Ruh Global IMPACT logo
Close this search box.
Human Potential at Work Podcast Show Flyer for Episode 73: Grief and Gratitude
Human Potential at Work Podcast Show Flyer for Episode 73: Grief and Gratitude


Guest: Doug Foresta       Guest Title: Producer

Date: September 13, 2017            Guest Company: Stand Out & Be Heard               


[Intro music]

Debra:                     Hello, everyone. This is Debra Ruh, and you’re listening to Human Potential at Work. Today, I have Doug Foresta joining the program, again, and today we’re going to be talking about grief, and gratitude, and also cultivating gratitude. I know that we’ve had other shows where we talked about gratitude, and being grateful.

                                    I know that, that’s one way that I navigate my life, that it doesn’t mean when we’re living these amazing, sometimes contrast filled lives of ups and downs, and in between that we don’t have bad things happening to all of us, sometimes. But, when I really work hard to cultivate gratitude even during tough times it seems to help me navigate my life better. Doug, I know that you’ve walked, like every other human being, a lot of ups and downs in your life, as well as also being a therapist you’ve helped others walk that, and I know in a lot of your own programs that you talk about a lot of this, so welcome, again, to the program, Doug.

Doug:                       Thank you, Debra. It’s so great to be here with you.

Debra:                     Yeah. I know yesterday you and I recorded another show, and you were offline telling me a couple of very interesting stories about, of course, changing names and identity, but just some of the stories that you have come across in your practice, and I look forward to discussing those in the program, today.

Doug:                       Thank you.

Debra:                     But, cultivating gratitude, or is there a way during the grief process, Doug, to really be grateful? Could we possibly be grateful for even the hard times that we’re walking? I know, you and I are both familiar with Doctor Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s work. She wrote a book called, On Death in Dying.

Doug:                       Yes.

Debra:                     Her and her team developed stages that people that were dying tended to go through, really to come to terms with the realization that they were going to be dead, and that is, you know, that’s a hard thing to come to terms with. The five stages that they researched and watched, there was a lot of study done behind this was they found the five stages were denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

                                    They created this framework to teach all of us to learn to live with loss, and to accept our realities, and they also provided tools that could help us frame, and identify what are we feeling, and is grief linear, which we know it isn’t, and I’ll give you an example, Doug, in my own walk when my husband and I were told when Sarah was four months old, and it’s interesting your daughter, Ellie, is four months old, when-

Doug:                       That’s true. Yeah.

Debra:                     Yeah. When Sarah was four months old we were told that our daughter had down syndrome, and the doctor was very empathetic, he was very compassionate, and he told us, “Well, she’s going to be easier to raise than with somebody with ADHD,” which I coincidentally became diagnosed with later in life, but he was trying to be very empathetic. He was trying. There were things said by different doctors during that phase that they were not helpful, like when one doctor said, “Oh, be careful when she’s 16 she could get pregnant,” when I’m holding my four month old daughter, or even, Doug, right now when you’re holding your beautiful four month daughter, Ellie, I’m sorry to tell you, but when she’s 16 she could actually get pregnant, but there are ways to prevent that, Doug.

Doug:                       Every, I was going to say, every female can get pregnant. Right? I mean-

Debra:                     Yeah.

Doug:                       How is that even-

Debra:                     “There are ways to prevent that.” It wasn’t very helpful, but I do remember during that process very clearly I drove through a fast food restaurant and Sarah was in the car seat in the front seat, that’s a long time ago before we realized-

Doug:                       Yeah.

Debra:                     Car seats have to go-

Doug:                       I used to do that. Right.

Debra:                     In the backseat. Right. And, they should be facing backwards, but we didn’t know that, yet. But, she was in the front seat beside me and when I drove up there was a young woman, maybe 16 years old, 17 years old, and she sort of, she was being friendly, and she leaned out of the fast food window, the drive-through window, and she said, “Aw, does your baby have down syndrome?” It was like she stabbed a knife in my heart, because I was in the denial stage of Sarah having down syndrome, the doctors didn’t know what they were talking about. I mean, it wasn’t that bad, but a little bit, and I didn’t want someone to recognize that my perfect baby-

Doug:                       Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Debra:                     Had down syndrome, so I will always remember that as a denial part, and I said, “Yes,” and she said, “My brother has down syndrome, he’s so great,” blah, blah, blah. To be honest, I was not rude to her, but I just wanted to get out of that line, and I never went back to that fast food restaurant.

Doug:                       That was it, you were done with that restaurant.

Debra:                     That’s right.

Doug:                       Oh, my gosh.

Debra:                     Yeah.

Doug:                       You know, you asked the question about, and you answered it, about is grief a linear process, and you’re absolutely right. I mean, the answer is, the research shows that, that’s definitely not true, in fact, when Elizabeth Kubler-Ross herself was dying, she was, the idea that somehow we go through denial then we go through anger, now I’m in the bargaining stage, now I’m in depression, okay, I’m in acceptance, everything is great, is ridiculous. Right? That’s not-

Debra:                     Right. Then you go through it again.

Doug:                       Exactly. People were upset with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, because she wasn’t dealing with her own death, her own impending death in these five distinct stages, so when she’d get angry, and then she’d be depressed, they’re like, “You already were angry. Now, you’re supposed to be in the depression phase,” and she said, “Look, I created these,” you know, “I created this, it’s my own damn death, and I’ll die however I feel.” [inaudible 00:06:54].

Debra:                     Yeah. That’s one thing about Elizabeth when you read about her is that she seemed to be a pretty spunky woman. I read a-

Doug:                       Yeah. She did [inaudible 00:07:02].

Debra:                     Yeah.

Doug:                       Yeah.

Debra:                     I read-

Doug:                       [crosstalk 00:07:04] that much interesting.

Debra:                     I’ve read a lot of Elizabeth’s work, and I read something one time, and I’m not going to get all the facts right, but where she was talking about her mother walking, first very serious disabilities and then death, and her mother according to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said that her mother was one of the most compassionate, caring, giving women that she had ever met in her life. She was just a gift to Elizabeth, and to the world. She was just a really, really compassionate person. But, her mother had a real fear of being dependent on other people, especially later in her life.

                                    She was just really, really afraid of being a burden, and having to be taken care of by other people, and bottom line, I guess, would be she didn’t want to be a burden, and I can identify with that as I’ve walked some of the challenges of my life with my mom, and my dad, and even when I’m walking right now in my own family, I think, even at my middle age, I don’t want to be a burden on my son.

                                    You know what? I think a lot of us probably think about that. Her mother was very concerned about being a burden, and she had even said to Elizabeth at one point, “If I ever am in a state where I cannot take care of myself, maybe I’m locked in my body, or something, you have to help me die. You have to. You’re a doctor. You can make it happen. You’re going to have to do this,” and Elizabeth was like, “Oh, my goodness. Stop it. I am not going to kill my mother. Don’t even put that on me,” and they had actually gotten into some discussions about this, where her mother said, “If I’m ever in that situation, Elizabeth, you have to help me die,” and Elizabeth was just mortified, and is like, “No. Stop it.” Well, you can probably figure out how this story is going to unfold, something happened to her mother-

Doug:                       Oh, yeah.

Debra:                     And, her mother actually-

Doug:                       Right.

Debra:                     Had that happen to her, so for three, approximately three years her mother required around the clock care, she needed help bathing, eating, and she needed constant care, and Elizabeth didn’t help her die. She just didn’t want to be the person that killed her mother, which I get.

Doug:                       Yeah.

Debra:                     But, Elizabeth was a big proponent as both you and I at meditation and centering ourselves, so after her mother passed Elizabeth, she continued to meditate and everything, but she was sort of mad at God, now, I’m using her language, she was just a little mad at God. She thought it was really unfair that God would take this beautiful soul, and make them suffer for three years like this, and she was-

Doug:                       Right.

Debra:                     Just really angry, and she said, one day she was in a deep meditation, and she was actually arguing, maybe one sided a bit, with God about this, how could you do this to my mother, and she was such a good, and just she was really mad about this, and she felt that she got an answer, and I’m not going to try to understand her answer, did God talk to her? But, the point, she sort of got this knowing that, I think a lot of us are bad about this, too, a lot of people like Doug, you and I, and others probably listening to the show are bad about wanting to give back, and help others, but sometimes we’re bad about accepting help.

Doug:                       Yeah.

Debra:                     There is certain personality types that want to give, give, give, give, give, and help, and help, but are not real comfortable letting other people help them, back. You know? I’m going to give you a billion gifts, but no don’t do that back.

Doug:                       Right.

Debra:                     Elizabeth just really through a lot of meditation, and prayer came to the conclusion that it was almost a gift for her mother to walk that path for three years, where she was totally dependent on other people, because being a human being means not only yes we’ve got to help others, but we also have to let-

Doug:                       But, we have to be able to accept help.

Debra:                     Right. And, that’s a hard lesson to learn. I remember reading that and just feeling a lot of compassion for both of these women, but at the same time, sometimes we don’t understand why another soul chooses to go through their path. Why did my daughter, if that’s even true, did my daughter make an agreement with her soul, with God, or the universe, or whatever to have down syndrome? I’m not wise enough to know those answers. I just know my job is to be there for my daughter, and try to help my daughter along her path, and in the most authentic way, possible. Sorry, for the long story, but I remember Elizabeth’s, Doctor Elizabeth Kubler-Ross work has really touched me over the years.

Doug:                       Yeah. No. It’s very powerful, but I just think it’s important that people realize that it’s not as, that grief is not as linear as perhaps that they kind of took the book very, very seriously, and very literally-

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       To say that we have this linear process, and life is not a linear process.

Debra:                     Yeah. No.

Doug:                       To go back to your original question, Debra, about grief, and gratitude, and can we be grateful even when we’re experiencing grief, you know, I mean, my experience with that is definitely yes, I mean, both personally, and professionally, I think that we can experience, and we talked a little bit about this yesterday, off air, but we can experience joy, even when we’re sad. You know? That’s the difference between joy and happiness, and I think this idea that joy can coexist with sorrow, which yesterday you were saying, and I’m going to quote you, and I said, “I’m pretty sure that’s the Buddha that said it,” so-

Debra:                     I wasn’t going to give you credit for it.

Doug:                       [crosstalk 00:13:09], a lot of heat now from a lot of Buddhist.

Debra:                     Which I think somehow is contradictory, but that’s okay.

Doug:                       Yeah. It’s definitely been my experience that you can find joy even as you experience grief, and I think if we try to shut off either one of them then we lose the fullness of the human experience.

Debra:                     I agree. Well said. Doug, I know that you were telling me a little bit about a story of a man that was, I’m putting words in your mouth, but you said, he was one of the most spiritual people you had ever met, and he was the owner of a strip club, I believe. Do you recall that story?

Doug:                       Yeah. Well, he worked in, so basically, I’ll say it like this, he was living a life that was, I mean, he was living a life where he was kind of like a shock jock type guy, who was one of those people that just enjoyed trolling people, and would be very abrasive, and make fun of people, and all that, and he also, he did that job for a while then drifted into working for some, I would say some of the nefarious, maybe some nefarious people, and working kind of in a sort of an underground world that most of us probably will never get to see.

                                    In the course of that he met, and married this woman that was a dancer, and a couple of years in, I mean, they were living this lifestyle of almost like what you would see on one of these television shows where it’s just drugs, and money, and selling drugs, and all this, and then she got sick, and she developed a terminal illness and died at quite a young age, let’s say late 20s-

Debra:                     Oh.

Doug:                       Or, late 30s.

Debra:                     Wow.

Doug:                       It was something that happened fairly rapidly within a year from diagnosis to her passing away, and it completely changed both of them, and she really changed her life, a lot in the last year of her life, and she was thinking about what she wanted to have as a legacy for her life, and when he came to see me, he was just completely wrecked with grief, but it broke him in a way that was, it’s interesting because in some ways he kind of needed to be, not to say that he needed to have his wife die, I’m not saying that, but his ego, his way of functioning in the world kind of needed to be shattered, because he was doing a lot of things that aren’t really conducive to having a happy life.

                                    He really started to just reexamine his entire life, and ended up leaving, I mean it was kind of like a really scary type thing, like, you don’t normally when you quit a job, you just give notice and you leave. Right? The kind of work that he was doing he had to bring armed people with him, because when he quit, he thought they might kill him, because he had so much knowledge of things they were doing, so it was this really, even just leaving his job was basically a life threatening thing for him. You know?

Debra:                     Wow.

Doug:                       He wasn’t sure that when he said, “Okay. I’m leaving.” He wasn’t in a situation where, you know, “Well, thank you very much for being part of the cartel, you know, we wish you the best for the future.”

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       You know?

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       It doesn’t really work that way, but he got out. He got out of the lifestyle that he was in, and the world that he was in, and he for a while just was doing nothing, he was just home, and I remember him talking about seeing this bird that would come to his backyard, every morning, he had a feeder, and it was the same bird, and it would just sit there, and kind of stare at him for a few minutes, and then fly off, and he really felt that, that bird was the spirit of his wife.

Debra:                     Right. And, it might have been.

Doug:                       Yeah. You know, he wasn’t a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but the profound depth to which he kind of, the depths of where he had gone, and his ability to experience joy in just the small things in life, where he had once, and we talked about this, the idea of joy and happiness, he said, “I used to be so joyful, I was doing cocaine, and I had all these women,” and I said, “You know what? That’s not joy, that’s actually like eating a bunch of sugar.”

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       It’s fluff. Right? It’s a temporary high. But, I think because he had gone to this low, such a low in his life with such a low of grief he was able to find joy just in the simplest things of just being alive, so he was experiencing a lot of grief, but at the same time he was experiencing more and more gratitude in his life, as well, including the gratitude for having known, and having met his wife in the first place.

Debra:                     Right. Yeah. That’s a real, that’s a powerful story. I was looking, I was preparing for the interview, and I saw a quote, and I’m going to read it, so it’s a couple of paragraph, but I thought it was a really beautiful saying, it’s from Joseph Burgo, who is a PhD, and he said, “The ability to feel profound grief and gratitude, I believe, are the hallmarks of mental health. I reject all those self books that teach you 100 ways to achieve happiness, or to conquer this or that affliction.”

Doug:                       Yeah.

Debra:                     “Can you grieve for the damage that you’ll never completely transcend, but at the same time feel grateful for the actual good in your life,” he says, and then he brings up something that has been powerful to me, “Not for the first and probably not for the last time, I’ll bring up, it’s a Wonderful Life, the movie with James Stewart.

Doug:                       Sure.

Debra:                     And, I love that movie. “As always, I’ll be watching it during the holiday season. I recommend that you watch it, too. It’s a moving study in grief and gratitude. When George stands weeping with his family as the towns people of Bedford Falls file through his front door bringing money to save him from prison, there are tears of gratitude in his eyes. There’s much good in his life, but it’s not happily ever after kind of ending, for me, at least, it’s bitter sweet, a mixture of feelings. George never got to travel the world, and have his adventures as he had always longed to do. He’ll always grieve for what he missed, and always regret what he never had the chance to do, but at the same time he’s loved and feels deep gratitude to his wife, his family, his friends. One doesn’t erase the other.” Once again, that’s Doctor Joseph Burgo, but I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful point.

Doug:                       Yeah. That’s beautiful. I was thinking as you were saying that, have you ever heard of Charles Bukowski, the writer Charles Bukowski?

Debra:                     I don’t believe i have.

Doug:                       They did make a movie about his life with Mickey Rourke called, Bar Fly.

Debra:                     Oh.

Doug:                       In the 1980s [crosstalk 00:21:19]-

Debra:                     Then, yes. I have. You’re right.

Doug:                       Yeah. Bukowski was quite a character, he was unbelievable, you know, he lived quite a life, but he was an amazing poet, and he has a poem called, No Help for That, and he says, “There’s a place in the heart that will never be filled, a space. And, even during the best moments, and the greatest times we will know it. We will know it more than ever, there’s a place in the heart that will never be filled, and we will wait, and wait in that place.”

                                    I think he’s talking about, the way I take it to mean is he is talking about grief, but at the same time, you know, when we lose someone, for example, there’s a place in our heart that cannot be filled again, because that person is not with us, but at the same time, like you’re saying that it’s not about over, life isn’t something to be overcome, life is something to be experienced.

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       And, one of the wonderful things as human beings is that we can experience grief and gratitude at the same time, and I think that’s the huge revelation, because one of the things that I always used to be hard for me as a therapist is what do you say to someone who just lost a loved one? I had, one of the ones that really sticks out for me is I had a woman who lost her bird, she had a bird, and birds are very intelligent, and that bird was just her life companion, and had been with her for 30 years.

Debra:                     Wow.

Doug:                       And, you know, that bird had treated her better than any person in her life had ever treated her. You always think to yourself, well, I can’t make the bird come back. You know? People would say to her, “Well, just get another bird.”

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       That’s like saying just get another, you know, just get another friend. You know?

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       Lost a friend? Get another friend.

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       I think the thing that really inspired me the most was the knowledge that I didn’t have to erase someone’s grief in order to help them find gratitude, and joy, that both could be true.

Debra:                     Yeah, which is really, really beautiful. I have a quote from Ann Lamott, I love her work.

Doug:                       I love Ann Lamott.

Debra:                     Yeah. It’s a pretty powerful one. “This business of having been issued a body is deeply confusing. Bodies are so messy, and disappointing, every time I see a bumper sticker that says, quote, “We think we’re humans having a spiritual experience, but we’re really spirits having a human experience,” end quote, I think it’s true, number one, and number two, I want to ram the car.” It’s like, yeah, we get that we are, I think a lot, I also agree that we are spiritual beings having human experience, but sometimes it gets really hard and sometimes when we lose, I can see how you could fall in love with a bird. I’ve fallen deeply in love with dogs before.

                                    I remember when we lost our last dog, Cassie, my heart was so broken, and of course after some healing we went to get, my family likes to adopt animals from the shelters, and humane society and stuff like that, SPCA, and when we were going to get another dog, when we were heading there I said a little prayer to Cassie, and said, “Cassie, help us pick, get a dog that is right for our family, and we’re going to be right for this dog,” and I thought, I believe in souls, so I believe animals have souls, as well. I know that not everybody does, and that’s a good thing about being alive, we get to decide what we believe. Go a head, Doug.

Doug:                       That’s right. No. I was going to say, I mean, animals are beings.

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       We can form real connections with them. Right. I think, I would hope that people wouldn’t, I think most people understand that. I think what happens more so is it’s not that people were trying to diminish her grief, but I think what happens is, and this is something to think about for our listeners, it’s very hard sometimes, I think when we’re in grief what we most need is just someone to walk the path with us, and be alongside us.

Debra:                     Right.

Doug:                       They don’t need us to tell us to look at the bright side, or cheer up, or get another dog. I think that’s actually our own response to our own discomfort with witnessing someone else’s grief, which can be very painful to do.

Debra:                     Yeah. I saw this wonderful interview with Oprah and Sheryl Sandberg, and Sheryl Sandberg was talking about the loss of her husband, and the people that, so many people along the way were trying to be there for her as she walked this really, really sad path, and her children walked it, too. Other family members and friends, and she wrote, A Guide to Grief, Growth, and Getting it Right.

                                    When you’re specifically talking about grief, in which she calls the book is Option B, facing adversity, building resilience, and finding, it’s not, it got cut off, but it’s called, Option B. She’s just talking about her path of grief, and the times of joy that you find as you walk this path. She was actually, she broke down on this interview with Oprah, and she had said at one point she’s in a relationship with someone else, but that doesn’t diminish the love that she feels for her husband that passed away. You know?

Doug:                       Exactly. Right.

Debra:                     Yeah. It was really beautiful. I’ve always been impressed with her, anyway, but I really was very impressed with how she took this path that she’s walking and she tried to make it something that could help heal other people. I think, I said this on the program yesterday, but Elizabeth Gilbert, one of my favorite authors has said that, “Once you write something, or you do something artistic, you do a radio program, or you do a piece of art, or whatever, and you put it out in the world, how the world accepts it has nothing to do with you.”

Doug:                       That’s right.

Debra:                     “What people decide to do with that work, it has nothing to do with you.” I’m going to end the program by reading a list of The Seven Principles for Cultivating Gratitude. Number one is gratitude is independent of our objective life circumstances. Number two, gratitude is a function of attention. Number three, entitlement precludes gratitude. Number four, we often take for granted that which we receive on a regular basis. Number five, gratitude can be cultivated through sincere self reflection. Number six, expressing gratitude through words and deeds enhances our experience of gratitude. The last one, number seven, our deepest sense of gratitude comes through grace with the awareness that we have not earned, nor do we deserve all that we’ve been given. That is so true, but we certainly are blessed, Doug. Doug, thank you again for joining the program, and I wish you and your family continued health, and happiness, and we thank-

Doug:                       Thank you, Debra.

Debra:                     Yeah. We thank all the listeners for joining us today, too. Thank you everyone.


[outro music]


You’ve been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future epsiodes, go to itunes and subscribe to Human Potential at Work. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.