Colin Campbell is a writer and director for theater and film. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Seraglio, a short film he wrote and directed with his lovely and talented wife, Gail Lerner. He has taught Theater and/or Filmmaking at Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, Cal Poly Pomona University, and to incarcerated youth through The Unusual Suspects. He is currently developing a one-person show titled Grief: A One Man ShitShow. He lives in Los Angeles and sometimes Joshua Tree.
About the book: A powerful account of one father’s journey through unimaginable grief, offering readers a new vision for how to more actively and fully mourn profound loss.
When a drunk driver killed Colin Campbell’s two teenage children, Campbell was thrown headlong into a grief so deep he felt he might lose his mind. He found much of the common wisdom about coping with loss—including the ideas that grieving is a private and mysterious process and that the pain is so great that “there are no words”—to be unhelpful. Drawing on what he learned from his journey, Campbell offers an alternative path for processing active and vocal pain that truly honors loved ones lost.
Full of practical advice on surviving in the aftermath of loss, Finding the Words teaches readers how to actively reach out to their community, perform mourning rituals, and find ways to express their grief so they can live more fully while holding their loved ones close. Campbell shines a light on a path forward through the darkness of grief.
Please enjoy my conversation with Colin Campbell.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 312
Colin Campbell 0:00
In so many of these grief groups that I've been to the everyone starts talking about the aching and loss and, and, and the pain and then very quickly the conversation shifts to how they've been abandoned by their friends and family. Every time, every time. Yep. And there's so much bitterness and anger and confusion, and it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking because I feel like it's just a cultural miscommunication that people want to want to help people in loss. But we've got this, these like, expectations that you know, everybody grieves in their own way. So let's leave them alone to figure it out for themselves. As opposed to we grieve in community. And death is makes people feel very lonely and let's let's reach out and be with them in these moments as opposed to walking away from people in grief.
Alex Ferrari 0:52
I like to welcome to the show, Colin Campbell. How're you doing, Colin?
Colin Campbell 1:05
Good. Thanks. Thanks for having me on.
Alex Ferrari 1:07
Thank you so much for coming on the show my friend. I truly appreciate it. Um, I'm looking forward to talking about your amazing book Finding the Words. That is, it is it is undescribable what's going on in this book, it has so many different emotional, it's an emotional roller coaster, to say the least. So for before we get started, I want to ask you what was your life like prior to the loss of, of Ruby and Heart?
Colin Campbell 1:36
So, so I'm in Los Angeles, and I was I've been an indie film director, just doing some indie, indie features and shorts, and mostly actually acting as professor. So I teach Screenwriting at Chapman University and theater directing at Cal Poly Pomona. And, and then I was a dad. I was mostly a dad, that's really kind of how I thought of myself. And that was what my life was Ruby was 17 heart was 14. So there was a lot of like, taking them to after school activities or a Hangouts with friends. Yeah, we'd go on family outings together.
Alex Ferrari 2:17
We were basically chauffeurs. Yes, exactly. So tell me about, you know, for everybody who doesn't know what we're talking about who Ruby and heart are they are you children that passed in an accident? Can you talk a little bit about what happened? And what you would like to share about that?
Colin Campbell 2:37
Yeah. Yeah. So I actually prefer to refer to it as a crash rather than accident. Because, you know, to my mind, the woman who who hit us was she was drunk and high and it wasn't accidental that she got drunk and high and then she wasn't accidental. It she got behind the wheel. She she knew better, right? We all know better, but she did anyway. So I prefer to call it a crash. And that that night, June, June 12, we were on our way to Joshua Tree. For those of you who don't know, it's a little town in the high desert, about two and a half hours east of Los Angeles, sweet, beautiful place that the four of us loved. We've gone there many many times. And we were going there for for another little adventure was kind of spontaneous. We all piled into the car and, and that night was very, very exciting. And we just purchased a vacation home out there. It's like brand new, we just we just said yes to it comes again spontaneously. And then, you know, out of the blue we were struck by this car going 90 miles an hour and Ruby and heart were killed in the backseat. And my wife Gail and I were hurt. So we went to the hospital but the Ruby HeartWare were killed.
Alex Ferrari 3:53
So then let me ask you then how did you I mean, did you when you heard this information? It didn't Did you know at the at the scene, or did you hear about it later.
Colin Campbell 4:02
It's it's a it's a strange thing. So I think we I think we subconsciously knew in that moment, so we were both knocked unconscious. So we came to in the wreckage of a car. The other driver's car was like 100 feet down the road on fire and the backseat Rubin heart were emotionless and I don't want to get too graphic but you know that it didn't look good. And I so people came and helped in the and there was a lot of CPR given by by very diligent emergency response people, the EMTs that's the we're looking for. And then they were whisked off to the hospital. And then in fact, Hart was from one hospital he was put on a helicopter and sent to a PICU unit a pediatric intensive care unit even further off, but I but They died from multiple life ending injuries, there was really no hope for them. And they never really breathed again. So, so to my mind, they died on impact. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 5:11
So as this happened, this happened. How did you? I mean, I, first of all, I'm I'm a father as well. So I can't even comprehend the grief that you and your wife went through. How did you begin to even find the strength to navigate this immense loss in your life?
Colin Campbell 5:31
Yeah, yeah. Well, I say that I grew up in a family that was grief averse. So it was I feel like we don't my family, we didn't really deal with grief, too well, or too thoroughly, we kind of just sort of put it aside in a way. And here was a case where we couldn't do that. It's too, too catastrophic to just put aside, we had to deal with my whole family had to confront this loss. And I actually leaned on my wife's Jewish traditions. So I'm not Jewish, but my wife is Jewish, and we raised rubian heart as Jews, they were born by Mitford. We were active members of our temple. And, and our temple was extraordinarily supportive of us in this moment, they really came, came together and helped us. But specifically, the Jewish rituals of mourning, were eye opening to me. So I'm an atheist. So it was never about God. It was it was all about the practicality of how do you agree? Or how do you, as you said, process, this immense, sudden loss. And so many of these ancient practices of the Jews really resonated with me. Like they made sense, like, oh, this makes sense. This helps me thank you. And one of the, one of the core elements is the idea that we don't grieve alone, we grieve in community. So So right after their the funeral, there are seven nights of Shiva, or there's the first week and people come to your house every night and sit with you. Right. So we had like 150 people coming into our house and sitting with us every night, night after night. And I found it was so helpful. At first it was like no, right, right. It's the last thing you want to think. Right? Right, one of the left alone, people come into your house. No. But actually, it was an amazing gift. Because I discovered and Gail and I both discovered we we needed to talk about Ruby and heart and our grief, just to process it just to understand it, to not not lose our minds. And it was so helpful. To have this community of loving people, they're each night. And the other thing that that the Jewish tradition asks you to do is to say the mourners Kaddish, which is just a mourners prayer every day. But the trick is, you can't do it alone. You have to do it with at least nine other people with you, you know, a minion. And so and so that talent that asks us the mourners to literally grieve in public over and over and over again. And it was so powerful and helpful. That idea, you know, you don't go away in a corner all by yourself and just be sad and and despondent. But you grieve in public, and it was, it was very powerful.
Alex Ferrari 8:25
That sounds so hate to use the word wonderful, but it seems so helpful. Because even when I grieved when I had loss in my family, you know, just normal family members lives that we all do in life. My I come from Latino tradition, and you have the one night and go to dinner we have that we have we have awake, that we go to the person's house and God bless and good luck.
Colin Campbell 8:52
Right, right. Yeah, good luck.
Alex Ferrari 8:55
I wish you the best with that. And maybe a few phone calls here and there. But, you know, I think when we do grieve we our first reaction, like you said, is to recoil into a corner. And so you can literally I think almost self destruct because your mind is going to destroy you. You It was that kind of what you were thinking what's gonna happen if it wasn't for all of this help?
Colin Campbell 9:18
Yeah, well, it felt I felt really lost untethered, was the word I use a lot. I feel tethered. Just disconnected from meaning and purpose, you know, from life. From my own identity, like who am I without Ruby and heart, right. And so, I felt Yeah, this like drifting away into or falling into a chasm was another another sort of image that came to mind like we're just falling into a chasm of darkness. And I didn't want to, I didn't want to fall into that chasm. And so, so that helped me. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 9:57
I have to imagine that there was an immense amount of anger and rage during this process. Yeah. Did you even begin to deal with that?
Colin Campbell 10:10
Yeah, it's so interesting anger and rage. It's so mysterious to me in a way. Because on the one hand, it, it makes perfect sense, I'd be very angry at this woman who killed my children who got drunk and high and then was speeding going 90 miles an hour and a 50 mile an hour zone, right near her own home. So it's not like she didn't know the speed limit. Didn't even know where she was going. But, but that's not really how it came out. It came out more just at the universe, just on this bubbling rage at like, under the unfairness of it all. It just felt so it still feels so unfair. And I'm not so good with anger. I don't know if anybody's good with it. But I definitely feel scared of anger. I think in my, in my regular life to for the my grief, I just sort of, would often avoid situations or I'd make jokes, you know, to avoid the anger. That's not I didn't really know how to handle my own feelings of anger. And, and I certainly still don't, but but I think my wife and I found a couple of tools that helped us. And the one tool that remains helpful to me is this idea of of kindness. Kindness is an antidote to rage. And the idea that if I start to feel that anger bubbling up in me, if I can act kindly to some stranger, even, that helps me, it helps diffuse the rage. That's, that's been a tourist that's a constant with for me, in dealing with the anger, but also expressing myself, like I wrote a very angry solo show called grief, a one man shit show, which I performed a bunch of times in LA in New York, and I'm gonna keep performing it. And that helps, that helps you too,
Alex Ferrari 12:07
Well, as an artist, you get to use your artistic abilities as an outlet to process this. And some people paid some people, right. So I mean, some of the best songs ever, some of the best books ever. It ran out of grief and anger and loss. So it is do you have any advice for people who are dealing in this at this stage, at least of your process? That they can kind of funnel this somehow?
Colin Campbell 12:35
Yeah, I think I think that's, that's a great approach to it, you know, we have all this bubbling emotion and when where does it go, and if you can go, if it can come out, creatively, I think that diffuses it, and channels it and channels it away from your friends and family. Because that is that's where it often unfortunately goes, you know, you start feeling rageful towards the people who are closest to you. Because they are close to you. They're around you and want you to be angry at the people around you. But those are the people that love you. And so, so yeah, I think I think even my Mike's My advice would be that don't don't think that it has to be great art. Just like you said, like some of the greatest songs ever written. And it's like, well, that's gonna be daunting to like, I'm not gonna write a great song. I just write a crappy song about rage. Yeah. Don't worry about it.
Alex Ferrari 13:34
Exactly. Now, did you also go through? What are the what are the seven stages of of what are they called? You know what? Right?
Colin Campbell 13:43
Yes. Yeah. Yeah, that so that that's not actually how grief works.
Alex Ferrari 13:48
Okay, tell me how you from your, from your, from your on the ground? Yeah, in the trenches, kind of perspective.
Colin Campbell 13:55
Yeah. And, and it's not just me. I mean, if you read any, you know, contemporary book about grief or talk to anyone who who knows what they're talking about. You don't move through stages. So if you want to get technical, those stages were developed by Elisabeth Kubler Ross when she was studying people who were end of life. So they were in hospice care, facing imminent death. And it seemed to her that they went through these stages in this in this kind of in this order. But it was a useful tool for her to break down what these people were going through. And then she and David Kessler kind of applied it to people who are grieving in another so the first book was on death and dying, and then on grief and grieving was where they applied it to people who are grieving people who died. But they say in that book very clearly, it's not meant to be interpreted as a stage you go through and if it just stinks, you're not you're not angry, and then you're done with anger, then you move on to, to you know, bargain. I'll move on to denial. Like that's not how it works, but As they use the word stages, I think people, the popular culture sort of gravitate to that idea that you do one on one at a time. And but no, you experience all those feelings all at the same time, multiple times a day. And they don't go away. So yeah,
Alex Ferrari 15:16
So let me ask you, you know, you said earlier that you are an atheist after this experience, and all this, this tradition from the Jewish to Jewish tradition? Have you changed at all in the sense of just the scope of the universe? And even if you're an A, even if there is a God, being angry at them, it's fine. It's just like, is there some is there some have you? Have you changed at all? And if you haven't, that's fine. I'm just curious.
Colin Campbell 15:42
Yeah, I think they'd be my ideas have gotten a little more expansive in the sense that I feel Ruby and heart in me, you know what I mean? Like, I feel them, they helped shape who I am. To a remarkable degree, and so they're with me in that sense. And I like to think about them now. And again, like, looking down on me. But but I don't, I don't believe in a heaven or some god, character who's making choices. I know, I don't like, you know, God needed two more angels. And man, no, no, no, somebody got drunk and high and killed my kids. That's what happened. But I know, I know that faith helps other people. And that's great. I think any, any help you can get when you're grieving is wonderful. So I don't want to put down anybody who who does believe in heaven, that's wonderful for them. You know, honestly, anything, any, any way that we can get through grief is great. Or move through grief. But for me, I don't I don't believe any of that better play stuff.
Alex Ferrari 16:49
Can you tell me a little bit about Ruby and Heart?
Colin Campbell 16:52
Yeah, thanks for asking. You know, everybody says their own kids are wonderful. But Mike is actually where they were amazing. But Ruby was this incredibly talented artist, too, was she was brilliant. She was a voracious reader. She would go see horror movies together. And then she would go and read the books. So we select the right one in, I think, the sweetest horror film and then she found the book that was based on and she read that book, you know, we watched IT, Stephen King's IT, and she read IT, it says the massive tome. She just burned through books. She read literally twice as fast as I could read. And she was voracious about it. So she has this brilliant mind. But then she discovered art very late in life and late in her life. And, and just was, was brilliant. So I have I have her these drawings. I have tattoos of her art, so I can show it right now. Real quick.
Alex Ferrari 17:54
Oh, that's amazing.
Colin Campbell 17:55
It's got like a wolf. Yeah, so she did these, these two wolves that I just love. So I've got some tattooed on me. But she did these wolves as if they were koi fish, so they used koi fish color patterns, and gave them koi fish whiskers.
Alex Ferrari 18:14
Colin Campbell 18:16
It's art Yeah, yeah, she was into and she did. She was also an amazing costume designer. So she did her own cosplay outfits for anime conventions, he loved anime and manga, and read the manga voraciously as well. And Hart was an amazing clown. He was hilarious dude who just would do characters nonstop all day long. And so his friends were just endlessly charmed by him. He was extraordinarily charming guy who just was the life of any party he was at. You know, I remember going to one of his friend's house to pick them up, you know, after a sleepover or something and, and they all conspired to hide heart from me. So because they wanted to keep him. He's not here. I'm sorry, we can't find him. Come on, guys.
Alex Ferrari 19:02
That's problematic, that's problematic.
Colin Campbell 19:04
We're not gonna get him up. But that's, that's how it was everybody. Everybody wanted to be with heart. That's, you know, they were both very magnetic human beings, and very kind. And that continues to inspire me. So when I think about that, you know, kindness is an anecdote to rage. I feel inspired by them.
Alex Ferrari 19:21
That is such a beautiful idea that kindness is the antidote to rage and anger. Because, I mean, at the end of the day, it is about love, you know, all forms of love, and if you could show that love to others, it it kind of douses the flame of anger a bit, right?
Colin Campbell 19:40
Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 19:43
Now, during your Did you ever encounter any unexpected obstacles while working through your grief?
Colin Campbell 19:49
Oh, that's interesting question. unexpected obstacles. Well, I mean, it's just so Much harder than I would have imagined imagined. Yeah, it's so painful. But that's where that's where I discovered I had to go, I had to lean into the pain. So so it's so painful to see my friends with their kids all, you know, hearts, contemporaries are all graduating this year to their graduating high school, going to college. And all of Ruby's friends are now going into senior year of college. And so it took a year off, you know, because of COVID or whatnot, but, but they're all in college. They're all becoming adults, you know. And it's beautiful. And it's so very painful. It just hurts so bad. And everything hurts so bad. You know, they're, they're everywhere. Everywhere I look, I see Ruben Hart, because they were here in my home. And everywhere I go out in the world, they were there too, or they weren't there. And I think about that, you know, if they go to a new place, they've never been that also feels hard. Ruby and Heart never got to see this, you know,
Alex Ferrari 21:11
And that's never going to change ever. I mean, but what I find so amazing about you, Colin, is that your bravery to not only you know, we all go through briefs, not obviously nothing as extreme as yours. But we all go through our anchors we're all gonna have lost in this life. That's it. You're never getting out of this alive? As they say. So, do you find that you because you put yourself out there? I mean, you, you can process this and said, Okay, have the private move on with life and try to, you know, go through life. But you wrote a book did a show, you're still having these conversations, which I can't believe were not difficult to do. I mean, bringing this all back up having these deep conversations, remembering, why do you decide to go down this path as opposed to what other people most people? I would say the majority of people would just go deal with the process it and move on in life.
Colin Campbell 22:12
Yeah, yeah. Well, I think, I think maybe there's two two thoughts come to mind. One is, it was a very central part of my discovery of meaning and purpose. You know, so life felt meaningless without rubian heart. And I would go to all these grief groups and hear stories about other Grievers feeling alone and abandoned by their friends and family. And I found I feel like Gail, I found a way to keep friends and family close. And I thought I had something to share that might help people. And that helped me, you know, the idea I might be of service to some other people. People I suddenly care greatly about people who are in grief, suddenly became a lot more important to me, as humans, and as part of my post traumatic growth. And so I so I definitely felt that was, that helped me just staying alive, you know, I had a reason to do something. And the other part of it, I think, is is again, leaning into the grief of it all, to feel the love and joy, to remember Ruby and heart to think about them. It hurts, but it's also good. Because the alternative just seems too bleak to just put them away in a box, and not think about them. So I try to find ways to bring them with me through life. So I'm here in life, and I'm staying engaged. My wife and I are fostering to adopt two kids. So they're 13 and 12. And, and they're full of teen issues. It's very challenging, very challenging. But that's who the hell am I want to spend time with you want to spend time with teenagers. So to have chosen a very difficult path, but it's painful because you're thinking about you know, rubbing heart all the time as we're parenting because that's what we parented before. But um, I think that I think that you know, feel everything like as a quote I take in the take in the book, from from Rilke about, let yourself feel everything that's what we are here on earth for a short time and let's, let's feel the pain and the joy and they're intertwined anyway,
Alex Ferrari 24:40
Very much so very much so. So you say meaning and purpose. This this event that happened in your life has you using meaning and purpose as a way to cope? Or do you believe that this was in a way kind of gave you because you got a very successful career, you are moving for you. I mean, it's not like you were sitting around, you know, not doing anything.
Colin Campbell 25:05
Right, right. I don't mean, I don't mean purpose in like a large monitor what I mean by purpose. I do not I mean, I mean, like, I mean, like combating meaninglessness, okay, you know, so. So finding my meaning and purpose is like, just staying engaged in life and not giving up on life. Not not not giving it to despair. Yeah, I think despair can cease people in grief, I think it does, inevitably. And we all have to find a way out of it out of that despair.
Alex Ferrari 25:41
What I find really interesting about your process, and what you're doing is that you are a lot of people, when we go through grief, we do hide in a dark room. And we do put it in a box, and we put it on, we don't deal with it, where you are dealing with it every day, bringing it into the light every day. And it is painful. And it is but it is less painful than if you just try to put it away or try to not shine light on the situation. Is that a fair assessment?
Colin Campbell 26:16
Yeah, I think that's exactly true. I think that's, that's the irony of it all, is that, you know, I think people who try to box it away and not deal with it are actually going to feel more pain, more suffering, ultimately. Sort of short term, long term situation, I guess. Nobody, nobody in the immediate moment actually wants to feel the pain. But if we don't let ourselves then over time, it it I think it leads to more suffering. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 26:43
Was there something that you wish someone would have done for you during the worst part of this grieving process?
Colin Campbell 26:50
Yeah, I think I got a lot of people reaching out to me a lot. We have a beautiful community. And gal I found ways very quickly to tell them what we needed. And when we got so much love, we still get so much love all the time. You know, Father's Day is a tough day complicated day for me, and I got so many messages of love and support from so many different people who were thinking about me. But I still want more. No, I think I think that I think that even though I got so much I get so much love. I could always have used certainly in the darkest of days used use more. I think we all can. I've never been to a grief group where someone has said, I get too much love and support from people. I've never heard that said I've never heard someone say there's so many people want to talk about my dead loved one that it just tiring. Never heard that. So yeah, I think I think we could all use more.
Alex Ferrari 27:57
It's kind of like as being filmmakers. You never hear the term. All you have his time and money. Like never as much time as you need it as much cash as you want. Right. We'll never hear that statement anywhere on this.
Colin Campbell 28:11
No, yeah. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 28:13
What? So were there any tools that you discovered along your way to help you deal with grief besides some of the things we've already discussed?
Colin Campbell 28:21
Yeah. Well, grief groups, I sort of alluded to it. But that was a very useful tool when those those people in those groups are still friends of mine. And they and that, that helps me immensely. Journaling was very useful to me, I journaled every day for the first year after the crash. And so in my book, I talk that I offer a lot of journal prompts, in case someone feels stuck. But that was helpful to me, just to sort of my journal entries, I think were not very interesting. They're just sort of spouting out my thoughts. And sometimes that is swear a lot, you know, but it helped me It helped me to just understand what was happening, I guess, or just a process, it started to understand it. And in rituals, rituals were were hugely helpful to me, they still are, every time there's a you know, a holiday comes up. Father's Day, they're the day of their deaths, the day of their births. Valentine's Day, they all pose a real problem for me and my wife, you know how we're going to get through this this holiday. And we often lean on rituals, doing something such as inviting people in our community to do it with us. But some kind of activity that keeps us engaged with others in the world, and thinking about room and heart, as opposed to just retreating and suffering, you know, which is what it feels like, oh, boy, here comes you know, what are we going to do this year, the day of their deaths. It's going to be so horrible. And this year, what we do We started our foundation for Ruby heart called the Ruby and Heart Foundation. And we're raising money to send to support this organization called W AC, which sends writers to underserved schools across America to read aloud to kids, and then give them all free books. Oh, so yeah, Reuben Hart loved reading. And we have these little book plates made, I don't have one right in front of me to show you but super, super cute. And it's called, you know, this book belongs to and there's a blank for the kids write their name in it. And then it's a gift from Ruby and heart. And the idea that the books all across America, with little stickers, you know, from Ruby and heart to kids to help help them have access to reading, which is so key is really beautiful and meaningful for my wife and I were both writers. So
Alex Ferrari 30:55
One thing you said about the journaling, I find that that it seems at least that at least when I've gone through whatever things I've gone through in life, it's like this energy inside of you just starts to build up and boils up and it could get to anger. It could be sadness, it could be despair. But it's energy. There's some sort of, you know, without getting too woowoo, something is happening inside of us. And if you do not release it, like you said, you'll snap at people near you, you journaling seems like you said, I just curse sometimes I journaled, Sue, and I would just like you son of a bid like and I just would like literally spew out because if I don't, it would be kind of like a toxic. I'm releasing the toxins in a way. Is that fair?
Colin Campbell 31:39
That's what it felt like to me. Exactly. Right. I feel like things would build up. And I'd have to like, it's like a vomiting list. I had to get it out. And sometimes it was just like, I had to weep. Like, I wouldn't be crying for a couple of days and then build up, but I just have to have a session of weeping. And then also the same the anger and frustration, and I had to have a session of writing. Get it out. Yeah, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 32:02
And we all don't have to be in all of us don't have to be artists to do so. I mean, journaling is a perfect example. A good man, I can tell you a good cry. It's amazing. What a good cry could do sometimes.
Colin Campbell 32:17
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, just feeling those feelings. And not being too afraid of them, because they're scary. Sometimes those feelings.
Alex Ferrari 32:25
So from your point of view now of being the person that people helped, what advice do you have for the people around someone who is grieving? What should they do? What advice do you have? Because it is not taught in school? It is not something that generally is on Netflix. It is not a skill set that you know, and then there's cultural biases, community biases, you know, historical by there's so many different things. It's not a one size fits all. So what advice would you give for people who are trying to help someone in a grieving process?
Colin Campbell 33:00
Yeah, yeah. Well, I have a lots of advice, please. One is that, you know, I think, take the pressure off what you're going to say to them, because you're not the goal is not to fix them, or fix their grief, or take away their pain. Because you can't, the person's dead. You can't bring them back to life. So any time that someone tries to help somebody with that mindset, they're inadvertently minimizing the pain because they're trying to take it away. They're trying to like, reassure the person like Don't, don't feel too bad, you know, because and then that's, that's bad. That's gonna in invariably piss this person off, because you're saying things that are kind of insulting or minimized. Or you could have another kid right? You could marry somebody else. Like literally these people. People hear these things. I didn't but but I know believers who have especially people who lose very young children, you know, they're that's a classic. Someone says, Don't you have another kid? Don't worry about like, they're just trying to bury the treasure help. Right? But don't but no, don't try and fix the pain or take away the pain. Just be there for the person. Just say you love them. And you love the person who died if you do if you knew them, and share a story about the person who died, but mostly be there for that person to talk to you. You know, I want to I want to go for a walk with you and talk and hear and listen to what you have to say. And that's the greatest gift you can give a Griever because they feel so alone. It's so it's so loneliness is such a powerful part of grief. It's so overwhelming because before we were being heart died, I had lots of friends and family that mattered to me. But when Ruby and heart were killed, nobody else mattered. It was just Ruby and heart and they were gone. So I felt alone. You know what I mean? It's it is it logically doesn't make sense. But emotionally, that's how it felt. The only people who matter to me were Ruby and heart and they were gone. So I was alone. And I think that's, I think that's shared by many people who've lost loved ones in that, in that acute grief period. They feel so alone. And being there for them is so helpful. And oftentimes, in early grief, people don't want to be with people, they want to be alone. They think they want to be alone, right? They like, like I said, I don't want people to come to my house for Shiva, no. But I said, okay, because I'm because I don't know any better. I'll do whatever the Jews tell me to do. Basically. Whatever my rabbi tells me, I'm going to do that, and, and it helped a lot. She's also a very wise rabbi, but still. And so. So I think oftentimes, people in early grief, they push away help. And so the friends and family like, oh, I guess they want to be left alone, forever. And it's no, no, not forever, just just that day, reach out again, reach out again, keep reaching out, because that will change. And they will desperately want to be with people at some point.
Alex Ferrari 36:11
And you said the, you've said this a couple of times in our conversation, the stories. How important is it for you as the Griever to hear stories about what causes you not caused you the grief, but remind you of the grief? Because this is a weird, tightrope to say like when's the right time? You know, when should we do it? When is it really helpful? When is it just like rubbing salt on the wound? This is really kind of a really tight rope thing. So what advice do you have for that?
Colin Campbell 36:42
Yeah, well, I have a kind of radical, not radical, but I have a forceful opinion about that is, I know that there are some people out there who don't want to talk about the person who died. I know that that they those people exist. But I also know that they're a very tiny minority. I know that the overwhelming amount of people who've lost someone want to talk about that person. And so but I feel like our culture caters to the very tiny sliver that doesn't want to talk about the person. Because that's what most people say, because I don't want to remind them of their of their pain, because God forbid they get upset at that, right. But I would say in my experience, encountering hundreds of people who've lost people, the vast vast majority really desperately want to talk about that person. And I think that the the tiny sliver minority that doesn't want to talk about them, I think, in my opinion, is not so terrible if you do and they tell you actually, I don't I don't want to talk about that person right now. I don't think you've done a terrible grievous, you know, crime to that person in grief by quote unquote, reminding them of their loss. They haven't forgotten. Nobody's forgotten their loss, right? Just not real. I don't ever forget that Rubin Hart were killed. That doesn't make any sense. So maybe I don't want to I don't want to, I always want to talk about maybe somebody else doesn't want to talk about someone they lost. I think it's okay to make that mistake, as opposed to abandoning all the rest of us who desperately want to talk about them. Does that make sense?
Alex Ferrari 38:16
It does make sense. But let me ask you that why do you believe that society, at least in the West here, we're we're in that that is the case that we've been kind of talked to and taught. Even in movies, generally speaking,
Colin Campbell 38:32
Especially in movies, almost always.
Alex Ferrari 38:34
What's very dramatic,
Colin Campbell 38:36
Right! It's dramatic. So talk about them. Don't talk about them. I can't, I can't.
Alex Ferrari 38:40
Right. It's dramatic, it's more dramatic to see someone self destruct in a corner than to actually open ourselves. So that's what we have been taught growing up. So is that why you think that we are I can't blame it all on them? Yes. But generally speaking here in the West,
Colin Campbell 38:56
I think that is a big portion of that is, is movies and television to show us they know the tougher the person, the more they'll just drink themselves to death and not talk about their loss. And like, that's not so tough. You're You're running away. Easy wave, dude. Yeah. But I think also discomfort. It's uncomfortable to sit with somebody in grief. It's just uncomfortable to talk about loss and think about death. And it's so much easier to be like, Oh, they want to be left alone forever, that or I'll wait until they reach out to me. And it's like, no, you just reach out to them. It's okay. It's not going to what's the worst that could happen? And I think just because in so many of these grief groups that I've been to the everyone starts talking about the aching and loss and and and the pain and then very quickly, the conversation shifts to how they've been abandoned by their friends and family. Every time every time you Yep. And there's so much bitterness and anger and confusion. And it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking because I feel like it's just a cultural miscommunication, that people want to want to help people in loss. But we've got this, these, like, expectations that, you know, everybody grieves in their own ways, let's leave them alone to figure it out for themselves. As opposed to we grieve in community. And death is makes people feel very lonely. And let's, let's reach out and be with them in these moments as opposed to walking away from people and grief.
Alex Ferrari 40:36
Have you by any chance kind of looked into how other cultures deal with grief in your, in your writings and your studies?
Colin Campbell 40:46
Yeah, I haven't done enough research. Although other woman just talked me just recently about the practice. In the West African country, West African Muslim country. I don't want to say the wrong one. Because then I just ignorant. But it was so striking. She said that, in this community where she grew up, if somebody dies, the whole community like camps out at that person's house, it's like Shiva on steroids. They just, they bring mattresses and sleep around to surround the person for a month. They're just like, Yep, we're gonna live over at their house now. Because they just lost somebody dear to them. They need and it's like, Oh, my God, that's so beautiful and amazing. So I don't know, I think, I think there's a lot of great cultural models out there for to be grief supportive, that we need to look into.
Alex Ferrari 41:42
That is beautiful. I mean, I can only imagine having, you know, 300 people in the backyard.
Colin Campbell 41:51
It sounds it sounds bad, I guess. But it's good. It would never really work in America.
Alex Ferrari 42:03
But it's, it's interesting. Let me ask you because I mean, you are a writer you in you are you deal with humor a lot. You use humor a lot. How important is humor during the grieving process?
Colin Campbell 42:17
Yeah, for me, it was it remains helpful. You know, Ruby and Heart were funny people. They enjoyed good, good jokes. And I'll talk about that my book like Ruby was such a character, she created this this alternate character called Sven and he was this very obnoxious Russian rug dealer who's always threatening his his clients. So that's what you call a Ruby Sven would answer the phone and like threaten you over the phone with attack llamas and things as you please put Ruby on the phone. But no, she'd be spin. And she created an elaborate website, you can actually look up spins rugs, this is a joke, it must have taken her hours. It's just amazing, hilarious website with all the different pages of different rugs for sale. Ridiculous for a million dollars, once called ugly rug. But, and Hart loved, loved, you know, jokes that were like, you know, risque jokes. He loved love to be inappropriate, in a wonderful way in a funny way. So. So humor was always part of our family. My wife is a comedy writer she's written for, for sitcoms for over 20 years. So she's very funny. So yeah, so humor was always a part of our family. So it feels like we honor Ruby and heart and we make jokes, dark jokes around death and grieving. But it just helps me it helps me, I guess to navigate it. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 43:53
How do you? This is a tough this is a tough line to walk as well. How do you advise other people around the grieving person to use you? Because I remember it was like, there was, I don't know if you know who Joey Diaz is, he's a stand up comic. Very famous Dan cop, but he's, he's the guy. He's like, anytime there's a loss with one of his friends. He would call him up like a day later and just give him the most ridiculous, crass, inappropriate joke about like, you know, so what do they leave you in the will? Like, you know, and then and they always said, man, thank you for that. Because no one has the balls, right to do that, you know, to just call up the next day. So, yeah. He's a rough, rough character.
Colin Campbell 44:48
He's a rough Yeah. He's probably got friends who appreciate that, right?
Alex Ferrari 44:52
That's exactly that's right. But for other people around, you know,
Colin Campbell 44:57
Well, there's this beautiful tradition around Shiva. So Shiva, for those who don't know, I sort of mentioned it earlier that for the first week after the funeral every night, people come to your house and they sit with you. And there are a bunch of rules around how you're supposed to behave, which are very interesting. And one of them is, you're not supposed to speak to the, to the, to the Griever, until they've spoken to you. So, and that for me is like you take your cue from them. So say, if they greet you, and they're and they're weeping, don't tell them a joke.
Alex Ferrari 45:29
Right! I mean, it's all timing.
Colin Campbell 45:31
Yeah. Yeah. Like, like taken where they are right? Read the room, basically, what it's telling you read the room before, step into a house of mourning and read the room. And so, and if the if the Griever is laughing, because they because we do we go up and down, right, we cry, we laugh, it's complicated. And it changes moment to moment. And so take your cue from the mourner. That's what I would say. So So I imagine this comic knows his friends and noses,
Alex Ferrari 45:58
These are other other big, big star. Yeah, other big stars and stuff like that, that Yeah,
Colin Campbell 46:02
Yeah. So as a comic, I'm sure he's very good at reading the room, you could tell right away, you know, picks up the phone and calls them just hearing their voice and the other lines gonna tell him where they're at, you know, but so that's, that's what I would say, read the room and follow the lead of the Griever. And if they want to make dark jokes, then do it and are with them. And if they want to weep, weep, if they want to just be silent, then just sit with them in silence.
Alex Ferrari 46:29
The Jewish tradition of these rituals seem to be very, very powerful. And very, like the concept of someone in ancient times said, Let the read the room. We got to put something in here, right? Because some of these guys are idiots. We got to really set some rules here.
Colin Campbell 46:48
Gotta help these people. Yeah, yeah, no, it's it's pretty amazing. Like some of the, this like a strange one that I thought was a strange one said, don't see live music for the first month after someone's died. So the first month is called sheme, which means 30, the first 30 days after the death. And I was like, don't see live music or whatever. And then I went to see a play, I went to see a play in honor of Ruby, because she would have loved this play was about to go Ruby was gay. And this play was about a lesbian theatre artists in in the time of Nazi Germany. And so it was just like, perfect, she would have loved this play. But I went it within that those first 30 days and seeing live people on on stage, like being exuberantly alive, was too painful. It hurt to see people so full of life. And I was like, oh, that's what that rule is about. That's what the don't see live music is it's like, it's too full of life. And I wasn't ready. I needed a little more time. So it's just like a piece of ancient wisdom that was like, oh, shoot, I should have listened. To wait another week, I would have it would have been better. It was hard. It was really hard to see these people, these guys young actors on stage, you know, emoting about life and death. And it's just like, I'm not I'm not ready. I'm not ready yet. It's too early for me.
Alex Ferrari 48:15
Any other any other those little pieces of ancient wisdom that you can think of? Because they are these are gold nuggets here, man. Who would have thought don't see live music or a live play or Bradley don't even go see a movie at a theater like it's? Yeah, it's Yeah. Too much Life. There's an energy that art gives.
Colin Campbell 48:35
Right, right. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I mean, this is a rough one. But um, so the actual, the actual burial. So the Jewish tradition is that the central mourners, in this case, Gail and I, we, we throw the first handfuls of dirt on the casket. So we, we literally are burying our children with our bare hands. And then we sit and watch as the rest of our community picks up shovels and finishes the job. So we literally watch our community buried our children. And it felt like that's like punishing, right? Like, why would you do that? Like give give these people a break? But actually, it helps because of denial. You know, it's so hard to accept the reality. It's so hard and that was helpful to be it was painful but helpful, like, yes. Now I see that friend throwing dirt on Rubin hearts coffin. Now I see that kid doing it. And it's like, it just helps to deal with denial because it's so powerful in the early days. So hard to believe it's real.
Alex Ferrari 49:46
Right! Exactly. And it's not as brutal as having them say you do it all
Colin Campbell 49:51
Right, you don't do the whole thing.
Alex Ferrari 49:53
The whole thing is like it's just enough. It's just enough to really send the this signal to the brain. Yeah, it's that's such a that's, that's rough. But it's, it's needed. It's this is not supposed to be cotton candy and rainbows and butterflies.
Colin Campbell 50:11
Yeah, we have to feel the pain. You know, we, if you feel the love, you're going to feel the pain. That's, that's the flip side of love is grief. And we all as you said, we all experience it. We're all gonna grieve.
Alex Ferrari 50:24
Now, let me ask you, what is the most significant piece of advice or message of hope that you can give to somebody who is going through grief like you have?
Colin Campbell 50:34
Well, the hope that I guess the hope is that, you know, it does change our relationship to the pain changes. In early grief, It's so awful, and so full of despair, and nausea. And, you know, it's so overwhelming. And it can feel like this will never change because Ruby heart will be dead forever. So it'll never go away, I'll always feel this awful. And I found this for years now. So the anniversary was, was the 12th, just a couple of days ago. And then the burial, we buried them on Father's Day. So and So yesterday was Father's Day. So four years ago, I buried my children, and it's changed, I'm in a very different place than I was. I still ache for them every day. But but the aching is not so scary. The pain is not as not so scary. It's sort of like, it's more welcome. Because it's my connection to them is the love and the pain intertwined. Maybe it's how I think of it. And so that's the message of hope that I give is that, you know, it's hard to believe it's hard to believe when you're in acute grief that it'll ever change. But it does, definitely becomes more bearable. And then the other piece of advice is, is get, don't be afraid of the pain. I was I was scared to cry to start cry, start weeping. Because I felt like I would never stop. If I started weeping, I would literally never stop and I would lose my mind. That's what it felt like. And I discovered from weeping over and over that that's not how it works. It ebbs and flows. And you sort of ride things out and and things change over time as you as you process. If you're not afraid of the grief as you allow yourself to process it. Your relationship to it changes. I think you've put it in a box that then your relationship doesn't change to it. And you're kind of freezing it in time.
Alex Ferrari 52:49
Which is much more painful.
Colin Campbell 52:50
I think ultimately, yes, I think it is.
Alex Ferrari 52:54
You have to if you're the end of the day, you're going to deal with it one way or another. Yeah, it's not going away is it is a dragon that you have to deal with. And I love your approach to this. Because it's like you, you're you're you are you're not fighting the dragon. You're dancing with him. A sense? Yeah. Yeah. In a sense, because you're not fighting with them anymore, right? You're not You're just, you are part of my life now. And I'm gonna dance with you during this process, as opposed to affording him. Well, thanks, but putting them in the closet. And just God if he gets out, oh God, if you see that and living with that, it's just compounding what you've dealt with. So I hope that people listening to this and watching this use you. And use your journey as an example of how you could deal with this and how we could deal with this because it's something we're all all of us are going to have to deal with at different levels here and there throughout our life. It's just part of why we're here. It's something that we all everyone goes through every Yeah, no. Now, where can people pick up your amazing book and find out? How about what you're doing?
Colin Campbell 54:13
Nice. So you can buy my book at any any bookstore, or online, any bookstore, your favorite local bookstore can order it for you or maybe they have it in stock or they have in stock. But you can find out more information about it at colincampbellauthor.com That's where you know, the book is there and links to buy it. And you can also follow me on Instagram at Colin writer, a Colin Campbell writer, sorry, Colin Campbell. And colincampbellauthor.com. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 54:51
And we're if anybody wants to make a donation to Ruby, the Ruby Heart Foundation.
Colin Campbell 54:55
Oh, thank you. Yes, well, you can Google the Ruby and Heart Foundation, and that'll it pop up. Yeah, there's only one
Alex Ferrari 55:02
But it's on your websites?
Colin Campbell 55:04
You know, it's on my wife's website, and I think it's on mine, but I don't. It will be soon.
Alex Ferrari 55:10
Okay. We could find it easily through through the through the master with the master that is Google.
Colin Campbell 55:17
Exactly the Ruby and Heart Foundation. Yep.
Alex Ferrari 55:21
And Colin, do you have any parting words for the audience?
Colin Campbell 55:25
Well, thank you for listening. That's That's my parting words. I really appreciate it. I really appreciate people, you know, reading my book and thinking about Ruby and heart and thinking about their own grief.
Alex Ferrari 55:36
My friend, I appreciate this conversation whether you can imagine and I really truly hope it helps people around the world deal with their grief. So I appreciate you and what you're doing for the planet, my friend. Thank you again.
Colin Campbell 55:46
Oh, thank you so much.
Links and Resources
- Colin Campbell – Official Site
- GRIEF: A One Man Shit Show
- Read the book: Finding the Words: Working Through Profound Loss with Hope and Purpose.
- Earthing.com: End Inflammation Today – Discover the Science-Based Healing Powers of Earthing/Grounding
- FREE Mindvalley Spiritual Masterclasses
- MUSE 2: The Brain Sensing Headband – Meditation Tracker Headset Device
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