It’s time for an in-depth conversation about Men and Grief, how they grieve differently than women and much more! Grief and Rebirth podcast is honored to have Ron Glenn Kelly open this door to enlightening new insights. Ron, who has honorably served as a Military policeman in the United States Marine Corps, as a sworn police officer, a Federal Agent, and as a business executive, lost his precious 16-year-old son and only child to Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome in 2013. What’s a man in tremendous grief, who’s been taught to control his emotions, to do?
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- How Jonathan connected with Ron six months after his passing.
- Why Jonathan’s death became a catalyst for Ron to help so many others.
- The shocking statistics about how grief affects the workplace.
- Why Delta Airlines is a role model for supporting their employees in grief.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS RON:
- Does the loss of a child always precipitate divorce or strengthen relationships?
- How do men and women process and express the emotions of grief differently?
- What kind of support does a grieving man need to move forward with healing?
Listen to the podcast here
R. Glenn Kelly— Specialist in Men and Grief: Keynote Speaker, Workshop Presenter, Published Author of Grief Support Publications, Grief Peer Specialist and Bereaved Father
Welcome to the show where we share enlightening insights and wisdom gleaned from speaking with grief and trauma specialists, mediums, healers, and people who have inspiring, uplifting stories to share. As the creator and host of the show, I could not be more excited and honored to introduce all of you to Ron Glenn Kelly, our incredible guest. His personal story about moving through the fire of traumatic loss opened the door to his life mission, which is to inspire hope and healing on the subject of men and grief.
Ron has honorably served as a military policeman in the United States Marine Corps as a sworn police officer, a federal agent, and also as a business executive. Ron’s world was shattered when he lost his precious sixteen-year-old son and only child to hypoplastic left heart syndrome in 2013. An experienced keynote speaker and workshop presenter, Ron mixes his own loss experience with knowledge and humor to help business leaders awaken to the fact that the bereaved who worked for them do not get over it.
He provides awareness that grief is not just about the loss of a loved one, pointing out that employees can also experience profound grief after losses such as an unwanted divorce, a major change to personal health, a grown child leaving the nest, the death of a company executive or coworker, and much more.
Ron, I’m delighted to welcome you to the show. Your son, Jonathan, brought the concept of unconditional love into your life. His tragic sudden death is the catalyst for you to help so many others. Let’s begin what is going to be our fascinating eye and heart-opening conversation with this question. Can you please share with our audience how your son, Jonathan, taught you about unconditional love and also share with us details of your deeply traumatic loss?
Absolutely. First and foremost, the delight is all mine. I’m honored to be here. I appreciate the opportunity to share with your audience. I can only hope that I can add some valuable content.
Thank you so much.
The story of Jon’s humbling of me began when he was born. He was born in 1997 with that condition that you spoke of, hypoplastic left heart syndrome. It was undiagnosed. It led to the first day of his life with him being handed to his mother and me and being told that he might not even survive his first day of life. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome occurs when the left side of the heart, the two chambers, fails to develop in a womb. Ten years before he was born, they would have simply handed him to us and said, “Enjoy what little time you have with him because he’s not going to make it.”
That was a humbling experience in itself, but it became even more humbling as Jon went through a series of excruciating open heart surgeries, 3 of them before he was even the age of 2. I lived for months at a time in and out of hospitals. If it wasn’t during a surgery, it was during a time when we were doing home care planning for the next surgery to come up.
It was in those hospitals that I got to realize how humbled we were, and this coming from a guy. You brought in my intro by saying that I was a jarhead and I was a cop. I was somebody who lived off of ego at that time. I had a very unhealthy ego as you can imagine. Not every former jarhead and cop does, but I did. We’ll leave it at that.
As I roamed to the hospitals, I noticed so many children who had other maladies that were far worse than Jon’s. I saw kids who were sitting in playrooms who had only half of their body, nothing from the torso down. Yet, they played lovingly with their parents. I realized that they were telling me that I was going to go home with my child and he was going to be relatively okay.
His prognosis after all those open heart surgeries was for a full life, albeit with medical interventions along the way. It was a humbling experience. Other people made me open up my eyes and realize what it was. As he grew and thrived, he did some amazing things as far as his love of life. I don’t know whether it was the fact that he had half a heart that was probably the size of the Empire State Building because of what he had been through.
He was the Pied Piper of the neighborhood. He attracted kids. I always had a house full of kids. I had a basketball court out in my driveway full of children every day after school and all weekend long. I never had a soda left in the garage refrigerator when the day was done. He loved life and spoke of life so often. When he was sixteen years of age, he went through a relatively “routine heart catheterization.” It was more or less exploratory to see how his heart was doing because we knew that there would be interventions. In recovery, his heart failed. They could not revive him. I take great solace in the fact that he passed away and took his final breath in my arms. I got to say goodbye.
I’m so sorry for your loss but I’m so amazed at what you’ve done with it. For our audience, many of them are as ignorant of this phrase as I am, what’s a jarhead?
It’s another name for Marine. It comes from the haircut exclusive to only Marines where you had the bald sides and a tuft of hair up top, looking like the top of a jar. The vernacular came out as jarhead.
There are leathernecks. Marines are called leathernecks because of the high collar that they wore that once used to be leather. It’s protecting them from swords back in the days when they onboard ships. Jarhead is an endearing phrase. It doesn’t upset Marines to be called jarheads.
People are here on the show to learn a lot of things. They’ve learned about jarheads. Could you define complicated grief and tell us how you recovered after losing Jonathan from such a traumatic loss in 2013? How did his death become a catalyst for you to help so many others?
First and foremost, complicated grief can come in many forms. There’s complicated grief that comes from the complete repression of your emotions after that. You are avoiding the grief entirely and using other means to avoid the grief as in what I did. I went through a period where I avoided and repressed the grief because I went through an identity crisis if you will. I had once been a Marine or a jarhead. I’d once been a cop. I gave those identities up, but I had no intention of ever giving up being a father.
For many of us who have only children, a single child, when that child is gone, we have an identity crisis. We’re like, “Am I still a parent?” That led me to do things like walk by a picture of Jonathan on the wall and avoid looking at it. That led me to walk by his bedroom door and not acknowledge that was his bedroom door. That left me doing a number of other things to avoid the pain like going back to work quickly. Since I was in charge of 1,500 employees, I could take control at work. At home, I couldn’t take control. I couldn’t control losing Jon.
Was this while you were in the Marines that you were in charge of 1,500 or this was when you were a business executive?
Business executive. I had gone back to work rather quickly. I was probably blessed. I was one of the few that I could take as much time as I wanted and not worry about bereavement leave, pay, or any of that. Yet, I came back quickly. For some people, it’s therapeutic to return to work and give themselves something to do. I recognize that I did it out of the need to go back and control my environment. As a man, I needed control and I had lost control. I had no control over Jon’s death. That bothered me a great deal.
I’ll give you another hint. I spent more time out in my wood shop after Jon passed because I’m a woodworking hobbyist. Had I not gotten control of myself after that, every piece of furniture in my home would’ve been made out of something that I made in my workshop. I could go out to my workshop in the evenings and on weekends and I could control what I was doing. Does that make sense?
Yes. It makes total sense to me.
I lived like this for about six months. One fateful morning as I was showering for work, I had programmed myself to ignore the fact that Jon wasn’t here anymore and not even think about it. I had stepped into the shower after hearing a forecast of a possibility of a couple of inches of snow. Being in the mid-South, a couple of inches of snow was going to lock the city up for the entire day. I thought to myself, “I wonder if Jon’s going to have school today or if they’ll cancel it.” I stopped myself and said, “I thought I was able to get those thoughts out of my mind.”
I stopped hearing the dog jump off the bed upstairs and thinking it was Jon. I stopped hearing the back door open and wondered if it was Jon coming in to get something out of the refrigerator to eat. I had programmed myself not to, but here I was in the shower wondering if my child was going to have school that day. I stopped for a second and then felt it. I felt Jon move into me. I felt Jon move all around me.
What did it feel like?
The easiest way to say it is not just the hair standing up on you. I was in the shower, quite frankly, not to get too visual with it. It’s that feeling when the hair stands up and you’re tingling all over your body. It’s a light tingling. As I started to feel that, I couldn’t see him but I felt like he was right in front of me for the moment. The only thing I could say at that time was, “Hi, baby.” He answered but he didn’t answer the way I thought. The first thing he said to me was, “How dare you, Dad? How dare you not grieve me? How dare you not think that you are still my father?” That’s all he said.
When he went away, it changed my life. He has come back many times but never in that form or fashion. I dream about Jon a lot. He gives me messages in my dreams. I’ve probably talked to him a dozen times already. I believe in my Maker. I believe one day, He is going to ask me why I speak with Jonathan more than I speak with Him. I say that jokingly but I’ll stand in front of the mirror wondering if I’ve got the right color of tie on. I’ll say, “Jon, is this the right tie?” He is in my life. He lives inside of me.
While he was going through his recovery from his open heart surgeries, because he had a couple more along the way at the ages of 6 and 8 and some other medical interventions, he always allowed himself to be researched openly by hospital personnel. He told me when he was twelve he wanted this so that other children born after him might have a better way of recovering than he did.
He served. That was his legacy.
What an amazing kid.
After his first visit, that was the legacy for me. It was to go back into service, and I did.
I want to talk to you more about this. What happened to you in that shower with Jonathan? How did this inspire you to start to do the work you’re doing? I know you also wrote a book called Sometimes I Cry in the Shower. Tell our audience what all of that was about.
Does that title sound familiar to what I went through?
I had purposely thought that I needed to go get support for the grief I was going through. I was going to purposely enter the grieving process, which I had avoided before. Quite frankly, I wasn’t going to lay on anybody’s couch. That was part of my male mentality. I was not going to expose myself to others, so I would do what men generally do. That was I would read a book on it, but there were no books.
I don’t mean to be snarky about it, but there are books on the shelf for women who grieve. There are books on the shelf for children who grieve. There are books on the shelf for grieving the loss of your turtle. There were no books out there specifically for men who were grieving the loss of a loved one. That led me because I was so fanatical about it at the time to do a deep dive myself, searching for the answers to why I felt the way that I did.
Quite frankly, and maybe your audience can identify with this, I had a spouse at the time who was typically debilitated in her grief. She cried quite a bit. That, to me, seemed foreign. I wasn’t crying a lot. I was doing other things to process my grief inside, although I didn’t know it at the time. During that time, it also brought great confusion to me.
It also brought suspicions of what she asked me one time, which was, “Did you not love our child as much as you said because you aren’t crying the way that I did?” That led me to wonder, “Did I not love my child as much as I thought I did because I’m not debilitated in this grief?” That bothered me quite a bit because the answer to that was I loved my child. I wasn’t grieving the way that other people around me were grieving. To give you the spoiler end of that part of it, I came out to find out that I’m okay. That’s me and that’s how I process my grief.
How did you find that out? Did you come to that through a conclusion within yourself or were you starting to talk to professionals? How did you come to that? For me, with my grief, but I am a woman, I immediately went to a life transition coach. I started working with people in addition to reading books. How did that realization come to you?
I dove into it. I dove into white papers. I dove into everything that I could find on emotions. I dove into the diversities between male versus female expressions and processing emotions. It’s not that I sought him out, but I was blessed to have a wonderful mentor who is a thanatologist. He’s a psychiatrist and studies thanatology, which is a study of death on the living.
I had friends that are anthropologists who studied human behavior. I got up with them. God knows that we never completely heal nor do we want to. As I was on a healing path to the point where I thought that I was finding peace and purpose again, Jon came to me and said, “Write a book.” I said, “Why?” He said, “The last thing you were doing was answering requests for proposals on government contracts. You were writing to win somebody else $300 million a year. Why can’t you write a book and help other people who are going through the same thing that you’re going through?” so I did.
I wrote Sometimes I Cry in the Shower: A Grieving Father’s Journey to Wholeness and Healing. The book is so much more than about a loss. It’s about how I discovered my self-esteem and my self-worth. I rediscovered my inspiration, motivation, and creativity. It’s a wonderful story of what I went through in the discovery process. It’s not just about loss itself but the victories that came from that.
That’s amazing. Correct me if you disagree, but it sounds to me like you had this mask that you thought was you with this macho guy in the Marines and all of that. You were able to do all of this. Suddenly, you were softening. You were opening up to so many other ways of being.
Here’s the key to that. I realized that was me. I wasn’t someone who was going to openly express my grief on the outside. That meant that I was okay. Do you follow me?
We are all as unique as snowflakes and fingerprints. Yet, there are diversities in males versus females. There are males who are diverse from other males. There are males who will openly express their emotions. Generally, 80% of us are atypical males where we internalize and are action-oriented. We’re goal-setters and go-doers. We’re not the social creatures that a woman might be when she wants empathy and to express her pains in an outward motion. It all came down to the fact that I was okay. I hate to keep repeating that, but if there’s anything we can take from this, I discovered that I’m fine.
You took from this. How did you start to get into your world of doing presentations, speaking to this, and having this become such an expertise for you?
It wasn’t long after the book came out, the first book, that I began to get invitations from nonprofit organizations solely because I was a man willing to stand on a stage and talk about what I went through. That was pure and simply it. In the first conference that I ever went to, 1,200 people were there, I was going to do a workshop. I walked in on Friday morning thinking I was going to walk into a solemn environment where everyone was crying and it was all about grief and loss. I walked into the most heartwarming gathering of people that I’ve ever met in my life.
This continues with all the other conferences as well, but there was laughter and tears. There was a togetherness of people that have all been through the fire and wanted to support and hold each other. It was addicting. When I started getting invitations to do it again, I was going to because each one was therapeutic for me. Each time I went to try to share something, I probably took three times as much home with me. When I went there to provide a workshop where they thought I was there to give something to them, I took away more.
I can relate to that. I feel that way with this show. Every time I interview someone wonderful like you, I’m gaining a new friend. I’m gaining new insights. It’s taking me further than I ever would’ve imagined. This also has sprung from my journey of what happened to me. You talk about the different grieving styles of men and women. Can men and women heal together or are they so disparate that it’s two separate paths completely?
One of the common myths out there, and you’ve probably heard this, too, especially in the loss of a child, is that you’re going to end up getting a divorce. They’re like, “You got to be very careful. You could wind up getting a divorce because you’d lost a child.” It’s a myth. There are no figures out there. The figures that are out there but no evidence that the loss of a child will create a divorce. However, it can create difficulties.
The big ticket item to look at in this is the fact that if there was a divorce in a relationship after the loss of a child, It’s usually because there was some underlying condition in the marriage that created that. I’ve met with hundreds and hundreds of couples who have come through a loss together. They’ll tell you how much stronger they are after that loss. Like us, they prefer not to be stronger. They would prefer that the situation didn’t come up. They would find more strength in their relationships.
We’re different for a reason, men and women. You have strengths that compliment me and I have strengths that complicate you. In a wonderful relationship, that’s how it should work. The problem is that during a personal crisis like the loss of a child, I’m going to go through experiences of emotions that I’ve never had before. If I have had them, I’ve certainly never had them on the intensity level that I’m feeling.
My spouse is going to go through brand new emotions or emotions that she’s never felt on that intensity level before. I’m trying to deal with me and I’m looking at you going, “You’re a freak. What are you going through?” You’re going through something completely different than me because you are more external with yours and I’m more internal. I don’t understand, but I’m looking at you going, “I don’t understand you.”
The workshops on male versus female grief, I call them When Jack and Jill Collide in Grief. They are very humorous workshops because I can point out the differences between men and women that are obvious and we don’t think about them. When we become aware that there are differences and understand that there are differences and that we are going to react in a different way than I am, then we have compassion and understanding for each other. We get it. Every now and then, I’m going to have to sit down and let you cry on my shoulder every now and then. You’re going to have to let me be that action-oriented, systemizer, and itemizer guy that I’m going to be. Let me go hide in my cave when I need to go hide in my cave. Does it make sense?
It makes sense.
These are inherent traits that have been with us since our days back on the Serengeti. It’s nature and nurture. Men are trained and so are women. They are trained through nurture and a number of mannerisms that we carry with us. They’re like, “Big boys don’t cry all this,” but all that still goes back and lies within our DNA from the dawn of time.
That’s right. It also lends itself when you go through something like this to teach a tremendous amount of acceptance. You’re no longer judging each other and no longer there to judge other people.
Exactly. You come to realize it as my strength. It is the fact that you are crying quite a bit and you feel debilitated in a way. I’m an action guy, so guess what? I can go take care of this. You can do what you need to do. I’ll come back and support you when I can.
You’ve written three other books also, haven’t you?
Can you talk to us about them?
I had finished up with Sometimes I Cry in the Shower and was enjoying the fact that I wasn’t writing when Jon said, “You are going to write another book.”
He is quite the taskmaster, isn’t he?
He is. I’ll put it to you this way. I’ll try to make it brief. I had accepted an opportunity to go on Trinity Broadcasting Network to talk about the book and grief recovery. While I was there, the hostess was wonderful, but she kept bringing up, “What about when Sally grieves and Bobby is in grief, this grief and that grief?” I very tactfully said, and I don’t know where it came from other than Jon, “I want you to remember that grief is a word. Grief is not an emotion. Grief is a container word that holds the anger, fear, confusion, and anxiety that you go through after you’ve lost a loved one. Grief isn’t a word. It’s a container word that holds all the emotion.”
While I was driving home from the interview, I was trying to figure out a way that I could help my fellow men who need to visualize things come down with the concept that grief is not an emotion. I realized that if it’s a container word and it contains all those emotions, I started visualizing all those emotions being in manila folders. Those manila folders were inside of a carrying case, which we normally associate with a briefcase. I called it the grief case. It became a concept of how to go into those individual manila folders.
You know this as well as I do. When you had your loss, somebody handed you your grief. You can’t put it down. You can’t put it aside. You can’t leave it behind. It’s going to be with us at some level for the rest of our lives. In my concept of the grief case, that’s fine. It’s going to be heavy at first. It’s going to be burdensome. It trips us up in social environments. It trips us up at work because it’s confusing, heavy, and an awful thing to lug around with you.
As you get into those manila folders and start to take out papers that are maybe false guilt, false anger, and things like that, each manila folder starts to become lighter. You’re never going to empty them completely because you don’t want to. Part of what’s in those folders makes me the compassionate human being that I am. I don’t want to lose that. I can’t lose a grief case, but it’s a whole lot lighter. I want to walk up to Irene and show her my grief case and go say Jonathan’s name. He’s in this grief case. Do you know what else is in the grief case? Flip flops and some tan lotion because I can take a break from my grief. I have to carry it with me, but I can use it to at least find some peace and purpose.
I want to hear about your other two books also, but as far as this one is concerned. If you have all those emotions in those folders in the grief case, most men are not aware that they necessarily have all those emotions in the grief case. Did you identify them through the book so they start to get in touch with that? How do they identify that?
We need to let men know if you have any male readers or the women can go and tell their men that they can look it up. It is a psychiatric truth that men feel more emotions on a daily basis than women do.
No. We internalize those emotions, don’t we? You know we’re internalizing them because, quite frankly, men can be moody little SOBs, can’t we?
It’s because we’re emoting inside. Does that make sense?
We’re going to hide in our cave. We’re not going to express them outward. We’re going to go hide and do it. We are emotional creatures. The problem is I equate emotions more so to our sixth sense than I do ESP. Without expressing our emotions or feeling our emotions, I don’t think we would’ve survived as a species. That emotion of fear kept us alive. That emotion of joy kept us creative and allowed us to build. That emotion of love allowed us to procreate in so many ways.
We need those emotions. Those emotions are a lot like a stream that goes to a forest. If you start damming it up, it’s going to back up behind itself and it’s going to kill out all the beautiful flora and fauna that’s back there. The big storm comes, which is the loss that I went through. When all that rain starts to come down through there and it hits that damn and it’s already backed up, then it’s going to blow forward if I don’t control it in some way.
It’s road rage or God only knows what.
They’re all going to come spewing out. Not only is it going to damage what’s behind it, but it’s going to damage what’s in front of it, too. You need to see the emotions. It doesn’t mean you have to express them outwardly. It means you have to process them the way that you were designed as a man to do and process them internally. Does that make sense?
Most people don’t realize that grief is an internal process. Mourning is our external process of loss. It only becomes external when it becomes overwhelming inside.
Let me ask you. For instance, a man has a grief case and is saying, “I am pissed. I am so angry. I am sitting here in my cave and I am boiling.” Now he’s recognizing that.
Do something about it. The mother who had a child who was killed by a drunk driver took her anger and created Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Anger is a wonderful thing as long as you’re not harming yourself or others. Express your anger in healthy ways. We’ll be as cliché as going out back and throwing plates against the wall. Do something.
If you back up that feeling inside, especially when it becomes overwhelming, you repress your emotions. You know as well as I do those emotions will come out. They will come out eventually. The scary part of it is if they don’t come out, where do they go? They go back into your subconscious, which controls you without your conscious effort, does it not? It allows your heart to beat and your lungs to breathe, but it becomes a part of your persona. That grouchy guy out there who once had a wonderful disposition is permanently stuck being an A-hole.
He may get sick also because with all those emotions stuck inside, where do they go? It often brings about physical elements.
That’s another key thing that I tell a lot of people, too. We’ve got to realize that anxiety, anger, and all these things inside the brain, these emotions were meant to be very short-term. We talk about the fight or flight, do we not? When you go through fight or flight, there’s a series of hormones and chemicals that are dumped into your body that are meant for you to escape from a certain situation. It’s meant to be very short-term.
When you take some of the emotions that we get involved in with grief, you are constantly under a barrage of chemicals coming from your mind that are not meant to be in the body long-term. It is very detrimental to your physical health and your mental health as well. These emotions have to come out. They don’t have to come out externally so the public sees them. That’s why sometimes I cry in the shower.
At least you’re conscious about what’s going on. You’re not sitting in your cave not aware and constantly sabotaging yourself.
Bingo. I’m doing what we call grief work, which is a viable thing that has to be done. It’s no less difficult than digging a ditch or taking a final exam. It’s very excruciating.
Advise the ladies in this audience who love their men who are grieving and also the men who are going to work and are grieving. What support does a man who is grieving need to move forward in the healthy healing process? What are some of those processes?
The support that he needs is an understanding from others. That’s the way it is. The biggest support he needs, and I hate to say this, is from himself. One of my biggest problems was wondering to myself whether I was messed up inside. People would say, “You’re not crying, so there must be something wrong with you.” I would say, “I’m not crying, so there must be something wrong with me.” We’re all individuals. We’re going to grieve in our own process. There’s no linear timeline to it as long as you’re not stuck in grief and moving forward. Tuning in to Irene’s wonderful show is a step moving forward. You can’t sit here and go, “I’m here because I’m not moving forward.” This is moving forward.
For a woman to support somebody or another man that she knows is having a problem because she thinks he’s stuck in grief, take a look and see what he is doing. It’s not because he is not crying openly or he is not despondent and debilitated that it means that he’s not going through the processes. There are indications out there that somebody might be stuck in complicated grief. Quite frankly, men are a little harder to determine whether or not that’s going on.
Never stop with the support. Let him know that you’re there if he needs to talk about it. We go to some of the regional meetings out there for some of these grief support groups. I’ll have wives who tell me that her husband won’t come, but as soon as she walks back in the door, he wants to know everything that was said there. That means that he’s relying on you for some of his emotional support. You express it outwardly for him, right?
Absolutely. I’m sure a lot of women can relate to that.
Going to work has got to be one of the biggest problems out there. We’ve got a problem here in America where the average number of paid bereavement leave days is only three.
They’re like, “Get over it.”
That’s fine. I was an executive, too. I realize that businesses are in the business of doing business. That means boots on the ground doing the job, but they also have to take care of their employees. My point to that is that if you’re going back to work even after a week or a week and a half, you’re transitioning from a point where you thought the emotions were relentless and never-ending. They were hitting you.
You’re in grief waves. Everybody understands that. It is like, “I’m okay,” and then all of a sudden, you are hit with a big feeling of anger, fear, or loneliness. You got used to that at home. You could deal with it at home, but you’re going into an environment that, believe it or not, is going to be strange to you. What was once a second home in a comfortable environment might seem odd.
People may be avoiding you because they’re uncomfortable to speak to you about what has happened to you. I’m sure you know much more about this than I do. I’m thinking about the fact that for myself when I was grieving so hard for my husband, I froze in certain ways. I couldn’t focus or process. The guy is expected to get back on the job, get over it, and keep going. He is not in touch with the fact, “Why can’t I think straight?”
Your mind is certainly occupied with other things, and rightfully so even if it’s not just about the emotions itself. In your case and in the case of many people out there who are probably tuning in to this show, your mind also has responsibilities it has to care for. There are legal responsibilities. You have to go down to the bank. You have to do this. You have to do that. There are so many things that go along with it that aren’t done within the first week or week and a half of a loss. The mind is occupied. The mind is overtaxed. We’ve got to be cognizant of that.
When we come back to work and work has got to be done, a compassionate company has to realize, “Sometimes, we’re going to have to see her walk off and go to a quiet place and know that’s okay. We’ll sometimes see her walk off and go for a walk, and that’s okay.” Sometimes, we put a hand on her shoulder and say, “Why don’t you take a break for a little while?” We don’t want to talk about it at work. They are uncomfortable and don’t want to talk about it at work. We get that. We understand, but be compassionate and understanding of it.
Realize that when a guy comes back to work and he is doing a hazardous job, let’s say a forklift operator, you might want to pull him off of that for the first 2 or 3 days and keep an eye on him. For God’s sake, be honest with him about it. This is why we’re doing this. We have other responsibilities. We have employees, customers, clients, and people that we have to take care of. It could be like, “I’m going to give you a couple of days before you hop back up on that forklift. You might think you’re okay, but we’re going to see.”
That’s a wonderful thing because the employer is also teaching this man about compassion for himself because they’re showing him compassion on the job. Can you tell us about the other two books you wrote? The Griefcase sounds fabulous.
I appreciate that. It’s a great concept. It’s something when I came back from the Trinity Broadcasting Network that Jon and God put in my head. I came up with that one and it was great. Jon made me write it. The third one is a nightstand book. It’s Grief Healings 365. There are 365 days in there, including extras for Mother’s Day, Christmas, and a couple of other days where I went back in time. I went back to the days of Moses. I went through Shakespeare. I went through all of those.
Grief is as old as the dawn of man. You know that. There are famous quotes out there from people that we respect, whether they be playwrights, politicians, Socrates, or ancient Chinese theorists. I compiled those 365 quotes and put 1 for each day of the year so that you don’t need to start it on January 1st. You can start it on whatever day that you pick up the book. You can go through that thought when you wake up in the morning and carry it with you through the day.
It’s what Abraham Lincoln expressed about his grief. It’s what Mark Twain expressed about his grief. You carry their inspirational thoughts with you for the day. Maybe when you come home at night, you write down your feelings about it. You wake up the next morning and go to the next day. You then spend a year doing that. Come back and see where you were when you flipped back open the date how you were feeling and how you’ve progressed to it.
Number four was Grief in the Workplace. That’s my latest book. That’s what I do a lot of. I hate to say this because it’s not as compassionate as my other work, but the way I’m going to get to my fellow executives is through their wallets. I tell them right up front that studies show, very reliable and accepted studies, that American businesses are losing over $100 billion in annual revenue. It’s $1 billion each and every year to the hidden direct and indirect costs of grief in the workplace. That’s a whole lot of money that they can get rid of without spending a dime.
What an eye-opener for them for that.
The American Hospice Foundation will tell you that in the United States, every year, over 4 million active employees experience the loss of a loved one. 10% to 15% of working-age adults will experience child loss in a year. Even the CDC stats show you that every year, one million women experience a miscarriage. Every year, 26,000 women experience a stillbirth. These women are all working-age women.
Not only are they grieving, but they are also a significant other or a spouse. You double your figures right there. If that’s the case, then that means that 1 out of every 4 employees in any given workplace are grieving the loss of somebody. Much more than that, if we’re looking at 4 million employees experiencing the death of a loved one every year, we look at some psychiatric reviews that tell us that 10% to 20% of bereaved individuals will experience a form of complicated grief. That carries with it typical impairments to either mental facilities or even physical impairments.
If we look at that 4 million figure, that means that returning from bereavement are 400,000 to 600,000 individuals going through complicated grief every year. Going back to the American workplace, we still have $100 billion in loss because we’re treating it with indifference. In some cases, and I hate to say it, it is not just indifference but intolerance and hostility.
I’m not surprised at that at all.
It wouldn’t cost them a dime. All they need is the awareness and understanding of what we go through. Businesses have done a miraculous job turning things around as far as morale and welfare programs. They are offering employees the world and it’s wonderful, but they haven’t touched grief.
Do you have any feel-good story about doing a presentation with one of these companies and turning something around for the people in the company through the CEO or whoever you are shocked with your statistics and enlightened?
How about one wonderful company that did it for themselves? How about I tell you about Delta Airlines? I get the honor of going down every year to Delta Airlines to be a keynote speaker. They have a yearly event where they fly in bereaved employees. I get to be the keynote speaker at their headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
They have an internal peer bereavement support group that they support, endorse, and provide funds for. They make it a requirement that all managers across the country allow their bereaved employees to come and attend this. They give them airline tickets to come in. This is amazing. I cannot tell you the results of this peer support group because that’s proprietary information for Delta Airlines alone. However, I could tell you that in seven years, they have not discontinued the program.
That’s fantastic. They’re a role model for others.
That’s what I advocate for every business out there. They’ve got peer support groups for mentoring. They’ve got peer support groups for a number of different things in the workplace. There are four million bereaved employees returning to the workplace every year. Studies have shown that an employee who is supported through their grief, 62% of them will turn around and support other employees during personal crises. Why can’t we take advantage of that?
It’s like paying it forward.
Mortality is an uncomfortable topic. It’s not something we discuss in the boardroom and it’s not something we discuss when we’re doing business planning. When I walked back into work and I had lost my son, there were a dozen other men there who had sons or children. For them to look at me, they had to look at me and realize, “For the grace of God, go out.” Mortality is uncomfortable. They turn from that in their mind and don’t want to address it. I understand it. That’s the reason why they jump into a supply closet when they see me walking down the hallway.
One of my biggest anecdotes, and it’s a very small example of how it impacts the workplace, is before I lost Jon, I had nine managers who were my direct reports in the office. I had 1,500 employees but 9 managers who reported directly to me. We got into a habit of every morning, very casually at first, all 9 managers would stop by 1-by-1 sometime in the morning with a cup of coffee to say hello.
That turned into, “What are you doing today?” The, “What are you doing today?” turned into business planning for the day. It’s a five-minute thing, but at least I knew where their head was every day. I didn’t have to go chase them down. It was wonderful. It might not be everybody’s business plan, but it worked for me, these little impromptu casual meetings. I then lost Jon and went back to work. Nobody stopped by my door anymore. Why?
They were uncomfortable themselves.
They didn’t know what to say. If they would’ve had a good leadership there, leadership would have briefed them. This is important, especially if you’ve lost somebody. Let your work know what you’ve gone through. It’s important because if they don’t brief people on what you’ve gone through, when you go back to work, you’re going to get questioned a dozen times or more every day by your coworkers. They’d be like, “What happened? Tell me what happened.” You’re going to have to repeat your story of loss over and over again. Let’s get in front of that at least. Let’s go ahead and brief your teammates and coworkers on what happened so you don’t have to do that when you go back, respectfully within privacy limits, mind you. That’s one small example.
There’s another part. If you’re that enlightened and you’re helping them, maybe you’re helping them to come up with more sensitive, empathetic responses to the person who’s grieving. A lot of people, because they’re uncomfortable, say horrible things to someone who has lost a child, a spouse, or whatever. I experienced that.
I did, too. I’ll tell you one that will make you gasp when I tell you this. What you’re speaking of are the comments of, “You’re young. At least you can marry again,” which, to them, I always reply, “It’s like an iPhone.”
They’re like, “You can always have another child.”
It is like, “I wanted to trade up. It’s an iPhone. I can get a new model. I dropped this one and broke it, so I’ll go get another one.” I was approached by someone whom I considered a friend who looked at me and said, “At least you don’t have to worry about college tuition now.” That was one that it took a great deal of effort to turn and walk away from, but I did.
For the most part, I want people to realize that they don’t do this out of malice. They do it out of that inherent training that we’ve had since childhood. It is like, “When Irene is in discomfort, I need to approach her and comfort her somehow.” We’d rather it be a hand on a shoulder and a head nod, but we’ve also been taught you need to say something. They don’t know what to say and it comes out as some of the worst things that they could ever say. God bless them. I get it. It’s not out of malice. It’s not meant to be ill-intentioned.
When it’s coming at you, it’s difficult.
They’re like, “Let’s get a puppy. It will keep you company at home.”
I was told that. They were like, “If you get a dog, you won’t miss your husband at all.” I was like, “I got to walk this thing at 6:00 in the morning and it’s going to take the place of my husband.”
The point to that is it’s not generally said out of malice. It’s uncomfortableness with mortality. You can’t really blame them. You’d rather they didn’t say things. That’s one of the things I teach business leaders. You need to go to funerary services, but you don’t need to approach your employees. Being there is enough to let him or her know that you care enough to be there. 9 times out of 10, they’re going to be too busy either with parts of the ceremony or being surrounded by other family members. When I looked across, saw the president of my company there, and he nodded his head to me. That’s all he needed to do. It was perfect.
I hear you. Everyone is going to want to find out more about you from this interview. How can our audience contact you? Do you have anything special you’d like to offer or say to them?
They can contact me directly at RGlennKelly@RGlennKelly.com.
I want to make that clear. The first name is Ron, but it’s R. Glenn.
The name R. Kelly was already taken up. I figured it probably wasn’t a good one to use.
I figured that out.
I went with R. Glenn Kelly because I also write fiction books. I wanted to keep the two separate. I write fiction books under the name Ron Kelly. We’ll talk about that another time. Send me an email directly. My phone number is on my website. The website is the same. It is RGlennKelly.com. All my programs are on there.
I’ve got another motivational speaking program which is called Ashes to Inspiration where I talk about coming out the other side. It is why I want the final thing that I could pass on to anybody is exactly what we broached before. If I were to say anything, I hear it all the time from myself and from others. The bottom had dropped out of my life or I’d been through the fire. Irene and I have both been through the fire.
Where do you go when you drop out? Where do you go when the bottom drops out of your life? The bottom has dropped out of my life many times. I lost both my parents at way too young of an age. I’ve had an unwanted divorce in my life. I’ve had a cheating spouse in my life. The bottom has dropped. I’ve had money problems and career problems. The bottom has dropped out, but do you know what I dropped into? I dropped into me. I dropped into my foundation.
Everybody that goes through what we’re going through will feel like the bottom has dropped out. I promise you you’re only dropping into yourself. You go through the fire. It only consumes falsities. It leaves everything that’s true completely unconsumed. What it’s done for me is it has allowed me to realize that I can live a life of peace and purpose.
I don’t leave Jon behind. I carry his unconditional love with me every moment of the day. He inspires me. He motivates me. He annoys me. He makes me do things that I don’t want to do. I am a man who knows unconditional love. I’m a man who knows a healthy ego. I’m a man who is on a mission to serve others and love doing every minute of it.
From speaking with you, I can also say that you’re a man who not only carries your sadness and grief, but you’re a happy man, which is amazing. I am, too. People can’t get over that because I turned my pain into a mission that’s helping people. It fulfills me and I feel that’s the same way with you.
Some of the best people that you’ll ever meet have gone through a hard past. It’s a transition. It brings us through the fire that burns all the falsities. I lived a life at one time as a cop, a jarhead, and all that fun stuff. I lived a life based on what you thought of me.
What do people think?
I don’t live a life like that anymore. I live a life of, “What do I think of me? Am I doing the right thing?” Keep in mind. Ego is important. We need an ego, but we don’t need an unhealthy ego. Ego allows us to get up and go to work in an office and dress appropriately instead of going in in shorts and flip-flops. That’s getting along in society, right?
I don’t need to live a life where I worry about that and my only concern is what Irene thinks about me. I’m like, “Does she know I was a jarhead? Does she know that I was this big bad A-guy who went out and did this and did that?” I want to live my life with peace, purpose, passion, creativity, motivation, and inspiration. It’s out there for people who feel like, “The bottom dropped out and I’m lost.” You will find yourself through the help of Irene, me, and yourself. You will find yourself. There is a life out there of peace and purpose and you are grabbing your loved one. They might be waiting on the other side, but they are still with you every day, walking down this path. We’ll walk down the path with you. I might be a little bit ahead or a little bit behind you, but we can both walk down the path.
The fact that you’ve been on the path gives other people hope and inspires them that they can also walk on their own path and they’ll be okay. They can be okay.
The bottom drops out and we drop into ourselves. We go through the fire and it burns everything untrue.
That’s beautiful and fabulous. You’ve already said it in a million ways, but what would you say your tip is for finding joy in life?
Realize that there is peace and purpose. No matter what hardships and animosities we go through in life, it’s life. I’m a little spiritual out there. I believe that we were sent down here for a learning lesson. We came down here to learn something. That gives me a great deal of ease with Jonathan, too, knowing that he had his own plan with God. His plan was to come down here for sixteen years and do something. That makes me realize that at some point, he and God pointed down and said, “There’s a good guy you can go spend sixteen years with.” It means God’s got a plan for me. He’s got a plan for all of us. We don’t know what it is. We’ll spend our life finding peace and purpose trying to find out.
That’s wonderful. From my world, you and Jon had a contract and agreement that this was going to happen to open you to your purpose.
I’ll see him again, and we’ll talk about that next time. I always say it will be the beat of one wing for him before I see him again. It will not seem like a lifetime. It will be a lifetime. I’m impatient when he’s the one who’s going, “I’ll be here.”
He’ll be there. This has been wonderful. I can’t thank you enough.
I have enjoyed every moment of it.
This is wonderful. This is such a moving conversation. I know this is also going to inform how men and women relate to each other when they’re grieving.
I hope they do. I once had somebody tell me, “How do I give them tips on communicating with each other?” I said, “Tell them to communicate with each other.”
It’s been such a pleasure bringing your insights about men in grief and they are very caring to our caring audience. Heads up, everyone. Ron is going to be an inspiring part of our show’s Father’s Day online event on Tuesday, June 11th, 2022 at 7:30 PM. You’re in for an enlightening and moving experience.
You’ve met 1/2 of this wonderful experience you’re going to be having. It’s going to be amazing. It’s all about different aspects of fatherhood and bringing people together about Dad. You’ll be receiving more details about this soon so be sure to stay tuned. Thanks again. As I often like to say, especially to you, surely to be continued. Bye for now.