As a third-generation professional wrestler, Nattie Neidhart knows how to wear a brave face like her job depends on it.
That might be considered best practice in the squared circle, but navigating loss on the outside proves a different beast entirely for the WWE superstar, who grapples with the sudden death of her father Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart during Total Divas' current season. In exclusive comments to E! News this week, Nattie calls season nine one of the "most powerful" she's filmed. And that's saying something, since her tenure on the show began with its 2013 pilot and this is the first time she's dealt with something so difficult on-camera.
But as the series veteran seems to acknowledge, authenticity resonates, even in its messiest, most roundabout iterations. So, even though Nattie's grieving process on Total Divas has so far been characterized more by diversion than emotional expression, she emphasizes now that mourning is a custom experience, and everyone handles it differently.
"When you go through grief or you go through trauma, there's no playbook on how to handle it," the athlete imparts, going on to say she still takes hers "one day at a time." Speaking about what it's been like to relive the earlier part of that journey as it airs on television, Nattie notes that, in some ways, she's watching and learning alongside the rest of us.
"I didn't realize how much I was going through until I started watching these episodes back," she admits of the new season, which began filming just a few months after her dad passed away in Aug. 2018. Continuing, Neidhart says she cried watching last week's episode (which saw her reach what felt like a turning point in the grieving process during a stay at Ronda Rousey's farm) "because I didn't know how much of a storm I was in."
In retrospect, Nattie realized she "was barely functioning going to work and barely able to keep it together each and every day without finding [herself] in tears"— a fairly stark departure from the party-planning, work partnership-pitching woman we've been following on Total Divas.
Interestingly, her sentiments echo similar observations made by Ronda, who's spent a great deal of screen time encouraging Nattie to face grief head-on and "let it suck" instead of trying to dodge the inevitable (the combat sports icon and Divas newcomer opened up about losing her own father earlier this season).
"Ronda became a really close friend of mine," Nattie recounts fondly of her colleague and co-star, praising the "awesome connection" they've developed since Rowsey's induction into the WWE. "I love Ronda for what she was able to give me, which was comfort and support," Neidhart shares. "She really made me feel less alone because I was grieving and I still am grieving. Losing a parent is a loss you never really get over."
In the present day, Nattie is back to keeping busy. With WWE's women's division continuing to kick butt, take names and break records, she has her eye on several prestigious titles (the Raw Women's Championship among them) and is integral to the company's philanthropic partnership with the Susan G. Komen foundation. Absent from her to-do list are plans to expand her and husband TJ's family, which boasts a couple of cats and no children.
"I've never wanted to have kids," she explains. "I was very close to my parents, I'm very close to my sisters, I even have a very maternal instinct in the locker room with the girls that I work with. But I don't want my own kids… I don't think anyone should be a parent unless they really are fully committed to it."
Learn more about Nattie's journey this season in the video above!