“Grief may turn into loss across the long arc, but it’s still very much a living thing. It’s not going to go away.” Zibby is joined by Rebecca Soffer, the co-founder and CEO of the Modern Loss group, to talk about her latest book, The Modern Loss Handbook, which she wrote during the darkest days of the pandemic. Rebecca explains how the handbook serves as the toolkit she’s always needed during her grief journey, what she prompts readers to work on within themselves, and why she is a big advocate for “going micro” as a coping mechanism.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Rebecca. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Rebecca Soffer: Zibby, I so don’t have time for anything. Yet I have time for this podcast because it’s such an incredible delight to be back with you. I just love being able to stare at your face on Zoom for a couple of minutes. It’s making me feel better today.

Zibby: I feel the same way. Listeners, not to leave you out, but we were just like, oh, my gosh, vent, vent, vent as fast as we can for a few minutes. We’ve known each other now a couple years and have a lot we can relate to about each other.

Rebecca: It was a lot of venting.

Zibby: A lot of venting. One of the things we were starting to talk about and I was like, “Let’s save this for the podcast,” relates a lot to Modern Loss and The Modern Loss Handbook and everything that Rebecca does and stands for, which is helping people through hard times, particularly grief, with her trademark sense of humor and reliability and everything. One of your tips is going micro. Talk about that as just one of the many resources in this book that can help people.

Rebecca: Going micro, I feel like to some people, it feels so obvious. It’s like, oh, are you overwhelmed? Go micro. To many of us, and I include myself in that, when I find myself feeling very overwhelmed (read: the last three years and counting, the last forty-something years and counting) and I feel like I’m trying to figure out, oh, my god, wait, in seventeen months, there’s this thing — what is this going to look like? How am I going to do that? What’s my five-year plan? I realized that I’m snowballing. I self-diagnosed on Instagram. There’s an account that’s Highly Sensitive Refuge. I’m like, I need a highly sensitive refuge. Then I’m realized I’m a highly sensitive person, for better or for worse. That just is what it is. I take on the emotion. I take on the emotions of the world. Whenever I’m feeling completely overwhelmed — if I ever got a tattoo, I think it would just say “Go micro” or “GM” because that is what saves me.

We talk about, in pop culture or in just casual conversation, mindfulness and self-care. That’s my mindfulness. It’s anchoring me in the moment very suddenly. It’s saying, go micro. Get through the next hour. Don’t worry about seventeen months from now. Don’t worry about how you’re going to pay the thing or get your kid through the thing or manage the thing. Just get through two o’clock today. How are you going to do that? You can’t get through the thing until you get through two o’clock. If two o’clock feels too far away because it’s eight AM, okay, get through 8:05AM. This might sound very silly to some people, some people who have a handle on things all the time. Good for you. I’m not one of those people. I get a handle on my shit by going micro when I really need to. It saves me time and time and time again, in times of grief, in times of overwhelm, in times of stress. It’s a really helpful tool that I have in my toolbox.

Zibby: I feel like my version of that is, just keep your head down. When I look up and I see all the things — I guess that’s sort of like what you’re saying. There’s too much. There’s too many inputs. There’s too much on the horizon. I have to focus on what I’m doing right now, right here. It’s translated even into my parenting when my kids are like, “Do we think we’ll be survivors at the school and go all thirteen years?” I’m like, “I have no idea. I don’t even know if you’re going to go to that school next year.” They’re like, “What?” I’m like, “I’m just kidding, but who knows?”

Rebecca: Actually, I’m not just kidding. I literally don’t know what my life is going to look like next year. I don’t know where I’m going to live. I don’t know anything. I would say that the one thing that the pandemic has done for me which is a positive — by the way, I’d give anything to not be living in a pandemic with the rest of the world. In addition to reconnecting me with people who I love and who I’ve made a point to reconnect with all over the world because life is short, it’s really proven to me that, it’s okay, if you make the change and it’s not the right change, you make the change back or you make another change. I used to be somebody who was like, oh, my god, I literally can’t make a decision because this decision is going to have to stick. I’m going to have to live with all the consequences. Yeah, you still will, especially in some major ways. If it’s like, I’m going to move, or we’ll try a new school, if it doesn’t work, I think we’ve been proven that nothing is permanent. There’s no forever home anymore. There’s no permanence of anything. We can change. We can adapt to that change.

Zibby: Totally. I know. I feel like if I could do anything — my older kids are now fifteen. If I could just go back and reclaim some of the energy I spent worrying about kindergarten admissions for them — I know at the time, that was all I was thinking about and doing. They’ve all changed schools. Now I feel like I’m coming down negatively. I love the school they’re all at. You don’t know what is going to happen with the world or with your kids or with your career or with anything.

Rebecca: Literally, no clue. I gave myself so much agita over, where should my older — what kindergarten? Oh, my god, so much time thinking about it. By the way, I went to, literally, just a kindergarten down the street in the Main Line outside Philly because that’s where you went. In Manhattan, it’s a different monster. It’s a different ballgame. The joke was on me because my son, who was six at the time, got to spend six months at that kindergarten. Then COVID hit. He was in Zoom school on his computer for three months. You got to cut yourself a break all around. Also, just try not to eat your heart out over every little decision. I have realized that it’s just not worth it.

Zibby: You’re absolutely right.

Rebecca: You got to save that energy for the really, really, really tough stuff. There’s plenty of that.

Zibby: I feel like, though, the tough stuff is much easier for me. I feel like the bigger decisions in life or the bigger things — I don’t know if you feel the same way.

Rebecca: No, I’m terrible at big decisions. No, no, no. Then you and I should definitely live together. I’m really good at delegating. I’m a former daily TV producer, so I’m really good at getting her done. How do we get this project done? How do we do this? If it’s like, what are the big questions, and what are the answers? that’s when I’m like — I get wrapped up in the paradox of choice when there are multiple choices. I get totally freaked out. That’s why I’m saying I’m starting to realize that sometimes you just got to make a decision. If it doesn’t go well, then you maybe make a different decision if you can. That’s just all you can do.

Zibby: I was just literally in the car with Kyle dropping off the kids. This week, of course, I’ve put myself in an almost-impossible situation with three different camps at basically the same time. I spent half the car ride being like, “But wait, maybe we should drop this kid off first. But wait, what if we drop this kid off first but that counselor’s not there? But maybe we should do this. But then the third kid’s going to be late.” It’s so stupid. This is totally off topic of your book. I am so sorry. Here you are, this amazing entrepreneur and have done so much awesome stuff. Tell everybody about Modern Loss who might not know about it, how you’ve created this whole thing, your backstory. You’ve been on this for your first book, Modern Loss. What was the funny subtitle?

Rebecca: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.

Zibby: Yes, that was perfect. And now why you’ve added this new book, which is so helpful and amazing and just the best grief resource and resource in general for mental health. I poured over every word when I first got it. I was like, stop the press. I am sitting down here and finishing this whole thing.

Rebecca: I have to tell you, I got that email from you after I sent you the book when I didn’t even realize you were getting advanced copies that were finished copies. I sent one to you. I was super nervous because while I was writing it, honestly — are we allowed to use obscenities in this podcast?

Zibby: Yeah, sure.

Rebecca: I didn’t give a shit while I was writing it because I really was writing it in the darkest, darkest depths of COVID. It was the winter of 2020/2021. There was a lot going on in this country, if you can remember, pretty stressful times. I felt particularly isolated. I had suddenly found myself living in the Berkshires where it gets dark at eleven AM in the winter for six months. We had a lot of nuclear family COVID. It was a really scary, hard time. My Modern Loss community, the needs had ballooned. Just to answer your question, the reason I wrote this book, which is The Modern Loss Handbook: An Interactive Guide to Moving Through Grief and Building Your Resilience, is because when COVID hit — we have readers all over the world. We are known for doing live storytelling. I try and do as many in-real-life connection points as possible. Just being one person, it’s not super possible. I’ve done storytelling events all over. I try and speak all over. Now all of a sudden, everybody was virtual. Everybody was losing access to their coping mechanisms that they developed in loss.

They could no longer go to the bodega to see the friendly dude who sold them the almond milk. They could no longer go to the gym to do the spinning class. They could no longer go to brunch on Saturday, that monthly brunch with friends which sometimes they hung their sanity on knowing that that was in the calendar. They couldn’t go to therapy easily. They couldn’t go to rites and rituals, happy rites and rituals, sad rites and rituals. We couldn’t even hug each other without being terrified. We lost the sense of that beautiful thing called touch, which is so healing. Everybody was reeling. I was also reeling. I just felt so overwhelmed — talk about going micro — by the needs of the community and being only one person that I was like, this is the time to write this book, which I had wanted to write the year prior. As an entrepreneur — I’m sure you know — you have all these golden tickets on your wall of all the things you want to do. There’s only so much you can do qualitatively. This was a book I really wanted to do. All of a sudden, it became obvious that this was the time that it had to be done. This was my opportunity to share everything that I have learned from my own personal experience with grief and from all the amazing experts that I work with across the spectrum of wellness and therapy, mental health, grief, the extended arc of loss, and also just the incredible community members from Modern Loss that have taught me so much more than I would have ever learned on my own about different points of view, different ways of coping, different creative rituals, different cultural mores that they were familiar with that I wasn’t. I realized this was the opportunity to give of myself and of everybody else between two covers when I could only be so many places at one time.

This book really is meant to help you stay connected to your person, stay connected to yourself, and stay connected to the world around you. It’s literally the thing that I wish that somebody would’ve handed to me after my mom died, after my dad died, years after my mom died. I was my own guinea pig. I went through the book after I wrote it. I was like, oh, it’s still germane fifteen years later, but I’m viewing it in a different way. I kind of proved my own thesis statement or my own hypothesis, which was that the arc of loss really is long. Grief may turn into loss across the long arc, but it’s still very much a living thing. It’s not going to go away. You’re going to interact with it in different ways because loss is a living thing, and you’re a living thing. You’re going to perceive your people differently as you move through life, as you take on different roles, as you lose different roles, as you empathize with them in different ways, as you wish that you could’ve talked to them about certain things. This book really does give you the chance to care for yourself and stay connected with that person and also just figure out how to draw your own boundaries with friends, draw your boundaries with work, stand up for yourself and ask for what you need because we do a really shitty job in this country and in Western culture in general at helping people to talk through this stuff and support each other.

Zibby: Is that all? Is that all you’re trying to tackle in this one book?

Rebecca: That’s it. It’s just that one thing. I have to say that while I was writing it, I just didn’t care because I felt like I was so fortunate to be given a mandate of a deadline, of a publishing contract, to have sold a book during this shit show that was going on. I felt so grateful. Talk about going micro. I was like, I get to go micro with this book. It wasn’t that easy because I didn’t have childcare. School was crazy. People were sick. My kids weren’t vaccinated. I wasn’t vaccinated. There was a lot going on. I was like, I feel so lucky to have this chance to write this thing. I value it so much. I take it so seriously. I’m really going to say just what I have to say. I’m not going to navel-gaze. I’m not going to wonder if it sounds smart enough or pithy enough or funny enough. I’m just going to say what I have to say because, I don’t know, maybe this will be the last thing that I ever write. Not to sound dramatic, but it was a really dark winter. Remember? You don’t because our neurons are fried. That first COVID winter, 2020/2021, the election, January 6th, there was a lot going on. I was just like, I’m going to say what I have to say. I think that the result is something that I’m so proud of for me, which is, I stayed true to my voice. I really feel comfortable saying that. When you wrote to me, you were like, you came back from vacation — I’m sure it was just one of another thousands of books that you were sent. You said you literally read through the entire thing sitting on your floor in one day.

Zibby: I did.

Rebecca: I started crying because it was the first time that anybody besides my editor or people who had to say that they liked it said something positive and how much it resonated. I was like, okay, I think I’ve said what I had to say here. It meant a lot.

Zibby: I completely meant it. I loved it. I got so much out of it. I related to it. It was helpful. It was funny. It was so great. I think handbook sells it short, almost, even though it is a handbook/workbook in that you can use it. Handbooks sometimes get a bad rap. This, it’s almost like — well, manual’s another bad — not that you chose the wrong word. Do you know what I’m trying to say?

Rebecca: I know. I didn’t even choose it. Running Press chose it. They were like, “How about The Modern Loss Handbook?” I was like, “Fine. That’s fine. Whatever. Just let me write it.” They didn’t want to call it a journal or a workbook because, like you said, it’s not. It’s 250 pages long. I would say that ninety percent of it is prose. It’s written word. The reason they wanted to call it a handbook is because they didn’t want it to be relegated to the journal section at the back of the bookstore or the library. They wanted it to be in the book section. A handbook more because it is really a guide, but it’s a choose-your-own-adventure guide. I give you a lot of stuff that I think can help, but I also say, you know what, not all of these things may work for you in this moment in time. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to work for you down the line, so don’t throw the book away yet, okay? Don’t rip the page out yet. Just trust me because loss is dynamic. Grief is dynamic. It may work for you later. Also, not every single thing may work for you, period. Pick and choose. Try it. See. Trial and error. Here’s your toolbox. Whatever works, throw it in the toolbox. There is literally no one vaccine for the grief experience, for the loss experience. There’s no yoga class that’s going to make it all better. There’s no therapy session that’s going to make it all better. There’s no one pithy best friend who has the perfect thing to say who’s going to make it all better because that’s literally not possible.

The only way to move through this is, like I said, is to figure out how to do three things. Figure out how to stay connected with your person, not just in the good ways through memory and ritual and reframing anniversaries and all that, but also looking at the tough things. Relationships are very fallible. Nobody ends a relationship when one person dies saying, well, that was just perfect. It’s just not the way loss works. I challenge you through different prompts, and that’s where the interactive session comes in, to think through, are there ways in which this person hurt you and they never apologized or vice versa? Are there things you would’ve done differently? I literally challenge you to think through hard things because I say that I think that that’s more important than just remembering that they made a killer hurricane. You’re left to deal with the stuff that they left behind. They don’t care anymore. It’s up to you to figure out how you deal with all this stuff so that you can live a life that’s really rich and really meaningful and create meaning in the wake of the shit storm because you deserve to at any age.

When you figure out how to stay connected with that person and then stay connected with yourself, how to deal with your anxiety and your sleep and the fact that grief shakes your body down physically — we don’t talk about that enough. How do you deal with that? How do you look at different therapies or try different art therapies, different modalities? How do you do all that? Then also, how do you navigate and negotiate and stand up for your social dynamics? How do you feel comfortable talking to friends who are being really lame or weird around you? How do you encourage them to be less lame or weird around you? How do you build a support team? How do you pull the people who are coming out of the woodwork for you? How do you draw boundaries? How do you date and navigate your intimate relationships and stand up for yourself to your manager? That’s why I say there’s no one vaccine. All of these things together when you can feel a little bit more comfortable managing all of them, or at least you’ve tried to, that’s when you can get to a place where you at least feel like you’re asking for acknowledgment in something that’s really hard. If you don’t have a feeling of acknowledgment in something that’s really hard, be it a divorce or a work project that you just worked your butt off on and no one at work was like, oh, my god, you must have worked so hard on this, imagine how crappy that feels.

What about when you’re going through an enormous loss and everyone just pretends like it hasn’t happened or you should be over it or like it’s not so bad? At least you can have another kid. That’s bullshit. You deserve to feel acknowledged in something. It’s free to acknowledge somebody. Without acknowledgment, I think it’s just really hard to feel like you’re healing. I challenge you in the book to figure out how to get the acknowledgment. I give you a little bit of tough love because I think we both know — you’ve had a lot of losses, Zibby. You know that the world isn’t going to come to you and cradle you and say, how can we make it all better? You’ve had so much personal loss in the last few years. You know that it’s up to you to figure out what you need, what the people who are hurting around you — what do we need to feel nourished and seen and supported? Try and ask for it and find it. If not, very few people can intuit what it is you need at any given moment, especially when you’re going through really hard times. On top of that, we’re all dealing with our own messes. We are. It’s a really hard time right now. Everybody is not okay. That’s another way of saying that nobody is really okay.

Zibby: I love that. I love everything you have to say. You are such a good speaker. I see why you now speak everywhere. I’ve watched your JCC shows and the way you combine people’s voices and all of that as well. You’re just so impressive. Thank you.

Rebecca: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, thanks for coming on. Thanks for our pre-chat. Anytime. We should do this again, pretend we have a meeting and just go to town.

Rebecca: Let’s do that. I just want to say that we still have so much free content online for anyone who needs it, and all the platforms. Come to us. Engage in the conversation. Feel seen. Feel acknowledged. That’s what you need.

Zibby: Amazing. I wish I had had your book a long time ago. It’s still useful now.

Rebecca: Me too. That’s why I wrote it.

Zibby: I hope I sent you Bookends, by the way, now that this is over. Did you get a copy? Okay, good. It’s my own manual of loss. Rebecca, thank you so much.

Rebecca: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Let’s talk soon.

Rebecca: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.


Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts