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Bereavement Experts to Participate in Panel Discussion During Cleveland International Film Festival

March 27, 2014

The Cleveland International Film Festival is in town, and two of our experts from the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center have received a special honor. Art Therapist Mollie Postotnik and Bereavement Coordinator Mary Murphy will participate in a special panel discussion following the screenings of one of the films. The film, The Sublime and Beautiful, focuses on the tragic story of a couple that loses two children to a drunk driver, the complicated spiral of grief that follows and the very different paths taken to make things right. The film is based off the true story of the writer/director who also stars in the film.

Following the three screenings of the movie at Tower City Cinema, the audiences will be invited to attend the special  panel discussions at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, 24 Public Square.  Mollie will participate in the panel Friday night and  Mary will be on the panel Sunday.  Tickets for the film are $14 and are available for purchase online at  Please consider supporting the film festival and attending one of the panel discussions featuring Mollie or Mary. 

 Friday, March 28Screening from 2:00 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. – Panel from 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Mollie Postotnik)

Saturday, March 29 – Screening from 8:40 p.m. – 10:35 p.m. – Panel 10:45 p.m. – 11:45 p.m.

Sunday, March 30 – Screening from 11:35 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. – Panel 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. (Mary Murphy)

When Grief Breaks Your Heart

March 13, 2014

Can you die from a broken heart? Yes, you can.

There is a heart condition called stress induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy—commonly referred to as “broken heart syndrome” because it often occurs during periods of high emotional stress and grief.

First recognized by Japanese doctors in the 1990s, the condition is characterized by a weakening of the left ventricle. The heart chamber changes shape, narrowing at the top and ballooning at the bottom. Thankfully it’s reversible.

Still, death during bereavement occurs more often than one might expect. At our hospice, time and again we see cases where spouses die 12 months apart. Recently, we had a situation where a woman had a heart attack at her husband’s funeral. It’s quite sad.

While we can attest to this anecdotally, research confirms our stories.

In a recent study by Carey et al, the authors found that the risk of stress-induced cardiomyopathy is highest in the first month after a death and then slowly declines during the first year. In a previous study (Shah, et al.), the same authors found that good health and material circumstances do no protect older adults from increased mortality rates while grieving the death of a loved one.
The stress of grief has health effects. Common grief reactions like loss of sleep and appetite can suppress the immune system which could exacerbate other medical conditions. 

So what can we do?

First, we can be aware that it’s a real risk. We can offer support to older adults during the first few weeks and months after the death of a loved one. In addition to offering support, we need to encourage older adults to seek medical attention and take care of themselves physically as well as emotionally. Many older adults disenfranchise their own grief and need to know that it’s okay to mourn the loss of their life partner. Support is available through grief groups, friends, faith communities and professional counselors.

No one needs to grieve alone.


Carey, Iain M.; Shah, Sunil M.; DeWilde, Stephen; Harris, Tess; Victor, Christina, R.; Cook, Derek G. Increased Risk of Acute Cardiovascular Events After Partner Bereavement: :  A Matched Cohort StudyJAMA Intern Med. Published online February 24, 2014.

Shah, Sunil M.; Carey, Iain M.; Harris, Tess; DeWilde, Stephen; Victor, Christina, R.; Cook, Derek G. Do Good Health and Material Circumstances Protect Older People From the Increased Risk of Death After Bereavement?American Journal of Epidemiology,(2013) 177 (4): 375.

Please join our grief discussion groups.

MOCA Cleveland Announces Spring 2014 Exhibitions

March 10, 2014

DIRGE examines how contemporary artists explore and make sense of mortality

CLEVELAND (March 7, 2014) –  MOCA Cleveland will open its Spring 2014 exhibitions on March 7 with an exhibition featuring 22 national and international artists whose work captures, reacts to, reflects on, and contends with mortality, and a new, commissioned body of work by New York-based artist Sara VanDerBeek that references Cleveland’s urban landscape. These upcoming exhibitions connect visitors to established artists from around the globe who have defined contemporary art over the past three decades alongside emerging artists who demonstrate the most current trends. Both exhibitions pursue themes of memory and change through different approaches and subject matter.

The 2014 exhibition programs are supported in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, and Leadership Circle gifts from the Britton Fund, Margaret Fulton Mueller, Agnes Gund, Scott Mueller, Joanne Cohen and Morris Wheeler, Margaret Cohen and Kevin Rahilly, Doreen and Dick Cahoon, Becky Dunn, Harriet and Victor Goldberg, Donna and Stewart Kohl, and Toby Devan Lewis. All MOCA Cleveland exhibitions and programs are presented with major support from The William Bingham Foundation, Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, The Cleveland Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Nesnadny + Schwartz, The Ohio Arts Council and the continuing support of the Museum’s Board of Directors, patrons, and members.

 DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death (March 7, 2014–June 8, 2014)

Organized by Megan Lykins Reich, Director of Programs and Associate Curator

The spring season kicks off with an exhibition that uses mortality as its subject. DIRGE features 22 selected artists both living and deceased who work in painting, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, and installation. Spanning the personal to the universal, historic to the present, literal to the symbolic, the exhibition aims to create a substantive space in which we might better understand, even appreciate life, by reflecting on its end.

A dirge is a song expressing mourning. Likewise, the artworks featured communicate a range of creative responses to death and how it conditions life. Some works are highly subjective exercises by artists facing their own impending death. Others draw from the loss of those closest to examine the role of grief, memory, and ritual. Culture and religion find voice in works that emphasize death’s role in defining sociopolitical systems and belief structures.

 Made using diverse processes and materials, the featured artworks probe the mysterious nature of death to identify and reinforce the most potent characteristics of life. About the show, curator of the exhibition, Megan Lykins Reich, Director of Programs and Associate Curator for MOCA Cleveland, states, “Death is life’s greatest certainty. This relevant and enduring subject matter finds new voice in DIRGE, which features the thoughtful, powerful, distinctive expressions of contemporary artists who find meaning in mortality.”

 In connection with DIRGE, MOCA Cleveland is partnering with many local organizations to generate programs that expand upon the subject matter in significant and progressive ways. Collaborative events are being planned with institutions including The Cleveland Clinic, Hospice of the Western Reserve, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences of Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Institute of Music, among others.

 “Hospice of the Western Reserve is honored to be partnering with MOCA to support this innovative exhibit that shines a light on what has long been a taboo topic in our society,” said Michele Seyranian, the nonprofit agency’s Business Development Officer. By taking a fresh, candid look at the cultural, spiritual and personal experiences that color society’s perceptions, this groundbreaking MOCA exhibition can help dispel many of the myths, and foster a healthy community dialogue about an experience that is inevitable for all of us.”

 Some program highlights include:

March 19 / 4:30pm

In partnership with the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences of CWRU and Hospice of the Western Reserve

The first of a 4-part lecture series, The End, Reconsidered, this discussion will draw upon the stories and expertise of individuals who have turned devastating loss into meaningful outcomes.


Thursday, April 3 / 7pm

In partnership with the Dittrick Museum of Medical History of Case Western
Reserve University

 This 2nd installment of The End, Reconsidered lecture series features a talk by medical humanist, literary scholar, and Gothic fiction author, Dr. Brandy Schillace. Dr. Schillace will explore two questions: How do we approach death? And in what ways are materials—the thing-ness of life—part of our grieving process? Reflecting on the artworks in DIRGE and also upon history, anthropology, and medical humanities, Dr. Schillace will attempt to ‘draw us nigh.’


Thursday, April 17 / 7pm

In partnership with The Cleveland Clinic

This 3rd installment of The End, Reconsidered lecture series is a panel discussion including three leading palliative care physicians from Cleveland and beyond who will explore bioethical issues relating to terminal illness, end-of-life care, and the relationship between physicians and their dying patients.


Thursday, May 8 / 7pm

In partnership with Hospice of the Western Reserve

 This final installment of The End, Reconsidered lecture series is a talk by Chuck Behrens, chaplain for the Hospice of the Western Reserve. Behrens will explore the relationship between creative expression, spirituality, and mortality. An accomplished speaker and advisor, Behrens received his Masters in Divinity from Lexington Theological Seminary and has worked in a spiritual care capacity with HWR since 1994. Artists featured in DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death

  • Cecily Brennan (born 1955; lives in Dublin, Ireland)
  • Sophie Calle (born 1953; lives in Paris)
  • Jim Campbell (born 1956; lives in San Francisco)
  • Vija Celmins (born 1938; lives in New York)
  • TR Ericsson (born 1972; lives in New York and Cleveland)
  • Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957 – 1996)
  • Trenton Doyle Hancock (born 1974; lives in Houston)
  • Spring Hurlburt (born 1952, lives in Toronto)
  • Rosemary Laing (born 1959; lives in Sydney, Australia)
  • Steve Lambert (born 1976; lives in New York)
  • Kesang Lamdark (born 1963; lives in Zurich)
  • Kris Martin (born1972; lives in Ghent, Belgium)
  • Matt Mullican (born 1951; lives in New York)
  • Takashi Murakami (born 1952; lives in Tokyo)
  • Oscar Muñoz (born 1971; lives in Bogota, Colombia)
  • Mike Nelson (born 1967; lives and works in London)
  • Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook (born 1957; lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand)
  • Pedro Reyes (born 1972; lives in Mexico City)
  • Dario Robleto (born 1972; lives in Houston)
  • Guido van der Werve (born 1977; lives in Amsterdam and Berlin)
  • Hannah Wilke (1940-1993)
  • David Wojnarowicz (1954 – 1992)
  • Teresa Margolles (born 1963; lives in Mexico City)

 Sara VanDerBeek (March 7, 2014–June 8, 2014)

Organized by David Norr, Former Chief Curator
The Toby Devan Lewis Gallery will feature newly commissioned work by New York-based artist Sara VanDerBeek. Using photography and sculptural forms, VanDerBeek creates installations that consider these sites, responding to architecture, surface, history, and layers of time. For her exhibition at MOCA Cleveland, VanDerBeek continues this effort, visiting Cleveland multiple times over the past year to develop a body of work that captures her experience of the city’s atmosphere and shifting landscape. VanDerBeek is an emerging talent in contemporary art, and her work is part of an important dialog that reconsiders the medium of photography in an expansive way; not just as pictures to be looked at, but as mediators of experience and sculptural objects in themselves.

 David Norr, curator of the exhibition, says “Sara VanDerBeek’s exhibition will create an immersive and contemplative experience for viewers. Her photographs and sculptures have a sense of suspension and a dreamlike quality, evoking fragments of memory and fleeting impressions of the city.”

 Sara VanDerBeek (1976, Baltimore) lives and works in New York. Her first solo museum show, To Think of Time (2011), was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; in 2012, she was commissioned to create new work by The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and in 2013 she became the first contemporary artist to be exhibited by the newly formed Fondazione Memmo–Arte Contemporanea, producing a new body of work in response to the city of Rome. VanDerBeek has been featured in group exhibitions at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and she was highlighted in New Photography 2009 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her work has been written about in Artforum, frieze, Art in America, The New York Times, Aperture, and Art News.

 Additional Information

DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death and Sara VanDerBeek will be on view from March 7, 2014 through June 8, 2014. Admission for MOCA Cleveland members and children under 6 years old is free. General admission is $8; seniors 65+, $6; and students with valid ID, $5. MOCA Cleveland’s hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 12 – 5 pm; open until 9 pm Thursdays; closed Mondays.

 MOCA Cleveland, founded in 1968, is a leading force in Northeast Ohio’s cultural scene and is recognized nationally and internationally for its presentation of contemporary art and ideas.  For more information on MOCA and all of its programming, visit or call 216-421-8671. 


Providing Dignity to the Dying Under Daunting Circumstances

February 18, 2014

A middle-aged man, healthy and active, was stunned when he heard the news.  A diagnosis of Huntington’s disease was overtaking his daily being.  Having no relatives except his estranged son, who wanted no contact with him, the man was put in touch with Hospice of the Western Reserve. 

The unthinkable was true. Ray had Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s Disease is an inherited condition that causes progressive destruction of the nervous system, resulting in jerking and uncontrolled movements of the arms, legs, face and other body parts.

Bringing no family members, Ray arrived at David Simpson Hospice House, where he was greeted by a social worker, nurse, doctor, spiritual care coordinator, and a volunteer. The care team had met previously and learned that many long term care facilities were unfamiliar with Huntington’s disease and would most likely deny admission to Ray. Because Hospice of the Western Reserve is a nonprofit hospice, pledges to provide care to all, regardless of ability to pay, the care team sprang into action and admitted Ray a resident.

There is no pharmacological treatment for Huntington’s Disease to prevent it from becoming worse. Dopamine blockers and other medications may help reduce abnormal movements, but Ray’s body continued to thrash back and forth and flip in the air, often landing harshly onto the floor.

The hospice care team that I was part of met regularly.  Volunteers frequently read to Ray, as he could not keep his body still long enough to watch a TV. The social worker pasted posters of Alaska on his ceiling, providing a virtual trip to Ray’s dream destination -the one place he always wanted to go. Spiritual care coordinators reached out to his estranged son, but regretfully he did not visit, perhaps to frightened of his own genetic fate to visit his father. Nurses and nursing assistants daily mended his wounds that Ray’s body unforgivingly thrust on him. 

As Ray’s disease progressed, safety became an issue.  The team researched options and decided that a fully walled, fully padded Craig bed, (a structure similar to a playpen) would provide the greatest amount of security and comfort for Ray.  Unable to acquire a Craig bed commercially, the team, together with the maintenance crew, volunteer seamstress, and a volunteer coordinator, made a custom padded Craig bed out of plywood, hospital mattresses, surgical sewing needles, duct tape and a staple gun. The venture took six hours from start to finish, allowing Ray to only be out of his room for minimal time, and ultimately yielded an environment where Ray could be safe.

Ray died months later, the disease completely overtaking his body.  His final home was safe, care was constant, and support was always available.  The support offered by the Hospice of the Western Reserve care team during the course of his illness was unlike any other Huntington’s disease care in the country – allowing for dignity, peace and safety in the face of hammering opposition.

Genny Costanzo

Former Coordinator of Volunteers, David Simpson Hospice House

*Patient’s name changed in story



Baldwin Family Gift Benefits Ashtabula Community

February 13, 2014

From left: Andy Pochatko, Reference Librarian, Harbor Topky Library, Ashtabula; Catherine Westcott, Community Facility Coordinator, Hospice of the Western Reserve of Ashtabula; Suzanne Earle, Librarian, Hospice of the Western Reserve; and Peter Baldwin, representative of the Baldwin family, gather to create book bags for each public library in Ashtabula County as part of the Baldwin Library Collection.

From left: Andy Pochatko, Reference Librarian, Harbor Topky Library, Ashtabula; Catherine Westcott, Community Facility Coordinator, Hospice of the Western Reserve of Ashtabula; Suzanne Earle, Librarian, Hospice of the Western Reserve; and Peter Baldwin, representative of the Baldwin family, gather to create book bags for each public library in Ashtabula County as part of the Baldwin Library Collection.

Seventy new books, part of a generous gift from the local Baldwin family, are being donated to several Ashtabula County libraries. The new books will extend community accessibility and supplement the original Baldwin Library Collection, donated in 1999, which is housed at Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Ashtabula Office.

Funded by a $25,000 gift from the children of Ashtabula resident Richard H. Baldwin, and his brothers — Raymond F. Baldwin and Robert F. Baldwin, Sr. — the books were given to the community to raise awareness about the benefits of hospice and palliative care. The collection also includes grief support and bereavement resources for families who are coping with the loss of loved ones.

The new books cover a wide range of topical issues, including coping with miscarriage and stillbirth, caregiving resources, becoming a “midlife orphan” (loss of both parents), loss of a child from drug overdose, saying goodbye to a pet, and much more.

Pete Baldwin, the son of Raymond, and a member of Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Ashtabula Advisory Council, said the collection fulfills Richard’s life-long dream of supporting Ashtabula County families caring for loved ones. “The Baldwin Library Collection makes Richard’s dream a reality, and provides a meaningful way for my cousins and me to honor our fathers and leave a lasting legacy,” he said.

“We’re so grateful for the generosity of the Baldwin family,” said Catherine Westcott, Community Facility Coordinator for Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Ashtabula Office. “We are honored by their support of our mission. This new donation allows us to extend our educational outreach across the county by making the books locally available at community libraries.”






Online Condolences: Do they work for you?

February 11, 2014


The family cat died last week. I have often written about the death of a pet and how non-pet lovers often disenfranchise grief from the death of a cat or dog. More and more folks seem to accept that it wasn’t just a dog and acknowledge the role pets play in our lives.  What was quite remarkable to me was what occurred on my Facebook page.

I posted the photo of my aged, sad-looking furry friend with the caption “Kenny RIP”.  I had never posted animal photos before.  Much to my surprise, there was an outpouring of empathy, sympathy and compassion from family, friends, high school acquaintances, professional colleagues, former work associates and others that I only keep in touch with out of curiosity. These comments touched my heart and I was delightfully surprised to hear from certain people.

Rumor has it that Facebook is developing a sympathy button. Currently, when someone posts sad news, the options are to “like” it and/or to comment. Some posters are offended when people “like” their sad news. I appreciated not having a sympathy button in this instance as it prompted folks to comment rather than to hit the “like” button.  My “friends” expressions of sympathy ranged from sorry to it’s so hard to lose a beloved pet who is a member of the family to the simple aw and my personal favorite…love and sympathy, hugs.

Is it right or wrong, good or bad to express condolences on Facebook? Is a letter or a greeting card the only acceptable way to offer sympathy?  While expressions of grief can sometimes be offensive, offering condolences online is certainly okay. 

Consider your relationship with the grieving person. If your co-worker is grieving and he or she is someone you see every day, what would be most appropriate? An email, card, letter, or phone call? What makes the most sense? What would the griever want?  The internet offers an immediate response. Postal mail can take a few days after you’ve already taken a few days to sit down and write the letter or card. Will your friend or co-worker think you don’t care if he or she hasn’t received a card by the time she returns to work?

Here are two examples: A Facebook friend yearly posts a picture of her deceased husband on the anniversary of his death. Many, many friends comment. They share stories and words of inspiration that provide great comfort. An elderly bereaved client yearly places an ad in the local obits honoring her deceased husband. The Facebook friend receives immediate feedback, the client brings in the clipping and receives support and hugs from group members and staff, weeks later. 

Some people might think condolences on Facebook are empty expressions of grief. They may be from people you are rarely in touch with. But personally, I appreciated the sentiments from everyone. One post was from a former co-worker who fondly remembered the story of how my cat earned his name.

Offering condolences on social networks is perfect for the sometimes partial or distant friend. HOWEVER, nothing can take the place of physically being with the people you love.

The bottom line is that it’s really up to the griever and his or her comfort level in expressing grief on the internet and social networks. The role of the friend is to be a friend and honor that grief whether it’s through a Facebook post, picking up the phone or showing up at the door with a meal.

Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups at

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Family Statement Regarding Funeral Arrangements for Arnold R. Pinkney

January 13, 2014

Prominent businessman and political consultant Arnold R. Pinkney passed away at 1:30 p.m. today at David Simpson Hospice House. The family wishes to thank friends and family for their encouragement and expressions of love during this difficult time.

The family has announced that there will be a public viewing from 8 to 9:30 a.m., a wake from 10 to 11 a.m., and the funeral service beginning at 11 a.m., on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, 8712 Quincy Ave., Cleveland. The public is welcome to join family and friends at all services.  

About Hospice of the Western Reserve

Hospice of the Western Reserve is a nationally acclaimed non-profit agency providing comfort and emotional support to patients and their families. The agency provides palliative end-of-life care, caregiver support and bereavement services throughout the region, and cares for people in a variety of settings, including private residences, assisted living and retirement communities, nursing homes, at Ames Family Hospice House in Westlake and David Simpson Hospice House on Cleveland’s east side. For more information, visit or call 800.707.8922.

Reel Grief: What the Movies Can Teach Us

January 13, 2014

There are many ways to support the bereaved during their grieving process. Give gentle and unconditional support. Provide a listening ear.  Help with errands and chores.  Another approach is to recommend movies that focus on recovering from loss. A film’s lesson can be helpful and supportive, as well as facilitate and/or validate the grieving process.


1.13.14 Diane - The Movies and Grief


Movies are about the human experience, complete with love and loss. The complex, confusing and isolating feelings that are common to the bereaved are often portrayed on the screen. In addition, the movie can be fodder for eliciting these feelings or can act as a catalyst to start a conversation. Talking about a movie creates a safe way to share the difficult feelings of grief.

On some level (consciously or not), the bereaved can often relate to what the grieving characters in the film are going through. Identifying with a character can help develop confidence or remind the bereaved of his or her own inner strengths and resources. It can also be insightful when the relatable character in the movie is different or unlikable.

Watching movies often helps the viewer to step back and see the bigger picture. It can give you a more objective perspective on what’s happening.

Here are some questions to consider….

What are the main grief issues identified in the movie?

What strengths did you recognize in the characters that were grieving?

How does the main character build or maintain an enduring connection with the deceased love one?

What similarities do you see in your own life?

There are many movies that address grief and loss. Here are a few that might interest you and assist you through your grief journey.



Rabbit Hole (2010) – Rabbit Hole is a moving, dark character study of what happens to a happily married couple when they suddenly lose the love of their life, their 4-year-old son.

Forrest Gump (1994) – This film depicts several decades in the life of Forest Gump who witnesses and in some cases influences some defining events in the 20th century. Along the way, he experiences grief and loss.

Steel Magnolias (1989) – A heartwarming story of life, love and loss in a small Louisiana Parish.

Truly Madly Deeply (1991) – This film can inspire those who have suffered a significant loss to discover new interests in life.

Ordinary People (1980) – This film offers an intense examination of a family being torn apart by tension and tragedy.



Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – This is a fantasy adventure film about the power of imagination and the magic of friendship and includes the death of a friend.

The Lion King (1994) – After the death of his father, the lion cub Simba goes into exile and eventually returns to the pride.

Up (2009) – A grieving widower and a young boy go on a great adventure together.

My Girl (1991) – A coming of age story about an 11-year-old girl that experiences death and transformation.

Post can also be seen on ShareWIK.

“She isn’t teaching me how to die; she’s teaching me how to live.”

January 10, 2014

Adell Memories PicA couple weeks ago, two students from a local high school approached me and asked if they could interview a Hospice of the Western Reserve employee. I recommended they consult with one of our Spiritual Care Coordinators, Chuck Behrens. Chuck and I met the students at Ames Family Hospice House where they filmed some of Chuck’s most memorable moments while working at Hospice of the Western Reserve.

One story that caught my attention was about a 101 year old patient currently in our care.  Chuck finished his video testimonial about this patient with this statement: “She isn’t teaching me how to die; she’s teaching me how to live.” After the students left, I asked Chuck more about this incredible woman he just spoke about. He encouraged me to reach out to this patient and see if she would be interested in sharing her story with me.

Just a few days ago, I had the amazing opportunity to meet with Adell. She told me stories about her days growing up in Cleveland, her college experience, Saturday hiking group, her 38 years as a physical education teacher in Lakewood, the times she spent in her Lake Erie cottage with friends and family and her days as a world traveler.

Adell has a fascinating story, so fascinating that her care team, art therapists and volunteers helped put together her 20 page autobiography. Approximately 50 people attended the book signing that was held just before Christmas. Attendees signed a memory board and the day was captured in individual photos, all of which Adell holds close to her heart.

This lovely woman set a fine example for me and those around her. Her personality, outlook and knowledge left an indelible impression that I will cherish.

You can read Adell’s full story here.

- Nicole Carlone, Communications

Tinsel and Grief

December 11, 2013


Through the years we’ve offered many workshops for the bereaved on how to cope throughout the holiday season.  Today we offer you what we’ve learned from those grieving the death of a loved one.

  • My family collects superhero toys all year long. In December we go to the children’s hospital and donate them in honor of my son who died when he was eight.  Drew loved Spiderman.
  • It’s comforting to me to keep our old family traditions alive even though some moments can be painful. We do everything exactly the same as we always have.
  • I only shop online.  Mom and I always went holiday shopping together and now it hurts too much to go into the stores and see all the decorations.  So I just shop online.
  • We decorate our Christmas tree with Mother’s costume jewelry.  She had tons of it.  Our tree looks amazing and as we put up each necklace or pin or bracelet, we share stories about mom.  The first year it was really sad, but now it’s fun and has become a tradition.
  • I make my Auntie Clara’s cranberry relish.  Nobody likes it, but I still make it in her honor.
  • I give myself 30 minutes to listen to songs that make me cry.  I go into the depths of my sadness and then move on.
  • The first two years I stopped sending greeting cards, but I think I might start this year.  I think I might write one of those letters where you give updates on your family.  There are some people who would like to hear from us.
  • I will pull out my never-ending scrapbook and create a new page that both celebrates the holiday and honors my parents.  It’s been a tough year.
  • I volunteer at a soup kitchen and feed the homeless.  It gives me a sense of purpose.
  • I always have a get-away plan.  When I go to the family dinner or the office party, I drive my own car and park in the street so I don’t get stuck in the driveway.  That way I can leave whenever I want.
  • My children and I bake all the cookies and favorite dishes of my husband.  Joe loved sugar cookies and would make them with the kids.  Now it’s my job.  We make a day of it by playing Joe’s favorite music as loud as we can and making a mess in the kitchen.  We laugh and we cry.  It’s great.
  • We go to the cemetery.
  • Above the fireplace, we place candles and greenery around her photo.  It feels like she is there even though she isn’t physically present.
  • My grandfather loved sports and instilled the love for exercise in us.  We start a Thanksgiving morning with a 5K run and head back to the house for food and festivities.
  • I go to my daughter’s Facebook page and read the comments from all her friends.  It’s bittersweet but brings me comfort.

The holidays are a challenge for many who are grieving. Remember there is no right or wrong or good or bad way to grieve. Do what works for you and be kind to yourself this holiday season.

Please visit our online grief discussions groups.

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