'Modern Loss' co-author Rebecca Soffer talks humor and grief at Literati Bookstore

Tuesday, April 9, 2019 - 10:11pm

Rebecca Soffer, co-author of "Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.", speaks about changing the stigma around grief during Grief Week at Literati Tuesday.

Rebecca Soffer, co-author of "Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome.", speaks about changing the stigma around grief during Grief Week at Literati Tuesday. Buy this photo
Asha Lewis/Daily

Tuesday night, GrieveWell, an organization that helps people grieve through peer support, hosted Rebecca Soffer in an event at Literati Bookstore as part of the organization’s Grief Week event series. Rebecca Soffer co-authored “Modern Loss: Candid Conversations About Grief. Beginners Welcome” and was a producer of “The Colbert Report.”

The event, attended by about 50 people, began with GrieveWell Program Coordinator Christy Miller explaining the organization’s founding by Julie Stotlar and her husband after the death of their 6-year-old daughter in 2000.

Stotlar explained she wanted GrieveWell to provide what she needed after the loss of her daughter.

“It’s a kind, gentle, effective way to help someone through loss,” Stotlar said. “You can acclimate to (loss), but we never say you get over it.”

In addition to Soffer’s book talk, GrieveWell is hosting birdhouse, yoga and painting workshops, as well as a “Grief Meetup” at TeaHaus throughout the week. Miller described the organization’s goals in hosting Grief Week and how they help people who are grieving.

“Grief is a universal experience and we’re often unprepared for what happens when we lose a loved one,” Miller said. “Our goal is to provide one-to-one peer support for individuals to grieve and lead a full life again after loss.”

The event was a discussion between Soffer and Stotlar about their personal experience and “Modern Loss.” Soffer described her personal story and how the loss of her parents has impacted her life.

At 30 years old, she had graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism and was working as a producer for Comedy Central on “The Colbert Report.” However, she explained her life drastically changed in a way she never anticipated when her mother died in a car accident. Three years later her father died of a heart attack.

“My mom was my person,” Soffer said. “She was my person of all people. Then all of a sudden my ‘after’ began.”

Soffer described how her life changed following the death of her parents and how she coped with her loss. She focused on how relationships with her friends and colleagues changed after the death of her parents.

“I wanted people to stop telling me it would be OK and show me how (it would be OK),” she said.

Though she told many stories about “cringeworthy” things her friends said and did, she also described people who helped her move forward after her loss. She told a story about the first holiday season after her mother died. One of her friends came over to her apartment and told her he had a surprise.

“The thing turned out to be a 10 or 11 foot high Christmas tree,” Soffer said. “Which was phenomenal because I’m so clearly Jewish. My apartment ceiling was like eight feet high, and I was leaving the next country for two weeks the next morning. But he reached out in this way that I so badly needed — sometimes you just have to, like, buy a Christmas tree.”   

In an audience question-and-answer session at the end of the event, Soffer discussed her experience working after her loss.

“I went to my higher up,” Soffer said. “In this case the higher up was the star of the show.  I said, ‘I really want to work here, but I can only work here if I can take care of myself’ and I was petrified. But they said ‘OK, what do you need?”

Soffer also discussed how humor intersects with death and grief, a theme she said is consistently explored in her book. She explained no one wants to laugh when they’re talking about grief, but she believes it’s incredibly important.

“Grief is so messy,” Soffer said. “You have to laugh — if you don’t you’ll go crazy. It’s OK to laugh.”