Why are we so bad at talking about grief?

A Griefspeak cartoon that ran in the New York Times.
A Griefspeak cartoon that ran in the New York Times.
Illustrated by Peter Arkle | Courtesy of HarperCollins

It's hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving, but Gabrielle Birkner and Rebecca Soffer are trying to make those tough conversations a little easier.

Their new book "Modern Loss: Candid Conversations about Grief. Beginners Welcome" is unlike any other book about death you've ever read — or, perhaps, intentionally avoided.

Yes, there are heartbreaking stories, but there are also comic strips and brutally honest reflections about the types of losses where no greeting card company dares to go.

Kim Goldman discusses the loss of her brother Ron, and the details of his life that were missed in the O.J. Simpson media frenzy.

Theater director Michael Greif discusses the complications of a life lost to HIV/AIDS.

WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Chamique Holdschaw talks about losing her grandmother and struggling with depression and bipolar disorder.

What you won't find in the book are platitudes like, "everything happens for a reason."

The book is also notably void of clinical language. Soffer and Birkner didn't formally study bereavement. Instead, they learned about grief the old-fashioned and awful way: through personal experience.

Birkner's father and stepmother were murdered in their own home, and Soffer's mom died in a car accident. Three years later, her dad had a fatal heart attack.

These tragic losses led Birkner and Soffer to start the Modern Loss website, which eventually led to this book. Both the website and the book are resources that you can turn to again and again, which makes sense. As noted by several of the writers in this anthology: Loss isn't something that happens once and then is over; it's a process that continues to evolve every day.

Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

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