117. Bearing Unbearable Loss: A conversation About Grief with Joanne Cacciatore

At some point, each and every one of us will lose someone we love. But grief is no cakewalk. And however hard grief is, the pain gets exponentially greater when we are met with the deafening silence and discomfort of others. Join us to create space and a voice for grief with a frank conversation about death, love, and the heartbreaking journey of bearing unbearable loss. In this touching and personal conversation, Yael speaks with Joanne Cacciatore, author of Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief about the nature of grief, how grievers can take their journeys more wisely, and what you can do for someone you love who is grieving.

Join us to learn:

  • How to turn towards the grief, and why it is important to
  • How we can help ourselves, or support someone we care about, during times of grief
  • How to grieve, even when your life feels too full to make the time and space
  • Why anger often emerges during grief, and how we can respond to it
  • How grief changes over time

About Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

Dr. Joanne CacciatoreJoanne is the author of Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief. Joanne is an associate professor at Arizona State University and conducts research on traumatic loss and grief. She offers a graduate certificate in trauma and bereavement at ASU. You can learn about her novel work with care-farming and grief or about the Kindness Project by clicking the links. You can find Joanne on Facebook and you can watch the breathtaking story of the famous rescue horse, Chemakoh, here.


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Join the discussion

  • Tanks for this episode. I have attended a workshop led by Dr. Cacciatore. It was moving and enlightening. I just wanted to offer another resource that I have found useful in working with folks grieving the death of a loved one. Thomas Attig’s book "The Heart of Grief" offers many wonderful stories of people moving through the grieving process. I have often used the following excerpt from that book in my work:
    Loving in Separation

    Grieving is a journey that teaches us how to love in a new way now that our loved one is no longer with us. This journey from loving in presence to loving in separation is possible because the lives of those who have died remain real in the lives of those of us who knew and loved them. The times we spent together are not erased from history. We retain our unique acquaintance with those we love. We still hold memories that we can review privately or share with one another. We still feel the imprints of their lives on us where we hold their practical, soulful, and spiritual legacies….

    Consciously remembering those who have died is the key that opens our hearts, that allows us to love them in new ways. Remembering is not longing. When we remember, we bring those who have died to mind; we don’t dwell on their absence… In nostalgia, we passively receive what memory offers, and we long simultaneously. But the more actively we engage with those we remember and what we remember about them, the more our longing recedes into the background. We are drawn to what we still hold of them as we begin to explore what we remember.

    The more active our remembering, the more effectively we reconnect with the reality and meanings of their lives, which death cannot cancel. These things hold our attention, not our pain and anguish. As we remember what we love about those who have died, we welcome them back into our lives even though we are apart. We begin to learn how to love them in new ways. In memory we can cherish them. We can carry them with us into the future.

    –Thomas Attig, The Heart of Grief

    Michael Knapik, LCMHC

    • Dear Mr. Knapik, Thanks for this wonderful comment and for sharing the resource of “The Heart of Grief.” Keep your eye out, we will try to cover that book in a future episode! You are spot on in your insights of active remembering as a way to reconnect with those we love and have lost. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words of love and wisdom. With gratitude, Psychologists Off the Clock

  • This is just a note to express how riveting and inspiring the podcast “Bearing Unbearable Loss” was for me. It was fantastic. I work with a team of bereavement group facilitators for Kaiser. We are volunteers who do not have formal training in psychology, theology or any form of therapy – unless you count the therapy of experience. All of us have been through a serious loss and, in one way or another, showed particular empathy, insight or perspective during our own grief journeys when we attended as grieving members. We were hand-picked, in a way, to be part of the support team.

    After 8 years of this work, I can attest to the truth of what Dr. Joanne Cacciatore shared in the interview. She was on-point with her comments about the unintended hurtful advice from friends, the understanding that there is not one ‘right’ way to grieve, anniversaries are ‘triggers’ (although she doesn’t like that word, she prefers ‘cues’ – we say triggers but I think I will change my language……yes, because the word ‘trigger’ implies the necessity to feel pain but a cue may just be a neutral reminder) and are big deals for those in pain. I heard myself when she said that grieving is the normal outcome after our loved one dies and that going through it (not avoiding or denying it) is the healthy way to get to a better place. (So many want to avoid crying and I suggest to them that crying is helpful and helps us move through the pain.) Death is what “sucks” – grieving isn’t the culprit. There were so many other insight that I need to listen again. It was a validation of what we do, what we say, and what we share with our group. For me, listening to the podcast was an informal excellent training session.

    I will forward it to my fellow facilitators. We will all feel good as it will remind us that we are on track and it will provide inspiration.

    Anyway, I LOVED the podcast and the tenderness of Yael just added depth, as I see it.

    Phyllis Schneider
    Volunteer Facilitator for Kaiser Permanente Bereavement Groups

    • Dear Ms. Schneider, Thanks for this wonderful comment and for the incredible work you are doing. We are so delighted you enjoyed hearing Dr. Cacciatore on this episode and so grateful that you will forward her incredible work on to others. We hope you continue to give back in your own important work. Thank you for your support! With gratitude, Psychologists Off the Clock

  • As the others have stated, this episode was fantastic. Probably one of the best I’ve heard and that is saying something because your podcast has so much great content!

  • I find it hard to know when to disclose my own losses.

    When I was a new psychologist, my father died. One of my first clients at that time was struggling with a loss of her father in almost the same circumstances. I spontaneously mentioned the coincidence of it happening to me. It turned out later that she didn’t like that, because she didn’t want to know about anyone else’s pain.

    I also lost a toddler, which I have rarely mentioned in therapy sessions. I currently have patients in my caseload who are struggling with PTSD with grief and I will have to discover ways of experimenting with when it would be useful or not so useful to self-disclose.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It’s so difficult to be in the helping profession when you, too, are going through something so painful. There certainly needs to be more discussion around this complicated set of circumstances and we appreciate you helping that conversation along. We hope you are finding ways to garner support, and we thank you for weighing in here. Wishing you healing and peace on your journey through grief, the POTC team.

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Episode 117