Steph’s Pick: “Kate: Sad Week™” (Season 4, Episode 1)
This week, we’re sharing one of our favorite episodes from this past year. The story focuses on a profound loss that our guest Kate experienced right in the throes of Christmas, but it’s also about how, years later, her family has created a whole new way of relating to grief, memory, and joy. Turns out, we could all use some of that during the holiday season.
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To follow along with a transcript, go to www.lemonadamedia.com/show/lastday shortly after the air date.
Speaker 2, Jess, Kate Green, Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:02
So yeah, tell me about your childhood.
Kate Green 00:05
Sure. So we grew up in a fairly regular suburb on Long Island in New York. Obviously very close thing. 15 months apart, we, the two of us would just we’d spend a lot of time together, given our closeness, it was just easy to have a playmate, but was that close to me and age and as the little brother for a short period of time, I was able to kind of like mold him into what I wanted him to be like, I would dress him up as a girl and he just kept take it, I’d make you do whatever it was until then, like, he got a little taller than I was. And that’s where the power dynamic really shifted, because then I had no leg to stand on.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:41
This is Kate Green. She’s a delightful Virgo from Long Island who lives in Boston with her husband, Matt. Throughout my chat with Kate, I kept having those goose bumpy. Holy cow, we are the same moments. You know, the ones where you’re talking to a complete stranger, but feel like you’ve known them your entire life. That happened with Kate. There’s just a lot of overlap between us. Harris was also like only a girl growing up, like, put him in every wig every dress every he was my personal doll. I completely relate to that.
Kate Green 01:20
That’s what little brothers exist for.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 01:25
Aside from putting our brothers and dresses, Kate also grew up in a tight knit family of four who all genuinely seemed to like each other. She was also the protective older sister who do anything for her hilarious little brother Ryan. And a few years ago, she lost him to a heroin overdose.
Kate Green 01:47
You know, the story like it’s the rehab attempts, the immediate overdose after the getting in trouble with the law and lather, rinse, repeat, like the calls I would get from jails, like go hide money somewhere. And like, it didn’t make any sense to me, but I just he’s my person. And I will, to the best of my ability continue to be that protector if I can.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:15
This is LAST DAY, a show about the moments that change us. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. And today I’m talking to another sister who lost her brother, but more importantly, her person. And this feels significant as we move into a new iteration of the show, because this is how it all began. The only reason last day exists is because a stranger named Jess lost her little brother Stefano to an overdose in 2017. So looking for any kind of relatable content in the deep, dark hole she was in, she tuned into an episode of the podcast terrible thanks for asking and heard me and my mom, talking about losing my brother Harris to an overdose in 2015. Here’s Jess.
I swear to God, it was the first time I felt joy. It was the joy of like someone else. This is just life like people die. And sometimes your brother dies of a heroin overdose. And you can sit in the studio with your mom and like, be on the other side of going through the shitstorm that I was in and laugh again and celebrate that person in your case, Harris and so I just had this moment of like, okay, like, I think I can live through this. Like, this is not just me that just didn’t happen to just me. It happened to someone else.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 03:42
Long story short, Jeff and I joined forces to create the podcast you’re listening to right now. And that podcast turned into an entire podcast network called Lemonada Media. And then we all lived happily ever after. I’m just kidding. Happily ever after, does not exist. It is not real. It is very cool that we found each other and then found this greater purpose and we were able to turn lemons into lemonade, but it will never not suck that our brothers are gone. It will always ache and hurt. And no matter how much success we achieve that void is ever present. We call it the happy-sad. This is where we live now. And so does Kate and so do so many of you who have listened to and supported the show from the beginning. You know as well as I do that this work isn’t just about opioids or suicide or guns. It’s about that cosmic thing that happens when you see yourself in someone else’s story. That is the heart and soul and guts of this show, which is why moving forward, we are expanding our focus, and bringing you a new conversation every week. So, while today’s story focuses on the fallout of Ryan’s last day, it’s also about the last day that Kate was Kate. It’s about how those lightning bolt moments inevitably amorphous into a new version of ourselves. And it’s about figuring out how to live comfortably in this new space. It’s also about comparing notes, starting with our moms. What was your mom? Like? What was your relationship to mom?
Kate Green 05:41
My mom and I have a great relationship. My mom and my brother had have had a very deeply special connected relationship. They’re best friends. And it was sort of how my dad and I have that sort of closeness. My mom and my brother had that. So she would be involved in all of his sports stuff, because if my dad was traveling, my mom was like his little league coach and like, yeah, oh, yeah. Yeah, she was like a tomboy mom.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:04
I love mom, little league coaches. I have a true special place in my heart for mom, little league coaches.
Kate Green 06:12
That’s really tempting. I know. I know. And she killed it. She did a great job. And she’d always like for our birthday, she made sure to make special like themed cakes. Like one year, he was really into big bird. So there was a themed cake for Big Bird. Yeah, so she was an all-in and she still is an all in mom. There’s less to be all in about now. But she was.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:32
Yeah, I am stealing that. Yes. I love that. Okay, she was an all in mom. I know exactly what you mean. My mom was an all in mom, PTO President always on the field trips, always volunteering, doing all the things, didn’t bake the cakes, and I still have some resentment. We don’t need to get into that. Okay, so what do you think when you know you have these fond memories of Ryan? What was your favorite thing about him?
Kate Green 07:01
He was the funniest person, still to this day that I know, funniest and most intelligent. And I think the combination of those things both served him well and got him into some trouble. But he like we would be. Our parents took us to church when we were kids growing up and like the two of us would not even be able to sit next to each other because he would just be like, lightly mocking like the overtures and the tones matter if you’ve been doing Catholic mass ever, they’re very good at it. And he would like yeah, whisper in my ear just and just like get he always knew exactly what to do or say, to make me lose it just with laughter he was hilarious.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 07:42
I love that. That’s my favorite kind of brother. And then what do you think he would say, was his favorite thing about you?
Kate Green 07:51
I think that he truly believed he knew that I was his protector, that I would do anything. And from when we were kids, like, you know, covering things up or would it like scrambling […] to all the way through until he died? Like I would do anything for him and slightly tangential. I saw psychic medium after he died. I don’t know if she’s white.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:13
Of course, why would you not.
Kate Green 08:16
A thing you do. And he that was something that he came through and really championed to the set like that he knows how much I had his back and how much I cared and wanted him to just be okay. And he always appreciated that even when he couldn’t find the words too, but I think that started out really young. Like, as long as I can remember.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:37
That was like a primary dynamic of the relationship. Okay, I am so sorry. All my kids school is now calling a third time. That’s okay. And I’m so sorry. Hang on one second. I just wanna make sure everything’s okay. Yes. Hello. What’s going on? Okay, so three calls in a row for my daughter’s school and I don’t care if Oprah is sitting across from me on the Zoom. You better believe I’m picking up the phone. Iris, when do you need them? The emergency. Iris forgot to bring the Valentine’s cards that she made for her classmates. Okay, I will bring them to you. Okay. Okay, love you. Bye. Crisis averted. For now. At least. I am so sorry. Okay, that was the emergency. So anyway, that’s fine. I want to get back to Okay, so you’re the protector as I am to my child. And I completely get it. And so at what point do you feel like you felt like that idyllic relationship that you described in that, you know, closeness that the two of us shared started to sort of shift,
Kate Green 09:53
I think the perfection or the perceived perfection of our family and our family unit He probably started to shift when he started getting into like the wrong crowd. And just like shitty behavior when he was probably 13 or 14, it didn’t escalate to what it became for another good chunk of time. But that’s where we started to lose him. That’s where it started to like fragment from the four of us to the three of us kind of like in an orbit around him. Nothing like blew up then. But it was just like, that’s where in my mind, I can remember like when things started to kind of shift. Our relationship, for the most part nicely, remained that dynamic, with a lot of like stressors. Like I was definitely pushed to some limits over the years. But I would say probably when he was like 13 or facilement of that as middle school, it started to fragment there. And because he was so smart, he was bored by school. So that also kind of came as like, well maybe this is just like what it is to be a 14 year old boy like we’ve never done this before. You know, he had an 800 on the math section of his SATs without a calculator, his calculator batteries died. And instead of like, I don’t know, remedying the problem. He was like, yeah, whatever. He tried college like he tried to go to SUNY maritime, which is a New York State like Naval School. And it just it wasn’t jiving for him. He was definitely much more if you want it, he was a really good like good with his hands. So he’d worked for a dunk builder or a boat person or like all these like really, like physically exhausting, great jobs. But he’d always managed to mess them up like with a failed drug test or like a stolen something, or just he ruined the relationship and it would be on to the net, whatever the next thing was that he could find to make money or, you know, spend his time.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 11:44
How did you make sense of this? How did you and like, what was your explanation for, we’re from the perfect family. Right? We have this great mom, she made big bird cakes. How am I thriving and doing all the traditional things you’re supposed to do moving into adulthood and Ryan can’t?
Kate Green 12:08
Another really great question. I and I was always an interesting dynamic. For example, I’d be at college, I would only like the updates I get from my parents were just like, the shitty things that were happening. And I never felt like I was being asked questions about what I was doing or how I was doing or how things were going. And I started to get really resentful and angry, like, what is this problem? Like, why can’t he get it together? The more it went on the more clear became that like, that wasn’t going to change unless something fundamentally changed. But he had to want that change. So I don’t know if that really totally answered your question.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:42
No, I mean, I’m like, there’s tears coming out of my face. Yeah, I mean, I that part that rehab, relapse rinse repeat cycle is so brutal. And I don’t think that people who haven’t experienced it, understand the depths of like suffering.
Kate Green 13:03
Oh, my God, it’s exhausting. On top of that, too. And like, again, like we were from a really like close knit tight community. Nobody else either. If they did have this experience, they weren’t speaking about it. My gut is that like, a lot of other people weren’t experiencing this. So we didn’t really have an outlet to compare to. So what are you doing that’s helping it like we just sort of like, went with it and did the best that we could.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 13:26
Yeah. And I think the other part, that’s so soul crushing is the hope. Oh, every time they start a new rehab, you’re like, This is it. This is the one. And Harris was always the star student at rehab, you know, like, the therapist would be like, he is incredible. And we were like, yeah, we fucking know. Right? I mean, can you please get him off of drugs. He’s the best and this shit is killing him. Right? And you’re so hopeful. It’s like, it’s even though you know, the data suggests your own data. I’m not talking about like, data I’m talking about. I know he has relapsed every single time. So how in the world is this going to work? But you still have that hope every time. That’s the part that’s so sad.
Kate Green 14:12
It’s the most soul destroying thing because you can’t not have hope because I’m not sort of monster are you? But then you have so much hope. And you believe everything that your person is telling you about. I’m doing this I’m doing that like he wants to call my mom and like got let out of rehab early because he was doing so well. Like that’s he came out with a certificate.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:32
So how were you coping with this fluctuation? The ups and downs, the highs and lows? Did you put up any boundaries? Were you distancing yourself? Were you leaning in like what was? How did you take care of yourself?
Kate Green 14:45
I quite literally distance myself. Sure. Like, I think it’s probably 20, 234 I started a long distance relationship with who is now my husband and he was living in Boston and I was living in New York. And after a year I was like, I’m gonna move there. I In transition in my job, I was working in a book publishing company that had offices in both cities, it was very easy. And it was also like, it made the most sense because Ryan at that point was like living with my parents or he’d been like there was it still was just us orbiting around his chaos. And I was like, I think it was a subconscious thing. I don’t think I actively said I have to leave because of this. But it was like, Oh, this is a great opportunity. I’m going to take it. And I think, as it went on, and he was he was he struggled for so long that I started, very by the book, Virgo. I am a type A organized black and white checkbox person, my mind. In my mind, I was like, okay, well, when the other shoe falls here with him, like we’ve been doing this for 10-15 years. I’ll just be prepared for like, I’ll know the things that I need to do and the actions I need to take to be okay, like I almost like pre-mourned him. It’s kind of morbid to say, but I think it was a very much a defense mechanism to protect myself from what was swirling around our family unit at all times.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 16:04
Yeah. No, I mean, I get that it’s, I am still afraid of the phone. You just saw it happen. When the phone rings twice. I have a PTSD response. I literally like start to like, shake and I naturally think death. Do other people do that? Is that normal? Okay, well, you’re not normal.
Kate Green 16:32
Other people, like, don’t really like if my parents call me out of the blue with no text to proceed, I will answer with an immediate panic that someone has died like there isn’t. There’s never good news. It’s always bad news. And it’s, you get like a physical reaction to it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 16:49
And so at what point I mean, there, you’re talking about this cultivated and necessary self-protection that you form, which is like, something bad is gonna happen. I’m braced for it. I’m ready for it. But was there a point where you felt like Ryan’s death was inevitable? That it was a foregone conclusion?
Kate Green 17:15
Yeah. It feels shitty to say that. Yes, I did feel it. But yes, I did feel that way. And I would say was probably the last two years of his life were really like, that’s where things were, like really heightened with. There’s a lot of like legal stuff that he was involved with, like money that my parents were paying for different things and like his drug use became more aggressive. And there were more overdoses and relapse, it just like, the cycle became more frequent. Whereas in the past, it had been like, a blip this year, or maybe there was a year where like, he was in jail for the year so nothing happened like that. as sick as it is to say when he was in jail, it was like the greatest because we knew he was being cared for three meals a day and he couldn’t get out. My parents weren’t gonna come home so like a house that was trashed. I wasn’t gonna get a phone call in the middle of the night like I think probably the last two years were really wanted. When I was forcing myself to reconcile with the idea that like no matter what we do, like I can try I can make as many phone calls I can try and be this power of attorney I can do like I can check in like I can do all the textbook things that you’re supposed to do. But there was always this like gnawing thing in the back of my chest that was like, it probably isn’t enough. It probably won’t be enough.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 18:28
We are back. So Kate is in the bad place where so many of us have found ourselves when our loved ones are struggling with addiction. You’re doing everything in your power to help. But still, in the depths of your soul buried down deep, you feel like the writing is on the wall. As the years went by, Ryan continued to fall into the same patterns of relapse and recovery, and relapse and recovery and relapse and recovery. But in the meantime, Kate had to live her life and draw some boundaries for her own survival. She was living in Boston and her family was still in Long Island. And in late 2019, they were all heading into the most wonderful time of the year.
Kate Green 19:41
So my parents and Ryan were going to come up to Boston right after Christmas. He’d never he’d been here once. We’ve never like done the city. He always really wanted to go to Charlestown because he saw the movie the town and thought that it was traulsen is like full of yuppies now like it’s completely gentrified. It’s not what it was in that movie, and anyway, so yeah, they were gonna come up for Christmas. And we’re gonna spend some time here. And in early December I remember I called my parents just to check in and see how they were the other day was, and it’s not gonna talk to Ryan because like he was living with him at that point. And he gets on the phone and he just he sounds a little off, but I didn’t question it like we were, he was excited to come things were good. Because he lived with my parents, they bore the brunt of a lot of like his daily activity that they would keep from me because they didn’t want to upset me. And so I learned after the fact that the week that I had spoken to him had just happened to be a week where he’d been in the hospital the day before because he overdosed, and my father had to give him Narcan before the medics arrived at their house. So it was a fraught couple of weeks, it was very much like walking on eggshells, but in my mind, I was like, no, we will have a perfect Christmas visit in Boston, we were going to go to the fancy hotel, and you’re gonna go to the nice dinner, and it was going to be decked out for Christmas, and it was going to be perfect. So his birthday is December 20th. And I called I actually I FaceTimed him on my mom’s iPad. On his birthday. He answered it in the middle of eating Chinese food. He literally put the iPad like flat on the table and then was just shoveling loading into his face over the vid and I was like, this is so like, gross, but so also on brand for you like, okay. And we had a great conversation, it was kind of quick, he was so excited. He was so excited to come, so excited. And we were also making plans in January to kind of deal with some of his out of state legal issues that he would need to be in state for. So I was going to drive him we were going to make it like a team effort. Again, the hope. And so we you know, we had a plan, there was a plan.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 21:56
Plans, hope for those of us impacted by this merciless disease. This is often all we have to hold on to. And that’s exactly what Kate was holding on to as she rolled out of bed on December 23.
Kate Green 22:11
So, Monday, and I hadn’t set my alarm because I was just going to easily wake up and roll into the day. It’s basically Christmas like, I’m going to go to the office, but it’s going to be a throwaway day, like I’m in no rush to start commuting. My husband had already left for work. And I hear what I think is the backdoor like start like being open. And so that’s weird. I wonder if Matt forgot something. And you know, so I looked at my phone, it’s a 25 I didn’t have any missed calls, it didn’t have any texts. And I walk out of our room to greet him at the door. And he looked at me and he said, your mom called. And my first thought was something happened to my dad. I don’t know why that was the first thought because the most obvious choice would be Ryan. And I said, and I said what and he said, your mom called Ryan overdosed and died last night. I’m so sorry. And I laughed at him. I laughed, I heard myself laugh and he said I need you to hear what I’m saying to you. I need you to hear me and he said it again. And so I took a deep breath I remember taking a very deep breath and I walked back into my room and I sort of like I made it to the end of my bed and I curled up in this like tiny little ball and I don’t know I was like trying to stop but I noticed I was just like it was just like this like got like soundless sobbing is the best way that I can describe it I like I was having like an out of body experience I could see myself doing this and then I thought well I have to call my mom now exactly I do not need additional details like I didn’t get I have to, we have to go we have to go to New York now. I called my mom and she gave me sort of as many details as I asked for but then it like my next thought was why we have to we have to we have to plan like I have to I have to check these boxes I was prepared for this moment so I know the next that we need to I need to shower I need to pack we need together we need to see if there’s a ferry to book to get over to get around holiday traffic’s it’s going to be a shit show. We were cat sitting for someone and I before we even got on the road I went to their house to make sure their cat was okay. So took a shower and I remember just standing in the shower and saying to myself out loud, just like keep hearing it. Your brothers dead, your brother’s dead. This moment or like this shower oddly is like the dividing line between when he was alive for you and now he’s dead. Three days after his 33rd birthday, he did one shot of her […] I don’t even know the right terminology, one bump, whatever it was, I think probably and like, in my mind, I’m telling myself you did this one last time. She was gonna come to Boston. He was like a little bit anxious probably he doesn’t like to travel, but he wants to like be his best self. He wants to be his best persons and do this one more time. And he died at my parents kitchen floor. He ate a sandwich in the TV room. He must have shut up. And my dad found him laying on the kitchen floor that next morning.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 25:45
So this was in the middle of the night that this happened?
Kate Green 25:55
They think it was probably one or two in the morning. He always stayed up late like eating and staying up late was like, textbook for him. And probably some of the activities that he participated in. Also textbook. This time it just killed them.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:11
I also had your brother’s dead. Your brother’s dead. Your brother’s dead. Your brother’s dead. Your brother’s dead like on a loop, it is out of body. That is the only I remember so many images. I have like a slideshow. In my head of tile, gravel. I was on the floor. I can’t I couldn’t get off the floor. So I remember seeing frozen images of different floors.
Kate Green 26:47
And still, you can probably still call those back. But again, in my very structured, demented way of dealing with this exact moment that I had foreseen was coming. I packed a black jumpsuit, a black like a jumpsuit, no bras, and my entire skincare regimen. Not even like not the stuff that you would do just like over the course of a couple days. Anything that I had my bathroom that was related to skincare like the samples that you kind of keep around from Sephora that should just be thrown away, or the thing you’re only supposed to use once a month. I have no idea why this was what I deemed important. Put it on a bag, put it in my suitcase, I was packed.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 27:33
Okay, so your husband? Is he watching you go through this shock? And is he saying anything? Or is he wit collaborating with you on the packing of the skincare what’s happening?
Kate Green 27:49
He’s sort of learned in a really beautiful way with all the experiences that he’s witnessed my family have with Ryan, to kind of like, give it a little bit of space. And let me come to him as needed. And that’s the best way like his immediate inclination is to help but my immediate inclination is to get into I’ve got this like, please, you are suffocating me right now. When really he was just, he’d be just trying to do and I say no, I just I need to figure this out by myself. I’ll raise my hand when I need to. And that was the most helpful thing. That was the most helpful thing so I could kind of process it how I needed to in that moment. And then of course, he drove the entire I think we wound up with a swan to be like a seven or eight hour journey. It should have been about four. But he handled all that so I could do the phone calls and the texts.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 28:44
Yeah, what the fuck are you doing on the road on that car ride for seven or eight hours like well, who are you texting? What are you? Are you texting everybody to tell them? What are you doing?
Kate Green 28:55
I couldn’t bring myself to I think I made one phone call to deliver the news because I couldn’t say it. I didn’t want to say to someone else except myself because then it’s really real, then this is not just some exercise of putting myself through them. This is like actual. So I texted a couple of different group types. I remember I texted my boss. So I wouldn’t be in that day and that probably not for the next foreseeable future. And I remember the way he worded it. I said, Ryan overdosed I have to go home. I don’t know when I’ll be back. And in my mind, I thought my assumption would be he’d read that and think, oh, of course, like her brother died like I learned later and bless him. He’s the sweetest, most wonderful person. He’s still a good friend of mine to this day. He was like, I didn’t know in that moment that he died. I thought he like just overdose because that of course can mean that you survive hospital. And I felt bad for not giving more detail to make sure he had all the information that he needed. That was my immediate response that I felt that.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 29:56
Kate Green 29:58
Total pleaser, to the max.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 30:01
I just want to check on your cat. And also I want to make sure that everyone is happy and taken care of in this moment.
Kate Green 30:07
Are you all good, in my most extreme grief, everybody good. You have a drink? Good, good.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 30:13
Does anybody need a snack? It’s clear that part of Kate’s grief response was doing. Kate is a doer, a highly effective one at that. I mean, we got in touch with her because she responded to our prompt for stories. In fact, she was one of the first people to fill out the submission form and reflect on who she is now versus who she was before she lost her brother. And her response was incredibly detailed and thoughtful. If I was still teaching, she would get an A plus. I’m curious for somebody who processes in the way that you’re talking about. It’s like you knew this was a viable outcome. Right? You had said, this is a foregone conclusion. When it happened, were you like, this is it. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been prepping for this my whole life. Now it is time to take care of thing like, did you go into action mode immediately?
Kate Green 31:08
I think in that moment, yes. And it was very much track listing in my head. And what’s interesting is stuff before I read the prompt for this and submitted my information, I hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about that person and who I was because I am not that person anymore. And there’s a beauty in being able to get like, life is not black and white life is very gray. And to live in that space, I think, worked for me in that moment. It like steeled me from immediate collapse. Because I knew there was stuff I’d have to do when we got home. I knew like I knew my mom would be the point person, my mom, she’s the rock of our family. My dad and I are typically the more like emotional, mushy people and like I knew that like with my dad having found him. I needed to do my best to protect him from anything else that he’d have to do any other decisions he’d have to make. And so I did feel like kind of getting into action mode. And it was also it was like, well, it’s the holidays and like what does that mean for scheduling of things and like, who’s gonna wanna come to a funeral during the week of Christmas. And it was just like, yeah.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 32:21
I don’t even think about that.
Kate Green 32:23
It’s called sad week trademark. Because it’s his birthday, December 20. He died on December 23rd. Christmas. And then his funeral was on the 27th. So it’s just nicely packed. It’s very convenient. It’s very convenient.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 32:41
I assume has really fucked Christmases.
Kate Green 32:44
Oh, fuck Christmas. And honestly, like, my parents will hate it if they hear that, but I don’t care. I like even before this holidays were fraught, because somehow Ryan always had this ability to hone in on a holiday and blow it up. And even when he was trying not to you, there’s this underlying percolating fear of like, what’s going to go sideways today. So this almost is like a nice way to tie the bow truly on fuck you Christmas. And we don’t even have to acknowledge it if we don’t want to. This is sad week now. And we will proceed accordingly.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 33:19
It’s so wild because I’m almost eight years old now. And I forgot until you said it. How angry I always was that Harris fucked up every holiday. I was always so pissed at him for ruining my expectation of how this fucking day was supposed to go.
Kate Green 33:46
yeah. And just like, holding your breath and like, what person is gonna walk out of the room into this dinner into this event into my wedding. Like, who are we getting? We get in here. And why do I hate that? I have to even like, think about that for a second.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:00
Yeah. And then you feel like a horrible person.
Kate Green 34:04
And I was told that I was a heart like, anytime you may be slightly question someone who thinks they’re doing their best. They’ll let you know that. That’s not the question that they want to have asked of them.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:14
Indeed. Yeah, yeah. Okay, so you’re you get home. It is the thick of holiday cheer. The worst time to be consumed by sorrow. Everyone is so fucking happy. During the worst week of your life, which is so annoying, were you like living in a parallel universe? Did you like you were in the upside down?
Kate Green 34:45
I was not on this planet. The upside down is a perfect, perfect descriptor for it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:49
Looks like it a little bit but it’s dark.
Kate Green 34:52
Yeah, like all the decorations we’re still up. decorations were still up. But like we’re sobbing in a corner. We’re like staying up too late trying to write this eulogy. Do you were not eating and like it just, it was a really interesting confluence of things like the happiest time of the year for most people and literally the worst day week of my life, of our family’s life.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 35:15
Speaking of that, I want to really hear from you hear, because it’s something I still feel kind of, like shameful about, but that persistent my brother’s gonna die anxiety. That was like holding me hostage. When that went away. It was like, this profound sorrow took its place. So there was a I heard this week, actually, somebody was saying, when you look ahead, when you’re like anticipating something in the future, it’s anxiety. And when you’re looking back, and you’re reflecting on the past, it’s depression. And I was like, oh, my God, yes. Because I was so anxious about him dying, and him getting hurt, and him not being around anymore, that I was like suffocating constantly from that. But then once he died, I was reflecting on all of our memories together, the anxiety was replaced by a profound pool of sorrow and depression. And with that, here’s the part that feels shameful. There’s a relief. Did you experience that? Am I a monster?
Kate Green 36:28
Oh my god, it totally does. It’s also really you calling him the sun, right? Like we orbited around the sun and then the sun went away. But then there’s this other imagery that’s coming to me that when you’re in that cycle, you’re living in a shadow you’re living in somebody’s shadow just constantly you can’t have access to the sun so it that’s like a profound thing that’s like kind of like in my brain right now that that it does feel simultaneously like this is the crux of the family unit and also it is completely destroyed the family unit.
Kate Green 36:28
You are not a monster that is almost a cookie cutter my experience that like suffocating anxiety, always, like persistently, constantly for years. And then that’s removed and sort of how we all orbited around him, the sun was taken out of our solar system. And so we had to, in a really like in an upsetting way, but also in a really nice way, figure out how to reform our family dynamic, and what that looks like, while still honoring that we are a family of four. But like, physically, we’re only a family of three now. And I think that’s our sorrow and that depression. I’m almost happy that it’s there to some degree because it it forces you to always remember that you were that family of four. And that you still are just looks different. And it’s afforded my parents and I have this really nice opportunity to have like an like an adult relationship together. Like they’re two of my best friends. We FaceTime multiple times a week, I go home whenever I can. And I just genuinely enjoy their company. Not that I didn’t before, but it always had this like, air of whatever bullshit was going on with Ryan. And then if we have time to talk about other things, like we’ll get to it. So there’s definitely guilt there. Because what I do I wish he were here 100%, even with all the bullshit, all day every day, I would wish that but it has allowed this different space of breathing room and existence and growth for our family unit as it stands now that we never would have experienced otherwise, if that makes sense.
Kate Green 38:54
I love how you just put that I had not thought of that piece of it. But it’s the perfect like, that’s the story of it. That’s how it encapsulates.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 39:25
We are back, Ryan is gone. And Kate and her family are trying to figure out how to continue existing in the world without him. And in the weeks that follow, there’s a new year, a fresh start. Only because we can all remember 2020 didn’t exactly feel like a fresh start for a very long note. Pretty soon we’re all wiping down grocery deliveries with Clorox and making homemade masks out of bandanas and hair ties.
Kate Green 39:59
Yeah, that was a bit of a shitstorm. So I went back to Boston after everything was said and done, I think right around New Year’s and my parents and I had this agreement. We would see each other every six weeks, if not before. It was like our little cutesy little tagline. Like, my mom dropped me off at the ferry to go back and she said, I said, I’ll see you in six weeks. She said, if not before. And she’s very cute. Patty Green.
Kate Green 40:28
Oh, my God, her name is Patty?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:30
Holy shit. Of course, her name is Patty. I just feel like Patty Green is like who she is. I would name her that if I was writing her in a book. It’s her identity. Patty, I love you. I’m just gonna say this right now. And I’m excited to hang out someday. Okay, keep going.
Kate Green 40:49
So, remember that week before, like leading up to the full shutdown. It’s like all these like, conversations happening around us. And so that happened. And I felt like I couldn’t, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything with my grief. Because the world was grieving the entire universe was grieving either a loss of someone or a loss of just their regular day to day or whatever. It wasn’t like who am I to say, I only have these a couple of weeks ago, excuse me, sorry, mine still, mine still here, too. So I really, I think I did myself a little bit of a disservice that year. And I just kind of put it away. And I don’t think that was very fair to 2020 me, but it’s what happened. And my parents might Facetime time to time. And did our best to maintain that like being vulnerably sad with each other virtually is weird. Instead of just like sitting around the coziness of your own home for Mother’s Day, we drove down to New York to socially distance for an hour and surprise my mom, and then drive back. It was the easiest traffic we’ve ever experienced. But it was just like, I couldn’t not be with her on Mother’s Day, for that Mother’s Day. It was like an impossibility. But I didn’t really like allow myself an outlet to kind of spend time with my grief and like trying to figure out what this thing looks like now in my life.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 42:29
And that, can you recall a moment or a point where you were like, you know what, avoiding these feelings isn’t really serving me anymore. Like was there a moment where you were like, I have to get into this?
Kate Green 42:45
Yeah, yeah. So in 2021, I was on a run, I was listening to a podcast. It’s a running podcast, called the ally on the run show. If you’re into running podcasts.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 42:57
I’m gonna love it. It’s gonna be my favorite podcast, keep going.
Kate Green 43:06
She was interviewing a woman named Meg, who was talking about her experience with something called the Heron project. And the Heron project is a nonprofit that offers support both for people struggling with substance misuse, and also their families and other loved ones. And what so much of what she was saying felt very relatable to me. And I thought, Okay, well, let me like, I like googled them when I got home. And I learned that they have weekly grief groups. And so I submitted my information, and almost immediately got an email back welcoming me to the next Tuesday night grief group. And I was like, oh, that was that was too fast that I was not prepared for. And so, every Tuesday for the next three months, I received a zoom. I, God bless Rebecca, who’s our grief group leader, she kept me on that district list and sent me the Zoom link every single Tuesday. And it wasn’t until there was no reason why I shouldn’t I would like oh, I’m out in Iran. I’m at work. I’m out with friends. I’ve already had a glass of wine. This is not really a good time for me. And there’s no good time to sit down and talk about a shitty thing.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 44:17
No good time for a grief group. I’m just gonna put that out there and say, resolutely, though, you will never have a memory like and now I will step fully into the grief group.
Kate Green 44:30
Exactly right. And it was the first Tuesday November where I got there, I got the email, and it was like six o’clock and they’re at 630. And I was like, I’m sitting on my couch doing nothing. Let me just, I’ll just like log on and see. Yeah. And I logged on to like a Brady Bunch screen of people who were complete strangers in that moment, but who deeply knew my story and deeply understood my experience. And I felt like I’ve known these people my entire life. Meanwhile, I’ve been virtually zooming with them for like a year. And it was just so warm and wonderful to just be in this like space together. And then because of the Heron project, I learned that they host a marathon fundraising team for the Boston Marathon. And I never really wanted to run a marathon. But I thought, let me just like, throw my name into this application and see what happens. And by sheer chance, they had had a full team and somebody got injured and they had one Bibb left to give. And interestingly, when I’d seen that psychic medium, and Ryan had come through, he said, he really wants things like, named after him or like done in his days that are selfish that way. He’s like, very self-involved, like, name a school after me or like when I said, it gives me my child after me totally. And so I thought, like, here’s this opportunity to do just that. So I spent January through April fundraising, and being able to tell the story and bring awareness to the Heron project and to really in unique situations that I wouldn’t have normally brought them up. Like I had a dentist appointment, my dentist is like, what, what’s new what to get up to as, oh, we I’m training for the Boston Marathon, and he was like, wow, did you qualify it? I was like, absolutely not in fundraising. He’s like, oh, cool, who for? And I told him. And there’s always I don’t know, if you experienced this as well, there’s always that moment that you’re going to inform someone like really bad news, you know, what their face is going to look like. And you kind of wonder if you shouldn’t just despair them. But I’ve learned through this process that like, it’s okay, if that’s their response, I can still communicate my story and my experience, and maybe they know somebody’s going through something similar. Maybe they themselves are going through something similar, and they have a moment to feel connected, or that they’re learning something that they can take somewhere else. And so I’ve resisted the urge to not ruin somebody’s day, a lot of times, because you never know what it might bring after that.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 46:56
They definitely do have a connection to it. Like that’s the thing that that I have taken away from this is that everyone I tell they’re like, Oh, yes, my blah, blah, blah, ha, I mean, it is so unbelievably pervasive. Unfortunately, it and when we were actually pitching last day out, we kept getting the feedback. It’s so niche. I’m like, excuse me, ma’am. No, it’s not. No one’s talking about it, because it sucks. But it’s not me-ish. Everyone knows someone. And because everyone does know someone or perhaps has lost someone talking about it helps. It’s something we can do to help ourselves move through it, which, let’s be honest, is such a process in and of itself.
Kate Green 47:53
It was not a box, I could check and have it be shelved, and it would go away. And that has been the most transformative, like illuminating experience, like last few years of my life, really like digging in and spending time and doing different things. has been the greatest gift that I could give myself. And I think I know would make Ryan so proud. Instead of just sitting with it, or putting it away, finding ways to honor it, because in that conversation, I have to talk about him. And I have to introduce new people to him. And it’s such a gift. And it’s hard to do sometimes like it’s obviously highly emotional, but it has been the single most transformative thing that’s happened to me of this entire experience in terms of and I didn’t really look at it stuff until I again, I read this prompt from you of who I was before and who I am now and how that completely changed me as a human.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 49:04
Oh my god. I’m really so glad you brought those.
Speaker 2 49:15
It’s still very sad. It still sucks. But if there’s ways to find some joy and light in the stuck, I’ll do that all day.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 49:26
I actually wanted to ask you about that because the happy-sad, the happy sad is the place where I just live now. And I remember I wrote this at the very end of the book, but there was a moment where I was looking through the rearview mirror at my daughter who is now calling me demanding that I bring her Valentine’s that she forgot. But like you are my sunshine came on and I it is the saddest song that’s ever existed first of all, and I’m looking at her and she’s like, clapping and just like feeling it and her body and like, just like, it was beautiful. I was like, I love this creature. This is the most beautiful sight. And I’m absolutely consumed with sorrow. At the same time, that I will never be able to share this with him, and he will never be able to experience this himself. And that those moments are so intense. And I’m wondering if you have had an happy sad moments like that?
Kate Green 50:39
Yeah, I mean, most, most recently, most specifically, the biggest thing was definitely the marathon. And this, I worded it somehow in the social media posts, because obviously, it’s very important to champion your successes on social media.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 50:52
Why would you run a marathon if you can’t share it on social media.
Kate Green 50:55
Exactly, exactly. But I think I said somebody effective, like, my greatest, it’s unfathomable how my greatest achievement is tied to like the greatest loss. But what a beautiful place for the two of those things to live. In my experience, and like, even like the running of the 26th brutal miles to Boston, I just kept thinking how proud you would be. And like, you would think it was so cool that let alone that I ran that that I raised money and that of course it was for him like he would love that especially. But it’s just like those moments of knowing that he would be proud. In the happy sad. And it sucks to know that I won’t have those in real time. But I know that like any other thing I do moving forward, he’ll be a part of it. And he’ll know in some way that it’s happening and he’ll be proud of me. But yeah, happy sounds a real thing.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 51:57
Man. I love how my happy sad is that I listened to a song on toddler radio and yours as I ran 26 miles. It’s fine. It’s not a contest. But I will say you’ve really shown me up today. Okay. The happy sad is real. And it’s something we’re going to talk about a lot on the show. Because life is never just one thing. Take the marathon, was Kate over the moon proud of running 26 miles in one day. Yes. Did she also lose three toenails that day? Also, yes. So if you thought this story ends with Kate going on to become a lifelong marathon runner. Think again. To believe the phrase she used was one and done. Still, she did it. She woke up one day and ran a whole ass marathon, which is something old Kate never did. I’m sitting here right now saying words into a microphone. Also something I never did before losing my person. So here we are doing cool things we never did in the shadow of profound loss. And I have to think that somewhere up there, Ryan and Harris are looking down on us feeling pretty darn proud. And just in case you need to hear how awesome it sounded when Kate crossed the finish line. Here you go.
Have I got some good news for you. There’s even more last day with Apple premium, subscribers get exclusive access to content like Kate’s tips and advice for anyone thinking of joining a grief group. Sign up now on Apple podcasts. Also, this is the first episode of the new season. If you want to know what else we have in store, I have more good news. We’ve got a little sneak peek that we dropped into the feed today. So go ahead and check that out. 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 as 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 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. You can find us online at Lemonada Media and you can find me at @wittelstephanie. Thank you for listening. We will see you next week.