Human As Hell. Learning Grief Literacy with Dr. Ken Druck. (A Video Excerpt)

The Missing Conversation: A video blog excerpt from this weeks podcast.

In this week’s The Missing Conversation podcast, Robert speaks candidly to his long-time friend, fellow author, survivor, philanthropist, and therapist, Dr. Ken Druck.

Ken lost his oldest daughter at a young age, entering him into a period of the dark night of the soul. Robert experienced his own version of hell as he battled back over a 10 year period from severe reactions to the medication from a kidney transplant. Their conversation centers on their experiences and on creating grief literacy for others facing dark moments. 

Listen to this full podcast and read the transcription at The Missing Conversation

Transcript Excerpt
A very warm welcome again to The Missing Conversation where we do our damnedest to address the most pressing issues that the world’s facing today and where we look for the most practical, inspiring programs, innovative ideas and people to support survival on our planet. Today, we have a guest that exemplifies someone who’s lived a life that I would really say expresses so much of the essence of a psycho-political life in his relationship to the world, and has a very interesting background and has made personal and global choices throughout his life when he had other great options that lead me to feel honored to have him on our show today. I’m also proud to say that he’s one of my very dearest, closest friends and has been for let’s say a length of time that would age us. Welcome Ken, my dear friend.

Thank you, Robert, my friend. My colleague turned friend turned brother.

Indeed, indeed. So I’d like to start off just giving a brief overview, because I meant psycho-politics as to what really the essence of it is, so we have a better sense of what this whole series is and also a big part of who Ken is.

We’re going to have a big meal and you’re going to set the table. I’m hungry.

Good, good. I’m going to eat with you. Psycho-politics really comes from a place of it’s really natural, really natural that we want to love our families and that’s a sacred ideal. However, we’re at a time where if we just love our families and everyone just loves their families, let’s say 98 or 99% and gives 1 or 2% to the world and to those that are really suffering, it creates an us in them.

The wealth stays for those that are wealthy in a compartment and the poverty stays in another compartment and we have the perfect conditions for world war, for wars, for alienation, for terrorism, for global warming. So psychologically, it’s an encouragement to increase the percentage that each of us reaches out to the world, both in a global warming sense and in a sense of giving energy to those that are in need throughout the world.

The second part of psycho-politics relates to the same thing as that with money. Looking at, again, that 98, 99% that we give to our family, pass it on, maybe some people it’s more than that, of course, but some people it’s less than that. Again, looking at our relationship to money and seeing does it make sense when the world is so imperiled to not give a greater percentage to our money toward those need and toward a planet that is really suffering.

The third and last part of psycho-politics is these questions of what’s the balance between taking care of my family and taking care of the poor and taking care of our planet. What is that balance, asking that question for the rest of our lives. So Ken, I’d really like to ask you, what were you raise to believe in and what emotional atmosphere did you come from? Give a sense of how that formed, whether it was expanding from that or let us know a little bit about your background.

I’m going to let you know that in a minute. I am so inspired and touched by what you just said, that I have to comment, Robert. The three things that you just pointed out, the heart and soul of psycho-politics is we are at that inflection point. Is it us and them? Or is it all of us? To evolve to that awareness that it’s all of us, that we can love both. It’s not either or, it’s both and. We can love our family. We can also embrace the enormity, the bigger picture, because it’s going to be all of us or none of us in the way that we’re now operating.

Here I become a grandpa, as you know. Here I am, loving and thinking about paying it forward, that is leaving a legacy of love. Do I give that all to my grandkids and my family? So when we realize that it’s not either or, it’s both and, I love my grandkids and I want to pay everything, all the blessings of my life and any abundance, anything that I have to give, I want to give it to them. But realizing that one of the ways I can give it to them is to give it to the world, the world that they’re going to have to live in.

The third thing, the balance of how we . . . You described my life. How do we balance the caregiving, the attention, the energy, the resources that we lend to our family, to our beloveds, the people in that inner circle with looking out at the world, and again realizing that the way we can love our families and our kids and our grandkids is to be more loving in the world.

There’s a great poem, Robert, I know I’m jumping way ahead. You have been my dear friend and brother and my confidant in my dark night of the soul moment when Jenna died, when my oldest daughter died, and one of the poems that I received, it was amazing. I’ll send it to you. It was a poem that somebody sent me and it was the voice of the person who had died saying, “What are you going to do? Well, here’s what you’re going to do. Take the love that you have for me and give it to the world because that’s how I will receive it now. I’m not a phone call or a bank account or a visit away. There’s nothing you can give me that you have, but if you give that love to the world, you will have given it to me.”

This is who Ken has been. That’s why you are so articulate and why I love you. If there’s anyone who is family love and then expands beyond that, you are so a combination of those us too.

You inviting me to share your living room on this conversation is one of the ways that I feel loved. Now, you asked me about what I was raised to believe in. I dropped into history. We’re the people of each other’s time and each one of us gets to think about where did we drop into history? What year was that? 1949 for me. Oh my God. I was named for my grandfather’s brother, my uncle Cassille, who was one of the first people to speak out against Hitler and who was one of the first people to get killed, murdered. Here I am, the child of family, an extended family that was trying to settle into, I came through Ellis Island, and was trying to settle in New York.

So from age one or two years old, I was watching the room. My God, there was so much stuff going on. There were feelings, there were people angry and disgruntled and trying to make their way and feel like they belonged in this country. They had a place in a future, the anger and the sadness and the fear that was in the room. But to be whatever it meant to be part of the solution, but raised by a mother who championed social justice and equality and live that had a tremendous influence on me.

You’ve created this beautiful Global Bridge. My mother was creating bridges between Christians and Jews in New York in 1949 and ’50 and ’55. Now as this country began to ripen and tried to transcend or cover over what now has been fully outed, the racism, the misogyny, the gender-based issues, the sexual identity issues, the political polarization issues. I recently wrote an article called “It’s Still in the Family,” because families now are tearing apart the way when we used to watch my friend, Norman Lear’s brilliant “All in the Family,” families now are going through the next generation of All in the Family. So those are the things that influenced me most. I know you and I have shared when our moms were alive and we talked about how our moms, who they were impacted our lives and how our dads impacted our lives.

Yeah. I mean, I had a very similar background where my mother who was devoted and absolutely took care of all my basic needs, but she was bitchy. It was like, why are you? Why are you yelling? Why are you not loving? Aren’t we here love and be loved? I thought that was obvious, but it wasn’t obvious. So we both started so young. While I’m free associating, it’s like one of the things about you and I that is so unique is that we both really in our own ways have died and had a rebirth.

You died when your daughter Jenna died and you died in a way that, honestly, I’ve never seen anybody as fully and deeply, and then immediately, literally the day of established Families Helping Families and got your friends together and got the board together and said exactly what you said earlier, which is I am going to be honoring my daughter’s life and do that and for I don’t know how many years, 15 years, 17 years, some artificial place where you suddenly . . . Not suddenly, actually, very much, not suddenly, but you very gradually came back to life through devotion to others. For me, it was reactions to transplant medications, and I was dead for 10 years.

Yes, you were.

It required tremendous perseverance, and on a chemical level, on an emotional level, on a friendship level, on a working in the world level, and so we share that bond of it’s like coming back from death for all the people that are suffering that are listening to have the strength to keep going for it, whether it’s chemically or emotionally or friendship wise or work wise, not giving up and persevering and being an influence in the world for good and that is the common bond.

Yes. Robert, what I love about our conversations and about what we both have learned is that resilience and enduring the dark night of the soul moments in our lives, and summoning newfound courage, newfound faith, newfound purpose and meaning and kindness and self compassion, which I believe is the most . . . it’s the ingredient that’s that’s most . . . It’s a secret sauce, self compassion. Our hands on our hearts and our foot off our throat. I believe that what happens organically when we learn to practice self compassion and when we practice compassion in the world, rather than allowing fear to paralyze us into projecting all of our crap onto other people, that is the organic awakening of how we go on.

Yeah. Really to highlight for everyone that all that way, including now, we’re still dealing with all the emotions. We’re still human as hell. We’ll still have our suffering.

I like that as a title, let’s co-author a book, Human as Hell. I love that.

It’s so important that it’s not getting over, it’s being with it, and we both in our own unique ways have suffered, been in our hell, still have our hell and not dwelling there, but using what we can to focus, as you said, on the healing directions rather than bouncing off of the suffering and letting that own us.

Exactly. People ask me, “How are you doing now?” they’re asking me, am I whole now, am I over being broken. I tell them that the highest form of understanding grief and even love is that I am utterly broken. Look into my eyes and you’ll see a sorrow that’ll be there forever that my daughter did not get to live out her life. Am I broken? I’m utterly broken, and you’re not going to meet many people who are more whole than me. I’m absolutely whole, broken and whole. As a matter of fact, the greatest part of my wholeness is my brokenness.

So if people say, “How are you doing?” I say, “Look, the biggest accomplishment for me has been to get over the shame of my brokenness.” I tell people, “I walk with a limp in my heart.” When I think about what you have been through, the ordeal of asking your body to find a way to go on and to cope and to function and asking your mind to do that when you are dealing with medications and you’ve had a transplant and you’ve had… Not many people understand what that ordeal is, but having gone through it, you walk with a limp in your heart as well and your brokenness and your challenge has become a part of you.

To paraphrase what I heard you say, and you were dealing with people that had lost their child, was they would ask you, “Am I fucked?” You would say, paraphrasing it, you can give it the exact words, but yes, we’re fucked forever and we’re not fucked, and that it’s important to honor both.

When I have been in the presence of people who watched their child who went to first grade be murdered, or in the presence of the town hall meetings after 9/11, and in the middle of more pain than anybody can imagine being in the middle of, and people look at me and they just want the truth. Am I fucked? In other words, is this going to be with me? Can I get some positive thinking here or shrinkology or some spiritual path that’s going to save me from what I’m experiencing at the bottom of pain?

When I say, “You’re fucked. No, you are fucked.” I’m saying, “No, you’re not.” But there’s another half of that truth. Paradoxically, you’re fucked and you’re not fucked. Actually going to get to go on and live out the rest of your days with a tremendous sense of purpose and honor and courage and you will walk with a limp in your heart.

Robert Strock PhoitoJoin The Conversation
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