After Pregnancy and Infant Loss

How Can Couples Stay Connected & Grieve Together?

By Dr. Lexx Brown-James

October is special for a lot of reasons and one of which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss month (PAIL). PAIL is a true trauma that test lovers’ will, relationship, and self-preservation. This month, I brought in an expert, Jeanae M. Hopgood, MFT, M.Ed, PMH-C (@black_angel_mom) to help educate about PAIL, talk to us about resources and how to preserve a relationship when PAIL hits close to home.

Dr. Lexx: Who are you and what are your credentials?

Hopgood: I am an individual, couple/partner, and family therapist specializing in sexuality & sexual identity, perinatal mental health, perinatal loss, family creation, and family of origin challenges. I am also a mother of three (one earth-side, and twin daughters who passed), an author, owner & CEO of JHJ Therapy, LLC, and creator of the Black Angel Mom brand (virtual community, support groups, journal and blog).

Dr. Lexx: What is PAIL and how do we use October to honor it?

Hopgood: PAIL is an acronym for Pregnancy and Infant Loss.  October is PAIL Awareness month and involves several global, as well as local events. PAIL Awareness Day and the Wave of Light occur on October 15th yearly. Some people also use the opportunity to have small gatherings to honor their children that have passed; particularly when there are unclear birth or death dates. Others may choose to use the time to address their loss(es) in private during this time of year, with candles, or journaling, or looking through memorabilia.

Dr. Lexx: How did you come to have a passion for this work?

Hopgood: I have always had an interest in perinatal health and mental health, as well as family creation; however, my specific focus on perinatal loss came out of my own experience with the phenomenon. On June 7, 2017, I gave birth to my twin daughters, Aviva Monroe and Jora Nirali, at just shy of 17 weeks (16w 7d) gestation due to Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (pPROM).
My daughters were born alive just after 9pm that evening and died shortly after. Them dying was the biggest, darkest, deepest state of grief I have ever experienced. I was already working as a therapist and had some awareness and skill with coping; however, nothing could have prepared me for the depths of pain I would feel. Writing became [such] an outlet for me that I also decided to create a blog. So, the Black Angel Mom blog was birthed.

Dr. Lexx: What are some of your favorite tools to help with grief?

Hopgood: There are many ways one can approach the work but one of my favorites is just telling your story. Particularly in the case of perinatal loss. For folx with this experience, this is literally the only story they will have about their lost loved one (llo). It’s the only memory(ies) of their llo, so it is crucial for them to be able to tell that story.

In terms of actual, tangible tools, my journal is my fav! The Black Angel Mom Guided Journal is chock full of exercises and activities to help identify specific parts of the grieving process, set boundaries for oneself to help create emotional safety with partners, family, and friends. It also has a ton of free-writing space, processing space after activities, and coloring pages that folx can find relaxing. The journal is good for individual use, as well as use with a support professional (i.e., a therapist). I will also soon be releasing a card deck full of conversation starters and processing prompts for personal use, and/or use with your therapist or support group, and partners. Subscribe for the release or join the Facebook Group to connect!

Dr. Lexx: With loss of a wanted child, there is often a rift between lovers. What tips do you have to help people reconnect to their intimacy?

Hopgood: The loss of a child is traumatic, regardless of the gestational age. It feels unnatural for children to die before they have ever really lived any life. The brain literally struggles to compute this information.  It tries to make sense of the nonsensical because it’s super distressing to not understand something. This is the case with perinatal loss too.

Lovers/Partners/Couples are both individually and collectively trying to understand WHY their pregnancy ended or their baby died. It’s not uncommon for the pregnant person to blame themselves and/or for their partner to blame them.

1. Blame can too often lead to shame & guilt, which are both intimacy-killers.

Intimacy — as in feelings of emotional closeness, safety, security, vulnerability — can be heavily damaged during periods following perinatal loss. It is not uncommon for partners to stop talking to each other about their feelings. Sometimes this is because they do not know what to say, sometimes one partner doesn’t want to trigger the other partner, sometimes one partner appears to be managing “well” so the perception is that they aren’t grieving “enough.”

I think one of the most important tips is to remember that everyone’s grief looks different. There are no grief olympics. When partners stop comparing their grief experiences, they are more inclined to seek understanding and empathy. Another tip is to keep talking to each other! Grief is hard and sometimes it makes you want to turn inward: away from the world and away from connection. Though alone-time is sometimes needed, it can also be dangerous to intimacy. Intimacy is about connection, not disconnection. Don’t stop talking to each other and don’t stop asking questions.

3. Seek support.

Find that support group. Find that therapist who specializes in grief work and/or perinatal loss, and also in sex therapy when possible. Support groups can provide a sense of solidarity and understanding, while therapy helps with actual interventions and deep unpacking of issues affecting relational health.

4. Grace is required.

My fourth tip is to be gentle with your bodies and do things that bring it pleasure. After perinatal loss, the relationship to one’s body can be more complex than ever. Depending on the circumstances, the body may have also recently experienced immense pain and discomfort. Healing is required.

Doing things that simply make your body feel good (e.g. dancing, yoga, sexual acts depending on clearance from a doc, exercise, massages, acupuncture, etc.) can help to nurture and change the relationship to the body making physical and sexual intimacy more desirable.

Complete Article HERE!

Five Ways You Can Use Your Own Experience Of Loss To Help Others Who Are Grieving

By Gloria Horsley

Loss has a way of hitting you like a ton of bricks. It happens when you least expect it, and it completely knocks the wind out of you. Even when you can see a loss on the horizon, nothing can prepare you for the pain you’ll feel.

One day, you’ll find yourself living a new normal and will have the unique opportunity to help others who are grieving. While the pain of loss may still be a daily occurrence for you, you can use what you’ve learned to comfort a friend, colleague, employee or family member who is suffering. Helping others through the lens of your own experience can be therapeutic, even as you continue to mourn your own loss. By using your experience to help and lead others in the world — whether it’s a grieving employee or close friend — your support can be a welcome balm for many during their time of need.  

1. Offer Flexibility When You Can

In the initial shock of a loss, people need grace wherever they can get it. If you’re in a position to remove the burden of work, social or other responsibilities from the grieving person, do it. Recall the raw emotions of your loss and how those feelings made you practically blind to everyone and everything else. Use your understanding of that gut-wrenching feeling to advocate for them.

The bereaved person’s head and heart are on a roller coaster of emotions, and they should be given space to process their grief. If you don’t have the power to give them flexibility, support them in other ways. Offer to take other things off of their plate so their load is lighter.

2. Step In And Take Care Of Essentials

Basic care and obligations often go by the wayside in the shadow of grief. Don’t ask the grieving person what you can do to help. It can be difficult for them to identify what needs doing or to pick up the phone and ask for assistance when they do. Instead, step in and take care of the things that might get missed. Small acts can be a huge help — offer to drop off groceries, deliver cooked meals or take care of the lawn and mail.

A mourning person may be spending a lot of time at home. They could be supporting family members with their own grief process. Help them manage the tasks and incidentals so they don’t pile up and become a larger issue to tackle later.

3. Give Space For Sadness

Grief doesn’t have a timeline. It comes in waves, triggered by a memory or nothing at all. Be helpful by simply allowing space for sadness. Your support may come by sitting quietly with your grieving friend or staff member, being available should they be ready to speak. You can also be a sounding board for hard questions they may face afterward.

Stand by them while they process the big emotions. By sticking with them, even when things get ugly, they’ll feel safe to express their sadness as it comes.

4. Listen To What They Say — And What They Don’t

A great loss can call to attention all of the things that were said or left unsaid, done or left undone. Grief can manifest in feelings of regret, sometimes heading to a dark place. Practice active listening when your friend or member of staff comes to you to talk.

Pay close attention to body language to get a good read on how they’re doing — even if it’s a Zoom call. If they report that they’re doing fine yet their posture or facial expression says otherwise, pay attention to that. When conversations repeat and come back to a certain memory, help them unpack their emotions. If they open up to you, try to help them work through their feelings.

5. Know When To Ask For Outside Support

Sometimes, a situation moves outside of the expertise of a caring friend or concerned boss. If the bereaved person is in need of a support group or grief counseling, know what signs to look for. If they have trouble getting out of bed or are unable to work, it may be an indication that additional support is needed.

After the immediacy of a loss has passed, most people can return to regular routines in a few weeks. They will still be processing their grief but can take care of their basic needs. If your friend or family member needs additional help, let them know that it’s OK to not be OK. Help them reach out to grief support that best suits their needs. You can assist them with making a call or submitting an online request for support.

Using Your Grief To Support Others

Grief is a lifelong process. As you help others, be sure to pay attention to any resurging grief you may be feeling. Take care of your needs in tandem with offering your support. As your friend, family member or employee moves through their grief process, your presence and support will be a comfort to them. In times of grief, it’s often the kindness, love and consideration of others that encourage the first step toward healing.

Complete Article HERE!

They watched their family members die.

Now they support medical aid in dying.

“It’s not just the pain, it’s the sense of isolation and aloneness and so on, which really can’t be assuaged by hospice.”

By Arianna MacNeill

When Mark Peterson thinks about his mother, Rhea, he thinks of the petite woman who loved to play golf, and enjoyed sitting down with a good book.

But another thing that Peterson recalls about his mother is her courage at the time of her death.

Because of the suffering and pain his mother endured, Peterson has become a vocal proponent for medical aid in dying, a way for terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives on their own terms.

State lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would legalize medical aid in dying in Massachusetts. The bill includes a variety of protections, including that the person must have a prognosis of six months or less to live, and go through a 15-day waiting period.

The initiative is already legal in a handful of states, including neighboring Vermont and Maine.

There are strong opinions both for and against the issue. Those in favor say laws in other states have worked the way they were intended. However, opponents are concerned that this will further burden the healthcare system, already taxed by the pandemic.

But behind the intellectual arguments for and against the issue are real people, like Peterson, who’ve faced the decline of a loved one and formed their opinion based on that sad reality. These are some of their stories.

A mother’s difficult choice

Rhea Peterson, who was born in 1907, began smoking cigarettes as a teenager – doctors at the time encouraged her to, she said. 

Throughout her life, Rhea had been hardworking. She became a copywriter, and she won awards, her son said. She raised four boys. She also wrote books for adults and children.

Rhea also beat breast cancer — she underwent a double mastectomy in the 1940s.

But at the end of her life, Rhea was robbed of the activities she loved.

At 75, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. 

Rhea quit smoking, her son said, “but COPD had its way with her, and basically she was no longer able to golf, and she got progressively weaker; she had to have what’s called an oxygen concentrator,” Peterson said. Using the concentrator meant she had to wear a nasal tube.

Rhea’s health continued to decline. Her vision started to go, and she began forgetting her medication. She also started becoming incontinent. 

She didn’t want to go into a nursing home, Peterson said.

“She couldn’t play golf, she couldn’t read as much, she couldn’t get out and get around, and she realized she was losing some of her memory,” her son said.

“In 1985, she said, ‘I want to die,’ and the brothers all kind of freaked out,” Peterson said. “We had no idea what to do with that.”

No state had medical aid in dying at the time — Oregon eventually became the first, in the mid-1990s — and end-of-life care hadn’t yet progressed to what it is today. The options for Rhea were limited, and in early 1986, she declared she was stopping all treatments. She had decided she would try to live into that year because she was told it would be better in terms of taxes on the inheritance.

The five days between when Rhea stopped her medications to when she passed were anything but peaceful. She struggled to breathe. There weren’t any painkillers.

“It was excruciating and gruesome,” Peterson recalled. Rhea was 78 when she passed.

For the past 11 years, Peterson, a retired psychologist, has dedicated his life to researching and teaching people about end-of-life options. He has also testified before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health regarding the state’s proposed medical aid in dying bill.

When faced with end-of-life options, loved ones often panic, and sometimes get confused about what their family member would want, Peterson said.

“The decision-making can sometimes end up being distorted and cause great pain,” Peterson said. “Probably the biggest single example of that is when a child says, ‘I’ll do anything to save mom,’ and at times mom is subjected to very intrusive, aggressive efforts to save her life.” 

End-of-life care and medical aid in dying

Thinking about today’s end-of-life care compared to what existed during the mid-1980s, Peterson agreed that it has improved, but sometimes palliative care needs to be about more than just treating pain.

“It’s not just the pain, it’s the sense of isolation and aloneness and so on, which really can’t be assuaged by hospice,” Peterson said. “People who get to the point where they’re sick of being sick and the indignities of not being able to wipe themselves, and endless pills, there’s so many ways that people get to the point and … they say, ‘I’m done.’”

Long before she passed away, Susan Lichwala’s mother made her promise that if she was ever in a state where she could no longer take care of herself and was being kept alive artificially, that Susan would request her mother be taken off life support.

Yet, in 2016, her mother, Lynne, was diagnosed with lung cancer — she had smoked throughout her life, Lichwala said. She started chemo, but with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, her heart wasn’t strong enough to tolerate it. She received radiation therapy, but it wasn’t enough to stop the cancer’s progress.

Toward the end of her life, Lichwala said she was clinging to being alive, but was no longer living. She died after a couple of weeks. Lynne’s care through hospice was excellent, Lichwala said, but being alive in that condition isn’t what she would’ve wanted.

“I know my mother would never have wanted to have been like that, yet there was nothing we could do about it,” Lichwala said, since the law didn’t allow for medical aid in dying. This despite the fact that, “There was absolutely no chance [that] my mother was going to live.”

Thoughts on the current bill before state lawmakers

Peterson noted that medical aid in dying shouldn’t be called suicide, saying that it’s a “very loaded negative term that’s used by people who oppose someone having the opportunity to end their life the way they would.” There’s also the stigma attached.

He does say, though, that the current bill covers things like preventing those who are depressed or suicidal from ending their lives.

Since both his parents have passed, Peterson said he’s dreamed about his dad, who died of a stroke when he wasn’t present; he wasn’t able to say anything to him before his passing.

Complete Article HERE!

Death positivity advocate discusses Día de los Muertos, burial rituals

Both contemporary and historical celebrations of the festival are rooted in resistance

Chavez also discussed Spanish oppression of Mexican cultural rituals, calling their colonial practices a “targeted attack” on the complex rituals of Dia de los Muertos. She says that pop culture references to the celebration overlook the complex history of death culture in Mexico.

By Rya Vallabhaneni

Co-founder of the Death Positive movement Sarah Chavez visited Brown virtually Monday evening, kicking off a three-part event series the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology is holding in honor of Día de los Muertos, which is celebrated Nov. 1 and 2. Her talk, “Día de Muertos: A History of Resistance,” focused on the tradition, culture and opposition surrounding contemporary and pre-colonial celebrations of the dead.

“It is such a rich and also kind of complicated, nuanced history,” Chavez said in the presentation. 

Along with her work as a museum curator and writer, Chavez is a founder of The Collective for Radical Death Studies and a host of the podcast Death in the Afternoon. She is also a founder of the Death Positive movement, which encourages people to speak openly about death and dying instead of treating them as taboo subjects. “Everyone’s own practice and belief is a very individual thing,” she said.

Chavez began the talk by describing the culture of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples before Spanish colonization. To these diverse groups, “the dead remained vital members of the community,” Chavez said. In contrast with European treatment of the dead as a source of contamination to remove, Indigenous Mexican cultures connected the dead with life, burying them under homes and in communal areas. As Chavez said, their treks to final destinations in the afterlife were “every bit as real as the world we inhabit now.”

Next, Chavez discussed colonization and Spain’s attempts to eradicate Indigenous Mexican cultures. It seemed as if colonizers launched a “targeted attack” on the customs of Día de los Muertos, Chavez said, creating mandatory burials, forbidding mourning practices and capping funeral expenditures. Yet Chavez was quick to acknowledge the determination of Indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures. Given what these communities endured, she said, “it’s really incredible that we have some version of their practices today.”

Although contemporary Día de los Muertos practices in Mexico are strained by what Chavez called a “grief over loss of language, culture and spiritual life,” their success in bringing families, communities and the dead together persists.  Many Mexicans still parade candles through the streets and bake pan de muerto, a traditional holiday treat, Chavez said. The scent of the cempasuchil flower, a type of marigold, features in Día de los Muertos celebrations, and cemeteries, as Chavez said, are still “bustling with activity” and “full of life.”

On the first day of the celebration, children who have passed are believed to visit their living families.  On the second day, the adults are believed to visit. Families place ofrendas, which are gifts such as food and flowers for the dead, on altars, “sacred and powerful” spaces, according to Chavez.  “You’re creating a portal between the living and the dead,” she said.

When outlining Día de los Muertos practices in the United States, Chavez had a very different story to tell. Widespread celebration did not begin until the early 1970s with the emerging Chicana movement, a response to the Vietnam War in which Mexican-Americans advocated for social and political empowerment through honoring their cultural heritage. Even today, Chavez said, “Día de los Muertos practices in the U.S. continue to be rooted in activism and social issues.”

Adeline Allen ’25, an attendee of Monday’s talk, found Chavez’s discussion of the Chicana movement to be one of the most surprising parts of the event.  “It’s interesting how identity and identity politics play into cultural celebrations and how we view them,” she said. 

Chavez ended the event by reiterating that the current “colorful characterization” of Día de los Muertos in popular culture fails to consider the history of death culture in Mexico.  She also added that those who frown upon Mexican death culture, including many people living in the U.S., “have not been afforded the privilege of denying or hiding from death.”

The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, which partnered with The Collective for Radical Death Studies to organize Monday’s talk, will hold the second event of its three-part series on Saturday, Oct. 30.  Members of the Brown and RISD community are invited to create tissue-paper cempasuchil flowers at Manning Hall. By beginning the series with a virtual event, the museum was able to increase accessibility for some attendees, as well as Chavez herself, who actually tuned in from California, according to HMA Manager of Museum Education and Programs Leah Burgin MA’17. “We’ve had people enjoy our programs globally in a way that hasn’t really happened before,” Burgin said. The third and final event consists of the official Día de los Muertos celebration, which will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at North Burial Ground and is open to the public.

Complete Article HERE!

Grief Etiquette 101

— Is It Rude To Ask How Someone Died?

By Stephanie Lazzara

The sympathy card you meant to mail sits on your desk, unsent, because you just don’t know what to say. You default to a text or email saying, “I’m so sorry. Let me know if you need anything” and then wonder, was that the right thing to do?

You don’t know what the protocol is anymore. You don’t know if it’s rude to send a card or just to text, if it’s rude to ask how they died, if it’s rude to pry.

There are many more ways of communicating than ever. Yet, this can also cause confusion around how to properly respond in various circumstances and what to say when someone dies.

It’s difficult to be in a state of not knowing. Uncertainty around the whys and hows of a death can trigger anxiety.

The desire to ask what happened can also stem from a need to protect ourselves from the same harm, especially if it was a health-related passing or someone relatively young has died.

In finding out details of a death, you may hope that you’re connecting more deeply with the person suffering. It’s natural to be curious about how someone died, but it’s not usually appropriate to ask what happened or how they died.

Grief Etiquette: Always respect others’ privacy first and hold off on asking questions directly related to how the loved one died if the information is not offered first.

Everyone goes through the grieving process differently and some people may not be ready to talk about a loss, even if a significant amount of time has passed.

Trust that your presence, empathy, and willingness to listen can offer much-needed solace. And if the time is right, a grieving individual may offer more information.

When someone asks you why someone has died.

If you’re in the position of being asked why someone has died, you may feel pressured to talk when you’re not ready or to reveal details you just don’t feel comfortable sharing.

Grief Etiquette:Give yourself permission to privacy. You don’t need to talk about the death of a loved one if you don’t feel ready. You can say, “I know you care a lot. I’m just not ready to talk about that right now.”

Can you talk about someone who died?

Even when a close friend or family member loses someone, it can feel unclear whether or not to bring up the person who died. You may worry about being insensitive or saying the wrong thing.

Stories and memories about the person who died can be comforting to someone grieving.

Grief Etiquette: Use your intuition. Timing is key. You can start by asking for permission to share your memory or story — “I just had a nice memory about Carol. Is it okay if I share it with you?”

When you find out about a death through social media.

Scrolling through your social media feed, you notice a friend has announced the death of a loved one and hundreds of short comments have popped up underneath.

Is it enough to leave another, “Thinking of you”?

What else should you do?

Grief Etiquette: If posting a comment on social media feels too personal or public or you’re afraid it lacks empathy, you don’t need to leave a comment.

Do save longer messages for direct private messages. A phone call (even leaving a voicemail) or sending a sympathy card are always appropriate options.

Here are some funeral etiquette do’s and don’ts.

Do be thoughtful about your attire. While gone are the days of black hats and face veils, dressing up is a form of respect for the grieving family.

Do share your condolences in person, even if it’s just a hug or a handshake.

Do share memories of the deceased if they seem appropriate.

Don’t text, check your email, or scroll through the internet on your phone. It can be difficult to remain fully present, but keep your phone on silent and out of view during a funeral or memorial service. If you must check your phone, excuse yourself politely.

Don’t take photos unless asked.

It’s hard to ask for help when you’re grieving.

“Let me know if I can do anything to help” puts the ball back in the court of the grieving person to ask for help.

What to do instead: be specific with a helpful action and a concrete time to offer your help.

“I’d like to stop by with dinner this week. Is Tuesday a good time?”

When you just can’t find the words, and you notice that you’re having trouble figuring out what to say to someone who’s grieving, then simply offer your presence and openness without trying to problem-solve. This is a form of comfort and caring that often words alone can’t match.

Complete Article HERE!

Serving neighbors, supporting families, standing witness

Hospice volunteer reflects on his work


Many people are uncomfortable talking about death. Juneau resident and retired biologist Carl Schrader isn’t one of them.

For the better part of the last decade, Schrader has supported people as they live out their final days in comfort as a hospice volunteer with Catholic Community Service. As a long-time volunteer, he stands at the ready to help patients and their families through the complex death and dying process.

Earlier this month, he was honored for his work as one of seven recipients of the Volunteer of the Year award given each year by the first lady of Alaska.

“I could really see a need out there. Not everybody is attracted to this type of work,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Schrader does many different things as part of his work, from delivering hospital beds to supporting caregivers, talking with people in their last days, and offering support to grieving family members.

“In our culture we tend to avoid thinking about death and dying. Most everyone likes seeing babies and kids, but the elderly and dying tend to be invisible. Our death is inevitable, but we all try to deny or at least ignore it,” he said.

Schrader said his Buddhist faith makes it easier for him to approach the idea of death and work as a hospice volunteer.

“My approach is to really face it. Don’t deny it. Don’t run away from it. As a Buddhist, you go to those places that scare you. The more you run away the more it chases you,” he said.

Serving neighbors

Schrader, who moved to Juneau from Seattle about 30 years ago, said that the work allows him to serve and care for his neighbors.

“One of the things that attracted me to Juneau is that it’s a community. I know my neighbors. Just by Juneau being semi-isolated, you get a sense of community here. I really feel it, and my volunteer work with hospice really encourages me. We take care of each other. We take care of each other because we are a community,” he said.

Schrader said that being around sick and dying people is difficult for many people, but that he has a greater level of comfort, and he’s learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“When I make a house visit, I take a few really deep breaths. Often you don’t know what you are getting into. I’m just there to be a caring human being,” he said.

Schrader said the process is liberating because it relieves him from worrying about himself or focusing on his nerves or feelings.

“I realize that I’m capable of being there for someone, just as a human being. I’m not put off by the apparent ugliness of the dying process. It’s an opportunity for me to practice compassion and support my neighbors in Juneau,” he said.

Though, he admits the work can be draining.

“It’s a very heavy time and can be very emotionally taxing sometimes to be in the presence of a dying person,” he said,

He credits a strong personal meditation practice and walks with his dog, Luna, with helping him to restore his emotional energy.

Supporting families

Schrader said that as he meets families during these stressful times, he’s witness to the best in people.

“People show their true compassion and it’s really beautiful,” he said.

Often, he answers questions about the process of dying.

“I explain that the body is shutting down and help people understand the stages of what’s happening,” he said.

Schrader said that explaining the death process to friends and family members makes it less upsetting for them.

“It really helps people,” he said.

Sometimes he helps family members process their stress about the situation. In other cases, he helps people deal with feelings about complicated family relationships.

Helping caregivers

Schrader said that a lot of his work goes to support caregivers.

“This is something that really surprised me when I got into this work,” he said.

Schrader explained that when a person is sent to hospice care, family members and close friends step in to help with day-to-day care with support from a team.

“It’s often a 24-hour a day job,” he said. “It’s one of the more challenging things.”

He said he helps by showing family members how to deal with straightforward, daily things like getting the patient to the bathroom or keeping their loved one clean. He also helps set up equipment and provides training to help families use it.

“Much of what I do as a volunteer is to support the caregiver. Being a caregiver is incredibly demanding both physically and emotionally. Often the caregiver is also elderly and may have physical limitations,” he said. “I look for anything I can do to be helpful. It’s often just simple things like changing light bulbs, taking out the trash, picking up medications, maybe walking the dog.”

Schrader said that he often offers to stay with the patient so family members can take a break and recharge.

“That’s when I get to spend quality time with people and get to know them. I get people to talk about their lives. I’m amazed at how amazing people are,” he said.

Standing witness

Schrader said that hospice patients often feel better after returning home.

“They are often quite perky and happy to be back at home. They get a lot better as soon as they come home,” he said.

He said the process of dying unleashes a wide range of emotions that can include fear and anger. He said that he’s there to stand as a witness and validate their feelings.

Some patients are eager to talk about their lives. Others have spiritual questions, he said.

“It’s really good to get them to talk about it. Some are very afraid of dying and it’s good to be as reassuring as possible,” Schrader said, noting that he listens and encourages people to share their religious perspectives with him.

Perspective on living

Schrader said that his hospice works give him a new appreciation for his life and helps him face his mortality, as he grows older.

“It makes me more appreciative of my life and what I have,” he said. “Someday, someone will deliver a hospital bed to my house,” he said.

He said that knowledge compels him and his wife, Sue, to live life fully.

“We better do what we can,” he said, adding that he enjoys being active outdoors.

“My end is not so theoretical anymore,” he said.

The team

Schrader said that the people at Catholic Community Service make his work possible.

“It’s a real team with great staff, he said. “The entire team is just wonderful, and people are just incredibly caring people. People are so thankful and so grateful.”

Jessica Kinville, Catholic Community Service volunteer coordinator, said that Schrader is an important part of the team.

“Carl is a great person. He approaches his work with a sort of gentleness and is always an active, sympathetic listener,” she told the Empire in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

“A lot of people have felt very supported by him. He’s someone I can always count on. He always puts his heart into his work,” she added.

Schrader said that Catholic Community Service offers many senior services, and they are always looking for more volunteers.

“Here I am as a Buddhist, working for the Catholics,” he laughed.

“They have the organization and offer a lot of wonderful senior services,” he said. “We are all part of a compassionate team. We want to do what we can for people.”

Volunteer of the Year

According to the governor’s office, the First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy chose Schrader as a recipient of the Volunteer of the Year award.

“Carl embodies the true Alaskan spirit and shares it through his camaraderie and passion,” the release said. “Carl is a compassionate ear for those in physical and spiritual pain, a warm presence for grieving families, and always on standby to set up a hospital bed in a living room. Carl has maintained consistent availability day-after-day, year-after-year; he is calm and patient in work that is unpredictable and emotionally taxing.”

Schrader is humble about receiving the Volunteer of the Year Award.

“I’m really accepting on behalf of the hospice team. It really felt like a shout-out to the nursing staff. I’m privileged to be a part of the team. The award really acknowledges the entire program,” he said.

Schrader was honored for his work at a ceremonial luncheon in Anchorage earlier this month.

“The reception was really good,” Schrader said. “It was nice to drop all the politics and just be there as people. We are all just people.”

Volunteers welcome

Schrader said several volunteer opportunities are available through Catholic Community Service, including Friends of Seniors, which helps senior citizens with basic needs like shopping and dog walking.

Coming to terms with grief

— The psychological perks of Day of the Dead

Women in Catrina makeup and Yucatán huipiles for Day of the Dead in Yucatán.

The annual festival is dedicated to remembering lost loved ones — and mocking something we fear


The animated film Coco has probably done more than anything else to take the “ew” factor out of Day of the Dead for those of us who grew up with nothing like it.

This is great because there are good psychological reasons for celebrating it.

Grief is universal, but how we cope is largely determined by culture. European cultures have mostly lost their equivalent to Day of the Dead, with only All Souls’ Day and Halloween as distant reminders that we, too, used to actively honor our ancestors. Instead, a belief took hold to see anything associated with death as evil, something to be shunned, ignored and fought against at all costs.

Mexico is not completely immune to this, says National Autonomous University of Mexico professor and researcher Beatriz Glowinski, an expert on death and grieving. But that Day of the Dead has survived gives Mexicans a special outlet for their emotions.

Simply put, Day of the Dead is an annual festival dedicated to remembering lost loved ones and, yes, to mock something we fear. The underlying belief is that the dead can come back at this time to the land of the living, but it is no coincidence that it occurs at the end of the harvest, when fields die to sustain the living.

Large public Day of the Dead altar in Durango
Large public Day of the Dead altar in Durango sponsored, perhaps appropriately, by the Hernández Funeral Home in that city.

It is a syncretism of Mesoamerican and Catholic beliefs or, more accurately, the survival of Mesoamerican beliefs about death with a Catholic veneer. It survives in two forms.

The older and more “intimate” Day of the Dead is a gathering of friends and family to remember those important to them. The dead are not lamented but welcomed back as part of a family reunion.

The other Day of the Dead can be found in the large festivals and parades that have grown in popularity in both Mexico and the United States. In Mexico, they began to become more important as local and national efforts to counter the influence of Halloween began in the 1990s.

Many communities today have one or more open public events on this day, and Day of the Dead celebrations are popular in schools from kindergarten to college.

All cultures recognize the psychological need to grieve, but they also put limits on how long and how publicly a person may be in mourning.

“It is very complicated and very difficult … there isn’t a period of time … it does not exist,” Glowinski says. “It can take years, depending on the person.”

People decorating graves in Mixquic, Mexico City. This is one of the most traditional and colorful observances of Day of the Dead in the capital.

And if grief is not addressed adequately, “a person can become stuck in their lives personally and professionally,” she says.

Even after the proscribed mourning period, grief lingers and returns, and Day of the Dead addresses this. Simply visiting graves, as is done in other cultures, can have the same purpose, but it is often a solitary activity, whereas Day of the Dead by its very nature is social.

On and around November 2, Mexicans have permission and even the expectation to acknowledge their losses in a supportive environment. The ritual of shopping for supplies, preparing an altar and sharing time with loved ones is therapeutic. Areas we do not casually visit, such as cemeteries, become a place of social gathering, both for those attending to family graves and those of us looking on.

There is nothing morbid or even remotely Halloweenish about this.

It is easy to see how lighting candles on graves fulfills this purpose, but what about the superficially corny skull and skeleton decorations? These decorations, parties and parades are about showing the relationship between life and death and take the morbidity out of thinking about death.

Many public festivals also have allusions to the cultural and historical past, making Day of the Dead also about connecting to heritage.

Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, one of the most popular destinations for Day of the Dead tourism.

Many might have trouble with the belief that the dead come back, but counselor and psychotherapist Merrie Haskins says that such a belief can be beneficial. “[It] means that you have the chance to say anything that was left unsaid before they died.”

Taking the stigma out of talking about death also leads us to express what we want when it is our time to die and to communicate that to family. This is important because said family will be able to find closure when the time comes, knowing that they respected those wishes.

In the U.S., Day of the Dead was originally something celebrated privately only by Mexican-heritage families, but it’s growing in popularity. In the 1970s, public observances began with the aim of asserting Mexican American identity. Only recently has there been interest from the culture at large in the holiday, introduced in schools and with decorations now available in Walmart and Target.

If Day of the Dead becomes a larger part of the U.S. culture in some way, it is because it provides something that our native mourning rituals lack: social recognition and support for the idea that those who have gone are still important to us.

It’s not necessary to literally believe that the dead come back, nor be Catholic, to benefit from the observation, Glowinski says, but the communal aspect is essential. The annual observance is “ … a phenomenal way to deal with the emotions that remembering our loved ones bring,” she says, adding, “They externalize such emotions, and this is very liberating and healing.”

On a personal level, I find Day of the Dead particularly meaningful as I live so far away and rarely go back “home.” In particular, I cannot visit my mother’s grave as much as I “should,” and the yearly ritual of setting up the gringo side of my bicultural home’s altar is a more-than-acceptable substitute.

It even makes me smile as I place my favorite picture of my mother, in a 1970s plaid skirt and cat glasses, with the ever-present mug of tea in her hand.

Complete Article HERE!