those steps, I call it STAIRS. That’s another whole acronym for surviving loss.
Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I thought about it one day when I was going up the stairs. Nothing is physically wrong. I was at work and going to the top of the staircase. I was 40 years old. I go, “Why am I so tired?” When you are grieving, gravity seems to increase tenfold. I said, “I’m so tired. I’m so heavy all the time. Grief, it’s like going up a staircase.” I came up with the S. The first step is Shock. Unilaterally, we go physically into shock, which protects us. If we didn’t have shock, we’d go mad.
Our bodies with hormones put us into shock so we can bury our loved ones. We can do all the things we are supposed to do, so we are in shock. That can last for weeks to months. You go up the stairs. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ was for the dying, not for the grief-stricken. I went through those when my son was dying. The denial, anger, and bargaining, all the way up. That was a stage. A stage is a linear progression that one has to be completed before you can build on the next. That’s not how grief works.
Stairs are like, “You got to climb the stairs.” Yes, we do. Every day, we got to get up and climb the stairs. We get up the first step in the shock. The second one is the T, which is Trauma. When the shock wears off, then we enter the full-blown trauma. The loss becomes real. It’s devastating. We are in pain all the time. The shock was worn off. No cards are coming and no casseroles coming. No one mentions their name. We are going through the impact. It becomes very real. We are living in the trauma and said, “Now what? I’m in this trauma, what do I do?” Accept this. People say, “I don’t have to accept this. I don’t want to accept this.”
I say, “You don’t accept the loss. Accept the challenge to survive. You are their voice.” We are going to be the legacy for them. That’s what I taught learning in the legacy. We become the legacy. When we accept that they have died, we accept the challenge to create a legacy for them. It turns our life around. We have the Acceptance. Let me go to I, which is Insight, Introspection, and Intuition. We go inside and feel all these voices and all this stuff. I go, “We have talents. I didn’t know I could do this. I didn’t know I could do that. I didn’t know I could write. I didn’t know I could be on TV. I didn’t know I could stand in front of a podium. I didn’t know any of these things.”
Once I accepted it, then I saw that I have some abilities and I have some deficits. They are like, “What do I do with my deficits?” We ask people to come into our forum and we help them. That’s when we go up to the R, which is the Reconstruction and Rebuilding period. The Renaissance. People say, “You are the Renaissance guy.”
I turned into a Renaissance man after my son died because it was a whole rebirth in my life. I went to the R and I started rebuilding my whole life. When you get to that, when you rebuild your life and have a renaissance, then you can get to the Serenity, the S on the STAIRS, and you have peace and you have serenity.
At some moments, you will wake up at the bottom of the stair again. You can sprint them up because you have been up the stairs. You can stay at the bottom for a while and say, “I want to have a pity party today.” Nothing wrong with sitting in melancholy. Melancholy is underrated. I love melancholy. It brings my son back in ways that nothing else can. I love sitting in both the space of pain and joy at the same time. That’s what I call melancholy. Sweet sorrow. We can experience that. We identify it’s the rest of our life. We can walk with our grief. We don’t have to put it behind me or put a cloak over it. We walk with it.
I’m writing that down. “We can walk with our grief. We don’t have to put a cloak over it.” That’s great. I want to preserve that.
I have never said that before. It must have been Kelly. I was thinking about the pictures, he all put the black thing over the pictures and put a black cloak over it.
Everyone wants to contact you now. Tell us all the ways. Tell everyone all the ways they can get ahold of you.
Meeting Mitch, everyone, definitely heart Mitch. It fits very much.
Make-A-Wish wanted to send my son. They said, “Where do you want to go?” He wanted to go to Hawaii. He wanted to meet Pee-wee Herman and ET. We got to meet ET at the set. He got to ride on ET’s bike. I have a video of it. I put it on YouTube. He’s riding on ET’s bike and they ask him, “Kelly, what’s your favorite movie?” He goes, “Rambo.” He’s on the ET set.
It’s one of my favorite clips that I still have of him. It’s Heartlight Studios, and I have Mitch Carmody on Facebook. If you go to YouTube, Mitch Carmody, I have hundreds of videos on the grieving process, different interviews, and a lot of my radio show interviews. I put a video on afterwards to animate the podcast thing. There’s a lot of stuff online. Mitch Carmody on WordPress is all my blogs.
It’s your thoughts that you share with people.
It’s a proactive grieving blog. I talk about the different stories of my son. I blogged out by the first prologue of my new book, Letters To My Dad Going Condo. It’s Kelly talking and introducing himself and he’s writing this book because he wants to tell the whole perspective of the death experience from his perspective. My first two books were about his death and our grief. He’s talking about his death and his relief that he left that horrible body that was decaying. He found his dog again. His dog was licking him. He’s talking about how wonderful heaven can be and that it’s not that far away.
It’s not. It’s all around us. It’s wonderful for people to know our pets do go to the other side. Animals are on the other side and all of that. Tell us your tip for finding joy in life. You have got to have maybe a good 1, 2, or 3.
It sounds pretty prosaic. St. Francis of Assisi prayer. It’s a Catholic prayer. I have been saying it every single night since my son died. Making me an instrument of your peace is the last thing. Lord, make me an instrument of your piece. I don’t read the whole thing. I read it in my prayer. What I’m saying is to say that to your God or your power and say, “Make me an instrument of your peace.” When that happens, the joy can’t help but come in. I was joyless. I’m telling people early on too, to hang on to hope. We got to have hope. If you are feeling hopeless, that’s okay. There’s no hope in those early months sometimes.
Let yourself be hopeless. This is the time to be hopeless and then you are going to get hope as it comes along. It comes in at the baby’s feet. It comes in a little bit by little bit and then you can have hope again by serving others and helping others on their journey. A couple of months after Kelly died, my wife came and she said, “Mitch, what happened to you? You are smiling.” I didn’t notice I was smiling. When you are grieving in the early year, you are that shocked and ashen face all the time. She goes, “I haven’t seen you smile like that since Kelly died.”
I said, “I went and gave blood today. They said it was going for a little boy that had leukemia.” That felt so good so I said, “I got to go give blood.” They said, “You can every six weeks.” I said, “No. This is my mojo. I need to give blood.” They said, “You can get through apheresis. You will take it in one arm, spin out the good stuff, put the other stuff back, and you can do that once a week.” I said, “Sign me up.” Since my son died, I have been doing it at least once a month. Sometimes every two weeks.
You gave blood since your son died every two weeks or so?
Every month, unless sometimes I have had a cold or I can’t. My blood pressure got up for a while and I couldn’t until I got my weight down. I couldn’t give blood for a while, which irritated me too. When I lost weight, I could give blood again without the blood pressure being too high. I got a backpack with a thermos and a red cross for my 50th gallon. I have donated 50 gallons in my son’s name every time. I say, “This is for my son.” They said, “Do you know that your son has helped to save 1,500 lives from 50 gallons of blood?” That is what brings you back. You can be a servant of God, your child, and your loved one.
They can be your guardian angel. They can be your megaphone to God. How awful if we would waste that connection? That’s why I want to tell people that it is there and you can find it. Don’t poo-poo it. Allow it. You are going to feel it because you know. Of all the people you have worked with, we know it’s a real thing but it can’t be proven. You can’t even prove anything in space. It’s all speculation.
Love it, enjoy it, and reach out to other people. They have proven the studies that practice kindness get better benefits than the person they are giving it to. There’s a difference between kindness and being nice. Sometimes being nice is the worst thing. You can be too nice to somebody, not to hurt their feelings when you know you got to be maybe more blunt about something and be transparent and that’s being kind.
That’s important. There’s a difference between being kind and being nice.
If you look at it, if you want to be nice, be nice to a kid, but being kind, and being nice is an adjective. Kindness is an action verb. When you are being kind, you are doing your loving action. When you are being nice, you are being polite. That’s the difference.
That is so appropriate for you and me because when they pulled me out of the car when my husband was dead next to me, I got the message. A voice came into my head and said, “Be loving and kind to everyone.”
When you first said that, I couldn’t wait to seal that off. When you said, “What is your greatest joy?” Finding joy is practicing kindness. Bring all the good stuff.
I don’t want this interview to end, but I need to call it a day. Everyone reading this will have to look forward to other times I’m going to be chatting with Mitch because we are going to want to find out about his new book and so many other things that he’s doing. I want to thank you, Mitch, for this wonderful interview and for helping so many people to navigate the uncharted territory of death, dying, and the grieving process. You are truly a blessing. Thank you also for joining me on this wonderful interview. Make sure to follow us and like us. We know you like us on social, @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. As I always like to say, to be continued. Many blessings, and bye for now.
- Mitch Carmody’s Website
- Mitch Carmody’s book: Letters to My Son: A Journey Through Grief
- Mitch Carmody’s book: Letters to My Son: Turning Loss into Legacy
- Connect with Mitch Carmody on Facebook
- Mitch Carmody’s YouTube channel
- Mitch Carmody’s Email