Disrupting The Grief Space: Dr. Julie Shaw of Hello, I’m Grieving

Apr 30, 2023

This week we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Julie Shaw to the Grieve Leave Instagram. Dr. Shaw is the founder of Hello, I’m Grieving, and we had the honor of chatting about how she’s disrupting the grief space with the open and honest conversations she’s bringing to life and the community that she’s building. Watch our full interview at @grieveleave, or you can read the transcript below.


This interview originally appeared as part of the Grieve Leave Instagram Live Series “Grieve Out Loud” on @grieveleave.


Rebecca: Hey, everybody. We're getting ready to go live with Dr. Julie Shaw from Hello, I'm Grieving. I am going to get her on right now. So excited for this conversation. I can't even tell you. All righty. There she is. Hey, Miss Julie. 


Julie: Hello.


Rebecca: Hi. Hey, from East Coast to West Coast, we've got the whole gamut covered right now. 


So, so excited to have you on. Let's get started, and I see some folks are joining us, and so glad people are tuning in.

Well, hey, I am Rebecca Feinglos. I'm the founder of GrieveLeave.com, and here at Grieve Leave, we love chatting with experts and leaders in the grief space. Today, it is my honor to speak with Dr. Julie Shaw, the founder of Hello, I'm Grieving– an account that I just absolutely love, and I love to follow you, Julie since, I mean, it's been well over a year now. 


Julie: I’m so excited! 


Rebecca: I am so excited to have you on. Let me tell folks just a little bit about you from your amazing bio.


Dr. Julie Shaw is an educator, grief and wellness advocate, and experienced griever, something we share. Dr. Shaw is committed to building an inclusive community of grievers who are curious, ready to explore, and moved to find ways they can integrate grief into their lives and continue to thrive. As I mentioned, she's the founder of Hello, I'm Grieving, which is a community where grievers can find support and motivation through creative, thought-provoking in-person and virtual events. 


Dr. Shaw has her doctorate in leadership and is the co-founder of Lead Different Consulting, where she works with global leaders in diverse industries and facilitates sessions on leadership development, DEI, and grief education. And as a grief expert, Dr. Shaw has spoken on panels alongside the brilliant David Kessler and contributed to Empathy.com's “Cost of Dying” Report, and her story will soon be featured in the upcoming grief documentary Meet Me Where I Am


Welcome to Grieve Leave, Julie. That's quite a bio. 


Julie: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Rebecca: We share a lot of similar interests ranging from supporting women to basketball and all kinds of things, but today we're gonna spend some time talking about what it's like to be trying to disrupt this grief space. And, to talk about your own experiences with grief. Here at Grieve Leave in all of our conversations, we start out with the same question, which is a very weird one, and I love asking people because everyone has an answer to it. 


Julie: Well, let's get weird. Let's go for it. I mean, grief is weird enough so we can get as weird as we want to. 


Rebecca: I like to ask people about their unexpected chickens, which is a term that I made up. But, in essence, when my father died, I started to see chickens everywhere in very unexpected and kind of inappropriate places, like a chicken literally crossing the road out of nowhere the day after he died, or chicken artwork. And it was this funny thing because when he was alive, it was a family inside joke. He really liked chickens. And, after he died, it became this way, this touching way of like, “Oh, I see an unexpected chicken. My dad must be checking in on me.” 


And so I have to ask you, Julie, what are your unexpected chickens in your grief?


Julie: Well, you know, I would love to have an object or, or things like that, or how you have your chickens. However, mine is pretty simple. Mine has actually been my sister's name, and my sister's name is Jennifer, and I believe there's power in speaking your person's name. But the thing is, with my sister and I’s relationship, I'm half Filipino. And, as a sign of respect that you give to your elder women as in cousins and your sister, you call them áte, and you put that in front of their name. So, I would call her áte Jennifer. However, just growing up, I just called her áte. That was because she's my sister, so I don't need to say her name. I just know áte. And so I never really called her by her first name.


So, it was actually kind of weird if we're talking about weird– weird for me to say her name. Weird for me to hear her name, and weird for me to write her name, especially after she died. So maybe as we're talking right now, I'm kind of thinking about maybe that is why I tend to gravitate towards hearing her name. And, so some of the things that actually happened were we went together to dinner as a family soon after she died and we all went to her favorite place, where she liked to eat. And as we're waiting, this place always has a long waiting list. We got called and we were being seated, and as we were walking by the host table, we just heard somebody yell out Jennifer really loud.


And, I was like, oh my gosh, “if that's not a sign, you know, what is?” And then most recently, I like to, and as we're talking about Grieve Leave, is – I like to go on my own trips on her thanaversary. And for those of you out there, thanaversary is another way to say the anniversary of a person's death. So, that can be another way that you can use that term. And so on her anniversary, I took a solo trip, and this year while I was at the restaurant by myself, I was like, “Hmm, lemme go take a picture over somewhere.” I had a great view. And then I heard some people talking, and right away I heard her name. And then I said, you know what? Let me test this. So then I said, okay, let me see if somehow I can manifest her name.


And, at this time, I was listening to Gabby Bernstein, who's all about manifestation. And, as I was driving home, I was like, I'm all alone, there's no way I'm going to hear her name. And, sure enough, I was driving home and then I was listening, and I was like, oh my gosh, that’s it. Because it was just another form of her name. Because in Gabby’s book, she started telling a story, and the person in the story's name was Jenny. So I was like, okay, like you did it. 


Those are the things that I do look for. In the beginning after she died, I would do a lot of virtual facilitations as I'm teaching. And in the chat box and Zoom, we've all been on these Zooms, and you see everybody's name pop up. And back then when I saw her name pop up and returning to work in that way, it was kind of hard for me to gather myself that when I did see her name, it activated my grief back then. But now it's turned into this more beautiful thing that I seek out or that I love, that I hear now. And so maybe some people can identify with that and how that can even change as you grieve.


Rebecca: Totally. And I mean, I think what you're speaking to so beautifully are the signs of our people all around us. And sometimes we might react differently to those signs, even like different times of the year, you know what I mean? Even just the power of hearing our person's name. I'm with you on that. 


When I hear my dad's name, Mark, it sticks with me. And I also feel like everyone from my mom's generation was named Susan. It's like one hundred percent of women from that generation are named Susan. But every time I meet a Susan it's the same.


Julie: I just saw someone put in the chat that her twin sister's name is Jennifer. And, anytime I make a connection with somebody in my community or in one of these Lives, or they have that same connection, I always say that's a mutual sign for both of us. You know?


Rebecca: Totally. 


Julie: So that's one thing that I always like to be very intentional about when we're talking about that because that can be hard for people if they're like, well, where's my sign? Why, why one? There are different ways that maybe you can ascribe your own, right? You can create your own for yourself if that is something that you're looking for and that is helpful for you. But, that was something I was worried about. I was like, I don't think I'm gonna get a sign. What if I don't see my purpose? What if I don't see those things? But it is all how we want to view it, how we want to own our grief, and how we want to experience it in that way. 


And I will recommend a book that I just started now, it's actually called Signs. I can't recall the author, so if somebody that's watching knows the author of it or Googles it really quick drop it.


Rebecca: I can put it in the chat later.


That's awesome. I think what you're also speaking to is that we get to make our own meaning of our grief, and that meaning will also change over time as we change.


I want to come back to talking about your sister, Jennifer. Can you tell us more about her, about your grief for her and what's changed over time? 


Julie: Yeah, I mean, that was my person. My sister was my person. My sister, she was, to me, the mentor, the person that I looked up to, the mother figure, my role model. She was everything. And so, and my best friend, right? And, I think when you have someone in your life, especially a sibling, somebody that you don't have to say a word to, they just know. They know how to comfort you. They understand what you're going through. They're accepting of you in all your flaws and in all of who you are. And they just love you. And I also think she was the glue for a family and I’ve been able to see that even more so after she's died.


I think that’s also where shifts happen, now, who am I? Not only, “Who am I?” because my sister isn't with me physically, it's also, “Who am I?” in relationship to friends now, or her friends, or, “Who am I?” in relationship to family members. Am I the glue now? And I do feel like that has shifted for me? How can I try to step into pieces of her role? I know that I will never replace her, but also how can I support my niece and nephew? How can I still be somebody that they trust and that they can go to? Just knowing how much they miss their mom and being able to support them in any way that they can. 


You go through a change of identity from who you were before the death to who you are after. And I think as we're talking about disrupting the grief space, I think it's even just saying there's beauty in that, that there's beauty in that you can change who you are. Change is always gonna be tough. It's always going to have its bumps. It might not be smooth, but I do think when you get outside your comfort zone of that change, that's where your true growth is gonna happen. And it could open you up to be somebody that you never knew was possible. I feel like that's what's happening to me. I feel like that's one of the gifts that my sister is continuing to give me and continuing to support me in that growth, and always keeping her in the back of my mind with all of that.


Rebecca: You said so many things that resonate for me. I mean, one thing that you said that really stands out is the idea of how our relationship with family members shifts after a death. And I think about losing both of my parents. My father was my best friend, and so much of what I went to my dad for, I started going to my brother for after my dad passed away. It’s evolved our sibling dynamic in ways that just weren't true before. We always were close, but it's been very different since both of our parents are deceased. I think what you're speaking to is just so spot on. Almost like Tetris, after there's a hole of a person, and the family resets on top of that hole in lots of different ways, and we see different reflections of who we are after they go.


Julie: Yeah. And, I mean, if you're gonna layer all the dynamics of, like, are other people talking about this grief,  does anybody else here like feel how I do? And, do we feel comfortable asking them? Do we feel comfortable having those conversations? So, exactly what you and I are doing and what a lot of other people in this space are doing is how we can break those walls down. So that we can have conversations about this. 


Rebecca: Totally.


Julie: And, with no intention to hurt anyone or to do any of that type of stuff. But like, can we just talk about it?


Rebecca: Yes. Well, let's talk about what you talk about with, Hello, I’m Grieving. Can you share more with folks who've joined us online or who watch later and want to follow? Tell us why you started Hello, I’m Grieving and what that had to do with losing your sister.


Julie: Yeah. I mean, it all started because my sister died, right? There would be none of this, none of this at all. This would never be on my mind.  I would be on a completely different path, but death shakes you up, and death, just like we said before, it just changes you, it cracks open not only your heart, but it cracks open your mind. And for me, I really think it was the translation of the skills that I feel like I have, the gifts that I feel like I have, and just who I am as a person. Like who am I not to speak out about things? Who am I not to use my voice to create change? I think that's something I've been trying to do. Even when I look back on my childhood, you know, when I found old papers talking about Title IX when I was in junior high or something like that, right? And same with my interest in social justice. It really is translating and taking those pieces of who you were and bringing that with you to who you are now.


I just started it because, well, I started it undercover. I didn't tell anybody I was doing it. And it was just a method for me to kind of purge my grief, try to get it out there, and to write again. Because when my sister died, I stopped writing, I stopped going to my journal, I stopped reflecting because if I wrote it down like that, if I was really writing my emotions, it would make her death real. And that was too hard for me to grasp at the time. So I was like, okay, let me, try this social media thing. Let me try this Instagram thing.


I got advice to just try it for three months and see what happens. And I did. And then after three months when I started connecting with other people and started hearing other people's stories, I just said, there's value in this. And if I can have an impact on others and use my life to do that, why not? Like, why not do that? And death will teach you the biggest YOLO there is. So you only have one life. And so how, how you live that life is up to you. And this is what works for me. Because the other thing I don't want people to misconstrue is you absolutely don't have to turn your pain into purpose. And a lot of people will think that's what they need to do. That's just what I'm doing. That works for me. That's something that's very true for me. And so you can find your own way on. There are so many different ways on this grief journey because healing is continuous. This is just one of the ways that it's speaking through me and helping others. And I feel like that's how I've always been to the core is, “How can I help other people?”


Rebecca: That's fantastic. And I think you've just mentioned a lot of different pieces. Something that you just said reminds me of Marissa Lee's book, Grief Is Love. And a piece that resonated with me about what she wrote is that she felt like she needed to grieve for her mother in a really palatable way by creating a nonprofit and doing all of the things that feel very meaningful and that look very good optically. I think you're so spot on in saying you don't have to do that. It is okay. Feel whatever you feel. You and I have taken to social media for our own reasons, but we are making meaning in our own ways for our grief. You're making meaning with Hello, I’m Grieving in just such an impactful and profound way. And, I love what you're doing, but you're right. Everyone does not have to do that, you know? 


Julie: Yeah. And, for me, also who I am, I'm a social person. I do know that the pandemic did bring out an introverted side of me. However, I love connecting. I love listening to people's stories and figuring out who I can connect them to. Like, you would be great with this person and just being a connector in that way. 


But I also think that is behind the meaning of Hello, I'm Grieving. It’s how we are saying hello to each other. My tagline is, “How do we say hello to grief?” Because for me, that was the biggest first step. And that biggest first step, just saying hello, looking at it in the face, you know, figuratively, and welcoming it in and just acknowledging it. And there are some people like that. You know, they'll give me feedback as far as like, well, I can't welcome grief in. Like, I don't want to welcome it in. And I'm like, that's okay.


You know, that's okay. It's all how you interpret that. But for me, again, it's gonna be there. It is gonna be there, it's gonna be with you your whole entire life. So come on in, let's have a talk. Let's sit down, let's figure out what we're gonna do here, what this relationship is gonna be like. And just acknowledging that, yes, someone that I love died and I am grieving. Like simply acceptance in that. And that can be one of the hardest steps to own. If you can get to that point, it's gonna open up so much for you.


Rebecca: It's radical. I mean, it can be a radical thing to just acknowledge that you are grieving and that you're angryr, or that you're sad or whatever it is that you're feeling. And through, Hello, I’m Grieving you are doing that in a very public meaningful way that is connecting with so many people. 


Let's talk about the grief space. I'm gonna use that term kind of broadly here to say, let's define it as the grief space as we know it. Who is talking about grief these days? Who has been historically in our society, the most active voices in talking about what grief is, how grief should look, who's right, who's historically written about grief, et cetera. So that's how I'm defining the grief space as I enter this next question. 


In what ways do you feel like the grief space needs to be shaken up? And why do we need those changes? And what is it that you're doing with Hello, I’m Grieving that you think is doing great work to disrupt the space?


Julie: I think that it needs to be shaken up in a way of more visibility and awareness. And I say that not only on the fronts of visibility, of just grief and awareness of like: what does a griever go through? And all the different things that you're grieving, right? We're talking about the loss of a loved one, which is actually bereavement, right? Bereavement is the actual loss of a person. Whereas grief can encompass the loss of a relationship, friendship, financials, identity, that can encompass a lot of things, right? So that's all the grief education piece. But also, quite frankly, one of the biggest things for me, and also what I started to notice is that there needs to be more people that look like me. And I feel like that's been the case in my life for a lot of things.


I will say that from what I've seen from my vantage point and what I've heard from others is that it is a very predominantly white space. You might see a lot more older generations, right? Maybe a lot of outdated ways of thinking about grief, even just, I mean, hopefully a lot of people understand what the five stages were originally created for people that were dying. There is a lot of validity to it. However, it was then translated to people who are grieving and some people can misconstrue that as I go through stage one, stage two, stage three, stage four, stage five, and I'm done. And there's things that we just need to learn more about, right? So whether it's different theories, different ways people culturally express grief, I just really come from an inclusive lens of belonging.


I really want people to feel included. I want people to be in community with each other and not only be accepting of their grief, but also all the identities that they bring along with them. Because the intersections of our identities will also change how we grieve. And, being able to understand that and speak about that I will grieve as a black woman. I will grieve differently by also identifying as a multiethnic woman, being Filipino too. And I will also grieve differently as a gay woman. So that's also something that I am very open about talking about, and I want people to be able to say okay, I belong here too. That grief isn't only for this one lens or this one way. That there's such a vast way to grieve that you can try so many different creative things and you can show up as you in your full self with all of the intersections of your identities that show up.


Rebecca: Your voice is so, so powerful, Julie. I mean, you bring a lot of different identities to the forefront in all that you are and all that who you are as you grieve, and you do it unapologetically and openly, and you are so needed in this space. Your community of Hello, I'm Grieving is so needed in the grief space. And, you know, all that I think I can add to that conversation is, you know, me being a 33 year old white woman with two dead parents and all of my grandparents being dead is shocking. It is shocking. Now it's a little less shocking–t's a little more likely for my peers of color to have two dead parents at my age. That is so unacceptable. It is unacceptable, but statistics on the grief gap in America are just absolutely shocking. 


Julie: Absolutely. 


Rebecca: We don't see voices of color represented enough in our grief space. And yet our peers of color are more likely to experience different forms of grief. It just shows how grief is disenfranchised in our communities of color.  I'm so glad that you're here and I'm so glad you're doing this. 


Julie: Yeah. And thank you for saying that. Because the stats are out there, even with social justice, with race issues, understanding the different emotional burdens that we can see as a collective grief. Yes, we can all collectively grief, but we also have to acknowledge for certain communities that that grief is going to weigh a bit more. It's gonna resonate with them in a completely different way. And, so those are the things that might be hard to talk about, but it doesn't mean just because it's hard that we don't talk about and acknowledge. 


Rebecca: One hundred percent. I want to pivot a little bit because something very exciting has happened in your life recently. You have a baby. And you're a new mom. I want to talk a little bit about the intersections of your grief and being a new mom and maybe has that even illuminated new things about your grief for your sister that maybe hadn't popped up before? Can you share a little bit?


Julie: So much. I mean, when you have somebody in your life that you want to share everything with, all the good and the bad and the ugly, right? It’s a whole journey. It’s also Infertility Awareness Week. And so that's a struggle that I'm going through, right. My wife carried. And so we were very fortunate and very grateful that she did that for our family. There’s so many more layers to this story, which I hope to share here in the future. It’s just understanding what this new dynamic, this new identity is and how that impacts me. Because hands down, my sister knew I was going through my infertility journey and I just remember when she was in the hospital, it still sticks with me, right? You're going to have these memories that stick with you that are bittersweet, that are sad, but it still gives me comfort because she said, “I'm just so sorry that it's been so hard for you to have a kid.” 


And I remember her saying that as she's sick and dying, and she's still thinking about me. It's just, you know, you want that person there. This journey to get our child here has been years and it has been one of the most eye-opening journeys that there is. Because if people aren't talking about grief, then they aren't talking about infertility either. That blindsided me. And she was the person, or still is, she still is the person that I want to talk to. She still is the person that I want to call, that I want to process my feelings with that, I want to see her as an aunt, because I know she would have been the best and I still am figuring out ways of how I can be a great mom and take all the lessons that I learned from my sister, watching her be a great mom, and apply it to who I am now.


And also, you know, how can I have my daughter know who she is? And understand what she meant to me. There are so many layers to it. I just miss her. I miss her for this whole journey of infertility. I miss her for this whole journey of being a mom. I just wish I could share that with her. I still try to find different ways that I can. But, you know, this is one of the very difficult things when you experience these big life moments and you don't have the person here that you want to experience that life with and share those moments with. And you just have to change and figure out how you can still have that, but do it differently. And I will say, for me to even get to this point to even be prepared to be a mom through all the hurt and loss that we experienced, is that I had to go through my own journey.


I did it very intentionally because I told myself I needed to, and becoming a mom made me put the pedal on my grieving because I was like, this baby is gonna be here by this certain date, and so I need to really kind of fast forward this grief a little bit and try everything that I can because I didn't want to be so grief stricken that when the baby came, because the baby would feel that energy. Or even while my wife was carrying. I believe that they can feel that energy. So, I wanted to make sure that I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared to bring this baby in. A lot of that was centered around my grief. And then also processing the loss of my sister and owning that. Like, she's not here for me to pick up the phone all the time. So I had to figure out different ways.


Rebecca: There's so many different layers of compounded grief that you experienced with infertility and the loss of your sister. And now you have this beautiful baby, and you get to see how that grief continues. It doesn't go away. I mean, you've been doing a tremendous amount of self work and community work in grief, but that doesn't mean that it's gone. It just means that you can sit with your grief. You could say hello to your grief. You hinted at something that now we can just formally announce, which is perfect. 


Dr. Shaw is going to be on a panel for Grieve Leave on May 4th, specifically talking about motherhood and grief and intersections of all of the different layers that might have come with pregnancy loss or infertility and then becoming a mother.We can't wait to continue that conversation with you in just a week and a half.

We have a fabulous panel of women who are gonna provide really profound perspectives. And Julie, I'm so glad you're going to be on that panel. So just a plug for that. If you've enjoyed this part of our conversation, I hate to cut it short, but don't worry, there's more coming. This has been a conversation that, first of all, I’d love to keep going like forever and I want to come visit you in LA and have a glass of wine and enjoy, and do it all day every day. Or, you can come over to North Carolina and we can go to some basketball games. 


I want to close with our final segment here at Grieve Leave that we call our Grief Brief. I'm going to ask you a few rapid fire grief questions, and in a word or a phrase, I hope you can answer them for us. I hope you’re ready. 


Julie: I hope I can do that too.


Rebecca: You can. All right, here we go. Julie, on your lowest days, what's your go-to way to grieve?


Julie: You know, I'm not gonna be afraid to say this, but Netflix. Sometimes I just zone out. Yeah. I'm also a grief eater. 


Rebecca: Nothing wrong with that. I love that. 


When someone you care about is grieving, what is your go-to way to support them in their grief?


Julie: I'll text them, I'll check in, try not to be too pushy, but yeah, just checking in.


Rebecca: That's perfect. And last one for our Grief Brief. What's one thing you wish everybody knew about grief and grieving?


Julie: As we're talking about disrupting, I'll be pretty bold and say it's on you. Some people might not like that, but to be quite frank and blunt it's on you. The grief is going to be there. People will try to help support you. They might push you, they might try to talk to you in different ways, but this is your journey in all aspects of it. So if you feel stuck, if you feel like you're not supported, it's on you. And that's my tough love sometimes. That's why I think maybe some people don't feel me on that, but I also think it's my coaching and athletics background–  this is your life. This is your story. And like, how can you take that grief in? How can you accept it? How can you say, what can I do right? Take ownership of it. And also take the support that people are giving you because you're going to wake up with you every single day. You're going to wake up with your grief every single day, and people will give you the euphemism that time will heal. But I like to say it's not time that heals, it's what you do with that time that heals. And so that's what I have to say about that. That's what I've learned on my own is that nobody else will do it for you. You gotta do it yourself. And time's going to pass anyway. So what are you gonna do with that time?


Rebecca: Woo. I love that so much. And I wouldn't call that tough love. I think that that is honest love and support when it comes to grief and grieving. 


I thank you, Julie, for your time, for your energy today. Thank you for sharing everything that you're doing with our community peers online. I know your community's tuning in and so is Grieve Leave. If people want to follow you and learn more about who you are, Dr. Julie Shaw, and what you're doing, how can they find you?


Julie: On pretty much every single channel I’m: Hello, I'm Grieving. 


That was a sign for me that nobody had that handle. So it's everywhere on my website. whether it's Twitter, whether it's Instagram, and actually, I just started speaking on an app called Swell. I'm also at Hello, I’m Grieving where I do a mini podcast and people can actually leave their voice recording so we can actually have a conversation back and forth. So I've really loved that and loved learning from the community there. I would love for you to check out Swell and I'll be officially launching my full length podcast on Spotify before the end of this year. I don't have a date yet, so stay tuned, but it is in the works.


Rebecca: Oh, I can't wait to tune in. That's gonna be fantastic. 


Dr. Julie Shaw, thank you so much for joining us today and thank you everybody for tuning in. 

Thank you, Julie. Great to see you. Thank you.


For more on Dr. Julie Shaw and Hello, I’m Grieving visit the site: www.helloimgrieving.com and follow on social @helloimgrieving.

 This interview originally appeared as part of the Grieve Leave Instagram Live Series @grieveleave.

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