Why It’s So Important to Understand Grief During Coronavirus

It’s quite normal to be experiencing grief during the coronavirus pandemic—even if you haven’t lost someone to the virus. Here, experts talk about why you might be feeling this way, the stages of grief, and how to process your emotions.

By Ellie Trice

The coronavirus pandemic has us all learning to grapple with unprecedented and incalculable loss. If it’s tangible—loss of a job, a home, a gym, a graduation or wedding ceremony—it’s often accompanied by a sense of shame and confusion. It’s easy to think: “when over half a million people have lost their lives, does it really matter if I have to miss my bachelorette party?”

Actually, it’s very fair to be mourning these losses, according to grief expert and therapist Claire Bidwell Smith. Luckily, there are some tactics that can help mitigate the pain.

Our idea of grief is always that it has to be for a person that we lose—but right now, during the pandemic, we’re grieving on so many different levels. We’re grieving a way of life, we’re grieving our kids being home from school, we’re grieving our economy, changes in politics. I think so many of us have had to say goodbye to so many things immeasurably, and we don’t think of these things as worthy of grief, but they are.
– Claire Bidwell Smith, therapist and grief expert

As a global community, we’re living through a situation unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed, and with no end in sight, it’s perfectly normal for you to be experiencing unprecedented feelings of fear and loss.

“I’ve noticed during this time, that many people continue to run from their grief because there are plenty of ways to be distracted,” says Erin Wiley, M.A., L.P.C.C., clinical psychotherapist and the executive director of The Willow Center, a counseling practice in Toledo, Ohio. “But at some point, grief does come knocking, and it always requires payment.”

The latest surge of the virus sets the number of infections at more than 3.4 million confirmed cases at the time of publication (and counting) in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many will have to endure this experience—and cope with grief—physically isolated from the very people who would, under normal circumstances, be there for them. So what are we to do?

Here, grief expert and therapists offer insight into understanding your grief, how to cope with it, and why staying hopeful is the key to getting through it all.

Recognize That Your Grief Is Real and Valid

“In general, people have a pretty hard time giving themselves permission to grieve,” says Smith. “So when it looks a little different than we think it should, it’s even more difficult to give yourself that consent.”

And while the whole world is grieving right now, people are also likely to discount their own losses—saying things like “well, it was only a wedding, and we’re all going to live even though we didn’t get to have it” or “my husband lost his job, but I have mine, so we have a lot to be grateful for.”

“Often, we discount our grief, because there are so many worse-case scenarios—especially if you haven’t lost someone to the pandemic,” says Wiley.

It goes without saying that losing a person you love is an irreplaceable kind of loss. When you cancel an event or lose a job, you still have hope that you can have that thing again, whereas, when you lose a person, you don’t get to hope that they will come back. “We have this idea that, somewhere down the road, life will hopefully go back to normal and we’ll be able to have all these things again that we’re missing, but we really can’t replace a graduation that was supposed to happen at the end of the school year. In two years, it isn’t going to be the same,” says Wiley.

Grief takes on many forms and can manifest as both physical and psychological symptoms, including (but not limited to) anger, anxiety, crying spells, depression, fatigue or lack of energy, guilt, loneliness, pain, sadness, and trouble sleeping, according to the Mayo Clinic. For those mourning a more complex loss (such as that of a missed milestone or celebration), grief can play out in similar ways that a concrete loss (such as a death) does—or in more distraction-focused behavior like eating, drinking, exercising, or even binge-watching Netflix in order to avoid the emotions under the surface, says Wiley. Which brings us to…

Spend the Time You Need to Emotionally Process Your Loss

Both Wiley and Smith say it’s essential to really grieve each part of what is now gone. Engaging in mindful activities like journaling and meditation can help tremendously in helping you acknowledge and process your emotions, as well as find resolution in your process.

“The effects that come from pushing grief away are anxiety, depression, anger, whereas if you can move through them and let yourself feel everything, there’s often some positive transformational things that can happen. It can feel scary to enter into that space; sometimes people feel like they’re going to start crying and never stop, or they’ll fall apart, but really the opposite is true. You will for a minute, you will have your big deep cry, and then, you will feel that relief and that release,” says Smith.

Mental health nonprofit Mental Health America recommends the PATH system for processing negative emotions. When you feel yourself spiraling into a moment of sadness or anger, try following these steps:

  • Pause: Instead of acting on your feelings right away, stop and think things through.
  • Acknowledge what you’re feeling: Try to name what you’re feeling and why—are you really angry that something happened, or are you sad? Whatever it is, it’s ok to feel that way.
  • Think: Once you’ve figured out what exactly it is that you are feeling, think about how you can make yourself feel better.
  • Help: Take action toward whatever you decided might make you feel better. This could be anything from calling a trusted friend or letting yourself cry to writing out your emotions or practicing belly breathing.

Processing your emotions is not an easy thing to do—it takes maturity and a whole lot of discipline, and often our distractions from grief can play out in harmful ways (such as substance abuse or withdrawing from our support system). And while, as a species, humans are engineered to deal with this sort of pain, we are great at avoiding it, especially when every part of our being tells us to run away, says Wiley.

Avoidance manifests itself in many forms. “Americans, people in general, are really good at constantly running from how they feel,” she says. “We watch Netflix, and drink wine, and go running, and have parties with friends, we eat to excess, all to fill that void, but we have to just let the feelings in.” You may think that you’re coping in a healthy way, but there’s a fine line where something can become an unhealthy coping mechanism: “We all have a tendency to move toward a coping skill and using it so much that it causes problems in our lives,” she says. For example, a maladaptive coping skill could be running—it’s not inherently bad, but if it becomes compulsive or you can’t stop doing it, well, anything in excess can be harmful, she adds.

“It takes a really evolved mental state to walk into grief and say, ‘I’m gonna stay with this,” instead of avoiding it, says Wiley. “Instead of sitting on your couch and eating ice cream and watching Netflix, that might look like sitting on your couch with no food and writing in a journal, talking to a therapist about it, or going for a walk or sitting in the backyard and just thinking,” she says.

Wiley also encourages her patients to pay attention to the way certain activities make them feel. “I would challenge any of my clients to, before starting up a distraction, ask yourself, on a scale of 1-10, how do you feel? If it’s a lower number after you’re done, maybe you need to reexamine if that activity is good for you. [It’s important to] have self-awareness of whether a behavior is helpful or hurtful and deciding how much time you want to devote to it,” she says.

When sitting with those feelings, be it in yoga, meditations, journaling exercises, or therapy, Wiley encourages her clients to focus on their breath and focus on being mindful of your current thoughts and feelings. Take advantage of one of many great meditation apps, online courses, or yoga classes to help slow down your mind.

The loss of a romantic relationship factors in here as well—so many people are going through separations, break-ups, and divorces, and the pandemic only piles on those feelings of isolation. That’s why, Wiley argues, now is a better time than ever to work on your emotional health, so that every relationship further down the road is stronger, and your strength can be built now.

“There’s something helpful about having the ability to see that dealing with emotional pain now will help you be a better person later. And it will and should improve any relationships you may have down the line,” says Wiley.

Seek Out Support—Virtual or In-Person—to Talk About Your Grief

Both Wiley and Smith agree that one of the most vital things you can do to help navigate the grieving process is to find supportive people who can listen with empathy.

“Don’t be afraid to seek support,” says Smith. “Some people think they should be doing better or think they shouldn’t be having this hard of a time. That’s the first thing that we have to let ourselves off the hook about. For someone with pre-existing anxiety, it can be an especially hard time. Support is so, so accessible right now—whether it’s in the form of online therapy, medication, or whoever you would normally turn to for a listening ear.”

Additionally, both Wiley and Smith are part of grief support groups and are in awe of how helpful they have been.

“I started this online group for women called ‘Manage Your Shift.’ We meet every morning and I guide them through what I needed for myself but now what we share together. We’ll do an inspirational reading for the day, track our gratitudes, talk about emotional health–we do a bit of meditation, light stretching, and setting intentions. We joined because we were all floating and lost and trying to find some meaning in this time—there’s nothing to anchor us, and this really has helped fill that void,” says Wiley.

Smith also touts the benefit of support groups. “Being with other people going through the same kind of loss as you create such an amazing synergy. It’s very accessible, a lower cost, you can do it from anywhere, and you can be working with professionals that maybe you wouldn’t have had access to previously,” she says. Other online resources Smith recommends include: Psychology Today, Modern Loss, Hope Edelman, The Dinner Party, and being here, human.

While it’s is still lacking that in-person magic of a hug or eye contact, it’s so much better than nothing at all. So rather sitting at home in your grief, meeting up with others and a professional who can guide you through it is really vital. And it works.

Complete Article HERE!

End-of-life planning during the coronavirus pandemic, in 8 steps

How to make crucial financial and health care decisions for you and your loved ones.


Surely you’ve heard it’s a good idea to have a will, just in case anything should happen. Yet we tend to put off completing the paperwork — the documents are confusing and it can be distressing to think about our own mortality. A 2017 study found that only about a third of Americans have completed the necessary end-of-life forms.

The Covid-19 pandemic now has many scrambling to figure out how to get wishes into writing. The coronavirus has reminded us that mortality is unpredictable and so it’s a good time to get our medical and financial matters in order.

The benefits to doing so are many: peace of mind knowing that you will get the medical treatment you want; that your possessions and assets, many or few, will be given to those you choose; that you are protecting your family and friends from having to guess what you would want; and preventing the squabbles that could erupt from family disagreements.

But how to complete the necessary paperwork while in social isolation? In some ways, self-isolation provides the perfect opportunity to get your documents together, but finalizing them can be difficult when a notary and witnesses can’t be in the same room with you.

Signing off, online

On March 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York one of the more than 20 US states to allow remote online notarization of documents — providing a solution to the challenge of self-isolation. It is a temporary law, and no one knows what it will mean once the pandemic has subsided. New York state also requires two witnesses (laws vary by state) to sign some of these documents, a problem that the temporary notarization law does not explicitly address.

Peter Strauss, a senior partner at Pierro, Connor & Strauss and a founding member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, has instituted a protocol that he and his firm believe will accommodate remote witnesses. Using a video chat program like Zoom, GoToMeeting, or FaceTime, witnesses show their ID and are recorded signing the document by the notary public. Still, Strauss recommends revisiting all documents once your state has safely reopened and completing them in person.

Fern Finkel, a Brooklyn elder care lawyer, said she was concerned that the online notarization process, depending on how the witnesses are involved, could leave documents open to contest. She, too, advised that any documents completed now with online notarization be revisited in the future.

But she and other experts said it is still very important to take steps now to account for medical and financial contingencies should you become ill. “The pandemic is a reason to act, not to delay necessary planning,” Strauss said.

As far as medical contingencies go, “it is really important for doctors to always be guided by the voice and values of the patient,” said Dr. VJ Periyakoil, associate professor of medicine at Stanford and director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program. To preserve patients’ voices, Periyakoil and her team have worked with patients to create “The Letter Project,” free and simple forms that help patients communicate their wishes to their family and doctors.

The letters, which are not state-specific and come in eight languages, provide a structured way for each person to think through these important, timely, and emotionally charged issues. They can be printed, filled out, and attached to any state’s forms, also available online. “Our goal is to democratize health care,” Dr. Periyakoil told me, “If people have to choose between groceries or advance directives, groceries are always going to win.”

To get yourself and your loved ones (legally) prepared, here are eight important steps to take.

What you should be doing right now

1. Organize. “The first thing you have to do is understand what you have,” Finkel said. Pull out all your existing documents and organize them in one place. Do you have a health care proxy (designation of a person to make your medical decisions when you can’t), a HIPAA authorization (designation of a person to access your doctor and medical information), a living will (statement of what medical treatments you want in various situations), an intent to return home, a power of attorney, a trust, and/or a last will and testament (statement of how you would like your assets distributed)?

Collect these items in one place in your home — a desk drawer, say, or a file box. (If your documents are somewhere else in a safe deposit box, leave them there — just make sure your family members know where they are.)

Once you’ve done an audit of these documents, you can arrange an online consultation with a knowledgeable attorney to help guide you through what needs to be done. (Justia provides a list of elder law lawyers, for example, or ask your friends for a recommendation.)

To this file, add other essentials that your family members might need should you be incapacitated: checkbooks, insurance policies, safe deposit box keys, Social Security card, passport, birth certificate, and other identification, mortgage, deed or lease for your home, and vehicle titles.

2. Beneficiary designations. During this crisis (or at any time), it is advisable to designate beneficiaries on all of your accounts. Take a look at bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts to see if they have a beneficiary designation.

“People don’t understand that how accounts are titled is supreme to what’s in a will,” Finkel said. For instance, if your will divides your assets equally among your three children but your oldest daughter is the beneficiary on a bank account, she will receive the accounts’ balance upon your death.

Which means that much of your property designation can actually be done remotely by requesting the appropriate form from your bank or financial adviser and returning it by mail. “If these forms need to be notarized, you can do so remotely,” Finkel said.

3. Health care proxy. If you are in isolation with others you may be able to fill out a health care proxy. The document — which varies by state — often requires two witnesses, like your home health aide and your best friend (neither can be your assigned agent). The proxy allows you to appoint an agent who will make your medical decisions should you become incapacitated. You do not need a lawyer or a notary to complete this form. (AARP provides links to these forms for every state.)

4. HIPAA. Everyone should complete a HIPAA form. “If you can’t get two witnesses [for a health care proxy] because you’re self-isolated,” Finkel says, “you can still do a simple authorization [the HIPAA form] to let your close people be able to speak to doctors.”

At a time when visitors are not allowed in hospitals or nursing homes, the HIPAA — an acronym for the law that protects patient privacy, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — will allow your designated loved ones to talk to your doctors about your status. Also, Finkel says, you can name as many designees as you want, just fill out the form with their names and contact information

Once you have completed a health care proxy and/or a HIPAA form, take a photo of them and share it with your designee. “I have HIPAA authorizations for my dad and my husband on my phone,” Finkel told me. They’re at her fingertips should she need them in an emergency. (You can access the HIPAA form here.)

5. Financial institution power of attorney. You can also complete a basic power of attorney form with your bank that designates a person to make financial transactions in those corresponding accounts. You can request the form and, if the institution allows, notarize it remotely. Some banks may have their own procedure, so check with them first.

“Do whatever you can right now to set up a designee for each of the banks you use,” Finkel recommended.

6. Direct deposit and direct pay. Now that you’re at home, it’s the perfect time to put all your bills and monthly payments online. Have your income deposited into one account and your regular bills auto paid from the same account. Heat, electric, gas, cell phone, cable, wireless, water — and your monthly rent or maintenance fee if possible.

“Get everything online, electronically paid, so that all of these things are seamless,” Finkel told me. Should you have to be hospitalized (hospital stays for severe cases of Covid-19 last an average of 10-13 days, with some lasting much longer), when you come home all of your services will be in place.

7. Passwords. While you’re setting up your bills for auto pay, organize all your online passwords. Once you’ve recorded the username and password for all of your utilities, do the same for your online accounts like email, social media, entertainment services, and other online platforms. Share this document with your most trusted person so that they’ll have it in your absence.

8. Have the conversation. This is also the time to talk to your loved ones about your health care and financial decisions. This difficult time might actually make the conversation easier for you and your family. “People around me are dying,” Finkel said. “We’re in a pandemic, and everyone is starting to see their own mortality. Let your loved ones know your wishes.” Tell the people you love where your documents are, and give your health care proxy, power of attorney, and HIPAA to your trusted agents named within them.

And there is one more important thing: “We can take this time to talk to our loved ones,” Periyakoil told me. “If there is one thing even more important than advanced directives, it’s really telling our friends and family how much we love them.”

Complete Article HERE!

What Happens As We Are Dying?

The First And Last Things To Go

Knowing what happens when we’re dying can tell us how to console colleagues and loved ones as they lose their battle with COVID-19.


As our mother lay dying, my sister and I sat on either side of her, holding her hand and whispering words of comfort until the hospital machine showed a flat line. Having heard that physicians often witness positive reactions in patients when loved ones speak to them in their final moments, we intuitively thought that perhaps she could hear us. No one knows for sure what happens as we die, but recent information from neuroscientists shows that our intuitions could be right. Knowing what happens when we’re dying can tell us how to console colleagues and loved ones as they lose their battle with COVID-19.

The Last Thing To Go

In the last hours before an expected natural death, many people enter a period of unresponsiveness, during which they no longer respond to their external environment. Anecdotal reports from near-death experiences commonly include stories of the dying person hearing unusual noises or hearing themselves pronounced dead.

In a June 2020 groundbreaking study published in Scientific Reports, neuroscientists provided the first empirical evidence that some people can still hear while in an unresponsive state hours before dying. Using EEG indices, neuroscientists at the University of British Columbia measured the electrical activity in the brain from hospice patients at St. John’s Hospital when they were conscious and when they became unresponsive. A control group of young, healthy participants was also used. The researchers monitored brain responses to tones and found that the auditory systems of the dying patients responded similarly to the young, healthy control groups just hours from the end of life. They concluded that the dying brain responds to sound tones even during an unconscious state and that hearing is the last sense to go in the dying process.

The First Thing to Go

Many people who have had near-death experiences describe a sense of “awe” or “bliss” and a reluctance to come back into their bodies after being revived. I interviewed brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, who described having a strikingly similar awe experience during her stroke which she detailed in her book My Stroke Of Insight.

Jill Bolte Taylor: I was bouncing in and out of the consciousness of my right brain. The left brain had the hemorrhage, growing at an enormous rate over those four hours. By the time I got to the hospital, the hemorrhage was about the size of my fist in my left hemisphere. Over the course of the morning, I drifted into blissful euphoria, the consciousness of my right brain. And then I would come back online and attend to the details to get myself help. It was a movement in and out of being aware of external reality. I was completely conscious through the entire experience, but only at some point could I attend to detail in the external world, recognize that it existed, or even care.

Bryan Robinson: So the fear factor wasn’t there?

Taylor: I was very blessed. I had zero fear. I was there in blissful euphoria in the right brain. Or I was in the left brain, preoccupied with trying to figure out what I needed to do to orchestrate a rescue.

Robinson: How did the stroke change your outlook on life? Or did it?

Taylor: One hundred percent. It shifted me away from believing that I was the center of my world and that “me and mine” is what matters. That whole circuit—the consciousness of me as an individual—went offline. In the absence of the focus of my life being me, I shifted into a consciousness and awareness that I’m a part of a greater humanity. I’m more open, expansive, and flexible to possibilities—as opposed to “here’s what I want and these are the steps I’m going to take to get what I want.” I function inside of a hierarchy of people above me and below me and I’m climbing a ladder. So I shifted away from the linear way of looking at the world and my relationship to it. I live more open to the possibilities of what can be and what is the best match for me.

Robinson: Is it true that your training and professional and personal experience have led you to believe that the right brain or authentic self is the brain hemisphere that endures even at death?

Taylor: The authentic self is the part of us that I firmly believe shows up in the last five minutes of our lives. When we’re on our deathbed, the left brain begins to dissipate. We shift out of all the accumulation and the external world because it’s no longer valuable. What is valuable is who we are as human beings and what we did with our lives to help others. We all face it, and I think that is judgment day. But I don’t think it’s the judgment of something beyond us; it’s the judgment of ourselves. Those of us who are tangled up in the external judgment are not slowing down enough to reflect on the essence of who we are as human beings and what we could be in connection with one another.

Steps You Can Take

It’s important to be supportive, compassionate and understanding in cases where a coworker loses their battle with COVID-19. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other bereaved colleagues, share your concerns and be willing to listen. If you’re an employer, make sure HR personnel are well educated about the process of death and dying. If you are an employee in an organization where COVID-19 deaths haven’t been acknowledged or discussed, speak to someone in authority who can take steps to provide training for all employees. Appropriate information makes sure employees receive emotional support during the loss. Otherwise social isolation can cut employees off from help when they most need it.

Now that hearing is widely thought to be the last sense to go during the dying process and that a blissful experience might replace fear, this information might be helpful to bring comfort to family and friends in their final moments. Perhaps being present with comforting words in the last hours in person or virtually can console the dying as well as loved ones. According to Dr. Elizabeth Blundon, lead researcher in the Scientific Reports experiment, “This is consistent with the trope that hearing is one of the last senses to lose function when a person is dying and lends some credence to the advice that loved ones should keep talking to a dying relative as long as possible.”

Complete Article HERE!

How Taiwanese death rituals have adapted for families living in the US


Taiwanese people living in the United States face a dilemma when loved ones die. Many families worry that they might not be able to carry out proper rituals in their new homeland.

As a biracial Taiwanese-American archaeologist living in Idaho and studying in Taiwan, I am discovering the many faces of Taiwan’s blended cultural heritage drawn from the mix of peoples that have inhabited the island over millennia.

Indigenous tribes have lived on the island for 6,000 years, practicing their diverse ancient traditions into the modern day. Chinese sailor-farmers arrived during the Ming Dynasty 350 years ago. The Japanese won a naval battle with China and governed Taiwan as a colony from 1895 to 1945. Today, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy, albeit with contested sovereign status. Peoples from every corner of the planet visit, work and live in Taiwan.

Language, religion and food from all these traditions can be encountered in the cities and villages of Taiwan today. Multiple beliefs and customs also contribute to the rituals Taiwanese people conduct to send family members into the afterlife.

Death rituals

Taiwan’s death rituals offer a bridge with the afterlife that stems from multiple spiritual sources. Buddhists, who make up 35% of Taiwan’s population, believe in multiple lives. Through faith and devotion to Buddha and the accumulation of good deeds a person can be freed from the cycle of reincarnation to achieve nirvana or a state of perfect enlightenment.

This belief is fused with elements of the island’s other belief systems including Taoism, Indigenous spirituality and Christianity. Together, they form death customs that showcase Taiwan’s multiculturalism.

In the streets of Taiwan’s metropolises and villages alike, temples, churches and wooden ancestor carvings invite one to contemplate eternity while the odors of nearby food vendors – such as stinky tofu, a local delicacy – tempt people to pause and enjoy earthly delights afterward.

The rituals associated with passing from this life include cemetery burial or traditional cremation practices. The dead are cremated and placed in special urns in Buddhist temples.

Another rite involves burning of what are known as “hell bank notes.” These are specially printed non-legal tender bills that may range from US$10,000 to several billions.

On one side of these notes is an image of the Jade Emperor, the presiding monarch of heaven in Taoism. These bills can be obtained in any temple or even 7-Eleven in Taiwan. The belief is that the spirits of ancestor might return to complain if not given sufficient spending money for the afterlife.

Adapting in America

My Indigenous great-great-grandmother married a Chinese man and her great-grandson – my father – grew up speaking a typical blend of languages for the 1950s: the local dialect, Hokkien, as well as Japanese, Cantonese and Mandarin. Arriving in the U.S. at the age of 23 to study electrical engineering, my father mastered English quickly, married my Euro-American mother, and raised a family in the American West.

Taiwanese people living in America often cannot participate in the rites of mourning and passage conducted back home because they do not have time or money, or recently, pandemic related travel restrictions. So Taiwanese Americans adapt to – and sometimes, accept the loss of – these traditions.

When my Taiwanese grandmother, whom we affectionately called Amah, passed away in 1987, my father was unable to return home for the Buddhist ritual organized by his family. Instead, he adapted the “Tou Qi,” pronounced “tow chee” – usually conducted on the seventh day after death.

In this ritual, it is believed that the spirit of the recently deceased revisits the family for one final farewell.

My father adapted the ritual to a modern U.S. suburban home: He filled our dining room with fruits and cakes, as my Amah was a strict Buddhist vegetarian and enjoyed eating cakes. He put pots of golden chrysanthemums on the table and incense whose smoke is believed to carry one’s thoughts and feelings to the gods.

He then opened every door, window and drawer in our house, as well as car doors, and the tool shed to ensure that our grandmother’s spirit could visit and enjoy the food with us for the last time. He then settled in for an all-night vigil.

After helping Dad with preparations, I returned to my small apartment across town, placed flowers and fruit and a candle on the kitchen table, opened the windows and doors and sat through long dark hours of my own small vigil.

I reflected upon the memory of my grandmother: a petite woman who raised six children during World War II by hiding in the mountains and teaching them to forage for snails, rats and wild yams. Her children survived, got educated, and traveled the world. Her American grandchildren learned how to stir fry in her battle-scarred wok, lugged all the way to the U.S. in a suitcase, and peeked curiously as she performed Buddhist prayers each morning in front of the smiling deity.

My vigil ended with the rising of the sun: the candle burnt out, the flowers drooped, and the fragrance of the incense faded. My grandmother, whose name in translation is “Fairy Spirit,” had eaten her fill, and said her goodbyes.

Complete Article HERE!

Death is part of life, and there is a lot we can learn from it

There are moments when disease and political protest suddenly make dead bodies far more visible, here are five lessons they can teach us.


I grew up around dead bodies. In fact, some of my earliest childhood memories are of dead bodies in caskets, and I mean dozens of corpses — not the occasional family friend or relative. The reason I saw so many dead people was because my father was a funeral director for thirty-five years in Midwest America.

Fast-forward now through some strange twists of fate, and I am currently the Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, the world’s only interdisciplinary research centre focused on death, dying, and the dead body. Human mortality looms so large in my upbringing and academic career that my younger sister, Julie, is on the record calling me the Overlord of Death.

As a result of these labours, I published a book called Technologies of the Human Corpse in which I cover the history and meaning we living humans assign to dead bodies by using different kinds of technologies: embalming, photography, rail transport, science museums, detention camps, radical life extension, the list goes on.

I have spent many years trying to understand what the bodies of the dead can teach us about the living, and here are some of the lessons I have learnt.

Dead bodies prove a once-living person died

When you see a dead body, you see causation. Some set of events or actions caused that dead body to be in front of you. Dead bodies do not just happen and require either an internal or external force (sometimes both!) to appear. Place a dead body in any situation and that situation automatically becomes far more serious.

One of the great 17th Century human inventions was the autopsy (literally ‘seeing for oneself ’), which stressed peering into the dead body to understand causes of death. The autopsy’s historical success is also one of the reasons we 21st Century humans find it so distressing when a cause of death cannot be determined.

How is an indeterminate cause of death possible, many people ask, with all our advanced bio-medical technology? And it is on this very ship 1,000 different CSI television programmes sailed…

But set aside the impossible forensics portrayed on popular television programmes for one minute, since we are living in a historical moment dominated by very real dead bodies with clearly defined causation.

Dead bodies from COVID-19. Dead bodies from police violence. Dead bodies from lack of access to necessary medical care. Dead bodies from interconnected social inequality that accelerates death, which leads me to lesson number two.

Dead bodies teach us about politics

Human corpses invisibly surround we the living on a daily basis, so much so that under normal conditions approximately 1,700 people die each day across the UK.

But there are moments when disease and political protest suddenly make these dead bodies far more visible. The current visibility of dead bodies due to COVID-19 and the global protests around George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis are examples when human corpses become a catalyst for action.

Whether it is the over 550,000 COVID-19 deaths from across the globe or the singular dead body of one black man in Minneapolis – these human corpses create new political meanings when answering some fundamental questions: why is this person dead and what political dynamics led to the death?

In many ways we have seen aspects of the current COVID-19 dead body politics before. In chapter 3 of my book I focus on HIV/AIDS corpses and the postmortem political changes produced by that pandemic.

So, for example, a key question during the height of the AIDS epidemic was whether or not it was safe to touch the body of a person killed by the HIV virus. It was safe, but it took many years for that answer to arrive.

Historical examples of dead body politics and race also abound. George Floyd’s death is part of a much broader US context captured in the book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000) that documents how white Americans collected photographs of lynched black people and turned those images into collectible postcards. I highly recommend this book to any white person wondering why so many black communities feel such rage and anger about their dead.

We don’t always see the dead bodies until suddenly we do and then it is difficult to look away… until we do

I describe lesson three as part of a National Death Infrastructure into which dead bodies are absorbed by any nation’s very local but also quite global system for managing human corpses.

Any National Death Infrastructure includes systems such as local cemeteries and city morgues alongside international air transfer companies handling postmortem repatriations. It is when those systems overload that we begin to see the dead bodies and cannot stop seeing them since there are simply too many corpses to store. The dead bodies must be moved somewhere.

The recent COVID-19 experiences in many cities, New York and London in particular, demonstrate how pandemics can produce mass fatality events that quickly overload the everyday death infrastructure and create the need for rapid adaptation. In these moments of emergent adaptation, we begin to see how quickly the dead really do impact the world of the living.

But many of us do eventually look away and forget about the dead bodies. In the not-to-distant-future, I have a feeling that the dead bodies created by COVID-19 will be forgotten about, especially by the people who did not lose someone close to them.

Here is a quick test – how many people have died from AIDS? The answer is 38 million and counting. That is an enormous number of largely invisible dead bodies.

Dead bodies teach us not to hide the dead bodies

Virological determinism is the concept I use to describe the current US and UK response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is, we humans blame the virus for creating all the COVID-19 dead bodies as opposed to recognising human failures (and here I mean government leaders as much as anything) at mitigating the contagion.

This is similar to the way we use technological determinism to explain human problems by saying, “…the computer did it!” as opposed to accepting responsibility for our own actions.

COVID-19 created a whole new linguistic dynamic for 2020’s human catastrophes – blame the virus. Name a problem and the coronavirus caused it. And while this is correct in some instances, the virological determinist rationalisation only goes so far with dead bodies.

The sudden surge in COVID-19 dead bodies that overloaded National Death Infrastructures everywhere meant hiding the bodies was not possible. Most countries face a real dilemma right now with care homes since the number of dead cannot be easily glossed over.

Governments may try (and some will surely succeed) but here is a key rule: one dead body makes any given situation a tragedy. Twenty-thousand dead bodies make the same situation a mass fatality catastrophe.

Any government that attempts to hide these dead bodies, and here ‘hiding’ can also mean ‘not acknowledging,’ faces an immediate problem – all attempts at obfuscating the dead will only make their loved ones and advocates work even harder to name the deceased.

There is a parallel here, too, with the George Floyd case. The video recording of his death resonated so deeply because it showed his death in clear-cut terms that meant nothing was going to hide his dead body from public view.


Dead bodies teach us about grief and bereavement

I opened these five-lessons with my younger sister Julie calling me the Overlord of Death. Julie died on 29 July 2018 from brain cancer and I wrote at length about her death in the preface to my book. She died in Italy (where she lived), and took her final turn while I boarded a Milan-bound plane at Bristol Airport.

When I arrived at the hospice where she died I immediately asked to see my sister and was taken to her body. I spent a long time talking with Julie about how much everyone loved her and how much everyone would miss her.

I also suddenly found myself next to a dead body, similar in so many ways to my youth, but this time it was my sister. And sitting next to her dead body taught me what loss truly felt like, since I couldn’t just call my sister on the phone and tell her what was happening.

She was dead but that experience with her in the hospice meant that Julie would forevermore remain an active presence in my everyday life. And she is.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Not a Single Casserole’

— What It’s Like to Be Widowed by COVID-19

Levester (LT) Thompson and his wife Simone Andrews

By Kevyn Burger

In her last FaceTime conversation with her husband, Simone Andrews begged him to keep fighting.

“They were going to intubate him and after that he would be sedated and he wouldn’t be able to talk,” said Andrews. “He was afraid. I said, ‘Please, please, don’t give up. Keep working hard.’”

Andrews’ husband Levester Thompson, known as LT, had begun feeling lethargic as the family prepared to shelter-in-place in their Staten Island, N.Y. home in mid-March.

Four days later, after his fever spiked and he experienced a seizure, LT was hospitalized.

“He didn’t have the symptoms. He wasn’t coughing and we weren’t thinking COVID, but that was his diagnosis,” Andrews said. “I thought he would come out of it; he was just forty-six and healthy, he worked out every day, no pre-existing conditions.”

On April 6, LT died on a ventilator, never regaining consciousness. Because of visiting restrictions put in place at the start of the pandemic, Andrews and their two children saw him only through an iPad during the 19 days he was hospitalized.

“We didn’t know he was at the end and we didn’t say goodbye,” Andrews said. “And then we went into our grief bubble. My parents and in-laws couldn’t come and be with us. It was too risky to see anyone. It’s like we were marooned.”

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‘One of the Many’

On the day LT died from the coronavirus, so did 876 other New Yorkers. The sheer scale of the number of those lost to COVID-19 is staggering.

Each one of those casualties is attached to a family unable to access cultural rituals that accompany the end of life. Many funerals or memorial services have been cancelled or delayed. Those that can be staged are often conducted via an online platform, with guests attending virtually, unable to hug or put a sympathetic arm around the bereaved.

“Grief naturally isolates you, but many of these widowed people have not touched anyone for months.”

The coronavirus is robbing a new generation of widows and widowers not only of their life partners, but also of their ability to access community support networks as they mourn in isolation.

“This is unprecedented. It’s compared to 9/11 in terms of the intensity, but it’s more than that. These newly widowed people become one of the many. And their person is a piece of the larger tragedy — they are a number,” said Michele Neff Hernandez, founder and executive director of Soaring Spirits International.

Hernandez founded the California-based nonprofit after she was widowed at 35 and wanted to find a way to meet others who had also lost their partners. Since 2009, Soaring Spirits has put on more than two dozen Camp Widow events across North America to help bereaved spouses though education and by introducing them to widowed peers.

Soaring Spirits is now reaching out to COVID-19 widows and widowers with specifically designed information and Zoom meetings that replace face-to-face interventions.

“They have a lot in common,” Hernandez said. “Grief naturally isolates you, but many of these widowed people have not touched anyone for months. That lack of affection and connection as this crisis has stretched on and on keeps them in that cauldron of pain.”

In the support groups, facilitators stress the importance of self-care and finding ways to reach out, even when they’re staying home alone.

“Our work is to connect them to each other and remind them of their resilience,” Hernandez added. “We suggest therapy as an option and have workshops on how to find a therapist.”

Traumatic Grief

Support groups and other resources designed specifically for COVID-19 widows and widowers are beginning to emerge.

Based in Manhattan, the pandemic’s epicenter when LT died, psychotherapist Danielle Jonas is providing online therapy for people who have lost a spouse or romantic partner to the coronavirus.

“In the U.S., we have decided what a good death looks like. The person is surrounded by their loved ones, they’re comfortable. Maybe there are songs or prayer,” said Jonas.

None of the partners of her newly-widowed clients were afforded anything resembling that good death.

“It’s imperative to understand that for many of these widows and widowers, this is not just grief. This is trauma.”

“When the spouse can’t be present at the end their loved one’s life, they’re haunted by the idea that their person didn’t remember why they were alone. They ask themselves, did they feel neglected or unloved at the end?,” said Jonas. “These survivors feel guilt: They should have gotten (their spouse) to the hospital sooner, they should have taken their symptoms more seriously. They may wonder and worry if they brought the virus home to their loved one.”

The loss experienced by those widowed in the pandemic is also complicated by its unanticipated nature, according to Laura Takacs, clinical director for grief services at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

“It’s imperative to understand that for many of these widows and widowers, this is not just grief. This is trauma,” said Takacs.

She considers COVID-19 widows and widowers to be “sudden traumatic death survivors.” That designation is typically assigned to those who lose a spouse in a sudden, shocking or violent way and are tortured by their thoughts of their loved one’s last moments.

“These survivors can’t get images of their loved one’s death out of their head. They can’t sleep, their thoughts get caught in a loop. They think they’re going crazy,” Takacs said. “I expect we will see this with COVID losses, where they ‘see’ their loved on a ventilator or imagine them suffering in a crowded hospital ward.”

Using a method called restorative retelling, Takacs gives sudden traumatic death survivors coping skills for when they wake up in a cold sweat, and educates them to normalize their experience.

“I tell them, these are the symptoms I would expect; other spouses describe similar feelings. You’re not alone,” she said. “When they hear that, there are often tears of relief. Then we can go to work.”

Isolated in Grief

There’s a fragment of a song stuck in Darlene Thoreson’s head.

“I keep thinking of that line, ‘You picked a fine time to leave me,’” said Thoreson, 71. “This has been so horrible. I can’t tell you how lonely I am.”

Thoreson and her husband Eric, 77, had moved to a senior living building in suburban Milwaukee on March 1. They were still unpacking when Eric began feeling ill. He attributed his body aches and breathing difficulties to his persistent asthma, but on the night of March 28, his condition quickly deteriorated and he collapsed and died in their living room.

While Eric’s symptoms were consistent with COVID-19, a postmortem test was inconclusive. Darlene tested negative for the virus but was quarantined under a tight lockdown with the assumption that she’d been exposed.

“I couldn’t leave and no one could come in. They slid my mail under the door and wouldn’t take the rent check from me because Eric made it out and had touched it,” she said. “Everyone was so leery of me.”

“I’ve experienced death in my family before. Everyone swarms around you and takes care of you. There was none of that.”

Unable to lean on her two daughters, her friends or the pastor at her church, Thoreson was isolated in an apartment that didn’t feel like home.

“I’ve experienced death in my family before. Everyone swarms around you and takes care of you. There was none of that. Not a single casserole,” she said. “We’re not meant to grieve alone.”

Late-in-Life Loss

Although the average age of people dying from the coronavirus has begun to drop, statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control this spring found that Americans 65 and older account for eight out of ten of the U.S. deaths from the disease.

That means a disproportionate number of the newly-widowed due to COVID-19 are those who’ve celebrated silver, gold or even diamond anniversaries.

“Their pain is deep. They’ve lost their life’s companion, their source of security, perhaps their protector when they were feeling vulnerable, and this is happening in the middle of a crisis like we’ve never experienced,” said Steve Sweatt, clinical director at Community Grief Support in Birmingham, Ala.

Sweatt has facilitated support groups for older widowed spouses in the past and has seen their grief patronized. He wonders if that will become a more frequent response in the coronavirus era, when some pundits and policymakers have suggested that older people should sacrifice themselves for the sake of the economy.

“Our culture is too often dismissive of late-in-life loss. The cliched response is, ‘They should be thankful for their many years together.’ But that’s callous in the extreme,” Sweatt said. “This undermines and disenfranchises their bereavement.”

An Intentional Life

Two weeks after LT died, Simone Andrews returned to her job, working from home as a therapist. Some of the clients she now sees remotely have been touched by the coronavirus, too.

“It’s been almost a blessing to have this job when I’m going through this loss. It gives me something within my control,” she said.

Andrews finds herself distracted, though, by her unexpected status as a widow and by the cascade of existential questions it raises.

“Why am I here and he’s not? Why wasn’t it both of us? It’s such a crap shoot, such a game of chance,” she said. “But I’m here and I want to live in the most intentional way possible. I am not going to waste this life.”

Andrews has resumed running, found a therapist and is conscientious about both her physical and mental health, motivated to “get my body in its best shape” to increase her odds of being present for her children.

“In my doctoral training, they stressed that a good clinician is constantly evolving. This has deepened my understanding of loss. What I’m learning will inform my work and my life moving forward,” she said. “And I will move forward.”

Complete Article HERE!

To my friend who just had a miscarriage

– This is what I want you to know


My sweet friend,

Our culture doesn’t do this grief thing well, especially when the source is as invisible as a miscarriage. Just how do you share that kind of news when you thought you’d be sharing the most joyful news of your life? Instead, you have to tell of one of your greatest heartaches.

I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t.

Does this terrible reality negate the joy you felt when you saw that second pink line? Does it make your pregnancy any less meaningful? Does it make you any less of a mother?

My answer to you, dear one, is no.

I know what it feels like to see those two pink lines, only to see blood a few days later. In an instant after getting that positive test, a lifetime of dreams form within you: how your family will grow, who your child will be, the adventures you’ll have, the ways you’ll change. After a miscarriage, you’re not just grieving the loss of a pregnancy. You’re grieving the death of dreams that took root but never had a chance to grow.

By now, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of well-intended but hurtful platitudes: Everything happens for a reason. God needed an angel baby. God has a better plan. You can try for another child.

But I see you, friend, and I know you wanted this pregnancy, this baby, this life. I see how your mama heart was already growing and stretching to accommodate this precious little person, and I affirm that your heartache is well placed. Your baby is a part of you, one with you, created within your very own body.

So instead of those worn-out cliches, this is what I will say instead:

It’s not supposed to be like this.

Mamas are not supposed to lose their babies.

This isn’t fair.

You are allowed to grieve as long as it takes.

You do not have to be okay today.

You do not have to move on.

Your body is still good.

I hope you will learn to trust your body again, that someday you will decide to take another risk on love, and that as a result of this loss, you will become a more tender and empathetic version of yourself. I hope that when another friend walks through a miscarriage and confides in you, you will see her and embrace her and welcome her into our sisterhood of women who know how she is feeling and who are ready to stand by her.

Ultimately, I hope you come to see the time you were pregnant as something worth celebrating—maybe not today, but eventually. Because, friend, pregnancy is a gift meant to be enjoyed for however long we have it. Of course, I wish that gift had been yours for nine whole months. But whether it was for two weeks or 42, you carried life.

If each day with your baby is a gift, then even the very last one is both something to grieve and something to treasure.

And however you’re feeling day by day—whether you’re in awe of goodness or struggling under the weight of grief—I’ll be right here to carry it with you.

Complete Article HERE!