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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  

On my way home from my grandfather’s last evening, I finally returned my mother-in-law’s call from earlier that morning. I had forgotten. She wasn’t upset, she simply asked, “How are you?” 

 

“Other than the fact that I have a urinary tract infection, my grandfather is dying and my best friends are moving to Kansas, I’m fine,” I responded. We laughed, until my eyes moistened and the enormity of what I’d just said hit me.

 

The truth is, I’m not fine, really. It stinks. Each of these events on their own would be a lot to deal with but together, it feels a little like waking up and learning I was just hit by a truck. 

 

So now, I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep, hoping that writing will be the salve that soothes. I’m looking for the message, what I’m supposed to learn in this challenging time. Maybe the ‘learning’ has something to do with allowing myself to Just Be—to JUST BE human, imperfect, hurting. What I’m most aware of is a feeling of numbness. Every waking thought seems consumed by the ever-present ache of loss. 

 

Last night, I slipped and hit my ankle on the stairs. It was the last straw. I wept, simply, letting go. These weren’t the long, deep sobs that I know are coming when my dear PaSid passes on. Rather, it was the gentle tears of feeling overwhelmed, of fatigue, exhaustion, feeling the weight of the ‘reality’ of what is happening in my life right now.

 

My kids rushed to my side. “Let me help you, mommy,” my daughter said. “Let me carry that,” said my son. I settled into my chair in the bedroom as one by one they came to me, held me quietly and let me cry. 

 

As a coach I am trained to question that word: reality. My job is often about helping people see their ‘reality’ from a different perspective, one that opens up new options to move forward. It can be an incredibly powerful tool and I have seen it create seismic changes in people’s lives.

 

And yet, I’ve also learned there are times my clients need to choose a perspective that is not “all rosy.” Sometimes they have to make the uncomfortable choice to sit and force themselves to look at life’s discomforts, to live in limbo and deal with something that is truly out of their control before clarity can enter. Sometimes they have to give themselves permission to be sad, hurt, scared—not to stay there permanently, but to honor the role those feelings play in their emotional lives. 

 

There is much more to life than getting it right, succeeding, growing, challenging yourself, experiencing only feelings of happiness and joy. There is also a dark underbelly that is sad, hurt, unsuccessful, stuck, doing-the-best-we-can-and-still-failing, hurting. 

 

Tonight, I cried and let my children comfort me. They were amazing—compassionate, loving, sensitive, concerned. They were everything I would want my children to be with a friend in need. 

 

I know some people believe in being strong, in holding it all together so kids don’t know what is going on. But the truth is, they always know. Kids are masters at reading between the lines, at understanding what is meant when they do not yet understand the vocabulary, at interpreting meaning from tone and body language. Kids know.

 

So this morning, I am learning that my suffering is a teaching moment for my children. As I return to the sleeplessness of my bed, I go a little lighter, with a bit more clarity. I can’t change the circumstances of my life right now. My grandfather is going to die (at 102, God bless him) and my best friend is going to move away. 

 

I am choosing to teach my children how to deal with all of this. I am choosing to allow my children to show me compassion and love. I am choosing to let them see that this pain is temporary, and sometimes worth taking the time to experience fully. I am teaching them not to run away from intense emotions.

 

I am choosing to be human and let my humanness teach my children about life.

 

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life Coach and a regular columnist for ShareWIK.com. Visit her on the web at touchstonecoaching.com.



 

More Elaine Taylor-Klaus articles, click here.


 

 

© ShareWiK Media Group, LLC 2009

Dec 27

The title papers arrived in a plain white envelope from the tax assessor’s office. It was official: the sunny-yellow brick bungalow I had purchased was mine. I had chosen it because of its quaint character—its white porch overlooking 100-year-old live oak trees and its cozy living room with a fireplace. 

 

I felt it held the promise of a new life—a fresh start—for my daughter, Chloe and me. Five months prior to this, my husband, Will had died after battling a rare sinus cancer. A few weeks later, I gave birth to Chloe. 

 

Since Will’s death, she and I had lived in too many places—the town home my late husband and I bought shortly before she was born, my best friend’s beach house in Los Angeles, a corporate apartment after I returned to Atlanta and now, this house. 

 

I wanted this to be our last move for a while. 

 

I ripped the envelope open and was absent-mindedly reviewing the papers when I noticed how the county office listed my name: Carol Lin Robinson, a single, unmarried woman. Widowed. 

 

The words cascaded off the page: Single. Unmarried. Woman. Widowed. 

 

I immediately visualized a government clerk run amok, unstoppable in his urge to formalize the document and declare a gossipy bit of news, yelling through the halls of government and announcing, “A Single, unmarried, woman, widowed bought the bungalow on Montgomery Ferry Drive!” 

 

It made me wonder why, when Will and I purchased our last home together, the county clerk didn’t list us as Happy. Healthy. Married. A Couple? 

 

Why not be consistent? 

 

My title at work was “CNN Anchor/Correspondent” and it carried with it certain beneficial assumptions that I never took very seriously. But in the shadow of my loss, I realized that, for better or worse, titles determine how society responds to you. 

 

As a CNN anchor, people returned my calls, admired my accomplishments and assumed, incorrectly, that I was lucky. The day Fulton County summed up my life in four lonely, unfortunate words was the day I felt, for the first time in my adult life, diminished. 

 

Professionally, I was still a CNN anchor. Privately, though, I was now just a woman to be pitied. It was a crushing blow. 

 

A few weeks later, my pride was put to the test. The deadline to file for a local homeowners’ tax deduction was looming, which meant I had to dig the title papers out of my drawer and hand-carry them down to the county office. My breath caught in my throat when I realized I had to stand there under the fluorescent lights, surrounded by strangers as the clerk read my new title: Single. Unmarried. Woman. Widowed. 

 

My heart sank. 

 

As I handed the clerk my documents, I saw her eyes move across the pages and pause briefly over the dreaded words that followed my name. 

 

She glanced up and caught my eye. And then I saw it, the unmistakable question everyone asks: What happened? 

 

I wanted to tell her not to pity me because even if I could have foreseen the tragic outcome, I still would’ve married my late husband, Will all over again. He was the love of my life. He made me laugh, made my coffee in the morning and made love to me at night. 

 

I wanted to tell the clerk that I am not “Single” because I am not alone. I have my daughter, my friends and my family—all of whom continue to stand by me. 

 

I choose to believe I am not “Unmarried” because I wear my wedding band in defiance of the cancer that took my husband. Yes, I believe that because it keeps the tears from drowning my hopes that this new title—single, unmarried, woman, widowed—isn’t the end of my story, but merely the first chapter in the rest of my life. 

 

I didn’t say any of this to the clerk. She lingered, and for a moment, I thought she was going to say something. 

 

She didn’t. 

 

A part of me wished she had, so I could tell her the title papers she was holding belonged to a little yellow bungalow that I was determined to make my new home, a happy place where love would grow, songs would be sung and play dates would be had. 

 

Please don’t feel sorry for me, I almost pleaded. 

 

In a flash, she returned to her role as county clerk, someone who processes paper in order to move people through to the next bureaucratic step. 

 

“You can take these to window number five,” she instructed. 

 

As I walked away, I heard her yell, “Next!” And that was that. Did I really expect to find empathy at the Fulton County Tax Assessors office? 

 

On my way back to my little yellow bungalow, stuck in downtown Atlanta traffic, it occurred to me, that for all that has happened to me in the last few months—giving birth, losing a husband, returning to work, buying a home—I had earned a few titles unknown to the Fulton County Tax Assessor: I was a Mother. Survivor. And let’s throw in Optimist just for fun! 

 

As the rush hour traffic started to clear, I realized I was suddenly moving faster toward where I wanted to go. 

 



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  

Dec 27

Have you been laid off, or are you changing careers? Or are you dealing with the loss of a loved one? If so, let me ask you this: what do you need to let go of?

If you think my question is ridiculous, you’re not alone. When I ask my clients this question, they sometimes act perplexed or angry, as though I’m the one who’s lost something, namely my common sense and decency! Isn’t the answer obvious, they sometimes huff. If they lost their job, they need to let go of that. If their husband died, they need to let go of the fact that he’s no longer coming back. Duh!

But it’s not that simple. What I’m really talking about is this: when something in our lives ends, we need to let go of and grieve what we’ve lost. And that might involve letting go of a number of different things.

In his bestselling book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, internationally-known speaker, author, and consultant William Bridges describes it this way: “Transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way that things are now.” What he says is true, whether you’ve lost your job, moved to another city, started caring for an older relative, or have given birth to a new baby.

So, if you were laid off from your job, or changed careers, you may need to let go of your identity, or at least the label you used to assume, as an attorney or accountant at a large firm. You may also need to let go of certain beliefs or attitudes before you can make a clean beginning. But those “somethings” you need to let go of cannot be prescribed, because they are different for each of us. Only you know what you need to let go of.

I’m not suggesting that this process is easy. In fact, it can be quite a struggle. I’ve certainly found it more than a little challenging to let go of my certain somethings, even when I’ve moved across town or changed from one job to another. And dealing with a full-blown career change? Well, that felt incredibly disorienting, sometimes.

But letting go is important, because if we don’t let go and grieve our losses when we lose our job or get divorced, or change careers or deal with any life transition, we often carry our old “baggage” with us into that next new whatever. And when that happens, we run the risk of repeating old patterns in life (e.g. getting involved with the same sort of partner who still isn’t a good fit for us) or carrying unresolved feelings into our new relationships and jobs.

So the question is what do YOU need to let go of?

And what’s the toughest thing about letting that go?

Are you facing a difficult life transition such as job loss or dealing with the death of a loved one? Are you struggling to keep your head above water as a primary caregiver of an older adult? Or would you like to thrive as a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, rather than merely surviving?

If so, I’d love to support you on your challenging life journey. As a certified professional coach, I help clients navigate difficult transitions, encouraging them to see the treasures buried deep within their “tragedies.” Visit my website at http://ellen-brown.com/ to sign up for an introductory session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach in Cleveland, Ohio who works with clients, by phone, all over the country, to help them overcome their challenges with courage, hope and optimism. She is also a regular contributor to ShareWIK.com.


More Ellen Brown 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

Jan 31

In our culture, death is personified as a stealthy stalker, to be avoided at all costs. So it’s no wonder that many of us hate thinking about death, let alone making friends with this dark and devious character. But what if we COULD make friends with death, or at least make peace with this final life transitions?

For some inexplicable reason, I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of death, and since my beloved father-in-law recently died after suffering from Alzheimer’s and terminal cancer, the topic has definitely been on my mind, lately. 

So I was excited when my recently offered a workshop on yoga and death.  What was even more inspiring was that the room was packed with people interested in learning about the topic. When our instructor opened up the workshop by telling us she was going to talk about making friends with death, I was SO THERE.  Sometimes it’s just refreshing to hear someone talk about a topic that so few people can stand to discuss.

I won’t attempt to cover the finer points of the workshop here, but one of the biggest takeaways for me was this: making friends with death is a choice. If we live our lives in the present moment, in an honest, giving, gentle way that’s in service to other people, we’ll have fewer regrets and less trepidation about death when the end is near. And if we come to know who we truly are and become more evolved, spiritually speaking, we will face this final transition with far less fear.

I don’t mean to oversimplify this topic or imply that anyone SHOULD feel this way or that about death. I, personally, just like the idea of talking about death and making peace with this final life transition, since we’re all going to die at some point --whether we like it or not.

While I don’t plan to die anytime soon, I’ve had friends and relatives who have lost their lives to terminal illnesses, heart attacks and auto accidents when they were in their prime. So I know there are no guarantees that I’ll live a long life …

For me, making friends with death is a process, and part of that journey involves exploration and reflection. Toward that end, I recently, began reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a classic spiritual text packed with inspiring stories and nuggets of wisdom.

I imagine that that exploration might take awhile. So far, I’m still thinking about inviting death to the proverbial party.

While I’d like to believe that if I were diagnosed with a terminal disease tomorrow I’d handle it with grace, I truthfully have no idea how I’d react. Maybe I’d be as terrified as the next person, fighting for my life even after all medical solutions had been exhausted.

But I hope not. When my time comes, I hope I can let go and be grateful for leading a rich and fulfilling life. Not perfect. Not without its flaws. But pretty darn good!

So how about YOU? When you think about death, what thoughts or feelings emerge for you?

How has the death of a friend or loved one changed your perspective on death?

How would you approach life differently, if you were to make friends with death?

I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Are you dealing with a serious illness, the death of a loved one, or another life transition? If so, I’d love to help you navigate this challenging transition. Visit my website at http://ellen-brown.com/ to sign up for an introductory session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach in Cleveland, Ohio who works with clients, by phone, all over the country, to help them overcome their challenges with courage, hope and optimism. She is also a regular contributor to ShareWIK.com.

 

More Ellen Brown articles, click here.

© ShareWiK Media Group, LLC 2009

Mar 28

If you have a friend or colleague who recently lost their job or is dealing with the loss of a loved one, do you listen when they talk about their feelings? Or do you quickly change the subject? I ask you this because in our culture, grief makes many people feel uncomfortable. And many of us don’t know what to say when people express their sadness or anger.


Recently, one of my clients told me an all too common story about the way people deal with sadness. While she was having lunch with one of her closest friends and telling her how hard it was to celebrate the holidays without her Dad, who had died a couple months earlier, her friend -- instead of listening -- abruptly changed the subject. My client felt angry and confused, and wanted to say something to her friend about how she felt, but didn’t want to “sound like a crybaby.”


My intent is not to judge people for the way they react to grief, but to encourage us to explore new options that allow our loved ones to feel heard and understood, by allowing them to express their feelings rather than shutting them down.


If you’re wondering why it’s important to express your feelings, here’s what the authors of the Grief Recovery Handbook have to say on the subject:  “When we bottle up feelings caused by loss, it is the same as starting the timer of a time bomb. In the beginning the bomb ticks softly. The ticks represent problems, which are experienced by grievers who don’t know how to successfully grieve. It’s as if each one of these signs of trouble are ticks of the bomb progressively getting closer to exploding.”


I don’t know about you, but I’m in favor of dismantling the “bomb” by helping people release their feelings, rather than waiting for the bomb to explode.


So, what can we say that allows people to open up rather than closing down? Here are some possible words to consider using, if someone is dealing with a recent loss:


·      How are you doing since (fill in the name of the loved one) died or since you lost your job?

·      If you want to talk, I’m interested in listening.


·      I can’t imagine what you must be going through.


·      I know this has been a difficult time for you (only say this if you know that that’s the case).


·      I’m here for you, if you want to talk about it.


Sometimes, when a friend tells you she’s having a hard time dealing with her loss, simply saying “I’m so sorry” can give her the space to talk about what she’s experiencing. But the trick is to give her the space and listen, without saying something that presumes you DO know how she’s feeling, or how she should feel. While I know that many of us are trying to make the person who is grieving feel better, by saying things like “you should feel grateful because he’s in a better place,” these phrases often shut the person down, making him believe that his feelings are wrong, or worse yet, that it isn’t okay for him to talk about his feelings.


Since many of us have trouble dealing with death or any kind of loss, and have misguided beliefs about grieving and how long it should take, we can’t expect ourselves to become experts at supporting people overnight. But if we are willing to sit with our own uncomfortable feelings when we witness deep emotion in our loved ones, we have a better chance of helping them heal.


How do you respond when people start discussing a recent loss in their life?


Are you dealing with a recent loss? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at http://ellen-brown.com/  to sign up for an introductory session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach in Cleveland, Ohio who works with clients, by phone, all over the country, to help them overcome their challenges with courage, hope and optimism. She is also a regular contributor to ShareWIK.com.

 

More Ellen Brown articles, click here.

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Mar 21

It would be simpler to face crises one at a time, but often life presents challenges in a bundle.  An earthquake in Japan was bad enough.  A tsunami on top of that was unheard of.  And a nuclear disaster at the same time is too much for anyone to handle.  “Enough,” we say, as we throw up our hands.  “Dayenu!”


While these are major disasters on a global scale, many of us will face personal disasters that will change our lives forever.  Multiple disasters on a personal level, sometimes referred to as a perfect storm, may feel too difficult to bear, challenge our core beliefs and send us reeling.

Consider this chain of events:


First…you fell off your bike and hit your head on the pavement.

Typical symptoms of a concussion may include confusion, lack of concentration, dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears and headaches.


Second…you began to lose interest in your usual activities.

If you are unable to find pleasure in activities you previously enjoyed, is this a result of your concussion or a symptom of depression?


Third…you feel restless, unfilled and unhappy.

It is often difficult to identify the source of a mood or anxiety disorder and medication does not always provide immediate relief from the painful symptoms.  “Am I confused because of the concussion,” you might ask, “or experiencing a personality change due to depression?”


Fourth…you have an extramarital affair.

You have the feeling that something is lacking in your life.  You are bored.  You have a need to change your life.  You want to escape.  Do you credit this to your concussion, depression, your anxiety, or to a mid-life crisis? 


Your spouse senses that something is not right.  You are touchy and easy to anger.  Your spouse is concerned about your mood change.  You are feeling out of sync in your marriage.


You want to get out of pain.  You are not able to identify your problem or the perfect solution.  You find solace in an affair.  “What am I doing?” you ask, “and why am I doing this?”


When a lack of intimacy in the marriage comes face to face with physical or emotional instability, the result can be devastating and the marriage may suffer.  The challenge here is to determine what is really happening to you.  The key is in identifying the source of your life’s malfunction. 


Your perfect storm may be made up of a multiple of disastrous events.  The outcome can send your life into a very different direction.


The perfect storm passes.  We take stock of our lives and our new situation.  As we survey the destruction we face the task, as will the citizens of Japan, of healing and rebuilding.  This will come with painful feelings of loss.  Those who will live with anger, blame and denial will continue to feel the pain.  Those who will face the new day with hope, compassion and acceptance will find a way to rebuild, embrace the future and enjoy their new lives.

 

Susanne Katz is the author of “A Woman’s Guide to Managing a Mid-Life Divorce,” and 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

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

   

       

 

 

 

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

 

 

Here comes Thanksgiving.  This is the holiday that focuses on giving thanks where loving families celebrate by coming together. After all, the television and media bombard us with this truth. Hallmark movies embrace the returning vet or the estranged brother, and bickering couples always seem to re-unite.


And yet, you’re not up for all this brouhaha.


Do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to be. Many people have a hard time with holidays in general let alone when they are bereaved. When you are grieving the death of a loved one or caring for someone with a chronic or terminal illness, you might not feel ready for festivities and celebrations. 


The media and retail industry constantly promote the wonder of the season and folks walk around dressed up in holiday regalia. You might be feeling a bit angry. And while anger is a big part of grief, you might feel extra angry at this time – towards your loved one, towards the disease, towards the media, the healthcare industry and even towards yourself for feeling the way you do.


Like Sally from Schultz’s Good Grief: Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving says …Why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving? What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us at school. 


You too might be asking yourself:  What do I have to be thankful for this year?


Giving thanks and gratitude might seem like crazy concepts in the midst of grief.


You are in the process of becoming a different person than you were last year. Perhaps you are now a widow or a motherless daughter. You may be adjusting to this new role, which brings different priorities, different benefits and different challenges. What you were thankful for last year might not have the same meaning for you this year.


I encourage you to think about how you have changed and what you have learned since the death of your loved one. You may want to find a way to give thanks and express gratitude as many bereaved persons find this to be healing.


In a previous column I wrote about journaling as a way to manage grief. You may want to consider a gratitude journal where you can list or write about things that you can be thankful for even though your loved one isn’t physically here. You can include the things you acquired directly from your loved one as well as your new perspective as a grieving person. You can write about lessons learned, recipes, values, warmth and security, love, walks in the woods, previous adventures and new adventures.


You have changed and grown.


Sometimes, taking a step back and jotting it down can put it in a different perspective and the memories can continue moving from bittersweet to sweet.



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

 

 

 

 

On the evening news recently, there was a feature story about a five-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome.  He is a clothing model for Nordstrom’s and other high-end fashion stores. In addition to being completely adorable, his parents commented on how completely “normal” he is. Children and adults with intellectual disabilities are indeed normal and share all the feelings, wishes, and desires as do people without disabilities. This includes grief and loss.



No two persons experience a disability the same way just as no two persons experience loss the same way. The personality of the person, their support systems and life experiences determine their grief reaction and how best to help meet their needs.



Persons with intellectual disabilities experience a number of losses that often go unrecognized. Most do not get a driver’s license, get married or have children. Some live with their parents into adulthood, and when their aging parents die they may need to move into a new home, which becomes yet another loss. In addition, many people with intellectual disabilities experience a history of disenfranchised grief. He doesn’t understand death, don’t worry about him.



Communication problems contribute to this misunderstanding.  There may be expressive and receptive language limitations. Feelings are often expressed through changes in behavior such as “acting out” or withdrawing.  Helping the person identify and express feelings may be challenging. Modeling feelings and/or utilizing art and music for self-expression can be beneficial. 



Attending the funeral and/or visitation (even if special arrangements need to be made to go early or late), participating in rituals if possible and visiting the cemetery aid the grieving process.  When death is impending, anticipation and preparation through looking at pictures or a field trip to the cemetery or funeral home can be highly effective.



For persons with intellectual disabilities, the grief journey may be different but the road is the same.  Support and understanding by normalizing and validating their feelings is just as important in assisting them to successfully move through their  journey as it is for everyone else. 



To read more about hospice, grief and this population, here is a link to a recent article Finding Their Voice: Helping the Person with Intellectual Disabilities Grieve that I co-authored with Rex Allen, MA, Grief Support Services Manager, Providence Hospice of Seattle in National Hospice and Palliative Care’s NewsLine Magazine (December 2011).



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 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

This is a hard one to write.  I could say I was too busy or have nothing new to offer on this subject.  But truthfully, my hesitation about facing this column is that words feel inadequate, hollow, empty.


All I want to do is tell you about my cousin Mark, present you with a slide show of his big life, create a documentary, share a thousand stories. But I only have 1,000 words and this is about what it’s like to lose someone we love.  


How do we bear the pain?  How does it change us? How can we thrive and not just survive?  

So there’ll be no bullet points, no “Top Ten Tips on How to Cope with Loss.” I’m just going to share my reactions and experiences over the year that followed the worst day of my life. 


Driving home from work on March 16, 2011, my cellphone rang. My mother was sobbing: an airplane crash, my cousin Mark in the plane, he was dead. 


I’ll never erase the sound of anguish in her voice as she cried those horrific words.  A sick feeling emanated from the pit of my stomach, crawled up the back of my throat. I left my body. This was not happening.  Sweet Mark, whom I’d known and loved like a little brother since he was born… 


I don’t remember the drive home.  At the house, in a daze I sat at the computer and Googled “plane crash Longbeach.” And there it was: scenes of wreckage, a plume of smoke, witness reports…then the victims were identified and there was Mark’s name and his smiling face.   This bad dream was only getting worse.  


Mark and five buddies were on a small plane headed to Salt Lake City for a ski trip.  Immediately after takeoff, the plane banked and plunged to earth.  Only one man survived.  


Mark was only 44, a gifted athlete, a kind and generous man, a devoted father to his three teenage kids.  He had made an indelible impact in his community.  His motto was “Go Big or Go Home.”  His memorial service included a bike ride, a beautiful outdoor service and a Hawaiian paddle out ceremony with hundreds of people on surf-boards wearing leis. 

 

For weeks afterwards, my mind flashed with images, which triggered a fresh torrent of tears.  Alternating between images of the crash itself, was the gut-wrenching pain I felt for those who’d be most affected by his loss on a daily basis. I’d picture Mark’s mom losing her beloved son, his kids who’d experience a gaping hole in their lives. I’d imagine Mark’s two younger brothers and the indelible bond of this threesome since losing their Dad when they were kids.  I’d cry for Mark’s wife and the responsibility she’d feel to be strong for their kids.  I grieved that he would be missing from our family gatherings, that my kids wouldn’t experience a life-long relationship with their uncle. 


Mark was such a large presence that he seemed invincible.  I always felt that our family was blessed with good fortune, but deep down I feared that one day our “luck” would run out.  Mark’s death was so sudden, violent and unexpected that it shoved my previous world view off its axis.  I never imagined that THIS would be the unforeseen tragedy that the Universe had in store for our family.   

  

In those first few months I wondered what other tragedies were waiting around the corner. I started imagining horrific scenes of tragic accidents, deaths and losses happening to those I loved.  Anticipating worst case scenarios, my mind was trying to ward off death.  


Those first few months were an emotional roller coaster filled with flashes of pain, fear, sadness, disbelief, and then spells of denial.  But each morning I’d wake up, slapped by the harsh truth that Mark was really gone.   

 

As the denial wore off, I became more aware of a profound and deep sense of the fragility of life.  Even though I felt more vulnerable, the panic subsided.  While the pain and sadness were still very present, a new sense of peace was taking its place.     


Eventually more life-energy returned, which I experienced as a deep connection to Mark. He had a “Go-for-it,” “No-Excuses” philosophy of life.  Connecting to his drive, I found myself saying yes to new projects and no to things that didn’t feel like a valuable use of my time.  I took on new challenges with renewed optimism. 

  

I also started to experience each moment more fully.  I’ve become more present with my children, aware that in the blink of an eye they’ll be leaving home.  And because I know that at any moment I could be taken from them, I fill their love cups to the brim, pouring every drop of me into them.  I take extra time to focus on them, listen to them, touch them.  I’ve become more appreciative of all of my relationships and try to infuse more love into my interactions with others. 

  

I have also found myself feeling greater empathy to anyone experiencing grief or loss.  I now know from the inside how hard it is to navigate this world with a huge ball of pain in your heart.  


I still cry a lot in my car listening to the radio. Two popular songs can trigger a flood of tears: “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry and “Live Like We’re Dying” by Kris Allen. Rather than turn the station when these songs come on, I cry without regard to the concern of people in the adjacent vehicle.  The other place I weep is at my computer.  I click on certain Facebook pages- Mark’s page, his kids’, his wife’s, his brothers’, his mothers.’  Their words and pictures help me feel connected to the community of people who love, miss and were impacted by Mark’s life.  This alleviates some of the loneliness of the grief.  My heart needs these Tear Releases.  It doesn’t feel right when I go too long without crying. 


Near the anniversary of Mark’s death, my family flew to Salt Lake City to ski, embarking on the trip that Mark never got to complete. I wondered if I’d have a panic attack on the plane, but instead a feeling of calm washed over me. As we flew into Salt Lake City, a bright moon rose over the Rocky mountains.  “Hello, Mark.”  


I felt his presence traveling up the lifts, surveying the gorgeous craggy mountains and watching daring skiers carve turns on the off-trail runs.  Mark would’ve been one of those guys hiking with his skis on his back, then whooping with joy as he gracefully dominated the mountain.   


I stuck to the groomed trails and wore a helmet for the first time in 45 years of skiing (no more illusions of invincibility).  I warned my boys, “Be careful!” and caught my breath as I watched them ski away into the woods.    

        

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.

 

For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.



I don’t have time to grieve. My day consists of getting up and ready for work, getting the kids ready for school, walking the dog, taking the kids to school, driving to work and working eight hours, picking up the kids, walking the dog (who was my husband’s, by the way), making dinner and figuring out how to unclog the sink. If I only had one hour to grieve! 

        

This young widow thinks that if she had one hour to grieve, she would be okay. Grief doesn’t work that way. However, grieving in doses may help. For some, the dual process model of coping with grief is beneficial.  This model is based on the work of Stroebe and Schut (1999). It identifies two types of stressors: loss-oriented and restoration-oriented.  Loss-oriented is working through the tasks of grief.  Restoration-oriented is coping with daily life stressors and changes that have come about as the result of death.  This could include learning new skills such as balancing the household budget and car maintenance.  The bereaved person moves back and forth between confronting the tasks of grief and avoiding the tasks of grief.  This model also supports the need for dosing out grief. Taking a break from grief can be a healthy aspect of coping.

 

So, setting aside an hour (repeatedly) can be helpful. Or, some women grieve intensely in their car. They don’t want their kids to see them crying. Then they pull themselves together when they pull into the driveway or parking lot.


Grieving in doses can be positive. There is movement between coping with the loss and moving forward. The bereaved person is adjusting to a new role (from spouse to widow) and possibly learning new skills. This in itself is hard work especially while one is reeling with sadness and yearning for their deceased loved one. 

 

Returning to work can provide a break from your grief. Don’t worry, it will be there when you get home.  And a wave of grief can certainly come up unexpectedly at work. Try taking a 15-20 minute break or lunch period to go out to your car to cry and grieve for a short period of time. Whether it’s the course of any day or over a week, you can move between loss and restoration activities. This approach to grief normalizes the varying responses and uniqueness of each person’s circumstance.

 

It’s important to consider that everyone grieves differently and there is no cookie cutter approach for coping.  Reach out to others either online or in person for support and ideas. Seek professional help as needed.   Remember, you do not need to grieve alone. 

 

Source: Stroebe M.,  Schut H. The dual process model of coping with bereavement: rational and description. Death studies. 1999;23: 197-224.

 

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

 


Thanksgiving is right around the corner. UGH! It used to be my favorite holiday but that has changed over the past few years. My children have migrated to opposite coasts and their absence in the house is palpable.  


This year, the first thing that comes to mind is …..Thanksgiving is here, that means it’s been a year since my dad died.  So now, my kids and the grandkids will be absent and so will my father. UGH!  I would really just like to sleep through the whole weekend.

I take time to pause and reflect. Did I change this past year? Did I move through the tasks of grief okay? Was I transformed?  Did I do the grief thing correctly?!  After all, I am the director of a large bereavement center.

 

It’s a good thing that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I’m pretty sure I might have failed if there was a test. I have definitely changed. I am now a member of a club that I didn’t want to join. I approach the world differently. My sensitivity to others who have experienced the death of a loved one, especially a parent, has been heightened.  I relate differently to people. My spirituality has taken another dimension and I have found parts of my faith rituals to be comforting and validating.  I have taken the love from my relationship with my dad from a physical one to one that I hold in my heart.  These have been the gifts of my grief.

 

My dad also gave me several gifts. In addition to concrete things like piano lessons and college tuition, he passed on the values of family, generosity, education, and service to others. Despite our often tumultuous relationship, we were very much alike and loved each other deeply. There really is plenty to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

 

Consider the growth and changes that come with your grief as gifts. Think about the gifts from your deceased love one….the hugs, the love, the long walks and talks, and the lessons learned. And if you are not at this point in your grief, remember there is no test, no right or wrong way to grieve. You might just want to crawl under the blanket and mindlessly watch the parade. You can pick any day to be your day of giving thanks.

 

Remember you do not have to grieve alone. Look for comfort and support with family, friends, or a professional provider.

 

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


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Many people think about making resolutions in the new year. This is usually a firm determination to do or not do something. Lose weight, exercise more and spend less are but a few examples of resolutions that are more often than not, put to rest by the end of January.


Online, you can find many definitions of resolution.

 

In chemistry, it is the process of separating or reducing something into parts. It is the fineness of detail in images and the picture on our flat screen TV. In medicine, it is when symptoms or abnormal conditions subside or disappear.  In law, it’s a court decision. In music, it’s the progression of a dissonant tone to a consonant one or how a musical phrase ends.

 

In grief work resolution includes adjusting to the loss. Part of adjusting to the loss is making meaning of the changes that have resulted as part of the death. Consider making New Year’s resolutions that will help you find meaning as you adjust to life without your loved one.

 

Here are some questions to ponder:

 

§  What have you lost?

§  What do you have left?

§  What are you going to do now?

§  What is becoming of the person you used to be? Who are you now?

§  What lessons have you learned?

§  What self-discoveries have you made?

§  What was important to you before the loss in comparison to what is important now?

 

As you search to find meaning in loss and revise your life story, you may begin to make some sense of what has happened. You may find a new continuity that bridges the past with the future in a way that makes sense to you.

Wishing you peace in 2013.

 

Additional resources

http://www.griefhealingblog.com/2010/01/resolutions-for-new-year.html

http://stories.sharewik.com/blogs/item/new-years-resolutions-for-the-grieving

http://www.friendgrief.com/2012/01/new-years-resolutionsabout-friend-grief.html

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. 


©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Jan 07

How does the death of someone we love impact our lives? While January makes us re-evaluate our goals, death may ask us to redefine our lives. 


I view death as a lens through which we can see things from a different perspective. In a vulnerable state from the loss of someone you love, life seems to temporarily stand still, even when expected. How could it happen? How do you go forward? What does it mean? What does anything mean?  


It makes us stop and focus on what’s important, to re-evaluate. Its impact has the power to change our whole direction.


The reality of a finite time with a beginning and an end can nudge us to come to terms with what we are doing in our lives. Are we making a difference or just going through the motions? Are we focused on our own gratification or something bigger? 


Loss can be a catalyst for change. It’s a wakeup call, a painful gift reminding us that we are here for a reason, one each of us must discover for ourselves. The rawness of grief, although painful, is one of the most powerful states in which you can find yourself. It holds the power of the past, the present, the love you feel and the pain of losing an important part of what has defined who you are. It jars everything you thought you knew and makes you question what are you really here for? 


I have found that during times of extreme loss, there is an opportunity for accelerated change. It allows us, for just a moment, to get a glimpse from a different vantage point. Perhaps this is part of the gift a loved one leaves behind… the opportunity to see your life in a different way, to do something more, maybe something important.


After 50, money is not the measuring stick it once was. Don’t get me wrong, money is great, but it’s not enough. As we move into our second half, making a difference in other’s lives may make the difference we are looking for in our own. 


Looking for meaning in what seems so hard to accept forces us to move beyond our daily schedule of things to do. For me, it was like the whole world stopped. It felt like someone hit the reset button and I was not the same person. I had to now live without my father.


I began to write. Before long, I was developing a system for other caregivers. Fueled by the pain of his death, I discovered a passion for connecting with others who are going through what I went through. 


The hardship of losing my father turned out to be his gift to me. 


Thinking about death might change your life.


Author Lee Lambert, CEO of Lee Lambert Cares, empowers family caregivers to know what to do and when to do it, so that they can experience the simple joy of living life normally while caring for a loved one. Visit her at www.leelambertcares.com


Read more columns by Lee Lambert here

©2013 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



 


Many of us are aware that grief is a normal part of every loss we experience. Grief and loss can occur over time when caring for a loved one with dementia. With each loss, there can be a grief reaction. For many, these losses are not initially recognized at a cognitive level as grief, but are experienced at an emotional level through anxiety, sadness and depression. Increasing one’s awareness of anticipatory grief will not only help to identify this feeling, but also provide interventions, which may make one’s journey a little easier.

 

The term anticipatory grief can have several meanings.  It may have a specific focus (the impending death of an individual) and be more inclusive of secondary losses. 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. There may not necessarily be a terminal diagnosis.

 

Simply put, 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). 

 

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 nor is it post-death grief pushed ahead in time. 

 

In caring for a person with dementia, you may experience grief over the knowledge that your loved one has a disease that is progressing and is communicating less and less. Despite the inability to communicate, it is important to remember that your loved one is still present. Focusing on the person your loved one is versus the losses that have incurred may help lessen the grief that you are experiencing.

 

Consider managing anticipatory grief through legacy and reflection techniques.  Remembering and telling old stories, looking at old pictures and listening to favorite pieces of music can often touch the person with memory loss. Long term memories, significant events and feelings of significance can be triggered. Good memories can be fuel for conversation and the stories can be passed on, keeping the spirit of the person alive for future generations. In addition, reminiscences often provide the person with memory loss with feelings of meaning and purpose. These reflections and legacies are a gift to those left behind.

 

The feelings of grief and loss experienced by those with dementia and their caregivers is not confined to the final stages of illness, but is experienced over the continuum of losses. While addressing the caregiver’s anticipatory grief does not negate the deep sadness he or she will experience at the time of the patient’s death, it may help the caregiver cope with the bereavement process. 

 

Please remember that you do not have to grieve alone. There are support groups and professional counselors available, as well as your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association http://www.alz.org/.

 

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



No two people experience a disability the same way just as no two people experience loss the same way. The personality of the person, their support systems and life experiences determine their grief reaction and how best to help meet their needs. 


Adults with special needs experience a number of losses that often go unrecognized. Most do not get a driver’s license, get married or have children. Some live with their parents into adulthood, and when their aging parents die it necessitates a move into a new setting. The adult has not only lost a loved one, but a home as well. Staffing changes in group homes may also be the source of unrecognized loss. In addition, housemates, staff or co-workers may die or move on leaving the adult isolated and grieving. 


In addition to these multiple losses, many adults with special needs experience a history of disenfranchised grief. People think that because of their limited cognitive skills or other disabilities they don’t understand death or experience the feelings of grief.  While this varies from person to person, the bottom line is that even if an adult with special needs does not understand the permanence of death, he or she knows that someone is missing. Something is different, something has changed. These losses need to be identified and normalized.  


Adults with special needs often have communication problems. There may be expressive and receptive language limitations. Feelings may be expressed through changes in behavior such as “acting out” or withdrawing.  It may be helpful to “communicate in segments of readiness - giving information, waiting for questions, then asking for understanding."


How can you best support an adult with special needs in their time of grief?

  • If death is impending, allow the adult to visit with the dying loved one.
  • Prior to the death, prepare the adult by looking at pictures or a taking a field trip to the cemetery or funeral home.
  • Allow the adult to attend the funeral or visitation even if special arrangements need to be made to go early or late.
  • After the death, offer the opportunity to participate in rituals and visit the cemetery as part of the grief process.
  • Model healthy and appropriate expressions of grief.
  • Utilize art and music for feeling expression.


We all grieve in our own way and in our own time. The same holds true for adults with special needs.  We can offer support and understanding by normalizing and validating their feelings as they move through their 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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