Nadine, PK & Christopher Isacs: 5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change
An Interview With Pirie Jones Grossman
Chris: Take the time to acknowledge the silver linings and take comfort in the gratitude you feel for them. When my dad died, I took a lot of time to think about how lucky we were to have spent so much time with him in the months prior, to be grateful for having such a wonderful last day together, and to appreciate that he passed painlessly in his sleep. This kind of gratitude through crisis can help lend perspective.
PK: Recognize that this is a part of life and that you will get through it. Death is one thing that we all have in common, and although these moments are difficult, it’s important to remember that people are getting through it every day.
Nadine: Keep him a part of your life — just because they are not here does not mean they are gone. They have had an imprint on you and will continue to for the rest of your life. Take great joy in a memory, a song or smell that reminds you of your loved one.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nadine, PK and Christopher Isacs.
Nadine, PK and Christopher Isacs are Connecticut residents. Their debut book Gobble: The Quintessential Thanksgiving Playbook, is a tribute to their elaborate Thanksgiving celebrations for their family and friends. Inspired to write the book after the sudden death of their father and husband Peter in August 2020 as a way to celebrate a favorite holiday during what they anticipated would be a difficult season, the Isacs family created a comprehensive, all-in-one guide for all things Thanksgiving from hosting and entertaining tips to cooking and cleanup, fun group games and more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Nadine: I had loving parents and an older sister. My sister and I fought like cats and dogs until she went to college, and from then on, we were best friends. My father was Postmaster of Bridgeport, CT and my mother owned an insurance agency — the first women-owned agency for Aetna. Working when many of her peers’ mothers were at home, my mother provided an early example of balancing work and family. Sadly, she passed away from breast cancer in 2001. My father, ten years her senior, was a terrific example of resilience. He lived until he was 100 — enjoying every person he met and parties he attended — which were many. He had an exceptional perspective on life.
PK & Chris: We were fortunate to have grown up in a tight knit family that gave us love and support while helping to cultivate our interests. We were both lucky that our own personal interests aligned very closely with that of our parents.
We both greatly enjoy conversation, and our mother, the extrovert that she is, helped us foster our love of connecting with people and sharing stories. Our father had a great appreciation for history and international relations, which we inherited. He would have us read some of his favorite biographies from a young age, giving us quizzes on the larger-than-life historical characters, and we would have many discussions at the dinner table regarding everything from modern political theory to Roman military strategy (a personal favorite of Christopher’s.)
Growing up on ten acres in Goshen, CT, allowed us to enjoy a very active childhood with our friends. Our parents would host dinner parties in our meadow, and we would play football, manhunt, and a variety of games of our own creation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Nadine: “People will forget what you said, and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel .”– Maya Angelou.
I founded a sales coaching and training company in 2007 and this quote has been a part of every program. I believe that success in business and in life has a lot to do with our ability to connect with one another on an emotional and personal level. I try to be as empathetic as possible with everyone I meet.
PK: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Sir Winston Churchill
None of us are immune to the trappings of success, nor do we take failure lightly. Though I can’t claim to be the greatest adherent to Churchill’s quote, I do often reflect on it when I am examining my past actions and planning my future decisions. I think that it’s really easy to have great success in your life and feel like that box has been checked — but really it’s only one step on our journey. We need to recognize that there’s always going to be more work that needs to be done, and that failures will come too. The second part of the quote addresses those failures. Being particularly competitive, I’ll get bummed out even if I lose a lawn game. Obviously, we all have failures that are far worse and far more serious. When I do fail in a more serious way, my mind returns to Churchill, who was largely responsible for Gallipoli, a battle in which the British lost more soldiers than at any point in history. He recovered, however, and went on to lead Great Britain through World War II, demonstrating again that failure is indeed not fatal.
Chris: “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose” — Buddha
The biggest barrier to personal success is defining what success means to you. This is especially challenging because the answer is typically not static; as you grow and change as a person your goals and aspirations will grow and change as well. To me, this quote is really about the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness. Whether it’s formal meditation or casual daydreaming, it’s a valuable exercise to regularly step back, think about the bigger picture, and visualize positive outcomes. Reflect on these potential positive outcomes and let them guide you in setting what kind of course you should be on. If you don’t have a target to aim for, all you can do is miss.
In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Gratefulness — I have found that the more grateful I am, the more fulfilled I am. I practice being grateful for not only the big things, but the little things as well. On my daily walks I review the things I am grateful for from the previous day, as I consciously look for elements in nature for which I am grateful as well.
- Persistence — While I have enjoyed a great deal of success in my life, I have also experienced failure — particularly in business. I am an entrepreneur at heart, and it is not for the faint hearted. As I look back now, I realize that lessons learned from failures became the foundation for future success.
- Resilience — When life is difficult, I reach for perspective. I try to remember that this is a journey that includes contrast — we cannot fully experience the joy of life without it. I have been blessed as I am able to compartmentalize. Even in the darkest of moments I can rise to the occasion by being present and grateful for that moment.
- By far the most significant quality I possess that has helped me to accomplish what I have is my ability to make friends easily. This quality I inherited from both my parents. Having friends behind you allows you to lean on them for advice, and to share in good times and bad. In my opinion they are an invaluable resource in life.
- Empathy. While I am continuing to work on strengthening my sense of empathy, I feel that it has served me well. It helps me connect to others, and, perhaps equally as important, it helps me to avoid falling into the traps of grudges and hatred. Additionally, understanding what others are going through and how they are confronting their own emotions helps me on my own journey.
- I am genuinely interested in other people’s stories. I have a true desire to find out about a person’s interests, and to dive into those interests even deeper. This sense is even stronger for things about which I’m not particularly passionate or haven’t learned about in any sort of depth. I really want to find out why this person is so passionate about it. I believe that this has helped me find new interests, learn new things, and connect with other people.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
Nadine: On an early Sunday morning in August 2020, my husband Peter died unexpectedly from an aneurism. His last day was spectacular — sunny and unseasonably cool. He spent it as if he knew it would be his last. In the morning he read the news with his coffee, in the afternoon he spent time on his tractor, and in the evening, we had a cookout in our meadow, followed by a bonfire and stargazing. Afterwards, the boys and he came up to the house to watch his favorite movie — the original “Star Wars”. I retired early and while half asleep, I heard him come up the stairs, saying “Love you guys”. After preparing for bed, he kissed me as he did every night. A few hours later, I awoke to hear him struggling for breath. I yelled for the boys and called 911. While the boys performed CPR, I knew in my heart he was gone. Hours later, after a heroic effort by EMS and hospital staff, he was gone.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Nadine: The scariest part for me is when the Doctor said that if he survived, he would not have total brain function. He was a brilliant man who loved learning, and we were all proud of his intellect. The saddest part was knowing that we all would need to continue our lives without his physical presence — but this was particularly heartbreaking when thinking about the boys. We were an incredibly close family and the dynamic would be changed forever.
PK: There were two moments in my father’s death that I would define as the scariest. The first was when I acknowledged that he wasn’t going to make it. I’m an eternal optimist, and as such I was the last hold-out of the three of us believing that he would survive. When we made the decision to turn off the life support machines, it was heartbreaking for me.
The second happened a little while later. I’m not sure whether it was hours, days or weeks after his death, but I vividly remember trying to get my mind off of his death and catching up on current events. Upon reading an article, I realized that I could no longer go to him for his opinion. Of all the intellectuals, pundits, writers, economists and historians, it was always his opinion that I valued the most. Realizing that I could never ask it again was very frightening for me.
How did you react in the short term?
Nadine: I knew that my reaction would have an impact on others. I wanted to make calls myself so that people knew that we were okay, and that I was not a “puddle on the floor”. It was important to me to be “strong” and appear strong to others.
PK: My short term reaction was definitely a combination of shock and disbelief. It happened very suddenly, and bore a strong resemblance to a bad dream. I felt like I was trying to force myself to wake up, to get rid of the nightmare, but I couldn’t.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
Nadine: Laughter, gratitude, faith, and work. For me, working through grief and mourning requires developing a different kind of relationship with the person who passed. It is not necessarily saying goodbye but figuring out ways to keep his spirit alive through stories (laughter), gratitude (being thankful for having him in your life), faith (knowing you will be together in some way again), and work (keeping busy and making a contribution).
PK: I tried to focus on his time here as a positive, rather than focusing on his loss as a negative. By thinking “wow, wasn’t I lucky to have a dad like that for 25 years” as opposed to “how could my father die so soon”, I was able to reflect on the nearly 10,000 days he was in my life, rather than the one day that we lost him.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
PK: I was able to lean on my friends and family. Obviously the feelings of loss still come from time to time, but I try to stay as positive as possible and remember all of the good times we had together and everything he taught me.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
Nadine: I am so grateful that the boys were home due to the pandemic. The three of us leaned on each other. It also helped us so much to have so many friends reach out to us. Every call, note and delivery meant a great deal to us and helped in our healing.
PK & Chris: There are so many people who helped us cope and heal, but most of all we need to say that our mother helped the most. We also leaned on each other. We were very fortunate to be living together (because of COVID) when this all happened, and we were there for one another physically and emotionally.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Nadine: Thanksgiving has always been our family’s favorite holiday. We have had the privilege of hosting it for almost twenty years. Last fall, just weeks after my husband passed away, the boys and I were bracing ourselves for a very difficult Thanksgiving. Not only would we need to deal with the loss of my husband, but additionally other family members could not attend because of the pandemic. One October evening, over a glass of wine, we were struck with the idea to write a book on Thanksgiving. Over the years we pride ourselves on raising the bar each year. Christopher is an extraordinary chef, PK a certified sommelier and creative mixologist, and I love everything to do with entertaining. We called it “Gobble: The Quintessential Thanksgiving Playbook’’ and dedicated it to my husband. It covers everything from traditions, wines and cocktails, table setting, family dynamics and even cleaning! Throughout the book are QR codes that direct the reader to video and resources on our robust website — thegobblebook.com
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
PK: It would be difficult for me to consider this a “positive situation” but we were able to come together as a family and become truly grateful for having my father in our lives. We’ve developed an even greater appreciation for the roles that he played in our lives, and have given greater focus to the lessons he has taught us. This has also helped me to work harder to recognize what other people in my life have done for me, and to try to truly appreciate it in the moment.
Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Be grateful for the time you had, and take comfort knowing that he/she is with you in a different way now.
- Listen carefully for inspiration — what are you meant to do with this — I believe that there is a lesson and opportunity in everything
- Don’t make major changes — I put my house on the market and realized I was not ready to leave. Next year, maybe.
- Figure out a way to honor him/her — In addition to writing the book, we are going on Safari this holiday as he loved East Africa.
- Keep him a part of your life — just because they are not here does not mean they are gone. They have had an imprint on you and will continue to for the rest of your life. Take great joy in a memory, a song or smell that reminds you of your loved one.
- Lean on your family and friends. I had many calls from many different friends and family members who helped me to process the situation.
- Realize that there are two stages to loss like this: the first is the short-term trauma, and the second is the longer term shaping of your life without your loved one in it. This is akin to the two moments I found the scariest when my father died. Fortunately, due to previous losses I was prepared for this, and it didn’t take me by surprise as much as it otherwise could have.
- Recognize that this is a part of life and that you will get through it. Death is one thing that we all have in common, and although these moments are difficult, it’s important to remember that people are getting through it every day.
- Get away for a little bit. The ceremony for my father was 2 days before my birthday, and my cousin Jamie suggested that he, my brother and I go to Newport, RI to get away from the house for a bit. It was a wonderful respite from the chaos of losing our father.
- Take the time to acknowledge the silver linings and take comfort in the gratitude you feel for them. When my dad died, I took a lot of time to think about how lucky we were to have spent so much time with him in the months prior, to be grateful for having such a wonderful last day together, and to appreciate that he passed painlessly in his sleep. This kind of gratitude through crisis can help lend perspective.
- Don’t isolate yourself. In the event of a dramatic loss, it’s unlikely that you’re the only one who’s hurt by it. It can be incredibly healing to help someone else work through your shared trauma. Have the strength to be there for others and the courage to let them be there for you. When my dad died, it brought my mother, my brother and I closer together as we were supporting each other through our shared loss.
- Understand that everyone has their own grieving process. There’s no right or wrong way to feel and no right or wrong time to feel that way. Never feel guilty for feeling a certain way, like being happy after you remember a good or funny memory, and never make anyone else feel guilty about the way they feel when they’re grieving. If you want to laugh, laugh; if you want to cry, cry.
- Find a balance between making time to focus and work through your loss and letting yourself get distracted. Processing grief is important and takes time to do, but it’s also emotionally exhausting. Like with anything that’s exhausting, it’s important to take breaks every once and a while.
- Make sure that you don’t just mourn the loss of a loved one, but also take the time to celebrate their life. Given that my dad passed away during the Covid pandemic, we had to keep the funeral small, with only close family and friends in attendance. We also hosted the funeral at our home, so we could have the gathering outside in our meadow. A benefit to this intimate format was having the opportunity to hear so many great stories about my dad from the people who knew him best. It was a beautiful service, on a day with perfect weather, and the tone balanced between acknowledging our tragic loss and being positively reflecting on my dad’s life.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
PK: I spoke a little bit about empathy before, but some kind of movement to exercise greater empathy would do the world a lot of good. I don’t believe there would be as much division and hatred in this world if we took more time to consider what others are going through.
Chris: Fraternity, or the concept of brotherhood. That is, the idea that we have more in common than we do dividing us, and that the more we work together, rather than against each other, the better off we can be.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Hoda Kotb from the Today Show. I believe she is a great example of resilience, practicing gratitude, is empathetic, authentic, and fun.
Chris: I’d love to have lunch with Chef Grant Achatz. He has an incredibly aspirational story of overcoming adversity and is a culinary genius. I’d love to hang out and talk with him about food, life and creativity. Bonus if he’s cooking!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!