…Revisit old healing habits. You’ll be surprised that they might still work. I used to rewatch the entire Felicity series when something in my life changed. I always learned a lot from that show and found the rewatch helpful. As soon as my Dad died, I had Felicity running in the background for a month and it felt like a warm hug. Your current dramatic loss or life change may be new to you, but experiencing any loss or change is not new. You may not need to reinvent the wheel on how to heal.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Hoffman.
Kerry Hoffman is currently the Head of Project Management & Ops at ClassPass, the world’s largest fitness network. Kerry is the Founder of So Very Kerry, a lifestyle brand that provides individuals with the tools they need to project manage everything, from their home renovations to their dreams of running a marathon. In her free time, you can find Kerry walking across the Manhattan Bridge, utilizing her Rent the Runway subscription, reading for one of her many book clubs, food crawling through every borough, and traveling the globe with her partner Sung.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up right outside New York City, in Westchester County. My mother is a Speech Pathologist and my father was a lawyer. My parents were theater-goers and took me to over 150 shows as a kid. When we weren’t at the theater, we were taking advantage of my father’s season tickets to the New York Rangers. As a kid, I enjoyed dance class, playing dolls with my friends, and having slumber parties. But I also studied a ton, since getting good grades and doing well in school was very important to me. I was a pretty avid reader as a kid, which has only continued to blossom as an adult.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Before my very first school test, my Mom told me: “check everything over before you hand it in.” And from that day, I never handed in any of my work without reviewing it. My Dad was also very keen on us not making careless mistakes. That really shaped me as a kid and has stuck with me as an adult. We are always in such a rush in this world and moving too fast can cause mistakes. If we take the time to look everything over first, we may spot something we missed the first time.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I am extremely resourceful and prepared in all areas of my life. I was always the person in high school that people came to if they forgot a tampon, wanted last night’s VHS recording of Dawson’s Creek, or needed the homework assignment. As a Project Manager, it is my job to be the most resourceful person on the team. If someone needs an answer, I need to track that down.
I am very personable and can find ways to connect with most people I meet. To add to that, I am an extremely curious individual so when I meet people, I love to learn all about them, what they do, and how they operate. When I started at Seamless, I got very friendly with the engineering team. I had never worked with software engineers before and was excited to learn the ins and outs of their universe. The product managers asked me what I did to make the engineers like me so much since they seemed receptive to working with me. It’s my nature to find something that allows me to connect with anyone who crosses my path.
I am high energy and always smiling. That doesn’t mean I don’t have sad days or low points. I try to radiate joy as much as I can because I’ve been fortunate enough to have many life experiences that bring joy. Oddly, my resting face is a smile so I am constantly caught smiling, even when I feel neutral. If that smile brings a smile to someone else’s face though, I am happy.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
My father died from COVID-19 on March 31, 2020. I found out he had COVID 6 days before. It was still in the very early stages of the pandemic and so much was unknown. Although people were already dying, it also seemed that others were getting sick for 2 weeks and then getting better. The morning of his death was the first time I really felt like something bad could happen and that maybe he wouldn’t survive. It was Day 14 though, so I was hopeful that he just had to make it one more day. He died later that night.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part was how quickly things changed. It was not until late on March 12th that I decided to cancel my next day flight to meet my parents in Phoenix for a family trip. They had left earlier in the week, when COVID was still a whisper. And then 3 weeks later, I lost my Dad. The whole world was turned upside down when we went into lockdown on March 15th. But then it felt like a meteorite crashed into my upside down world when my Dad died.
How did you react in the short term?
After sobbing on the floor for an hour, I knew I had to start making some calls. It was already 9:30PM, but I still called a few friends. I just felt like I had to tell everyone immediately. The next three days, I spent nearly 8 hours a day on the phone. And when I wasn’t on the phone, I was writing the obituary, reading heartfelt emails, and figuring out all of the logistics surrounding death. I couldn’t go home to see my Mom for 17 days because she also had COVID. I had to wait for her negative test results. Remember, getting a test in April, 2020 was much harder than it is now, and results took a lot longer. To be homebound, unable to see my Mom, or even go anywhere other than the park or a grocery store, was so limiting.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
In many ways, the dust never settles. You do a deep clean of the dust in those first few months, but dust always comes back. My initial coping mechanism was to continue to do the things in my life that always feel good, like exercising, talking to friends and reading. I cried through several Peloton rides. The chats with friends were longer and more heartfelt. And reading fun books gave way to reading grief books. Where I found real comfort was in my writing. I started writing letters to my Dad and posting them to my website. I initially wanted to write to him to tell him what he was missing. I kept writing them when I wanted to recreate an old memory or share something exciting with him.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Healing is a process. I am only a year in and I am nowhere near letting go of the negative aspects of that event. Part of the struggle in letting go is that the world is still experiencing this pandemic. We are all living in the negative aspects of this time. The road is getting shorter, but we have not reached our final destination.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I had to come to terms with the fact that I could still lead a very happy life. That feels hard to admit and also feels wrapped in guilt. I’ll never see my Dad again. He’ll never walk me down the aisle, visit my new apartment, or congratulate me on a job promotion. I feel robbed of so many more years we should have had together. My loss and my grief are now part of the fabric that makes me who I am. I know it has changed me and it will continue to change me as my relationship with grief grows and evolves over time. But there is still happiness left in this life. And every happy moment I have feels a little worse without him here, but I still want to be the person with a smile for a resting face.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I joined a COVID grief therapy group composed of individuals who lost parents to COVID. I was already a believer in 1–1 therapy and was intrigued by the idea of group therapy. Having 5 other individuals experiencing the same type of loss from the same event at the same time was extremely impactful for me. Your friends and your family can always be there to support you, but they may not understand your experience. When you are trying to heal, finding others who are trying to heal too is very comforting.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
I am not one to say that his memory is a blessing, or better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. I can’t reframe my father’s death into a positive situation. I can only take what I’ve learned and what I continue to learn and bring that into my future.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned that I am more capable of being vulnerable than I thought. I’ve been exercising intentional vulnerability over the past couple of years, trying to be more honest with myself and share that honest with others. I have held nothing back in sharing how I feel about my loss. I write my Dear Dad letters and send them to my mailing list. I write lengthy stories and tributes to him on instagram. I tell people how I am really doing when they ask me. What I’ve learned is that most people are very receptive to vulnerability and find it brave. It only inspires me more to keep sharing myself with the world.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Revisit old healing habits. You’ll be surprised that they might still work. I used to rewatch the entire Felicity series when something in my life changed. I always learned a lot from that show and found the rewatch helpful. As soon as my Dad died, I had Felicity running in the background for a month and it felt like a warm hug. Your current dramatic loss or life change may be new to you, but experiencing any loss or change is not new. You may not need to reinvent the wheel on how to heal.
- Create your healing tribe and surround yourself with their love. Loss is extremely challenging to support a friend or family member through and not everyone close to you will be a good fit to support you in the way that you need. It’ll be clear early on who can sit with you and your pain. Those people are members of your healing tribe. I found my therapy group to be instant members of my tribe. I also found that some friends were better suited for sitting with my grief while others were the ones I wanted to socialize and relax with.
- Ask for help with anything at all. Everyone says they “wish they could do more to help” and they are probably being genuine. But they don’t know how to help, so tell them. If you need someone to listen to you, ask someone if they would listen. If you need someone to do your laundry because you just can’t get out of bed, ask someone to do your laundry. If you need to go to a dance club and let it all out on the dance floor, ask someone to dance with you.
- The only way forward is through. Make space for grief. You can’t swerve around grief and pass it. You have to drive right through it. You have to experience, feel it, and make space for it. I add grief related to-dos to my personal project plan so that I don’t forget to pick up that grief book, write that Dear Dad letter, or call a friend from my therapy group.
- Identify what makes you feel good and have that list handy when times feel particularly tough. I still find it hard to zone out and truly unplug. I realized that going for a long walk, baking cookies, or working on my vision board allowed me to disconnect from the world and connect with myself. I keep that list handy so that when I am having a rough day, I can look at my healing strategies and find something to help.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I wish we hadn’t lost as many people as we did to COVID. The best I can ask for now is for people to feel more like global citizens. Our actions impact each other and the world that we live in. We can’t always be perfect, but can always be better. Ask yourself each day if there is one small thing that you could do to make the world a better place to live, and do it.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Chelsea Handler. I’ve always found her funny but I’ve recently seen other sides of her in recent book, on podcast interviews, and when she was a guest on Hot Ones, my favorite YouTube show. She has experienced a lot of loss in her life and has been open about how manages that loss. I appreciate her vulnerability and her desire to be unapologetically herself. She’s a great model for how I hope I am and will continue to live my life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!