Grieving Voices

Eric Hodgdon | Opening the Door To a Parent's Worst Nightmare

August 31, 2021 Victoria V | Eric Hodgdon Episode 62
Grieving Voices
Eric Hodgdon | Opening the Door To a Parent's Worst Nightmare
Show Notes Transcript

It was a great day; nothing seemed off with his daughter Zoi. They enjoyed a meal together; she headed to her room while he went downstairs to do some computer work.

Sometime later, before heading to bed, he went to say goodnight to his beloved daughter, Zoi. The music she loved blaring from her stereo; he opened the door only to see an empty bed.

What he discovered next changed his life forever - changed him forever.

No parent should ever have to experience the death of a child. And, it feels like one of the cruelest experiences a heart could ever possibly endure.

Listen to Eric’s story of how he went from struggle to strength. He describes a defining moment that set him on a path of empowering and leading himself through his devastating and life-shattering loss.





  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
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If you or anyone you know is struggling with grief due to any of the 40+ losses, there are free resources available HERE.

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Victoria Volk  00:00
Thank you for tuning in to grieving voices. Today my guest is Eric hodgdon. He is a best selling Amazon author TEDx speaker and coach after losing his 15 year old daughter Zoe to suicide in early 2014. He fought for his family and Zoe's friends to find their pathway to better days, he found a way to get back up and walk his grief journey. Now he is sharing the lessons he learned so that no one else has to walk alone on their journey. Eric has trained 1000s of people who want to go from struggle to strength in the face of their worst setbacks. Thank you so much for being here.

Eric Hodgdon  00:38
Thank you so much, Victoria. I'm deeply honored to be here with you.

Victoria Volk  00:42
And this is a very important topic, we're talking about suicide, and teens. And before we started to record I shared that I had looked up some stats for my own state of North Dakota, I would like to open with that. And then kind of, if you want to piggyback off of that in what it's like where you live. So in the state of North Dakota, one person every 60 hours dies by suicide. Wow. In my State, it is the first leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. In my State, and the North Dakota teen suicide rate is three times higher than the national average. Wow, North Dakota has the second highest rate and suicide from 2000 to 2018. And we're just behind New Hampshire, New Hampshire is number one. And where do you live? Eric?

Eric Hodgdon  01:43
I live now in Tampa, Florida. But I grew up in New England. I grew up in Maine, very close to New Hampshire, of course. And while those numbers are staggering and shocking, in some cases, it doesn't surprise me with how the struggle is being dealt with in folks lives, especially teens.

Victoria Volk  02:11
And in rural more rural areas, or major areas that aren't as progressive or cities that aren't as progressive and maybe states that aren't as progressive when it comes to mental health.

 Eric Hodgdon  02:23
Correct. And where are the resources for them? Where are the resources to help them figure out that there are options out there that don't include taking their life as that only option to remove the pain that they're in, or the struggle that they're dealing with that they don't believe is the there's a way out of and so finding and getting access to the resources that help them is missing? I think a lot of cases and I don't think that that's why you and I are here, I think you and I are here to provide a different optic on on those resources and where to find them and how to get them and how to how to show that there are there are setbacks in life that we will always face. But there are tools to help you to get from that struggle to the strength that you need to make it to the next and sometimes the next hour.

Victoria Volk  03:22
So share, if you wouldn't mind share the start of your grieving story.

Eric Hodgdon  03:29
Thank you. So seven years ago, I was fighting for custody of my 15 year old daughter Zoey. It was a reluctant decision that I made to follow that process but it was to protect and to ultimately care for Zoe's well being at a very formative ages and and so Zoey was trying to handle things as best possible. She'd been hospitalized four times in adolescent units. And each time I did see a progression in her strength. I saw her capacity to help others and to be available to them when they were struggling and ultimately, in the beginning of 2014. Zoey went quiet. And one Saturday I picked her up and I brought her back to my house she was able to come home and stays with me on weekends. Which were awesome honestly, because we would go to a mug and muffin restaurant in our town for breakfast maybe or we would go to the beach and we would collect rocks in the middle of winter and just freeze our hands or sometimes though it would be up in her room, playing music listening to her music or playing the ukulele and but I brought her back to my house for this one particular weekend and she was upstairs Burning some Jasmine incense and applying this really cool henna tattoo on her hand. And I went up and asked her if she wanted to hang out with some friends. And she told me that she didn't have any and I, I pushed back a little bit on that with her and she, I said, Well, do you want to make something to eat instead and just hang out? She said, Yeah, let's do that. So afterwards we're cleaning up and she's told me that she was tired and she wanted to go to bed and say, I love you pumpkins. And she said, I love you too dead. I went back to my computer to do some work. And a little while later, I went upstairs to say goodnight to Zoe and eyes opened her bedroom door. I could hear her stereo playing Jonathan Ashanti's music very low. She had a string of Christmas lights that were lit around the perimeter of her room. But she wasn't in her bed. out of the corner of my eye, and in a dim light, I could see that. So he was standing in her closet and I was so sure she was going to jump out and scare me. I said Zoey, what are you doing? But she didn't answer me. Because she wasn't standing in her closet. I called 911. And what I thought was going to be a nother hospitalization. After we got home from the ER that night, turned into awake Five days later, we're over 900 people came to honor my family and Zoey. And I think when I experienced that loss, I wasn't sure that I was going to survive it. I remember driving home from the hospital that night with my sister in utter disbelief, and they had my hand gripped on the seat belt. And I told her I don't think I'm gonna, I don't know anything, I'm gonna survive this. And she looked at me and just said, I've got your back. I don't know what to do. But you're, you know what, we'll find a way to make it happen. And so obviously getting through that next week until we laid Zoey to rest was challenging. Just a ton of emotions. But I think something incredible happened in that week is that all of her friends started to come over to the house and they were staying at the house with me. And Zoey was there in energy, it was really a strange feeling. Her physical body wasn't with us, but her energy was there and and that really helped. I think a lot of us understand what survival was going to mean for us, especially May. And so in the weeks and months after we lost Zoey, I found myself sitting in my couch in my living room, everybody had gone back to their lives. Because typically a couple weeks after you lose somebody, you feel like you're kind of at a crossroads. What do I do with this because everybody has gone back to their lives and you're left to walk this new path that you didn't choose to be on. It feels very lonely, it feels like you have no direction, or no energy to even get in a bed some days or you're going through boxes of tissues. And you don't want to be but you What's the other what's the other choice. And so I feel like now, having the resources for kids having the resources for adults is going to be so important because I think there are resources out there right now are focused on survival being the end game. It's a handoff point. And I believe that there are other ways to encourage others to empower folks to lead themselves first, so that they can get back up. And and not only survive, but as you would say Victoria to thrive after their loss. And I think it's so very important. It's much needed.

Victoria Volk  09:10
My eyes welled up, I'm my heart. I'm a parent, I have a my son's gonna be 16, my 14 year old and a 12 year old and I cannot imagine the it's like your heart is ripped out I imagine.

Eric Hodgdon  09:31
It is. It is and if I can share something really personal with you is that I remember being at the wake and I was not upset during the week because I was ultimately convinced that Zoey and I were going to be able to communicate like you and I were going to communicate. I was just waiting for that message that that voice and it didn't come and I figured that I would use what everybody else told Me would heal all my wounds Time, time would heal my wounds. That didn't work. You know, how's that working for me? I'd be asking myself, how's that going right now. And it probably it wasn't until about 18 months later that I was in such a state of self sabotage for beating myself up is probably a better way of putting it. Where I was just, I was stuck in a pattern. And I did hear Zoe's voice one day, and it scared me in a very unique way, I was in a pattern where I would get off the commuter rail train in my town, it's a two mile drive to my house. And inevitably, by mile one, I would start to cry. And that's when I would start the little beat up process the self beat up process and I'm so sorry Zoey, I should have been a better dad for you, you should be here. And it was a pattern. And when I pulled into my driveway, I pulled myself together and went in the house for the night. And then the next day of do the same thing and over and over again, but it built up to one day where I left work and the second I left work that's when the the self sabotage started. The the the head chatter, if you will, and I just let it go when it cascade and by the time I got off the train and got in my car, second, I shut the door, I was sobbing, I was crying so hard, that my windows fogged up. And now I was screaming at myself. Not giving myself any permission to figure out what was going on. But rather expending energy, valuable energy, healing energy on beating myself up and I, I screamed in my car. I'm so sorry, Zoey. And it was as if she was sitting in the seat next to me, Victoria. And I heard her say, Dad cut it out. Geez, I'm okay. I froze. And I didn't make another sound until I pulled into my driveway. And I sat there for what felt like probably an hour and probably 10 minutes, but so was right. What am I doing? She's okay. I did everything I possibly could for her while she was here. I did the best that I could with what I had. And that wasn't serving anybody, her friends, my family, even myself in terms of healing, if I was yelling at myself, and putting myself down and beating myself up over something that I didn't have any control over. But what I did have control over Victoria. And I think I'm going on here. What I did have control over was how I approached getting back up and surviving this because the alternative was just more of that self sabotage?

 Victoria Volk  13:07
Can you speak to that? What actually what was the so that sounds like it was a defining moment in your healing?

Eric Hodgdon  13:14
Absolutely. Yeah, you know, as interesting. As the month started to tick by, I don't know about you. But I remember every Saturday night at a certain time, I would watch the clock. And I would watch the clock at the time that they called 911 would watch the clock, it was like I was going through it every week at the same time. But once I had this defining moment in the car, I started to look at things a little differently. That so he would be really upset with me if I was wasting all of the good memories from her life by not living mine. And I could still honor her and carry on at the same time, because it's okay to do that. And I released anything internally that was telling me otherwise. And I've never been more grateful for so we're talking to me that day. With that message now I'm sure it was in my head. But nonetheless, I feel like it was a very powerful message that I needed to hear at that moment. And so I started to look at Okay, now I have to accept that I did everything that I could. I have to forgive not only Zoey for taking her life, but myself. Especially then I think it was the moment that I started to really focus on the gratitude of what is in my life now that I found some opening if you will, on my path, some light started to start. The path started to be illuminated with some hope that way. A minute, there is something beyond this, this yuckiness of survival. That is just not going to get me anywhere. But there's a light that I can actually start to work walk towards. And I know eventually I'll get to it. So does that. Does that help?

 Victoria Volk  15:18
No, thank you for sharing. And I would ask you, well, first just tell us about Zoe, who she was,

Eric Hodgdon  15:25
you guys, your audience can see this, I just got a big smile on my face when you said that this, Zoey isn't Oh, I feel like she's an old soul. She was always so eclectic in her thinking in her activities. In her humor, even in with her music that she wrote, and she would sing for us on her ukulele. It was just, she just had this way about her that was all about connection. And after in the days and weeks after, so he died, I started to receive many handwritten letters from her hospital friends, and each one of them told me that it was Zoey that helped them when they first went to the hospital, because she just knew that it was their first time. And she would go up to them and she would hug them. And she'd be like, Hey, guys, I'm Zoey. Look, there's nothing to be afraid of. I know it's scary. But there's nothing to be afraid of, it's going to be okay. And when the staff isn't looking, we can draw on the walls. And I did wasn't too happy about the drawing on the walls. And I didn't know all this was going on Victoria. And so Zoe's energy, her, her desire to help other people, even when she was struggling, I couldn't be more proud of her. I couldn't be more proud of the person that she was and the energy that she brought, and that's still to this day with her friends talk to me about how much she helped them to get through that time in their life, because no one else was coming to help them. The staff was doing their jobs, the doctors were doing their jobs. But these kids were there to support each other shoulder to shoulder because they knew that this is how they were going to get through those days. Sometimes those minutes of being in these adolescent units. And I've never seen a more creative set of kids a more create immense intelligence with the kids that were in these units. And she would always introduce me to her friends or the staff or the doctors, she was, this is my dad, hey, Zoe's Dad, you know, and, and so I was so grateful for that. And I am just so ultimately proud of the person that she, I still say is, because I feel like her energy is always going to be with me, I, her body might not be here, but Zoey will always live on in my heart. And I'm just so grateful for that. Because I don't know about you, I was always afraid that eventually I was going to forget about her, or that the love would stop. And it does. And in fact, I love Zoey more than I did the day that she was born. And I'm so so grateful for that. Is that been your experience as well?

Victoria Volk  18:13
Yeah. And actually, I just want to highlight something that you just said and that I think if we're it's when we're able to actually think of the person the loved one and not get pulled into and sucked into the the, the traumatic memory or the horrible memory, the sadness, that's when we really honor our loved ones, and remembering them as they would want us to remember them. Absolutely. And how we would want to be remembered if it was us, someone was grieving. And I think people fear like you just alluded to I think people fear that with healing comes this. I'm gonna forget or I'm going to, it's by not feeling sad and tormented by this loss. It's somehow dishonouring my loved one and the total opposite is true. And, and the seat at the table is never is always going to be empty that sadness will always be there but it's not going to it there it is possible like you have said it is possible to think of that person with joy and love and carry on in your life. In their in, in their memory that is honoring. Absolutely. How have you been doing that? 

Eric Hodgdon  19:32
I found a tremendous energy and direction about two years after Zoey died. I knew I wanted to talk about Zoe and I didn't want it to be in a place of, you know, of of. I'm just always going to be sad about this. I wanted it to be a place of sharing who Zoey is and was as a person and I was invited to attend a leadership event in Dallas, Texas. And I was introduced to one of my mentors, his name is Bo. He said, He's a former football player of all things. And Bo invited us to come out to California and write our story. And I'll never forget that experience. Because the day one of this storytelling event, Beau asked us specifically and explicitly to write about a pivotal moment and mind our lives. And he said, Did you typically this pivotal moment is anywhere from eight years old to 14, and so I got stuck there. And something really happened between eight and 14. Yeah, a lot of stuff happened, I was a kid and kids are always awkward and all that. And so I wrote about a very benign situation where I told on a girl that I had a crush on because she smashed my devil dog at lunch, and she got a detention. I'm like, that's not my story. But I was so upset with myself because I was trying to find a way to make that story work. And the challenge was, is that that was the story, I was telling myself that I needed to kind of stop that I that I didn't know how to talk about Zoe, so I'm not going to. And that was really showing up that weekend in a very powerful way. And the knock on the head came from one of the story coaches at this event. And I went up to him afterwards. I said, Man, I don't know I'm just not feeling it. He's like, Well, what do you got? I said, Well, I, a girl I had a crush on I crushed her, she crushed my devil dog at lunch. And I told her, he's like, what else he got. I said, Well, my daughter took her life two years ago. And he's like, dude, that's your story. And I just gave me permission to talk about it. And I felt so open to the point where I went back to my hotel room. And for the next four hours, I wrote, I just bled on the page for the next four hours, which I still have the notebook about the moment that I walked into the ER that night, and my experience of living for the last for the previous two years. And I felt this tremendous weight come off of my shoulders. One because I wanted to share Zoey in a way of who she was, and how she impacted my life, how she impacted all of our for her friend's life, how she impacted my family in such a very positive way. And the biggest lesson that she ever taught me was that life is going to knock you down you've got to get back up again. As I saw her do that time and time and time again and I understand that ultimately the weight of her what she was feeling was too much. But in the the odd thing is is that in Greek, the name Zooey means life and so knowing that when we get knocked down in life we have to fight to get back up every time I that's the story that I wanted to tell. And so honoring Zoe became about telling not only my experience of losing Zoe but working through that battle within yourself to honor your lost loved one and yourself at the same time because ultimately that's okay. And and you can find some energy and some direction you can find some you can leave that nasty survival mode behind you because is it really serving you right now? Yes, at the beginning, it's necessary and I think Victoria You and I were talking about at the beginning how important that is to survive first, but survival should be temporary. You can let yourself remain in survival mode like most people do, or you can let it sink in that just because you lost your loved one that your life is not lost, too.

 Victoria Volk  24:05
That's a quotable right there. Let's hit the rewind a little bit. Okay, who was the Eric before Zoey?

Eric Hodgdon  24:14
Before Zoey was born or before? So we took him for it

Victoria Volk  24:18
before this experience? Like, what was what what do you feel like the trajectory of your life was Did you have a certain passion or something that really lit you up? And was the reason you got up every day? Like,

Eric Hodgdon  24:32
yeah, I'm a career IT guy. I was in it from a very early age. It was all self taught. And it spoke to me when I was 22 years old. And it was a career that I could just continually move up in. But what I was finding was that I was I was continuous. I was in a job of service. It was helping people to get their computers to get back up to a certain point where they could use them and so So that fulfilled me. And I liked that line of work. It gave me a sense of accomplishment if there was a massive, complex problem that needed to be solved, and finding a solution to it, and storing that in my memory banks and how I could use that moving forward and other situations that came up. And I think everybody experiences that too. It's those big lessons in life that you actually store and you can pull from and they just, that's where your strength comes on, you know, and so 25 years and it and it was, you know, Zoey and I, I was divorced in about 2005, so about 15 years into my career. And I would have my girls every weekend and every week, throughout the week, and it was a fantastic opportunity for us to bond and connect. And we used to do a lot of things, we would go to concerts, we would go to the beach, we did the beach a lot up in New England, that's just a thing to do. Up there. And we would take day trips, sometimes we would come down to New Orleans and visit some friends who lived down there. And I just valued that time with them. And there were some weekends that that Zoey and her sister those two were like peas in a pod. And they would just spend all weekend upstairs in their room with the pile of arts and crafts, supplies, just making stuff and sometimes those don't, that's really good, you know, and, of course, every parent says that about their kids artwork, I have saved every scrap of paper that they drew on. I have saved every every a trinket that they made for me or craft that they wanted to give to me. In fact, behind me this painting, Zoey painted this for me for Christmas, the month one month before she died. And and I absolutely loved this because it she's at peace in this image. And I know it's her, even though it's supposed to be a Buddha and and so I'm so grateful that I have this gift. And I think of everything that they did everything that they drew every experience that we have as a gift. And so when I started to focus more on the gifts that I was getting along this path of being a single dad with them, I was I was starting to recognize the value of what it means to be a parent. And I started to think that's where a shift started to take place in me I wanted to do more how to do something that was bigger than myself. And so I had actually a few years before so he died, I started to look at other ways of earning a revenue that was not earning income that wasn't based on a nine to five job. And so I tried my hand at some network marketing I tried to get I got into some personal development because I just found such great depth in that and, and what made me tick, how I could help others. And when Zoey died, I felt like I had a good set of tools to work with. Even though I had to access them through all the fog. It took a while to really get a good handle on what I had at my fingertips at this point. And I and and yet at the same time, I still had some defaults, I still had some of that baggage that I was pulling into this situation that was not helping me. And I think that just there's been so many gifts since so he has died that have just shown up on the path only because I've continued to walk and let those things come to me and be open to them coming into my life. And have you had a similar experience retort to that.

Victoria Volk  29:04

Eric Hodgdon  29:06
Can you give me an example of that?

Victoria Volk  29:08
Well, if it wasn't for me actually working through my own grief, I wouldn't be a Reiki Master I would not be a grief recovery method specialist I would not have this podcast I would not everything that I've done since clearing out my baggage has been as a result of taking ownership of my baggage and doing something with it. Like not working through it and getting rid of it.

Eric Hodgdon  29:41
Yeah. And that's not something that happens overnight right? I mean that takes time. And and where did you start to feel like you are gaining some traction with that process.

Victoria Volk  29:52
Well and as we kind of talked earlier, my personal development started in 2014 And my youngest was starting kindergarten. And I was closing, I was really contemplating at that time closing a business I'd had, that was really my creative outlet, I was a photographer, and I built that business from scratch, and not having an online social network not having people to tell me what to do, you know, there wasn't, I wasn't even in a Facebook group, you know, till well into my business. And so it was really grassroots, have a have an experience in entrepreneurship. And that taught me a lot. And all of that all of that prepared me to really dig as far as I was, I had never gone before in my grave, right? Yeah. And so my question for you is, given that you had done some personal development work, and you know, what we learn, and we tend to give off what we? Yes, I think is, okay, so like, if you've done, I look at myself, before person, like digging into personal development, wanting to learn about myself, I think of myself as the pre personal development parent. Yes. And then I look at myself after and I'm like, Whoa, there is a stark contrast. Yes. Because, again, like you said, we resort to the defaults, what we know and what we've been taught in childhood, and for what the work that I do, particularly around grief. And because I didn't deal particularly well, at least I thought I was that's the thing, we think we are ready for dealing with it, we think we're I'm fine, you know, sure, yeah, I got this. But yet all of these behaviors are showing up on a on a daily basis, or we are just angry people were just angry, or our kids show bring out in us what is not resolved within us. Right? And that's what was happening a lot. Hmm. You know, when I look in hindsight, and so that's what I'm kind of curious about for you, and as a parent that you were before, versus how these experiences have shaped you as a parent now.

Eric Hodgdon  32:21
Wow, that's such a powerful question. And a great one. One, because I'm going I'm thinking back to how I dealt with difficult situations and challenges as a husband, as a father, early on. There's I think there's two ways the personal development has taught me that I could look at it one of two ways I could look at it that that's just the way it's going to be, take it or leave it? or How can I get better at talking to my children? How can I get better at talking to my spouse? How can I get better talking to my family, friends, and connecting deeply with others, who we may not know what they're struggling with? But how can we make those deeper connections with those around us that we love, because that's typically what suffers first, when we're struggling. And I don't know if we can afford to do that, in this day and age with those statistics that you were sharing with me at the beginning of the podcast, Victoria. We, I think as a human race, not as an American, not as any other country, or a citizen of a country in this world. But as a human, I believe we have to get better at connecting with others on a deep level, showing them that it's not just about sending a text to say, hey, Call me if you need anything, it's showing up at their door. Or it's sending them a text and asking them how are you doing? It's doing some outreach to the people that are closest to you. Teenagers are a good, a good point. I just heard this the other day for one of my mentors, his name is Scott man. And Scott was saying he was you know, if you ask your child or a teenager, how their day was they're gonna blow you off. They're not going to talk to you much. But if you ask this one question, what annoys you today? Oh, man, the floodgates open up and just ask that question of your team who annoys you today or what annoys you today? And they will give you the goods? They're going to answer you in a narrative format because we are story animals. We've been communicating with story long before we could actually speak language. And so that is one of the biggest ways that you can make deep connections these days is story. And going back to when I went to that story workshop out in California for the first time, I saw the power of that and how that connects people who might be struggling with their own grief that you and I would not be talking if I didn't share my story. And likewise, you wouldn't be talking with me if you didn't share your story. And so it is healing. Our brains are wired for story. And it has been scientifically proven. That story helps our brains heal. And so I use that opportunity to, to heal at any time I can. Somebody just kept my door and it's somebody that's staying here with me for two days. Hold on one second. Sure. Thank you. Sorry about that. That's okay. I didn't realize I locked my front door. So I've got some family friends here. It's interesting. One of my guests Her name is Cory. And Cory. I wrote a book a couple of years ago called a Sherpa named Zoe. And corys. Dad is at the epicenter of this book. Before I got to my story of Zoey losing Zoey, I wrote about my experience of of being a friend to Corey, his brother, Cory, his brother and I have been friends for 42 years. And we were 19 at the time, and she lost her dad, my friend lost his dad. And it was such a powerful experience to, to know what to do with that. And even speaking to what you and I were talking about in terms of how you connect with others, especially after a loss. I was just talking with Cory before this podcast, and she just said, she said, you know, you did something different than other people didn't do and I don't know, you know, I just had the, she said, You showed up and you were there with us. Even if you were just hanging out with us, you were there. And she said, that meant more to my family and me then then you could imagine. And so I think that's where we can continue to make deep connections is to show up for those that we love and care for, and be there for them. I don't know about you. I did not want to hand my grief off to somebody else. What I wanted to do was to have somebody just be an empathetic witness and hear and actually listen to I don't want them to solve the problem because they can't walk that path for me. But no, I don't think people are going to dump their grief on you. I think they just want to be heard.

Victoria Volk  37:24
Absolutely in grief recovery. Call it a heart with yours. Yes, perfect. Oh, that's perfect. But some people aren't that person. Right? That person. Yeah. And I think that's important to mention in that. And I think too, we this is my belief in that we we can we are able and this is why healing ourselves is so important. And working on ourselves is so important. Because the deeper that we allow ourselves to go with our own grief and our own challenges and, and whatnot. Is that's the depth we are able to go with others and for others, I believe.

Eric Hodgdon  38:00
Yes. Absolutely.

Victoria Volk  38:03
Yeah. What were some of the unhelpful or hurtful things? Did you hear any of those types of comments? 

Eric Hodgdon  38:12
I always laugh at this because I think that personal development helped me get to a place where I didn't let it get me angry or frustrated. There were some folks that didn't show up that I expected to show up for Zoey and for our family, some close relatives, even some family friends that I was just okay, I don't understand why this is happening. But that's not for me to understand right now. I remember about four years ago, I was visiting Zoe's resting place when one summer afternoon and I always went over there I went over there once or twice a week just to say hi sometimes I would take a little Bluetooth speaker and just set it down and play some of the music that she used to like to listen to and so it just felt I felt closer to her there. And I was I just showed up at the at the at the cemetery and got to her resting place and there was a woman that was walking by and she said so sorry for your loss to thank you so much. And you know who is this? I said it unfortunate it's my daughter. And she said Oh What happened? Do you mind me asking? I said unfortunately she took her life. And without skipping a beat. She said, Ah, you're young, you can have more kids. And I didn't get angry with it. Right? I my eyes kind of like and you know what I imagined Victoria, imagine that Zoe was standing in front of me looking at me like you just looked at me like did she didn't say that. Right? And so I couldn't get mad at it. That the personal development and the growth of understanding that people are where they are and I can't expect them to be in that same place. allowed me to kind of release it and be like, that's where she is. That's how she deals with loss in her life, and so no judgment, that's just where she's at. And so I wasn't in a place where I was going to take offense to that. In fact, I said, You know, I need to remember that so that I have conversations later on, I can share that. So I think that there are times when things are not done or not said, that can feel make you feel a bit lonely. In all of this, there are, you know, when somebody says you aren't, you know, you just need to get over it. Again, that's their level of healing in any setback that they've had in life, their baggage, their defaults. And so it's typically not about you, when they're when somebody is saying something to you like that. And so if you can let that thought or that statement, or the words that are you read, or are said to you, literally and figuratively pass through you and go out the other end. You are better off. Because Yeah,

Victoria Volk  41:11
yeah, I was just gonna say, I think as Grievers you almost need to have selective hearing. 

Eric Hodgdon  41:17
Yeah, I think so. I mean, is it going to help you in any decision that you're making on the grief journey? Is it hurting you? Or is it helping you heal?

Victoria Volk  41:27
And here's what I was gonna add to that, too. I think that's reason why that's like reason 385 million to, you know, work on yourself, because someone who hasn't really allowed themselves to process what they're feeling. They really could take that in and it could just downward spiral them that day. You of course, that's that's why things like that are very hurtful and hard. They can actually be harmful. For people. They can I think, especially with teens, can we speak to that a little? 

Eric Hodgdon  42:02
Yes, absolutely. I can't tell you how many times I had conversations with always friends were a thought turned into a problem that they had the one thought and and so I remember, it was about a month or so after Zoey died. And I'm standing in my kitchen with one of her very good friends. His name was Jerry. And Jerry was just somber that day, he was the weight of the situation was really settling in for him. And he was missing. So he's like, so he's gone? What am I going to do? I just I was taking a lesson that I learned from my therapist, because I asked my therapist, the same thing. When I was going through my divorce, what am I going to do, and she was very explicit. And I shared the same thing with Jerry and I said, Jerry, you're going to get up in the morning, and you're going to put your feet on the floor, you're going to get dressed, you're going to get breakfast, you're going to go to school, you're going to come home, have dinner, and you're going to practice the guitar for hours like you have since you were four years old. And after that, you're going to go to bed and just do the same thing over and over again, until that becomes the norm, despite how you're feeling. That's how you keep going. That's what you're gonna do. And so it's giving those resources it's reminding the kids, the teens, anybody who's struggling, that there are resources out there, whether it be people, parents, others, teachers, others in your community, even good friends that have walked this path before and can meet you where you are on your path and help you walk with you on it. Give you some solid advice make you laugh when you didn't think you were going to be laughing again. And I used to share a story about Zoey with some of her friends. I got a call one evening from one of Zoe's friends I'll call her Cammy kameez mom called me and it was probably 1130 at night and like they recognize the number but I answered the phone anyway because those calls on the Saturday night 1130 are always good right? And so kameez mom is like hey, this is kameez mom, just want to let you know that. We think Cammy is going to end her life tonight. We just want to let you know like wait, she's going to or she did like what's going on here? And she said No, we've just we tried everything. We don't know what else to do. I just want to let you know because I was kind of throwing our hands up like we just don't know what to do. I was pissed like that. No, this I said Look, I can tell you right now as long as your daughter's breathing, you're fighting for her. And you please put me on the phone right now. And she's I don't know if she'll want to talk to I please if you need to throw the phone in the room. I'll scream it out. I don't care, but get her on the phone. And so I got candy on the phone. She was embarrassed, because her mom called me and I said, Look, kid, this is me. I'm Zoe's Dad, you know this. I'm okay. You can tell me anything. I'm not your mom and dad. What's going on? She said, I just don't care anymore. I just don't care anymore. And I asked her to tell me more about that. I wanted to ask her some thoughtful, open ended questions that weren't yes or no, I wanted to find out what she was struggling with in the moment. And so I may have had to ask her a few times What's going on? Like, what? I just don't care anymore? Like, I just don't, I feel like I'm a burden. So that Oh, okay, we're getting somewhere. And I shared with her, I said, you know, there are people in this world that probably could be a burden, you're not one of them. You know what, you know, you're 18 years old. And you're not a burden. we all struggle. We all have moments when it feels like nobody cares. When it's too hard to go on. We feel like there is just no other way. And so we just settle on some really dark thoughts, and it's that scary. Said, but Sweetie, you can find something that is that lights you up. And and makes you excited and motivated. She said, I just don't feel like I want to do anything else, you know? And I'm like, I feel like I've done everything I can do in my lifetime. She's 18. I said, Well, what did you like to do when you're growing up? Well, I said you'd like to take pictures now sometimes. Did you like to draw a little bit said, What about animals? And oh my gosh, I love animals just go to the zoo. Like, sure I heard the turn. And so so keep going with that. Tell me more like what do you? What would it be like for you to do something with animals, and she just started talking? I would be fantastic. You know what I want to always do, I always wanted to be a vet tech. Okay, so Kimmy, here's what we're gonna do. Tomorrow morning, we're going to get back on the call and get back on a call. And we're going to go through the phonebook or we're going to go online. And we're going to look for that tech positions and how you start that process. And she was so excited. It's that's where we have to get really deliberate and intentional about connecting with kids. Because they need to be heard. They need you to know they they need you to know that. Even though they may feel like you're not going to get them I understand where they are, that through open ended questions, they'll tell you exactly where they are. And Cammy ultimately didn't go for a vet tech position. But it was enough to pull her back from the edge to give her a different optic on that there were options out there for her. If that makes sense.

Victoria Volk  48:04
Do you think for especially older teens, maybe 16 1718, I've often wondered this just in the last couple of years. If it's just this pressure of making something in your life doing something with your life, pressure to please our parents, you know, please the parents are pleased the community are pleased. Because I what I see often not well, not often, but I see a trend and especially with teens that are high achievers. Hmm. I don't know the statistics of the suicide rate of high achiever. teens, right, but sometimes it's just the pressure, right? It's too much.

Eric Hodgdon  48:48

Victoria Volk  48:50
What have you found? I don't I don't know, do you work specifically with teens now,

Eric Hodgdon  48:55
I work more with folks who are on the other end of a loss. Okay, and so I, what I will always do, and will always have my door open to I give my phone number out all the time. And I've talked to a lot of parents who have struggling teens. And I say here's my number give this to your kid and tell them to call me but I don't leave with that I always follow up and check in how are how you know, how's your child doing? How's your kid doing? And I here's the thing that I think is is is going to be important. And I'm seeing this now, especially now I'm hyper focused on it, seeing how my my boss talks to his three boys and connects not talks to but connects with his three sons and how he asks them questions. And because all of them are in high pressure situations, teens, you know at 18 you've had 18 years on this planet and at that age, I think that there is a pressure to become something bigger. Now that could be an external pressure that's coming in. But a lot of times, it's an internal pressure that you're feeling. And that can be overwhelming. And I guess the best piece of advice I would give there is that it's giving yourself permission to figure things out on a pace that works for you. If you try to figure out your life, for somebody else, you're just adding fuel to the fire of that pressure. But give yourself permission to fail, give yourself failure is not a bad thing. Failure is a learning opportunity. You know, failure, you fail at john Maxwell say you fail forward. Oh, my gosh, I wish I would have had that advice A long time ago. And so being able to give someone permission to learn and grow and adapt, I think that helps with the pressure. And I know that some people aren't necessarily they're not only kids, but even some parents and adults, they, they may have had that same pressure when they were growing up. And so they're just kind of bringing that that forward into their family as well. And so, but but giving yourself permission to figure things out, and permission to fail, permission to learn, and giving yourself the runway that you need. I you know, I think that when we place ourselves in a box, that's where I think this anger and frustration really comes out. Because if we step outside of that box, it's almost it's almost like we're conditioned to that something's going to happen. You know, we're either going to be shunned or shamed or cast out of the group or whatever it might be. And that's very old. That's, that's why are deep within us as well. But it's okay to give yourself that permission, that box can be as big as you want it to be. There's no limit to that box, and doesn't even have to be a box. How about removing those borders and just saying, I'm going to figure it out on my own pace at my own time. And, and I think that that can even help some adults as well. When they're talking about grief in kids, if they're talking about grief, kids, if they're talking about situations that they feel like there's no out from there in that box, they cannot see a way out of that situation. And there's never just one solution to getting out of that pain, or that struggle, or that situation, there's always a multitude. And sometimes you need others to kind of help you figure out what those other options are. And that's okay to get it's not a weakness. It is absolutely it's actually a strength. When you think about it, if you're struggling, you're on the precipice of figuring out something very important for your life. And if you look at anybody out there in the world who has faced a deep struggle, and they've come out of the other side, we're wired for that. And so there's there's make those options available and connect deeply with those around you. And you'll find that you'll be able to have those options that you didn't think you had previously.

Victoria Volk  53:11
Well, that's a lot of advice and best tips and how, you know, that's great. Thank you for sharing that. So what has your grief experience taught you? 

Eric Hodgdon  53:23
It has taught me that there are so many things to be grateful for in this world. Zoey was in my life for 15 years. And I am so grateful that she was I got to be her dad. I'm grateful that I have the capacity to wake up in the morning and take another breath and see the sun or even the clouds doesn't matter to me obviously. It's it's gratitude for the folks that I have in my gratitude to be able to share with you and your audience. I mean it's there's so many things that are are so beautiful in this world that I feel like gets us back to our nature and that's been probably the biggest lesson for me is that I've I've gotten back to my nature, what matters most in life. And when you look around you and you say cheese, I'm really grateful I've had a rough day at work today, or Yeah, my kids were frustrating me and all that stuff. But you know, I've got a roof over my head. It's the things that you that are invaluable. You know, I have eyesight or I have the capacity to breathe and the capacity to see some nature of that side or plan a trip or even during the pandemic, families coming together you know, board games selling out because what else you gonna do you know, I mean, just there's so much that there is grateful that you can have gratitude for and it is really getting back to what matters most

Victoria Volk  54:55
is gratitude the foundation of the work that you do with the people you work with?

Eric Hodgdon  55:01
Ultimately, yes, I think that it certainly was an accelerant to my healing. Because I was just I was even though I every day, I was using a journal called the Five Minute Journal, I don't know if you've heard of this journal or not. It's straight, six months journal, and every day, it's one page, where you write down three things that you're grateful for, in the morning, an affirmation and three things you want to accomplish that day. And then at the end of the evening, you know, you write down, what's your biggest takeaway from the day. And there were days when I would write the same three things down, grateful for life. I'm grateful for Zoey. And I'm grateful for the roof over my head. And sometimes I would introduce new things to be grateful for. But I think overall, it was focusing on that. That that kind of pulled me out of those doldrums of feeling like, this is going to be really hard. Yeah, it's hard. But you know what, I've got a roof over my head. I got to be Zoe's dad. I'm still Zoe's dad. I'm connected with her friends. And Zoey, by the way, if I say, you know, Zoe, I mean, I, in my mind, Zoe is everything that encompasses Zoe, or my family, her friends, the energy, her, her voice, all of it. And so yeah, gratitude is at the heart of it, Victoria.

Victoria Volk  56:39
I have a curiosity question, please. So I hope you don't mind me asking because I think it would be helpful for our listeners who may have found themselves in the same situation of losing a child. 

Eric Hodgdon  56:54

Victoria Volk  56:55
I'm curious if you have kept her room as it was.

Eric Hodgdon  57:00
Well, now that I'm down here in Tampa, I did for five years. I did for five years, I did not touch a thing, if anything I added to it. It was a few months after Zoey died, and I was invited to go down to her school. A few towns away. It was a therapeutic school that she was attending. And they wanted just to share with me two things, one that they were planting a tree and so he's on are in their courtyard, and then to to present me with a shelf that Zoey had started to make. And that's the shelf right there that the kids finished. And I brought that back to my house. And I placed the shelf up in her room and I set it up as if I think Zoey would set it up all over Chuck T's were in one of the cubes. And all of her art supplies were another cube and some of her incense was on top and you know, some rocks, every time I took a trip, I would collect a rock and I would bring it home and put it up in her room and, but everything else in the room did I didn't move it, I didn't find the energy to move it. Because I was afraid. I felt like if I were to do anything in this room, that I would be cutting myself off from Zoey completely. And nothing could be further from the truth. And when I made the decision to sell that house, five years later, it took me two days and three boxes of tissues to go through that room. And she had clothes that other kids could wear that I donated to a goodwill, I can't remember the name of the company. There were boxes of her drawings and notebooks with poems in it. I still have all those. Her ukulele is with her brother, her drum set I donated that to a kid who was eight years old in town who needed a drum set was time. And I didn't want to do anything with her room until it was time and there's no timeframe on that. And so there's some folks that might be with that same room at their house for one year, one month. 10 years longer. It's okay. When it's time, it's going to be okay, you will find a way to make that make it happen. And so one of the biggest lesson I think afterwards when the room was done, and I was looking at this room was just a mattress on a bed frame. So he's still with me. I never got rid of Zoe. I'm not leaving her behind if anything, she's still with me. And so I took a ton of pictures And I have those pictures. And when I look at him today, they don't bring me sadness, they actually bring me joy because I get to see a snapshot of who. So it was, it's always going to be with me. And just like Zoe's memory is always going to be positive. It's just stuff at the end of the day, and the memories are always going to be with you. And so nobody can take that away from you. And so you're not really letting them go. In the sense of forgetting them. You're actually helping yourself heal. I think, when you do have those moments in your journey where you can actually move on, it's just another step on the path.

Victoria Volk  1:00:42
Thank you for sharing that.  

Eric Hodgdon  1:00:44
You're welcome. Thank you for asking.

Victoria Volk  1:00:45
So what gives you the most joy and hope for your future?

Eric Hodgdon  1:00:50
that I can continue to share Zoey. You know, one of the I think one of the most profound events, I guess, if you want to call it that that happened was when I joined option B, many years ago, I was asked to be a moderator later on. But early on, when there was about 500 people in the group. Option B was started by Sheryl Sandberg, who's the CEO of Facebook, and she lost her husband in early 2015. And she wrote a book called option B, it's fantastic book, and I would recommend that to folks. But She subsequently started this community. And I joined in early April of 2017. And the next month, when Mother's Day was approaching, it was the day before Mother's Day and I wanted to make a post for the folks in the group. One because I was thinking about so his mom and how hard it must be for that. For that Mother's Day that was coming up, especially for Zoey not being I know what it is on dad's Father's Day. But I just think about this. So I know that there was some mothers in this option B support group. And so I just did a video and I just said, Look, if you're a mom, if you're a mother figure, if you're missing a mother figure, anybody in your life that reminds you of Mom, I know tomorrow's going to be difficult for you. But if it's okay, I'd like to offer a little suggestion for you. So that when you wake up in the morning, the tendency is to let the pain make you feel like you just want to stay in bed with the curtains drawn. But I would invite you to sit up in bed first, then put your feet on the floor, open up the shade, go get dressed, and go do something in honor of your mother figure that day. Even if you're a mom. And you're missing a spouse that doesn't matter. Or wife, you're missing a spouse doesn't matter. Get up and do something that honors your loved one. And later that night. My my phone lit up with a message. And I looked at it briefly I was half asleep and it was it said Sheryl Sandberg on it. I'm like, there's no way. So I opened up my phone and I looked and sure enough, that was Cheryl. And she basically said hey, look, I just wanna let you know, I just shared your video with all of my friends and family. And would it be okay with you if I shared this on an interview with Oprah next week? No, no. So I said no, please do. And thank you so much. And I was so touched by that. And so what that taught me was that it doesn't matter who we are in life, we could have billions of dollars. We could be working as a car mechanic or in a corporate job, we could be a child, we could be a teen doesn't matter who we are. We're human, and we're all wired pretty much the same way. And grief is going to hit us. No matter what we do. No matter how much money we have in the bank. No matter what gender or ethnicity we are, we're human. And so we can always find ways to make a connection that changes someone's life. And if we don't step into the arena and do that, then I think we're leaving a lot of value on the table for those that are around us family, friends or otherwise.

Victoria Volk  1:04:29
My kids roll their roll their eyes whenever I give him a quote. I think of that.

Eric Hodgdon  1:04:34
Thanks, Mom. Yeah. Is it again? Is it worse than a dad joke? I mean, because those are pretty bad too. Right?

Victoria Volk  1:04:46
Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Eric Hodgdon  1:04:51
No, I've just I'm deeply grateful for being able to share Zoey with you and your audience, Victoria. It means the world to me that That, that I can still say her name. And it brings me the same amount of joy, as it always has. And I just am so grateful for the opportunity to be here with you and us fantastic questions. And you really made me think about what has really made a difference. And I'm gonna walk away from this discussion, feeling like I'm full today. So thank you so much, it really means the world to me.

Victoria Volk  1:05:31
Thank you, likewise. And I think that the theme of this interview, conversation I prefer to call it is impact. Yes, we don't often realize the impact that we have on other people. Right? And that is regardless of our age. Yes, regardless of our age. So if there are any teams listening, you might think you have no friends. And I would argue that that's probably not true. But I would also add, I have no doubt in my mind. If you're a team, if you're anyone listening to this, you have an impact on people in their lives, you impact people. And your presence would be lost and missed.

Eric Hodgdon  1:06:26
100% so true.

 Victoria Volk  1:06:29
Thank you so much for sharing, where can people find you if they like to connect with you?

Eric Hodgdon  1:06:35
Thank you, Victoria. People can find me online at And they can also pick up my book. It's called a Sherpa named Zoey. It's available on Amazon. And I hope it helps in some way. And finally, I have a TEDx talk that I performed two years ago that is available and I can provide the link for your for your audience as well.

Victoria Volk  1:07:02
Perfect and I will provide the links in the show notes for everything mentioned. And remember, when you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.