Karen Rice from Stolen Goodbyes: Exploring manifestations of Covid 19 bereavement
Winner of the British Podcast Award for Best Lockdown Podcast in 2021, Stolen Goodbyes is a podcast that will go down as a social history record of the COVID 19 pandemic. The Producer and Host, Karen Rice, used her skills as a foreign affairs journalist to help people recount the shock and anguish of losing a loved one to COVID 19 whilst never having the chance to say goodbye. As the show returns for a new series, we caught up with Karen to find out more about how the show was made, and what the new series entails…
Why did you decide that podcasting and audio was the best medium for this project?
Cast your mind back to 2020 when public life as we knew it ended, abruptly. Fear was rampant as an invisible and deadly virus swept the globe, claiming the lives of family and friends within days of developing a cough. Every day, a hapless Boris Johnson announced startling new death statistics of people who had ‘died before their time.’
What medium could give voice, power, and immediacy to the kind of catastrophic, widespread loss not seen in generations? In my mind, it could only be the most personal of mediums: podcasting. What could be more personal than losing a loved one to Covid 19 without warning, goodbye, or funeral and then dealing with grief in isolation? This is how the Stolen Goodbyes podcast came into being… remotely and via a laptop in lockdown. In the scariest and loneliest of times, this most intimate of podcasts empowered people to give voice to the incomprehensible loss of a loved one in these circumstances while enabling hundreds more to feel connected and accompanied in a grief like no other.
Which podcasts do you take inspiration from?
I love a good story, happy or sad. As a journalist, I have spent my life listening to, investigating, and writing about stories so I tend to gravitate towards interview-based and story-led podcasts such as RedHanded. For audio design and innovation, it has to be George the Poet. The BlindBoy podcast is as funny as it is thought-provoking and as I’m a proper news junkie, I regularly opt into The News Agents. Given my Irish roots, I enjoy Mario Rosenstock’s take on the world.
Who do you hope listens to this podcast?
Other people who have experienced Covid grief.
Heather Hallett, chair of the public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Politicians who made and broke the rules including Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, among others.
Generations to come, be it in 2123 or 3023, as they will know what it was like to live through a pandemic and hopefully learn lessons. Thanks to the British Library, future generations will be able to do just that as the Stolen Goodbyes podcast forms part of the Covid 19 National Life Stories series.
Experts who can advise on how to unpack this most complicated, traumatic grief.
How has the project changed since the first season?
The first season was about capturing a historic event in real-time and giving a voice to the life, times, and unprecedented deaths of ordinary yet extraordinary people.
This latest season is about picking apart a troubling and as yet unexplored aspect of grief to Covid 19. I’ve called the season ‘Distorted Grief’ as we explore the manifestations of how losing someone to Covid 19 seems dreamlike and surreal like that special someone could walk through the door at any moment. The bereaved are experiencing this derealisation of reality because they were denied the rite of passage death rituals we took for granted such as saying goodbye, seeing and dressing the body of a loved one, and having a funeral.
This inability to confront death has produced some fascinating insights on the podcast, including one woman remarking: “I felt if I had stayed in lockdown, my dad might somehow come back again.” My guests join me in exploring the importance of sounds and voice recordings associated with loved ones, the joy of making unexpected connections, as well as sharing coping mechanisms, gratitude, and resilience in the face of adversity. We also examine our loved one’s legacies, including my own father who I lost in April last year.
Did you have to approach things differently with this season now that covid is less in the forefront?
I think that’s very much how here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians would like us to view Covid, as a thing of the past. We can’t afford to let moving on mean refusing to look back or to properly investigate what is happening now, in order to deliver a better, kinder, and better prepared tomorrow for the people who come after us. The reality is Covid 19 is unpredictable and will most likely remain a threat to our collective health for years to come.
The Covid 19 bereaved are still unable to close the circle of grief. They are stuck and need help to move on. The pandemic made an unequal society more unequal. However, the pandemic is also a once-in-a-generation chance to remake society and build a better future.
What you have personally learnt from podcasting?
Podcasting creates weird and wonderful connections and connections make life worth living. Listen…actively!
Which episode would you say is the perfect introduction to your podcast?
That’s a tough one as each guest brings unique and personal insights, experiences and stories. If I have to say, it would be: ‘Ten Months Without Our Husbands – Emma Charlesworth & Pamela Addison’. (Season one). I’ve chosen this episode because Covid 19 altered the trajectory of the lives of these two women when both their husbands died from the virus in their 40s. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, and in a sliding doors moment, they connected and became firm friends thanks to the Stolen Goodbyes podcast. It’s that thing about podcasting creating weird and wonderful connections!
There’s a lovely commonality and interplay between Emma and Pamela on the episode, where they share the (unexpected) highs and lows, the laughs and surrealness of suddenly navigating a life and parenthood without your other half.
You can follow Karen and Stolen Goodbyes on Twitter @Ricekmc, Instagram @StolenGoodbyes and Facebook @StolenGoodbyes. Listen to Stolen Goodbyes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other popular podcast apps >>