Be okay saying ‘no.’ There might be days you feel like going out and others where you can’t bear the thought. I always remind myself that anyone who cares about me will understand if I say no to doing certain things. When you do go to an event, it helps to have an escape plan. For example, you might bring your own car or ask a friend to leave with you if you give them a code word.
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 Liz Eddy.
Liz Eddy has been tackling taboo topics since she started her first company at 15. She’s now the co-founder and CEO of Lantern, step-by-step guidance for life before and after a death. She’s also a proud board member of Experience Camps.
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 all over the country, but mostly in New Jersey. For most of my childhood, my dad was sick with terminal cancer until he died in 1999. My mother raised me, and I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. They both ran their own businesses, so it never felt out of reach to start my own one day.
At 15, I started a nonprofit that helps educate students on dating abuse while raising funds for a local shelter. This organization was my first experience running my own business, and I fell in love with the pace and unpredictability. It also solidified my need to work for or run businesses with a social mission.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Love is. It doesn’t move on.” My friend and brilliant colleague in the space, Megan Devine, said this. I can’t begin a conversation about “healing after loss” without calling out that “healing” is often synonymous with “moving on.” The reality is, you don’t move on — and do you really want to move on? Instead, you find a way to live with the loss. Acknowledging this reality is both empowering and comforting in grief.
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.
1. Getting comfortable quickly with not knowing how to do things. Essentially, everything is new when you start a business; the same can be said about grieving. You might possess certain skill sets, but they’re being applied to something that hasn’t existed before. I learned early on that the best thing I could do for myself was to tell people, “I don’t know how to do X,” and seek out the best possible person to help me learn.
2. You can enjoy every day (or at least parts of every day) as a startup founder. By the time we started Lantern, I’d spoken to dozens of entrepreneurs and read anything I could get my hands on about startup life. Over and over, I heard about the struggle, frustration, and exhaustion that comes with a startup. While there are certainly moments where each is true, the vast majority of my time spent on Lantern is exciting, engaging, and uplifting. If you love what you do, you can always find those moments each day. I attribute addressing my grief head-on and helping others navigate their grief as a primary motivational factor.
3. A phenomenal team. I recognize that this isn’t a quality, but it’s the truth. None of what I’ve done or will do is possible without the brilliant people I work with each day. I am one piece of a much larger ecosystem of empathetic, brilliant, and motivated individuals who make Lantern what it is.
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 dad died of cancer when I was 9 years old. He battled an aggressive form of cancer, had a brief remission, and ultimately developed chemo-resistant cancer. Much of my childhood was shaped by this health crisis, and my teen years (and beyond) were shaped by grief.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part of losing my dad was realizing the impermanence of life at an age when I didn’t fully understand the impact. I quickly became terrified of losing my mom, too. Malcolm Gladwell calls this the “imminent orphan” — when you lose one parent and begin to fear the loss of the other. You also often lose some of your living parent emotionally (sometimes in the short term and sometimes indefinitely) due to the loss.
How did you react in the short term?
As if nothing happened. I’ve since learned that this is incredibly normal for children, though I imagine it was alarming to my mom at the time. When a child experiences trauma and loss, it is not unusual for the kid to desire normalcy — they want to go to school, have sleepovers, and essentially pretend that nothing happened. It wasn’t until I went to college that I experienced delayed onset grief. The act of leaving all normalcy and familiarity behind triggered a wave of grief in me that felt as though the loss had just occurred.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
I was young when this loss occurred, so I was limited in my coping mechanisms. I didn’t want to go to a therapist, even though it was common to do so at the time. Instead, I wanted to just be with my friends, celebrate the holidays, and go back to school as if nothing happened. I later learned through therapy, reading, friends who’ve experienced loss, and Experience Camps how to talk about my loss and navigate the emotions as they wax and wane.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I have never let go of the negative aspects of this event. I don’t believe many people who experience loss ever truly “let go.” The intensity of grief will loosen its grip, but I wouldn’t equate that to “letting go.” I believe that time helps — as does exposure to positive, grief-related services that can infuse some hopefulness into the experience.
This certainly doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to search for these outcomes — they don’t often show up at your front door. I believe joining Experience Camps helped me feel some hope and positivity related to my loss. I was able to gain lifelong friendships and community from this loss. We always say it’s a club you don’t ever want to be in, but there are amazing people there if you have to be.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
Again, I wouldn’t say I ever “let go” of the loss. I see it more as a superpower meets an Achilles’ heel. With my loss, I gained a deep recognition of how limited our time is on Earth. This has become a profound motivator to follow my dreams, do good for the world, and love really, really hard.
On the flip side, it is my deepest source of anxiety — that I won’t have enough time to do the things I want to, that I won’t have enough time with the people I love. Similar to how we describe superheroes (and villains), my greatest power can also bring about my greatest weakness.
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?
Not a person but rather an organization. I began volunteering (and later joined the board) for Experience Camps. The organization provides free summer camps and yearlong programming for grieving kids. It was the first time I was surrounded by others who had experienced a loss. It is normal to grieve there rather than something we do alone. It is hands-down my favorite week of the year.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Lantern was born out of personal need. Losing my father at a young age drove me toward volunteering with grief-related organizations and gave me a profound desire to spend my time wisely. This idea initially came in the form of volunteering for Experience Camps.
Then, my grandmother died. After her death, I was frantically searching for resources to navigate the end-of-life and death process. I kept coming up short with outdated articles and sites that addressed only a piece of the process. It felt absurd to me to do everything in person, manually, or via 35 different websites. I went to my (now) co-founder, Alyssa, with this conundrum. What was initially a conversation turned to Post-it notes, and now we have Lantern!
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
Experiencing the loss of a loved one will forever change you in ways that break your heart and in ways that you learn to be proud of it. I learned that the tools I have to survive the unpredictable and painful parts of life exist within me. I then learned how to take those experiences and create something meaningful. Loss accelerated a deep desire to find meaning from my loss and discover positive ways to channel that energy.
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.
I want to first add the caveat that “healing” from a loss has differing meanings. “Healing” is often confused with an expectation “to get over it” or “move on” from it. I think adapting to your new normal is a better way to describe the experience.
- Find your people. Grief is an extremely isolating experience. Find a support group, grief-related organization, or even a friend or colleague who has experienced a similar loss. Having people who understand can make you feel less alone.
- Talk to an expert. You’re not supposed to be an expert in grief, but other people are! Find a therapist with specific expertise in grief. Not every therapist or group is equipped to discuss grief, even if they say they are. Be sure to ask for proof of certifications, training, and references before choosing a therapist.
- Share (or don’t). It’s up to you. You’ll get a lot of “how are yous” from friends, colleagues, family, and even near-strangers. You have every right to be blatantly honest (“I’m terrible”) or to ask for a change of subject (“This isn’t something I want to talk about right now”). Whatever it is that feels best for you, don’t feel bad! This is your experience to navigate — not one you need to curate for others.
- Be okay saying ‘no.’ There might be days you feel like going out and others where you can’t bear the thought. I always remind myself that anyone who cares about me will understand if I say no to doing certain things. When you do go to an event, it helps to have an escape plan. For example, you might bring your own car or ask a friend to leave with you if you give them a code word.
- Ask for what you need. Many employers and schools are ill-equipped to support someone through grief. You might need to guide them to get what you need. Some examples of things to ask for:
- Additional time off before, during, and after the death. This might mean months after — grief can sneak up on you!
- Support from colleagues on current projects.
- A ramp-up to returning to work (i.e., a reduced workload, remote work, four-day workweeks).
- Benefits and resources to support the emotional, logistical, and legal aspects after a loss.
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?
Oh, so many. But since we are on the topic of end-of-life and death, I want to highlight a current movement for national bereavement leave. There’s no federal law around bereavement leave, and few states have taken any extensive measures to ensure a proper leave. COVID-19 has shown how critical this need is, with the state-led provisions for increased leave after a death related to COVID-19. But why aren’t these provisions available for other deaths outside of the pandemic? Why isn’t paid bereavement leave the norm like in many other countries?
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. 🙂
Melinda French Gates. Other than being a total badass, I actually think her work is inextricably linked to ours. Yet, the foundation hasn’t dipped a toe into our arena. I’d like to change that.
Or Nick Offerman. I can’t think of a better person to school on why end-of-life planning is important. I’m a huge “Parks and Recreation” fan, and I imagine Ron Swanson would give April and Andy a stern talking to about making an end-of-life plan. Probably over a whiskey.
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!