Gina Moffa, MOVING ON DOESN'T MEAN LETTING GO: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss

Gina Moffa, MOVING ON DOESN'T MEAN LETTING GO: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss

Zibby is joined by licensed grief and trauma therapist Gina Moffa to discuss MOVING ON DOESN’T MEAN LETTING GO, a heartfelt and helpful map through any loss—a parent, a friendship, a job, a miscarriage—that helps shift the pain when it feels unpredictable and overwhelming. Gina reflects on her experiences as a grief therapist, highlighting social discomforts and the need for supportive communities that embrace vulnerability. She also talks about trauma, societal expectations surrounding grief and “moving on,” and, with this new book, the unexpected joy of connecting with fellow grief experts and authors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Gina. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Moving On Doesn’t Mean Letting Go: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss. Thank you.

Gina Moffa: Oh, my goodness. Thank you, Zibby, so much for having me. I’m loving being here.

Zibby: Good. Me too. Loving having you here. Your book was so great for a couple reasons. One, it gave a new framework for something that everybody experiences at one point or another. You just twisted it enough to make people think about it differently, which I love. Two, you interspersed your own story, so we couldn’t help but root for you as you went through the loss of your mom and everything else. The two things combined made this particularly powerful. The way you speak to the reader, it’s as if we’re in a session with you. You’re like, okay, we’re going to do this. Okay, I just need you to do this. It was so comforting. It was just so comforting.

Gina: Thank you so much.

Zibby: I’m not even in grief. I’m not in acute grief or anything. For anyone who’s lost anyone ever, I feel like it’s really helpful.

Gina: I so appreciate that. I felt like after the pandemic people were experiencing grief in so many different ways. There was just no access to grief therapy or grief support that felt specific enough. My aim was to write a book that could speak to the entire modern grief experience outside of death, but also bring it to a place where I wanted people to feel like they were sitting across from me. Everything can be so either authoritative or prescriptive. It’s hard to take that in when you’re in a place of trauma or fresh grief because you don’t have the brain cells for it. Also, sharing my story, it felt like it had to happen because I’m there. I understand those moments. I don’t know that I would’ve written this if I really didn’t go through my own huge griefall too.

Zibby: Griefall, that was one of my favorite terms. Tell everybody about griefall and when you started specializing — you tell us all the narrative in the story, but how you came to be an expert and then when you coined some of these phrases or realized that they were so useful, both griefall and also how you talk about — what is it? Not grief transition. What was it at the end?

Gina: Grief integration.

Zibby: Integration. Grief integration, yes, which I also loved.

Gina: I love that. There’s four questions in there. I’ll start with —

Zibby: — Sorry. You can just talk the rest of the time. I’ll kick my feet up.

Gina: I love it. No, we need you. I graduated from NYU back in 2004 when they did not have any classes on grief. At that time when I first started graduate school and ended my undergrad, I was studying psychological terrorism and its aftermath, and so I decided to specialize in trauma. For many, many years, I worked in the trauma field. I worked with Holocaust survivors at the 92nd Street Y. We did a lot of projects with them. In hearing the stories, there was so much grief that wasn’t really being amplified. It wasn’t being heard. It wasn’t being tended to. It really started, for me, the beginning of my journey of really unfolding and specializing in both trauma and grief, but also how they relate to each other and where grief lives in trauma, but also the stories that we tell and how many layers of grief we all have. I hear all the time — there’s so many different things that people lose, transitions along the way that we just don’t give enough attention to or we don’t engage with enough and we don’t honor. That started it for me.

I realized that there were just no grief groups in the summertime. People don’t want to talk about grief at the beach. It really dawned on me that grief was a topic that people shied away from more, they didn’t want to talk about. They felt it was contagious in some ways. We don’t understand it. I say all the time we’re a grief-illiterate society. Yet we are all going to go through it at some point in some way, if not, we already have, just without acknowledging it. That’s how the journey began, in really wanting to teach more about grief, but teach about it in a way that felt approachable and really tap into the thing that we can all identity with, which is sort of what brought me to the idea of the griefall. It’s such a visceral and visual word. I talk about this in the book. When I got the news that my mom died, I had just left her. I just had to do one thing at my job. I took the train down from the Hudson Valley. I really just needed the morning and was going to take an hour and be right back on that train. As soon as I called my dad and checked in and said, “I’m going to be on this next train. I’ll be there in another hour,” he called me right back and said, “When I answered the phone to come and talk to you, she died.”

I just stopped. Everything fell. My stomach fell. Everything stopped in that moment. It was this defining moment for me. It felt like I was in this freefall without any understanding or knowledge or experience in it. I didn’t know if I would land, where I would land, how I would land, feeling like I would hit all of the sides, the jagged edges of loss on the way down. I was terrified and also shocked because I am a grief therapist having all the tools having done this for quite a long time and feeling like I was completely unprepared for my own loss. I thought, this is a moment everyone can relate to because everyone has that one moment where nothing is ever the same, that one moment where they get a diagnosis or the news or they have a visual, holding your pet’s paw if you have to put them down. It’s this moment that is a portal. It is a doorway. It’s not grief itself. It’s what leads us there. Some people don’t get to that grief part yet because they’re still in that fall. It could be through denial or just living in that loss because they don’t want to be away from what they’ve lost. Everyone who’s listening can think of that one moment that everything changed. I wanted to honor that because we just don’t. We tend not to.

Zibby: It’s so true. For me, it was losing my friend on 9/11. I’m writing a new novel, and in it popped. That wasn’t even in the outline. It comes out. You realize all this stuff, it just stays right in there, whether it’s top of mind or not. Once your subconscious gets going, that’s behind the curtain.

Gina: It’s always there because it’s been imprinted. That’s a trauma. Anybody, at least who lost someone there or watched it or was part of it or lived in New York like us, it’s imprinted in our nervous system. It’s just waiting for something similar to bring it right back up. That’s kind of what we don’t acknowledge a lot of the time with our big life events, especially hard ones. Right there.

Zibby: I don’t know if you saw — this will come out a little bit after. There was an article in one of the papers today about the events of October 7th versus 9/11 and how 9/11 was so horrible, but the next day, we all united and collectively picked ourselves up and helped each other, whereas this is still ongoing. There was no resolution to what happened. Worse than that, people became so fractured about it, so it’s still going on even though it’s months later, and how to process the grief from both of those things. Did you see that?

Gina: I didn’t see it yet, but I’m going to. I saw it, and then I didn’t read it yet. It’s been kind of nutty over here in LA. In a way, they’re both ambiguous losses. There’s no real closure happening. With this one, because it’s really ongoing as opposed to what seemingly was a one-day event, it sort of riles us up. Nobody knows how to feel even though you kind of should because life is life. It is an ambiguous loss. People don’t know what to do when there’s no closure, and so they either create their own narratives around it or they choose sides or they create villains just to have a semblance of control. Because this is something that very few people outside of top leadership really have control over, that makes it so much more unbearable. It’s a big loss.

Zibby: I feel like people, though, don’t allow themselves to feel loss, whether it’s that or something else or even a loss of a celebrity you feel an attachment to. People are like, this is ridiculous. I shouldn’t feel upset. I have no right to feel upset. I didn’t lose anyone, so I shouldn’t be grieving. All these shoulds associated with loss I think get so in the way of coping with it and overcoming it.

Gina: I think we get really self-protective a lot of the time because it feels so outside of our control. I think that’s what makes grief and loss so terrifying, is that there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s final in a lot of ways, outside of the ambiguous losses that we have no closure with or whatever. It’s still ongoing. I think that the Western world especially is really obsessed with control and the need to have everything in a very quaint little box that we can contend with in our own ways. I think this makes it really much, much harder. We have relationships because people have meaning to us, whether they’re celebrities or not. They affect us in some way. Whether they’re people we know or not, their stories can affect us in some way. I think that it shows that we’re all connected in all of these different ways even if we don’t want to be.

Zibby: How do you deal with your own emotions and the toll that it takes to hold heavy stories every day?

Gina: I was just asked that question yesterday.

Zibby: Oh, no, I hate asking the same questions as other people. That’s so annoying. I’m sorry.

Gina: You asked it in a different way. It’s so funny. I only share that because it’s such a hard question. There’s so many different answers. I say as a therapist, as therapist me, I couldn’t do this work if I didn’t see change, triumph, healing, the overarching place that we can get to when we integrate things into our life and make it a part of who we are to move forward. I don’t know that I could do it if I just saw darkness and death and grief every day. There are these glimmers. I see myself as this vessel in some place and really allowing the stories to come in and through me and as a sieve to sort of hold the good treasures and let all of the other stuff fall away. That’s how I survive it for twenty years. I would be lying if I didn’t say it affects me a lot, especially lately. There’s not just individual grief, but there’s collective grief. There’s so much to hold right now. There’s so much to continue to sift through time and again because there’s so much coming at us at so many different varying rates. How do we believe it? What do we hold onto? How do we comfortably fit in the news or the collective trauma and grief while not taking it totally in to destroy us? It’s hard.

Zibby: It is hard. You talked in the book about getting to a place where other people feel like it’s time for you to move on and get over it. Yet you’re not ready to do that at all. That’s the title of your book. You’re never going to totally get over it. You’re going to find a new way to live with this new piece of yourself. Yet others feel the need to speed it up and get you back on your feet. They try to say, it wasn’t this. It wasn’t that. Come on, just do it. I’m just hypothesizing here.

Gina: You sound like all the people saying those things. You are society.

Zibby: I am mimicking society at large. Thank you very much. I will wait for my Oscar. What do you do about that? Why do people do that? I know it’s the same need for control, you’ll probably say. What is it that makes people want to speed it up other than the pain of watching someone else? What do you say to people when you’re in those situations?

Gina: Can I blame capitalism this time?

Zibby: Blame whatever you want. We won’t tell.

Gina: We won’t tell. Obviously, there’s great things about capitalism. However, when it comes to the understanding that people suffer, this is where we don’t have time. We have to be productive. There’s a lot of pressure on being winners and keepers and doing and producing. I say this for mostly any mental health challenge. Society doesn’t have patience for something that it doesn’t understand and something that doesn’t have a proper time limit. Because grief doesn’t have a timeline and because it’s messy and because it’s nonlinear, there’s no patience for it. We don’t understand it. Everyone has a unique and individual experience with it. It’s kind of like, okay, now what? What do we do, then? The truth is that we’re just a grief-illiterate society more and more and more. We seemingly have a shortened attention span for suffering. Yet everybody is suffering in some way. Look at the statistics. Millions of people are suffering with depression, at the very least. I say that it’s because we haven’t been taught how to grieve, and therefore, we haven’t been taught how to support people in grieving. That goes from corporate to education to health care. Look at bereavement leave policy. People get to tell you how long you have to take care of your grief or your loved one’s funeral. God forbid it’s a pet. You get no time off. They get to prioritize. Society gets to prioritize who’s the most important loss.

When we look at it that way, of course it trickles down to society through communities and through families. We just have these unspoken expectations. I think some of it is discomfort. Some of it is fear. Some of it is just that we haven’t been taught how to do it right. We haven’t been taught how to be there for one another and how to hold space for one another or even more importantly, how to do ritual with one another and be really present in that place. So much of the Eastern world has these beautiful rituals around death that it makes it more accessible. It doesn’t push away or stigmatize deep emotion. We can’t wail here in the United States. That’s a big no. If people are acting “crazy” and having extreme emotional responses to something that they should have that with, they’re looked down upon as crazy. Maybe they need medication. Maybe they need hospitalization. Really, this is a deep human wound. The deepest human wound is loss. We just don’t have the space for it. I think that’s really where we’re at. That’s what we have to change. How can we show up better for one another in this place and in this way so maybe it won’t have to be so hard?

Zibby: Wow, that was beautiful. I’ve noticed through our mutual friend, Meghan Riordan Jarvis —

Gina: — Love her.

Zibby: Love her so much. She’s been so helpful over so much time. I’m so glad I met her when I did at my book club. Of course, now she wrote a book .

Gina: Me too. A beautiful book.

Zibby: With Meghan and with what you were saying about your own mom, there’s no protection if you know it. I realized two things about grief counselors. One, when something happens to you, you feel protected, and yet you’re not. It’s like a skydiving instructor who’s never actually jumped out of the plane but has watched a thousand videos and coaches people. Also, that there is this incredibly tight-knit, really fun group of grief people out there. Grief experts are actually — I shouldn’t say actually. They’re a group that loves to come together and very supportive of each other and a whole thing. I didn’t know that before. Tell me about that.

Gina: You know what? I didn’t know that before either. I was just this isolated therapist in private practice. Then the idea of writing a book came about. It was kind of out of nowhere, recommended by my clients. Can you just write a book? We love what you’re saying. Then because of that, I wound up meeting so much of the grief community, and Meghan, who is the ultimate connector. I call her the connective tissue because she really brings us all together. I got to meet people whose book I recommended, Claire Bidwell Smith or David Kessler, a lot of really wonderful people doing this work with immense heart. I think what I love most about it is that we’re all so clumsy too. We’re all so human in it. There’s so much acceptance around that and support around that. It’s a gift that I didn’t see coming. It’s funny because even though we all work with kind of the same people and the same types of populations, it’s all really different. I work with a lot of younger people, emerging adults. People in their thirties, at this point, I think the most, thirties and forties. It can be a really different grief experience depending on your age and depending on where you live and all of that. I love that we each have different people and different experiences with the people that we work with.

Yet I love that we are able to be so honest and authentic with each other because we do need it. Just this morning, I was talking with Barri Leiner Grant. I think you know her too. The Memory Circle. An amazing friend. I love her. It was kind of the same thing. I said, “Listen, I think I’m going through perimenopause or something soon, and I may need some help. I feel crazy.” It’s a weird thing. I’m going through a new phase of life without a mom. This is the time that we need our people. We need people who can just be there and nurture and re-mother, in a way, and/or be a big sister. I really needed it. The way that I can reach out and the ways that we can show up for each other is truly a gift. I don’t take a second of it for granted. It’s really beautiful and humbling too. I’m grateful for our community in more ways than I can say.

Zibby: Amazing. What about just deciding to write a book? How did that go?

Gina: It’s crazy. Who does that?

Zibby: Then it’s this beautiful hardcover and Lupita — how do you pronounce it? Lupita Nyong’o?

Gina: Yeah, Lupita Nyong’o. I didn’t even know. I was like, oh, my goodness. Some friends sent me her Reel. I was like, oh, that’s so wonderful that she’s got these great books on here. I didn’t watch it all the way through. I was like, so she has great books. Wonderful. My friend was like, “Wait a minute. Did you see? Did you watch until the end?” I hadn’t. Mine was the last book. Of course, I analyze it. I’m like, oh, the way that she so tenderly looks at it when she puts it down. I’m just little me. I’m just this grief therapist in New York who just wanted to have a soft place to land, who wanted to provide as grief-informed support as I possibly could. It was a wild ride. It was very quick. I had a four-month deadline to write this book while also working full time and dealing with some health challenges. To me, it’s such a vulnerable piece because I share things in here that I don’t share in my practice. It’s always a funny position to be in when you’re a therapist sharing something. Some of my book where I do share, I’m like, oh, boy, this is a lot. I would never do this in my real life. You take a chance because you hope that the authenticity will be relatable and make you a real person and give you more dimensions. I’ve been around the block too. It’s hard. Yet there’s something behind that that can be an offering. That is my deepest hope. There are so many beautiful books out there on grief. Everyone has a different voice and a different way of looking at it and being that sieve of holding the treasures. My hope in writing this was just to be a part of the conversation, just to have a seat at the table and be a part of this with the community. I’m so grateful that that’s where we are right now. Even being here with you, it’s shocking.

Zibby: You’re at the head of the table. What are you talking about?

Gina: It’s such a gift. I don’t have to go on and on about how wonderful you are and all of the things you are doing and building. I don’t want to keep using the gift, but it really is a treasure that gives and gives and gives. To be a part of this and for all you do for your community — I tell you that a lot, but it bears repeating that this is wonderful, all you’re doing. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.

Zibby: Thank you. Whether or not you’re on the podcast, you’re a part of it anyway. The podcast is only one entry point into the Zibby-verse, as it were.

Gina: It is a verse. I rode the wormhole, and here we are, from Hachette over here. It’s all a family. It’s really about the connectedness and getting our messages across in the best way possible to reach people and reach hearts because that’s really the hope at the end of the day. Thank you for doing that.

Zibby: Thank you for saying that. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Gina: My advice is, make sure that you create a support system ahead of time because it is hard. You will have imposter syndrome. You will doubt yourself. You will wonder if you’re doing it right. You will beat yourself up. You will wonder why you want to just snack and sew holes in socks instead of write. You will need people to say, you can get through this. I am here. I will send you chocolate. For me, it was learning as I went along and having to accept the loneliness of it. I would say that the support system is the biggest, biggest thing, and to keep doing it, to keep remembering that you don’t have to worry about being a best-seller. There’s so much competition. There’s so much compare and despair with authors. Everyone wants to write a book. Everyone wants to be a best-seller, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s really about, who can I reach? How can I best reach them? Why am I the person to do it? How can I be heard without having to worry about the ego part of this? Also, how do I do it without doubting myself every step of the way? That’s through people, people who love you, people who cheer you on, people who will tell you to get over yourself and to keep going. Those are the gifts. Those are those gardeners that we get to have in our garden. That would be my advice.

Zibby: I love compare and despair. That’s awesome. I’ve never heard that, but yes. “Don’t compare and despair” should be on an author contract or something.

Gina: I think on every page on it from start to finish. You really give to your authors. I think that’s unheard of in a lot of publishing worlds.

Zibby: Stop with me. Stop, stop, stop.

Gina: Okay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Being an author in the everyday traditional publishing world, there’s a lot you do on your own. That’s why I say you need the support. You need the support. If you’re in the Zibby world, you do, you really hold hands. You really set up people for success. That is something that I think I have envy of in some ways. I tell Meghan all the time, I’m like, “How come I didn’t write a memoir? Why am I not in Zibby’s world?” Of course, obviously being privileged to even get a book deal and be in this world. Of course. Of course. It is about being set up for success. How do we set ourselves up for success? is really the support that we put around us and how we create that ourselves if we don’t have Zibby. It is easy to compare and despair, for sure.

Zibby: That’s great advice. Thank you for this ego boost of a podcast for me.

Gina: That’s what I’m here for.

Zibby: Not asking for myself. Are you still accepting clients now these days, or no?

Gina: I wasn’t, but I’m trying to open up space. I had all of this time set aside for writing and marketing and PR. The truth of the matter is I miss — I still have a full client load, but I do miss meeting new people and having the book be something that brings people to me, so yes. Not a lot, but maybe a few spaces. Absolutely. I love it. Reach out. Otherwise, I’m just going to hang on the floor with the labs behind you. My dream is to just hang with the dogs. That’s good enough therapy.

Zibby: When you said that part at the beginning about holding a dog’s paw, I was like, oh, my gosh, don’t go there. Just don’t even .

Gina: I know. I’m sorry.

Zibby: No, no, no. It’s okay.

Gina: The truth is not enough people give enough credit for how devastating the loss of a pet can be. It’s so hard. Just putting that out there for people who don’t feel like they get enough attention or care around pet loss. It’s hard, sometimes more hard than other people in our lives.

Zibby: So much love.

Gina: I know, and routine. I could go on about dogs.

Zibby: Maybe your next book or something, specifically about dog loss. Anyway, thank you, Gina. This was amazing. I loved that you made time at the last minute. I have to put a picture of you with this necklace that matches perfectly. You should sell the necklace with the book.

Gina: Oh, my goodness. Who knew?

Zibby: It’s gorgeous. It’s exact colors. What are the odds?

Gina: I so appreciate — honestly, it wasn’t planned. For everyone, this was a last-minute setup here.

Zibby: Even the row behind you. You’re in a hotel. It’s perfect.

Gina: I was going to say, this came with it. Everything came with it. It was meant to be. In this wild ride that is flooding LA right now.

Zibby: Hang in there. Don’t go anywhere.

Gina: Right? It’s a movie day. Anyway, thank you, Zibby, so much. Thanks again for all you’re doing. Listen, I want to be a part of it. Here I am. Please include me.

Zibby: Great. Okay. You’re a part of it. I just made little membership cards. I’m going to start sending them out. I’m not even kidding.

Gina: Oh, my gosh, I love it. I’m not too far from you when I’m in New York. I’m on the Upper West Side. My office and everything is on the Upper West Side.

Zibby: Great. We’ll have to do an event or something. There are so many books I’ve read lately that I’m like, oh, the person who wrote that memoir should really talk to Gina.

Gina: Here I am.

Zibby: There you are.

Gina: Thank you so much. I loved this. This was amazing. I’m just happy that we’re connected. Thank you.

Zibby: Me too.

Gina: You take care of yourself. Stay well. We need you.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Gina: I’ll talk to you soon. Take care. Bye.

Zibby: Thanks, Gina.

Gina Moffa, MOVING ON DOESN'T MEAN LETTING GO: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss

MOVING ON DOESN’T MEAN LETTING GO: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss by Gina Moffa

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