To mark the release of brave new podcast Sisters Uncensored, which discusses bereavement, Stylist investigates the power of grief podcasts as a healing tool.
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Although bereavement happens to us all, grief is still perhaps the most painful experience most of us live through. Shock, numbness, overwhelming sadness, exhaustion, anger and guilt are just a handful of the emotions people experience. And there’s no time limit: grief, arguably, lasts a lifetime – we just learn to cope with it.
But one thing’s for sure: talking about it can really help. The NHS advises people experiencing grief to try chatting about their feelings to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor. It also recommends considering peer support, where people use their experiences to help each other.
However, opening up about our deepest, most intimate and vulnerable feelings can be very hard. That’s why podcasts about grief can be a great tool to help heal through difficult times – and there are some incredibly powerful examples of this from the last 12 months alone.
Take Zoe Ball’s Desert Island Discs, for example, where the radio DJ talked about positively remembering her boyfriend who died by suicide. Or Laura Whitmore on White Wine Question Time, who shared her very honest and raw response to Caroline Flack’s death. Then there’s Cariad Lloyd’s award-winning Grief Cast series: a podcast that examines the human experience of grief and death, “but with comedians, so it’s cheerier than it sounds”.
They help grieving listeners navigate the light and dark, the good and bad, which is exactly why a therapist recommends plugging in.
“If we find a podcast soothing, or if we find the intellectual stimulation of the subject matter contributes to our sense of wellbeing, then it can well be a form of self-care,” trauma specialist Lucinda Gordon Lennox from The Recovery Centre (TRC) Group tells Stylist.
“When we listen to other people’s stories and we can identify with them, it can help us to confront and come to terms with our own material that we might not otherwise have done, and this can help us to process it.
“A sense of identifying with another human’s struggle can help us to realise we are not alone, and that other people do have similar difficulties, feelings and issues as us. It can help us to feel connected – and as humans feeling connected is incredibly important to our sense of wellbeing.”
Gordon Lennox agrees the podcast format also helps enrich the experience, saying: “What I have found myself from working in online sessions with clients is that using headphones actually makes the sessions feel more intimate than when we are in person, because the sound of the voice goes directly into the ears and none of the person’s experience is dissipated into the room.”
Explaining how eliminating the element of being face-to-face during these discussions can also help, she adds: “Most people carry some toxic shame, and very often there is toxic shame around the notion of finding life difficult. If we are listening, or talking, without face-to-face contact, sometimes it can lessen our feeling of shame, giving us the time and space to process what we are feeling without feeling ‘less than’, ‘wrong’, or ‘bad’.”
The most recent example is a new podcast by sisters Charlotte, Alice and Jessica, which sees them navigate the grief over their sister, the YouTuber and TV presenter Emily Hartride, a year after she tragically died.
Sisters Uncensored, which was first recorded before Emily’s death, features all four sisters speaking frankly about sex, relationships and the struggles women face during their 20s and 30s. However, the three sisters have now recorded two extra episodes together, touching on grief and how the family have coped in light of losing Emily.
Reflecting on what it’s like being the people who drive and host discussions on grief, the sisters agree it serves as a shared form of catharsis.
“I do strongly believe it’s going to be an important part in our grieving process,” Jess tells Stylist. “I was just about to start therapy before lockdown happened and I’m going into this just seeing it as a few therapy sessions. And we really hope it’s going to help other people on their journeys, too.”
And while the power of these podcasts is partly down to the the speakers being completely honest, there’s of course a level of responsibility that needs to be taken to protect listeners.
“We’re all aware of what we say – I would never want to say anything that’s too triggering for people,” Charlotte adds. “But the main thing, for me, is to just be really open and honest, knowing that if I have dark thoughts, other people have them too. We’re just trying to do them with Emily’s mantra of ‘just talk about it, be open and honest’.”
Because, ultimately, the people who talk about grief on podcasts do it to help both them and the listener. “It really was our main focus to help other people,” says Alice. “That’s what Emily grew her platform to do: she wanted people to know it’s OK to feel crap.”
This perhaps hits the nail on the head: sometimes, when things get crappy, we just need to switch off and plug in a conversation that makes us feel seen while we remain anonymous.
If you, or a loved one, would like support with grieving, please visit Cruse Bereavement Care.
Cruse Bereavement Care is the UK’s leading national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, offering face-to-face, telephone and website support. Visit the website at cruse.org.uk or call 0808 808 1677.
Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland can be found at crusescotland.org.uk, call 0845 600 2227.
Images: Getty, Sisters Uncensored
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…