Losing Her Person: A Mother’s Story of Love, Loss & Grief
EPISODE: 35 | DATE: March 25, 2020
“Depending on my state of mind – if I’m feeling very strong, the kids are doing really well. If I fall back into grief I notice they do too. They really reflect off of you. And you know that as a mother anyway – our state of mind is very important to theirs.”
- Zoey Tzfanya is a mother to two boys, Benny (7 ½) and Judah (3 ½) and she lost her husband, Jacob, suddenly a year and a half ago.
- Zoey is also a fashion designer and has a company called Spring Time in Brooklyn
- She designs dresses with breastfeeding and postpartum mothers in mind, with button down fronts for easy boob access and smoked backs to accommodate a mother’s constantly inflating and deflating boobs, and postpartum bellies.
- Before Spring Time in Brooklyn, Zoey had a fashion blog and company called Disco Pony. The model, Natalie Suarez loved Zoey’s first design, a gold sequined dress, and asked to wear it on her blog.
- When Zoey met her husband, she was engaged to another man. Her love story with Jacob was a whirlwind, and she moved from Barcelona to New York to be with him. Within 8 weeks of being together, they were pregnant with their first child, Benny.
- Zoey suffered from postpartum depression with her first, Benny. Unfortunately breastfeeding didn’t help. She was one of the few cases where breastfeeding actually lowered her serotonin levels instead of increasing it. Thankfully, with her second child, she had the opposite experience and breastfeeding helped with her postpartum depression.
- Zoey also suffered from PMDD, which is described by womenshealth.gov as: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a health problem that is similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) but is more serious. PMDD causes severe irritability, depression, or anxiety in the week or two before your period starts. Symptoms usually go away two to three days after your period starts.
- While on vacation as a family in Israel a month or so before Jacob passed away, Zoey had a sinking feeling as they were sitting on the beach. She worried that maybe her serotonin levels were dropping again as her son was now 2 years old and her milk wasn’t as plentiful.
- When they got back from Israel, Zoey and Jacob were supposed to go on a parenting retreat with the Parenting Junkie, but Jacob had too much work to do. Zoey decided to take the kids to see Jacob’s family in Florida so Jacob could focus on his work.
- While in Florida, Jacob called and said he was having trouble breathing. He went to the hospital and was treated for a pulmonary embolism, when in fact he was having an asthma attack. Unfortunately, Jacob passed away at the hospital.
- Zoey says that children don’t process death for a long time. They are on a different timeline. She believes this is a sort of blessing from God so that it gives the adult time to process the death. By the time the children catch up, the parent has been able to sort of catch their breath enough to hold space for their child to grieve.
- When Jacob first passed away, Zoey didn’t want to go back to New York, where they lived. She moved in with her best friend, Irene, and her family in Connecticut for 4 or 5 months.
- For a long time, Zoey didn’t believe Jacob was gone. She kept thinking that he had just faked his death and was off on some crazy adventure and would come back when he was ready.
- Zoey notices that just like in motherhood, her children are directly affected by her state. If she’s overcome by grief, they are too. When she’s feeling better, they are too.
- After spending time in Connecticut and then going back to England to spend Christmas with her family, Zoey decided she didn’t want to be in New York at all anymore, so she moved to Florida where Jacob’s mother and two sisters lived.
- She got grief counseling for her eldest son and for herself through Jewish family services, but it all changed when the pandemic hit.
- In the wake of Jacob’s death, Zoey had to learn how to do many things again, like drive. Jacob handled all of their finances and Zoey raised the children. Upon his passing, she had to take on all of his responsibilities as well.
- Zoey discusses how difficult it can be from a documentation point of view when someone passes. She said she would walk around with a folder of papers containing paperwork for various things she had to deal with in the wake of Jacob’s passing. It’s a lot and sometimes she would fall asleep with the folder, deep in grief and exhaustion from it all.
- Zoey would go to bed every night hoping she wouldn’t wake up. She got advice from others who had lost partners that it helped to have children because they kept you going. At the time, Zoey felt resentful that her children were there because it meant that she truly had to keep going. And she didn’t want to.
- Thankfully Zoey is in a place now where she can appreciate that advice, and she is so grateful for them being there to keep her going. But in the immediate days, weeks and months of hearing that advice, it wasn’t helpful.
- One of the ways they keep Jacob alive in their everyday life is living in Florida near his family. Their eldest son also goes to the Jewish school that Jacob used to attend. And Zoey drives Jacob’s car. They – of course – also have lots of photos of him everywhere.
- Zoey talks to Jacob all the time. She visit his grave and writes him letters and leaves them there. When he first passed away, Zoey would curse at Jacob. But now she says her chats are more normal.
- Of grief, Zoey says that it’s not linear. At any point, you can go back to the day a person died and feel the feelings as raw as if it just happened, much like a mother can go back to the day her child was born and be right there, in that moment.
- Zoey has experienced moments and phases of happiness and joy since Jacob’s passing, and then there are many phases of feelings crippled by grief. She says that when you’re feeling good, you have to run as fast as possible to do everything you want to do so that when you’re feeling down again, you can just rest.
- She says that grief is very bipolar, in that way. Where one moment you’re feeling like you’re floating and you can do it and the next moment you’re feeling like you can’t do it.
- Zoey has always been spiritual, but she became even more spiritual since Jacob’s passing.
- She has taken great comfort in the book by Gary R. Renard called The Disappearance of the Universe which talks about how we as humans obscure the light that always exists with our humanity.
- Zoey tries to remember that the light – which is really love – is always there.
- We don’t have control over what happens in our lives, but we do have control over how we react to it.
- Zoey tries to remember to be grateful, and it helps to feel herself wiggle her toes and then to feel her body from her toes to her head and to be grateful.
- Zoey also finds it helpful to get dressed in the morning. Her wardrobe is across the room, so it forces her to physically get up. But then in deciding what to wear, it helps pull her out of grief.
- In thinking about life as energy, Zoey realizes that people are never really gone. And that love can never be destroyed.
- Zoey felt like she was being prepped for Jacob’s death in raising their two children in the long New York winters – often alone, because Jacob was always working so hard and so long. In motherhood, we deal with a lot of loneliness. And though it’s not the same as someone dying, Zoey did find it to be a sort of prep for him actually being gone.
- She has also come to realize that it’s up to her to love herself entirely. It’s not up to anyone else. The love for yourself is the greatest love you could ever realize. When she began to think about that, the fog of her grief lifted and she was able to experience joy again.
- In the wake of Jacob’s death, Zoey realized how much he had on his shoulders. She always took care of the children, but now having to be a single parent she also has to deal with all of the finances, but also to fix all of the things that Jacob used to fix.
- A common phrase in the house was, “Daddy will fix it.” But now, when the boys need something fixed, Zoey has made it a point to say, “I’ve got it. I can do it.” And she can!
- Zoey is a classically trained singer. She always wanted to either be an opera singer or on broadway. She didn’t sing while she was in New York but she took it up again recently and she feels like she’s found her voice again.
- Singing brings her great comfort, as does her business, Spring Time in Brooklyn.
- Everyone deals with death differently. It’s a personal journey. Zoey has experienced the loss of some friendships because they didn’t know what to say when Jacob passed away, or how to be there for her. And she had some amazing friends step up and help her.
- When one of her close friends lost her husband suddenly a few months ago, Zoey found herself not knowing what to say or how to show up for her friend. In that moment, she stopped feeling resentment for the people in her life who fell away when Jacob died. She finally understood.
- Zoey had been introduced to Amanda Kloots, who famously lost her husband, actor and broadway star, Nick Cordero, to covid related complications in July of 2020, just over 2 years ago. Amanda had reached out because her friend, Chloe, who was Zoey’s model for Spring Time in Brooklyn, loved her dresses and wanted to collaborate.
- Amanda wore one of Zoey’s dresses to her son, Elvis’ Christening. From there, Kate Walsh ordered a dress, and it goes on from there.
- When Amanda was going through Nick’s hospitalization, Zoey reached out to her. They did an Instagram Live to discuss grief once Nick had passed away.
- Zoey believes that the ultimate joy is human connection. It’s meeting someone on a soul to soul level, even if it’s through pain.
- Zoey really wanted to do something in life that made an impact. She thought about becoming a marine biologist – she loved fashion, but she didn’t want to contribute to those perfect pictures of women on social media that depicted just that: a photo. A piece of artwork. Not a body to strive for or something to make women feel bad about themselves.
- But she kept receiving messages from customers about how her dresses made them feel so good about themselves, and that made her feel so wonderful. And Zoey also gives a portion of the proceeds from her dresses to various foundations supporting widows whose spouses have passed without life insurance, so she feels especially great about that. She often donates to A Widow’s Wish
Zoey Tzfanya is the CEO and Designer of Spring Time In Brooklyn, a slow fashion clothing brand that (quite literally) sprung from her own frustration at not having enough beautiful Boob-feeding-friendly clothes that flattered all the postpartum wobbles. Named after the most phenomenal time of year in New York where life emerges after many months of darkness.
Resources in this episode
Book: The Disappearance of the Universe by Gary R. Renard
Book: Meet Your Soul by Elisa Romeo
Book: You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Book: You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
Instagram Live with Zoey Tzfanya and Amanda Kloots about grief
Zoey’s Instagram IGTV on getting dressed and dealing with grief
A Widow’s Wish (organization that donates to widows)