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On Grief, Loss, and Family

Seth lost his mom. Pete lost his dad. And both are working through the experience of grief that comes with the impact on their lives and families.

This is not an episode that answers all your grief questions. There are far better topical podcasts with experts to help with that. This show is an exploration of the experience with two guys living through it, and a reflection on how grief — whether from the loss of a beloved family member to the loss of a family through divorce — wrecks havoc on your system, your senses, and your reality. If you’re going through it, we simply want to share: you are not alone.

Thank you for listening along with us this week. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy conversation to have. But if we’ve learned anything in our experience so far, you can’t hide from it. So, here you go… Pete and Seth devoutly not hiding.

Episode Transcript

Pete Wright: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 10% of children live with a parent with an alcohol use disorder.

Seth Nelson: This is an alarming statistic as a family law professional who deals with custody cases regularly.

Pete Wright: Finding the balance between the child safety and helping the child maintain a relationship with both parents is one of the hardest things to navigate. Add in the he said, she said phenomenon that happens with divorcing couples who often weaponize alcohol use against one another and the situation is even more difficult.

Seth Nelson: All of this is why Soberlink has been one of the most important tools for my clients dealing with these issues. Soberlink’s remote alcohol monitoring tool has helped over 500,000 people, prove their sobriety and provide peace of mind regarding the child safety. Soberlink helps keep the focus on the best interest of the child, which is really the most important part in the divorce case dealing with children. I’ve teamed up with Soberlink to create a parenting plan guide to help people going through divorce that involves alcohol and children.

Pete Wright: You can download it today at If you take a look and you think you’re ready to order Soberlink, just mention how to Split a Toaster for $50 off, their device price.

Seth Nelson: Our thanks to Soberlink for sponsoring how to Split a Toaster.

Pete Wright: Welcome to how to Split a Toaster, A divorce podcast about saving your relationships from TruStory FM. Today, we’re mourning our toasters.

Seth Nelson: Welcome to show everyone. I am Seth Nelson. As always, I’m here with my good friend Pete Wright.

Pete Wright: Hi, Seth.

Seth Nelson: I actually don’t have a big introduction today, Pete. It’s you and me.

Pete Wright: It’s you and me, buddy.

Seth Nelson: We are cutting through it all. We are going to peel away the onion. We’re going to let people see our inner souls.

Pete Wright: Eww, oh, wow, that’s gross.

Seth Nelson: You’re nervous?

Pete Wright: That’s gross.

Seth Nelson: We’re talking about grief in the grief process. Today, we’re going to talk about our own experiences. Unfortunately, within the last 10 months, Pete and I have each respectfully lost one of our parents. My mom passed away last May. Pete, what about your dad?

Pete Wright: Yeah. The 29th of December. Just not too long ago, he passed away between Christmas and New Year’s very suddenly.

Seth Nelson: When we were chatting, I know, Pete, after your father passed that we were talking about own grief, and how that’s impacted me over the last year and how you’re still in the heart of it now. I mentioned that’s what people go through all the time when they’re going through a divorce. It’s part of the grief process. We decided to bear our souls today. We’re going to try and tell some jokes along the way. If they don’t hit the home or they’re not funny, we’ll cut them out. We’ll have Andy do that.

Pete Wright: I thought we’re going to leave the silence in so you can know. You could maybe insert your own joke. It’ll be a Mad Lib, insert your …

Seth Nelson: Oh, my God.

Pete Wright: We weren’t funny enough.

Seth Nelson: I used to love those as a kid.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Yeah. That’s why I became a grammar nerd is Mad Lib.

Pete Wright: Is that it, Mad Libs?

Seth Nelson: Yes. Yes.

Pete Wright: This grief subject, it’s surprising. I think my challenge and I hope that this conversation, I’ll be talking about it with the loss of obviously of a loved one, and my favorite guy in the world. But in my reading on the subject and exploring my own experience with it, I’ve come to learn that this is a solemn truth about grief, that grief is grief is grief. That the emotional physiological response, the psychological response to grief, it could be the loss of someone, it could be the loss of this important relationship in your life. It could be any number of things. It’s going to cause a very similar emotional experience. I guess I say that as a way both of framing this conversation and of setup that we’re talking about the loss of somebody important to us and what that caused in our lives, but also that we relate to the feelings of grief, of losing a marriage, of the dissolution of a marriage. Is that fair?

Seth Nelson: A hundred percent. I know that I’ve become a better counselor at law. It’s the attorney and counselor at law. They always say, "Family law. Boy, there’s a lot of counseling that goes along with that." What people don’t realize, I think, at least I know, I did not realize when I first practiced family law, that the counselor at law was actually a lot of grief counseling …

Pete Wright: Sure.

Seth Nelson: … is understanding in the moment where my client was in their grief process, because there’s five stages. They’re not step one, step two, step three, steps four, step five. They’re not linear at all. You can be in one for one minute and one the next and one the other next, and you can revert back.

Pete Wright: Yeah. It really should be the circus of grief. I mean, it is … Your jumping from ring to ring to ring. It’s the five ring circus of grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I think that is certainly my experience that jumping from … The Five Stages since you brought them up, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, those are the widely accepted foundational elements of grief as presented in this model.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: There have been many people who have come since then, and embellish the model and tweak the model. But this is the one that … I think, when you talk about the stages of grief, this is what people think about.

Seth Nelson: Exactly.

Pete Wright: Man, are you right on the money. It is not linear at all.

Seth Nelson: At all. I’ll let you tackle that one first, how that’s impacted you and then I’ll share mine on that.

Pete Wright: Sure. I was not able to be there because it happened pretty suddenly, the loss of my dad. He had made some very clear choices about how he wanted his end-of-life care to look and decided. He said, "I don’t want to be ventilated. I don’t want to be intubated. If that’s the direction we’re going, then I don’t want to go that way." As a result, there was no time for me to be present to travel and get there in time. Boy, the moment I found out, it was just a crushing knee buckling blow to the stomach of just that this … My entire universe went from something that I understood to something I didn’t understand what felt the flick of a switch. I know I went through probably all five of the stages of grief in about 10 minutes right after the experience. It happens very, very quick.

Seth Nelson: Right. Right. There’s no way he can be gone. You’re really pissed off.

Pete Wright: Right. Please, please, please tell me.

Seth Nelson: I’ll do anything to get him back.

Pete Wright: Yeah. You’re lying to me.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: Oh, my God, how will life ever be the same, too? Oh, well, I guess this is the new world order. I got to grow up and figure out. That is the most miraculous thing about this. Losing dad, I feel was a step I didn’t know I needed to take in my own growing up, in my own adulting journey.

Seth Nelson: Right. We all become orphans one day.

Pete Wright: Yeah, we do. This is the shittiest thing we all have to inherit at some point.

Seth Nelson: That’s right.

Pete Wright: At some point. That circle was just crushing. But here are the things that I think over the last two months now have been top of mind, that immediate sense of grief at the event itself has evened out. I get it. The seas have grown calm. What I did not expect was the fact that I have zero control over when I am impacted again over grief. It’s tied to every artifact of this past life, whether it’s artwork, or furniture or clothes, or events. Just the other day we got the last of the life insurance checks that had come in from these policies that paid out.

Seth Nelson: Right. Right.

Pete Wright: That last check I’m looking at and I just fall into the couch because I just lose all feeling.

Seth Nelson: Right. Most people have that, Pete. But when you got the check for $100 million, I would have fallen into the couch, too.

Pete Wright: I wish we were talking about that kind of money. But you know what? It was that sense that as long as that check was out there, I didn’t have to end the process of living with him.

Seth Nelson: Pete, we’ve talked about that, about divorce.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: People will stay in litigation to stay in the marriage.

Pete Wright: Yep.

Seth Nelson: It is that same concept. There’s something else out there that’s keeping me connected to what I want to believe or how I feel. Even though you know, intellectually, this has happened or divorce, it’s really happened. We’re just going through paperwork now. Someone else has made the decision, we’re splitting up, and then they call it a divorce, which is a legal proceeding. There’s the emotional one. But you’ve already moved out. You’re not there. You’re not bringing coffee service in the morning. All that’s gone. They’re still married or still connected, because they don’t have a piece of paper where a judge signed, right?

Pete Wright: Yes. Yeah. That’s it. That’s the thing that I think is so surprising to me. That’s one of them is that these artifacts that I didn’t expect, that I had attributed so much weight, they come out and they smack me constantly. It is really everywhere all the time. You just don’t know when you’re going to run. You’re going to turn a corner and suddenly run headlong into a reminder that your life is different than it was for many years, in this case, all your life. That it is crushing.

Seth Nelson: Grief was described to me this way is that when you’re in the thick of it, at first, it says, "If you’re in a storm out at sea, and you don’t have a boat, and you don’t have a life jacket, you are just in the ocean, and the waves are just crashing over you and crashing over you. You’re gulping in water and you’re gulping in water and eventually, the seas will start to calm, and the sun will come out and be on your face, and you’ll be living your life." Out of the blue, there will be the rogue wave that you didn’t see coming on a beautiful day and you’re swallowing that water for that moment again. I have found that to be true. When that happens to me, since my mom’s passing, when that grief, when that wave hits me, I find myself saying to myself … I have not never articulated this in the whole last 10 months. I just say, "Oh mom." I don’t know where I even get that. That’s not something she’d ever say to me as a child. It’s just like, "I wish you were here. You would have loved this." It could be something today, I went to high school. My son’s school, he did a declaration. He did his first stand up routine in front of the entire school, because he won the junior class. I just was like, a little bit sad because she would have loved to be there and to see that.

Pete Wright: That’s one of the big moments. I find when I’m most impacted by it. It’s when I am driving down the road and I think of something stupid. There is no one else to call that would really get it the way dad would get it, right?

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: There’s nobody else to call where I could make fun of this movie or this show that I just saw, because I got this perfect joke. I can’t tell that joke because no one else has that shared history that we’ve cultivated.

Seth Nelson: Yeah. Well, as you know, my mom was an attorney.

Pete Wright: Right.

Seth Nelson: I just love talking the law with her. She just had this brilliant legal mind. I would talk about a case. She would pull a case back out or a legal concept, and she didn’t practice family law. Maybe she did very early in her career a couple cases. But she would pull it back from the bar exam. I mean, ridiculous …

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: … or a rule of evidence or how this played out or just how lawyers think and talk. I just miss that immensely. Sometimes I’ll find an interesting case or all I’ll say something in court or something will happen in one of the cases. It’s usually me complaining about the other lawyer on what they did or what the rule says and how they didn’t follow it.

Pete Wright: Of course it is.

Seth Nelson: Of course it is. But just you’re saying with the joke with your dad, I don’t have anyone. I mean, I got my friends that are lawyers and stuff, but the way I talked to mom about the law, I just immensely mess. In unlike a divorce, I do not think about my former spouse every day. But every day I do think about my mom, which I did not do when she was alive. I find that very strange.

Pete Wright: That is actually really strange. That I 100% relate to that. I wonder if there’s a parallel not specifically to you thinking about your mom versus your former spouse daily. But at what point did you find you were able to move past the transformation of your life and what it was with your former spouse? Do you know what I mean? There’s a certain milestone.

Seth Nelson: It took a while for me. I was divorced. As my fiancee says for a long weekend, three years … I mean, married for three years a long weekend and our divorce took all of three months. We were like, "Not going to do the craziness that some people do," which is hard to get out your own way. You’re grieving. I get it. I deal with it every day. I found that, really, the divorce process, and then being alone after the divorce ultimately made me who I am today. It took a long time to find myself. I don’t know if I ever really knew who I was even before I was married. I say that I lost myself in the divorce. I’ve thought about that a lot. I’ve been to counseling and talked about that. But I think I was a different person before I was married. Much different when I was, and I’m my true self now. I know that my fiance brings out my best self in me, which she’s helped me find, which is glorious. But it took me a long time. Then I don’t think I was ready for a serious relationship for a really long time, because I had to do that healing and figuring out. I think that’s the same with anything. You don’t see people who spouses die necessarily immediately getting on one of the apps.

Pete Wright: No, no.

Seth Nelson: You know.

Pete Wright: No. All right, totally.

Seth Nelson: Your father passed suddenly. My mom had cancer. It was one of those long processes. My mom was tough as nails. She went to law school in the early ’80s and was one of eight women in her law school class.

Pete Wright: Wow. Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right. Those women of that generation went through hell that they should not have had to go through and they became tough as nails. I remember she was having chemo a couple years ago. She said, "My hair might fall out. I’ve always wanted to have pink hair. I’ll get a wig." She called me up, Pete, and said … I was checking on her. She goes, "Yeah. My hair started falling out the shower today. It’s just really got me down." She was really depressed. Not thinking and as I should think. Before I speak, I said, "Mom, I’ll shave my head to support you. I’m balding anyway." I’m thinking, she’s going to say, "Yeah, I’m fine." She’s tough. She says to me, "That is the sweetest thing. Thank you." I felt like "Oh, shit." I went home that night, and I shaved my head. I’ve been bald ever since. My son told me, "Dad, you’ve got a good head. You could be a head model from the eyebrows up." My mom always appreciated that. I will probably always be bald from now to the end of my days. Sometimes I think about my mom because of that.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: But I was with her.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: I was in the room when she passed. When you talk about a light switch, even though we all know it was coming, even though hospice care was there, it’s like a light switch, because there’s … Even though the breathing was labored. She was breathing one minute, and then she wasn’t.

Pete Wright: Then she was not.

Seth Nelson: I mean, we were very thankful that we had love and support. She got to say goodbye. All of the relatives flew in. I don’t think it makes it any easier. It’s not a competition like, "Oh." Because people will say, "Oh, you got to say goodbye," where maybe you did not Pete, because it happened so quick. It’s all bad. Because I’m like, "Yeah, I said goodbye to my mom." That was horrible. There’s no right, there’s no wrong. It’s just sucks.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: It all just sucks. I didn’t have a lot of the anger phase which is a big phase in divorce.

Pete Wright: Yes.

Seth Nelson: Because my mom lived a great life. She passed away she wanted to. But …

Pete Wright: Yeah. On her terms. That makes it easier to grieve as a verb when everything goes with peace.

Seth Nelson: Right. But there was some bargaining going on, I’ll tell you that.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: It’s hard.

Pete Wright: I do find myself, I still driving around. I’ll still talk to him and just let him know, even though I know I’m … For my belief system, I know, I’m talking to my steering wheel, but it just feels good to get the words out. I want to talk a little bit about numbing, because that seems to be an important topic in grief. I was talking to a dear friend who’s in the divorce process himself. We would talk right after his former spouse moved out, and we were joking around and like, are there any silver linings? He says, "Oh, God, yeah, the house is so quiet. He takes a beat. No one can hear me screaming, because I’m doing a lot of screaming."

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: That’s the bittersweet thing that I think puts. He would talk about this. He says, "It’s just really easy to let myself do the things that I know I wouldn’t do if she was around to get a second or third drink to just start eating crap to do the things that make me … Give me that little dopamine push or that numbing out push that makes the screaming less important. Did you deal with that?

Seth Nelson: Yeah. I dealt with numbing.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: But with the way I dealt with it, which is crazy, is I went and played poker. You weren’t expecting that were you, Pete?

Pete Wright: I was not.

Seth Nelson: I’ve literally and went play Texas Hold’em at a local casino here. The reason that was numbing for me, it did a couple things. One, this is going to be surprising. I’m an extrovert. Okay. I needed to be around people and it’s all about observing when you’re playing poker, and it’s all about cards and numbers and math that shuts off the emotional side.

Pete Wright: Yes.

Seth Nelson: I could go there, and I could play cards, and I had my systems, and I would never drink. I would get a beer and sip it. I would buy rounds for the table, because I’m just doing a return on my investment there. Man, the more they’re drinking, the easier it is to take their money. But I am literally was doing that for about a solid two years. It was ridiculous how good I was at this game. But that was a way that I could just shut it all down and grind it out at the table and do the math. To this day, if you put three cards down on the table, I can tell you what the best hand is. But someone could be holding the worst hand and rank them in a millisecond.

Pete Wright: Why are you an attorney? Feels you should be on a circuit. There’s a circuit that … with got a Seth Nelson shaped hold, just waiting to be filled.

Seth Nelson: Why don’t you just keep pointing out the rest of my mistakes in my life? How about we talk about how I moved from Grand Cayman to come back to go to law school.

Pete Wright: Yeah. I would love to talk about that.

Seth Nelson: Yeah.

Pete Wright: Let’s start digging those particular scars. Shall we?

Seth Nelson: That’s good. Talk about grief. Oh, my God. No. That numbing for me was part of it. It’s hard to get through. When you’re going through a divorce, and you’ve got kids, and you’ve got … You’re worried about a house and all this other stuff. It’s even worse now with social media and unfriending. Then you’re on the dating apps, and then they pop up on the dating app. It’s always in your face a lot more than those songs in the ’70s where every time I look around, I see where you are. Literally you’re carrying them around in your pocket.

Pete Wright: Yeah. Yeah. That’s worth noting, too, that at least in my experience, it’s because of this delay of amplification of social media. I’ll feel I’ve moved past this thing and then someone out of nowhere will respond to a post about it that was two months old and say, "Oh, my God. I’m just discovering this now. I’m so sorry." Witnessing them go through the grief again it just brings up the same old feelings again, and it can get very challenging. I think that’s … For me, the real effort, the real muscle to develop is the sense of patience, both with others and myself in this process.

Seth Nelson: Yeah.

Pete Wright: I can’t judge other people who were close to him for experiencing exactly what I experienced, just because they didn’t do it until much later.

Seth Nelson: That’s right.

Pete Wright: I’m trying so hard to be patient and understanding that everyone who was close to this person that was close to me has to experience this on their own to some degree.

Seth Nelson: Then your closest friends, or people that maybe you haven’t run into, but you’re friends with and then you run into them, even though they know this happened to me just last weekend. They said, "How are your parents doing?" Then I looked at them, because it hit me, like, "You mean my dad?"

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right. I didn’t say it, but it must have been on my face. They go, "Oh, I’m sorry. I know your mom." I’m like, "No, no, it’s fine." Actually, I said, "Thanks. Thanks. I don’t know if I thought of her today."

Pete Wright: Yeah. Right.

Seth Nelson: I’m not diving into politics at all. But Joe Biden has seen grief in his life.

Pete Wright: Yep.

Seth Nelson: He had something that he said that has stuck with me. It has nothing to do with politics. But he said … I’m sure this is in all sorts of grief books and grief counseling, "That one day, your loved one will bring a smile to your face, as opposed to sadness," or something of that nature. Down the road, when you think of them, it won’t be as sad as it is today. You’ll think of all the positives and the good things. When I’m sad about it, I think about that. When you think about that, the sadness subsides, those seas, those waves mellow out a little bit.

Pete Wright: Do you have a go to memory in that regard from mom?

Seth Nelson: I don’t. I don’t have one thing. I think she was such a powerhouse and so influential in my life. Not just becoming a lawyer. That’s the superficial shit, right?

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: But on things that I do, how I approach life, I approach problems, how I think about the world how I parents, how I don’t parent, there’s shit she did. I was like …

Pete Wright: No to self.

Seth Nelson: No, I’m not doing that. Right. Right.

Pete Wright: [crosstalk 00:27:34]

Seth Nelson: Right. Right. We all tried to do that. But I don’t have a go-to. How about? I know, it’s still early for you.

Pete Wright: I do. I do have one that makes me smile every single time I think about it happened. Oh, gosh, I want to say 30 years ago. I was in college at University of Colorado. My folks came up to Boulder for a Thanksgiving weekend and we went to a very fine restaurant with a very fine buffet. We went up to the buffet line and dad, mom went through, and then I went through and then dad stopped at the meat. He sort of backed up and waited for four or five other people to get through until the person who was cutting the meat was almost done with this carcass and it was both ham and turkey.

Seth Nelson: Right. Right.

Pete Wright: I’m sitting here watching this guy. He’s an ambush predator. He’s just like eyeballing, just waiting for the right moment. Then he steps in back into the line. He says to the attendant, "Can you give me some of that slop down there?" He wanted the fat and the skin, and the nastiest parts, and just …

Seth Nelson: Self-disgusting.

Pete Wright: … please highlight what I’m stuffing right there, just pile it right on. That has become the most disgusting avatar of my dad’s existence that he even made it 30 more years is a testament to his intestinal fortitude, literally.

Seth Nelson: That’s right.

Pete Wright: That become kind of a thing. You’re going to slop on that? We made a family joke. I laugh every single time I think about that.

Seth Nelson: Right. That’s awesome.

Pete Wright: Let me ask you this question. Not related specifically to your experience, but the post experience. What do you think is the kindest thing anyone has done for you as they were in an effort to help you through your grief process? Because I hear this all the time. Like, "What do you need?" That’s the thing. "You tell me if you need anything, just let me know. I’m here for you. Tell me if you need something."

Seth Nelson: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think I called you and said those exact words and said … I heard those for so long. You’re going to tell me nothing?

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: I got to tell you. I think the two people that really helped me get through it, one was my fiancee. She was previously married. When she was married, her former spouse father passed away. Unfortunately, she had experience in this role that she was playing. But when I needed to cry, she let me cry. When I needed to be strong for [Kai 00:30:26], she let me be strong for Kai, and she was just there for me. Sometimes not doing anything, just being there. Sometimes not being there. But intuitively, she knew what I needed when I needed it and help make it happen. I can’t even pinpoint it, or explain how she did it. But she did. The other one was my former spouse. If she’s listening this podcast, she’s thinking right now, "I didn’t do anything." But she did. She took the time to bring Kai up and see my mom on "Her weekend."

Pete Wright: Sure.

Seth Nelson: Said, "She wanted to come see mom," and they hung out. My mom, to the day she passed, always loved her. Always thought she was an amazing mom, an amazing person. My mom would frequently tell me that her generation would talk about their kids divorce and how awful it was. My mom would constantly tell me that you and Kai’s mom figured it out. I get really quiet when those conversations happen, because I don’t want to say how great it is and how my grandson is amazing, because his parents figured it out.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right? I think just by her being there and at the funeral sitting with the family, it’s not, "No, go sit in the back. You’re Kai’s mom, his grandmother passed. You’re sitting next to Kai," whatever that was, and your husband is sitting next to you. Those little things to me, and I have this issue about inclusion, that I don’t like feeling excluded. I know this is one of my triggers. Maybe this shit is all about me. But it’s those little things like that to me that helped me get through it.

Pete Wright: I think that question is so hard, because I don’t … I think of the people that were saying those things to me, "What can I do? What do you need? "What can I do for you?" It was those folks who hadn’t lost anybody for the most part and were just like me. I legitimately didn’t know what he did. I think the best thing … The thing that stands out for me the most is the moment I heard it happened. I happened to be texting with a friend, and I stopped texting and just goes to them. Within a half hour the doorbell rang. He had DoorDashed a MOD Pizza of my favorite toppings to have it delivered to the house, because I hadn’t been eating for days. I’d been on call. He said, "I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know how to support people through this. I sent you a pizza.

Seth Nelson: I sent you a pizza.

Pete Wright: Honest to God, that’s the single thing I remember most was, "Don’t ask me what I need. Just do it," right?

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: Just do it. Because I will be no help in that process. In the immediacy after an event that is that merits grieving, I’m a useless shell of a person. I think that’s the thing I just want to share with folks. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I can tell you what felt good. What felt good is just take care of stuff because I’m helpless and hopeless and I don’t know what to do. We make fun of our producer, Andy, all the time. But honestly, he didn’t even ask, he just did stuff. That’s amazing. That’s just take such a huge load off. I look for every opportunity I can to make fun of that guy.

Seth Nelson: CP.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: This is so bad, because he’s the one that cuts these shows together. He’s going to put that …

Pete Wright: I don’t know. Yeah.

Seth Nelson: … in the loop now.

Pete Wright: Probably be an echo, a god voice echo on it. Yeah. That’s what I do. Anyhow, let’s talk about it from the perspective of somebody who has a grieving event done unto them. In your experience, watching people separate and the people, the ripples in the pond that that fallout from the event itself. Talk about that.

Seth Nelson: I think the hardest thing about divorce, when we’re talking about grief is you’re not in the same category, and it’s not linear, and you’re not there at the same time. Just if you’re out on a first date, and someone asked you to marry him, you’re like, "Whoa, that’s a little fast."

Pete Wright: Yeah. Right.

Seth Nelson: Never call me again. The same is true when you’re breaking up. They’re not necessarily there at the same time. You could have been with your spouse for years, who was going through this grieving process, begging you to go to counseling, please do this. Okay. I’m just in denial. This is … We’re not getting a divorce. Maybe everyone goes through problems. We just go through problems.

Pete Wright: Yeah. We can fix this.

Seth Nelson: This is everything. Right. Right. Let’s go to counseling, whatever, and then angry. That’s when you get to the fights because it’s still happening. That person gets to acceptance. But it’s not until they get to acceptance that they actually come to you and say, "I want to divorce." Well, shit. Now they’re done. You might never have known that things were bad. You might have had your head in the sand. You might not have noticed it. Maybe you thought you were doing what you needed to do. Because you were "Providing for the family, or you were taking care of the kids," or whatever roles you guys ended up doing in you thought things were fine. Oh, yeah, well, everyone has problems. I thought we just get through this rough patch. Well, shit, you don’t just get through it. You got to do something about it. But that person is like, "What. I’m in denial. This isn’t happening." They haven’t even started this process. The other one’s done, and you got a lot of catching up to do and you don’t even want it. Those cases usually don’t settle unless you happen to catch that person on a bargaining day, or I just want to be done.

Pete Wright: Yeah. Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right. That’s where I tell people, "We have to file for divorce. Not to be a jerk. But you’ve got to get through this process." This other person is never going to get through a process until there’s a deadline in filing with the court system, as slow as it is, at least there’s a deadline. That can be very difficult on both sides. Because the other one is that acceptance like, "What we just get this done. We don’t even have any kids. We’re dividing assets. What’s the problem?" Well, the problem is they’re in denial. There’s nothing we can do about that other than move the case forward, and maybe after your divorce, they’re still in denial. I think it’s just really, really difficult.

Pete Wright: What’s your experience with kids? Kids who … Because that’s another one of those ripples outside of the event itself. They’re grieving, too.

Seth Nelson: We’ve said a thousand times, Pete, they are resilient, and it’s all how it is approached. Kids, like all of us look at the world as how does this impact me? They will be sad. They will grieve. But how the parents work together that, "Look, you had a vision. You had a plan in your head," that didn’t go according to plan. Life is about … You know the joke. We plan, God laughs.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: But what I’ve learned working with Laura Gallaher, who was on our show, the psychologist about working with teams. Plans are what we deviate from. We make plans knowing that we are going to deviate from that plan.

Pete Wright: Yeah. You’re not adaptable if you don’t have a plan. You’re an improviser.

Seth Nelson: That’s right. That’s right. I think with kids, it’s also important to talk about them that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay and makes it easier to identify the emotion. When you can identify and state the emotion that you’re in, that’s called self-awareness. That’s healthy.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: When you can tell a kid, "You know what? It’s okay if you’re mad at dad. It’s not about blame. If you want to blame me, if you’re mad, if your life got harder, and it’s because your parents decided not to live under the same roof, you’re allowed to be mad. What are you going to deal with that? How are we going to get through that?" Because you’re not staying mad. It’s an emotion the rest of your life. Let’s talk about that. If you are not ready to talk about it, that’s okay too, but it’s going to happen.

Pete Wright: It’s going to happen.

Seth Nelson: Because that’s how healthy people live and we care about each other, we want to be healthy and we’re actually doing this because we think it’s best for you even though it doesn’t feel like it.

Pete Wright: Well, it’s very much that some part of the process is learning how to get to the other side so that you can make room for the positive memories. You can make room for the things that fill the emptiness by way of thinking about the times you had together, that were positive that built a life of whatever it was.

Seth Nelson: Right. I’m never offended if my fiancee says, "Ah, my former spouse, I used to love going to this restaurant." It’s not I’m saying, "Oh, we can’t go to that restaurant. Get your fucking ego out of the way. They got great food. Let’s one up it."

Pete Wright: Yeah. I do understand though that it’s okay to not be able to go to that restaurant for a time, just because I might be a hot mess. It’s just a lot of memories there.

Seth Nelson: That’s right.

Pete Wright: It’s going to be hard to experience that. But …

Seth Nelson: That’s called grief.

Pete Wright: That’s called grief, right? Right.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: But the objective I really like that, that repositioning the objective. The objective is not to create these protected spaces that no one can ever encroach upon. We’re not talking about the secret trunk in the attic that’s full of the old life stuff, the mystery box.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: Get rid of the mystery box. You don’t need a mystery box in your life. Whether it’s an actual mystery box or a Fuddruckers, you don’t need those kinds of protected spaces. Just get to … The objective is getting to the other side of it so you can remember the love parts and the happy parts and you don’t have to be just expressionless and sad at the grieving parts.

Seth Nelson: Yep. I actually find some things very humorous that really talked about what you look back on, even the process of my mother’s death. She was in the hospital. They come in to do physical therapy. This very nice woman comes in who’s a physical therapist in a hospital. You’ve got to be a saint …

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: … to have this job. She comes in and says, "it’s time for physical therapy." My mom looks at her and holds up her hand, and just says, "Denied." She just says, "Denied."

Pete Wright: This was not accepting the fact that this is where we were in this process?

Seth Nelson: No. She knew where she was. She’s like, "It’s going to be painful. It’s not going to fucking help me. I’m not doing that." I know the damn law. If I tell you not to touch me, and you touch me, that’s assault.

Pete Wright: Oh, my God.

Seth Nelson: I know you’re trying to help me physical. That’s what’s going. My mom, who was, "You always know where you stood?" There was never a question. She just looked at that woman and said, "Denied," and held up her hand. Her hand was frail, arm is that you would … Picture it.

Pete Wright: Denied.

Seth Nelson: My fiancee who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt in his sweet and kind and caring said, "I didn’t even know that was something you could do." She’s like, "I would have said I don’t really want to. It really hurts. I’m not feeling well." They would have said, "Yeah. But this is to make you feel better and I would have been okay."

Pete Wright: Denied. That makes me want to get …

Seth Nelson: Denied.

Pete Wright: … a stamp of some sort. I just want to be able to do that. I have one story similar to the hospital conversation that I think is probably worth sharing just in terms of a life lesson on bedside manner. I didn’t realize this was funny until many weeks had gone by. But now I find it … I think possibly one of the funniest things that I experienced in this process. Having this conversation before my dad passed with my mom and the doctor and the care team, and we’re all on this call together and she’s in the room. The doctor gives us this list of really horrible things, really horrible things, things that don’t give you any sense that there is an upside. My mom bless her she says, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, you’re giving me a lot of really bad news right now. Are you telling me my husband is dying?" The doctor who I think received his bedside manner training in law school said …

Seth Nelson: Nice job. I like it.

Pete Wright: Do you see that? That was for.

Seth Nelson: Yeah. That’s good.

Pete Wright: He said after thinking way too hard, "Well I’m not telling you he’s not dying."

Seth Nelson: A fucking double negative. You’ve got to deal with a double negative?

Pete Wright: Parse that in the hospital with the care team. I’m not telling you he’s not dying. Why would you say that to anyone.

Seth Nelson: Oh, my God.

Pete Wright: Anyone.

Seth Nelson: Let me tell you.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: My mom had an amazing doctor who she really liked. I did not.

Pete Wright: Oh.

Seth Nelson: It’s the same reason you’re saying, because I’m having a conversation with her not in front of my mother. I say, "We all know she’s dying. But she’s waiting for you to tell her."

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: "There’s nothing else to do." She said, "Well, part of what I do." She says, "You never know when it might come. You never know." She said … I don’t remember. You could get hit by a bus. You used one of those things. I was like, "Your job isn’t to give her hope. Your job is to tell her medical prognosis."

Pete Wright: Yes.

Seth Nelson: That just to this day really gets under my skin because my mom is the woman who would say, "Tell me the facts. Give me the facts. I’m going to do the analysis."

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: "Then I can make the decisions." I just feel she wasn’t giving me all that information to let my mom make her decisions, this false hope out there.

Pete Wright: Yeah. Awful.

Seth Nelson: I’m with you. Double negative, man.

Pete Wright: Rough.

Seth Nelson: That’s worse.

Pete Wright: That’s rough.

Seth Nelson: God. That’s horrible.

Pete Wright: Yeah. I didn’t care for it.

Seth Nelson: It wasn’t in law school because we’re taught not to use double negatives. I’m just saying.

Pete Wright: Oh, good. Oh, good.

Seth Nelson: Got to defend my profession.

Pete Wright: Yeah. You did good, kid.

Seth Nelson: Especially against the doctors were my uncle and cousin.

Pete Wright: Oh, they’re probably mad. I’m sorry.

Seth Nelson: I’ll talk to them about this.

Pete Wright: You guys are doing great. I’m sure it’s not you though.

Seth Nelson: Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Wright: Well, I appreciate having the conversation with you, Seth. Obviously, neither of us are experts in grief counseling, just going through it and like everybody else. This is a … It is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. That’s not pleasant. It is just not pleasant.

Seth Nelson: It’s not. I appreciate you sharing all this, Pete. For anyone out there, I hope this helps. I understand. We have a question from a listener. They’ll be …

Pete Wright: We sure do. This one turns the old frown upside down.

Seth Nelson: Okay. Let’s hear it.

Pete Wright: All right. Here we go. This is from Samantha. Samantha, first of all, thank you so much for writing. We really appreciate you contributing to this show. Here we go. First of all, says Samantha, "I love your show," in all caps with many exclamation points. "May all questions begin with such exuberance. I’ve been listening to you all since the beginning of the podcast and I can’t say thank you enough for the advice and comedy that you both bring to the show. When I’m having a bad day to do due to my divorce circumstances, I just push play on your podcast for a good laugh. Yes. Seth, I agree with your fiancee about the weekend marriage you were previously in, callback."

Seth Nelson: That was good. I didn’t even know that was in there.

Pete Wright: It’s pretty good. Samantha goes on. "I was married for 13 years and separated for the last four years, in mediation four years ago. My soon to be ex and I signed a document here in Texas," Samantha says parenthetically, "That we would not introduce our kids to anyone til six months after our divorce. Here we are four years later, and he’s still not signing the final divorce papers. The guy has several control issues, hence why we’re getting divorced. Yes, lawyers are involved." "I have a wonderful person that I’ve been seeing the past two years, and I’m looking forward to him meeting my kids. Once I finally get my ex to sign papers, how much trouble, contempt of court, would I be in if I didn’t wait the full six months for him to finally meet the kids? My kids know about the boyfriend. I feel I’m doing more damage by them knowing about him but not being able to meet him. Any advice is greatly appreciated."

Seth Nelson: Okay. First off, we could do a whole show just on this question.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: But I’m going to narrow it down a little bit. Okay. One, this guy might still be going through the grieving process and she’s an acceptance.

Pete Wright: Look at that. Look what we just did there, callback. Well done.

Seth Nelson: Exactly. Exactly. Twice in one show. This is amazing. Okay. I hate these provisions that people put in their agreements. I’m just talking generally.

Pete Wright: Where do those provisions come from? Emotionally, you’re sitting in the room with people. What is it that motivates these kinds of things getting written into documents like this?

Seth Nelson: It is the parent going through the divorce, try and think about what’s best for the kids and we shouldn’t introduce anyone right away, because somehow that’s going to screw them up, which it might, it also might not.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right. It’s how you handle it. Obviously, some time that goes by. Usually, I don’t like these provisions, because, one, the courts will not put this provision in a final judgment, in the document, the divorce decree, unless, unless it’s in a marital … it’s in a parenting plan or an agreement. Now check your local jurisdiction. But this is not something that if you read Florida case law, you’re going to find, "Oh, Judge, I’m asking not to introduce anybody, because it’s all speculative. It just doesn’t happen. I won’t bore you with the law on it. Okay. I don’t know what it’s like in Texas. Okay."

Pete Wright: Nobody knows what it’s like in Texas. Oh, hey, oh.

Seth Nelson: What exactly? I’m a little confused about this, because it said they signed a document. I don’t know what that document is. I don’t know if that document has been turned into a court order. Therefore, I don’t know how much trouble you’re going to be if you don’t follow that court order. Okay.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Second, I can’t imagine anyone be in a whole lot of trouble. Talk to your lawyer. Don’t talk to me. But we have clients all the time that will say my document says X. I say yes, "It does. It’s a court order. I have to advise you to follow the court order." Their next question is what happens if I don’t? Which is exactly what she’s asking here. You can’t un-ring the bell. Usually, the overarching theme is you have to act in what’s in the best interest of the children. What’s a court going to do?

Pete Wright: Yeah. Let’s just say you get through the documents getting signed, and you do it in a month or two weeks or three months. Yeah. Just doesn’t the court have other stuff to do?

Seth Nelson: Yeah. What I usually think about, and actually, [Tammy Spar 00:51:42] said this, the mediator that we had on the show, people get all wrapped up, and I want this from the court, I want this in agreement. Is a court going to do this? If you think about a married couple intact and what a court may or may not do on raising those kids, that’s pretty much what courts do when you get divorced.

Pete Wright: Look, court is likely to come into my house and help me raise my kids.

Seth Nelson: Right. That’s just not what they’re there to do. They’re like, "Okay, best interest the kids. Let’s figure out a parenting plan. We’re done. That’s what they would love to do. But sometimes people are like, "Well, I want him not to introduce anybody or to do this or that when he’s with." A court is not going to come into your house and say, "Pete, you got to read the kids bedtime stories every night." That’s just not what happens. But the thing I also don’t understand about the question is it seems like they signed one document at mediation, but then they can’t get him to sign another document. I’m not sure what that is. That’s what I’m saying, "Talk to your lawyer. Go through the process. Get it in front of a judge. Do whatever you need to do to get this done."

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: This isn’t the final divorce paperwork. There’s a signature that goes on, final divorce paperwork. He’s just sitting on a manila envelope full of stuff that says "Sign here."

Seth Nelson: I don’t know. If he is, you’re not divorced yet, go set up for a hearing, go set up for trial, because judges are there to solve disputes, and to get the process going.

Pete Wright: This is a set of potentially a different dispute, which is I can’t get my soon to be former spouse to sign this paperwork. That’s something you could schedule a hearing on?

Seth Nelson: Yeah. What I mean by that is nowhere on the Florida family law are you required to sign a document. There’s only one document you’re required to sign in. I’ll go to court and say, "Judge, they won’t sign it. Hold them in contempt. But let me get divorced."

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Seth Nelson: Right.

Pete Wright: Okay.

Seth Nelson: Ultimately, you go in front of a judge. There’s all sorts of people that owe people money. There’s a court order saying they have to pay it and they don’t pay it.

Pete Wright: Wow.

Seth Nelson: Judge goes in and says, "Show me their bank account. It’s there. I’ll garnish the bank account. I’ll freeze the account." There’s all sorts of things that happen to people that don’t want to do things when the courts get involved. There is one person sitting in jail that would have walked in there on their own.

Pete Wright: Right.

Seth Nelson: Right?

Pete Wright: Got it.

Seth Nelson: It’s because the court said it, and there was sheriffs there with handcuffs.

Pete Wright: That’s handy to know. The court is there to solve disputes. This is a dispute. This may be the meta dispute, Samantham that you didn’t even know you had an opportunity to address.

Seth Nelson: Check your local jurisdictions.

Pete Wright: Of course. Again, we don’t know what it’s like in Texas.

Seth Nelson: Right. But I really love the beginning. I love your show.

Pete Wright: Yeah. Let’s talk more about that.

Seth Nelson: Yes, Seth. I agree with your fiancee. The reason I’m coming back up is because we’re trying to offset the loop of Andy being such a good guy earlier in the show.

Pete Wright: Oh, God. So tiresome. Hey, Samantha, thank you for writing in. For anybody else, you too can get your questions on to this show. Just visit how to It’ll take you to a forum where you can ask a question, You can ask your question. There’s a forum that comes up. You can ask completely anonymously. We don’t track anything. It doesn’t save your name if you don’t write it in there. If you just want to ask a question, we’re very excited to get more of these questions in these shows. Thank you for your participation. Thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We sure appreciate your time and your attention, especially on a hard topic, certainly hard enough to talk about. I think we did okay. I think we got through it okay.

Seth Nelson: Yeah. We’re okay. But we won’t tell JT our health guy that was on before, fitness coach. Maybe it’s time for a beer and some pizza.

Pete Wright: Time for beer and pizza. Thank you everybody. On behalf of Seth Nelson, America’s favorite divorce attorney, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next time right here on how to Split a Toaster, the divorce podcast about saving your relationships.

Speaker 3: Seth Nelson is an attorney with Nelson Koster Family Law in mediation with offices in Tampa, Florida. While we may be discussing family law topics, How to Split a Toaster is not intended to nor is it providing legal advice. Every situation is different. If you have specific questions regarding your situation, please seek your own legal counsel with an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction. Pete Wright is not an attorney or employee of Nelson Koster. Seth Nelson is licensed to practice law in Florida.

Seth Nelson is a Tampa based family lawyer known for devising creative solutions to difficult problems. In How to Split a Toaster, Nelson and co-host Pete Wright take on the challenge of divorce with a central objective — saving your most important relationships with your family, your former spouse, and yourself.
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