Transcribe your podcast



Couple of weeks ago, I found three boxes in my basement that were filled with the old Christmas ornament. They'd been packed away in 1987. That was the last year we had Christmas with my brother, Carter. He died seven months later, and my mom and I never celebrated holidays again. The dreaded holidays. That's what my mom started calling them, which always made us giggle. I mentioned in the first season of the podcast that I didn't realize she and I had the same strange laugh until just shortly before she died. And I listened to this audio that I'd recorded of her. She and I would still get together on Christmas and Thanksgiving, but we'd usually just go to the movies. I'd seen the boxes of ornamentments over the years but never opened them until last week. I was amazed that most of them were intact and I recognized so many of them from my childhood. On the back of one, which looked like a gingerbread cookie, my mom had written my brother's name and noted that the ornament was a gift to him from her Aunt Thelma. Another had a photo in it of my dad and mom and brother and me in front of a Christmas tree.


I was maybe three years old. When we got our tree last week, I brought the boxes up from my basement. My son, Wyatt, was singing. This is the first Christmas Wyatt is really excited about. He's nearly four and has fully woken up to the fact that Santa brings gifts, Reindir, Land on Roofs, and Dingle Bells is a song he can sing all day long. He made a list of what he's hoping Santa will bring him.


Dear Santa.


He wants a toy car, two candy canes, a rainbow, a pillow, and knees. For the record, he has two knees that seem to work just fine, but apparently, he wants some backups. It was late, and we decided to decorate the tree the following morning. When I put Wyatt to bed, he was so excited.


After sleep, we can put the the norminans.


We can put.


The what? Norminans.


The ornament? Yeah. Yeah, we'll put the.


Ornament on. The presents are going to come soon.


Yeah, they'll come when Santa comes. Putting up the ornamentments was lovely. I did get a little teary eyes at times, but the kids didn't notice. And seeing their joy, it was incredible. I wasn't sure I was going to say anything about this in the podcast because I know how difficult this time of year can be for so many of you who are listening. And it's still difficult for me. But I decided to talk about it because I did get a glimpse of something that I don't think I had before. A hint that feelings can change with time. Pain of loss, grief, it doesn't go away, but maybe it really can shift and move. I think I've felt frozen in it for so long it's hard for me to actually believe that, but I'm starting to and I felt it. It's taken me more than 30 years, but I'm actually looking forward to Christmas morning. I'm just not sure where I can find why at some knees. This is All There Is with me, Anderson Cooper. My guest today is Amanda Petrasic. She's a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine and writes mostly about music.


But she came to my house last year to interview me about the first season of the podcast, and we've become friends. She'd started listening to the podcast because her husband, Brett, whom she'd met in college when she was 17, died suddenly in August 2022 after having a seizure. He was 43 years old and had an undiagnosed neurological condition. Their daughter, Nico, was 13 months old at the time. Well, thank you so much for doing this. I really.


Appreciate it. Yeah, it's my pleasure.


You wrote recently that grief is an excruciating but nonetheless fascinating experience. What's fascinating about it to you?


Yeah, grief, it is fascinating to me. I think bewildering is also a word that comes to mind. I feel like I've learned so much about myself, about others, about the world, as awful as it is, and as much as you feel scooped out and annihilated by it, you undergo this transformation. In that, there's so much. It's like suddenly there's another room in the house of your consciousness.


You recently passed the one year anniversary of Brett's death. He died August sixth. Did you do anything different on that day?


I thought a lot about it leading up to it, what do I do with this weird day on the calendar? In the end, I just wanted to get through it. I just thought I don't want anything to do with this stupid, awful day. I just want to erase it from the calendar. I didn't do anything to mark it. I could see that maybe changing as my daughter gets older, as I get a little more distant from that particular moment. But this year, no.


How does it feel different now than you felt a year ago?


I remember feeling really annoyed when people would tell me, It takes time. Time will heal. All these cliched, just facile and dumb sounding phrases people say to you when you're grieving. I was resentful of all of that. But at the same time in my lived experience of it, I think something about making it through a full calendar year, I felt proud of myself. I thought, Okay, I did this. I am tougher than I thought I was. I'm stronger than I thought I was. I survived a unspeakable, unimaginable trauma. I'm here and I'm alive and the lights are on and my kid's okay and I still have a job and there's food in the fridge. I think something about hitting the year mark, it did open something up for me. I have felt a little bit lighter since then. I felt a little bit steadier on my feet. I think obviously everyone moves through grief at their own pace. There's no way to do this. I don't know. It's almost like an AA when someone hands you a 12-month chip and you just think, There is something significant to the months stacking up and to the fact that you remain.


It's funny. When I interviewed you for the New Yorker, you said something that really moved me, which is you said that when you were a little kid, the intensity of your mother's grief frightened and disoriented you because you needed stability in that moment of tumult. I thought about that a lot after we talked that day. How do I let my daughter see me grieving? How do I encourage her to understand that grief is normal, that grief is love? But also to make sure that she knows that I'm going to be okay and she is going to be okay. I think the work of that is exhausting. It's really hard, and that has been my project for much of the last year. There's all the practical things of like, God, I just wish there was another human being in the house. I wish there was another adult in the house. We got the first Christmas after Brett died. Nico and I both got the flu. So it was already just going to be this really terrible, sad holiday. And then on top of it, we had to isolate. It was just the two of us alone in this house.


She was really sick. I was really sick. I had a high fever. She had a high fever. She's up all night. I can't sleep because I'm taking care of her. I remember at one night just having this baby tucked in my arms, and I was crawling up the stairs in my house because I was so exhausted and just thinking, This is physically impossible. I can't do it. But I did it. That's the thing. It's this weird survival that has been so incredible to me. I think in a funny way, we have been a comfort to each other. It's so hard to see her make expressions that remind me of him or to do something that I think, Oh, my God, he would have died laughing to see this.


She looks a lot like him.


Yeah, she looks a lot like him, which is beautiful and heartbreaking. Another tricky part about losing a partner but remaining a parent is that you really have to work to not turn your kid into a surrogate spouse. My understanding of motherhood is that it's my job to love her with every cell in my body, but it's not necessarily her job to love me that way, although, of course, I hope she does. Oh, my God, you've probably had a moment like this, Anderson. Last night, I was putting her down in her crib to go to sleep. As I do every night, I said, I love you, Nico. I turn around and do that little backwards walk, parents do it out of the room where you don't want to make a noise. I just heard her. She's just beginning to string phrases together. I heard her say, Me love mom. Oh, my God. It's like my soul left my body. I just disintegrated. But it does add another dimension to the pain because you're grieving for yourself, but you're also grieving for your kid. In my case, I'm grieving everything she lost by never really knowing her father.


There's also this element of survivor's guilt tangled up in this, too, which is, Well, why am I still here? Why do I get to watch her grow up? So grieving, I think, and raising a child at the same time, especially a really young child. Yeah, my God.


It's hard. Is it also a grief you feel for her, for Nico about what you know she will not have growing up.


Yeah. In some ways, I think that grief is bigger. I got Brett for 25 years. She got him for 13 months, in which she was not yet a fully-formed human who could create memories. Yeah, I mean, the unfairness of that. It's also true, I think, as an adult, when something terrible happens to you, part of you thinks like, Well, I deserve it. Somehow in my life, I don't know, somehow I had this coming. Some very ugly, nasty part of the self-loathing part of one's brain kicks in. But then you look at this baby, this tiny, beautiful, perfect baby, and you think, Oh, my God, she did not deserve this. And how can the cruelty of the world be inflicted on this tiny, innocent, beautiful being? That part is much harder. I think, All right, I can take it. But for her, yeah, my God. I mean, that, I think, in some ways, has been the hardest piece of all of this.


Do you also think about down the road, what are you going to say about Brett?


Yeah, I think about it constantly. I think I started thinking about it the day that Brett died. I have enlisted a lot of help in the project. I have talked to Brett's friends, his family, and said, Look, I need you to help me do this. I don't want the only things that she knows about her father to come from me. I want it to be this rich, multifaceted portrait of all the people who loved him and all the lives he affected and all the people who have these amazing, great, funny, weird stories about him. I want her to one day absorb all of that like a little sponge. And in fact, right after he died, I asked people to write letters to Nico and mail them to my house. I have a huge box of those that one day I think I will have a stiff drink and hand to her when she's ready for them, letters from his friends written to her, telling her about her dad. In some ways, there's this.


Practical- How many.


Letters do you have? Gosh, probably about a hundred. I mean, it was an amazing response. People he worked with, friends of ours, friends of his.


That's such a lovely thing to do.


Yeah, God, I'm shocked I had the presence of mind to ask in that moment because I think people also, they were grieving, too, and it was healing and helpful, I think, to write it all out. This is a weird thing to be paranoid about, but I worry about all of my photos and videos and things like that. They all exist on some weird cloud that I don't totally understand. And I think, Oh, my God, what if they just poof, disappeared one day? I will always have this box of letters. I really appreciate how tactile and real they are and the handwriting and the envelopes and all of it.


Did you open them yourself? Did you read them yourself?


No. One day. I mean, again, I don't feel quite ready to look all of that squarely in the eye, but I'm so glad it's there. It's like a little weird security blanket for me. Actually, keep the box under my bed. And it's just nice. It makes me happy to know that they're there. I think that will be a part of teaching Nico about her dad. But yeah, you can't avoid it. It's like Central in every children's book and cartoons. My kid has very recently gotten into Baby Shark, which is this absolutely psychotic- I've heard.


I've successfully avoided.


It thus far. Oh, my God. Go, please. Just avoid it as long as you can. It's insane. But there's a verse in Baby Shark that's Daddy Shark. And it's funny when she sings it. So she calls my dad, her grandfather, Pop-pop. And when we get to the Daddy Shark verse, she sings Pop-pop Shark. So she sings the Pop-pop verse twice, which is funny. And I think, Oh, my God, already in her little head, she's somehow figuring out like, I don't know that I don't have a dad. My dad is not alive. Of course, she has a dad. But I have a grandfather who loves me, and it was heartbreaking to see her make that little substitution on the fly. But I try to talk to her about him a lot, which I think it's better that it just be in the air rather than one day having to sit her down and make this gruesome- Shocking revelation. Yeah, this big reveal of I'd rather her just know all the time, and maybe it comes a little bit more in focus year after year as she gets older and can understand a little bit more. Yeah, it's like on one hand, I look forward to telling her about her dad, and then on the other hand, I think, Oh, my God.


It's going to be so hard. Her grief will be so abstract. I think because she was so young when he died, it can't possibly be specific. She will be mourning the loss of an idea, the idea of a father, the idea of her father. That's a funny thing to think about because obviously the way I feel is so precise. I miss this person, and I miss his arms, and I miss his brain, and I miss the way he left. For her, my sense is it will just be more diffuse. It will be this strange, vague, longing.


Do you know that Welsh word hyreth?




My mom told me about it, and I should have the definition. I don't have the exact definition in front of me, but it's a longing for something past that may not have even existed, but it's a longing for something that may have existed in your life, but you don't actually remember it. For my mom, it was this family that never was. And her father died when she was 15 months old, and she didn't have a stable family. So it was this longing for the idea of a family, something she had never actually experienced, but it's a lovely word, Hireth.


That's so beautiful and so real. We'll be right.


Back after a short break.


Hey, this is David Reind. I'm an audio producer at CNN. One of my favorite things.


About working at CNN.


Is that I can call up our super smart correspondents and reporters whenever I want to pick their brains about the news and the stories they're covering. Well, I want to bring you in on those conversations with our podcast, CNN One Thing. Each week, I grab one of those said reporters and we break down one big story that's been making headlines.


Again, the podcast is.


Cnn One Thing. Listen on your favorite podcast app.


Welcome back to All There is. I'm talking to Amanda Petrositch, whose husband, Brett, died in August 2022. I want to circle back to something you said about that suddenly there's another room in the house. Did grief open you up to something new?


Absolutely. And again, I don't want to romanticize the experience because as you're living through it, it does not feel romantic. And in fact, you don't feel like, Oh, I'm opening up to the world. You feel the opposite, right? You feel like your world has suddenly shrunk to this horrible little dark piece of coal or whatever.


I believe, actually, let me just for our listeners, you described in something you wrote you said that you sometimes feel like a zombie that's been stabbed in the heart with a sharp stick. But rather than collapsing or dying, I just keep on lurching about moaning haphazardly, stumbling toward the horizon.


Yeah, that is the feeling, right? It's like you can't believe you're still functioning, that the pain is so all-encompassing. But that being said, with a little bit of time and space and air, I think I have really come to understand the idea that grief makes you more human. Parenthood does the exact same thing. I think for me, experiencing both in such rapid succession was in some ways, a exploding of who I was before I became this different person. You just become a little more awake, I think, to not only how fragile and scary everything is, although that is a piece of it too, but I think also how vast and mystifying and possible everything is. For me, it also really kicked up my empathy for everyone around me. I suddenly understood everyone as incredibly vulnerable, and we're all living and dying. It's inevitable. I think it made me feel a certain warmth or sense of fellowship that was not totally accessible to me before.


I mean, it's similar along lines of what Stephen Colbert had talked about in the first season of the podcast of, if you want to be the most human you can be, this is one of those experiences that is part of that. I just want to play a quick clip from that interview with Stephen Colbert. I was struck with this realization that I had a gratitude for the pain of that grief. It doesn't take the pain away. It doesn't make the grief.


Less profound. In some ways, it makes it more profound.


Because it allows you to look at it. It allows you to examine your grief in a way that is not.


Like holding up.


Red, hot ember in your hands, but rather seeing that pain as something that can warm you and light your knowledge of what other people might be going through.


It's tough. It's really tough. I feel like you're catching me in a good day, like a good moment. I'm feeling okay right now. That's the other thing that you don't really understand about grief until you're moving through it, which is it's not one thing. It's not a fixed experience. I mean, people talk a lot about waves of grief. I think that's a very real thing. You're fine, you're fine, you're fine. Suddenly you're not fine. And that can be a little unpredictable. You can talk about grief with a peace and gratitude, and then you'll see something that reminds you of the person you lost. And suddenly, all it is is rage and alienation and loneliness and deep, deep sorrow.


One person called in and talked about not so much waves, but more like she was on a boogie board riding the waves, and there was moments of bliss where she's on the top of the wave, then all of a sudden, the wave just slams you down onto the sandy bottom.


And you get up.


And you're like, Oh, my.


Gosh, where did that come from? I was just fine a moment ago. And other times you will ride that wave into the shore on the foam, and it is a magnificent moment. Yeah.


There are.


Those days. Yeah, absolutely.


You mentioned the letters that other people had written that you're storing away from Nico. You are a writer, obviously. Have you written memories that you want her to... I mean, do you worry about forgetting? Yes. Because I have forgotten so much, and it makes me... Yeah, I wish I had written down a lot more early on.


Yeah. With Brett, I know there are things that I'm losing: memories, sounds, feelings, experiences, expressions, all of it. I know they are being lost every day that passes that he's not here. It's been really hard for me to do the work of preserving them. It feels like a loving gesture toward my future self to do it, to do it anyway, even though it's painful, but man, it's hard. This is going to sound dark and strange, but it's hard for me to think about him. It's hard for me to stay there to picture him in my mind and hear his voice and think about him. It's hard. I feel like some switch flipped, and I had to build a wall. This is something probably I should be unpacking with my therapist for the next decade, but it's- No, I.




That totally. I had to close it off. Maybe part of that was the urgency or the immediacy of parenting, of thinking, All right, I got to be here. I have to be here. I have to make breakfast. I have to change a diaper. I can't fall apart. I had to put it away. I'm certainly not advocating denial as a great coping strategy.


I've been doing that for about 40 years.


Yeah, right? I don't know. It's funny. I'm a music critic. Right after Brett died, I found music really impossible. I couldn't listen to anything. It brought me back to him and our life together.


Well, also music was one of the early bonds between you. And when you were in college.


Yeah. I mean, that was really how we met and how eventually we fell in love was this shared love for music. And it was a constant in our relationship the entire time we were together. It was just... It was such a inextricable, massive part of our lives. Music hits me in my guts. It's in my bones. I feel it in my teeth. And I think so for me, in those days and weeks and months after Brett died, it brought the grief into those places. And I wasn't ready. I was too deep in denial. So I couldn't listen to anything. I just found it horrifying for a really long time. It was too hard.


When Amanda was ready to play music again, there were only certain songs she found she could stand to listen to. You listen to Paul Simon, in particular Paul Simon's Graceland.


Yeah. When Brett died, Nico hadn't started talking yet. Back then, I found that music was a really effective way of communicating with her. And she loves Grace Land, the title song from the record. Let me play a little bit of it.




Said, losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees.


You're blown apart. Everybody sees.


The wind blown. I'm born to Grace Land.


Memphis, Tennessee. It's really lovely.


Well, that lyric, Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you're blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow. That, to me, I think in the immediate aftermath of Brett's death, was the first time I heard someone define what my grief felt like. It's a song about a breakup, but of course, when you lose your partner, there's some overlap there. On top of everything else you're feeling, there's that very particular, very excruciating heartbreak of a relationship ending. I don't know something about that song and that record, I just thought, Okay, maybe I can do this. Maybe I can inch back toward letting music into my life again.


Do you feel like that? Do you feel like everybody knows you've been blown apart?




Do you feel when you walk down the street, people know?


Yeah, I think everybody must know. Everybody must know this thing happened to me. I recognize that neurotic, like spotlight syndrome thing. In fact, everyone else on Earth is not thinking about me or my experience. They're thinking about their own stuff. But I think I did feel an enormous self-consciousness about it at first.


It's so interesting because I have had my whole life the opposite, which is I long for somebody to just see it in me so that I wouldn't have to say anything, but other people would know that I was scarred.


Yeah, I thought a lot about that almost creepy old tradition of widows wearing black for the year. There were times when I thought like, Yeah, of course. I joined a support group for people who have been through sudden loss. I remember somebody in that group joking. They wished somebody made T-shirts that just said, Fuck off, I'm grieving. That there was some way to project to the outside world that you were not whole.


Was that helpful, the group?


It was helpful. I think a big part of grief is that feeling of alienation and lonesomeness, and you think, Oh, everyone I know is going on with their beautiful, untouched lives, and somehow I am not. And it did really help me. I found a lot of solidarity in just... When you're grieving, you run into people a lot and they'll be like, Oh, how are you? And you think you have to say, I'm fine, I guess. I don't know. You don't really know how to answer that question, I think, for a long time. And one of the things I loved about this group was that nobody opened conversations by being like, Hey, how are you? We all just knew, not great right now. It was just implied. And it was such a relief, I think, to not have to pretend to be fine.


You did an interview with nick Cave. His 15-year-old son, Arthur, died in 2015. It was an accident, fell off a cliff. His other son, or his oldest son, Jethro, died in 2022. He was 31 years old. His music was also one of the few artists you could actually listen to that you could tolerate listening to shortly after Brett died.


Yet there is this thing that happens for grieving people, where I think you seek out other people in grief. Nick Cave's music is infused with this ghostly, otherworldly sense of loss, yes, but also of possibility. And he was someone, too, who, like you, was really open about his grieving in a public way. I found that so moving and so generous. His record, Ghostyne, is one of the strangest albums I've ever heard. But grief is strange.


Let's listen to Bright Horse.




Baby's coming back now on the next train. I can hear the whistle blowing. I can hear the mighty roar. I can hear the whistle blowing. I can hear the mighty roar. I can hear the horses prancing in the postures of the Lord. Oh, the train is coming. I hadn't heard this song before, and I listened to the whole thing. It's just beautiful. I love his voice.


Yeah, absolutely. Andyou know, it's funny, you run into people at the funeral or people come over to your house and they say, I can't imagine what you're going through. There's all this compassion in their voice, but it would make me so mad every time someone would say that, and I would think, Okay, well, let me help you. I would just be like, Okay, Todd. Imagine if your wife dropped dead, it just would drive me nuts. I think I was seeking out in those moments. Again, this point of communion, I just wanted to be around music and art and people who understood, who weren't going to say to me, I can't imagine what you're going through, people who, in fact, could imagine it and had been through it. Through that, I would find a sense of community and a sense of belonging that would help combat some of the lonesomeness of grieving.


I read a piece you did in the wake of Shanez O'Connor's death. That was really lovely. Thank you. But I want to read something you said in the piece. You said, It feels dangerous to say that it is possible to die of a broken heart, but anyone who has gone through it knows how grief can feel insurmountable sometimes. It is a violent rupture. You prepare the tourniquets, you apply pressure, you pray that you will stop bleeding before it's too late. That's how it felt to you?


Yes, it did. It felt like getting shot, or what I would imagine getting shot feels like. It feels like someone has just swung a baseball bat and hit you square in the back of the head.


But in writing about Shanea O'Connor, you wrote about a couple of different songs she sang, and one was a duet she did with Chris Christophersen. I Googled that it's beautiful, and I just want to play some of it. It's called Help Me Make It Through. All I'm.


Asking is your time. Help me make it through the night. She was just a force. You're one of those people who just felt fearless. And I admired that so much about her life and her work. And then to see at the end, she had lost a son, and to see the way in which she was undone by that, I think it was tragic and heartbreaking. Also, it's a tiny bit validating for me, almost. This woman that I thought nothing frightens her. She is bold, and she is brave, and she's courageous. To see how grief, in the end, really destroyed her, I just found so moving. I found it so powerful and heartbreaking, certainly. I think, yeah, I just wanted to pay tribute to that in some small way.


Is there something you have learned in your grief that would help others?


I think about that a lot. A version of myself that existed a year ago, right after Brett died. What could I tell her to make this easier? I was frustrated by the literature of grief. I think I was frustrated by the culture of grief, for lack of a better phrase to describe the way we, as Americans, manage grieving, none of it felt resonant to me. All of it felt alienating. We don't necessarily have a lot of practice. I know in enduring tough feelings. I think the impulse, at least for me as a kid growing up in America, was just, How do I fix it? How do I manage it? How do I get it away? None of that works with grief. You can't fix it. You can't manage it. You can't push it away. In the end, I don't know. It's funny to talk about this as if I am somehow on the other side of it, which, of course, I very much am not. I'm still living and breathing this every day. I think for me in the early days, I could not imagine a moment in which it was not the only thing I thought about.


And then over time, other thoughts crept in. I still think about bread every day, I still think about loss every day, I still think about grief, but I do think about other things too, now. And I guess just trusting that that will happen. I wouldn't have taken that advice a year ago. I would have been like, Who is this lady? What is she talking about? She doesn't understand. And that, too, is fair. But I think you just really have to trust that your heart will find a way. We are tougher than we think we are.


Amanda, thank you so much.


Hey, Anderson, thank you so much. This was such a pleasure.


Amanda Petrosich is a staff writer of The New Yorker. She's also the author of three books, the most recent one entitled Do Not Sell at Any Price. She's on Instagram @amandapetrosich. That's all there is for this episode. Next week, we'll be re-releasing my interview with Stephen Colbert that was part of the first season of the podcast. I'll resume new episodes of Season 2, January 10th. Thanks for listening. All There is is a production of C-N-N-Audio. The show is produced by Grace Walker and Dan Bloom. Our senior producers are Haley Thomas and Felicia Patinkin. Dan de Zula is our technical director, and Steve Licteye is the executive producer of C-N-Audio. Support from Charlie Moore, Carrie Rubin, Shemried Sheetrey, Ronnie Betis, Alex Manassari, Robert Mathurs, John Dianora, Laney Steinhardt, J. M. S. Andres, Nicole Pessarou, and Lisa Namrow. Special thanks to Katie Hinnman. This week on The Assignment with me.


Audie Cornish.


How more.


Women are deciding to give birth at home.


As soon as I got pregnant, I started talking to.


Other black women.




Maternal mortality rates.


For black.


Women remain stubbornly high and.


The movement of people trying to change that. There's really a sense that all of us are trying to.


Stay alive. I'm talking with CNN's Abbey Philip. Listen to The Assignment with me, Audie.




On your favorite podcast app.