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Savannah Guthrie opens up about her grief after her father’s death: ‘Something you carry with you always’

Savannah discussed grief and faith on the "Making Space with Hoda Kotb" podcast.
/ Source: TODAY

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Savannah Guthrie is opening up about how she has navigated her grief in the years following her father’s death

Her dad, Charles, died from a heart attack when she was 16.

Savannah told her TODAY co-anchor, Hoda Kotb, about the moment she first knew “something was badly wrong” after returning home from a night out and noticing all the lights in the house were on.

She walked in the door and saw her mom and sister sitting on the couch and “their heads were bowed.” 

“I knew something was badly wrong. The way you can feel it,” Savannah recalled on the Season Five premiere episode of Hoda’s “Making Space” podcast Feb. 21.

“And there’s like an electricity in the air,” she continued. “And I can remember my mom coming toward me to try to hug me and tell me really fast, 'Dad died.'” 

Savannah explained how that “shocking” news tore her “whole world apart” and that that grief is something she will always carry with her.

“I always think of grief as like this cup that is like a cup of water that’s full and you carry it around when something like this happens and your water cup is full,” Savannah said. 

“When it first happens, you might have tons pouring out and pouring out,” she continued, “and then you just carry your cup around for your whole life and you spill it out, sometimes in little drops, and sometimes you just hold it and nothing comes out.”

Savannah, who opens up about her experiences with grief and faith in her new collection of essays, “Mostly What God Does: Reflections on Seeking and Finding His Love Everywhere,” also shared her belief that “by the time you die, that cup will be emptied, but it’s going to be something that you carry with you always.”

Savannah shared memories of her dad, describing him as a “force,” and “an amazing magnetic, joyous, charismatic, incredibly loving, warm, kind, forbearing personality.”

She also talked about the importance of giving herself space to express her sadness over her father’s loss. 

“Sometimes it feels good if I can have a tear or cry for my father. I’m glad because it’s an act of love,” she said. “It’s me saying, I still love you, Daddy.”

Savannah Guthrie and her father Charles
Savannah (bottom), says the grief she feels losing her dad, Charles (above), never leaves.TODAY

Savannah also spoke to Hoda about how the loss of her dad strengthened her faith.

“Some of my high school friends who knew of my faith (said), ‘Well, now what do you think? Does that make you not believe or not want to believe in God?’ And I remember saying one time, ‘Oh no, now I need him more than ever.’”

She said her father’s death initially prompted challenging reflections on the nature of God.

“I was like sitting on it, why do you have to take on the question of like, why does God … why would a good God permit suffering?” she told Hoda.

She said she later realized that she still felt God’s presence even during the lowest points of her life, which ultimately reinforced her belief.

“The bad things happened and I was still OK and God was there for me and God loved me,” she said. “And that’s where my faith transformed.”

“I found faith more viscerally, not because the bad thing didn’t happen, but because it did,” she added later in their conversation.

Hoda, whose own father passed away when she was in college, shared with Savannah how deeply her reflections on her dad’s loss had resonated with her.

“This book stands above ... there are unique thoughts that hit you in a place that is so tender that, I mean, I was having trouble absorbing it,” Hoda said. “It felt like that. I was reading the stuff about your father’s passing, and he passed when you were young — he was 49.”

Hoda also bonded with Savannah over a “feeling” everyone who has lost a parent will understand. Hoda is one of three kids her father had with her mom, Sami.

“You’re sitting there, and you look at the table settings,” she told Savannah. “I remember our table. I was just thinking about that when you were talking.” 

“It’s like there were five and he always sat there and all of a sudden there’s like, we don’t put a placemat there now,” Hoda continued.

“So what do we all still sit here and how does it work and how does it unfold?” she added.

“The metaphor is not just for the physical space,” Savannah said.

Savannah has also opened up in the past about her father's death.

She told Brooke Shields on the Aug. 8 episode of her “Now What?” podcast that he suffered his first heart attack when she was 13 and a freshman in high school.

“I don’t think we understood how serious that was,” she said. “And then three years later he had another heart attack, and that one was fatal. It was so unexpected.”

Savannah said her father’s death was a pivotal moment that changed the course of her life.

“I think it changes everything. I always think of it as on our calendars we have B.C. and A.D. There’s a before and after. It’s just this stark dividing line,” she said. “There’s before my dad died and there’s after, and it’s profound. Grief is a lifelong process. I really believe that. There’s acute grief.”

Savannah has paid tribute to her dad on occasions like Father’s Day and her 50th birthday. She told Shields that after she became parent herself, the death of a parent brings with it wisdom that alters who you are.

“When you lose a parent like that, so suddenly, it’s so shocking at 16, you just have some knowledge,” she said. “You just know something about the world that hopefully others don’t have to know.”

Savannah said she is unsure if her father’s death changed how she looks at parenting or health, but she feels his death set her on a different path in her own life.

Savannah Guthrie and her father Charles
Savannah (bottom right), as a child, with her dad (center).TODAY

“I know it changed me and probably changed the whole trajectory of my life,” she said. “I often think that I would have been totally different if my father had lived. I just don’t know that I would have chosen this career. I don’t know if I would have left home. I might’ve stayed in my hometown.

“I don’t know what I would have done, but I know fundamentally it changed everything. And some things it changed for the better, in the sense of, I know that my heart is more tender because of it.”