Gabrielle Shiozawa: Joy After Loss
Just three weeks before she was going to graduate from high school, Gabrielle Shiozawa was on a run with her dad when he began to experience symptoms of heart failure. Later that night, her father passed from this life to the next and Gabrielle became acquainted with grief in an intimate way she'd never expected. Still a young college student, Gabrielle has now written the book she wishes she’d had when her world came crashing down.
There can be peace inside of pain, and we can find purpose even when we are aching.
LDS Living article written by Gabrielle: "After losing her dad just before high school graduation, one young adult now calls her grief an 'unexpected gift'"
Gabrielle Shiozawa was just three weeks away from high school graduation when she lost her dad unexpectedly. As she struggled to heal, she began to experience an overflow of knowledge, spiritual insights, and growth that strengthened her testimony.
This poignant offering from a young, talented writer includes commentary on the character of Christ and personal insights about bodies, salvation, temples, and more. Through a combination of insightful reflections on gospel principles and a poetic narrative on the author's experiences with her father, One Breath at a Time: Lessons on Grief and Growth gives an authentic and inspiring look into how people can heal, grow, and come closer to Christ through grief and loss.
2:50- The Outlet of Writing
4:18- Sharing Personal Experiences With Strangers
5:35- A Dad Who Deserves A Whole Book
7:57- Present Tense vs. Past Tense
9:20- One Last Run
10:59- Regret and Things That Will Never Happen
12:34- Enlarged Capacity
14:35- Finding Comfort in Turning to God
18:20- When the Answer is “No”
21:22- Friends and Family in Grief
24:45- New Discoveries
28:50- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
A couple of weeks ago we spoke with Lisa Valentine Clark about the grief she experienced following the loss of her husband. Today we talk with Gabrielle Shiozawa about her grief following the death of her father.
I want to start today's episode by reading a passage that is found in Gabrielle's new book, One Breath at a Time. It is titled, "You Will."
"You think you will never feel joy again, but you will. You will feel euphoria at Niagara Falls. Drenched in spray, mouth gaping wide, and laughing. You will eat buttered popcorn at movie theaters and laugh your heart out with your friends. You will hold a sleeping baby in your lap and will lick cookie dough ice cream as it drips down your wrist. You will go boating at sunset and watch the sherbet sky turn the turquoise waters into golden rippling art. There will be sunshine. You will bask in it. The light will come through again, and you will wrap your fingers around a new kind of joy. You will live again. Better. More fully. Not in spite of what you've lost, but because of it–for the dichotomy you now know, for the despair and the joy.
“You are hurting, my dear, but you will heal. You will feel peace, even inside of this pain. For you will come to know your Savior better than you ever did before. You will feel the complex joy of being human in its fullest. You are learning, now, what it means to fall apart. You will learn, soon enough, how Christ puts you back together. I know it is impossible to imagine feeling joy again when the hurt runs so deeply you can hardly breathe. But I promise you–you will."
Gabrielle Shiozawa plans to spend her whole life bringing people together through stories. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism from Brigham Young University, where she endeavors to try new things and conquer her fears whenever possible. Gabrielle has been published in YA Weekly, The Palouse Review, The Las Vegas Sun, and The Daily Universe.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so excited to have Gabrielle Shiozawa with me today. Did I say your last name right?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 2:25
Yes, Yes, you did.
Morgan Jones 2:27
Okay, awesome. Well, I've been looking forward to this conversation, and I want to start out by saying, Gabrielle, mad props to you for writing a book while still a student getting your undergrad, right? At BYU?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 2:42
Yes, thank you.
Morgan Jones 2:44
It's amazing. What are you studying at BYU?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 2:47
I am studying journalism.
Morgan Jones 2:48
Okay. Very cool. First question–getting into your book, I want to tell you, when people at Desert Book first started talking about your book and that it was coming down the pipeline, the very first thing everybody would say was how beautifully written your book is. And so first of all, how did you develop a love for writing?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 3:14
They're so kind at Deseret Book, they've been incredible to work with. I've known from the beginning of elementary school that I wanted to be an author, and that's something I've been working on my entire life. I've gone through a lot of different fiction and poetry, and I've just always been a really avid reader. And more and more lately, I've started writing about the real world–studying journalism–and about my own life through creative nonfiction. And it's just been a great outlet for me.
Morgan Jones 3:47
That's awesome. I think writing is so powerful, and I think the really cool thing when we're reading your book is that it feels a little bit like you're reading an incredibly well written journal. I think it feels like we're getting a glimpse into kind of your processing this experience that you had, and obviously, we know–and it's been an emphasis in the Church–the importance of journaling, and I feel like we kind of get that as we go through your book. But what compelled you to share so many very personal things with a bunch of people, like me, that you've never met before?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 4:28
You were right to say that it's a lot like a journal. I often look back and it hits me, the realization, that I have a book out on shelves that really is just such a personal account of something so devastating that I went through, and all these personal experiences.
But I think the most powerful stories that I've read in my life are the ones that are the most raw and authentic and vulnerable. And I feel like those are the stories that stick with us. And I felt like I had a responsibility, if I was going to share my story, that I had to be real about it in showing the devastation and also the victories, and also just the ugly mistakes that I went through, because I feel like a lot of people feel like they're alone in being human and being fallible and in going through really hard things, and I wanted to show the really scary parts of that that nobody talks about, even if it was really vulnerable and scary for me.
Morgan Jones 5:32
Well, I think that's so admirable. I want to start by giving listeners a little taste of just how beautiful your words are. In the book you write, "This book tells the story of my grief and my growth through the eyes of an earnestly awkward teenager trying to figure things out. It is a love letter to my father, Troy Kent Shiozawa. It is a story of hope. Most of all this book is the story of the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is the story of how Christ took the darkest moments of my life, and helped me turn them into something beautiful."
I want to ask you first, if you don't mind, just giving us a little glimpse of your dad, what he was like, what you love about him, and the relationship that the two of you had.
Gabrielle Shiozawa 6:25
It's hard to describe him in just such short terms, that's kind of why I felt like I had to write a whole book for him. And I felt like I could write a lot more just on him. But I feel like he's the perfect combination of very silly and very serious. He's just an incredible leader. Just watching him at work or as a bishop, or even coaching our little league teams, just the way that he commands a presence and draws people to him I think is just so powerful.
He made me laugh every day. His motto is learn to learn, learn to work, be a good person, and he really did a good job of exemplifying that. He just has this incredible passion for life and he just got so excited about everything and it made me really excited about things too. I think that was one of my favorite ways to connect with them is just how excited he got over certain movies. He just watched them on repeat if he loved them.
We'd ask him, "Why are you watching Meet the Robinsons for the 30th time this week?" or whatever. But he just fell in love with those stories. We really bonded over music and movies and trying new foods and just experiencing life together. And I just really love how passionate and adventurous he is but also how smart and capable he is. And just what a sense of security I had being around him.
Morgan Jones 7:53
Gabrielle, I want to ask you something that I didn't anticipate asking. But I noticed as you were talking that you say, "He is," consistently. And when you talk about the things that you two did together, those are in past tense. But in terms of who your dad is, he still is that person. Is that a deliberate decision on your part?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 8:20
Yes, absolutely. When I was writing the book sometimes I would start to write in the past tense and it just never felt right, because I feel like keeping him in the present tense helps me to keep him alive and to really remember the way that he was and that he is because he still really is a vivid part of my life. There are lots of decisions I make and lots of spiritual experiences I have where I know that he's with me, even if there's nothing concrete, even if it doesn't make perfect sense to everybody. He still is just such a big part of my life.
And I almost feel like no time will have passed at all when we see each other again on the other side, just because he really is still living.
Morgan Jones 9:11
That's beautiful. Gabrielle, you were on a run with your dad when he started to show signs of heart failure. How do you think being the one that was there with him in that moment changes the way that you have experienced and processed grief?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 9:31
It has definitely been both for good and for bad. On the one hand, it was really devastating. I spent a lot of time blaming myself, you know, just because I didn't see the signs, or because I didn't take things seriously or feeling bad that I took him on the run in the first place. I wrote a lot more about this in parts that didn't make it into the book, actually, but it took me three months to be able to get back out and go running again just because of it hurt so much to try to do that again after that experience.
But on the other hand, I do feel really lucky to have had one last really special experience with him. Because I know he probably didn't really want to go on a run, he just wanted to spend time with me. And, but we just had such a sweet conversation while we were on that run, he told me about his day, and I felt prompted to thank him for some advice that he'd given me the week before.
And he really is just so special to me. And he chose to spend that time with me. And I don't know everything that was going through his head, but I know that he chose to spend that time with me and that sticks with me.
Morgan Jones 10:47
I . . . as a daddy's girl, I love that so much. You write in the book–and I'm going to kind of blend a couple of things that kind of I took away from reading–you write of having a thought to take a picture of your dad and your baby brother not long before your dad passed, and you write about how you didn't take that picture. And because of that the image is seared in your mind, and you said it haunts me.
And the thing that I realized is, you know, when we're dealing with grief, we're dealing with both the past and the future. So it's like there are things that we wish we had done that we didn't do, and then looking forward, they're the things that we'll never get to experience with that person. How would you say that both the past and the future haunt us when we're dealing with grief?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 11:44
That's a beautiful question. I think that's a great way to put it, that so much of the past and the future, are involved in grief. I think I have a lot of regrets. And that's been hard to grapple with. And there are experiences almost every day that I . . . just that it hurts thinking about things that I want to be able to share with him or experiences I want to be able to have with him that I'm not going to be able to and that's really hard. But one thing that my dad's death has really taught me is finding that balance between the past and the future, just like you were saying, and learning how to live presently, learning how to try to live without regrets. If this was my last moment, how would I want to spend this and taking chances on things that you really care about.
Morgan Jones 12:36
You said in an article that you wrote for LDS Living that grief gave you a fuller picture of the plan of salvation. And specifically you said it gave you a new capacity to feel deep pain and anguish that carved out a deeper reservoir for joy in your soul. Can you elaborate on how you found grief to be both painful, but also beautiful and joyful?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 13:06
I think the really special and unique part of experiencing grief is just, at least for me, how vulnerable and changeable I became immediately afterwards. When I was in such a broken state I spent a lot of time, especially at the beginning, just leaning on other people and learning how to feel my feelings and opening up with people and praying and studying really deeply in ways that I hadn't necessarily had to before.
I think there's a quote from JK Rowling that I love, she talks about how devastating and difficult things were right before she made it big with the first Harry Potter book. She says, "Rock bottom was the solid foundation on which I began to build my life." And I think that's really true when you're in grief, that you hit lows that you didn't know that you could hit. And that you learn how to build a new foundation based on the truths that you know, and on what you know to be true in your life. I saw the grace of God and how he buoyed my family through that devastating time, it's really allowed me to empathize with people on a deeper level and to understand what matters most. And I think it just gives you a lot of perspective that you don't have otherwise.
Morgan Jones 14:33
Yeah, I want to touch on something. You know, when you talk about building on the foundation of what you do know, one thing that I was so impressed with as I went through your book is that you are, you talk repeatedly about, you know, things that you were studying or reading or in seeking answers and peace in your life.
And so for example, you write, "I read Saints chapter 45, which chronicles the reactions of Joseph Smith's family after his martyrdom. His mother, Lucy Mack Smith asks, 'My God, why hast thou forsaken this family?' I feel peace in knowing that I'm not alone in the suffering, that I'm not the only one who loves God and still feels abandoned by Him," end quote.
And then in another part, you wrote about finding comfort in another scripture in Doctrine and Covenants. And I think the thing that I was so impressed with by this is, I think sometimes it's really easy to turn away from God when you're in that moment where you feel abandoned by Him. And I wondered for you, why was it important to you to turn to God and to these things that you knew had brought comfort in times past? And maybe could bring it again? And how did you find comfort in relying on those tried-and-true things like examples from Church history or from the scriptures?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 16:03
I think on one hand, I'd had several personal experiences over the years in high school before that, where I would be going through something difficult and wouldn't be able to find an answer. And then I would just have to pray really earnestly about it, and things would start to make sense again, or I'd be able to feel peace, or I'd find an answer and a way to move forward. And a lot of my testimony was shaped in that time before, during, and after immediately grieving my dad.
On the other hand, I think–this is a quote from C.S. Lewis–"We read to know we are not alone," right. And I feel like that's especially powerful when we can find examples in the scriptures and in the lives of other faithful people who had faith and courage. Because I think sometimes we can idealize the people from the scriptures. And it's helpful to remember that they struggled too. And they went through hard things, and they messed up, but they still were holy, and they were able to rely on God. And that's what made it possible for them to keep going.
I think about Peter and the way that he faltered on the water, and the way that he betrayed Christ, but that he was still his right-hand man. I think there's a lot of hope and redemption that we can find there in the scriptures when we see how even the people that we idealize the most faltered too, and that they still found hope, because they relied on Christ.
Morgan Jones 17:41
I completely agree. And I think it's interesting, because I think sometimes because we know–and this is not an original thought, I've heard this at other places–but because we know the end of like Peters story, we give him a lot more grace than we give ourselves in the moments where we're faltering or having a hard time. And so I think that it's so important to be patient with ourselves and to allow space to, you know, grieve those mistakes that we've made or grieve the things that we wish we had done differently, but then to allow ourselves the chance to move forward.
Gabrielle you write in the book, about this experience, and you know, watching your dad go through this and what it was like in your home. And then you talk about how you prayed for your dad to live, which I think is one of the sweetest prayers anybody could pray. And you say that you expected God to give you a yes rather than a no. And I think this is something that a lot of people listening can relate to, because we've all had prayers that we've prayed that we wanted the answer to be yes. And instead it was a no. What did that experience teach you about prayer? And what would you say to others who feel like their prayers haven't been or are not being answered?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 19:11
Honestly, the question of wondering why my prayer wasn't answered the way I want it to is something I still grapple with pretty frequently, especially when I hear people bear their testimony about how prayers were answered a certain way for them or . . . you know, it's hard to hear that somebody else got a yes when you got a no.
I think what I am learning . . . I'm still learning a lot about faith and about how prayers work. But I think what I've really learned is that prayer is more about aligning our will with Gods than it is about expressing a wish list to Him. He already knows exactly what we want, but I think that when we express ourselves to Him and that when we commune ourselves with Him that it's about us acknowledging His hand in our lives. It's about reaching out to connect with Him.
And to other people who feel like their prayers haven't been answered the way that they want them to be, I just want to say I'm sorry that you have to go through that, because I know what that feels like. Even when you can be hopeful that good things are coming, even when you know that things are going to turn out okay and that all things shall work together for your good, and even when you trust God, it's just a really devastating feeling to not get what you want. Especially when you feel like you're asking for something righteous.
Morgan Jones 20:46
Gabrielle Shiozawa 20:46
But I want to also express that even more than I know what that feels like, Job knows what that feels like, and Joseph Smith knows what that feels like, and Christ knows what that feels like. And that even when we don't have the answers, God really loves you. And He's mindful of you. And He cries when you cry. So give him time. Because even when you can't trust in your future, even when things feel uncertain, even when you don't know what the answers are going to be, I just want you to be able to trust that God loves you, and that He really is concerned about you and about your well-being.
Morgan Jones 21:21
So well said. Gabrielle, one part that I loved was where you talk about seeing Christ and seeing God's hand in your life through your friends and people that ministered to you when you were going through this difficult time. I wondered if you could share for those that haven't had a chance to read your book yet a little bit about how you found other people being His hands, and you write that you recognize that when there's the promise in the scriptures that God will wipe away our tears, that you recognize that your friends were acting in the name of God and place of God in wiping away those tears.
Gabrielle Shiozawa 22:05
Yeah, I feel really lucky and blessed to have had so many good people in my life when this happened. The community I grew up in was just so tight knit and loving that I felt like so many people came to our aid and we were really blessed in that way. But I had so many friends that reached out and asked what I needed, and would come to stay the night with me or would drive me to class. I had friends that first 24 hours who literally wiped away my tears and took me to sacrament meeting with them and came and stayed the night with me and gave me a shoulder to cry on.
I think that my friends just did a really good job of giving me grace and being present with me. Because one of the big things I've learned about grief is that there's nothing that fixes it. There's nothing you can do to take hardships away from other people, you feel really helpless and that's a really horrible feeling. But even just saying, "Hey, I'm here for you, I care about you, I love you." And even just the simplest acts of kindness and compassion were really special and sacred for me.
Morgan Jones 23:32
You write about that so beautifully. So I hope that people will pick up the book so that they can get a glimpse into just how sacred I think that experience was for you. Before I get to the last couple of questions, I wanted to ask you, how are you and your family doing now?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 23:54
I think the past couple of years have definitely been a roller coaster. There have been a lot of really hard days. I think it's really hard for my little brothers to grow up without getting to know their dad better. And it's hard for my mom to be a single parent, even though she does amazingly at it. And I'm so proud of her. It's really hard.
I think there are a lot of days when it still doesn't make a lot of sense. But I think that we're learning a lot and we're growing a lot and I think that there are definitely ways our family has grown, both in what we've been able to learn but also that we've been able to grow closer to each other. And that that has made our family a lot stronger.
Morgan Jones 24:45
I love Gabrielle, in the book where you write this, you say, "Grief is the roommate I didn't ask for, who barged his way in and burrowed under the covers and wouldn't move back out. Grief is the one who stole my food and tracked mud through the living room. He's the one who sowed a permanent gray storm cloud over my head. But grief is also my greatest teacher, he has shown me who to keep in my life and who to show the door. What to value, what to let go of, how to live better, and drink more deeply from that bitter cup. How to wrap my hands around a new kind of joy I never knew before."
What would you say–so the book is all of these things that you have learned about grief–but you had to turn that manuscript in a little while ago. So I wondered selfishly, maybe what you've learned about grief since you turned in that final manuscript of this book?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 25:42
I really like that question, because grief is definitely a continual process and there are new things that I'm learning about it every single day. One thing I've learned is just that it doesn't end, it just keeps evolving, and that we keep evolving with it. Another thing I've learned is just how much of a refiner grief is and how it helps you understand and have deep empathy for other people and for their losses. Because we speak of grief in the sense of losing somebody and having somebody pass away. But we also grieve breakups in our lives, we grieve the losses of opportunities, the losses of jobs, we grieve losing a friend or losing a situation that we've enjoyed. There are a lot of different ways in our lives that we have to be able to heal and deal with change. And I think going through this huge grief with my dad has helped me have a lot more empathy and perspective on those other kinds of grief in my life and in the lives of people I love.
Morgan Jones 26:54
That's very, very insightful. I think the idea that grief doesn't end, I think is something that you know, everybody when they're in the middle of that they just want it to end. And recognizing that it evolves, I think that's a powerful thought.
Gabrielle, is there anything else that we haven't touched on that you would want to make sure that people know going into this book? Or that you maybe didn't include in the book that you'd want to share now?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 27:26
The first part of that question, things I'd want people to know going into the book, I feel like we've talked a lot in this podcast today about the difficult side of grief and about a lot of the things that I went through. But I want to make it very clear that the message of my book is that there is always hope. And that there is hope because of Christ, and because of His Atonement. There can be peace inside of pain, and we can find purpose, even when we are aching, even when we don't fully understand what's going on in our lives. I think that's the most important thing for people to realize is that there is hope.
And I hope that they find that when they read my book, because I tried to be very raw about how difficult things were, but I also tried to express how grateful I was and how many things I learned and how many joyful, peaceful experiences I was able to have once I started growing through that. That even if grief doesn't ever fully end, that there really is a rainbow after the storm. And there will be reservoirs of joy that people will find again.
Morgan Jones 28:47
Thank you so much for sharing that. My last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Gabrielle Shiozawa 28:57
I think being all in to the gospel of Jesus Christ is something that we choose and have to keep choosing every single day. I don't think it's a one-time decision. But for me, it means that, for better or for worse, I am on Christ's team, and I trust Him. And that even when things don't go my way, and even when I mess up, I have hope because of Christ.
Morgan Jones 29:26
Thank you so much, Gabrielle. It's been so wonderful to talk with you and I'm grateful for your insights and for the effort that you've put into sharing the things that you've gone through. And hats off to you for being a good human being that wants to help other people. I think that's something that your dad must be so proud of.
Gabrielle Shiozawa 29:50
Thank you so much.
Morgan Jones 29:55
A huge thanks to Gabrielle Shiozawa for joining us on today's podcast. You can find her book, One Breath at a Time in Deseret Book stores now. A big thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode, and thank you for listening