Hans Kullberg, an author and entrepreneur, went through every parent’s nightmare. His 10-month-old daughter died. He describes his grief journey, what helped him get over this large brick, the whispers that kept him going, and what he learned. He also describes a near-death experience he went through in his 20’s. Now he does many things to honor his daughter’s life, including a children’s book and always striving to be the best dad he can be. He reminds us to cherish every moment with our loved ones.
Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun. I’m your host I have with me today as a special guest Hans Kohlberg. Hans is an author specializing in children’s books and parenting books. Also a serial entrepreneur has is a loving father of four wonderful children, and prides himself on being a father first and foremost, cherishing every moment of his fatherhood journey, making up silly fantastical tales of dragons, race cars, flying unicorns and laughing llamas at bedtime. Every night is just part of his parents of his parents hood duties, due to the unexpected tragedy of losing his daughter Aviva. At 10 months old. Hans is motivated to share his fearless character, fun loving spirit and vivacious personality embodied through an orangutan and baby Aviva orangutan diva. Even though she is no longer here to meet friends, Aviva can still change lives and create positive impact through the messages of this book, including overcoming adversity by using your inner strengths, never judging a book by its cover, and staying true to yourself. That is your dad’s ultimate hope and motivation for writing. To bring smiles to children all over the world, while sharing his daughter’s beautiful story and turning sorrow into a wonderful legacy. Knowing intimately how precious life is. His mission is to help other parents embrace the wonderful experience of parenthood to the fullest, always cherishing our children by leading with love. In addition, through sharing his story about the most difficult tragedy a parent can imagine. He hopes to bring attention to the often overlooked grieving journey, and how supporters of bereaved parents can provide comfort simply by showing up. Grief is a process that society in general, does that necessarily embrace well. And through an upcoming book on the grief journey. Hans hopes other bereaved parents will be adequately support supported during the time they need it most. To please help me welcome Hans Kohlberg Heinz how are you?
Hans: I’m doing okay. All right. I’m doing okay.
Ari: Just okay. It’s okay. That’s okay. Listen, thanks so much for coming on the show as my guest, I really appreciate it. You know, as you know, the name of the podcast is whispers and bricks and the whispers of those voices telling us what the right thing to do is, and they represent the good in life. And the bricks unfortunately, represent the bad things that we go through in life. And let’s be real, nobody, nobody avoids every single brick, it just doesn’t happen. Life is not perfect for anybody. And what I found out is, the more perfect a life seems by somebody, the actually the worst, the worse it really is. Now, I asked you to be on the show, because after talking about your story, I knew that there were people in my audience who were going through the same things that you had gone through, they had been hit with brick after brick, much like what you had gone through. And they needed to hear and to know that they could get through the trials and tribulations, the same way that you did, they needed to know that there were whispers out there that could save them. So my first question is very simple. How did you come up with the name for your daughter of Aviva? That is an Israeli name. And I understand that neither you nor your wife are Jewish.
Hans: Yes, thank you so much. All right. And first of all, I really appreciate coming on this show and really telling my story so Aviva my daughter is it’s first of all a wonderful name. You’re correct Well, neither of us are Jewish. However, we fell in love with this name after reading a book by James missioner one of my favorite books in the world it is called the source and as I understand you really love the book as well and and there’s a character in that you know basis fictitional well country at that is a is a fiction book but as a historical fiction based in Israel and her name is Aviva. Spelled Avi VA. And, and for me, you know, the name The name means springtime are kind of almost renewal of life. For myself, I’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations as well. And so this was kind of a name that really resonated with you know, kind of For the blessings in life, the whispers as we, as you say, and if you actually write her name out in capital letters, Avi VA, it actually looks like mountains and valleys, peaks and troughs. And that really encapsulates what life is about. And obviously, when we named her we did not foresee the future for her but but it really is, you know, how we, as humans actually respond to challenges respond to tragedy, respond to those tough times in life, where we’re down in the, in the trenches in the tross. And really trying to figure out how we can extol those, there’s, there’s good times in life as well, and really holding both at the same time, I think you’re exactly right, there is no perfect life. And the more that we strive to be perfect, or this idea of perfection, I think the farther away we actually get from it. And so embracing the both the good and the bad, at the same time, that pain, the grief, and the happy moments, at the same time, has been one of those aspects of grieving of this bereaved journey that I’m on that that have really had to learn is the skill that you kind of have to have to learn as a as a as a breed parents. So that is really, you know, where we get her name, and it is a drum is spelled and same forwards and backwards. And I just love it.
Ari: Right. So for for all those my audience who don’t know, the source is a book that I read as well. It is, I think, 1300 pages, okay. And it is, it is a great read. Alright, but it is long, I will tell you, but definitely worth the read if you can get it. Now, Hans in your life, you’ve had, obviously a major brick thrown at you, as we’ve just learned from your bio question. How many kids did you have at the time? How old were they? How old? Were you and your wife? And can you just take us back to you know, and tell us how you managed to get through it all?
Hans: Yeah, so first of all, I would say, you know, being a father is my most important job. I know a lot of fathers say that. But I’ve really tried to embrace that and try to make, you know, being being there for my kids. You know, being patient with them leading with love. And being very involved as a parent, really, my first and foremost job, you know, even throughout having different companies and working in etc. But Aviva was born in January 2020. She lived for 10 months and 13 days until November of 2020. She was our third child. So at that time of that she died. Just over a year ago, my oldest son was almost four. My middle daughter was two and a half. And and my my fourth child actually hadn’t been born yet. So so little Liliana is our fourth child and she actually came into our lives just about five weeks ago. So now congratulations. Yeah, thank you so much. I’m a new parent again. Fourth time around but Liliana. Although he never got to know her sister, she actually carries a part of her sister with her because of him. His middle name was Lilia, and Liliana kind of comes from that. And so she we wanted to honor her sister that way, but we definitely want to tell her all the stories about her older sister.
Ari: Wow. Wow. So you had see you had three kids at the time for two and a half and 10 months? Is that correct? And how old? Were you and your wife? If I may ask?
Hans: We’re both in our mid 30s.
Ari: Mid 30s. Okay. And, like, what was the effect that it had on on your wife for one and on your other children? And you as well, I mean, what was I mean?
Hans: It had to be very, very difficult. I know parents that have lost children from infants to you know, adolescence to teenagers, to young adults to older adults. All right. It’s never easy it’s not it’s not as they say in Hebrew. Dara Hi, in the way of the world, the way of the world is a parent a child buries a parent, not the other way around. The parent does not bury a child that is not that that is not the way life works. Unfortunately, it happens but that’s not the way life is supposed to work. So tell us a little bit about you know what what was going through your mind your heart and you know how your other while your other kids were? Were probably too young to understand what was going on. Although your four and a half year old, your four year old may have understood some of it. But and what was it Get what was the what was the effect that it had on your wife? as well?
Ari: Yeah, so so like lots of things that impact there, but in terms of, you know, the grieving journey, and in terms of the event itself, it’s certainly been the very most difficult one that we’ve ever had to travel through and journey through the worst tragedy that can befall almost any parent, I myself, have have had a very near death experience. In my in my 20s. However, you know, this compared to that there’s, there’s absolutely no comparison and we talk about grief. You know, you shouldn’t necessarily ever compare grief, because the hardest grief I that that you know, is is your own. And that’s that’s the case with everyone. So in terms of the the journey, it’s just been something that I’ve really learned to embrace, and my wife has as well. You know, before this, we really didn’t know much about grief, we really probably couldn’t even spell grief, it is that distant from us. We’ve been very blessed in our lives, and definitely a lot of positives, and to be thankful for. However, you know, when an unforeseen tragedy, unexpected tragedy actually strikes, which happens to a large percentage of us, you’re never expecting that and really, kind of having to live through that is really having to learn what it actually is to live again, what we both kind of told ourselves is we first of all you want to survive, you want to get through it, the very first days and weeks, it just feels like you just can’t get out of bed, you can’t even go to the grocery store. For us, we had even take care of our children, which on one hand was was a blessing that we could have them, I remember coming home from the hospital, given both of them a very big hug and being thankful that we had them. Because I know a lot of parents that are in our situation don’t. And I also wanted to say one of the things you said about parents losing losing children, when it also includes miscarriages in there, because a large number of us go through a lot of trauma with that. But in terms of, you know, having these other kids having to take care of them while grieving at the same time, you really have to take care of yourself, there’s a lot of self care involved. One of the things I did was was really taking off about five months of work, I just knew that I really couldn’t go back to, you know, the day to day, everyday thing that it did. And unfortunately as with COVID, the one of the positive aspects of it. With Aviva being born in January 2020, I got to actually work with her from home, almost every day of her life. And that was that was certainly a very big positive. And so having to go back to work in a situation where I was typically, you know, taking care of her or kind of, you know, she was in my lap, I was on Zoom calls, etc. That was difficult in and of itself. And so I knew I needed to create that space and really embrace the grieving journey. And so some of the things through that I, I’m the kind of guy that likes to go headfirst into everything and try to do everything 110% So, you know, started reading a lot of books about grief, started reading a lot of books about Memoirs of child loss. One of the really good books was Dr. Site, Rabbi Harold Kushner, who, who wrote when bad things happen to good people, excellent book, you know, talking about the spiritual side and reasons why these happens, which there really isn’t a reason not to give away the book. We, you know, all the little micro events in our lives can’t really be controlled by any kind of creator being but but in terms of other books, David Kessler, he’s a he’s a great psychologist. He himself he wrote part of the the five stages of grief with Elisabeth Kubler Ross. And after losing his own son, he ended up writing a book called finding meaning the sixth stage of grief, which is really about you know, after the acceptance stage versus the fifth stage, really, you know, that he thought there was there was something else and finding meaning try to try to find a higher purpose and, and find meaning in that loss that you do have has been something that I felt from the very beginning almost, you know, very first few weeks, which is actually when I wrote the book, baby Aviva ringtone diva. One of the reasons for that, as you said is really trying to carry her legacy prolong her legacy and, and also spread her Surely her wants her charisma
Hans: into the world into the hands of parents and kids that that never got to meet her. So but other other than reading books, you know, speaking with a lot of other people speaking with people that that have gone through it, I think being able to relate to others that have somewhat been in your shoes have been some of the best people to really talk to, because they can actually understand you. And you can also be fully vulnerable with them, get be able to tell them anything that’s on your mind, but the anger, the shock, the the sadness, the trauma, etc, just to be able to kind of cry with them. Human says social beings, we really need each other. And there’s, there’s no more important time than when we’re in the depths. In that grief. also saw a therapist, for the first time in my life, I’ve never seen therapist and was able to kind of learn a lot about self compassion, a lot, a lot about self care from her. And the importance of that, knowing that there’s a lot of wounds a lot, a lot of self blame. That’s almost all the all the time with child loss, there’s a lot of self blame that we kind of put on ourselves, I should have done this, I could have done this, I would have done this. There’s there’s unanswerable questions that kind of percolate through our heads are things that just prolong the suffering, which which we, one of the big differences between pain and suffering is that pain is something that you really feel this is really a part of you that sadness, suffering is kind of the every day daily pain that that we kind of, almost bring upon ourselves a lot of times, by making those decisions to ask this question and set to repeat events in our head. And there’s, there’s, there’s a lot of things that we can do to actually ease that suffering. And so self compassion and self care, throughout grieving has been very important to me. But also, you know, caring for my wife and being there for my wife. One of the things about child loss I’ve learned, I’m sorry, I’m talking a lot, but one of the things I’ve learned is really, a lot of times, you know, it ends in divorce with, with, with, with spouses, and what I’ve learned is that a lot of times, it’s not necessarily because of the events, that tragedy of the child, child’s death itself. But actually, the different ways that there’s, this parents actually grieve that child, you know, a lot of times one wants to move past it and not talk about it. Other one is really, you know, stuck in stuck in the mud stuck in the mud of grief. And, and, and it’s really important to be very supportive. And we’ve learned that from books, I mean, just just from from talking to a lot of other people, but we didn’t necessarily want that to happen either. So I’m glad to say that our marriage right now is stronger than it’s ever been. And it’s really, it’s been a lot of work, it’s been a lot of work to, to really make sure that, you know, we’re there for each other. So, sorry, I’m packed a lot about that. And,
Ari: no, that’s great. That’s really, really great. It really is, you know, there’s a lot of good things that you talked about. And you know, the good thing about the way I do a podcast is you can go listen to it, because you know, it’s it’s a videotape beforehand. So you can go you listen to it over and over again, to make sure that you’ve got everything that’s in there. So please, you know, I’m very happy that you, you know that you elaborate as much as you did, but I’m going to take a step to the side, I’ll call it to the side now that step back with a step to the side. And because you just mentioned something that I did not know something about you yourself having almost died. What was that all about?
Hans: Yeah, so so that was experienced in my 20s when I was in college, and as many of us in college go through, had had been drinking too much. You know, I would admit that ended up falling down a flight of stairs. kind of became became unconscious, you know, definitely not the finest point in my life, but was taken to the hospital taken to the ER, and, and they’re, you know, they kind of diagnosed me with alcohol poisoning. released me the very next day. However I was. The very next day I was I was going through a lot of vomiting going in and out of consciousness, not necessarily, you know with it, it’s not wasn’t your normal hangover. And that was a Sunday and then ended up going to classes on a Monday of college classes and was able to kind of pay attention, but then fall asleep and I was writing but wasn’t, you know, wasn’t necessarily like making things out on a piece of paper. And something was definitely continuing to kind of hamper my cognitive abilities essentially. That day, went home, took a nap, came back. And my roommate had been out of town and he for the weekend, and he got back he said, you know, Hans, you are, you’re acting very, very strange. You should go to the hospital, you go go the doctors, I’m like, No, it’s just this hanger, I can’t really get get over it. He ends up going. He was on the soccer team. And when it goes to soccer practice comes back a couple hours later, and he sees me completely slumped in my chair and not and staring off actually in space. So I had my eyes wide open. And so he immediately put me on his back, put me in the fireman’s hold and, and took me to the ER, which happened to be three blocks down the street carried me down the street. Wow. And they they ran a CT scan on my head and they realized that I had a what’s called an epidural hematoma, which is basically a blood clot that was on the outside of my brain sac that was threatening to rupture my brain. So if basically a blood gets gets in the rain if that if that ruptures? It’s immediate death.
Ari: Yes. Game over. Yeah, for sure.
Hans: And, and the head, neurosurgeon was on call that night, fortunately. And he, you know, mediate surgery. He, and later, you know, a few days later, when he was talking to me, he said, Hans, you’re incredibly, incredibly lucky to be alive. You had maybe 15 minutes, and that epidural hematoma would have ruptured, and that that would have been it. It was about the size of a hamburger, he said, Oh, my God, I’m on the side of my head. And so he’s like, you’re extremely lucky. You know, most people that have these do not come back, I think about 90% Don’t make it. And he said, You, you definitely owe a lot to your friend, my friend Garrett, and I’ll never I’ll never forget it, you know, will net will always be in debt to him.
Ari: Right, let me ask you this was was that hematoma was that the byproduct of the drinking binge, or was just,
Hans: it was from from hitting my head on the on the staircase. So there’s a metal staircase. Lot of other times when people have epidural hematomas is due to sometimes baseball hitting, you know, hitting someone’s head, or, you know, a pretty serious accident, maybe skiing and you hit a tree with your head, stuff like that, that you know, that it happens on Inside there’s internal swelling that that that occurs, but you know, it’s a silent killer is a kind of just dies and grows over time.
Ari: Wow. That’s, that’s amazing. I did not know that. That is absolutely amazing. So let’s get back to some really good stuff right now. So what what are you doing right now?
Hans: In short, I’m really, really trying to honor my daughter’s legacy. And I’m really trying to, you know, find ways both creative and non creative, I guess, ways to actually honor her her life to spread her message and spread her joy. And one of those ways is actually through children’s books. And so when I was, you know, thinking about it was this is about a week after she died. We hadn’t heard her celebration life, we had a funeral. And when you go to these events, you tend to hear these eulogies, oftentimes by family members or friends. And a lot of times, you know, they’re talking about how this person changed their life or how, you know, this person had had this funny story about him or her, and ways that this person has created an impact. And oftentimes, that’s usually a message that’s embedded in this eulogies. And when we’re sitting there doing a Vivas eulogy at her Celebration of Life You know, it’s just struck me that the majority of people that were there, and this is during the hydrocodone minute. So not many people came. But even even still, those watching on Zoom, they didn’t get to know who she was, they didn’t really get to know who Aviva is. And as a father, as her father, I was very fortunate that I did. And she affected me in a very profound way she just had, I can kind of brag about her because because she, she just had this really, you know, amazing, just aura about her, this, this, this kind of just loving, or that was very different from our other kids. And so So what I wanted wanted to do is kind of pass that on and almost become a vessel or channel for her to kind of work through me and, and really get her message out into the world. And so a lot of the underlying themes of the book baby Aviva ringtone diva, are about staying true to yourself overcoming different challenges by finding inner strengths that you have. And so that was really talking about a lot of the ways that she went through six different hospitalizations in her life. And every single one of those, she really kind of embraced it with a lot of fortitude, a lot of graciousness, almost, she was just very happy even during a lot of those very, very tough times when she had wires and tubes sticking out of her and so. So, you know, it’s about having your inner strengths. And this little baby a ringtone actually has this inner strength. So it’s being able to sing and dance because she’s a diva and and she comes across her family is in peril, they don’t have any food, she has to go through this journey to search for these bananas, but then it comes across this ferocious tiger who’s this king of the jungle and, and he’s guarding the bananas. And she’s sitting there in the tree wondering what she can do. She She’s thinking and thinking, but then all of a sudden, it strikes her, she should just do what she does best. And she starts singing and dancing. And lo and behold, this ferocious beast, and this tiger starts dancing. And then eventually, they’re both dancing together, by the end of it, and, and then sharing bananas, and he gives her a bunch of bananas to bring back to her community. And so. So those are some underlying themes as well, you know, doing something good for others, as she kind of brings the bananas back to community but also not judging a book by its cover. And so she wasn’t afraid to go challenge this, this, this tiger and even though you know, he was very scary. So there’s a lot of, you know, a lot of things to unpack there. But it’s really, it’s really a way that I want to share her her light and her love with all the children that do get to read it and parents and teachers and everyone else. Wow.
Ari: That’s great. All right, before we go, let me ask you this. Is there any any words of wisdom, any advice for my audience for you know, just words of wisdom in general, whether they’re going through something or not? Something you’ve learned that you can share with us?
Hans: Yeah, one of the things I’ve realized is that society, just in general, it doesn’t embrace embrace grief that well, if you look at even bereavement leave, it was it was just like five days that, you know, most corporations kind of give you. But even when, when, when I’m talking about this grieving journey, it’s a very lonely journey. And it’s a very unique journey, and that you’re trying to you’re traveling it yourself. And there’s an analogy that someone told me the other day was, was really, that drink through grief is kind of like sitting in this deep, dark well, so like well of water. And you have a lot of people kind of coming coming by. Some people say, you know, oh, man, that sucks, you’re sitting on the well, is if there’s anything I can do, just let me know, it’s very common common thing you hear. But then there’s other people that come by and looked at your look to see that you’re down in that well, they’re like, Hold on one second, I know it really, it’s really tough. I’m going to go back and I’m going to get a rope, I’m going to get a ladder, and I’m going to come down there and I’m going to sit with you in that deep dark well of despair that you’re in. And I think that really fully encapsulates, you know, empathy and just being being empathetic and really understanding how to actually, you know, really help that that brief person. And then that person says, you know, if, if and when you’re ready, we can both try to journey out of this. Well, and I think that’s, you know, one overarching message I’d like to share to your listeners is really, you know, if you know someone that is going through a grieving journey, it’s very difficult to know what to say or do As people are very different, but one universal thing, by talking to a lot of people is really, an experience of myself is really just showing up. Just just show up for that person, whether that’s sending them a text message, you know, once a month, or once every couple months, saying how you doing, or I’m thinking about, you know, your loved one, or, you know, I’m coming over to give you a hug, or whatever else it is, or would you like to have a conversation. Many times, they won’t respond many times, maybe they it doesn’t. It doesn’t affect them, but in terms of in terms of just knowing that you’re thinking of them is really important as as a brief person, because it’s hard for us to kind of reach out for help. If someone says, you know, let let me know what I can do, you know, that we’re not necessarily going to, to say, say anything, but I think we as a society can really do a lot better job of of really supporting those going through grief and really recognizing that it is almost this invisible wound that we’re living through. And so you know, this, this really, really tough handicap that we all have to kind of carry on our shoulders. So that is that is really the, the message I’ll share to all of your listeners is, you know, we’ve been through COVID pandemic, I know that most listeners know someone that’s going through a lot of pain, and just, you know, let them know that you’re there. Because it could just be, you know, listen to them or give them a hug. You never know how big that is important that is to, to that great, great person. And then finally, for all, for all parents out there, I know this is a very tough topic to talk about child loss, but in terms of my message to you just embrace every single moment that you have with your child and really cherish those precious days and time that you have with your loved ones. Because you certainly never know when your last time,
Ari: right, I hear certainly definitely words of wisdom. Again, I myself, basically adhere to that. That position of, you know, saying, you know, before you leave the house in the morning, you know, tell your kids that you love them, because it might be the last time that you actually see them, which is something that I personally I did not, it didn’t happen to me because I got out of 911 but 658 of my friends and co workers, they did leave in the morning and they never came back. And you know, so I tell people the same thing you know, let your wife and spat let your spouse, your wife, your kids, let them know that you love them every single day because it might be the last time God forbid that you have that opportunity. If people want to get ahold of you, Hans, what’s the best way of doing that? Email? Website? What’s the best way to find you?
Hans: Yeah, absolutely. And so it’s a Bemis firstname.lastname@example.org That is my email. So Avi, VA, s di d dy. That’s also my Twitter handle. So at Aviva steady, as well, as well as Instagram. And my website is is wo dot Hans kolbert.com. And that that is the best way you can get get in touch with me. But yeah, as I would say, you know, all of your listeners probably came on the show to listen to this show. Trying to get some something out of it. I think the most important thing is that we can actually do our, almost the simplest things that we can do, you know, tell, tell your loved ones that you love them and be there for someone that’s going through a tough time.
Ari: Right, Hans, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. I’m sure you’ve touched the hearts of many of my peers and many of the people in my audience Good luck going forward. Keep up the good work. It’s so important the work that you’re doing, and it’s certainly going to benefit mankind in general. That’s my belief. Thanks again. You’ve been listening to whispers and bricks and I’m your host Iris Shaman. Remember if you feel like you’re stuck in the mud, like you’re spinning your wheels, wasting time and your career your business or your life. If you know you’re not enjoying all the success satisfaction significance that you desire, then it’s time for you to book a call with me at call with ari.com Check out my whispers and bricks Coaching Academy. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.