Women Who Travel
In the past year, we’ve all dealt with various levels of grief, both personal and collective, centered around the pandemic. For many, it has also resurfaced familiar emotions and struggles experienced over previous losses of friends and family. To process that grief, contributors Jordi Lippe-McGraw, who lost her father in a plane crash in 2010, and Nneka M. Okona, who lost her best friend four years ago, have usually turned to travel, a coping mechanism that COVID-19 has challenged. This week, we’re talking about how they’ve used travel to work through the complicated emotions of grief, why they want us to talk about those feelings more publicly, and what advice they’d give to those feeling adrift with grief right now. Know that the episode isn’t all sad, however. As Nneka says, “[you’ve] got to spice up grief and make it less gloomy sometimes.”
Thanks to Jordi and Nneka for joining us this week. Be sure to preorder a copy of Nneka’s book, , out on August 3. Thanks, as always, to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing this episode. As a reminder, you can listen to new episodes of on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, every Wednesday.
Hi everyone, you’re listening to “Women Who Travel,” a podcast from . I’m Meredith Carey and with me, as always, is my co-host Lale Arikoglu.
We’ve been talking a lot about how to use travel to celebrate the birthdays missed, the family we haven’t seen, and the friends getting married when we are able to move about more freely, but while trips offer an excellent opportunity to celebrate, they also have a healing quality, one we need now more than ever as COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. approach 550,000. So this week we’re talking about travel and grief. Joining us are contributors, Jordi Lippe-McGraw, who recently penned an essay about traveling in the wake of loss, and Nneka M. Okona author of , which will be in bookstores in August. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having us.
Thanks to y’all for having us.
So to kick things off, I wanted to ask the two of you whether travel has always been a tool for healing, and to that end, what sort of travel have you found yourself turning to?
For me, travel wasn’t always about healing. Growing up, it was something that was about excitement, exploration, time with family. That’s what travel was for me and then when my dad died in a plane crash in 2010, travel became something that was very fearful for me, and once I started getting back on the road again and getting back in the air and taking flights, then it became a healing process for me, and that’s what it has been for me for the last 10 years.
While there is a lot of excitement and joy and sense of wanderlust and adventure wrapped up in that, with each trip that I take, it still pulls me out of that haze of grief that is going to forever be with me and reminds me of how far I’ve come. So it has become much more of a transformational experience than just a pure sort of like joy, a wanderlust-based one for me.
Nneka, how about you?
I would say that travel has always had such a huge healing aspect for me, but for different reasons. I actually didn’t get my passport until 2009. Before then most of the travel that I did was just like road trips with family. I think once I had my passport, I was coming up in the world as a woman and actually coming into my own as an adult. I had never really done anything alone, just because as a woman, you’re not indoctrinated to value solitude and doing things alone. You’re told that your worth is only in proximity to the relationships that you have and the ones that you build. So for me, it was just so huge and healing for me to actually see the world by myself and to be enjoying it when I did that.
I would say it definitely shifted for me four years ago and that was when my best friend died in a car accident. Ever since then, it just kind of took a shift for me, but in some sort of way, I think travel has always been healing.
Both of you touched on how you came to learn that travel could be a form of healing in different ways and along different paths, but I think taking that initial trip after an incredibly challenging period in your life or after a loss can be quite difficult. What was the thought process behind both of you in taking that leap, and both traveling for yourself and also traveling alone?
My first trip after my dad died was several months after his accident and it was one for work, but it was going to be the furthest I’ve ever flown. It was a 17-hour flight to Fiji. And I was doing it alone. So this was my first entrance back into the world of traveling when I’m coming from a place where the sound of an airplane in the sky drummed up this anxiety inside of me, or seeing an airplane on the TV would bring up those like really raw feelings of grief that just felt like you couldn’t catch your breath for months.
When I got the opportunity to travel for work, part of it was like, hey, I want to impress my boss with this trip. And I think somewhere deep in the cortex of my brain, and I think I wrote about this in the essay was that level, that sense of wanderlust, that sense of adventure that I loved and that I longed for and was so fortunate enough to grow up with, with my family. And those two things combined made me make the decision to take that opportunity and to get on that plane. I was terrified. I didn’t know if I was going to have a total breakdown on takeoff. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to handle it. I’m doing this alone. I have no support system and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and once we got airborne and I got above the clouds, it was like this sense of calm that I hadn’t experienced in so long just came over me. And I felt so close to my dad.
I’m just so glad that I was able to kind of push through that fear to have that experience because I still have that fearful experience every time I step on a plane. I still get nervous every time I step on a plane. But as soon as I reach and get above the clouds, I just feel so close to him. I’ve been up in the air way more times than I have ever been to his grave site and that’s what I keep latching onto. So I learned that I am stronger than I realized, and I can push through that fear.
Just for listeners who haven’t read your essay yet, you used to, growing up, fly with your dad a lot, right?
Yeah. Not only, again, was I fortunate enough to travel with my family to many different places across the globe, but my dad was also a pilot. He had his own single engine aircraft that he would fly. He was a doctor by trade, but flying was always a passion for him. So I spent countless hours up in the sky with him having conversations. He would fly up to visit me at college in Boston. We would take little family trips to have lunch, and some of my best memories are being up there in the sky with him. So it was something that I really, really loved and he was someone obviously that I really, really loved and it was ripped away from me.
Nneka, when you think about your first trip and its intersection with the loss you were experiencing, what is that overlap and what was the process for you?
It’s so funny that you ask that question because I actually found out that my friend had died while I was traveling. I was in Bogotá in Colombia and I found out that she had died via email, which, terrible. We met in grad school. So we went to the same grad school and they sent out an email blast on the listserv for graduate students. Ultimately I wasn’t able to make her funeral just because it happened with such a short timeframe. This was around the time that Hurricane Maria. So it was a crazy time, honestly.
But in terms of after her death, it’s interesting because even to this day, that was four years ago, I still don’t remember a lot of those first six months after her death. It’s really normal for people who are grieving. I call it a brain fog, almost. It just feels like essentially your brain is just in overdrive trying to process your loss. So to this day, I don’t really remember. I went to California after her death and I also went to Ireland for a week, but I don’t really remember those trips. It’s weird because sometimes when I go through the photos on my phone, I’m just like, “Oh yeah, I did go there,” but I didn’t remember them, but at the same time I felt like it was something that I needed to do for myself, just because the grief felt so suffocating.
So travel in the past has always been such a huge space of inner transformation and a way for me to have emotional clarity and emotional perspective even. So I thought that, well, maybe I can travel during this time of loss and it will help me in some ways to process this loss and I would say that it did, but I really just don’t remember those first initial trips.
For either of you, I think it might be more obvious for you Jordi, but you’re talking about it being an unconscious experience, Nneka, to know I need to travel because this will benefit me in some way, but when did it become a conscious part of the grieving process, for you knowing that taking trips would be a way to process this even further?
Yes, at first it was definitely unconscious. I didn’t know what to expect from travel after losing my dad. I experienced a lot of that fog that you described Nneka, for sure. It’s such a blur and that first trip for me brought me a lot of clarity and calm that I hadn’t experienced in the months prior and didn’t know it could exist. I thought genuinely in those months, right after that deep, deep grief that how is life ever going to be good again? How am I ever going to be happy again without him here? Sorry, I’m tearing up thinking about it. When I went and experienced that, that sense of calm and got to go see this beautiful place and feel so close to him there, that really hooked me. I wanted to feel close to him because I felt so far away from him and I missed him so much. That almost instantly became a conscious decision. I knew that I was strong enough to take the trip—I mean, I took a 17-hour flight by myself, I went to Fiji all alone—and it’s like, okay, that was like the ultimate. Trips since then have not been as intense, in terms of actual travel time. So from that point on, once I got hooked on that feeling and wanted to see what else I could experience. And every trip since, I feel so close to him there in a way that I don’t feel anywhere else. Up in the sky, for sure, but also seeing these new places, it’s like, for me, it’s like I get to see these places because he couldn’t.
That’s why I made the pact with my husband when we got married, that we promised each other that we would go to every single continent together before we had children. I bring my son along with us now as much as possible to see the world, because it connects me to those I love who are still with me and I’m so grateful for them and it brings up that sense of gratitude for all that I have. I just feel this connection with my dad every time I’m on the road or seeing a new place that I just don’t get anywhere else, and that became what I went after and why I’ve continued to travel and made a point to travel so much.
The circumstances surrounding my friend’s death were just so particular that I think it lends itself to my grief experience, being particular as well. My friend was not a very … She wasn’t a person that had a lot of friends. And then because I didn’t attend her funeral, which part of it was like logistical reasons, but the most part of it was just that I knew my friend had a challenging, I guess, is the best way [to describe it], family situation. I guess I just didn’t feel comfortable being around them and also just didn’t really know them that well either. So most of my grief experience was super isolating because there just was not a community for me to lean on in my grief, just because my friend didn’t have a lot of those people in her life in general. So just staying at home and pretending that I was okay and that life was just proceeding as normal, like I said before, felt super suffocating.
I quickly realized that travel gave me a way of just being able to escape the depth of that. I just wasn’t ready to process it—and I see that now looking back—and I quickly just realized that and once I did, I decided that I was going to become a digital nomad. Now looking back and I was just like, wow. I was just lost in drifting and really in pain. I started off in Mexico City in January, of 2018, and then I went [back] to Colombia and then I went to Costa Rica. In the summer I went to Paris because my friend had always wanted to go to Paris before she died, but she never made it. So the summer of 2018, I went and spent way too much on cheese and wine and put it in a backpack and had a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower in her memory. It was just such a special experience. But I needed to feel like I could breathe because just sitting at home with the grief was suffocating and lonely and just really dark and trading that for being out in the world just felt a lot lighter and that was something that I could deal with at the time.
Just going off of that, I too ended up quitting my full-time job. I was an entertainment reporter and when an experience like that happens to you, it gives you a certain perspective and there’s going to be a shift in your life. For me, I realized what I thought made me happy wasn’t making me happy anymore and that I longed for something else. Starting to take more and more of these trips while I was still working full time, it brought about a sense of clarity that’s like, I don’t want to do this anymore. This is not bringing me the same level of joy. I want to travel and I want to have a life that allows me to travel, that gives me that freedom and I want to build a life for myself that is my version of a dream life.
So I ended up being able to turn this passion for travel and all of this grief and create something out of it where I was able to quit my full-time job, and I now can proudly say that I’ve been working as a freelance writer and consultant, and a coach for other people, for longer than I have been a full-time employee.
So that experience in the travel allowed me to have that perspective and really get honest with myself about what is going to make me happy now. And when I feel stuck in my life or I feel like a change is needed, I turn to travel to help me have that space to come to those realizations that I can’t, stuck at home in my own little void, especially in a pandemic when you don’t have any more of those outside things. That’s why I’ve missed travel so much during the pandemic and found myself during this period of time, feeling a little bit more stuck than usual, because I don’t have that as an outlet in the way that I normally did.
Nneka, your upcoming book, comes out this summer, as we mentioned. What has that writing process been like and what was the journey towards writing that book?
Oh, man. I’m so glad you asked about my book baby.
As someone who follows you on Twitter, I feel like I have been on an emotional journey with you to publish this book.
Oh, that’s so sweet. I literally was approached to write the book by my publisher, Simon & Schuster, well Adams Media, which is an imprint of Simon & Schuster. They approached me last summer and it came because I wrote a piece about grief in terms of the pandemic and I think it really resonated with a lot of people and it really caught their attention just because there is a lot of collective grief right now. And I think a lot of people are having to be more present with themselves and just be present with grief and seeing how grief is such a human experience in general, with everything it always has been.
So I wrote the book from September of last year and I turned it in like the first working day in January, so a very quick turnaround. And though it was super cathartic for me and it helped me to process my own grief in ways that I didn’t know that I needed to do, it also was like, in some ways, just very heavy and it felt like I was kind of reliving the trauma of what grief has come to mean to me and my life.
But I feel like grief work and just talking about grief and making grief a more public conversation is necessary. So I’m happy to be a part of that and I think it’s an important, I don’t want to say duty, but it kind of is a duty. I don’t think everyone is entrusted with the delicacies of grief. So I take that responsibility very … It’s a huge deal for me, but honestly, it’s been such an amazing … I’m like, wow, I wrote an entire book. That’s wild. Especially since I’m writing my second one right now. So it’s just like, I don’t know, it’s been a journey, but I’m definitely thankful and I know that this book is going to help a lot of people, which is the point.
You mentioned earlier how, after the loss of your friend, you didn’t necessarily have the community of others who were grieving through her network of friends and family. Did you think a lot about that while you were working on this book, especially in the context of providing community for those who might need it now?
Yes, and that was a huge thing that I made sure to include within my book is the importance of reaching out and having that support. One, just really being able to assess the people in your life, if they can be of support to you. You know if your friends or family or whomever is capable of you leaning on them for harder things, or maybe you don’t. Sometimes there comes a point when you can’t foresee how heavy a heart or traumatic certain things in life can happen and you learn along with your friend or whomever is supposed to be of support whether they can carry that load for you, if you will. It’s so important, other than like grief counseling, which I think was really helpful for me, but it can be kind of difficult to find a good grief counselor, I learned, especially when you talk about the intersections of race and cultural and ethnic backgrounds and stuff like that, it can be hard to get someone who is adept that but also there are grief sharing groups. As a result of the pandemic, I know there’ve been a ton of little grief sharing groups that have Zoom sessions. So just finding those places where you can just talk and feel like you’re not being judged.
A huge thing that I think a lot of people struggle with when they’re grieving is that people want a certain performance of how you’re grieving. They don’t want to be too uncomfortable with how it affects you, and that’s a lot of pressure and for me, that was definitely a hindrance during my grieving process. Wanting people to feel like I was okay, even when I wasn’t.
This is a question for both of you, but like you were saying, being kind to yourself after a loss while also feeling like you need to meet these expectations is wrapped in all of these complicated emotions. Do you think it can be a challenge to acknowledge travel specifically as an act of self care in those situations, or even simply embrace self-care in a wider sense?
I think grief can be such a personal experience. So while that might work for me, it won’t necessarily work for someone else. So I don’t know if you can have a blanket statement of saying like, “Yes, travel is a great way to help move through your grief.” Because within my own family, I have two sisters and a mother who had a very different grief experience than I had. Each of us had separate grief experiences and we’re all in the same family unit. Obviously my mom who lost a spouse is very different than me who lost a father, but it was very different from my sister who was 15 at the time to my sister who was in her 30s at the time. So it’s hard to say that in general grief is a really great act of self-care. For me, it certainly is and for other people that I know, it is as well.
Grief as a whole, and I think Nneka touched on this, isn’t really acknowledged. Luckily my bosses gave me more time off, but legally I had three days off to grieve the loss of my father. So grief as a whole is not something that is openly discussed, let alone the self care acts that it takes to move through that grief. So it’s not like I could go and say, “Hey, I need to go take this trip because I’m having a really hard time. If I go on this trip, it’s going to be really helpful for me. When I come back, I’ll be a better employee, I’ll be a better sister, I’ll be a better daughter, I’ll be a better wife.”
While my husband and family might acknowledge that now, it’s not always … Self care in general when it comes to grief, I think it’s something that becomes something that happens behind closed doors. You can kind of deal with it and maybe have a small network of people that really understand and will listen. So for me, travel has been probably one of the biggest self-care acts that I could do. I don’t know if in general that it could be viewed as such though.
I agree with Jordi. Grief is so personal and individual that it’s a little bit too prescriptive to say that travel as self care for grief is something that you absolutely should do. It just really depends on the person, but I do highly advocate for what I call grief-cations, which I know that sounds cheesy, whatever. Got to spice up grief and make it less gloomy sometimes.
So typically, I take a grief-cation every year on the anniversary of my friend’s death. It’s the end of August. So last year I took a road trip to Nashville and I didn’t do anything. I drove like a couple of hours away from Atlanta to Nashville. I rented an Airbnb and I did the same things that I was doing during the pandemic at home. Order take out, watch Netflix, but it just felt good to be somewhere else. It felt good to just change up the energy a little bit and in a way, for me, it just acknowledged the friendship that I have with my friend. Because I was always talking to her from all over the world, that was always our friendship, from the beginning. She was there when I was living in Spain and just really going through it and just trying to adjust and it being hard. She was there when I was in Mexico and I got dumped via email and I was like downloading with her about it and she thought it was wild. I was in Mexico City’s airport, and my phone call kept dropping and she kept calling me back and then eventually I was just like, “Okay, I’ll just call you when I get home.” So it’s just something for me, it’s just really deeply felt and it just makes me feel, like Jordi said, just really connected to her.
Our relationship is still ongoing because I do believe that grief does not signal the end of a relationship. It’s a continuation, but the adjustment comes and you’re adjusting to the relationship in a different form. It’s a little bit more abstract in that sense.
You’re both talking about how trips for you have served different purposes. They’ve been a way to escape. They’ve been away to celebrate. They’ve given perspective. Are there any types of trips that you have found lend themselves to certain aspects of grief that you needed at that time or certain trips that you would avoid taking, thinking that they might help, but they probably won’t?
I am a very food and alcohol driven traveler. I like to eat my way through wherever I’m going and I like to go to bars, which clearly I miss so much during the pandemic. It’s like my favorite stories and moments are being in a random bar where I don’t know anyone and I have this random conversation with a bartender. So in terms of thinking about grief and travel, I tend to gravitate towards the same sort of travel I did before. And also my friend and I, we always bonded over eating out. That was our thing. We didn’t see each other super, super often just because I was constantly just all over the place as someone who writes about travel and loves travel, but whenever I’d be back in town in Atlanta, we would always go out to eat and get drinks and just talk for three, four hours over food. So just going out to eat and experiencing different food just feels, again, like a continuation of that same sort of love that I have for eating and then sharing and eating with someone else, although technically I’m alone when I do it, but I still feel her presence. I do.
The trips that I really enjoy taking, I’m a very active person, so I like active vacations. I’m not a huge fan of sitting on the beach for a week and reading a book. I get bored very, very quickly. I want to be moving. I want to be seeing things. And that was how my dad was too. I don’t know if that’s just because how I was raised or again, I’m trying to see the world in a way that he wasn’t able to or continue that relationship, Nneka, that you talked about, like continue that on. So my trips often are ones that are very active and pushing the boundaries a little bit and seeing what I’m capable of. That’s sort of been this ongoing theme, too. What is it that I can do? What is it that I can see? Instead of taking the bus up to see Machu Picchu, I’m going to hike the trail and enter from the back way. Trying to find ways to change my perspective and move my body. I’ve found for me, in general, moving my body has really helped in the grief process.
Right after my dad died, I felt like I was drained of energy constantly and I just started walking and I would leave my phone at home and just walk around Manhattan and just take it in and slow down and not be distracted. That was the only physical activity that I was capable of handling, but that physical movement has been something that is always part of my travels, whether it’s like, I’m just going to see Paris on foot. Or, I’m not a huge fan of cycling, but I’m going to cycle through Italy just because let me see what I’m capable of and I did it six weeks pregnant. Let’s go for it. Let’s test what it is that I am capable of and I always surprise myself. So those are the types of vacations that I like. Not to say that I don’t enjoy a couple of days of pure downtime and I think I’m yearning for that a bit now because I’ve just been so inundated with work and being at home and having a toddler and my husband. It’s just so much and I just really need some space. So a couple of days vacation, I think with just nothing to do is really helpful in those scenarios when you’re feeling overwhelmed and just need to take a step away.
But, to have that transformational experience, that connection, those sorts of things to my dad, that really comes through in an active vacation. And as cheesy as it is, like checking off bucket list items. He had so many that he wasn’t able to check off his list. So I want to go and check those off my list. I always wanted to go to Antarctica. I did that in 2018. Like I mentioned, I wanted to go to all the continents, I’ve made that happen and that list is never ending. But again, I feel that sense of connection to him every single time that I can go and see that place and experience it and feel so lucky that I get to do that.
I feel like what you both have also said without saying, is doing the trips that you already know make you happy and are the ones that you know you’ll enjoy are the ones worth taking, whether you’re processing it in the moment or later. Because if you’re not somebody who enjoys sitting on a beach, sitting on a beach might feel even more suffocating than sitting alone in your home.
I think there’s moments in travel and, Nneka, I’m not sure if you experienced this, I’m sure you do, but I won’t even be thinking about my dad necessarily in that moment, but all of a sudden I’ll see something or hear something and it’s like, boom, he’s right there. It’s like, he instantly is in my head. I remember on safari in Tanzania and I’m just looking around, I’m enjoying my honeymoon. Really my dad was not on my mind and there was this bird that was just following along the Jeep as we were driving and it was just like, hey dad. Not that I necessarily believe that he was the bird or anything like that, but just, he was there in a way. And he just pops up in these places, even if I’m whipping out a guide to try to find a restaurant in a city and it’s like, oh, my dad would do the same thing. So it’s those little moments that get sprinkled in that you’re not having this conscious, like I’m going to have a transformational trip and feel this sense of connection, but it happens and that’s what I love about it. In those moments when you’re not even thinking about him, he’s right there.
I guess also it’s when you aren’t within the sameness or the familiarity of everyday life, you have more of those touchstones. There’s a wealth of things to trigger those thoughts that maybe you don’t have on the day to day, just because you’re so used to your surroundings.
I don’t know about Jordi to that point, but I am immensely more present when I’m traveling than in my everyday life. So I think that’s why it happens. When we’re present, we can hear the things and notice the things, because we’re not distracted. That’s been something that I’ve been trying to work on during the pandemic, bringing that same amount of presence from travel into my everyday life but unfortunately, everyday life sometimes is very boring.
It’s hard, it’s really hard.
She speaks the truth. I relate. So staying on that point, the past year has been one that’s been so dominated by loss. And I think even if you haven’t been directly affected by that loss, it has just been palpable and I think has also, at least for me, conjured up feelings of grief from previous losses that I thought I had buried, or I thought I had moved on from, and it really brought them into relief again. Obviously without travel on the cards, how have you been navigating those feelings during the pandemic, which has been so challenging?
I’ll be honest, it has been a struggle for me and I consider myself a lucky one. No one in my family or anyone has gotten sick. I haven’t lost anyone directly. So I feel extremely fortunate in that sense. And I didn’t recognize this at first, it was only in the past few months that I recognized how the pandemic has brought up this trauma that I experienced. That trauma lives in your body and the pandemic triggered that deep, deep sense of grief. Some of those feelings that I had right after he passed away, it brought all of that back up again, without me even realizing what the heck was happening. All I knew was that I was having trouble sleeping. I was having panic attacks. I was having this long-lasting anxiety that I had worked so hard to overcome in the last decade since losing my dad. Having read every self-help book, going to therapy, all of those things, and came up with a really great system, including travel that helped me move through that grief and get to be in a place where I could live a life filled with joy.
When this happened, it just drummed up all of that trauma and sense of grief again, I think in part because the life I once knew was instantly gone. I left my apartment with my husband and son on March 13 and we never returned. So again, I’m grateful for all that I’ve had through this pandemic, so that was so hard for me because I knew I had so much to be grateful for, yet, I was experiencing this really deep sense of grief that I couldn’t explain and only recently was I able to figure out that that’s what it was doing, it was triggering that trauma that I experienced in 2010. It’s hard to figure out how to move through that when all of the things that I used to rely on, like travel and other self-care methods are no longer at my disposal. I’m really, really looking forward to traveling again because I think it will be a huge relief for me. But it is, just to be honest, it’s been a struggle.
I echo that too. It’s been really hard and also I didn’t … Same thing. In just reflecting on the past year, I didn’t realize until much later that I would say a couple months into the pandemic, I started to feel significantly depressed. I think looking back, it was because I felt an immense loss of travel. I didn’t realize how big of a pillar in my life it had been before the pandemic, but not being able to do it and instead having to sit at home and just nurse all these feelings of anxiety and fear and uncertainty, it was no surprise that I was depressed. So last year in terms of just taking better care of myself, I found a really good therapist who I’ve been with for, actually it’ll be a year next month. I also started antidepressants just because it was something that I needed to do for myself. I have a mood disorder, so that’s another subject altogether, but I think being as still as I have been for the past year helped me to realize that I needed to be taking a more proactive role in managing my mental health and that yes, travel was a huge way that I did manage my mental health in the past. It’s like when you can’t use a coping strategy anymore, it’s no longer useful or et cetera, you have to find something else that works.
But also I’ve been really blown away at how I’ve been able to deepen so many of my relationships with people within the past year. I have three younger sisters, my relationships with my sisters have deepened. I’ve gotten a lot closer with a lot of friends that I was not close like that before. So for me, what has been tremendously healing in this part of my grief journey, because I kind of feel like grief, it’s kind of something that you live with, but having a real support system has been really affirming. I legitimately feel like I have people I can call on, whereas four years ago when my friend died, I didn’t. Most of my friends were not supportive. I just feel really grateful that I do have a lot of support in different ways now.
As we’re starting to look ahead to life after the pandemic, or at least somewhat after the pandemic, do you think that we’ve gotten better about talking about grief as a result?
What do you think, Nneka?
Most of us think that we are getting better at it, but I feel like what we’re starting to do is just the very beginning. And I’m encouraged by it, I really, really am. But I think that our culture in general, Western culture has a lot of work to do to make people feel like they can express their grief openly. I just want to de-stigmatize grief because people try to do this thing where they shame you for expressing how dark it can sometimes be, because they’re uncomfortable with it. So there were so many people, when my friend first died, who legit made me feel like I was crazy for talking about my grief and they’d be like, “Are you okay? You need a therapist or you need this, or you need that, or you seem like you’re really going through it.” I’m just like, “Well, duh, my best friend died. Why wouldn’t I be going through it? She was 30 years old. That’s not … Huh?”
So, I’m encouraged by more of the conversations that are happening, but I think we have to keep going. We have to keep going and we have to create a culture that is supportive of people who are grieving long-term.
Again, I wrote that essay for the same reason, Nneka, just to like, I just wanted someone to feel a little less alone in their grief. That was my goal for that piece, one being cathartic for me, but also to let other people know that it’s okay to talk about it. So many people reached out to me after that piece, which … it made me so happy that I could at least just help someone feel a little less alone, and I think also the idea that you can be living with grief and also be happy. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and I struggled with that for a really long time thinking like, well, if I’m laughing, then that means I’m not missing my dad. Especially in those early months, like, I can’t be happy because I’m supposed to be so devastated. Why am I laughing at this funny movie? Well, it’s like, because that movie was fricking funny. I’m supposed to laugh at it. That’s a moment worthy of laughter and I think balancing those two things is hard for people to wrap their head around unless they’ve experienced that sort of grief and maybe they are able to wrap their heads around it right now.
Like I just said, I am capable of being extremely grateful for all that I’ve had during this pandemic, but also have had this really intense trigger that is drumming up all of this anxiety and that’s okay. You can live in both of those worlds and bounce back and forth to them. I think that’s just part of the grief process and there are people out there like Amanda Kloots whose husband Nick Cordero died from COVID-19, who’s been very open about grief. I think she’s an incredible voice for people who are experiencing loss because she’s bringing it to the forefront and showing the range of emotions and good days and bad days and everything that comes wrapped up in it in grief, and she’s putting it out there on social media. So I hope conversations like that, people like that who have a platform can make it a larger part of the conversation moving forward, because everyone’s going to deal with grief at some point in their lives. It’s just a part of the human experience.
Well, we will link Jordi’s story that she wrote and also a pre-order for Nneka’s book in the show notes, but in the meantime, where can people find you on the internet, Jordi?
So you can find me on Instagram or Twitter @JordiLippe and also on my coaching website, which I mentioned, where I help people move through these sort of fear-based issues and that’s at coachingwithjordi.com.
Nneka, how about you?
You can find me everywhere except for Facebook. Don’t find me on Facebook. It’s @afrosypaella because I lived in Spain, on Twitter, on Instagram, and on Clubhouse. I will say that I also do have a club on Clubhouse about grief and on Monday evenings, I talk about grief. So if you’re interested, find me on Clubhouse and I’d love to have you. I love talking about grief just because we need to be talking about it.
You can find me @ohheytheremere.
You can find me @lalehannah.
Be sure to follow Women Who Travel on Instagram @womenwhotravel and subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter, which will be linked in the show notes as well. Thank you both so much for sharing your experiences and perspectives and we’ll talk to the rest of you next week.