Episode 5: The Rebellious Widow [Making Grief & Loss "Fun"]
During this episode, I talk with Jill Johnson-Young, otherwise known as "The Rebellious Widow." Jill is a grief therapist and expert, group practice owner, author, speaker, and so much more.
We discuss Jill's incredible grief journey where she talks about the grief and loss of two of her wives and marrying her third wife... the kicker is that they all knew each other in one way or another.
Talking Points Include:
- Why therapists don't feel comfortable talking about grief and loss
- Questions that you definitely should not ask someone grieving
- Jill's incredible outlook on some very difficult topics
- How to support clients and loved ones who are grieving
- Why it's important to get comfortable with the uncomfortable
- Destigmatizing grief and loss
Check out Jill's website for grief and loss resources, classes*, and community.
*Jill has a special offer for everyone listening to this podcast for 50% off of one of her courses using code: POD50
Season 1, Episode 5 – The Rebellious Widow (Making Grief & Loss “Fun”)
PATRICK CASALE: You're listening to the All Things Private Practice Podcast. I'm your host, Patrick Casale, in Asheville, North Carolina. Today I feel so, so grateful to have Jill Johnson-Young on. She is out in California, grief specialist extraordinaire, all things grief, essentially, has a group practice of 37 therapists, does speaking, education courses, all of the grief stuff makes a really hard, hard challenging topic fun to talk about. Jill, I'm really happy to have you on here.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I'm so glad I could be here. I loved getting to know you on Maui, and it's awesome to be around your people.
PATRICK CASALE: Thank you. I really consider you one of my people. Ever since we shared a meal in Maui I'm like, “I love Jill, I listen to Jill speak at Ernesto Sigismundo’s conference in Maui, and I'm like, “I'm sold. I could listen to Jill talk about grief all day.” This is a topic for a lot of people that feels taboo and uncomfortable. We're going to talk about your journey to get to where you are at currently. I'm just going to turn it over to you, and just tell us about entering private practice, and where this journey has taken you along the way.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It's been a wild ride, which I think it probably is, for a lot of private practice owners. I thought we were just going to own a small little, “Just the two of us practice.” We opened our practice in the middle of the recession, in 2010, which is always a wise time to invest money, and open a business that you don’t...
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I was a social worker for the county and for hospice. I never dreamed I'd open a business. And then, there we were. It was just a few months after my first wife had died, and then we started this nasty little office that had only walk up stairs. They were totally not to code, and I'm so glad our nice, big beautiful office is now plural, that have nice areas that you can sit outside, although, I haven't been to mine in a year and a half now because of COVID. But the practice started right after Linda died. My focus at that point was on child welfare and foster kids, because that's what we both come out of my business partners, Sherry Shocky Pope.
We just wanted to make therapists do better with our little people, because they were being labeled as having reactive attachment disorder, just because they were adopted or in foster care. We went on sort of a little speaking gig thing across the state to try and train therapists to do that. I went, “Oh, this is fun. I enjoy doing this.” I like public speaking anyway, because I'm political, so it's always fun to go to city council and whatever. And then, I gradually morphed my side away from kids, and into grief and loss, because as a therapist, I brought my hospice work in, and I love doing end of life work. I love giving people the freedom to make end of life when it needs to be. I was very blessed to be able to walk my first wife out through her illness, and she was sick for a very long time with pulmonary fibrosis caused by breast cancer and chemo. I knew that I wanted to do something with that. But I couldn't work for hospice anymore.
We worked two jobs for a while, and I just needed to get off the road. I’d had a stroke. I needed to not drive all day long. I shaved my part of the practice into grief and loss, death and dying, dementia, all the fun stuff, right? Which my business partner does not enjoy. She's a practice builder, she's EMDR, she's definitely not grief and loss. It was my safe space. I enjoy doing it. I had time because I had a private practice to write the books I wanted to write, so I wrote some children's books that I wished I'd had as a hospice provider about expecting a death, and after a death, and pet death. And then, I decided I needed to write a workbook, because I didn't have any materials to work with. It made sense to me.
I'm very, very oriented towards solution-focused and towards making grief a time of growth, and changing up your life the way you wanted to. In the middle of that I went to the Grief Recovery Institute for a long weekend, because in between all of this, my second wife, who I married, had died. Linda was my first wife. She became friends with my soon to be second wife, who was our hospice nurse, and told us to marry. And then, she developed Lewy body dementia, and then she died. Now I'm married to a funeral director who took care of both of them. So, that's Jill in a nutshell. I've walked the walk, folks. When I'm doing this it's both personal and professional perspective. It's research-based, it's practice-based, it's Jill-based, boots on the ground.
PATRICK CASALE: What is Jill-based mean? Because, for people who don't yet know you, like that story that you just shared, that everything is interconnected, and you're so open to talk about it and this experience. Was that ever a challenge?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: There's such a bias in the therapist community about not being open, “Don't share your stuff, don't tell people about it. Write the book for kids, that way you're not talking about yourself.” My website stuff didn't talk about me having had losses. People could still find me because my obituaries were up. They would track me down that way, they’d Google, and they'd find me that way, and they'd come in. I was working with Jo Muirhead, and she's like, “Chill, people need to know you.” I said, “Jo, you're not supposed to talk about yourself. We have rules, right? Empty chair, and blank page, and all that. We have rules.” She said, “Yeah, that's just bullshit.” And so, in her usual Jo way, and she used that word. She used some kind of Australian term for it. But that's what the translation was, right?
And so, she said, “Just try being open about you.” I had to talk it through with my business partner, was like, “Yeah, we're not supposed to really share a lot about ourselves.” I said, “I’m really am going to dive deeper on this.” And so, I started really working on making grief who I was, and what I talked about, and what I trained on, and introducing myself as having been there and done that. All of a sudden it became, therapists were able to listen to me, because I wasn't just talking theory, I was talking about end of life happens, and here's a picture of my first wife in bed, right? At the end of someone's death, when it's an intimate partner, that emptiness in that bed is huge.
And so, I've been able to bring in new topics, as I've grown as a speaker, and as hopefully now becoming an influencer in grief and loss into talking about the things that I run into with my clients and the experiences they're having. I've now developed a specialty in intimate partner loss, and making hospices, and therapists talk about it, because they don't like to talk about death, dying, grief, loss, or sex. None of that is in the inbox.
PATRICK CASALE: All taboo, all uncomfortable.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: All taboo, all the bad, yeah.
PATRICK CASALE: But in absolute part of life, and inevitable.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: You would hope so.
PATRICK CASALE: You would hope so, right? All of those things go together, and so, your willingness to dive deep, and be real, and be authentic was kind of, probably, against the norm at that time as you're developing this, and you start to talk about topics that are pretty polarizing. I remember listening to you speak in Maui, and I was like, “This is one of the best speaker performances I've ever seen.” Because of the authenticity, because of how willing you were to just share your own story and journey with grief and loss. Jo Muirhead tells you to be real, you are telling your business partner that you're considering doing that. There's some maybe resistance there, because it's not the norm at the time, then what happens?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Then I just dove deep, and I did it. But it was super uncomfortable. I kept watching for feedback, right? I was almost addicted to social media going, “All right, who's saying bad things about me? You know, who's arguing with me?” There were arguments, right? You get in some of those big groups right now, and you say, “You should be authentic, you should share your story.” And the attack is on, right? “I'm reporting you, your license is toast, how dare you share that?” My reaction started to become, “It's what my clients want, it’s what they need, and if you're not doing it, that's why you're not seeing them.”
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely, and I don't think we can go as deep with our clients if we're not willing to go deep ourselves. For clients who are struggling with end of life, partner loss, pet loss, and all of the losses and grief that comes with it, those clients need that support. They need to feel understood, seen and validated. They need to know that you get it and you definitely get it.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They don't necessarily need to hear the details. They don't want to know what your story meant, but they need to know, and they will call and say, “I'm going to wait to see you, because you've been there.” Now some of them call and say, “I want to see you because you're older.” And then I want to cry but, “You're of a certain age now Jill.”
PATRICK CASALE: Is that why the blue streak in the hair still exists right now?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: That’s exactly why it’s there. I will have a blue streak in my hair until they take me out, right? But I haven't decided I'm going to be taking it out yet, because there's so many options these days, right?
PATRICK CASALE: There are.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Which is funny to talk about too, right?
PATRICK CASALE: For sure.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I don't think I want the hydrolysis thing. I don't think I want to be melted. But maybe the return basket would be fun done in teal, right?
PATRICK CASALE: I like that you're thinking about this stuff, though. Because this is the stuff that people think about, but they feel shame to bring it up. They feel like they're going to be imposing or making their own therapists uncomfortable if they talk about death, dying, and loss.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They won't talk about most of the topics related to death and dying, and grief and loss. They won't talk about a lot of stuff related dementia either. They won't talk about it because so much of it is intimate. They won't talk about the fact that they want after death contact with their loved one, and yet 80% do and 60% find a practitioner to help them with it, and 100% won't tell their therapist. They will tell me, but they won't tell others, because they think, “You're going to think I'm some kind of freak, or I'm in denial, or any of those other things.” when in fact, it's the norm for grievers. They want to come in and say, “I just miss lying in bed naked next to my loved one.” And they're not going to say that to the average therapist, because that therapist, as far as they know, has never even lost their pet rock, [CROSSTALK 00:10:06].
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely, so it sounds-
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And then, they’ll know that I’ve buried two wives, so they know that I understand that feeling.
PATRICK CASALE: For sure. So it creates almost instantaneous rapport, maybe without even meeting you. When they're reading your bio, they're reading your content, they see your name out there, they already know Jill gets it. I can be vulnerable with her, because she gets it. She's been there. This experience has happened to her before, and she's willing to talk about it.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Right, and I'm willing to talk about all the different parts of grief. If I'm doing something about children's grief, I will talk about the kids that I've worked with. I will talk about going to the mortuary with a group of second graders, and making pictures for their teacher who's laying in the casket. I will talk about those things, because that's real life. And it's not a real life part that most of us want to do. There are a lot of us who won't even go to funerals. “Oh, no, that's uncomfortable for me.” Yeah, I know. This is post COVID, you're going to all the funerals. Nobody gets a pass now.
PATRICK CASALE: No, and you're absolutely right. This is real life. This is real life, and normalizing the fact that this is a part of real life is really powerful, and it's got to be somewhat controversial at times, like you said, so it brings up a lot of shit for people, it brings up a lot of their own anxieties, panic, and fear. We need to be able to discuss things that are challenging, that are difficult, because our clients are going through it. If we can't do that, then we need to refer them to someone who can.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I was being interviewed by someone from a local NPR station, she said, “You know, your book has a sense of humor, even though you're talking about grief.” Well, of course it does, because grievers want to have a sense of humor. That's how we get through this stuff. She said, “You're really kind of open about stuff that happened to you. Are therapists supposed to do that?” Well actually, if you asked someone in grad school, you'll probably be told no. But that's something we need to deprogram, and it is something we need to.
When I do speaking gigs, sometimes people come up and say, “Isn't it weird working with clients if they know your story? Should you have done that?” There's still that kind of feedback occurring, and now I can just say, “You know what? If a client finds me and comes to me, because they've read my story, it's because that means something to them, and it gives them a sense of control, urgency, or you're going to get me, and I'm glad to do that for them, right?
PATRICK CASALE: It’s such a powerful way to walk alongside a client, is to do that for them, and to be open and vulnerable yourself. I think that also creates light at the end of the tunnel to some degree, and hope, and optimism that you can work through it.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And that's what they'll say, “I see you and you're out there, and you are smiling, and you're bubbly when you do things, and community, and I know you've buried two people.” Actually, they’re a lot more, but those two in particular. They'll say, “I want to be able to do that.” And I can say, “Look, if you work with me, and we do the process, and it's a process that works for you, you'll be there too. You probably won't be doing what I'm doing, but you're going to be doing something. And we're going to find a way to make your loved ones memories stay alive, so you can continue to keep them out there in the community as part of your life and you're going to feel better. It's not magic, it's going to hurt. There’re going to be some really suckish days and nights, but we're going to get to the other side.”
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, absolutely. That's got to be so uplifting for people going through such a hellacious painful process too. You mentioned, it doesn't ever go away, that grief, that's always there, right? To some extent. It just might not be as painful most of the time.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: The way I look at grief is, the grief is one you do the work. And then you recover, and you still miss them occasionally. There are still grief attacks, you got to pull the car over. When I'm talking to a griefer on the phone the first time and they say, “You know, I have to pull the car over?” Of course you do. Everybody does. “And you're female, so you cry in the shower too, right? So people won't hear you.” Like, “How did you know?” Because we all do that? Because we're trained not to show our emotions, because we're taking care of everyone else, right?
There's all kinds of things that if you can be vulnerable and share with your clients, and not get weird about it, and think someone's going to call the licensing police on you, you can actually make it a better experience for your clients. And you can teach your therapists that it's okay to talk about yourself, and you still fit in the community. You don't have to stick with stages. And you know that you you've got to do the stages, and then we'll be all better, and you don't got to do that. You can… listen to my grammar today. Can you tell I've been talking all morning?
PATRICK CASALE: You've been recording all day. I get it. I totally get it. I've stumbled over my words right now, that's why I'm being quiet.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I've been going since 8:00, which is unusual for me, anyway. I'm not a morning person. But I want to make sure that if I'm going to be authentic, it's going to also set an example for other people to be, because there are so many of us who just feel like, “Okay, when I walk into my office, I shut the door. I'm just going to be all the client needs and I'm going to do that. But I'm going to be Jill in the meantime, and I'm going to smile, and I'm going to laugh and I'm probably going to use foul language, because that's kind of how it works when you're doing grief work and working with people coping with dementia, and there's flashback to that too, because there's lots of therapists who think cursing is very taboo, you shouldn't do it.
PATRICK CASALE: I think we're starting to really, hopefully, move away from this era of psychotherapy, where you have to be that blank slate, where you have to be robotic, where you're just supposed to nod and smile, and never show emotion or share your story. I hope that we can continue to empower therapists to share a little bit because, again, we're selling relational work, and we're supporting people through their journeys. They want to know that they're not alone. You showing up in this way for them in such a hard, challenging painful time in their lives allows them to know they're not alone. And what more could you do than just show up in that authentic way?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And just be able to hold the space and not need to say all the things that people don't want to hear, because it's too painful to listen to their story, which is still the things therapists do.
PATRICK CASALE: All those things.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Oh, good God.
PATRICK CASALE: You have a list. I know you hear a lot of-
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I have a five page list.
PATRICK CASALE: Right, right. What are some of the hits of like-
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: The highlights-
PATRICK CASALE: …don’t say this to grief clients.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Don't say, aren't you glad they're out of pain? Or that their illness is over? Or they're in a better place? Don't tell kids, “Well, you should be glad that at least daddy's able to watch over you as an angel.” Because that kid's going to be thinking that, “I wish it was your daddy that was dead, and was an angel, because I want my back, and if you're telling me that he's watching over me, I'm not going to pee tonight, because that's going to be weird, right?” Or I'm not going to go to bed if you tell them they went to sleep instead of that they died. They hear things like, “That must be such a relief.” Or, “Well, you're young enough to get married again.” They don't say that to me anymore. They're a little afraid to say those words. My new wife is very grateful for that. She wants to stay on this side of the dirt, but…
PATRICK CASALE: Understandably so.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They say things like, they wonder how someone died. “Tell me the specifics.” Stop it. If they wanted to share it with you, they would. Don't probe. You're not their therapist.
PATRICK CASALE: What does this stuff do to their experiences, when clients are hearing things like that from loved ones, friends, or colleagues?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It shuts them down, and it pisses them off, right? I saw two therapists, one after each wife died. Both of them used the miracle question. I mean, you still don’t have that power folks. We're therapists, we cannot bring people back to life, not even with the best of Tinker Bell. Don't ask why they did this or why they did that, because that implies judgment. But when they hear, they're in a better place, you know that they have never had a loss.
PATRICK CASALE: So you're experiencing these losses with wives back to back, and each therapist asks the miracle question, how do you respond to that therapist? Do you instantly shut down and think in your head, “I'm not coming back here.”
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I made instantly the decision I wasn't coming back. But being the typical me, I just said, “Are you Tinker Bell, right? You do not have that power, right?” Not even Mary Poppins could pull them out of her purse. They are dead. They're in boxes. And besides that, after my second wife died, I'd be a bigamist, and that would be really awkward, right? And then, she said-
PATRICK CASALE: And that’s not what you needed at the time, right?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: She said, “Aren't you glad they'll be waiting for you?” I'm like, “Do you consider you that there might be a traffic jam when I die?” Because, first of all I’d pull that anti-
PATRICK CASALE: I imagine you made her very uncomfortable,
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I did. She never want to see me again, either. I collect antique poodles who die. I'm going to have a crowd. So that's okay. But don't tell me to be glad for that. Because then I know that you haven't had that experience with that kind of loss, and that just shuts it down. You don't had to have the same loss as a client to be a really accurate on target helpful therapist, but you have to acknowledge you've had a loss.
PATRICK CASALE: In those situations, I know you're training newer therapists to deal and process grief, and do it in a way that is actually therapeutic. What are some responses and ways to handle difficult situations like that, instead of the miracle question, or that aren't you glad they're no longer in pain, or whatever the case may be.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Therapeutic silence goes a long way. If someone's telling their story, let them tell their story. If it takes three sessions, and you never get to ask about family medical history, let them tell their story for God's sakes. Do make sure that you send them out to the doctor and get basic labs, and you make sure they're healthy after such an experience. But just let them tell their story. Ask them what stuff they heard from other people that's not helpful. They will give you their list and you can add it to yours.
PATRICK CASALE: That's great advice. I think the power of therapeutic silence gets lost when the therapist is uncomfortable-
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: That’s when it goes away.
PATRICK CASALE: …that therapist has to jump in. I have to say something, because I am uncomfortable with sitting here right now with what's coming up.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Or, I'm defending against remembering my own losses that I haven't finished, and that’s [CROSSTALK 00:19:32].
PATRICK CASALE: How many therapists haven't done their own fucking work out there? I mean, we're in this field a lot of the times for the wrong reasons. I think that's great advice. And don't ask these questions, if you're listening to this. Don't ask the question of the miracle question or the daddy's watching over you, or any of that stuff.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Please don’t.
PATRICK CASALE: I mean, you're going to make people really uncomfortable, they're going to shut down, and they're not going to come back to you, because you don't get it, and you're not holding the space that you need to be holding for this situation, for this person.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: The research says they also won't try another therapist, or if they do, it will be five plus years. So you've chased them away from any kind of professional support, which isn't fair to the client.
PATRICK CASALE: It's not fair to the client, and they're handling this on their own, and probably in an unhealthy way. Maybe that leads to increase in substance use, or whatever the case may be. But we don't want to be turning clients away, because we are uncomfortable. If you are that uncomfortable, and just don't get it, refer them to the person who can, because we want people to land in the right places. I know you've mentioned this before, like grief therapists who are actually grief therapists who have done the training, who have done the work. That's really important too.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It is. I was on a podcast with somebody else, and they're of the opinion that there shouldn't be specialties in a lot of therapy. For some, anxiety, depression, okay, maybe. We all deal with that. But don't hold yourself out as doing grief work if you haven't at least had some advanced training in it more than five stages. Don't talk about stages when someone's already died. Please stop.
PATRICK CASALE: I was going to ask you about that. We can ruffle feathers on this podcast. I want us to talk about things that make people uncomfortable. Do you mind telling me about your thoughts on the five stages of grief?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Oh, so many thoughts. The five stages are fabulous if someone's dying. I do do work with people who are dying in their families. And so, that is when you have some of those, although, I don't use the exact words. I don't use denial, I use date of diagnosis, right? When someone's died, you are no longer doing anticipatory grief. Those stages were describing a dying person's experience, and what the family is experiencing with them. You aren't experiencing that after someone has died. You may be sad, you probably will be. But that's not because you're in a stage. You might be angry, but that's not a stage. You've got all the emotions available to you. If you don't have one of them, you're not doing it wrong, which is where they get in the way. People will come in and say, “I'm here because my so and so said I'm doing this wrong. I'm smiling too much. I'm not mad.”
And they've got this whole list of things that people have tried to imply they should be doing, and what they really want to do is grief their way with support for doing it that way. And those are my people.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. Those are your people for sure, and it's such a complicated subject, right? Because you can vacillate between emotions pretty quickly when someone's died or passed away. And anger, sadness, like all those things could be happening at the same fucking time. They don't have to be linear.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They're not linear. It's like a horseshoe and everything just bounces back and forth like a ping pong ball, right? Anger, can be frustration, can be short tempered, can be, “Did you really just ask me that?” Part of what you do with clients is teach them how to set boundaries, really firm boundaries, like K-Rail on K-Rail boundaries, and a little bit of tin over the top, like our bubbles right now. You want the boundaries, so that they can decide how they want to do this, and not have grief rules applied to them that they have to follow, because they don't.
PATRICK CASALE: That’s so important to remember, that they get to do this their own way and setting boundaries for them.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And that's why I am authentic and why I do share my story, and share it widely, because I didn't follow the rules. When you don't follow rules, it means you're not letting other people impose their version of grief on you. And it's healthier. You're not as stressed, you don't have the inflammatory process that other people do, you can recreate your life faster, because you're not trying to live your life to someone else's expectation.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. That's so true. Your story is very, I don't imagine it's unique, but the interconnectedness is always fascinating to me. Wife one is connected to wife two, who's connected to wife three, essentially. All of them, right?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Wife three new both of them.
PATRICK CASALE: Right?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Yes.
PATRICK CASALE: How has that been? How's that journey been for you? Do you ever get people who are like, “Why would you have married wife two who was taking care of wife one?”
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: That was therapist number two who said that?
PATRICK CASALE: Really?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And she also said that-
PATRICK CASALE: She openly named that?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And then, she also said, “Didn’t you get a check to see if she had any diseases?” Okay, don't say that either, folks, okay?
PATRICK CASALE: Add that to the list people, don't fucking say that to your clients.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: If someone has lost two of anybody don't ask if they've gotten them pre-checked. They're not horses, and you don't take them to the vets, right? We're not checking teeth, and just for the record, second wife died of Lewy body dementia, which you can't see. It's literally all in your head. It showed up after we were together. But that implies that you only can love somebody who's healthy after someone's died, and that's not true either.
PATRICK CASALE: It's not true at all.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Don't say those things. Support someone in the decisions they've made, be their cheerleader. That's what a griever needs, is a cheerleader as they try to navigate where they want to go from here. If they make a mistake, they need you to not say, “I told you you should have waited a year.” You say, “Okay, so what did we learn from that lesson, so we can apply that to our book of things that you need in your how to do life after loss?”
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, absolutely. Don't shame your clients for their decisions. They're not our decisions to make as is. This is reminding me a lot of addiction work right now, of like relapsing, and decisions of that nature, where you don't need to go on that road. I think this is really important, and this is a conversation that needs to be heard more, and more, and more. I know you're speaking all over the place about this, you're involved in so many communities. So it sounds like your interests are now shifting to dementia care, and end of life that has to do with cognitive decline in some ways?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I do that as a parallel. That's my other side. Yeah, I run a dementia support group for the community. It's free, it's online, it's nationwide now. And that's on the third Saturday of every month, so anybody who wants to come just needs to let me know, and we'll send you the link. Dementia is my other half of my world. I do a lot of training and education on that, because dementia affects one in eight of us, by the time we're 65. Look around, folks. If you're in a group of 10 people, one of you is going to have dementia. That's just the reality. And to be my usual open self, I do genealogy. I have a lot of dementia in my family. They read my DNA, and don't you know, when I'm about 85 I will have Alzheimer's. I'm going to have all the fun now. I hope that my Alzheimer's will make me just a little more fun and a little more crazy. I’m still going to have blue hair.
PATRICK CASALE: I like that reframing perspective. And that's another topic and diagnosis that is not talked about very often. It's almost looked at as like, we are only going to talk about this in medical settings. We're not going to talk about this in the mental health field. Why do you think that is?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Because we're taught in some weird way, by implication, that if it belongs to neurology, it doesn't belong to us. The reality is 50% of doctors never tell their patient that they have dementia, and they don't tell the family either. And so that person is left not understanding what's going on. And then, to make it better, they refer them to a therapist, and say, “I suspect depression, because dementia and depression can look alike until things advance a little more. And so we really have to know about it, so we can ferret it out and get them back to a real neurologist, not that neurologist to get a better understanding of what's going on, so they can at least take care of business and make some plans as dementia is 100% fatal. Don't listen to all the stuff about the white flower, and somebody is the first survivor. We're not there yet.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I think that knowing the right neurologist and the right practitioners who really are able to assess and make appropriate referrals is also a really important piece of supporting people with struggles that are beyond our capacity, ability or understanding.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Yeah, we're not going to cross over and do the medical, but we should be able to provide the support. We should know enough about each of the dementias to be able to know what they're experiencing, and get them what they need, and reference what's going on in their world. Most therapists don't. Grad school’s not five years long, I get it. But grad schools, if you're listening, you need to be talking about it, because they don't. I went to a [CROSSTALK 00:27:37].
PATRICK CASALE: They don’t.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: …dementia never came up.
PATRICK CASALE: I don't even know if death and dying came up in my grad school program.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It is now a choice class. You don't have to take it. My daughter just finished grad school and don't you know, she did take the death and dying class, and didn't tell me. I was, “Why didn't you tell me my dear?” She said, “Because I knew you were going to go down there and raise hell mom, because it was all stages, and how to help people with stages.” She was like, “Yeah, I needed to take it for an elective, but they were wrong, so I just told my friends to look your stuff up, and then you can talk to them if they need it.” [CROSSTALK 00:28:13].
PATRICK CASALE: That's a pretty big endorsement.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Yeah, it is. That’s nice when the kids do that. But my kids have had losses. They understand the different loss.
PATRICK CASALE: Sure. I'm trying to think right now about people who haven't, and that's got to be such a rarity of, I had never experienced a loss in my life.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I was doing a support group with one of my staff people, one of our junior staff people who's turning into a rock star of sorts and taking on all kinds of stuff. I said, “You have to disclose your own losses, because we're going to do full disclosure in a lot of the activities, and we are the leaders, so we share our story. You can choose which loss, but you have to share.” She said, “But Jill no one's ever died.” I said, “I didn't say it, deaths, I said loss. You and your boyfriend just broke up last year. You were together five years. These people lost their spouses.” I said, “Talk about it, see what happens.”
She used that as her loss. That group was all circled around her, and they incorporated that into the loss of their spouses. They could see the parallels. You just have to be able to acknowledge you've had losses. It could be your pet rock, your goldfish, you've had a loss. [CROSSTALK 00:29:13]
PATRICK CASALE: Do you think a lot of people-
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: …you’ve moved.
PATRICK CASALE: Right, you've lost a sense of your identity, your safe place or your familiarity. We've talked about addiction being a loss in a way of like, even though it's unhealthy, you're losing a part of yourself, you're losing a part of your life.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: You’re losing the people you did that with.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely, the people, places, and things. Do you think that most people associate talking about this stuff with death specifically, and they lose sight of the fact that all of these other things are losses as well?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They lose sight of that, they lose sight of the fact that every loss counts. You know, “Well, yeah, if your brother died I'm so sorry. But you know he lived in another state or he was in the military. You didn't see each other that much?” Oh, no, that's a loss, right?
PATRICK CASALE: For sure.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Your best friend, your pets are the biggest loss of all for many people, especially with the pandemic, because I think something like 35 to 40% of houses now have a pet, right?
PATRICK CASALE: Yap. Coming from a family that adopted a Shih Tzu in March, that was…
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I watched that too.
PATRICK CASALE: But you're right, though, our pets are such a big loss. They're such a source of unconditional love, and they are around us all the time. I was having this conversation with a friend yesterday, and she said, “Why do you think that people take pet loss so hard?” I mean, that is, as far as I could think, was just the unconditional love and the constant connection. But I don't know if you can elaborate on that at all, but it feels real.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: My joking response is our pets are the only ones who get so excited when we get home that they pee on the floor, not even our friends do that for us.
PATRICK CASALE: That's very true.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It is. We are their people, we are their entire lives. And if you're a pet person, you get that. When I was teaching this morning, my friend decided that I had talked long enough without his help, and he crawled up on my lap, and he co-taught with me for half an hour. They're an integral part of our lives. If you're a real pet person, when you are leaving to go on vacation, or to go on a trip, right? We say goodbye to them, we tell them we'll be back, we tell them to be good. It's a relationship.
PATRICK CASALE: You worry about their outcome and their well-being while you're away. They have the best pet sitter, but I'm concerned something's going to happen to them. That's our whole world in a way if you're a pet person, and we are their whole world for sure. I've never seen someone get so excited as when I come home and our Shit Tzu is jumping relentlessly like to get picked up and he will not stop until you pick him up, and he knows you're okay. And I’m like, “This is unbelievable.”
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It’s happy, happy, happy, right?
PATRICK CASALE: Right, and they just love us so much. It's such a sadness when they die. And that loss is really challenging, because a lot of people I don't think can fully comprehend like, “It's just your pet, it's just your dog. You can be sad, but you have to move on from this pretty immediately.” I hear that a lot.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Those are all the wrong words. No griever of any kind wants to hear move on, or it's just, or why are you still sad? Not for pets, not for anybody. Pet loss is a very big deal. And if it's a single person with their pet, that was their whole world. That’s who they built their life around. You go to the grocery store, and you think about what you're going to buy for them just like you do if you got kids at home, right?
PATRICK CASALE: For sure.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I got home last night late and I stayed up until 1:00 AM making sure I cook their food, so it’d be ready for them today.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, you do everything in your world to support them, and you think about them when they're not around, and you think, “I'm going to buy this pet, this tree and I can't wait to see how excited they are to have it when I bring it home.” And then they look at it, and they're like, “Yeah, I've had better.”
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Our second newest kid dog who's about 14, and he can see sort of and he can bark sort of, but he's got a collapsing trachea. He makes a really loud noise. And he's next door right now, so we could talk without him interrupting us. His favorite toy’s the squeaky kind of furry sheep thing that sounds like a pig. He carries it everywhere. Mr. Tough Guy. He's 35 pounds a poodle. He looks like Wilbur in a sheep suit. But he carries that thing absolutely everywhere. Before that it was his pink pig that he carried everywhere. And you can't have someone like that in your house and not go. They're really part of the fabric of who I am now.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. I love the fact that you do this for all of these, you call them oodles? Is that it?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They’re the oodles of poodles, yes.
PATRICK CASALE: What made you decide this is where I'm going to spend my energy and I'm going to adopt these dogs who are really struggling and dying, and are at the end of life?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It happened by accident. My first wife was very much a poodle person. We had lots of others. I had Nikita. I used to be a big dog person. And then, we had several of them over the course of our years together. Fuzzy was the last one. She died at 17, a few years ago. When Fuzzy was starting to go downhill, my wife Stacy looked at me she said, because Fuzzy went to work with us, “We got to have a transitional dog for the office. We can't just have Fuzzy die and not have Fuzzy too already there.” And so, she got the car one day, and she said, “We're going to go out to some of the high kill shelters. I've identified who's got midlife poodles, that way you don't have yappy, barky, bidi, destructo dog, right?”
And we got Adele, who was just the most amazing creature, and she was about 10 at the time, and she fit in well, and then someone heard that we'd had her, and a dog was abandoned at an office with his eyes falling out. And so, because we already knew how to deal with a blind dog, he ended up at our house, and it just sort of morphed from there. Now there's a shelter here in our area who when they have a poodle who is not in good shape, they will call us, and say, “You know, we've got a dying dog, would you come and get him and give him a good end of life.” And that's what we do.
PATRICK CASALE: Because those dogs, people don't want those dogs, right? A lot of times they're not getting adopted.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: They're getting euthanized.
PATRICK CASALE: They're getting euthanized. So you're providing some dignity and some love for their end of life and their transitions.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: We've had an 18 year old who lasted about six months, who went from underfed, and starved to really healthy, and then cancer. We had one whose parent was being placed in a skilled nursing facility, and the dog was older, and the family just said, “Just put the dog to sleep.” And that vet's office called and said, “This dog still has some life left. She's blind, and she's deaf, but she's loving, and she just wants a home.” She came home and we put her in diapers with little bunnies, and ducks all over them, and they fit in. At the end of the day, when I'm doing grief work all day, I get to go outside and play with the dogs. If it's a hot day, Fred puts in breaks into the pool and goes swimming. And it makes the fabric of our lives a little bit brighter.
PATRICK CASALE: I love that, I really, really love that. That's such a beautiful, beautiful image, and sounds like such a good representation of your journey with all of this too, to just say, “Hey, we're going to give love, dignity and respect to people, animals, and relationships that are coming to an end.”
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: And making the best ending, which is really what I am all about, make the best ending, and make the best re-launch after someone has died. Pets or someone's not something [INDISCERNIBLE 00:36:00] so just remember that.
PATRICK CASALE: I agree wholeheartedly. Also, do you have those terms, tagline or trademark. This would be very good for everything that you're doing.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: I really should, but-
PATRICK CASALE: You really should.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: …I use #oodles and #oodle mom. I do use #therebelliouswidow, because that fits me too.
PATRICK CASALE: Just briefly before we talk about all the amazing things you're doing. The Rebellious Widow is one of the amazing things you're doing. I'm looking at the book over your shoulder right now, and you sent me a copy so graciously after Hawaii. Do you want to talk about that for a minute? Just you writing that book, and what that book is about?
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: That book is drawn from a series of blogs I wrote while both of my wives were sick and dying after their deaths, and the process that I went through, and the process they were going through, as well as some educational pieces, because I didn't have energy to talk to people individually. And then, my wife, Stacy, looked at them, and she said, “We got to do something with them.” They're used a lot, people reference them a lot. They've helped five people get diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, just because they have been passed along. They mean something. We need to do something with them. I put them together, and they were 330 pages long. I knew that wasn't going to work. And an editor very nicely said, “Jill, nobody wants to hear your story. They want it to help them.”
It's not an autobiography. It’s got stories woven in. But it's how to prepare for a spouse's death or anybody, how to manage hospice, how to manage the end of life, what dying looks like, and then how to manage grief, and come out on the other side. And on the website for it, it's actually got downloads for free that anybody can use for those processes. I love the way it came out. I'm really proud of it. I'm not one to toot the horn. But I'm really proud of that book, because it has helped a lot of people. I now get requests in the middle of the night, “Can you send a book out to because it helped me.” Right? And that's what I wanted it to do. I wanted it to say it's possible to be widowed, and it's possible to be happy again, and it's possible to not listen to those stupid widow rules, and it is possible for you to understand the dying process, so it doesn't haunt you, or cause PTSD.
You need to know that you manage hospice, they don't manage you. And you get to choose where you go after loss, which is a powerful thing. You get to throw that grief card down and remake your life if you want to. First wife was dying. I was working for CPS. I thought I'd be there for 40 years. By the time my second wife died, I was a business owner working full time in my business. Really did I re-made my life in part because of their deaths.
PATRICK CASALE: It's so powerful.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Yeah, it's a great story, it's a powerful story. It's something that can be an example. I hope nobody else has to do that story. But there are lots of double widows and widowers out there. Some of them are stuck, and some of them are, “Oh no. I want life again.” I want to see people want life again.
PATRICK CASALE: My own grandfather just died a couple of months ago, and my grandmother, who was married to him for 50 years, I think, is now doing a long distance relationship from New York with someone in North Carolina. She's 85, I love it.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Awesome thoughts.
PATRICK CASALE: She's gotten some looks of like people saying, “Isn't it too soon? Like, don't you…?” I'm like, “She has one life. Let her be happy. Like, we are human beings who need connection.” I'm all about it. She'll call me and say, “Hey, I wanted to tell you about what we talked about this week. I might come down and visit you and him at the same time.” I’m like, “Yes, please do that.”
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Take him out to dinner though. Make sure he's the right guy. You got to do that, right?
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, well, I do need to screen him for sure for her well-being. Jill, you have a ton of stuff. And I want you to just share where you can be found, how people can get connected to what you have to offer.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Well, The Rebellious Widow you can find on this very own website and read the first chapter too, and that is therebelliouswidow.com, super simple. And then, there's jilljohnsonyoung.com, no hyphens, no caps just shove it all together. And that's got all the classes that I teach, which are all going to become evergreen products, so that you can take them at any time, and they all come with NBCEs and they come with access to me for two office hours for consultation. It's a nice sweet deal there, because I want people to do grief better. And you'll find stuff about the grief support group on there, and all the links to all the other places on there.
There's also resources there about every kind of loss imaginable. If I hear of another one, I'll throw it on there, and all the dementias, so that if you just need resources pop on there. You'll find them there. You'll find links to other places like private practice grief on there, and other kinds of things. And then the podcasts that I'm on are on there, so that you can take a listen and see if you think I'm your person, or if you need to go find David Kessler, because you may be a Kessler fan, and that's okay, too. There's room for everybody. Yep.
PATRICK CASALE: Jill has a lot, a lot, a lot of resources. If you ever need to hire someone to speak about grief, I'd recommend it in complete confidence.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: It's recess for me.
PATRICK CASALE: She enjoys it, she makes it fun. I've never laughed during a training, talking about something that is really hard for people. I really, really appreciated that, and I appreciate you being on here. Jill is a force in the therapeutic communities. I really recommend checking her stuff out, and for you listening at home please feel free to download and subscribe to the All Things Private Practice Podcast. You can find more of my coaching, and podcasts, and retreat information at allthingspractice.com or join our Facebook group All Things Private Practice where we try to be authentic, talk about social justice, ruffle feathers, curse a lot and talk about really hard conversations. I really appreciate everyone listening and Jill, I really, really appreciate having you on today.
JILL JOHNSON-YOUNG: Thank you for having me. It's been a lot of fun. I'm so glad I'm in your group.
PATRICK CASALE: Thank you, me too.
FREE PRIVATE PRACTICE GUIDE
Join the weekly newsletter for private practice tips, podcast updates, special offers, & your free private practice startup guide!
We will not spam you or share your information. You can unsubscribe at any time.