She watched her mother die.

It inspired her most hopeful novel yet

By Stuart Miller

In the quietly simmering drama of Karolina Waclawiak’s new novel “Life Events,” Evelyn has lost her job, her marriage is flatlining, and she frequently frets about death, especially the eventual passing of her parents. Only when this Silver Lake drifter trains to become a death doula — to have the uncomfortable conversations that help the terminally ill come to terms with the life they lived — does she begin to shift from dreading the future to living in the present.

Evelyn is in a near constant state of “pre-grieving,” or what others call “anticipatory grief,” Waclawiak said during a phone interview last spring. “But we have no control over grief. That’s not how it works at all.”

The author of two previous novels began writing “Life Events” six years ago. “It’s unfortunately very timely,” says Waclawiak. “We’re all in this collective grief now. Our loved ones are dying alone, and I can’t think of anything worse. We’re all going to be collectively traumatized, and that’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

Waclawiak’s initial inspiration was an episode of the podcast Criminal about an “exit guide,” a companion for terminally ill people ending their lives. Fascinated by new approaches to end-of-life issues, she watched videos of people working in the death-with-dignity movement; soon, she took a death doula course herself.

While her research explored the broader societal changes behind the movement, the novel’s themes are intimately personal and somewhat autobiographical. Waclawiak helped care for her grandfather when he was dying 13 years ago. Her mother, who was sick off and on since Waclawiak was 12, was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, soon after Waclawiak started writing “Life Events.” She died last September.

“Obviously this was a big part of why I wrote this,” she says, adding that she writes to understand her pain. “I start with a larger question that I’m trying to face, not necessarily answer.”

In her first novel, “How To Get Into the Twin Palms,” also set in L.A. and featuring a Polish immigrant who passes herself off as Russian, the big question was, “Who are you if you take away your ethnic identity?” Her follow-up, “The Invaders,” grappled with the “limitations and stresses” of living among people of a higher socioeconomic class than you are.

Those questions too arose from Waclawiak’s life. Her parents fled Communist Poland when she was two, eventually setting in suburban Connecticut. “I’m extremely Americanized, but I always felt like an outsider,” says Waclawiak, who studied screenwriting at USC and then worked as an assistant on “The Simpsons.” After getting an MFA at Columbia University, she began writing screenplays in New York — the well-received “AWOL” and a second film that was in preproduction when the pandemic hit. Now she’s back in the city where “Life Events” is set. (“Set” is an understatement: Each of her books is suffused with a deep sense of place, owing to Waclawiak’s road trips through the regions she’s writing about.)

Waclawiak believes her background has better prepared her for facing death than most Americans. On return trips to Poland, her family would join others who spend Saturdays at the cemetery, visiting dead relatives and cleaning their gravestones. “There’s a sense of ritual there,” says Waclawiak, “while Americans approach death with a sense of fear and denial.”

Despite its morbid subject matter, “Life Events” is more optimistic than her previous work, in which the protagonists sometimes seemed hellbent on self-sabotage or even self-destruction. In contrast, Evelyn’s work with her dying clients helps her reassess everything, from her marriage to her long-term future, with newfound clarity.

“I felt a book about death was going to be tough to read, and I was thinking about the reader’s experience,’” Waclawiak says. “I really wanted Evelyn to use her proximity to death to be a catalyst to push herself out of this stagnation and to feel a sense of hope, because you have to. This life is so hard.”

Struggling to give Evelyn more control over her messy life, Waclawiak wrote an entire first draft in the third person, then threw almost all of it away. “Evelyn had to have a sense of agency,” she says. “That awareness that you have choices is a really huge shift in the storytelling.”

Call it a midlife awakening: Since writing her last novel, Waclawiak turned 40 and watched her mother get sicker. “You can’t help but take a microscope to the way you are living,” she says. Her mother, approaching her life’s end, pushed Waclawiak to think about her own future — about “seeing what I can do differently now and how I can change my perspective.”

What colleagues notice most about Waclawiak’s work is that fine balance between fatalism and optimism. She is not a “cheerful writer, but she’s not reflexively cynical,” says Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist and former editor in chief of Buzzfeed, where Waclawiak works as an editor. “She captures the desperation Americans feel in leading superficially ordinary lives.”

Emily Bell, who edited “Life Events” at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, praises the author’s “ability to balance an understated tone with high emotional stakes” as she explores “what it means if you don’t fulfill the expectations of society.”

As for Waclawiak’s expectations, she has always held a day job while writing. “I never had illusions that my creative work would pay the bills,” she says, “and that gives me the freedom to write weird stuff.”

She knows some readers “have an issue with complicated women who don’t always make the best choices for themselves,” but she refuses to tidy up her fiction. “There’s an expectation of how women should behave; they shouldn’t be messy or be complicated in a way that seems vulnerable or gross. But there are countless male narrators in fiction and all over television who are highly self-destructive.”

Waclawiak became so frustrated by aspersions on her “unlikable female narrators” that she designed a course at Columbia around such characters. “Let me put a woman up against the wall and see how she squirms out of whatever situation I put her in, not in a way that feels exploitative,” she says. “It’s about realizing there’s something to learn in the suffering and the pain.”

In “Life Events,” it’s about Evelyn learning not just that she has choices but that she has the chance to create new ones — a wisdom that emerges, ironically, from coping with the one thing no one can opt out of. “When the people you love are dying, it changes you, and you really start to question what you thought was important,” Waclawiak says. “I wanted the reader to think about how consciously they were living their own lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

When my 18-year-old son died, no one let me talk about him

By Leia Rosenberg

When doctors tell you that your child has cancer, your world stops.

In January 2015, my then 17-year-old son, Connor, was diagnosed with T-lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkins. At first I went into a state of complete shock and disbelief. All I could do was cry. However, once the medical professionals told us that there was a high chance of the illness being cured, hope set in.

Being a ‘fixer’ by nature I clicked into the best coping mechanism I know – trying to sort out the problem, but of course illness doesn’t work that way. The prognosis was positive and treatment began, in the form of chemotherapy.

At the time, I didn’t notice anything else going on in the world. I have a vague recollection that people were very supportive, with acquaintances coming up to me in the local shop asking ‘How’s Connor doing? We are thinking of you all’ – but that’s it. All I was focused on was getting my boy better.

In September that same year, he was due for routine blood tests, but had come home from the hospital for a few days and was staying at his dad’s. When I went to collect Connor, I arrived to find him nearly unconscious on his bed. He was bleeding out of everywhere, so we drove straight to the hospital.

I was so frightened, my anxiety was in overdrive. I knew something was very wrong, and called his dad, who joined us in the hospital.

That was the day we were told that Connor’s cancer was terminal.

The medical staff took us to one side and said that we didn’t have that long left with him. I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it – it wouldn’t sink in. A small amount of radiation therapy was given nearer the end of his life, but the tumours had grown near vital organs and radiation couldn’t be accurately targeted without causing further damage.

As mums, we are innately driven to protect our children but I couldn’t keep Connor safe or make him better. I felt like I had failed my son.

Less than a year after his diagnosis, in October 2015, when he was just 18 years old, Connor died from his cancer. Days before it happened, he told me that he was only holding on for everyone else – so I told him that it was OK to let go.

His body slowly gave up, and bit by bit his organs started to shut down before he finally took his last breath in front of us. There are no words to fully encapsulate how this feels; how watching the life you gave to someone leave before their time.

I didn’t go out for a long time, I couldn’t walk in a world where everyone else was still carrying on as normal (Picture: Leia Rosenberg)

Partially, I felt relief – Connor had been suffering – but the rest of me was exhausted, broken and numb. Death is difficult for anyone, but when your child dies, the pain is insurmountable.

For the first few weeks, all I could do was sleep. I didn’t go out for a long time, I couldn’t walk in a world where everyone else was still carrying on as normal. And when I did, the well-wishers in the community steered clear of me or stared with pity and concern. 

Old work colleagues who would have usually said hello, crossed the road and avoided eye contact. Others would brave a fleeting ‘I’m so sorry’ and walk off. I tried to go back to work quite soon after Connor had died. I needed a distraction – but I was told to go home, because they didn’t want to deal with me.

A few weeks after his death, family members began to accuse me of being selfish because ‘everyone has problems’ and told me to ‘stop moping around’. Friends, who couldn’t stomach being in my company for more than 10 minutes at a time stopped contact all together. I felt like a leper.

Was I difficult to be around? Absolutely. I’d watched my only son die in front of me. I was sad and depressed, and so angry at the world. I also experienced significant PTSD symptoms of flashbacks, invasive memories, anxiety, vivid recurring dreams and sleeping difficulties – it took years for this to stop.

Perhaps that’s why people started treating me differently or avoided talking about Connor, but all I needed was for them to be there. Sometimes, just sitting in silence is enough. You can’t fix this, and neither can I.

Throughout the pandemic, my personal experience of loss has been at the fore.

When Connor was sick, I was able to be there; holding him, supporting him, taking him home or out for the day. He was allowed visitors and hundreds of people attended his funeral. Coronavirus has changed all of those factors and has left families even more devastated.

Parents can no longer hug their child who may be ill from Covid-19, they cannot comfort them nor receive the physical and emotional support from others in the same way we would have previously. 

The Government needs to invest in charities and agencies that complete the value support work, such as Sue Ryder (and other hospices), Winston Wish and specific therapeutic bereavement support.

Many of these organisations receive very little, if any, finances from the Government – yet they are needed the most, particularly now.

If you know someone who has lost a child, give them time, understanding and patience – grieving can take years to cope with at the best of times. Do not ever stop them talking about their dead children. They would never stop you talking about your living children.

A bereaved parent needs to know that their child’s life mattered, that they won’t be forgotten. I still celebrate Connor’s birthdays and imagine what he would have been like.

There were a handful of people who showed themselves, who did not shy away, who embraced me and my daughter, Connor’s sister, while struggling with their own loss. And, of course, the professionals who allowed me the space to grieve.

I also turned to other avenues, such as running. The gratitude I have for being able to put one foot in front of the other and to be in the great outdoors has been a massive help in moving me through my pain. I have also completed the first year of my master’s degree in applied positive psychology and have found it life-changing.

Above all, my daughter is my inspiration for life – she is an amazing young woman. Our relationship has always been strong but we have been brought closer together since Connor has died.

English language doesn’t have a word for bereaved parents or bereaved siblings, like they do for those who have lost a spouse, or both parents.

It’s almost as if our forefathers made an active choice for us to not talk about the death of a child. Their name, their life, their death becomes a bad word – one that should be left unspoken.

But I will never stop talking about my son. I will keep telling stories about Connor to keep him alive in my heart and mind, forever.

Complete Article HERE!

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!

‘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!

Virtual Grieving

– When Pandemic Death Stares Us In The Face

Virtual grieving of a colleague who dies from coronavirus can be difficult for everyone in the … [+] workplace
by Bryan Robinson

“COVID-19 robbed us of our goodbyes,” says Dr. Joy Miller of Peoria, Illinois, “My friend was suddenly gone without warning. How do I say goodbye? I can’t travel. We aren’t allowed to gather, and I will never see him again. I don’t know what to do. I feel lost and empty, as if my heart is being ripped from my body.”

Grief is a lonely and isolating experience in and of itself. And human contact is essential for healthy and full psychological closure. With added self-distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, grief can be compounded and prolonged. In the midst of heartbreak, Miller finds the loneliness of grieving compounded by the double whammy of self-distancing. Unable to embrace or be embraced by those who share her loss, she must draw upon her own creativity and resources for comfort.

Miller—founder and CEO of Resliency 2020 and Joy Miller & Associates—isn’t alone. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleagues and friends are dying in isolation. And coworkers and families are mourning from afar. Not only are they robbed of their colleagues, they are robbed of their ability to gather and mourn their losses with others, which is leaving an empty, unsatisfying feeling from a lack of full closure. Studies show that during bereavement, having satisfactory grief scaffolding and a support person navigating post-death formalities, plus satisfactory information about the death decreases risks of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and prolonged grief disorder (PGD).

Without appropriate bereavement scaffolding in place, many grievers are at risk of PGD and complicated grief (CG)—a syndrome characterized by preoccupying and disabling symptoms that can persist for decades. Affecting between 10 to 20% of mourners, CG can lead to the difficulty of accepting the death of a loved one, yearning or avoidance, sadness, somatic distress, and social withdrawal.

“In my faith of Judaism, everything is mandated to occur in a specific way,” says Miller. “At a specific time, with a specific prayer. I always knew what to do. Right now, I would normally be at the visitation, making food for the family, standing at the graveside and helping put dirt on the grave until each particle covered my friend completely. I would say Kaddish, and I would mourn, and in eleven months we would return to once again celebrate his life, and place the stone on his grave. But now I can do none of that.”

The pandemic has mandated that mourners of all faiths cannot have their traditions that have helped them heal for generations. Like so many other people in this country and around the world losing their loved ones to COVID-19, mourners must find new ways to grieve and process. Some dying hospital patients are saying their goodbyes to loved ones by FaceTime or other virtual devices. This modality isn’t ideal, but it’s the only option for now to contain the community spread.

“I am faced with death without normality,” says Miller. “This is the new normal for right now. Each of us must find a new way to enter this path, but I am choosing to discover new rituals that help me face my sadness. Ironically, I teach a graduate-level course on grief and loss. It seems to open my heart even deeper as I contemplate the stages of death and dying, joy and pain and healing and peace with my students.”

Although there are no adequate substitutes for human connection during grief, Dr. Miller came up with nine tips to help you grieve your departed colleagues from afar during the new normal:

  1. Go through photos. Miller is a photographer, so sorting through old captured pictures has helped her reminisce about past celebrations, joyful moments, funny stories and the love she shared with her close friend. But you don’t have to be a photographer to create a montage of photographs to help you heal, and you will see how the act of reminiscing about your colleague can bring peace and healing.
  2. Write down your feelings. Writing helps us discover some peace, sort our feelings, and document what we’re not allowed to share at the mortuary, the visitation or the cemetery. It brings closure and helps us find clarity. Journaling your thoughts and feelings down on paper can be a huge unburdening. You might also consider writing a goodbye letter to your departed coworker, saying what you wish you could have said directly and how much he or she changed your life for the better.
  3. Allow yourself to cry. Miller remembers tells her grieving clients that each tear brings you closer to healing. The process is cleansing and tears help us move toward a new reality. Acceptance means realizing that these tears may be present for a long time.
  4. Meditate. Meditation, prayer or contemplation can help you face and release your feelings of loss and bring comfort. If you need guidance in meditating, you can Google “apps for the bereaved” and find many support resources online.
  5. Reach out to others. Social distancing platforms—such as live streaming of funerals—are temporary solutions until mourners can embrace the comfort of each other’s arms. Meanwhile, take advantage of social devices such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to share stories with others who are also mourning the departed. Talk about the times that were sacred to you. Discuss how your colleague helped you change your life and the impact he or she had on your growth.
  6. Set up a memorial page. A memorial page on Facebook or other social media allows you to connect with employees who share your loss. Friends and family can post their own tributes and condolences. And reading through the online messages can provide comfort.
  7. Focus on the positives. It is called “anamnesis”—a way to remember the positives in this painful loss. Each person is in our life for a reason, a purpose, and it all has meaning. Ask yourself what this person taught you and what you want to keep from your life together.
  8. Consult a grief counselor. If the grief process is severely interrupted to the point that you could be having prolonged or complicated grief, contact a grief specialist. During the pandemic, therapists are conducting virtual sessions by social media, so it’s possible to get immediate support.
  9. Let there never be the final death. Author David Eagleman said, “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” Consider making a vow that there will never be that final death, and speak of your departed colleague often in your head and in your heart.

On September 10, 2020 Dr. Joy Miller co-hosts Resiliency 2020, an international live streaming webinar to support the mental health needs of front line pandemic workers.

Complete Article HERE!

Managing grief different, difficult for seniors


Grief can be a difficult process for anyone, but seniors tend to be faced with difficulty in healing after a profound loss.

Diane Snyder Cowan, director of Western Reserve Grief Services in Cleveland; Carolyn Lookabill, director of marketing at the Lantern of Chagrin Valley in South Russell; and Erin Matteo, social work manager and bereavement coordinator at Wexner Heritage Village in Columbus, said grief manifests differently for each person.

“Grief is a normal, necessary, natural reaction to loss no matter the age,” Cowan said. “It is unique to each person and grief is not linear. You don’t move through stages or get over it. It’s a total body experience impacting the emotions, cognition, behaviors, spiritual beliefs – basically the heart, mind and body.”

Lookabill added, “We all don’t display grief in the same way. It’s not always tears – it could be difficulty eating or sleeping. There is no normal, and that can be a difficult concept in a communal setting. It’s something other residents might not understand about each other.”

Matteo added experiencing grief following the death of a loved one can be compounded by other losses a senior could be experiencing.

“One thing that is specific to seniors is the loss they experience is not just the loss of a partner or friend, they experience loss of independence, ability to do things they enjoy or sometimes the loss of physical or mental capacity to do things,” she said. “So, the sheer magnitude of things they can experience directly related to their age imposes a lot of different barriers to quality of life. It’s important to understand the degree of their loss and the changes in their lives on top of that.”

Though grief affects people of all ages, it can affect seniors in ways unique to the age group.

“Aging adults often think about their mortality,” Cowan noted. “There are losses that occur as part of the natural aging process. Some aging adults are isolated, especially now during the pandemic. Many experience several losses within a short period.”

Matteo added, “A lot of them have that anticipatory fear, that they might be next or their time is coming too. When a senior loses someone, consider that it is not their first rodeo. They have this understanding that they are getting up there in age and have seen it happen.”

If left unchecked, unresolved grief can negatively impact a senior’s wellbeing.

“For the most part, that person begins to withdraw,” Lookabill said. “They begin to not respond to overt attempts by neighbors and friends to be supportive. They withdraw to the point where they become more isolated and not even get dressed or cook their meals. Their nutrition and language skills can suffer too.”

For a senior struggling with these emotions, it’s important to not invalidate their feelings, Matteo stated.

“When someone in their 80s and 90s loses a partner, that loss is very significant because a lot of those seniors have been married for over 60 years,” she explained. “One of the things people like to say is ‘they were really old’ or ‘they lived a good life.’ When you say those kinds of things, you minimize their grief for the rest of the family to be able to move on and be comfortable.”

Family members should be prepared to approach the situation with an open mind and willingness to listen, the professionals said.

“The family member doesn’t even have to speak,” Lookabill said. “You don’t have to say anything. Your presence is supportive. It’s good to be available, even if you don’t fully understand the situation. They can share the grief that they have in common. It doesn’t have to be a major response, just be there in the moment.”

Cowan said, “If family is available, offering an open heart, love and listening is the first step in supporting a grieving loved one. It’s important to remember that older adults may need more time to become aware of and express their feelings.”

Complete Article HERE!