Apr 20, 2023
Live from the Maven Space in downtown Indianapolis, Aimee Kandrac reunites with Rachel Macy Stafford, best-selling author of Hands Free Mama, Only Love Today, Soul Shift, and more. Aimee and Rachel discuss the challenge of letting go of routine, especially during times of crisis. They also share touching words of encouragement from friends and neighbors, emphasize the importance of looking after yourself, and destigmatize asking for help.
Episode Abridged Transcript
Aimee: Welcome to Kitchen Chats. Today we are coming to you live from Maven Space in downtown Indianapolis. I am so honored to have my new friend and guest, Rachel Macy Stafford, here with me today.
Rachel: Thank you. So glad to be here.
Aimee: I love to start my Kitchen Chat conversation with the same question. Do you have a moment in your life when you found yourself in the kitchen with someone where there's this major life event, and it's time to talk to a friend about what's going on?
Rachel: I definitely do. After my father-in-law died
in 2017, I was just on the tail end of launching my third book Only
Love Today. I was coming back from a trip to Canada and grieving,
and I just had a really, really dark night where I didn't know if I
wanted to stay. I wrote about it because that's the best therapy
for me, and I also want people to know that you might see me having
this life that seems put together but that I struggle, too.
So I put it out there and got a knock on the door within 15 minutes. I do not answer my door, but they were really persistent. And it was my next door neighbor. We're not super close, but apparently she reads everything that I post because she came right over. She is the kind of person that will go there with you. She said, ‘Rachel, I just read your post about your dark night and about the questions that you were having. I want you to know that you don't have to be strong with me. I know you're strong for a lot of people. You can cry with me and tell me how it is.’
I carry that with me. ‘You don't have to be strong with me.’ I use that with people. Because how often are we told that we don't have to be strong, especially as women who are holding up so much for our families?
Aimee: Thanks for sharing that with all of us. That's not something that many of us are able to admit often. And that is pretty relevant to your book and why you wrote it. It's all about: How are we showing up for our families? How are we showing up for ourselves? You wrote this book during lockdown and COVID. So how was writing this book that is so emotionally touching while you're caring a lot for your family in the world that had to be isolated?
Rachel: I definitely had a different approach to Soul Shift than I did to all my other books. In my house, the pandemic deeply affected my youngest daughter. It was one of those things where when you wake up in the morning and you're not really sure what's going to come at you because things are so unstable. I had to decide I'm not going to have a writing schedule. There was no nice, neat little calendar with chapter one this week. I could not plan a thing. And I know a lot of people during the pandemic, they couldn't plan anything.
Aimee: Even after the pandemic, as we're moving into ‘normal,’ when you've got a kiddo who's going through something, you can't keep that schedule. Releasing the requirement on ourselves to have a schedule is not something that I can do very well. But when you're going through a crisis, you just can't have that the same way.
Rachel: One of the things that helped me the most when
I was writing a book was self compassion. I talked to myself like I
would talk to a friend who was trying to do something really hard
at a really hard time. There would be mornings when I would know
I'm supposed to be working on this part of the book, and I just
couldn't do it. So I would find myself saying, ‘Wait a minute. What
can I do today?’
I took over the ping pong table in our basement with construction paper, Sharpies, sticky notes. Even though I couldn't put sentences together, I had ideas and had things I wanted people to feel when they went through the book. So I laid out this kind of map on the ping pong table. What transpired is a book that has all this space in it. It has places to doodle, draw, and journal. It just feels like a place you can breathe because that is how I created it.
Aimee: We talked on our last podcast about other ways that we can take care of ourselves, and you love to swing. What are some of your other self care tips?
Rachel: I don't like to use the term self care because it's really been commercialized, and we tend to think of things to pamper ourselves. But realistically, we don't want to put off our self care for once every six months, right? In the book, I called it the practice of looking after yourself. Because we know how to look after other people. We're really good at it. We’re not so good at looking after ourselves.
During the pandemic, I found these swings all over Atlanta. Sitting there for 20 minutes, I would feel like a different person. I don't think anyone would say self care is getting on a swing. But it's not so much about getting on the swing. It’s like listening. Self love starts with self listening.
Self love is also this concept that's so vague. What if self love is just listening to your body cues and verbalizing it? Just like when we look after our children, and they tell us, ‘I need this.’ And we tend to them.
Aimee: We want to be there for other people, but we can't when we're not in the right spot.
Aimee: I don't think any of us ever plan for being diagnosed with something or having an accident or having any of these things happen in life where we need to support someone else or we need to be supported. You had some of that with Avery.
Rachel: Yes, that’s when I decided that there should be a term like companion as a verb. I am companioning her through this journey. I can't take this pain away from her. I can't solve this problem. This is something she has to go through. But I can tell her, ‘You don't have to go through it alone. I'll be your companion.’
Aimee: We as friends can do that for our friends who are going through something. We have the opportunity to step in.
Rachel: We often overthink it. ‘Well, I don’t know what to say to my friend who’s going through this horrible crisis.’ Or ‘I just made this loaf of bread but I don’t have a dinner to go with it.’ Those are things that we need to stop doing. When your heart says, ‘I should reach out. I should take the spread over. I should ask her if I can run to the store.’ Nine times out of 10, they’re going to say, ‘How did you know?’
Aimee: I read an article this week that really resonated with me. The author suggests three Hs: Do you want to be heard? Do you want to be hugged? Or do you want to be helped? At different times, I would have different answers. I also know there are different times that I can't always help, but I can hear you, or I can give you a hug.
Rachel: We shouldn't underestimate the power of presence. Out of all the passages in the book, this is the one I'm hearing the most people have been writing to me. It was so personal to me with Avery, but apparently, this is something that a lot of people feel. I'm just going to read a portion of this little poem that I wrote after a visit to the doctor that was tough.
I am a companion
on a journey I didn't ask for --
no instruction manual
no gentle guide to lead us.
I AM the guide,
learning as I go,
but too busy holding pieces of pain and fear to take notes.
Yet sealed in my brain,
etched on my heart,
is encouragement from my fellow companions,
those keeping close as our beloveds navigate a difficult journey.
I step off the path for a moment to let the sun warm my face and offer this message to my fellow travelers.
Never underestimate the significance of that hand on their foot,
of that assurance in your voice,
of that belief you managed to grasp out of thin air.
Your ability to connect in crisis without a manual,
without a map,
is the most direct form of love and comfort
you can offer in times of uncertainty.
Aimee: That’s really beautiful. And so right. There’s no guide. There’s no manual. Every situation is different. And that hand on the foot -- I really love the visualization of that. Can I just put a hand on your foot?
Rachel: I had asked ahead of time if I could hold her hand during the procedure. They said no, but her toe was literally right there. I thought maybe they wouldn't catch me holding Avery’s foot. I just wanted her to know, ‘I'm here. You're not alone.’
Aimee: Sometimes taking care of someone else is helpful for us. Even if I'm just a companion on the side, there's actually a lot of healing that can happen when you're helping someone. One of the goals that I had when I was starting this podcast was to destigmatize asking for and receiving help. We're supposed to be ready to do all of our own things, especially as women. But when we allow someone else to help us, they're getting something out of it, too.
Rachel: Yes. I remember that same neighbor -- she's very intuitive -- she saw me at the mailbox as I was going through some foot problems. She asked, ‘How are you?’ I said, ‘Well, I gotta have surgery on my foot.’ And I will not forget what she said to me. She said, ‘When is that procedure scheduled? You better give me the date because it would be my honor to show up for you.’ That's what she said to me, and that made me believe that she really did want to help. It would be my honor.
Aimee: It really is a privilege to be allowed into someone's space when they're going through anything. When someone lets you help them, how special is that? But it's hard to do. At least, it feels weird for me, and this is my job.
Rachel: No, it is hard to ask for help. But the more I do it, the more I see that we’re not supposed to navigate life alone. We’re not designed for that.
Aimee: Humans are social creatures. We’re not all supposed to have the same skills. We’re not all supposed to have the same needs. But we all need that connection, and we all get so much healing when we allow everyone else to come together.
Rachel: I think it'd be important to note also that
sometimes we can take the helper role too far. That's important to
bring up because although it's wonderful to help someone when
they're in crisis, we also have to remember that we can't fix it. I
was going through that with Avery. I was reaching out for every
resource under the sun and just spending enormous amounts of time
like it was consuming me because I wanted to help her and support
My mom's here tonight, and my mom is always the voice of wisdom. She was a therapist for many, many years. I was talking about how worried I was about Avery, and my mom dropped a truth bomb on me. She said, ‘The person I'm most worried about right now, Rachel, is you. And I think that you need to start investing in taking care of healing yourself because she's not the only one who's going through a traumatic event.’
Aimee: It is really hard.
Rachel: Basically, we’re saying there’s no one size fits all. It's why it's so important to get in tune with yourself and to do that self listening. There's so much guidance inside us, and so to trust ourselves in saying, ‘Maybe this is consuming me.’
For Avery, I had to say, ‘I'm gonna let you lead.’ And that's hard. But we want to empower them to believe: ‘I'm capable, I can get through this.’ That's another thing that people need to hear: You are capable of handling this.
Aimee: You can. And I can be here if you want to be
heard and you can't be strong today. Or if you want to hug today. I
am really fortunate and lucky that I do have enough people who will
remind me of those things as I'm going through something.
We are getting close to our time. As I close out all of my podcasts I like to ask my guests two final questions. The first one is: What is your favorite thing to do for someone if they are experiencing anything?
Rachel: Well, that's super easy. I am the care package queen. I love to make care packages.
Aimee: You’re going to have to talk to my mom about this.
Rachel: We could put our talents together.
Aimee: I am so thrilled that there are people in this world who love to do care packages. It clearly gives you so much joy. Please don’t ever make me do a care package. The final question is: When you are going through something, what is the best thing that someone has done for you?
Rachel: I had a situation about a year ago, and I just
had this huge dilemma in front of me regarding what was going on
with Avery. I didn't know what to do. I texted my friend Shannon,
who's mentioned in the book a lot, and told her, ‘I don’t know what
to do.’ She said, ‘Rachel, you do know what to do. You just haven't
given yourself the time and the space to listen. You don't have to
figure this out right now. You just have to let it have time to
She was right. I went and visited my mom and dad shortly after that conversation. My dad said I had to see the butterfly garden at their retirement home. I was literally sitting in the butterfly garden when I remembered that Shannon had this vision of these flowers just popping up, up, up. She thought it was for Avery, but actually the garden was for me. I just needed to sit and let these seeds have time to grow and root. I needed someone to tell me because I don't think I would have gotten there.
Aimee: Rachel, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. And thank you to our audience for listening to us today and joining us.
Resources + Links
About Aimee and WhatFriendsDo
Aimee Kandrac is a speaker, consultant, and the co-founder and CEO of WhatFriendsDo. Her work is instrumental for organizing support during life-changing events, and she speaks to organizations about creative ways to help friends and family during times of crisis. Aimee has been recognized as a Top 50 Mompreneur by Babble.com and is the first female CEO in the state of Indiana to close a $500,000 funding round. She has been featured in Forbes, Time, the LA Times, Oprah.com, the Indianapolis Star, and more.
WhatFriendsDo is a simpler way to create organized and actionable support during a time of crisis. The free, online platform empowers healthcare facilities, HR departments, families, and friends to easily coordinate meals, errands, transportation, childcare, communication, and more for those in the midst of a life-changing event. The women-founded and women-led company started as a solution for a friend with terminal cancer. WhatFriendsDo is based out of Indianapolis.