Clover Stroud: The Rituals of Grief

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So many of us have experienced a before… and an after.

My friend, the lovely writer Clover Stroud, had her before and after at a young age. When she was 16, her mom was in a horse-riding accident and suffered a serious brain injury that left her severely disabled until she died… 22 years later. The suddenness of that accident layered with the ongoingness of that level of caregiving bonded Clover and her big sister, Nell in remarkable ways.  Then, Nell unexpectedly died.

The grief of losing her sister is captured in Clover’s beautiful book, The Red of My Blood—a book that captures the visceral feelings of grief. The pain. The beauty. The staying wide awake to the life that’s in front of us despite it all. The “how do I go on parenting with all this grief?” The “give me a sign” feeling we crave when our loved ones are gone.

In this conversation, Kate and Clover discuss:

  • Kids who have to grow up too fast due to tragedy and who we become because of it
  • How some people have to live in ongoing trauma or extended grief due to caregiving or chronic illness
  • The unexpected glimmers of beauty that can sustain us amid the ache of loss
  • Why we need rituals to hold us together during deep grief

Kate went to visit Clover at her farm outside of Oxford in England to talk about the things in our lives that almost destroy us but also form us in some remarkable ways too.

CW: cancer, traumatic brain injury, horse accident, death of a sibling

Watch clips from this conversation, read the full transcript, and access discussion questions by clicking here.

Follow Kate on InstagramFacebook, or X (formerly known as Twitter)—@katecbowler.



Kate Bowler, Clover Stroud

Kate Bowler  00:00

I’m Kate bowler, and this is Everything Happens. So many of us have experienced a before and an after a time before you knew that life was fragile and could come apart at any moment. And a time after. When you can’t go back. You can’t unknow you are changed. You’re probably thinking about yours now. These are the truths that bonded us together my lovely listening community. We know, and sometimes if we’re lucky, that happens to us when we’re grown. We don’t experience firsthand those out of order deaths, like my friend Liz Titchener calls them is not a perfect phrase out of order. Or those nonsensical tragedies that take life apart in an instant. But for others, it happens much younger. And it changes us I think in the best versions if we can even say that. It makes us more tuned with others more empathetic, more understanding, maybe also more prone to anxiety disorders. And when you meet someone like that, you know, you just know they know. My friend Clover had her before and after at a young age. She had the dream of a childhood just like equestrian delights. But in one day clovers life changed entirely. When she was 16 her mom was in a horse riding accident. And then she suffered a serious brain injury that left her severely disabled until she died 22 years later. The suddenness of that tragedy, layered with the ongoingness of that level of caretaking bonded clover and her big sister now in remarkable ways. Clover is a gorgeous writer. And her book, the read of my blood describes the year that follows the terrible thing that happened next. Her sister know her absolutely incredible sister died. If you like the book, a Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, you’re going to love clover and her incredible mind and writing. She has this way of capturing the exact visceral feeling of grief. Like no one else I know. The pain, the beauty, the staying wide awake to the life that’s in front of us. Despite it all the how do I go on parenting with all of this grief? Or the Give me a sign feeling that we crave when our loved ones are gone? I went to visit Clover at her farm outside of Oxford in England to just oh my gosh, it was so beautiful, like everyone’s home was like a museum. You know what I mean? him to the life they have seeing her sit in the middle of her museum to all of her love talking about the things that almost destroy us, but also form us in some remarkable ways to. I hope you like it. I know you’re going to love her.


Kate Bowler  05:16

Clover, you have the most beautiful home, thank you so much for having me in it.


Clover Stroud  05:22

It’s really, really lovely that you’re here.


Kate Bowler  05:24

I think to when you’re in someone’s home, you get a sense of the memories on memories on memories.


Clover Stroud  05:28



Kate Bowler  05:29

It’s a perfect way to think about the gorgeous book that you’ve written. Thank you that your sister.


Clover Stroud  05:35

Yeah, thank you.


Kate Bowler  05:37

Sounds like was just a dream of a person.


Clover Stroud  05:41

She was a really, really extraordinary person and even saying was, you know, even that thing of talking about her in the past in the past tense. I’m an I do, obviously, but she and sometimes I feel that since her death after the first year that almost her presence becomes when you’re in a kind of tsunami of confusion and and Kate emotional chaos really aren’t you that now I feel her presence sort of pulsating in a really more and more positive way. I mean, it will be coming up for four years, that changes the process of grieving power and then living with her, I suppose living you know, with her death, and yet her presence at the same time becomes a bigger and bigger thing for me, and it becomes richer and more interesting and more beautiful and sometimes more painful. But yeah, she’s there, she’s there.


Kate Bowler  06:41

What was she like when she walked in the room?


Clover Stroud  06:42

So she now has her own circus, you know, I mean, that first of all, tells you that we’re talking about quite an unusual person. And she was two years older than me. And we were we were the youngest of five and our elder siblings were quite a lot older than us. So we’ve grown up together very, very tight. In a house a bit like this. With long you know, lawn with long grass growing out of control and chickens walking in and ponies outside and our mum was really loving and she really, really loved us. And she gave us this kind of surrounding this like coating of absolute love. And now was from a little girl that was a really unusual little girl. And she was obsessed by circus from a really young age. And I’d worked in TV so there was a kind of air of, you know, films and, and plays and stuff going around there props and things around. And she would often just create shows she was like the sort of Pied Piper so if there was like a family party than all the little kids would want to be following now. And then when she finished at university, she  was determined to have her own circus so she went off and joined smaller circuses like making popcorn and candy floss. And then she graduated to ring mistress and riding horses. And then in about 1999 she started her own circus, which became a very successful thing. So she was she was also like, a massive diva you know, she was she wasn’t easy person to be around. She was a true artist and incredibly creative person. So when you say what would it be like she walked into the room, she was very serious and quite shy, but it would be as though she filled the room her presence, and what she was doing filled the room. But she was we were so so close, we could have huge rounds like violently huge rouse. But because we were so close within a day, you know, we’d be picking up and talking about plans to meet up with our kids and have a picnic or just chatting and I miss so much the feeling of being able to connect with her over things that nobody else understands. And we went through a lot of deep trauma as young people in our mum we had this like perfect, perfect childhood basically. And then when I was 16 and I was at mum had a riding accident which left her profoundly mentally and physically disabled so are kind of beautiful childhood in the course of a day it just suddenly was was over but also not over in. I think living living with brain damage of somebody you really really really love is more confusing and more destabilizing and more deranging, really then the death I really believe that now because you lose the person they’re totally gone and yet you cannot go through the normal grieving process or the normal movement around death that goes on and you don’t have the rituals of, of funerals and and that whole kind of scaffold of you know of grief, I suppose. Instead you’re wanting this person to be alive and they are alive, but they’re not there, she wasn’t there at all so and she remained VM remained in that state for 22 years so, and I think that made me now like, as, as adolescence, we had this really strange adolescence of living in a big house. And our dad was away working because he had to pay for the whole thing. And, you know, support us because we were kids still. So, and yet mum was really disabled. So we have this strange combination of like, your ultimate teenage fantasy of complete and utter freedom to do exactly what we wanted. And yet within this terrifying, traumatic side kind of background of what happened to mom, and I think that that made me from the age of 16. I think of it I prelapsarian is the word I often used to describe it, because it was as though the timing for was so beautiful.


Kate Bowler  10:57



Clover Stroud  10:58

And then ended in the space of a day. And I’m really fascinated by that kind of pre, you know, pre and post trauma experience. And I think because mum didn’t die because she went on living it gave no and I kind of ongoing sense of grief and trauma and death being present in your life all the time. And so from the age of 16, I was always really fascinated and interested and interested by people who had extreme experiences. You know, I don’t want to like chit chat. I want to get down to the big stuff straightaway.


Kate Bowler  11:39

And to have somebody all intertwined, I mean, to have a sister, to have a sister, and to have a sister that you’ve been through the beginning and the end of a world.


Clover Stroud  11:49

That’s such a good description. It’s such a good description is different.


Kate Bowler  11:53

To have in two peas in the pod kind of feeling with someone who then.


Clover Stroud  11:59

You know, shares the stories, remember that stupid cartoon? What was the book that said all that stuff, but then to have them not just as a friend and a confidant, but as a witness. I think that’s a different thing altogether, yeah. It is a witness and it is like having been through we went through a war together. And the war didn’t really end because that’s the other thing that I learned about trauma, which is that, that once it’s kind of right inside you what happened to my mom was so and because we were adolescents as well. So we were forming ourselves as adults. Yeah. And we come in, but coming and it became who we are and I really feel that this traumatic experience is part of my DNA. It had an utterly devastating effect on every single element of my life. And it sort of destroyed the heart of my family. And I think about it all the time. And yet, it absolutely formed me and has been a massively motivating, creative force in my life, you know, now started a circus, she probably would have started a circus anyway, because that’s the kind of person she was. She started a circus. I went off and lived in a horse drawn wagon for two years buying and selling horses. And I went to tech, lived in Texas for a couple of years and worked on a ranch there. As a cow girl did a lot of travel in southern Russia. We both went towards quite kind of, well, very extreme, quite dangerous.


Kate Bowler  13:31

Existentially fraught, and real and alive.


Clover Stroud  13:34

Utterly alive, utterly, utterly alive.


Kate Bowler  13:37



Clover Stroud  13:37

Mum died in 2013. And I remember thinking, it took about 10 years of thinking mum’s going to like she’s going to get better maybe with the right therapy and art therapy. After about 10 years, we realized she wasn’t going to get better. And then I remember really coming to the very difficult thing that I wished for, which was for my mum to die for this whole thing to be over for her pain. She was in great physical pain. We were all in great, every kind of pain. I wanted her to die. And to hold that thought of this mother, who you and I was the youngest child, and I absolutely adored her and adored every element of her and she gave me this, this like Teflon coated love. But I wanted her to die. And then when she died, I thought I was pressing up a glass against a glass wall, I was going to break through this glass wall on the other side, there was going to be a kind of peaceful place where you’re not living with a brain damaged, and the language of brain damage and she was constantly sort of on she was constantly tired of getting infections and you know that she was constantly about to die for 22 years. And then when she died on the other side of that glass window, I found there was more trauma and more loss. You know, it wasn’t as though you broke through and then and then there was a place of ease.


Kate Bowler  14:57

You had a moment When you’re when you’re talking about your sister’s funeral, about when people want to put a pin in the precise moment where this will hurt the most. Like it’s right now. This is it,  I like that, that’s just my heart stopped there for a while because that is, I mean, it’s such a, it’s such a hope every time we think, oh, no, this is the moment where I feel burned alive. Yeah, surely then this is the moment it’s. And it’s part of I mean, I think it’s part of what our minds and our hearts are doing where we say, like I have summited this mountain and can finally go down.


Clover Stroud  15:32

Yeah, but actually, you realize, exactly. And that realisation is so valuable. And I think I’ve got to the top of a mountain when I was a teenager. And I think one of the things I’m interested by at what point in your life do you get to that top of that mountain where you realize there’s another one? Because in 2013, mum died, and then in 2015, Nell was diagnosed with stage four cancer. And it seems just impossible to believe that having that after having been through what mum had experienced that now, now was now going into this kind of place of like, she was kind of facing the facing the darkest thing possible and she really dealt with that by really, really flinging herself into her work and into her creativity and her creativity became kind of, she has she created this beautiful circus, which is not a kind of, when you say circus, I think people quite often think of something a bit shabby or a bit depressing, but her circus was beautiful burgundy wagons, it was like a kind of dream fantasy of what a circus should be. But she had a circus she was also writing cookbooks, she was doing massive embroideries, she created hundreds of paintings, which was sold off she died in an exhibition after her deaths. While she liked her, it was as though being close to death for her kind of creativity was the place that where she found some kind of some kind of solace, and some kind of, I don’t think she found peace, I don’t want to say that she found peace because it wasn’t peaceful flood, I know very well how much anguish she was in, but she found a place to exist to be there.


Kate Bowler  17:13

It’s a beautiful way, she found a place to exist.


Clover Stroud  17:17

So the read of my blood is about the first year after her death. And it’s like, what grief feels like. And I wrote it partly because I couldn’t I wanted to read that book myself. And I was in a place of place of such such pain. And such kind of fear of where’s this going was I going to feel as as, as in pain and as and as kind of crazed and as miserable and broken. I remember looking at people who had been through great loss, and thinking, well, how the hell are they doing this? Like, what are they doing?


Kate Bowler  17:48

What is this?


Clover Stroud  17:49



Kate Bowler  17:50

Felt like there’s two questions. Can I possibly survive the weight of this love?


Clover Stroud  17:55

That always feels like an ongoing question.


Kate Bowler  17:57

And then, and then the feeling of where can I find you? Where can I find you? Where can I find you? You’re so good at describing that feeling. Are you here? Are you here? How many sparrows in the whole world? Can pull the memory of you reminded me of something?


Clover Stroud  18:12

Is it this rainbow?


Kate Bowler  18:13

Is it that star? Where do I find you? Especially because we feel so love makes us feel so permeable. You know, so it can’t just be well, death is the end of love, which is never is. So the chasing and feeling feeling like the hurricane hood makes so much sense to me when you describe.


Clover Stroud  18:33

The hurricane, exactly. And the kind of the top the torrent of a feeling but also the torrent of beauty that came with it. I mean, that’s what I was really aware. And when I first started thinking about how to write about grief, I thought about various books I’d read about grief. And they often had a kind of gray issue blue dark ish cover with maybe the outline of some leaves or outline of a winter tree or something and I thought that’s not what grief feels like to me. That’s what I’m not what I’m feeling like now I’m feeling as though I’m like, gonna explode with the amount of pain in my head and that pain is bright colors and you know, when you’re like walking around and you stub your toe on the edge of a table that is a colorful feeling as well, isn’t it that doesn’t feel like the most pick that extreme pain or cut yourself really badly. That is a colorful feeling.


Kate Bowler  19:25

There’s so many there’s I feel like in my mind, there’s a little list of when people say it like I’m poet Christian Lyman calls it my bright abyss. Yeah, the one woman I knew who who wrote a beautiful book in last few months of her life, called the bright hour, and it was the feeling of like, the shimmery nests of dusk and she’s looking at her kids. And I, I felt the same way I thought I was going to die in nine months. And the brightness is such a intense part of my memory and my experience like okay, I don’t mean for this to be like the, my brother, my brother in law murders bears with a bone arrow as part of one of his businesses. And killing bears is a intense thing but they they have this mon that they do right when they’re hit. Like they know, because they know, and the sound they make is almost unlistenable. It’s so visceral, but it’s so beautiful. It’s called the def Mon, but they’ll bill that, but it’s a song. And I did feel that way. Sometimes we’re in some of it. And then some of it is but it demands something. It’s like it’s asking for something back from the world. I think it’s not just an I got robbed sound. But there is something about about the crystalline quality of that kind of love.


Clover Stroud  21:01

Yeah, and the kind of when I was dying, now that she had stage four cancer, but she had an her oncologist that said to her a few days before she died that he was keeping the cancer at bay, although it was moving fast. He did give her like five to even potentials and outside chance 10 years, so we’d been feeling quite jubilant. But when she died, she died very, very suddenly she she was in the hospital and she got liver failure, basically, because of the chemotherapy and she had been kind of fine. She’d been traveling, she’d been buying horses as far as her show, she’d be like, with her boyfriend and Cuba. And then she was in hospital. And then the doctor rang me and said, you have to come now and you actually had a day to live. And I remember being in the hospital in that kind of very gray, generic hospital kind of corridor with a feeling of a massive, and it almost sounds like a cliche, like the idea of the angel of death. But it was as though I could feel death coming into the room in the same way that when you give birth, there’s nothing you can do to stop that birth coming as well, that was coming in the same way. And it was like, she had an extraordinarily beautiful death. And I feel very privileged to have been there in those moments with her when all of their closest family was with her. We sang to her and read to her and prayed with her and she became you know, she went out of consciousness eventually. But in the aftermath, I felt as though I felt as though I was going to die of pain. I felt as though I was going to die of pain. But I also felt as though everything was so much more the world around me was was the what we were talking about this kind of glittering colors not all the time, you know, but there were moments if I looked when it was there, and sometimes I want to say to people, in the early stages of grief, which is obviously a very difficult thing to say to them because you have to you can’t say it to everybody but like be alive to what’s happening to you now this is an extraordinary time of your life of your life. And he’s really why is that and this is like you are the kind of I think that that early stages almost like pre funeral and Mel died just for Christmas. So there was she wasn’t buried until afterwards. And so we actually had a whole month. Where you feel as though you are split open and everything is kind of bubbling and sparkling.


Kate Bowler  23:32

Aren’t we are so beautiful. I kept thinking that like a grocery store like everybody’s at the in the hospital, just look over and Sally is just like, chucking a little strand of hair and I would think are we just so beautiful?


Clover Stroud  24:33



Kate Bowler  25:12

We’ll be right back


Kate Bowler  25:43

And then you are describing the funeral as being what was supposed to be a moment of like, and then I did the work. And then the work will lead me to this place where now I can like seal up maybe a little bit of this open wound. And then it will slowly get easier. Later when you’re like I would plan a funeral every single day. Just add something to do as opposed to whatever the hell.


Clover Stroud  27:14

Ritual isn’t.


Kate Bowler  27:15

And that is the ritual.


Clover Stroud  27:16

So why was brought up in the Church of England my my grandfather was a vicar and we grew up right next door to a church mom used to make us go to the church, his village church. And now when I would sit there bored really bored children in church. And when we went every Sunday, and when and then after mom died, I kind of stopped going sometimes when but then when she died. It’s like, oh my gosh, I am so grateful for the fact that I understand and know these words, these words of some prayers and some Psalms and some hymns like are completely familiar to me and walking into a church is familiar to me, because what you want what I wanted, and I think what a lot of people want around death is, is ritual and solemnity.  And that’s really the hard thing to find in the world that we live in now. And the kind of bereavement support groups like don’t fulfill the thing that you want, which is to send a burning ship out into the middle of ought to be in a room with light candles which is six feet tall. Chanting and darkness and incense that’s what you want. And actually that’s what I kind of want a lot of days it just in normal life to be able to feel normal life as well. And where do you find that solemnity? Where do you find that ritual? I don’t I mean, I do I do find it when I go to church sometimes it’s sometimes don’t find it when I go to church I but I look for it is in my life now, and can’t always access it.


Kate Bowler  28:55

You know, when you were describing the interminable pain of ongoing of your mom’s ongoing suffering you reminded me of my friend John Swinton is a theologian and mental health nurse and he worked with people with severe brain disability for years and years before he started writing spiritual books, but he, but he said that was one of the that was one of the areas that needed most kind of tending to is because there was no ritual around a living death, then, so much of it then had to be invented. You know, he would work with people who have been like, go to the river and, and like, and host a funeral for the person that they used to be in order to just even create any traction, around how do you how do you get to do the ongoing work of grieving without having to keep that one original open, sore open in the same way forever? So I think that makes sense but like the rituals that support us do good work. And then when we don’t have them, we really do feel the absence, I think.


Clover Stroud  30:07

Yeah, it’s funny because too, so where we live here I live near a place called the Ridgeway, which has this ancient route, which is 1000s of years old. It’s up on the hills, and that route is like covered with standing stones and chalk at this chalk horse uffington White Horse which was, which was put on the hill 4000 ish years ago. We don’t know why it’s the outline of a horse. There are standing stones at Avery, they’re standing stones, like, place called Waylon Smithy. Being around that landscape does help me to kind of touch a feeling of something ritualized, I suppose. And I have found myself going to that place and also because my relationship with my mom, because we grew up, you know, grew up near here. So my relationship with my mom and my sister is very much embodies, embodied within that sacred landscape, I suppose and I feel lucky to have to have that and kind of sometimes I want to, like, lay down in the earth and kind of press yourself right into it in a very physical almost erotic way.


Kate Bowler  31:12

Rob Delaney the other day, who beautiful book about grief, and the death of his son is so stunning. And I was like, well, we said something like, what can people do to be supportive? He said, well, they can pick my other kids up for a minute to babysit, so that I can go lie on the earth face down and have it absorb me and then have the snails drink like two years? Yes, that’s exactly yes. And have the snails drink my tears?


Clover Stroud  31:39



Kate Bowler  31:41

Like I want to do, especially if I’m just on the edge of, I don’t know, I think we just like come to the edge of how we know how to be a person, I mean, something else to kind of take some of the weight.


Kate Bowler  32:45

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  34:09

And the things that people say that, that like exile us from feeling understood or loved or held in any way. You’ve had some strong feelings about the phrase I can’t possibly imagine in which maybe they don’t want to imagine.


Clover Stroud  35:24

Yeah, though, that’s I mean, exile is a really interesting word to say like when, because when you are grieving in the beginning, but you do feel exiled from normal life, don’t you and I walked around this kitchen with my, you know, my five kids and my husband rule here. And they were sad, they were really, really, really sad but they weren’t, hadn’t lost their sister who they live with, through everything. And so, so I felt that in here amongst the people who loved me and helped me the most when you go outside and then have to go to Tescos, or go into do something, it’s as though you know, the world is just carrying on in the most offensively blithe, uncaring way, and you are in a place of exile and I describe it as like drinking, as though you’ve taken some poison, or you’ve got an awful secret that you don’t want to share with anybody else, you don’t want to completely ruin their day as well, in the same way that it’s ruining your day. And the place that is a that’s the sort of loneliness of grief, I think, is a real shock. And that’s why these kinds of conversations are really, really important to remind us that the grief that we share is a common experience. And I think Nick Cave wrote something recently about, you know, his kind of diabolical grief over the death of his teenage son, there was something really extraordinary, he said, about understanding that what he was experienced, which felt so peculiar to him is so personal, and so much worse than anything anybody had experienced, was a normal grief that many, many 1000s and, you know, people are experiencing at the same time, and that way of trying to find a point of connection with other people. So when people say to you, I cannot begin to understand how you’re feeling. They’re saying, I can’t begin to understand how you’re feeling over there and your pain, and I want you to stay over there and your pain, and don’t let your pain come flooding into my life, which, you know, I’m holding in some way. And I think that it’s so important when you meet people, when they’re grieving when they’re bereaved, or even just in life, they don’t have to do you don’t have to be in pain to do this is to is to try and connect. But when somebody has lost somebody they love, don’t say, I can’t imagine oh, even worse was like, I couldn’t cope without my sister. You know, as though, like, I can cope fine without my sister. It’s okay and this is what it looks like, you know, because I’m not because actually what I was feeling was I’m not coping with that my sister. And and yet you, you know, we have to you have to because the extraordinary thing is, is that that beautiful, magnificent, appalling, devastating life continues, you know, and that fact that rolling forward of time, and needs and life is is so grotesque, and yet it is so amazing, and it’s so extraordinary.


Kate Bowler  38:21

Is there a UK version of because one of the I’m an American religious historian, and one of the most predominant American cultural scripts in response, is the just just a positive mental reframing. It’s a therapeutic pushback that will then say, well, if I just help you reframe, you’re going to then then the positive momentum will will carry you away, you know, so it’s some any for any iteration of like, well, negative grief.


Clover Stroud  38:52

Catastrophic loss.


Kate Bowler  38:53

Will yield negative but positive allows us to, is there a UK version of like, keep that to yourself? Thank you so much.


Clover Stroud  39:01

I think the version is is to just not mention that person or to, you know, cross onto the other side of the road when you see the person who is in pain, or to just ignore the fact that all there is a thing of like, oh, people often say, you know, I’m expected to move on, or you must be, you know, it’s been a while you must be feeling better, or you must be moving on, and what often you hear is a kind of howl of desire from people who are bereaved, to be allowed to talk about the person and mention the person and say their name. And I think it’s really important when somebody has died, and maybe particularly if it’s somebody that you didn’t know, but say your friends or colleague or their dad, you might not have known to talk about him and say, where did he like to go on holiday? What did you like to do together? Like little details, what do you like to wear or? And obviously, you have to find the appropriate moment of how to do that you can’t just like it first question, but to give somebody an opportunity to articulate their relationship with the person that they’ve lost is really is really, really important. And I think, you know, we fit, we’re so embarrassed in this country by sex and death, and we’re so embarrassed by talking about death, because we think we’re going to upset, you know, if you talk to me about me about nails death, it’s going to upset me. Yeah, it is but like, of course it is. And it should do. And that’s the whole point. And to feel this stuff is the whole point of life, and you can’t, you can’t be a human being without feeling acute pain. And the more that we allow that painter, you know, to lay have come into us and flood through us and become part of us. And when I, when I wrote the read of my brother, I really wanted to like, I felt as though death was that I wanted, as though I couldn’t see I wanted to, like, put my hands on the face of death and feel, the shape that death made and what that was like to live with death with me in the room, because I’d seen death, do its thing now, now away, and I wanted to be really close to death not to, not to kind of move on and run away and feel like, okay, the funeral started, right, let’s get back to normal, but to really, really live with that presence. And there is that first we’re talking about moment ago about the immediate aftermath when the physical loss of this person, yeah, she’s a monumental person, like, where have you gone? Where have you gone? Where have you gone, and I’d say the first six months of the grieving process was like, trying to stabilize my mind around the fact that she had gone and looking for her and looking in all signs and sometimes believing when I saw these two dear, that’s her and then feeling just so angry with myself. But it was it was when I sort of stopped directly looking for stopped wanting her voice to answer me. Because when somebody dies to start with, you think you can you think, you know, I really used to go walk out into the fields around the house here and talk to her and think that the sky was gonna kind of crack open and the hologram was gonna, you know, that was gonna hear her voice and you’re just left with this, like deafening silence. And it was when I sort of stopped looking, and I write about it as being out in the field. And horses are a really big part of my life and like, looking for a horse. But if you try and look or say you’re in the house, and you’ve lost your car keys, if you look directly for your car keys, you never find them. But if you sort of stop looking for you find. And it’s like walking around in the dark of night looking for a horse in the field. Like if you look for this big black outline, you can’t see it but if you look to the side, you start seeing it and that was when she I really felt she returned to me as a as we had been as adolescents in a way before cancer before everything that happened to her before the really, really acute pain of the last few years of her life was there, there was a really extraordinary liberating beauty to that kind of return, I suppose. But it’s not a it also, like I think that makes it sound a bit trite, you know, it makes it sound as though over a course of year I found a resolution and now I’m living happily with a memory of her that is not the case.


Kate Bowler  43:20

No, I totally believe you. I really believe you. Other people I wouldn’t believe.


Clover Stroud  43:25

I’m living was really deep sadness and pain of her death and of her loss. And yet, I am aware that there’s a kind of in grief and in death, not my death. In her death, there is a kind of breaking of the self that goes on. And for me that goes on and off my life. And it is in this sort of, you know, I also describe it as like it sort of treat you know, your own personal turmoil. It’s like a cathedral collapsing, or it’s like something massive, completely collapsing. And from that place of utter collapse, you have to create something new. You can’t just like stand up and dust yourself down and carry on walking. There was no way when now died, that I could go back to the life that I had before only now was dead. Like that wasn’t an option at all. That would be that would be too, too horrifying idea that the life should be this you my life should be the same except she was dead. So there has to be a creation of something new and I think that it’s in that moment of kind of, I think it almost is a moment when you when you get you start moving with the life that your own life, the living life around you and you start you start allowing that life to feel its energy and its vigor and you end and I feel as though living with her death is like a you know you’re being given this really it’s like me handing you the most beautiful, exquisite gift but you really do not want that gift, you don’t want to look at it because that gift is is nails death is your, you know someone you love their death. But if you take that gift, if you kind of allow yourself to accept it, you have to also at the same time, continue to swallow on a daily basis, a really bitter pill of somebody, I’ve heard of her death of her absence. But there is a real, something really, really beautiful that’s being handed to you. And it’s very, very hard to take it. And, it’s again, it’s a gift that you don’t want I would do anything to reach back to my life where my sister was alive. I don’t I didn’t want to take it but this is also your, you know, it’s your this is your life is your one, probably your one life, you know, and realizing yourself, you know, you have to realize yourself, you have to realize the the time that you have you have to realize the fact of your own existence and move forward with that.


Kate Bowler  45:59

What of what what do you what would you say to someone who’s too scared, they would say that’s fine for you, you seem like a deep person who is willing to existentially face. They want to be like you have a set of characteristics that allows you to do that but I don’t have those set of characteristics. I mean, one, it doesn’t matter we all have to, regardless of whether or not we have a special personality, but like what would you tell someone who’s scared that they can’t, they can’t live without with all that love?


Clover Stroud  46:30

It does happen and a friend of mine said to me a few weeks after no doubt, I promise you it will get better. I just remember thinking it won’t, it won’t. This is it I my life you know, there was mom’s accident, there was Nels death, and now my life is is kind of over and I will go on living and I will look after my kids and I’ll be with my husband, I’ll probably be able to have like, some nice times but my life is, and I kind of always felt quite peaceful about that. But I felt an end because I couldn’t imagine joy and I couldn’t imagine happiness. I couldn’t imagine excitement or mischievousness or lust or peace or anything. I couldn’t imagine any, any anything nice other than this feeling of like a deep kind of emptiness and an angry dark disbelieving emptiness that lasted for a long time. And then like to like push, you know, it pushes, it pushes you and pushes out you sometimes, you know, I’ve got five kids so sometimes I had to deal with all of them. How do you deal with the kids and get their pack lunches and help them with their university entrance and their driving lessons and find their peak? It’s whilst also feeling as though you are like your heart is a loads of fragments of broken glass inside you. How do you do that? And I and I spoke to a bereavement counselor. Well, I spoke to Julia Samuel who’s actually like one of the experts, because I thought I want to speak to somebody who, I don’t want to waste time with this, like I want to speak to the best basically. And she said, go and give yourself you know, go up to your room or whatever quiet places, look at videos and look at Instagram videos for hers and look at her photos and just allow it to flood into you and give yourself that space to really feel every single part of the pain and scream. And just let your body feel it all and it is very, very physically painful. I mean, the physical pain of grief is extraordinary. And then go and look after the children and so create kind of like these precious place like literal places that you can go to.


Kate Bowler  48:36

Oh, I love you so much for this absolutely gorgeous conversation. The cracked, open feeling I am I have felt it and it felt so beautiful to see all that love pouring in and out of the way that you the way you describe not just being it having happened, that being willing to be so radically changed by it. That is a kind of courage that I see all over you. And I’m so grateful to know you.


Kate Bowler  49:20

I love the way that Clover describes the enormity of her loss. Like a cathedral crumbling everywhere, dust. The landscape has been permanently changed. You can’t possibly look in a mirror without seeing yourself differently. So if that’s you? Well, first, I’m sorry. And I thought maybe we could bless that. A blessing for anyone who’s experienced this kind of loss. All right, here goes. God, we are heartbroken in the face. You have so much grief, what could we possibly call blast? Could we try? Bless it are we who allow ourselves to feel it, the impossibility of what was possible a second ago, the late decision, the casuals role, the easy exchange and ordinary duty, a decent choice are nothing one, the sweep of hours on a day that was like any other until it wasn’t. This is the place where nothing makes sense. This is the place where tears show up without permission. Bless it are we who allow our hearts to break for it will be some time for this brittle unreality to release us back into the land of the living. We have seen and lost what we never should have. Bless it, are we even in the moments when we are convinced absolutely sure that there is nothing untouched by the ashes of loss. God, you are an architect. And everything I have is in ruins. Promise me that someday, something will stand after so much fell. All right, my love’s thinking about you this week. Thanks for being people with me. This is a community like nothing I could have dreamed, thank you.


Kate Bowler  51:49

If this conversation was at all helpful for you, would you do me a favor and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or on Spotify. It is a few annoying seconds of work. But it really makes a huge difference to help people find us and help people understand and support the show. And if you want to make sure that you always get the next episode, be sure to hit the subscribe button while you’re there. And then Behold, the new one will appear anytime when drops. If this conversation resonated with you, my team curated a support guide, that might be a gentle place to find some language and community while you’re in any kind of grief. So if you go to Kate, you can find our grief support guide waiting for you. And of course, we would love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail, and we might even use it on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731. And really, thank you so much to all the people who make this an amazing group project. I have incredibly generous partners at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment who make this kind of storytelling possible. I absolutely cannot tell you how much I appreciate the fact that that these kinds of stories about faith and life is what they want to support. So thank you. Thank you also to my academic home or I’ve been since I was 25 Duke Divinity School. Thank you and to my podcast network Lemonada where their slogan is when life gives you lemons, listen to Lemonada and thank you to the team that I love so very much to the absolutely indispensable. Jessica Ricci, Harriet Tubman, Keith Weston, Glen Higginbotham, Brenda Thompson, hope Anderson, Kristen Bowser, Jeb Burt and Catherine Smith. Okay, darlings, next week is going to be fun. I sit down face to face with one of my dear friends it’s the writer David Brooks. And we talk about knowing people how to foster empathy how to deepen our friendships, how to show up to other people’s pain and life. I think you’re really gonna like it. Okay, and then in the meantime come find me online. I’m at Kate C. Bowler see because my parents gave me the middle name Christiane when they were going through a diploma phase okay, this is Everything Happens with me Kate Bowler.

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