Veteran Journalist Has No. 1 Podcast in the CountryNov 03, 2022 03:16PM ● By Peri Kinder
The first episode of the hit podcast “The Letter” starts with a phone conversation between a woman and the man who killed her son.
Written and hosted by Amy Donaldson, the podcast tells a story of loss, grief, forgiveness and redemption. When Donaldson learned the eight-episode podcast had hit the number one spot in the country, she broke down and cried.
“I knew people would care about this and to know that feeling I had was right, it felt like being seen,” she said “It felt like people were saying, ‘we agree with you.’ We need to think about how things destroy us and how we rebuild our lives.”
Donaldson is a longtime Taylorsville resident and an award-winning journalist. She spent the first eight years of her career covering crime, youth corrections and education for the Deseret News. In 2000, she started covering high school, collegiate and Olympic sports and was named the 2016 Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.
Now an executive producer with KSL Podcasts, Donaldson created “The Letter” to talk about the murder of Zach Snarr, who was killed in 1996 at Little Dell Reservoir, not because of the senseless violence of the crime, but to highlight the forgiveness that happened years later.
She wanted people to truly understand the loss suffered by the Snarr family and the grief felt by Zach’s friend Yvette Rodier, who was also shot that night in the canyon. Rodier survived the shooting and shares her story on the podcast, along with Zach’s family.
“It’s not your regular true crime show. I want people to know that there’s hope,” Donaldson said. “It’s about connections, it’s about relationships. It’s about us. It asks, ‘what do you do when you’re so sad you can’t function?’”
As she documented the Snarr’s journey through grief, Donaldson realized how little she’d done to process her own grief from the loss of her grandmother in 2004 and stepdaughter in 2013. She said she’d never felt entitled to grieve and that denial of loss caused her pain in ways she still can’t comprehend.
After her stepdaughter’s death, Donaldson unwillingly inherited her dog. He was depressed and struggling, not understanding why the person he loved was gone. As Donaldson tried to convey empathy to the dog, she realized there were no words to accurately describe grief and loss, and how society avoids these difficult discussions.
The podcast is a dedication to grief, a permission to allow listeners to walk along with the Snarrs in their deep loss and despair. It’s also a reminder to be compassionate, to be with people in their sadness and to help each other emotionally.
“The beauty of grief is it means there was love there. Grief isn’t there because they’re dead, it’s because that’s how much you loved. It’s evidence of this amazing thing. It will change over time, but it’s not going away,” she said. “The podcast helped me because it showed me what I was missing in denying my own experience. Now, I try to be with myself in my sadness and not try to escape what I’m going through.”
Donaldson said her initial reaction to grief was to try and fix it. She distracted herself with hikes or running or ice cream, but said she’s learning that you can’t fix grief by doing something. It’s an experience that must be lived through and everyone feels it differently.
“My idea of resilience was, just don’t be sad,” she said. “We’re just not good at talking about the really hard, not easily solved problems of our lives. I think we should start letting people be sad.”
Donaldson understands listening to “The Letter” is difficult, and it isn’t for everyone. She didn’t want to prettify the story or change it in any way. She wanted it to feel gritty and tough and difficult. That’s the only way to see the miracle.
She credits the Snarr’s generosity, honesty and openness, and their bravery for sharing their story. She hopes the podcast will encourage people to live more generously within their communities by creating space for those who are suffering. Donaldson wants listeners to love and forgive and be angry or happy or sad, because that’s what connects us. It makes us real.
“Reach out to other people. You are not alone. You don’t know who needs to hear the story you have to tell. You think it’s not important or not interesting, but I’m telling you it is,” she said. “If you feel compelled to share, someone needs to hear it. If you don’t share it, they continue to be alone in what they’re struggling with.”
“The Letter” can be found on KSL Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other streaming services. λ