Colin: Bring Your Grief With You Into Life
When Colin Campbell regained consciousness, seeing only the billowy white of an airbag in front of him, he had no idea what had just happened. A moment ago, his two teenagers were happily texting each other in the backseat — and now they were lying motionless in the wreckage. Colin joins Stephanie to share what it took for him to find the words to talk about this unimaginable loss and how to help others find the words themselves. By leaning far into the pain, he’s made it possible to move forward, while honoring his charismatic and gifted children in the process.
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Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Colin
They were actually texting each other in the backseat. A girl had broken up her heart, which is unheard of. By the way, everybody wanted to date her boys and girls were constantly throwing themselves at him and texting him. And he’s dating one of them. And now that that one breaks up with him, and he’s like, What the hell? But then she starts to flirt with him again. And so he was texting Ruby in the backseat, like, oh, should I get back together with her? Now she’s flirting. And Ruby was like, no. Don’t you dare brother. You stay strong. Don’t go back to her. No. He’s like, Oh, okay. Okay. But I’m so weak. I don’t know, Ruby.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:38
It’s June of 2019. About 10:45pm on a Wednesday, late for a school night. But summer break is right around the corner. So all bets are off. Colin Campbell is driving through the California desert, passing through a small town on the way to Joshua Tree. His wife Gail is in the passenger seat. And their two kids Ruby, age 17 and Heart age 14, are in the backseat, texting each other about girls. They’re the kind of family who loves spending time together. Whether hiking, playing card games, or just one upping each other telling jokes around the dinner table. They are four peas in a pod. But here’s the thing about this moment, it would be the last one of its kind. Because Colin and Gail are about to experience the unimaginable loss of Ruby and Hart. The kind of loss where your knee jerk reaction is to say, I can’t imagine or there are no words. And yet, Colin has found the words. In fact, he literally wrote a book called Finding the Words working through profound loss with hope and purpose, part love letter to his beautiful children, part guidebook for the rest of us. Because make no mistake, whether you’re in the thick of it yourself, or supporting someone who’s in the thick of it, we all have to find the words at some point.
I didn’t know how to do it before, for sure. I was totally grief averse. I would abandon people who were in pain out of my own discomfort and like oh, and so I could definitely empathize with anybody’s response to my situation because I would be, quote unquote, just as bad, you know, at handling it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:52
This is LAST DAY, a show about the moments that change us. I’m Stephanie littles wax, and today, the story of a father, the father of Ruby, and heart. It’s the story of the pain that accompanies a sudden, brutal loss and how the only way to get through it is to face it ferociously and head on, like a lion. And it’s about finding the words to ask for what you need, when you need it most. I want to start really importantly, most importantly, by asking you to tell me about your children.
Yeah. They were remarkable children. You know, it’s funny, the first night of […], the second day of […], I was telling the gathered crowd that everybody thinks their kids are the best kids, but my kids actually were. They were the coolest. So they were both incredibly kind and funny. And Hart in particular, there was an outrageous class. So he was like, literally the class clown, but with a heart. And everybody kind of wanted to be Hart. So even in elementary school, people would just like he’d come up with crazy catchphrases, and crazy characters, and then all the other kids would imitate him like they tried to be like, just like Hart, it was so great. Come home really annoyed, like ah, now he’s saying my, my that phrase, it’s so boring.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 04:30
And you’re like, no, no, no, that’s a good thing. That means that they really like you.
Right? And then dinner table he would just be constantly creating these characters and I would have to say like, stop it Hart. Just sit down normally in your chair, because he wouldn’t even sit in his chair normally always have his legs up in some bizarre way playing some character just for us for like dinner. It’s like knock it off. Just eat your pasta. Like a normal child. And he’d bring it he’d bring a cake to the dinner table as like a 15 year old wearing a cape like it was like, stop it. Take that off. It’s getting in your food. But he’s like it’s part of my costume.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 05:09
I love him.
And Ruby was an extraordinary artist, a visual artist. when they were younger, she was the director. So she would dress hard up and then come out onto the living room and announce the arrival of such and such a character, and then enter a heart and he would do some crazy model. As she got older, she discovered drawing and painting, and then watercolors and then digital art. And then she did her own animation. So it was quite extraordinary. And I have tattoos if you can see them or not.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 05:44
You’ve been waving your arms and I’ve been admiring them.
She did these, she called them koi wolves. So they’re, they’re wolves that she created. And then she patterned them on the color patterns of koi fish. Oh my gosh. And then she gave them koi fish whiskers, just for fun. These are as many of you know, just some of her many drawings. But gorgeous. And the laughing one is Hart the clown, the clown one. And the movies like the badass warrior.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:14
Oh my gosh. Wow. Yeah, the pride you have for them. It’s like, oozing out of you. It’s uh, yeah. So at the teen years, how was how was it navigating those like moving into the teen years? I’m actually quite terrified of the teen years. How is it for you and Gail?
Well, it’s interesting. You know, Ruben Hart never turned on us. Wow. Never had the teens that were they never lied to us or tried to ice us out. They always liked spending time with us. So we as a family just always loved being a family, taking family trips and going out for dinner as a family and playing card games. We played card games constantly the four of us. I mean, they had their own friends. But when we were together, we really enjoyed our company. The struggle that we had was with Ruby entering teen, she suffered from OCD and depression and suicidality. And that was very severe and serious. She had to be hospitalized. And then we had to put it in a residential program, which had all these therapies and therapists and medications. And that was a very terrifying and painful period for her. And I think it was a lot of it was potentially tied to her sexuality. And she was also a late bloomer, so she wasn’t quite sure about her own sexuality. And she felt a lot of pressure from her teens who wanted to label people you know, what are you? Are you gay? Are you bi? What, what’s your deal straight, what’s going on, and she was just hadn’t, you know, matured enough yet. So she was very confused by all the focus and pressure on sexuality. But then once she did realize her own sexuality, and she became a very proud lesbian, feel great about it, then it was it was beautiful.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:01
And in the weeks before, everything changed, Ruby’s mental health was in a good place. Honestly, everyone was doing pretty great. It was the end of the school year, and the family found themselves with plenty of time to enjoy the things they loved doing together. One of those things was hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, of rocky scenic desert area, about two or three hours from LA, depending on traffic, of course.
What happened was the weekend before we had gone out to Joshua Tree. And we’ve had this amazing weekend, and we realize the four of us, we were hiking this amazing slot canyon and we realized, we love Joshua Tree, we’d be coming out here all their lives, you know. And we had such a great time. And that’s when we thought like, what if we get our own place out here? How crazy would that be? And it felt like such an amazing Lark. I mean, it’s obviously extraordinarily privileged that we could afford a vacation home. But we had come to that point in our life where we could. And it was kind of mind blowing. I remember rubbing a heart. We’re both just stunned, like, Wait, we could get a place of our own out here. That doesn’t make any sense. And we found a place I’m like, Oh my God. And so we bought it. Like we just made an offer like that day was like, with the shortest house hunting in the world. We saw one place no. Second place. Yes. Done. We’ll take it. That’s it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 09:26
It’s like those TV shows I see where they show you three properties and then like you one, and I’m always like, What are you talking about? You have to look at 15, but you actually did that.
And so we were going back three nights later. We’re going to try and see if we could build a pool on this property. So I was gonna go initially was just gonna be me. I was gonna go out. I think it was a Wednesday night, because I had a Thursday morning meeting with a guy who a pool builder to see if it was viable or not. We didn’t know. And then Gail said, let’s make it a romantic getaway. Let’s have the two of us go out there. And then Ruby got, we got I got a babysitter for them. And then it was like, wait a minute, you can’t go out there without us. We gotta go. I picked the place where the pool should be. Because she had she said, we should put the pool right here. It’s like, okay. And I said, Okay, fine, you guys will come to the four of us will go, it’ll be this amazing adventure. So it was a beautiful moment in our life as a family, right, we were about to enter a whole new chapter where Ruby was feeling free and Hart was, you know, feeling on top of the world. And we had just got this place that was going to be this amazing. Second home for us where we could go anytime he wanted and have adventures in our favorite place in the world, and in the backseat of the car, Ruby and heart. They were actually texting each other in the backseat. We know because we got their phones. And she was in the backseat actually working another tragic coincidence. She had done what she called a comic, it was like a 16 page graphic novel, but short about her own suicidality and depression. Is this amazing? Oh, you know what, my friend has a copy of it. It’s a habit. So she calls it […] the street where she tried to kill herself. There’s, there’s a deer in headlights and the deer gets hit. And then realize it’s her. It’s her. She’s the deer that got hit in the road. And the last the last page, which is a beautiful images of a deer escaping. And the last page, she was working on this page in the car. This is her own self portrait stuff with the blue hair. I just love it. And the last thing she wrote was author’s note This comic was written during a very difficult part of my life. Thankfully, things have gotten much better for me. On that note, if this comet hits too close to home for you, or someone you know, it’d be a good idea to talk to a loved one or professional. If no one’s available to you. The 24 Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Thank you for taking the time to read my comic Heart, heart, Ruby. That was basically the last thing she wrote that night in the car.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:28
But Colin, Gail, Ruby, and Hart never made it to their dream home that night, because a drunk driver crashed into their car at 90 miles per hour. And in an instant, everything changed.
We were knocked unconscious in the crash both of us in the front seat, and we came to and had no idea what had happened. I had no idea that we had been hit by a car. I literally had no idea what was happening. What happened. I woke up and it was white in front of my face because it was an airbag. So I just like why is there white in front of me, I don’t understand. And I staggered out of the car and look back in and Ruby and Hart were motionless in the backseat. And there was something about them that I think I knew they were dead. But I didn’t know they were dead. And then EMT came and they worked on it for quite a long time. But with no never any response rubbing heart never never breathed. Again.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 13:39
Ambulances rushed Ruby and heart to the hospital. The EMTs were worried about gales injuries, so they loaded her into an ambulance. And then it was just Colin utterly stunned, standing there all alone.
It was such a surreal moment. I was there on the side of the road. And I’m like, I turned to the police officers say how do I get to the hospital where they’re taking my family. They started giving me driving directions. And I’m like, that’s my car pointing to the destroyed vehicle. It’s like you’ve given me I mean, obviously he was in shock too, right? I mean, what a idiotic thing to say. And he just didn’t know what to say to me it just so there’s like, oh my god. So I just went to the ambulance and said, I’m coming with you. I’m getting in this ambulance, and you’re going to take me to the hospital. We arrived at the hospital and my wife’s on a stretcher. They wheeled her out. I step out of the car and then I collapsed because I had cracked ribs and lacerated kidney and I was I was pretty banged up but adrenaline had overpowered all of that. So I was walking around until then, and suddenly I couldn’t walk I was in agony. And the ER person comes out of like a hammock look and tells us to stay for a minute out in the parking lot. Well, they quickly got rid of Ruby’s body. Her body was right there or something they wanted to hide her body, I don’t know. And then they finally have us in. And they still wouldn’t tell us and there was a, there was a social worker there. I saw him I knew he was a social worker, I knew what his job was, his job was to talk to us about our loss. And he didn’t. He looked stricken and terrified, and he just kind of hid. Like, what has happened? Why won’t anyone tell us what’s happening?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 15:38
No one was telling them anything, because no one knew what to say. The police officer, the social worker, the medical professionals, none of them could find the words. After an hour, a doctor finally arrives with some information. Ruby has died. But there’s no time to grieve. Hart has been transported by helicopter to a different hospital and they needed to go see him now. The doctor was all but pushing them out the door, despite their own pretty serious injuries.
So we put into a taxi cab to drive to another hospital. And we knew like we’re being rushed, because Hart’s dying, right? You don’t rush the people out of a hospital with serious injuries unless he’s dying. And we get there. And again, nobody’s telling us what’s happening. They just tell us, Oh, you put to go up to the third floor. And we’re going up to the third floor. And, and we know, but we don’t. And then another social worker comes to us and pulls us into the room and starts telling us about the Ronald McDonald House, across the street, and how we can stay for free for as many nights as we need. And we’re like, as many nights as we need. What are you talking about? Like, because we know our kids dead. But now maybe, maybe he’s not dead? What’s happening. And then finally, a wonderful doctor comes in and sits us down and tells us that Ruby is dead. And that Hart is dead dying. He has three life ending injuries, there’s no way we can save him, right, because I had a broken neck. He had a swelling in the brain because of a hit to the brain that they couldn’t stop. And he had internal bleeding, they couldn’t stop because of the laceration from the seatbelt being hit at 90 miles an hour. So there were there was no way they could save him, right? Three, dead three times over. And then she said, tell me about Ruby and Hart. And that was this extraordinary moment. Right? It’s like, Oh, my God. She’s not she’s not leaving away. She’s the first person who’s not leaning away from us, who’s not afraid of us. And she’s just like sitting with us. And we tell her about Ruby and Hart and how wonderful they are. And we’re weeping and we’re out of our minds with grief. And she wasn’t scared. She sat with us. And we talked for a while. And then she said, would you like to come in and say goodbye to Hart now. And she took us in the next room and there was Hart’s body. And we kissed him. We kissed him goodbye. And then they put us in a taxicab and we had to take a taxi cab ride for an hour back to home. And that was just horrible. We kept I think we kept saying like, Is this really happening to this? Our children gone. And then we got out of a cab and walked through the front gate into our home and suddenly it was terrifying. Terrifying to be in our home without our kids. We’re so scared. It was like, it was so brutal. The home felt unbelievably empty. And terrifying, even as to fall asleep was terrifying.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 19:22
We’re back with Colin Campbell. You wrote, I think maybe the most profound Well no, I think Joan Didion wrote the most profound grief sentence I’ve ever read. But I think you hold maybe second or third place which is the first three years after Ruby and hearts death were a brutal lesson and unwanted wisdom. Really struck me. I don’t even have a question about it. I just need to tell you. That was a really fucking great sentence and it really does speak to the experience of moving into this place that you are like, I do not want this, I have no desire for any of it. I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want this. This is not how it should be. And yet, here we are. And whether you like it or not, you’re gonna have some wisdom that’s gonna come with it. I know that you’ve also say that you, you know, you replay that night over and over in your mind. And it’s a terrible excruciating burden are your words. But you also really endorse leaning into the pain, and which I really, I think that’s the thing that I took away most from your book. That proactive leaning in, which is so counter to what our culture tells us to do. But that leaning in, I think it’s such a profound gift, like being able to articulate what it means to lean in. What did that come that I mean, like, did that literally just like come innately to you?
Well, you know, maybe a little bit. But like I said, in the book, I had this sort of epiphany. It was, I don’t know, two days after the funeral, maybe or three days after the funeral, I had photos of rubian heart, big ones blown up, made for made for the funeral itself, so to of each kid. And then I wanted, I put them up on the living room walls. And then I wanted more, I just wanted more Ruby and hearts. So I got four more done to each of them again, so. So there were four big, larger than life pictures of Ruby and Hart, on the walls of my living room. And it just helped Galen I just feel their presence. And then that That morning, I came downstairs and I was sitting in the living room, and it was painful to see the faces and I looked away. I looked away, I couldn’t take it. I thought I couldn’t take it. And, and then in that moment, I was like, oh my god, I’m looking away from my children out of fear of pain. And I looked back at them, and I just, you know, I was weeping through tears. I said, I’m not afraid of you. And I suddenly just, it just seemed so clear to me, I was not going to be let fear of pain, make me turn away from my kids ever. So I was gonna lean into that pain, because I wanted to be able to think about them. And I think the reality is if you try and close yourself off to the pain, at your loss, that means you’re turning away on some level from your memories of your loved one. How can you’re not going to be able to remember the joyful moments with the person who lost if you’re too scared to feel that pain that’s going to come with it. And that pain always comes with it. It’s always painful. It always hurts. It hurts to share her beautiful artwork, but it’s also beautiful, and it helps.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 22:59
Colin made an intentional choice to lean into his pain. But he didn’t do it alone. His Rabbi showed up on their doorstep the morning after the accident, and the support just kept flowing in from there. In fact, this is kind of the crux of Jewish mourning rituals, feel the pain, but do it in community. Allow your grief the time and space it needs to do its absolute worst. But make sure your people are right there with you and that they bring plenty of food to nosh on this all struck a major chord as I read his book. See, I’m Jewish emphasis on the ish. But when I lost my brother Harris, I leaned all the way in no ish left in the building. Because I was basically like, how the fuck am I supposed to get through this crippling excruciating pain. And then Judaism was like, boom, here are some centuries old rules and guidelines for you, which I needed. And so I asked him how it felt when he leaned on these same rituals.
It was quite extraordinary and much of my book is dedicated to the lessons I learned from the Jewish traditions. So I’m not Jewish. I’m in fact basically an atheist, like a spiritual atheist. Coming from a West background marrying into it, you know, Jewish family and so gift scales Jewish and we raised Ruby and heartless Jews, and we got them Bar Mitzvah and remember the temple and active members of our temple and but coming from like as an outsider, not a faith, just doing all these rituals and seeing like their function like how they work was such an eye opening experience to me. Because it suddenly it literally taught me had a grief, it taught me what it is to mourn. And there’s so many lessons. The first the very first idea is that is the actual burial. And so in the Jewish tradition that the people closest, I guess, in this case, the parents, we literally buried our children with our bare hands, we picked up the dirt and threw it onto the casket. And then we sat and watched as our community continued to bury our kids. So everybody came, but shovelfuls of dirt on top of the caskets. And it seems like a like almost like torture, right? Like why on earth would use objects these parents uses, they should go away right away for God’s sake. But actually, there’s such denial, it’s so incomprehensible and literally unbelievable. That it helps, it literally helps to see like, Oh, there’s another person from my community that I love. Oh, and they’re throwing dirt onto my children’s caskets too. And they’re weeping. Oh, this is real, this is happening. And then shifting into Shiva. Again, it’s not just one night of Shiva. It’s a whole week of Shiva. Because it just takes more time, you can’t get it all out in one night. You know, I think so many other traditions have just one night for the funeral service for a week or whatever. And then you’re on your own. And here it’s night after night, people come to your house and they sit with you. Then you tell stories. Then talk about Ruby and Hart and then we also talked about our grief. And that’s when I discovered that I needed to talk to people about my grief. Because I needed to process it. It was so huge what what’s happening to me, my whole identity is gone. I was Ruby and Hart’s dad. That’s who I was. Before anything else, that’s who I was. That was the most important identity for me. And so now when that’s gone now might now I’m a parent of dead children. Who am I? And I needed to talk about it to people. And that taught me that like, you mourn in community, I had thought like, I don’t know, you something terrible happened to go away in your corner, and you just feel really sad, for as long as it takes to you get over it and then come back. It’s like, well, I am never going to get over this. So okay, that that’s one thing. And two, if I’m all by myself, just sort of, I feel overwhelmed. I’m just getting smushed. I’m just like, ah, but if I’m talking to someone, if I’m doing something taking action, in grief, then I can function, then I can do it, this is becomes bearable. And I’m learning how to honor Ruby and heart and our love as a family. And just my own processing of my grief in community. And that was a huge, huge lesson.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 28:01
On the final day of Shiva, there’s this really profound ritual that’s always resonated with me. You stand up everyone together, and literally take a walk around the block. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you can’t bear the idea of getting up and facing the sunlight. Getting out into the world, surrounded by people who love you is part of the process.
There was a big crowd and we live in a kind of, you know, a windy, hilly neighborhood with narrow streets. So it was basically like, we were gonna block traffic. Like that’s it. Like we’re in the road. There’s like 100 and some 150 people walking down the road. That’s it. So when a car comes they gotta backup. Or just pull over and wait. We go through it. And that felt to me a little like, there’s like a transgressive quality, sometimes to mourning rituals, like doing things in honor of people that are dead. It’s almost like a fuck you to the universe, right? The universe took this person away from me and I’m angry and I want to do something kind of wrong. transgressive and appropriate. I want to like, fuck shit up I want to block traffic. In the name of Ruby and Hart. God dammit. Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of morning rituals kind of have that sort of breaking the rules quality that I think is really important. And so that that was very powerful. And I had no idea that that the tradition, I didn’t know anything about it until suddenly, I was like, well, it’s time it’s time to, to walk around your neighborhood now. And also, even it was hard for us to get out. I remember, you know, even after that. It was hard to go anywhere. And we have beautiful neighbors who live across the street from us. And they said just come across the street, literally right across the street and we’ll make you dinner and that felt like a huge thing to leave our home and cross the street to just have dinner with friends. We weren’t ready to go any further. I just so it’s so scary. Early grief, you just feel so like, you know? Yeah. frightened and you want to you want to just hide. But actually, it helps to get out into the world to into life, you know, bring your grief out with you into life.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 30:30
That was something that was really interesting and striking to me about your own journey is that you talk a lot about saying yes. To everything and early grief. Which really is counter to what you want to do. It goes against the instinct to hide for sure, is really socially unacceptable to like, be like so damaged, you know, in such an explicit way. That’s also transgressive, frankly. But I thought that was interesting, like saying yes to outings and hikes and activities and social interactions. And, you know, were you aware of why that was important to you at the time?
Oh, yeah. I did it very deliberately. Because I knew exactly what to say I didn’t want I want to say no to everything. And then I also had a hard time making any kind of decision, like, you want to go for a walk? I don’t know. I can know anything. I probably not. Or they would say like, do you want to go for a walk tomorrow? I’d be like tomorrow, who knows? Who knows what tomorrow is going to be like, I can’t commit to anything. And then I realized, oh, shit, that’s not going to work. I’m gonna be alone very quickly. And I need to talk to people, I need to be engaged. Because if I’m not, I’m just overwhelmed. And so that’s why I deliberately made the policy in my head of it. I’m gonna say yes to everything, no matter what it is. I’m just gonna say yes to it. I don’t care who makes the offer. And so I went out with a guy who, you know, he was like, a husband of a friend of Gales, right? Like, I didn’t know this guy. And he’s just like, hey, do you want to go out? Yes. Normally, I’d be like, no, no, I don’t want to go. I don’t know. You know, why would I go with you? Other friends who are closer? That’s like, no, he’s the one that’s asking me I’m saying yes. I’m saying yes to everything. Literally everything.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 32:29
My one piece of advice for anyone who’s like what do you do in grief? I’m like, do not under any circumstances ask do you want to, just don’t ask just do it. You want to you want to bring me food? Just fucking bring the food. Okay, put it on the porch. Text me that it’s there. Knock on the door, if you want do not ask me what kind of food I want. I don’t know what food is. I don’t know what anything is like. Such your brain stops functioning like a normal brain. Yeah, I mean, obviously they’ve done studies like your brain is actually not functioning the way that it should during acute grief.
And actually the speaking center of our brain, I think it’s a broker or something that actually starts to not work in high traumatic situations. You literally can’t talk. It’s so wild. You become speechless. But I have to say about the food. So, you know, so our, our temple, they’re all Jews. They were bringing us bagels, right? And so Gail, I opened the front door and there’s literally two dozen bagels every morning, two dozen for two of us. I was like no, no, stop it and I love bagels. So then they said to I said to somebody somewhere, I said tell the people to stop bringing bagels. We cannot throw away two dozen bagels every day. This is terrible. Then they’re like the word went out. No bagels for Colin and Gail. Do not give them bagels. And then there was no bagels, one for me and one for Gail.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:07
I also thought it was like really, really profound and, and not and also transgressive to tell people how you wanted to be treated. It seems like when you left the container of Shiva that container of community that knew what we were all doing, and we all had an unwritten agreement. But we’re here to grieve. And that’s like the point. When you go back to the real world, people have to go back to work Gail has to go back to our writers room. You know, you start to notice like people don’t know how to deal with this. They don’t want to say your kids names because they don’t want to upset you. And it totally does the opposite. It totally fucking upsets you. No one can do it right. Like they say how are you? I’m terrible. Shut up. They don’t ask you how you are. Why are you asking me how I am like they’re so winning. And I love this kind of you both sort of had this approach where you sent very direct emails to people and said, This is what we need. And you outlined it. Is that how you are naturally like it? Because it’s such a I mean, it’s really like goes against the grain of nature to sort of ask for exactly what you need.
I don’t know if it goes against who I normally am, I’m definitely blunt. But I’m not good at asking for what I need or want No, no. In the past. No, I would not do that. But it was. So it was like the stakes were so high. In a way, it was like, I didn’t even care if somebody didn’t want to roll with that, then fuck it. I don’t give a shit. Forget it, then go away. Like it was sanity or insanity. Basically, what are my choices? Am I gonna beat lose my mind or not? And like, well, so okay, I’m gonna try and keep my mind. I need to talk about Ruby and heart to people, and if that’s how it’s gonna go. And so what I discovered was right away, people loved it. Yes. And so that taught me right away, like, Oh, this is a good idea. Yeah. I mean, I got positive affirmation very quickly. And it kept building every time I go, I pulled somebody aside and told them what we needed that day. They were so helpful. And then they were so responsive.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 36:34
Well, human beings want rules and structure, right? I mean, like, the, the Shiva ritual gave you structure. So you essentially are saying to people, here are the rules of how to deal with this broken man and woman. And I’m gonna give you this manual. And, and you’ll know how to be a human being around a broken human being right. Like, that’s really what you did, which is really benevolent, actually.
Yeah, because it’s uncomfortable. And people don’t want to be uncomfortable. Yeah. And I think maybe that’s also why we were kind of so good at it is because discomfort, the mean, that’s like, so what? That’s such agony idea of like a little bit of social discomfort, who cares? Fine, we’ll do it. Like, totally, it’s not a big deal, compared to the literal agony that I mean, every moment. Yep. So it’s gonna help me. So I’m going to endure a little bit of social awkwardness, to make my life less full of suffering.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 37:51
Since losing Ruby and Hart, Colin has had to figure out how to navigate the world without them. And that also means figuring out who he is without them.
I think first, I had a really hard time just accepting that I was a dad of two dead kids, I didn’t want that identity. I just rejected it. So I didn’t want to go to you know, sit in a grief group circle. Nobody wants to go to grief group, even though it’s really helpful and nobody wants it. I don’t want to relate to these people. And I didn’t at first I was like, Who are these shattered people? I can’t, no.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 38:30
This isn’t me. These are my people.
Right? And I’m like, Oh, that is my people. Yes. And then I, I started to embrace it and sort of come to just engage with that identity. I’m the father of two dead children. That’s who I am. I’m a father in grief. Who was trying to stay alive and stay engaged in life and also stay engaged with Ruby and hearts memories and their presence and, and feel they’re, they’re infused in me, they helped shape who I am, for sure. In very deep ways, who I am is because of Ruby and Hart. So they’re still there. They’re still alive in me. And then something shifted again. And that was also hard to take because rubian Hearts deaths started to take a backseat to life. So it wasn’t always the first thing that people would find out about me. You know, I’m a professor, I teach screenwriting, and I teach theater directing, and, and just engaging other people in the world. And then also hearing their problems. So as I as I moved away from acute grief, where it was all just there was no room for anybody else’s problems. It was just my problems. Me, me, me, me, me, which is right. Acute grief is very selfish, and that’s appropriate. And as you move through that, you get to places where you start to open up the rest of the world again. And suddenly it was taking a backseat. And in some people I would interact with didn’t even know that my kids were killed, you know, two years ago or three years ago. And that was hard, it was hard to almost to let go of the idea that I’m Colin Campbell, the father of two dead kids. Now I’m Colin Campbell is living through life and doing this and that, and, you know, and then also my kids were also murdered. And that was hard. That was hard to take. I didn’t want to suddenly everyone let go of that. I want it to be 24/7. Dad with dead kids, because I desperately needed desperately to my, I need to honor Ruby and heart every second of every day. And it’s like, well, they’re dead. They don’t need me to do that. I’m not a father in the sense that I’m actively doing things for my children. It’s a different relationship.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:53
Time has this pesky little habit of moving forward, whether you’re ready or not. And as things start to shift, Colin and his wife begin to try and find new ways to build a family.
The next chapter in our lives is that we started to foster adopt that process was actually Ruby’s idea, believe it or not, she came up with the first it was a about I think, two years before she was killed. She said to us, you know, we should foster adopt somebody. And we’re like, what are you talking about? Like, how do you even know about foster adoption? Like I said, what? And she said, yeah, they’re, they’re, our family is so full of love. And their kids that need a family. It’s like, Oh, my God, you sweet kid.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 41:37
God, sweet kid, her compassion her empathy? Next Level/
And so we feel like we got her blessing to do that, you know. And we actually started the process very early. About a week after the crash. I said to Gail, we could still be parents, we could foster adopt. And she said, Oh, thank god. You said that, because I was thinking about that, but I was scared. You’d be too scared.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 42:05
Oh, my God. I just got chills. In many ways, because Colin and Gail were leaning so hard into their grief. They were on a fast track. But it turns out, they were a little too fast for the rules set up by the foster system. So after waiting out a year or so their fostering journey started with a 13 year old girl who was placed with them for some time, after she moved on. A new pair of siblings 12 and 13. A boy and a girl have joined the household. Are they sleeping in Ruby and Hart’s bedrooms? What’s that like for you?
It’s leaning far, far into the pain. That’s what it is. Yeah. It’s like, Oh, my God, we are leaning into the painting.
Colin All the way in, yeah.
Yeah. If there’s any sense of like, oh, you’re getting foster kids to like, replace your kids and move on? It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no, it’s quite the opposite. It’s bringing up 10 times as much pain as if we hadn’t done it. Thinking about Ruby and heart all the time. In conjunction with these kids, and then also the balancing act, like they obviously know all about Ruby and heart and they know what happened to them and they know what kind of kids they were and, you know, my son likes Heart’s winter coat. And so he wears Heart’s winter coat and wintertime and, and he reminds me of Heart in certain ways. He’s very different. I’m not trying to turn him into Heart. Yeah, very different. But, but you live with that you live with that, like duality. And so of course, they get to change the rooms around they, you know, they have to own their own rooms, right. So the furniture is moved around and change and new beds. And our daughter just got a canopy, like a mosquito net canopy over her bed because she wanted that man it’s like, you know, it’s their rooms, their rooms now. And, and we have to live with that, you know, strange duality.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 44:30
That duality. We have a very simple term for it here. We call it the happy sad. That’s where we live. That’s where all of us live. And it sounds like when you’re talking about your foster kids and him loving hearts coat like that’s beautiful. And it’s amazing that you get to be parents again, and what joy and happiness and also like what profound sorrow walks along with that.
Yeah, yeah, I remember feeling like Oh, my God, what a privilege it is to have a kid in your home. Like, oh my God, because when the rooms are empty, right, it’s just this horrible gap. And it’s like, you know, how could anybody complain about being parents because what a privilege it is to have other humans little humans in your home. Because now that I have little humans in my home, I can never get down to dinner time set the table.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 45:29
That was my like, stop playing video games. Like exactly like are you complaining about kids?
But with that appreciation to that, the privilege of it for sure.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 45:58
Colin and Gail are honestly, aspirational Grievers. There’s just so many turning points where they made this active decision to move intentionally through this pain and not let it hold them back. To that end, they kept the house near Joshua Tree. It was a cozy refuge during the pandemic that reminded them of Ruby and heart. They’ve been taking their foster children there lately. They like scrambling up the rocks and swimming in the pool. Right where Ruby said it should go. But every time they drive out there, they have to go past exactly where the accident happened. What a metaphor, right? They have to pass through that painful memory every time. But each time they do their life. They’re one wild and precious life is waiting for them on the other side.
Hey, friends, I just wanted to let you know that we are going to be taking a tiny break to whip up some new episodes. But don’t worry, we’ll have plenty for you in the meantime, and new episodes will return in just a few weeks. There’s even more LAST DAY with Lemonada Premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content like an AMA with yours truly. AMA stands for Ask Me Anything in case you didn’t know. So just FYI And FYI means for your information. So subscribe now in Apple Podcasts. LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Tiffany Bui. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Music is by Hannis Brown. Steve Nelson is our Vice President of weekly content and production and Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content and production. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. If you’d like what you heard today, we have three other seasons that you can check out. Have a story you’d like to share, head to bit.ly/lastdaystories, or click the link in the show notes to fill out our confidential Google Form. follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.