Clarissa Moll had four young children when her husband Rob suddenly died. Clarissa had to re-establish her faith, be mother and father suddenly, and deal with the darkness of grief. This is not what she and Rob were expecting. In this interview, she tells us what her coping skills were and how being in the darkness of grief can be a good thing.
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03:04 - Meet Her Husband, Rob
05:32 - Talking About Death As A Young Family
06:29 - Doing Hospice Work
07:32 - Meet Clarissa's Kids
08:51 - What Sudden Death Did To Her Faith
11:17 - After Sudden Death, What Now?
13:16 - Sitting In The Rubble
15:12 - There Are No Bad Feelings
16:37 - Relearning How To Think About The Future
20:23 - How To Relearn To Face The Future
23:16 - Seeking Connection With Your Lost Person
24:17 - Overcoming Feeling Alone
26:39 - Are Our Loved One Still With Us?
27:50 - How Is Grief A Companion?
31:59 - Releasing the Need to "Get Over" Grief
33:15 - Dealing With The Grief Of Your Children
38:06 - Modeling For Our Children
41:39 - Why We Need The Darkness
44:08 - Getting Rid Of The Need To Be Happy
45:10 - Jesus Embraces Suffering
47:37 - How Does Jesus Walk Through Grief With Us
49:30 - Feeling Guilty About Feeling Joy
53:14 - What Do Grieving People Need Most?
58:04 - Surprised By Grief Podcast
Clarissa Moll is an award-winning writer and the author of Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss. She holds an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and her writing has appeared at TGC, Christianity Today, Rooted, RELEVANT, Modern Loss, and more. Clarissa advocates for the bereaved and helps them find flourishing after loss.
Clarissa is the author of:
Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss (Tyndale, 2022)
The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come (authored by late husband, Rob Moll. Released as an expanded edition with Cla
I'm excited to announce a new resource I'm very proud of. This guide outlines the four daily practices I discovered on my grief journey. These techniques have helped dozens of my clients. Get it free today.
GEMS- 4 Steps To Go From Grief To Joy
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Brian Smith 0:01
Now that you're here at Grief 2 Growth, I like to ask you to do three things. The first thing is to make sure that you like click Notifications, and subscribe to make sure you get updates for my YouTube channel. Also, if you'd like to support me financially, you can support me through my tip jar at grief to growth.com. That's grief, the number two growth.com/tip jar or look for tip jar at the very top of the page, or buy me a coffee at the very bottom of the page, and you can make a small financial contribution. The third thing I'd like to ask is to make sure you share this with a friend through all your social media, Facebook, Instagram, whatever. Thanks for being here. Close your eyes and imagine what are the things in life that causes the greatest pain, the things that bring us grief, or challenges, challenges designed to help us grow to ultimately become what we were always meant to be. We feel like we've been buried. But what if like a seed we've been planted, and having been planted, who grow to become a mighty tree. Now, open your eyes. Open your eyes to this way of viewing life. Come with me as we explore your true, infinite, eternal nature. This is grief to growth. And I am your host, Brian Smith. Hey everybody, this is Brian back with another episode of grief to growth. And today I've got with me Clarissa mol and courser have something in common that we both experienced sudden loss of a very close loved one. And we're going to talk about today how Clarissa has dealt with that. And so maybe your introduction, then I'll bring her in. She's an award winning writer and podcaster. And as I said she knows this landscape of loss too well. Her life changed forever in 2019 when her husband Rob died unexpectedly while they were hiking, leaving her with four children to raise alone. And her her debut book is called Beyond the darkness. And in that book, she offers a powerful personal narrative, as well as an honest practical wisdom that would gently guide you towards flourishing among your own loss. She is an award winning writer and she's a podcaster and shows three people find flourishing after loss. Her writing appears in Christianity Today, the Gospel coalition relevant modern loss, grief, digest and more. She co hosts Christianity day surprised by grief podcast, and she hosts the writerly life the the weekly hope writers podcast. She holds a master's degree from Trinity event, Evangelical Divinity School. And she's a frequent guest on podcasts and radio shows, which is what she's doing here today. So with that, I want to welcome Clarissa Moll to grief to growth. Hi,
Clarissa Moll 2:39
thanks so much for having me. Hi,
Brian Smith 2:40
Chris, I'm really looking forward to have this conversation. As I said, every loss is different. But we do have some things in common and that that sudden loss and that's why you titled your podcast surprised by grief is, I think a particularly difficult type of loss to deal with. But before we get into that, whenever someone's lost a loved one, and I always want to give them a chance to introduce your loved one to us. So tell me about Rob.
Clarissa Moll 3:04
Oh, well, thank you, you know, the further out you get from your loss, the fewer people ask. So I appreciate that invitation. Rob was a journalist. He was a writer, career writer. And he was just an all around awesome guy. I think everywhere he went people were drawn to him. He was a dad. We have four children. And we were married for 17 years. And you know, folks tell me that some of the things they remember about him were his big laugh in a room and how he pound the table when things were just hilarious. And, you know, those kinds of memories, draw me back to campsite and to people's living rooms and around the dinner table. And I always appreciate when folks remember his laugh to me because it brings him back to me in ways that are really precious to me now.
Brian Smith 3:55
Yeah. So tell me he was he a pastor, a writer? What did he do?
Clarissa Moll 3:59
So he was a journalist, and he wrote for a variety of outlets from the Wall Street Journal to the Hill, he was a ghostwriter for C suite executives. And in us in a strange, it's become ironic, it feels like in some ways, he also worked at a funeral home and was a hospice volunteer. So he wrote a book about dying called the art of dying, living fully into the life to come in 2010, which was 10, nine years before he died. So in a strange way, we were a death literate couple before we ever encountered the kind of loss that our family has suffered.
Brian Smith 4:38
Yeah, I noticed. He did write a book about about loss. And it's interesting because people typically don't like to talk about loss and death and stuff. So you guys were a death butter couples. So you apparently spoke about this before he transitioned?
Clarissa Moll 4:52
Yes. Yeah. You know, we had little kids. We had three children who were under the age of seven and he was, you know, holding a hand Answer folks on weekends as they were processing terminal diagnosis as they were entering hospice. And he was sitting with families in the evenings at a funeral home working, taking calls from bereaved families at night when they would call in. And so there was no way to avoid those kinds of conversations for our family. Granted, I will say I hated them. I hated the conversations. I did not want to think about one of us being gone in the prime of life, I didn't want to think about my kids growing up with a dad Without me, you know, it was just too hard to even fathom. But, but he pushed for those conversations because he saw families who were grieving well, and he saw families who weren't grieving as well, because of their apprehensions about facing a conversations about death and dying. And so he really, he pressed into that, and, and I'm grateful for it now. Because even though there's nothing that can prepare you for a sudden loss, or for any kind of loss, there's nothing that can prepare your heart for just the the weight of that grief. I do appreciate the practical conversations that we had that provided some kind of scaffolding for me in the days that followed his desk.
Brian Smith 6:18
Yeah, well, I'm curious what got him into doing hospice work.
Clarissa Moll 6:22
So he, he had been doing a lot of reporting on euthanasia. And at the time, the Terry Chavo case out of Florida was it was all over the news, people were talking about, you know, right to die, dignity and death. And so he really wanted to understand this, from a very practical and intimate kind of level. And he said, You know, I, I've lost my own family members, I've watched hospice care for them in their last days, maybe if I became a volunteer myself, I could learn how to navigate this territory better. I remember sitting with him at the bedside of his great aunt, as she was dying of cancer and both of us just feeling absolutely bereft have anything to offer, you know, no words of comfort, we couldn't figure out what to do. And, and that that experience really rocked him i it bothered him that he was so ill prepared and so ever the curious journalist, and he dove right in and, and began what became a really fulfilling volunteer position for a few years.
Brian Smith 7:28
Wow, that's incredible. Sounds like an incredible guy. Tell me about your kids, how old are they and tell me something about them.
Clarissa Moll 7:34
So they range from high school, I've got two in high school, one in junior high and one still in elementary school. So all of the developmental ranges, and, and they fill my life with joy, I am grateful for their companionship on this hard road. And, you know, kids are amazing, their bodies are changing, their minds are are growing. And they are living representatives to me of the resilience that is just written into our DNA. And so I feel like more than anything my children have, have drawn me forward in my experience of grief, toward growth, because they're growing every day right before my eyes and, and I want to I want to go along with them. I don't want to be stuck. And so their lives draw me forward.
Brian Smith 8:23
Yeah, I'm sure I'm sure they do. I know when my daughter transition, I don't use the word die very often, because I don't believe that we die. But that's just a personal thing. When my daughter transitioned, you know, I have another daughter. So I knew I had to go on for her. She was she was just finishing her freshman year of college at the time. So I know that feeling of your I love what you said like they were like pulling you forward. I think that's, that's a really cool image. So when when Rob did pass, I was looking at some of your information or whatever, some of you are both people of faith at the time. How did that impact your faith? How did what was that? What did that feel like for you?
Clarissa Moll 9:04
I think in many ways, it's sort of brought me down to the base of the tree, you know, whenever any kind of suffering enters your life, or difficulty, it, it demands that you really stand firm it in what is true for you. And sometimes we discover that for the first time when something hard happens, you know, you go through a divorce or a job loss and you and for the first time that that moment of suffering clarifies for you what is really valuable. And other times. It just reinforces that for you to be able to say okay, these are the things that I hold to be true in my life. These are the things I want to base my life upon. And that becomes a beautiful foundation for you to rebuild again. And I think that's certainly been my experience as a person of faith that the things that I believed about God about Life, they have been reinforced in the in the clarifying process of losing Rob, and and really have become the foundation I believe for the way that I can rebuild my life again.
Brian Smith 10:13
Yeah, I just spent a frankly, I, I work with a lot of people who have suffered loss, of course. And I think that that tragic moment, as you said, it could be a foundation we can use for to go forwards. And when some people just say just shattered their faith. That's right. So did you go through any sort of a dark night of the soul? Or were you just steady in your faith? Or how did that? How did that happen for you?
Clarissa Moll 10:37
Um, I wouldn't say that I've gone through a dark night of the soul. You know, I've never really asked ask God, why, you know, those kinds of those sort of existential questions, I think, you know, it's not hard to look around at the world and see that things just feel so broken in many ways, you know, you watch the news. And, and so in some ways, it's, you know, why not? Why, how have I been so lucky to have avoided this kind of tragedy for my whole life? For me the question, the existential question was less Why, then, what now? What, what now? Will I do? You know, how will I carry this? How will? How can my faith inform how I carry this? Are there things that I need to shed? In the values that I've held in my life for so long, that I see now are just flimsy and unimportant? What are the things I need to grasp onto in this? This new season? So really, yeah, it hasn't been so much a why question. But what now? How do I move forward?
Brian Smith 11:43
Yeah, I think that's, that's great. Because that for a lot of people, they do they get into the why. And then there's kind of, I think, for a lot of people faith, this kind of unwritten covenant that if, if we do the right things, then good things will happen to us. And as you as you said, if you look around the world, obviously bad things happen to everybody every day. So yeah, I was curious as to how that worked out for you, because I've seen so many people kind of go the other way. Yeah, it's like this, this can't be true, because bad things would have happened to me. Well,
Clarissa Moll 12:15
and you know, I hold space for that. Because, because we are all in process. This is not a one and done kind of experience, you know, you you experience loss, and then and then the the decisions you make afterwards are set in concrete, you know, we are all emerging from our experiences and growing from them. And so, you know, I feel like if you have big questions like that, if you are wrestling with the why questions, good, good, shout him out to the universe, go ahead and say your piece. Because I think that it's, it's actually when we deny those, when we run away from the deep questions that we hold, that's where we actually get into trouble. I don't think you will ever really struggle in your life, with moving forward with grief, if you are honest about the questions that you carry. So yeah, if it rocks, your faith, if it rocks, the foundations of your life, and, you know, well, it should and, and you can take that space of crumbling and the deconstruction that really comes with that to sit in the rubble for a little while, and that's okay, for as long as it takes. And it's amazing that I think of the image of my kids sitting on the living room floor with Legos all over the floor, you know, that they don't see anything, any pattern or that, you know, they're, they don't have a creation that they have in mind. But the longer they sit there, they put one piece with another, and then another with another, and suddenly, there's something that begins to emerge. And I think that, you know, if you're a person who is asking those big questions, who has, who has left faith behind has found it to be flimsy in a in a season of grief, sit in the rubble sit in the rubble and, and like that child with the Legos all over the living room floor, go ahead and survey the rubble, and then take some time and start picking up pieces and putting them back together and see, see what beauty emerges? Because I think that kind of honesty is the place where we're real beautiful beauty and flourishing begin.
Brian Smith 14:31
Yeah, it's I just, I kind of smile. You mentioned Legos, because I actually just wrote a piece last week. I haven't published it yet, about deconstructing our faith after we go through roof and I use the same analogy. Because you know, you have this thing that you've got all put together. But something comes along, it just knocks the whole thing apart. And that's an opportunity to rebuild it for a lot of us. So there can be I believe, we're just widening the podcast grief to growth, I think that growth can come them out of out of loss if we, if we actually sit with that, like what you said about that we have to sit with it, and there's gonna be this time of rubble on there's got to be this time of discomfort and of all those bad feelings.
Clarissa Moll 15:14
Yeah, yeah. And I would say, you know, they're not bad. You know, they're uncomfortable. Right? Right. Right. But but they're so enriching when we, and that's part of our cultures, you know, the kind of myths that our culture carries about emotional content about how we face difficult times that, you know, being angry is a bad feeling or being despairing as a bad feeling. And being joyful or optimistic. Those are the good feelings we want to strive for in grief. But I think that all of our emotions serve us if we will listen to them turn with them to in self compassion, and, and, and really pay attention to their wisdom. So yeah, even those things that our culture might say, well, you know, you don't want to feel that kind of stuff. I say, oh, no, that there may be some wisdom that is being spoken to you there, attend to that, be curious about it, see, see what kind of a fruitfulness you can gain from listening there.
Brian Smith 16:13
Yeah, I actually, I slipped up with my language here, because I think there are no bad feelings, or feelings. And, and we have we've been given feelings by by God. And we're supposed to feel them, you know, they're, they're there for a reason. And you can take those things and you can you can transform them into something else. I was looking at your Instagram, I love this post that you made. And I've read just part of it is a traumatic loss pulverize my hopes and confidence in the future. And the last almost three years, I've had to relearn how to plan a week, two weeks a month in advance if I had to rediscover how to look forward to things. While I'm now pretty good at hoping for small things, I still dislike thinking much about my future. I could plan up to three months in advance now. But I don't find that a dream much about what will be far ahead. It still feels very lonely and shaky to dwell on the future for very long. I got goosebumps just reading that, because I remember that feeling for you. It's been just about three years. For me, I'm coming up on seven years. But talk about that feeling of, of not being able to plan so people can understand what that means.
Clarissa Moll 17:18
Yeah, you know, when you experience sudden loss, there was no plan, you know, it really drops in and interrupts the calendar in a big way. And that's a unique aspect of this kind of loss, traumatic loss. And I think when you experience that sort of disruption, it just it blows up the entire calendar, there's no way to anticipate you didn't clear your calendar to anticipate the kind of physiological and emotional, spiritual, psychological effects of this loss in your life. And, you know, practically speaking, for me, it meant quitting a new job that I had just taken on and saying, hey, you know what, I can't handle this right now. I'm in a brain fog, I do not have the capacity for this. It meant restructuring. I mean, my husband died while we were on vacation. So it meant restructuring even the details of getting home of the very basic kinds of things that where are we going to stay? How are we going to get back from where we are? And so those very basic and, and those first things that you deal with in grief? Well, they're not the only things. Three months from now, you know, how how do I want to commit to bringing my kids to a school concert, you know, where dad isn't sitting there anymore? Do I want to even attend anymore? And and then thinking about plans for the future? You know, we we were getting to the place where we could think about being empty nesters where I was hoping to further develop my second half career. And now I have to think differently about my future. And it's scary. It's scary to try to plan for a future that I never anticipated. And, you know, for me, I have just decided to take it small, take it small and not try to release those fears about the future because it is scary to look into a future where suddenly there are no plans. But and you know, I'm an optimist. That's just how I'm wired. And I would like to say that there are all kinds of good things in store. But the reality is that life is hard. And I know that firsthand now, and so there's a bit of weariness, I think even to an open calendar to an open future. It feels uncertain now in ways that it never did before.
Brian Smith 19:53
So how have you found or any techniques or anything to deal with that uncertainty because I You know what I could set when I read that I was like, I know that so well, unless you've been through it, I think it's hard for people to understand. Even to this day people talk to me about, you know, 10 years in the future or whatever. I'm like, I can't even my mind would not even allow me to go there.
Clarissa Moll 20:14
Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, when I talk to folks about any, any kind of relearning, because this is really what we're doing, right, we're really learning how to face the future. And these these techniques, I think, work with relearning all kinds of things, you know, I always say start small, you do not need to plan a month in advance, start two days in advance, if that's where you can start. You know, even if you're not there yet, plan your next hour. That's okay. At the very beginning, when grief feels really acute, you don't need to think past this 24 hour span. So start very small and small means whatever small means to you at that time. I think the second thing would be to be aware of your triggers. You know, there are certain things that aren't a big deal for other people that become a big, big deal for you. When you've experienced loss. I think about invitations to holiday get togethers where folks are really excited to give you an invitation, and you receive it with a sense of trepidation. Now, do I have to commit to this a month in advance? You know, it says RSVP by and and that can feel like a real weight that can be a trigger for you. And so identifying, hey, you know what, this is an RSVP date that's further along than I plan right now. And being able to acknowledge that and maybe even reaching out to the person and offering a Maybe instead, that can be a helpful way of just being aware of the things that that set you off. And, and then I like to encourage folks to choose concrete goals, you know, if you, if you're planning a week in advance, okay, what does that mean for you? Does that mean planning what you're going to eat each day, you know, making a menu plan, does it mean planning, who will pick your kids up from baseball practice, maybe that's what the plan is choosing a couple of concrete things, not looking to plan your entire life. But the few, a few small things that you have some reasonable control over can be a really good anchor point for you, as you tried to step into that level of uncertainty. Of course, acknowledging that it's going to look different, your experience of losing your person has totally reshaped your life. And so you're not going to ever plan in the same ways that folks around you haven't experienced loss are planning. And, you know, you can release those expectations on yourself. And, and remind yourself of that, when people in your life who genuinely just don't understand, would try to place expectations on you. And I think, you know, as you, you start small, you, you pay attention to your triggers, you look for small goals that you can achieve. And then you seek a sense of connection with your person. You know, your person isn't here in that concrete way that they were before. But it doesn't mean that you can't tap into the wisdom and the love that you share with that person still in in their physical absence from you. And so, you know, I invite folks bring your person into your planning, whatever that looks like for you. Does it mean paying attention to your person's favorite foods, maybe that's what you plan to make for the next week, you're going to make a menu of your person's favorite foods as a way of bringing them into that into that very concrete goal. Maybe it's tapping into their wisdom, you know, he or she would have fill in the blank. And, and having a sort of mental emotional conversation with your person about your planning. One of the hardest parts of looking to the future is feeling like you're doing it alone. And I think seeking connection with your person, and then in a community of support can be a really helpful way of saying, Okay, this road feels lonely, but it's not as lonely as I might perceive it is sometimes that there are other people who are willing to walk into this uncertain future with me. And I'm going to find them and I'm going to grab their hands on tight and we're going to walk together.
Brian Smith 24:38
So you mentioned seeking a sense of connection with the person. What is that? What does that look like? What does that feel like for you? I know it's different for everybody.
Clarissa Moll 24:45
Sure. Yeah. Well, for me, a lot of it is tapping into his wisdom. We we work together for almost 20 years in our marriage. He was a writer, I was an editor so we work together professionally a lot. And so When I think about professional work that I'm doing, you know, stuff in my work life, I'll often think, Okay, what would rob say, in this moment? You know, how would he handle it? And not as a way of kind of relinquishing my own agency, but as a way of tapping into that love and, and thinking, if he were here now in this room talking to me, you know, flesh and putting his arms around me, what would he tell me to write in that work email? What would he, you know, how would he speak into this tough situation I have with my colleague. And so I do those things a lot. And it's a balance, of course, because even as we seek connection with our loved one, we are developing on our own, we are tapping into our own wisdom in new ways. And, and part of seeking connection with your person is also I think, a sense of joyfulness in your own flourishing, and knowing how much that pleases them, you know, all of our loved ones, they, they would want the best for us. And so tapping into your connection with your person isn't just a reliance on them. But it's a shared joyfulness that, hey, you know what I'm doing this, I'm doing this solo parenting thing. And, and I'm, I'm kicking butt, I'm doing pretty good, pretty well. I sense his joyfulness in me in that moment. And, and that's a further way that I feel like I can connect with him even in his physical absence.
Brian Smith 26:37
So I'm curious, because I was, I was raised as a Christian. And we were raised to kind of believe that, you know, when you when people pass away, they either are asleep, you know, until Jesus returns or they're in heaven. They're not really here. What's, what's your What are your thoughts on that?
Clarissa Moll 26:54
Yeah. Well, you know, the tradition of the church is, is this belief in the communion of saints, that those who have died, you know, their flesh is, is broken down there in the ground, are still a part of us in a really beautiful and mystical way that we are still have one body. And so that is really the the core of my hope that I'm less concerned about where he is, and, and more interested in who he is now, and who he is, is, beloved of God, he is part of this body in which I am also a part. And so there's a sense of communion, even in his physical absence.
Brian Smith 27:38
Great answer, thank you. You refer to grief as a companion? What does that mean to you? And how can we how can we? What does that mean to you?
Clarissa Moll 27:48
Yeah, well, you know, I will admit, it's kind of controversial for a lot of people because it, it gives the impression that grief doesn't go away. But I think, you know, Brian, you've experienced this as well, you know, you carry grief with you, it changes and it, it matures over time, but it's always there, it is always there. And that's why I really like the paradigm of grief as a companion because it acknowledges that long lasting nature of grief, that it is birthed into your life and, and that it sticks with you that it has a personality of its own, that it goes with you places where you have to go and in sometimes difficult way is you know, folks in the office keep you at arm's length now because they see grief in the room with you, right? You sense grief at the table with you at dinner time when there's an empty chair. Just just a way of embodying that experience for us. And, and then also, you know, the other side of that, then is that grief speaks to us. It offers us wisdom, when we don't turn away from this companion who at times is incredibly difficult, who has you know barged into the house as it were set down its bags and said I'm staying and and yet when we turn to it with compassion when we nurture its wisdom, boy, you know, grief shares so much with us. It reshapes how we see the world it can become make us more compassionate people more tender in the very best of ways. And so yeah, Grief is a companion feels like something I can live with. And it it takes the pressure off the sort of five stages of grief you know, I've got to get from A to Z and a certain amount of time. And and if I don't, then I'm languishing. I always say okay, grief, come on, come along for the ride.
Let's see where we can go together. We'll get back to grief to grow. In just a few seconds, did you know that Brian is an author and a life coach, if you're grieving or know someone who is grieving his book, grief degrowth is a best selling easy to read book that might help you or someone you know, people work with Brian as a life coach to break through barriers and live their best lives. You can find out more about Brian and what he offers at WWW dot grief to growth.com www.gr IE F the number two growth.com or text growth grow T H 231996. If you'd like to support this podcast, visit www.patreon.com/grief to growth www.patreon.com/grie F, the number two g r o wth to make a financial contribution. And now back to grief to growth.
Brian Smith 30:59
Yeah, that is a scary thing. A lot of people will ask, Will I ever get over this and I'm like, depends on what you mean by get over it. That's right, we can we can heal, we can learn to accept the grief. And then now that image of grief as a companion because it's always going to be with us. So we might as well learn to, to embrace it. And the thing is, for me the grief as a result of the love and the love is never going to go away. So I will always carry the grief with me. And that doesn't mean I'm always going to be sad or mourning, or things like that. But there's still I still have those days. I mean, it's gonna be seven years and a little bit over a month. And I still have days or times when it's like yeah, I don't I don't like this, you know, I don't want this. So but why I think what people I love you, you're giving people hope that yeah, it will get it will get better. You'll learn to kind of accept it and then be pumpkin part of a part of
Clarissa Moll 31:55
who you are. That's right. Yeah. And, and it also releases us to feel those feelings long after our person is is not with us. You know, I think about a dear friend of mine who lost her husband suddenly to a heart issue. And 13 years after his death, her daughter got married. And she was anticipating this beautiful day celebrating her daughter and just felt a deep, deep weight of grief at the at the reception as she saw folks dancing and having a wonderful time. Greif was sitting there at the table with her. And I think that that paradigm of companionship, that image of companionship allows us even 13 years after our last you know, 20 years, whatever to say, Okay, you're still with me? What kind of what kind of gentleness? Can I offer myself in your companionship? And and how can you speak to me now about the love as you say that still remains?
Brian Smith 32:55
Yeah. So what in your case of your husband's passing? Who you are with four young children? How did you deal with their their grief? Or, you know, trying to take care of them while you're trying to take care of yourself? That's got to be a real challenge.
Clarissa Moll 33:15
Yes, certainly. Parenting parenting for children. While grieving has been the the mammoth task of my existence. I feel like if we get through this all alive and well, I'm going to put that at the top of my resume. That is my number one accomplishment in this life. Because children grieve very differently than adults do. There they are. They're changing bodies and minds and spirits. And, and they don't, they don't take in the reality of loss at the same at the same way in the same way that you do at the same time you do. And so, I've found that it's just really a process of becoming a student to my children, you know, teach me how how this feels to you how you're doing this, how you're navigating this, instead of me sort of imposing my ideas about what Greece supposed to look like, how you're supposed to grow through it. I say, Okay, how are you feeling today? How, you know, can I just listen and, and learn from you. And I found that that reflective kind of listening posture is really helpful in all areas of my parenting. It's made parenting my children easier in ways that don't feel you know, they're more tangentially related to grief. And, you know, the difficulties of adolescence, okay, well, I probably needed that reflective listening practice. Well, in order before we entered that season, and grief has afforded me the opportunity to practice it. So I tried to give them space to feel what they need to feel to be normal, you know, kids just want to feel normal after they have experienced a loss, whatever normal looks like to them, and they want to be able to fit in with their peers. So looking for opportunities to just help them navigate this, knowing that they're going to carry this even longer than I will, you know, they they're so young, they were really young when they lost their dad, and, and they're going to need to learn how to shoulder this over time.
Brian Smith 35:29
I would imagine I only had to have two children. And I know how different their personalities are, I would imagine your four children handling the loss in different ways. Is that true?
Clarissa Moll 35:39
Yeah, yeah, certainly. And, you know, my youngest was very little when Rob died, and didn't really have a strong conception of what even was happening, what that absence meant. And you see that developmentally that, you know, really young children, they, we've just taught them object permanence, you know, the idea that when mommy leaves the room, I'm still here, I still exist, we're so excited when we can leave the room, and the baby doesn't start to cry anymore, that we and, and, you know, we've barely taught them this idea. And then we have to teach them that, you know, Daddy's never walking back in the door again. And that is just wow, that's, that's a huge mental leap for them to take. And so you find with these little ones, that they, they really don't understand what what it means to die. What happens to the body when it's shutting down. And so their understanding emerges over time. And of course, you know, they asked concrete questions, the sort of who, what, when, where kinds of questions that will pierce our hearts sometimes, because they are so literal, but you know, our older children, they tend to ask the why questions, and those are certainly the harder ones to answer. And that's where I think that practice of reflective listening can be really helpful, regardless of what their personalities are.
Brian Smith 37:05
Yeah, I wow, as you're attending, I just can't even imagine doing that with an age range of children who had different levels of developmental, you know, capacity. And then, you know, trying to deal with your own feelings is going through that. So you're right. That is that is something to put at the top of your resume. And I love that you said that, because, you know, I was talking with someone, a client I was working with, and her daughter had passed away, and she was talking about her other daughter. And she said, Well, I really feel like I need to make something in my life. And I want to do this, I'm gonna do this. And, like, wait a minute, you're, you're a single mother, raising a daughter is like 13. I said, that's your thing. For right now. Yeah, do that, you know, we don't we don't give enough credit to, to being a parent, it's, I think it's the most important job we'll ever have. And being complicated by, you know, sudden loss like that. It's, that's, that's quite an accomplishment to get through that.
Clarissa Moll 37:58
Well, and we model this for our children to write we are teaching them, we're teaching them coping skills, we are teaching them compassion, deep compassion, and the world needs people who have those skills. And so while it feels like we're just slogging through, and, you know, barely making it to the next thing, our kids are watching, and they're watching, not in a critical way, that they're watching in a really beautiful kind of way. And, and I think that we can trust that, as our kids watch us grieve, and grow and begin to thrive and flourish again, that they are, you know, we always say, you know, it's not, it's not what I tell you that you learn. It's, it's how you watch me live. And, and boy, they're getting a great example right there. They're seeing the messiness of it. They're seeing the struggle, but they're also seeing some really beautiful, triumphant moments that I think are going to produce a generation of kids who are really thoughtful and loving toward others.
Brian Smith 39:03
Yeah. Well, we spend a lot of time talking about growth after loss. Is growth inevitable?
Clarissa Moll 39:09
No, I think, I think we have to choose it. You know, grief gives us this, we're at this pivot point after a loss. Are we going to calcify? Are we going to harden or is grief going to break us open? And and I think that, you know, are in the deep pain of grief. We want to just turn inward, we want to harden but, but it's a choice. It's a choice to allow our sorrows or suffering to break us open. But that breaking as painful as it is, it produces good things you know, the soil has to be tilled before planting can begin and and it's in that broken soil that we can plant the seeds for a new life. So Yeah, it's it's not inevitable. And you know, I think we can all think of folks we've seen who, who don't seem to have grown through the hard things that they have endured, that they have become bitter, that they have become hardened by their circumstances. And so you know, that idea of, you know, what, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I don't think that for grieving people, you know, as I talked to widows and other folks, that's what most of us actually want. You know, it's a cliche, aphorism. But I think most of us actually don't desire to be so much stronger, as we desire to be wiser to be more tender, to allow our experience of loss to shape us. And that is, that's an act of choice. That's something that we each have to choose.
Brian Smith 40:51
Wow, I love that I've heard put that way before is instead of being stronger, being more loving and more caring, I think, more and wiser. That's that's what we really desperately really want. And, yeah, I have I know, I remember one of my first grief meetings I went to, I don't think I'll ever forget, I was I walked in and this woman was there, her daughter had passed, like 10 years before she was still bitter, still angry. It was like, it just happened the day before. And I was not even ready to think about healing. At that point. I was like, you know, I because I don't know what your experience was. I was like, I don't know if I'll ever heal it. But when I looked at what I said, but I do know, I don't want to be her. She was she was a great role model for me for what not to be. So your books titled beyond the darkness, what's the meaning behind the title?
Clarissa Moll 41:45
Yeah, well, it comes from a really old hymn that I found talking about the hope that we have for, for brokenness, to be redeemed and to be made new. But the cover of my book actually is a flower, and it's in the dark. And as a, I've got kind of a black thumb, sort of black and green, we'll call it a black and green thumb. As a somewhat amateur gardener. I love the idea of bulbs that we keep in our garages over the winter. And we put them in paper bags, and we hide them away with the idea that comes spring, we're going to plant those and that they're going to grow, but they need this season of darkness, it's actually a necessary season for them for rest for renewal, to get ready to do the job that they're going to do. And I think that, that our experience of grief is like that, that we live in this darkness of sorrow that it is deep, it is despairing, it feels hopeless, sometimes it is deeply painful. But there's something going on there also, there is there are nutrients that are being formed in us that are going to allow us to flourish again. And so you know, I, I hope that the title of the book both acknowledges that the depth and the sorrow of the darkness of grief, but also points us on to something that happens beyond that when the paper bag as it were is torn open, where were planted in that broken up soil of our life. And with the inevitability that as we do that grief work as we do the, the diligent planting and nurturing of that, that life that we've been given that we can flourish again.
Brian Smith 43:37
Yeah, I love I love that analogy. It's one that I use often, you know, the plant, that's actually the subtitle of my book planet not buried, that we, you know, we, if we, if we allow it to, as you said, if we allow it to break us open and the grow from it, we can we don't, it is a choice. You know, we don't we don't have to. But, you know, as you were saying that, you know, and sometimes people because of their faith, or they'll they'll say, Well, I have to be happy. You know, I can't I can't acknowledge these feelings. And I'm thinking about a particular person that I worked with. And this is a person who suddenly lost a grandchild, just terrible tragedy, and just would not acknowledge the fact that they even felt bad. Have you? Have you experienced that?
Clarissa Moll 44:27
No, I am blessed to not been in a church culture that reinforced those really damaging kinds of messages and and my heart breaks for folks who have heard those messages in settings that we're, we're supposed to be safe and nurturing, because it's certainly not the way of Jesus. You know, when I think about the way of Jesus, I think, to the book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, where it says that he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and the word acquainted there, and Hebrews actually means close friend. And so if you are a person of faith and you've been told, you know, get happy, push through this shoulder on, you know, be joyful. That is not that is clearly not the way of Jesus, not the way of someone who is intimate friends with sorrow. So, yeah, yeah, that's it's always sad to think that, that there are folks for whom those hard feelings are not welcome. Because I think we see over and over again in the life of faith that, that, you know, we have someone who embraces suffering, who sees suffering as a pathway to joy. And it doesn't feel like he needed to leave it behind to do the good work that he was called to do.
Brian Smith 45:52
Yeah, that's, that's, I love that answer. Unfortunately, in a lot of communities of ex Christians, I'm actually in a group on Facebook for ex ex evangelicals. And you know, this, this idea that we can't feel the feelings that we have to be happy, that drives some people away from the faith because they're like, I'm a human being. I think people forget that Jesus was very human, you know, and I always think about on the cross when He cried out, you know, oh, my God, oh, my God, why have you forsaken me? He was he was feeling the pain.
Clarissa Moll 46:27
Yeah, that's right. And, and so we can, we can be like him in that way. We can, we can cry out those desperate cries of abandonment, we can say the things that it feels almost unChristian, as it were, or unfaithful to say, knowing that in his humanity, he receives those that he suffers with us. And, gosh, grief is an incredibly isolating experience, you know, that you, you go into your workplace, you even sit with family who have a shared loss, and they don't feel like they can connect deeply with what you are feeling in a we each, even when we share a loss, we each grieve that loss in unique ways. And I think that's the beauty of, of being with Jesus in our grief is that here we have someone who is deeply acquainted with it. So if you're looking for somebody who gets it, when nobody else in your life gets it, you can turn to Jesus. Because he understands it. He carries it with you. And and he'll walk with you. Yeah,
Brian Smith 47:35
so you I think I saw in some one of your publicity materials, something about Jesus walks with us through this. So what does that what does that look like for you?
Clarissa Moll 47:43
Well, I think when we when we understand that Jesus isn't afraid of grief, that he was good friends with it, then we just follow in his footsteps, we befriend grief, we say, okay, in one hand, I'm going to I'm going to walk with the hand of grief for the rest of my life, I'm going to take it places where I never thought I could go. And I'm going to take Jesus along with me in my other hands that the three of us will walk together. That's sort of the image that I take. And, and so it means that in those places of deep despair, I can sit with grief and honesty. And I can know that in that darkness. I am not alone, because Jesus walks with me. And in those moments of joy, because they do come and you know, I feel like, sometimes it's easier to talk about the hard things after you've lost your person. And it's almost like, I'm not allowed to feel the joy anymore, that it feels wrong to feel that joy. And yet again, as grief speaks to us with joy in remembering our person in celebrating accomplishments after a loss, we have Jesus again attending to us that one with scars in his hands and his side, saying, I understand that when you are being resilient when you're being redeemed, resurrected from the darkness of your loss, you experience joy and sorrow in the same hands. And you know, I will walk with you and smile and cry and and do all of that messy stuff. That is our life. I'll do it with you. And you know, his name is Emmanuel, God with us. And I think that's a great gift to grieving people.
Brian Smith 49:26
Yeah, you touched on something there that I want to go back over that idea that you know, I'm never going to feel joy again. I think most of us go through that I know that I did. And then when you do start to feel joy then the guilt that comes?
Clarissa Moll 49:42
Yes. Yeah. It's it's disconcerting to feel joy because you think that maybe it shouldn't, that you that it needs to feel one sided that if I love this person, grief is my connection of love with them. And so Maybe if I'm feeling happy again, that means I'm grieving less, which means I'm loving them less. And so that's where the grief as love. It's, it's a helpful comparison, but the analogy breaks down because because if we only equate grief was sad feelings than sad feelings equals love and, and we can't live that way, you can't live a fruitful life that way. But, but when we see grief as a companion when it's the love that walks with us through the rest of our lives, then we can say, Okay, this companion is entering into joy with me, that love that remains, it looks different. But I can fully experience a new relationship, a new job, you know, selling my house and buying a new one taking a trip, you know, whatever those things are, that, that feel joyful. Knowing that grief as the companion says, I want you to live again, grief, I have taught you so many good lessons about what it means to live fully. Now go and do it and really enjoy it.
Brian Smith 51:09
Yeah, well, as you were saying, I thought about that, that grief is love. And I've heard the adage or whatever that sometimes the depth of the grief, grief is equal to the amount of love you had for a person. And that's a very dangerous analogy. And I say this from experience, because I thought, okay, I love my daughter so much, that, therefore I have been miserable for the rest of my life to prove how much I loved her. And it sounds crazy when you say it out loud. But these are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head.
Clarissa Moll 51:41
Yeah, and it's certainly these are things that our culture has taught us about how to grieve, you know, there are so many myths about how we operate as bereaved people in the world, that just become oppressive to us, I mean that that analogy that you give there breaks down, if you're a child, you know, a child who's experienced loss, they didn't have that long history with the person that maybe an adult would have had. So they won't carry grief in the same way. But it doesn't mean that they don't love them. And so yeah, a lot of our work, I think, as grieving people is to, to chart our own course, to be able to identify those held beliefs, culturally held beliefs about what grief is, whether it is, you know, the time heals all wounds, or the some losses are worse than others, you know, he could think about all kinds of, of myths that we have in our culture about grief, to identify those held beliefs, and then to step away from them and kind of observe them a little bit critically. Okay, where do I see this actually existing in my life? Like, are there truths here that I can pull out of this? Or do I just need to ditch this altogether and chart my own course. So it requires some level of engagement, critical engagement for us as bereaved people. And that's why, you know, grief is work and flourishing is work.
Brian Smith 52:59
Well, it's kind of back to the Lego that you talked about. Right? Right. We take them all apart, and we say this one. Yeah, I'll keep this one. But this one I don't need anymore.
Clarissa Moll 53:06
That's right. Yeah. Yeah.
Brian Smith 53:08
So what are what are grieving people need most to flourish after loss? What would you say is the thing they need the most.
Clarissa Moll 53:17
They need the gift of presence, you know, that you bring your casseroles to someone who's lost an appetite, you will, you will send a card to somebody who can barely read the writing through their tears. But you will never go wrong in showing up, you will never go wrong and showing up for someone. And, and this is a commitment. It's a commitment for the long haul. And I think that's why so many people who are grieving feel deeply alone. Because because we think that maybe it's our commitment of presence is just like for the first month, you know, we'll get the meal train going, or we'll make sure that their kids get to school for the first month. And then we've kind of done our job. But presence is a lifetime commitment. It is it's a commitment to show up at kids graduations, or to go to the cemetery with someone you know, it's it's something that goes far beyond the few weeks or months before after a funeral. And, and presence makes all the difference. It reminds us that we are not alone in the deep suffering that we endure. And it also reminds us that there's life beyond, you know, I think grieving people need to be always drawn forward gently, always gently but drawn forward into new life. And so you know, if you're supporting a grieving person, I encourage folks to just keep asking, keep inviting them out, you know, inviting them over for dinner, knowing that they may say no, nine times before they ever say yes, and, but it's that commitment to presence. I'll be here for you when you're ready. I'll be here for you. And I'm going to keep showing up, I'm going to tell you how much I love you. And, and I'll be in it for the long haul with you. Because what I want for you is what I know you deeply want for yourself, which is to flourish.
Brian Smith 55:15
Yeah, but that's so well said and so important. I've actually gotten to the point now where if someone loses a loved one, I'll tell them call me, or I'll call you in six weeks or a couple of months, because everybody comes around for the first month, you just you're overwhelmed, you're in the middle of remember who came around, but they all come around, and then everybody goes away. And that's, that's when I think it's really important. So this is just advice for someone, if you know someone that's lost someone, two, three months, six months down the road, that's why it's really important to reach out with them when everybody goes back to quote, normal.
Clarissa Moll 55:51
That's right. Yeah, I had a widow who would send me dinner every month on the 19th, which was the day of Rob's accident. She sent me dinner every every 19th for the first year after after my loss. And I was significant. But she had lived it. She knew how much showing up over the long haul mattered.
Brian Smith 56:12
Yeah, that's awesome. And I just heard something. I was listening to grief podcasts a couple days ago. And they said, you know, if you don't say something, if you don't say anything that's saying something. So a lot of times we feel like, well, I don't know, the right thing to say, because our culture doesn't teach us the right things to say. And I don't want to say the wrong thing. But I don't. Was it your experience? Did you find people that just like disappeared?
Clarissa Moll 56:34
Yeah, you know, some relationships are galvanized by loss, they are just cemented when they become something new and, and really sacred, and then other relationships, then. And it's a hard reality, when you need so much support, to see some folks in your life who just can't walk this road with you. And it's something to grieve, it's, you know, it's what we call secondary losses, the other the other things that we've lost besides our person, and it's worth writing them down. It's worth grieving them actively. And, and then there's also, you know, this amazing capacity of folks to be drawn to us in loss. You know, there are certain people who just have it in them. And it's, it's not because they have some special gift, it's that they have probably endured something hard to, and they have seen how much presence matters, and they show up, they show up and they do they do kind works for us. You know, I think about my H vac guy, and my electrician who became a surprisingly great friends after my loss. But you know, when you've gone through something hard, you know what people really need. And my experience teaches us, but we can also actively learn to be those kinds of people in other people's lives.
Brian Smith 57:59
Yeah. So tell me about your your podcast. It sounds really interesting. So tell me what the what the topic is and what the name of it is, and how people can find it.
Clarissa Moll 58:09
Yeah, so I host a co host, a podcast with my co host, Daniel Harrell surprised by grief. It's hosted by Christianity today. And it follows the first year of our losses. Well, first and second years of our loss. Daniel lost his wife to pancreas cancer in 2019. And I lost my husband in a hiking accident. So you know, we have different experiences of loss. His was a prolonged goodbye. And of course, mine was sudden, and we just wrestled together, honestly, it's a place where people of faith can wrestle together and ask the questions that are kind of awkward, I think, for folks to ask, but, but we're not ashamed to talk about the intersection between the hard things we face and, and the God that we profess to love and want to follow. So it's a good space, to be honest, if you're asking questions about faith, or, or you just want to hear somebody's story as they're going through it. I think you you know, in the loneliness of loss, it just feels good to know Oh, I'm not the only one feeling this crazy feeling. I don't know anybody else who feels it but to hear, okay, there's somebody else out there who is you know, struggling to eat or having trouble with sleeping or, you know, having difficulty going back to church or engaging with with folks in their in their work life. It can make you it can normalize that experience for you. And I hope that we offer that to folks in the podcast.
Brian Smith 59:43
Yeah, that's awesome. Because I think that's so needed. You know, it's, we feel like when we go through stuff like this, like, I'm the only one No one will I know other people have lost their husband or had a daughter but nobody knows exactly what this feels like. And then we go through these things and we don't want to talk to anybody about him because we think we're going crazy. And I've heard many people say, Is this is this insane? You know, it's just crazy. And it's it's important to have that safe space. And again, sometimes our faith, that not our faith, but the people that teach us our faith will not allow us to question. And it's important to have a safe space where we can we can say anything, we can ask any question, because I don't believe that God is afraid of our questions. I think God welcomes our questions. And I've seen people just get themselves all tied up in knots, because you said, Well, I'm a person of faith. So I can't feel this way. And we still feel it. We just don't express it. That's right.
Clarissa Moll 1:00:40
Yeah. Yeah. And so it's, you know, I've had folks write to me who have experienced divorces, and we talk about ambiguous loss, the kind of loss that comes to us when our person hasn't died when they're still here with us. But there's some kind of change that has deeply affected that relationship. So yeah, it's it's an it's a space to ask those honest questions and an interface with your faith at the same time.
Brian Smith 1:01:08
Awesome. Awesome. So of course, we're coming to the end of our time. Anything else you'd like to say before we wrap up today?
Clarissa Moll 1:01:16
Yeah, well, I think, you know, I am committed to honest and soulful grief support, you know, there's, there's a space for clinical support, and I and I deeply value, therapeutic support and grief, I think it's an awesome tool for folks who, who really need it, I know I have benefited from a therapeutic model in grief support. And then there's also a space for companionship, support, and, and companionship support is support that that each of us can do. And that's the kind of support that I'm committed to offering when I interface with folks on my Instagram, which is sort of like my happy place or in this book, you know, beyond the darkness. It's a, it's a soulful guide for folks to be able to say, Okay, we're going to talk about intimacy, we're going to talk about sex, we're going to talk about eating, we're going to talk about emotions. And we're going to talk about this all in a community where we're open to faith. And we're open to exploring those questions in an honest way. And charting a path forward because that kind of companionship support is the supportive presence that will take folks for the long haul, the support that they'll be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Brian Smith 1:02:31
Yeah, well, you're doing you're doing great work, really important work. So thanks. Thanks for doing that. Thanks for being you and thanks for being here on grief to growth.
Clarissa Moll 1:02:38
Thanks so much for having me.
Brian Smith 1:02:42
Don't forget to like, hit that big red subscribe button and click the notify Bell. Thanks for being here.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Clarissa Moll (MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is an author, a podcaster, and the young widow of author Rob Moll. Clarissa’s writing has appeared in Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, RELEVANT, Modern Loss, Grief Digest and more. Her husband’s first book, The Art of Dying, was released in April 2021 with Clarissa’s new afterword. Clarissa’s debut book, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Walking with Grief and Thriving After Loss releases with Tyndale in 2022. She co-hosts Christianity Today’s “Surprised by Grief” podcast and lives a joyful life with her four children and rescue pups, proudly calling both New England and the Pacific Northwest home.