12/16/17

Things I Wish I Had Known When My Dog Died

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On Jan. 4, 11 years and 26 days after I walked out of an animal shelter in New Jersey with a little white and brown dog attached to the end of a brand-new leash, she died. On this day, an undiagnosed tumor pressed down on Emily’s brain and told her that she needed to escape, which made her usually soft, cuddly and often napping body go wild, endangering herself and me. The humane thing to do was put her down.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that moment, or the searing grief that followed. But if I could go back in time to console myself, I would tell myself these six things:

Most people will say the wrong thing. They will talk about dogs they knew and loved and put down, too, or, if they haven’t walked through this long, lonely tunnel yet, about how they can’t possibly imagine losing their very alive pet, which reminds you that yours is dead. They will also ask how old she was, and when you say 15, they will say, “Well, it was a good long life,” as if the ending of it would be less painful because of how long you were together.

They may tell you other dog death stories, too, like the one about the dog who was so excited to be home from vacation that he bolted out of the car and was immediately run over while the whole family watched — stories that imply it could have been worse. They will shove shelter listings for other Jack Russell terriers at you, as if another dog could slip into that perfect little spot left by your beloved one-of-a-kind pet.

Guilt overwhelms. I still tell myself that I killed Emily, despite the veterinarian telling me, after her body had been taken away, while I gripped both a counter and a vet tech to keep from collapsing, that all four of her paws had been bloodied as she had clawed at the floor, the door and the ground during her manic and desperate attempt to get away from my home. There is guilt, too, over the relief of no longer having to take care of a dog who was on multiple medications and who had arthritis, two defective heart valves and pulmonary hypertension.

You will become unmoored. I adopted Emily soon after I became a freelance writer, and I wrote three books with her by my side. She was the metronome to my life. With her gone, I floated through a space she no longer occupied but haunted with every little white hair found on my blankets, on the floor, in my shoes. Once, in the first week following her death, I came up from the basement and looked at the spot where she would usually be waiting. I called for her with the foolish notion that she’d appear at the top of the stairs. But of course, no: just another sledgehammer reminder that she was really gone.

Grief is exhausting. Last fall, I ran two marathons and an ultramarathon. After Emily died, I couldn’t drag myself through three miles, not to mention find the energy to get out of bed, put on clothes that were not my pajamas and shower at regular intervals. I pushed off assignments because the idea of putting my fingers to the keyboard was inconceivable when Emily wasn’t sleeping on her bed in the corner of my office. These were wretched, grief-stained days, surrounded by a deafening silence.

I went back into therapy after she died and was told I was depressed, which wasn’t surprising, as I had started to slip into bed at 8:30 p.m. and not get up until half a day later. Losing a companion and your routine all at once, especially if you’re single like me, could throw anyone into a tailspin.

It will get better. You won’t want to hear it, or believe it, because the pain is so suffocating. It does ease, though, almost without you noticing it.

But still, it slaps back. This may happen at predictable moments, such as when you decide to sell her crate, and sometimes not. Soon after Emily died, I got on a plane and went to Florida to bake out the pain with all-day poolside sessions punctuated by midday drinks. It worked, somewhat, but on my last night there, my face cracked open at the World of Disney store when I saw a mug with the character Stitch that said “brave” on one side and “loyal” on the other. Only the cashier noticed that I paid with tears and snot running down my face. I then ran out of the store to stare at a lake.

These days, I get up, I brush my teeth, I write, I run. I smile now and laugh sometimes. The pain still catches me, though, and I can now more clearly see why: I loved that dog, and in giving a scared, abused, imperfect Emily a home, she loved me back, and together our lives both bloomed. The loss of that joy is why the pain is so acute — and why, at some point in the maybe not so distant future, I’ll go back to that animal shelter with a brand-new leash, and do it all over again.

Complete Article HERE!

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12/15/17

The Drift Called the Infinite: Emily Dickinson on Making Sense of Loss

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Reflections on silence and eternity from the poet laureate of death.

“The people we most love do become a physical part of us, ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created,” poet Meghan O’Rourke wrote in her stirring memoir of losing her mother. More than a century earlier, another poet with a rare gift for philosophical prose reflected on mortality in the wake of her own mother’s death.

Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886) was about to turn fifty-two when her mother, after whom she was named, died. A stroke had left her paralyzed and almost entirely disabled eight years earlier. Despite her lifelong infirm health, her disinterest in the life of the mind, and the surges of unhappiness in the Dickinson home, Emily Norcross Dickinson had been attentive and affectionate to her daughter, igniting the poet’s little-known but ardent passion for botany and prompting her to write that “home is a holy thing.”

Although a contemplation of mortality haunts nearly all of Dickinson’s 1775 surviving poems in varying degrees of directness, her mother’s death forced a confrontation with mortality of a wholly different order — loss as an acute immediacy rather than a symbolic and speculative abstraction.

In a letter to her cousins penned shortly after her mother’s death in November of 1882 and found in The Letters of Emily Dickinson (public library), the poet writes:

Mother’s dying almost stunned my spirit… She slipped from our fingers like a flake gathered by the wind, and is now part of the drift called “the infinite.”

We don’t know where she is, though so many tell us.

Emily Dickinson, daguerreotype, circa 1847.

Even as a child, Emily had come to doubt the immortality so resolutely promised by the Calvinist dogma of her elders. “Sermons on unbelief ever did attract me,” she wrote in her twenties to Susan Gilbert — her first great love and lifelong closest friend. Dickinson went on to reject the prescriptive traditional religion of her era, never joined a church, and adopted a view of spirituality kindred to astronomer Maria Mitchell’s. It is with this mindset that she adds in the letter to her cousins:

I believe we shall in some manner be cherished by our Maker — that the One who gave us this remarkable earth has the power still farther to surprise that which He has caused. Beyond that all is silence…

Writing less than four years before her own untimely death, she ends the letter with these words:

I cannot tell how Eternity seems. It sweeps around me like a sea… Thank you for remembering me. Remembrance — mighty word.

In another letter from the following spring, penned after receiving news of a friend’s death, Dickinson stills her swirling sorrow the best way she knew how — in a poem:

Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides,
Which like the moon, some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides.

She adds a sobering reflection on the shock each of us experiences the first time we lose a loved one:

Till the first friend dies, we think ecstasy impersonal, but then discover that he was the cup from which we drank it, itself as yet unknown.

Complement with a collection of moving consolation letters by great artists, writers, and scientists ranging from Lincoln to Einstein to Turing, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on how Darwin and Freud shaped our relationship to mortality, Seneca on the key to resilience in the face of loss, and this unusual Danish picture-book about death, then revisit Cynthia Nixon’s beautiful reading of Dickinson’s “While I was fearing it, it came” and Dickinson’s forgotten herbarium — an elegy for time and mortality at the intersection of poetry and science.

Complete Article HERE!

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12/13/17

“Please Read This Before You Post Another RIP On Social Media.”

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by InspireMore Staff

There is nothing more painful than the death of a loved one. Aside from sadness that comes with the loss, there’s also the task managing that comes with sudden tragedies. Calling the family, talking to the police if necessary, and– yes– posting on Facebook.

As silly as that last point may sound, it’s become a very real part of the grieving process in this social media age. So much so that, a woman named Taya Dunn Johnson, wrote the following open letter after her husband’s death, titled “Please read this before you post another RIP on social media.”

It’s a powerful reminder to put people first– to honor what Taya calls “the hierarchy of grief”– even in our social media obsessed world.

Grieving in the technology age is uncharted territory.

I’ll take you back to Saturday, June 9, 2012. At 8:20 a.m., my 36-year-old husband was pronounced dead at a hospital just outside Washington, D.C.

By 9:20 a.m., my cellphone would not stop ringing or text-alerting me long enough for me to make the necessary calls that I needed to make: people like immediate family, primary-care doctors to discuss death certificates and autopsies, funeral homes to discuss picking him up, and so on. Real things, important things, time-sensitive, urgent things.

At 9:47 a.m., while speaking to a police officer (because yes, when your spouse dies, you must be questioned by the police immediately), one call did make it through. I didn’t recognize the number. But in those moments, I knew I should break my normal rule and answer all calls. “He’s dead??? Oh my God. Who’s with you? Are you OK? Why am I reading this on Facebook? Taya, what the heck is going on?”

Facebook? I was confused. I hadn’t been on Facebook since the day before, so I certainly hadn’t taken the time in the last 90 minutes to peek at the site.

“I’ll call you back”, I screamed and hung up. I called my best friend and asked her to search for anything someone might have written and to contact them immediately and demand they delete it. I still hadn’t spoken to his best friend, or his godsister, or our godchild’s parents, or a million other people!

Why would someone post it to Facebook SO FAST?

While I can in no way speak for the entire planet, I certainly feel qualified to propose some suggestions — or, dare I say, rules — for social media grieving.

How many RIPs have you seen floating through your social media stream over the last month? Probably a few. Death is a fate that we will each meet at some point. The Information Age has changed the ways in which we live and communicate daily, yet there are still large voids in universally accepted norms.

This next statement is something that is impossible to understand unless you’ve been through it:

There is a hierarchy of grief.

Yes, a hierarchy. It’s something people either don’t understand or understand but don’t want to think or talk about — yet we must.

There is a hierarchy of grief.

Hierarchy is defined as:

1. a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority, and

2. an arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness.

What does this mean as it relates to grief? Let me explain. When someone dies  — whether suddenly or after a prolonged illness, via natural causes or an unnatural fate, a young person in their prime or an elderly person with more memories behind them than ahead — there is one universal truth : The ripples of people who are affected is vast and, at times, largely unknown to all other parties.

A death is always a gut punch with varying degrees of force and a reminder of our own mortality. Most people are moved to express their love for the deceased by showing their support to the family and friends left behind.

In the days before social media, these expressions came in the form of phone calls, voicemail messages, and floral deliveries.

If you were lucky enough to be in close proximity to the family of the newly deceased, there were visits that came wrapped with hugs and tears, and deliveries of food and beverages to feed all the weary souls.

Insert social media. All of those courtesies still occur, but there is a new layer of grief expression — the online tribute in the form of Facebook posts, Instagram photo collages, and short tweets.

What’s the problem with that? Shouldn’t people be allowed to express their love, care, concern, support, and prayers for the soul of the recently deceased and for their family?

Yes.

And no.

Why? Because there are no established “rules,” and people have adopted their own. This isn’t breaking news, and you’re not trying to scoop TMZ. Listen, I know you’re hurt. Guess what? Me too. I know you’re shocked. Guess what? Me too. Your social media is an extension of who you are. I get it. You “need” to express your pain, acknowledge your relationship with the deceased, and pray for the family.

Yes.

However…

Please give us a minute.

We are shocked.

We are heartbroken.

Give the immediate family or circle a little time to handle the immediate and time-sensitive “business” related to death. In the minutes and early hours after someone passes away, social media is most likely the last thing on their minds. And even if it does cross their mind, my earlier statement comes into play here.

There is a hierarchy of grief.

Please pause and consider your role and relationship to the newly deceased. Remember, hierarchy refers to your status and your relative importance to the deceased. I caution you to wait and then wait a little longer before posting anything. This may seem trivial, silly, and not worth talking about, but I promise you it isn’t.

If the person is married, let the spouse post first.

If the person is “young” and single, let the partner, parents, or siblings post first.

If the person is “old” and single, let the children post first.

If you can’t identify the family/inner circle of the person, you probably shouldn’t be posting at all.

Do you get where I’m going with this?

In theory, we should never compare grief levels, cast the grief-stricken survivors into roles, or use words like status and importance. But maybe we need to at this moment (and for the next few weeks and months).

The “RIP” posts started hitting my timeline about an hour after my husband’s death, and I certainly didn’t start them. This created a sense of confusion, fear, anxiety, panic, dread, and shock for the people who knew me, too. What’s wrong? Who are we praying for? Did something happen? Did someone pass? Why are there RIPs on your wall and I can’t reach you? Call me please! What’s going on?

That’s a small sample of messages on my voicemail and text inbox. I had to take a minute in the midst of it all to ask a friend to post a status to my Facebook page on my behalf.

Your love and expressions of support are appreciated and needed, but they can also be ill-timed and create unintended additional stress.

The person is no less dead and your sympathy no less heartfelt if your post, photo, or tweet is delayed by a few hours. Honestly, the first couple of hours are shocking, and many things are a blur. Most bereaved people will be able to truly appreciate your love, concern, prayers, and gestures after the first 24 hours.

I’ve learned this from the inside — twice within the last four years. And I assure you that if we each adopted a little patience and restraint in this area, we would help those who are in the darkest hours of their lives by not adding an unnecessary layer of stress.

A few extra hours could make all the difference.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/9/17

What ancient cultures teach us about grief, mourning and continuity of life

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By and

At this time of the year, Mexican and Mexican-American communities observe “Día de los Muertos” (the Day of the Dead), a three-day celebration that welcomes the dead temporarily back into families.

Festivities begin on the evening of Oct. 31 and culminate on Nov. 2. Spirits of the departed are believed to be able to reenter the world of the living for a few brief moments during these days. Altars are created in homes, where photographs

Altar to the dead in Yucatán, Mexico

and other personal items evocative of the dead are placed. Offerings to the deceased include flowers, incense, images of saints, crucifixes and favorite foods. Family members gather in cemeteries to dine not just among the dead but with them. Similar traditions exist in different cultures with different origins.

As scholars of death and mourning rituals, we believe that Día de los Muertos traditions are most likely connected to feasts observed by the ancient Aztecs. Today, they honor the memory of the dead and celebrate the continuity of generations through loving reunion with those who came before.

As Western societies, particularly the United States, move away from the direct experience of a mourner, the rites and customs of other cultures offer valuable lessons.

Loss of rituals

Funerals were handled in the home well into the 20th century in the U.S. and throughout Europe. Sometimes, stylized and elaborate public deathbed rituals were organized by the dying person in advance of the death event itself. As French historian Philippe Ariès writes, throughout much of the Western world, such death rituals declined during the 18th and 19th centuries.

What emerged instead was a greater fear of death and the dead body. Medical advances extended control over death as the funeral industry took over management of the dead. Increasingly, death became hidden from public view. No longer familiar, death became threatening and horrific.

Today, as various scholars and morticians have observed, many in American culture lack the explicit mourning rituals that help people deal with loss.

Traditions in ancient cultures

In contrast, the mourning traditions of earlier cultures prescribed precise patterns of behavior that facilitated the public expression of grief and provided support for the bereaved. In addition, they emphasized continued maintenance of personal bonds with the dead.

As Ariès explains, during the Middle Ages in Europe, the death event was a public ritual. It involved specific preparations, the presence of family, friends and neighbors, as well as music, food, drinks and games. The social aspect of these customs kept death public and “tame” through the enactment of familiar ceremonies that comforted mourners.

Grief was expressed in an open and unrestrained way that was cathartic and communally shared, very much in contrast with the modern emphasis on controlling one’s emotions and keeping grief private.

In various cultures the outpouring of emotion was not only required but performed ceremonially, in the form of ritualized weeping accompanied by wailing and shrieking. For example, traditions of the “death wail,” which allowed people to cry their grief aloud, have been documented among the ancient Celts. They exist today among various indigenous peoples of Africa, South America, Asia and Australia.


 
In a similar way, the traditional Irish and Scottish practices of “keening,” or loudly wailing for the dead, were vocal expressions of mourning. These emotional forms of sorrow were a powerful way to give voice to the impact of individual loss on the wider community. Mourning was shared and public.

In fact, since antiquity and throughout parts of Europe until recently, professional female mourners were often hired to perform highly emotive laments at funerals.

Such customs functioned within a larger mourning tradition to separate the deceased from the world of the living and symbolize the transition to the afterlife.

Rituals of celebration

Mourning rituals also celebrated the dead through carnival-like revelry. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, the deceased were honored with lavish feasts and funeral games.

Such practices continue today in many cultures. In Ethiopia, members of the Dorze ethnic community sing and dance before, during and after funerary rites in communal ceremonies meant to defeat death and avenge the deceased.


 
In not too distant Tanzania, the burial traditions of the Nyakyusa people initially focus on wailing but then include feasts. They also require that participants dance and flirt at the funeral, confronting death with an affirmation of life.

Similar assertions of life in the midst of death are expressed in the example of the traditional Irish “merry wake,” a mixture of mourning and celebration that honors the deceased. The African-American “jazz funeral” processions in New Orleans also combine sadness and festivity, as the solemn parade for the deceased transforms into dance, music and a party-like atmosphere.


 
These lively funerals are expressions of sorrow and laughter, communal catharsis and commemoration that honor the life of the departed.

A way to deal with grief

Grief and celebration seem like strange bedfellows at first glance, but both are emotions that overflow. The ritual practices that surround death and mourning as rites of passage help individuals and their communities make sense of loss through a renewed focus on continuity.

By doing things in a culturally defined way – by performing the same acts as ancestors have done – ritual participants engage in venerated traditions to connect with something enduring and eternal. Rituals make boundaries between life and death, the sacred and the profane, memory and experience, permeable. The dead seem less far away and less forgotten. Death itself becomes more natural and familiar.

Funerary festivities such as Day of the Dead create space for this type of contemplation. As we reminisce over our own losses, that is something we could consider.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/1/17

What Is Day Of The Dead, And What Can It Teach You About The Grief Process?

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The Mexican holiday has nothing to do with Halloween, but lots to do with normalizing death.

This summer, it seemed like death was everywhere. In the course of a few short weeks I had a miscarriage and watched my dog be struck and killed as we walked down our dead-end road. Two weeks later, my aunt unexpectedly passed away in her sleep.This trio of tragedies would have left anyone reeling, but I realized that I was hurting deeply in part because I didn’t have an adequate vocabulary to talk about death. This was especially evident when I tried to answer questions posed by my 3-year-old daughter, who kept inquiring about our dog and her great aunt for months. I wanted her to understand that death was normal and even expected, but I was having a hard time remembering that myself. (Here are 5 reasons you should talk about death, even if you don’t want to.)

And then, by chance, I stumbled upon information about Dia de Los Muertos—Day of the Dead—and I was captivated. Day of the Dead is most commonly celebrated in Mexico, although other South American countries celebrate as well. It’s believed that spirits arrive on October 31 and leave on November 2. November 1, however, is the main day of celebration, and the day most commonly referred to as Day of the Dead.

Most Americans, if they have even heard of the holiday, associate it with Halloween and colorfully painted skulls. But despite the coincidental timing, it’s really a fun-filled but complex acknowledgement of death as part of life, and it combines the Catholic All Saint’s Day with indigenous traditions and beliefs.

People who celebrate it believe that, on and around November 1, spirits can easily pass between our world and the afterlife. Families might set extra places at the table, exchange stories, and prepare gifts for their deceased loved ones. But mostly the day is about fun, since many people believe spirits would be insulted if they came back to find everyone in mourning.

This seemed vastly different from how many Americans view life, death, and grieving, so I wanted to learn more. It turns out there’s a whole lot that we could all learn from Dia de Los Muertos about the grief process.

Death is a part of life.
I’ve always thought of life and death as opposites. However, Day of the Dead celebrates death as a part of life, rather than the end of it. And recognizing that life and death go hand-in-hand can ease the grieving process, says Kriss Kevorkian, PhD, an expert on grief.

“Day of the Dead connects life and death in a way that, generally speaking, Americans don’t often do,” says Kevorkian. People who celebrate it realize that their loved ones are still present in their lives, even if they aren’t physically there. “You’re not taught to believe that once your loved one dies that’s it.” By normalizing death, the grieving process also becomes normalized and less of something to fear.

A relationship doesn’t end just because someone has died.
“The first chapter of grieving is really recognizing that someone is gone from this world, and your relationship with them is changing” rather than ending, says Tracee Dunblazier, a spiritual empath and grief counselor based in Los Angeles. Whether you believe like Dunblazier does that it’s possible to communicate with the dead, or you merely believe in keeping them alive through memories, recognizing that some sort of relationship can be maintained can be very healing.

“When you think of death as final, you’re looking from a specific sliver of a perspective that does not show the whole story,” Dunblazier says.

Grief doesn’t follow a strict timeline.
When someone you love dies, everyone expects you to struggle—but only for a little while. The problem, of course, is that people don’t heal on schedule, and sometimes it takes months or even years to “move on,” especially after someone passes unexpectedly. This idea is known as complicated grief, and Western cultures usually view it as something to treat (perhaps with therapy and/or antidepressants).

Cultures that celebrate Day of the Dead, however, don’t try to force a sense of closure. Having a holiday that acknowledges the presence of the dead can make complicated grief easier to address, particularly on November 1, when the spirits are thought to be nearby. Believing that your loved ones can hear and understand you on this holiday means that you have the chance to say anything that was left unsaid before they died, says Merrie Haskins, a counselor and psychotherapist based in Minnesota.

Funerals (or at least memorials) can be fun.

In America, death is a very somber event. We wear black to funerals and talk in hushed tones. However, anyone who has ever listened to a lovingly-delivered eulogy knows that smiles and laughter are an important part of the grieving process. Although South American cultures have sad funerals as well, they incorporate happiness and fun into Day of the Dead to honor their loved ones in a more spirited way. That’s something that’s not common in American culture. (See how these 3 alternative therapies can help heal your grief, according to Prevention Premium.)

“We don’t usually have a celebration with levity, happiness, song, and dance,” says Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, chair of the End Well Symposium, an organization that focuses on quality end-of-life care. “People who celebrate the Day of the Dead take this lightness very seriously, due to the belief that spirits who come to visit would be insulted if they found everyone in mourning.”

Haskins suggests adopting that focus on fun as a way to celebrate your loved ones. For example, each year she attends an Academy Award viewing party given in honor of a particular deceased family member who used to love watching the awards show. “That makes it fun for us to remember her and for new people to get to hear about how wonderful she was,” she says.

Stop fearing death, and your own death will be better.
Everyone dies, but many people are too terrified to think about it—to their detriment. “In America, we often shy away from talking about death, loss, and grief. As a physician, I see many gravely sick people in the hospital who have never considered what they want at the end of life,” Ungerleider says. As a result, their final days can be stressful for them as well as their families, because everyone is struggling to make decisions that align with their beliefs while simultaneously dealing with the grief of imminent loss.

A celebration like Day of the Dead can make people think about their own death and plan for what they want at the end of their lives. “By accepting and discussing openly that death is a part of life, you make sure you receive the care you want.”

Complete Article HERE!

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10/27/17

When Grief Becomes a Mental Health Issue

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By Becky Oberg

What do you do when grief becomes a mental health issue? Recently I lost a friend to suicide, and it made me think of all the other losses I’ve suffered. Two memories stand out in my mind–the death of my maternal grandfather to cancer and the death of my paternal grandmother to a stroke. One was a mental health issue, the other was not. There are several things people can do when grief becomes a mental health issue.

Grief and A Tale of Two Deaths

My maternal grandfather got cancer in the ’80s, when it was a virtual death sentence. My family never discussed it. It was especially hard on my mother, who took the stress out on the children. To this day, she does not like Halloween (when he was diagnosed), Thanksgiving (the last holiday he spent with the family; he told us to go and eat the turkey instead of worrying about him and we children said our final goodbyes), and Christmas Eve (when he died). Things at home fell apart, and I became well acquainted with depression–to the point where a teacher said something. It took me years to even talk about it–it led to emotional abuse at home, where it was understood we would “get over it.”

The death of my paternal grandmother was shortly after I graduated college. The family supported each other, and it didn’t hurt as badly even though it was sudden. My boss gave me time off and sent flowers, and the town brought enough food to feed all 13 of us immediate family members several times over (as my cousin said, “We’re Germans. We eat.”) I left shortly after the funeral because I had a psychiatrist’s appointment the next day. She said to me, “You look depressed. I’m increasing your medication.”

I replied, “I just buried my grandma. I’m supposed to look depressed. If you’re going to increase my medication for normal reactions to life events, this is just legal substance abuse.”

It did not go over well, but I still stand by my statement. Sometimes grief becomes a mental health issue, but, sometimes, it doesn’t. It depends on a number of factors.

Factors in Grieving Becoming a Mental Health Issue

Obviously, the relationship you had with the person will impact your grieving. But so will several other things, like the way he or she died, religious beliefs, and support from other family members and friends. Having lost friends to suicide, murder, disease, accidents, and natural causes, I can honestly say traumatic death is harder on the survivors and almost always requires mental health counseling. But it seems to be random when it comes to non-traumatic death.

Faith is a double-edged sword. It can help the loved ones to know the deceased is no longer suffering. However, as is especially true in the case of traumatic grief, faith can be sorely wanting. Questioning “why” can be frowned on in some circles, but sometimes we need to question “why.” In addition, religion frowns on suicide–mourners at my friend’s funeral remarked that it was good we could talk about it since they wouldn’t be able to at most churches.

Support is crucial. I remember when a psychologist made an offhand remark to me about “the first year” of grieving. Seeing my puzzlement and concerned about my comment, “Aren’t we supposed to be over it by then?”, he explained that grief is a process that doesn’t have a time limit or set order (Nine Common Myths And Realities About Grief). He also explained to me it was okay to talk about it–and I joined his grief support group to do just that.

How to Tell When Grief Requires Mental Health Help

I needed help after my maternal grandfather died, largely because my mother needed but did not get help after his death. As she cycled through denial, anger–a lot of anger–and depression; it seemed she would never accept it. She became emotionally abusive toward us kids, but maintained some semblance of a normal life for years. No one knew the hell that was going on at home. Eventually she came to terms with it, but not before some lasting damage was done to us kids.

If you can’t talk about your grieving, you need mental health help. If you take your grief out on others, you need mental health help. And if you want to join your deceased loved one sooner rather than later, run, don’t walk, to a counselor (Suicide Prevention Chat: How Does It Work?).

Remembering the loved one will bring happiness and pain, sometimes within hours of each other–as my then-six-year-old brother observed after my maternal grandfather’s funeral, “People go to the church and cry then come back to the house and have a party.”

It is normal to reflect on the life of one who died, the circumstances leading up to the death, the death itself, and the funeral with mixed emotions. Obsessing, however, is not, and neither is constant sadness. Seek mental health help if grief begins to interfere with your ability to live your life.

You deserve to come to terms with the death of your loved one, and chances are that’s what your loved one would want. Don’t hesitate to ask for mental health help if you need it.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/24/17

“I couldn’t tame grief, but I could tame a hawk”

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– Helen Macdonald talks her new BBC documentary

In a new BBC documentary, the author of H for Hawk explains how she became obsessed with training a goshawk following the death of her father

 
Ahead of her new BBC2 documentary H is for Hawk – a New Chapter, author Helen Macdonald explains how the death of her father led to an obsession with training a notoriously difficult to tame goshawk.

Ten years ago my father, the renowned photo-journalist Alisdair Macdonald, had a heart attack while out on a photo assignment on a London street. His sudden, unexpected death at the age of 67 left me and my family reeling.

Everyone has different ways to cope with grief, but mine was hugely eccentric. I didn’t turn to drink, find solace in religion, or see a therapist. Instead I felt compelled to train a hawk. Not just any hawk, but a goshawk, one of the most hard to tame of all birds of prey.

I’d been a falconer for many years, but I’d never before wanted anything to do with goshawks. They had a reputation as moody, unpredictable, highly-strung and murderous creatures, more like leopards than birds. Something about their wildness chimed with the wildness of grief inside my heart. And while I knew I couldn’t tame grief, I knew I could tame a hawk.

So one August morning I picked up a ten-week-old female goshawk from a hawk breeder called Andy on a Scottish quayside. I drove her home, called her Mabel, and began the delicate process of winning her trust. It turned out to be the beginning of the strangest, darkest and most beautiful episodes of my life.

Growing up, I’d always loved birds, birds of prey most of all. I was as obsessed with birdwatching back then as my father had been with planes-spotting when he was small.

We gloried in how uncool our interests were. I always carried a pair of binoculars, he always carried a camera, and we were always watching the skies. We’d go out for long nature walks, turning over rocks to find snakes and bugs, collecting things to be identified back home. Dad taught me to see all the beauties of the natural world.

But he taught me much more. He was a patient, quiet, kind, gentle man. Those were the qualities I needed to tame and train my hawk. I had to put aside all the chaos and horror of grief in favour of patience, kindness, quietness, gentleness.

Falconry is not about the domination of a wild creature. You can’t menace or mistreat a hawk. You tame them through courtesy, positive reinforcement and gifts of raw meat.

In only a few weeks Mabel went from being a wild creature terrified of me to a playful, tame companion. We developed an incredibly close bond. I taught her to fly to my gloved fist for food, first on a line, and then completely free. I wanted her life to be as close as possible to that of a wild hawk, and flew her for hours every day out on the hillsides near my home. Every night she fell asleep on a perch on my living-room floor.

My life with Mabel made me wilder and wilder. There was no grief in my heart as I flew her, no future or past. Everything fell away. All that was left was the present moment, caught up in her barred wings as they flickered across frosty fields and slopes.

It was an all-consuming and beautiful life, but it wasn’t good for me. I became a muddy, thorn-scratched hermit. Mabel was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from human hurts and grief. Only at my dad’s memorial service did I remember that human hands are for other human hands to hold, that they shouldn’t be reserved solely as perches for hawks.

With the help of family, friends, and a doctor, I found my way back home. I kept flying Mabel, but in a much less obsessive manner. My relationship with her took me to a wilder world and brought me back much changed.

It was an experience that will mark me forever. I don’t regret a single minute. I flew Mabel for several more seasons before a sudden untreatable infection carried her away. I still mourn her loss.

I ended up commemorating her and my dad in the book H Is for Hawk. As I wrote it I didn’t think anyone would read it, but to my surprise and joy it became a bestseller (it also won the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction).

Now I’ve met readers all over the world who have shared their own stories of loss and wildness with me. They’ve taught me that while grief is the loneliest thing in the world, we all go through it. It’s part of what it means to be human. I treasure the new friends I’ve made after the book’s success, but only wish my dad were here to see it. He was a good friend, a wonderful father.

I still miss him to bits.

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