Loading...
Feb 28

I’ve learned something about silence: it’s noisier than I thought.

Every day for the past few months, I’ve awakened in the chilly pre-dawn and listened to that deafening silence.  It’s that quiet time before the dog patters in, barking, the cat meows his demand for breakfast and I feel my seven-year-old daughter hurl herself on the bed, chattering about that day’s play dates, homework, and brown bag lunches. These are the daily sounds of my family’s expectations of me—that I will satisfy their appetites and solve their problems. 

But through the din of their sounds and expectations, the silence I am talking about falls upon me like a cloud.  I am being suffocated—paralyzed almost—by the clattering within my head, turning over and over the same questions about who I was, who I am and where the hell am I going now. 

Why is it that after a successful marriage, career and the joy of motherhood that I’m no longer sure of exactly who I am?  Am I the cook? The housekeeper? The babysitter? Or sex kitten when my husband comes home from work? 

For weeks, I’ve been suffering and choking back the sobs while lying in bed every morning while my family sleeps, trying to untangle the mystery of me during the few, precious minutes I have to myself each day.  Eventually, I throw back the covers, give my daughter a kiss, swat the cat off the bed and feed the pets but by mid-morning, I feel that still small voice grow to a deafening decibel, drowning out and replacing the confident woman I once was, with someone who is unfamiliar and new.

I disappeared. My family didn’t even notice. There were no crying jags, no signs of depression, no absences from school meetings or dinner parties. Breakfast was served, lunch was still packed and dinner was on the table every night.

Except this was not my plan. This was not the way it was supposed to be, as the voice inside my head repeatedly reminded me.  

I felt like a complete failure.  It wasn’t always that way. 

I left my anchor job at CNN in January 2007, full of hope and a lot of bravado.  I had plans. Big ones. A major talent agency in Beverly Hills had flirted with me about a book idea I had pitched months before.  I also started to meet with investors and high level business people to develop a social network for cancer patients and families in honor of my late husband, Will who had died in 2003, two weeks after our daughter, Chloe was born. 

In hindsight, I saw Will’s death as my first “failure.”  I failed to cure his cancer and I paid the ultimate price.  My grief was at times paralyzing, but the institutions around me were my scaffolding to build a new life.

First, there was CNN and the supportive executives, producers and writers. Then there was the former Stanford Research Institute where I became Entrepreneur-In-Residence, a coveted position that made me an official member of Silicon Valley’s start-up elite.

But then, the economy unraveled. Investors ran, my start up never got off the ground.  Carol the CNN Anchor, retired.  Carol the Entrepreneur, unemployed.  

As I lay in bed every morning, I felt as though I was drowning in regret. I disappointed my investors. I disappointed my family. I wasted two years. 

And if I am not Carol, the ________, who am I?   

As it turns out, the past two years have been about healing, not building.  

I confused the two.   

I thought building things like my career, my family, my business and my homes were signs that I was healing from losing Will.  In fact, they were the very things that helped me avoid healing in a sustainable, meaningful and abundant way. 

You see, I failed to mention a major event in-between leaving a successful career to launch another:  I fell in love. And I re-married.  His name is Mike and he’s my best friend, lover, mentor and devoted father figure to Chloe.  And, no, I never thought I would ever, ever love again.  But I do.

And in my silent morning ritual, I wondered if Mike wished he had married “Carol Lin, CNN Anchor.”  I no longer felt that I, alone, was enough.  For him.  For anybody. 

It took several weeks of this silent turbulence before I finally confessed all this to him.  I felt such relief.  At first, the words came out slowly. 

“Mike, have you ever wished you knew me when I was actually ‘someone’?” He looked confused.  “What do you mean?”  And then my words came tumbling out. Who am I really? Why did I fail? What am I supposed to do now?

The choices in our little beachside community seem to be Tennis Mom, Yoga Mom, Massage-Therapist-In-Training Mom. 

Then, Mike’s eyes softened. We were lying in our big, soft bed.   Mike reached out and pulled me toward him until my head rested on his chest.  He wrapped his big arms around me until I felt safe enough to cry.

“Carol, you can do anything you want. And if what you really want is to be a mother, then you’ve earned that right.” 

Huh? A Mom without the Tennis/Yoga/Part-Time Job label attached.

Mike saw what I was afraid to see; that loving someone wholly with all my heart is something I wanted and needed to do but that I was afraid to admit it was “enough.”  I’ve never been in relationship with someone without the distractions of work that always, sometimes conveniently, took me away from my personal relationships. 

Mike saw how Chloe longed for me to pick her up at school, not the au pair. He didn’t dismiss her little pleas for my presence as clinginess. He saw Chloe’s need to understand what it now means to be a family of three with a new man in the house. Who was going to teach her?  Who was going to help Chloe answer all her questions about this new family and what it meant to her memory of her biological dad, Will?  It wasn’t accurate or fair to Chloe for me to continue to say she was “too young” to understand.

Chloe needed my help to build a bridge from our past; to mourn and celebrate her father so she could embrace her new father, Mike and all he had to offer and wanted desperately to give our little family.

Perhaps these were the very questions I wanted to avoid. Carol the Entrepreneur was too busy to consider that Chloe needed Carol, the Mom, at least during this transition.

Mike knew I loved the thrill of risk-taking—pursuing a television career, starting a company.  But the risk of loving someone with all my heart had it’s own, potentially painful risk:  I could lose him, too. 

Perhaps it was time I took a new risk, in a new role, that will teach me that being remembered as someone who loved truly and loved well, is the most rewarding life that will, even in quiet times, speak volumes.


Former CNN anchor, Carol Lin is the mother of one daughter and the co-founder of TulaHealth.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com contributor.  Visit her on the web at CarolLinReporting.com.

 


More Carol Lin articles, click here.


 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Apr 11

Every year, as the grass begins to peak through the snow and the days gradually get longer, it’s hard for me to not think of her.  When we were introduced, Lisa was recouping from brain surgery to remove the first, of what would turn out to be four tumors, while I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other after the death of my mom.  It was March, 17 years ago.  She was so filled with peace, despite her illness.  I didn’t understand her, but I loved hanging out with her, secretly hoping some of her serenity would rub off on me.  All the time I thought I was the one nobly helping her—driving her to and from doctors’ appointments, watching her kids, running to pick up prescriptions or bringing her family dinner—I had no idea, I was the one actually being helped.


“Are you scared?” I’d ask when she would discover yet another lump.  Her answer would be slow and measured, “No, I’m trusting God.” 


And then she’d tell me about the conversations she was having with God—all the prayers, all the crying out and all the verses in the Bible that she felt God was leading her to that assured her that not only would she be alright, but so would her husband and four children.   


When I’d ask her how she could know, she’d give me some answer about knowing that everything that God was allowing in her life was not done in spite, but in love. 


“God wants us to grow,” she’d tell me.  Her cancer, she would say, wasn’t destiny spinning out of control or a case of bad luck—it was part of God’s plan for her life.


“That doesn’t make sense, Lisa,” I’d tell her.  “This God of yours is killing you.”  The whole idea of a protective, fatherly God annoyed me.  I wanted life to be something I did on my own.  Her ideas seemed weak. But she’d just smile and remind me that she never would’ve learned what really mattered in life if she were still well.

  

“The problem is not the suffering, but us,” she said.  “Most of us are miserable,  chasing after stuff that ultimately can’t make us happy, not knowing why we’re so miserable.”  And then she paused, making me look up and right into her eyes. 


“Look at you,” she said quietly. 


It stung, but she was right.  I was miserable.  My friend spoke in riddles, but the verses she quoted and her God were as real to her as I was, standing in front of her.  I could protest all I wanted, appealing to rational and scientific facts, but she was already sold out to this God of hers and that tattered, dog-eared Bible she carried around with her.

 

On one occasion when we were running really late before one of her chemotherapy appointments, she refused to get in the car until I followed her to her backyard.  Despite my complaining about the time, she began to take off her shoes, telling me to do the same.  My whining about how cold it was, how late we were and what a stupid idea I thought it was, did nothing to dissuade her.  So I took off my shoes and socks and followed her, tiptoeing, onto the cold, damp grass. 


I couldn’t remember the last time I slowed down long enough to do something like this.  She wanted me to feel the grass between my toes, to breathe deeply to notice the quiet of her garden and to stop being so trapped by my date book. 

  

“Life is passing you by,” she told me.  “When are you going to start living?”


As I became her project, she became for me a lens through which I could examine at close range some of the “insignificant details” of my surroundings, almost a miniature window on the world.  She lent me her eyes, perhaps hoping that my own would learn how to be captivated by things I’d never noticed before: the creak of the floor, a stuck drawer, the stream that flowed through the park near her home and the way the sun’s shadows hit the railing’s spokes, making the rocks below look like they were in prison.  

    

It was as though being so sick taught her the difference between things worth pursuing and things worth letting go.  She said God had taught her not to put her security in “stuff,” or in people, but in him.  As her hair fell out and her body grew more emaciated, her eyes got bluer, her laughter more infectious and her peace more evident. 


As cancer took her life, it seemed to give her life. 


She made me realize that perhaps diseases and other heartbreaks shouldn’t be viewed as good or evil, right or wrong.  They simply are.  It’s our response to them that assigns them values of right or wrong, good or evil.  As Lisa’s disease progressed, her tenderness grew, as did her understanding of all this. 


When I would plead for her to not give up, she’d tell me she wasn’t, that her acceptance of her illness wasn’t resignation or a “giving up,” but a gift of peace given to the suffering who choose to look to God for answers.  She knew we began saying goodbye the day we met. 


And so, as I lay with her in her hospice bed, cradling her in my arms, our foreheads touching, I asked her again, “Are you scared?”  Her eyes fluttered open as a tear ran down the side of her face.  A moment later, barely audible, she said, “I can’t wait to know what Jesus feels like.” 


And then she began to slowly mouth the apostle Paul’s words from that Bible she loved so much, something about, not losing heart; something about wasting away outwardly but being renewed internally day by day. 


Even at the very end of her life, the last words I ever heard her say were about the God she loved so much.     


And now, years later, on nights that I lie awake pondering why bad things happen to good people and what life’s all about, I wonder if Lisa knows what Jesus actually feels like.


Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com.

 

For more Diana Keough articles, click here.


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Jan 02
Elizabeth Edwards was an inspiration to us all.  She was graceful while facing adversity and suffered in silence.  She endured the death of a child, cancer and the breakup of her marriage.  Each of these, by itself, is unbearable.  Together, they trump the worst of personal tragedies.


I am inspired by Elizabeth, not because she was stoic, but because she lived her values.  She was a mother, wife and political partner.  She was so much more than we know, but we know that we lost a beautiful woman who stood for the best she found in her life.  And that inspires me. 


I regard Elizabeth as a friend I never knew.


Some friends have said the private battle of Elizabeth Edwards have made them look inward to compare what she went through to the catastrophes in their own lives.  I can’t judge whose raw deal was worse or who’s in the most pain, but I have become more aware of the coping skills I use to face and navigate through the unbearable times in my own life: 

 

Go numb and wait for it to be over

·      Detach yourself from the issue at hand.  The goal here is to determine how long it will last and to just get through it.   Today will soon be over and, as Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day.” 

 

Give up and give in

·      Determine your course of action and put your best plan in place.  If you are in good and capable hands, then support your mutual success.  Sometimes it is the best course of action to stand back and do nothing. 

·       

Have a panic attack and be honest about it

·      It is normal to be scared and want to run from that feeling of fear.  Try instead to confront it and to share it with someone you trust.  Talk about the situation.

 

Let personal values guide future decisions and priorities

·      Determine your values and priorities and let them guide your course of action.  When your ship seems to be sinking, rescue what is dear to you.  The challenge is to take the best action at the time. 

 

I once found myself in, what I thought then, was an end of life situation.  My coping skills seemed to be irrelevant at the time.  I thought my life would end that night.   I saw the proverbial “life flashing before my eyes” and an epiphany…the awe of true peace and acceptance. 

 

Recent studies show that terminal patients will often choose quality of life rather than extend their life for more days that are less meaningful.  It is my hope that our dear Elizabeth chose her own path and felt a peaceful acceptance. 

 

Susanne Katz is the author of “A Woman’s Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce,” the host of the radio program, “What Women Want Now” and a columnist for Atlanta Jewish News.  She is also a regular on ShareWIK.com

 

More Susanne Katz articles, click here.

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. 

 

Last week an adult daughter called the bereavement center very distraught. She was worried that she had made the wrong decision in withdrawing life support from her mother. I killed her… I killed her she repeated.

 

After expressing my condolences, I asked about her mother …her likes… dislikes… what kind of person she was…what kind of mom she was. After the woman was settled I asked if she and her mother had talked about what her mom wanted at the end of life. She was very clear that her mother did not want to be hooked up to machines or to be a burden, and that she would have wanted to be remembered as the very lively woman she was. Even though she knew what her mother would have wanted, the two did not talk about advance directives. If they had, the daughter’s anguish could have been averted. She would still have her grief, but not the anguish.

 

National Healthcare Decision Day is April 16th, 2011.  The day mobilizes national, state, and community organizations, healthcare providers, and others to promote awareness, completion and discussion of advance directives.

 

Most of us know the benefits of planning ahead and being prepared for major life transitions.  We are careful to plan for such major life events as graduations, weddings and births, but most of us tend to avoid planning for the one event that is absolutely inevitable for all of us, namely the end of our life – our death.

 

Advance Care Planning is a process for reflecting on, discussing and ultimately making our health care choices for the future so that we may receive the care we want as we approach the end of our life. It means knowing treatment options and values. It means talking about them with trusted individuals who will follow our wishes.

 

Advance Directives are the written documents that result when we complete the Advance Care Planning process. A 2005 Pew Research Center study found that, although 84 percent of those surveyed said that they support laws that let terminally ill patients make decisions about whether to be kept alive through medical treatment, only 29 percent report that they actually have completed a Living Will1.  Even when documents are completed, they are often put in a “safe” place and forgotten rather than copied and distributed to health care providers and family members so that they are readily available when needed.

 

For the bereaved, Advance Directives are a gift. Knowing what your loved one wanted and abiding to that can provide comfort in a difficult time.

 

To help you get started:

 

      .                  Caring Connections at 1-800-658-8898 (Helpline)
or 1-877-658-8896 (Multilingual Line), or at http://www.caringinfo.org/

      .                  Five Wishes at 1-888-594-7437 or at http://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php (Note: The Five Wishes document is only legal in 42 states and Ohio is NOT one of them)

      .                  Advance Care Planning booklet Courage in Conversation: A Personal Guide available from Hospice of the Western Reserve, Cleveland, OH 1-800-707-8922 or at http://www.hospicewr.org/planning/ 

     Note: Some information in this booklet is accurate for Ohio only

      .                  Your personal attorney

      .                  American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging website at http://www.abanet.org/aging/

 

 

1.         Kohut A, Keeter S, Doherty C: More Americans Discussing – and Planning – End-of-Life Treatment: Strong Public Support for Right to Die.  The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Washington, D.C., 2006.

 

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.  

 

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

  

 

You may have read my recent column about the tragic death of my 44-year-old cousin, which was such a profound shock to our family.  I worried about telling my boys and how they’d react. At 14 and 11, they’d never lost someone so close and dear to them. 


When we told Schuyler (the 11-year-old) he reacted with stunned silence; no tears, no questions.  He seemed to leave his body for a few minutes.  


Then he changed the subject and went about his normal routine.  That evening he played in his baseball game like it was just another night.

The next day around noon the phone rang – Schuyler’s school.  He tearfully asked, “Mom, can I come home?”  I raced to the school and his teacher relayed the story.  Schuyler appeared to be fine all morning.  After lunch he was walking with his head hanging down and his teacher asked if he was okay. (I’d neglected to inform the school.)  


“No,” he said, melting into tears. “My uncle died in a plane crash yesterday.”  


The teacher handled it sensitively: “You might feel better if you talk about it.”  


So with his teacher’s permission, he shared the story with his class.  The kids listened and offered support and comfort.  This helped some, but the flood-gates had opened and Schuyler knew he needed something more.


When I picked him up, I asked, “What do you need?” 


“I need to be in Cooper’s room.”  His older brother likes his room pitch dark when he sleeps, and Schuyler wanted to be enveloped in that darkness.  So we closed the shades and climbed under the covers.  I held him tightly and we cried together. I talked about how some people believe that when a person dies that they join those who have died before; now maybe Mark was with his father and there would be comfort in them being together again. 


“The way we keep people alive after they die is through love and memories and taking in their best qualities.  What do you remember about Mark?”  


We shared our most fun and funniest memories of Mark, laughing and crying, holding each other tightly under the covers in the dark room.  


After a while, the storm lifted. We felt that calm that takes over after a good cry. 


“What do you need now?”  “I need some ice cream.”  “Gosh, me, too.”   We headed to Baskin-Robbins and ordered the most delicious cookies and cream ice cream I had ever tasted.   It was simply perfect. 

  

“What do you need now?” “I need to go back to school.  I want to be in a warm, friendly environment.”  He had a rehearsal for a play that afternoon and felt that being in the presence of his buddies would feel right.  That night as he was picking out his clothes for the next day, he said, “I want to wear something to honor Mark.”  So we found a surf-themed shirt since Uncle Mark loved surfing.  

 

So why am I telling you this story? 


So many of us grown-ups have become disconnected from the most basic truths about what we feel and need.  Instead of asking ourselves, “What do you need now?” we use food, alcohol, pills, cigarettes or compulsive shopping to make the pain go away.  Our rigid beliefs and defenses stop us from feeling. (“Don’t be a wimp” “You should be over that,” we tell ourselves).  All of these ways of coping serve to prevent us from actually experiencing the painful feelings that are part of our lives. As Geneen Roth writes in “Women Food and God,” we fear that we simply cannot bear the feelings and that something terrible will happen if we do.  


“I will die.” “I will kill someone.”  “I will go insane.”


The truth is that over time, by continually numbing our feelings with food or other means rather than feeling them, we deny ourselves the opportunity to connect with the truth, with ourselves and with others.  We can become deeply alienated. 


I’ve been trying to allow myself to feel the intense pain of Mark’s loss in manageable doses. By allowing myself to cry when the tears well up, I am honoring my love for Mark and the value of his memories. In the past month I’ve felt more alive, more empathic and more connected to others.  


Because his loss slaps me out of my denial about the fragility and unpredictability of life, I feel clearer about life’s priorities and about what truly matters. 


So when you are going through a rough time, gently ask yourself, “What do you need now?”  If you have struggled with your relationship to food, the answer to that question might seem to always be: “Food!”  But hang in there, breathe and ask if there might be something else that’s a better fit. 


You may need to connect with people who know and love you.  You may need to be alone.  You may need to scream or cry or write or create.  You may need to be in a dark room to sob or in a bright place to laugh.  You may need some ice cream as an experience of pleasure and self-nurturance, but this should be just one of a number of ways that you take care of yourself.  It’s up to you whether you make food a source of comfort or a source of anesthesia. 


I know conditions are rarely perfect: you can’t always get what you want or what you need.  But you can still keep asking yourself the question.  You may be surprised to learn that not only can you survive those painful moments but that in so doing you’ll become “stronger in the broken places.”


Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

   

       

 

 

 

Despite the best efforts of healthcare professionals, despite prayer chains and positive energy, some children with cancer die. During this journey many parents and children find comfort and support with hospice and palliative care.  Hospice care is provided wherever the child lives, at home, a residential facility or a hospital. Goals of hospice are to relieve physical, emotional, social and spiritual suffering, thus enhancing the quality of life for seriously ill children and their families.


Parents and child share a unique bond and when a child dies, a piece of the parent dies too. No matter how long the child lives, the grief is palpable. The death of a child is also the death of a friend and a source of support. If it is an only child, it is the loss of the role of a parent and the possibility of grandchildren. It is the loss of hopes and dreams parents had for their children. Part of the future dies along with the child.


How can a parent survive such loss? Grief responses for parents are intense and last a long time. Shock, overwhelming sadness, guilt, and anger are only a few of the more common grief reactions. Parents often question their faith and the meaning and purpose of life. People frequently put timetables on grief, but there is no calendar. The intensity will ebb and flow over time and the deep sadness will always be there.


Parents who have experienced the death of a child offer the following:


  • Give yourself permission to grieve. Cry when you need to cry.
  • Tell and re-tell the story. Use your child’s name.
  • Beware of expectations. Plan ahead for special days and anniversaries, as well as plan responses for questions about your family.
  • Reach out to others. Seek out a bereavement counselor or a support group if that feels right for you.
  • Be kind to yourself.


Fortunately there are many resources available to assist you on this difficult journey. You do not have to grieve alone.


Resources:


Hospice and Palliative Care

http://www.hospicewr.org/media/HWR_PediatricBrochure_web.pdf

https://www.nhpco.org


Articles

http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/25/22/3307.full

http://www.cancer.net/patient/Coping/Grief+and+Bereavement/Grieving+the+Loss+of+a+Child


Websites

http://www.bereavedparentsusa.org/

http://www.compassionatefriends.org/home.aspx

 

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.  

 

 Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

PaSid was a very young old man. After a 62-year marriage to the love of his life, we worried when Grandma died. But he created a new life for himself into his 90’s, traveling to elder-hostels, driving “old people” to their doctor’s appointments, even moving in with his new, younger girlfriend (she was only 80!). He thrived in the new relationship, and survived the break-up six years later (the first real break-up in his life—THAT was fascinating). Then, at 94, everything changed: PaSid had a stroke.

 

I remember the drive to the hospital late that night, entreating the universe, “please, don’t let him become trapped inside his body.” Thankfully, it wasn’t catastrophic, but the course of his aging was unalterably shifted. This independent raconteur would be cared for, to some extent, and then to every extent, for the remainder of his life – which turned out to be another eight years.

 

PaSid and I were tight. I loved being his “favorite granddaughter” (it mattered not that I was the only one on that side of the family!). My mother was an only child, so, much like siblings we shared the care for PaSid in that last decade, with Mom as senior manager. My brother the doctah (to be read with a proper Jewish New York accent – is that an oxymoron?) took the lead in the medical realm, and my brother the recovering attorney managed the technology (equally as important, as baseball and opera were fundamental to my grandfather’s happiness). Mom and I took the lead on the critical job of day-to-day mood and emotional management.  We were an effective team. I must say. I will forever feel proud that we did an excellent job of stewarding my grandfather to his final rest at the age of 102. It was a blessing for us all.

 

Now, PaSid was anything but a curmudgeon, so most of those years were a pleasure. I took him to lunch weekly (he relished time with my youngest child), a new girlfriend entered the picture (this one lived down the hall in the residence he moved into after the aforementioned break-up, and they were adorable together), and he surrendered to his ever-increasing dependence with (mostly) excellent humor.

 

But make no mistake – in those days, he was slowly living and dying at the same time, and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. I once heard a rabbi say that people die in two ways:  from the head down, and from the feet up. For PaSid, his mental faculties predominantly intact, he found the joy in life as he suffered through the gradual, degenerative death of his body. It was an honor to witness his journey. At times it was intensely painful to share.

 

I learned a lot from that decade, especially the last few years as they grew increasingly more difficult, both in terms of physical demands and an emotional toll – for him, and for us.  


There is so much I could write a book on it, but I’ll try to sum up a few key points on:


What I Know™ about caring for a Very Old loved who is both living slowly and slowly dying:

 

1.     Daily contact can make a huge difference, even if it is brief. You are a touchstone, a lifeline to the outside world.


2.     Think in terms of simple pleasures. At 95, my brother (a heart doctah) told him to enjoy his cholesterol – milkshakes and pizza were high on his list, and we never stood in the way of a juicy hamburger. Let him live a little!


3.     Touch is powerfully important for many people, and that doesn’t change as we age. When PaSid’s girlfriend died (he was 101), it triggered his final demise. I believe it had much to do with the loss of holding hands, as much as it did the loss of true companionship. Whenever I saw PaSid, I made a conscious effort to hold hands. I touched his shoulder, his face – providing as much physical human connection as possible.


4.     Death is their reality. The story that is their life has an ending. Acknowledge it, make an effort to demystify it, and address the fears. Sometimes this will come up as their friends gradually pass on (and they will, often at a shockingly rapid pace). You can also bring it up yourself. I used to ask PaSid things like, “why do you think you’ve lived to be so old?” and “what do you think about dying?” I know it sounds crazy, but he was grateful. He thought about it a lot, but everyone else was avoiding the fact that he was going to die, that his friends were dying.


5.     When you make decisions that push for a longer life, be honest about for whom you are doing it. When PaSid was clear that he was not ready to go, we helped him fight to stay with us. We took the lead from him, and that was really important – it was about what he wanted, not what we wanted.


6.     THIS ONE IS REALLY important and controversial:  Forgive yourself the natural, guilty feelings of wishing a loved one dead. There were definitely days when I cried in prayer, frustrated that he was holding on and feeling clearly that it was time for him to go. I always respected his passion for living, but honestly, at times, my private narrative was at odds.


7.     Finally, give your loved one permission to go. They need to know that you’ll be okay, and that you think they will be okay. It takes bravery to surrender to the unknown. At the end, it takes their letting go. That, of course, can be greatly aided by your letting go.

 

Not everyone gets the privilege of dying of old age. For those who do, that privilege can extend to multiple generations. Of all the gifts PaSid gave me in my life – and they were innumerable -- the life lessons of sharing with him his dying will carry me to my grave. I only hope that, when my time comes, I’ll have a child or grandchild whom I can teach as well by living my life to its completion.

 

 

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Parenting Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching and ImpactADHD™.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 

Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

 

 

 

 

Jul 22

 

I don’t feel old; hardly feel finished at 58 years of age.  But it seems as though a lot of the folks I’ve known, admired, even loved have been called to the angels by now.  Not that I lack for love in this rich and fragrant autumn of my life—my adult daughters have joined wisdom and insight to their affection and what I have at home is delightfully edgy and spared of platitudes.

 

But so many are gone; beyond family, I don’t even recall all their names.  They linger at the cusp of my early morning dreams and in afternoon shadows.  My grandmothers—the one with the breezy porch and the other with the honey pastry.  The former spoke Hebrew and the latter, only Yiddish. In that was the cultural dichotomy of early Israel.  Gone. 

 

My own father, with his wit and poetry and inner storms.  Gone so long, never even became a grandfather.  My cousin Uli with the sweet and shy smile, whose young heart was apparently not set to tick for more than just four quick decades.  His father, my Uncle Moshe, who lived some 80 years, smoked cigarettes while others made prayers, was a genuine patriarch, and then more or less, had enough of the world and its incongruities. 

 

There was Terry, once a cousin by marriage, always a friend and an interesting, if brooding, veteran of the Vietnam mess.  He survived tours there, only to be crushed to death in his own garage when the van he was refitting fell on his broad chest.  Who gets it?  In truth, Terry never said much when he was around and now he won’t stop talking to me.

 

What of Carol Blakely, the stocky yet fit and cheery high school lifeguard at the Jewish Community Center pool whom I adored in the summertime and who mysteriously drowned in a cold river just as we were all going to graduate?   And Tommy Adams, my cohort at the high school paper, soft and thin and sentimental, pushed around by the toughies, whose life suddenly ended at home one morning when his spleen ruptured?  And Arthur Park, a colleague and leader of young people who just drank too much and then died in his airplane seat, quietly and poorly.  How I miss his mediocre voice and his guitar and fearless dedication to kids and peace.

 

And Allen Kaplan, my best friend and mentor, a retired Navy chaplain who spent weeks helping at Ground Zero and nobody will tell us why, really why, his blood went bad three years ago and he died painfully after 11 weeks in a New York hospital.  What of Laurie Beechman, the captivating Broadway contralto, my remarkable friend, star of Cats and so many other productions, cruelly recalled by Heaven due to ovarian cancer at the age of 44?  And my friend, the director and enabler Josephine R. Abady, a pure old-fashioned Baby Boomer artist—also dead from cancer at 52?  And my colleague Jack Bluestein, a sanguine rabbi who should have been a used-car salesman, stopped by leukemia at 40. 

 

One by one, so many have disappeared along the path of the life.   Each one of us can recall them—the parents, the brothers and sisters, the coaches, the ministers, the teachers. What of Miss Jennie Fine, the indomitable, diminutive but firm social studies teacher who taught us in 1965 that ‘HOME’ is the most beautiful word in any language yet also had the audacity to smack the butts of hallway thugs with her famous wooden paddle?

 

I guess that’s why God made stars in the sky.

 

[Note: Some of the names are real, some are not.]

 

Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination."  He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


More Ben Kamin articles, click here 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

 

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, and it’s a good time to promote support, education and awareness about this difficult topic. Too many families grieve in silence. Parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives often deeply mourn these deaths, but society often disenfranchises their grief. Well-intentioned phrases from others can be hurtful. At least you have two other children. You can always get pregnant again.

 

In addition to the community not recognizing or minimizing the loss, there are other challenges. Grief is impacted by hormonal and physical readjustment.  It may be difficult to be with others who are pregnant or have babies. There are two anniversary dates, which can trigger a grief reaction: the date of death and the due date. Finally, expectant moms may experience increased anxiety, fearfulness of repeating the experience and the loss of “bliss and joy.”

 

October 15t is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This day has been designated to remember miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, stillbirths, and loss of an infant. In September 2006 a resolution was passed by the United States House of Representatives. This resolution was the result of tireless efforts by a group of miscarriage awareness activists led by Robyn Bear, who had six first-trimester miscarriages from 1997 through 1999.  On her website Bear asks that parents light a candle at 7 p.m. (in the time zone in which they live) for one hour to create a “wave of light” around the world in memories of babies.  For the Remembering Our Babies website, visit http://www.october15th.com/

 

If you are experiencing a pregnancy loss, know that you do not have to grieve alone.  Our bereavement center specializes in grief counseling for this type of loss. In addition, some hospitals offer pregnancy loss groups and there are national organizations that offer support as well.

 

Here are some helpful resources:

 

Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Perinatal Palliative Care program.

http://www.hospicewr.org/programs-services/specialized-care/perinatal-care

 

The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center

http://www.hospicewr.org/programs-services/grief-loss

 

Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc . 

http://www.nationalshare.org/index.html

 

Remembering Our Babies

http://www.october15th.com/activities_walks.htm

 

 

 

 Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.  

 

 Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Nov 19

It is hard to believe this is the third anniversary of the day the world began to turn with a little less love on its surface... a little less laughter, with the loss of the fiercely fun-loving and subtlety brilliant mother, wife and friend, my friend, Shann.  I remember the year that she died ... too damn soon, ridiculously early, how shocking that G-d had called her to Him when she was just spreading her wings here on earth. I wrote this then; I hold her in my heart today...

 

I just received a holiday card and I could barely tear my eyes away from the picture. It’s not that it is an exceptional photograph – just a happy candid, nothing professional. The two kids looked beautiful as always, gleeful and rosy-cheeked. Their twinkling-eyed father had his arms spread around them, and his smile was nearly as wide. But this photo was of a family of three … the mother, my friend, died this summer. And I could not imagine how difficult this task of sending out holiday cards must have been for her husband. In fact, I couldn’t believe he took the time to create and send one at all this year. The year that his wife, his love, died unexpectedly.


She had barely passed 40. Blonde, bright, freckled, filled with love and perky to the extreme, it seemed impossible that an exceptionally rare disease could take her life in the span of one season. But as her husband and best friend said, ‘I always thought she was one in million. I was wrong; I guess more like one in 10 million.”

Her funeral was as she would have orchestrated it, although I don’t know that she would have imagined the church so overflowing with friends and family. Her children walked down the aisle with their dad. Well, one walked, the other was carried much like a quarterback protecting the prized ball, although a wriggling one at that. You could hear their father whispering softly, soothingly to them, and some of the rows spilled out small sad chuckles from those who could actually hear the conversation. One whispered question from her son pierced my heart immediately. Pointing to the altar where his mother lay in peace, he asked, “What’s in the big box, Daddy?” His father, a man never at a loss for words, could not reply.


My friend’s husband gave a eulogy that you would never want anyone to have to say, but that we were all so privileged to hear. From our seats in our pews, we wrapped our arms around him, held him, and listened. A man stricken deeply by the much-too-early death of his young wife, but who still felt her love and friendship so alive in his soul, he could smile as he spoke TO her … not about her.


He told us things that those who knew her well nodded along with. But for me, who knew her a long time but did not know much about this wonderful recent life she had created in Charleston, S.C., I learned things I never imagined. It was a glimpse into the happiness she had created for herself and those around her, and it was palpable. Her friends in the church literally credited her for the life they have been living, a life of “love, love, love” – my friend’s mantra.


Her husband spoke of his best friend … his wife … the mother of his children … with such raw emotions. Love, truth, authenticity, loss, passion – but blessedly, no regrets. They had built a life that worked for them in all respects, and they reveled in living it to its fullest. It seemed as if he leaned into his wife as the sun that sent warmth on a cold day … as the stars that lit the darkness … as the anchor to which their family held fast … as the beam that guided them. He laughed. He cried. He fell silent when emotions overtook his words. That spoke the loudest of all.


He spoke directly to their children with an urgent desperateness, trying to impart all that their mother would have wanted them to know about her, all that HE wanted them to know about her… about the way she loved them, about what they would be missing – as if they had to hear, learn, memorize and remember all of her right then, before they left the church. He told their daughter that she had so much of her mother inside of her, and as he took a breath to steady his voice before continuing, his son piped up in his high-octave voice, “What about me?” Breaking the tension and sadness with a question of pure love and innocence and maybe just a hint of precociousness – a knack that was so much his mother that she could have been speaking through him to render such a moment for all of us.

 

We left the church looking like we had just been converted: tears streaming down our stunned but grinning faces, simultaneously sobbing and smiling at the stories and sweet moments shared.

 

Later that afternoon, there was a moment of sheer joy as a southern, sultry-voiced angel sang by her graveside: one of their best friends crooned Amazing Grace with a strength of sorrow and love that somehow made his wheelchair disappear and made us believe he could soar with the seraphs.

 

And then, it was a party. Completely befitting both my friend and her husband and their family and friends. She would have been the first to kick off her shoes and go running down the dock to jump in the river in her Sunday best and pearls. And that’s exactly what people started to do. Had she whispered in the ears of her girlfriends? Had she nudged the ribs of their husbands? Had she cajoled the sun to bathe everyone in a warmth that demanded quenching? Had the stars begun to appear in a way that reminded everyone of the twinkle in her eyes?

 

The reason, the timing, the impetus is a mystery, but within minutes, dozens of grown adults completely dressed – some still in their shoes and hats – leaped from the dock and splashed into the water at the River House, with laughter and tears and shouts to heaven, calling upon their dear young friend to see them, touch them, join them in spirit.

 

I believe she already had.

 

Ginger is a 20-year veteran corporate writer in Atlanta, and most recently, the former national web editor at skirt!, www.skirt.com. She is a regular blogger for Huffington Post’s divorce vertical (www.huffingtonpost.com/divorce) and skirt.com, the mother of a 16-year-old son, and the author of the hilarious and helpful book, “Back On Top: Fearless Dating After Divorce.” She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist, and has been featured in More.com, Glamour.com, LovingYou.com and several other women-centric media. She has appeared dozens of local and national TV and radio shows, including as host of Book Talk with Ginger in Atlanta, Georgia. 


For more Ginger Emas columns, click here 


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

Nov 19

I brought my mother to the emergency room.  The doctors admitted her to the hospital that same day.  After a week in the hospital and a complicated diagnosis, I made the decision to take her back home to her assisted living facility and call for assistance from the hospice.  Too many things are going wrong, I explained to the hospice nurse, and I just want to provide a pain-free, comfortable end-of-life care.


Hospice ordered a hospital bed and oxygen.  Mom came back to her room via an ambulance.  She was to have constant care around the clock.  Even then, it seemed that her days were limited.  I visited daily, as did her grandsons.  But one day, she looked at us as if she had made other plans.  “Thank you for visiting, but now please get on with your day.” 


Mom put on her wig and her lipstick and asked the aide to take her to the dining room so she could have lunch with her friends.  “I don’t like people feeding me,” she said.  Then she joined the exercise class on the second floor.  She waved at me from her wheelchair as she followed the instructor.  She put a smile on her face and made the decision to live.  She has filled out her days ever since.


Trying to make sense of all of this, I called my hospice social worker and began my research into hospice and palliative care.  


Here is what I know now:  


Hospice

Hospice, or house, is end-of-life care using palliative methods.  This is a team-oriented approach, a circle of care under Medicare guidelines, focusing holistically on emotional, spiritual and medical care, provided by social workers, medical directors, nurses, nurse’s aides, chaplains and volunteers.  Hospice is not about curing a patient.  It does not include invasive treatments.  It is about quality of life using palliative care.


Palliative care

Palliative care is specialized care for patients with a serious illness.  This means relieving pain and suffering by treating the symptoms, not focusing on a cure.  The goal of palliative care is to make a patient comfortable while providing support to the patient and their family.

 

Advance Directives

Necessary legal documents include DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), Living Will, Power of Attorney and Power of Attorney for Healthcare.  As a child transitions into the role of the parent, these legal documents provide direction for the hospital, emergency team and assisted living facility, as prescribed by the patient.


I called Atlanta’s Weinstein Hospice to help.  I thought we were facing the end of life.  How could I be sure?  I needed help understanding what was happening to my mom and to me.  My hospice social worker, Susan Sandler, helped me to make sense of this transition.


“When things are changing,” she explained, “you see your relationship with your parent is changing too.  Your parent is no longer able to make certain decisions, so you become the adult, with some tough choices to make.  If your parent is declining and will not improve to where they once were, then we work to stabilize and provide quality of life during the patient’s decline.  With cancer and with chronic illnesses, there are ongoing changes that will eventually lead to an end point in a terminally ill patient.”


“How, I asked, should I deal with this grief process and talk to my mom about the end of her days?”


“Be honest,” Sandler advised.  “We let the patient and the family know that we are there to help along the journey.  It can be difficult to feel the sense of loss.”


With dignity, my mom and I are coming to terms with her decline.  Mom is not independent anymore, but neither is she willing to give in or give up.  And I am not alone in this.  Mom and I have these angels at Weinstein Hospice.  Thank you.  Every day I say thank you.


Contact Weinstein Hospice in Atlanta at weinsteinhospice.org.  To contact hospice agencies in your home community, contact NHPCA, the National Hospice Association.


 

Susanne Katz is a divorce coach with Mt Vernon Counseling, coauthor of A Woman's Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce, an arts and living columnist for Atlanta Jewish News.com.  She is also a regular on ShareWIK.com.

More Susanne Katz here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

One common characteristic of grief is exhaustion. If you are newly bereaved, you may be feeling more tired than usual. You may feel so tired that you think you may have the flu as the only other time you have experienced this weakened state is when you have been ill. Small tasks may seem monumental and every routine chore becomes a huge job.


Grief is hard work and the business surrounding your loved one’s death can also take a toll. Perhaps you sat vigil the final days of your loved one’s life and even if you weren’t sitting vigil, you may have been so preoccupied that you could not get a decent night’s rest.


After the death, there were all of the things to do from planning a funeral to getting papers in order.  Perhaps you were surrounded by loving family and friends during calling hours, but as wonderful as this is, being receptive and making small talk can be tiresome.


There are physical reasons that cause fatigue when you are grieving. The death sets off a strong stress response in your body, which increases steroid production. That, coupled with the magnified feelings of grief, can take a toll on your central nervous system. 

You may be unable to sleep or you may be sleeping all the time. You may fall asleep for a few hours and then wake up or you may wake up very early. The result is that you feel tired down to your very core, down to the marrow of your bones. You may feel like you are walking in mud simply walking into the kitchen.  Just thinking about doing simple chores causes weariness. 


Give yourself time to grieve and work through your feelings.  This is a period of adjustment. The extreme fatigue will subside in time. Be kind to yourself. Get rest and sleep.



Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.


Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here. 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Dec 11

Receiving a diagnosis of late-stage cancer is shocking. Immediately, one realizes that even if one’s life doesn’t end quickly, whatever amount of time he or she has left has irreversibly changed.


But, in truth, initially no one truly understands what it means to have a diagnosis of an incurable and terminal disease. While still in shock, one must deal with decisions, like getting second opinions; with logistics, such as how will one’s family’s life go on while the patient is recuperating from surgery or undergoing treatment; and with the difficulty of sharing the news with family and friends – or not.


All of this is totally overwhelming, but in a way, being forced to deal with these concrete issues allows one to gradually adjust to the more abstract questions. Abstract questions like, what does dying feel like?


If one is lucky enough like me, to have years after surgery and treatment to slowly digest the ramifications of a cancer diagnosis, one can gradually ponder, meditate and visualize the more abstract questions. I have thought about how long I’m really going to have before I die. For instance, when I was diagnosed, I had two dogs, one five years old and one four years old. Since they are large Rhodesian Ridgebacks, I knew that their expected lifespan was 10 years old. At that point, I was just focusing on reaching my five-year anniversary from diagnosis since that was considered an enormous accomplishment. I asked: Who is going to die first: My dogs or me? As it turned out, one died 14 months ago and one, thankfully, is still here with me.


I have listened to meditation tapes. One, in particular, was designed for people about to have surgery. It suggests you imagine seeing an operating room. You see that someone is wheeled in to undergo an operation and you realize that’s you. Then you see around the room loved ones who are there in spirit to support you and help you come successfully through the operation. I love this imagery. I actually could see faces of beloved family members no longer alive, as well as friends who I knew were pulling for me.


I’ve told my mother that sometimes I think about who is waiting for me “on the other side” when I die. I think of family members who loved me and now I think of my dog waiting to protect me. When my mother asked if I really believe this, I said, no, but it makes me feel good to think about it.


I can tell you that this image is a lot better than imagining my body in some coffin with dirt shoveled down on me!


But the hardest image I have visualized is how my dying will impact my husband and family. I worry about their reactions and how difficult life will be for them. I know the emptiness that fills one’s life upon the death of a loved one. I also know that my dying will be a lot easier for me than for them.


I’ve had some time to think about my death, thanks (if you can use that term) to my cancer diagnosis. I feel that at some point – a long time from now – I will be tired of fighting for my life, tired of pain and tired of being tired. I feel there will come a time when I am ready to die. I will accept it. I just hope my family does too.

 

Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta. 

In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. Click on: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/janjabeneilon

 

You can read Jan’s other blogs here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

didn't even have to think about it.   This was the column that had more "LIKES" than anything else I've written. I poured my heart into this one.  It seemed to touch a truth that was very simple and basic, yet seemed very important to many readers.   This is our family's first Christmas without Mark.  I want to re-run this to acknowledge our love for him and the on-going pain of his loss


You may have read my recent column about the tragic death of my 44-year-old cousin.  This loss was such a profound shock to our family.  I worried about telling my boys and how they’d react. At 14 and 11, they’d never lost someone so close and dear to them.  


Here is my favorite column from 2011. 


--Dina

     


The Simple Question


When we told Schuyler (the 11-year-old) he reacted with stunned silence:  no tears, no questions.  He seemed to leave his body for a few minutes.  Then he changed the subject and went about his normal routine.  That evening he played in his baseball game like it was just another night.


The next day around noon the phone rang; Schuyler’s school.  He tearfully asked, “Mom, can I come home?”  I raced to the school and his teacher relayed the story.  Schuyler appeared to be fine all morning.  After lunch he was walking with his head hanging down and his teacher asked if he was okay. (I’d neglected to inform the school.)  “No,” he said, melting into tears. “My uncle died in a plane crash yesterday.”  The teacher handled it sensitively: “You might feel better if you talk about it.”  So with his teacher’s permission, he shared the story with his class.  The kids listened and offered support and comfort.  This helped some, but the flood-gates had opened and Schuyler knew he needed something more.


When I picked him up, I asked, “What do you need?” 


“I need to be in Cooper’s room.”  His older brother likes his room pitch dark when he sleeps, and Schuyler wanted to be enveloped in that darkness.  So we closed the shades and climbed under the covers.  I held him tightly and we cried together. I talked about how some people believe that when a person dies that they join those who have died before; now maybe Mark was with his father and there would be comfort in them being together again.  “The way we keep people alive after they die is through love and memories and taking in their best qualities.  What do you remember about Mark?”  We shared our most fun and funniest memories of Mark, laughing and crying, holding each other tightly under the covers in the dark room.   


After a while, the storm lifted; we felt that calm that takes over after a good cry. 


“What do you need now?”  “I need some ice cream.”  “Gosh, me, too.”   We headed to Baskin-Robbins and ordered the most delicious cookies and cream ice cream I had ever tasted. It was simply perfect. 


 "What do you need now?” “I need to go back to school.  I want to be in a warm, friendly environment.”  He had rehearsal for a play that afternoon and felt that being in the presence of his buddies would feel right.  That night as he was picking out his clothes for the next day, he said, “I want to wear something to honor Mark.”  So we found a surf-themed shirt since Uncle Mark loved surfing.    


So why am I telling you this story? 


So many of us grown-ups have become disconnected from the most basic truths about what we feel and need. Instead of asking ourselves, “What do you need now?” we use food, alcohol, pills, cigarettes or compulsive shopping to make the pain go away.  Our rigid beliefs and defenses stop us from feeling. (“Don’t be a wimp” “You should be over that,” we tell ourselves).  All of these ways of coping serve to prevent us from actually experiencing the painful feelings that are part of our lives. As Geneen Roth writes in “Women Food and God” we fear that we simply cannot bear the feelings and that something terrible will happen if we do.   


“I will die.” “I will kill someone.”  “I will go insane.”


The truth is that over time, by continually numbing our feelings with food or other means rather than feeling them, we deny ourselves the opportunity to connect with the truth, with ourselves and with others.  We can become deeply alienated. 


I’ve been trying to allow myself to feel the intense pain of Mark’s loss in manageable doses. By allowing myself to cry when the tears well up, I am honoring my love for Mark and the value of his memories. In the past month I’ve felt more alive, more empathic and more connected to others.   Because his loss slaps me out of my denial about the fragility and unpredictability of life, I feel clearer about life’s priorities and about what truly matters. 


So when you are going through a rough time, gently ask yourself, “What do you need now?”  If you have struggled with your relationship to food, the answer to that question might seem to always be: “Food!”  But hang in there, breathe and ask if there might be something else that’s a better fit.  You may need to connect with people who know and love you.  You may need to be alone.  You may need to scream or cry or write or create.  You may need to be in a dark room to sob or in a bright place to laugh.  You may need some ice cream as an experience of pleasure and self-nurturance, but this should be just one of a number of ways that you take care of yourself.  It’s up to you whether you make food a source of comfort or a source of anesthesia. 


I know conditions are rarely perfect: you can’t always get what you want OR what you need.  But you can still keep asking yourself the question.  You may be surprised to learn that not only can you survive those painful moments but that in so doing you’ll become stronger in the broken places.



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.


More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.



©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

When I was in my thirties, my best friend from early childhood died of breast cancer. At that point in her life, she was married with three wonderful children and living in Israel. Jill was home the summer before she died and I asked her if I would ever see her again. She smiled and nodded no.  She died a few months later.


The whole experience was surreal for me. I think and dream of her often.   She was beautiful inside and out.  In my early fifties, a friend I had known for about 20 years died of stomach cancer. Kenny had moved to California and luckily, I was able to spend some time with him a few months before he died. His death and the subsequent deaths of my friends are far from surreal and each has impacted me differently.


In “Death of a Friend in Childhood,” I wrote about how friends in childhood are often the forgotten mourners of the deceased. People rally around family members to offer support and condolences, but don’t recognize that the kid on the bus, the other soccer team players or the girlfriend are grieving too.


The grief when a friend dies can be disenfranchised for both children and adults.


The relationship of the friend to the deceased needs to be recognized.  As an adult, you may have friends from childhood, friends from college days or friends of your children’s friend’s parents. These relationships vary - from confidante to companion to caregiver and beyond.  

When that person dies, you grieve both the relationship and the role the friend played in your life.


When Kenny died, a piece of my wild and crazy side died.  When Judy died, my connection to the Alexander Technique died. And when Betty died, my heart broke as she was a soul connection.


Secondary losses can occur with the death of a friend. The deceased friend could have been the one that kept your group together. Maybe she was the one who organized book club or meals when someone was ill. When that friend dies, the circle can become fragmented or cease to exist, which becomes yet another loss. Sometimes the friend is the intermediary to others in your circle.  You would never know Sue if Jane hadn’t introduced you. When Jane dies, it may be difficult to be around Sue because of the sorrow involved or simply because Jane is what brought you two together.


What can we do?


Enfranchise the grief.  Grief is a normal and necessary reaction to a loss. Normalize and validate the grief of your friends and family members. Let them tell their stories. Encourage them to carry on the legacies of their friends.


My oldest sister has been friends with the same group of 12 women for more than 40 years. They have been there for each other’s college graduations, weddings, divorces, births, their children’s milestone events and their parent’s deaths. The strength of the friendship throughout the years is something to behold. One of the 12 died unexpectedly this past week. This column is in honor of their friendship and her legacy that will live on in their bond. 


Reference:  Cowan, D.S. (2010) Death of a Friend in Childhood. In: Corr & Balk (Ed.) Children’s Encounters with Death, Bereavement, and Coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.      

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here.


©2012  ShareWIK Media Group, LLC                                                                                         

     It seems unreal that I wrote this article just a few months ago. Mom turned 85 the end of November. Dad died two weeks prior.  I think my dad truly didn’t want to have dementia, knowing how difficult that would have become not only for him, but also for mom and the family. Dad became seriously ill and died suddenly of heart failure.  Because he had given us the gift of creating his advance care directives, we were able to honor his wishes without question.  I am continuously impressed with Mom’s grace through all of this. I am also honored to be one of five children that works together as family - each bringing strength to best meet each other’s needs and wishes.


     I have aging parents. My dad just turned 85 and my mom will be turning 85 in November. The past few years have been interesting to say the least. My mom survived breast cancer. She also underwent angioplasty as a result of a heart attack which she kept secret for three days not wanting to disrupt a relative’s bat mitzvah celebration. Mom volunteers in my office weekly and helps out with the bereavement mailings.


     Dad is a person with memory loss. This came to light the past couple of years and it has been a roller coaster of emotions, appointments, emotions, tests, emotions, more appointments, emotions, more tests,  emotions and more emotions. Did I mention Mom was a saint?


     Having been the point person between my agency and the Alzheimer’s Association for a grant a few years back, I knew a little too much about the disease progression.  I knew that Mom was bearing the brunt of Dad’s moods and that she and my siblings were experiencing and would continue to experience anticipatory grief.  Did I mention Mom was a saint?


     Anticipatory grief is the form of grief that occurs when one is confronted with a chronic or life threatening illness or when one anticipates the death of a loved one (or oneself).  


     It may be expanded to include illnesses like dementia where the person with the disease and their family are experiencing losses over a period of time.


     Anticipatory grief is not a device for completing the tasks of grief prior to the death of the individual. It does not substitute, or necessarily lessen, the post-death process.  It is not post-death grief pushed ahead in time.  But recognizing anticipatory grief can afford families to better manage the illness, problem solve and address losses as they occur.


Adapting to the new and ever changing environment.


     When a family member has dementia, things are constantly changing.  Often one feels they have just adapted to one situation and then a new crisis makes more change necessary. This can keep everyone in physical and emotional high gear.  Losses are constantly happening. 


Communication


     Communication is the key to coping and growing as a family through grief.  It is important to be together to talk, cry, rage, or even sit in silence.  At the same time there should be respect for each member’s way of handling their anticipatory grief.  Some family members will grieve privately, others openly, and others a combination of these two styles.  In many ways each family member must grieve alone. 

  •  Maintain a balance of attention between the family member that is ill and the other family members.
  • A hug or a hand on the arm or back can provide comfort and a sense of closeness.
  • It may be helpful to set aside time to be alone together as a family or even to hold a family meeting.
  • Encourage but don’t pressure family members to talk and express their anticipatory grief in their own way.  Be a good listener.
  • Create a memory or legacy project and talk about feelings regarding memories.
  • If depression, withdrawal or family problems are worsening or out of control, seek professional help.


     If you can learn to share your anticipatory grief as a family, hopefully you will grow as a family. I am fortunate to be one of five adult children who are amazingly all on the same page with addressing these issues. With our individual strengths and weaknesses, we do the best we can to keep Mom and Dad active and healthy. And while it’s heartbreaking to see my dad put on his gloves and hat in 70-plus degree weather, it’s kind of hilarious too.


     Did I mention Mom was a saint?


Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.


Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here. 


©2012  ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



 


 


     When is it okay to date after your spouse dies?


     There is huge upheaval after the death of a spouse.  Spouses who were only married for a few years grieve not only the death of the person, but the loss of a future. Those married many years, mourn the death and a shared past. Your spouse may have been your best friend and your primary source of comfort, support and companionship.


     You may also have mixed emotions. If you were in an abusive or dysfunctional relationship, you may feel relief, which in turn may cause feelings of guilt.  There is a myriad of feelings that accompany grief.


     No matter how your grief presents itself, your identity has changed. You are no longer a spouse. You are now a widow or widower.  This requires some adjustment as we are blasted by the media and advertising that to be happy we need to be “couple.”  It might be hard to figure out where you fit in.  Whether or not you want to date is an individual choice. There is no right or wrong decision here.


     If you do want to resume dating, know that the mourning period varies for different people, cultures and religions. In addition, some widows and widowers worry about what their friends or family might say or think. Your family might be worried that you are moving too fast. Ultimately, only you can decide.


     But before you resume dating, you must first take the time heal from the pain of the death of your loved one. There is no calendar for this.


     Next, think about what you want in life and in relationships. Reach out to people with similar interests.  You may make new friends. You may find a romantic interest. Give yourself permission to allow a new relationship to happen. Take it slow and keep the communication open and honest. You may find that you feel guilty starting a new relationship.


     Trust yourself that you will know when the time is right. In your heart you know that your beloved partner would want you to be happy and to move on. He or she will always be a  part of you.

 

     As one young widow put it…..That’s the rule – til death do us part…


Helpful Links:

http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~carrds/publications/remarriage.pdf

http://widownet.com/


Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.

 

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Mar 20

I visit every day.  Some days my mother remembers my name.  Other days she just smiles when she sees my face.  Today she smiled and then went immediately back to sleep.  I am not sure when I began to grieve.  It might have been six months ago when she had the first emergency that ended in a week’s hospital stay.  If so, I have been grieving for six long months.


How does a person seem to be dying and then snap out of it?  How, I wonder, does a person know that it is not their time to die?  And why do some folks pass only after loved ones give them permission to die?  I am sure that we are not supposed to know those answers.  But I am convinced that there is a purpose or an order to all of this.  


I imagined once that there were too many souls going to heaven, so the angels were sent to slow some souls down.  “It’s not your time,” they said to some souls who were ready to go on the journey.  “We have to slow things down so everyone gets their turn.”  It reminded me of a visit to the doctor’s office.  The sign at the desk was very clear.  ”Please be patient.  The doctor is giving each patient time and attention.  He will give the same time and attention to you, so please wait your turn.”


I have organized the remaining belongings in my mom’s room.  I took her valuables home, but I left the family photographs where she could see them every day.  My conversations now are with Mom’s sitters.  They tell me if and what she ate, who came to visit and what items I need to purchase and bring on my next visit.  


Mom just smiles and sleeps.  Her activity level slows a bit every day.  I say hello to the receptionist, to the other residents at the assisted living and to the sitters who care for them.  But really, I think I am waiting patiently and accepting what is taking place.  One day this will be over and, in a way, I will miss:


The Schedule


I have been told that one of the greatest gifts given to mankind was the calendar.  When the schedule is wiped off the calendar, we often feel a loss.  I will miss the hour each day that I spend visiting my mom.


The Conversations


When the people and conversations are no longer in our lives, we feel a void.  It is as if someone turned off the noise in our head.  Then we are left with silence.  When the conversation stops, I will not longer talk daily with the caregivers, my mom’s friends, or the hospice team.  


Peace is my goal.  To come to peace, for me, is about letting go of control and giving in to the process of reaching the end of life.  Maybe, this is when we really grieve.  And then we are ready to face our own mortality.  The angels will let my mother know when it is her time.  And one day they will let me know as well.


Susanne Katz is a  registered mediator with Mt Vernon Counseling, coauthor of A Woman's Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce, an arts and living columnist for Atlanta Jewish News.com.  She is also a regular on ShareWIK.com.

More Susanne Katz here

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

The guys at a little car repair place in Ohio had it right.


We were living there when my wonderful 58-year-old dad died.  Metastatic melanoma took him in six months, punctuated by the last two horrible weeks my mom, brothers and I spent at the hospital watching our best friend suffer a miserable death.  But who he was deserves more space: a man who believed in fun.  Laughter.  Family.  Friends. Cleveland teams. He was one of the good guys.


When the funeral crowd left my parents’ house in the Cleveland suburbs, food arrived at my house, from neighbors, friends, coworkers. (If you are going to die, consider dying in Ohio.  Your family will be well-cared for. The lasagnas keep coming; chicken casseroles arrive at all hours. Unsolicited fudge brownies visit. And the breads are—sorry-- to die for.)


It was my four- and two- year- olds who got me out of bed every day. My husband had long hours and travel for work, and little kids need potty training, snacks and storytime.


Days after Dad’s funeral, I wanted the kids back in routines, so I drove my four-year-old to preschool, and stopped at an ATM. Except I was on autopilot, and I dropped my money card deep into the driver’s side window crack.


Life was lousy, at that moment. My dad was dead, and he shouldn’t be. (How was Osama Bin Laden alive but my dad wasn’t?) My dad would know what to do in car emergencies. I remembered him teaching me to parallel park. He bought me my first car in college and had the salesman laughing (probably at what a ripoff the car was). He was the one I called when that car broke down and the mechanic said he’d fix it if I would “give him something back.” (Um, no.) Dad was the one who paid my car insurance my first years after college when I was only making enough money to cover rent.


By the time I walked into a car place holding my toddler, I was sobbing from cascading car memories.  (They could’ve made a car commercial out of the montage in my head.)


The guys behind the counter were patient while I tried to choke out what was wrong.


“My debit card fell into that slot in the window and I’ll never get it out,” I cried.


They nodded.


“And, my dad just died,” I added, to explain the tears.


One guy immediately went to tackle the problem, and another asked if I needed water. He asked if I wanted a chair and a magazine.  So I sat with my head down, sipping from a Dixie cup, with People and my son.


It wasn’t long before one of the guys approached, armed with a tissue box. “I lost my dad, too. It sucks.”


He got it.


“Your car’s ready. Here’s your debit card.”


“Thank you,” I said. “How much do I owe you?”


“It’s free,” he said. “I know how crappy this is.”


I wanted to hug him.


 I went home and sifted through the sympathy cards. “REJOICE! HE is with the Lord!” one proclaimed.  It didn’t help. (Note to card-makers/buyers: “Rejoice” is not a term for comforting someone grappling with loss.)


After the cards, food, and flowers ceased, I thought of what comforted me: how people had brought food for my family. I thought of the friends who said they were sorry, those who liked hearing stories about him, those who shared their own memories, and the friend who  offered to babysit.  I also thought of the things NOT to say I had heard:  “I can’t make the funeral, I’m going to my kid’s game.” Or “I’m so grateful I still have MY dad.” Or, “At least you knew he was going to die.” My favorite: “Cheer up.”


I resolved to help others. When one of my husband’s coworkers lost a baby to SIDS, I knew two things: bring them a meal. Give sympathy. I could do this, I thought, and ran over with some food.


What I did not expect was the little girl to say, “Want to see a picture of my brother who died?” Then she showed me their beautiful boy.


My heart leapt for them, and soon I was crying and the mother was comforting me. This isn’t right, I said, and reiterated sympathy and left. Maybe “helping” in grief isn’t that easy.


Years later—when the pain melted into a quieter ache---I realized the auto shop guys had it right too. When someone tells you they lost someone, listen. Give water. Offer magazines. Bring tissues. Say how much it sucks. Do a task that feels insurmountable to them in their grief. And do it for free. 


Kristine Meldrum Denholm is an award-winning freelance writer published in books, magazines, newspapers and e-pubs.  Visit with her at www.KristineMeldrumDenholm.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KristineMeldrumDenholm or Twitter @writerandmom.

 

For more Kristine Meldrum Denholm  columns, click here.


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

For a species as enlightened as we are, we have some surprisingly closed-minded ways of handling life and death. I mean, we know we’re mortal, we are aware that no one lives forever, and yet we have entire industries founded on postponing the inevitable, prolonging life at all costs. We fight death at every turn, and often consider it a defeat. 


Yet, there is so much life to be found in the dying process. This is not just a pollyanna approach, seeking a silver lining to sadness. In truth, there is opportunity to take advantage of, to appreciate, to find joy and celebrate. 


I called my grandmother “The Mighty Sylvo,” and she called me “gorgeous.” We were a mutual admiration society of two, though we occasionally let my mother and grandfather in to play with us. Let’s just say: we were tight.


I’ll never forget the day my mother called to tell me “The Mighty One,” my other name for that 4’10” master of the Toll House chocolate chip cookie, had been diagnosed with cancer. The news wasn’t good. Her days were measured.


I cried all the way from my office to her apartment, “NO!” screaming loudly inside my head. I wasn’t ready to lose her. I had so much more life I wanted to share with her. It just wasn’t time for her to go.


Of course, all those messages were about me, not her. But that understanding came later.


It turned out, she wasn’t quite ready, either, and we had two more wonderful, intentional years to share with each other. It got harder for her over time. The pain intensified. I still didn’t want her to go, but it was increasingly more difficult to hold onto that position.


It’s crazy the conflict we often feel, wanting to keep our loved ones alive for us, and yet wanting them out of their misery. As the cancer grew, large cell after another taking up residence in her lungs, battling with fresh air for breathing room, the conflict intensified.


That, I believe, is the essence of grief – it is love locked in a tug-of-war with death.


Meanwhile, as the cancer’s foothold became a stronghold, I was busy growing joyfully in a pregnancy I hoped would lead to the birth of my first child. I was anxious – I’d lost a previous pregnancy quite late, an IUFD (intra-uterine fetal death) discovered in a routine ultrasound. It was a pretty harrowing experience for me. Apparently, my grandmother had taken it to heart, as well.


Around the time we prepared to bring in hospice for my grandmother, I was approaching my 20-week ultrasound. The interplay of life and death in my world was palpable. I entered the technician’s theater with a good deal of fear. 


We emerged tearfully, excited and confident in a healthy pregnancy, and drove immediately to my Mighty Grandma, videotape in hand. We wept together, celebrating the potential life that was flourishing.


About 12 hours later, my grandmother died.


Now, all the time I was holding tight to not wanting to lose my grandmother, I am convinced that she was waiting to let go. She wanted to know that all was okay with my pregnancy, and she’d held on until she felt confident she could leave me. I must admit, I have a mixture of gratitude and guilt about that.


When my daughter was born, nearly five months later, I knew from the moment she arrived that she had a guardian angel. Now, 18 years ago today, I am more certain of that than ever before. It’s a good thing, too, cause that kid has definitely needed extra loving, watchful eyes.


When I think back on the loss of my grandmother, and I merge it with more mature experiences when my grandfather died 15 years later, I’ve come to understand a few things about life in the midst of death.


Here’s What I Know Now:

“Losing” people is all about us, about those of us who stay behind. While it is a legitimate perspective, we honor our loved ones when we are aware enough to try to keep the focus on their needs, not ours.

“Letting go” is a job for all parties involved with the dying process. 

           • For those of us who stay behind, we must try not to focus so much on ourselves, and let our loved ones go. 

For the dying, peace comes with the “letting go.”

Our loved ones often need our encouragement, our permission to let go. We don’t have to be afraid to share it clearly, out loud. They know they are dying. It helps them when we acknowledge it and remember that its part of life.

We keep people alive with our memories. It’s not just a saying – it’s true. None of my children ever met The Mighty Sylvo, but you’d never know that to talk to them. As she has been alive in my heart and mind, she has been a presence in my children’s lives. Over time, the pain of her death has absolutely shifted to the joy of knowing … that she would have loved a moment, or a gesture, or even a particular piece of cake.

As such, our relationships with relatives no longer alive take on a new quality, but the relationships remains. Human bonds are, indeed, eternal. 


Elaine Taylor-Klaus is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, a virtual coaching community for parents of kids with ADHD. She is a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com and MySpecialNeedsNetwork.com, and writes for “Living Without” magazine. Elaine coaches women and parents from around the country, on the telephone, to live full and empowering lives. She works together with her husband, David Taylor-Klaus, in their company, Touchstone Coaching.


Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.


 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Recently I presented to a group of parents about the differences between trauma and grief. When a child dies due to a tragedy or traumatic event, the whole community mourns. Some children are directly impacted. They may have witnessed the event or have known the deceased. Some are indirectly impacted. They heard about it at school, saw it on the news and can see that their parents are visibly upset. 

 

Whether you and your children are directly or indirectly touched by the event, here are some themes to consider about grief and trauma reactions:


When you are grieving, the generalized reaction is sadness. When you are traumatized, it is TERROR.

 

When you are grieving you can usually talk about what happened. When you are traumatized, you do not want to talk about it.

 

Grief reactions stand alone. Trauma reactions include grief reactions.

 

Guilt that accompanies grief includes thoughts like “I wish I would have…if only I…” Guilt that accompanies trauma feels like “It should have been me. It’s my fault. I could have prevented it.”

 

When you are grieving, your dreams may be about the deceased. When traumatized, your dreams are often nightmares where you are the potential victim. In addition, your child may have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep and may want to crawl into bed with you.

 

Grief does not include flashbacks. Trauma includes flashbacks, startle reactions, hyper-vigilance and numbing.

 

The pain associated with grief is about the loss. The pain associated with trauma triggers tremendous terror and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

 

What can you do?

 

Give children opportunities to ask questions and talk about what happened.

 

Be honest. Use simple language that is appropriate to your child’s developmental level.

 

Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have answers to their questions.

 

Listen, don’t lecture. Use phrases like “We’ll get through this together.”

 

Monitor television watching and video games.

 

Help children understand that there is no right or wrong, good or bad emotion.

 

Model and encourage healthy ways to express feelings such as through exercise, art, music and nature.

 

As a parent you model effective grieving. Remember that you are grieving too. There are resources and help available in your community. You do not have to go through this alone.

 

Parent toolkit: http://www.hospicewr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Final-PTO-Toolkit.pdf

 

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.


Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Mar 18

     I finally saw the George Clooney movie, “The Descendants,” last night. I knew something about the subject matter, but I wasn’t really prepared for the degree of focus on children losing their parents. Perhaps it was the timing that made it hit me so hard.


      Less than a week earlier was the 50th anniversary of my father’s death. He died, at age 37, just two months before my 10th birthday, and I remember so much about those times.

I remember saying goodbye to my father before he went into the hospital to have brain surgery (in 1962!). His last words to me – which I once wanted to drape on a banner in my bedroom – were: “Take care of your mother.” Me, a 10-year-old, was designated to take care of my mother. (I suppose it could have been worse; after my father died a week later, my seven-year-old brother was told that he had to be the “man of the house.”)


     The day my father died, I was at my maternal grandmother’s house, determinedly punching the keys of an old black typewriter, writing a letter to my father in the hospital. I remember that I kept forgetting to push the space bar between words on this very first typewritten letter. As my grandmother drove me up to my house later, we saw a number of cars parked and knew something was up. I walked into our den and over to my mother, who was sitting, crying on the couch. “Daddy is in heaven. God needed him.”


     I had two reactions. First, that I needed my Daddy more. Then I ran to a nearby wastebasket and tore up the letter I had written to my father. I knew he would never receive it. I was angry.


    I’ve always wished I had kept that letter. But, as it turned out, after religiously writing every day in my first diary that year, I abruptly stopped for the rest of the year. I had shut down emotionally.


     Back in those days, adults didn’t know how to tell children that a parent had died. Probably no one in the early 60s sent their children to therapists to encourage them to express their anger, their loss, their sense of abandonment. I finally learned how to fully express my feelings about this devastating experience as an adult with a therapist.


     I distinctly recall the shock I felt when I understood how poorly the adults in my life had handled the news of my father’s death. I was at a cousin’s house for dinner and the husband of her daughter related his experience of losing his father. He told about how his mother kept photos of her late husband around the house and encouraged her children to talk about their father. This was the exact opposite of what occurred in my house.


     After receiving the news of my father’s death, and after ripping up the letter to him, I vomited. An adult friend quickly gave me a pill to relax my stomach and anesthetize my feelings. It wasn’t long before my mother removed every photo of my father from the walls and picture frames in the house. We rarely talked about him.


     In the mid-1980s, I saw the movie, “Back to the Future.” There’s a scene in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally prevents his parents from ever meeting as youth. He holds a photo of his family, years later – his father, mother and siblings – and watches the impression of his father fade away. That’s how I felt. My father’s image was removed from our family portraits, and our lives.


     In the last 50 years, I’ve thought and felt a lot about the experience of losing my father at a young age, and how that impacted my life. I will never know how I would have grown into adulthood if he had lived. I will never really know him as a person, despite my constant questions of my mother, his brother and friends who knew him. I will never have all the answers. But I do know that the loss changed me. I hope for the better.



     Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.

 

     In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. Click here for her blog.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



Just as each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unique, their grief is unique. Recognizing that children with ASD do indeed grieve and being sensitive to how that grief is displayed can be beneficial in helping manage their reactions.

 

Death is part of the life cycle. We all know that. Plants die. Pets die. People die. Most Disney and other animated films include a death (Bambi, Snow White, Cinderella, Little Mermaid). Children often experience the death of a pet, classmate, teacher, or caregiver before experiencing the death of a family member.

 

When death is expected, take the time to plan and prepare your child with ASD. The unexplained and unknown can be scary and produce challenging behavior. Do not believe that you can keep all information from children. Children are intuitive and will know that something is different from your behavior, changes in routine, your feelings and the fact that someone is missing. It is best that you explain things in simple language the child can understand based on their developmental abilities. Beware of euphemisms such as "The angels came and took him." or "He went to sleep.", as this may result in fear of going to sleep and never waking up or scary angels swooping in to grab people. Also, if you plan on visiting an ill loved one, be sure to let the person with ASD know if there is a change in physical appearance. This can be startling or disturbing. In fact, you may want to take of photograph of the person and look at it together before going to visit.

 

It is helpful to explain religious practices that will occur at the time of death. If possible, make a visit to the funeral home and cemetery prior to the service. If that isn’t possible, use pictures or photographs to describe what will happen. You may want to assign a family member to be with your child during the funeral.


Rituals are helpful when someone dies, be it a pet, family member or celebrity. This can be as simple as lighting as candle or displaying a photograph. By doing this routinely, you are preparing your child for losses that will occur throughout life.  

 

Sudden deaths can be extremely confusing. Reassure your child that he or she is safe. Answer questions with simple and honest responses. It’s okay to say "I don’t know." or "We’ll get through this together." You may not recognize the grief reaction in your child with ASD, but you may notice a change in behavior.  Your child may not cry or appear sad or ask any questions, but a typically withdrawn child may act out and one who normally acts out child may withdraw. Knowing your child’s baseline behavior is paramount. Behavioral changes can be delayed and may not occur for several weeks or months. Anniversaries and special days can trigger these behaviors. Sights, sounds and smells can also be triggers. One child became incredibly distraught when a new caregiver wore his recently deceased mother’s perfume.

 

Memory books and boxes can be a way to honor the person that died as well as be a legacy and keepsake. The box or cover of the book can be decorated to honor the special person that died. Reminders, writings, mementoes can be added throughout a lifetime and can be shared with others as a way of getting to know both the person that died and the person with ASD.

 

In summary:

 

When possible, be prepared. Keep to routines as much as possible. Reassure your child. Be honest and use simple language. Help create ways to honor the person that died.

 

Helpful links

http://www.hospicewr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Childrens-Development-Stages-and-Reactions-to-Death-NL.pdf

http://www.autism.org.uk/living-with-autism/at-home/death-bereavement-and-autism-spectrum-disorders.aspx


Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.

 

  Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


For many, the death of a loved one becomes a time to revisit world views and beliefs. 


Death can shake core beliefs and throw the bereaved into a time of chaos. Finding meaning in the death of a loved one can be helpful in adjusting to the loss. The meaning is personally determined. The meaning one person finds can be vastly different than that of the person’s spouse, children or siblings.  Some folks search for concrete meanings such as how their loved one died. Some find themselves trying to figure out who am I now that my spouse died. Yet others question their spirituality and ask why did God let this happen?


This begs the question: how does one find meaning in loss? There is no easy answer. Counselors won’t tell you. It’s their job to listen and accompany you as you figure it out for yourself.  Ultimately, each individual will manage grief in their own way. Some will allow it to be transformative. Some will find meaning in the process.


Here are lessons that others have shared:


1. There is “something” after death.  One of my siblings remarked after our father died that she did not previously believed in a world after death, but sitting with him and watching him nearing death, made her a believer.


2. Help others. One young bereaved adult made meaning of the tragic loss of her father by volunteering and helping others go through painful experiences in their own lives. It’s important not to do this too soon after the death.


3. Love never dies. Many bereaved maintain a connection with the deceased, which provides great comfort.


4. Do not take for granted what really matters in life – what is truly important, what is valuable.


5. Explore difficult emotions such as anger, resentment and guilt. This can provide insight into yourself and your relationship with the deceased.


6. Become part of a caring community. After a group tragedy, those directly impacted often become more compassionate and find ways to give back to their community. It takes a village….


Sometimes trying to make meaning out of death seems impossible. How does one find meaning in the death of an infant or child?  How does one find meaning in a life cut short by tragedy? 


Searching for meaning is part of the grief journey. Seek help from a trusted friend or counselor to support you as you search for meaning and allow your grief to be transformative. Join a support group. The sharing of stories in a support groups not only offers the members the chance to be helped but to help others. No one needs to grieve alone.


Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups at  http://www.hospicewr.org/discussions/grief/.

 

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Jun 13



It was a small plane that took me from Atlanta to Chicago.  I was going to a mediation class in the city where I was born.  It had been 10 or 15 years since my last visit and my life had changed.  I was divorced now and my mother was in the last stages of life.  There was something powerful about my traveling back solo to my origins at this time of my life.


I landed at O'Hare and I took a cab to the Buckingham Athletic Club and Hotel.  At 440 LaSalle, it is in the city's financial district and one of those hidden gems that is unknown to even many long-time Chicago residents.


Finding the entrance was the first challenge.  I found the LaSalle Street subway entrance first but there were no signs to indicate a hotel or athletic club was nearby.  I opened the next door which led to a corridor that opened onto a large lobby.  At the far end of the lobby was a small sign and an arrow pointing to the hotel desk, a small one-person cubicle, tucked into a corner.


At check-in I was handed a set of keys that included a room key, a bar key, a large copper plate with the room number and a flat key to swipe to get through the first set of gates.  Once through, I was directed to the second set of elevators, which would take me to the 39th floor after I again swiped to access that elevator.  


Once reaching the 39th floor, I exited that elevator and entered the next elevator, which would take me to the 40th floor, the only floor of hotel rooms.


A continental breakfast was available on the third floor, so each morning I entered the elevator on the 40th floor, transferred to the elevator on the 39th floor, exited on the first floor, and then took the far elevator to the third floor.  


Breakfast was a simple display that included the coffee and yogurt that started my day.  A fitness center with indoor pool was located down the hall.


The first day I left LaSalle Street to find my way to Chicago's Center for Conflict Resolution on Adams Street.  It was easy to locate on the map so I decided to walk.  


I passed Dearborn.  The name was familiar.  Then, at Wabash, I remembered that my father's store was on Wabash Avenue in the 1950's. I recognized the subway overhead.  I stopped for a moment to let the rumbling noise fill my ears.  Maybe I was meant to be here now...to return to the city where both of my parents had been born and raised.


Returning to my room at the end of the day, I opened the blinds to get a good look at the city.  I could clearly see Lake Michigan and Navy Pier in the distance.  I remembered walking along the lake shore in the summer.  From that window I could see the cycle of my family's days and years.


It was worth the plane ride and the elevator rides to find that place and the comfortable feeling of going back home.


Susanne Katz is a GODR registered mediator and partner in Atlanta Elder Decisions, LLC. She is co-author of the book A  Women's Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce and writes about divorce and care giving in her Second Life columns on ShareWIK.com.  She co-mediates elder issues with Atlanta Elder Decisions and divorce mediation with Mt Vernon Counseling in Atlanta.  A former museum director and curator, Susanne's arts and living columns have appeared in many Atlanta publications.


More Susanne Katz here

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Sometimes death feels sudden. But when you stop and think about it, your loved one has been suffering from a chronic illness for several years.  In my work in the bereavement center with community clients and with hospice families alike, this is a common theme.

 

Consider this.  Your loved one had heart failure.  There were multiple times where he or she went into the hospital and then came home.  Relapse and remission became part of your vocabulary. One day, the doctor said something different.  He said that it’s time to go home with hospice or it’s time to admit your loved one into a nursing home. You were completely caught off guard. Perhaps you were able to make  arrangements or maybe your loved one died before even leaving the hospital. The death certainly feels sudden.

 

Perhaps your loved one had diabetes. Along the course of the illness, there were many hospitalizations. In addition, there may have been other losses – including the loss of eyesight or a limb or there were heart issues. The same thing happens. Instead of going home to recover, the doctor suggests hospice.

 

Dementia.  People die from dementia. Caregivers are surprised at this. Their loved one may have dementia for five to 10 years and there are countless losses along the way.  One day, death happens. It seems out of the blue and feels like a sudden death. No one told me you could die from dementia.

 

What can we do?  Well, I won’t get on my soap box and talk about the need for physicians to be honest with patients, provide complete information about the trajectory of the illness and let families know what is on the horizon.


I will talk about grief – about what I know.

 

Whether the death is sudden, feels like it is sudden or has been anticipated for months, the pain of grief is not diminished. GRIEF HURTS. You need to be kind to yourself.  Allow yourself time to wrap your head around what has happened.  Don’t let others disenfranchise your grief with sayings like but she was sick for so long. Don’t disenfranchise your own grief.  Grief is hard work that takes a lot of energy. Suggestions come from many sources, but trust yourself to do what is right for you. Talk with others. Seek a professional counselor if that seems helpful. Please know that you do not have to grieve alone.

 

Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups at  http://www.hospicewr.org/discussions/grief/.

 

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.


Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


 

 


As the Baby Boomers age, so does the average age of the workforce. This increases the likelihood that we, as employees, are caring for, and subsequently grieving the death of, a loved one.  In addition, we may experience the death of a co-worker. 


According to the American Hospice Foundation, at any given time, 25 percent of the workforce is grieving a loss.  Just because one might take three days of bereavement, it doesn’t mean the grief process is complete. Grief is ongoing and can sneak up uninvited at unexpected times.


Some grieving people find the routine of work a break from their grief. Work allows the bereaved to return to a safe environment surrounded by friendly colleagues. Others find the workplace overwhelming and it becomes too difficult to maintain focus and attend to the task at hand.


According to The Grief Index (Grief Recovery Institute 2003), the impact of grief in the workplace can result in: unexpected tardiness or absenteeism, distraction from tasks, incomplete work assignment, difficulty making decisions, decreased concentration, increased accidents and leaving the workforce.


If you are a grieving employee returning to work, follow these guidelines:

·         Be realistic about your expectations

·         Ease into your work

·         Prioritize your work

·         Ask for help

·         Know your limits

·         Create a place to take a breather

·         Utilize professional help (Employee Assistant Programs) if available

Here are ways to support a grieving co-worker

·         Do ask about their grief

·         Listen

·         Avoid the clichés of grief, such as “Time will heal”…

·         Speak of the person who has died by name

·         Allow the person to repeat their story

·         Don’t be afraid to share your own feelings

 

The bottom line is that we are all impacted by grief in the workplace.  Be sensitive to others around you and if you are grieving, know that you are not alone. There is support and hope.

 

 

Please visit our on-line grief discussions groups at  http://www.hospicewr.org/discussions/grief/.

 

Diane Snyder Cowan is the mother of two grown daughters and a national leader in using music in grief therapy, as well as the director of Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center of Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.   She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.

Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

home | sitemapfaq | columnists | members | discussions | groups | videos | press | advertise | contact us | estore | share your story | topics | calendar

Search ShareWIK

Loading

Facebook




Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Enter email below to receive our free eNewsletter
For Email Newsletters you can trust

Twitter

Latest Columns

The Grass Is Greener Right Here
With her trademark wisdom, humor and honesty, Diana Keough provides a spiritual antidote to anxiety and despair in increasingly fraught times.

Ben KaminSpirit Behind the News
Ben Kamin is one of America's best-known rabbis, a multi-cultural spiritualist, New York Times Op-ed contributor, national columnist, and the author of seven books on human values. His kids, however, are not that impressed.

I Kid You Not
With a self-deprecating sense of humor, a dash of Midwest sarcasm, and candid honesty, award-winning freelance writer Kristine muses on life in a chaotic household. Spoiler Alert: her teen, tweens and dog don’t find her even mildly amusing.

Susanne KatzSecond Life
After divorce, a death, a mid-life crisis, or just growing up and changing, baby boomers are learning to reinvent themselves, have fun and find satisfaction. Look out kids…it’s a new world out there!
Class Notes: Special Needs
Learn from the journey of Jacque Digieso who was given a challenge and a blessing with her son, who has special needs.

What's Eating You?
Dina Zeckhausen, Ph.D. on food, weight, body image and raising resilient kids.

Steve Powell
Steve is an experienced facilitator, practitioner, communicator and proven leader with over 25-years in experience in human factors education and teamwork training.
Living On Purpose
Elaine Taylor-Klaus, teaches how to make life extraordinary.
rWorld
Dale Kuehne explores developing a world where relationships come first, and recognizes that individual health and fulfillment is connected to the quality of our relationships.
Teacher Feature
School teacher Margaret Anderson will provide insight into what really happens with your child in the classroom.
The Power of Grief
Diane Snyder Cowan specializes in grief therapy to help those in need deal with loss.
Jan Jaben-Eilon Cancer is Not Me and I Am Not My Cancer
My name is Jan Jaben-Eilon and I am an ovarian cancer survivor. I don’t like the expression, battling with cancer. I am living my life as fully and passionately as possible, despite the cancer. Cancer is NOT my identity.

Latest Activity

posted a new blog entry Are You Up for the Job of Caregiver?.
4 years ago
posted a new blog entry When does Sex End?.
4 years ago
posted a new blog entry Obesity brings on a variety of health issues.
4 years ago
posted a new blog entry Getting the marriage license.
4 years ago
posted a new blog entry Praying for Theo.
4 years ago