02/18/18

‘This Is Us’ shows Americans it’s OK to grieve

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Americans often seek to move on and leave the deaths of loved ones behind — failing to resolve their feelings in the process — which is why “This Is Us” is such useful TV.

By Jennifer Wright

I love “This Is Us.”

Not because I think it’s corny, or over the top. I don’t watch it ironically. I love it with a complete and total earnestness. That is what it deserves.

Because NBC’s “This Is Us” is one of the only shows on television that honestly explores the ongoing nature of grief.

Each episode deals with a cast of characters who are still mourning the loss of their father, Jack Pearson, who died 20 years ago. The episode after the Super Bowl finally revealed Jack’s cause of death. Spoiler: It was that he ran back inside his family’s burning house to save his daughter’s dog and suffered a heart attack from smoke inhalation. A stunning 27 million viewers tuned in.

The show’s creator Dan Fogelman tweeted that, “My mom died 10 years ago, unexpectedly. It’s the hinge upon which my life swings. Jack’s death is the Pearson hinge. We look back. We move forward. That’s our collective journey.”

That attitude is quietly revolutionary in a country that doesn’t like to dwell on death, let alone the sadness it provokes. America exists in stark contrast to other cultures like Mexico, where the Day of the Dead is celebrated, or China, whose Qingming Festival is intended to remember ancestors who’ve passed away. In America, we’re expected to move tidily through the stages of grief and then not talk about our loss too much anymore.

Ongoing grief doesn’t fit with American ideals about being strong and resilient.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. According to Psychology Today, many people are incapacitated by grief. It notes, “approximately 10 to 20 percent of bereaved persons have severe enough, unremitting reactions to loss that result in a complicated grieving process that may require treatment.” When you consider that “8 million people suffered through the death of someone in their immediate family last year,” according to the National Mental Health association, that makes for a lot of powerfully bereaved people out there.

Teens — as the children in “This is Us” were at the time of their dad’s death — can be struck especially hard. An essay in Social Psychiatry on “Suicide following bereavement of parents” found that there is five times greater risk of suicide in teens following the loss of a parent.

For the most part, the Pearsons on “This is Us”s seem to have resumed their lives. But anyone who has lost a loved one can tell you that you don’t just grieve for a limited amount of time and then go back to “normal.” The normal that existed prior to that loss is gone. You can grieve on the days you expect (like Jack’s wife, played by Mandy Moore, who makes his favorite dinner each year on the anniversary of his death), but you can also be hit unexpectedly by it (as happens to Jack’s now-adult daughter Kate when she considers adopting a dog).

In a culture where death is often a taboo topic, “This Is Us” is a show that can get people talking about it.

You can see people on Twitter responding to the episode about Jack’s death by saying, as @littlestgrey did:

“Jack’s conversation w Rebecca about not being in the ground was almost word for word the conversation my Grandma had with me. Have I mentioned how cathartic this show is?”

Or, like @Kab_Fair, who tweeted:

“my mom died when I was young and I carry her with me every day, I think that is the message of This Is Us, she’s never gone, just physically unknown to those who occupy my life today.”

“This Is Us” does something incredibly valuable in showing us that it is OK to be sad. The characters in the show are able to grieve, but they’re also able to partake in life’s many joys.

It’s nice to see that, now that Jack’s death has been revealed, the show will go on to explore how the death of Jack’s brother in Vietnam affected him. And it will probably end up making us cry all over again.

On the show and his own grief Fogelman tweeted, “Sad? Yes. But when you look through a wide enough lens — it’s also outrageously beautiful.”
To grieve is to have known love.

The characters are dealing with a deep sadness that almost all of us will eventually experience. That’s true whether or not we want it to happen, and whether or not we want to talk about it. To experience loss is, as the show’s creator says, our collective journey.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/13/18

Grieving the death of a spouse/partner

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The death of a spouse or partner can be one of the most devastating events in a person’s life bringing with it it’s own particular difficulties. As a result of this death you may have lost your life’s partner, lover, confidante, father or mother of your children, breadwinner, home-maker and possibly your best friend. You may be forced to make more changes than from any other event you will ever experience.

Even if you maintained a great deal of personal independence within your relationship you can be surprised and frightened to discover just how ‘dependent’ you have been on your partner. Over the years you may have related closely to one another’s fears and joys so that when one dies you feel incomplete. Your life has lost its structure and its purpose. You may be left with many unfulfilled needs – emotional, physical, practical, intellectual and social. It is hard to imagine all the areas of life your spouse once filled until you experience the gaps.

Grieving, in itself, is emotionally and physically exhausting. When you have the additional burden of taking on the roles that were previously performed by your partner, going on living may appear to be just too much. New tasks should be embarked on slowly with as much help as is available. Major decisions should not be taken when vision is clouded by anxiety and panic.

Friends may avoid social contact with you because of embarrassment. You are now a single person. Some may see you as a threat to their relationships. You may feel isolated, no longer part of a group, not invited out, or you may exclude yourself as you feel uncomfortable without your partner. Many surviving partners experience the unwanted sexual advances from those whom they counted among their or their partner’s friends.

The feeling of loneliness can be overwhelming and will probably come to you at your most vulnerable times – at night, weekends and holidays. Plan for this – at night keep the radio on, change your routine. Plan a project or outing for a weekend or holiday. Make contact with another lonely person.

Financial difficulties may arise – especially if your spouse or partner died without making a will. You may not be aware of your financial state and even if matters are in order there is often a delay in getting things sorted out. If there is a reduction in income the effect on your standard of living may cause family problems especially when children’s expectations also have to be adjusted. This can add to feelings of fear, anxiety and anger. Your local Citizens Information Centre may be of help with practical matters.

Sexual loss. The loss of love making which included touch, warmth and sharing a bed with your partner can be very painful. It can be tempting to succumb to sexual advances from another. However, such action based on acute need and deep grief is potentially hazardous. Until you have let go of the past, it is better not to make a commitment to someone new.

If your partner dies in the early years of the marriage / relationship not only do you grieve the loss of a beloved person but also the loss of a new, exciting romantic relationship with the prospect of years of mutual love and companionship. You may also grieve the hope of parenting a child or more children together. You may feel that you are the only one of your generation who has been cheated out of hopes for the future. Young widows and widowers may also be expected to comfort the parents of the dead partner.

If the death occurs in your mid-life years you may have the additional stress of feeling trapped by the total responsibility for all the many needs of teenage children which can also prevent you from expressing your own grief. The agency ‘Parentline’ can be helpful in assisting with parenting problems. At this time you may also feel a loss of identity especially if you have no interests or work outside the home.

For the elderly bereaved – the loss of a life’s partner can cause increased trauma, create health problems and may affect your will to live. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, adult children may smother the surviving parent with care and attention. They do not allow you space to grieve or to make your own decisions. If your family are far away you can feel all alone and may even feel abandoned.

For those in same sex relationships there may be added difficulties. The relationship may have been ignored or denied by the family of one or both partners. This can create added stress for you in the grieving process. As the surviving partner, you may find yourself excluded from decision-making concerning the funeral and burial. You may even be precluded from attending.

Perhaps work colleagues and the wider community may just think that a ‘friend’ has died, but you have lost your life partner and companion and you have to keep your grief hidden. This intensifies all aspects of the grieving process, leading to strong feelings of loneliness, isolation, anger and, at times, frustration. If the death has been from Aids, this can lead to further social isolation. It is important that you can find someone to whom you can unburden your feelings.

Whatever your age when you are bereaved, your feeling and reactions will be influenced by the nature and duration of the relationship. If the relationship had been ambivalent, feelings of relief, regret and guilt can be confusing. It is important, when dealing with these feelings, to be totally honest with yourself. Put words on your feelings, voice them aloud or write them down. It is always helpful to talk about your feelings with someone who will listen in a caring and confidential way. This will help you to discover what you are feeling, why you are feeling like this and what you can do about it. Joining a support group for bereaved people may be helpful.

The Bereavement Counselling Service is there to listen and provide support as you struggle with your grief. In our modern world just surviving can be hard work. It is doubly hard to pull yourself out of an emotional trough but it is not impossible. Each time you cope with a crisis and make a major decision you will feel good about yourself. When you reach a goal you will gain satisfaction and self-assurance through your own competence. With time and effort you will recover to lead a full and rewarding life once again.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/11/18

Grieving My Boyfriend’s Death… with His Ex-Boyfriend

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Being gay can feel isolating. So can loss. Conquer both, together.

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It’s never easy meeting your boyfriend’s exes, but it’s even harder when it’s at your partner’s funeral. So it was that I first met Donal, the love of Simon’s life. Handsome and charming, eloquent in his grief, I hated him before I even gave myself the chance to know him. While we got on fine at the wake, I had every intention of that being the only time we ever spoke.

This was made a lot harder by my decision to run the London marathon in our Simon’s name. As soon as the torrent of sweaty finish line selfies hit Facebook, Donal knew exactly why I had just run 26.2 miles, even though I’d done everything in my power not to bring his attention to what I was doing. It was about my pain, not anyone else’s.

“I wish we could have been better friends,” Donal messaged me.

“Well, we’re not the ones who are dead yet mate,” I wrote back. “So let’s Skype?”

We agreed to talk a few days later. Donal was immediately the most charming man I’d ever met. He was pleasant, complimentary, truthful, funny, and open about the fact he had felt just as alienated at Simon’s funeral as I had.

“What do you miss most about him?” he asked.

“His eyes,” I said. Donal nodded and smiled.

“I miss that ass, frankly.”

He paused, and then told me that I was the only other person who truly understood how he felt about Simon. I felt the same way: to speak to the only other person who had slept next to Simon was, perhaps, the most liberating thing in the world. Like the first time you make a Sean Cody joke with a new gay friend and realize that, for once, you’re speaking to someone who gets your shorthand.

We were both incredibly similar people—and both equally unaware of the chemsex and meth epidemic in London before meeting Simon—and both of us were trying to respond to his loss proactively. I wrote a play, he was making a film. He was helping support people he met who were in recovery, and I’d just run across half of London for Stonewall.

As we sat there, talking about our experiences with the same man, he started to cry as he told me that he wished he’d fought more for Simon to move out with him and get help in California, where the community was a lot better than it was in London.

This was not the first time Donal had told me this. At the wake, I had seen this as the most selfish opinion in the world: Didn’t I have a right to have met Simon too? This time round, less salty than I was when recently bereaved, I told him to stop being a fucking hero. Neither of us could have saved him, and we’d be arrogant to think otherwise. He smiled and told me he understood exactly why Simon fell for me.

We pledged to speak more, and we do. When Donal was back in England recently, we even popped into the bar where Simon and me—and Donal and me—had first met. Donal introduced me to the manager behind the counter, a man who I had bought pints from many times, knowing that we both had the same loss in our hearts, but had never spoken to.

“You won’t believe it,” said Donal, “but David here ran the marathon for Simon.”

The manager turned to look at me. He shook my hand. All three of us were choked up.

“Well then you’re not paying for those drinks,” he said.

Fran Leibowitz said in “The Impact of AIDS on the Artistic Community” that the crisis killed off the greatest audience for art New York had ever seen. For me, it also seems to have decimated a generation of mentors. Not just because of the body count, of course, but because of ageism in the gay community, a lack of social spaces that aren’t for clubbing, and because I’m sure we, as a generation younger, can seem uncomfortably ignorant of the defining moments of the gay liberation movement in the 20th century. Before Donal I had met nobody who could say certainly that what I was experiencing was not entirely new, and could confidently tell me when what I was feeling was important or when I was being a fucking idiot.

And this is as true for bereavement as it is for homosexuality. Both can feel incredibly isolating: many experience it, but it’s almost like everyone is speaking a different language when they try and share their stories. What Donal and I give each other as Simon’s partners is also what I was desperately in need of as a gay man: A confidante. Much-needed perspective. And an understanding that we are all part of something tough and beautiful together. And, I hope, I will give somebody else that when I’m older.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/3/18

Five ways to cope with the death of a pet

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By Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio

The death of a pet can bring as much grief as the loss of some human friends and family members.

This makes sense when you consider the role our animal companions play in our everyday lives. You cared for your pet’s every need and, because they could not speak, you learned to communicate in other ways. Such caring builds intimacy similar to that found between a parent and their infant; love without conflict, jealousy, or any of the other complications found in most relationships. So when a pet dies, the depth of your grief reflects your loss of a special relationship.

“When we lose a pet, we lose a relationship unlike any other,” says Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio (www.greengateleadership.com), a family therapist and author of The Pet Loss Companion: Healing Advice From Family Therapists Who Lead Pet Loss Groups.

“Many of us love our pets the way we love our children. But in the immediate aftermath of this unique loss, too often family members and friends say things like, ‘Just get another one.’ Instead of devaluing your grief over the loss of this important relationship, as others may advise, embrace your sorrow. Your grief is important, for it will lead you to healing and teach you important things about what matters most in life.”

Dolan-Del Vecchio offers these tips for those grieving the loss of a pet:

  •  Share your grief with empathetic friends. Spend time with people who understand your closeness with your pet. Even some friends may be insensitive, so be careful to avoid “get over it” types of people.  “Unfortunately, many people see animals as if they were non-living objects,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says.
  • Attend a pet loss support group. Pet loss groups provide a concentrated dose of social support. Meeting with others who also grieve and share similar emotions can boost one’s healing greatly.
  • Keep moving.  Exercise is a healer. It boosts feelings of well-being and calm, improves sleep and brightens your mood.
  • Be creative. Whether you lean toward writing, scrapbooking, ceramics, photography or making collages, creative projects may contribute to healing.
  •  Spend time in nature. Nothing quiets the mind and soul like a stroll through a park, nature preserve, or by the seashore. “The natural world brings special benefits when your heart has been torn by grief,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says. “The sights, sounds, and smells of nature connect us to eternal, circular stories of life and death in ways that go beyond our usual thoughts and feelings, and this experience brings solace to many people.”

“It’s important to care for yourself when you’re grieving your pet,” Dolan-Del Vecchio says. “This requires some planning and acts of will, as grief can diminish energy and motivation. You can lessen your distress through self-care. Above all else, be gentle with yourself.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/2/18

How to mourn someone who did bad things

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Grief is hard enough in itself.

But when your feelings towards the person who died weren’t all warm and loving, grief becomes complicated.

Take the death of Mark Salling, who took his life after pleading guilty to the possession of thousands of images of child porn. It’s natural to feel grief at his passing, but this comes tinged with guilt (are you allowed to feel sad when the person who died did a terrible thing?), resentment, confusion and hurt.

Or take the passing of a parent who treated you badly, an ex-partner you cut out of your life, or a relative with whom you had a complicated relationship.

Grieving in these cases is a murky mess that can leave you feeling isolated and mentally tangled. Are you supposed to grieve? Are you allowed to still feel anger at someone who’s died?

Here’s some advice on coping.

Give yourself permission to grieve

Regardless of someone’s actions, as terrible as they may be, they’re still a person who was around and now isn’t. It’s natural to feel shock and deep sadness, even if you hadn’t had contact for years or your opinion of them has long been negative.

Don’t feel guilt for feeling deeply sad that the person has died. They had an impact on your life in some way, and it’s okay to mourn them as a result.

That doesn’t mean you’re forgetting what they did. You can feel more than one thing at the same time. Give yourself permission to feel grief – it’s better to experience and explore it than try to hold it all back.

It’s okay to feel anger

While the person’s death may bring up old feelings of hurt and anger, for someone else it may be a much more straightforward relationship. Cue tributes calling them a wonderful person.

That can make you feel like thinking or feeling anything negative towards the deceased is disrespectful. It’s not.

Someone’s death does not erase the effect they had on other people, and their disappearance doesn’t erase the trauma they may have left behind.

You are not being disrespectful for feeling rage over the person’s actions. You are allowed to feel angry.

Be aware that the person’s death will trigger different feelings in others

Within the death of Mark Salling, a lot of different emotions will be triggered.

‘Everyone’s grieving something,’ Andy Langford, of Cruse Bereavement Care, tells Metro.co.uk. ‘They’re grieving him, or something he’s done.’

People may be mourning Mark’s loss, while others may be triggered by discussions of child abuse being brought into focus, or upset by a high profile suicide.

That’s the case with any death. While you might be angry, someone else will just be incredibly sad. Another will be even angrier. Someone who didn’t know the person might be triggered by the story of their death or what they did.

Seeing each other’s reactions won’t be helpful, and neither will arguing with each other about the ‘right’ response to the person’s death.

hile you may want to tweet about how the person is awful, another might need to express their mourning. It’s not fair to chip in on someone else’s process and criticise how they feel – grief is complex for everyone, and you have to respect that.

It’s hard, but try to keep your feelings about the deceased out of the public eye, or at least let the initial shock and sadness simmer down. You never know how your tribute or anger could bring up feelings in someone else.

‘People need to be careful with what they put on social media,’ advises Andy. ‘It’s permanent, it’s there, and people can use it however they like.

‘When people respond in anger, they can inflict disquiet and pain in others. This doesn’t diminish the pain you’ve experienced.’

Don’t react too quickly

When you’re experiencing a massive cocktail of different emotions, it’s easy to act rashly.

Take a breather, ask for some time off work if you need to, and avoid any situations where you might do something you regret.

It may be tempting to arrive at the funeral and announce all the things the person who died did to hurt you, but this will likely cause hurt to others and leave you feeling empty. Living out those immediate reactions is rarely as satisfying as you imagine.

Accept that resolution may not come in the way you expect

When you’ve had a complicated relationship with someone, you fantasise for years about finally getting that big showdown moment; the time when you’ll confront them with all that they did wrong, they’ll understand and apologise, and you’ll feel released.

Very few people actually get that showdown moment.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get some closure. You may be able to move forward by chatting to a therapist, going through a period of mourning, doing the empty chair exercise (exactly what it sounds like. You address someone as if they were sitting in an empty chair opposite you), finding out more about them, or gaining a greater understanding of why they did what they did.

There are many different forms of resolution, and the person’s death does not have to prevent you from continuing to live your most fulfilled life.

Write a letter

Writing a letter to that person is one way to get a sense of closure, and a way to explore all the different things you’re feeling. It’s a safe space to express emotions that might not be wise to share publicly, whether that’s resentment or a profound sense of loss.

Dedicate some time to getting it all out on some paper for a sense of release.

It’s up to you what you do with the letter afterwards – keep it, burn it, give it to someone so they can understand what you’re going through.

Just know that this letter is for your benefit, no one else’s, and you should feel free to write whatever you like without any shame or guilt.

Ask for help if you need it

There is absolutely no shame in finding someone’s death difficult to deal with, especially when they did something that caused serious emotional or physical pain.

Ask your GP to refer you for bereavement counselling, or find a private therapist with whom you can arrange as many sessions as you need.

Don’t worry that you won’t have anything to say or that you don’t really know what you want to achieve. Therapy is a safe space where you can explore your feelings with no pressure, seeing what comes up and dealing it thoughts as they come.

It sounds scary, but it’s not, and it can make getting through the mourning process much less distressing.

Remember that there’s no ‘right’ way to grieve

Everything you feel is entirely valid – hate, anger, hurt, loss. It’s all okay. You can’t blame yourself for how you feel in reaction to someone’s death.

‘Every case is different and somewhat unpredictable,’ Marcus Gottlieb of Notting Hill Therapy tells us. ‘If someone’s been cut out of your life, or you’re deeply angry about what they did at some point, your feelings on losing them – a “bereavement” which of course you may not even know about until much later – are liable to be intensely complex and hard to articulate.

‘But then grief can ALWAYS entail a different, individual cocktail of emotions – sadness, despair, relief, numbness, anger and so on.

‘There’s no “right” way, and there’s no “right” length of time to go through the experience. Rituals can help, conversation can help, time above all else.’

Complete Article HERE!

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01/17/18

Understanding Grief

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Although many of us are able to speak frankly about death, we still have a lot to learn about dealing wisely with its aftermath: grief, the natural reaction to loss of a loved one.

Relatively few of us know what to say or do that can be truly helpful to a relative, friend or acquaintance who is grieving. In fact, relatively few who have suffered a painful loss know how to be most helpful to themselves.

Two new books by psychotherapists who have worked extensively in the field of loss and grief are replete with stories and guidance that can help both those in mourning and the people they encounter avoid many of the common pitfalls and misunderstandings associated with grief. Both books attempt to correct false assumptions about how and how long grief might be experienced.

One book, “It’s OK That You’re Not OK,” by Megan Devine of Portland, Ore., has the telling subtitle “Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.” It grew out of the tragic loss of her beloved partner, who drowned at age 39 while the couple was on vacation. The other book, especially illuminating in its coverage of how people cope with different kinds of losses, is “Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving,” by Julia Samuel, who works with bereaved families both in private practice and at England’s National Health Service, at St. Mary’s hospital, Paddington.

The books share a most telling message: As Ms. Samuel put it, “There is no right or wrong in grief; we need to accept whatever form it takes, both in ourselves and in others.” Recognizing loss as a universal experience, Ms. Devine hopes that “if we can start to understand the true nature of grief, we can have a more helpful, loving, supportive culture.”

Both authors emphasize that grief is not a problem to be solved or resolved. Rather, it’s a process to be tended and lived through in whatever form and however long it may take.

“The process cannot be hurried by friends and family,” however well meaning their desire to relieve the griever’s anguish, Ms. Samuel wrote. “Recovery and adjustment can take much longer than most people realize. We need to accept whatever form it takes, both in ourselves and in others.”

We can all benefit from learning how to respond to grief in ways that don’t prolong, intensify or dismiss the pain. Likewise, those trying to help need to know that grief cannot be fit into a preordained time frame or form of expression. Too often people who experience a loss are disparaged because their mourning persists longer than others think reasonable or because they remain self-contained and seem not to mourn at all.

I imagine, for example, that some adults thought my stoical response to my mother’s premature death when I was 16 was “unnatural.” In truth, after tending to her for a year as she suffered through an unstoppable cancer, her death was a relief. It took a year for me to shed my armor and openly mourn the incalculable loss. But 60 years later, I still treasure her most important legacy: To live each day as if it could be my last but with an eye on the future in case it’s not.

Likewise, I was relieved when my husband’s suffering ended six weeks after diagnosis of an incurable cancer. Though I missed him terribly, I seemed to go on with my life as if little had changed. Few outside of the immediate family knew that I was honoring his dying wish that I continue to live fully for my own sake and that of our children and grandchildren.

Just as we all love others in our own unique ways, so do we mourn their loss in ways that cannot be fit into a single mold or even a dozen different molds. Last month, James G. Robinson, director of global analytics for The New York Times, described a 37-day, 6,150-mile therapeutic road trip he took with his family following the death of his 5-year-old son, collecting commemorative objects along the way and giving each member of the family a chance to express anger and sadness about the untimely loss.

Ms. Devine maintains that most grief support offered by professionals and others takes the wrong approach by encouraging mourners to move through the pain. While family and friends naturally want you to feel better, “pain that is not allowed to be spoken or expressed turns in on itself, and creates more problems,” she wrote. “Unacknowledged and unheard pain doesn’t go away. The way to survive grief is by allowing pain to exist, not in trying to cover it up or rush through it.”

As a bereaved mother told Ms. Samuel, “You never ‘get over it,’ you ‘get on with it,’ and you never ‘move on,’ but you ‘move forward.’”

Ms. Devine agrees that being “encouraged to ‘get over it’ is one of the biggest causes of suffering inside grief.” Rather than trying to “cure” pain, the goal should be to minimize suffering, which she said “comes when we feel dismissed or unsupported in our pain, with being told there is something wrong with what you feel.”

She explains that pain cannot be “fixed,” that companionship, not correction, is the best way to deal with grief. She encourages those who want to be helpful to “bear witness,” to offer friendship without probing questions or unsolicited advice, help if it is needed and wanted, and a listening ear no matter how often mourners wish to tell their story.

To those who grieve, she suggests finding a nondestructive way to express it. “If you can’t tell your story to another human, find another way: journal, paint, make your grief into a graphic novel with a very dark story line. Or go out to the woods and tell the trees. It is an immense relief to be able to tell your story without someone trying to fix it.”

She also suggests keeping a journal that records situations that either intensify or relieve suffering. “Are there times you feel more stable, more grounded, more able to breathe inside your loss? Does anything — a person, a place, an activity — add to your energy bank account? Conversely, are there activities or environments that absolutely make things worse?”

Whenever possible, to decrease suffering choose to engage in things that help and avoid those that don’t.

Complete Article HERE!

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01/10/18

In a new book for kids, the son of Grim Reaper offers lessons about death and dying

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Portland writer and illustrator Winslow Furber wrote the book to help parents and kids talk about mortality.

Winslow Furber wrote and illustrated “A Very Young Reaper,” about Tim Reaper, far right, the son of the Grim Reaper, to help families talk about death and dying.

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As a parent, Winslow Furber wanted a better way to talk to his kids about death. As a creative person, he was seeking an outlet for his ideas.

The result of both yearnings is Furber’s first children’s book, “A Very Young Reaper,” which tells the tale of young Tim Reaper, the son of Kim and Grim Reaper. Everything Tim touches dies, leaving him sad and alone because no one wants to meet the son of the Grim Reaper. Until one day, when he meets a very old porcupine who teaches the boy that what makes him different than everyone else is also what makes him special.

Furber wrote and illustrated the book, issued by an Indiana-based on-demand publishing house, to help families talk about death and dying with kids, as well as the concept of death with dignity. The book also speaks to the idea of adapting your world and lifestyle to accommodate people who are different and who possess peculiar, other abilities.

Furber, who lives in Portland and works as a building contractor, has been thinking about death with dignity and related issues since college, when his roommate’s mother suffered a difficult, painful death from cancer. “I’ve had some experience with the death of pets and having to have that conversation with my own two children,” he said. “I just thought it would be nice to have something that works around the whole death-with-dignity theme. I started thinking about a very young reaper – the son of Grim Reaper – and how he would grow up, overcome obstacles and come to grips with his own unique circumstances. How does he adapt to the fact that everything he touches dies?”

“A Very Young Reaper.” By Winslow Furber.
AuthorHouse. $16.99.

Furber is sharing proceeds of book sales with the Center for Grieving Children, the Animal Refuge League and the Death with Dignity National Center.

Furber, 54, has always had artistic instincts, but spent most of his professional life working for others. He was a financial planner for many years – “the worst mistake I could have made” – and worked as director of development and maintenance for SailMaine, which supports community sailing programs in the state. He’s an avid sailor and loves spreading his family’s love of sailing with other families.

A few years ago, he went off on his own as a contractor, enabling him to work for himself and balance his many interests. He went to Middlebury College, where he majored in sculpture and also studied math and physics. He also makes jewelry, and ultimately would like to make art all the time. “I’d like to stop swinging a hammer and tell more stories,” he said.

The book is a step in that direction. He attended a children’s book conference in New York last February and began writing the book soon after. He pitched “A Very Young Reaper” to several publishers and ultimately decided to go the self-publishing route because he didn’t want to wait for a publisher to come around to his idea.

“I sent it out to six or eight publishers, and got one to talk to me. The publisher said, ‘It’s a beautiful story, but you are going to find it very difficult to find a publisher willing to take a flier on it,’” he said. “I felt it was important to get it out. I would have loved to have had something when my kids were little, when the bunny died. That’s what Tim does. He helps people who are old or sick.”

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