Today we’re joined by entrepreneur and author Marisa Renee Lee, whose book Grief is Love: Living with Loss offers a framework for healing after tragedy. We discuss grief’s connection to capitalism and white supremacy, and how our relationship with love is connected to our relationship with loss. We also ask, how can we help people who are grieving, and why are Americans so bad at it?
The Stacks Book Club selection for August is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. We will discuss the book on August 31st with Ingrid Rojas Contreras.
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Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to the Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today we are joined by Marisa Renee Lee. She’s an author, advocate, speaker and entrepreneur whose writing has appeared in vogue at the Atlantic glamour and so many other outlets. She is a former appointee of the Obama White House, the CEO of a social impact consulting firm and the founder of the pink agenda, which raises money for breast cancer care, research and awareness. With a long history of caretaking and grief work. Marissa focuses on methods for healing and transformation after loss. So today, I am thrilled to finally talk to Marissa about her nationally bestselling first book Grief is Love: Living with Loss. It’s a guide through the pain and recovery of depth, passion and joy in the wake of tragedy. Quick reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes on your podcasting app. Our book club pick for August is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee and we will be discussing the book on August 31st with Ingrid Rojas Contreras, if you love the show and want more of it head to patreon.com/the stocks to join the stocks back. If you join, you get access to our virtual book club meetups, the stocks very lively discord and our monthly bonus episodes. Our most recent episode of the stocks bonus material called the stacks unabridged is with Tia Williams. She’s the author of Seven Days in June. I frickin love her. She’s so wonderful. We talk romance, snacks, and all sorts of stuff. So if this sounds like something you’d be interested in, or if you just want to show some love for your favorite black woman run indie podcast, head to patreon.com/the stacks to join. And thank you so much to our newest members of the stacks pack Shannon Martin and Kate poori. gow, thank you both so much. And thank you to the entire stacks pack just for being wonderful humans. Okay, now it’s time for my conversation with Marisa Renee Lee.
Alright, everybody, I’m very excited. Today, I am joined by Marisa Renee Lee, who is the author of Grief is Love. And if you’ve been listening to the show, especially in the last year, you know that I’ve kind of become obsessed with grief and talking about grief and like wanting to talk about grief. So it only feels right to have like the grief expert. So Marissa, welcome to the Stacks.
Marisa Renee Lee 2:26
Yay. Thank you so much for having me. I can’t wait to dig into why you’ve been so obsessed with grief lately.
Traci Thomas 2:33
Oh my gosh, okay, we will get to that I honestly can’t even really articulate it, which has been frustrating, because it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about a lot. But I can’t articulate like exactly what it is about grief that I’ve been obsessed with. But before we get to that, we always sort of start here, which is in about 30 seconds. Can you tell us about grief is love?
Marisa Renee Lee 2:52
Yes. So grief is Love is a book that I decided to write six months after my mom died 14 years ago, because I felt like I felt like the way that we describe grief and our expectations around grief are inaccurate. And I think that causes people more pain. And so my goal with writing grief as love is not only to tell my story of losing my mom and also a much wanting to pregnancy that my husband and I lost but also to share the latest and best research and data around grief as loss. So people can experience grief, however it lands for them without also carrying any judgment or self shame.
Traci Thomas 3:35
Wonderful. I really enjoyed the book. I think my listeners will know, but you may not my dad passed away about 10 years ago. So I think you so I could I sort of could relate to some of what you were talking about with your mother having passed, you know, 10 plus years ago as well. Like, it’s I felt like we were on a similar sort of placed because usually I feel like when I read books about grief, it’s much more about like an immediate grief. Yes. And a lot of people don’t talk about like, okay, like I made it through a year, I made it through five years. I just made it through 10 years. Like, when does this get easier? You know, like, it’s so it’s like always, like six months ago, you know, this horrible happened? Yeah. And so like, I really appreciated that. But I’m wondering sort of how did you become the voice of the grieving if you will? Because like, I lost a parent, you know, we’re not alone in that, like many people have experiences that are grief. What was it about you where you decided, like, I want to take this on? I want to be the voice of this for others.
Marisa Renee Lee 4:41
Yeah. So I will say for me, you know, a big trigger. And kind of turning point in my story was when my husband and I lost that pregnancy in 2019. You know, at that point, my mom had been gone for over a decade and if you would have asked me You know, I would have said yes, I’ve like moved John, I think I’ve gotten over it, I’m in a good place, etc, etc. And then when that loss happened, like, it just rocked me, it hits so hard. And I’m sure you have these moments as well, like there was just something about going through that experience that, you know, all I wanted was my mom. Yeah. And that experience for me, served to show me that like, we don’t ever actually get over these things like that shouldn’t be the goal. It’s more about what does it mean to live with your loss. And because our pregnancy loss happened in late 2019, like I suddenly found myself forced to grapple with all of these questions about, you know, loss of my mom, but also the pregnancy, how these things are connected, how they’re not connected, etc, in the midst of a global pandemic, right, everybody was grieving something. And I think, I think that made me kind of more outspoken about my grief this time around. The other thing I realized, because I reflected a lot about, you know, what was different for me when I lost my mom versus when we lost this pregnancy. And when we lost the pregnancy, like I told everybody, that anyone who would listen, anyone who would even halfway care, like, I felt like I couldn’t just hide all of this pain that I was experiencing, you know, it was enough to be processing the loss to be processing the grief connected to my mom to be dealing with the physical consequences of like, an underlying health condition that I have, and the fiscal consequences of miscarriage. Like, I was like, fuck this, like, I can’t add another thing that’s burdensome. And so I shared and I shared and shared. And so many people came to me and said, Oh, my God, you know, you’re so vulnerable, like, I’m so proud of you for being vulnerable. And that’s when I realized that there is something about grief that so many of the other books that I had looked at and read didn’t get to, which is this concept of safety. You know, by the time we lost our pregnancy, I was as established as one could be in America as a black woman, you know, like, I have the gold plated resume, I have, you know, this wonderful marriage that thankfully, I’m a part of, we own our own home, I started a few businesses, like, I done all of the things. And so I realized I didn’t have to care as much about what other people thought about me sharing my grief. Right? And that’s when it became more of a, oh, this can’t just be about me, like, yes, there’s a lot of processing that I’m doing through sharing. But it’s also as you know, there aren’t a lot of, there aren’t a lot of people who look like us who even have a platform, right period, right? There really aren’t a lot of people who look like us who have a platform and an opportunity to share things in the space around, like grief and mental health and healing. And so that’s when, for me, it became, you know, not just about the fact that I came to all of these conclusions through this pregnancy loss. But also, I’m a black woman realized and sort of started to figure out all of these things. And it became really important for me to share them.
Traci Thomas 8:09
Okay, so you make the decision to sort of like take this on as something that you want to talk about and share about and use your platform. What sort of research like what did you dive into to feel like competent that you could have these conversations? Because, I mean, I read the book, I’ve heard you speak, like, I know that you’re a responsible person. And so like, what I know from you isn’t like, you know, like, some people are like, I’m gonna be a grief influencer, like, my mom died, and I lost a baby. And now I can go talk about it to anybody. So I’m curious, like, how you took it on? Like, what were who you look to what informed you like, how you how you found the confidence to actually like, come out and write a book about.
Marisa Renee Lee 8:49
So, you know, I knew that the book, the book, for me was something that like, I can, like, feel in my body. You know, like, I knew that this book had to come out eventually. And I ended up reading an article about how we don’t get over these things. Mother’s Day weekend 2020 that appeared in glamour. And that weekend? Yeah, it was it wasn’t that it was a big weekend. It’s like a crazy time to think about,
Traci Thomas 9:15
like, because that was before. All the George Floyd stuff would have. Exactly but exactor ahmaud arbery. Yeah, like, it was like sort of this pre anyway, I’m just like, trying to,
Marisa Renee Lee 9:29
oh, yeah, I’m gonna I’m gonna connect a couple of that. So like, it’s just a crazy time in our country, period. Right. And then for me, personally, I realized, like, that was the first Mother’s Day that I would have expected to celebrate, like if things had worked out the way that we wanted them to in 2019. And then it was also the pandemic, and then there was this race stuff happening. And so the article goes somewhat viral. And then two weeks later, George Floyd happens and suddenly, people are frankly paying more attention to black people than they had than ever before in my life, I’m familiar as 40 years old, like that’s like, all of a sudden, we were having this moment. And as a part of that moment, as I know, you’ll recall, there was that whole viral hashtag publishing paid me, where we learned that some of our favorite most amazing and impressive black writers like Roxane Gay, for instance, got paid shit to write their books. And so I had incoming from agents and this one agent, he reached out again, and he was like, listen, like, I want you to make as much money as possible writing your first book. And right now, let’s just be honest, like, we’re in a moment, you don’t know how long this moment is gonna last? Do you think you can put a book proposal together in six weeks? Which now knowing what I know about writing a book, like that was completely insane. And I probably shouldn’t have said yes, but I’m me. So I said, Yes. And then as I was, as I was getting deeper into actually starting to write the book, because we finished the proposal a few weeks later had a contract with Hachette to write the book. You know, my husband said to me one day, what makes you a grief expert? Like, why should somebody buy your book versus someone else’s? And I had been going through this like internal process, how do I make sure that this book is as useful to other people as possible? And I realized when he asked me that question that if I could partner with a researcher and like ground, the book in the leading research and data around grief and loss and healing and race as well, like, wouldn’t that make it so much more compelling? And like, because then people are not just trying to figure out if they can relate to me and my story, which fundamentally, isn’t that unique? Like you’re not and not saying anything bad, or something like we all lose parents, like you’ve got like, these things, just it just happens. It’s just life. And so when he asked that question, I decided that this book was going to be research and evidence based. And so every anecdote, every story, piece of advice, recommendation, etc. It is grounded in research, I ended up working with this amazing woman who is a professor and bereavement expert at Harvard University. And she also similar to us, like lost a parent at a young age. And she’s gone through the same like IVF, pregnancy loss, infertility stuff that I had, as well. So that was the thing for me that made me more confident in the fact that like, this was going to be a good book.
Traci Thomas 12:25
Yeah. I want to talk about I guess. So this is sort of my obsession with grief. I guess. It’s like, I haven’t been able to articulate it. But I think this is why I’m obsessed with it. Because I when my dad passed away, I was 25. So I was pretty young. Okay, not super young. But like, pretty young, you know? Yeah. And none of my friends had really lost a parent. And a lot of people that I knew hadn’t experienced any major form of like, loss. Yeah, maybe a grandparent. But yeah, even up until that point, we were also so I was younger, so like, at, you know, it just was different anyways. Then the pandemic happens. And everyone is like, feeling all of these feelings, right? Yeah. And they don’t know what they are. And they’re feeling upset, and they’re feeling stressed out. And they’re feeling like this longing. And I’m like, Oh, I think this is like collective grief. Like, I think we’re grieving the future. I think we’re grieving the past. Like, yes, I think we’re screaming possibility. And so then I became obsessed with this idea of like, Americans grieving because I think we do it horribly. Like I think we don’t know what we’re doing. Yeah, so I think, for me, I became obsessed with like, wanting to hear other people who were grieving acutely, as opposed to like this collective grief, what more grieving. So like, at the beginning of the year, Jason Reynolds came on and his father had recently passed away. So we talked about that a little bit on that episode. And like, when people would sort of bring up grief, I would be like, like, lean into that. Like, I just didn’t curious, because my acute grief was like so long ago, and it was in such a different time, that now people who are like grieving now I’m like, Oh, I’m interested in this. So I think that’s what it is, but I don’t know I’m just very curious about it. All that being said, Why do you think that it’s so hard for Americans to talk about and live in their grief in the idea of grief and grieving?
Marisa Renee Lee 14:18
Yeah, and so what I’m about to say I think applies to the range of feelings and emotions that we experience as human beings that are judged as like not positive. So what I’m gonna say what I think you can apply to anger to you know, deep sadness, you know, depression, disappointment, etc. Basically, anything that I feel like we are generally encouraged to keep to ourselves. And I think I think our weirdness and discomfort that like we experience in this country around it, anything that isn’t, immediately quote positive is definitely leave just like everything else in America connected to two things, capitalism and white supremacy. Like, fundamentally, there isn’t, there isn’t a way to monetize or make grief and grieving, like, quote unquote, productive. And you know, we are so committed to productivity in this country and you know, what we are able to achieve and accomplish. And, you know, you know, from having experienced it at a relatively young age, like when you are deep in those, like early months, and even years of grief, like you’re the exact opposite of the American ideal, right? Like you are expected to in this country, if you are having a hard time with something, the expectation is that you, like, pull yourself up by your theoretical emotional bootstraps, and get yourself together and turn your lemons into lemonade as quickly as possible. And I think that, that notion and that culture, it pushes us to deny parts of us that just make us human beings, like we’re not supposed to be happy, smiley feel good after school special people 24/7. Like, that’s just not, that’s not normal. It’s not reasonable. It’s really weird when you think about it. And then you go back a further layer, and you think about how we are taught to cope and deal with various forms of hardship and challenges in life. And everything is rooted in a culture that was fundamentally created mostly by a handful of old white men. Yeah. And so I think when we are able to be honest about how this country’s culture around, you know, just about everything has developed and what it’s rooted in and constantly ask ourselves these questions of, like, you know, why are we doing this? Why do we think this, I think it opens up possibilities for us to do things differently. Like when you think about even just in this is still sort of a more Western culture, but like, the Jewish culture, like there are more methods around you know, what happens when someone dies, and you know, mourning and celebration and things like that than anything that we’ve ever really been given access to. I think broadly speaking, in American culture, even just like black culture, you know, when you pour one out for your homie, like, there are other ways of doing things and of celebrating and maintaining connections to the people that we’ve lost, but we just, we just want to be out of these feelings that hurt and are uncomfortable and are painful. But the only way out is through and I think somewhere along the way, like that’s just been lost in our
Traci Thomas 17:53
culture. Yeah, I want to just say one thing, because I don’t want people to get mad at me. I recognize No, I recognize that, like when I say like, as Americans, it’s really broad. And like, there are people in America who can grieve and like different cultures and subsets of Americans. I’m speaking much more broadly. And I also want to say that I recognize that other places, but my like Canada or Great Britain might also have the same issues that we have. I just don’t live there. And I don’t know culturally how grieving is done there. So I sort of just want to say like, that’s like a very generalization, which I know that you know, but you know, I don’t want to be like we don’t grieve good in Canada either. Like, okay, I’m sorry. Okay, so here’s something that may I thought of, and I’m curious to hear you kind of expound on this. So obviously, the title of the book is grief is love. And you talk about how like grief is basically love with like, nowhere to go or like a love that is sort of like an unfulfilled in a sense, because the other person who you are grieving is not able to like reciprocate your love in the way that they once could, or vice versa. So I’m wondering if Americans air quotes, including those who it’s applicable to, do you think that part of grief the difficulty with grieving is that in America, we also really struggle to accept and, and practice like, safe, consensual adult forms of love? Like because there’s so much toxicity around like love bombing, and like people who say they love you, but they’re abusive, and like, all these different forms of love, that we also don’t really like? We’re not taught like, you know, so much of love. Is this like, Hallmark version of a thing that maybe isn’t what it is, and like, we tell our kids, we love them, and then we spank them, you know, like wondering if maybe some of the issue has to do with the grief is love, but the love wasn’t always really love. And so you’re parsing out, and we don’t know how to feel it because we don’t know what you know. It’s like,
Marisa Renee Lee 19:56
I think here’s why the I hadn’t thought about that before. But what I I will say is I think all of these things are connected. Because at the end of the day, what it’s about and like, what the book is about, fundamentally is like, healing, like living with loss requires you to pretty constantly actively be healing yourself and aware of your feelings and emotions, because things are different now that your person is gone. Right. And so I think that also requires people, you know, things may be different, but maybe they weren’t totally good or totally right to begin with. So like, all of it is connected to healing, I think and whether it’s healing relationships, or things that, you know, might not be good between you and someone else when they’re alive, or after they’re gone. So like, Yes, I do think all of that is, is connected and is tied to a culture that generally speaking is averse to discomfort, you know, unless it is the kind of discomfort that is in the pursuit of some form of accomplishment. Right. You know, like, we’re okay with working yourself to death again. Yeah, we are less okay with you just being with difficult or challenging emotions and trying to quietly sort through them.
Traci Thomas 21:22
Yeah. Yeah. I just think so much about like, social media and like performance. And like, Yeah, I think the performance of love on social media and things, and then I think about, like the way that if that’s what we are taught that love is, then if grief is love, and people don’t even know what love is that like they’re almost Yeah, it’s gonna be all fucked up. 100%
Marisa Renee Lee 21:45
Yeah, no, I mean, obviously, you know this better than I do, I’m sure but the way so many things are portrayed on social media is like, inevitably leaving us all more fucked up.
Traci Thomas 21:55
Yeah, for sure. That’s why it’s just post really beautiful books. Okay, so we’ve talked about grief, we’ve talked about love. I want to talk about of course, the intersection because you’ve mentioned it, you you know, sort of are focusing your energy not just on grief, but on you know, black grief and in some ways, grief from other people of other people of color other groups. But you know, you’re you’re a black woman, you’re focused on I blackness, I would say, based on what I’ve read and seen, why do you think that grieving is harder for black people and people of color and other marginalized groups.
Marisa Renee Lee 22:32
So here’s why. And it’s not even that the grieving itself is harder, what I should have written is that healing is harder. And I believe that because going back to the piece on safety, so first of all, if you are not safe, and I’m talking psychological safety, physical safety, social safety, you know, economic safety, etc. If you are not safe, how are you going to give yourself like permission to fall apart a bit and grieve, like, where’s your support going to come from if you’re not, if you’re not even in a position to, to stop and like, be safe just being present with your feelings, because you’re in survival mode, because you’re not safe. So like, just to give some specific examples, because I feel like it sounds abstract without them. There was this image that circulated a couple months ago now. It was when mothers in Ukraine, were writing contact information and blood types and names, etc, on their children’s backs in permanent marker. Like as they were fleeing a war zone. Like those people can’t grieve like they don’t, they don’t have time, they don’t have safety, like they’re just trying to stay alive. Or, you know, I think about LGBTQ parents, in places like Texas and Florida, where, you know, just their kids just being themselves is under attack right now. You know, like, those parents don’t have the space to grieve and to let themselves fall apart, because they’re just trying to keep their kids safe. And so like, I think that is a big part that like, lack of safety is a big part that makes grieving harder for people of color, you know, poor people, indigenous folks, LGBTQ folks, etc, in this country, because of the way they’ve already been made vulnerable by society. And then the second thing that I think is really important to consider is, you know, when you think about what it looks like, and what is required to live a full and joyful life after experiencing a life changing loss of any kind, there are things that are harder to access, if you don’t have the right resources, and we know that because of systemic racism and just the gross inequality In this country, that most of the people who don’t have the resources that healing requires are also the people that need them the most operationally. And I think because of that disconnect, and what I and what I’m talking about, you know, access to physical health resources, access to mental health resources, and, you know, insurance coverage to access either of those things, paid time off from work, paid childcare, so that you can just, you know, take a break and fall apart without your kids in your face, you know, or even just just time to be able to do something like go on a vacation, to a place where you know, your father loved to visit, like, all of these things that help us be okay with our loss are a lot harder to access, if you are a person of color in this country, because of what it generally means to be a person of color in this country. And I just felt like because so much of the grief space is dominated by white voices. Like that was something that I thought was really important to raise. And, you know, when I think about privilege, and the privilege that grieving and healing requires, and I feel this way, whenever I talk about privilege, I don’t raise it so that those of us who have the privilege feel guilty about it, right, I raise it so that we can all be aware of it and do the work, you know, in our communities and our companies, in our families, etc. To ensure that healing is not a privilege.
Traci Thomas 26:31
Yeah. I mean, I think about the summer of 2020, and like the Black Lives Matter, marches and all of you know, the stuff around George Floyd and breonna Taylor, and like that kind of collective again, grief that I think a lot of black people were feeling. And also the fact that like, the same black people were in the streets, like, literally not safe because of the police and like that, that’s what came up for me when I was reading the book. And like, it also made me grieve this like relationship with America. Oh, I think about that all the time. Because like, I don’t know, I was always taught like, love America were the best and like, I just don’t, I just don’t like I think America is like, got a lot of issues. And like, I’m, I’m glad that I live here. But I don’t necessarily I’ve never lived anywhere else. So I don’t know if it’s any better. You know, like, and I think about how, like, there’s also grief, like you can grieve a love that isn’t there.
Marisa Renee Lee 27:27
That’s exactly what I was gonna say. So like my relationship with America, how I’ve come to, you know, reconcile it for myself these last few years, especially is I experienced grief because I’m an American, being an American is all that I’ve ever known. Like you I was raised to be proud of this country. And it is it is mine, for better or worse. And at the same time, it doesn’t treat me like we are like we belong to each other right now. Like I like I feel grief every time. Another ridiculous thing happens in our communities that we’ve come to normalize. And like I think about how shitty I felt after buffalo. We’re not even talking about it anymore. Right? Like it doesn’t even matter. Right? And you know, there will be more instances like buffalo before anything changes if it ever does. And for me, like the grief that I feel around being an American like, it is the pain of unrequited love. Yeah, like I’m an American. Theoretically, I love my country. I want to love my country. I want to be proud of my country, and I don’t feel like I can have any of those things right now. Yeah, so yeah, it’s it’s hard,
Traci Thomas 28:47
so hard. Okay, we’re gonna take a quick break, and then we’ll be right back. Okay, you know, people always try to tell you have glamorous publishing is it’s filled with money and privilege and martinis at lunch. Or, I don’t know, maybe not. If you’re like me, and you want to find out what messy power struggles and scams and bad behavior is going on in the book world, then you’ve got to check out a new podcast called missing pages. It’s an investigative podcast from the pod agglomerate. It’s hosted by a literary critic and publishing insider Beth and Patrick, who spills the tea on some of the world’s most famous and infamous book figures. On this week’s episode, 19 year old Kavya Vishwa nonton, had it all from a Harvard admission to a six figure book deal, and by the end of the year, she was on a national television apology tour for an alleged plagiarism scandal. What the heck happened? Beth Ann conducts an exclusive interview with Kavya herself to set the story straight. missing pages is worth the hype. I mean, look, I love talking about books and all that. But where else are you gonna get your favorite authors publishing insiders and a circus of New York City media elites telling the real story that they just simply can’t print. It’s perfect for podcasting. So go had find missing pages wherever you find podcasts. Bonus content is available at Apple podcasts. Hey, let’s take a second to review our self care and wellness ritual. If you’re like me, you could always use a leg up. I’ve got a hot tip and a great deal just for you. Have you checked out care of it’s the monthly subscription vitamin service that ships high quality personalized vitamin supplements and powders right to your door. I made a resolution this year to take more vitamins and just generally be healthier, and I have been taking my vitamins every single day. Thank you so much Kara, because it’s made my life so much easier. First things first care of asks you to take a quiz to fill out what sort of things you’re looking for and what things you want to adjust in your lifestyle. I love how easy the quizzes and I loved that once they gave me suggestions, I could always go back in and adjust my vitamin plan. You sign up you fill in your info, they tailor make a plan. The cherry on top is that their compostable daily packs are so chic. The packaging is lovely. And it makes me feel like I’m starting off my day on a fancy note. I’m gonna be honest, I love a little razzle dazzle. Another thing I love about carob is that you’re never locked into any particular plan. You can tweak it to your liking. You can add or subtract items you can refresh you can do whatever you need that fits your lifestyle. You’ll also get a booklet with each shipment telling you exactly what’s in your daily packs and why it was recommended for you and for your goals. Kara wants you to feel your best through the rest of the summer by supplementing your healthy daily habits that you have tomorrow. Well, thank you treat yourself and let me know what you think for 50% off your first care of order go to take care of.com and enter the code stacks 50. Again, that’s Take care of.com with the code stacks 50 for 50% off. Okay, we’re back. And I feel like if I didn’t ask you this, there’d be like millions of people and by millions. I mean, like the five people listen to the show, who wouldn’t be like, What the fuck. But I also have a feeling that I know what you’re gonna say. So I’m asking this for other people. But if you feel like this is a bad question, you just go right ahead. Oh, it’s a question that I get a lot. And I do think about it a lot. But I also feel like I know the answer, which is how do you recommend that people reach out to people who are grieving in their lives?
Marisa Renee Lee 32:24
So that is a question that I get in every interview? And I think it is a really important question, but
Traci Thomas 32:29
the answer is not good. The answer is not helpful. I feel like Right. Well, I’m gonna tell you what he went through what you say. But I
Marisa Renee Lee 32:36
feel very strongly about the answer. So here’s my thing, personally, I would say is I think people get way too hung up on saying the right thing to people who are grieving. Yeah, and I get it, and what my advice is like, don’t give anybody any platitudes. Don’t tell anybody that their person is with the angels now, or, you know, whatever. Nobody wants to hear that. So let’s just like put a pin in that. But fundamentally, I will tell you, and I don’t know if this is the same for you, Tracy, like I don’t remember any of the stupid or insensitive or just, you know, platitude type things that people said to me when my mom died. What I do remember, though, are the people who I expected to show up and didn’t. And so my thing with, you know, how to approach someone who’s grieving or who you think might be grieving, focus less on what you say, and more on what you do. And that can be you know, dropping off a meal, even if it’s months, or a year or two, after someone has passed away. It can be going over to their house to take their dog for a walk, so that they can just, you know, take a break and go cry in the shower or whatever. It can be sending them a note, when you know, it’s the day of their dead mom’s birthday. And they’re probably thinking of her, it can be sharing a memory of the person who died if you also knew the person, you know, we don’t, we don’t get to hear people talk about our people very often. And like that’s, that’s sad. You can also send a gift like I will tell you I have received some of the best grief gifts like everything from the day that we’ve run out of our pregnancy loss like my childhood best friend did like an Instacart or something of some of my favorite like shitty snacks, you know, like Doritos and fruit snacks and Oreos type deal. Another girlfriend is sent a gourmet box of cheese and snacks from this cheese shop that we’re both obsessed with in New York, you know, like, like people will remember the things that you did to both practically support them. And to remind them of like who they are. Yeah, so focus on those things more than what you say because nothing you say is going to really make them feel better if their spouse, child parent, etc. just died.
Traci Thomas 34:56
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I feel like that’s the answer. I always like to do something. But I also feel like, for me, in my experience, I remember one email that I got that I thought was so good. And it was someone else who’d lost their dad, an older person, like a family, like a parents, family friend kind of person. And they were like, This is shitty. And it’s gonna be shitty. And I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this, but it’s gonna suck for a while. And you know, and it was like, something like that. And it was kind of funny. And like, you know, it was a few. It was like, a few paragraphs. It was nice, and there was more in it. But what I remember was like, sorry, this sucks. This is the worst. I’ve been there. I’m sorry. And like, that’s one of the things I tried to do. Especially when someone I know, like, loses a dad specifically. Yeah, I feel like I can come in and be like, Hey, I’m sorry, this sucks. But the other thing that I think, which is what I try to do, especially when I know the person, like when I feel close to the person, because when I don’t feel close to the person, I sort of just say, you know, I either don’t say anything, because it’s like, I’m seeing it on social media, and it feels weird. You know, and like, to me, that always annoyed me when people that I like didn’t really know, would like send, like, like, you know, old friends from high school you haven’t talked to in five years and like, send a message like, I always hated that. But I also hate that for my birthday. Like, I just I’m like, I don’t know, I don’t know you anymore. Like you just see pictures.
Marisa Renee Lee 36:19
Feels insincere. Yeah, I get that
Traci Thomas 36:22
like for people that I do know, I feel like one of the things that’s really helpful is like really specific offers of help, like you’re saying, like, Hey, I’m gonna come by today and walk the dog. Not Hey, do you need anything? If you ask me if I need anything? 1,000% of the time, I’m saying no, because like, I don’t I can’t I do need things, but I can’t think of it. I’m sad. Like, yeah, your to
Marisa Renee Lee 36:45
your brain is too overwhelming. It’s not even just the offer the way you said it. Like, as a declarative statement.
Traci Thomas 36:51
What time is best for me to come over to walk the dog? Yeah, or whatever?
Marisa Renee Lee 36:55
What time do you guys want dinner dropped off?
Traci Thomas 36:57
Exactly. Yes. 100%. I feel like also a thing that’s helpful for people who are like nervous around grief and want to be helpful is to actually think about what you’re offering in the same way that you would if someone had a newborn child. Right? Like, you would receive so much. Yeah, like they’re in a place that’s really difficult. It’s very fresh. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re feeling a lot of feelings and love. How can you be helpful, as opposed to this is so sad, and I don’t want to be near grief. Just think of it like, no, if I had a new baby, you’d come over and do my laundry. Or I had a new baby, you’d order Instacart or dropping the casserole. Yeah, whatever that looks like for you. I feel like that’s like a helpful way to reframe it. If you’re a person who feels like weird about about greed, that’s great. I love that. I always love when people remember the anniversary of my dad’s passing same, that text message. My best friend does it every year. It’s real. She’s snails that every year to everything. And it’s always like, and I miss an admission that, you know, it’s just like a nice little thing. And I try to do that for my for my very close friends. But those are a few things that have that I think are helpful. But again, it’s like so specific to the person because I think the other question you probably get a lot is like, what’s the best way to grieve? And like, that is so personal.
Marisa Renee Lee 38:14
I can’t Yeah, I can’t tell ya. And I tried to be really clear that, you know, my goal with grief is love is to give people a compass. Yeah, like a framework for things to think about that may come up along the way. Yeah. And then examples for how I dealt with them either Well, or poorly. Yeah, just to have like, sort of a loose bit of a guide. But it’s different for everybody. And even the folks who are doing research on how grief impacts the body and the brain. Like, some of that is similar for all of us, but not always. So I think just just know that no two experiences are the same. And be okay with accessing whatever it is. You need to be okay, today.
Traci Thomas 38:59
Yeah. And like one of the things you say in the book is grant yourself like permission and also to ask for help. And I think that’s one of my biggest regrets when I was like, deeply grieving, as opposed to just like, generally now where I am, right sometimes was that I didn’t ask for the things that I knew that I wanted or needed. Because I didn’t like swan. It’s so hard. But
Marisa Renee Lee 39:23
when we were both young, you’re young. I feel the same way that we were both 25 when we lost parents. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 39:29
But I think people even like as they get older feel that way too. You know, it’s like, it’s hard to ask for that help. And I think it was helpful to read in the book, like you encouraging people to give themselves permission to ask for the things that they need. Because like, I mean, I think about this a lot, even just like with professional stuff, if you don’t ask, you know, you get 0% of the things you don’t ask for whatever it’s like if you don’t, if you ask and someone says no, which I probably won’t, but if they do, you’re in the exact same place that you were five minutes before you ask So it’s like you’re not really losing anything. And if they say, Yes, you’ve got that help.
Marisa Renee Lee 40:04
I love that. Way to think about it. The other kind of reframe that I’ve done in my brain, because it’s taken me, it took me a while to really get comfortable asking for help with the personal things. Career wise, you know, even when I was a kid in high school, like, I would ask anybody for anything, because that’s just how ridiculously ambitious I’ve always been. But on a personal level, what I think about is how I feel when a friend needs something. And they asked me and I’m like, able to help them like, I feel really good about that, like, I feel good about myself when that happens. And so why not give someone else the opportunity to help you with something?
Traci Thomas 40:42
Yeah, that’s so true. It’s such a good feeling. Okay. There’s so many things in this book, I want to talk. I’m like, Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. I’m skipping a few things. I want to talk about legacy. Because that’s sort of, it’s the second class or the last chapter, second class. Second to last, because the last one is, the second last chapter in the book is about legacy. And I’d love for you to sort of tell people why you think we’re thinking about legacy wrong, or, or in a nice way or not, not as interesting way filled a possibility.
Marisa Renee Lee 41:18
Yeah, no. So for me, I had to go back in time and think about how I have redefined the legacy over the almost 15 years since my mom has been gone. And I think some of it was like, as much as this book means to me, like, by far it is the thing that I’m most proud of that I’ve ever done professionally. Like, I, I didn’t want to get caught up. And I could feel myself as I was like finishing it up and starting to work on the sales and marketing process, which is a whole other thing. I didn’t want to conflate my mother’s legacy with like, this thing that was going to be out in the world. And so I took a step back, and I started asking myself, you know, like, how, how do I define what it means to like, sort of live in honor of someone and to live a life that is connected to the legacy of someone else’s life. And I realized that fundamentally all of us, like, we want to have made an impact on the world, right on the people we love and care about, like, we want to live on in some way. And I should also add, my husband and I very quickly and unexpectedly adopted a newborn as the last chapters were being written. And so I was also thinking about this a lot from like, the beginning of life perspective, and, you know, being a new parent, and I realized fundamentally, like, the thing that my mom is most proud of. And the way that I can best embody her legacy is by continuing to live my life, with the values that she instilled in me, you know, I realized the legacy piece is deeply internal for all of us. Because what it means to you to be your father’s legacy, like, that’s different from what it means to me to be my mother’s legacy. And it may even be different from, you know, how the rest of your family members see like, their legacy and connection to your dad. And that’s because all of our relationships are different and unique. So me living my mom’s legacy is different for my sister, different from my father, etc. And I wanted to get people away from especially because when I was finishing the book, it was still the pandemic, I wanted to get people away from attaching themselves too much to things like the funeral or, you know, trying to start an organization or give away an award or, you know, doing those kinds of things in honor of someone because so many of those things were taken away from us during that period of time. And so I wanted to come up with a way to define legacy that was really internal, because that’s where I think that’s where I think it actually lives.
Traci Thomas 44:00
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Because I feel like legacy sound like, it has to be a thing. A thing. Right, right. I mean, I mean, maybe because I was young, I never even really thought about. don’t really think about it. I don’t know, my dad wasn’t.
Marisa Renee Lee 44:19
But when you think about your dad, like what No, I
Traci Thomas 44:22
think about I saw, I think about like my dad’s memory and like, what I want to pass forward that he did and like all those things, but I never thought about it in terms of legacy. Like I was never like, we’re gonna start a foundation. Like I just never, for whatever reasons, I think, because maybe I was young and I’m a younger sibling, and my brother’s really got his shit together. And like, my mom really has her she has a guy there. So I think I was just like, I’m sad. I’m 20 I just, you know, I think it’s just like a different very different family. Yes. Different than your family. And so yeah, like I think of course, I think about like, my dad and what I want to pass forward of his what I learned from it All of those things certainly and like he’s in
Marisa Renee Lee 45:02
to me, that is his legacy. Yeah, like that. That is what really matters. Because like, and again, I had the privilege of having the like, new parent context to think through, you know, like, what do I want to give this child like what really matters most and for me, you know, it’s, it’s really about putting another human being on this planet who is, you know, kind and compassionate and courageous, and, you know, just a good person who loves life. So then I started thinking about my mom’s values and how I live them. And that’s how I came up with this whole, this whole legacy piece. Yeah,
Traci Thomas 45:38
I love I love that. I’ve skipped over so many things that I wanted to talk about in the book. So people, please go and get the book. Like, there’s some really great stuff about forgiveness and grace that I didn’t get to that I think is really powerful. There’s some really interesting stuff about shared grief, like with the people in your family, who experienced loss differently. Another part that I really love that I didn’t have time to get to. So we basically, like scrape the surface here today. But I have other things. I’m gonna talk to you about your process and stuff. So I want to make sure we get to that. One is, what’s not in this book that you wish was in the book.
Marisa Renee Lee 46:12
That’s an easy one, actually, the last weekend that my editor was sitting with a book, and we were trying to figure out if it was done, done, or if we need anything else, something that I realized was missing. Is this idea of hope? And how, like, sort of how do you get back to being a hopeful person after experiencing, in my case, like, multiple devastating losses, right. And so I think, and I may get in trouble for saying this in an interview, but I’m basically positive my next book is going to be about hope. Got it? Because I think there’s a lot that is misunderstood about hope. You know, like just being this like, light, cheerful, happy, go lucky kind of thing. And I actually think it’s much deeper than that. Yeah. I mean, it’s like a practice. Exactly. It’s a discipline, like, that’s like my whole thing, like, and what does that mean? And how do we embody that? And yeah, I think the next book is going to be about hope.
Traci Thomas 47:17
Great. I love that. Okay. You are like, Miss career woman, you have a resume that is like insanely fantastic. I know that you did not have your son when you were writing the book yet. You have not had him yet. But now you do. So go rewind pre infant time pre baby. How did you make time to write this book with all that you do and have going on? And then how did you actually right? Where were you? How many hours a day music? Or no, I heard that you like gross, like, like bad for you snack. So I’d love for you to talk about any snacks involved?
Marisa Renee Lee 47:56
Oh, my God, or any snacks? Oh, yeah. So my process, I tried to attack this the way I would attack any other work project by being super structured. And you know, saying, okay, every other day, I’m going to write for this many hours. And like, then I’m going to edit and like this is how I’m going to do it and whatever. But it did not actually work out that way. Because one hour, so a couple of things have so first of all, as part of writing this book, I didn’t realize how much of this I had to do. Like there was a lot of healing and inner work and therapy and crying and all of that stuff that had to go down in order for me to process or in some cases, like reprocess things and then write them in such a way that they’re actually useful for somebody else. So trying to write like that, like sometimes multiple days in a row, or even every other day with all of that emotion, like, it just was not sustainable. And so finally, at one point, I realized like that you can’t, you can’t treat writing the way you treat every other work project Marissa. And so I sent myself an email that I marked unread in my inbox, so I would always see it. And the subject line was just writing requires restoration. So I started taking more breaks and doing a better job taking care of myself and really, really being honest about whether or not when I woke up that morning. I could write that day, you know, which was hard. I will also share this is completely ridiculous. But since I’m an honest person, I wrote, I would say a majority. I think definitely more than half of grief is love. In the notes section on my iPhone. Wow. Because up until that point, I’ve only ever written articles. And I’m the kind of person who will like get really upset about something that’s happening in the world. And I either can’t go to sleep or wake up super early in the morning because I’m fired up and I’ll just do it on my phone, a draft article, edit it once or twice and then it goes out. That’s it. If that’s literally my process for how I write the pieces for Vogue, for instance. And so I did that with most of the book, because that’s just how I feel most comfortable. I have a thumb that is still sore from me doing that. And I’m told I will probably have arthritis in one or both of my sooner than I care to admit. So I’m not suggesting that you write any books on iPhones. The Thing One of the things that was really crazy about this process is in addition to having a shorter timeline than most books, and like never having written a book before, I turned in my manuscript, at the end of May of last year, and you know, the book was coming out less than a year later. So it was supposed to be quick edits final submitted in August, and I was proud of what I turned in, but it didn’t feel quite right. And my editor felt the same way. But like, neither of us were really sure exactly what to do. So July of last year, right around this time, like couple weeks ago, I guess it would have been, I went on a day long, Silent Retreat. And while I was at this, like beautiful space, completely disconnected from electronics and email and everything else, I had this realization that I had written the wrong book that I wrote a book about grief, bought to actually try it was a book about healing. And so I ended up having to scrap, at least half maybe more than half originally written. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And started over late July last year, with the plan for me to complete that entire rewrite in the span of a little under two months. And then in Oh, wait, it gets better. And then in the middle of that is when Bennett showed up. So I suddenly became a mom to a newborn with my book, probably about like, 60% done, awesome. The first book out under their new imprint, so it was like, I like needed to make a decision on whether or not it was going to get done on time. Because if not, it was going to shift everybody else’s schedule. Right. And I was like, You know what, I think it’s going to be fine. I don’t know why I believe that. Like, I was so tired. I was so overwhelmed. Practice Oh, my God, I was grieving my mom. You know, of course, I wanted her there to like, help me with this kid, like the whole thing and like, someone was like, No, I think it’s gonna be okay. I think it’s gonna be okay. And it ultimately ended up being okay, but I didn’t turn it in until late October. But we got it done. And he’s definitely his energy and everything I learned from His sudden arrival are definitely a part of the last half of the book.
Traci Thomas 52:45
That’s incredible. I do have to backtrack. You have not mentioned a single snack or beverage in your writing process.
Marisa Renee Lee 52:51
Okay, okay. Okay, so snacks. Cheez Its and fruit snacks. Specifically, Welch’s like yes, Berry. I think they’re called fruit snacks. Yeah. Those are always a part of their routines. I did a lot of baking like I’m very grateful that it didn’t lead to a lot of weight gain. During book writing, I perfected my brownie recipe. I made my chocolate chip cookies a bunch. And then one of the things that I had been doing for both my mom’s birthday, and my husband’s birthday, is trying to perfect a yellow cake with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting and you know, rainbow sprinkles. We perfected that cake recipe during this period. Please share, please share it please share it. So yeah, there’s Oh, I will find it and share it with you. It’s it’s really good and not that hard. So yeah, it was a lot of baking salty snacks. There was a lot of like, Oh, I’m planning to cook dinner tonight. And then all of a sudden, I realized I had this idea and I need to write so we’re getting Mexican tonight. And bourbon like that is my drink of choice. It definitely helps with some of those evening writing editing sessions.
Traci Thomas 53:58
I love it. Okay, you are a very accomplished person. So this will not take away from this. But what is a word? You could never spell correctly on the first try?
Marisa Renee Lee 54:08
Oh my god. Gosh, I feel like there are tons I can’t think of one also, you know, what, what, what word I kept messing up, that’s in the book, both spelling it and recording the audible mytable ohmic. It’s like a type. It’s a category of like, health disorders that are often directly connected to stress and trauma. Okay, so it was like important both from like my own health and things that I’ve learned and it’s specifically a couple of places in the book. And I want to say metabolic because like, that’s a word that we actually know and hear. Yeah. Metabolic ohmic I was like that’s made out like did I make up that word? But I didn’t so that was one that just Yeah, it was really it was a real CQ on.
Traci Thomas 54:57
Your book has been everywhere. I feel like I feel like I’ve seen it everywhere I feel you’ve, you know, done a lot of incredible media. Who’s the coolest person that you’ve heard from that’s expressed interest in the book?
Marisa Renee Lee 55:08
You mean besides you? Yeah, definitely
Traci Thomas 55:11
besides me, because I know some other people, and they’re way cooler than me. So I’m gonna go ahead and say,
Marisa Renee Lee 55:17
Who’s the coolest person that’s expressed interest? I have really appreciated getting to work with Debra Roberts. She is the person who interviewed me for Good Morning America. And the crazy thing that happened in this case was that the interview aired at the end of June. And I want to say two days later, maybe three days later, she lost her sister. And so yeah, and so I’ve heard from her since and we actually ended up doing an IG live that some of the family members joined because she told them all about the book. Yeah, so it was just, I thought it was interesting. Yeah. And like she was just an amazing and to have, you know, a black woman who’s like, so accomplished, be excited about your work and want to help elevate it and share it like, it’s just yeah, it’s just really helpful and means a lot to me as black woman.
Traci Thomas 56:09
Yeah, yeah. Okay, I’m gonna ask specifically, because I know that you know, this person. Do you know, if Barack Obama has read your book?
Marisa Renee Lee 56:18
I don’t know if he’s read it. It was sent. I did make every effort to get on his summer reading list. I was not on it, as you know. But I know, I know. It’s been I know, it’s been sent to him. I don’t know if he’s read it. Okay.
Traci Thomas 56:32
I just was very curious.
Marisa Renee Lee 56:33
I’ll do what I can to find out. Yeah, well,
Traci Thomas 56:35
Tamika Sachs, let me know, I’m available. And Michelle Herman’s coming, I’m available. We did another thing I just thought of, for people who are grieving, I just wanted, this was a thing that was also really interesting for me. And I wonder if you had this too, with your mother, not with your pregnancy loss. But when my my dad, you know, was my dad for 25 years, but he was 76 when he passed away. So he had a lot of life that he lived that I wasn’t part of. And when he passed away, like that first week, when everyone was coming by, and we had the funeral and everything, I found so much solace in, like, just sitting in the rooms with his friends talking about him. Like, I felt so sad when people would come to the house. And they looked sad, because I was like, wow, I lost my dad, but you lost your best friend of 75 years. And so I have a piece of advice I often give to people is like, I know, it’s really hard. But in the next few days, like try to just stay as open as you can to like being around your loved ones. Because like you’re going to like gain things. It’s so hard. It’s super hard. It’s so hard. I mean, I think I just was like, lucky to be in that mind space at that time. But I do try to encourage people I’m like, if it’s if you’re able, like try to try to be present in that first week with your loved one. I
Marisa Renee Lee 57:53
I agree. 1,000%. And I am agreeing from a space of like, I did not do that. Like I needed to focus on the things that I could control. You know, like I was all about, like the funeral planning and the logistics and doing everything exactly the way I thought my mom would have wanted me to. And I wasn’t able to just be present with all of these other people who were around who loved her and, you know, experienced her in a different way. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 58:20
Yeah. It’s just like one of those things that I I had never had occurred to me until I saw the faces of like, some of my dad’s best friends that like, other people were also grieving him. Yeah. And like, you know, again, I was 25. And it was my dad’s child. Really? Yeah, exactly. really selfish. Exactly. And so I was like, Oh, my God, I think you’re more sad than me. And like, that’s incredible that we’re both so satisfied to know like, it’s very, like you’re not alone feeling if you’re able to like sort of feel it anyways. No,
I agree. I agree. 100%. Last question.
If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book. Who would you want it to be?
Marisa Renee Lee 59:02
Ellie Rezel I love it. I love the book Night. And it just made such an impact on me as a super young person. I read it when I was like 14 or 15 years old. And I was like, oh, one day I would love to like meet this guy. And I would just be curious with all the experiences he had with loss and the Holocaust. And you know, if these things feel relevant. Yeah,
Traci Thomas 59:24
that’s a great answer. All right, everybody. This has been Marisa Renee Lee. She’s the author of grief is love. You can get the book wherever you get your books, and it’s out in the world. I listened to some of the audio also fantastic read by Marissa. So that’s an option for you, too. Marissa, thank you so much for being here.
Marisa Renee Lee 59:41
Thank you. Thank you. This was so fun.
Traci Thomas 59:43
Yes, it was so fun. And everyone else we will see you in the stacks.
All right, everybody that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you again to Marisa Renee Lee for joining us. I’d also like to say a huge thing. you to the wonderful Jackson Musker and Thuraya mus three for helping us make this interview possible. Don’t forget our book club pick for August is how to write an autobiographical novel by Alexander chi, which we’ll be talking about on August 31 with Ingrid Rojas Contreras. If you love the show and want insight access to it, head to patreon.com/the stacks and joined the stacks. Make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks our view, listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts, be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks. Follow us on social media at the sexpot on Instagram and at the stacks pod underscore on Twitter and check out our website stackspodcast.com This episode of the stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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