April 21, 2014
After your spouse or partner dies, you transition from being a couple to being alone. This loss can bring significant changes to your life and it can be difficult to function in a world that has suddenly become so different. The life you shared may feel like it’s crumbled. Here are some ideas to consider as you work your way through your grief:
If you feel like you’re on a roller coaster of emotions, know that you aren’t alone. It’s okay to laugh and to cry. Don’t feel as if you need to hold onto only negative emotions. All of your emotions are a tribute to the life you shared together.
Please join one of our spousal loss support groups.
Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups.
This column is also posted on ShareWIK.com.
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.
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 Study, JAMA 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.
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 http://www.hospicewr.org/discussions/grief/.
Please like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ESPBCenter
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please like us on Facebook.
November 12, 2013
I’m coming up on the 2nd anniversary of my dad’s death…which is also right around the time of Thanksgiving. In fact, Thanksgiving fell during Shiva and we had a small, but traditional turkey dinner. It felt dreamlike. Last year, we went back to our traditional meal at my sister’s with many family members and, although it was festive, we could feel Dad’s absence. This year Thanksgiving falls on the first full day of Hanukkah. It’s a rare event that won’t reoccur for nearly 78,000 years. I have a feeling that my Thanksgivings will never be the same either.
In grief work, we tell families that grief is often harder the second year. Holidays, birthdays, and special occasions often feel surreal the first year. Perhaps you go on vacation or enjoy the festive meal at a restaurant or different relative’s home. The second year, it may become your turn to host the event. It’s not surreal – but very real. The absence of your deceased loved one is palpable.
In the second year, people are often caught off guard by what triggers their grief. Special days are reminders of this absence. In the first year of grief, friends and family members make special allowances…oh, this is her first year without… In subsequent years, the expectation of others and maybe even of yourself is that everything should be back to normal. This is not the case at all.
What helps during the second year of grief when the holidays are at hand? Think back to what you did during the first year. What eased your stress and anxiety? If coming together with family brought comfort, do it. If baking your loved one’s favorite pie was too difficult emotionally, don’t do it. Think ahead. Plan and choose what you want to do.
Thanksgiving and Hanukkah! People are referring to it as Thanksgivukkah—a joint celebration of two separate holidays that memorialize our religious freedom with delicious food. Latkes, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes? We’re doing all three. My dad would have been tickled pink.
Please visit our on-line grief discussion groups at http://www.hospicewr.org/discussions/grief/ .
Please like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ESPBCenter.
October 15, 2013
The purpose of a mask is to cover or conceal. Think about how often we put on masks that say… Look at me, I’m fine. The phrase, I’m fine, is stated by everybody at least once a day. For many, it’s a lie we tell ourselves as much as we tell others. On the inside, we may be far from fine. We may be reeling with emotions. Sometimes, we may even put up a mask internally when we are afraid to look at our own innermost bits and pieces. Perhaps we fear that we’ll crumble and fall apart.
Every now and then we need to wear a mask. We may want to project a certain image and wearing a mask helps us play the part. Some people refer to this as the… fake it ‘til you make it approach. And of course, we have masks for various occasions. There are masks we wear at work, at home, at school, and in the community. But, it’s important to recognize what mask we are wearing so that we do so with care and remember how to take them off. From time to time, we must take a deep look inside.
One activity we do with school age children and adolescents at Together We Can grief camp, is create inner and outer masks to increase awareness of our feelings. Once the campers can recognize and label these feelings, they are encouraged to share their innermost ones with the group—where they are safe and their feelings will be accepted.
Photo: Masks created by children at Together We Can grief camp, Hospice of the Western Reserve.
As an adult, you may or may not want to actually create a mask, but consider what one might look like. To see the mask you wear outward, look to other’s reactions towards you. Your inner mask may be more difficult to picture, but it’s worth the effort to look deep. Stuffing feelings far below the surface can result in a plethora of mind, body and spirit symptoms. Remember, you do not have to grieve alone.
Please like us on Facebook.
September 27, 2013
Cory Monteith, Eydie Gorme, Dennis Farina, Bobby Blue Bland, James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton, Joyce Brothers, Richie Havens, Jonathan Winters, Annette Funicello, Van Cliburn, Bonnie Franklin. This is just a small sampling of the many celebrity deaths in 2013.
We are fascinated by the lives of celebrities. We grow up with them. They have been in our living rooms, our kitchens and our bedrooms. We know all about their lives – their struggles and their achievements, their hopes and dreams. They are our friends and when one of them dies, it can have a profound impact.
It’s natural to fixate on celebrities. Humans are social creatures and we have evolved to pay attention to people at the top. By observing them, you learn what high-status individuals do so you might more effectively become one. And, by knowing what is going on with high-status individuals, you are able to navigate the social scene – or simply have something to talk about at lunch with coworkers.
When a celebrity dies, the grief reaction can be quite unexpected. Society, friends, colleagues, teachers, parents do not understand why the death is so upsetting. For youth, the death of a celebrity may be the first death they experience. And if it’s a drug overdose or suicide, it can shatter their world view. Any death of a public figure can have an impact on spirituality and belief systems.
Noting the celebrities listed…. I was worried about how my nieces would react to Cory’s death. With the deaths of Jean and Bonnie, I mourned my time watching TV with my parents and siblings growing up. Van Cliburn’s death touched my heart as I recalled listening to his records over and over when I was immersed in the piano. And when Tony Soprano died, I was just plain sad. I loved that guy.
The outpouring of grief that often accompanies a celebrity death allows people to feel part of the community and share their grief in a safe and supported way. It can be a time to reminisce, share stories, and face their own mortality. If it is a first loss experience, the experience of grief can help prepare for personal loss later in life.
If you or your child is deeply impacted by a celebrity death, go with it. With grief, there are never right or wrong or good or bad feelings. And one death may trigger a grief reaction from a previous death. Give yourself permission to feel and consider this a time for personal growth and insight.
Like us on Facebook.
September 12, 2013
According to Dr. David Balk, Ph.D, author of “Helping the Bereaved College Student” and member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), at any time at least 22 to 30 percent of college students are in the first year of grieving the death of a family member. Developmentally, most college students do not have all the coping mechanisms to manage the loss. For some, it could be their first experience with death.
Bereaved college students often feel a sense of isolation. “Hi, my mom died” is not a great conversation starter at a party. Furthermore, there can be a toll on concentration and academic performance.
Some find support amongst peers, but many peers lack the skills needed to provide that support. In fact, sharing a death-related loss could result in avoidance rather than support.
While many colleges have guidance centers that offer support, few have bereavement programs. There is a movement lobbying towards more grief sensitivity on college campuses. Currently it is negligible, at best. Find someone on campus to advocate for your college student.
Bereaved college students need:
College students can also find online support. The National Students of AMF support network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting college students grieving the illness or death of a loved one.
August 22, 2013
Roadside memorials are familiar sights on highways and city streets. These are public displays of mourning and can be found throughout the countryside and across the globe. They have become commonplace throughout the world and can be thought of as cultural manifestations of grief, mourning and memorialization.
Per Wikipedia, a roadside memorial is a marker that usually commemorates a site where a person died suddenly and unexpectedly, away from home. Unlike a grave site headstone, which marks where a body is laid, the memorial marks the last place on earth where a person was alive…
Some roadside memorials are spontaneous. Friends and family place meaningful objects at the place of death. Sometimes these items are attached to a tree, pole or some other permanent object that is already in place. Many comprise of a cross, flowers (real or plastic) and personal items. These memorials emphasize that this was a place where someone died.
Other roadside memorials are more permanent in nature. These memorials identify the person who died. Rather than being unstructured and unplanned, these everlasting memorials are maintained and cared for by family members or friends. These bereaved transform the place where something tragic happened into a place of care and nurturing. It is one way to maintain continuing bonds with the deceased.
While researching this blog, I came across an article on the West Virginia department of transportation website. This small state has more than 400 roadside fatalities annually. They offer the bereaved the opportunity to request a Roadside Memorial Sign that is an official sign and placed by the Division of Highways as close to the site where the fatal motor vehicle accident occurred. This helps families memorialize loved ones and remind motorist to drive safely.
Some people find these roadside tributes distracting. Some find them disturbing. And for others, they are reminders of the fragility of life. I routinely pass a roadside memorial marking the death of one of my daughter’s childhood friends. I like the cue as it causes me to take pause and remember.
For more information on roadside memorials, click here.
Please like us on Facebook.
This article can also be viewed at ShareWIK.