Letting grief make you stronger

By Nancie Wiseman Attwater

Grief is powerful and can break your heart for the rest of your life, or you can learn from it and become stronger. Losing a loved one is something that everyone will go through, but not all come out as survivors in the end. It’s part of life, but a very difficult part. Think of your loss as a lesson to help you live the rest of your life.

How do you survive grief? It’s a difficult question and everyone will have a different answer. You must find your own answer and let that be your focus rather than the sorrow you are feeling. Death is final, there is no going back, but your grief can slowly ebb if you work at it and learn what you can do to feel better for yourself. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have done some real soul-searching to make my new lifestyle work for me. No one can do this for you, you have to take care of your own heart and soul.

I write. That helps me get through the hard days and the difficult nights. Not everyone will feel comfortable writing their thoughts down, but there are some other options, and hopefully, one or two will fit your lifestyle.

1. Grief is like a chronic illness. Some days will feel better, and others will be just like the first day after your loved one died. You will always have grief, but it can be managed. You will never forget them, and remembering the time you had together may be more helpful than thinking only of the time you no longer have with them. It’s always there, in the same room with you at all times. It might be right next to you or across the room, but it is there.

2. Reading about others’ grief and what they did to feel better may help you. How did they survive every day? There are dozens of books and resources about grief. I received an email every week for 12 weeks from the Neptune Society, the folks who cremated my husband, on the stages of grief and how to work through them. Try and read this helpful information if you receive anything like it. It truly is invaluable.

3. Speaking to others who may have gone through the same loss. Choose carefully as the person who lost a child, or a parent may have a different experience than someone who lost a spouse.

4. Finding things to do that focus your mind elsewhere. Not easy to get out and exercise when you just want to go back to bed. There are other things like reading, crafts of some sort, or even just cleaning out the cupboards in the kitchen.

5. Your appetite may change. For most, I think eating becomes an issue because they don’t feel hungry. They live alone now and don’t want to sit at the table across from an empty chair. Wander the grocery store aisles and find things that appeal to you. Even if it is just a chocolate rice cake, it’s something.

6. Alcohol. Be very careful. Using alcohol to calm your nerves or go to sleep can turn into a bigger problem than your grief. I used brandy every night for a month to help me sleep. I knew I was headed in a bad direction, so I had to find other ways to help me sleep. Music is at the top of the list.

7. Get help. Please get some counseling and let your grief pour out during your sessions. It’s a safe place to talk with no judgment. Online counseling is easy to get now. Contact your health care provider to see what they have to offer.

8. Exercise of some sort is a great stress reducer and will increase endorphins that help make you feel better. I’m not a bit gym person, but I have one where I live, and I get there when I can. My exercise is walking the dog. We walk up to 10,000 steps a day, sun, rain, or wind. It helps us both. I feel better, and I think the dog does too, after a long walk. We have several walking paths where I live, and I think we have walked every one of them. One day, my dog saw someone using a walker and ran to catch up with them. Bill used a walker, and I think she thought it was him. She came to a screeching halt when she realized it was a woman. I felt so sorry for my dog because how do you explain death to a pet? She is grieving too, and I’m sure she wonders when Bill is returning.

9. I have to walk by my husband’s clothes hanging n the closet every day. I am not ready to get rid of them. Some days I wear one of his flannel shirts. It’s huge and will always make me cry for a minute, but it’s a closeness I’m not ready to give up.

10. The one thing that I miss is Bill saying, “Good night, sweetheart” every night when we went to bed. I still think he is going to walk out of the bathroom in the morning and say, “Good morning,” but that is wishful thinking and all part of the grieving process. I still can’t believe he is gone, and my brain and my heart need some time before acceptance is part of my reality. I spoke with our accountant the other day, and when we were saying, “Goodbye” he said, “I love you.” This was so sweet, and I have never even met him, only talked on the phone. I sat in my chair and cried for a bit and realized I miss that sentiment too and will always long to hear it again from Bill.

11. If your loved one had a long illness and you experienced anticipatory grief before the actual death, you may find that your grief now doesn’t seem strong enough. You might ask, “Why am I not feeling more sorrow?” You’ve already done a lot of the work, and even though “grief” has not left the room, your day-to-day struggle may be slightly less. Some days will always be brighter than others, no matter when and how you experience grief.

12. Grief will stay in the room with you wherever you go. It might be next to you or over in the corner, but it will always be there. I went to my local grocery store, where I always bought cream puffs for my husband. He loved them and asked for them whenever I went shopping. I just happened to walk past the cream puff section of the store while shopping the other day and started crying. That’s how grief stays with you. A simple reminder of your loved one can – when you least expect it – bring sadness and tears. I had to walk away and wipe my tears and told myself to stay away from that section of the store if I possibly can. I’m in charge of my grief, the cream puffs are not, so I need to manage when I think I can walk by them again and not break down in tears. It’s the age-old phrase, “Choose your battles.” Always choose where you are the winner.

13. I have found that at least once a day since my husband passed away about three months ago, I have had to tell someone, “My husband passed away in August.” For some reason, it happens every day. The bank, Social Security, the state, or the HOA where I live, someone! Even the pest control people needed to know. I found after a while that it became easier to say the more I said it. I can now say “Bill passed away” without crying. I may tear up, but saying it more often sort of takes the “sting” out of the words and their meaning. This made me stronger and more accepting of what has happened and the need to let everyone know.

14. When someone asks me how I am doing, I’m still not able to answer without tears. I went out to lunch with a friend the other day, and she kept asking me over and over how I was doing. I told her I couldn’t answer right now, which may have been hurtful for her because she really cares, but I had to stop the tears. It ruined the lunch I was looking forward to, and could not eat another bite. It was a well-meaning gesture, but I didn’t want to cry at the restaurant. I need to get stronger on this issue and with my answer. Usually, I say I’m “OK,” but that isn’t enough for the people who really care sometimes.

15. Keeping busy helps, but don’t overdo it. One task, a phone call, or a chore a day is useful for keeping up with everything, like paperwork for a government agency or retirement income changes. Some of these calls are very frustrating. I talked to Social Security at least once a week for a while, but I made the call when I was rested, had eaten something, and felt I could handle their questions as well as they could handle mine. You never know what kind of day the person on the other end of the phone has had, and if it feels like all you get is rudeness and no answers, maybe it’s best to try again another day.

16. I had to learn to cook for myself. This was a benefit to me. Bill always did all of the cooking, and I had to take over when he could no longer work in the kitchen. I’m not a great cook, but I do try to manage something for breakfast and sometimes dinner. I was going to look into cooking lessons next year and see if this gives me a new place to meet some people and make a friend or two.

17. Let kindness become a part of your life. I have a pretty good temper when provoked or feel someone isn’t giving me the service I think I deserve. I am working on being more gentle with my fellow humans because I have learned that life ends too soon. I want to be remembered for being nice, not crabby. My husband lived that way every day. I should have learned it sooner but was always so busy taking care of him that I didn’t give it much thought. I am learning from him still, and my grief makes me remember him and his “moral compass” that always seemed to be in the correct direction. I’m also trying to get my compass in the correct direction while I manage everything on my own.

18. A friend told me that it takes about two months to get everything straightened out – the insurance, social security, banks, and retirement accounts. I scoffed at this, thinking I’ll give it about a year. That’s also what they say is the length of time to accept the death of your loved one. I’m three months out, and the money issues seem to be clearing up, but I’ve got a long way to go to get used to the loss of Bill. I’m OK with that, I’m still working on this and will for a while, I’m sure.

19. Make your home all about you. You don’t have to remove mementos or photos, but now you can arrange the furniture or bathroom. Bill used a walker, we had to have wide paths for him to get through the house. I can now change this and rearrange things for my comfort. Bill also had several photos of old relatives hanging on the wall. I had no idea who any of them were, so I removed them and put up photos of my family and some of my artwork. It’s hard to do, but his family photos belong to his children, not me.

20. And finally, it’s OK to laugh despite your grief. In fact, laughing is good for you. A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen and stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. It also increases endorphins that are released by the brain. Laughter can cool down your stress response, soothe tension by stimulating circulation, and aid muscle relaxation. Laughter also has long-term side effects like improving your immune system, relieving pain, making it easier to cope with difficult situations, and improving your mood. I do my best to be around people who either make me laugh or at least seem happy. If someone has so much sadness themselves that it makes me feel sadder, I will say hello, but walk away as soon as is comfortable.

Complete Article HERE!

Cooking Can Help Us Grieve, Heal, and Process Our Emotions

—Here’s Why

By Kayla Hui

Recently, I flipped the last page of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. For those of you who haven’t read it, the memoir is about Zauner growing up Korean in the United States, navigating life without her mother—who passed away after battling an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer—and rediscovering her identity. Down to its core, it’s a touching and fill-your-heart-up story about how cooking and food can help us heal after losing people we love (and warning: reading the book will make you sob).

Whether you cook or not, grief experts confirm that preparing dishes that loved ones used to make for us can play a crucial role in processing grief. To better understand the science, we spoke with a few professionals to learn how cooking can help us heal from loss. And in this week’s episode of the Well+Good Podcast, we had a conversation with Frankie Gaw, author of the new cookbook First Generation: Recipes from My Taiwanese-American Home and Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, psychology professor Emerita at University of Massachusetts, Amherst to talk about the profound healing power of food and cooking.

Taste, memory, and keeping loved ones alive through our meals

Cooking is a sensory experience, involving touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing.  Of all the senses, though, “the sense most strongly tied with memory is olfactory,” aka our sense of smell, says Peggy Loo, PhD, a licensed psychologist and director of Manhattan Therapy Collective based in New York. When we cook, we activate the hippocampus and amygdala, which are parts of the brain involved in memory and emotional processing.

Research shows that human olfaction can cue emotional aspects of our memory, most of which comes from the first decade of our life. “This is why certain smells can elicit visceral reactions and evoke memories from long ago,” says Shavaun McGinty, MA, LPC, CT, a licensed professional counselor and certified grief counselor at the Peacemaker Center in Dowingtown, Pennsylvania. This process is what some experts refer to as the “Proust phenomenon”—at the beginning of Proust’s novel, Swann’s Way, he details a scenario in which the taste and smell of a madeleine cookie dipped in a cup of tea brings back a character’s long-forgotten memory in detail.

What’s more, cooking helps us grieve is by minimizing the fear of forgetting our loved ones, whether it’s “their voice, their laugh, or that one facial expression they had when they were about to sneeze,” says Dr. Loo. “Knowing that our sense of smell is powerfully tied to memories means that you can access them when cooking dishes we associated with our loved one.”

By following recipes that our loved ones used to make for us or recreating dishes we once shared with friends and family, we keep the memory of a loved one or passed experience alive. In a way, the aromas and scents of the meal help us travel back in time—whether that means apples and cinnamon from your mother’s apple pie or in my case, the steaming broth from hot pot. Cooking is what keeps us connected to loved ones after they’re gone. 

When we lose that special someone in our life, it’s also not uncommon to feel like we lost a piece of ourselves, including our cultural identity. However, cooking can be a way to honor cultural ties, or the passing on of something you had with a loved one, explains Dr. Loo.

Like Zauner, I, too, grew up Asian in America and lost a loved one: my gong gong (grandfather in Cantonese), who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1950s to start a better life. When he passed away from a heart attack in 2002, not only did my family fall apart (he was the glue that held us together), I felt like I lost a large part of my Chinese identity.

A chef, my gong gong cooked for a living and for family, but his death meant that Cantonese dishes—stir-fried clams in black bean sauce, garlic-infused green beans, and steamed fish with ginger and scallions—were no longer served at the dinner table. Though his death occurred when I was just six years old, I’ve come to realize that I felt the gravity of it most in college, where I grappled with feeding myself and realizing that I couldn’t cook traditional Chinese food. I didn’t learn any of my gong gong’s recipes, and he was the only one in my family who knew them. I felt ashamed and disconnected to my identity. However, I found solace in the aisles of Asian grocery stores, picking and reminiscing foods and snacks he used to make for me, and learning recipes online. And in making a bold attempt to cook a version of my gong gong’s Cantonese food at home, I felt more connected to him and my culture.

Grief looks differently for everyone, but cooking is the glue that binds us closer together. “It can be helpful to plan intentional pockets of space for your grief—like the one you might have cooking a meal from beginning to end,” Dr. Loo says.

Whether you’ve lost a parent, sibling, grandparent, or friend, cooking is the driver that reconnects us, grounds us, and helps us heal.

Complete Article HERE!

What Happens When an Animal Dies at the National Zoo?

Dealing with death is part of the job.

Luke, the African Lion, who died on Oct. 19.

By

With roughly 2,000 animals in the care of the National Zoo, dealing with the end of life is an inevitable part of the job, and these last few months saw several notable deaths.

Luke, a 17-year-old African lion, died on Oct. 19; Naba, an 18-year-old African lion, died on Sept. 26; and Calli, a 17-year-old California sea lion, died on Sept. 7. While counts obviously ebb and flow year by year, the zoo (using data from the past three years and including small animals like fish) estimates that it loses about 200 animals annually.

But while we get to see how the critters celebrate their birthdays and even holidays (hint: it often involves elaborate species-friendly treats), their deaths are more of a mystery. Is there a funeral? A secret animal graveyard somewhere?

Well, no and no.

While zookeepers are human and certainly mourn the loss of their “coworkers”—the zoo even maintains a relationship with a local animal grief counselor—they are also biologists. And in death, there’s a window for research.

Consequently, just about every animal that dies in the care of the zoo, whether from euthanasia or on its own, is immediately sent to the zoo’s pathology lab for a necropsy—the equivalent of a human autopsy.

“All organs are evaluated, all joints are evaluated, diagnostic samples are taken, maybe even beyond what we took when the animal was alive,” says Don Neiffer, chief veterinarian for the National Zoo. “The samples are then frozen for future evaluation and research that could benefit conservation. Tissues also go out for something called histopathology,” or the microscopic study of disease.

According to Neiffer, the zoo has tissue samples of nearly every animal there since the ’70s—including a few species that are now extinct.

Any resulting information is then shared across the industry, providing useful data to researchers who may be studying a niche health issue within a certain species that they normally wouldn’t have access to. “In death, we utilize these animals to help improve the lives for the others they left behind,” says Neiffer.

For example, when the first baby Asian elephant born at the zoo unexpectedly died in 1995, its necropsy led to the discovery of a previously unidentified herpesvirus in elephants. “Basically, it was the wellspring for elephant herpes virus research, diagnostics, treatment, and hopefully an eventual cure,” says Neiffer.

Veterinary technician Hannah Sylvester works with elephant blood samples, extracting DNA, as part of elephant herpesviruses research.

Even local wildlife, like squirrels that wander onto the zoo’s campus and die, undergo necropsies.

“Because of our collection, we want to do surveillance,” said Neiffer. “If [dead wildlife] comes to us, we do at least minimal gross dissection, but oftentimes we do diagnostics. We’re looking at any issues that could concern our team or animals,” such as rabies or Avian influenza. Likewise, the zoo shares this data with local wildlife departments.

Afterward, leftover parts of the animal—think a shell from a tortoise or the skeleton of a cheetah—might go to a museum or education center. In fact, the National Museum of Natural History has several skeletons from the zoo in its collection.

Anything remaining will be cremated, including even the tiniest of animals. “Everything from guppies to elephants is incinerated,” says Neiffer.

While burials were once commonplace at zoos, very few bury their animals anymore. One reason for that: “You don’t want illicit wildlife parts ending up in anybody’s hands,” says Neiffer.

Of course, underlying all these scientific processes is the emotional side of death, too. “Anyone who has a good understanding of how much we love these animals and care for them can understand how difficult end of life care is,” says Brandie Smith, the zoo’s director. “But also, these are professionals. These are people who train their entire career to do this.”

With so many of the animals living past their species’ mortality rates in the wild, the zoo’s workers must regularly confront a heart-wrenching question: if and when to euthanize a terminally ill animal. The zoo keeps a detailed chart, tracking the animal’s quality of life‚ marking whether it’s still eating, staying active, and socializing. When it becomes clear that the “animal is suffering beyond what’s reasonable,” then it’s time.

“It’s hard on us, but we take on that burden as zookeepers,” says Neiffer. “It’s our onus and our responsibility to provide the animals with that peaceful passage to the next plane. When we can remove [their suffering], we’ve given them that last gift.”

Still, it’s always hard to say goodbye, which is why the zoo provides its keepers a final moment with the animal before euthanasia. Even particularly social species, like elephants and great apes, receive a moment to acknowledge the death of their habitat mate (assuming it died from a noninfectious cause). 

While there’s ultimately no funeral or ceremony, there are sympathy cards. The public often sends in memories they had of an animal, drawings from children, and well wishes for staff, says Smith. In the case of a panda cub that lived only for a few days, Smith says “the outpouring of sympathy and grief from the public was really powerful.”

Then, as with all things, life goes on.

“Animal keepers as a whole are an incredibly stoic group of people and they’re good at grieving with one another—but they also have a job to do,” says Smith. “There are other animals to take care of. It’s part of the cycle they have been trained for.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to be a widow

— A guide from a wife who doesn’t know either

When I lost my husband to brain cancer, I learned there is no road map for grief

by

Since my husband, Bill, died of brain cancer in June, I’ve found myself unclear about what it means to grieve. If I’m driving our kids to school and thinking about Bill, does that count as grieving? Is watching TV to distract myself somehow an expression of grief?

When I see his eyes at night and it’s unbearable, I think, “This is grief; I am grieving.”

Widowed

I am not rending my garments or wailing, but nonetheless I am a widow.

This new status felt strange at first, but then I decided it gave me license to disregard social norms and act how I wanted.

At a Girl Scouts meeting with a lot of parents I do not know, I make no effort to socialize. I just stand in a corner, not doing or saying anything. I don’t even bother to look at my phone.

I feel somehow superior to all the non-widows. I understand this might seem wrong. I’m not sure when my widow’s license expires.

What I wish I had known

Here’s what I wish someone had told us when Bill was diagnosed with glioblastoma: You just got a death sentence. You may feel optimistic because you’re young and still in good shape, and your tumor has a supposedly “good” mutation. But you have no way of knowing how much longer you’ll be alive. Wasting time now is folly.

Do what you want to do, go where you want to go, say what you want to say. Do it now. If you don’t, by the time you realize you really want to do that thing, go to that place, say whatever it is, it will be too late.

Nobody fights cancer

I don’t know how this vocabulary about “fighting cancer” got started, but it’s sadly misleading. For most people, having cancer is an entirely passive experience. All you do is lie around while people carve you up, inject stuff into you, and take pictures of your body.

Then, if you die, you’ve lost the fight — almost as if there were a scenario where you could have won if you had just fought harder.

What doctors don’t say

As soon as Bill’s tumor recurred, the doctors knew how this was going down. They couldn’t say, “The medical community has not yet figured out how to treat or even manage recurrent glioblastoma, so prepare to die.” But they had seen this show before, and their attitude toward Bill’s treatment became somehow more perfunctory.

We got Bill into a fancy immunotherapy trial that used a vaccine made from his cells, but I don’t think his lead doctor ever thought it was going to work. In fact, I’m pretty sure he actually said “I don’t think the vaccine’s going to work,” but he kind of said it into his elbow over Zoom, so I can’t be certain.

About five months before Bill died, this doctor and I talked on the phone, and he basically gave it to me straight. But Bill still couldn’t handle the truth, so I had to put on a hopeful face with him.

Bill died 18 months after his diagnosis. By the time the truth was unavoidable, his brain had stopped working, and it was too late to discuss it with him.

There’s a lot of driving when you have cancer

Bill always drove whenever we went anywhere. But after one of his surgeries eroded some peripheral vision, he couldn’t drive anymore.

He thought I was a terrible driver and would sit there silently fuming — often tired or in pain — as we drove to and from UCLA for his treatments. If you know Los Angeles, the drive from Pasadena to Westwood can be an absolute nightmare.

I started joking to people that the only thing worse than having brain cancer is driving from Pasadena to UCLA at rush hour. This always got a laugh.

I wonder now how long Bill would have lived without all those treatments. The question is unanswerable. But we definitely would have wasted less time stuck in gridlock on the 10.

There’s less crying than you might think

I’ve only really cried once, in a coffee shop with a friend. I managed to get control of myself, but it made me scared to cry because I fear I would never stop.

People have advised me to let go and cry. Maybe someday I will.

People keep telling me how ‘strong’ I must be

This may come off as a “humblebrag,” but I’m really not. I am just playing the hand I got dealt, which unfortunately has recently featured caring for a dying husband along with two kids and a dog.

Not long before that — and this also feels weirdly like bragging — I survived my own serious bout with breast cancer. Also, my mother suddenly died while I was getting chemo.

Nonetheless, I have to get up every morning because my kids depend on me.

Once they’re out of the house, maybe I’ll stop being “strong” and lie facedown on the floor for, like, a year.

Now we are three

I’m still not used to our family shrinking from four to three, and I don’t yet understand how we’re supposed to live this way.

My older daughter acts like nothing happened and nothing’s wrong. My younger daughter asks me, “Mommy, are you going to die?”

Bill would always say he just wanted to stay alive long enough to see them graduate from high school. He died before they even finished elementary school.

How people responded

I know that death scares people, and they don’t know what to say. Even some of my closest friends backed away when Bill was dying. Some of them said they didn’t want to bother me or feared I might be too busy.

I was busy some of the time, but other times I was just sitting in a chair waiting. Often, I screened calls because I wasn’t up for talking. But I appreciated the people who kept trying anyway and who understood that inside all the tragedy, it was still just me.

Thank you, National Basketball Association

Bill and I had our favorite TV shows, like most couples, but at a certain point he could no longer see the TV or follow the plots. Neither audiobooks nor podcasts held his interest either.

The NBA finals arrived as an unexpected godsend.

Bill was a big basketball fan and was content in his recliner listening endlessly to the games. There was a group of commentators he particularly liked involving some guy named Kenny “The Jet” Smith; he got more enjoyment out of those dudes than almost anything else in his final months of life.

I kept worrying the NBA Finals would end, but they just kept going!

Conversation stoppers

In the months since Bill died, there have been multiple occasions when I’ve had to decide whether to tell someone I don’t know well about his death.

Early on, it would come up in the “What have you been up to this summer?” conversations. I hadn’t really thought it through, so I would babble something like, “Well, not much, pretty low-key, I mean actually my husband died, sorry, you don’t have to say anything, anyway what have you been up to?”

These exchanges made me intensely uncomfortable, so I basically stopped talking about it.

A friend pointed out that my discomfort arose from what I perceived as being the other person’s discomfort. She said I should just tell people about Bill and let them deal with their awkward feelings.

Things I try not to think about

Caring for Bill created some moments of deep connection between us. But there were also tasks I had to perform, and he endure, that were demeaning and awful for both of us.

I try not to really think about this stuff, or about how at these times my love for him felt more like pity.

Death

Bill died in the night. We called up the hospice people and a funeral parlor. Then I crawled up onto the rickety hospital bed in our living room and embraced him for several hours till they arrived.

I said goodbye and how much I loved him, and I feel like he heard me even though I know that’s not possible. It didn’t feel like a corpse; it still felt like Bill.

The magic of material things

The house is still filled with Bill’s clothes, law school books, shoes, electronics, records, etc. I now understand why people keep their loved one’s belongings around for years or keep their room just as it was.

The presence of all his stuff makes me feel closer to him and even sometimes lets me imagine he didn’t die at all. Maybe he will magically reappear and want to look something up in his torts textbook. If so, I will be ready.

Bureaucracy

There is so much bureaucratic stuff to deal with after your husband dies. I’m not even close to sorting it all out. It often requires sending a death certificate

Having to prove to people that Bill actually, really died feels crazy.

They all tell me they’re sorry for my loss. Not sorry enough to spare me their bureaucratic rigmarole, though.

Lighter moments

My final words to my husband after a conversation with his brother about Bill’s favorite actor, Paul Ruddwere “I hope you dream of Paul Rudd.” Obviously, I didn’t plan it that way — I thought we had a couple more days. He did really like Paul Rudd, though.

After we scattered Bill’s ashes in a stream in Ashland, Ore., I noticed a sign saying that this particular tributary provided drinking water for city residents. Oh, well. It was obviously too late — once again — to do anything about it.

There was also a stressful but somewhat hilarious situation involving competing meal trains that I didn’t want to find out about each other. There were some near misses, and I spent a lot of time running around hiding food.

Does this get easier?

The shock is wearing off and I’m sadder now than right after Bill died.

I think many people understand that grief is not a linear process, and so what I’m experiencing is not unusual. But I also have the feeling that people now expect me to function normally, since it’s been a while

I wonder when it will get easier, and whether that question is somehow a betrayal of Bill. I know he would not want me and the girls to suffer, but how can we not?

Complete Article HERE!

Death is a part of life that kids need to understand, no matter how hard it is

Why is it taboo to talk about dying? And how can we talk to our kids about it?

Grief can be hard for kids, let alone adults, to process. But talking about death can make it easier to understand.

by Amy Bell

Death is a fact of life. But it’s one that many people would love to avoid talking about at all costs.

Maybe it’s superstition: somehow, if we don’t speak of it, it won’t affect us. But death is inescapable.

So how do we prepare our kids to confront loss?

‘We are a death-denying society’

Christa Ovenell is working hard to change the dialogue and attitudes around death.

She’s an end-of-life educator and created the Vancouver-based organization Death’s Apprentice as a way to help people and families openly prepare for death and accept it as a natural progression of life. But it’s a hard switch to flip in a society that holds youth and vitality in such high regard.

“Think about, for example, in Mexico, where we would have a weeklong celebration for the Day of the Dead, that we would actually go and make our dead a part of our life,” says Ovenell.

“We don’t do that here. Because we are a death-denying society. And that’s what makes it so hard.”

Use straightforward language

The death of a loved one can be incredibly difficult, but for kids it can be especially confusing.

You could throw on an endless loop of Disney movies where someone’s mother always seems to be dying, or you could simply talk about death — and how it’s a completely natural part of life — before big emotions become attached to it.

Ovenell wants death to be normalized and openly discussed from an early age, just as we’ve become more open to talking about sexual health and addiction, for example.

A good start is using straightforward language, “the way we do in other tough or difficult conversations,” she says.

“Real words like, ‘someone died,’ or, ‘the cat died.’ Just normalizing it, making it just part of what kids hear, instead of funny things like, ‘Grandpa is resting,’ or, ‘so-and-so has passed.'”

Openness toward death needs to extend to all ways in which life can end. There are no “good” or “noble” ways people die. Whether from suicide or an overdose, everyone’s life has meaning and should be mourned when it ends.

Memories last

Once someone a child knows dies, it can be difficult for a parent to help them process their feelings while grieving themselves. Grief is not a linear process and it raises many emotions.

Local mom Megan Cindric says the recent and sudden loss of her father has deeply affected her and her twin daughters, Fiona and Lily. Cindric wants to make sure her daughters know however they choose to remember their grandfather is valid, and that she’s just as affected by the loss.

“I am still sad every single day, and so I think it’s completely normal that Fiona is sad every day,” says Cindric.

“When she does get sad I tell her that I understand because I’m sad every day, too. And this is very normal because we loved Grandpa and we still love Grandpa.”

Cindric found both her girls understood their grandfather’s passing once she explained that he was more than just his body, and that would never change.

“I told them … when his body just couldn’t live any more, I could tell that he was different. I could tell that all of the things that made him Grandpa — his energy and his love and his spirit — I could tell that it was gone.

“I could tell that his body had stopped but all of his ‘Grandpa-ness’ had gone somewhere else,” she says.

Religion can bring many people comfort when it comes to confronting the afterlife, but some find solace elsewhere.

Cindric says she was recently in the garden her father had lovingly tended for years when a little green frog came and sat on the colander she was holding. When she told her girls about it, Cindric says they all agreed on one thing: “Fiona said, ‘I think that was Grandpa,’ and I said, ‘I kind of thought it was him, too.'”

There are two things in life we all experience without fail: being born and dying. While one event is celebrated, the other we spend our lives trying to outrun.

But like many topics that have made us uncomfortable in the past, if we push through that discomfort and openly discuss them with our kids, we take their fearful power away.

No matter who we’ve lost, their lives have affected us for the better — and death can’t ever lessen that.

Complete Article HERE!

The 5 Best Self-Help Books To Read During The Grieving Process

By Brie Schmidt

Grieving the loss of a loved one tops the list of the most stressful life events, according to Verywell Mind. Grief can feel like sadness, anger, confusion, shock, guilt, and emptiness — or even multiple emotions, all experienced at once. And though time may not completely heal all wounds related to loss, grief can be processed and managed over time with the help of therapy, a trusted support network, and gentle self-care days.

Another source of comfort can be found in self-help books about loss. Bereavement resource website Grief and Sympathy explains that reading books about grief and death can expose us to stories of other people’s losses, helping us to feel less alone. Additionally, some books are written by mental health experts who offer research-backed advice and useful coping strategies.

If you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one, turn to these five self-help books to help walk you through the grieving process.

How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies

Therese A. Rando, a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and grief, wrote “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies” in 1991, and the book has remained a go-to for those in mourning ever since. “How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies” acts as a comprehensive guide to grief, offering both emotional and practical guidance, from how to cope with loss during the holidays to how to plan a funeral.

This book is an all-in-one starter if you’re unsure how to pick up the pieces following death. And in the months and years following, too, its gentle advice continues to prove useful on those days when grief reappears.

It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok

“It’s OK That You’re Not OK” may be just as helpful for the bereaved as it is for their friends and loved ones who aren’t sure how to respond. The book, written by Megan Devine after she tragically lost her partner (per The New York Times), treats grief as a natural response to death, not as a feeling to be minimized.

“It’s OK That You’re Not OK” offers essays, practical life advice, and research to normalize every step of the grieving process. For those looking to make space for their feelings, in a society where those feelings aren’t always understood, this book is indispensable.

The Other Side of Sadness

If you want a scientific understanding of the grieving process, look to “the most renowned grief researcher in the United States,” according to The Atlantic, George Bonanno. His book, “The Other Side of Sadness,” offers digestible research along with the story of Bonanno’s own loss of his father, to help make sense of grief’s complex emotions.

“The Other Side of Sadness” offers a much-needed reminder that there’s not one “right” way to experience loss. In particular, this book is ideal for those who grieve quietly or with a sense of relief or happiness, emotions that aren’t often discussed in grief self-help books.

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

The loss of a pet can be just as devastating as the loss of a human family member. Yet the grief that can follow the loss of a furry friend isn’t often discussed or validated in society, and many loved ones may not know what to say when someone’s pet dies. The bond shared with a pet is a special one and can require a different approach than the stories and research often shared in self-help books on grief.

That’s where “Goodbye, Friend” comes in. The book, written by Gary Kowalski, honors the connection humans share with their animal friends with chapters on processing death, talking to children about pet loss, and giving pets a loving goodbye.

Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief

“Bearing the Unbearable” understands that grief can be an all-encompassing experience, one where you may not feel ready or able to sit down and focus on long book chapters. That might be why this book contains short, easy-to-read sections, making it an approachable companion during life’s hardest times.

Author Joanne Cacciatore is an expert in grief, having counseled people experiencing traumatic loss, as well as navigating the loss of her daughter and other beloved family members. “Bearing the Unbearable” puts the grieving process into relatable words through personal accounts that are just as tear-jerking as they are comforting.

Complete Article HERE!

It’s time we talk honestly about grief in the workplace

— As we continue re-writing the rules of work, it’s time to address one of the biggest taboos in life and work: death.

By Lars Schmidt

I’ve been living with grief most of my life.

I lost my mother to a long battle with multiple sclerosis in my early 20s. I lost my father to cancer in my early 30s. I lost my brother, the last remaining member of my immediate family, to addiction in my late 30s.

My experience isn’t unique. We’ve all lost loved ones. We all carry the scars of grief, heartbreak, and loss. And yet, despite the fact that death is a part of life, we rarely discuss it candidly. That lack of openness creates a stigma that isolates those grieving in their greatest time of need.

This is especially true when it comes to work—a place where we spend so much of our lives. In these settings, we’re expected to compartmentalize our feelings and carry on.

As more companies embrace mental health as a fourth pillar of employee benefits, it’s time they factor in grief in all its forms into their programs. Grief-specific training for managers. Rethinking bereavement policies. Support systems for employees. Flexible leave programs beyond the traditional bereavement period. Normalizing (and even encouraging) conversations on grief at work.

Death, loss, and grief are universal conditions. While our journeys through grief are individual, the experience is collective. It’s time we recognize that reality and bring more empathy to how we support grieving employees.

Carrying the Weight of the World

Despite the fact that many workplaces maintain an outdated perspective toward grieving, the pandemic has brought death and suffering to the forefront of our consciousness. According to the World Health Organization, we’ve lost 6.54 million lives to COVID-19 over the past two-plus years, including over one million lives lost in the United States alone, making COVID the third-leading cause of death in 2021, according to the CDC.

COVID grief is not limited to death. Research from the Brookings Institute shows Long COVID may be keeping four million people out of work in the United States alone. The loss of lifestyle and agency creates its own type of grief and mental health struggles—a risk that may be exacerbated in cases where psychological stress existed before infection, according to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The pandemic–fueled increase in mental health struggles is a global phenomenon. Earlier this year, the WHO cited a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide. “The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in a scientific brief published earlier this year. “This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”

The stress and burdens society carries show up in life, including work. It’s time employers rethink how they meet this moment.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers above as just data, but we can’t forget what they represent. Mothers. Fathers. Neighbors. Colleagues. Mentors. Friends.

The human toll of the pandemic and the mental health struggles that have been building over the past several years will continue to have a profound impact on our society and our workplaces for years to come. The time for companies to adapt to this reality is now.

The Toll of Unresolved Grief

The journey through grief is nonlinear. For some, grief is an acute pain followed by a full recovery. For others, grief is an endless sea with waves that ebb and flow for eternity.

Living with grief in the latter scenario can create a range of mental health challenges, as McKinsey explored in their study, “The hidden perils of unresolved grief.”

The study found that unresolved grief costs companies billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and performance. It found that unresolved grief is a pervasive, overlooked leadership derailer that affects perhaps one-third of senior executives at one time or another.

Living with grief means you often don’t have control over when these emotions manifest. The mental health struggles of navigating this pain are very real. Grief triggers can be known: birthdays, anniversaries, songs. They can also come from seemingly nowhere and send you down a spiral of emotions.

I vividly remember a work offsite at a former employer where we were asked by a facilitator to point to where we were from on a map. It was two years after I lost my father and I was still processing that pain.

When it was my turn to point, I couldn’t. The seemingly benign exercise of pointing to your hometown on a map made me think of what I no longer had there: the deep voice and warm embrace of my father that was gone forever. I broke down in front of my entire team, and had to step away from the exercise.

Living (and Working) With Grief

Grief and recovering are personal, individual journeys, yet most employers view them as one-size-fits-all. Bereavement plans are typically three to seven days in the United States. Rigid applications of the guidelines are not nearly enough to account for the post-grief emotional haze that can last weeks or more.

Kyle Cupp, manager of content services strategy at Mineral, tragically lost his son Jonathan and shared his experience in a USA Today piece. “To my colleagues, I probably appear to be holding up reasonably well,” he wrote. “I’m able at times to smile, laugh, and joke. That isn’t to say my grief isn’t evident to the members of my team, however blurred it may be over the computer screen. … You can’t keep grief out of the workplace. It will be shared. The alternative is to make a place for it.”

When you make place for grief in the workplace, you give grieving employees space to deal with their emotions as they come. You remove the need for a forced-compartmentalization veneer of normalcy and allow employees to navigate their grief at their own pace. Employers who recognize that the grieving process comes in waves and make that support clear to employees (and their managers) will benefit long-term from the empathy and care they show grieving employees.

Lisa Lee lost her father in 2019. She shared her experience processing her grief in a Medium story, Grief and Work. In it, she shares how being able to speak openly about her father provided comfort in the days and weeks after his death.

“Coming back to work, I noticed that talking to and being around colleagues who have met Mr. Lee or are at least familiar with my family made me feel less lonely. I’m sure it’s because their simple presence in my life confirmed that he was real—it was a temporary med to the shock of having him there one day and not the next. I knew that as hard as it would be to talk about him, ‘giving in’ to my thoughts by addressing them in a managed way actually helped me to get through each day.”

How can employees meet this moment and adjust their approaches toward grief?

New platforms like Betterleave are being created as a workplace benefit to help employees navigate everything that comes from bereavement to estate planning. These resources are helpful support for grievers, but we need to go broader and deeper to create a workplace that can help the healing process.

That includes grief counseling that extends beyond the grievers, more support for managers helping their employees as they navigate loss, and normalizing these conversations from the top on down.

Death, grief, and loss are universal. The taboo-driven isolation that accompanies our inability to discuss it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re experiencing grief, I know how isolating it can feel. Please know you’re not alone.

I recently covered the topic of living with grief in my podcast. The post below includes a range of resources, books, podcasts, and stories to support those of you grappling with grief. You can find it here.

Complete Article HERE!