Grief Out Loud Ep. 283 Transcript: It’s a Loss That's Hard to Talk About - Grieving A Friend

Ep 283 GOL

This is the transcript for Grief Out Loud Episode 283: It's a Loss That's Hard to Talk About - Grieving a Friend. Find the audio version of the episode here.

Ep. 283 It’s a Loss That's Hard to Talk About - Grieving A Friend

Jana DeCristofaro (host)
Annette (guest)
Mel (guest)

Jana DeCristofaro 00:08

Hi listeners. Welcome to Grief Out Loud. Remember the last time you tried to talk about grief and suddenly everybody left the room. Grief Out loud is opening up this often avoided conversation because grief is hard enough without having to go through it alone. We bring you a mix of personal stories, tips for supporting children, teens and yourself and interviews with professionals in the grief world, platitude and cliche free we promise. Grief Out loud is hosted by me Jana DeCristofaro and produced by Dougy Center, the National grief Center for Children and Families in Portland, Oregon.

Hey listeners, some of you have asked how you can best support the show. So I've got two things you can do. One, leave us a rating and a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you listen really. And two, you can donate to the show and to Dougy center by heading to And there you'll scroll down to the green donate button. So thanks for asking how you can help.

This episode is the first in a series of interviews focused on grieving the death of a friend. As much as we might decry there being a hierarchy of grief. Most people still assume that the death of a family member is harder than the death of a friend. In reality, though, the death of a friend or a chosen family member can be absolutely devastating, sometimes in ways that catch us and other people off guard. This interview with Mel and Annette seems like the exact right one to start this series. As some background, Mel and I know each other in the non podcast world. We meet up each week to walk the hills of our neighborhood volcano, which don't worry, it's extinct, and we talk about pretty much everything. And something that comes up almost every single time is Amy. Amy and Mel met way back in the 1990s and became the best of friends. Amy died in 2012 of pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease. And even though I never met Amy, it's really clear just how powerful their connection is almost 12 years after her death. When I asked Mel if she'd be a guest and share Amy with all of us, she said yes, but only if their friend Annette could join us too. Annette and Amy and Mel are all ASL American Sign Language interpreters who met through school and work. The three of them knew each other. But Mel and Annette had separate friendships with Amy that were equally deep and formative and meaningful. Throughout Amy's illness, and then her death, Annette and Mel's friendship solidified in a new way, because they now shared not just their love for Amy, but a mutual understanding of the heart wrench it was to lose her. Mel & Annette are funny and earnest and generous with their love of Amy, and the grief they carry in her physical absence.

Okay, here's our conversation.

Mel and Annette. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Annette 03:18

Thanks for having us.

Mel 03:20

Thanks for inviting us, Jana.

Jana DeCristofaro 03:22

And I know we're going to talk all about your friend Amy. And I wondered if you could start by each sharing three words you'd use to describe Amy. We need listeners to kind of get used to who's who so Annette, do you want to start?

Annette 03:40

Glad to. Amy was hilarious, larger than life and showed us - I know this is more than three words - how to be authentic in ways that was wise beyond her years.

Mel 04:06

I was gonna- this is Mel - gonna say something similar. I said bigger than life. And Amy could hold space. Like she just could hold space for others.

Jana DeCristofaro 04:18

And as it happens, right when someone dies, we tend to go to all the glowing positive things. I'm wondering if each of you might want to share, I don't know, a characteristic that made Amy really human. Or maybe something that was that irked you about her.

Mel 04:35

When we say bigger than life. I mean her feelings were bigger too. Right? Like she had passion. That was huge. She had anger that was big. She had sadness that was well you know could get very encompassing.

Annette 04:52

Yeah, she had big feels and and those could come out and all the ways. She has an Italian side of her family. And in some ways, very stereotypically in that, in that passion. And, and so yeah, we fought like sisters sometimes. And so it was a friendship that was deeper than just, than just niceties.

Jana DeCristofaro 05:21

that you could have those tough times and those tensions or those fights and come back together.

Annette 05:27

There was repair. Yeah.

Mel 05:28

I mean, she was definitely my roadmap on how to be in relationship with other people. Because early at a young age, I was like having to apologize to people or try to understand somebody in a deeper way to, like Annette said, make those repairs or to move past things. So definitely learn to fumble through how to communicate with people that weren't wasn't blood family at a younger age. Yeah.

Jana DeCristofaro 05:55

Yeah, I never thought about it I before that, that term larger than life, which when I hear that I always think like, effusive and funny and sort of like life of any party, but also that personality, like takes up a lot of space, too. takes up a lot of room.

Annette 06:13

Yeah. And in that way, too, like very magnetic, you know, just the I think I'm old enough now, to think about what the word charisma means. And, and the ways in which you can really just see how some people are so attractive, and, and have an underlying magnetism. And Amy has that. Amy had that. Yeah.

Jana DeCristofaro 06:45

So how did you each get - using that analogy - like a drawn in and magnetized to Amy, like, how did you each meet her?

Annette 06:56

So we went to Western Oregon University, and we were all studying to be interpreters. And the really remarkable thing about our program, in many ways, there were lots of remarkable things, was that it was a cohort program. There were less than 20 of us in each of the cohorts and so it led to really getting to know a core group of people very closely, because for two years you were just in all the same classes together. And so Amy was the year ahead of me and Mel with the year below me. And so when I first traveled out to Oregon, I was living in Texas at the time to consider going to the interpreting program at Western. Amy was one of the very first people that I met and her bright glow in the classroom - I you know, attended a couple of classes - was so memorable that the next year when I came to the program to attend it, I can remember seeking her out and then getting to know her in the years that I attended the program and going to classes together, going to parties at her house, getting really intimately involved in the friendship circle.

Mel 08:20

And I would say I met Amy from a different route. I had moved to Oregon from Kirkland, Washington, and I was hired on as an ASL interpreter at a juvenile correctional facility. And my first day on the job, I'm walking down and you know, it's like compounds and everything, and I see this person sitting on a patch of grass with the sun shining on her, eating brown rice from a ceramic bowl with chopsticks. And I'm basically a city girl, you know, I'm right out of Seattle, and I'm like, What the heck is this person? I've heard of these hippies, I found one in the wild, right?

Annette 09:01

And natural habitat, natural habitat, right?

Mel 09:05

And of course, she has all the contraband possible, you know, ceramic bow and whatever, but it was her lunch break. So I just, you know, went right up to her and said, "Hi, who are you?" Again, that magnetic personality would just draw people to her and I found out that she was one of the other ASL interpreters. She had to be she was the only one not in a uniform. She kind of just literally took me under her wing from that moment on. Kind of like Annette said learn how to be friends, we would go to events together. Definitely professionally as interpreters but also more like older sister, younger sister, friendship group relationships.

Jana DeCristofaro 09:44

And is Amy how the two of you met?

Annette 09:46

Um, I don't know that Amy is how we met. But Amy is certainly how I believe I became close to Mel. I mean Mel and I were in each other's orbit by virtue of having so many other people in our lives, I would say that Amy's death became a catalyst for closeness between me and Mel in a way that we had never been close before, like we've been in one another's periphery, at that point, almost 20 years. And yet, it forged what I would now call a sisterhood between us. I didn't think of you as my sister prior to that in the same way. I wonder how you think of that?

Mel 10:36

Same. You were this sparkly, shiny other group of friends that were hipper as in more hippie than me following the Grateful Dead across the United States, and making art and selling it, and also being a fabulous interpreter, and definitely hopped on that professional track, before I was on the scene, but also both of you guys having similar illnesses, and you getting your diagnosis while I was so entrenched in Amy, and caring for Amy and her sickness. And then when as the friendship group, we realized you were also going down that pathway, a lot more discussion and talks and sharing of information and compassion and empathy for each other and creating that space for support. So I would say it started before Amy passed, but definitely through her illness, I would say that relationship started to emerge and get stronger and stronger.

Jana DeCristofaro 11:40

Can you say a little bit more about the course of that. I mean, I think about the course of an illness, but it's like the course of an illness impacting a friend group and then Annette, you also being diagnosed with the same illness that Amy had. So what do you each remember about that?

Mel 11:58

So Amy and I, very close friends. I don't know starting in 1996 -97. I don't think we ever lived more than a couple miles away from each other. But then she did a stint in California and came back and so very close. So we shared a doctor is the point of that. And so I remember saying, "you know, you need you have this had this cough and shortness of breath for a while. I think you need to go see Sarah." And at that time, Amy was - we're both - all of us are ASL sign language interpreters. And there was the big thing that came to the Oregon School for the Deaf where they remodeled one of the schools dorms. And it was a TV show. And I can't remember the name of it right now. Annette, Do you remember it? No.

Annette 12:45

I remember that happening. Yeah, Trading Spaces? I don't remember what it was.

Mel 12:49

Right, like, oh, Extreme Home Makeover or something like that, like they came in and they renovated the whole thing. And crews of interpreters and Amy had to park kinda you know, a little bit further away. And she was very alarmed that by the time it took her to park her car, and walk to where she needed to be like, she had to sit down, like she had to take a 30 minute break. It just was not, she wasn't recovering as well as she should have. And she's a very active physical person, like she was a forest firefighter like. Shortness of breath you know, she was alarmed. And so we started, we made the referral. And the doctor saw her for months. And they still couldn't quite pinpoint what was going on. And because she was very young, she was 41. About that age, when this really started to become alarming. From there, you know, lung biopsy, and getting more and more information, but it was so rare and so kind of not on what people's radar would be for somebody with this physical makeup of a strong, healthy, vibrant person. It took some time, and it took probably longer than it should have, because of the severity of how fast she deteriorated, it wasn't in your normal makeup of diseases for this age group. I think I forgot the question because I got caught up in the story.

Annette 14:17

And I'll take it from here. So Amy's progression of her disease. So she was diagnosed with idiopathic interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. And she went from... so Amy was always like, curvy goddess body. And, and she was also kind of a role model for I mean, Mel and I kind of each have that body type too. And, and Amy was somebody who in her 20s was not afraid of her thighs. And I mean what a revelation because especially in today's world where you're not taught to embrace your curves she she was such a godsend and just like showing us a path for loving the skin you're in. Her disease advanced so rapidly that within six months of diagnosis, she was referred for a double lung transplant. And within a year of diagnosis, she went from probably 175 pounds to 105 pounds. Wearing oxygen full time, and the deterioration was so abrupt, rapid, thorough. And it wasn't long before she wasn't able to work. She, you know, was having difficulty sleep, sleeping and bathing herself and completing just basic life tasks. And her folks who lived nearby were there on the daily making sure that she was getting basic nutrition and, and helping her husband care for her. And our closest transplant hospital is in Seattle, and she was living in Portland. So even just the burden of getting to appointments was real. I'm kind of smiling to myself, because at the time that she was losing weight of course, all of us who loved her were trying to find creative ways to feed her and she was like, "if one more person tells me to like drink a smoothie or eat an avocado. I'm gonna lose my mind." And I was there one day when Mel came over with a tub of chocolate cream cheese. She actually thoughtfully brought two of them because she was like, maybe this will be delicious and you'll want to eat those. And the first one that Amy opened up, Mel had already eaten the whole container. It was like all empty except for one. [laughter] And I was like yeah, good job, sweetie. I tried, I really tried. Yeah. And then she was on his feeding tube towards I mean, it digressed fast. Yeah, Yes. Yeah.

Mel 14:28

And her Tía, everybody making like Almond Crackers. Like the more calorie you could put into any dish. People were like, oh, I'll put in more nuts, I'll put in butter, I'll put in olive oil. Let's do it.

Annette 17:34

Yeah. And so just watching our friend waste away. And, and Amy started trying to lead conversations with us about what we wanted, when she would die. Like "what of mine do you want?" and we were not prepared. I was not prepared. I batted those conversations away. I actively tried to do the "I want you I don't want you to be gone. There's nothing of yours I need and want, I want you to get better." And I can remember she started watching the television program called The Universe about like the galaxy and the planets and like looking back now I can see that you know that quest for what's going to happen to me? What's out there that's bigger than me? What will become of me as - because she knew, she knew where this was going. And that if she wasn't able to get strong enough. I mean, at the point that she died needing a heart and at that point, I mean a lung and at that point, a heart transplant. She wasn't strong enough to receive them. And so she saw the writing on the wall and we were young and naive enough to really not be prepared to emotionally go there with her.

Mel 19:05

I remember text messages going back and forth on the last trip before she was transferred up to UW and she was "I'm not ready to die. I don't want to be the friend that dies. Me you and Annette still have to go to India together. This isn't how it's supposed to end." Um and me being like, "oh, it's gonna happen you're gonna get the lungs you'll get the heart," and just to what Annette was saying, she definitely saw the writing on the wall in some ways. And I wish I was as sweet Annette but when a net when Amy was like, "What of mine do you want?" I was like, "oh, I want you so I want everything that smells like you, looks like you, feels like you." And so you know, definitely just create my own little nest of her stuff. Yeah

Jana DeCristofaro 20:00

Do you all remember, was there a time when each of you kind of got the message?

Mel 20:10

When she asked me to be her power, medical power of attorney, shit got real. Because now I had forms to sign. And I had to do my learning about what that meant. And then have those conversations with Amy. And when she set up her parameters of like, I want to make sure my husband's there, my family's there, you know, who can be there? And and then, you know, I don't want any life sustaining measures and having those conversations of like, well, what does that mean? Like if you're intubated or not intubated, and kind of getting down into the nitty gritty and that conversation happened over the course of a couple of weeks. And I'd you know, have one of them go back and have more questions. That is when I kind of had to shift into more business mode Mel too.

Annette 21:05

Mel, that was what that was about, like, four months before she died six months?

Mel 21:11

It was early summer, and I know she entered then she passed in November. Yeah,

Annette 21:16

Yep. I remember when that happened. And talking with Amy, I don't remember if I talked with you about some of the questions that that prompted and what it meant to have the DNR and, like the reality, the sobering reality of choosing, "I will not be resuscitated if shit goes sideways" And, and still, you know, not wanting to see that for the very real marker in time that it was. So, right about August, I guess, October, somewhere in there during one of Amy's trips to the hospital. I was not yet an iPhone user. But I got an iPod that had the capacity to face time. And my very first FaceTime call was to Amy in the hospital, and, you know, folks this was 2012 so FaceTime was still relatively new, and remembering her being just like all eyeballs, you know, just so withered, you know, so wasted and getting off that call. [crying] just sobbing. And I think that for me, it's the first acknowledgement that unless something really big shifted there was no way out of where this was headed.

Mel 21:18

Just again, to reiterate Annette's description of Amy being yo u know, very, at the end it was a 90 pound or closer to 100 pound weight loss. And to have that happens so quickly. She was all eyeballs and then smile, teeth

Annette 23:25

Teeth and eyeballs.

Mel 23:28

Teeth and eyeballs. And you know, when you look at pictures of her before and after, it's like you don't even want to look at the ones that were towards the end because it just didn't represent sho she was. She was this big personality, the Italian mother who wanted to make you pasta from scratch and feed you and send you home with Tupperware food and party and celebrate life. And to see such it was such a stark contrast. It was jarring.

Jana DeCristofaro 24:22

I had planned to ask you, what did Amy mean to each of you? But I'm going to change that question. You can still answer that one if you want. But what do you think you meant to Amy? Like what did she go to each of you for that may have been similar or different?

Mel 24:40

I'm so curious Annette about what your answer is gonna be. [laughter]

Annette 24:45

I guess you better go first then Mel.

Mel 24:49

Oh, what I meant to Amy. I was definitely the sister she wished she had. Her two brothers, I tell you. I was definitely the sister. I was somebody that looked up to her that she was sharing guidance and knowledge with but also a confidant, I knew all her secrets. I was that safe space for her to share with. I could see the ugly side and still come back in the morning and give her a hug and know we were solid for sure. And like I said, we lived so close to each other it was "do you have a cup of sugar? Yeah, I'll be there in two minutes." You know, "Hey, I'm bored. Okay, be there in two minutes." So just daily support and the everyday little things, but also in the big things.

Annette 25:43

Yeah. As Mel referenced, she had no sisters and so we were her sisters. And I'm queer so the idea of family of choice was really important to me from that point of time in our lives. And even though she wasn't, she modeled that beautifully, and we were her sisters. I agree that Mel was definitely that little sister. Mel also is not able to keep a secret and about anything so Amy went to Mel for anything that had to do with having a good time. And for sure, they were one another's daily groove and, and joy. I think that Amy and I shared a bit more of a spiritual groove in our lives. And sometimes could go to darker harder places together and talk about it. I mean, like, we shared really difficult things about our marriages, and we shared our fears. And, you know there was no holds barred.

Jana DeCristofaro 27:16

And Annette one of the other difficult things that you and Amy shared is that you were diagnosed with the same illness.

Annette 27:23

It's true. Yeah. And I got my diagnosis almost exactly a year after she died. Which, of course, was terrifying because the only other person I knew with the illness I'd watched just die in such a terrible way right in front of me. My illness also progressed really rapidly. Within six months, I had lost 70% of my lung function. And I too, was on the lung transplant list living on oxygen, 60 pounds lighter than I had been. And ironically, because our only transplant hospital is Seattle, walking the same halls, sitting in the same offices, going to the same doctors as Amy. And my story has not gone the same way as Amy's. In addition to having survivor guilt around that, there have been times where being around Amy's closest family members has been hard, because there's still such understandable grief and anger about like, why would there be solutions for Annette when there wasn't for Amy? I also have a very clear sense from times where I myself was close to death, that I have a really strong angel on the other side. That Amy has had a hand in me still being here. And I'm not invested in anyone else believing that or necessarily understanding it or knowing that it's true, but it's true for me, and that matters to me. Mel, what do you remember about hearing the news that Annette was diagnosed with the same illness as Amy?

Mel 29:52

Again it was we can see Annette deteriorating in front of our eyes just like we saw Amy and the scab hadn't even really formed yet, with Amy's passing. To hear the official diagnosis. I mean, you couldn't rock the world twice in less than a year, but I guess you can. And what we had learned from Amy's disease and Annette, who she is in her person, also trying to support and witness everything Annette was going through with the fear of this now known reality looming in front of her. It has been an honor to be by Annette's side and see how she's navigated this space and time and her illnesse. They were unique and really different and I think early on we we started the mantra around like, Your story is your story, Amy's story was Amy's story. And they don't have to be the same. And really holding true to that. I never was like why Amy vs Annette, I was just thankful for both of them being in my life. They both have given me big gifts, and being with somebody as they pass, but also people with chronic illness, and being by their side for the long haul. Both of them have really changed my lens on life and how you show up for people. Yeah.

Annette 31:26

Well, and I mean, we kind of alluded to it earlier. But I just want to say explicitly that one of the, god, if feels dark to use this word, but the truth is that one of the gifts of Amy's death is the solidification of a couple of key friendships. I mean, there's a text thread, that's me and Mel and two other people that we were all in each other's lives prior to Amy's passing, but in the wake of Amy's passing our reliance on one another, our leaning on and caring for one another and tending to our grief together, has just given us the gift of each other in a way that I don't know if our friendship would have grown and developed and strengthened in the ways that it has had it not been for losing Amy. I mean, Mel and I are bonded to one another. And lean on each other in ways that are so much more tight now than they were prior to Amy, in part because we needed each other so much in the time after her. It was such a loss and such a vacuum. And we were so hurt, we're in so much pain and so desperate. That we turned to one another because we understood what the other one was going through, it was necessary and important. And out of that we came to know each other so much better than we had prior.

Jana DeCristofaro 33:19

As you were talking Annette I got this image of candles sitting on a plate together before you light any of the candles and they're all separate, but they're sharing the same plate. And then if you light one candle and it melts down, that wax oftentimes will connect and join the other candles, you know when it melts into the flat of the plate. So strange image but that's what I was picturing is that Amy's death as her life transformed into something different. It like, brought you all together in that way.

Annette 33:53

There's an alchemy in that. Yeah, agreed. And I think she's looking down still and like, you know, she lives on in that.

Mel 34:05

My family of origin, my sisters and my mom would often comment on our friendship and kind of surprised by the intensity of it and the closeness of it. And then, with Amy's passing how that friendship kind of actually got bigger with more people. Because of being closer with the four people that Annette was talking about. Four including me. How fortunate I am to have relationship with other people at a depth of being seen and feeling like I belong, that I don't necessarily hear about or see from my family, like that sense of belonging or being connected to. Yeah, I just feel very fortunate to have relationships to the depth and breadth that I do now. And it started with Amy when she was alive. I mean, definitely that path was there and there's no going back once you have relationship like that, that's what you want. The bar set. And we do kind of hold each other accountable to that bar with each other like, girl calls me out on all my stuff. And yes, I told a lot of secrets before, but I definitely have grown up big since the passing of Amy.

Annette 35:21

Always the town crier. [Laughter].

Mel 35:27

They definitely grew me up in a big way her passing for sure. Changed what I wanted out of relationships and what I expected and how I wanted to show up for others.

Jana DeCristofaro 35:41

Amy's death happened 12, almost 12 years ago, right. 2012 is when she died. And I'm curious in that time, you know, a decade and change, how have you each engaged with and disengaged with grief.

Annette 35:59

Amy was the first biggest loss of my life. I'd lost grandparents. And I'd lost a friend in college, but of people who were so close to me. So I started really understanding what it is to metabolize grief with Amy and how shocking it is, you know, that the world keeps turning and other people keep living their lives and that the mail keeps getting delivered, and you know, that you're supposed to go to work the next day, you know, just all that shit, that's so out of pocket. I learned a tradition from a friend of mine that has served me so well that I feel like I have to talk about it here, which is that I have a grief bowl. I take a bowl and I put salt water in it. And I taste the saltwater so that it's about the salinity of tears. And in that I put a candle. And obviously it's best if the candle is inside of a glass or something not just sitting in the naked water. And when I'm experiencing the grief, I light the candle and I ask it to bear the grief with me and for me. And when the time for the grief has passed, ideally, I dump the salt water somewhere on the earth and ask it to just take that grief on my behalf. And that candle was lit every day for more than a year. And then I noticed that I'd gone a day or two without lighting it. And at first I felt guilty about that. Right there is this sense of like betraying my friend's honor or memory by not lighting the candle and then realizing that there was relief in not feeling the intense heaviness of that being the first thing I felt when I woke up in the morning. Now, after a decade, feeling so much gratitude for having her in my life. I mean, I still have anger about the fact that I don't get to grow old with her because honestly, I think she was going to be the most spectacular old lady. And I was really excited about that. But I learned so much that has served me about loss and since then have experienced a lot more loss. And so the experience of losing Amy has been so valuable in losing a sibling, losing a parent, losing other people close to me. I still wish it wasn't what happened. But it's provided a help or at least a loose roadmap for how to endure other grief.

Mel 39:35

When I was thinking about what to say for this question, I had a very similar response to Annette in that it definitely was the roadmap but because it was the first I don't know if that set the bar for what grief meant for me or means to me. I now welcome my grief waves as they wash over me and they can come at any time, any place, and I shall leak tears. And I am thankful for them because it keeps me open. I think I recognize like who Mel was before Amy passed was more shut down emotionally. Definitely, you know, growing into who I am and who I was going to be but this put me on an emotional trajectory of what it means to be vulnerable, stay open, stay vulnerable that I think maybe American society, specifically not having the amount of loss that other countries have experienced, we don't have a lot of practice in grief. With each of my losses since then again, parents and siblings and chosen son and so forth. It is a reminder of my humanity, and what it means to love. And I welcome it. I'm thankful for it.

Jana DeCristofaro 41:10

You each showed up today for this conversation with items. Amy items, I wondered if you each wanted to talk about those.

Mel 41:23

Well, I'm wearing a vest, that Amy's aunt, Tia Louanne wove for her and has big star on the back. And Amy wore this for years. And it's so when I wear it's like a little strength, a little hug from Amy. But you probably can't tell I also have a pendant that I had made with her name on it in her handwriting. And then I have a necklace that Annette and Rebecca and Todd and I all share that we had made after Amy passed.

Annette 42:03

I am sitting here rubbing a piece of fused glass. Amy was quite crafty. And she eventually got a kiln and was experimenting with ways to fuse glass. And I think as friends, we were quite lucky that both her husband and her family allowed us to ask for things to request and get things of hers. And in advance of our conversation today I was I was thinking about that fact and that I would be okay, if I didn't have items of Amy's. And yet, I'm grateful that I have them and on days that I'm missing her or feeling like I want to channel her spirit or want to have her close. It's really nice to be able to put on a pair of her earrings or an item of her clothing and really feel imbued with having her near that way.

Jana DeCristofaro 43:16

That makes me want to ask you all one more question. I was thinking what you'd said Annette of how feeling really grateful that Amy's family was open to you and the other friends having items of Amy's and that one of the things that can happen for folks when a friend dies, that there can feel like there's this in-crowd and out crowd. Biological married and family in-crowd, other friends out crowd. Right. And I just wondered for you all. It sounds like it was a different experience in that way. But in terms of when you meet other people and you share about Amy and share about her death, what's your sense of how much the grief you have matches or doesn't match with how much grief other people think maybe you should have or not have when it comes to a friend versus like an official family member? I say that in quotes, because who is family often doesn't have anything to do with blood. Was there a question in there? Did I get there for you? Well, sorry, that was a lot of words.

Mel 44:22

Annette tell me what the question is.

Annette 44:24

I mean, it's the hierarchy of grief and who is allowed to feel the grief and whether or not that's honored or acknowledged or if you feel the permission to feel the grief you have. I mean, that's what I heard, I guess.

Mel 44:41

Well, this is my experience and I'm curious what the observation is. Because Amy, how she was in life, she took us with her where she wanted us and we were so in each other's lives any involved with each other that Amy's family knew about each and every one of us and the butt mole we have like, there was no secrets. And we were talked about with each other's families on the daily, you know, when people are asking about how I am my mom and sister asking about how's Annette, how's Amy? We were just so fortunate to have such a rich friendship. So that when Amy's passing, and her illness happened, I mean, I was in touch with her mom and her aunt, you know, daily. And so after she passed, I was in touch with her mom and her aunts daily, and still very close with her mom, and stay in touch with the brothers here and there and so forth. I think I didn't know that I wasn't supposed, you know, that hierarchy of grieving, it was just so consuming. You just ignore it, right? Like there's can't put parameters on that it definitely showed up with work. When on week three, I didn't want to go back. And people are like, come on now. I'm like, No, not ready. So definitely there. And when meeting new people that didn't know Amy, because now enough time has gone by, and the social circles have expanded and shifted. It's kind of interesting to see like, how much do I share? How much do I bring this in. I did get a divorce through this whole process and have met a new partner. And from the get go negotiating space for Amy was part of that relationship. Holding space for the stories, the tears, the birthdays, making a cake for somebody who's not here. But having to negotiate all that. And being very accepted for that. It becomes part of your fabric as you move forward and navigate that space. I probably don't know about that hierarchy because I just ignored it. [Laughter].

Annette 46:50

I mean, those were my words the hierarchy of grief, but the I agree that that having Amy's family, know about us, understand our relationships, be generous and accepting about them made that a ton easier. And I also agree Mel that I watched you in forming your new partnership, bring Amy into that and weave it from the beginning which was a beautiful thing to behold and not simple. As I heard you ask the question, Jana I thought A) I live with chronic illness and I don't meet a whole lot of new people on the reg. So I don't have to do a lot of the Amy-splaining but also, I think it's precious enough to me that unless somebody matters a lot to me, I don't explain it in part because I don't care to have it be diminished or questioned because I understand that she was my sister and if you wouldn't understand that I am not interested. Thank you I don't want your feedback. But that certainly in our society yes, families of choice are becoming more understood and more woven in - and - we still prioritize family support and in terms of relationships and grief.

Jana DeCristofaro 48:33

It's so interesting to listen to both of you in the way that you know for Mel, it sounds like you lead with Amy into new relationships and new friendships. Just like the color of your hair the color of your eyes like you meet me you meet Amy and for you Annette Amy is always with you. But you're like you know what? I don't know if I'm going to share...

Annette 48:56

I'm not going to trust you with Amy [Laughter].

Jana DeCristofaro 48:57

I'm gonna wait and see if you deserve to know about this or not. As we come to the end of our time together today, is there anything else either of you are like I really want listeners to know this about grieving when a friend dies.

Mel 49:16

I did think about this question. It kind of dovetails nicely in that to your comment about chosen family and so forth too. Grieving the loss of a friend. Somebody who you would feel as a sister or very close like Amy was for Annette and I. Because it was chosen, because it was intentional, because I did put in the sweat and tears for somebody who wasn't my family and I had to. The loss of that was devastating. It crushed me. And the repair around that has been, is still in process. But also recognizing like, I'm not gonna...I mean I am fortunate for my sisters - and Todd [Annette] you're a sister - that I have the longevity of this group of people that went through this with me, but that, you know, I mean, Amy and I had like close to 20 years when I do the math, it's probably 17 years of active time in it and just knowing that that's not going to be recreated. Like, I'm not going to have the time. And now that I have family and career - that time in our lives we were just doing so much together, so many experiences together. That it, it's a loss that's hard to talk about. It's different. Because it is chosen family, and it was intentional, and it bore the fruit of love and intention. And that work is different than what family does. The loss is real. And there's not that many people out there to talk to about it, like a lot of people don't understand it. Or, for me, I've experienced that anyways, I would say. But I've been so fortunate to have a group of friends that does and that I definitely turn to on the reg. Yeah.

Annette 51:24

Yeah, and I would say, and I'm, I'm going to take a detour for a moment. So about five years after I lost Amy, my cousin who is a year older than me, died of a really rare cancer and this cousin, they were kind of the outsider of their family, which is sort of how I identify as well. And we were really close. And so that loss for me was also very devastating. And in the wake of that loss, I reached out to their best friend. We get together on occasion when we're able to, we don't live in that same city. And so it's been so healing to have someone else to share those stories with, to remember them with, to be like, "Oh my god, do you remember when they..." And so I would say that, I guess because of that and also because of the ways that Mel has become such an integral part of my life, I would say if you lose a dear friend, and there is someone else, who is also there grieving that you know, a little bit, and you feel at all inclined to reach out to, in your grief. Do it. Because I wouldn't say that grief shared is necessarily grief divided. But I would say that it's sometimes easier to carry that burden together at least. And there may be a beautiful friendship ahead. And at the very least, you're shouldering the burden together if not building something that might serve you into the future. And so, look around in the midst of that devastation, to be like, "Okay, is there someone else here that I've that I've thought maybe we could get coffee together or we've done things together as a group and I can reach out to them too, even if it's just sending a text in the midst of my heartbreak?"

Jana DeCristofaro 51:51

I love that Annette because I was thinking about how in friendships, it's almost like you build a little world together. And if that person dies, you want to connect with the other people who have visited that world as well. Because it's a unique world that maybe other people can't understand the language or recognize what the weather is like or know how to dress for it or anything like that.

Annette 54:16


Jana DeCristofaro 54:17

Well, thank you both so much. It's such a tender thing to share about a relationship that is just so heart-ful for both of you.

Annette 54:30

Thanks for letting us talk about Amy.

Mel 54:35

Thank you, Jana.

Jana DeCristofaro 54:38

And listeners out there. I am going to link in the show notes so be sure to check it out Annette has her own podcast. So if you want to hear more from Annette, you can connect through her podcast and what's the name of your podcast again Annette?

Annette 54:52

Chronic wellness about how to live well with chronic pain and illness.

Jana DeCristofaro 54:58

So that will be in the show notes and and listeners I know you're really tired of me saying this but thank you for being part of the show for making it mean something for sharing episodes with people who you think might be interested in what we are talking about here. If you want to you can reach out to me directly at that's That's our website where you can find free downloadable resources, all information about our local Portland programming, and each and every episode of grief out loud. I'm excited as always to share that our podcast is sponsored in part by The Chester Stephen endowment fund. Thanks again for listening. We hope you'll join us again next time.