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Episode 44: Love, Loss & The Meaning Of Life (1/2)

Some of the biggest regrets in life are not the things we say but the things that are left unsaid. What are the conversations you will look back and wish you would have had? ⁠ Morgan Brown, Founder of “Conversations I Wish I Had” and Sasza Lohrey, Founder of BBXX, share their personal experiences with loss in the most raw, vulnerable interview thus far on the BBXX podcast.

Sasza
Normally I  ask people how they ended up where they are today, but before that, just to contextualize, I’d love to just ask you how you would describe our culture and society’s relationship with death with loss and grief.

Morgan
Yeah, I think it’ll naturally go into my own story because I hadn’t really thought about how we as a society think about death, dying, and grief and how to support someone going through challenges until I had my own experience where I was thinking about death and dying and I was needing support and I felt like people didn’t know how to give it and I think it’s a really interesting time now because I’m seeing more and more people talking about this subject. They’re saying, “Hey, maybe death is something that we should talk about”, and one of the things I say with what I do is that death is not a dirty word, and I really like that because often in society when death is talked about it’s kind of in hushed tones. You want to get in and you don’t want to get out; you don’t really want to unwrap it and go deeper with it. So now it’s an interesting time because more and more people are interested in talking about it, but I would say in general, there’s still this really big silence around talking about death. Also I would say there’s still a huge lack of emotional literacy and how to support people who are processing some of these big life changes that happen whether they have lost a friend or they’re just thinking about their own mortality. I think it’s still so common to see those things be met with these trite phrases of like, “Oh, it’ll be okay” or, “They’re in a better place”.  We just don’t know and if you’re thinking about your own mortality like oh just don’t think about it. it’s fine. you know, I think that’s still a very mean thing and that doesn’t have to do with just death. I was on social media the other day and saw someone sharing about their mental health journey, and it had nothing to do with the death of someone in their family or their friends, but they were just sharing their own struggle and someone even commented like you’re too pretty to be sad cheer up and I’m just like, oh my god, that is like not the way a to hold space for someone who’s really trying to process some of these bigger emotions and with that. I don’t know the perfect way either. I’m just taking my own experience and I’m saying this is what I wish I would have had and then I’m also learning from people who they’re the experts on this. so yeah, that’s kind of the state of where I see things now.

Sasza
How is it that you came to be exploring this? bass and what do you think? Obviously it’s a continuing journey but what have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned fast far. 

Morgan
Yeah, so in 2012, I was at work and I got some missed phone calls from my dad but I was at work so I couldn’t really answer. He was texting me being like, “Can you talk?” and you know, meanwhile, I vividly remember I was having a conversation with my boss as he’s texting me and I was late for a meeting for my second job. So I’m talking to my boss, and I’m trying to get out the door to get to this meeting and I get in my car and I start driving and I call him and I’m frustrated at this point because you know, I was in my young twenties and I feel like I have very engaged parents where if my insurance card came to the house, I’d get like 20 calls and either my mom and dad would be like, “Oh, just calling to let you know that your insurance card is here.”. I’m grateful for active parents in my life, and at that moment, I was so frustrated and so I picked up the phone, and I’m like, “Dude, what?” and he was very hesitant. He was kind of like, “Where are you? What are you doing? Is there a place to pull over?” and in my mind I’m still like, “Why is he wanting me to pull over to tell me that my insurance is in the mail or something like that?” and I’m like, “Dad. I’m late. What is it?” and he gets angry and yells, “Morgan, pull over!” and I knew something was wrong at that moment because my dad isn’t a yeller and so I pull over and I’m kind of like, “What is it? Tell me!” and he just starts crying. I had heard my dad cry one other time and that was when like the family dog died, so I’m starting to freak out and I’m in my car and I don’t know what’s wrong at this point, but if my dad is crying I know something’s bad. In my head I think someone’s hurt and so I’m just pleading with him and I’m saying like, “Dad, tell me please.” Just this even makes me emotional to retell it because it’s so real but yeah, he kind of gathers himself and he spits out, because he’s sobbing at this point, and he just says, “Your mom, she died in a car accident going to work.” and I don’t think words will ever express what it’s like to hear those words, especially as someone who hadn’t really thought about death or dying at all before that moment. As someone who was 22, I was a year out of college, maybe even just a couple months out of college, and this wasn’t something on my mind. I had lost my dad’s uncle but he was sick, like I had never lost anyone close to me and it was shocking to me that someone who I was so close to and someone who I loved so deeply could die. I think it’s interesting because there aren’t many things about my story that bring tears to the surface this easily anymore, but I think this one will be the layer between tears and not tears with this story that will always be really thin. So, yeah, that happened and the world changed.  I remember being in the car and I was screaming and hitting the steering wheel and the only word I could say was, “No”.  That’s the only thing I could say. I hung up with my dad, and I was just like, “I’m coming home”,  and then you know, I just had my moment in the car. Eventually the noise got quieter and I remember it being really hot because when you’re having such an intense emotional reaction, your body gets hot and so like the door to my car was open and it was next to a sidewalk and I just remember looking at the people walking down the sidewalk laughing and I remember just thinking, “How could they do that? Do they even know?” and then I remember it was a pretty busy street and I remember watching the cars go by and I was just like, “They have no clue that my world just totally changed and everyone is just going along like nothing happened”. So yeah, that was that’s that’s my story and at twenty-two, I entered into this world where I didn’t know how to talk about death and dying but neither did anyone else, and there’s kind of this, I call it like this ‘primal anger’ where, when someone says something to you that doesn’t land in the way that feels okay, you’re just angry. There’s no amount of rationalizing like, “Oh well, they meant well. Obviously they love me”. It’s just like you’re in or you’re out; you’re a safe person to talk to or you’re not a safe person to talk to. You just lose all sense of being nice, like you’re just in survival mode and this is how all of my work got started because I was angry, you know, I was angry and I realized that the world I entered after my mom died was a world that had no idea what to do with me, but my work didn’t start immediately. There was a good year and a half of just trying to show up to work every day. Just trying to not drink myself into a stupor every night, maybe go get fresh air or walk along the ocean. I lived by the beach at the time, but it was only later, about a year-and-a-half later, when I was on a plane from Europe to China and, I remember waking up mid-flight and just seeing this massive mountain that was illuminated by this low-hanging moon and it’s one of the most beautiful things that I’ve ever seen and there were lights from towns just kind of dotting the landscape and everyone on the plane was asleep or watching movies not even realizing what was out the window and I’m having this moment where I’m looking down at earth and I’m realizing everyone in all of time and space has gone through hardship. Everyone has lost someone, and there is a 100% chance that we will die. This is no longer about me. This is universal and I would say that was kind of the big turning point for me when I realized, “It’s not just about me”. Like yes, I’m sad and yes, I’m grieving but people all over the world are too. yeah, I’m gonna take a breath there. 

Sasza
A similar, but obviously very different story at the same time, I was visiting my grandpa. who at the time was a hundred and one and a friend had just come into town that day to visit and we were out to coffee. Me, my friend, and my hundred year old grandpa, who’s sitting across the table from me, and my brother had told me he was gonna facetime me when I was with my grandpa to say hi, and I talked to my sister that morning who was skiing with my mom that morning. He was really excited about my friend who was coming into town to visit and that I was spending time with my grandpa and she had almost come on the trip herself and I got a call from my brother, you know, presumably to chat and say hI to to my my grandpa and I picked up the phone and started talking to him all I could hear was him crying, and I immediately hung up the phone and I remember wanting to live in that moment before knowing anything and thinking, “I just want to stay in this moment. I don’t want to know what he’s going to tell me”, because I just knew and it was like flashes in my head of like, “Who is it? what is it? what happened? who is it? what happened?”, and he called me back and I like stood in this like old, shitty diner in Chicago getting like really mediocre coffee and just chatting, and that whole day actually I had been talking with my friend about my mom and how she was just living up life to the fullest, and and I stand up and he tells me you know, “Mom is gone.” and I’m just in the middle of this diner like screaming and I just remember screaming like “How am I supposed to go on living life?”, and just like being like squatted on the floor in the middle of this diner surrounded by you know, people you don’t know and you’re just pulled out of whatever moment you’re in with whoever you’re in and your whole life and everything as you knew it and how you ever imagined it going into the you were just in one split second, it just drops out from underneath you and I just don’t know that people really have any concept because there is no way to describe that. There’s no language. There are no emotions. You can communicate to somebody to possibly describe that kind of terror and fear when someone tells you that your life will never ever be what you thought it was. You can’t let down the logistical part of your brain that is telling you what needs to happen and how you need to get to where you need to go and explain to people what happened, and your 100 101 year old grandpa is like “What’s going on? What’s going on?”, but obviously, you know, you don’t even have the language you can even speak he can’t understand and then just life becomes a blur from then on and I mean I could go on forever but want to dive deeper into so many other things, but it’s just just fascinating to me that something that is is so huge, we aren’t given any skills and even when you’ve been through this yourself and continue to go through it because it’s not something you get through or over, even when this happens to somebody else, even as somebody who has, you know been in this place, you don’t even have the language necessarily to know what to say but at least kind of the knowledge to be present but it’s truly something that, in an irrevocable and irreplaceable way just will forever change your life and who you are and who you become, and I just think of kind of you on that plane and looking out the window and when you’ve been through something like this, and there are people who were fortunate enough you know to who have not yet or but everybody inevitably will, I couldn’t help but think that sometimes it feels like you’re the only one looking out the window and have this view on life. But this is all you know life is, and we need to appreciate these moments or talk about this and live our relationships out because they won’t last forever, but sometimes it feels like everybody’s watching the movie and and sleeping next to you and you’re the only one who is looking out the window and thinking, “What’s there?” How do we help other people wake up to the terrible tragic but extremely important connections that we live and tragically lose?

Morgan
Yeah, I think that’s so well said, especially about being here on the couch with the person who’s asleep while you’re watching the movie and you’re saying like, “Hey like, this is a good part. Don’t miss it.”

Sasza
I think part of why I love what you’re doing is because I see in your process the process that I haven’t lived and so I went into this extremely deep place of denial and just immediately my brain literally couldn’t adjust to the new reality. I didn’t want any part of it or want anything to do with it, and so I just trained my brain to deflect the these thoughts and kind of reject that reality and you know, nobody was ready to process this and so there were certain things in the beginning that you have to do and I don’t even know, you know want to get into just I honestly don’t think people realize how fucked up you know that the whole process is where then you only have a certain amount of days to you know, just cremate somebody and then do this and do this and somebody’s like all print pictures. what pictures are you going to print, you know to burn with your mom’s body like days later, you know, and then you’re just like, that’s great. You have to try and talk to the fucking people at CVS who are like, “The machine’s broken. You can’t print photos”, and I’m like “No, I’m fucking printing these photos.” like, how are we going to make this happen will thanks, just wreck you and yes from there. it’s like I would we were you know, we’d be like, all right, we’re gonna you know do something or have an event and nobody wanted to and nobody was ready to do anything. So in the beginning, we did something small and then nobody was ever ready and I literally still don’t feel ready. and so following having to do those photos and because photography was something that I worked on for a long time and I’m curious what your relationship was but I refuse to look at photos. iIrefuse to listen to anything to read to like acknowledged for until someone recently like for 2 years literally couldn’t look at a photo and it was just this full deflection mechanism. and so when I look at your work and what you’ve done and how you’ve talked about this in the process you’ve been through I find it so inspiring and I see kind of small parts of my process but also like the process that I know I need to live. yeah, and that is like yeah such an important part of you know, honoring that person and staying connected to them and you know reshaping your reality that doesn’t shop this out but kind of wait sit in and they’re definitely ways in which I mean, this is shaped everything from from the company that I’m building to the way. I live my life every single day. but you know, it’s not something I talk about and I find it actually for so long it was you feel like other people don’t deserve to hear these stories and I found myself outside if you know my siblings and one other person who helped me through this and where I would be today. yeah, that like otherwise people just can’t understand or you’re not ready to talk about it or feel they don’t deserve to and so just the other day when I started going to therapy three weeks ago and I heard an angel. I was talking to one of my one of my best friends and she brought this up and she said, you know, “I moved to Chile within six months after my mom’s accident, and I’ve never heard you talk about your mom and like I didn’t want to push it, but I’ve literally never heard you talk about it”. So anyways my point of this was just that I think what you’re doing is incredibly important and incredibly inspiring and I don’t know if it’s you know that I just see it as as such because I relate to it on such a deep level, but I could just can only hope that you know through helping you expose the work you do that even people who have been fortunate enough not to live this but perhaps who maybe realize that when they will or even if they don’t can find a deep amount of inspiration and understanding of it whether it’s for their own betterment now in the future or for that of somebody who they can help support through this incredibly dark, isolating but eye-opening experience. 

Morgan
Yeah. I mean as you were talking there so many things and I was just like “Oh my gosh, like yes to all of it”. But what I think people don’t always realize and what I usually tell people and to touch on it is that something like this affects everything it affects everything. So I once wrote a blog about just how it gets so deeply in your brain where you’re like, “Okay, I need to go to a coffee shop to get work done. Do I go to the coffee shop that I want to go to because it has better wi-fI or do I go to the coffee shop that my mom and I used to go to every time she came to visit?”, or when you were talking about how your friend had said, “I’d never heard you talk about your mom”, I think it’s always so interesting when people say something around like, “Well, I didn’t want to bring it up because I didn’t want to remind you of it”, and it’s like, “Oh no, I don’t need reminding. It’s always there, whether you’re saying it or not”, and I’ve just always found that to be so fascinating because a lot of people say it like, “Oh I didn’t want to bring it up because you seem to be doing pretty well” and I’m like, “Oh no, if I’m doing well, it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it”. It is always present and I wouldn’t say it’s less present now, I mean, it’s been 7 years for me, which is so crazy for me to say, but you know even now there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about her and I think even what you’re saying about how people don’t understand even the immediate aftermath of when someone dies like how it’s a shit show and yeah, one of the worst fights I ever got my sisters and we’re best friends. I have an older sister and a twin sister and one of the worst fights I ever got in with. It was probably like two days after my mom died, and my older sister and I were trying to get pictures for the service. I felt like she wasn’t helping me and she was like, “I need some space because I’m going to lose my mind” and like, you know, it was around photos.  Or you know, I remember my mom was on my bank account, and so I had to get her off of it and you have to do that by getting a death certificate. So I had to take the death certificate into the bank and even just like the teller, before I even said what I was about to do, before I even presented the death certificate, she said that she could tell that I had a deep sadness about me and I’m like, “Who says that to people? In what context was that appropriate to just confirm how sad I was in a bank setting where it’s not totally appropriate to cry?”. I think in that moment. what I wanted was not for her to not acknowledge it but not to confirm this thing, but yeah, I just wanted her to say like I’m sorry or something like that. I didn’t want her to confirm that the rest of the world could see that I’m moving around with a deep sadness, which like I was but I thought I was holding it together and I was like thought I was doing pretty okay, and then she’s like “No”. like honestly, just take the fucking certificate and let me out of here.  You know where I remember making a scene at a Verizon store because I had gotten a new phone probably two weeks before my mom’s accident and I had lost all of her text messages and her voicemails and so in my grieving mine and also my 22 year old mind where I’m like, “Technology can do anything”. I like go into the verizon store and I’m begging them and I’m crying and I’m making a scene just like please like please, you know, like she died two weeks ago it her voicemails like they’re not just saved on some system and they’re like, oh look, like let me get the manager, you know, because they don’t know what to do with me and I it’s such a dissociating moment because I can see myself pulled away and watching myself kind of be psycho in this verizon store, like sobbing and begging the manager to do something as I can see everyone around me like giving me side glances of like should we be concerned for our safety should we leave like making a scene? But what I’m learning more and more is these experiences are not just me like you and the CVS like trying to get photos printed and they’re saying sorry, it’s broken and you’re like, “Oh no, it’s not broken. you need to fix this”. it’s so common for us I think our emotions just become like the world isn’t real.  You don’t live in reality. because again, 

Sasza
I think I did not want to take on this new reality. I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want that title of the person who has lost her mom. I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want this new rocket up version of my life. and I didn’t manage to somehow disassociate it to the point where you know, I have so much short-term memory loss from the month. After this, I couldn’t remember conversations. I had that day, you know, I couldn’t for months. if not, you know easily over a year just would have trouble remembering certain basic things. yeah, we’re never difficult for me before and there are certain tiny aspects in certain, you know categories where I just my brain in that category does not work as it did before and yeah, yeah kind of living in that space and outside of I’m as well because I found myself, you know as time progressed, but my process it in my brain didn’t I experienced didn’t I didn’t got to the point where why I didn’t want to admit, “How is it that a month has passed? How is it that two months have passed, or oh my gosh six months?” I can’t even tell somebody that today is the year anniversary because in my head no time has passed and to say yeah has been gone, you know a year or two does. does not reflect my process in any way and implies. yeah some distant relationship to this experience and to the loss of her that I don’t relate to nor want to 

Morgan
Yeah, I mean the relationship with time in this setting becomes so muddled. I have a similar story with time. it was it’s a little different but I noticed if someone like I was holding onto time, I didn’t want to acknowledge it; I was so confused how two weeks had passed, three weeks, a month, but I also found that if people got the time wrong that I would obsessively correct them like if it had been one month and 20 days, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, it’s like two months” and I’m like, “Ah, it has not been two months, it has been one month and 28 days” because you’re just grasping. It’s like a tightrope and you know, like the event happens and time moves forward, but you’re reaching for is that point on the tightrope where everything changed I found myself not where I would acknowledge time but that I was obsessive about it where you know, I would count the days one day to day one week three days, you know, like I knew probably for I would say two years I could tell you exactly the day and that that faded now, I would say I’m more in like a space of disbelief where even when I say seven years it’s shocking to me. because I think people put a timeline on grief and they put a timeline on healing and they say okay. it’s been seven years like come on and it’s like, “No, I get it.” It’s been seven years and this will be with me my entire life, and yeah, I’m a functioning human.  I don’t spend every day crying like I used to.  My mom isn’t the first thing I think about anymore. I’m okay with you know saying her name; it doesn’t send me into a dissociative spiral like I am okay and this this isn’t just something we’re at the 10 year mark your fine, you know or that whatever mark like, I think that is something in society that we so easily do where we say. oh, it’s been a year. it’s been five years and I am guilty of this especially before my mom died the like when people people would say like, you know, some of my mom’s friends or or whatever when they would say like, yeah when my mom died 20 years ago, and I’m like, 20 years come on, and then now I understand time doesn’t matter when it comes to grief and longing. 

Sasza
Yeah, and I think that concept of putting a timeline on healing is just completely unrealistic, unfair and far too generalized.  I think that when we talk about death it’s referred to as being an event when in reality your brain can’t especially you know, when it is out of nowhere can’t make that adjustment and so, you know, you find yourself when you do get to the point where you know, it’s not there every single millisecond. every day knocking knocking and at least for me, I was trying to deflect deflect deflect deflect and it’s always there and you never forget for one second or if you do forget for one second, let alone 10 seconds, the crushing crushing reality when you go back to recognizing, you know, what new reality you are in when you forgot for even two seconds is almost more horrifying than just living in it. Oh, yeah concept of death and I, I was about to call it a weird thing but it’s not it’s just me and that’s just the way it is, where I have never even used that word to refer to my mom. I say, “I lost my mom in a fatal accident” or I say, “My mom was in a fatal accident”, or you know, “My mom was skiing with my sister”, and I don’t even use that word because that implies this this you know moment that I can’t come to terms with versus death being a process whether it’s actually, you know, even referring to the person was lost at all or in this ensuing ongoing process we live through and continue to, it’s not this stagnant event it is this process. The timeline on healing I actually have this quote from, I can’t remember the name of the podcast one of the podcast interviews that you did, but I’d love to read it. I thought it was really poignant and really nailed it on the head. It says, “It seems like at a certain point, missing someone, the emotion of missing someone, is no longer perceived as healthy, normal or okay. It seems like there’s some mysterious point where society or even our friends, family and co-workers look at us and say, “You’re still missing them? I think there might be something wrong with you”. Even if they don’t say it out loud and just that unrealistic expectation of a timeline or any any no, predetermined process.”

Morgan
Yeah. yeah, we have a predetermined timeline and process that we give to others whether they ask it for it or not about our healing, you know, and I think we can choose to actively engage in our healing. I’m not saying like I’m not advocating for like, oh don’t don’t seek out. the healing modalities and in whatever way that is for you, but it is saying to other people like don’t put a timeline on me. this is kind of a random story. but I remember watching a tv show about what’s his name the manson guy who killed sharon tate. yeah and bringing it back. I promise but I watched a tv show where the sister of sharon tate said, she can’t even hear her sisters. name without going into a spiral and I had this moment. I think it was at like the dentist office. it was just on tv, but it was it was a moment for me where I want was watching this woman and I thought to myself two things one. she can be whoever she is and process. however, she needs to and two for me. I don’t want to be 30 years removed from my mom’s death. death and not be able to say her name it was this thing where I could look at, you know, sharon tate sister and be like cool like you’re doing your thing. and it was also this spotlight for me to be like it kind of guided some of my healing where I was like, oh, this is what I don’t want for myself. it just goes back to there’s no timeline and I think we like to put it on each other and people but it’s actually up to ourselves to decide what the timeline is if there’s even a timeline and move forward with it and like even you saying that you started therapy three weeks ago. like I think that’s beautiful, therapy is one of the things that I personally in my own healing can attribute to getting to a place where I am able to process these things. I’m able to talk about my mom mostly if I’m not telling the story of her dying without you know kind of becoming a crying mess, and I’m thankful for that.

Sasza
You mentioned healing, and so I’d love to know one, if you think that to heal or to be healed, what you think that if you think that’s possible, or what it means and two, what your definition of healing is. 

Morgan
When I talk about healing or to be healed, I don’t think of it as having an end date. I don’t think of it as “Okay. So you show up you do the therapy or whatever you’re done”. It’s not like this radical transformation for me. I think of it more like a slow uphill, often uphill ,battle with my mind and my mortality. just really recognizing that what happened to my mom. it’s not special. it has happened to thousands of people, you know, like my mind wants to make it into this thing where I’m like no one knows what I’m going through. everything is about me. it’s the ego wanting to come out and say like, I’m the I’m the different one here. No one knows about this and so I think for my in my healing its kind of recognizing like this isn’t special was my mom’s special absolutely was her death special, you know, and so I don’t know if I have a good answer for you. I don’t have something that can kind of tie it all up in a bow, but I think my process of healing is a slow uphill battle and like a battle with my ego that wants to center me and especially center my mom and to kind of recognize that I’m nothing and I don’t mean it in a depressive way. it’s more of like an existential way. we’re like nothing matters and I think some people when I kind of get into this trudge towards the existentialism like whoa morgan, what are you doing? but I found a lot of freedom in that 

Sasza
And I think therapy, I did go to a therapist but the extent to which this is such a tough topic and stigmatized was that I think as I’m learning now in therapy also to too many things that happened in my childhood and with my family in general she suggested that maybe therapists didn’t know where to start or how to navigate everything but you know, I wasn’t going to bring it up. I wasn’t even ready, and I had this need to talk about things but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the words. I didn’t have the recognition of my own emotions, and so my therapist in the beginning, yes, the intention was to go there and talk about that and I probably still cried but that is not what we talked about and you know got to the point where we just had these casual light-hearted conversations because I couldn’t take it there and she wasn’t going to force me to and you know, that that didn’t get me there and so it eventually it just became this superfluous process that you know, I discontinued and then the search for somebody, and this is even as a professional in this space, who can hold space in a kind loving way, but also in a tough way that will force you to try and examine what is happening within you and around you in regards to this experience is extremely difficult, and I think is just kind of evidence of the extreme lack of resources, knowledge, and, as you mentioned earlier, the kind of lack of emotional literacy in this space be it with friends yeah or therapy professionals. I still find myself confused about so many things and like rejecting the idea of how to talk about my mom in the past tense and referring to her in the present tense because these are you know characteristics, you know, she is. yeah still one of the most important people to me. She is still one of the most inspiring people, you know, why are these things that disappear when somebody is gone? and so even struggling with basic language to navigate this.

Morgan
Yes. I have experienced similar things where when I’m talking about my mom, I want to say like “She was the most important person in my life”, but like she still is, like that hasn’t ended. Her physical body has ended but her impact on me hasn’t so saying, “She is the most important person in my life” feels more correct but then it’s very confusing for people when they like, “So how’s your mom?” 

Sasza
I’ve gotten as far as like, you know, “My mom has been one of the most influential people in my life. but yeah, it’s a battle of adjusting your language and your stations, you know, once you even get to the point, which you can open them up to other people to talk about it. yeah how to navigate that. yeah. you know, we’re talking about these healing processes and living outside of these timelines. and again, I think for myself I find so much inspiration in your work because you know, I see so much of what I you know, not that there’s a should in any way of how someone should live this out, but would like to, you know, would love to process things much deeper and you know, I fortunately did. managed to save you know, the text messages in the voicemails, but you know haven’t listened to them and haven’t brought myself to do that, but in reading through your work and the project and your hosts as it was sobbing hysterically in silence, we were today is open desks, I really admired it so much and so I would love to know what you have found to be some of the the most important part of your healing process and what has helped you. 

Morgan
Yeah, so when it happened, when my mom died, I wasn’t like “All right, we’re gonna like heal this shit and get through it.” I was like, “My life is over.”  I said it and I meant it, I was just like, “My life is over.  I can’t move through this” in the version of life as I knew it. And I think I extended it towards like, “I will never smile or enjoy anything again.”

Sasza
How pissed would your mom be at you, you know, if you go through the rest of your life miserable, and “I’m never going to smile again.” Then you also know she would be like, “Are you kidding me?”

Morgan
Yeah, I know and I would be like, “Shut up mom.” I don’t think I would ever tell her to shut up. But anyways, I would be like, “Let me have my process.” So I remember when I got the call from my dad and she died on a Tuesday and I had actually been home that weekend for her birthday. So it was kind of like couched in this like we just had this amazing weekend at home and then you know two days later. I’m going to head home for a very different reason and I got home that night and there were people at the house and it was just sad, you know, and I haven’t been in this situation. so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but someone said like go see your dad and I hadn’t even registered. that he wasn’t in the living room of sobbing people. and so I went upstairs and I saw my dad and he had been drinking and he just kept saying like what are we going to do? and I didn’t know and so but that night it was just me and him like everyone eventually went home and my sisters weren’t home yet. and so he passed out eventually and so I wrote my mama letter it was the only thing I could really think of doing so in that 
letter I just said like this is shocking and you know in my like emotional 22 year-old self. I’m like I’ll keep going for you. and now I look at that letter and cringe a little bit because I’m like wow, but you know, and I was processing really big emotions, but after I wrote that letter a transformative thing for me was I promised myself that I would be honest. I didn’t realize what impact that vow that I made to myself in my childhood bedroom the night of my mom’s death would take like what impact that would have but it’s really been a guiding light in all of my healing. so just starting with that in whatever I’m doing especially in regards to this tragedy. I will be honest. so if people said, I was just radically honest. so if people said, how are you? i’d say not great.

Sasza
Even when you get to the point where the answer is, “Okay”, and not “Shitty”,  people still find it hard to sit with that. 

Morgan
Totally, right? yeah, and it’s like they want everyone wants to hear the best. but yeah, I think that really set my trajectory is that I would be honest. so I think we had touched earlier on you not being able to say like my mom died or my mom is dead but saying like, “I lost my mom”.  I had kind of an opposite experience where I didn’t want to find other language to describe my experience. perience I wanted neither is or wrong. I just want to say that but for me, I wanted to say exactly what happened. So I would say like, “My mom died”, or especially in the earlier days I would say, “My mom was killed”, because the context for her death is that she was killed by a commercial truck driver swerving into her lane and he had been on methamphetamines. So you know he chose to get behind the wheel and drive. He killed her and I would say that and it’s jarring to people to hear just honesty. I’m not doing well. my mom was killed like for me. I didn’t want to hear like, I’m sorry, you lost your mom. it was like, nope. I didn’t lose anything. I lost something but I was like say she died. say the words like I can’t for me, it was like I can’t like I can’t navigate trying to know what you’re trying to say. just tell me what you’re saying, you know, so if someone was saying, you know, they’re in a better place or whatever the things that we say, I would I would ask like what are you actually trying to tell me now? what is like the root of what you’re saying? because I don’t think what you’re saying is actually what you’re trying to say 

Sasza
Because what you’re give them the opportunity to and not just hate them 

Morgan
Honestly, like I didn’t do it. i’ve like I don’t want to put myself in like this positive light where I did everything because there were also times where i’d be like fuck off. okay. yeah, they’re in a better place. like I was also an asshole and like kind of could be a brat. times but yeah, I would say like that was this cornerstone for me that I’m just going to be honest. one of my turning points was I was in therapy. and I had been talking. I mean the first couple months of therapy. All I did was cry but I remember telling my therapist, “I just want to get away for a little bit. Maybe I’ll go travel”. The context of this is I grew up in a town of 7,000 people, and so everyone knew I was just in town for my mom’s memorial. It was beautiful; there were like 800 people there. it was like a beautiful display of of just people really coming around my family and you know, I don’t want to sound sound not grateful for that because it was beautiful and everyone knew my torI and I think you know, there’s talk someone might see me and maybe I had had too much to drink and then and I wasn’t living in this town at the time but I was visiting every weekend because I was trying to be supportive to my dad and so then it gets around that like morgan drinks a lot and curses all the time. There’s just talk and I could feel the talk and I could feel the eyes and I would try and go to the grocery store and just be like, “God damn it. There are people here that know me and they are asking me how I am.” So when I was in therapy, I was telling my therapist like I just wanted to pick up and leave like I just wanted to get out just go. And he looked at me and he was like, “Well, what do you have to lose?” and I realized I had nothing to lose at that point.  Things weren’t going very well and I know not. everyone has the opportunity for travel but I would say like that was a huge healing point for me because when I mean my travels were a mess I wasn’t doing it. well, like I got sick and thailand very sick and thailand like it wasn’t like this that a travel story of like she left and and found herself and you know, it was it was kind of a shit show, you know, I remember one night in scotland. I was with my twin a point and we thought we had booked a hostile but we hadn’t and it’s cold and so we’re like cool. I guess we’re sleeping on a park bench. it was just kind of the whole experience was kind of a shitshow and what I learned in that experience of traveling and being away from people who know you is that you can be anyone you want. if someone said, you know, if you’re in a hostel and someone’s like oh, what are you doing traveling? you don’t have to say oh my mom died and and everything at home is going pretty terribly and I told my therapist that I just needed to leave like you don’t have to say that you can be like, oh, yeah, I’m morgan and I don’t know just wanted to travel a little bit to have that break from everyone knowing your story and to be able to reinvent your story was really freeing to just be morgan who is traveling to not have this baseline understanding. that I’m Morgan and my mom’s dead and I’m not doing well, like it totally changed the interactions and it wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking about my mom or grieving my mom or anything. it’s that I just was able to take a break from it being the first thing on everyone’s mind mines including mine. and in that process, I would write to my mom often and every every new city or country i’d go to i’d write her a letter that kind of is what had a big impact on conversations. I wish I had because I realized that was something that I was constantly writing to my mom. I wanted to work things out with her. I wanted to tell her what I was up to and that was a huge thing to make me feel connected to her. Those are kind of like my way I got started on healing but the thing I always came back to was to be honest in whatever form, be honest. and I think it worked well for me, but I would also say I alienated a lot of people in the process because if they couldn’t be with my honesty, then they couldn’t be with me and I lost a lot of friends, but I don’t regret not being honest.

About the Expert

Morgan Brown

Morgan Brown

Morgan Brown is the founder of Death Dialogue and the creator of the moving, interactive art exhibit "Conversations I Wish I Had", a phone booth that creates a space for people to ask the question: “If given the chance to pick up the phone and talk to someone who has died, what would you say?”

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