Meghan Riordan Jarvis and Hope Edelman at Zibby's Bookshop

Meghan Riordan Jarvis and Hope Edelman at Zibby's Bookshop

In this special episode (a live event at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica!), New York Times bestselling author, writing instructor, and grief and loss coach Hope Edelman chats with renowned psychotherapist and Zibby Books author Meghan Riordan Jarvis about END OF THE HOUR, Meghan’s poignant and beautifully written memoir. Meghan delves into the origins of the book—writing was a therapeutic tool during her own treatment for trauma, which she experienced after the deaths of her parents. She and Hope explore the concept of trauma, the process of writing about traumatic experiences, therapeutic techniques, self-care, and healing.


Host: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Zibby’s Bookshop. Thank you so much for coming out tonight. We’re here to celebrate Meghan Riordan Jarvis and the launch of her book, End of the Hour. Congratulations, Meghan. Meghan is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, grief, and loss. She works in private practice in Washington, DC. After experiencing PTSD and the deaths of both of her parents within two years of each other, Meghan started the platform Grief is My Side Hustle, which includes her popular blog, links to her podcast under the same name, and her free writing workshop, Grief Mates. Meghan offers public- and private-sector consultation to leadership teams working to increase emotional fluency in care and decision-making and intentional business culture development. Meghan’s memoir End of the Hour was just published with Zibby Books this month.

In conversation tonight, we have Hope Edelman, the author of eight nonfiction books, including the best-sellers Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers and her most recent book, The AfterGrief. Her work has been published in seventeen countries and has sold more than one million copies. Motherless Daughters, often considered required reading for any woman who has lost a mother, is now in its third edition and has been in print for nearly thirty years. A Motherless Daughters workbook is in process for publication in 2024. Hope has spoken at venues and conferences all around the world from the US and Canada to Australia, the UK, and Dubai. She’s appeared frequently on television, including Today, Good Morning American, CNN, KTLA, CBC, Good Morning Washington, and Good Morning Australia. She’s a life coach with additional training in narrative therapy and runs weekend retreats and weekly online support calls for women who have lost their mothers. Hope lives in Los Angeles and spends summers in Iowa.

Meghan Riordan Jarvis: Come in. Come in.

Hope Edelman: Please take some chairs. There’s lots of chairs up here.

Meghan: There’s plenty of seats. We smell really good. I can’t believe I can’t hug everybody right away. Thank you so much for being here. There are so many friends in the audience.

Female Voice: We trust that you smell good.

Meghan: Thank you. I deeply appreciate that.

Female Voice: If we’re going to go there, we’re going to go there.

Meghan: It’s so good to be here.

Hope: Welcome, Meghan.

Meghan: Thank you.

Hope: We have gathered here today to celebrate Meghan and the publication of her extraordinary memoir, End of the Hour. In addition to writing and coaching, I’m also a nonfiction writing instructor. I help people write memoirs. I developmentally coach. I’m giving this my double stamp of approval. Meghan, I had no idea you were the writer that you are. I’ve known you as a therapist. I’ve known you as a colleague. You’re an incredible writer as well. It’s an incredibly brave and honest book. Every page, I thought, my god, she’s really going for it.

Meghan: What was she thinking?

Hope: She’s all in here. I was wondering if you can just start by giving us a little background. For anyone who doesn’t know, it is the story of a trauma therapist who experiences PTSD or reactivated PTSD from childhood — I’ll let you explain the dynamics of it — and goes into a treatment program herself. Can you just give us some background about how that came to be?

Meghan: Sure. First of all, there are so many writers in this audience. You know the surreal thing of having a person that you deeply admire hold your book. I could just sit here a minute. Please keep doing that. I’m not tired of seeing the cover and seeing people hold it. It’s really extraordinary. It’s crazy to be here. Thank you, everyone, for coming. End of the Hour started as a therapeutic tool for me when I was in the same treatment facility that I send my clinical patients to for trauma. My dad died in 2017 having been diagnosed in 2016 with small cell cancer. His death was predictable. The way that I describe it is, I participated in it. He knew he was dying. I knew he was dying. The image I use often is, it was little cups of grief. I would go see him on the weekend, and he would be smaller and less able. I was learning and taking in the fact that he was dying. In 2019, I was on vacation with my mother and my kids, my crappy little dog at her house in Cape Cod. My mom hated that dog. My mom died suddenly in her sleep unexpectedly after a short illness. The book, it just gives you the whole jam of it. It explains what it was like to be somewhat of a caretaker. I’m a social worker. I was a medical social worker. I’m the closest thing my family has to a doctor. My dad spent a lot of time in the hospital. When I was writing, I was writing every painful vignette or what it was like to be with him in his illness and feel helpless.

For the trauma therapists that are in the audience — I can see you. Trauma is born out of helplessness. We have these reactive stages: fight, flight, freeze, and collapse. When you can fight and when you can flee, you do better because the energy doesn’t land inside of you. When my mom died, the chapter is there for you to read, but I was ostensibly standing alone in a parking lot with a van full of children. I couldn’t do anything except let it land inside my system. I had the metacognition, the observing ego experience of seeing and beginning to feel and knowing, this is going to be bad, what’s happening, and having a couple of master’s degrees, twenty years’ experience and not being able to stop it. The reason I wrote the book is that, there’s so many grief therapists in this room, but we don’t do enough to educate the general population about the realities of what grief really is, which is why memoir, to me, is so important. It’s our real-life story of what that pain really looks like. We don’t take a class. There’s no class. Even in social work school, I didn’t take a class. Most people still don’t take classes. I went to social work school a few minutes ago. Part of the reason that I wanted to write the book was to help people understand that even with all the education and the experience, trauma kind of does what it does. It makes its own decisions.

Hope: What definition of trauma do you use in your practice and in your everyday life?

Meghan: Trauma is any kind of difficult event. Some trauma therapists will tell you that it has to threaten your life. I actually don’t believe that. Trauma is anything that lands inside your system and leaves a negative imprint. The best example that I can say is, COVID was a global trauma, but that doesn’t mean we were all traumatized. Traumatized is the meaning and the impact that your system then makes of it. For some people, the global trauma of COVID was their best Oprah moment. They were living their best life after that. They were not traumatized. For other people, it left a tattooed imprint that their life was less than it was to begin with and that they began to feel and believe that life was less good than it was before COVID. That’s my definition.

Hope: I think of trauma also as a negative event or a distressing event that exceeds your ability to cope or function on your own easily.

Meghan: Yes. That’s an important part. It overwhelms your central nervous system, so your brain’s ability to cope and your body’s ability to manage the energy. Your central nervous system is just your spine and your brain.

Hope: Different people have different central nervous systems, different operating systems, which is why two siblings can experience that same event, and one can be traumatized and one can walk away from the trauma feeling that they’ve had a growth experience.

Meghan: Exactly right. It’s the meaning that you make of it. It’s, what does the event then mean to you? which is why I just don’t think it has to be something that threatens your life. I think there are plenty of people out there that were traumatized by their lacrosse coach yelling at them. I’ve sat in the therapist chair long enough to know that trauma is the meaning that your body makes of it. One person may experience that coach as very supportive, and someone else goes to decades of therapy to get their voice out of their head.

Hope: Thank you for clarifying that. It’s the meaning your body makes of it, not necessarily the story that you create in your mind. In a sense, it’s involuntary.

Meghan: Right. That’s sort of the purpose of me writing the book. It’s not about how well educated I am or how much experience I’ve had supporting other people. It’s that I could see my body beginning — what happened for me was, my mom had had a short illness. She and I had been together for ten days. We have a dance. We had a dance as a mother and daughter. My mom could be very caustic. She was very private. She didn’t like you asking her questions about her health. Her health was in decline. Initially, she sort of let me ask about it. Then as she started to seem less well, she got angry. That caused me, even in my adult age, to do what I would’ve done when I was twelve, which was take several steps back. Then she died in her sleep. Immediately when I knew that she died — there’s a moment in the book — the way that I came to understand that my mother died is that I had the sensation of water breaking, like when you’re having a baby, inside my stomach. Then this is what happens to me. I had a clear thought that came from this side of my head that said, she died. I was in my minivan with kids. I called my husband, who was back at the house where my mother was and said, “I think my mom died.” She had died. He wouldn’t tell me, which was insane because I just told him she died. I was driving to get back to where they were. He said, “You have to pull over.” I was in Boston. If anyone is from Boston, Boston’s roads are insane, so I ended up on this clover and then in a crazy parking lot. In that moment in the parking lot, that thought came, which was, it’s your fault she died. I knew, because I have sat with so many clients, that that kind of irrational thought becomes a rumination if you don’t interrupt it and that that rumination ends up causing its own kind of trauma.

Hope: You were diagnosed with PTSD. A very significant event happened in your childhood, significant enough that it’s the second chapter in the book. It is the death of a neighbor’s son or your friend’s brother. Both things were true. I’m really curious about how those dots connected to lead to PTSD in your adult life. The conversation around PTSD has changed a lot over the years. Ten, fifteen years ago, losing or witnessing — not even witnessing the death of the neighbor, but hearing about it secondhand and watching the responses of people around you might not have been considered a traumatic event for the people in that inner circle. That was very much, as you wrote about in the book, an event that set you up for a trauma response later in life. Can you explain how that happens and works and fell into place for you?

Meghan: Hope asks the best questions. When I was nine, a teenager who we considered to be a cousin, all the kids — I lived in a tiny little village in Massachusetts. Everybody was at each other’s houses, on bikes, all that. A sixteen-year-old went into the water. He did not come out. Everyone in the town was on the beach. No one noticed because you didn’t watch sixteen-year-olds. You don’t pay attention to them the way you do a three-year-old. It happened on July 26th. It was a summer community. The impact of this was utterly devastating to my family. My older brother found his friend in the water. My mother was there when they pulled his body out. The reverberations across my immediate family were devastating. They extended across this entire town only until August 22nd when we then went back to where I spent three seasons out of my life where no one knew that this had happened. No one ever talked about it again. It was the biggest thing in the world and then also not significant enough for anyone to even talk about. When I was cleaning my parents’ house during COVID after my mother died, I found the report card from my fourth-grade year. Every teacher talks about how angry I am and how disruptive I am. My only memory of myself is as a good people-pleaser. Here it is in writing. It was devastating. I spent hours crying over it.

In 1983, the understanding of what to do with children and bad things was to keep them separate. Every one of these adults thought that they were doing the right thing. I am significantly older now than they were at the time trying to manage that. I have a lot of compassion for the impossibility of the situation that this entire town was put in. We know a lot now. There’s a study, which is called the ACEs study. It was put together, actually, as an obesity study. The intent was to look at the markers of things in childhood that lead to negative outcomes later in life. Kaiser Permanente and NIH put it together. The higher your ACEs score, the more likely you are to have certain negative outcomes, including PTSD. The things that they’re looking at are, were you raised in poverty? Did someone die in the home? Were there drugs? Is there abuse, mental illness, things that you would consider difficult for a child? What’s pretty stunning is that children who are raised in those environments where those things exist, the correlations of negative outcomes are pretty stunning. When you look at that, what you now know, and it’s research based, is that we need to support children who have those things going on in their lives.

The interesting thing for me is I went to therapy for the very first time because my heart was so broken. I had been in a relationship that I thought was just going to be the end of all relationships. This was it. I was summarily dumped. I was twenty-six. The reason I went was I got that — you know when you’re talking and you can see that the people are losing interest in what you’re saying? That was what was happening. I was still talking about this heartbreak. How could this have happened? Let’s go over the details again. I had just moved to DC, where I still live. These new friends were like, let’s get another drink. What movies have you seen? I was like, crap, if I don’t figure this out, I can’t figure out how to be more normal about a breakup, I’m not going to have any friends. A colleague of mine at this think tank that I worked at handed me this note when she saw me crying in the bathroom that had a therapist’s number. I was like, okay, these are people that help you get over bad things. In that very first therapy session, all I talked about was how my life was over. This relationship is over. Nothing was ever going to be good. At the end, that therapist said to me, “Did anything bad ever happen in your childhood?” I said no because I didn’t even know to tell her that something bad had happened in my childhood. She was like, “We might talk about your family too.” I was like, “They’re perfect. They’re not the problem.”

Then I went home and thought about it and came back and was like, “Since you asked, actually, I don’t think it has anything to do with anything, but this teenager died.” She then said, “Here’s the reason I asked. Everything that you described, all the behaviors that you are describing are hallmarks of children who lived through trauma.” Then I cried about that for a month because I felt so abnormal in so many of my reactions. To learn that, A, that wasn’t my fault, and B, there were other people like me who struggled in this same kind of positioning was really comforting. It made me feel more normal in my abnormality. I went to therapy, then, for ten years twice a week. I thought, I did it. I have worked through these issues. I have five brothers and sisters. At the time, I had two parents. Every one of them went under the microscope, all the relationships, all the friendships, all the choices I had ever made. I came out the other side in love with therapy, in love with the idea that you could have some agency over how you behaved and felt and thought in your life. I really thought, this is it. I’m a therapist. I have figured everything out from my childhood, so it will never come and bite me again.

Hope: How lucky you were to do that in your twenties. I work with women who don’t give themselves permission or don’t open themselves up to the possibility or don’t feel they deserve it until they’re in their forties or fifties or sixties. It took me probably almost that long, probably to fifty, to really get it. You got it early and then were able to turn it around and use it to help other people.

Meghan: I definitely would not be married to my sweet husband if I didn’t have a therapist because he was not at all — the second thing my husband said to me was that he was moving back to his home in England at the end of the summer. I was like, perfect, we can date. That works out wonderfully. This won’t be serious. Every week, I would go to my therapist and list all the problems with him, everything that he had done wrong, superficial, fundamental. I’d say, “So we have to break up. You understand. I should probably just break –” She would say, “Absolutely. Definitely, break up with him. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t. I understand why you want to. Just because you could experiment here, you have someone you could talk to, why don’t you just tell him everything you just told me to see what happens?” Then I would say to him — he is not someone who had childhood trauma. “My therapist told me to tell you all of these things, and then we’re going to break up.” His response would be, “That’s so interesting. Your perspective is not one that I would’ve otherwise innately understood if you hadn’t told me.” Then I would say, “Well, I’m not so mad anymore. Let’s wait a week.” We would not have made it if I didn’t have someone to bounce my attachment and difficulty off of.

Hope: This book, for those of you who haven’t read it yet, follows Meghan from that childhood event through her twenties as she gets into therapy, through some of her training as a therapist, and then closer to the present day as she loses her parents and starts experiencing active PTSD and then goes to a treatment center with young children at home. A month. Not easy. Clients had to be reshuffled. We go to the treatment center with her. We see what it’s like to be there for that month. Anyone writing a memoir knows that you have to revisit certain times in your life and dial back even to the consciousness, in a sense, of who you were back then. That can bring up a lot of really strong emotions, especially when you’re writing about grief and loss. The scenes of being at the beach with your mom, her starting to feel poorly, finding her, what happened next, how did you manage those emotions? Did Meghan the therapist take over, or was it Meghan, the person who’s lived through the trauma? What kind of self-care did you do?

Meghan: That’s a great question.

Hope: My writing students talk about that all the time, how to manage the emotions when you’re revisiting these distressing events in your past.

Meghan: I was just talking to Emma about this today, Emma Grey, who’s another Zibby author, and Patty Lin, who’s another Zibby author. Emma’s book, The Last Love Note, is up here. Everyone should also buy that. Patty’s book is also in here. Emma and I were talking about the energy of grief and where it lands in the body. I was telling her that I have a writing class, which is called Process to Product, which is the process of writing out trauma. Then how do you polish it up to make it into a product that people can understand? Most of the writing that I did in the beginning really was just about the process, the process of taking the story that I didn’t want to be inside my head out of my head and writing it down. Sometimes that was writing it day after day, the same thing. There is a bunch of data that tells us that if you can take your story and the details of it and write it out, your mind will release it. It’s like making a list. You don’t have to think about it all the time. Part of it was just writing it, being willing to write it. I was not a writer before this book. I hadn’t written since high school. I would wake up at four o’clock in the morning with sentences in my head. I was not doing talk therapy. I was not doing somatic or body therapy. I was mostly doing narrative therapy writing. The hardest memories for me in the book are after my mom dies and we have the funeral. I write about and experienced a losing of the energy inside my body. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t hold my torso up. That is really hard to remember. I can viscerally remember it, but probably for six months, I couldn’t remember it at all. I had editors who were working with me on the book who were like, “You need to get from Cape Cod back to DC. Can you write that scene?” I just couldn’t write the scene because to me, it’s the slow mechanism where my body and mind betray me.

Hope: One of the paradoxes of memoir writing, too, is that when we’re in a trauma state, we’re not storing memories like we normally do, so we can’t retrieve them later like we normally would. Sometimes those are important pieces of the story. What did you do? Did you re-access the memory somehow, or did you write around it?

Meghan: I did a whole bunch of things. First of all, I have a podcast called “Grief is My Side Hustle.” Half of you have been on it. Thank you for being here. I talked to Dr. Lisa Shulman, who’s a neurologist. I said, as I do on the podcast, I’m like, “This is just a personal question. Will you answer it?” I said, “I can’t get these memories.” She said, “Just keep writing. You lived it. When your system trusts that you can handle whatever that was that it’s trying to protect you from, the memories will come back.” I just took that coaching, and I leaned on her belief that that was true. Really, I would go to bed and be like, I think I’m okay. I think it’s okay. I just woke up one morning, and all the scenes were there. Then when that happened, my husband was a part of that. A psychiatrist friend was a part of that. My best friend was a part of that. I asked them if I could tell them the story of what happened so that they could hold the narrative in case it went away again. I didn’t trust myself to write it down, so I just said it out loud.

Then I invited them to offer any details that they thought might be salient that I hadn’t remembered. It was very delicate. It was a very, very delicate moment. In trauma, we have this thing called the window of tolerance, which is just, how much energy, distress can you tolerate? I have become really good at staying at a five. If ten is, I’m having a floored panic attack, and zero is asleep, I get really careful about, if I’m at a six or a seven, backing off from whatever heat I have. I explained that to my editor and said — there was a deadline. We were pushing. It was the holidays. I was like, “I’m at an eight when I wake up. I’m at an eight when I go to bed. I know it’s the writing. I’m not going to make the deadline.” That was okay. Some of it was advocating. Some of it was writing. I think some of it really was the thing that I ask my clients to do, which is just lean on someone else’s belief that it’s going to be okay, to have the courage to let the story come back to you.

Hope: Thank you for bringing that up. I want to just talk a little bit about general trauma in the population. When we’re talking about the trauma scale or the anxiety scale from zero to ten, baseline for most people is about a three or a four. Like you said, zero is asleep. We have stress just from everyday life, stress to get in the car and get somewhere on time, stress to get food on the table for our kids to eat, whatever it is. There’s a certain amount of optimal stress that keeps us going and helps us meet those deadlines. When we’re talking about trauma, the way that you described it earlier, it strikes me that most people growing up in this society will have experienced trauma. That’s a conversation that I don’t think we’re having in the larger population. What do you as a trauma therapist and someone who has struggled with it herself think the culture needs to do, can do, should do in order to accommodate that? Sixty-something percent of Americans will say they had at least one adverse childhood experience, one ACE, before the age of eighteen. That’s two thirds of Americans. That was before the list was expanded, too, to include poverty and community violence and systemic racism.

Meghan: Bessel van der Kolk, I’m sure his book is in here, The Body Keeps the Score, has shifted how we talk about trauma in the general population. People have more knowledge and probably use the word more often than ever before. If you said to me, I’m hungry, I think everyone in this room would assume at some point, you were going to go eat something, probably sooner rather than later. If you are saying, I have trauma, there is also something that needs to happen. That is not something that most people know what to do with. If you’re hungry, you know what to do. If you have trauma, what do you do? How do you do it? What is it? When we start talking in my sessions about trauma, I’m not being facetious, I gently ask, and what have you done about it? How have you managed it? What are your coping mechanisms? There are some people that their coping mechanisms are causing all kinds of trouble, and what they want to talk about is how they’re coping. I’m happy to talk about that. If you’re drinking too much, we got to talk about it, but we can’t not talk about that that’s a kind of a medication for something that no one has taught you how to otherwise manage. Again, part of the reason that I write the book — the inpatient chapters are some of my favorite, partly because the proudest thing I am in my life of anything is the fact that I checked myself into this facility.

The story that’s not in the book but I like to tell people is that the reason that I did that is that my mom had PTSD from when she watched this teenager, Chris, be pulled out of the water, which you could totally understand, but it was 1983. We were not calling it anything. I, in my adulthood, told her that’s what she had. She was super emotional thinking, oh, there is a treatment. There wasn’t a treatment then, but there are treatments now that would help someone with PTSD. Part of what happened for me as my body was betraying me, as I was unable to regulate myself back into anything close to a five is — I was downstairs. I threw my back out pretty epically. I was in the basement. The doorbell rang. My daughter answered the door. It was her best friend. Her best friend said, “Do you want to ride bikes?” I heard my daughter say, “I think I should stay because my mom might need me.” I was like, oh, no, I got to make a phone call. I was already debilitated. I was already in need, probably for days. What I really didn’t want was to transfer the history of my trauma and my present trauma onto my child. That was the seminal moment.

When I’m talking to people about, “Hey, if you’re hungry, do you go eat? How do you eat?” there’s a lot of — I said this before. One of the questions I ask as a threshold question to people, particularly men, is, do you go to the bathroom when you need to go to the bathroom? People look at me like I’m crazy. I’m like, if you have to pee, do you pee? People with trauma do not always get the body ques or do not respond to them. I work with a lot of CEOs. They’ll get a little smile like it’s something they’re proud of that they don’t go to the bathroom for the whole day. It’s just a way of reminding ourselves that we live inside bodies and that those bodies need attention. There’s energy inside the bodies. We have all these different ways that we separate from it. If you identify as someone who has trauma, what I want to know is, what are you doing to connect to the energy and tend to the energy? I live with PTSD. Last night, I was overly tired. I had a little flash of an image of my mom being dead. I was like, I got to get out of bed and do the things because if I don’t do the things to move that image through my mind, then two, three, four days from now, it starts to activate other distress.

Hope: Can you share what some of the things are with us?

Meghan: Yeah. Bilateral stimulation, just using both sides of your body. I get out of bed, and I cross-box and I kick. It sounds ridiculous. When you are overstimulated, when your brain is dysregulated — you have two sides of your brain. What it basically means is one of them — think of it like two balloons. One of them is inflated too high. If you think about the middle of you as being the tip to the scale, if you cross-box, you can even that energy out. Three minutes of cross-boxing is what I do when I feel that kind of dysregulated. You and I use box breathing. Generally, I have to get the energy out in a kind of aggressive way first before I can go to calm.

Hope: So swimming would work. would work.

Meghan: Swimming works.

Hope: You know what? I wish I’d taken up speed skating. That would be awesome for bilateral stimulation.

Meghan: I am not graceful enough.

Hope: Knitting. Does knitting do it?

Meghan: Yeah. I have a son who crochets when he feels anxious. Basically, anything that uses both sides of your body. There are treatments that do that. EMDR does it. Brain spotting does it. That’s when I feel distress. It’s always at night. You guys may know this, but anxiety increases as the sun goes down. My brain will start to get a little fiery. It’s almost always at night that I — my husband is like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “I’m just going to do some boxing. I’m just going to press against the wall.” He’s like, “Okay, whatever you need.”

Hope: We have a little bit of time for questions. We’ve got about ten minutes before we need to break for the next event. Does anyone have any questions for Meghan that they’d like to ask? Now is a perfect opportunity. Suzanne. Hello, Suzanne.

Suzanne: Hello. Can you talk a little bit about generational trauma and how that manifests and what your experience with it is and also the idea of generational trauma just on a cellular level, how it changes us?

Meghan: There’s a whole study of this. I’m sure this is not a new word, but the epigenetics of how — it makes sense. We know that people who migrate, peoples who migrate to hot climates, that their body shifts. Their sweat ducts literally change so that they can acclimatize their body to the higher climates. It is not too much of a leap to say, then, people who lived as part of an oppressed culture, that energy of oppression is going to show up inside their DNA. That’s an important question to be asking now while the world is on fire in the ways that it is. There are cultures of people who are experiencing new levels of activated trauma that they never expected to see in this generation that echoes stories that they’ve heard from their grandparents and their grandparents’ parents. One of the things about trauma, one of the hallmarks of trauma is that you appear to have an outsized reaction to something. I grew up with a grandmother who — I’m sure this is true for some of the rest of you. If there was a tiny drop of tomato paste in that container, we were cutting that open, washing it out. She did not waste anything. I used to kind of laugh at it. She put food on her plate in a way that didn’t even look like it was going to be appetizing.

When I would say to her, “You don’t have to put your salad and your spaghetti together,” she would say, “This is so decadent. There’s so much food here.” She grew up with food instability. Even though I didn’t grow up with the same level of food instability, I felt it anytime I ate with her. I felt it. She ate weird. She would comment on how much salad dressing you put on your salad. It is not a stretch to think about transgenerational trauma. It’s how we get to misogyny. It’s how we get to anti-Semitism. It’s how we get to all of the isms and the -y’s in those places. I think just like any other trauma, if you can attend to the energy, if you can identify it and attend to it — meaning, figure out, what is it that you need? One of the things that I think is interesting about COVID — do you remember when everybody was doing a plank challenge and they were all making the sourdough bread? I can’t tell you how angry that made me. I’m sorry if that was you, if you were like, I am going to have the best abs. Good for you.

We had this trauma come in, and that is a strong fight response. I am not going to let this trauma shift me. I’m going to be better for it. It’s very American. Then everybody moved houses or went to Montana. I actually went to Montana. It was a strong flight response. Fight and flight help us to avoid the freeze response, and freeze is where trauma happens. Do you remember the great resignation? Then there was quiet quitting. Those are all fight, flight, freeze responses. Those are people who are trying not to feel helpless. One of the things about transgenerational trauma is that you have inherited a past experience of helplessness that is true and real from the people who experienced it. It is their lived experience. They have handed that to you not because they’re jerks who want you to have it, but because it was adaptive for them. That’s how they survived. They’re passing that along the way a mother bird teaches someone to fly. If you can attend to it, it doesn’t have to tattoo itself. You can honor it without it having to limit you.

Hope: You know where I see that in the community of Motherless Daughters most clearly? It’s the women who didn’t get to know their mothers and lost them when they were young, in the way that they parent to create self-sufficient children. It shows up in their parenting very clearly.

Meghan: Don’t need anyone.

Hope: It shows up in the self-sufficiency for the kids, but also creating memories for the children. They feel like they’re trying to undo that trauma by protecting their kids from experiencing it, but in a sense, they are not fully present to the children themselves.

Meghan: You’ll see this in the book, but I tell my kids I’m going to trauma camp. They know about Cousin Chris who died. They know my mom had PTSD. They know what PTSD is. My daughter can teach you how to box breathe. There isn’t a lot of energy around the fact that it’s uncomfortable. It’s just a fact. It isn’t, this is a bad thing that happened to Mom. It’s just a thing that happened to Mom. In fact, a neighbor called and was like, “What are we telling the kids?” I was like, “We’re telling the kids that I’m going to a trauma facility because I need that level of care.”

Hope: Because trauma’s not a bad word.

Meghan: If anyone could’ve stopped it from happening, I’m telling you, it should have been me, which is partly the message behind the book. If it is something that we could have outwitted or outsmarted, I should’ve been able to do that.

Hope: Of all people.

Meghan: Of all people.

Hope: Someone as knowledgeable about trauma as you were.

Meghan Riordan Jarvis, THE END OF THE HOUR


THE END OF THE HOUR by Meghan Riordan Jarvis

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THE AFTERGRIEF by Hope Edelman

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