Introducing our guest today, Colin Campbell, an author and performer who has faced unimaginable tragedy. In 2019, Colin and his family were involved in a devastating car accident near Joshua Tree caused by a drunk and high driver. The collision took the lives of his 17-year-old daughter Ruby and 14-year-old son Hart.
From the depths of his grief, Colin found solace in writing his latest book, “Finding The Words,” and creating a powerful one-man show. In these works, he fearlessly confronts the raw emotions of rage, grief, and denial, offering a glimpse into the incomprehensible journey of living in the aftermath of such profound loss.
“Finding The Words” sheds light on the multifaceted experiences of deep grief, providing not only a sense of understanding and validation for those who are grieving, but also guidance for friends and family members seeking to support their loved ones in the midst of their pain. While every person’s grief is unique, Colin compassionately explores various scenarios one may encounter, sharing personal strategies such as keeping a “hate us” journal and establishing ground rules before returning to work.
Colin also addresses the challenges of navigating “firsts” and holidays without their loved ones, emphasizing that the path through grief is never linear, yet it is possible to continue living and maintaining relationships while honoring the memories of those who have been lost.
Beyond his profound insights into grief, Colin shares his and Gail’s journey of fostering and adopting children, showcasing their boundless courage and remarkable sense of humor. Their dedication and love for Ruby and Hart shine brightly, serving as a testament to the enduring power of family bonds.
Prepare to be inspired and moved by Colin’s extraordinary work and his unwavering commitment to honoring his children’s legacies.
- Finding The Words
- Ruby and Hart Foundation
- Laird Superfood | Clean plant-based creamers & protein, coconut waters, protein bars, coffee, and more. Use coupon code ‘Gabby20’ to receive 20% off your order.
- Colin’s Tragedy [00:03:54]
- The Process of Grieving [00:04:44]
- Fear in Grief [00:11:25]
- The First Step in Grieving [00:14:34]
- Dealing with Guilt [00:19:26]
- The Grief of Others as Support [00:28:51]
- Establishing Boundaries in Your Grief [00:37:58]
- Reinvesting in Life [00:41:55]
- Different Types of Grief [00:45:49]
- Sleep Hygiene as a Comfort [00:50:16]
- Holidays & Firsts in Grief [00:56:07]
- Love is a Gamble [01:00:57]
- Dealing With Things Beyond Our Control [01:07:14]
- Rage in Grief [01:09:03]
- Developing Resilience [01:16:08]
- Moving On [01:20:28]
[00:02:23] Gabby Reece: Colin Campbell, welcome to the podcast. Welcome to my house. I do a lot of interviews and we talk I love talking about ways people can care for themselves better. And I came upon your work because I have a friend, a couple friends, and they lost a son last year.
And I came upon your book because I was thinking, I don’t, this was new, Unchartered It’s one thing, okay, my grandmother who was 90 passed away. My dad who had been sick for 10 years and it’s just really different. And people always say that losing a child is something else.
And so, I came upon finding the words through another friend of mine and so I was inspired by them. To really talk to you and after reading the book, I thought this is so helpful for everyone, whether you’re going through it or you’re the friend of, then if you step back from what you’re talking about and finding the words, I think it’s just a good way to tackle life.
[00:03:40] Colin Campbell: I think so too. I think a lot of people’s miseries come from not talking about the tough stuff, right? Avoiding the unpleasantries of life.
[00:03:54] Gabby Reece: So maybe for people who don’t know the story, you could briefly share why you ended up writing this book.
[00:04:03] Colin Campbell: Spoiler alert, it’s a tragedy.
But we’re on our way to Joshua Tree, a family of four, me, my wife, my 17-year-old daughter, Ruby, my 14-year-old daughter, Hart, and we love Joshua Tree. We actually just purchased or made an offer on a house. It was like a vacation home. It’s going to be like this vacation of our dreams. We were in an amazingly buoyant mood and then a drunk and high driver going 90 miles an hour T-boned us and Ruby and Hart in the backseat were killed.
[00:04:44] Gabby Reece: In reading the book to It’s just, there’s no way. And that’s what you say. You go, people will always say, there’s no words to say that we don’t know. There’s nothing I can say. And I obviously, that’s where the title finding the words has come from. So maybe we can just walk through what happens to you and Gail in the beginning because you break it down. You know the thing that most of us are careful is when someone’s going through something you go, hey, listen grief grieving is super personal. However, you’re going to have good days and bad days, but you’re saying yes, and there’s a process to grieving.
[00:05:30] Colin Campbell: I felt I read a lot of books early on and it felt like there was this truism that was repeated over and over again, which is everybody grieves in their own way.
And a lot of the books were really trying to validate the griever the reader, say whatever you’re doing is great don’t judge yourself you’re doing the right thing. And in a way, I was like, okay, but I’m lost, I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t need validation, I know I get to grieve some people do, some people are they’re forced by society to doubt whether they have the right to grieve they were, it was only a friend that died so why do they feel grief, or that people they do question If they get to grieve I didn’t have that question.
But I felt talking to other grievers, I felt that we don’t grieve all differently in the end. It felt really there was an awful lot of commonalities to all the people I was talking to. And so, in a way I started to rebel against that notion. We all grieve in our own way. It felt to me like we all avoid grief in our own way.
And that felt very true. I avoid my grief all the time. And that feels very individualistic. How do we? But when we’re actually grappling with grief, it seems like it’s a pretty similar process. We’re talking about the person who died. We’re talking about how we’re feeling in that moment. We’re talking about our loss and trying to process it. That felt like what grieving is.
[00:07:05] Gabby Reece: I can say though that it, it is something that you’re the only person who could write this book and your experience and even the way that you look at it and approach it. And it does give permission to say this can be a way to go through it.
Because no one else could do that. You had to be the one. I don’t know. You said you were writing things down almost immediately.
[00:07:36] Colin Campbell: I started writing what wound up being my solo show right away. The shit show grief, one man shit show. And I was immediately writing down what felt like taboo thoughts, which I think is what you’re alluding to is that I know I get to write the darkest of thoughts. I don’t get to, but I chose to explore very early on these very complicated feelings that I was having.
[00:08:08] Gabby Reece: Your wife is Jewish and you were I would say, it didn’t feel like atheists, just agnostic.
[00:08:16] Colin Campbell: I’m more towards atheists. I think actually, yeah, I’ve got some spirituality, but the idea that there’s some God that’s in control of everything is definitely not, doesn’t resonate at all.
[00:08:28] Gabby Reece: And you substitute, and I appreciated this, you were like, okay, instead of saying God, because she was like, listen, I’m interested in the kids being raised Jewish and you sat Shiva like there, and a rabbi was incredibly supportive and I want to get into rabbi Sharon.
But you said in, for you, at least you replaced God with the word love. Where’d you get that from?
[00:08:51] Colin Campbell: Yeah. That really helped me. I feel like I just, I thought of it, but I did also encounter somebody who said that once I forget where it was. Yeah, I forget now.
[00:09:10] Gabby Reece: Oh, leading with love. No, that was something else.
[00:09:12] Colin Campbell: No, it was somebody just in passing. I don’t, I forget where I got it, but it sure helped me in synagogue, sitting in synagogue. It suddenly made a lot of sense when you. And it makes sense to me, actually, for real, like the whole idea that love is holy, right? Love is special. Love is something that transcends life. So, it makes a lot of sense to me.
[00:09:36] Gabby Reece: So, after the accident, I there’s so many emotions and you talk about fear and grief and so what is the process of moving into and dancing through your grief because it isn’t okay, leaning into it and then you’re, you get over it. It’s a continuous road, but you definitely have these beginning steps.
[00:10:03] Colin Campbell: Yeah. And the beginning steps are the scariest for sure. I just wanted a quick backtrack though. So, I don’t call it an accident. They were killed.
[00:10:12] Gabby Reece: It’s a crash. Because accident would mean it’s like something happened versus a crash can be avoided.
[00:10:21] Colin Campbell: Accidents can happen to all of us but if you get drunk and high and then you take your car keys in your hand and get into your car, that’s intentional. And that is, that’s inviting somebody to die ultimately. She was very drunk and very high and chose to drive and speed in her own neighborhood.
So, she lived nearby. So, it wasn’t like she didn’t know the speed limits or the dangers on that road.
[00:10:49] Gabby Reece: And she had been in trouble doing that before, right?
[00:10:51] Colin Campbell: Yeah. She had a prior DUI and then and then she was in violation of the DUI because she was pulled over. I forget the exact details, but she had more alcohol. She’d done it, she’d done multiple times, right? She was a multiple offender. And I imagine that she’s struggling with addiction. And I just wanted to go back in time and tell her, struggle with your addiction at home, stay home it’s not my business, but it becomes my business if you get behind a wheel and start driving.
But back to the question about fear.
[00:11:25] Gabby Reece: Yeah, because I think it’s, you, this really stood out for me that people don’t realize, like, how… How much fear there is in the grief.
[00:11:35] Colin Campbell: I didn’t certainly, you know, it struck us. I guess we were scared all night of the crash, but then we were coming home we were in a tent we put into a taxi from that from the hospital where we said goodbye to Hart.
And that felt surreal it makes sense, but it just felt wrong. So, we’re driving in this taxicab. I remember we got into the cab and the guy said good morning, how’s your day? Cause he didn’t know. He doesn’t know. And I said, it’s the worst day of my life. And that was the end of that.
I think he figured out very quickly that it was a bad thing that had happened in the hospital. And we drove in near silence and then we get out of the cab and we’re walking into our home, and it was just terrifying. It was terrifying to step in, back into our home knowing that Ruby and Hart weren’t there.
It was scary to think about sitting at the dining room table without them. It was scary. And so, Gail’s sisters, Nina and Betsy, took turns staying with us the first few months, I think, really. So, they wouldn’t have to sit, just the two of us, at the dining room table. It was terrifying. And just, sleeping alone in our house.
We weren’t alone. We had each other. But it felt that way. And then I think the fear is that I would lose my mind. That if I fully took in the reality that Ruby and Hart were gone forever, I would lose my mind and never come back. And I think that’s very common. And then there was the fear that if I really started weeping, just keening, it would never stop.
[00:13:26] Gabby Reece: Like once you open that up, you would never be able to turn it off.
[00:13:28] Colin Campbell: How would I? Why would I? The reason why I was crying is because they’re dead. They’re always going to be dead. So, I will keep crying until I die, lose my mind, whatever. That’s what it felt like. And so, touching that grief, especially in the early days is very scary.
And that’s why people don’t want to look at the pictures of their dead children, for example. I have a hard time even looking at friends and family. I remember the first time they came in; it was scary because it was though, the idea that… that this dynamic was, is gone that it’s and that they’re still alive and Ruby and Hart aren’t.
So, the world is still going, but it doesn’t, we’re not, we’re stuck maybe. So that was the fear.
[00:14:34] Gabby Reece: And what is a first step? What is a person, parent someone who’s lost someone? Is it going to talk to someone? Is it going to a grief group? What’s the first that you found in your experience?
[00:15:03] Colin Campbell: The things that were the sort of best first steps to leaning into this experience, the new reality that we’re in. I think it’s all of the above, just looking at their pictures, you went the other way in certain ways, right?
[00:15:20] Gabby Reece: Bigger pictures, where’d you get that idea from?
[00:15:20] Colin Campbell: We had blown up photos of them at the funeral. Which apparently is normal. I hadn’t been to too many funerals in my life and certainly not of children. But there were two photos of each of them right there for the funeral. And then we brought them home.
They gave them to us. So here we have, holding these giant, holding our children, right? Giant images of our children in our hands. And then… We’re like, let’s put them up in the living room. So, I taped them to the walls of the living room. And then I was like, I want more. I want more of them. So, I got four more.
Another eight three by two photos. all in our living room, turning the whole place into this shrine.
[00:16:05] Gabby Reece: How was Gail? Was she on board with that?
[00:16:06] Colin Campbell: Oh yeah. We were pretty amazingly in sync through the whole early grief. Yeah, definitely. We wanted their giant faces looking at us, but it hurt.
That’s not like it’s easy. It’s never easy. To look at your children who are gone or any loved one, I imagine it’s going to always take its toll. And I write about this in the book, at a certain morning, I came down the stairs and I looked at the photos and I looked away because it was just too scary in that moment.
It was early in the morning and I was like, ah I can’t. And that, that terrified me. Wait a minute, I’m going to look away from my children. What the hell is this? No way. And that’s where I think we were saying I went the other way. I was like, all right, now I see that’s, I don’t like that.
I don’t like looking away from them out of fear. So, I’m, that’s bad for me personally. So, I’m going to go the other way and be very intentional about taking them in and taking in my grief.
[00:17:12] Gabby Reece: And how did you end up? With Rabbi Sharon? Because I feel like Rabbi Sharon, I know you sat Shiva and was there anything that happened after that week?
And that I that’s, for people who don’t know, it’s very intense. Shiva is you’re at home, people are coming, people come to your house tons of food. Yeah. You, at the end, everyone takes a nice walk together. For me the other interesting part was. When you bury somebody, because like you said, oh, you’re going to look, right? You’re going to throw the first dirt.
[00:17:52] Colin Campbell: Yep. You’re literally going to take dirt into your hands and bury your children with your bare hands. And then you’re going to watch as the rest of your loved ones continue burying them. And everybody that shows up throw shovelfuls of dirt onto the coffins.
And it’s super rough, but it’s also beautiful. It doesn’t feel beautiful, but now looking back, it’s like, oh, that’s a beautiful gesture of love. And it was very painful emotionally, obviously, but also it was a car crash we were in. So, both Gail and I were in a lot of physical pain.
And we had to sit we had pillows but that was it. And people kept wanting to hug us. Because that makes sense. But Gail had broken ribs, which is the worst. Literally broken ribs. And people were grabbing and hugging her fiercely. And friends of ours, beautiful friends, they made shirts that said, “don’t hug Gail, Hug me instead.” Those are good friends. And so, it was this amazingly surreal, beautiful thing that Gail – Someone would come up and would want to hug Gail and then wouldn’t because the shirt said, “don’t hug Gail” and then they’d hug this other woman, this Rebecca, two Rebecca’s who did this.
And they became our proxy huggers and that was beautiful too, right? People could hug. We’d see these friends who loved Ruby and Hart and us. Hugging each other.
[00:19:26] Gabby Reece: I was thinking about it when I was thinking about the story. Was there anything different for you than for Gail because you were driving the vehicle? I wondered if you carried a different load than Gail.
[00:19:41] Colin Campbell: Definitely. I still do. I feel terribly guilty. It’s something that I struggle with every day. So, I get behind the car, wheel the car all the time, right? And every time I get behind the wheel of a car, I think about it, every time I turn, because it was a turn, I’m making a left-hand turn, and then I got hit. Because it looked safe, it should have been safe, because the car was far away, and even if they were going the speed they were going, they could have had plenty of time to slow down, but they didn’t slow down at all. She was drunk and high, so she was going 40 miles above the freeway speed limit, so we were hit.
But I have to live with that because the what if, what ifs and it is not easy,
Gabby Reece: Is there anything that somebody gave you to read or said to you that actually registered and why that it wasn’t your fault? Was there a time when somebody either, it was the timing of when they said it or something that you read that put it that you knew in your heart this wasn’t my fault?
[00:21:02] Colin Campbell: Not completely, because that sounds like I’m like I’m all good. That doesn’t help alleviate that feeling.
[00:21:08] Gabby Reece: no, not of course. The byproduct, but just the, that part.
[00:21:14] Colin Campbell: Yeah. The police officer in charge did a very elaborate crash site analysis. And he came and presented his findings to Gail and I which motivated their recommended charge of second-degree murder.
And so, he explained that to us and talked us through where the car was, how fast it was going, the fact that she didn’t touch her brakes at all. And, and that was helpful. That was helpful.
And then a therapist Dr. Grayson, who’s actually Ruby’s old therapist, OCD therapist, he said that guilt is a form of denial. And that, that really resonated when he explained it to me. The idea is that if I’m thinking I could have made that turn earlier or later and I’d still be alive, that means I’m living in that moment still. I’m still engaged in that reality as if I could change the past. So, I’m dwelling in guilt while I’m doing that. I’m dwelling in a fantasy that Ruby and Hart are still alive in the back seat, and I can make a different choice and save them. And that’s denial because that happened a long time ago and I can’t change it.
[00:22:37] Gabby Reece: Is that the stuff that could really make somebody, like when I read about the denial when you talk about that you have an entire chapter about it. And the other thing I want to say that I appreciate about this book is, so you parse out all these things talking about holidays. We’re going to get into that and rage and all these things, but you put very clear reminders at the end of every chapter of things, actions and acts that people can do there’s even ways to enter into your journal.
So, you don’t just go, okay; let’s examine this. But you also really activate people at the end of every chapter about try this, do this, and give them permission to, I love in the beginning you were talking about try something new every single week. I thought, wow, that’s interesting because it gives people permission to do something new in their life that was, is not part of their old life, which I would imagine is a real battle, internal battle.
[00:23:40] Colin Campbell: Yeah, it’s all about that like you said, permission, survivors’ guilt. How do I, why do I get to have a new experience in my life? Shouldn’t I be trapped in that moment forever? I’m trapped in that, in the moment of the crash. And it’s hard to give ourselves permission to live. To engage in joy again.
[00:24:04] Gabby Reece: Your mother-in-law lost a child and then swept the house of the daughter and then your wife was born years later, and nobody has talked about it. And there was something in that you went, okay, we’re going to go the opposite way. We’re going to do this really different.
So how long into after the crash are you trying to figure out, because it feels really, it’s so deliberate the way that you leaned into this. How do you, how long until you go, no, I’m going to get in here and I think you call it the dark shadows or the shadow feelings or doing; there’s a quote in your book talking about this stuff in the shadows. And just getting in there and unearthing it. And what do you think about Gail was like, yeah, I’m on board with this.
[00:25:10] Colin Campbell: Yeah. I think she had grown up, like you said, in this household that had a secret. That there was a death and a grief that was secret and maybe shameful and hanging over the family.
[And they were doing the best they could. They didn’t know what to do with this catastrophic loss, right? It was a two-year-old daughter, two-year-old daughter died of some kind of like pneumonia complications. And there was a doctor who was telling them, just give over the phone, just, it’s a winter storm, don’t come into the hospital, just give them more Tylenol, whatever.
And that was terrible advice. And I remember Roz, her mom, talking about that doctor and just the rage that she felt. But this is many years later. So, at the time, like you said, she, they banished talk of Barbara. Barbara is the name of the girl who died. And Gail didn’t even find out about her existence until she was seven and her dad accidentally let slip that her mom was at the cemetery visiting Barbara’s grave.
And so, I think Gail also knew instinctually that’s not the way we were going to go. That doesn’t work. That you can’t box up somebody. It’s a grief and expect that it’s going to work out well, so we didn’t really have, do we have conversations about it? I don’t know.
But we talked about everything, but I think the conversation was short. It was like, yes, we’re not, it was no option. Of course, we’re going to talk about Ruby and Hart. We’re not going to pretend they didn’t exist. That’s not an option, obviously. And in fact, we really need to talk about them.
And that was made clear to me. Especially through Shiva. Because as you said, every night for a week after the funeral, people come to your house, and it was a lot of people coming to our house. And I really didn’t understand why that would happen. Like, why are people coming to my house? That’s crazy.
I’m shattered. And unable to function. Why am I quote unquote hosting people? But it’s not, I wasn’t hosting them. They were coming and hosting me in my own home which I discovered. But in the process of that I basically trusted to the Jews. That was my motto. I had no idea how to grieve.
And I was like, I’m just going to do what the Jews tell me to do. And I love our rabbi, Rabbi Sharon Brous. She’s amazing. And she, and the head of our synagogue, Melissa Balaban, they showed up at our doorstep hours after the crash and literally held her hands and helped us make funeral arrangements, burial plans, right?
They were extraordinarily beautiful, brave people who walked with us in the darkest of moments. I’m going to trust Sharon. And so, she said, here’s the deal, people are coming to the house. And I was like, okay, but then it felt right because all these people were gathered. And then I was like, oh, I want to talk about Ruby and Hart.
I want to talk about this catastrophic thing that just happened to me. How could I not talk about it? I talked about it, my mind is like the equivalent of if I had a spear, someone just drove a spear through my chest, and blood was splattering all over me, and then I went to a garden party. Everybody would talk about the spear, right? You wouldn’t be like just chatting, you’d be like, oh my god, there’s a spear in your chest, there’s blood all over the place, and be like, let’s talk about it, right?
But emotional wounds, you can’t see them so easily. And sometimes people don’t want to talk about it.
[00:28:51] Gabby Reece: You talk about this moving to friends. It’s like some friends would not grieve in front of you about the loss of your children because they had relationships and love Ruby and Hart and they would go privately and you’re saying, no, talk about them, say their name, cry in front of me, cry with me.
And that’s okay. I think the obvious would be that the burden, people think they don’t, it’s not their burden to put onto you and maybe you could say how it lands for you as the person who is really experiencing this incredible tragic loss. What does it do for you when someone’s I miss them, right?
Or I I’m emotional and crying. What did that do for you?
[00:29:38] Colin Campbell: Yeah, it means the world to me. It’s oh, Ruby and Hart aren’t going to be forgotten the world’s not going to spin. It’s going to keep spinning, but it’s going to keep spinning and thinking about Ruby and Hart. I used to say, I used to have this line in my solo show, but I took it out, but I should put it back in because I just love it so much. But basically, I was like, watching little kids cry was like the best for me. Seeing Ruby and Hart’s friends weeping, I was like, yes. Yes. Cry, little kid, cry for my children. Because then I’m not alone.
And it’s like there’s an impact, and you can feel the impact of the loss. So that, that’s what I would tell adults when they would creep away and cry. It’s if you stay with me, yeah, if you start crying, I’m probably going to cry too. Yeah, probably. But I cry all the time. I need to cry. So what? And it’s not like you’re causing me pain, but I get that’s how it feels to other people. Or it looks like that. Oh, I made Colin cry. It’s you didn’t do that. The drunk driver made me cry. Ruby and Hart gone is what’s crying. You crying. It’s just. It’s just helping me not feel alone.
[00:30:49] Gabby Reece: Because reframing that, because as an outsider, it would feel selfish. You’d be like, oh, I know, how do I have that audacity? This person is going through this, but it’s, you’re expressing your love for someone that, that you love very much too.
So that, I thought that was really empowering to let people know it’s okay. Say their name, don’t be afraid to bring them up. Because part of this. And I didn’t realize it until after reading your book. It’s like you can also, so you lose your children, but then all of a sudden you start losing and your identity.
You said, Hey, I’m a hands-on father. This was a role that I’m in that now he’s gone and now you’re losing friends because they don’t know how. So why do you think that is?
[00:31:45] Colin Campbell: I think in, in early grief, it’s so hard for the griever, who’s in acute grief. There are times when you do want to be left alone, right?
So that, that was so great about Shiva is that every night of Shiva, I did not want people to come over. I wanted to be left alone, but it was like, no, this is the rules. This is what happens. Deal with it. And I was like, okay, because the Jews are telling me to do that. I’m going to do it. That was wise. I’m grateful.
But without those set rules, it becomes really Easy isn’t a strange word to use, but it’s, somebody calls you up and says, hey, do you want to go for a walk tomorrow? The first thought in acute grief is, I can’t tell you how I’m going to feel 10 minutes from now. I’m not going to commit to a walk tomorrow. So, no.
So, I think a lot of people get no’s early on from people in a fresh acute grief. They’re just like no, I’m not going to commit to anything. And then people get the wrong impression. Oh, let’s leave them alone forever. Let’s leave them alone until they reach out to us. And then as the griever a week or two goes by and you’re like, why aren’t these people reaching out to me? What the hell is wrong with them?
I, this, horrible tragedy’s happened to me and people are leaving me alone. That’s crazy. I hate them. Yeah. And so that’s where I think the rift can come.
[00:33:03] Gabby Reece: And you have a way of dealing with that too, which you give examples of even, let’s say two different scenarios. One person who comes around and says some really stupid shit cause people it’s, they say wild things.
[00:33:19] Colin Campbell: Yeah. They say wild things, I think, because they’re trying to fix it. They’re trying to minimize your pain in a way to make, take it away. They see me, I’m in terrible pain, it hurts them, it’s very uncomfortable, so it’s what can I say to make Colin feel less pain, and inevitably that’s going to come off wrong, because you’re trying to minimize, so oh, they’re in a better place, or I don’t know, you could have other kids, or at least they live for a long time.
No one said that to me. People say that to people who lose infants all the time, apparently.
[00:33:54] Gabby Reece: Yeah. At least they live for a long time. Oh no. Like an old person.
[00:33:57] Colin Campbell: No. No. At least you got the years you got. Like you got 17 years, or these aren’t things that were said to me. No, but it’s I’ve heard it, these people say, yeah, they say things to minimize your pain and that doesn’t work.
That’s the backfiring thing.
[00:34:11] Gabby Reece: So, you had two approaches. Like you have a woman that would come over and she was lovely, but she would, because of this need to really make you feel better, would really inevitably say things that were hard. Not great. So, you wrote her a letter. An email. And we’re just really clear about, we love you, but when you say these things it, it doesn’t work for us. It doesn’t help.
[00:34:34] Colin Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. And what was so beautiful about that was that we’re going to take a walk, let’s take a walk tomorrow. And then we sent the email, hey, by the way, just so you know, heads up, we want to talk about this on the walk.
And that helped her because then she could process it in her own time. And then she wrote back right away, this beautiful letter. I tear up every time I read it but I’m going to paraphrase it now, but basically it was thank you for telling me this, and I’m tearing up. I’ve never had to walk with somebody who’s experienced this kind of a loss before.
And inevitably I’m going to fall on my face and thank you for helping me. And then when we took the walk, she also was wise enough to realize like how much that meant. How much our friendship meant to us that we would do that. We would send an email rather than just write her off, yeah. And she said I value how important; I value how much you value our relationship that you were willing to do that to send me that email.
[00:35:39] Gabby Reece: And would you and Gail go, okay, who would write it? Who would say, what would you guys…?
[00:35:44] Colin Campbell: Yeah, we sat in bed and wrote together and: definitely…
[00:35:46] Gabby Reece: By the way, both of you are creative and Gail’s a writer. You do have some benefits, advantages from the rest of us.
So, in that, walk, you know, the other side of that is do you want people to be like the weather, it’s it just, let’s talk about it all, let’s be really honest, give you space so that you can share your feelings. I think in that other guidance is what are the best is the lady supposed to say, oh, I got these really cute new sneakers I like for this walk.
Do you know what I mean? Like also within that is, yeah, because it’s not about being, you can’t be normal, something huge has happened. So, what is the way?
[00:36:41] Colin Campbell: Yeah. For me, what was really helpful was, as you mentioned earlier, if they start sharing about Ruby and Hart if they tell me a Ruby and Hart story or just how they’re missing Ruby and heart.
And then I love people asking me about my grief. How are you doing today? I know some people grieving get, can get irritated when someone says Hey, how you doing? Because you’re like how do you think I’m doing? But I feel like if somebody’s more specific, how are you doing today? Like how are you doing right now with your grief? That’s different. That’s not like a, that’s not like a superficial, how’s it going? That’s like really a genuine question right now. How are you and your grief? And I feel like that wouldn’t offend anybody. Yeah. As far as I can tell. Yeah. And then sharing about the person who passed away, I can’t imagine how that would ever offend somebody.
Even if somebody was really struggling in that moment and let’s say didn’t want to talk about their dead loved one in that moment, let’s just say hypothetically and you brought that person up, it wouldn’t be so terrible. That person could just say, Thank you. But I don’t, I’m just, I just can’t talk about them right now and that would be okay.
[00:37:58] Gabby Reece: I think that’s the other, that’s important, that deciphering that, because what happens is we want to not make it worse, but you, by you being that direct, it’s like you’re, I haven’t hurt you more. And that now you’ve said, hey, Gabby, I don’t want to talk about that right now. I haven’t hurt you more by even bringing it up.
It’s giving you that opportunity. The other thing that I, you did so many, but Gail, before she went back into work, wrote everyone a specific email about like her needs, her wants. Please don’t say these types of things. If you believe this, maybe keep it to yourself. Like you said earlier oh, they’re in a better place. She was very clear. If you believe that, that’s fine. Please keep that to yourself. Where did the idea come from to really put that, lay that road before she had to enter back into that, back into work?
[00:38:58] Colin Campbell: It was her thinking about those people at work and think specifically about all those individuals or a lot of individuals. But she knew among some of them they grieve. So, she knew that thought helped them and she said, that’s wonderful. That’s wonderful, but she would need to protect herself. She didn’t want to walk into an environment and have somebody say something to her that was going to make her upset and say, they’re not in a better place. They’re underground and they should be home with me.
She didn’t need to go there in that moment. And so that was in a way of protection. But the real benefit I think of sending the email was that she was giving them permission to talk about Ruby and Hart and her grief and not let it be this white elephant in the room. That was the biggest protection for her because the thought of walking into that room with a lot of people and nobody’s saying anything about Ruby and Hart, or the fact that they were dead, seemed like that would be intolerable to her. And a, definitely a possibility. People at work, they think, oh, it’s professional setting. She doesn’t want to think about her loss right now. She’s doing a job. So, let’s not mention it. You never know, but that’s definitely a possibility. So that was avoided by her sending the email.
[00:40:20] Gabby Reece: I really, I think the interest, the thing, the truest thing about death is that everybody always brings it back into their own life. That’s why we’re scared of it. That’s why it makes us uncomfortable because it makes us always think about ourselves and our own lives. I think for a lot of people are that it’s, that things happen, and love is risk, and we are all going to die at some point. I think when it’s it freaks people out. Because it makes them think about their own lives.
[00:40:53] Colin Campbell: Yeah. For Gail and I, it was not quite like that. Only because I think part of the struggle is why are we still living?
[00:41:05] Gabby Reece: No, you guys already had the worst thing happen. I’m just talking about all the people around you. Yes. No, you guys, it’s probably yeah. Yeah. What else? Whatever.
[00:41:14] Colin Campbell: We a little bit like, yeah. Yeah. We had this ridiculous joke, like with, I don’t know where it came from, but we were on a train in Italy and we were like, if somebody tries to hijack the train or the plane, we’re just going to scream for, we’re going to, we’re going to go for it.
We’re going to attack the person with a gun, but we didn’t want one of us to die and leave the other one alone. So, we had a code word. So, the code word was “For Orso.” And then both of us would leap up into the gunfire together. So, we’d die together. That was our plan for, and our dog’s name is Orso. So, we weren’t particularly scared about dying. We just didn’t want to die. Have one of us die, not the other one. That was our plan.
[00:41:55] Gabby Reece: And that, that makes one can wonder if after going through all of this, are you less afraid? Were you, would you say at all, you were a worrier? You don’t cross me. It seemed like one, but prior to the crash, besides the loss, is there things where you are? Braver, less scared.
[00:42:20] Colin Campbell: Yeah. I’m definitely braver about socially awkward things, like asking for help. You know what I mean? Because who, who cares? Yeah, so I definitely feel a lot less social anxiety for sure. And then the tenuous relationship to life I feel is not a great thing. So, I’m trying to be…Care more about staying alive, honestly, and I am, and I think it’s working. I’m being more engaged with life.
[00:42:51] Gabby Reece: You encourage people to do that in your book. You’re like, hey, try new things. Go do stuff. It seems like you were a lot like that. Already, but it seems like you’re also reminding people keep doing those things.
[00:43:07] Colin Campbell: I think I was scared of that feeling of not being connected to life. That was not a good place to be for me. I didn’t like it. And so, I was like, I’m just going to do whatever I can to reconnect and reinvest in life, even though we’ve been hard on here. And do whatever I can do to do that. And I found some specific actions that helped and that’s why I wanted to put them in the book.
[00:43:33] Gabby Reece: Yeah. And your one man show, which is, it’s ballsy. Were people, do people get offended? Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you talk about your loss in comedic framework. Do they get upset?
[00:43:45] Colin Campbell: No, they don’t. No, but I thought they would. So, the first performance I have this friend of mine was the director, and he was like, I don’t know what’s going to happen. We didn’t know.
[00:43:56] Gabby Reece: You don’t, you don’t advertise. You have your media group. The theater lets people know. So, you think that’s really brave actually.
[00:44:03] Colin Campbell: Yeah. We had no idea. And the really scary thing is I knew there would be people in the audience with dead kids. Every night. Every night. I knew that. And I’d say some rude things about people with dead kids. I make dark jokes. It ends up in a very positive place. My character goes to a dark place and then, it turns, and they have a I feel like they land in a place of empathy and grace.
[00:44:31] Gabby Reece: Do you have, can you share one? I, it’s out of context, but…
[00:44:37] Colin Campbell: But you know what, I can share the one example is that those are the, one of the darkest ones is that like I’m in grief group and I’m sharing about how. I’m not relating to people who’ve lost just one kid and have other living children. And then this mom starts to share about the death of her only child, but she’s only 25 years old. And I’m like, she’s going to have another kid. Yeah. So, fuck her and her fertile body. And it’s dark. It’s not. And sometimes people don’t laugh at that.
[00:45:05] Gabby Reece: It’s so honest though, because of course you would think that, right? How could I not think that? Of course, you would think that.
[00:45:10] Colin Campbell: Yeah. She’s going to, obviously she’s going to grieve for the rest of her life. But she’s also going to be able to have, and she has another crack at it, and I don’t. At least in that way.
But it, but as I said it turns and I start to appreciate that my loss is actually not the hardest that there are other levels of grief that I’d never thought of before and me my character has a real sort of awakening that grief is grief and loss is loss and let’s not compare loss.
[00:45:49] Gabby Reece: It doesn’t help to compare losses as somebody who has friends going through a lot of different things. We you know, people are always going through things.
I’m curious, is there a different technique that a friend can do? Because when you have a crash, it’s instantaneous and you don’t see it coming and it’s a surprise. Okay. That’s one thing. What about when people are going through someone who is having a long illness? I interviewed somebody once she wrote a book called “Widowish” and her husband was not well.
And so there, she gave real things about what you could do because he was sick for a long time. Have you talked to a lot of people where, certain things would be more helpful or there’s a way to approach what they’re going through? Because it’s different.
[00:46:40] Colin Campbell: It is different. It absolutely, it’s different. And I, most of the people that I’ve spoken with were sudden deaths. Either car crashes or drug overdoses or some kind of medical fluke. Oh, are the people, they’re all quick and sudden unexpected deaths are almost all the parents that I’ve talked to in depth, so I don’t really know.
But those people are grieving. It’s called anticipatory grief. So, they’re, grieving in the process because they’re losing the person. And then there’s ambiguous loss too, which is the person’s, the body’s never found or. There’re all sorts of ambiguous losses they’re all different.
But at heart, I think is about not abandoning people in their grief, that it feels very lonely. It feels lonely because you are, you’ve lost or you’re losing the person that’s closest to you in the world. So, you’re going to feel lonely automatically. And then on top of that, people are unsure how to relate to you and they tend to back off.
And so not backing off, I guess is the best. Yeah, keep reaching out. And if someone says, no, I don’t want to go for a walk with you, it’s not about, don’t take it personal. Don’t take it personal. Just ask again in a week. And if you’re close to them, if you’re not close to them, don’t keep harassing them.
There’s gotta be a level of intimacy there. If you already know them, then yes.
[00:48:10] Gabby Reece: What are some books that you read that really supported you?
[00:48:17] Colin Campbell: So very early on I was given “Bearing the Unbearable” by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore. And that was very helpful because that was all about embracing grieving. Let’s not put it off. Let’s I don’t think she uses the phrase lean into the pain but let’s grieve. Let’s do it. And I found that very useful and I sent it to my family. I got copies and mailed it to my entire family. I said, read this book, because I wanted them to know that we were going to grieve Ruby and Hart.
That was our path. And I wanted everyone on board. And I think that helped. And then Megan Devine’s “It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay” was helpful to me. She, one of her ideas that really resonated with me was this idea of separating the pain of grief from the suffering that comes with it. And she made a very clear distinction that we’re going to feel pain. We lost someone we love. We’re going to feel that pain. That’s quote, unquote, natural. I don’t think she uses the word natural and healthy, but that’s what I think of them as. Like it’s inevitable and its feelings that we were going to feel, but then there’s all this suffering that can come with it, which is not helpful.
Like guilt, like treating your body unhealthily with drugs, alcohol, not exercising, not sleeping, not eating being around people who are toxic or not helping you in your grief. Or isolating, being alone all these unhelpful things. And can we minimize those things we can affect.
We can’t, you can’t affect the pain from loss. That’s there. You can’t minimize, you can’t get rid of it, but you can get rid of all the other stuff. That comes with it, or at least you can try.
[00:50:16] Gabby Reece: And you say that many times at the end of every chapter is exercise. You’re like, don’t use drugs and alcohol to minimize. You just said get to sleep. How would one sleep? At all? After something like that. Or you just mind, you just go through it and then. After time you sleep a little better, and then maybe you sleep a little better, and then one night you don’t sleep at all is it just the ebb and flow of that?
[00:50:44] Colin Campbell: Yeah, I think you can’t help that but sleep hygiene you can, right? So, you don’t look at your phone at night before you go to bed. So, my wife, she keeps her phone on a bureau far away, so she doesn’t grab it. in the night and stay awake. And we tried like meditation for a while and things and that, that helped a little bit.
But it’s a sleep hygiene. It’s a typical thing so go to bed around the same time. Don’t lie in bed during the day because then you’re telling your mind that the bed is a place where you stay awake and read or sit or watch TV. Only lie in bed when it’s time to go to bed the sort of simple standard sleep hygiene.
[00:51:30] Gabby Reece: You, the four agreements you mentioned in the book or ground rules, excuse me, not agreements, some ground rules that you laid out in “The Grief Spiel”. Cause you really chunk this out for people, about asking for what you need and saying it clearly could.
[00:52:00] Gabby Reece: Where did you come up with that? The Grief Spiel. The Jews really did make an impact on you.
[00:52:05] Colin Campbell: Yeah. I’m I think I’m Jew adjacent, I refer to myself. I love going to synagogue. I love all the holidays. And once you replace God with love I’m down, right? I’m down. And I love my rabbi. She has amazing sermons, beautiful sermons. And that’s what I insisted when Gail was like, we need to belong to a synagogue. I was like, Oh, we do? She’s yes, we have a baby girl now, Ruby’s just been born. We’re joining a synagogue. And I was like only if the rabbi says really interesting things.
I’m not going to sit through a sermon that. But I don’t think it’s interesting. So, we shopped around and then we found Rabbi Sharon Brous and I was like, oh, I like what she’s saying.
But I like spiel. Spiel means play in German. So, it’s playful right away. And it’s like a little Yiddish. It’s nice. But the idea was that people were scared to talk to us. And I needed to talk about Ruby and Hart, and I needed to tell them the ground rules so that we would have a conversation and not just be like staring at each other in horror.
We’re just wordlessly Ooh, what can you say? Yeah. Yeah. Goodbye. That was great. That’s great. So, we’d pull them aside one at a time, Gail, and I, and we’d say, here’s the deal. Here’s the spiel, which is we need to talk about Ruby and Hart.
We need to say their names because people didn’t know, right? They’re not going to say Ruby and Hart’s names. We can talk about your kids. People were worried. If they mentioned their kids, we would freak out like, ah, your kid’s alive and mine’s not. And we do have those thoughts of course, but we also need to talk to our friends. So, we have to get over it in a way, or not get over it, but we have to allow ourselves to feel that slowly integrated in that reality. But so, we need to talk about Ruby and Hart. And we talk about our grief. We can talk about other things for five minutes or something. But then we got to circle back to our grief.
[00:54:14] Gabby Reece: Yeah. The spear in the stomach.
[00:54:17] Colin Campbell: It’s just sticking out of my stomach. Why can’t you mention it? There’s this blood. You’re getting blood on you. React to it. But we would change our grief spiel as time went on. So very early on, people were trying to relate to us by sharing their losses. They’d say oh, my, my cousin died 10 years ago, or, and in a way, acute grief.
I didn’t have room. I didn’t want to hear about their dead cousin. I was like, okay, but your cousin died a long time ago, and they were like an adult, and Ruby and Hart were my children. That’s it. I don’t, I can’t talk about those grief right now. But that changed. So, I dropped that part. So initially I said, I don’t give a shit about your dead grandma, your…Your favorite cat is dead or your dad who died at 60. I don’t give a shit. That was what I said because I was blunt. But that, that changed. And then I’m happy to talk about your dead cat. Honestly, I am. I’m happy to talk about that grief because I can relate to that because I love my dog.
[00:55:15] Gabby Reece: So, what’s your dog’s name?
[00:55:16] Colin Campbell: Orso. Oh, he’s still the same dog. Ruby picked him out. She got him from a shelter. We said she’s, she was allergic to dogs and we’re like, yeah, we can have to get a hypoallergenic dog, but it has to be a rescue. Good luck. And she found one. He was a good dog. He’s a good dog.
[00:55:36] Gabby Reece: From everything I read about Ruby. She you talk about how when she went to high school, she was an activist and squash bullying at her school. It just really was bad ass. And I can’t help but think that you were in Ruby and Ruby is in you. Cause for you to write this book and be that defiant to this, tonally, I was like, oh, this, they have the same tone.
[00:56:04] Colin Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And Hart was a clown after my own heart.
[00:56:07] Gabby Reece: And a sweetie pie. He sounded like the lover.
Holidays and firsts. This is, these are brutal.
[00:56:18] Colin Campbell: They’re brutal. There’s no way around it. It’s brutal. Even now four years on, they’re brutal. And we found. I talk about different holidays and how we approach them the first year, and in general, I find it’s useful to embrace them as things you can have rituals with and that you can use them to talk about your loss.
So, Thanksgiving. We were right around the table and talked about Ruby and Hart and gave thanks for Ruby and Hart and told Ruby and Hart stories. So that was helpful because a holiday without Ruby and Hart is awful, right? So, there’s the, I remember my sister-in-law, she got chocolates, and she accidentally got chocolates for Ruby and Hart because she couldn’t process that they weren’t there and she got, and then she was like in tears. Like I got these I got too many because it would have been hard. You know what I mean? Like it was like, it’s so hard to really process a loss like that.
And so, in general, I try to get through holidays with rituals of some kind of something so that I honor my grief and then stay in the present. That’s the sort of the ideal.
But our first Christmas we didn’t. We broke all those rules and we just nixed Christmas all together. We pretended it didn’t exist and we ran away. We didn’t run away from our grief, but we ran away from America.
[00:57:49] Gabby Reece: But I would think the rules would, it would make sense that they would need you, like you talk about the spiel, like the spiel, we’re going to keep morphing it and changing it based on what the timing and the needs are.
And I really appreciate that. You’re like, no, we have to keep some of these rituals and we’re going to make new ones and pivot. Occasionally we might say. Guess what? The day before Christmas isn’t happening and that’s okay too. Giving people that that permission to follow what feels right.
And blending the need, but also living right here right now. When you have great days as a family, I know you’re in the process of having siblings.
[00:58:37] Colin Campbell: Yeah, adopting siblings. We’re fostering to adopt two siblings.
[00:58:41] Gabby Reece: When you when you have a great day, is it, do you think to yourself I shouldn’t have this great day. Ruby and Hart would be so happy we’re having this great day. A mixture of all things. What is that like now?
[00:58:58] Colin Campbell: A good day with this. That’s a great thing to have but yeah there’s always that heartache and aching. I gave this example before, but we were having a pool party for our daughter that that we’re fostering to adopt, and she was having an amazing time with her new friends and splashing around in our pool.
And it seemed so beautiful. And it was so beautiful that there were kids joyously laughing in the pool again. That seemed so wonderful and then heartbreaking. And so, I stepped away and just… I just looked up and said, Hey, Ruby and Hart, or sorry, Ruby and Hart. Or I don’t know what I said, but it’s always there.
It doesn’t go away. But I sure liked that there were kids laughing. It was better than me aching for Ruby and Hart and nobody else laughing in the pool.
Gabby Reece: And you talk about keeping things relevant. Like you’re here and you’re living. You and Gail are living.
[01:00:23] Colin Campbell: It doesn’t help to stay in that moment of the car crash. Doesn’t do anybody any good. It’s not honoring Ruby and Hart to, to my mind, to just be locked away in the past. So, it seems sweet. We have to talk about Ruby and Hart to, to the, to these new kids and they know all about Ruby and Hart.
Gabby Reece: Can you share how old they are? Yeah. I can’t say their names yet because they’re, we’re still foster parents.
[01:00:50] Colin Campbell: Yeah. I can’t say their names yet because they’re, we’re still foster parents. But the brother is 13 and the sister’s 12. So close. Close in age.
[01:00:57] Gabby Reece: Close in age. I was surprised that a couple of years after Ruby and Hart passed away, you did foster a girl for 18 months.
[01:01:09] Colin Campbell: 18 months. And we were on a track to foster, to adopt her.
[01:01:13] Gabby Reece: And she chose to age out of this, she was going to go and age out of the system. Maybe she wanted to not be attached. Or it seemed…
[01:01:20] Colin Campbell: It felt like she didn’t want to be attached to a family. She didn’t want, she ultimately decided that being a part of family was too uncomfortable for her. Because she wasn’t used to it. She was used to being neglected. And she chose, literally said I want to, she shouldn’t use the word neglected.
She said I’m used to being in my own room and being alone and crying every night and that feels comfortable. Yeah, it’s what you know what she knows.
[01:01:44] Gabby Reece: Yeah, you and you say this a lot to love is a gamble and it’s a risk. It just is. When I read that I thought oh I yeah.
What did you and Gail, you probably understood, I would imagine, but then how do you have to recover again from that? And how do you say we’re going to throw our hat back in the ring and try where, what’s the conversation around that?
[01:02:13] Colin Campbell: Yeah. It was so we were grieving the loss of the previous girl.
I thought she was my daughter. I called her my daughter. Yeah. 18 months in my house. And so, we have to grieve that loss. And then it’s a hard, that’s an ambiguous loss. Because she’s still out there in the world. We text every now and again, like every three months, we’ll do a very superficial like sweet. Checking on you, saying hello. Yeah, it’s just a sweet hey hi, how’s this, how’s that? And then she inevitably stops texting back like we take it back and forth a couple times and then it’s just silence and oh she’s moved on to something else, yeah. She’s a teenager. She’s 16 now.
But it’s an ambiguous loss because she’s still out there and still in danger. That, that population teenagers who are aging out of the foster system, statistically, it’s very bleak. Very bleak and she knew about those statistics and she’s yep, that’s what they are. That’s what I’m choosing. Yes, it’s wow, okay so we were like she’s gone and we’re back to us again. We love each other, but we still feel like we could be good parents. And maybe we should try again.
We know more now about how to be parents to kids from the foster system. Maybe learned a lot from the first daughter. And so, we’re like we know so much more than your average person who’s trying to foster adopt. We’ve had so much more experience, both with parenting and then foster parenting. Why can’t we share our love again and see what happens.
And it’s not like a fairy tale because nobody is parenting. And these teenagers, they’re like, they wouldn’t necessarily choose us.
[01:04:19] Gabby Reece: They’re pretty fortunate.
[01:04:19] Colin Campbell: They’ve got but not really!
[01:04:22] Gabby Reece: Wait, what do you mean? Oh, cause you mean, cause of all that’s gone down?
[01:04:26] Colin Campbell: Yeah. And nobody wants to be adopted by strangers. Nobody wants that. You think about yourself as a kid Hey, do I want strangers to come and take me off into another life? That’s weird. Over time, hopefully we’re not strangers anymore. We, they’ve lived with us for eight months now. But it’s, they have losses, they have to grieve and they’re only kids.
So, I, I know a lot about grieving now about leaning to the pain. They don’t. They avoid the pain. And it’s Oh, that’s not a great way to go. That’s going to be hard for you to bond with me if you haven’t processed your loss. So, I know that’s not healthy, but I can’t change that. They’re grieving as they want to grieve right now.
And they’re just kids.
[01:05:22] Gabby Reece: But what’s, what is great is think about you, you don’t, you won’t take it personal. You’re understanding of moment.
Colin Campbell: That’s the ideal, but boy, in the
Gabby Reece: Do you take it personal sometimes?
[01:05:23] Colin Campbell: Inevitably, right? Like, why are you being so rude to me? What are you doing?
[01:05:31] Gabby Reece: I’m just trying to give you love.
[01:05:32] Colin Campbell: Yeah. I’m just being loving. Yeah. And so intellectually, yes.
[01:05:38] Gabby Reece: But you still, I think you probably have more tools than most people.
[01:05:42] Colin Campbell: I think so, but I wish I had even more.
[01:05:45] Gabby Reece: We’re all working on that. I always joke with that when my girls walk out the door the last one goes, I’ll be like, wait, I have an idea about maybe how to start doing this cause that’s just how it is.
So, do you feel is it different Colin dad? Showing up now then with Ruby and Hart, do you, is there something, what’s different about that?
[01:06:11] Colin Campbell: There is, it is different. Cause I lost my type with Ruby and Hart. And I feel like now I don’t as easily, I have more of a sense of, I don’t know, the universe is just and there’s loss in there and grief.
I don’t know. It just feels I do take things less personally. But I still fail at times as a parent. But for sure I have bad moments like, oh, why did I do that? Why? But I feel like there’s a little more of an appreciation that we’re not in control. That’s what it is. We’re not in control.
And you do what you can do, but you’re not, you can’t fix everything. I can’t fix their grief. I think maybe in the past I thought maybe I would be able to. And I’m not in control of if they’ll ever love me back. Yeah. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
[01:07:14] Gabby Reece: You, you share in the book that Ruby went through a period of hard time with some OCD and she just she just went through a hard time as teenagers do.
And you guys through time and the right therapists and just the right situation got her into a great place. But when you say now hey, we’re not in control as a parent, I had a daughter go through some pretty hard stuff. And I remember. So as hard as it was when you do really come to terms with that, you’re not in control.
There is some, at least for me, and I’d love to know your feeling on this is something about that makes it so much easier because you don’t really have a choice to surrender. You’re faced with this is how it is, which is you are not in control. So, you might as well get over that idea, right? There’s something freeing where you go, oh, that’s uncomfortable. Huh. They’re going through that. I don’t really like that. I don’t like that for them. Yeah. And yet having a different relationship with that because you finally have come to terms with deal with it.
[01:08:33] Colin Campbell: That took me a long time with Ruby. So, I think I thought, I think I thought initially that I could control it. I could rescue her out of OCD. And what’s so ironic, of course, is that OCD is all about control. It’s all about thinking that you can control all sorts of things if you tap correctly or this, or that. You can save people’s lives and protect people. And so that journey of accepting that we’re not in control is the journey that Ruby was on.
[01:09:03] Gabby Reece: I really appreciated your chapter on rage. That permission. And there was something in particular, “Hate du jour”. I have a friend, my friend who, her son passed away. She talked about sometimes she would journal, and it was like her talk shit journal, and I just totally related to it.
And can you share what hate du jour is? Whether it’s like big time grief or just hey life hardships. Again, for me, this book is obviously it’s specific it’s around a specific tale, but a lot of these ideas I think would help people with so many different things.
[01:09:50] Colin Campbell: Thank you. Everyone should buy my book, right?
[01:09:53] Gabby Reece: Everybody should buy your book. And if they can I’m going to go see your show, but can you, hate, does your, where do you come up with this?
[01:10:00] Colin Campbell: So, Gail called it initially her grief burn book. So, she would journal about these people who were well meaning or whatever in our community that were trying to help and then would do something that would piss us off or just strangers that would piss us off.
And my wife is very funny. She’s written for television for comedies on television for the past 25 years. And so, she is very funny and very dark humor fierce. She’s a fierce woman. And so, she would dig in and say the most vitriolic things you can imagine about these poor, basically kind people who are bungling it.
And then I would do my own version, which is, was not as clever or funny as hers, but we would tell them to each other to amuse each other. And her sister, Betsy, called them her “hate du jours”. And I love that because it feels, it makes it like a game like the “hate du jour.” I don’t know.
I enjoyed that. It made it feel less bitter and more amusing. More of us like dealing with the, just the impossibleness of it, of our lives, right? It’s absurd. Absurd things would happen. People would say things to us. And I loved them also because the “hate du jour” that was, it never hurt anybody. It was just me and Gail, journaling or telling it to each other and that was it.
And so, the person would never know how angry we got in that moment, and we could let it go a little bit let it go. And sometimes, we would, our “hate du jour” would be something super innocent. Like just some friendly, nice person and we would just rip into them because we were angry at the universe ultimately, right? The whole fucking universe. So, it helped us get some of that out in a very non damaging way.
[01:11:57] Gabby Reece: How did you guys not take it out on each other? When we’re so close to a person, that’s the safe person.
[01:12:06] Colin Campbell: Yes, exactly. You hurt the person, people closest to you.
[01:12:09] Gabby Reece: Is it because you were both going through it that you’re, maybe more empathetic to the other person?
[01:12:14] Colin Campbell: I think maybe. We never act viciously to each other. Every now and again we, we would get to some place where we would start to argue or start to be like, I’m like Whoa. Okay. Let’s not take out on each other. And we said, let’s not take it out on each other. And that would back way down.
[01:12:36] Gabby Reece: Did you increase your like physical practice through this? Maybe working and raising two children and then after did it become something that was almost more prioritized? Of oh, I have to fortify my actual physical health during this.
[01:12:59] Colin Campbell: Yeah, I did. I did think oh, if we’re going to foster to adopt kids, I’m older now. Cause they’re going to be younger than Ruby. So, I’m older, I’m an older parent. I better stay healthy. That was definitely something that helped me. And during the pandemic, we both got extra healthy because we just exercised every day. And that felt good. And I think that notion of feeling good, it’s hard at first to do things that feel good. It feels like we’re not allowed to, right? How are we allowed to feel pleasure or feel take care of ourselves? It feels like a betrayal of our grief. And then I think we wrestle with that partly because Megan Devine, that was like, Oh, that’s very clearly that’s the that’s the suffering part. That’s the voice of suffering coming in and telling me I should suffer and nothing to do with honoring Ruby and Hart and me being healthy is going to honor Ruby and Hart better than me being sickly
[01:14:06] Gabby Reece: Yeah, look at how good I am at being a good dad.
[01:14:08] Colin Campbell: Look how much I’m suffering. I’m just, I’m lying on the ground. I’m such a good dad.
[01:14:17] Gabby Reece: Would you maybe just… Spend a few minutes kind of sharing a few things. We’ve been talking so much and alluding to Ruby and to Hart. But just today, in this moment what shows up when you hear their names, or you think of ’em?
[01:14:33] Colin Campbell: Just right now I just thought of when they were much younger. Ruby would love to dress Hart up and he would be a willing puppet first. So, she was the director, and he was the actor in their performances. And he, she would regularly put him in dresses and wigs and put ridiculous makeup on him. He was like, I don’t know, he was seven maybe. And she was 10. And one time she put him in this blonde wig. And had smeared makeup. So, he looked like some kind of like punk rock damaged soul in this dress, and he had on, he had a club, he had one of those I don’t know, a club that if you hit it made noises and then she would come out in the living room and announce the character that he was going to play. I forget what this character’s name was.
And then he would appear, and I have a video of him. He just comes out, and he starts screaming and waving this thing around like he’s, as if he was high on drugs, but he didn’t know anything about drugs, but that’s what he was acting like. He was like on some kind of very powerful drug and just to amuse Gail and I.
And that kind of captures their essence, that he’s the performer. She’s the director. She’s the brains. He’s the charm. And they had a ridiculous imagination. He’s outrageous, his appearance. Oh, he had high heels on too. So, he stumbles in drunk on high heels, drunk and high. Waving a thing around with smeared makeup and a wig and yeah, that’s Peruvian art.
[01:16:08] Gabby Reece: You captured their essence in the book. I felt like as much as I was learning about what you guys were going through, I felt them. through the whole book. Let’s, do you think there are things that we can do in a practice in our lives without having experienced this to make us more resilient as things come at us?
[01:16:32] Colin Campbell: Oh, that’s a great question. Yeah, I’m interested in resiliency. And I wanted to, there’s like a book about it or something that I was, that caught my eye. I was like, oh, I want to read that. I want to see what they have to say about resiliency. That’s interesting. I think there was a core concept that they shared that resonated in, now I can’t remember it, but I don’t know.
Other than the idea of not being in denial and I think we can be in denial about all sorts of things and if the less we’re in denial, the more we’re attuned to the here and now and what’s happening, what’s actually happening, I think means that we’re more present and then therefore more resilient.
[01:17:32] Gabby Reece: And do you take everything always? I’m so head on, if a friend or even a stranger is doing something that you think, yeah, I’m not, I don’t really like that. Do you just go, hey, what what’s going on with you? Are you one of those people that just nips it straight away? Like all the time?
[01:17:55] Colin Campbell: Not all the time. No. I’d be nice though. I wish I were that. Yeah. I wish I were that, but that’s it. That’s the goal. I think I feel that’s the goal.
I want to share one more Ruby and Hart story, just because I was just thinking about it because we’re here in lovely Malibu right now. Beautiful views. And this is where we used to go initially for the, for our beach.
So, Ruby and Hart and Gail and I would come up, come down that Los Virgenes is how they pronounce it, right? It’s a beautiful Canyon. It’s a beautiful Canyon. And this is the first time I’ve been here since the crash. To Malibu. Because I go to Santa Monica beach now.
Gabby Reece: How did it feel?
Colin Campbell: A little rough. I was struck by the beauty of it. I had forgotten just how beautiful it was. I remember taking people from out of town and be like, wait, do you come down this path to the beach?
[01:18:57] Colin Campbell: This is amazing.
[01:18:59] Gabby Reece: Because you’re low. So, everything is so majestic above you.
[01:19:01] Colin Campbell: Yeah. And you go through tunnels. It’s pretty staggering.
[01:19:30] Gabby Reece: It’s a whole thing. Okay. I could see Ruby being someone who’s yo, honk that horn. That’d be fun.
[01:19:34] Colin Campbell: Yeah. But no, I think she’d be more like, oh, that, that sounds too rude. She was like yeah, that might upset other drivers. Maybe Hart might be like the problem.
But we used to go to Point Dume. And then we’d walk, we’d call it the special walk that takes you to the special private cove we called Pirate Cove. I’m sure that’s not what it’s called, but do you know what walk I’m talking about? You have to walk up these rocks and it’s a little perilous. When they were young, it would feel a little dangerous.
[01:20:05] Gabby Reece: It might be like the difference of Little Dune and Great Dune. Are you talking about if maybe Pirate’s Cove, is it pretty empty?
[01:20:12] Colin Campbell: Yeah, you can only get there by walking over the rocks. There’s no down. You have to go; you have to park in Point Dume and then walk to get there. The tiny little beach, it’s almost always empty and we love that. We loved taking people to what we called Pirate’s Cove when they were younger.
[01:20:28] Gabby Reece: So, when you say rough, what is, how does that show up now, a few years later?
Colin Campbell: It just makes me ache. Makes me ache. It makes my heart ache. So, I’m going to go down there. I’m going to go down after this. I’m going to go to Point Dume. I just
Gabby Reece: Do you have, I know you said when the kids were in the pool that you go and talk to them, do you have an active dialogue with them and, or just communicate or how does that work?
[01:21:04] Colin Campbell: I don’t feel like we have a dialogue. I think I just call out to their spirits being an atheist and all, I don’t believe that they’re really out there, like they’re really here, they’re in me and they’re friends and our family.
[01:21:26] Gabby Reece: And are you and Gail different here? Does she have a,
[01:21:30] Colin Campbell: We’re a little different. She says she believes in God. But her God is not like some, a guy with a white beard. A guy with a white beard that makes decisions and is paying attention to us.
So, we’re similar because I’m like, yeah, I just believe in love and she believes in, I don’t know, is it the God? Yeah, a little different, but not too different, not radically different.
[01:21:54] Gabby Reece: If you, if someone’s listening to this, I think as supporters of people going through something, I think it’s been made really clear if someone is going through and maybe I don’t want to say this the wrong way, but maybe they’ve grieved the wrong way that hasn’t helped them move further into it in a way, maybe they’ve just, maybe they’ve just avoided it for now.
[01:22:20] Colin Campbell: Yes.
[01:22:21] Gabby Reece: Yeah. What invitation either to someone newly in a situation going, oh, I don’t even, I don’t know the first step or somebody who’s I’ve been trying, I just haven’t gotten there yet. What invitation would you make to them? And, it feels important to let people know that it, because you are talking about, hey, this process of grieving doesn’t mean that certain elements or the pain, it goes away.
[01:22:56] Colin Campbell: I think that people grieving a loss, they don’t want to be told what to do. So, in a way, it’s not really anybody else’s place to tell them how to grieve or that’s not going to work. You know what I mean? Or to say it seems like you’re stuck in your grief. Why don’t you try this? If you haven’t had a remarkably similar loss, but that’s literally remarkable.
[01:23:26] Gabby Reece: But even, let’s say an invitation. Let someone saying comes to you and says, hey, I feel, oh, you’re handcuffed. Oh yeah. And you’d say, I’d like to make this, because I agree with you. I don’t want to be told what to do. I don’t, nobody wants to be told what to do. And that’s like the least under you’re really tuned out if you’re like, Hey, yeah.
But what invitation or what starting point or if you could shine a light and say, if maybe if you’re up for it, just take a look over there. Besides obviously your book, which I really appreciate because, you say it so perfectly, people don’t know what to say. And you’re like finding the words is in the title.
But what would you extend to them?
[01:24:24] Colin Campbell: What I like about my book is that they can, you can read it and then you can put it away. Like you don’t you’re not in charge. You don’t have to respond like in person it’s trickier. Like any, I can’t, it’s harder for me to even just say what’s in my book to somebody directly because.
Then they have to deal with me in the moment and they can’t just be like, stop for a second. I’m not, I don’t want to hear that right now. But in a book, they can look at it and they can put it down and look at it later if they want. You know what I mean? Like it’s, they’re in control. I think that’s important that the grievers are in control of how they’re receiving this information.
But if someone came to me and said I’m struggling I think I would talk about community. I would talk about the ways that have helped me find community, keep community grieving groups grief groups and brief books that I’ve helped that have helped me. Resources. And then through that they can find their own journey.
Because like I said, everybody avoids grief. We and we need to, you can’t just grieve all the time. That would be, you wouldn’t be in life. You’d be, you would, that was another way of being trapped if you’re just grieving, it feels to me. So, it’s not like a criticism I’ve just found personally that I try to engage with it as often as it seems like a good idea and that helps me.
So rather than, so for my birthdays, I do a, it’s interesting, I do I change it now and we go to the beach, but instead it’s a memorial for Ruby and Hart, not my birthday. So, I don’t want cards. I don’t want presents, but I want people to, we spelled out Ruby and Hart’s names and we said Ruby and Hart and we jumped in the ocean this just a week ago.
And my therapist said, that’s interesting, does your birthday always need to be tied to the deaths of your children? And I was like, oh, that’s an interesting question. No, that sounds like I’m trapped somehow. And I’m not allowing myself to honor my own birthday. I’m saying, no, I don’t deserve a birthday.
I need to grieve. And that’s definitely how it felt in the first years for sure. I did not feel like I deserved a birthday. I was like, I’ll never have a birthday again. And now I’m like I, now I can see someday in the future. I might be able to celebrate my birthday alone, and not make it paired completely with grief.
But right now, I need it to be, so I can’t have a birthday, woohoo, happy birthday. I can’t. I just have to have it be like, hey it’s my birthday, my kids died four years and three months ago. You know what I mean? But I can at least now I can see a potential in the future that maybe I would celebrate my birthday.
But I don’t want to right now.
[01:27:04] Gabby Reece: I think that’s also really important for people to hear. It’s hey, you, it’s really good to do it the way that it’s right for you. Yeah. It’s that’s so important.
Justin, do you have a question? Justin always gets one question.
[Justin] I do. Was there like a moment or a conversation? When did you decide to take this?
Colin Campbell: Oh, the play? Oh, yeah. I started writing it right away. Just like a week after the crash, I began writing it. It was just like a short piece. And it was super dark, and I showed it to Gail, and I was like, what do you think about this?
[01:27:43] Colin Campbell: She said, I love this. Keep writing. Okay. So, I kept writing and now it’s a full-length show. And I thought I’m going to perform it in front of people. And back then it was at that point, five months after the crash, maybe six months after the crash, and it was very raw, super raw.
And I invited the Rebecca’s over the same woman that made the shirts that said, “Hug me. Don’t Hug Gail.” And I said, can I give you, my show? And yes. And they, I remember delivering it to them. I had it memorized. And their faces, they were just like, in agony. It was brutal. It was like, because I was just grieving and they were grieving and they were just thinking about Ruby and Hart and me and they’re just, they’re crying thinking about my destroyed life.
I was like, wow, that was like a torture. That was a terrible thing to do to my dear friends. They’re so wonderful that they sat through that. And then, but I’m going to perform it anyway, because I’m so angry at the universe. And then Covid happened and shut it down. So, I couldn’t perform it to anybody else.
So, I only afflicted it on them. And I think my sister-in-Law, Betsy, and then a couple years went by, I wrote a book, the book got published, and then I thought, I want to do my show again. I’m ready now and it’s different. I have more removed and now I’m playing an early version of me that was in acute grief, but I’m not in acute grief anymore.
I’m in a different place. I’m still grieving, but I’m not in acute grief anymore. And like I said, I didn’t know how it would go over. I really thought people would walk out because it’s like the idea of triggering, give people trigger warnings. Oh God. I was like, I sent emails to people who had lost children.
It’s come see my show. But trigger warning that like, forget it, like this, the whole. Every single word I say is going to trigger. That’s crazy. So good luck to you. I think I said that good luck to you. So, I signed off and they all came, and nobody ran out. Nobody ran out and they laughed, and they cried. And nobody got mad at me, even though I offend people I imagined.
Because I do end on a, again, I end in a place of grace. And openness and empathy. So initially you’re the, initially the impetus was anger. I was angry at the universe. I’m going to show this show. This show is going to hurt you audience.
And then, but yeah, but here you go. But then after time it, it evolved and then that I wanted to share it for a different reason. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I wanted to help people by normalizing grief, by normalizing the ugliness. That can happen as we grieve and saying, that’s okay too. That’s okay to have these ugly thoughts. We all have them. We all compare grief. All of us, all the time, right? They think they had it bad. They should mind their own business, right?
[01:30:42] Gabby Reece: And the thing is, you didn’t choose it. It’s it showed up for you and you’re saying, this is how I’m dealing with it. These are my thoughts and feelings. And that honesty does give people the permission to be like, yeah, me too.
There’re two more things I really want to touch upon is you being there for the grandparents and the aunts and uncles, how did you navigate that? Because it’s they have real loss and so where is it, they get it from other places.
Like, how does that how does that work?
[01:31:24] Colin Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a very complicated, a complicated thing because they’re our closest family but many of them have kids and they love us, and they love Ruby and Hart so much. And they’re devastated by those losses. And they’re desperate to help Gail and I, desperate.
And we’re, we have lots of anger. And so, it’s so hard, sometimes to navigate that complicated situation. They’re so helpful. I’m so grateful for them and all that they’ve done. But it’s not an easy path to be the sister, brother, sister-in-law, brother-in-law to people who’ve lost children.
We’re not easy, yeah. And so occasionally we’re just, we…there’s like flare ups and we’re like you can’t do this.
[01:32:30] Gabby Reece: And you have your lives and we’re here and then…
[01:32:33] Colin Campbell: And so, we try not to play that card, but sometimes we don’t play that card, but sometimes it’s you can’t treat us like we’re normal.
When we come for family gatherings, it’s not normal, even though it seems like we’re okay, we’re not okay. And family gatherings are difficult. So, it’s very strange. It’s like family gatherings are so important. They’re so helpful. And then we’re also introducing new people into our family, right? We’ve got these children we’re fostering to adopt and that’s complicated and they don’t want to meet these new relatives.
So, it’s not like easy. Hey, it’s we’re coming to the party with all sorts of baggage, right? We’ve got grief. We’ve got kids who are grieving. They’re angry. They don’t want, they want to be on their phones. They don’t want to sit at a dinner table with strangers. You know what I mean? But like we’re just baggage and I’m so grateful that my family is accepting of our baggage and then also sometimes when we like blow up and No. Yeah. No, I’m not going to do that or whatever it is, the small petty thing that suddenly becomes non-negotiable for us.
[01:33:48] Gabby Reece: Yeah. I think, I think that level of honesty though, you can, people can, they can figure it out. It’s uncomfortable, but at that level of honesty and I think eventually when you’re done performing your show, you should tape it and do a special of sorts. Oh, get on that. You have a wife who’s a writer. I’m sure you have producer friends. Yeah. I think absolutely you should do it.
[01:34:13] Colin Campbell: Netflix should call me.
Gabby Reece: They should. Netflix, Colin Campbell. No, but I’m, the thing is. Yeah. They should. You should put it out there. So, if you would not be opposed to reading one thing that was the last thing in your book. I took a picture of it. If you could and I hope it’s okay and you can say, no, Gabby, I’m not going to read that.
But I thought it was. Oh, it was very, it’s beautiful and I just want to say that you’re doing so much out of your own grief, and you say, make that productive. You say that in your book to be productive with it. And I really, I just really appreciate what you and Gail, because I also know it’s like her, her pain too. She’s giving you the green light to say, okay, express our pain.
[01:35:06] Colin Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. I talk about our sex life in the show.
[01:35:08] Gabby Reece: Yeah, I know. I did appreciate that you talk about that. So, for couples finding your way back to one another because I think it was something like nothing shrivels up your dick more than grief. So, I really you talk about it all and this is the stuff that people go through. And how you have this, the hope that you’re giving people to of, by the way, we did find our way back to each other. Yeah. It’s beautiful.
[01:35:36] Colin Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. You mentioned that your friend said that she read my book and felt seen and that, that means so much to me.
[01:35:41] Gabby Reece: First time that she felt seen.
[01:35:42] Colin Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. That means the world to me. Cause then they’re not so alone. No. Yeah. Okay. So, this is from Maya Angelou. And it’s not the entire poem. So, for those who fans are aghast at my editing her beautiful poem, but I just, I want to pick just the end chunk. Because she’s writing about great artists. So, I’m taking this piece to just be about the people we love.
“And when great souls die, after a period, peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly, spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses restored, never to be the same, whisper to us they existed. We can be and be better, for they existed.”
[01:36:46] Gabby Reece: Colin Campbell, the book is “Finding the Words.” And I just thank you. I’m, thank you.
[01:36:55] Colin Campbell: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me. This was a really beautiful conversation.
About Colin Campbell
Colin Campbell is a writer and director for theater and film. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Seraglio, a short film he wrote and directed with his lovely and talented wife, Gail Lerner. He has taught Theater and/or Filmmaking at Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, Cal Poly Pomona University, and to incarcerated youth through The Unusual Suspects. His one-person show titled, Grief: A One Man ShitShow, premiered at the Hollywood Fringe Festival where it won a Best of Broadwater Award. He lives in Los Angeles and sometimes Joshua Tree.