How Kelly Rizzo Navigates Grief and Anxiety After Bob Saget’s Passing“I can always feel his presence and hear his voice, and I'm so grateful for that.”
To say TV host and producer Kelly Rizzo has been through the ringer over the past couple years would be an understatement. On January 9, 2022, her late husband, comedian Bob Saget, suddenly passed away, sparking a massive life shift for Rizzo.
And this fall, in an effort to prove she can get through literally anything, she enlisted in the most grueling reality show, Special Forces, to conquer training exercises that simulate a classified and rigorous selection process, all led by ex-Special Forces operatives. And the only thing that can knock a contestant out of this competition is if they tap out themselves.
“I think that was one of the reasons I wanted to do the show in the first place. Even though I've had lots of great success in life and I've done some incredible things, I have had a tendency towards laziness. Even in high school, I was in the National Honor Society, but I also won the ‘Biggest Slacker Award,’” Rizzo tells Wondermind. “I knew that wasn't an option here. You don't have the choice to cheat or to slack off. You have to give it your all, and I thought that would be a cool challenge for me. Let's see if I can actually go 100% for once.”
Here, Rizzo shares more of what’s going on inside her mind these days, from learning to manage worry to revealing what brings her comfort through grieving.
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WM: How are you doing lately?
Kelly Rizzo: I am doing great. It's been a challenging year and a half or so, but I'm doing really well and choosing to live in absolute gratitude every day.
WM: When it comes to your mental health journey, what stands out to you?
KR: I've always been a huge worrier, and very specifically in terms of thinking something bad is going to happen to my family. If I can't get a hold of my parents for an hour, I'm like, Oh, something bad happened. … That's been a problem for me my entire life.
When I got married to Bob, Bob was always trying to get me out of that mode. He was like, “You worry too much. I'm telling you, it's going to give you health problems worrying that much. Nothing that you're worrying about is ever going to come to pass anyway. You waste so much time worrying. You waste so much energy.” And then when everything happened with him, it was my worst fear coming true.
It's one of the times where I was like, See, I worried, and it actually happened. I don't want to say it messed me up, but it is this weird thing now where I'm like, Alright, my worrying proves that sometimes it is accurate and sometimes it's justified because look what happened. But then on the other hand, it's like, Well, what are the odds of anything like that happening again? Maybe it got out of the way and that's never going to happen again, so why worry?
WM: Is there anything that helps you separate what’s actually worth that mental energy now?
KR: Well, I’m trying to be better about self-soothing with it. If I get to a place where I am feeling anxious or start to worry, I have to set aside what happened to Bob and be like, OK, just because that happened does not mean that the worst is going to happen every single time. So I have to be realistic about it. What are the odds? I try to talk myself down a bit. But sometimes it is hard to self-soothe.
Fortunately and unfortunately, my answer is usually calling my sister because she's always the person who can put things into perspective. She's not a therapist, but she should be one because she's absolutely brilliant with it, and she has this incredible intuition. I'm so fortunate that I have her and can call her at any time and she will talk me off a ledge. She will make me feel so much better about whatever the situation is. At the same time, I'd love to be able to just do it for myself and not have to rely on her for that.
WM: Since Bob's passing, how have you noticed your grief morph and change over the last several months?
KR: For me, the first couple months are just… you're in a completely other world. It's very disorienting. You're just completely grief-stricken. It's the only thing you can think about all day, every day. If you have even 20 minutes where you didn't cry, it's still on your mind. And then you know that another wave of grief and crying and all this is going to hit you at any moment. So there’s not an hour that goes by in those first few months where you're able to really live your life. It's always there.
Then, for me, after a few months, you start feeling a little bit more normal. For months three through six, you're like, OK, I can function. I can start working again. I can do things I need to do. Those waves of grief still hit you, but it's not necessarily every five minutes. Maybe you can go an hour without crying. But I noticed there wasn't a day for like eight or nine months that I didn't cry. I remember it wasn’t until somewhere around the nine- to 12-month period where I actually would have a day here and there where I didn't cry.
After the first year, then you're really feeling like yourself again. I mean, this is for me. It's a totally different story if, let's say, somebody loses a child. But for me, in my journey, it was after about a year that I was able to have totally normal days.
When you think about it, of course you can really go back to that place. Right now, if I thought about the minute to minute play-by-play of what happened to me last January 9th, finding out about Bob, I could be transported right back to that place instantaneously and have a total meltdown.
But now in the last months, like 12 through 18, it's more of: I miss him. But it's not this gut-wrenching sadness because there's so much gratitude and because I focus on the happy memories and because I focus on how lucky I was to have him for the time that I did versus … Why him? Life sucks. Life isn't fair. If you live in that, I feel like you might never get past it, especially if you have guilt or regret, which I didn't have any of. That's why, almost even from day one, I was able to at least feel a sense of peace because there was no guilt or regret.
WM: One thing that seems really touching is how much he impacted people by always sharing his love and never leaving anything unsaid. Have you found ways to honor him or your relationship as you move forward?
KR: Oh, yeah. He never left a conversation without saying, “I love you.” He wasn't shy about sharing his feelings and telling people how much they meant to him. That's important in life anyway, but I know that that's a way of honoring him.
The thing that also makes me feel close to him is just hearing his jokes in my head or jokes that I know he would be saying. Sometimes I'll be in a situation, and I can almost hear him in my head. Oh, this is what he would joke about. Or, This is something he would say here. That's comforting to me. It feels like he's, in a sense, kind of talking to me through his comedy. He was just such a big personality and such a big person and such a big heart. That doesn't just go [away]. You know what I mean? I can always feel his presence and hear his voice, and I'm so grateful for that.
WM: What stigmas or misconceptions about grief bug you?
KR: It's one of those things that’s very complicated, and there might be something that was very helpful to me that's not helpful to somebody else, and vice versa. … That's why it's almost hard to give any advice on grief.
For instance, you'd think people would want to be reached out to and checked in on. … [But for me], anytime somebody texted me, “How are you?” I felt like they were giving me a homework assignment. I felt like, Oh, now I have to write an essay about my feelings today.
And it's the most innocuous, benign thing that they could say, and they mean well by it. But unless it was one of my best friends, one of Bob's best friends, his girls, or someone I could really be honest [with] and be like, “Oh, today sucks,” it felt like homework.
To me, it was always easier to get a specific question, like, “What did you do today?” … It felt a little easier just to say facts versus having to conjure up and explain my feelings to somebody because they were changing all the time. So hopefully I can use that going forward to help other people.
WM: If you could give yourself a pep talk right now, what would you say?
KR: God, I would just say to go easier on myself in general, because I'm so hard on myself. If ever I'm having a day where I feel like I'm spiraling, whether it's grief stuff or just anxiety stuff in general, I'm constantly like, Oh, Kelly, don't you know better by now to not worry about this or whatever. Give myself a little grace and cut myself some slack and go easier on myself. Being hard on yourself certainly isn't going to help the situation, so give yourself the space to go through it.
WM: Do you have any other mental health goals you're working on?
KR: I need and want to focus on living in the moment more versus constantly worrying about the future. With certain things, like the Bob situation, and even in relationships in the past, it's like I've had the rug ripped out from under me. Obviously with Bob, the rug was ripped out from under me and everyone in his life. … So [I’m trying] to not carry that forward into future relationships, whether it's friendship or a relationship-relationship, where it's thinking that, at any moment, it can just be gone. That's not helpful, and that's not realistic. Just because it happened in the past does not mean it's going to happen in the future.
I need to focus on every situation in my life independent of one another and really just live in the moment and focus on today versus trying to drag stuff from the past into the future or worry too much about the future.
WM: What else would you like to tell our readers?
KR: Some people might not have [a] support system, so anything you can do—especially if it's a grief situation—find a support group, find a therapist, find somebody who can be there for you. [Talking to] support groups or people who have gone through the specific thing that you went through is so helpful.
When Bob passed, I surrounded myself with other people who have lost somebody, like my friend Amanda Kloots or Katie Couric, or people who have [become a] widow at the same age. They were so supportive to me. And just having other types of people who have gone through the same thing who want to help is so important.
So even if you don't have that built in the family or a best friend or somebody, find people who have gone through what you've gone through or some sort of support group or therapist. You don't want to be going through these things on your own. You need that support system.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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