Business woman and former Dragon Norah Casey went on a quest to unearth the science behind the crippling debilitation of grief following the death of her husband and reveals the secret to igniting your passion for life (and it doesn’t involved “five stages”).
Broadcaster and publishing entrepreneur Norah Casey was formerly a Dragon in the popular television series Dragons’ den and is a well-known radio and television personality. Her documentary exploring issues around death and the Irish titled Way to Go was aired on RTE 1 in July 2014.
She is owner and Chairwoman of Harmonia, Ireland’s largest magazine publishing company, printing over four million magazines annually for the Irish, British and USA market and selling on average 2.6 million in the Irish market annually.
She decided to leave Dragons’ Den the successful business entrepreneur show in 2013 to pursue a full time career in radio and television.
Having run many successful publishing companies in London, Norah bought her own business, Harmonia, in 2004 with a strong portfolio of brands and events.
A journalist and former nurse, Norah has been Ireland’s Publisher of the Year no fewer than four times.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at
thanks guys I used to be a dragon but I think I'm much nicer now well I leave you to judge so we're going to go on a bit of a journey and there's just me and you and our collective brains today so I need to get your brains moving as much as mine is going to so first of all I want you to do something really easy you're hardwired to do it stretch your brain back to your early memories not your earliest well if you can do your earliest do my earliest memory is making a daisy-chain in the Phoenix Park where I grew up I know it was my earliest memory because my father came and collected me and my sisters and he told us that a new baby derived in the house so often our earliest memories are the ones where we remember an event now stretch your brain you've probably forgotten how to do it it's not dangerous obviously don't try unnecessary journeys or anything when you're doing it okay now come back into the room I catapult your brain way off into the future when you were growing up and shavonne Joan Mary John what did you want to be what was your unfulfilled potential was it that you wanted to have a PhD did you want to cross the finishing line of a marathon did you want to own your own business do you want to play in a rock band did you want to climb Everest or Kilimanjaro or current or imagine that what's your unfulfilled potential keep it in your head keep your brain in the future imagine crossing the finishing line just picking up dr. casey your PhD I assume imagine that moment because now you've just done something quite extraordinary it's a hidden superpower that you possess it's quite amazing and it's the nub of the secret I'm going to tell you today but your brain has to be open to getting the secret so now I need you to do some mental time travel with me it's not to the happiest day of my life it's not even to my earliest memory it's to the worst day of my life I'm not going to embellish it all of you know me you know I'm not afraid to talk about grief you know that I made a documentary tough gig Thursday night 9:30 trying to get people to tune in to look at me talking to Gabriel Brennan and others about death and dying a privilege to talk to people who faced their own demise I wrote a book on the subject I've talked about it I've cried on national television but today I don't have to okay so you're just gonna have to leave me off because there are some days that we only ever want to experience once and I've experienced that day time and time again so I'm not going to do it today but suffice to say because it's so important to what I want to tell you is that the worst day of my life was the day my lovely beautiful vibrant husband Richard died a few years ago now we all get our sh i T in life every single one of you every single one of you has lost somebody you loved I lost my father good friends in fact my sister died a few months before Richard ed I'm no stranger to grief and you're not if you haven't had grief it's going to get you if you haven't heard adversity it's going to get you to the question in your life is not will you fall down what do you do when you fall down okay I have the cure it took me a while but I have the cure so imagine this a few days after Richard died I did what I was hardwired to do I was a dragon and investor a businesswoman I got up I dusted myself down and I said to Daraa my lovely beautiful twelve year old who was quite broken and grief stricken you know what were going to do we're just going to dust ourselves down we're going to get into that car and you're going to go to school and I'm going to go to work afterwards when I spoke on my integrity and an accession I'd show but there's people on social media called me a hard-hearted bitch for doing us I wasn't a hard-hearted bitch I was a widow who didn't know what to do so dutifully no matter how bad the days were they were bad no matter how bad the nights were we got up and we got in my car and we drove to school and work and as the months went by I worried cuz I'm a homework geek and I've used evidence and learning the whole of my life are worried there wasn't doing it right I wasn't doing this grieving thing because it still felt pretty terrible so I start pouring over the books that friends had given me in the websites and I found these stages of grief oh my god those stages of grief and Dara would come crashing in some nights from school and you'd say what are you doing and I'd say I'm looking at the stages of grief and say where am I at mom I said I'm not sure I at acceptance yeah I think I know he's dead okay how about anger I Jesus mom I'm not angry that he died I just feel pretty terrible I said I feel pretty terrible – it's a couple of nights later he came in he said he got those stages up again I said who there's an aura Matt was it great oh yeah he said I'm at denial I said my God my brilliant 12 year old has got some flashing blinding of genius about his bereavement in his grief he said yeah I'm at denial I can see the pyramids mum he had to be Irish to get that joke I was fed up feeling guilty that I wasn't gone through those stages of grief they're a load of rubbish forget them nobody goes through those stages of grief so I started doing what I'm hardwired to do is looking for evidence the next day I started my computer and into Google I wrote the cure for grief is dot dot up came the most amazing quote this man Albert Hobart is his name he died over 100 years ago off the coast of old can sail and he died because a German u-boat torpedo the Lusitania himself and his wife passed away he called himself an anarchist and an author and he wrote the cure for grief waitress is motion the cure for grief is motion this man didn't even know how genius that was the cure for grief is motion I knew that was important too because I had none I was sitting on the coach couch every single night I was binge watching Netflix I was lunching for a glass of wine I was eating every carp I could get my hands on there was no emotional state it wasn't believed my way through there was no motion going on in my life and I'll tell you why because during those months when Richard was sick during those months I stayed in the moment not a natural state from your studies strategy in business I've always looked at the future I stayed in the moment because that's how I coped I stayed in the moment because talking by coffee and tea and milk and getting the wheelchair out of the car and what time is the doctor's appointment and what's the weather goingto be like today was far better and if my mind at any point flew off into that terrible terrible scenario of a future where he was going to leave me and die with a will of iron I grabbed it back to the present and I said will it be sugar today would you like tomato soup for your lunch I stayed in the moment and when he died I was sucking the moments worse not just stuck in moment the incredible allure of the past had gripped me I found my sanctuary was back in those wonderful wonderful moments where I was building a life and a future with Richard in my head when the business of the day would ever what did I do I went back over holidays beautiful days the day I married him the day was Dara was born the day we decided to buy the business Harmonia the day he laughed and I said I'm out on Dragon's Den all of those things were just beautiful places for me to be there was no motion but on in my life I was going backwards so the cure for grief is motion I read over a hundred pieces of research I did all the hard work so you don't have to I counted it the other day 100 pieces of research came across this amazing man I'm in love with him I'm in love with big brains I never met him big brains are far better than George Clooney sorry Thomas sudden Dorf is his name he's an Australian anthropologist he's a genius he spent two decades of his life so I wouldn't have to looking at what makes us uniquely human go back to Charles Darwin the Origin of Species Charles Darwin believed that like our nearest relatives the chimpanzees who are the closest to us and by the way we are the closest to chimpanzees than any other animal in the species and like our more distant relatives the Iranian times the gorillas we all share a common foundation we may have higher traits we may be more highly evolved but Thomas sudden Dorf and other scientists believed that actually must be something uniquely human versus there must be something that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom that means we now rule the planet so much so that were nearly exterminating our nearest relatives what's uniquely human about us two things when you won't be surprised at uniquely human the only species on the planet that can do it we are obsessed with communicating with you surely we're obsessed we've a deep-seated hardwired Drive to need to swap story and share experiences it doesn't take much to know that we've just had an entire generation spending the best brains not curing cancer but finding ways we can swap stories and share experiences virtually and digitally in photographs snapchats tweets and more else besides the second thing far more importantly in terms of the cure for grief what you did earlier do you know how magical that is you are the only species who can do it you can put your brain into the past not just to your earliest living memory you can go back in your brain to the dawn of civilization to Steven Hawkins to the Big Bang and you can collect all those memories and experiences and bring them into the present and use them better still here's the genius but you can predict future scenarios no other species on the planet can do it you can say I want to own that business I want the PhD going to marry that man I'm going to have that baby I'm going to live in that house I'm going to go to the Caribbean and lie in a sun-drenched Beach and here's the really really cool bit you can then decide which one you're going to do using free will you can set a course for your brain on a journey towards that destination why was that important to me because I didn't have a destination imagine this I'm in a car Richard the car is going to feature today I don't know why sometimes it's a car sometimes it's something else Richard and I are on a journey were sitting in the front seat together don't know who's driving probably him they're ours in the back seat a big bloody boulder just fell on the road right in front of me destroys the path and the road there was no longer one and I wasn't so much in the slow lane I was crashed on the curb I was crashed on the curb with no petrol no gas no ignition no future because when he died my future died with him so I knew number one cure I had to find a future no you have to remember those in Division me that want to turn that ignition on you have to remember that I was this person mono syllabic line on a couch I had no notion of turning on that ignition I had no interest in button petrol in my car even though I knew I had to find a future second cure for grief I found that trigger and I found it by accident so picture this a few months after richard died probably about eight my mom whose accounts no she's great she said you know what she just haven't accepted Benglis stage of the grief so you need to go off into the countryside and spend some time together with Dara and go and walking in the woods and doing all those lovely things and your mind will come to terms with this cataclysmic events so there I am me and my mind's not good company for each other I can tell you out of the blue got a call from a producer and she said listen here's the thing this famous news presenter you all know him Vincent Brown he's going on holiday yes he does take some would you fill in for him half murdered grief desperate to escape the mountains and the Wicklow Hill as I said you know what I'll do it yeah no bother I fill in from so I drove up to TV 3 and I will not use that expletive that I use let suffice to say that I pulled the car up looked at the sign and said what the hell are you doing unbelievably I had just spent eight months locking myself in the boardroom not speaking to anybody apart from somebody saying sorry for your troubles and times a great heater which it isn't by the way that's all the conversation I had and here I was going to host a news and current for his program fast-moving so I walked in the door the produce said how you do know I said I'm doing great I went to the bathroom and threw up she brought me into the boardroom she said see all this research it's on fiscal stuff today the Minister for finances are loads of economists that's all the research of a few hours to get that into your head now I pride myself am a journalist of good short-term memory I think I can regurgitate stuff for a period of time not as synopsis going on in my brain I read every sentence 50,000 times what she comes in every night again and says how you doing great into the bathroom I was in our bathroom more often those in the boardroom so by the time I was sitting in the chair oh my god I looked at the Minister for finance couldn't even remember his name I had this red rash which started here in my chest which was flaming up my neck and up into my cheeks there was a big ball and my throat I had no saliva the autocue was just a blur there wasn't a question in my head oh my god I nearly bolted from my season that wouldn't be the first time somebody bolted from a Vincent Brown show it's not usually the presenter first time for everything as the author q started to move as the camera started to roll I don't know what happened my breathing studied I got stuck into it and before I knew it somebody's in my ear said it's a miniature up and I'm tearing runs and Heights Norah Casey and tune in tomorrow night on the way home I called my mother I don't know why but when I'm afraid and I'm in the car and I'm worried about being carjacked she's a see something that she knows miles away but I always call her so I said mags – mags did you hear what he said and did you see that tweet and that ridiculous question from the mother she's going oh my god Nora I have never heard you talk like this for at least a year you're on fire sorry realized something really important really important my brain was moving I found an ignition I found a scar a spark do you know what it's called it's called dopamine and I could get all the key and tactical on you but you know I'm a guru on dopamine I've read everything there is to know myths misconceptions everything else you know what drives people on explorers and adventurers what makes them work there's 22 days to the North Pole not adrenaline adrenaline holds you back it's dopamine what makes you go into the jungle when others would run in the opposite direction National Geographic – there's amazing article which talks about entrepreneurs explorers adventures and how their brains were coursing with dopamine this was very important to me because then I became slightly addicted to that dopamine fix because that gasoline in my car that dopamine at its worst when dopamine is free-flowing it has no brakes it puts you into the fast lane a careers you down destructive paths so people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and gambling and smoking it's because of dopamine so at its best and encourages to do new things like I had done faced abject terror take risks you get your dopamine phone why is this important to grief because when you meet the person you love and I hope some of you in the room have already and your eyes lock across a crowded room it's nothing to do with this heart okay I was a nurse this just pumps blood around your body 100,000 times a day entirely to do it up here your brain okay it's up here in your brain so when you meet somebody you love dopamine gets released and you are the best you can possibly be you're witty you're smiling you're charming you can usually write poetry you can sing music you can actually run faster you can stay up all night doing god knows what but the next day you have a bounce in your step people talk about you being lit up from inside it's a ditch of being in love is about dopamine and then when you stay in love and you have that bond that other person gives you your dopamine fuel so all day every day when you've pimples and greasy hair and you wake up and he says you look gorgeous darling when it gives you a kiss when he affirms everything you do that dopamine has been fueled so when you break up with somebody or worse when they die it is the equivalent of going cold turkey on hard drugs or dopamine goes through the floor and the worst thing about dopamine is when it's absent it's virtually impossible to get it back and here I was by pure accident I found that this bit of my brain searching for the dopamine in my last life with Richard was being replaced with a dopamine fix on this side and I went on to do Vincent Brown the next day of course I hosted News Talk got up at 4:00 a.m. for a year and a half did 13 episodes of the takeover wrote a book did the afternoon show the comedian started saying there's loads of jobs in Ireland it's just Nora Casey has them all everyone said you're running how much I wasn't running from it I was running towards us it was fantastic I was on fire for the first time since Richard died and I had devised a future for the first time so here I am in my car I now have the gasoline and I've got the future there's a third magic ingredient in the cure for grief the third one if I was to pile up next to me all of the research reports all of the papers all of the books are written and I've read on grief and on the brain and the power of the brain be miles high equally if I asked every single person who pushed that car while I didn't want them to who took over the steering wheel when I didn't want to drive myself who cheered me from the hard shoulder sitting beside me sitting behind me if I said to them would you like to come on stage they would fill this whole theater because the second cure for grief is that other insatiable need that we have to share stories swap experiences and collectively learn together so here's what all the geeks in the sciences say a very important thing really important imagine your minds like a sat-nav you can put the destination in so I already first cure for grief I knew I had to have a destination you can find the trigger and the ignition and you can find the momentum and all the wonderful people in your life but actually you are far better off asking somebody who's been there because when you put that destination in your sat-nav it only simulates the journey your mind only knows what you've given it up to that point in your life and if you've never been in that place the more scientific and rational thing to do is ask somebody who's in the place that you want to be how they got to be there now for me I had an amazing amazing Titanic woman in my life called mags Casey and she said there are some things that mothers should never have to pass on to their daughters but I am eternally grateful that she did so if you are ever crushed on a curbside the same way I was and you want to be where I am now I've just told you how I got there thank you for listening to me you