[E169] Processing Grief and Loss with Rocky Anthony

Episode 169 November 28, 2023 00:32:58
[E169] Processing Grief and Loss with Rocky Anthony
Empowered to Connect Podcast
[E169] Processing Grief and Loss with Rocky Anthony

Nov 28 2023 | 00:32:58

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Show Notes

Today we revisit one of our most commented on episodes of last year, our conversation about grief and loss with Therapist Rocky Anthony. Rocky tells his own story of going from a career in church ministry to opening his own private counseling practice and walks through how to process grief and loss when we don't see a way forward. This conversation is powerful, practical and full of hope - you are going to LOVE hearing from Rocky. 

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: You. [00:00:04] Speaker B: Welcome to the Empowered to Connect podcast, where we come together to discuss a healing centered approach to engagement and well being for ourselves, our families, and our communities. I'm JD. Wilson, and I am your host. And today in the show, we throw back to one of our favorite interviews of 2022, which was with therapist, counselor, and all around great guy Rocky Anthony. Rocky joined us to talk a lot about how to deal with grief, with processing grief and loss specifically. And if you did not listen to it when it happened, maybe you did listen to it when it happened. When we originally aired that episode, it was fantastic. Cannot say enough positive things about Rocky, one of my favorite humans on the planet. And the way that he is able to dissect and weave through that conversation on grief and loss is really special. And so we were blessed to have him back then, really excited to have him again. And without any further ado, here he is now, Rocky Anthony. Well, okay. [00:01:22] Speaker C: We're here today with Rocky Anthony. And Rocky, among other things, is a therapist in Memphis, Tennessee, and so we wanted to gather with him today to talk about grief and loss. And so, Rocky, thank you, first of all, for being here. And before we jump into our topic today, which could potentially be pretty deep and heavy to walk through, why don't we just kind of let folks know who you are and what you do? [00:01:49] Speaker D: JD. Thank you so much. It's really great to be with you today. So thanks for the invite on that. I know this is a full week for many of us as we just really try to circle around gratitude. And let's be honest, sometimes grief gets in the way. Gratitude. Oh, man. So a little bit about me. I'm a native of St. Louis, born. [00:02:16] Speaker E: In Chicago. [00:02:21] Speaker D: But really have been here. [00:02:22] Speaker E: In Memphis for about 30 years. [00:02:26] Speaker D: Okay. My wife Tracy and I have what are now four adult children, so all of them were born in the south. So I'd like to say, having been here for 30 years, that I'm kind of a Southerner. I can pull off things like, hey, I'm fixing to carry you down to the store. So I've learned things like that just to get by. Since being in memphis, I spent about 20 or so years in a pastoral role in a large church here in memphis, but really always focused ultimately where my heart really has been on soul care and really trying to help people develop souls that would allow them to know God, commune with God, and develop. [00:03:27] Speaker E: Deeper intimacy with God. For these last nine or so years. [00:03:32] Speaker D: I've been in a role of being a counselor to a community called Memphis. [00:03:41] Speaker E: Teacher Residence Residency, and that is a. [00:03:46] Speaker D: Group of educators who are serving in schools around Memphis, particularly in the urban area of Memphis. Some of the most needy schools in terms of academic advancement and whatnot. [00:04:07] Speaker E: A lot of underresourced my role is. [00:04:09] Speaker D: Really just to come alongside these educators and do everything I can just to encourage them in their emotional and mental and spiritual lives, in the hard work that they do. And that particular group, if you want to [email protected], is just a phenomenal group of people who are really every day in the trenches trying to make a difference. Yeah. [00:04:43] Speaker C: As every teacher now scribbles down, we need a counselor in our group. [00:04:48] Speaker D: No, it's a joy to be able to do that, just to encourage these folk, just to be able to thrive in the midst of the hard and much as possible, god help us to move towards sustainability. [00:05:04] Speaker A: Yeah. Man. [00:05:07] Speaker C: Well, we've obviously been friends for a while now and know each other well through multiple different contexts, but we wanted to have you on, particularly today, just to begin to talk about a lot of your work is working with people who are working in pretty difficult contexts where their population is experiencing grief and loss at a pretty rapid rate. You mentioned grief getting in the way of gratitude. Sometimes as we approach just not just Thanksgiving, but the whole holiday season, this little bugger, grief and loss in our lives can pop up at the absolute worst times and just make life a nightmare. And so we wanted to begin, especially in light of our conversation last week with the adoption triad. We just wanted to begin kind of outlining. What is grief? What is loss? How can we then get our hands around it? So why don't we kind of start there? Would you mind just sort of defining grief for us or loss and talking about what it does to us? [00:06:05] Speaker D: Well, if we're going to just maybe start with maybe a more technical definition of grief, many people are familiar with the five stages of grief. I'll maybe revisit that in just a moment. [00:06:19] Speaker E: But just generally, this idea of grief. [00:06:23] Speaker D: Is just the loss, particularly the loss of someone or something that has died. And when you have formed deep levels. [00:06:37] Speaker E: Of emotional connection to that person and those bonds are rich and you lose. [00:06:47] Speaker D: That person, it impacts you emotionally, it. [00:06:52] Speaker E: Impacts you cognitively, it impacts you relationally. And I've said this for years, the greater the bond, the greater the grief. [00:07:00] Speaker A: Yeah, right. [00:07:06] Speaker E: And that could be a person, for sure. That could be an animal. [00:07:11] Speaker C: Right. [00:07:12] Speaker D: That could be a city that you leave. [00:07:13] Speaker E: That could be a lot of things. [00:07:15] Speaker D: But I think most often when we think about grief, we think of a person that we've loved that is no. [00:07:23] Speaker E: Longer in our life. [00:07:25] Speaker D: And I think when we think about. [00:07:27] Speaker E: Adoption, that person could still be alive, but they're not in our life in the way that we want them to be, right? [00:07:36] Speaker D: So there's a lack of connection, there's. [00:07:40] Speaker E: A lack of ability to celebrate the presence of that person in our lives. [00:07:48] Speaker C: And as we're thinking about how that begins to affect us, maybe we'll start from more of a parenting level. We talk all the time on the show here about how, unfortunately, we bring all of ourselves to parenting, like it or not. So we bring all of our past, all of our baggage, all of our good, bad and ugly. It all comes with us into that parenting arena. So how can kind of some unresolved grief, unresolved loss, or even loss that we've tried to process well, how can that affect us in that parenting realm? [00:08:20] Speaker D: JD. What you just said, I think is really important. What I just heard you say is. [00:08:25] Speaker E: We bring all of our past, we bring all of our to the parenting. [00:08:32] Speaker D: Process or to whatever process. One of the things that you and I have talked about in the past and this comes from really, the recovery world. And I'll just give you this phrase. [00:08:48] Speaker E: Expectations are premeditated resentments. Yeah, we could change that phrase around. [00:08:58] Speaker D: But I think one of the things that creates in that phrase we're using resentments, but we could almost morph that. [00:09:06] Speaker E: And say expectations have a way of stirring up greater levels of grief. [00:09:19] Speaker D: Because I think we bring to a situation a set of, hey, it should. [00:09:26] Speaker E: Be this or it should be that. [00:09:30] Speaker D: And I think we're moving into a holiday season. We have different ideas of nostalgia or we have different views of what a. [00:09:42] Speaker E: Person like me would call magical thinking. [00:09:45] Speaker D: And things don't go that way. So there's expectations that create for us, and it was, since we're kind of. [00:09:57] Speaker E: Doing it to ourselves, heightened levels of grief because we want things to go a certain way. [00:10:07] Speaker D: And so we're not able to kind of deal with life on life's terms. [00:10:12] Speaker E: The loss is hard enough, right? But then we add to it these other expectations for the way we think. [00:10:25] Speaker D: Life should be going, and it creates. [00:10:30] Speaker E: Even a greater gap. [00:10:32] Speaker D: If our listeners could see what I'm doing here for you on the screen, I have one hand up in the. [00:10:40] Speaker E: Air and one hand below that. [00:10:41] Speaker D: You know, there's a life that we. [00:10:43] Speaker E: Want, and then below that, there's a life that we have. [00:10:48] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:10:49] Speaker D: And I think, sadly, tragically, so many. [00:10:52] Speaker E: Of us were like, hey, there's a life that we want, and that's up here and it's without problems, it's without struggles. I want this person back in my. [00:11:03] Speaker D: Life or I want these things to go that way. [00:11:06] Speaker E: But then here's a reality. There's a life I have. [00:11:09] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:11:10] Speaker E: And what separates those two is this thing called a gap. [00:11:15] Speaker D: And I think so many of us. [00:11:19] Speaker E: Are trying to find a way to close that gap. [00:11:23] Speaker D: Rocky calls that gap management living. [00:11:27] Speaker E: And it's an exhausting way to live life. This word acceptance, which is able to say there is a life I have that doesn't mean quitting. [00:11:41] Speaker A: Right. [00:11:42] Speaker E: But that does mean acceptance. [00:11:44] Speaker D: And this really does have a lot. [00:11:46] Speaker E: To say and inform us around grief. [00:11:50] Speaker D: To say, okay, if I could go circle back around the five stages of the grief. [00:11:58] Speaker E: That is the last of the five stages. There's denial, there's anger, there's bargaining, which. [00:12:07] Speaker D: Is, I'm going to figure out a. [00:12:08] Speaker E: Way to make this work for me. [00:12:10] Speaker D: So there's denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and. [00:12:14] Speaker E: Then there's finally acceptance. There's the life I have. I know that was a lot. [00:12:21] Speaker C: No, that's great. So let's take a right turn there for a second and stay in this lane. So we get to a place of acceptance, and oftentimes what I feel like happens is that acceptance and depression sort of weave in and out of each other acceptance, but then the depression of, but I really did want this. I know I've just got this life, but I really did want this. So how do we begin to reconcile that in a place of making peace with. [00:12:51] Speaker D: Let'S? I think, first of all, to say let's give all of ourselves, like, a big dose of grace. [00:12:56] Speaker E: Welcome to. [00:13:00] Speaker D: Know, I think of Paul's Words, the apostle Paul's Words. [00:13:03] Speaker E: He's in a jail in Philippi. It's certainly not where he wanted to. [00:13:10] Speaker D: You know, he was a traveling church. [00:13:14] Speaker E: Planter, and then he finds himself literally chained in a jail. But this is what he says, I learned I learned the secret of being content. [00:13:28] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:13:29] Speaker E: And I'm like, thank you so much. [00:13:32] Speaker D: Because whether we're going to say contentment. [00:13:35] Speaker E: Or we're going to say peace. [00:13:39] Speaker D: It'S. [00:13:39] Speaker E: Like we enroll in that school, and. [00:13:44] Speaker D: It'S not that we ever get there. [00:13:46] Speaker E: And they're like, oh, boy, I'm glad I'm in the land of peace now. I can just ride that out and enjoy that. How do alcoholics stay sober every day? They do it one day at a time, right? [00:14:02] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:14:02] Speaker E: How did Paul he learned that, and I think he learned that little by slow. [00:14:08] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:14:10] Speaker D: And in some ways, JD, there's no. [00:14:14] Speaker E: Magic formula for that. [00:14:17] Speaker D: But I think. [00:14:18] Speaker E: There are practices that help us to ground ourselves daily so that it's more likely that we would experience that. [00:14:34] Speaker A: That's really great. That's great. [00:14:36] Speaker C: So when we are getting to a place of starting to grieve, losses that are happened, maybe they've been things that have been we've not allowed ourselves to really dive into because they hurt too much. And we're saying, now's the time. I want to start thinking through that. Is there a kind of starting out, kind of a pathway to grieving healthily that we can share with our listeners today? Like a first few steps of here's some guidelines to give you as you begin to grieve through loss. [00:15:10] Speaker D: Well, I just think about my own experience. I've lost both my parents. My wife has lost both her parents. And I'm just thinking about even some conversations I've been having recently as we're. [00:15:26] Speaker E: Moving into the holidays. [00:15:31] Speaker D: And it's just interesting, you know, kind. [00:15:32] Speaker E: Of the way so many of us tend to handle our own grief. Let's just be real practical. [00:15:44] Speaker D: Like when we think about somebody that. [00:15:47] Speaker E: We love who's maybe no longer with. [00:15:50] Speaker D: Us and whether that's, that they've died or they're not present and we're grieving. [00:15:55] Speaker E: Their absence and the thought of them creates sadness. Right. And so here's the first temptation. The first temptation is that feeling of sadness is uncomfortable. [00:16:13] Speaker D: And so I'm going to try just. [00:16:16] Speaker E: To put them out of my mind. [00:16:19] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:16:20] Speaker D: So I thought about them. [00:16:22] Speaker E: That makes me sad. [00:16:24] Speaker D: And so I'm going to try to just sweep that memory, that person, out of my mind. And I'm like that's one way. But I think maybe a more healthy. [00:16:38] Speaker E: Approach is just to learn to embrace that memory and accept that memory as. [00:16:51] Speaker D: A memory of. [00:16:56] Speaker E: Learning to embrace that memory with kindness. [00:16:59] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:17:02] Speaker E: And learn to sit in it. [00:17:06] Speaker D: And. [00:17:07] Speaker E: Not to identify that always with sadness. [00:17:11] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:17:12] Speaker E: Remember, the greater the love in the relationship right. In a sense, the greater the pain. I've always said to people, in a sense, your scar is a tribute to the love you've had for this person. [00:17:32] Speaker D: I always like to think of it. [00:17:34] Speaker E: As like a beauty mark on your heart. [00:17:39] Speaker D: Okay. Rather than, oh, I just got to rush this out of my mind. [00:17:44] Speaker E: No, give yourself a moment just in the present to reflect on that person. Gosh, I love them so much, and. [00:17:57] Speaker D: Even just to say, okay, what is. [00:18:00] Speaker E: The treasured moment I have with them? And to dwell on that and to breathe and to be in that for a moment. [00:18:17] Speaker D: And I just think we could have. [00:18:19] Speaker E: A long conversation, you and I could. [00:18:22] Speaker D: Even on this broadcast about and I'm sure you have in past power of neuroplasticity, right. We call this ants automatic negative thoughts. Right. And so instead of that memory creating an ant, an automatic negative thought, the. [00:18:42] Speaker E: Power of the mind to say, no. [00:18:43] Speaker D: Whenever I think of that person, I'm. [00:18:45] Speaker E: Going to allow my mind to begin. [00:18:49] Speaker D: To think about that person with kindness. [00:18:53] Speaker E: And beauty and just receive that as a gift from God. [00:19:01] Speaker C: And we've talked about that neuroplasticity, the ability for your brain over time to be able to reshape those memories and to reclaim territory, so to speak, in that arena and gosh, that's beautiful. [00:19:18] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:19:20] Speaker D: We can maybe summarize this with a whole lot fewer words. [00:19:27] Speaker E: Not to be afraid of that thought, but just to welcome it with a sense of curiosity and anticipation. I think when we're afraid of it, it has the wrong kind of power over it. [00:19:48] Speaker C: Gosh, especially when there's complex memories attached to it, seasonally and otherwise. Right. What about for our kids? When we think about, and we talked a little bit earlier, some of our kids, whether through foster care, through adoption, biologically, some of us are Barrington kids who have experienced some pretty tough stuff early on in life. We've talked at length a billion times in this podcast about the effects of trauma and early childhood and how it can present and maladaptive behaviors and all of that, but from a very base level. Let's talk for a minute about loving our kids who have experienced trauma and loss kind of through a holiday season. And maybe is it a similar roadmap to teaching them to kind of sit with memories in a positive way? Or do you find that there's some different mechanisms for doing that with kids? [00:20:43] Speaker D: Well, I think the power of empathy is huge. I think what we know about trauma is the importance of that trauma survivor having an opportunity to sit with somebody that they trust, who is the safe person and who allows them to share their story. A lot of times I will use with people that I work with sort of like a picture of balloon. Every experience that is traumatic or hard, it's like another burst of breath into a balloon that just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. It's like every conversation that is healthy. [00:21:36] Speaker E: And safe, it's like you're letting a little air out of that balloon, little. [00:21:40] Speaker D: Air out of that balloon, little air. [00:21:41] Speaker E: Out of that balloon. [00:21:42] Speaker D: And so I think these parents who. [00:21:46] Speaker E: Are present and safe and patient and. [00:21:51] Speaker D: Showing love and empathy and you're never. [00:21:53] Speaker E: Going to do that, perfectly sure you're not right, but just showing up and providing that, hey, tell me more, what was that like? Thank you so much for sharing that just some of those basic tools. [00:22:10] Speaker D: I think it's so it's just invaluable. [00:22:14] Speaker A: Yeah, yeah. [00:22:16] Speaker C: Well, and you know, I often think, you know, when when we when we're able to be safe. And that picture of the balloon is super helpful because a balloon that is not over inflated can handle some bumps and some pressure. And you can even sit on a balloon that's not fully inflated and it'll form out to the side to be able to absorb that blow, whereas the higher pressure it is, every outside pressure that comes in tends to cause it to pop. And all of us, I think, have experienced that pop within parenting before, moments of unexplained explosion where you're looking around like, what in the world? And it's easy for us to lose sight. That balloon is pressurized over time from lots of little interactions. And so, yeah, creating space for those conversations is vital. Some of us, and hand raised, myself included, we're traveling over the holidays, different settings, so maybe let's kind of round third and head for home. In this line of discussion, we're going to be heading some situations that might be complex for us with our own family background and relationships might be complex for our kids based on their relationships with extended family, et cetera. And then when you combine those two things together, so everybody's under one roof. Maybe mom and dad have a strained relationship with the in laws you're staying with or whatever. Maybe the kids that are there don't always feel the safest in their environments, whatever. So maybe let's finish with some guidelines or some conversation around the holidays in general and how we can step back to create safe environments for everybody involved going into the holidays. [00:24:03] Speaker D: Well, I think what you just said is so helpful because what you've just. [00:24:07] Speaker E: Done there, JD, is name, like, the. [00:24:13] Speaker D: Context that people and families are experiencing. And I think one of the best. [00:24:21] Speaker E: Thing families can do together is to be able to say, hey, y'all, here's the deal. [00:24:30] Speaker D: We all are in a very stressful. [00:24:32] Speaker E: Time, and when we are in a. [00:24:36] Speaker D: Time like this, maybe in the past, we can lose our tempers together and actually have a family meeting to say, so let's all regroup and recommit to being patient and using our words. Right. And so it's like I call that preemptive of just saying, okay, so here's. [00:25:09] Speaker E: What, let's not be victimized by the circumstances. [00:25:14] Speaker D: Let's do everything we can to be. [00:25:16] Speaker E: Preemptive and let the adults lead in. [00:25:19] Speaker D: That to say, okay, here we adults in the room. [00:25:23] Speaker E: We're aware of that. [00:25:25] Speaker D: So whether it's a mom, a dad, or whatever, or a couple to say. [00:25:32] Speaker E: Hey, let's figure out what that looks like for us. [00:25:38] Speaker D: And then with the children in the home, how can we all together as. [00:25:43] Speaker E: A family unit, commit to that? [00:25:47] Speaker A: Yeah, that's great. [00:25:49] Speaker D: Wonders. Just some lower shelf practices that we can use if we feel the tension sometimes. I use a lot of word pictures, JD, as you know, I've been to the Niagara Falls, and I always tell. [00:26:08] Speaker E: You know, if you're drifting down. [00:26:12] Speaker D: The. [00:26:13] Speaker E: Time, the time to swim to shore. [00:26:16] Speaker D: Is like a mile or 2 miles upstream. [00:26:23] Speaker E: So we're using the current of the. [00:26:25] Speaker D: Niagara River as a metaphor here for maybe, like, dealing with your frustrations. So the time to deal with that. [00:26:35] Speaker E: Is, like, way upstream, not 100ft before the falls, right? [00:26:42] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:26:43] Speaker C: You can hear the rush. That's right. [00:26:46] Speaker D: Because it's too late. You're like, over the falls. Right. [00:26:52] Speaker E: How do adults self regulate? [00:26:57] Speaker D: You've got to deal with that when. [00:26:59] Speaker E: You'Re aware of self. [00:27:00] Speaker D: And you can say, hey, I'm beginning. [00:27:03] Speaker E: To notice myself feeling frustrated. [00:27:08] Speaker D: And so let me deal with that on an adult level. And how can I best as I can, model that and do that in a way that's helpful for the rest. [00:27:22] Speaker E: Of the people in the room? [00:27:23] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:27:27] Speaker C: God help us, seriously, last thoughts for us today on grieving and on experiencing loss as a family and anything else that you want to say to us? Kind of advice for us, for the road as we head out. [00:27:46] Speaker E: I think that part that we talked. [00:27:50] Speaker D: About, JD, of just, I have another thought, tangential thought I'll come back to, but that part that we talked about, of just allowing ourselves to embrace and. [00:28:09] Speaker E: Sit in it rather than run from. [00:28:11] Speaker D: It, is really important. The tangent part that I thought about that I want to come back to is this. [00:28:21] Speaker E: We all are hardwired by God in a different way. [00:28:28] Speaker D: You're an enneagram fan. I'm an enneagram fan. [00:28:34] Speaker E: That's just one example of how we're made differently. I mentioned that only for this reason, we all grieve differently. We do. [00:28:45] Speaker D: That's helpful. How you're going to deal with the loss of somebody close to you is. [00:28:53] Speaker E: Different than I am. [00:28:56] Speaker D: I think there's some general helpful ways. We don't want to stuff we don't want to deny, but two people who. [00:29:07] Speaker E: Lost the same loved one are going to live that out differently. [00:29:12] Speaker D: So giving yourself permission not to feel the pressure to grieve exactly like somebody else, oh, that's the right way. I think giving yourself permission is really important. [00:29:26] Speaker A: Right, good. Yeah. [00:29:28] Speaker D: I've got a friend who lost somebody. [00:29:31] Speaker E: And she's sort of a private person for her. She has a chair in her house. [00:29:44] Speaker D: And she's decided to take a certain. [00:29:48] Speaker E: Amount of time in her week and just to sit in that chair, that's her grieving chair. [00:29:55] Speaker D: And just to sit in that chair and use that time for reflection about. [00:30:01] Speaker E: Her loved one happens to be her. [00:30:03] Speaker D: Father and maybe, just maybe do some. [00:30:06] Speaker E: Journaling and do some writing. [00:30:09] Speaker D: And when she's done in that time, she sort of gets up and kind. [00:30:15] Speaker E: Of goes about her life. [00:30:16] Speaker D: She does that because she has a tendency to compartmentalize and not really give herself time to grieve. And so she's like, I know I. [00:30:30] Speaker E: Need some way to block off time or I won't do it. Right. [00:30:37] Speaker D: So that's her way. So finding different ways that, in a sense, are true to the rhythms and. [00:30:46] Speaker E: DNA of who you are is important. That's just an example. [00:30:52] Speaker A: That's great, Rocky. [00:30:53] Speaker C: Thank you so much for being with us today and for sharing this stuff. And I'm going to cut us off now so that we can take time individually after reading this, to kind of think through and process through how we might need to take some steps heading into this season. But thank you so much for joining us today. [00:31:07] Speaker D: Thank you. [00:31:08] Speaker E: Great to be with you. [00:31:09] Speaker D: Bless you. [00:31:15] Speaker B: Well, I don't want to say I told you so, but if you listen. [00:31:18] Speaker C: To the intro where I gushed about. [00:31:21] Speaker B: How great Rocky is, I feel like that is what came through in that episode in the conversation with him and so really grateful for him joining us and just the wisdom that he shared. I hope that that was a helpful episode for you as well. And so just I will say before we go, we are in the thick of holiday season. So if you missed our episode last week about how to navigate these holiday seasons with your family, definitely go catch that and check it out. It's called let's talk about the holidays. And Jesse Ferriss joined us, as well as Becca McKay. I will also say, just as we head toward that holiday season, stay tuned to Etc. Social media. Even in talking with family over the break, I know that a lot of us at times get weary during this season and just need some reminders. And so we're trying to keep you covered on Empowered Connect social media as well as through our podcast here. So make sure to check out our Carpool Q A episodes that drop on Fridays. Stay tuned to these Tuesday episodes as well. And I will just say, for all of our people here at Etc. For Kyle Wright, who edits and engineers all of our audio, for Ted Jewett, the creator of the music behind the Empowered to Connect podcast, I'm JD. Wilson, and we'll see you next week on the Empowered to Connect podcast.

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