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Collective Grief and Community with Justine Mastin and Larisa Garski

Larisa Garski and Justine Mastin are practicing therapists who have authored two books together. Their narrative approach to therapy centers on rewriting the stories about our lives that aren’t working and how play and fan fiction are some of the best tools for reimagining a better future. We talk about collective grief and public spaces, therapists taking on roles traditionally reserved for clergy members, and how they have dealt with their own grief alongside their clients. Justine and Larisa are great examples of how grace and humor help us navigate the hard parts of life.


[00:00:00] Sarah Cavanaugh: Hi, I'm Sarah Cavanaugh, and this is Peaceful Exit. Every episode, we explore death, dying, and grief through stories by authors familiar with the topic. Writers are our translators. They take what is inexpressible, impossible to explain, and they translate it into words on a page. My Garsky. They're practicing therapists who have co authored two books together, including the one we're going to talk about today.

[00:00:34] Sarah Cavanaugh: The grieving therapist caring for yourself and your clients when it feels like the end of the world. This is so timely. And the three of us talk about collective grief, how we've lost public spaces for grieving, and why we need to create new ones. We also talk about how the role of the therapist has evolved over time.

[00:00:55] Sarah Cavanaugh: We cover a lot of ground in our conversation. What it has been like to be [00:01:00] a therapist during a global pandemic. Play as a spiritual practice for adults. Chronic illness. How community, not romantic relationships should be at the center of our emotional life. The vital role of chosen kin. And how our HR systems need to catch up and be more inclusive when it comes to bereavement leave.

[00:01:19] Sarah Cavanaugh: Justine and Larissa wrote this book for other therapists, but I'm not a therapist, and I learned a ton. I took so many insights from this conversation, especially around their narrative approach to therapy. It's all about rewriting the stories we tell about our life that aren't really working. including our stories about death.

[00:01:40] Sarah Cavanaugh: This is some heavy stuff, but they're funny and they're delightful to talk to and they help us approach such a serious topic with ease.

[00:01:51] Sarah Cavanaugh: So what made you write for the audience, therapy audience, when it feels like the end of the world? What kind of inspired you [00:02:00] to write for other therapists? Justine, let's start with you. We needed this

[00:02:05] Justine Mastin: book. Yeah. After we wrote Starship Therapies and that went out and we released it in the middle of the pandemic, which was not the plan, you know, the, the audience for that book was very much pop culture fans and we had intended going to Comic Con to sell that book.

[00:02:23] Justine Mastin: There wasn't Comic Con for two years, you know. So when we were thinking about what we were going to write next, it kind of came to me that I wanted to write something about grief, which was a big surprise to Larissa. I'm, I'm tap shoes and a straw hat. That's true. And Larissa is a parasol and some nice white gloves.

[00:02:48] Justine Mastin: And so the fact that the tap shoes wanted to write a book about grief.

[00:02:52] Larisa Garski: grief was very shocking to your system. Yeah, no, I was really stunned, especially because, like, we were at that point, we were a [00:03:00] year into the pandemic. And I don't think it's an understatement to say that it was being a therapist during that first year was such a miserable experience.

[00:03:08] Larisa Garski: You know, we all, We're going through misery that was unique to each of us as individuals, as humans, and the, you know, like the misery that Justine and I can speak to, it was the misery of being a therapist, and what it was like to try to provide support and comfort, especially in those early months when You yourself felt like you needed support and comfort and like, there were so many times in sessions where like, understandably so, clients are looking, they were looking for certainty that like, I didn't have, and not only did I not have it, which like I'm used to, but I as a human wanted that same certainty, and they knew that because like, They knew we were all going through it, and it had been so hard and so painful.

[00:03:54] Larisa Garski: And so, yeah, when Justine was like, let's write a book about grieving and grieving as a therapist and how you balance [00:04:00] your own personal human grief with like showing up for your clients. I was like, great idea. I think initially parts of me were like, this must be a bad joke. And then our editor loved it.

[00:04:11] Larisa Garski: She was like, yes, this is what the people need.

[00:04:16] Sarah Cavanaugh: And how is it applicable to everyone? Because I believe it is. I loved your book.

[00:04:21] Justine Mastin: You know, we talk about all these different, we call them realms in the book, but these different aspects of life and how much they've changed and how much they impact us. I mean, even if you weren't terribly impacted by COVID, which I don't know what that would even look like, we've got aspects in there about your family of origin, the people who raised you, your You know, your kin, the family that you chose.

[00:04:47] Larisa Garski: Chronic illness, health. Right, like politics, faith. And I think the other piece of it too is that you know, being a therapist is fundamentally about relationship [00:05:00] and giving care. It's a very specific kind of care and support. And that's something that All of us as, not even just humans, but like living beings on this planet, we're all involved in that.

[00:05:13] Larisa Garski: We're involved in community, we're involved in caring and being cared for. Um, and that I think is so much at the heart of what this book is about. How do you continue to give care and endure? in the face of a period in our planet's history when things do feel so hard and so fraught and so dire.

[00:05:38] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah, I have three kids in their 20s and how do you tell a 20 something there's any certainty, you know?

[00:05:46] Sarah Cavanaugh: Right. As a parent. So I do think There are such universal themes in the book, and I appreciate that. So I encourage anyone listening to pick it up, even if they're not a therapist. Thank you. And I want to ask about [00:06:00] your approach to narrative, uh, because I also believe in the power of story, but what does that look like in practice?

[00:06:08] Sarah Cavanaugh: We're

[00:06:08] Justine Mastin: both predominantly narrative therapists and narrative therapy is steeped in the idea that our lives are stories and just like any story, we can Decide that it's no longer serving us and get out the red editor's pen and start making some changes. And sometimes we need a really good editor, like Laris and I had for writing this book.

[00:06:33] Justine Mastin: That's right. To come in and say, hey, did you notice this? Did you notice that? How do you feel like this is serving you? Yeah. One

[00:06:41] Larisa Garski: of the wonderful things about narrative therapy that I think really resonates for both Justine and I is that it's founded in the importance of curiosity. So when a client comes in and they're using the same metaphor, they're using the same coping pattern, the invitation first to the clinician is to model and engage curiosity and find [00:07:00] out where is this working for you?

[00:07:01] Larisa Garski: Because sometimes this metaphor is, but there's probably times when this particular coping pattern is not. And when is it not? And what would it be like if we changed that up?

[00:07:11] Sarah Cavanaugh: Hmm. Love that. So, what's up with the fan fiction? The therapeutic fan fiction? Is that, uh, is that something you use in your therapy?

[00:07:20] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yes.

[00:07:21] Larisa Garski: Therapeutic fan fiction, I think... It's definitely kind of like our wheelhouse. Mm hmm. Yep. Fan fiction is like, you go and you see a film like Star Wars, and maybe you saw the most recent one, Star Wars Episode IX, and you were like, wow, not the storyline for me. Um, so you would go home and you would take out your pen, or probably you would take out your keyboard, and you would rewrite it.

[00:07:43] Larisa Garski: You would take these characters, you'd take some of the feelings and the themes, and you would... Recast, rewrite, rework, and tell a story that you felt was more authentic to these characters. But in reality, that authenticity is because it's resonating with you and your experiences [00:08:00] and the people you care about in your life.

[00:08:01] Larisa Garski: And so, Justine and I are just complete geeks and fans. And we had dabbled, each of us, in, I think, standard fanfic. And we realized really early on in our therapeutic work, like, wait a minute. There's a way to bring this into the therapy space. This is how we're going to bring in play for adults. Let's bring in those pop culture narratives.

[00:08:24] Larisa Garski: Let's bring in the power of

[00:08:25] Justine Mastin: myth. Yep. Our first book is called Starship Therapize, Using Therapeutic Fan Fiction to Rewrite Your Life. And what Loris and I did was really kind of create our own modality that incorporates the power of narrative therapy, and also brings in play. Play is so important for adults, and something that we talk about in a lot of the work that we do is the idea of social constructionism.

[00:08:53] Justine Mastin: The, the idea is that everything in our world is socially constructed. And what that [00:09:00] means is there's so few capital T truths in the world, like gravity, right? That, that is a real thing. That is an objective fact. But beauty norms, that feels like a capital T truth. That's a little t truth. That's, that's a social construct that was created by groups of people living and working and being together over eons.

[00:09:23] Justine Mastin: And it changes. And something we invite our clients to do is to question social constructs. Hmm. And one of the social constructs we really, really, really don't care for is the one that once you turn 13, you're not allowed to play anymore. Or the types of play that you're allowed to engage in need to be specific types of structured play, usually sports.

[00:09:46] Justine Mastin: Yeah. Something Larissa and I talk about is that spirituality is not so much religion as it is that which fills you up, that which gives your life meaning. And so in that way, play is a spiritual practice.

[00:09:58] Larisa Garski: Amen. [00:10:00] I mean, truly, I would say, like, I think Justine has, has offered some beautiful jewels here. Play in a therapeutic context, it helps foster cognitive flexibility.

[00:10:12] Larisa Garski: So rather than being stuck in old ways of doing things or being, getting caught up in what is, what's going to happen, what's at stake, what's the risk? Play is a way to try things out. Try out ways of being, try out ways of talking, try out ways of seeing in a very, like, low risk, safe environment. It's a way to really foster and cultivate curiosity and compassion and are the building blocks of connection and relationship and meaning.

[00:10:40] Larisa Garski: Hmm.

[00:10:40] Sarah Cavanaugh: I love that. Yeah. Yeah. And I think you said this to my producer, therapists are becoming the new clergy of the modern world.

[00:10:49] Justine Mastin: Yeah. Because I, I share an experience that I've had in the therapy room, which is walking with [00:11:00] clients into death. And a majority of the people who come to see me either do not have a faith tradition or have left a faith tradition that was harmful to them.

[00:11:16] Justine Mastin: And so I tell a story about a client who was actively dying and did not have a faith tradition, and that was one of the distressing aspects of knowing they were going to die. What happens after we die? We were able to take the stories that were meaningful to this client and create a narrative, use therapeutic fan fiction to decide what they wanted the afterlife to be.

[00:11:45] Justine Mastin: So we get to fanfic the afterlife. I, I said it in the book and I'll say it here. If nothing is true, then anything is possible. So to this client, there was no afterlife. I said, okay, well [00:12:00] then we get to build it from nothing. What do you want it to be? And we built a beautiful fan fiction narrative pulled from their favorite stories.

[00:12:12] Justine Mastin: And honor of doing that was tremendous. The responsibility, I felt, was tremendous. I can remember

[00:12:21] Larisa Garski: so many meetings that you and I had. because of the emotional intensity and gravity of that kind of work.

[00:12:31] Justine Mastin: Yes, I got lots of support and I, I got to be in community to help this client and all of the ripples outward from that client that no one person exists in a vacuum.

[00:12:48] Justine Mastin: We all live in relationship and systems with each and I got support through relationship and my My systems. But this is typically, [00:13:00] historically, something one would go to their clergy person for. Yeah. This human didn't have a clergy person. They had me.

[00:13:08] Larisa Garski: Yeah. Well, and like, I think there's so much of the work that we do as therapists were once, you know, the realms or the, uh, the, the purviews of the clergy, like counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling.

[00:13:22] Larisa Garski: If we like really like think about it old school, that was, that was still the purview of the clergy. And now clinicians get training in those areas, but we don't by and large get training in The spiritual aspect of things, or like as you said so beautifully Justine, what it is to walk into death with a client or like walk into death besides someone who is, who's losing someone.

[00:13:51] Larisa Garski: If the client themselves is not walking, it's someone that they're close to who is. And how do we do that? How do we honor it? And how do we care for ourselves? Yeah, [00:14:00]

[00:14:01] Sarah Cavanaugh: I believe what you're doing is really so beautiful. Um, do you mind if I just read a little passage and see what comes up for you? Oh, we would be so delighted!

[00:14:12] Sarah Cavanaugh: You only get one shot at death. What we mean to suggest is that perhaps part of our collective human fear of death is due to its singular nature. You will only ever die once. And your parents, as well as your grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, will only ever die once. How do you craft an ending that is both meaningful and healing, one that honors the complicated nature of your human relationships?

[00:14:43] Justine Mastin: I feel like the greatest transformations I have made in my life have been in response to grief. And that's, that's something that Larissa has said a number of times is, you know, grief is the great transformer. Yeah. [00:15:00] And that's certainly been true in my life. I mean, when, when my dad died, I looked around at my life.

[00:15:08] Justine Mastin: And I asked myself, is this what I want? Because I'm 29 and my dad was, I think, 69. So I'm like, so we're just about halfway there living on a prayer. If, uh, if I were to follow in his footsteps. And is this the life I want? And it wasn't. And I, that's when I became a therapist. I wasn't a therapist before that.

[00:15:29] Justine Mastin: And when my mother died, I made, you know, additional new transformations. And all the other. Deaths and losses in between. Yeah.

[00:15:40] Sarah Cavanaugh: We talk about it like a fence. You have these fence posts of things that happen to you in your life and when you get a long fence, you know, you can look back and, and kind of see how that, how that evolves in your life, how that story evolves in your life and how that impacts you.

[00:15:55] Sarah Cavanaugh: When you lose someone close, especially a parent or a relative or, [00:16:00] I think it's okay to share this, but you've both disclosed that you have a chronic illness, and there's a lot of grief in that. The world isn't always designed for people with illnesses. I also have an autoimmune disease, so I understand.

[00:16:14] Sarah Cavanaugh: Did this... make you more aware? And was this another point of transformation for you? Yeah.

[00:16:23] Larisa Garski: I've had chronic asthma my whole life. And I remember one day after a particularly like, like tough bout that I was so upset, but I was like, I was still not giving up. I was like, there's gotta be a way. And I would think I still had a sinus infection and I was in supervision.

[00:16:38] Larisa Garski: And my supervisor looked at me and she was like, I'm really glad you have asthma. And she probably said this with like a little bit more like care and compassion, but like the way it landed, I'm like, I remember internally just like. My insides kind of shivered. I don't know what I said in response, I don't remember that anymore, but I remember thinking, how could she possibly say that to [00:17:00] me?

[00:17:00] Larisa Garski: Like, how, how, how could she feel that? Like, this has been the bane of my existence. This has been what's prevented me from all these different things I wanted to be able to do. And, I think I, like, collected myself enough to ask, Could you tell me more about that? Or something. And her response to me was, Because if you didn't have asthma, Larissa, you would never stop.

[00:17:22] Larisa Garski: Hmm. And I do feel like I spent, like, the better part of the next decade unpacking that. I really am so grateful for it now because it has been the one constant force in my life that's been like, Wait a minute. You have needs. You have limits. If I hadn't had asthma, I do think I would have just driven myself into the ground.

[00:17:48] Larisa Garski: And Justine is nodding her head vigorously because like, she is like, she's been my best friend for a long time. She's seen that like, I really can be very sacrificial. to my own physical body in ways that are [00:18:00] just so detrimental.

[00:18:01] Sarah Cavanaugh: That's very universal, what you just shared. And I really, really appreciate that.

[00:18:05] Sarah Cavanaugh: That applies to all of us. And I think COVID was an amazing teacher as an illness. Yep.

[00:18:13] Justine Mastin: The gift Larissa was given was a shittily wrapped gift. And we kept being given just heaps of shittily wrapped gifts while we were writing this book. And one of them was, I got COVID, and I had such a hard experience.

[00:18:31] Justine Mastin: And one of the aspects of that, that I really wasn't anticipating, was the emotional toll that it would take on me. I felt very fortunate that a friend of mine, after she had COVID, she told me that she had a depressive episode. And she was like, just so you know, I've talked to a lot of people who've had COVID and they also had depressive episodes.

[00:18:54] Justine Mastin: I think it's a thing we're not talking about, but it's a real possibility. And so when [00:19:00] I had a depressive episode with COVID, I was able to recognize like, okay. We don't know much about this disease. This is clearly one of the ways it impacts the body and the brain. And I am profoundly depressed.

[00:19:17] Sarah Cavanaugh: We're not talking about it, you're

[00:19:18] Larisa Garski: right.

[00:19:19] Larisa Garski: And you were profoundly depressed for, it was like two months.

[00:19:23] Justine Mastin: Months, yeah. It wasn't like anything I've experienced. It was so clearly something that had entered my body that wasn't born here. Uh, alien infection.

[00:19:36] Sarah Cavanaugh: There's fan fiction in there somewhere. There is, yeah, for

[00:19:39] Justine Mastin: sure. And I was very open with my clients about what was happening to me.

[00:19:45] Justine Mastin: Because my catchphrase in life and work is verbalize to normalize. So I just named it. Like, look, I have COVID. I'm getting some physical, emotional, and mental symptoms. Uh, sometimes I just need to [00:20:00] cancel at the very last second because my, my system has decided that I've seen as many clients as I can see with any skill today.

[00:20:10] Larisa Garski: Yeah. Yeah. The chapter on crisis related to like, how do you pay attention to your body's physical warning signs that like, hey, I actually can't be a good therapist anymore today. And then. Once you notice and are able to like hear that, how do you honor it and then convey that to your clients in a way that feels caring and compassionate and is also honest because you risk doing so much harm to self and clients if you show up to a session and you're not actually well enough to be the therapist in that session.

[00:20:51] Sarah Cavanaugh: I'm having a thought that COVID. opened up our ability to really be authentic in who we are and [00:21:00] just be okay with it.

[00:21:02] Larisa Garski: Yes.

[00:21:03] Justine Mastin: It's one of the few gifts of that time period. And I'm not going to say gift of COVID because COVID was not a gift, but a gift of the time that COVID gave us was we had to be more honest.

[00:21:18] Justine Mastin: We had to be more real with ourselves and the people we care about. And Circling all the way back to the beginning of our conversation, we suddenly had permission to play. Yeah. Because it had inherent meaning. You know, people always laugh when I bring up this example, but we were all watching Tiger King.

[00:21:38] Justine Mastin: That's what we did, and suddenly play had meaning. And all we could share was our stories because we weren't going out and doing anything. Yeah. And I very much hope that we keep this sense of authenticity. I can already see it starting to go away. And... And the permission to play. I would love to see us not completely

[00:21:57] Larisa Garski: shut that down.

[00:21:58] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yes, hold on to the [00:22:00] lessons. Um, I'm going to pivot for a second. Let's talk about family. Yeah. Because you have really helpful language in your book and it helped me think about it. You wrote, We the authors do not consider the romantic relationship to be the center of emotional life as many societal norms suggest.

[00:22:17] Sarah Cavanaugh: Rather, we believe that it's the families and communities we choose in all their varied forms around which we center our narratives. What does that mean to each of you?

[00:22:29] Larisa Garski: What that means to me is I'm a big believer in interspecies chosen family. So I'm like looking out in front of my desk and in front of my desk I have like my cat Katsu who's like basking in the sun.

[00:22:42] Larisa Garski: And then I have my dog Merlin who's like utterly asleep on the brand new sofa. And like that's very sort of emblematic of how my husband and I move through the world and foster and create relationships. that it is about honoring and connecting all the [00:23:00] different beings that we feel like lucky enough to be in

[00:23:03] Sarah Cavanaugh: community with.

[00:23:04] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah, I love how you navigate like who to tell that you're taking time off to grieve the loss of a pet.

[00:23:10] Larisa Garski: Yeah, when Marinem died. Yeah, who we partially dedicated the book to. Right. But yeah, you're right. I referenced in the book that like I'm um, chief of clinical staff at a medium sized practice here in the city of Chicago.

[00:23:23] Larisa Garski: And I could have said it was a family emergency, but I was like, no, we're going to verbalize to normalize. And I emailed everyone and I was like, my dog is dying. She's everything to my family. If you need anything, you're going to need to like contact the practice owner for the next month. And in, yeah, I had, I had one person reach out and be like, I really appreciate that you named that because non human family members are family members.

[00:23:45] Larisa Garski: And I was like,

[00:23:46] Sarah Cavanaugh: that's right. How about you Justine? Romantic

[00:23:50] Justine Mastin: relationships not being the center of cultural life, yes. You know, as folks who have created a very close chosen [00:24:00] family, it gets highlighted for us how that's not respected. And it's one of those social constructs that's just not respected.

[00:24:09] Justine Mastin: Recently, a friend of mine was killed in a hit and run car accident. And I have spoken with friends of his who were... You know, closer. We, we were friends, but you know, I've spoken with like his type people who couldn't get time off work. You know, this, this is your chosen family, traumatic end to his life.

[00:24:37] Justine Mastin: Sorry, there's no time off work for that, because there's no language for that, because HR doesn't know what to do with that. And as a member of the queer community, which I am, so many queer folks create chosen family that is still true. Mm hmm. It's better, air quotes, than it once was that families of origin might keep showing up, [00:25:00] but more often than not queer folks have chosen family that is the center of their cultural life and to not be able to take time off work, to not have that be respected, like my friendship with Larissa.

[00:25:14] Justine Mastin: I've cultivated community who get it, right? Yes. But there are certainly people who wouldn't get it, you know? Well, oh, your friend's dog is dying? What does that have to do with you? Right? And I'm like,

[00:25:27] Larisa Garski: whoa,


[00:25:31] Justine Mastin: has a lot to do with me. Yeah, so we would love to see the conversation around what it means to have a family, what it means to be in community, have that social construct gets, get questioned and start to get deconstructed.

[00:25:46] Justine Mastin: Right. Because when we put romantic relationships and blood family. family of origin above all other relationships. We're really diminishing the value [00:26:00] of chosen kin. Right. That's so valuable. It literally saves lives.

[00:26:06] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah, you're also restricting the amount of collective grieving we're able to do. Because if we're not able to take the time.

[00:26:14] Sarah Cavanaugh: To grieve together with the people that are closest to us, you know. Yes. When you question the systems that kind of get in the way of those communities, I really appreciate that about your, your

[00:26:26] Larisa Garski: story. Well, and even like building off of that, like I think about there are so many ways that like human society functions at present.

[00:26:35] Larisa Garski: It doesn't honor the like loving relational connections we have with other humans, nor does it honor the loving relational connections we have with like other animals. But it also doesn't honor like the loving relational connections that exist between trees and vegetation. Everything on the planet is alive.

[00:26:54] Larisa Garski: And what that means to me at this point in my life is that they need to be considered. And I get [00:27:00] pretty extreme about that, but like, I, because when I say it means it needs to be considered, like, we just recently had the 4th of July. I know folks are like big stands of fireworks. I'm not. And so it's easy for me to say what I'm about to say because I'm not a fan of it.

[00:27:14] Larisa Garski: Maybe we have the fireworks, maybe we don't, but I think it's important to consider what impact do these fireworks have on the other life that is around, that is present, when the fireworks are going off. Squirrels, dogs, birds, what have you. I'm

[00:27:29] Sarah Cavanaugh: just, I'm being called to read you something. It's my absolute favorite quote from July 4th this year.

[00:27:37] Sarah Cavanaugh: On this Independence Day, let us honor the grief in our bodies, and know we are not alone. Let us dare to dream of the America that wants to be born. A multiracial democracy, where we live sustainably with the earth, and courageously with one another. Where you see my children as yours, and I see yours as mine.

[00:27:57] Sarah Cavanaugh: Where we tell a true story of our past, and [00:28:00] structure our institutions, and relationships, to honor our future. Dignity, repair, and love above all. And that's Valerie Kor. Who was one of our first guests on Peaceful Exit. Yeah. What that

[00:28:13] Justine Mastin: brings up for me is, uh, when, when we were writing, I can't recall what had just come up, but it was something where people were like, yeah, America.

[00:28:26] Justine Mastin: And I was like, why do people keep writing Founding Father fan fiction?

[00:28:30] Larisa Garski: Oh, yes.

[00:28:32] Justine Mastin: And that's what that made me think of. It's like, Let's stop writing founding father fan fiction. New stories. Let's create the

[00:28:39] Larisa Garski: utopia we want to see. Yeah.

[00:28:42] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. I heard a wonderful science fiction author talk about that. We need the science fiction of a hopeful future.

[00:28:49] Sarah Cavanaugh: And we're getting a lot of dystopia and a lot of zombies. Yeah. Makes sense.

[00:28:54] Larisa Garski: And like it makes sense because I do think like stories are how, they're one of the ways we process what's happening right now. [00:29:00] And we are in a dystopia right now. This is what it is. This is what it feels like. And it doesn't always have to be this way.

[00:29:08] Larisa Garski: And I'm so glad that you shared the quote that you did, Sarah, because it is... That's a beautiful, hopeful

[00:29:14] Sarah Cavanaugh: future. Yeah. So, shall we talk about capitalism?

[00:29:21] Larisa Garski: Okay.

[00:29:24] Sarah Cavanaugh: Leading right into the Founding Father fanfiction. Comes right out of that. Uh. Let's talk about capitalism and death. We really don't have spaces for people to grieve, culturally, structurally, spiritually.

[00:29:39] Sarah Cavanaugh: Things are outdated. If you were to create a space for people to grieve, what would that look like?

[00:29:46] Justine Mastin: I, I get real up on my high horse about the capitalism of death in this country, the amount that we charge for things, the way that we have [00:30:00] maintained particular quote unquote rituals over time that aren't even really necessarily healing rituals.

[00:30:08] Justine Mastin: When my mom passed away in 2019, it's a pre pandemic, she didn't leave instructions for what she wanted her service to be, and she was a, both my parents were very high status in the town where they grew up, so I knew they would want to be there, but I just went with the local funeral home to do the service.

[00:30:29] Justine Mastin: And I went there and they led me down into the depths of the basement to talk about the service and to look at samples of coffins and urns and it was just like this very, this very sweet but very old man in a full three piece suit walking me down those stairs. It felt so wrong [00:31:00] and not true to who my mother was and this funeral home was just all decked out with this like Asian pattern wallpaper that felt vaguely racist and you know when we sat down, was sitting across from a cabinet that was displaying things and one of them was a newspaper clipping from the Nixon administration.

[00:31:21] Justine Mastin: Like it was just a Perfect encapsulation

[00:31:25] Sarah Cavanaugh: of what I didn't want. Sounds like a time capsule.

[00:31:28] Justine Mastin: It was! It was, it was like, death made me walk through a portal to... 1961.

[00:31:41] Justine Mastin: And that's where we had to bury my mother. And I, I was like, I don't know how to do this because I, that's not where I live. It's 2019 and I just kept saying to my, my partner's family who I'm close with, I was like, all I wanted was an iPad. [00:32:00] I wanted them to hand me an iPad with some options on it that I could click.

[00:32:05] Justine Mastin: That nice old man was very nice, but I didn't wanna talk to him.

[00:32:10] Larisa Garski: It's interesting though, that like you talk about wanting an iPad, I'm like. Oh, that's not what my system would want at all. That feels so removed and sterile. Like I'd, I'd want some like kind human to sit down with me and be like, we can go at your own pace with this.

[00:32:27] Larisa Garski: We're not going to finish it all today, but let's start talking about how this might look and how and what might feel most authentic to you. So let

[00:32:36] Justine Mastin: me... Just say that part of this is I used to be an event planner, and to me, planning a funeral is planning an event. Sure. When it comes to my, my parents headstone, that has been a whole process that I have done in community.

[00:32:55] Justine Mastin: in collaboration, finding an artisan, like that's been a whole [00:33:00] ritual for me. But I don't need an event to be a ritual.

[00:33:03] Larisa Garski: I need an iPad. Yeah, let me be clear, I'm not like trying to be critical of that approach at all, only to highlight that like, People need different things around death. And that is something that capitalism is uniquely bad at.

[00:33:18] Larisa Garski: Um, and so like now we mass, we mass produce death. Yeah. And it's an industry too. And like, people don't need that. There's no one size fits all approach for death. Like what I'm, what I am going to like need if like I survive my. husband is, is going to be different than what another human needs. And that's okay.

[00:33:38] Larisa Garski: We need a system that, that like honors and makes space for that.

[00:33:43] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. So my last question to all of my wonderful guests is, what does a peaceful exit mean to you? Larissa? And I could say a few things. I kind of imagine, uh, a memorial service with some kind of, uh, Marvel [00:34:00] characters, I don't know. I'm, I'm seeing, you know, what, what, what, you know, what does a peaceful exit mean to you?

[00:34:06] Sarah Cavanaugh: Sure.

[00:34:07] Larisa Garski: It's interesting because, like, uh, the funeral or the memorial service, I have, I have no idea. And in terms of, like, my literal death, like, this is tricky too because of capitalism and industry. But, like, I don't want to be kept alive forever. I don't want to be kept alive on machines. I don't want to become any more of a bionic person than I already am.

[00:34:31] Larisa Garski: In terms of like the sort of like medications and additional tools I need to just like be alive. And I, that's something that I know I'm going to need to constantly be present with myself about because modern medicine allows so many ways to prolong the organic side of your life, but I don't want to do that in such a way that like I'm alive biologically, but not like mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

[00:34:57] Larisa Garski: So I want to [00:35:00] I want to go when I still feel like me. Hmm.

[00:35:04] Sarah Cavanaugh: Well said. How about you, Justine?

[00:35:06] Justine Mastin: What I want for a service changes as I change. You know, when my dad died, I, I wrote down a whole thing about what I would want my service to be because I was like, Nope, I am not leaving anyone with any work to do.

[00:35:21] Justine Mastin: You know, down to the, down to the music. I was like, this, this is planned. Do it. So I'm sure that will continue to evolve as I evolve.

[00:35:30] Sarah Cavanaugh: Yeah. Yes. Love that. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to both of you. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for having

[00:35:39] Justine Mastin: us. We really appreciate it.

[00:35:45] Sarah Cavanaugh: Thank you for listening to Peaceful Exit. You can learn more about this podcast and my online course at my website, peacefulexit. net. If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know. You can rate and review this show on Spotify and Apple [00:36:00] Podcasts. This episode was produced by Large Media. You can find them at L A R J Media dot com.

[00:36:08] Sarah Cavanaugh: Special thanks to Ricardo Russell for the original music throughout this podcast. More of his music can be found on Bandcamp. As always, thanks for listening. I'm Sarah Cavanaugh, and this is Peaceful Exit.


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