08/6/17

Learning how to handle grief in college harder than expected

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Grieving for my brother was much harder away from home, but getting help and hearing other students with similar experiences helped me to become a more independent person.

By Laura Townsend

By the time I got to college freshman year, I thought I had learned how to handle my grief. It had been three years since a car accident took the life of my adored big brother. For three years, I had been learning how to navigate a world in which he no longer existed. I was in constant pain, but I thought I had my grief under control.

A few months into my freshman year, I suffered a breakdown. Grieving for my brother in college was nothing like it was in high school. For the first time, I was forced to miss my brother entirely by myself. At home, my friends and family were grieving alongside me. I had been leaning on them so heavily that when they were no longer there to hold me up, I collapsed.

College is a difficult transition for everyone. We are forced to adjust to a new way of living while balancing coursework and a social life. In college, we learn who we are separately from those who raised us. Everything around us feels new, and yet our old problems still remain. They linger until we are forced to confront them.

As college stresses continued to build, I suppressed my feelings of grief and homesickness. A breakdown was inevitable.

The beginning of the breakdown occurred in the middle of one of my classes, when the professor played a disturbing video of a car accident. The video triggered memories I had been suppressing for months. I ran out of class crying.

After the incident in the classroom, I could no longer contain my grief. I began having panic attacks on a nearly daily basis. I missed classes and fought with friends.

After a particularly severe panic attack, I decided I needed help; I scheduled an appointment with University Counseling Service. At my first appointment, my therapist (a peppy graduate student) informed me that significant portions of the service’s clientele are grieving students. She hit me with a cliché: “You are not alone,” which I actually really needed to hear.

Grieving in college can feel isolating. At home, there were pictures of my brother on every wall of the house. My parents were always talking about him. Even my friends would recall stories from time to time. At college, nobody knew who he was. New friends did not want to discuss deeply personal matters right away. I did not want to be a burden to them.

What I failed to realize freshman year, however, was that many of my friends were dealing with their own grief at the same time. Many of them were struggling as much as I was.

Grief is an all-consuming feeling that never goes away. As long as my heart is beating, I will mourn the loss of my brother. He is always on my mind. Grieving in college has been an entirely different process than grieving at home. It is never easy, but once I learned to open up and let myself feel sad when I needed to, it became manageable. Learning how to grieve in college was an essential step to learning how to be an independent person.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/26/17

Man dresses up as dead sister to help grieving elderly mother cope with loss

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Man dresses up as dead sister to help grieving elderly mother cope with loss

A 50-year-old man has been dressing up as his dead sister for 20 years to ease his elderly mother’s heartbreak over losing her daughter.

A video, which has gone viral across Chinese social media, shows the unnamed man wearing a traditional cheongsam dress while tending to his elderly mother.

The man, from South China, told the BBC his mother was so grief-stricken by his sister’s death two decades ago, she began showing signs of mental illness.

A 50-year-old man has been dressing up as his dead sister for 20 years to ease his mother’s heartbreak.

So he began wearing his late sister’s clothing, which he said made his mother feel as though her daughter had come back to life.

“She was so happy, so I kept doing it. I’ve basically been living as a woman ever since.”

The devoted son, who admitted he no longer owns any men’s clothing, said didn’t care what anyone thought, as long as his mother was happy.

The video, which has gone viral across Chinese social media, shows the unnamed man wearing a traditional cheongsam dress while tending to his elderly mother.

In the short clip, which has been viewed more than 432 million times, the man with long black hair is wearing a blue and white traditional dress.

He can be seen feeding the frail-looking woman and helping her stretch her legs, as she lies on a makeshift bed on the back of a small van.

The selfless gesture has been called an act of “filial piety” – a kindness towards elders, considered a key value in Chinese culture.

The woman says in Chinese: “She is my daughter. When my other daughter died she became my daughter.”

The man has told reporters he doesn’t care what people say because he’s “doing it for his mother”.

“Why would I be afraid of people laughing at me?” he asked.

The selfless gesture has been called an act of “filial piety” – a show of respect towards parents, elders and ancestors, which is is considered a key value in Chinese society and culture.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/23/17

Caring for my beautiful husband as he died and through the days that followed

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After Morgan’s second surgery he couldn’t remember Fiona’s name, but when asked who she was he answered “the love of my life”.

Who is the best person to care for someone who has died? Sometimes, a person who loved them when they were living. Dr Fiona Reid shares her experience caring for her husband Morgan throughout his illness and in the days after his death.

My husband Morgan was a kind, active and talented man. I felt tremendously lucky when I met him and continued to do so throughout our years together.

Morgan was remarkably fit, working as a stuntman internationally. He trained every day and could perform feats of acrobatics and skill. So it came as a shock when he called me at work one day to tell me he was having difficulty spelling. My heart fluttered and my stomach turned over. I felt an intense sense of dread but tried to convince myself that I was overreacting.

I told him to stay at home and that I would be there shortly. I drove home and held Morgan in my arms. We both knew something was very wrong. Despite this, I was totally unprepared for what happened next; for the utter horror of watching his scan and seeing the large tumour in his brain. My legs wobbled. I wasn’t supposed to be in the CT room because today I was a patient’s wife and not a doctor, but no-one thought to stop me. I still think that was one of the worst moments – the moment the world ended.

“Are there any gremlins in my brain?” he asked. “Yes darling, there is a gremlin”.

Like most people, we had a lot of hope. Morgan was young, he was strong, I was a doctor. Surely the 14-month prognosis was not for him.

He endured two operations on his brain, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, three experimental treatments and more chemotherapy before finally in January 2016 we decided to stop most treatments and concentrate on what little time we had left.

By this time my gorgeous husband was struggling. He had lost half his vision, he couldn’t use the right side of his body, his face was swollen from steroids and he was very tired. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t look after him. I began to prepare for caring for him at home.

I was lucky to have some knowledge of what caring for someone who is dying might entail, but whatever I knew as a doctor was a fraction of the real experience. I prepared though. I read blogs written by other women who had cared for their husbands through brain cancer. I researched the timeline, what might happen, how his death might be, what symptoms may occur. I tried to predict.

I learned that we continue to hope, even when things are deteriorating. So even if we only get a “good hour” we hope for another later or tomorrow. We learn to reduce our expectations, such that a smile or a squeeze of the hand seems like a victory and the promise of recovery. Therefore in order to prepare, you must force yourself to remember what happened yesterday and last week. When there are more bad days or bad hours than good ones, you know it’s time to make arrangements.

The hardest thing was doing this whilst still trying to keep up Morgan’s spirits (not that he needed much help; he was extremely positive right until the end). I tried to be open with him, but he looked a little hurt when I had the hospital bed delivered. I felt I had let him down a little, but he was struggling to sit up and I was finding it difficult to lift him.

The bed came just in time. A few days later he was unconscious and although he woke up, he never spoke or left his bed again until after his death three weeks later.

You need equipment if you are to care for someone at home. I needed a bed, a wheelchair, a commode, a bath board and later continence aids, pads, eucalyptus oil, face-washers, medications, liquid thickeners and bed shampoo caps. Most things were rented. I bought consumables from disability companies and the palliative care nurses provided some.

Mostly I needed strength, love and support from family and friends – they believed I could do it and the thought of giving him up to someone else’s care frightened me more than caring for him myself.

I decided early that as much as I loved Morgan he didn’t belong to me, and he deserved to be surrounded by love as often as possible. So I declared an open house. I told everyone that they were welcome to visit at any time and without notice, but I also warned them that I would not be providing food or drink and that if the house was full or it was a bad time they may be asked politely to leave.

I also asked for two hours each day to be alone with Morgan. I put on nice music, burned a candle, bathed him, cuddled him and had some quiet time with him. This was precious time for me. Usually, he would smile at me, then fall asleep as I washed him. I put eucalyptus oil in hot water to freshen the air and massaged lavender oil into his temples to soothe him.

It was during this three weeks that I began to think about “after”. His death had now become a real inevitability; he had stopped talking, eating and swallowing, and he slept more often than not. It felt awfully disloyal to start planning his funeral before his death but I was desperate to do something that honoured him and I knew that every funeral I had been to so far would fall short of his expectations. I had little to go on. He did not want to talk about it. He did not want to be cremated, he wanted to be buried somewhere “with trees” – not a manicured cemetery, and without religion.

I knew I wanted to care for him until the last minute – I never wanted to let him go – but I had no idea what was possible. My experience of death so far had been as a doctor working in a hospital and try as we might it is a cold environment, people are rushed through the death of a loved one and bodies are moved quickly to morgues.

I stumbled on home death care. I was looking at local funeral directors and I felt empty – they all seemed so cold, so scripted, the coffin so pointless. I had no idea what to do. By chance, I found a wicker coffin on an Australian site and I thought it looked beautiful, natural, easily degradable and strangely, comfortable. I looked for the local retailer and found Natural Grace holistic funeral directors. It was as if Natural Grace was made for us.

I watched an interview with managing director Libby Moloney and instantly felt that she was special. Libby specialised in home death care and I knew I wanted to keep Morgan’s body at home. She knew a natural burial site which was 10 minutes away from where we were married. It seemed perfect.

I called Libby, speaking softly and feeling awful guilt as I sat in the same room as my sleeping and alive husband. She was incredibly compassionate. She seemed to understand my hesitation and confusion. She was supportive and never pushed.

I crawled into bed with Morgan on the night of Easter Sunday. I knew this was it. I put my arms around him and a few hours later he took a final breath. It broke my heart.

Libby told me that when he died I should feel free to spend some time with him before calling her. I cuddled him and cried. I called his family and they came we spent a few hours together until 4 am, toasting him with single malt whisky and sobbing together. I called Libby and the palliative care nurses in the morning but asked everyone to leave me alone with him until noon. I wanted to wash and dress him and I wanted to do this alone.

Libby came to the house. It was the first time we had met and she was wonderful. The first thing she said was how beautiful Morgan was and then she asked if she could touch him. I was so grateful for that.

She showed me how to set up the cooling blanket then she talked me through what to expect and watch for. She was honest and very frank which I appreciated. We talked about fluids and smell and flies and all those horrible things that could potentially occur but didn’t. Then she suggested I take some locks of his hair.

She offered to do all these things for or with me but was sensitive to the fact I wanted to do it myself. I knew I had made the right decision; had an undertaker come to take Morgan away from me at that moment I think I would have screamed. The pain of his loss was unbearable and I needed a little more time.

I decided that the first day would be for family only, the following for friends and family. I made and received various calls. I warned everyone “Morgan is still here, he looks peaceful”. I told them not to come for my sake but that if they wanted to come and say goodbye they would be most welcome.

I had warned his family that I intended to keep him at home. They were very supportive but understandably surprised. They all visited and sat with us, and I think they appreciated it. On the second day, his brother decided it was time for him to say goodbye. “I won’t be back tomorrow,” he said.

Friends were varied in their response. I found that women wanted to come, but men were less sure. Most people seemed glad for the opportunity to say goodbye. Some wanted a few minutes alone with him (this was hard for me but I did it). Some tried to ignore his presence and just talked to me. I continued to sleep on the sofa beside him.

On the third day, I realised I had to let him go. I had sat by his side for a month. I hadn’t stepped outside or seen the sun, I had barely eaten and barely slept. I needed to visit the cemetery, pick out a burial site and organise the funeral. I needed to leave the house but I couldn’t leave his side.

Now when I looked at Morgan I could see he wasn’t there anymore; whatever he had been had left. I called Libby. She came, I helped, and everything was done with the tenderest care. I had arranged a wedding photo, an autumn leaf and a teddy on his chest in his hands and she asked about them so she could recreate it perfectly in the sanctuary at Natural Grace. It was terribly hard but I was glad I felt able to trust Libby to look after him.

I went to the cemetery to pick a site with Morgan’s sister. We didn’t speak about it but we both picked exactly the same spot, under a beautiful Candlebark tree. We went back to Natural Grace and I checked on Morgan. He was there in the sanctuary, looking just as undisturbed and peaceful, the items arranged just so. Then we discussed the funeral and Libby was open to everything we wanted or suggested. I asked if we could bring him to the funeral ourselves in his 1974 Bedford van (the Beast); “A wonderful idea!” she giggled. She recommended a celebrant. We wanted mulled wine served – “No problem”. I wanted guests to be able to tie messages and flowers into the casket – “Easy”. We would like Morgan’s father to play his pipes – “Lovely”.

On 1st April 2016, we buried my beautiful husband. We met at Natural Grace and I spent the morning sitting with him, holding his hand. I had picked flowers to place in the coffin with him. His family and I placed him gently into his wicker basket coffin. We arranged flowers around him. We placed him in his van. We said goodbye.

We held the service at the cemetery with 300 mourners. Libby looked after me, making sure someone gave me food and drink, and guiding me through the funeral, sometimes physically. She did not rush me, even though the service went much longer than anyone anticipated. Afterwards, at the wake, there must have been 100 people who told me how beautiful it was, and how “Morgan” it was. No-one had been to a similar funeral and they were amazed.

The decision to care for my husband at home before, during and after his death was simple for me but would have been all the harder, perhaps impossible, without the kind, attentive, professional support of Libby, and the loving acceptance of my and Morgan’s family. They allowed me to make these decisions and held my hand throughout this most devastating time. For this, I am eternally grateful to them.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/8/17

On dealing with grief

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Methods for coping with the noise

By Douglas Redd

When you are grieving, it may seem instinctual to build a wall around yourself. Or you might want to bottle your emotions and disguise what you really feel. It is important, however, to realize that there are other ways to heal that keep you and your relationships healthy. The American Psychological Association recommends several methods for dealing with loss including acceptance, self-care, and support system building.

Loss, failure, or separation can cause pain that may never go away and, in my experience, this pain comes in waves. At times, I would convince myself that I was OK, but something small, like a song or smell, would consume the peace of mind I thought I had. At times, the grief may not seem all that bad while at other times the anger, sadness, or denial may swallow you whole.

It is human to feel this pain, and it is human to let yourself express the heartache that comes with loss.

It is crucial to remember that it’s OK to hurt. The first step to moving on is allowing yourself to be sad. Denial will only prolong the pain you’re feeling. During the initial stages of grief, surround yourself with others. Do not allow the pain to make you forget about the people that you still have. Your friends and family understand what you are going through, and shutting them out will only further your misery.

While you may not want to open up about what you are experiencing inside, realize that talking about what you are feeling will make it better. Talking is believed to reduce stress, and during times of grief, it could be useful to help create a support network. Loved ones want to support you during times of grief, so let yourself lean into that support rather than resisting it. You have people to talk to, so use them to ease your pain. Talking will let you realize that you cannot and should not depend solely on yourself, and it could allow others to find different ways to help you heal.

Grief won’t only affect you mentally, but it will also seep into your daily life and could begin to affect your lifestyle, routine, and health habits. To cope with loss, it is important to maintain your health and wellness.

To make this easier, it may be useful to understand the five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Those who are grieving experience these stages differently; they might experience all of these stages in this order, skip some of them, or they may appear in a completely different order. While everyone may find that some coping mechanisms are better than others, there are a few health-related tips to make the process easier.

Firstly, make sure that you are able to get an ample amount of sleep. The process of grieving may tire the body, and a lack of sleep could cause you to feel worse.

To properly nourish your body, do not forget to maintain healthy eating habits. This also applies to the use of substances to alleviate the pain. While alcohol and other drugs may seem like they numb the pain, they ultimately will only bring more trouble.

Taking care of yourself is an essential part of living well, especially in times of struggle. When grief has the potential to not only affect your mental health, but your physical health too, you need to take additional measures to ensure your well-being. These measures also include returning to things that made you happy before.

Do not forget about the little things in life that you previously enjoyed. I am not telling you to distract yourself from the pain that accompanies grief, but to indulge in the activities that made life worthwhile to begin with. It is not over yet — enjoy what there is left to love.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/26/17

California father buries wrong man after coroner’s mistake

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Eleven days after laying his son to rest, Frank J. Kerrigan got a call from a friend.

“Your son is alive,” he said.

“Bill (Shinker) put my son on the phone,” Kerrigan said. “He said ‘Hi Dad.’ ”

Orange County coroner’s officials had misidentified the body, the Orange County Register reported Friday (http://bit.ly/2tZSyZj).

The mix-up began on May 6 when a man was found dead behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley.

Kerrigan, 82, of Wildomar, said he called the coroner’s office and was told the body was that of his son, Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, who is mentally ill and had been living on the street.

When he asked whether he should identify the body, a woman said — apparently incorrectly — that identification had been made through fingerprints.

“When somebody tells me my son is dead, when they have fingerprints, I believe them,” Kerrigan said. “If he wasn’t identified by fingerprints I would been there in heartbeat.”

Frank’s sister, 56-year-old Carole Meikle of Silverado, went to the spot where he died to leave a photo of him, a candle, flowers and rosary beads.

“It was a very difficult situation for me to stand at a pretty disturbing scene. There was blood and dirty blankets,” she said.

On May 12, the family held a $20,000 funeral that drew about 50 people from as far away as Las Vegas and Washington state. Frank’s brother, John Kerrigan, gave the eulogy.

“We thought we were burying our brother,” Meikle said. “Someone else had a beautiful sendoff. It’s horrific.”

The body was interred at a cemetery in Orange about 150 feet from where Kerrigan’s wife is buried.

Earlier, in the funeral home, the grieving Kerrigan had looked at the man in the casket and touched his hair, convinced he was looking at his son for the last time. “I didn’t know what my dead son was going to look like,” he said.

Then came the May 23 phone call from Shinker. Kerrigan’s son was standing on the patio.

It was unclear how coroner’s officials misidentified the body.

Doug Easton, an attorney hired by Kerrigan, said coroner’s officials apparently weren’t able to match the corpse’s fingerprints through a law enforcement database and instead identified Kerrigan by using an old driver’s license photo.

When the family told authorities he was alive, they tried the fingerprints again and on June 1 learned they matched someone else, Meikle said.

Easton said the coroner’s office provided the Kerrigan family with a name of that person, but the identification hasn’t been independently confirmed. The attorney said the family plans to sue, alleging authorities didn’t properly try to identify the body as Kerrigan’s son because he is homeless.

Sheriff’s Lt. Lane Lagaret, a spokesman for the coroner’s office, declined to comment to the Register because an investigation was underway.

The mistaken death identification led the federal government to stop disability payments for her brother, Meikle said. The family is working to restore them.

Meikle said her brother chose to return to living on the street and doesn’t understand how hard the mistake was on his family.

“We lived through our worst fear,” she said. “He was dead on the sidewalk. We buried him. Those feelings don’t go away.”

Complete Article HERE!

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06/21/17

The New Stages of Grief: 5 Tasks, No Timeline

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What bereaved survivors wish they’d known about the grieving process

Bereaved people often brace for the so-called stages of grief, only to discover their own grieving process unfolds differently. The stages of grief — popularized from earlier theories put forth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, and later modified by others — initially described responses to terminal illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. While some find those responses relevant to coping with death, psychologists increasingly believe that the idea of “stages” oversimplifies a complex experience. And grieving survivors seem to agree.

“When we’re confronted with emotional chaos, we yearn for clarity, and the Kübler-Ross stages of grief serve as a kind of road map,” says Robert Neimeyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Memphis who studies grief. “But it’s more accurate to think about phases of adaptation rather than stages of grief. And they overlap rather than fall in sequence.”

No two people mourn the same way. The grieving process is shaped by one’s relationship to the deceased and the nature of the death, Neimeyer says. For example, “non-normative losses” — sudden or untimely deaths (accidents, homicides, deaths in youth or life’s prime) — tend to trigger more intense anger and disbelief, and longer depression.

What all survivors share: Death presents challenges, from processing the loss and coping with grief symptoms through reformulating a relationship to the late loved one — tasks that can take months and years to work through.

Grief task #1: Acknowledging the Reality of Loss

The finality of death is always a shock, even after a known terminal illness. After helping her 62-year-old husband battle a brain tumor for four years, Maureen McFadden thought she’d girded herself for his eventual passing. “A nun warned me that for all the pain I’d already gone through, I would not be prepared for what grief is. She was right,” says the Brooklyn, New York, widow. “Even though I understood the outcome when he was first diagnosed, I had no idea that I was still hoping. When someone dies, you’re just not prepared for that, because humans don’t know how to live without hope.”

It wasn’t until after the busy period of nursing, funeral planning, and the memorial services that the truth struck — “as if I’d been shot,” McFadden says. Later, one of her husband’s physicians told her that people who are constantly at a dying loved one’s side often have the hardest initial response. “He said they seem to hold an unarticulated belief that just by virtue of their presence and determination, they will keep the person alive,” she says. “The eventual death seems like a terrible failure.”

Accepting that death is real (and not your fault) isn’t the same as being OK with it. It merely means absorbing the truth of what has happened. This can be as difficult and painful as smacking through the first high breakers at the ocean’s shore. For some people, acknowledgment happens quickly; others remain in disbelief for months or years (or experience disbelief in periodic bursts).

What helps:

Experiencing the rituals of death. Lise Funderberg and her sisters allowed someone else to organize a quick memorial service because “we were so out of it, floating in Jell-O.” Looking back, she wishes they had done it themselves. “We didn’t even put anything in the papers. I wish we had known how a ritual of closure is really important for everyone in the community of the deceased, everyone who loved him,” says the author of Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home. “It’s not like we would be doing another one.”

Knowing there are no shortcuts through grief. “Grief can begin even before death, during caregiving. But grief doesn’t end until we do,” says Sherry E. Showalter, a social worker in Tarpon Springs, Florida, who’s the author of Healing Heartaches: Stories of Loss and Life.

Practicing your faith traditions. Some research shows that survivors with a spiritual life tend to absorb grief more quickly, possibly because — psychologists believe — people who eventually find meaning in loss are generally better able to cope with it.

Grief task #2: Weathering the stress of separation

Mourning brings many physical and emotional hallmarks: crying, being unable to cry, sleeplessness, not eating, numbness, feeling forlorn, withdrawing socially, and so on. The exact mix is different for everyone.

Anger is a common response, especially to a violent or untimely death. “My anger was so primal and intense, that this good person, my dad, had to die. It was illogical. I was mad at the world. I even thought, ‘Why couldn’t it have been my mom?’ who was already sick and not a contributing member of society,” says Harriet, a San Francisco producer whose father died at 69 after a cancer diagnosis.

Intense emotions can be a way to “hang on” to the deceased person, bereavement counselors say. It’s a tangible connection to the person who died. “It feels like power, like life,” one widow says of her white-hot anger. Letting go of the emotion, or learning to live with it, can feel like letting go of the person who died. Naturally, there can be a built-in reluctance to do that.

Another confusing emotion: Relief. “I felt horribly guilty that I was so relieved when my mom died,” says the daughter of an alcoholic. Caregivers, for example, often feel surprise (and, in turn, guilt) that they feel a lifting of a physical and/or emotional burden when caregiving ends. This is a natural response that’s separate from the sadness of losing the person. It’s entirely possible, and normal, to feel two such different emotions at the same time.

What helps:

Letting yourself experience turbulent emotions rather than shutting them down. “Wallowing is good,” says Cherie Spino, a mom of four in Toledo, Ohio, whose mother was killed at age 69 by a drunk driver. “You have to go through it, dwell on the person and your sadness, cry.”

Redirecting anger. Within a few years of her dad’s death, Harriet, the producer, “used my rage to fuel my passion” for a new project about cancer.

Asking what the deceased person would suggest. Maureen McFadden, whose husband died of a brain tumor, says she partly transitioned out of anger when the thought struck her, “What would Jim want from me?”

Reading about others’ experiences. Literature about grief can point out common threads. Survivors often point to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis.

Seeking bereavement support. Professionally led support groups or individual counseling provide skilled guidance as you navigate confusing or painful emotions. The goal isn’t to make the feelings go away but to help you embrace their purpose. Some people are ready immediately for this kind of help while some come to it long after the loss, and others do fine on their own.

Grief task #3: Adjusting to Everyday Life After a Loss

After the funeral and burial, mundane life patterns such as shopping and working must eventually resume, now in altered form. “Everyday life” often leaves survivors experiencing long-term reactions on top of the more familiar emotional and physical manifestations of grief.

Most common: yearning (intense longing for the person who has died), stress, and depression. These can prevail whether the relationship was happy or turbulent.

“Whatever unresolved issues you have, they get magnified and are elusive at the same time; you feel alone in the world,” says Ellie, whose parents and sister all died within five years. “I felt so isolated in my grief.”

What helps:

Not rushing yourself. “Being without my parents knocked me down and kept me down for a long time; it was as if something had been severed in me,” says Ellie. “Time and new experiences helped, but it was mostly a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.”

Ignoring the “grief police.” Don’t let others rush your adjustment. Turn a deaf ear to the well-meaning comments people make that miss the mark — including “It’s time to move on.”

Getting help as needed with practical tasks. Handling finances, cooking, yard work, and so on can swamp a bereaved person, especially if they’re unfamiliar duties. This just adds to stress and prolongs pain.

Inching toward new ways of doing things. One woman who had a standing Saturday morning long phone call with her late mother felt bereft at that hour each week. “I switched my walking time to then and called my sister while I walked, which shook up my routine and dulled the pain.”

Not expecting you can medicate the pain away. Antidepressants have a place in helping someone who has a chemical imbalance causing depression. But antidepressants can also impede the grieving process, and they can’t remove the yearning that’s associated with depression. The goal should be to think about the deceased with less pain, over time, and to derive a measure of comfort from such thoughts.

Grief task #4: Revising your relationship to the deceased

Your relationship to the person who died doesn’t end with his or her death; it changes. “The goal of grieving is not to let go but to find a way to hold on with less pain,” Neimeyer says.

Simon Ruben of Israel’s University of Haifa describes the grieving process as being “two-tracked,” with two processes happening simultaneously. On one track, we cope with the visible symptoms and emotions (anger, depression, sleeplessness, and so on). On the other track, less obvious but equally important, we’re working to reframe our relationship to the loved one who has died.

Nobody forgets a loved one. The question is, how do we hold him or her in our memory, our rituals, and our conversation in a way that’s manageable, possibly even comforting, rather than painful?

What helps:

Reminiscing aloud. “Loss is so taboo in American culture. You’re supposed to have a funeral and move on,” says Jennifer Amandari of Los Angeles, who lost her mother when she was 16 and then lost an infant daughter six years ago. “But not talking about the person stunts your ability to heal and work the loss into your life.”

Having your grief witnessed. When psychologist Robert Neimeyer’s teenage son got choked up at Thanksgiving on realizing he was seated in his late grandmother’s chair, the table conversation came to a halt. Rather than rushing the awkward moment, someone shared his own memory of her. “We all began to recall ‘Gloria stories,’ and it was a beautiful moment that allowed us to continue a connection to her,” Neimeyer says.

Reflecting on the legacy of the person who died (alone or with others). How did he or she inspire you? What was his or her life’s meaning and purpose? Questions like these help shape a perspective on the seeming meaninglessness of death.

Following rituals that celebrate or honor the deceased. Victorians made an art of the rituals of remembrance, from wearing black and jewelry made from the hair of the deceased to producing funeral cards and postmortem photography. Such traditions help survivors maintain a connection and continuity. Family members join Lisa Byers of Toledo, Ohio, on an annual visit to the grave of her late husband, who died of a heart attack at age 46. Patti Anderson, who lives in Cincinnati, joins her out-of-state sisters in annual trips for their mother’s birthday. They’ve turned it into a memorial to her, complete with a special dinner devoted to reminiscing. Another family sends balloons aloft on the anniversary of their father’s death — followed by a dinner at his favorite restaurant.

Creating a memorial. Cherie Spino and her sisters plan to make a wall hanging from scraps of their mother’s clothing that they’d saved. Others have found solace in creating scrapbooks or PowerPoint presentations with old photos, symbolically lighting a Caring candle and posting a dedication, or planting a tree or garden.

Grief task #5: Rewriting the storyline of your life

“Grief is more than an emotion; it’s a process of reconstructing a world of meaning that’s been challenged by loss,” psychologist Neimeyer says. When our life is closely entwined with another’s, and that person dies, it’s as if a main character in a book dropped out. How can future chapters be rewritten so the book makes sense?

And yet there must be a rewrite, because life is a narrative. An important part of grieving is to gain a perspective on the meaning of the loss and to reconstruct a world in which you can live effectively afterward. Who will now do the things that your loved one once did for you? Who will you confide in about your promotion or your child’s first steps? Will you ever be able to walk into a hospital or nursing home again? Be able to love again? How has the meaning of your life changed?

One challenge: This involves integrating the reality of death into a cultural system that likes to pretend death doesn’t exist.

What helps:

Finding compassion in the workplace, one’s place of worship, and social organizations. It can be incredibly useful to reintegrating into life after a loss to have it acknowledged, rather than ignored without comment. Example: a manager stepping forward to say, “I’m sorry for your loss; let’s talk about what you feel like tackling now.”

Putting your life story on paper. Neimeyer has his patients write the chapter titles of their life stories. Then he asks them to reflect, in writing, on specific questions: How did you organize the flow of your self-narrative? What are the major themes that tie it together? If you were to give a title to your self-narrative, what would it be?

Recognizing that you’re not the same person as before. Losing any loved one is a transformative experience. Expect and embrace change, rather than avoiding it and expecting to return to your “old self.”

Expecting the intensity of your grief to vary. “Whenever I go to a funeral, I cry and cry now — for my own loss,” says one woman. Mother’s Day, birthdays, and anniversaries can ignite surges of depression years later — or there may not even be an obvious trigger.

Being open to help. It’s worth noting that there may be a syndrome called complicated grief, in which grief reaches a point where therapy can be useful. Is prolonged grief a new psychological disorder? Many psychologists now think so and want to see it become a recognized disorder. But more relevant than labels is being open to help if you feel stuck.

A “Happy” Ending?

Important point: Completing these five tasks doesn’t “end” the grieving process. They may never be fully completed. Grief isn’t a disease, after all; it’s a transition.

“Grief is like a room we may enter or leave again and again, for years,” psychologist Robert Neimeyer says. “The character and quality of grief may change across time, but it remains available to us as a resource that we can revisit.”

That positive word, resource, is a deliberate choice: “Being able to revisit earlier losses and their implications for us can enrich our lives and make our narrative more coherent about who we are and how we got to be who we are,” Neimeyer adds.

“I still feel such a sense of loss,” says writer Lise Funderberg of her father’s death in 2006. “But qualities of that experience were incredibly moving — the compassion and charity shown to me and witnessed by me. It’s strange to hold two opposing ideas in your head: that an experience can be horrible and yet have good effects. Things were stirred up by my dad’s dying that are pretty incredible and life-affirming. I now know that if you’ve loved a person, you will always grieve them. It just changes over time.”

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06/16/17

10 things to read when you’re grieving

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By Joshua Barajas 

My father died nearly 10 years ago, and it was Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” that pulled me through.

At first, I wanted to hide in a foxhole, isolated with my own emotions as I processed the loss of my father. I withdrew from college and friends and would, on some occasions, drag a chair to the far corner of the backyard and cry.

Several books helped me navigate the process of grieving, but it was Didion’s memoir, which documented the year following her husband’s death, that offered the most solace. I’ve since read the book every year since my father’s death, long enough to memorize its passage about how “grief comes in waves.”

This week, the NewsHour asked its staff for recommendations of books or poems that helped them survive a period of loss. In their own words, here are 10 suggested reads for those who are grieving.

“Gathering the Bones Together,” by Gregory Orr

“The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems”

This poem is the perfect distillation of the sense of loss, grief and darkness in the moment; best I’ve ever read. Written as he reflected on having accidentally killed his brother in a hunting accident when they were young boys.”

— Morgan Till, foreign affairs senior producer

“A Prayer for Owen Meany”

“A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving

“Within a year of my mother’s death I read Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I wasn’t consciously looking to cope with my grief, though Irving has long been a favorite of mine for the way his characters deal with sudden, random loss of one kind or another.

I unexpectedly came across a passage that so completely explained what I was feeling that I’ve since shared it with friends who’ve lost loved ones:”

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”

— John Yang, correspondent

“H is for Hawk,” by Helen Macdonald and “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White

“H Is For Hawk” and “The Once And Future King”

After my stepfather died, I picked up naturalist Helen Macdonald’s book “H is for Hawk,” which is about how, after her father died, she dealt with it by learning to train a deadly bird of prey. Training a goshawk was a kind of escape for her, which was an impulse I understood. In “H is for Hawk” you also learn that T.H. White, who famously wrote the Arthurian novels, was a falconer. It was after this that I reread White’s book about King Arthur as a young boy, called “The Once and Future King.” I love this passage in there:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

–Elizabeth Flock, reporter and producer, arts

“When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi

“When Breath Becomes Air”

“My sister died suddenly when I was six and she was 19. Over the last three decades, different books, songs and movies spoke to me as I learned to carry her loss. A book that I recently found helpful was ‘When Breath Becomes Air.’ The perspective that book conveys — a thirty-something man in the prime of his life preparing to succumb to terminal cancer — provides solace to the people he leaves behind. It’s a voice we don’t always have the luxury of hearing or the courage to listen to, but Kalanithi reminds readers to share life with loved ones until the final moment comes calling and to summon the strength to carry their memories forward.”

–Laura Santhanam, data producer

“In Blackwater Woods,” a poem by Mary Oliver

“New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1”

“For me this poem reminds me that in the grand scale of time, our short blip of existence is fleeting, but that doesn’t mean we should disengage from loving and caring for others and for the planet fully. Instead, it argues that we should engage completely and recognize that each moment we have is rare and amazing. While that makes saying goodbye harder, it’s because we spent the time we had the most fully. It’s a reminder to me to live in the moment and not fret about abstractions in the past or future — a reminder to love completely. And a reminder to me that earth will live on when humans disappear, and that there is different type of beauty in the long term growth and energy of a life-harboring planet.”

–Dave Berndtson, broadcast news assistant

The Harry Potter series

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

“When I’m grieving I turn to the Harry Potter series. They envelop me in the comfort of my childhood and allow a full escapism. I can escape with whichever one I’m in the mood for or read the entire series – yet again – if I really need to feel comforted. There’s something about turning to the books I read as a kid that help me push through grief, particularly these because they explore grief, death and love so much.”

–Alison Thoet, anchor assistant

Writing on your own

“I tried Joan Didion’s ‘Year of Magical Thinking.’ It didn’t work for me. The most cathartic was writing it down. It took two days after the cremation at a hut on the coast and then I let all 5000+ words out. I haven’t read it since. Maybe I will when I hit the 10-year mark. It sucks less with time, but different things suck now about it: grandfather’s absence, etc. It’s a crappy club to gain membership to earlier than your peers but admission to it was beyond my control.

–Hari Sreenivasan, correspondent

“Sea Fever,” by John Masefield

“Salt-Water Poems & Ballads”

This poem is a beauty that helped me with the loss of my father, who was in the OSS in WWII, and the CIA from its inception to 1973; he also always loved to sail. There is a pragmatism and joy in ‘Sea Fever’ that I feel embodies my father’s spirit. It was a way for me to share with the guests at his funeral and his memorial a piece of who my father was. I still have his sextant. He knew how to sail by the stars for navigation, and he believed in sailing four hour watches through the night, because that’s how it’s done. Sea Fever explains a hard life well lived, and how the call of the sea pulls the sailor back. I see myself as that last companion, the laughing merry rover, seeing my father off on his last voyage, to a rest he well deserved. I truly believe in celebrating the life and not mourning the death.”

–Bill Swift, Student Reporting Labs

“You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life,” by Jen Sincero

“You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life”

“My great grandma would send me inspirational quotes every other morning, and I depended on them to get through the day. She died in October, and after that I drifted to this book to feel that same stimulation of encouragement. I wanted to read something that didn’t make me sad — and would redirect my thinking. Self help is a genre I’m not too familiar with, but this book reads unusually raw and honest. And it forces you to confront how an unfulfilled life can lead to depression. This book gave me great advice.”

–Courtney Norris, producer

Complete Article HERE!

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