Death + Grief

death + grief May 04, 2022
Death + Grief


Since her first grief had brought her fully to birth and wakefulness in this world, an unstinting compassion had moved in her, like a live stream flowing deep underground, by which she knew herself and others and the world. It was her truest self, that stream always astir inside her that was at once pity and love, knowledge and faith, forgiveness, grief, and joy. It made her fearful, and it made her unafraid.

- Wendell Berry


Loss Led Me Home

Death + Grief - Kate Vosti

October 2017 was a tragic month. Our family’s home in Napa, California, burned down in the Atlas Peak fires. We, fortunately, weren’t there at the time because my dad had a doctor’s appointment in the city. It’s a beautiful 42-acre property overlooking the valley that my parents found and were married on. I grew up between there and San Francisco, picking blackberries, chasing turkeys, pretending to be a mermaid in the pool, and watching the Land Before Time over and over again. I brought countless friends there and built special memories together - celebrating holidays, making music videos, wine pong (so Napa), stargazing in the hot tub, or just laying out in the sun. And then, just like that, your home evaporates. It’s the combination of disbelief and horror.

I still get consumed with violent images of my bed burning, furniture and paintings I used and walked by for 2 decades, my books, my precious items I collected from around the world, and irreplaceable things like my dad’s memorabilia all on fire. Dust. Ashes.

Death + Grief - Kate Vosti

Eleven days later, my dad died. He was already dying from cancer, but I think his heart was broken. This was his haven. I remember he turned to me while he was lying in his hospital bed and the fires were roaring on the TV in the room, and said, “I think this is the Universe’s way of telling me it’s time to check out.” I’m glad he never had to see his beloved home in ruins.

We went up to see it for the first time a few days after he passed. The closest thing to an apocalypse I ever hope to experience. Both my father and his home burned that month, leaving me with ashes to contemplate. It’s the type of loss that happens to other people, not to you, right? A tragedy that you suddenly realize you are living.


In some other life, we are standing side by side and laughing that, in some other life, we are apart.

- David Jones

 Love is Always Here

Grief Etiquette

I’ve received so many different types of support, some helpful and some misguided, but everyone means well, and let’s face it, relating to someone who has gone through tragedy can be awkward. I’ve had a lot of friends say to me, “I didn’t say anything before because I didn’t know what to say,” or “I didn’t want to bother you or say the wrong thing.”

The good intention is there, but what next? You love this person and want to support them, but how can you?

Here are just a few actions that were significant to me:

  • The dreaded “How are you?” - Steer clear of this question for a while - it reminds them of how “not good” they are; they will let you know when they don’t feel terrible. Instead, sending texts like “thinking of you” or “sending you love” are great because they don’t require a thoughtful response.
  • Share your story - I found myself most comfortable talking to people who have also lost someone close to them. It’s always helpful to know you’re not alone and to talk to someone who gets it. And as I’ve learned, you really don’t get it unless you’ve lived it.
  • Don’t try to make them feel normal - the person grieving is living in a different reality where everything is foggy and worldly things feel meaningless. Until they are used to their “new normal,” understand that they literally don’t have the capacity to care much about anything but basic tasks like remembering to eat. This is difficult for the supporter to understand, but trust me, give them space and don’t talk to them about “normal” things unless they ask for it.
  • “How can I support you?” - I got this question a lot, naturally, and every time I didn’t know what to say back other than, “keep being my friend” or “you’re so sweet I just have to get through this.” The truth is, it’s difficult to answer this question, but what I found to be the most helpful support was everything mentioned above, sending or dropping off food (remembering to eat really is a tough part), sending something thoughtful like a book of poetry or a self-care kit, and flowers always brighten up a home.



Love is always here

When I was sitting next to my dad as he was dying, I kept repeating to myself, “choose Love” instead of fear. A couple of weeks later, when we went up to the house after the debris had been cleared, guess what I found in the foundation of the home? That’s right, “Love.” My dad built this house when I was young, but I have no memory of carving this into the cement.

After finding this, I didn’t need hope; it was clear: Love is here, and it has always been here at the foundation of everything. My dad let me know he heard me and that Love is never going anywhere because it’s beyond the body, beyond time, and it can always be found, even beneath the utter ruin.

So when I do need hope, I can hope that I will find the courage to choose Love - I can hope that I will recognize when I am choosing fear and gently, or fiercely, guide myself back to Love. Miracles like this one can wake you up - please let them.


I do not know whether human personality survives physical death. I am content to wait and see what comes after death, open to any possibility. If it should turn out to be eternal sleep, that too is a gift after a full life.

- Elizabeth Watson