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Nov 16

In my 8-year career as a television journalist with CNN, I covered a lot of breaking news about other people’s tragedies— the Columbine school shooting, the wars in the Middle East, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Even still, nothing prepared me for my own breaking news: I was six months pregnant with my daughter, Chloe when I learned my adorable, fun loving husband, Will had a rare, incurable cancer. He died six months later.

 

I went from a glamorous TV career to analyzing poop, grieving and laughing, to juggling people's expectations of me ("When will she start dating again?" they whispered) and caring for my daughter, alone. It was sad at times but there were many surprisingly funny and touching moments too.

 

And through it all, I grew up, changed a lot and I learned so much.

 

I want to share with you the real, untold story about my journey from new mom, to caregiver, to widow, to unemployed former CNN anchor, to newlywed, to owning my own business.

 

I want to talk about what works when the news seems unbearable but yet, somehow we find a way to bear it with grace and courage—at least on our good days. On those other days, it sure feels good to cry.

 

Anyone who has endured love and loss will relate to what we’re going to be talking about in my column, “When News Breaks.”

 

I want to hear from you too!


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 2009  

Jan 03

“He’s a really interesting guy,” my friend, Diane said, trying to sound all casual about adding a guest for our dinner date in New York City that was supposed to take place in a couple weeks. I was going to be in NYC, working as the substitute anchor for Aaron Brown’s prime time news program, “Newsnight.' 

“What do you mean “interesting”? I asked cautiously. Diane never calls me when I’m at work so when my cell phone rang and I saw her name, I was curious, and then suspicious when I heard the reason for her call.  She was trying to set me up on a blind date.  Frankly, after only a year of grieving my late husband, I didn’t care how “interesting” he might be!  I was not ready to be set up on a blind date! 

“John covered politics for Time Magazine for the last fifteen years, but he’s taking a break to write a book.” Diane said.  And then she paused before she dropped the bomb. “He lost his first wife to cancer. So sad. She was the love of his life.”

Oh no.

Diane wasn’t finished. “You know how that is, Carol.”

Uh, yes I do.

 “It must have been heartbreaking!” Diane said almost in a low whisper.

Um, I’m sure it was.

Diane went on, “After a while, John remarried but, uh, his second wife died a couple years ago.”  Diane paused and then concluded with an insider’s knowledge, “Breast cancer.” 

WHAT? Ah.  Okay, stay calm, I said to myself. I am suddenly, mad.  Really mad.  Yes, I know, Diane is just trying to be nice but shouldn’t it be my decision to ask for a blind date, not hers?  It’s not the first time a girlfriend has poked around to see if I was ready to start dating, but I spent the last year since Will died, applying a lot of mental and emotional energy into accepting that he was gone and I was alone.

In the last year, I’d struggled to evolve from uncoupled and devastated to independent and..well…okay.  So, an introduction to an eligible man smelled of someone’s judgment of my hard won state of mind. In my current transitional state of mind, I’m thinking all those girlfriends who wanted to introduce me to a nice man; were they saying that I could never find happiness if I was alone? Would it always take a man to make me complete? If that’s the case, then my memories of loving Will would be my Berlin Wall standing between me and any future happiness. That left me feeling hopeless. I would always love Will. I knew that much.  Then again, what if no one ever mentioned dating to me?  Instead of feeling like a liberated woman, would I, instead, feel washed up, unattractive and old? 

Sometimes I felt like there was a countdown clock over my head, ticking it’s way to the one year mark when a proper grieving period had passed and, should she want to, a widow could shed her black veil and swing it over her head and declare “C’mon baby! I’m reaaady to party!”  I should realize that my friend was being thoughtful. Meanwhile, Diane’s voice was growing slightly high pitched. She was aware this conversation was growing more awkward.

“I thought you two should meet!” Diane finally got to the purpose of this phone call.   “You two have so much in common!”

“Oh for goodness sake, Diane.”  

I was still angry, but I was no longer sure with whom. Was I mad at Diane?  Or was I really mad at myself?  What happened to that woman who used to try anything once? Where was that woman who once stood on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and thanked God that life was an unpredictable adventure?

Before Will died, I had a motto that always cheered me up:  “Just think of the ten minutes before the last most amazing thing happened to you.”  I could sense the tension and hopefulness in my dear friend’s voice that she could change the course of my life with a dinner with a handsome stranger in New York City.  And so I said yes, but I did so through gritted teeth, because my emotions were more complicated than to end here with a pat conclusion about when is the right time to start dating again.  But I knew that the ‘old’ Carol, the one who took chances, still lurked inside me. Perhaps agreeing to have dinner with John was more about finding my old kick ass spirit than meeting a man.

“Yes, Diane, that sounds great,” I tried to say with sincerity. “Thanks for thinking of me. What do you think I should wear?”


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 2009

May 10

The news broke in an email:  “We did it. We sold the house. Escrow closes June 1st.” 

My neighbors never put up a “For Sale” sign.  Ron and Dianne said they didn’t want to make a fuss.  But when they leave, my heart and so many memories will follow. 

No one knows who among our friends will endure with us through the years, standing alongside us in both good times and bad.  In our case, with Ron and Dianne, there were plenty of good times.  Ron, handsome and thoughtful, is positively stoic compared to his wife, Dianne.  She is a wild card. You never knew when you came through their door exactly what you’d find. Just ask her grown children who returned home once to a roaring party where they ended up pressed up against the living room bar to make space for their mom who was leading a conga line.  Ron and Dianne love great wine, a good sunset, and a constant fire on the barbeque.  But over the years, what they truly loved….was us. 

Back in 1998, the evening they moved in, Dianne leaned over her third story balcony, her ash blonde hair blowing in the wind and boldly hollered at us, “Hi! Can I join you?”  From those five simple words, a perfect friendship was born.

When Ron and Dianne first learned Will was diagnosed with cancer, they never let me see them cry, although I learned later there were plenty of tears for us.  Instead, they were an integral part of a tight knit circle of friends that made sure every sunset was celebrated with a glass of Merlot, Will’s favorite. When the doctor warned us that Will needed to gain more muscle mass to fight off the ill-effects of chemo, Dianne would stand on her balcony, mercilessly egging him on as he huffed and puffed up the hill, fighting off the fatigue of cancer treatment, a proud papa working out by pushing his baby girl in a stroller packed with food, diapers, toys and clothes.

“C’mon you lazy-ass! Whadya waiting for!” Dianne would tease.  Will would stop, wipe the sweat from his forehead and smile before forging on, as if he were pushing the weight of the world.  Only now, he was doing it with a smile. 

There were many other friends who rallied to our side after Will's cancer diagnosis.  And yes, there were some who stopped calling, stopped inquiring about us as it became clear Will was not going to make it.  It was too much for them, too sad.  On the other hand, Ron and Dianne never pitied us, never treated our prognosis with anything but optimism that was just sunny enough to be hopeful but not patronizing.  It was the right balance that enabled Dianne to be both positive but pragmatic one day when she put her arm around me in a rare contemplative moment when Will and the baby were napping, to say, “You know we will always be here for you.”

And they were.

Ron and Dianne made their college-aged daughter available to babysit Chloe the summer after Will died so I could spend time sifting through the boxes that held ten years of marital memories. They were the first to encourage me to start dating, the first to introduce me to investors to start a business, the first to welcome Mike, who would become my new husband, to our close circle of friends and neighbors.

And now they are the first among our core group of friends to move off our little seaside street.

I would like them to know, and I can tell them for certain that because of all the bitter sweet moments we shared, our bond will not be broken by distance and our changing lives. 

How enduring is the shared experience of the loss of someone you loved? If every great story has a beginning, middle and end, then where does this move off our street, out of our town, fit in to that story structure? 

I look at our picturesque street and the ocean beyond and think about the pull of the ocean tide. There is a certain peace and satisfaction I get when I see such a powerful force of nature. When the tide is out, you see the evidence of life underneath the depths of water, the rocks and bits of broken shells and among them, there’s that one perfect shell glimmering in the sun. Do you ever wonder how it’s possible that it survived intact despite the years of winter storms?  Perhaps that shell is like friendships honed over the years? 

When Ron and Dianne pack up and leave our street, I will think about how the good times fortified us for the bad times, and how the bad times taught us how to be the best of friends.

And I will miss them.

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

            

Jul 04

My friend, Jacelyn is sitting at my kitchen table looking wistfully at her boyfriend who is staring at a presentation he is putting together for his new web start up. 

 

“I wish Roger knew me when I was totally hot,” she whispered to me with a smile. 

 

Just for the record, Jacelyn is totally hot, even at 52 years old. Her long chestnut brown hair and athlete’s body make her look 20 years younger. I know Jacelyn is not talking about her looks or her age.  She is adding up the years in a different way. 

 

In her 52 years, Jacelyn has learned to enjoy her life and today, she’s feeling a little guilty about it.  Her boyfriend, Roger, who is living in start-up company hell needs her, needs her red-hot contacts from when she was a top sales executive at one of Atlanta’s top 40 radio stations.  He wants her to pitch to potential clients and develop new client lists in the way that her one of the top marketing and production people in the Southern U.S.  Jocelyn is working with Roger, doing what she can.  

 

She knows she can do much more than what she’s doing and is baffled why she doesn’t. Or won’t.

 

“ I don’t know why, Carol. I just don’t feel like my old-self anymore.”  

 

On most days, Jacelyn runs, bikes and swims in the ocean before most of us pour the milk on our Wheaties.  And here she was sitting at my kitchen table wondering if she’d lost a different kind of Mojo: her drive to “Sell, baby sell.” 

 

“Jacelyn, remember when you and I first started out in our careers?”  I was thinking about my senior year of college when I was interning at CNN, working nights and weekends for no pay, answering phones, picking up dry cleaning for correspondents who were jumping on yet another airplane. I would move every two years to the next television news station or network, fly 300,000 miles in a single year covering breaking news, missing just about every wedding, birthday, and anniversary between 1990 and 2003 when having a baby and losing my first husband to cancer forced me to slow down and reconsider my life.  How did I do it, I wondered?  I recounted those years to Jacelyn over a hot mug of coffee. It still feels like a sinful luxury to sit still, sip instead of gulp and linger instead of dash.  

 

“Fear.  I was afraid to fail,” I said.  “Jacelyn, that was the ‘push’ that moved me through my life.  I think it’s why I loved to go to dangerous places.” 

 

Years of travel showed me how fear has built civilizations as well as the armies that conquered them. My first bureau chief for CNN’s Los Angeles office once told me, fear is a great motivator.  He, unfortunately, was the type of manager who ruled by fear, screaming at the staff from his office until anxiety reverberated down the hallway. I was 20 years old and willing to put up with just about anything to keep my first news job. But then the years pass, things happen. Great joys followed by valleys of sorrows. The river comes, sweeps us away, and yet we find ourselves in midlife bobbing to the top for air.  We breathe.  We live. People we love die and we wonder how we can go on living without them

 

Jacelyn recently lost her mother after a long battle with Alzheimers. Then, mysteriously her brother died in his sleep.  I have never seen anyone face such tragedy with so much grace.

 

“Jacelyn, we pushed ourselves to get this far. Maybe it’s not about the ‘push’ anymore. Maybe it’s about the ‘pull’, what pulls at your heart? Where can we be of service?”

 

Roger, Jacelyn’s boyfriend was still laser focused on his Mac computer screen and missed one of the great wonders in life: Jacelyn’s smile.  Her face lit up, her eyes danced. I could see why salesmen used to fall at her feet and bought whatever she was selling.


“I like that!  Is it selfish to wait for that pull?” 

 

No, Jacelyn it’s not.   And sometimes that next great opportunity in life, one motivated by love, not fear, starts between two friends chatting at the kitchen table.

 

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

 

In the midst of grief and sorrow, how can someone feel thankful?

 

I do a lot of teaching and have one slide in my PowerPoint presentation that lists thankfulness as a symptom of grief and loss. When I open it up to the audience they usually comment that perhaps the bereaved is thankful that their loved one is no longer in pain or is no longer suffering. And that may be very true, but there is more.

 

A few years ago I heard Ted Bowman speak on Thankfulness for Grief and Grieving: Exploring Paradoxes. Mr. Bowman linked thankfulness and grieving, not by minimizing the pain and suffering that is experienced during grief, but by encouraging grievers to pay attention to thankfulness in the midst of grieving. There is thankfulness for support, for new insights, for resilience, for new ways of coping and for moments of joy.  It is a paradox; thankfulness for grief and grieving. But during the hard work of grief, you too may find experiences for which to be thankful.

 

Some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude journal where they list a few things everyday that they are grateful for. It could be fall colors, the sun shining, children laughing or pumpkin lattes.  Last week, I grumpily drove across town in rush hour in an awful downpour with high winds. When I left to return home I was greeted with an amazing rainbow that lit up the sky for miles. I was thankful. If I kept a journal, it would go in it.  

 

Here’s another idea.

 

Think about what you have learned from the person who died? What life lessons were passed on? How many hugs did that person give you? Or how many meals and deep conversations were experienced? Who taught you how to be a mother, daughter, sister, or aunt – or how to act and dress appropriately? Who cuddled with you? Who did you take long quiet walks with? Who taught you that secret recipe? Who gave you bliss? For these you may be grateful. You may even want to write a thank you letter.

 

Your loved one left you with many gifts. Remembering is a way to honor your beloved and keep him or her in your life.


 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

 

©2010 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

   

       

 

 

 

Memorial Day is the day set aside to honor America's war dead. This month Osama Bin Laden was killed. This causes us to remember those who died and feel relief that there is a little less horror in the world. We thank the soldiers for their acts of bravery. Bin Laden’s death triggers memories of 9/11 and those that died of that act of terrorism. For many, it triggers strong grief reactions and while difficult, these responses are very normal. Our world has changed since 9/11 and many soldiers have given their life to serve our country.

Originally called “Decoration Day,” this holiday started in 1868 by General John A. Logan for the purpose of decorating the graves of Civil War veterans. Within 20 years, it was changed to Memorial Day in which all war dead are commemorated. It became a federal holiday in 1971.

You may also notice members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars collecting donations for poppies in the days leading up to Memorial Day. The poppy relates to John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields. In the First World War, during the Second Battle of Ypres, a Canadian an artillery officer was killed on May 22nd, 1915. He was a friend of the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae. John was asked to conduct the service and it is believed that later that evening John began the draft for his famous poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Memorial Day is May 30th this year. Friends and family may be making plans for picnics and parades, but for some it is time to visit a national cemetery to remember loved ones who have served their country. In addition to your festivities, spend a moment to honor our loved ones, ancestors, and friends who died in conflicts and wars. Let it be a time of remembrance and celebration.

 

You can also:

  • visit cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes
  • visit memorials
  • fly the U.S. Flag at half-staff until noon.
  • fly the POW/MIA Flag
  • participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m.
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

 

 

 

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    

I miss seeing “love, mom” on a birthday card.  My day feels empty.


I have spoken to a number of individuals who have remarked how difficult their birthday has become after the death of their mother or father. Every year on my birthday, I wait for the phone to ring for my aging parents to sing to me. I will miss their out of tune voices when I no longer get that call.


Knowing that this is a trigger for her, one of my employees consistently requests her birthday off. She is planning ahead. She knows she will not be productive at work. Whether she plans to visit the cemetery or look at photographs or allow herself to just sit, she has a strategy for the day.


Anniversaries, special events, birthdays, holidays, the date of death, smells, sights and sounds can all spark a grief reaction. You might be able to anticipate them or they can strike you out of the blue. Much has been written about anniversary reactions, but I have read little about the bereaved person’s birthday as the trigger. It makes sense to me. We wouldn’t be celebrating our birthdays if our parents hadn’t brought us into the world. Initially I thought my employee’s reaction was idiosyncratic, but since then I have met many other woman who experience the same trigger. 


Preparing for an episode of grief could be beneficial. Knowing that you are likely to experience this yearly reaction can help you understand it and turn it into an opportunity for healing and growth.  And sometimes the anticipation can be worse than the actual day.


What can you do?

  • Remember that grief never goes away completely.
  • Many people experience anniversary reactions.
  • Start a new tradition in your mother’s or father’s memory. For example, make a donation to a favorite charity organization in their name.
  • Enjoy one of their favorite cakes or desserts.
  • Reminisce about your relationship with your parent and focus on the gifts he or she gave you and the good times you had together.
  • Look at greeting cards saved from previous birthdays.

Birthdays will continue to mark the passage of time. May the memory of your mother or father bring you comfort and joy.



PLEASE NOTE OUR NEW BLOG ADDRESS.  Thanks! www.hospicewr.org/bereavement-center-blog



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 as well as a regular contributor to Juicyheads.com. To learn more about Diane, visit her blog.  


Read other Diane Snyder Cowan columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

The lazy days of summer are quickly coming to an end; soon school halls will be buzzing with laughter, excitement and activity as students file into their classrooms. As we move into the routine of another school year filled with promise, death is typically the last thing on our minds. Unfortunately, sudden death can strike the lives of students and school communities without warning, leaving despair, uncertainty and pain in its wake. 

 

Sadly, tragedies occur every day.  Sometimes these tragedies involve students who may be killed suddenly or who may die from an anticipated illness.  While the grief is intense for the family of the child or teen who has died, the friends of the deceased young person grieve as well. 

 

They may be afraid that they will die too.  They may be feeling overwhelming sadness at times.  They may feel intense anger – at themselves for letting their friend get into the car, at God for “taking” their friend so early, at their parents for “hovering” over them, or at other friends for grieving “too much” or “not enough.”  They may disregard school, thinking, “Who cares about it, anyways?  I can die tomorrow.”  They may feel lonely, no longer able to talk to their deceased friend. They may feel isolated from other peers who seem “fine.”  They may feel guilt at enjoying a movie when their friend has just died.  If your child is touched by the death of a young person, help them see that it is normal to feel pain when someone dies – especially when it is one of their friends.

 

Here are some ways to show support:

 

1.    Be available to listen when your child or teen is ready to talk. When listening, give your undivided attention.

2.    Try not to take it personally if your teen opens up with his or her peers and seems to be pushing you away.  Developmentally, they are more likely to turn to their peers first.

3.    Explain that grief is different for each person.  One person may express their grief via frequent crying spells while another shoots basketball for hours.  This does not mean one person is grieving “better” than another.  Just like we are all unique people, our grief is unique to us.

    4.    Give them permission to have fun at times. Children grieve intermittently and it is nothing to feel ashamed about.

 

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

 

Many people find journaling and other forms of writing to be helpful for healing. Journals can store our innermost thoughts and feelings and provide a healthy release of emotions. Journaling provides the bereaved time to attend to their grief and a way of identifying and processing though grief reactions. While the inner world of grief feels chaotic, journaling helps add structure for clarifying our experiences.


If you never kept a journal you might not know where or how to begin.  First, remember that the journal is for you. You are writing for yourself, not an audience. If you are not sure where to begin, write down what happened. Then describe what is happening now. Write what you are feeling and about where those feelings might come from. Even jotting down daily events can be a way to tap into other feelings.


Keep it simple. Be patient with yourself. You don’t have to write pages and pages and you don’t have to write every day.  Writing prompts can also be helpful and I’ve included some tips to help you get started. There are three types of journals:


Visual Journals - If you are more of a visual person, try a visual journal. Purchase an empty sketch or an unlined journal that you can fill with drawings, paintings, and collages. Be sure to include quotes or narratives as well as scrapbook images, photos, and newspaper or magazine clippings.


Digital Journals - Perhaps you would rather put your thoughts on a computer rather than in a journal. Many people find it easier to write on a keyboard. If you plan on turning your journal into an online blog, remember that your innermost thoughts and feelings would go from a private to a public domain.


Readymade journals - Bookstores and greeting card stores often carry journals with quotes to get you started. There are several geared toward the grieving individual. 

 

Here are 10 tips for getting started:


  1. What I miss most about you and our relationship…
  2. What I wish I’d said or hadn’t said…
  3. What I’d like to ask you…
  4. I forgot to tell you…
  5. You taught me…
  6. You would be proud to know that I….
  7. I can hear you say…
  8. I am grateful for…
  9. What I’ve had the hardest time dealing with…
  10. Ways in which you will continue to live on in me…

 

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
Oct 17

It seemed like just another twice weekly visit to the radiology clinic that summer afternoon.  


This wasn't Dad's first visit to the clinic, but rather the third in what had become part of his new treatment regimen in his battle with lung cancer. My dad had quit smoking almost 10 years before, but the many years he smoked during his 20-plus years of service in the U.S. Navy, including tours of duty in Vietnam, had most likely been the cause of his cancer. 


When Dad came out of the interventional radiology treatment room, he looked troubled and confused. I tossed the magazine aside in the waiting room and stood up as he approached. 

 

"Son," he said, “they did something wrong to me. I could feel it-- something 'popped' during the radiation.” I could tell he was scared.  


"Tell me what happened,” I said.  "Let's just get out of here and I'll tell you," he said, as others in the waiting room were now looking up from their magazines with curiosity. 


When we got in the car, Dad began to retell the experience, including the reaction of the technician during the event and the rush to end the session abruptly without any explanation of the unusual sensation he had experienced. When we arrived home, we shared the story with my mom and we all tried to make sense of what happened and what we should do next. We wanted answers, but the clinic was closed for the weekend, and the answering service at Dad's oncology practice informed us that the doctor was away on vacation and would not return for a week.  "You should call back next week," said the operator, without even a sense of urgency or concern after I had explained the reason for my call. 


On Monday, I called the radiology clinic and asked to speak to someone in charge to get some information about what had happened. But I was told that they could not discuss the matter on the phone.  The office manager said my Dad would need to speak directly with one of the radiation oncologists in the office.  Dad wasn't going anywhere given the worse-than-normal radiation sickness.


We were able to see the oncologist a week later. She reviewed documents from the radiology clinic reports and completed a cursory exam of my father.  She sat down at the foot of the treatment table and said, "Well, Ted, you've gotten more time than most," referring to the last 16 months since a routine chest x-ray showed a small mass in the lower right lobe, a pneumonectomy to remove Dad's right lung and several rounds of chemo, not to mention the radiation therapy.  "There's nothing more we can do for you, except to prepare and pray."  


My dad was stoic. My mom wept quietly to herself, and I was still focused on the cause of the radiation incident.  


Three weeks later, my dad died.


We all grieve differently. I had to make sense of what had happened at the radiology clinic. I had been an aircraft accident investigator in the U.S. Navy with extensive experience in root cause analysis.  My goal was to understand what had happened, why it had happened, and how we could keep it from happening to someone else.  


As an airline pilot for 20+ years and an aviation safety expert, this seemed to me to be a safety problem that needed to be addressed.  I wasn’t interested in legal action; I was interested in the truth.  What I would find out about the nature and extent of deadly errors in healthcare would lead me on a journey to improve patient safety across the globe since my dad’s passing in 2002. 


In a 2000 report from the Institute of Medicine called To Err is Human, researchers reported that as many as 98,000 people die in the U.S. each year due to preventable medical errors, such as the radiation event my dad suffered in 2002.  When I compare that number to aviation, it is equivalent to a Boeing 777 crashing each and every day in our country without any survivors. 


This is really the tip of the iceberg, since as few as 15 percent of adverse events are actually reported.  To add to this significant risk, over 100,000 patients each year die from preventable infections acquired during their hospital stay. One in seven of us will suffer an adverse drug reaction from a medication given while in the hospital, and 42 percent of the public report that they or someone close to them have suffered from a medical error.  


According to the Joint Commission that tracks medical errors in the U.S., nearly 70 percent of all these errors are human error due to poorly designed systems, lack of teamwork, ineffective communication and inadequate leadership. 


So what can you do to improve your safety or the safety of a loved one during their stay in a hospital or clinic? 


Over the coming months, we will focus on five proven actions that you can take to improve your safety and reduce your risk of becoming a medical error statistic.


1. Get informed – Your safety depends on having accurate information about your doctor, hospital, clinic and the associated risks related to the medical procedure or treatment they are recommending.  Ask yourself: Am I getting the standard of care I deserve?


2.  Ask Questions – Who is my nurse during this shift?  What is my main problem?  What do I need to do? Why is it important for me to do this?

3. Be Vigilant – You and your loved ones are an extra set of eyes and ears as it relates to your safe care.  Since most errors are human errors, like monitoring, it's your duty to be an active member of your own care team.


4.  Speak Up – When you experience, sense, or perceive suboptimal care, you or a family member must speak up no matter the assumptions, the time, or the condition.  Take ownership of your care: “Nothing about me, without me!”


5.  Share Information and Provide Feedback – Develop trust with your healthcare providers.  Tell them about past history and current medications.  Don’t assume anything, no matter how many times you are asked for your name or date of birth.  Fill out all surveys and provide honest feedback to healthcare professionals.  You, like me, have a chance to make the system better for the next patient.

 

Steve Powell is an experienced facilitator, practitioner, communicator and proven leader with over 25 years of experience in human factors education and teamwork training. For more information, go to http://www.healthcareteamtraining.com/bios/stephen-powell-ms/

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 


My dad is a World War II vet. He signed up when he was 17 and worked the railroad. He told us a few stories when we were growing up, but he really started sharing his experiences after my daughter interviewed him for a high school class project. He hasn’t stopped. A few years back we arranged to have him interviewed for the National Archives Veteran’s History Project. Now we have a treasured CD with his voice telling his stories.


When I listen to the CD, I hear a few hints of his now very obvious memory loss. His stories morph with each re-telling. A few months ago I would say Don’t you mean … Wasn’t that …. Now I just listen to the new version and enjoy him reveling in the storytelling.  


While I experience the ongoing grief that accompanies loving a person with memory loss, my dad experiences his own grief. He’s very aware of his decline. Getting old is hell. We usually think of a loss as the death of a person, but there are many losses that can be experienced by a person with a chronic or terminal illness.  In addition to cognitive loss, there is the loss of physical ability, energy, hope, meaning and purpose.


One positive is that my dad finds meaning in the telling of his stories. A positive for me is the gift of time we get to spend together - as trying as it can be at times. The other truly amazing gift is the CD that I cherish and will be able to share with my grandchildren who will get to hear great-grandpa’s voice sharing stories of the Great War.


If your WWII vet is still alive, consider getting his or her story recorded, either on paper or digitally.  Let your veteran tell the story in his or her own way. Go to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project for more ideas http://www.loc.gov/vets/vets-home.html


Here are a few suggested topics taken from the history project.  Always begin by thanking your veteran for their service.


1.  A Few Biographical Details

  • Where and when veteran was born.
  • Family details: parents’ occupations, number and gender of siblings.
  • What veteran was doing before entering the service.

 

2. Early Days of Service

  • How veteran entered service—draft or enlistment.
  • If enlistment, why and the reason for choosing a specific branch of service.
  • Departure for training camp, early days of training.

 

3. Wartime Service

  • Where veteran served.
  • Action witnessed, or duties away from the front line.
  • If applicable, emotions relating to combat—witnessing casualties, destruction.

 

4. War’s End, Coming Home

  • Where veteran was when war ended.
  • Reception by family and community.

 

5. Reflections

  • How wartime experiences affected veteran’s life.
  • Life lessons learned from military service.

 

Embrace the moment.

 

Additional Resources:

 

For access to a new publication entitled “The American Veterans and Service members Survival Guide:  How to Cut through the Bureaucracy and Get What You Need – and Are Entitled To”, go to:  http://www.veteransforamerica.org/survival-guide/survival-guide-download/ published by Veterans for America.

For more information and links to the VA regional offices, go to:  http://www1.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isFlash=0.




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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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


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

For most people, New Year's resolutions are about improving life, about making a fresh start. Perhaps we want to lose weight, exercise, or a number of other self-improvement projects. However, when we are grieving, our tendency is to look backwards, not forwards.


Here are some softer resolutions that may work for you as you begin to learn from your grief and understand your emotions.


CARING - Allow yourself to accept expressions of caring from others even though they might be uneasy and awkward. Support groups may be beneficial to you.


GOALS - For a while, it may seem that much of life is without meaning. At times like these, there are two seemingly contradictory rules of thumb: “live one day at a time” and “small goals can help.” If you try to plan something to look forward to — like a movie, going to lunch with a friend or a small trip next month — it can help you get through the immediate future.


HOPE - You may find comfort and hope from those who have experienced a similar loss. They can describe some things that have helped them. The realization that they have recovered and that time does help, can give you hope that sometime in the future your grief will be less raw and painful. 


BALANCE  Take care of yourself and work to obtain balance in your life.  Try to find  a balance of work, play, rest and relaxation.


SECURITY - Try to reduce or find help for stresses in your life. Allow yourself to be close to those you trust. Getting back into a routine helps. Remember to do things at your own pace.


SMALL PLEASURES - Do not underestimate the healing effects of small pleasures. A walk, reading a book or magazine, preparing a favorite food all are small steps toward regaining your pleasure in life itself.


TIME - Take time to be alone. And, take time to be with others whom you trust and who will listen when you need to talk. Allow time for the feelings that accompany grief and time to understand those feelings.


Wishing you peace in your heart in 2012.



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 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                                                                                         

Running away from grief postpones sorrow; clinging to grief prolongs pain. Neither leads to healing.*


This sentence paints a very clear picture. The bottom line is that no matter how much you may want to, you cannot run away from grief. Society may expect you to “get over it.” Your employer may expect productivity to be immediately up to par with previous performance. Family members may expect you to continue with your familiar role of daughter, mother or spouse. Friends may expect you to return to the “fun-loving” person you used to be. And, you may have unrealistic self-expectations as well. It’s been six months, what is wrong with me? Why am I still so sad?


There is no timetable for grief. Each person has his or her own individualized grief datebook. For some, it will be weeks or months before life returns to its usual routine. For others, it could 18-24 months or longer. There is no one calendar and there is no way of getting around it. You have to go through grief, as painful as it may be, or it will catch up with you – physically and emotionally.


In addition to giving yourself time, you need to give yourself permission to grieve. This means saying you are worth enough to make yourself a priority. It takes courage.  Each person’s style of grieving is unique. Listen to what your body, mind and spirit are leading you to do.


--Pay attention to your feelings and give them healthy expression.


--Talk to someone who will listen without judging.


--Tell and re-tell your story – as many times as you need to.


--Remind yourself that your grief is unique and really is a process.


--Create your own calendar of grief.


Please keep in mind that you do not have to grieve alone. There are counselors and support groups out there that will welcome and support you. 

 

*(Theos Foundation, Inc. © 1980)

 

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


A caregiver is a family member or paid helper who regularly takes care of a child or a sick, elderly or disabled person. One in four families provides care for an older adult and the typical family spends 21 hours per week caregiving (AARP 2007). Distance caregiving is the experience of providing instrumental and emotional support to an ill loved one who is geographically distant from the caregiver (Mazanec 2011). 

 

Many long distance caregivers feel unconnected. They feel they are not getting all the information local caregivers are getting. They often feel the lack of control and communication. What happens when these long distance caregivers become the bereaved? Where do they find support?

 

The long distance bereaved experience the same grief reactions as do those people in town. In addition, they may experience additional effects related to the burden of being long distance. In addition to feeling excluded, the bereaved may experience feelings of guilt for not being there or anger at decisions that were made in their absence.

 

I have been unable to find research related to the long distance bereaved but the online world offers many opportunities for those grieving locally and from a distance. Blogs and grief discussion forums are readily available to help the bereaved feel connected, get coping tips from others who are grieving and find educational articles. None of these take the place of individual professional grief counseling.

 

There are also virtual memorial websites. These are webpages that allow the bereaved to create individual memorials that honor their deceased loved ones. They can include historical information, videos, audios and photos and can be updated as often or as little as you like. Others can leave guest comments. Benefits include feeling expression, personalization, demonstration of continuing bonds, shared grieving and community support.  Please know that there has been limited research on these memorial sites. Some become obsolete and vanish. Some will maintain your memorial for limited periods of time. If you create an on-line memorial, be sure that you can monitor any comments before allowing them to be posted to your site.

 

As always, remember that there is always risk involved when going online. Some sites are more reputable than others. Some are monitored more than others. Sometimes people write inappropriate and mean things. Sometimes they are unintentional, sometimes not. Just know that you need to take everything with a grain of salt.

 

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

 

 


Recently I attended the presentation by Jacqueline Hatch on twinless twins at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Clinical Conference.  While I am aware of the significant bond between siblings, this presentation offered many new insights on the unique bond between twins.  What struck me was the concept that when a twin dies, it is the first time the remaining twin is ever alone. 

 

According to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of twins increased 76 percent between 1980-2009.  One in 30 babies born in the United States is a twin. There are a number of reasons for this including age, fertility drugs and other factors.  Consequently, there will be many more twinless twins needing our support and understanding.

 

Consider this…..

 

The twin bond begins at conception.  At 16 weeks, the fetus has an awareness of self in space. The single fetus explores his or her own body and surroundings. Twins explore each other. At four-and-a-half months, the senses begin to develop and there is room to interact. The single fetus develops independence, twins develop interdependence.  At six months, space tightens in utero. There can be game playing or acts of aggression.

 

Twins, come in for dinner.  Oh, don’t the twins look cute today! Are the twins coming to the celebration?

 

After birth, the relationship between twins continues to grow. There are shared milestones and shared identities. A twin has a built in protector. The bond can be conscious or unconscious and separate paths do not change the bond. A twinless twin experiences grief that has many things in common with the death of spouse. However, spouses are people chosen to be lifelong companions. Twins are automatically lifelong companions.

 

This was my big take away from the session: when a twin dies, it if the first time the surviving twin has ever been alone.  All other people live as an individual before developing a relationship with another person. The presence of each twin is built into the other being.  Twins literally do not know how to exist as one. When a twin dies, the twinless twin longs to reconnect. The twinless twin may have phantom pain or feel half dead.  He or she may feel a need to represent both him or herself and the deceased twin or may even take on behaviors of the deceased twin. 

 

Dr. Raymond Brandt, founder of the Twinless Twins Support groups in 1986 states “once a twin, always a twin.”  Dr. Brandt was a therapist from Fort Wayne, IN whose identical twin died decades earlier.

 

Unless you are a twin, you will not truly understand the depth of this bond. Nevertheless, all of us can be supportive with a heightened sensitivity to this very special connection.

 

Resources:

http://www.twinlesstwins.org/

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/twofold/200907/loss-twin

Brandt, T.W. (2001) Twin Loss. Leo, IN: Twinsworld Publishing CO.

 

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 music therapy and grief counseling, 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 more columns by Diane Snyder Cowan here


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Jan 04


They often start out the same way.  The wedding brings together two individuals, two families, hope, expectations and joy.  It is when the promises become vows.  It is when the future is brightest.   The harsh reality is that all marriages will eventually end, either because of death or divorce.


Both death and divorce involve loss and disappointment.  Both death and divorce cause pain and leave us feeling vulnerable.  But a grieving man and woman are likely to be greeted very differently.  And while both age and financial status seem to be factors, it is the dinner invitation…or the casserole…that really seems to make a significant impact.  A few friends were willing to share their experiences with me. 


“When I was widowed,” a friend explained, “my friends and neighbors could express their condolences and invite me for dinner without feeling conflicted.  There was no one at fault, as there is in a divorce, so they didn’t need to take sides.”


“You were invited to dinner with friends,” a divorced friend reminded her.  “While I was going through my divorce, no one worried about whether I was eating enough.  My ex-husband, however, received casseroles and invitations from divorced women who were concerned that, since he didn’t live in our family home anymore, that he was no longer being well-fed.”


“My dad didn’t have to worry about cooking after my mom died,” a third friend added.  “As soon as he moved into the high rise there were plenty of women who were eager to cook for him.”


My mom loved going out for dinner and could afford to pay her own way.  No casseroles for her.  She was always in demand as a dinner partner.  Even when she had lost her sense of time, she would still greet me with “Have you eaten? Let’s go out and get some Chinese food.”


Eating, I now realize, is not only about the food.  It is also about knowing that someone cares, feeling accepted, and getting nourishment…both for the body and for the soul.  Even in our moments of despair, there is great comfort in being invited and included.  


I used to wonder why there was an abundance of food at a family home following a funeral.  And why people seem to lose weight during a death or a divorce.  


I look at the photographs of Phang and myself when we were first dating.  We eat dinners together most nights now.  We are well nourished.  It may even be time for us to go on a diet.


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 caregiving 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. Follow her on Twitter @SusanneGKatz.  


Read more columns by Susanne Katz here.


©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


As a Boomer, my world is slowly shrinking. Several of my friends are experiencing the death of a parent. My mom is experiencing the death of her good friends. In addition to feeling sad for mom, I too mourn the losses as I have known these folks my entire life. And my friends are dying, one or two every year or so. By the end of the week, I will have gone to three funerals and made two Shiva calls.

 

My mother questions whether she should get a new address book. She is tired of crossing off names. I hope she is joking. It is poignant. I know that when I look in my address book, it brings me comfort to see those names and remember those individuals who have died. In fact, I have kept a few emails from former colleagues - now deceased.

 

What does one do with all of these losses? How do we maintain a sense of who we are and our place in the world amidst so much loss? 

 

Many times multiple losses occur within a short period of time. For older adults, the loss of a friend often impacts their social activities. My mother’s bridge club looks different today than it did just two months ago. As a young girl I remember my grandfather’s nonchalance when the ambulance carted off a gentleman from the cigar smoke-filled gin rummy room. The other gents just kept right on playing.  My great-aunt used to talk about waiting for someone to die so she could get a room in the nursing home.  She was in her mid-nineties. At a certain age it seemed as if death became a part of everyday life. However knowing that doesn’t diminish the feelings of sadness and loss one experiences after the death.

 

Each loss has a different level of significance based on the relationship with that person.  You may be closer with your neighbor that you have known only a few years than with your uncle who lives out of town. You may be estranged with one family member and extremely connected with another. Allow for differences and accept the varying grief reactions that occur with each death.

 

Remember to:


  • Check frequently that you have balance in your life.
  • Be gentle with yourself.  Although you may often feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that what you are going through is normal.
  • Educate yourself and become familiar with the normal experiences of grieving.
  • Remember that grieving takes time. Allow yourself to heal at your own pace.
  •  Grieve each loss and talk about each death separately.



Grieving many losses concurrently can result in feeling overwhelmed or numb.  You do not need to grieve alone. Reach out to family, friends or health care professionals or support groups to assist you on your grief journey.

 

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 more columns by Diane Snyder Cowan here



©2013 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.

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