I Shouldn’t Feel Alone in My Grief—Why Your Grief Matters & How to Support Those Who Are Grieving with J.S. Park

Episode Notes

What do you do when you're grieving?

How do you support others through grief?

Grief shows up in all of our lives—whether you’re grieving the loss of a person, a relationship, or a dream. We need each other to grieve well. It’s not something we were designed to do in isolation. My guest today, hospital chaplain, J.S. Park, is a powerful story teller and grief catcher. His viral posts about grief and death have revealed an incredibly important need. So many of us long to give voice to our grief in a culture that often rushes to push it aside.

If you're feeling grief, or if you love someone who's grieving, please do not miss this episode.

Here's what we cover:

1. Why parts of us fear grief

2. Why naming grief is so important

3. How sitting with loss impacted Joon's faith

4. The prayer Joon says before walking into a room

5. The #1 thing you can do for someone after a loss

6. How to set grief boundaries

7. How to support someone who is grieving & what *not* to do

8. The one word Joon wants for all of us

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Additional Resources:

Books by J.S. Park:

Related Episodes:

Episode 97: I Shouldn't Feel This Anxious—Insights on Trauma & Healing with Monique Koven

Episode 59: Finding Your People, Overcoming Past Hurt, & Deepening Friendships Through Intentional Community with Jennie Allen

Episode 89: When A Relationship Has to Change—How to Tolerate Discomfort, Face an Attachment Void, & Resource Yourself

Music by Andy Luiten

Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik

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While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.


Alison Cook: Hey everyone. And welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I'm so glad you're here for this really special series called I Shouldn't Feel This Way. And today's guest is one of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow.

I've learned so much from him. JS Park is a hospital chaplain who writes about grief and in many ways, the words that he writes on social media and in this brand new book coming out have taught me so much about the importance of honoring the process of grief and all the feelings that grief stirs up inside of us.

This is an episode that is for everyone and anyone who's experienced loss or grief and is struggling to find language for it and can't figure out why you feel so alone in that experience of grief. And this episode is also for anyone who loves someone who's experiencing grief or going through a significant loss, because sometimes it's hard to know how to show up over the long haul for someone who's grieving a really hard loss.

And we want to show up for others, but we don't know how. In this episode, we talk a lot about both sides of that. How do you grieve when you're the person going through grief, but also how do you show up for others in a helpful way, in a way that doesn't add to the feelings of isolation and pain that often come when we feel like we're grieving alone and when we feel like other people don't understand what we're going through?

This episode has something for everyone. Make sure you take a moment to subscribe to The Best of You Podcast, wherever you get your podcast, so you don't miss any of these powerful episodes in this “I Shouldn't Feel This Way” series. 

My guest today, JS Park, is a hospital chaplain, author, and online educator. For nearly 10 years, he's been an interfaith chaplain at a level one trauma center. He is a sixth degree black belt, ex-atheist, and Korean American. He's the author of The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise, as well as his brand new book that releases this week called As Long As You Need: Permission to Grieve. 

You can pick up the book anywhere books are sold. It's a powerful dive Into the experience of grief from someone who has seen all manners of sickness and pain. Joon uses stories from his own life experience, as well as his many hours in the hospital, to unpack the various losses that lead to grief, loss of loved ones, loss of autonomy, loss of health, and even loss of plans and dreams. 

I'm so thrilled to bring you my conversation with J. S. Park.


JS Park: Thank you, Dr. Alison, for inviting me to your table. 

Alison Cook: Oh, I'm so thrilled to have you here. I am. We've known each other online. We've done a video thing maybe once or twice, and we've never met in person, but there is such a comfort in your presence online, Joon, that I have loved. And I can feel even starting this interview with you, tears welling up in my eyes, and it's because what you do is give us permission to feel what we really feel. 

This whole series that I've invited you to be a part of is leading up to my own book launch, I Shouldn't Feel This Way. We're looking for permission so often to feel what we really feel. And I thought a lot about it with this new book of yours, as I was reading it, about grief. I even thought about the title for this episode because I wanted to call it, “I shouldn't feel this way about grief”. 

And as I was reading your book, I thought to myself, I don't know that we're afraid to feel grief. I think we're longing for permission to feel grief. And I think what we're afraid of is feeling alone in our grief. And I was curious what you think about that. You take us through so many stories of your patients, of your own journey through pain, through grief. 

And I wondered what you thought about that. Are we afraid of our grief or are we afraid of feeling alone in it or feeling shamed in it or feeling judged by other people? I'm curious what you think about that..

JS Park: Yeah, Dr. Alison, that's a perfect contrast or way to think about that, because when a post I wrote, maybe a couple years ago, went viral, I was surprised. I thought wow, I wrote something very heavy about death, dying, and loss. I guess maybe the algorithms or people found it, but either way, there were a lot of people engaging with it.

What I recognized is that as much as grief or the topic of grief may be scary and shunned, people do want to talk about it. People do want to talk about loss, death, and dying, and look it in the face. And that's something that maybe came as a surprise, but shouldn't have. So you're absolutely right in that.

I'm not sure people are not wanting to talk about it as much as wanting the safety and a room and a table in which there is an embrace–I want to be able to talk about this in an honest way. I think I've said before that a culture of honesty can only emerge in a culture of grace. I can only be honest if graciousness is in the room.

So when we do experience grief, there are probably two levels of difficulty. One, we feel shame about how it looks–the expressions of grief. There's almost a social and cultural pressure to move along in grief and to get back to top shape, back into the hustle and grind and the institutional gears of productivity.

There's something about hurrying us along where you can't keep stopping because the world keeps going, even though our world has stopped in loss. But there's also this other very realistic thing where loss is very scary. When mortality creeps in through the window, suddenly we are faced with our frailty.

It's a very hard thing to look into the abyss, this rift that has opened up in the earth. And that part of it is very difficult to look into. And I think we do still want to talk about it, and how do we find the safety to do that?

Alison Cook: That both-and; we fear it and we long for the safety to talk about it. And I do think, Joon, that is a part of it even when I said, your work online has been such a comfort to me. You're talking about really heavy things often. You talk about really heavy things in the book. I think every chapter has a content warning, which I had complicated feelings about, I thought, why do we have to warn people?

But then I thought no, it can be hard on us to read real stories, hard stories about pain, even though most of us to some degree or another. It's different for every person, but most of us have a story of pain in our lives. So it is that weird thing. We're drawn to it. We want to feel those feelings and honor them, but we're also a little bit scared of it. 

How did you, Joon, relate to grief earlier, maybe in your twenties? You've gained so much wisdom that you share with us. You pour out to us in the book. You also are so honest about sharing some of your own early life, where you might've been someone who said something you wish you hadn't said.

I have so many of those moments, even recently, where I'll say something I wish I wouldn't have said in the moment. I'm curious, how did you relate to grief earlier on in your 20s? How did you start out in that grief journey?

JS Park: Yeah, and Dr. Alison, feel free to jump in anytime. When I think of how I experienced or became familiar with grief, I think about childhood trauma. I think about racist bullying that I experienced. I think about social exclusion due to race. I think about ways that I have been rejected from rooms, and trauma, rejection, and exclusion.

I should also include mental health, because I've struggled with depression my whole life. I didn't have a name for those things early on, even though I experienced them very early. And I'm embarrassed to say, and I guess I should own the embarrassment, because I didn't have the equipment or education to understand that this was grief. This was trauma. This was depression. 

Looking back, I'm able to say hey, when I was eight years old, I was feeling that. I may have been experiencing grief or depression or anxiety early on. So it's really important that we name and validate those things. The embarrassment is, I don't think I had names for those things. So probably my 20s or even early 30s, looking back now, I'm like, gosh, I think I've always been intimate with and maybe some sort of strange friends with grief itself, but didn't really get to sit down and name it.

It's like a workmate where you work together but you don't know their name for a little while. I'm sure we've all had that kind of funny experience where there are people that you may know on the subway, but you don't really know their name, but you know them because you see them and you're in proximity. It was a little bit like that. And I think that's why the naming part is so important. 

Alison Cook: I talk a lot about naming in I Shouldn't Feel This Way, so we're exactly on the same page here that when you can name something, there's something about that that removes the shame. It actually can launch a process of grief, instead of this weird kind of shadowy feeling of “what's wrong with me” that I carry around, some of these emotions that it seems like other people don't carry.

I think that also applies with trauma–”what's wrong with me that I respond in these ways”? When we find a name for something, what I hear you saying is that it helps you. It doesn't take away the emotions, nor do we want it to, but it does help you align more with the truth of your experience. Is that fair to say?

JS Park: I think so. And I believe naturally we are meaning-making people, which means we need to make meaning and sense out of what's happening. And sometimes that occurs by confirmation bias and things like that. But we take what seems to be disparate elements or stars in the sky and we make them a constellation.

Naming helps us to have a point of reference or a foothold in what we are seeing and what we're experiencing. One thing I've learned recently, and that I wish I'd put in the book now that I'm learning it, is when we have this grief response, there are things that emerge and erupt.

There are things that happen in that moment that we're not quite aware of in our own body. The sounds that we make and the responses that we have–they're sudden, even explosive. And then on this other level, there is a conscious choice that we make when we grieve or when we experience emotion. So there's the “emerging” and then there's the “conscious choice”.

And I think this conscious act, this very intentional act of grieving, naming is a part of that and validating is a part of that. And here we have grief where it seems almost senseless. I think we need this part of the “emerging”, when I'm in a room with a family member, when I see the shouting and screaming and sometimes rolling on the floor, even dancing or laughing or singing. 

Those emotions and expressions that erupt from us, we need those. We need the emerging responses, and to not be judged for those, and we also need the act and ritualization of intentionally grieving. As these things are happening in my body, I need to be able to honor, remember, and know how to keep this person close and honor them in a way that doesn't forget them. 

At the same time, I need to be aware that there is not an unhealthy, possibly harmful way that I'm moving forward. There's that conscious intentional choice of grieving, like when I recently got a new therapist cause my previous one retired. She diagnosed me, very surprisingly and not, with PTSD. And I think there's something about naming that is initially scary or almost feels like a weight or a burden. 

Everything you described, I was telling my therapist, because she named all these points and symptoms about why I fit this criteria, like 80 or 90 percent or something, I said it's scary to hear that. And also, it has made so much sense of the fog that I've been in. It's like I got this compass now, and I can consciously choose in the emerging expression how I can handle this and what I can do. So it gave me some sort of power back.

Alison Cook: Man, I think that's really well put and I'm thinking of the listener. I think you're saying two really important things there; again, there's that paradox of it's scary–it's scary to get a diagnosis at times, to name something–and simultaneously it can be freeing. Because, okay, this is the path, now there's a name for it. The path is still a path I have to take, but I can do it. I can figure out what I need to take this path through this.

One of the things I notice in the book, Joon, is you really shy away from tying a bow on grief. And yet I found it to be very hopeful. There's, again, that paradox. You're such a beautiful writer. You show us that paradox more than you tell us. You show us. And I feel like, I don't know if this was conscious or not, or intentional or not, but very systematically, you're like no, I am going to showcase the grief.

And I think there's a quote in here. You say, “the grief I have seen is defiance”. There's a defiance of no, I'm going to showcase the grief and the loss. I'm going to give you a few glimmers of hope, a few glimmers of the miracles. And as I was reading it, there was a very deep sense of fidelity to no, this needs to be showcased here.

And I was curious about that. My sense is that we are too quick to want to come back to tying the bows on things, to making things okay, making things palatable. And I'm going to use the word “resistance”. Dr. Monique Gadson, who's a fellow therapist, she's a good friend of mine, she uses that word resistance, that there's an act of resistance in honoring pain. 

And you use the word defiance. Tell me a little bit about that. Am I reading that correctly throughout the book?

JS Park: Yeah. So I think my natural disposition is to be very optimistic and hopeful, to a fault. There's a Korean word which kind of translates to naive or gullible, like wide-eyed. And my family calls me that all the time. I just believe the best about everyone all the time. And I explain away things. I want things to be wrapped up with zero tension. 

In the book I wrote, I did that because I had such a traumatic household growing up that I almost needed the bowtie. To be truthful, the first draft of the book that I wrote, my editor said, “it's really hard and I want the hardness to be seen because in your work, you're dealing with real stuff and loss. And, is there a landing place that we can put in here”?

So I was like, oh, am I treating this book like my own personal exorcism or catharsis or therapy session? I don't want to put hard stuff in there, but it is hard, what I do. So I had to really think about the second draft. What can I do to not take away from the sting of the reality of loss and grief, which I deal with all the time? And then I thought, wait, but I'm a hopeful person. I'm optimistic, even though I work in these rooms. And I had to really think about how I can blend or integrate the sorrow and the celebration, the loss and the strength. 

And then I thought, what do I do in the rooms as a chaplain? I don't exactly fix the situation. I can't, I don't have answers. I act as a presence. In the second draft, I thought more about how this book itself could be a chaplain for the reader. Yeah. So Dr. Alison, I'm saying this between writers, this is a bit of a meta-commentary on editing and writing. 

I'm getting a little bit beyond the question but yeah, it's the thought process that went through it and the heart process of it. I want this book to be like counseling or a chaplaincy for the reader. So it changed a little bit, from here's the personal hard things that I went through to hey, here is me in my own hard stories, being a chaplain for myself and also being a chaplain for the reader. 

The balance is, and this is for anyone listening, life is hard. There is sorrow. There is difficult loss that can't be wrapped up and resolved and bow tied. There are situations that will not be 30 minute sitcoms, and that's probably most of our situations. And how do we hold those situations together? How do we make it bearable? How do we make the unbearable bearable? 

I think the only way is to bear it together. And that's not original or new, but it's always still true. Being presence for one another–that's when a little bit of light breaks in.

Alison Cook: I love hearing that. Thank you for peeling back the curtain on your process, because that's what I got. I thought to myself, this is actually hopeful, even as you're taking me into the depths of real grief and real pain. I trust you, the writer, the chaplain, that you're going to show me the reality and allow me, through that, to feel permission to honor my own losses. 

You achieved that. It's really beautiful. Here's an example; as I was reading your book, our family went through something that I was tempted to shame myself for grieving. Our beautiful, and I feel a little bit embarrassed to bring it up, but I'm going to, because I think this is what you do. Our beautiful beloved family pet who's 11 years old is getting a biopsy for cancer, and I was devastated by this news. 

I'm reading your book and a part of me is thinking to myself, I cannot feel sad about this when other people are dealing with the kinds of things that you're talking about. And yet in my mind, I literally thought to myself, what would Joon say? What would Joon say? Joon would say, this is a loss. It's okay to feel what you feel. 

You are a chaplain, you use the word “therapriest”. I love that. I love that term. This is a loss. You were doing what you wanted to do–shepherding me through that, even though it was a fraction of what so many of the folks in the book that you write, including your own story, are going through. Even for that kind of loss, I could feel that sense of no, this matters.

This matters to God. This matters to me. This matters to my family. My family has had a lot of grief. I tell people, and again, I don't talk a lot about it, but my husband was a widower when we met, and my two kids had lost their mom when they met. I've had this kind of tangential relationship to the fact that grief, as you say, is something we carry with us.

But I want to say, Joon, that it worked. What you did, what you were trying to do, to be our chaplain, I felt it in real time as I was reading the book, and I'm so grateful for that. It's not easy to go into those places. There's a cost to you, and you share that. There's a cost to you to be so near to so much loss. But through your gift of doing that, you are freeing so many of us. 

JS Park: Yeah. Thank you, Dr. Alison, and I'm so sorry to hear that. Pets are family. They are. My mom recently lost her dog and gosh, it was very hard for all of us, you know? Thank you for sharing that and for your very kind words. I'm really sorry. That's a hard thing to go through.

Alison Cook: There's an art to what you do as a chaplain, as a therapist. And I want to ask you about that because there is a cost to it. And one of the things that you talk about in the book is how it has affected your relationship with God and your faith. That's one of the things that was really in my head. I was like, we go to those Hail Mary prayers. We all do–God, please don't take her. 

Whatever it is–please don't let this happen. And then there are parts of us, if we've lived long enough, we know God allows the hard thing to happen sometimes. A lot of times it does. How have you buoyed yourself through that experience with so many people? How has your faith been impacted?

JS Park: Yeah, I wish I had an easy, clean answer for this, and my quick answer is, it depends on the day you ask me. It depends on the kind of shift that I've had, or the things I've seen that day, because a lot of times I feel like, what is my faith good for, or what is God good for?

And I know that's a very harsh and extreme thing to say for spiritual folks to hear. But really, that's a thing that I think of often when I see the degree of suffering that I see. I've sometimes asked, God, I see doctors and nurses and even machines doing something. God, what are you doing?

It's hard to say that I feel held up some days. Sometimes I feel so let down. And sometimes it feels like the universe is cold and haphazard, chaotic, random, and a question mark. So that part of it is hard. And sometimes when I think someone can't suffer any more, it gets even worse.

And I think I'd written in the book something like, God, could you let up a little? I prayed that prayer. God, could you take it easy? This person's already been through so much. And then there are other times where I'm like, it's hard to believe, and sometimes it's harder not to.

I long for and reach for constancy, a perpetual love, someone who will love us and be there with us through it. Someone who knows what it is like. And sometimes I enter these rooms as a fraction or a glimpse of that sort of presence, and I think that's what I want to believe and that's what I hold on to and that's what holds me. 

To try to answer your question, my faith is very rocky a lot of days, in a lot of moments, and moment by moment. It depends on when you ask, but still to this day, almost nine years now, being a chaplain, before I walk into a room, I usually do a quick prayer when I sanitize my hands. I'll ask God, what do you want to do through me right now? 

I keep my hands open because it's almost like saying, God, I need you in the room with me. And that's where my faith is these days. I wish I had an easy answer, but really I look to what's going to hold me and hold us in this moment.

Alison Cook: I see an embodiment in your faith, again, to go to that defiance/resistance, that showing up, walking into that room to be there for that person, regardless of what your mind or your heart feels. That embodiment is an act of defiance against doubt or against death. I don't know, Joon, we can't always explain it, but I see faith in that.

That embodiment of showing up, regardless of what I think or feel. I'm going to take this step to show up today for this human. There's an embodiment of faith in that that is really profound to me.

JS Park: Yeah. That's beautiful. And that's true. I think that is active defiance or faith in itself. That's such a true point. I think I'm gonna probably chew on that for today. Even when we're looking at the story of Christ, the resurrection in itself was a kind of defiance against death. Here is this gap of disconnection and loss this person is experiencing, and we step in. That's bringing some sort of life into death. 

When I see the resurrection, when I see life being spoken, when I see presence entering, I can see (and I'm making a lot of loose connections here) that is in itself an act of faith. That's beautiful, and I'll probably add that to my little brain tattoo collection.

Alison Cook: I think we've lost in our modern theologies a faith that is beyond our ability. Doing the work that you do, you can't make, and I love how you talked about as a kid, you rationalized things to the positive as a way to cope. And here you are walking into things that are beyond understanding.

We can't understand these things. We cannot make logical sense of them. A good God and some of these things that happen in our lives. And yet you're still showing up. And to me, that's where the hope came in that book. Like he's still showing up, man. He's still showing up against everything. You're still showing up. That to me was a whole sermon.

JS Park: Thank you, Dr. Alison. I've been a part of some grief groups now, or talking with people after the fact. Usually I'm in the moment of crisis or loss. But when I talk to the bereaved folks who are grieving, one of the hard things that they experience is something called secondary loss, which is the cascade of loss that happens when someone dies.

Loss of physical comfort, loss of familiarity in the home, even things like loss of income, loss of security, all of that's a sort of a cascading domino effect that occurs after someone dies. One thing I've heard often is, when someone has died in my life, my family and friends, they stopped talking to me because they couldn't. I don't know why.

We'll come up with reasons as we're talking about them and formulating the reasons. It almost always lands on: I don't think they can look at me anymore, because it reminds them too much of that loss. The one thing that they want is that they would come over or call me or text me. Maybe they don't know what to say, but that's okay. I want them to come by.

That's a huge secondary loss that occurs that wasn't really made aware to me until I started some of these grief groups. So that's a huge thing where I think maybe people are afraid. Oh, if I go there, it'll remind me of a loss. Or when I look at this person, they're related. They look like the person who died, things like that, or it's scary. It does take an act of courage and compassion and solidarity. It takes a lot. And at the same time, it's so needed to check in and check up.

I think there's something in us that feels like I don't want to bother them. I don't want to be a nuisance. I don't know what to say. But sometimes I feel like that's a little bit of self-insulating rationalization. And I don't want to attribute selfish motives to that, but it can be that sometimes.

Instead of thinking, oh, I got to protect myself or, oh, I don't want to bother them and look a certain way by going to them. How do I instead have the courage, even one text, even stepping in a little bit? 

There's that gap there. There's that sudden void of loss. How can I step in? And that does take a lot of courage and a lot of bereaved are waiting for their family and friends to show up.

Alison Cook: Yeah, that's so well said. Our own fear of oh, I don't know what to say, even at its best, creates that layer of isolation again, that feeling of I'm alone. No one gets me. And again, it boggles my mind reading your book. Every single human walking around the planet has a story of loss to some degree or another. And yet we feel so alone in it. 

How do we change this? And you are leading the way in teaching us to take that fumbling step. You share in the book, here are some things I’ve said that were the wrong thing. Even as I was reading, I thought, gosh, last week, a good friend shared with me a really hard, tragic loss and I said the wrong thing. She corrected me. She said, oh, actually it's this. 

It's messy. It's messy to come alongside folks. It's hard. But I think it’s part of what we have to do to change this feeling of such loneliness, which is the real culprit in all of this. 

Joon, what words would you give to someone who's listening going, man I'm in this, I'm in this and I'm feeling this aloneness that you guys are describing. How would you encourage that person? What are things, and I hate to put it on the one who's grieving, it shouldn't be on them to have to go ask for what they need, and yet sometimes the reality is that people aren't doing what you wish they would do. So what would you say to the listeners going, yeah, this is my experience. I feel so alone in this.

JS Park: Yeah, Dr. Alison, the interaction you described–I want to highlight that because what a beautiful exchange that was. Going through it in slow motion, your friend was grieving. You said something and they said it's actually not that, and then you course-corrected. For one, your friend had the courage and the safety to be honest with you and to say, it's not that.

And then you had the humility and self-awareness and the compassion to then say, okay, and then sorry, I'm going to change that or take that back, or I'm sorry that I said that. That’s a really beautiful example and exchange of how we can be open with each other. And I'm starting to think that's happening more and more where the grieving person, like you said, it shouldn't be on them, but they're taking a moment to pause and to say, that's not helpful or, hey, what you said, I hear the good intent, but here's how it landed. 

Or when you said that, I felt this. Maybe you meant it this way, but actually I felt harmed by that, or that is more of a burden than bringing me up. And those conversations need to happen more and more, and you're right that it shouldn't be on the bereaved. And when I talk with those who are grieving, there are a few who will say, no one's reached out to me. No one wants to talk to me. It shouldn't be a two way street. It should be, hey, the person who is hurting, they're the ones who we need to go to.

I'll also tell them, if you are feeling isolated and alone and lonely, and there are people in your life who have taken many steps back and they won't reach out, they should be the ones reaching out to you. And at the same time, it is okay for you to send a text or an email or call and say I miss you. Or hey, I know it's hard to come over and it feels like it's death here, but I need you right now. 

It's okay to express exactly what you need, and that's the important thing–to advocate for our own needs. Ideally, no grieving person should ever have to take it upon themselves to take the initiative to say I need this from you. And at the same time, I think our lack of grief literacy or grief language has hampered all of us in many different ways. All the highways are busted. The avenues of communication are all scrambled. 

So how do we, in a sense, provide the grace and in some ways, insight and education into “here's what I need”? And we all need things differently. A phrase that may be helpful for one person may not be helpful for another person, and I think it's important that as much as it shouldn't be on us, a very light touch, and as much as we can exert in the moment, of this is exactly what I need from you, and to be able to say that firmly and courageously and then let it hang there, that's really hard.

It sometimes takes more energy than we want, but I found that setting those kinds of grief boundaries are incredibly important in communicating, this is what I need from you.

Alison Cook: It shouldn't have to be this way. And, because of the reality that we are lacking in grief literacy–I love that phrase, we don't know how to grieve as a culture, you may have to do this. For the folks who are in that role of supporting–you are a chaplain, I am a therapist, and I want the listener to hear that I literally made this mistake last week–it is hard to come alongside people. We don't always get the words right. 

But to keep showing up, and that part of showing up is knowing that person who's suffering, that person who's grieving may say that hurt me, that didn't help me, and for us to be strong enough and courageous enough to say, I'm still here. I missed that. I love you. I'm still here. That we aren't fragile, that we can take that correction of being with someone who is in those raw emotions.

That's on us to keep showing up. It's something as a culture that we need to grow in, because all of us are going through it on some level.

JS Park: Yeah, so I, as a chaplain, believe it or not, I don't get it right in every room either. As mental health providers or professionals, we're not flawless and infallible. We're going to sometimes not get it completely right and correct ourselves sometimes. Sometimes that feels like, oh, am I undermining my own authority or something like that?

But there's a vulnerability in the humility there. And I do remember specifically, there was a patient visit where we didn't connect. It was very awkward and I stumbled through it. So I gave some space. Now here's the tough thing, and I'll pause in that part of the story, the pulling in and pressing back is a very difficult, delicate dance.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

JS Park: It’s a hard thing to know, like when someone is grieving and says, I need space right now, do they need space? Is it better if someone is there? That's a hard thing to answer. Sometimes the bereaved doesn't even know. So that in itself is a very tough press and pull-back.

So with that patient visit, I was thinking about that dynamic. And I thought, did I do something wrong? Did I get something wrong? And there's a part of me that wanted to go in there and say, hey, teach me what I need to do for you. But then that would have been helpful either.

Alison Cook: Exactly. Yeah.

JS Park: So then I thought okay. What do I know about this patient in those five minutes that didn't go? What do I know about them? What do I think would be helpful for them? So I expended the mental spiritual energy to think about what would be most helpful for this patient. To attune to them. 

I went back and I had some different ideas and it's not like it was easy, but we ended up connecting on a much deeper level. I took another chance and it's not that I do that with every patient visit, and maybe that some of that was my insecurity. We always have mixed motives and there's human parts of us and funny flesh parts of us.

But still the main motive was that I wanted to attune myself for what this person may need. They didn't kick me out. They didn't say no, I don't want you. They did want a chaplain to visit. So I thought, okay, I'm going to try a second time. So it's one of those things where we can try and try again, and to also take caution to be compassionate and not ask a bereaved person, hey, teach me. Or hey, what do you want right now? 

That can be tough. But instead, hey, I can deliver food to you Tuesday or Thursday night and here are the three things that I can get. Something where the people that we love and the people who have lost, we know them, and if we know them and they're in our family, to expend that little bit of loving energy to say, okay, what would help them? What would that person need and what wouldn't help them?

Alison Cook: I love that. One of the things my husband taught me through his process of grieving his first wife was something similar. He said, you can always check in without any need of a reply. “Hey, I'm thinking about you. I'm here if you need me.” And keep doing that. Even if they don't reply, you are showing up, you're letting them know, here's a lifeline if you need it. 

But you're not also requiring them to do anything to make you feel like you did a good job of being a good friend, which is sometimes what it's about. And that's human and it's okay, but you're really trying not to make it about you. You're really trying to say, listen, I'm here if you need me. I'm going to keep doing this. If you tell me to stop, obviously there are boundaries, but the idea being you're trying to, to the best of your ability, really let them know I'm here and I'm going to keep making little efforts, and you don't have to do anything to make me feel good about my efforts.

JS Park: Exactly. If I went to the patient I said, hey I feel so bad about that, it becomes a burden to them, and that's something i'll take to therapy. 

Alison Cook: It’s like, can you make me feel better about the mistake I made?

JS Park: Yeah. I mean there are times and this is funny, maybe not, but there are times when someone will say something and I'll go, hey, that's borderline racist. Or hey, that was offensive towards me. And then sometimes they'll, bless their hearts, do a thing for a few hours where it's like a whole guilt spiral. And then I end up comforting them and I'm like, okay, I didn't want it to be this whole thing. Do you know what I mean, Dr. Alison?

Alison Cook: Oh I cannot tell you, I've probably been on the other end of that. The spiral of, oh, it's so vulnerable. It's such a vulnerable space where you're trying to say, hey, and actually I want that from you. Let's say you and I are in that conversation. I so want you to be able to say, hey, Alison, that, that wasn't so great.

Which takes a lot of strength and courage for you. And then for me to have enough strength to take that and go, okay, I've got to now do my own work. It doesn't mean I'm a bad person. It doesn't mean Joon's never going to want to talk to me again. It doesn't mean Joon hates my guts and is going to go.

He told me something. That's intimacy. There's a vulnerability there, but it requires me to then go, oh, thank you for telling me. I'm so grateful. And then doing my own work to course-correct. But man, it's hard for all of us. Our egos get in there, so much of our own shame gets in there.

But I love that we're talking about this because I do think this is a big part of what keeps us from each other. Whether it's experiences of trauma, whether it's experiences of grief, experiences of racism, it's what keeps us so removed from each other as opposed to moving toward each other.

JS Park: Yeah. That's a big thing–the fear of losing our own self-regard or self-image. There's a part of us that likes to think, I am a good and decent person. And that is very true. Our value is intrinsic and inherent. And then when something threatens that image, you know all this already, Dr. Alison, but when something threatens that image, it can be very disorienting, even nauseating, and it can be like, but wait, I had good intent, and all those kinds of things. 

And I'm learning that the impact matters, the impact is important. The things that we say can have unintended consequences. How do we hear and differentiate between, here was my intent, but this is the way it landed. And I need to hear how it landed with them, step outside myself a little bit and see what will care for them.

Alison Cook: Yes, it is not about me at this moment. It's about listening. It's about being with. There's a steep growth curve in this journey. And I think that this book, Joon, is a huge gift and a huge resource for all of us to learn, even as we're reading the book, like I said, it's very experiential.

This is how to be with someone who is hurting. You're showing us so much more than you're preaching to us and it's so effective. I read your book. I'm interviewing Lisa Jo tomorrow, and it was the same thing for us. There are parts of this book that are hard, man. She is showing us, she's not telling us, and it forces me, same with your book, to deal with my own feelings as they're coming up.

To do the work in the moment, which is how we actually learn to tolerate the discomfort of those emotions that we feel. And you give us that gift of inviting us into those rooms with you, inviting us into your own experience. And that lets us go, okay, how does this feel? Ooh this is hard. Or, ooh, I'm tempted to want to rush to a happy ending. I can't tolerate this, whatever it is. 

I would say to the listener, whatever you notice as you're reading Joon's book, that's okay. You might not want to share that with the person whose story is being told, but the more you read these stories and the more you grow in tolerating the emotional discomfort that surfaces for you, the better of a friend you're going to be, the better partner you're going to be, the better parent you're going to be.

That's what this is about. You couldn't have given us this gift, Joon, if you hadn't wrestled with all of that within yourself. So thank you for doing that work and for inviting us into it with you.

JS Park: Thank you, Dr. Alison. I think if there's one word that I can put it all together in, it's “expansiveness”. I entered almost nine years ago as a person with a certain box about what grief and faith should look like, and I've had to expand that box and make more and more room in my heart.

And I know there's more room to grow. I think each of us with our family, our friends, we're all going to experience loss. It inevitably will happen. And I think the important part, the question about compassion is, how can I continue to expand, to hold room and make space for this person? Because grief takes up a lot of space.

How can I continue to expand and grow for them? And yeah, my hope is that the book will give a little bit more expansiveness to the person who reads.

Alison Cook: It's beautiful. One last question that I ask all my guests, Joon, is what is bringing out the best of you right now?

JS Park: I have my son, he's almost six weeks old now. My son was born and gosh, I feel like he's already so different from my daughter, even though he's six weeks old, but having two children? Wow. People weren't kidding when they said having a second child is like having ten. When I look into his eyes, I think, here's my son, and I think that's the answer.

I feel like he's the best of me. He is the best.

Alison Cook: Oh, that's beautiful. That's beautiful. Tell us where people can find you, where they can find your work, your book, all things Joon.

JS Park: I'm on all the social media stuff and Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and my book is at aslongasyouneedbook.com.

Alison Cook: Please check it out. You will, whether you're someone who's grieving and has felt alone, or whether you're someone who's listening to us going, I want to get better at this–read the book and wrestle with the emotions that come up. It will make you a better friend, a better person, a better contributor to this nation and to this world. This is what we all need. So thank you. Thank you for giving us your time today.

JS Park: Thank you, Dr. Alison.

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