September 9, 2017

"Some future somewhere is floating on down" "

Your Threads Have Come Undone: A Letter to a Grieving Husband

I did not know you. I did not know your wife. All I know is your love story ended long before you were ready, and now you live in a story unfolding. Like a tapestry...your threads have come undone. I know the hopelessness of holding on, of letting go.... 

From somewhere in the high heavens, the places I could not see, far beyond my gaze, there was a future floating down. I was alive, feet on the earth, so I could not outrun that future and slowly it covered me up.  There is, my dear friend, in the heart of every living being, the will to go on.

For all the dark days ahead, for all the love story you’ve lived, the lives you’ve loved, a spark of light, a hope for life grows stronger day by day, night by long night.  You will find the strength you need to continue putting your feet, one in front of the other, firmly on the earth. Some future somewhere is floating on down.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:50 AM | Permalink

August 16, 2017

"Every day, at six o'clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave stays there all night"

Capitan the German shepherd has stood by its owner's grave for TEN YEARS

Capitan the German shepherd has been standing vigil at owner Miguel Guzmán's grave side in Argentina ever since he passed away in 2006.  And it seems the 15-year-old dog intends to remain faithful to his last, as he continues his ritual despite being almost totally blind and barely able to walk. Graveyard workers, who now care for 15-year-old Capitan, say he is 'waiting until he can be reunited' with his owner.

 Capitan's Vigil 10 Years

The dog's vigil began the day after Mr Guzmán's funeral, when he went missing from the family home in Cordoba. Mr Guzmán's wife and son launched a search for the dog, eventually locating him a 45 minute drive away in the village where his owner had been taken to be buried. They say it is a mystery how Capitan found the grave, claiming he had not been taken there before. Damian tried several times to bring the animal home, but he always escaped and returned to the grave side, and they decided to leave him there.

The cemetery's director Hector Baccega remembers the day he first saw the dog. "He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master....During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o'clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave stays there all night.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 AM | Permalink

July 18, 2017

"You Can't Give In"

Monty Williams is an American retired professional basketball player and coach and vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs. He was the head coach for the New Orleans Hornets / Pelicans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 2010 until 2015. 

I rarely follow professional basketball, so what I know of him I learned only after the funeral of his wife Ingrid.


After reading, this article in Sports Illustrated, I've become mightily impressed.  Monty Williams Stares Down Tragedy 'You Can't Give In':

The death of Monty Williams's wife has taught the former NBA coach two lessons:
the beauty of forgiveness and the need to move on, no matter how painful that might be.
The morning of Feb. 9, 2016, began like so many others. Monty awoke at 7:00, still groggy from the previous night’s flight back from Phoenix, where the Thunder had beaten the Suns. Ingrid was already downstairs, conquering the morning. They’d been together 26 years, through five kids and eight cities, and he remained in awe of her. While many NBA wives contracted out the more mundane duties of parenting, Ingrid would not consider hiring a cook, a cleaner or a nanny. On game nights she bundled up the kids and brought them to the arena, but only after their homework was done. Then, at the end of the first quarter—sharp—they’d file out, because Dad may be an NBA coach, but nothing overrules bedtime.

On this morning Ingrid was out the door by 7:15, trailing five clean, neatly attired Williams children between the ages of five and 18, all of whom unfailingly addressed adults as Sir and Ma’am. She spent the rest of the day driving from this day care to that high school to this basketball practice to that doctor’s appointment, in addition to making her regular stops at the church and the center for inner-city kids, where she volunteered.

Later that night, Williams received the phone call. A little after 8 p.m., Ingrid was driving north on a four-lane road in downtown Oklahoma City in the family’s SUV with Faith, then 15; Janna, 13; and Micah. A sedan driven by a 52-year-old woman named Susannah Donaldson approached from the opposite direction. During the preceding hours, toxicology reports would show, Donaldson had taken a substantial amount of methamphetamine. Police also believe she may have been cradling a dog on her lap
Monty clung to the fact that the children all survived, and without life-threatening injuries. For a while it seemed Ingrid might too, but the following afternoon she slipped away, at the age of 44.

The Funeral

 Montywilliams Funeral Of His Wife-1

Monty focused on just making it through the memorial service, on Feb. 18. Then maybe he’d take the kids and bolt to some state where no one knew him. Wyoming. South Dakota. Just hunker down and disappear.
First, though, he had to survive the week. He wished Ingrid were there. She’d know what to do. She always had.
“Everybody’s praying for me and my family, which is right,” Monty said, left hand jammed in his pocket like an anchor. “But let us not forget that there were two people in this situation. And that family needs prayer as well.” He paused. “That family didn’t wake up wanting to hurt my wife.

“Life is hard. It is very hard. And that was tough, but we hold no ill will toward the Donaldson family, and we”—he made a circling motion with his right hand, indicating the whole room—“as a group, brothers united in unity, should be praying for that family because they grieve as well. So let’s not lose sight of what’s important.”

Not long after, he wrapped up with a simple message: “And when we walk away from this place today, let’s celebrate because my wife is where we all need to be. And I’m envious of that. But I’ve got five crumb-snatchers that I need to deal with.”

Monty paused as some in the crowd chuckled. “I love you guys for taking time out of your day to celebrate my wife. We didn’t lose her. When you lose something, you can’t find it. I know exactly where my wife is.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink

March 20, 2017

Ten days after his son was killed in an auto accident ....

From the Art of Manliness Eulogy for Alex:

Editor’s note: Ten days after his son, Alex, drove off a bridge and was killed in a car accident, Reverend William Sloane Coffin delivered the following sermon to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City.

I was first introduced to this sermon years ago in a college communications course, and I have thought of it with surprising regularity ever since. Its presence in my mind has been so frequent, especially recently after the loss of a dear friend, that I finally decided to share it here. Not because our diverse readership will agree with all of its theological underpinnings, but because I
think  it offers wise advice on what to say (and not say) when someone dies tragically, a poignant window on the human experience, and a lesson in the art of effective rhetoric (hence why we were discussing it in a communications class). It’s just one of those things I think is worth a read by all. Actually, it’s even more worth a listen; it’s considerably more powerful in the oral form in which it was delivered, and the audio can be accessed here (1/23/1983)
As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son — Alexander — who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family “fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky” — my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.

Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”:  “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength......

This is one of the most beautiful eulogies I have ever read.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

February 24, 2017

The Phone of the Wind

Dealing With Grief: Japanese Phone Booth Connects The Living And The Dead by Krissy Howard

Called "the phone of the wind," this device allows Japanese mourners to leave messages for those who died in the 2011 earthquake.

 Phone Of Wind2

Positioned atop a grassy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a phone booth in Otsuchi, Japan allows living people to call their dead relatives and loved ones. Called the “phone of the wind,” the disconnected rotary phone positioned inside a glass booth allows callers to send verbal messages to those they’ve lost, which the wind then carries away....Some enter in search of answers, others to express their longing. Many call just to check in, assuring their loved ones that they and those left behind are doing well.
After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which claimed the lives of more than 800 Otsuchi residents, the phone booth became a popular destination for residents and travelers from afar and has since welcomed more than 10,000 visitors in its nearly six years standing.

The value in telephoning the dead by Chris Kavanagh

The so-called ‘wind phone’ (kaze no denwa) is comprised of a simple disconnected rotary phone which is located in a white phone booth that overlooks the Pacific ocean.  The phone is owned by a 70 year old gardener named Itaru Sasaki who had installed the phone in his garden prior to the disaster in order to give him a private space to help him cope with the loss of his cousin....

The phone-booth was featured in a documentary by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK during the five year memorial of the tsunami and they managed to get permission from both the visitors and Sasaki to record and broadcast some of the conversations that people were having in the booth.  These recordings, with English translations, make up the bulk of a segment on This American Life called Really Long Distance by Miki Meek which you can listen to at the link.

A poignant point that is raised repeatedly is just how mundane most of the conversations are, with people relating events from their daily life and, in stereotypical Japanese fashion, reassuring the dead that they are working hard and telling them not to worry.

The author of the piece Chris Kavangh, an atheist, continues

....when listening to this segment it is impossible to ignore just how much power a simple disconnected phone line is providing to people who are suffering terribly and how it manages to help them process their grief precisely because of the unconventional, irrational scenario that it represents. Everyone visiting the phone-booth understands that it houses just an old rotary phone with a disconnected phone-line, but this knowledge does not prevent them from instilling their one way conversation with deep personal meanings....

There is no exploitative religious authority here, just a kind hearted gardener, and no dogmatic doctrines, just a vague belief that the dead persist and that it is worth interacting with them. I can’t honestly agree with anyone who would argue that our world would be better off without these kind of ‘delusions’ existing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:41 PM | Permalink

January 27, 2017

The Grieving Horse Sereno

Cowboy Dies Suddenly, Then His Grieving Horse Smells His Casket And Breaks Down


After 34-year-old Wagner Lima died suddenly on New Year's Day in a motorcycle accident, dozens of family members and friends attended the Paraguayan cowboy's funeral.  Among those grieving was Sereno, Wagner's beloved horse and best friend. 

You can watch the touching video at the link above.

Another report from the London Sun

THIS is the moment a horse showed a remarkable sense of loss as it neighed at the funeral of its owner, shocking family and friends as it appeared to bid him an emotional goodbye.

The creature added to mourners’ amazement when, at one stage, it laid its head on the coffin of its cowboy owner, Wagner de Lima Figueiredo, 34, and sighed as if it was crying....

Sereno the horse was taken to the funeral by Wagner’s brother, Wando de Lima, on Tuesday in Paraiba, north east Brazil. Mr de Lima said: “This horse was everything to [Wagner], it was as if the horse knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye. All the way to the cemetery he was whimpering and stomping on the ground.”

And the Mirror

His brother said: “Wagner’s life was this horse. He had a passion and a great love for him. Sometimes he would even stop buying things for himself to make sure he could afford to buy horse feed.” He added that many people had offered to buy the white stallion but “(Wagner) always refused to sell him.”

With the death of his brother, Mr de Lima vowed to take on the responsibility of maintaining and caring for Sereno. He said: “Wagner will stay with our family forever.”

According to Marcelo Servos, a veterinarian with the Brazilian Horse Riding Federation, who has been caring for horses for 20 years, a horse can be aware of and mourn a loved one’s death.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:28 PM | Permalink

January 12, 2017

"In the end, they give us their deaths quite as much as their works, and that is why they are so passionately mourned"

Kathy Shadie writes ‘Extravagant mourning for celebrity musicians is a way to confront our own mortality’

That is what the lives of celebrities provide, quite as much as their work, and that is part of why they are mourned. They collaborate with their audience to make engrossing worlds that neither party quite comprehends, but both know they need. Although this may be one of the things replacing traditional religion, it only works because it does not seem “religious”, moralistic, or cut off from the world around it. It sanctifies, or makes vivid and valuable, the ordinary things of life.
If that were all celebrity culture does, it would be far less powerful. Consolation and even joy can come from many places in life. What has made these deaths so important to so many people is that they provide an occasion for grief as well. The performance in which the musician and their fans are caught up is ultimately one of tragedy. There is loss and grief in every life, and the death of a beloved singer provides a chance to express this sorrow in gestures more powerful than words could be. In the end, they give us their deaths quite as much as their works, and that is why they are so passionately mourned.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:39 PM | Permalink

January 4, 2017

Overcome by guilt and grief, he exhumed his wife's grave for one, last kiss

The Death Mask of Gabrielle Danton

The people's champion of the French Revolution was so overcome by grief at his wife's death he exhumed her in the dead of night to make one final replica of her face.

 Antoinette-Garbielle Charpentier--Claude-André Deseine Img 2306

George-Jacques’s wife Antoinette Gabrielle Danton died in labor on the 10th of February, 1793, along with the infant son that would have been the couple’s fourth child. Her rebel husband was away in Belgium at the time, on a military observation mission for the Revolutionary Government. The widower did not hear of his wife’s death until five days after the fact.

In the few years leading up to her death, George-Jacques had neglected his wife in favor of mistresses. Yet contemporary accounts report that he flew into a terrible, violent grief and immediately ordered a coach back to Paris.....

“Through his tears, a solution formed: he would make a likeness of her, a bust he could for ever embrace and ask for forgiveness.  The next evening he hurried to see a sculptor he knew, an artist with a workshop in the Saint-Marcel section.  The sculptor shook his head. Madame Danton had been dead for a week, he reminded his frantic visitor, in her grave for three days past.” From there Danton and the sculptor preceded to the graveyard, where the most powerful man in Paris bullied his way in. Several biographies report that after they grave was dug up, Danton forced the casket open and embraced his dead wife, possibly kissing her, before the sculptor went to work forming the mold for her death mask.

The mask was completed in short order, and bore a striking resemblance to the late Madame Danton. Unfortunately George-Jacques was unable to enjoy it for long. He was executed when revolutionaries turned against him during the Terror just over a year later, under suspicion of corruption.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:19 AM | Permalink

October 5, 2016

“A letter of condolence to a friend is one of the obligations of friendship.”


The Art of Condolence by Bruce Feiler in the New York Times

Offering a written expression of condolence (from the Latin word condolere, to grieve or to suffer with someone) used to be a staple of polite society. 'A letter of condolence may be abrupt, badly constructed, ungrammatical — never mind,' advised the 1960 edition of Emily Post. 'Grace of expression counts for nothing; sincerity alone is of value.'

But these days, as Facebooking, Snapchatting or simply ignoring friends has become fashionable, the rules of expressing sympathy have become muddied at best, and concealed in an onslaught of emoji at worst. 'Sorry about Mom. Sad face, sad face, crying face, heart, heart, unicorn.'"

One mark of this change is in the card industry. Just over two and a half million Americans die every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and we buy 90 million sympathy cards annually, a spokeswoman for Hallmark said. But 90 percent of those cards are bought by people over 40.

For those who are inexperienced or out of practice in comforting someone in grief, what are some tips for mastering (or at least not humiliating yourself in) the lost art of condolence?

the one overwhelming thing I heard was it’s perfectly acceptable to admit you don’t know what to say. One rabbi said, “Admitting you’re at a loss for words is far more caring and helpful than writing pithy statements like ‘he’s in a better place’ or ‘your child was so perfect, God wanted her to sit beside him.’”

The condolence notes that moved him most, he said, were from strangers who shared a recollection of his father. “That was important for me because I realized his place in the world,” he said. “At the time, you’re only thinking of your own relation to the loved one. You realize this person had impact beyond you. That was comforting.”

One bit of quicksand worth avoiding is the temptation to say you know what the other person is going through. Everyone experiences grief differently. ..“The temptation is to bring it back to yourself, but this is not about you,”

When did people become so squeamish,” one friend griped. “All the euphemisms make my skin crawl.”

5. GET REAL. By contrast, grievers hear so many vacuous phrases that a little straight talk can often be a welcome relief. ... The model outlined by Millicent Fenwick in “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette,” published in 1948. First an expression of sympathy (“I was so sorry to hear...”). Second a word about the deceased. Finally an expression of comfort.A little bluntness goes a long way.  First an expression of sympathy (“I was so sorry to hear...”). Second a word about the deceased. Finally an expression of comfort.

“This all makes perfect sense,” she said, “but I think my favorite note upon the death of my brother was from one of my closest friends. ‘My dear Jane,’ he wrote. ‘IT STINKS.’”

6. FACEBOOK IS NOT ENOUGH These days many people first learn of the death of a friend’s loved one via social media. The instinct to post a comment or dash off an email is understandable. But everyone I spoke with agreed on one point: Even heartfelt gestures like these do not replace a condolence note. A stern reminder from Ms. Fenwick still seems apt: “A letter of condolence to a friend is one of the obligations of friendship.”

7. THERE’S NO TIME LIMIT ON SYMPATHY While writing immediately is comforting, it’s not necessary. Many mourners are overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath, and a number told me they especially appreciated cards that arrived weeks or even months after the death....Even with these tips, many people may still feel daunted with the pressure to come up with the right words. In that case, send someone else’s words. Mr. Young recommended three poems: “Clearances” by Seamus Heaney, “Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden or “Infirm” by Gwendolyn Brooks.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:00 PM | Permalink

February 14, 2016

One of the greatest condolence letters ever written

President Lincoln takes the time to write a condolence letter to Fanny McCullough who was grieving with "alarming intensity" with one of the "greatest condolence letters ever written"
A Common Bond of Grief

“In this sad world of ours,” Lincoln counseled, “sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.” Here, with rare candor, Lincoln was reopening a painful old wound of his own: the loss of his beloved mother, who had suffered a horrible death before his eyes when Abe was only 9. Promising “some alleviation of your present distress,” Lincoln knowingly walks Fanny through a multistep recovery program, from overwhelming sorrow to the “perfect relief” that would come only with time. “You are sure to be happy again,” he promised her. “The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:29 AM | Permalink

January 22, 2016

"Closure is a Myth"

No, You Don’t Need ‘Closure’

As a cancer doctor, I see death—and see how the loss of a loved one is a part of each person’s life forever.

There are few among us who have not experienced the loss of a friend or loved one. Often it comes without warning, in an accident or, as we’ve seen all too often recently, an act of terrorism. The experience of loss after a lingering illness like cancer, though more expected, is just as deeply felt. As time passes, we often hear how important it is to gain closure—a way of tidying up to help us move on with our own lives.

The reality is that closure is a myth. My personal and professional experience with those who have lost friends and family, including children, has taught me that going on with life is not the same as gaining closure. The wound of loss is a part of each person’s life forever. We continue to think about those dear to us, though perhaps not every day or with the same intensity. Recollection is sometimes provoked by a date on the calendar or, less predictably, by a sight, sound, aroma, melody or place that evokes the missing person.

These personal moments, seemingly forever paused in time, can cause us to feel alone, especially during sentiment-filled holidays. The danger of the idea of closure is that it heightens this aloneness, by giving us a false expectation that these experiences should and will at some point end. They won’t.

No matter how much time has passed, memories remain. To deny them is to deny precious moments of love, fellowship, gratitude and inspiration. Grieving changes the experience of loss, but does not eliminate it, and is not intended to do so. To close the memory does not sustain the healing or help in proceeding with life. Such echoes from the past are voices in the present and are sometimes warmly felt.

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:37 PM | Permalink

September 11, 2015

"That the laws of the universe should be repealed"

For sorrow there is no remedy provided by nature; it is often occasioned by accidents irreparable, and dwells upon objects that have lost or changed their existence; it requires what it cannot hope, that the laws of the universe should be repealed; that the dead should return, or the past should be recalled.”

That's Dr. Samuel Johnson writing in The Rambler #47 via Anecdotal Evidence

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:09 PM | Permalink

April 20, 2015

Grief hasn't changed

Mummies in Korea are rare.  So when archeologists uncovered a 500-year-old mummy, they were surprised to find a letter from his wife on top of the body

The Letter to Won's Father

 Letter To Won's Father

To Won's Father
June 1, 1586

You always said, "Dear, let's live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, "Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?" How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Because I want to listen to your saying in detail in my dreams I write this letter and put it in. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.

You are just in another place, and not in such a deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end [to my sorrows] that I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say and I stop here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:45 AM | Permalink

December 11, 2014

Unusual words for grief

n. weeping

adj. having a face swollen from weeping

n. an inconsolably bereaved woman, a weeping woman

from In a Word, Futility Closet

 Detail-Weyden, Rogier Van Der - Descent From The Cross - Detail Women (Left)

Detail from Roger van der Weyden's The Descent from the Cross (1435)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:41 AM | Permalink

December 1, 2014

Don't spend too much time with dying

Dear friends and family, your endless deathbed visits RUINED my precious final moments with my husband. 

In an excoriating open letter that'll bitterly divide opinion, an anguished widow says the unsayable…

And of course I know you grieve for him. I’m certain you feel his absence acutely. But I also believe that by monopolizing him and draining him of the last dregs of his energy you were being insensitive and self-serving. You were encroaching on time that should have been ours alone — and for that I am finding it hard to forgive you.

Remember Make your visits short and meaningful

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:09 PM | Permalink

November 24, 2014

Don't spend too much time with dying

Dear friends and family, your endless deathbed visits RUINED my precious final moments with my husband. 

In an excoriating open letter that'll bitterly divide opinion, an anguished widow says the unsayable… 

And of course I know you grieve for him. I’m certain you feel his absence acutely. But I also believe that by monopolizing him and draining him of the last dregs of his energy you were being insensitive and self-serving. You were encroaching on time that should have been ours alone — and for that I am finding it hard to forgive you.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:31 AM | Permalink

"Love is never finished"

"Love is never finished," wrote Pope Benedict XVI and the story of John Silva shows that.

 Widower Dines Out With Photo Dead Wife

EXCLUSIVE - The true love story of the widower who dined at a burger bar with his wife's picture: 'I carry her photo everywhere and tell her how much I love her. I'm waiting for the day we can be together forever.'

Mr SIlva, 87, said he was taken aback at the attention the picture had attracted - but touched that so many people had been affected by his love story.

'I had no idea that someone took my photo. I found out from a relative who saw it on the Internet. I'm 87 years old, I don't want too much excitement. I was a lucky man to marry the girl I loved,' he said.

How they met as teenagers in Massachusetts is a storyline fit for a classic romantic comedy. One of his teammates threw him the ball but fate meant John missed the catch and Cupid kindly rolled it to the feet of his late wife. He doffed his cap and she blew him a kiss but they later lost each other in the crowds. It would be a decade of heartache until their paths crossed again and they wed one year later in 1954.
John is visibly moved by his own memories but a sense of pride takes over his emotion when talking about Hilda's legacy.
'When things took a turn for the worse it was heartbreaking, she fell down and banged her head at our home. There was blood everywhere and she couldn't walk again,' he told MailOnline. 'I promised her I'd never put her in a nursing home but her conditions grew worse, she had a stroke and a tumor in her belly. She was in the home for two and a half years, I spent 21 hours a day there for that entire time. I'd only come home to wash and then go back again, I'd sleep there too.
'It was a miracle she opened her eyes and pushed herself forward with all of the strength she had left and said: 'John, I love you. I've always loved you and in a million years you'll still be my husband.'
And then she put her head back and that was it, I put my head on her head and sang our song, Frank Sinatra's It's Got To Be You.

After her sad passing, relatives intervened to stop John returning home in fear he might not be able to cope with the trauma and put him under a constant watch. He insists while they worried he may have been tempted by suicide he would never give it a thought because he 'wants to go to Heaven'.
'I'll never stop carrying her photo. In the car, when I go out to eat, everywhere. She's not gone, she's only on vacation. And she's rich because she's still wearing all of her diamond rings.' The baseball fanatic rationalized: 'The surest thing in this world is death but I made my life the best I could and that's because of Hilda.
'I was the luckiest man in the world and I still am.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 AM | Permalink

November 11, 2014

T.H. White and his dog Brownie

An Unexpected Departure

T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King, shared his lonely life with a beloved Irish setter, Brownie, whom he called his child, wife, and mother, “myself with melting eye.” “It is a queer difference between this kind of thing and getting married,” he wrote, “that married people love each other at first (I understand) and it fades by use and custom, but with dogs you love them most at last.”

He wrote to his friend David Garnett

Dear Bunny, Please forgive me writing again, but I am so lonely and can’t stop crying and it is the shock. I waked her for two nights and buried her this morning in a turf basket, all my eggs in one basket. Now I am to begin a new life and it is important to begin it right, but I find it difficult to think straight. It is about whether I ought to buy another dog or not. I am good to dogs, so from their point of view I suppose I ought. But I might not survive another bereavement like this in 12 years’ time, and dread to put myself in the way of it. If your father & mother & both sons had died at the same moment as Ray, unexpectedly, in your absence, you would know what I am talking about. Unfortunately Brownie was barren, like myself, and as I have rather an overbearing character I had made her live through me, as I lived through her. Brownie was my life and I am lonely for just such another reservoir for my love. But if I did get such reservoir it would die in about 12 years and at present I feel I couldn’t face that. Do people get used to being bereaved? This is my first time. I am feeling very lucky to have a friend like you that I can write to without being thought dotty to go on like that about mere dogs.

They did not poison her. It was one of her little heart attacks and they did not know how to treat it and killed her by the wrong kindnesses.

You must try to understand that I am and will remain entirely without wife or brother or sister or child and that Brownie supplied more than the place of these to me. We loved each other more and more every year.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 AM | Permalink

August 12, 2014

"He made a deadly choice"

Parents share final heartbreaking photographs of son, 19, to raise awareness of the dangers of synthetic marijuana which left him brain dead after one hit
The parents of a 19-year-old who died in California after smoking one hit of synthetic marijuana are determined that his death won't be in vain.

Devin and Veronica Eckhardt never imagined they would be watching a helicopter bearing their only son's heart fly away from the Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.
But on Thursday July 17 they honored Connor Eckhardt's wishes to donate his organs following his death after smoking a synthetic marijuana known as 'spice' the previous Saturday.
Now, the family is sharing photographs of Connor's life and death, in the hope that their son's tragic passing will serve as a warning to others about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

 Connoreckardts Deathbed

'He gave into (peer pressure) — thinking that it was okay, it was somehow safe — and one hit later, he goes to sleep and never wakes up,' Connor’s father, Devin Eckhardt told KTLA.
Also known as K2, spice is a mixture of herbs that's sprayed with a chemical to produce a similar sensation to marijuana. The herbs and chemicals in spice vary, making it impossible for users to know what they're smoking and in what concentrations.

These substances are not benign,' Dr Andrew Monte, the lead author of an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, told the ststion.  'People may not realize how dangerous these drugs can be – up to 1,000 times stronger binding to cannabis receptors when compared to traditional marijuana.'

Incredibly, it's readily available in shops and online, even though the sale of it is illegal in California.  Synthetic marijuana has been labeled incense, potpourri and herbal smoking blend — and it's been sold using names such as K2 and Spice.  Connor Eckhardt fell asleep after taking a hit of spice.  His brain, deprived of oxygen, began to swell and he slipped into a coma.

 Connor+Family In happier names, Connor (2nd from left) with his parents and siblings.

I applaud these parents, who, in the midst of their grief, want others to know just how dangerous synthetic marijuana is.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:12 AM | Permalink

June 19, 2014

"Whatever sorrow was felt, there was no point in talking or brooding about it"

Bookworm in her post America’s cultural journey from actual hero Audie Murphy to DemProg “hero” Bowie Bergdahl quotes extensively from  George MacDonald Fraser’s delightful Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II which describes an infantry man’s experiences in Burma during WWII. 

What most interested me was his description of the impact culture had on the way people grieve. 

Fraser’s description of his first battle and its aftermath is especially interesting. He describes how, within a minute or two, half his unit was wounded, and two men were dead. Despite these events, Fraser writes that he was able to function because he’d shifted into a battle mode that allowed him to observe what was happening, to make decisions, and to act, all without emotion overwhelming him.

After the battle ended, Fraser writes that the men in the unit, both wounded and whole, were neither exultant nor despairing. They were just tired. They didn’t obsess about the dead but, instead, engaged in a respectful ritual that saw each of them exchange a piece of his military, non-personal kit for that of the dead man’s military, non-personal kit. There was no greed involved, nor was the experience maudlin. Instead, the ritual was an almost businesslike way to remember the dead by keeping something of his nearby.
An outsider might have thought, mistakenly, that the section was unmoved by the deaths of Gale and Little. There was no outward show of sorrow, no reminiscences or eulogies, no Hollywood heart-searchings or phony philosophy…..t was not callousness or indifference or lack of feeling for two comrades who had been alive that morning and were now names for the war memorial; it was just that there was nothing to be said.

It was part of war; men died, more would die, that was past, and what mattered now was the business in hand; those who lived would get on with it. Whatever sorrow was felt, there was no point in talking or brooding about it, much less in making, for form’s sake, a parade of it. Better and healthier to forget it, and look to tomorrow.

The celebrated British stiff upper lip, the resolve to conceal emotion which is not only embarrassing and useless, but harmful, is just plain common sense.

But that was half a century ago. Things are different now, when the media seem to feel they have a duty to dwell on emotion, the more harrowing the better, and to encourage its indulgence. The cameras close on stricken families at funerals, interviewers probe relentlessly to uncover grief, pain, fear, and shock, know no reticence or even decency in their eagerness to make the viewers’ flesh creep, and wallow in the sentimental cliché (victims are always “innocent”, relatives must be “loved ones”). And the obscene intrusion is justified as “caring” and “compassionate” when it is the exact opposite.
The damage that fashionable attitudes, reflected (and created) by television, have done to the public spirit, is incalculable. It has been weakened to the point where it is taken for granted that anyone who has suffered loss and hardship must be in need of “counselling”; that soldiers will suffer from “post-battle traumatic stress” and need psychiatric help. One wonders how Londoners survived the Blitz without the interference of unqualified, jargonmumbling “counsellors”, or how an overwhelming number of 1940s servicemen returned successfully to civilian life without benefit of brain-washing. Certainly, a small minority needed help; war can leave terrible mental scars — but the numbers will increase, and the scars enlarge, in proportion to society’s insistence on raising spectres which would be better left alone. Tell people they should feel something, and they’ll not only feel it, they’ll regard themselves as entitled and obliged to feel it.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:11 PM | Permalink

May 7, 2014

10 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend

From the Art of Manliness 10 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend which is an excerpt from Keys to Happiness, an anthology of articles published in 1954 which included “How to Help Someone in Sorrow”
by Howard Whitman

Most of us want to be helpful when grief strikes a friend, but often we don’t know how. We may end up doing nothing because we don’t know the right — and helpful — things to say and do. Because that was my own experience recently, I resolved to gather pointers which might be useful to others as well as myself.

Ministers, priests, and rabbis deal with such situations every day. I went to scores of them, of all faiths, in all parts of the country. Here are some specific suggestions they made:

1. Don’t try to “buck them up.” ….
A man who has lost his wife must take it hard (if he loved her). “Bucking him up” sounds as though you are minimizing his loss. But the honest attitude, “Yes, it’s tough, and I sure know it is,” makes your friend feel free to express grief and recover from it. The “don’t take it so hard” approach deprives him of the natural emotion of grief.

2. Don’t try to divert them. Rabbi Martin B. Ryback of Norwalk, Conn., pointed out that many people making condolence calls purposely veer away from the subject. They make small talk about football, fishing, the weather — anything but the reason for their visit.  The rabbi calls this “trying to camouflage death.” The task of the mourner, difficult as it is, is to face the fact of death, and go on from there. “It would be far better,” Rabbi Ryback suggested, “to sit silently and say nothing than to make obvious attempts to distract. The sorrowing friend sees through the effort to divert him. When the visitor leaves, reality hits him all the harder.”

3. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has passed away. Well-intentioned friends often shy away from mentioning the deceased. The implication is that the whole thing is too terrible to mention.

“The helpful thing,” advised Rabbi Henry E. Kagan of Mount Vernon, N.Y., “is to talk about the person as you knew him in the fullness of life, to recreate a living picture to replace the picture of death.”...

4. Don’t be afraid of causing tears…..Fear of causing tears, probably more than anything else, makes people stiff and ineffective. Visiting a friend who has lost his wife, they may be about to mention a ride in the country when they remember the man’s wife used to love rides in the country. They don’t dare speak of peonies because they were her favorite flower. So they freeze up.

“They really are depriving their friend of probably the greatest help they could give him,” Pastor Hetsler commented. “That is, to help him experience grief in a normal way and get over it.” Medical and psychological studies back up the pastor’s contention that expressing grief is good and repressing it is bad. “If a comment of yours brings tears,” he concluded, “remember — they are healthy tears.”

5. Let them talk. “Sorrowing people need to talk,” explained the Rev. Vern Swartsfager of San Francisco. “Friends worry about their ability to say the right things. They ought to be worrying about their ability to listen.”

If the warmth of your presence can get your friend to start talking, keep quiet and listen — even though he repeats the same things a dozen times. He is not telling you news but expressing feelings that need repetition. Pastor Swartsfager suggested a measuring stick for the success of your visit: “If your friend said a hundred words to your one, you’ve helped a lot.”

6. Reassure — don’t argue. “Everybody who loses a loved one has guilt feelings — they may not be justified but they’re natural,” …The yearning, “If only I had not done this, or done that — if only I had a chance to do it now,” is a hallmark of grieving…..

7. Communicate — don’t isolate. Too often a person who has lost a loved one is overwhelmed with visitors for a week or so; then the house is empty. Even good friends sometimes stay away, believing that people in sorrow “like to be alone.”…..“It is in the after-period, when all the letters of sympathy have been read and acknowledged and people have swung back into daily routine, that friends are needed most.

Keep in touch, Father Bresnahan urges. See your friends more often than you did before. See him for any purpose — for lunch, for a drive in the country, for shopping, for an evening visit. He has suffered a deep loss. Your job is to show him, by implication, how much he still has left. Your being with him is a proof to him that he still has resources.

8. Perform some concrete act. We should make it our business, when a friend is in sorrow, to do at least one practical, tangible act of kindness. Here are some to choose from: run errands with your car, take the children to school, bring in a meal, do the dishes, make necessary phone calls, pick up mail at the office, help acknowledge condolence notes, shop for the groceries.

9. Swing into action. Action is the symbol of going on living. By swinging into action with your friend, whether at his hobby or his work, you help build a bridge into the future. Perhaps it means painting the garage with him, or hoeing the garden

In St. Paul, Minn., the Rev. J.T. Morrow told me of a man who had lost a son. The man’s hobby had been refinishing furniture. When he called on him, Pastor Morrow said, “Come on, let’s go down to the basement.” They sanded a table together. When Pastor Morrow left, the man said, “This is the first time I’ve felt I could go on living.”

Sorrowing people, Pastor Morrow pointed out, tend to drop out of things. They’re a little like the rider who has been thrown from a horse. If they are to ride again, better get them back on the horse quickly.

10. “Get them out of themselves,” advised Father James Keller, leader of the Christophers. Once you have your friend doing things for himself, his grief is nearly cured. Once you have him doing things for others, it is cured.

Grief runs a natural course. It will pass. But if there is only a vacuum behind it, self-pity will rush to fill it. To help your friend along the normal course of recovery, guide him to a new interest.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

January 31, 2014

"The power to heal psychic wounds is rare and precious"

Rea Ginsberg writes about the mournful reputation of grief counselors

We are often asked, “How can you do that?”  How can you stand to do that work?  Such a dreary subject.  Grim but supposedly necessary.  Don’t you get depressed with all the talk of dying?  Facing death and its consequences every day must be the prime route to burnout.  Are mental disorders prevalent among grief counselors?  Aren’t you afraid all the talk of dying will make you a little crazy?  Don’t you find it frightening, talking about death and dying all the time?  Don’t you want some joy in your life?  Do something else, anything that doesn’t relate to death.
Pain is inevitable in every human life.  Like it or not, wish against it or not, there it is.  Pain waits patiently and outlasts our resistance.  It is a fundamental fact of life.  Death is also a fact of life, a fact until further notice.  Significant loss occurs in every life.  Death occurs to every life.  Death hurts.  It causes grief.  There is yet no pill to make it go away.  Maybe there should not be such a pill.  Enter: the supportive grief counselor.
Survivors need interpersonal help and healing.  Usually, friends and family do the job.  The path is painful and also lonely at times.  Sometimes, a professional counselor is just the right remedy.  He is prepared to be a companion for a time, along the way to reconstructed balance and equilibrium.  Along the way to adjustment.  He is equipped to hear the hurt and lighten the load.  In a hurry-up, get-over-it society, the grief counselor is a safe harbor in the mourning storm.  His focus is not time.  It is not a predetermined schedule.  It is not a deadline for completion.  His focus is connection, understanding, and support.  It is helping the survivor to feel comforted because someone who knows grief is actively listening.  The center of his attention is less advice and more the not-so-simple act of being with the survivor, to facilitate self-rediscovery and restore dignity.
The power to heal psychic wounds is rare and precious. Few people have this skill.    It is needed.  It is a service.  It becomes a moral obligation for those who have that power.  To have it is to take pleasure in exercising it.  To have it and withhold it is unethical.  It is contrary to conscience.  It defies accepted standards of professional behavior.  It is also unhealthy because there is nothing more important in life than human connection.  To assist the progress of connection provides further integrity and growth to the facilitator.  The grief counselor is rewarded in greater wholeness, in life lessons studied, learned, and integrated.  Death is not an enemy.  It is a creative disrupter.  It is one of our most profound and valuable teachers.  It is life-affirming.  It is our gateway to meaningful and vigorous life
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:22 PM | Permalink

January 30, 2014

'She is part of me, so here I am whole,'

Man who spent over 20 years holding vigil by his wife's grave EVERY day dies aged 97

When Rocky Abalsamo's wife died in 1993, part of him died too.  Out of sadness and longing, he would hold vigil by her grave site at St. Joseph Cemetery in West Roxbury all day, every day, rarely eating or drinking and weathering all temperatures and conditions.

Now, over 20 years after his beautiful Julia 'Julita' passed away, Rocky 'Roque' continues to sit next to his beloved, after being buried in the plot next to her.  Rocky died on Janaury 22 at Stonehedge Health Care Center in West Roxbury after several months of declining health, reports The Boston Globe.  He was 97.

 Rocky Abalsamo-Devoted-Griever
'She was pure love,' he said.  'Her beauty was a gift apart, a reward.'

They shared a first kiss on September 16, 1937 - a date Rocky - celebrated annually - and married the following April.  They had a daughter, Angela, and a son, Roque Jr.

Rocky and Julita had been married for 55 years when she died of complications after heart surgery in 1993 . Distraught, he began spending his days at St. Joseph Cemetery.
'She is part of me, so here I am whole,' he said previously.
'Being here makes me feel better. Not good, but better. I do it for Julita, and for myself.'

Each morning he would greet Julia - 'I am here!' - unfold his blue chair and unpack the belongings he would bring with him, such as photos and other tokens.

He rarely ate or drank, mostly out of respect but also so he does not need a bathroom, and would toast Julita with sparkling cider on special occasions, such as her birthday on December 20.

At night he would pray and sprinkle crumbs on the grave so that chipmunks would keep her company after he leaves.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:33 PM | Permalink

January 23, 2014

One of the saddest pictures I've ever seen

This young Syrian boy is sleeping between the graves of his parents.

 Syrian Child Sleeps Parents Grave

The slaughter of Syria's Christians - doing nothing is not an option

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:58 PM | Permalink

August 20, 2013

"Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time"

For people who have lost a spouse, I recommend they read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.  First published in 1961, there is a new review of the book in the Guardian by Lettie Ransley

A Grief Observed by CS Lewis  CS Lewis's meditation on the death of his wife is a powerful record of raw emotion

At the time, CS Lewis described his marriage in 1956 to the American poet Helen ("H") Joy Davidman as "a pure matter of friendship and expediency", primarily intended to keep her and her two sons in the country; a confirmed bachelor, he later wrote: "I never expected to have, in my 60s, the happiness that passed me by in my 20s." But Joy was already ill, and their relationship was conducted in the shadow of cancer: for Lewis the four years following their wedding brought intensely personal experiences both of the miraculous, and of despair.
The ferocious and uncanting intellect that thrived in love denies Lewis the traditional consolations of mourning: he is tormented by the thought that suffering in life offers no guarantee of peace in death; that the mere act of remembering is one of overwriting – his own selective memories falling "like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night".

"Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time.
Almost pure time, empty successiveness," Lewis reflects.
By turns elegant and raw, A Grief Observed is a powerful record of thought and emotion experienced in real time, and as much the biography of a love as it is an exploration of grief and faith.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:04 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2013

"I didn't want him to go"

I didn't want him to go: Widow's anguish after sports-mad husband drowns white water rafting on Alaska trip

A British father drowned after he was persuaded to try whitewater rafting for the first time on some of the world’s most difficult rapids.  Businessman Stephen Morton, 47, had just finished climbing North America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley in Alaska.

But after completing the 19-day expedition, his three Dutch teammates – who were all experienced rafters – encouraged him to try the extreme sport before flying home.
The boat carrying Mr Morton tipped over entering a dangerous category-five rapid known as the Zig Zag.

All the men were thrown out of the raft, but Mr Morton struggled to recover in the icy cold water.
He was pulled out and taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Last night, his grieving widow said she didn’t want her husband to pursue dangerous hobbies, but hadn’t stopped him in case he regretted missing out.
‘He phoned before he left for the rafting trip. He was so happy to have summited safely and was so happy to be coming home, talking about the gifts he was about to buy for the kids.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 AM | Permalink

May 28, 2013

Venom against grieving family

A four week old baby died of whopping cough.  Anyone with normal feelings can understand how the family is grieving and suffering over the loss of their child.  Yet, unbelievably, this family has become a target for the anti-vaccination lobby.

Grieving parents speak out against anti-vaccination extremists

As Toni held her tiny baby, she couldn't comprehend the loss, or how they would survive the sorrow.

Little did they know then that Dana's death from whooping cough, and the media coverage that followed, came to represent a very inconvenient truth to the anti-vaccination lobby - and thus began an extraordinary campaign against this grieving family.

The couple has been accused of being on the payroll of drug companies; they have had their daughter's death questioned and mocked; they have even been told to "harden the f . . . up" by an opponent of vaccination.

"The venom directed at us has just been torture and it's been frightening, abhorrent and insensitive in the extreme," says Toni, who has not had the strength to talk about this until now.

May poor little Dana rest in peace and may her family find some consolation in the vast majority who have expressed their abhorrence at the lack of humanity shown by the anti-vaccination lobby.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:28 PM | Permalink

April 9, 2013

Social media is creating new dimensions of horrific grief

Over the past few days, we've seen paroxysms of hate on Twitter and Facebook directed at Margaret Thatcher ("the bland, the vain, the self-important, the emotionally incontinent, the psychotic, the embarrassing, the callous and the very, very tasteless.") and pastor Rick Warren after the tragic suicide of his son.

Warren, the best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life,  and who delivered the invocation at President Obama's inauguration in 2008, wrote on his Facebook page  'haters celebrate' his pain after his son's suicide.

Rick Warren said it's been difficult to deal with some of the hate mail and online comments he's read since announcing Saturday that his son had committed suicide.

"Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest," Warren wrote on Facebook on Monday night.

If there is one thing that unites every human on the planet is that death will come to all of us.  The occasion of any death requires us to rise above political, religious, ethnic and partisan differences, acknowledge our common mortality, and, if good things can not be said about the deceased, to remain silent for a period of time.
To intentionally spew hate in a public space or on social media is to increase the suffering of those who grieve.  It is disgusting, obscene, and inhuman.  It is less than human.  People who do it, if they have any conscience at all, will live to regret it.  Worst of all, they can never make amends.  Does it not occur to such people that they are exposing to the world the black hole in their black hearts?

Does not your heart weep for the parents of the    'Gang-rape victim', 17, kills herself 'after her attackers took picture of the assault and sent it to classmates who branded her a slut'

A 17-year-old girl has killed herself after four boys raped her and spread a photograph of the assault, causing classmates and friends to taunt and cyber-bullied her, her mother has said.  Rehtaeh Parsons from Nova Scotia, Canada hanged herself in her family's bathroom on Thursday after years of torment and, on Sunday night, her parents took her off life support.
On a Facebook tribute page, her mother, Leah Parsons, described how her daughter was forever changed by the November 2011 attack in their hometown of Cole Harbour.

'She went with a friend to another's home,' her mother wrote. 'In that home, she was raped by four young boys. One of those boys took a photo of her being raped and decided it would be fun to distribute the photo to everyone in Rehtaeh's school and community, where it quickly went viral.'

The alleged attack left then 15-year-old Rehtaeh an outcast at Cole Harbour District High School, where her rapists were also students. Friends, students and strangers taunted her, her mother said.

'People texted her all the time, saying "Will you have sex with me?"' she said. 'Girls texting, saying "You're such a slut".
'She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her… It just never stopped,' her mother told CBC.
Her mother said she wants other people to learn from the tragedy and how social media allowed her to be continually violated following the brutal rape.
Rehtaeh shared her sadness on Facebook, including a post on March 3 which read: 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'

 Rehtaeh Parsons+Parents  What a tragedy for her parents.  My heart goes out to them both

A tragedy made harder by shocking and disgusting comments by people without shame.  May Rehtaeh rest in peace.  May her parents find some solace in their grief.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:49 PM | Permalink

March 27, 2013

Rent a Mourner

 Prof Lady Mourners

image from

Mourners-for-rent hired to blub at funerals

British mourners are renting "professional sobbers" to blub at funerals to make people believe the deceased was really popular.

For £45 an hour, the fake mourners can be rented to cry for the duration of a funeral service in order to swell the numbers at funerals.  Ian Robertson, the founder of Rent-a-Mourner, in Braintree, Essex, admits the idea may be unfamiliar to the British, although the phenomenon is popular in places such as Asia.

The mourners-for-hire are briefed on the life of the deceased and would be able to talk to friends and relatives as if they really had known their loved one.
Rent-a-Mourner has 20 staff on its books to hire out for funerals, which Mr Robertson said were friends of his rather than professional actors.  He added that they are not required to well up, but are mainly there just to make up the numbers.

"We were actually inspired by the market growth in China," said Mr Robertson.
"The Middle Eastern way is to provide wailers - crying women - as opposed to the quiet, dignified methods we use.

"Our staff will meet with the client beforehand and agree 'the story', so our staff will either have known the deceased professionally or socially. They will be informed of the deceased's background, achievements, failures etc. so they can converse with other mourners with confidence."

Mr Robertson set up Rent-a-Mourner in January last year, and said he has had 52 bookings since the company began, with 15 in the first six months.
"It is growing in the UK - our bookings are up 50 per cent year on year," he said.
Birtles, the founder of personal finance site, said: "Hiring a stranger to weep at a funeral may seem strange, but it's a deep-seated tradition in the East.
"It's still a niche market at the moment but demand for professional mourners is increasing year on year as more people from East Asian and Middle Eastern countries move to the UK, bringing their customs with them.

"The rise in popularity shows a cultural shift taking place in how we choose to pay our last respects and like with many other cultural imports, it's only a matter of time before it crosses over into mainstream culture."

"At the moment it's not the sort of thing most people can treat as a career, but if it continues to increase in popularity then crying on demand could soon become a highly-prized skill."

This is not a joke, but a real firm with a real website. 

                         Rent A Mourner

Graeme Archer comments on the sad truth that too many people die alone, that is, not at the instant of death; but alone for the years which precede it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:01 PM | Permalink

March 23, 2013

“Grief sorts out and realigns those around the grief-struck; how friends are tested; how some pass, some fail.”

In a review of Julian Barnes new book, Levels of Love, Hannah Furness writes how Barnes was disappointed in how friends reacted to his wife's death.

The author, a former Man Booker Prize winner, worked out precise details while grieving for Pat Kavanagh, his wife of 30 years.

In his new novel, Levels of Life, he writes for the first time about coping with her death from cancer, aged 68, in 2008, and attacks friends whom he believes were too cowardly to speak her name
He describes Kavanagh, a literary agent, as “the heart of my life; the life of my heart”.

He goes on to note: “Grief sorts out and realigns those around the grief-struck; how friends are tested; how some pass, some fail.”

He adds: “You might expect those closest to you in age and sex and marital status to understand best. What a naivety. I remember a 'dinner-table conversation’ in a restaurant with three married friends of roughly my age.

“Each had known her for many years – perhaps 80 or 90 in total – and each would have said, if asked, that they loved her. I mentioned her name; no one picked it up. I did it again, and again nothing. Perhaps the third time I was deliberately trying to provoke, being p----- off at what struck me not as good manners but cowardice.

“Afraid to touch her name, they denied her thrice, and I thought the worse of them for it.
” Barnes, who has been known for more cryptic works, also admitted considering suicide after her death…..But he decided his end would be akin to a second death of his wife, since he was “her principal rememberer”.

Remember:  A person who is grieving the loss of a loved one, likes to talk about the departed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:12 PM | Permalink

March 21, 2013

The Deposition: A Maelstrom of Grief

A Maelstrom of Grief

Il Rosso Fiorentino's hands-down masterpiece, a 12-foot-tall "Deposition" painted in 1521, is located somewhat pleasantly off the beaten track in the Tuscan hilltop town of Volterra. It's an easy day trip from either Siena or Florence. The arch-topped painting resides in the quiet Pinacoteca Comunale, which even in the summer, when tourists wander around Volterra, can seem deserted. For a work of art almost half a millennium old, however, it's shockingly modern. The phrase that surprisingly popped into my head when I first saw it was "WPA mural." But the little interior voice murmuring those words to me meant them as a compliment. Let me explain….

The Deposition in full resolution

           Rosso Fiorentino Deposition

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:42 PM | Permalink

March 18, 2013

Not lost but hidden

Father Joseph in writing about grief over the recent loss of a loved one  (The Aftermath) quotes Thomas Howard, someone I've never read, but I find what he had to say quite beautiful

He [Thomas Howard] speaks in a straightforward yet eloquent manner of the struggles of suffering, death, and grief, and he leaves us with a profound hope in what the goodness of God is working behind the scenes.

“Someone finds he has cancer; the medical treadmill begins, with its implacable log of defeat; hope is marshaled, begins the march, is rebuffed at every juncture, flags, rouses, flags again, and is finally quietly mustered out… everyone is dragged into the maelstrom that marks the place where our experience eddies into the sea of the divine will. The whole question of prayer gapes open…  And meanwhile, the surgery goes on its horrific way, and the radiation burns on, week after grim week; and suffering sets in, and the doctors hedge and dodge into the labyrinthine linoleum-and-stainless-steel bureaucracy of the hospital world, and our hearts sicken, and we try to avert our eyes from the black flag that is fluttering wildly on the horizon, mocking us.

“And the questions come stealing over us: ‘Where is now their God?’ ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ ‘He trusted in God that he would deliver him…’ and so on… We look for some light.  We look for some help… But only dead silence.  Blank.  Nothing…
“For [those whose loved ones died despite their prayers] there was no walking and leaping and praising God.  No embracing and ecstatic tears of reunion.  Only the silence of shrouds and sepulchers, and then the turning back, not just to the flat routines of daily life, but to the miserable duel with the tedious voices pressing in upon their exhausted imaginations with, ‘Right! Now where are you?  Tell us about your faith now!  What’d you do wrong?’…

“But there is more.  Turning again to the disclosure of God in Scripture, we seem to see that, in his economy, there is no slippage.  Nothing simply disappears.  No sparrow falls without his knowing (and, one might think, caring) about it.  No hair on anybody’s head is without its number.  Oh, you say, that’s only a metaphor; it’s not literal.  A metaphor of what, then? we might ask.  Is the implication there that God doesn’t keep tabs on things?

“And so we begin to think about all our prayers and vigils and fastings and abstinences, and the offices and sacraments of the Church that have gone up to the throne on behalf of the sufferer.  They have, apparently, been lost in the blue.  They have vanished, as no sparrow, no hair, has ever done.  Hey, what about that?  And we know that this is false.  It is nonsense.  All right then—we prayed, with much faith or with little; we searched ourselves; we fasted; we anointed and laid on hands; we kept vigil.  And nothing happened.

“Did it not?  What angle of vision are we speaking from?  Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish?  Was it not the case with Lazarus’ household at Bethany, and with the two en route to Emmaus? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually—that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? … And is not that Finish called glorious?  Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?

“A finding of all that is lost?  All sparrows, and all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings?  Yes, all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings.  ‘But where are they?  The thing is over and done with.  He is dead.  They had no effect.’

“Hadn’t they?  How do you know what is piling up in that great treasury kept by the Divine Love to be opened in that Day?  How do you know that this death and your prayers and tears and fasts will not together be suddenly and breathtakingly displayed, before all the faithful, and before angels and archangels, and before kings and widows and prophets, as gems in that display?  Oh no, don’t speak of things being lost.  Say rather that they are hidden—received and accepted and taken up into the secrets of the divine mysteries, to be transformed and multiplied, like everything else we offer to him—loaves and fishes, or mites, or bread and wine—and given back to you and to the one for whom you kept vigil, in the presence of the whole host of men and angels, in a hilarity of glory as unimaginable to you in your vigil as golden wings are to the worm in the chrysalis”

(Thomas Howard “On Brazen Heavens,” from The Night is Far Spent).
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:14 PM | Permalink

February 28, 2013

"Grief counseling after traumatic events may be more harm than help"

Doing More Harm Than Good By Pathologizing Grief

It seems like such a good thing, doesn't it, offering grief counselors to those who suffer a tragic event? After all, who doesn't want and need some comfort then? But research reveals that really we should leave it to the people who suffer to determine what if anything they need….grief counseling after traumatic events may be more harm than help.
Wakes and funerals already exist to serve the immediate needs for mourning and recognition of the loss. Participation in normalizing rituals is probably far more helpful than therapy in the immediate aftermath of such a loss.

Reading books about death, grief and loss can also help.    Self Help Books and Websites Can Benefit Severely Depressed Patients

Patients with severe depression show at least as good clinical benefit from 'low-intensity' interventions, such as self help books and interactive websites, as less severely ill patients, according to new research by The University of Manchester.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:40 PM | Permalink

February 1, 2013

The Victorian lady undertaker

Lady of Ashes

has as its heroine a Victorian undertaker, Violet Morgan. Although Violet marries into the profession she becomes quickly adept at running the family business. While her husband Graham becomes involved in a shady enterprise involving blockade running for the Confederacy, Violet assumes full control of operations at Morgan Undertaking. Graham complains that she is neglecting the house, even though he does not leave her with many options, since he is unwilling to devote himself to the care of corpses. Violet, however, sees her role not just as work but as a vocation, burying the dead being a work of mercy. She approaches the dead with respect and the survivors with sympathy and comfort
What I appreciate most about this novel is the fascinating information on Victorian mourning customs. People in mourning, especially widows, were allowed to withdraw into seclusion. Everyone understood the requirements of the grieving process, at least where the middle and upper classes were concerned. Outward expressions of sorrow were not only commonplace but expected. In our eyes the accoutrements of mourning may seem exaggerated, since now many do not have burial services but "celebrations of life." In Victorian times, a period of mourning was part of the healing process,
Did you know that Victorians did not embalm their dead?  In fact, the practice only took off in the United States during the Civil War, in order to cope with preserving dead soldiers—on both sides—while being sent home on trains.

Do you know why the Victorians didn’t embalm their dead?  They thought it an unseemly—and un-Christian—practice to fill a body with chemicals before placing it in the ground. 

Guess why lilies are traditionally associated with funerals?  Their scent is so intense that they masked the odor of decomposing bodies.  While Prince Albert’s coffin stood inside Windsor Chapel in 1861, the profusion of lilies was so overpowering that the guards had to be switched out every hour to prevent them from fainting.

First class or coach?  The Victorians were still a class-conscious society, even if some of those barriers were breaking down.  In planning your funeral, the undertaker—wearing a top hat swathed in black crape—would offer your family options appropriate to your social status.  For example, if you were of high enough rank, you might have a funeral car with glass sides, interior curtains, and plumes adoring the top.  Were you just middle class?  Well, a smaller carriage then, no curtains and no plumes.  For those of little means, your funeral carriage was more like a long, black open cart.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:47 AM | Permalink

January 17, 2013

Loyal dog attends mass every day at church where owner's funeral was held

-Loyal Dog Attending Mass

Loyal dog attends mass every day at church where owner's funeral was held, waiting for her to return

A heartbroken dog whose owner died two months ago is missing her so much he is attending services at the Italian church where her funeral was held patiently waiting for her to return.

Loyal Tommy, a seven-year-old German Shepherd, belonged to Maria Margherita Lochi, 57, and had been her faithful companion after she adopted him when she found him abandoned in fields close to her home.

Mrs Lochi adopted several strays she found but friends said she developed a particular close affection for Tommy and would walk to church with him from her home every day - where the priest would allow him to sit patiently by her feet.

Following her death at San Donaci near Brindisi, a funeral service was held at which Tommy joined mourners and since then he has been a regular at the church arriving on time when the bells ring out to mark the start of services.

Father Donato Panna said:''He's there every time I celebrate Mass and is very well behaved - he doesn't make a sound, I've not heard one bark from him in all the time he has been coming in.

'He used to come to Mass with Maria and he was obviously devoted to her - I let him stay inside as he was always so well behaved and none of the other parishoners ever complained to me.

'He's still coming to Mass even after Maria's funeral, he waits patiently by the side of the altar and just sits there quietly. I didn't have the heart to throw him out - I've just recently lost my own dog so I leave him there until Mass finishes and then I let him out.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

January 15, 2013

City of Lawrence fires man after he requests unpaid time to care for his wife in her last days

Sacked municipal laborer to sue city after officials KO request for UNPAID time off to comfort terminally-ill spouse during her last days

A Massachusetts municipal worker says he is going to sue his former employer because the city fired him after he requested time off to comfort his terminally-ill wife during her final days.

Thomas Sapeniza of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, was reportedly initially granted unpaid leave to care for his spouse of eight years, Heather, who was stricken with brain cancer.

However, by the time of Heather's death on Jan. 3 at the age of 40, Sapienza had already been sacked from his post with the city's Department of Public Works, for whom he toiled as a laborer.

'Heather couldn't even have the peace during the last 30 days of her life knowing that her husband could have a job to go back to,' Michael Sweeney, an ex-elected official in Lawrence told

Making matters worese, Lawrence officials apparently filled Sapienza's one-time position through political patronage.

Now responsible for widower's former duties is a one-time Massachusetts state official who reportedly not only has no experience as a laborer, but is currently incarcerated.
But Sapienza, now mired in debt, is fighting back by reportedly preparing a soon-to-be-filed reverse racial discrimination lawsuit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

'We firmly believe that if Tom Sapienza was Hispanic and not white that he will have a job to come back to with the city of Lawrence,' Shimer-Brenes reportedly said.

The Massachusetts station phoned the DPW, as well as City of Lawrence officials, but received no return calls.

Sapienza reportedly used up his vacation and sick time in caring for Heather and then requested unpaid sick time to be with his wife during her final days.

The one-time municipal laborer reportedly did not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act because he had not worked the requisite number of hours.

Only in Massachusetts.  Lawrence is not a suburb but a decaying, corrupt, crime-ridden city north of Boston.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:27 AM | Permalink

December 8, 2012

'I feel like a walking shell: empty, alone and lost.'

'Hold your children tight, love them with every ounce you have'.

A mother-of-three whose husband and children were killed in a terrifying house fire last month has described herself as 'a walking shell' in a heart-wrenching open letter to her local newspaper.

In the note, which she asked to be shared with her community in Bangor, Maine, Christine Johnson begs other parents to 'hold your children tight, love them with every ounce of love you have' and says her 'damaged soul' will never heal after the devastating loss of her family.

Ms Johnson's husband, Ben Johnson III, woke up to the couple's fire alarm early on November 10, and after saving his wife's life by putting her through a window and onto the roof he turned back into the thick, black smoke in an attempt to save their three children.

But the blaze quickly engulfed the Orrington home and the brave father died of smoke inhalation along with his children Ben IV, 9, Ryan, 4, and Leslie, 8. 

 Christine Johnson+Family

Ms Johnson said in the note that she was distraught after losing her loving husband - a local bowler and bowling coach who worked two jobs to support the family.

'I see my children in my dreams': Mother whose three daughters and parents perished in Christmas Day blaze reveals how their 'visits' helped her overcome her grief

'I still feel the love I had for my husband, but there is no one to return it,' she wrote. 'No one to comfort me, no one to wrap their arms around me and say, "I've got you, baby doll, I've got you."

'No one to chase the nightmares away, or snuggle with on the couch after the kids have gone to sleep. And no one to tell me a joke when I'm crying, just so they can see me smile. My husband loved to make me smile. He said it was because my eyes would sparkle… Now my eyes sparkle no more.'

But she said her children were 'the ones I will forever cry over' because they 'never had a chance at life.''They never got to go on a boat, or ride a roller coaster,' she wrote. 'They never got to see Disney World, or Niagara Falls. They never got to ride on a plane to some far off land, or see a real, live moose.

'My youngest didn't even get to ride a school bus, and I remember him getting excited about the chance to get on one. My daughter never got the dance lessons that she wanted. My oldest never got to build the flying car that he kept bragging he was going to make.'

Unimaginable grief.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:44 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2012

Elephants mourn the death of the 'Elephant Whisperer'

Lawrence Anthony, the "Elephant Whisperer" who saved and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe, most famously with the 2003 rescue of the elephants from the Baghdad Zoo, died on March 7, 2012.

On March 10, a solemn procession that defies human explanation took place outside Anthony's  rural compound.

How Did they know? 

For 12 hours, two herds of wild South African elephants slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of late author Lawrence Anthony, the conservationist who saved their lives.The formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot a few years ago as pests, were rescued and rehabilitated by Anthony,
For two days the herds loitered at Anthony’s rural compound on the vast Thula Thula game reserve in the South African KwaZulu – to say good-bye to the man they loved. But how did they know he had died March 7?
There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both arrived at the Anthony family compound shortly after Anthony’s death.“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”Elephants have long been known to mourn their dead.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:23 PM | Permalink

October 18, 2012

Irish Wakes

The truth about the Irish wake

Merrymaking was a common part of the traditional Irish wake and was a part of the grieving process, according to an article in the Irish Independent. Pagan ritual was a huge part of it and much of the carrying-on was frowned upon by the church.  Storytelling, mischief making, and games were all part of the send-off and eased the suffering for the deceased's family.

According to the article, the custom "most likely has its roots in the ancient Jewish custom of leaving the burial chamber unsealed for three days with relatives returning during that time to check for any signs of life.  "As in other Celtic countries, Irish mourners adopted the custom as a way to keep vigil over their dead until the time of burial, and it evolved into an occasion of sadness and merriment."
Common was hiding under the corpse’s bed and shaking it when someone walked in scaring the daylights out of them
According to the Independent, the wake began when neighbor women washed the body of the deceased. It was then covered in white linen adorned with black or white ribbons.  "Custom dictated that crying could not begin until after the body was prepared, for fear that evil spirits would be attracted which would take the soul of the deceased.  "Female keeners were often hired, and they wailed and cried and recited poetry lamenting the loss of the loved one, with the mourner at the head of the bed striking the first note or wail."

It's a good thing I quoted so much of the Anchoress' post on Irish wakes because it's no longer online.  The grand parties of Irish wakes imperiled

Not to be missed is her Irish aunt's description of an Irish wake in Brooklyn about 1926

“For two days, every adult careened between tearful remembrances and roaring recollections. The children milled about, snatchin’ bits of food and plain’ games, stopping’ by for swift kisses (or kicks) from their parents - two people took turns ‘watching’ each hour, in the liven’ room with the body, while the rest of us were in the kitchen or on the stoops, or in the street, sending him off in style. And didn’t everyone stop by! The policeman, the milkman - for the thing went on all day and all night - the knife sharpener, the ragman, the mailman! They would all stop in and pay their respects, and have a shot of the right stuff, in his memory!

The piano played, the songs were sung - I remember a donnybrook in the front, which seemed to include all the young men, pounding’ upon each other like mortal enemies, except they seemed to enjoy the bloody noses and raw knuckles - and when it was time for prayers, they’d come in, sweaty and respectful, they’d pray then have a drink, then head back out and fight some more! Wasn’t it lively - all that lovely life in the middle of all that death!

And the keening! The sound of the women howling’ in grief…well, it didn’t seem sincere, but it had a lovely sort of sting to it - it reminded us that life is pain. And wasn’t I tired after a bit, so tired that I stood looking at the coffin and saw him move! It seemed to me his arm slid down and I went screaming’ into the kitchen telling them, ‘he’s movin’, he’s movin’, he’s not dead!’ And didn’t my uncle Francis say, ‘ah, he’s just wanting to join the party, child!’ and they all went in and apologized to himself for not spending more time with him, and brought a plate of food and laid it on his chest and put a glass in his hand.

It was mad. It was glorious. In the morning, we just stepped over the sleeping bodies on the floor or on the grass, and went out to play. When we returned, it was all on, again, until the funeral procession and the Holy Mass - at which everyone held their heads for fear they might fall off! And wasn’t it, after all, the sanest response to death I’d ever seen? When I die, I should have so grand a party!”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:46 AM | Permalink

September 13, 2012

Amazing story of a loyal dog guarding his dead master

Loyal dog ran away from home to find his dead master's grave - and has stayed by its side for six years

A faithful dog has refused to leave the side of his dead master's grave for six years, it was reported today.

 Loyal Dog Capitan

German shepherd Capitan ran away from home after the death of Argentinian Miguel Guzman in 2006.  A week later Mr Guzman's family went to pay their respects and found the heartbroken pet sitting by his owner's grave, wailing.  Since then the grieving dog has rarely left the spot at the cemetery in the town of Villa Carlos Paz, central Argentina.

Mr Guzman bought Capitan as a present for his 13-year-old son Damian in 2005. He died suddenly in March the next year, but by the time his family had returned home from the funeral Capitan was gone.

Mr Guzman's widow Veronica told Argentina's Cordoba newspaper: 'We searched for him but he had vanished. We thought he must have got run over and died. The following Sunday we went to the cemetery and Damian recognized his pet. Capitan came up to us, barking and wailing, as if he were crying.' She added: 'We had never taken him to the cemetery so it is a mystery how he managed to find the place. 'We went back the next Sunday, and he was there again. This time, he followed us home and spent a bit of time with us, but then went back to the cemetery before it started getting dark.

'I don't think he wanted to leave Miguel on his own at night.'

The cemetery's director Hector Baccega remembers the day he first saw the dog. He said: 'He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master. 'During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o'clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave stays there all night.' Mr Baccega said staff at the cemetery are now feeding and taking care of Capitan.

Mr Guzman's son Damian said: 'I've tried to bring Capitan home several times, but he always comes straight back to the cemetery. I think he's going to be there until he dies too. He's looking after my dad.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:05 PM | Permalink

July 22, 2012

Horror and Grief

 Grieving Tom Sullivan Aurora

This photo of Tom Sullivan realizing that his 27-year-old son Alex was not coming out of the movie theater alive sums up for me the horror and grief the families are living through.    An overwhelming tragedy was distilled into one human moment by the agony of a father who outlived his son.

Three of the men killed  - Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves - died like heroes using their bodies to protect their girlfriends.

 Victims Aurora

Pictured: The tragic six-year-old girl shot dead in Dark Knight massacre as America mourns 12 victims murdered in cold blood

Stories of the victims in The Daily Mail.  Every one's a hart-breaker.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:09 AM | Permalink

July 17, 2012

Grieving Dolphin

I know that elephants mourn their dead, but I didn't know that dolphins did too.

 Dolphin Carrying Deadyoung

In mourning: Dolphin photographed carrying the broken body of its baby in heartbreaking ritual

These are the heart-rending images of a dolphin carrying her dead baby out to sea. The pictures were taken by tourists in China's Guangxi Zhuang region, an area known for of its dolphin-watching tours.

The mammals' mourning ritual is rarely seen - and it is even more rare for it to be caught on camera.

The adult dolphin repeatedly lifted the dead calf to the surface, as if helping it to breathe. It was also moving the calf away from the shore, heading for deeper water.

A large gash was seen across the calf's belly, and it is possible the infant was killed by the propeller of a boat. Ironically, it may have been one of the many boats that take tourists out for day trips. 

Researchers have observed dolphins carrying or pushing stillborn calves or those that die in their infancy. The dolphins show distress and can stay with the dead baby for several days.

Mourning rituals in the animal kingdom have also been observed in whales, elephants, chimps and gorillas.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:41 PM | Permalink

June 30, 2012

Grief is not depression

Theodore Dalrymple: Is Grief Always Depression.  The American Psychiatric Association thinks so.

The word “unhappy” has been virtually abolished from the English language. For every person who says “I’m unhappy” there must now be a thousand who say “I’m depressed.” The change in semantics is important: the person who says he is unhappy knows that there is something wrong with his life that he should try to alter if he can; whereas the person who says “I’m depressed” is ill, and it is therefore the responsibility of someone else — the doctor — to make him better.

The APA thinks if you're not done grieving  4 weeks, after you've lost your spouse or your child, you're sick and  seriously depressed.

One may legitimately wonder what kind of human relationships the APA expects people to have: certainly not very deep ones. Indeed, the APA probably would count having deep and lasting relationships as pathological, as a risk factor for “depression” later on when the objects of these morbid relationships die.  Better to keep everything on an even, superficial level; then there will be no cause for grief.  Sorry: depression.

The APA seems to view loving relationships as the British working class used to view teeth: better not to have any, since they only give you trouble in the end. In response to criticism, however, the APA has — according to the editorial — conceded the following: A footnote will be added [to its criteria for the diagnosis of depression] indicating that sadness with some mild depressive symptoms in the face of loss should not necessarily be viewed as major depression.

I for one am sick of the politicization and medicalization of what is normal human nature.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 AM | Permalink

April 14, 2012

Britian's "odd relationship with grief"

As a nation we have developed an odd relationship with grief. It’s not just that we are fascinated by tragedies; we are deeply moved by our own reaction to them.

Damian Thompson on The celebration of grief

This is where those teddy bears come into the picture. The soft toys weren’t intended as comfort for the families of two horribly murdered girls. Their purpose was to provide emotional satisfaction for the people who sent them – a “personal” tribute to Holly and Jessica by members of the public who, a decade later, probably have difficulty remembering their names.

When Diana, Princess of Wales died, some critics were appalled by the “mourning sickness” symbolized by the mountains of flowers. That’s harsh, given that the public felt that they knew Diana. But there’s no getting away from it: some of those bouquets gave off the same aroma of narcissism as the teddies.

Although the vicarious grief over Diana was unusually intense, it was a classic demonstration of post-religious spirituality. The same goes for the outpouring of sympathy for Fabrice Muamba, a footballer few people had heard of before he collapsed.

Modern Westerners, including Christians, no longer believe in the supernatural in the taken-for-granted fashion of our ancestors. Confronted by major life events, we find solace in our own compassion.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:58 PM | Permalink

February 21, 2012

Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with anti-depressants"

'Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with pills': Doctors hit back at creeping medicalisation of life events

Treatment of grief with antidepressants is 'dangerously simplistic', experts say
Backlash follows the American Psychiatric Association's reclassification of grief as a mental illness

Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with anti-depressants, experts say.

In an unsigned editorial in the influential medical journal The Lancet, experts argue that grief does not require psychiatrists and that 'legitimising' the treatment of grief with antidepressants 'is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed.'

The debate follows a decision by the American Psychiatric Association to classify grief as a mental illness in a bid to allow to doctors to be more flexible about how early patients can be treated for depression after the death of a loved one.

The lead editorial states: 'Grief is not an illness; it is more usefully thought of as part of being human and a normal response to the death of a loved one.'

The Lancet's comments follow the APA's decision to add grief reactions to their list of mental illnesses in their fifth edition of the psychiatry 'bible', Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5), which is due out in 2013.

But The Lancet, along with many psychiatrists and psychologists have called for the changes to be halted - saying they would lead to a 'tick box’ system that did not consider the wider needs of patients but labelled them as 'mentally ill’.

They agree that in rare cases, bereavement will develop into prolonged grief or major depression that may merit medical treatment. However, they suggested that for the majority of the bereaved, 'doctors would do better to offer time, compassion, remembrance and empathy, than pills.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:20 PM | Permalink

February 18, 2012

Who will be crying at your funeral?

Who Will Be Crying At Your Funeral?

I attended a memorial service last week for a 23-year-old man whose life ended far too soon.
The service was so crowded that if a Fire Marshal had driven by there would have definitely been an issue. When the often-awkward time arrived to open up the microphone to anyone wanting to say something about the deceased – it wasn’t awkward; it was an amazing and inspiring time, which lasted more than 90 minutes. People who knew him well, barely knew him at all, hadn’t seem him in years, and people from different religious, economic and generational backgrounds all shared stories about how he touched their lives. His time on this earth had huge impact – will yours?
This man was a servant. This man was a leader. This man was an example for us all. He understood what mattered; he used his time where it made the biggest difference. He never talked about doing things – he just did them. He was mature beyond his years and lived a life people won’t forget. The world is a better place because he was here. Do you have the courage to make the world better?

What will your funeral look like? If you haven’t lived the life you’d want publicly recounted someday, it’s not too late to change. The future isn’t some ethereal, distant event – it begins in just a fraction of a second.  Only YOU can choose how you’ll live your life.  Leadership isn’t about titles – it’s about the choices you make, the causes you serve, and the people you impact. The best legacy is one that can be lived before it’s left behind. Who’ll be crying at your funeral?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:15 AM | Permalink

January 22, 2012

"The death of a spouse rewrites the rules of a family in ways I never could have imagined"

Watching Them Watching Me

You see, as hard as it has been for my three sons to lose their mother — she died rather suddenly two months shy of our 25th — I learned that anniversary night that it has also been hard for them to watch me lose the love of my life.

As alone as I feel, I am not actually alone. I have three sons who can pinpoint with laserlike precision the gaping hole in my heart. It is an odd feeling as a father to be so transparent, so naked, in front of the children you still provide for. But the death of a spouse rewrites the rules of a family in ways I never could have imagined. Some decisions in life, it turns out, are made for you, leaving you an unwitting accomplice and spectator at once.
When I look back to the morning my wife died, it is now clear to me that my sons were well down this road even then — that they recognized our family’s changed order and its consequences. As we were driving home from the hospice in exhausted silence, my oldest son, in the passenger seat where his mom had always sat, turned to me and then to his brothers.

“It is just the four of us now,” he said. “We’ll need to be here for each other.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:33 AM | Permalink

January 7, 2012

Rick Santorum's baby

For some people, politics trumps all, even something as private as a family grieving the death of a two-hour baby before burying him.  What shriveled hardened hearts. 

Charles Lane on Rick Santorum’s baby--and mine.

The latest intra-pundit flap of Campaign 2012: a couple of my liberal colleagues have called Rick and Karen Santorum “crazy,” or “very weird” for wrapping and caressing the body of their baby, who died only two hours after emerging from 20 weeks in utero -- and taking it home for their children to see. These opinions provoked a conservative backlash.

Maybe it’s not too late for a teachable moment about neonatal death and stillbirth — and the special grief that these not-uncommon, but obviously insufficiently understood, tragedies inflict upon parents.

Nine years ago, my son Jonathan’s heart mysteriously stopped in utero — two hours prior to a scheduled c-section that would have brought him out after 33 weeks. Next came hours of induced labor so that my wife could produce a lifeless child. I cannot describe the anxiety, emotional pain, and physical horror.
I regret that, unlike the Santorums, who presented the body of their child to their children, we did not show Jonathan’s body to our other son, who was six years old at the time. When I told him what had happened, his first question was, “Well, where is the baby?” I tried to explain what a morgue is, and why the baby went there. It was awkward and unsatisfactory -- too abstract. In hindsight, I was not protecting my son from a difficult conversation, I was protecting myself.
Jonathan’s death was probably the hardest moment of my life. But actually touching his body was a source of comfort and the first step in going on with life. Not weird.

Jessica Heslam Our Bereavement is our own

A little while later, a nurse took her away and we never saw her again.

Those precious moments with my daughter — the only time I ever got to see and hold her — are cherished ones. That single memory of holding Grace brings me much peace.

Santorum lost a baby, too. His wife, Karen, went into premature labor when she was 20 weeks pregnant with their son and fourth child, Gabriel, in 1996. He had a fatal birth defect and died two hours after he was born.

The heartbroken couple brought their baby home. According to The Washington Post, the couple and their other children cuddled Gabriel, took pictures and sang him lullabies.

Santorum told CNN’s Piers Morgan in August that his wife, a neonatal intensive care nurse in Pittsburgh, had learned how important it was for siblings to see their lost brother or sister and include them in the family.

The Santorums’ actions are in line with American Pregnancy Association guidelines, which urge grieving parents to talk to and touch their stillborn babies — and for family members to spend time with them as well.

“It was a beautiful thing,” Santorum recalled. “It’s something that the older children do remember, and it did bring closure to them. Gabriel, even to this day, is still very much a part of our family.”

I was sickened this week when liberal pundits mocked Santorum as “weird” and “crazy,” and tried to use the tragedy to highlight his extreme right-wing views.

Some may not agree with Santorum’s ideology, but to ridicule a grief-stricken father for grappling with one of life’s most agonizing tragedies is the dirtiest of politics.

Mark Steyn  Politics trumps Left's empathy

Lest you doubt that we're headed for the most vicious election year in memory, consider the determined effort, within 10 minutes of his triumph in Iowa, to weirdify Rick Santorum. Discussing the surging senator on Fox News, Alan Colmes mused on some of the "crazy things" he's said and done.

Santorum has certainly said and done many crazy things, as have most members of America's political class, but the "crazy thing" Colmes chose to focus on was Santorum's "taking his two-hour-old baby when it died right after childbirth home," whereupon he "played with it." My National Review colleague Rich Lowry rightly slapped down Alan on air, and Colmes subsequently apologized, though not before Mrs. Santorum had been reduced to tears by his remarks. Undeterred, Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, doubled down on stupid and insisted that Deadbabygate demonstrated how Santorum is "not a little weird, he's really weird."
Not many of us will ever know what it's like to have a child who lives only a few hours. That alone should occasion a certain modesty about presuming to know what are "weird" and unweird reactions to such an event.
Santorum's respect for all life, including even the smallest bleakest meanest two-hour life, speaks well for him, especially in comparison with his fellow Pennsylvanian, the accused mass murderer Kermit Gosnell, an industrial-scale abortionist at a Philadelphia charnel house who plunged scissors into the spinal cords of healthy delivered babies. Few of Gosnell's employees seemed to find anything "weird" about that: Indeed, they helped him out by tossing their remains in jars and bags piled up in freezers and cupboards. Much less crazy than taking 'em home and holding a funeral, right?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:04 PM | Permalink

December 30, 2011

Synchronized sorrow UPDATED

'The people are crying tears of blood': Millions of wailing North Koreans line snow bound streets in display of state-controlled grief for Kim Jong Il's funeral

They wept, they wailed, they doubled over in apparent pain.  Not a bad show of mourning for a tyrant who subjected his country to 17 years of torture, repression and mass murder.

As the two-day funeral ceremony for ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Il began yesterday, it was the signal for an all-ages orgy of synchronised sorrow meant to show how bereft the North Korean nation is without him.

 Grieving North Koreans

The photographs of the funeral are amazing, worthy of an old-fashioned totalitarian state.

Here's the late Christopher Hitchens on North Korea, Worse Than 1984

In North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power. Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished…. Everybody in the city has to be at home and in bed by curfew time, when all the lights go off (if they haven’t already failed). A recent nighttime photograph of the Korean peninsula from outer space shows something that no “free-world” propaganda could invent: a blaze of electric light all over the southern half, stopping exactly at the demilitarized zone and becoming an area of darkness in the north.

Concealed in that pitch-black night is an imploding state where the only things that work are the police and the armed forces. The situation is actually slightly worse than indentured servitude. The slave owner historically promises, in effect, at least to keep his slaves fed. In North Korea, this compact has been broken. It is a famine state as well as a slave state.

UPDATE:  North Korea Is Sending Anyone Who Didn't Mourn For Kim Jong-II To A Labor-Training Camp 

North Korea is punishing citizens who didn't participate in the organized mourning period following Kim Jong-Il's death by sentencing them to six months in a labor-training camp, according to The Daily NK (via

The decision to ship North Koreans off to re-education camps follows a series of "criticism sessions" that began on Dec. 29.  A source from North Hamkyung Province told The Daily NK that officials are also punishing those "who did participate but didn’t cry and didn't seem genuine.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:38 PM | Permalink

December 26, 2011

"She has a legacy now"

Jackie Oddo thought it was too late when she  learned of the death of her birth mother whom she never meet.  Still, she felt compelled to go to her wake. 

When Grief bears a gift of joy,

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:52 PM | Permalink

October 29, 2011

'Why must I suffer like this? It's tearing the flesh from my bones':

How Queen Victoria's obsessive love for her dead husband nearly destroyed the monarchy

At the age of 42, Victoria had enjoyed 20 years of happy marriage. Britain’s Queen adored her husband with a fierce devotion that no one dared criticise and nothing could dim. He was everything to her: surrogate father, best friend and teacher – King in all but name.No one who was at Windsor that year could have failed to be impressed by the conviviality of the British Royal Family at home. But for the Queen, it would prove to be the last truly happy Christmas she would see.

The detail of the unfolding tragedy to come, the astonishing national response and the depth of the crisis that followed can only be revealed here thanks to neglected and unseen correspondence from the time, much of it in diary form, including Queen Victoria’s moving – and unpublished – private account of her husband’s death.

 Queen Victoria Mourning

It was from this point on, more than a decade since the death of her  husband, that the Queen finally began to re-emerge. True, she continued to avoid Buckingham Palace at all costs. But now she understood how crucial her public popularity was.

The lost years had seen a hardening of her (mistaken) image as the dour, prudish, humourless and repressive Widow at Windsor. But out of so much darkness there finally emerged a Monarch with great virtues – lack of vanity, human sympathy, absolute honesty and sound  common sense.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:11 PM | Permalink

September 22, 2011

In limbo

When a loved one vanishes on a cruise, the family is in limbo.  Dead or missing?  Do they hold a funeral?  Collect on insurance?  Those families are living a nightmare.

Some 165 people have gone missing from cruise ships in recent years

‘It has been incredibly difficult, surreal really, and terrible for the children,’ she says. ‘In my heart I believe he is dead, that he is gone, that he somehow slipped and went overboard. I can’t think of any other explanation.

‘A search of the sea was carried out at the time, but nothing was found. I am told there are sharks in the area: it is very painful to think about.’

But is the idea of someone ‘slipping overboard’ credible? The rails on cruise ships are at least 3ft 6in high, which makes it incredibly difficult for anyone — even someone who might be drunk or ill — to pitch overboard.

‘Life goes on,’ she says. ‘I need money to pay the bills and we’ve lost John’s salary. John took out travel insurance and I’ve been on to the company to try to make a claim but they simply say: “What are you claiming for?”

‘Thomson haven’t given me any support, either. John was in their care, but I haven’t had so much as a letter from them. I can’t get a widow’s pension because we don’t know if John is dead.

‘We’re living a nightmare and we can’t see a way out of it. It is so unreal that we can’t grieve. We are in limbo. What do we do? Should we hold a funeral? But how can we if we’re not sure he’s dead?’
Are they the victims of a sinister crime wave? Have they had a mishap at sea and fallen overboard, or perhaps chosen to take their own lives?

The sad fact is that, in many cases, no one knows. And for the family and friends they left behind, that only compounds the heartache. Loved ones such as Ruth Halford and her children, who remain in limbo; bereft, baffled and unable to grieve.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:23 AM | Permalink

September 18, 2011

Good Grief

A Meditation of How Grief can be a Gift in Strange Package

Many years ago (1990) my sister died in a fire. She had been mentally ill all her life and I struggled to relate to her. In many ways I feared her. When I first got news she had died in the fire I just went numb. We in the family wondered if we might be able to view her body or not. The funeral director told us we could view her privately but since her skin has been singed in the fire it was too delicate to touch her. Further, because of this, he had not been able to adjust her face in any way. Nevertheless he thought she was presentable enough for the family to have a private viewing. We I looked upon my sister and saw her face it was very clear that she was crying when she died. For the first time in my life I wept for my sister and lamented the awful mental illness that had caused her such hardship. For the first time I understood her dignity. I guess I am sorry that it took her death for me to come to that appreciation and love of her. But that was the gift that my grief gave me, it intensified my love for my sister. I still cry from time to time when I think of that moment. It was painful but it was a gift and it remains so.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:17 PM | Permalink

September 11, 2011

Grief at Ground Zero and Shanksville

I'm of the same mind as The Anchoress in Calling Olly Olly Oxen Free at Ground Zero

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in New York City, two new memorials were unveiled, and all of the dignitaries involved, Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton, Vice-President Biden and Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, participated with great dignity. In New York they even managed to add a bit of scripture and prayer, which were effective amid the poignant moments of silence.

But had the ceremony progressed from its opening, to include a few remarks from first responder representatives, and perhaps a bit of music, and then an official proclamation of the opening of the memorial garden, with an invitation to the families to linger there for as long as they wished, it might have been a more powerful, and perhaps healthier remembrance than the six hours that followed, which were moving until (as family members began to top each other in declarations of love and remembrance) they became numbing; until (when it appeared a women meant to name all 11 of her grandchildren and tell her dearly departed what each had been up to since last they’d chatted) it seemed like we were barreling toward self-indulgent grief porn, from which we should avert our eyes.

For the families of the passengers on Flight 93 and for many of the families of victims whose remains were never found, the opening of the two memorials was the first time they could ever visit something like grave and for them the memorials are the cemeteries of their loved ones who died on 9/11.

'We'll never forget, we'll never forget, we'll never forget': The heart-wrenching words of the broken father who has become the symbol of a nation's grief

Overwhelmed by emotion to the point of collapse, he is the broken father who has come to symbolise a nation's grief.

Robert Peraza lost his son on 9/11 after he was trapped on the 104th floor of the North Tower, just above the gaping hole left in the building by the impact of American Airlines flight 11.

Although ten years have passed since his son Rob came down with the towers, Mr Peraza showed just how strong the feeling of loss still is for those who lost a loved one that day.

 9:11 Memorial Robert Peraza

Mr Peraza said he did not have to look hard for his son's name on the memorial - he was somehow just drawn to it.

'I just began to walk, and I found it,' he said.

'It was, to me, very emotional to find the name. I knew it was in the north pool. It’s very moving.'

He added: 'All I am doing here is to honour his memory. The issue isn’t about me.'

The Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 will likely be the last time we see such private grief on public display. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:33 PM | Permalink

August 18, 2011

What more can you say?


From Neatorama,  Teddy Roosevelt's Diary the Day His Wife Died

Teddy was just 25 when his first wife, Alice, died of Bright’s Disease two days after the birth of their daughter. After her death, he never spoke of his wife publicly again and even deferred his daughter’s questions about her mother to other family members. Her name was also Alice, but because it reminded Teddy too much of her mother, she became known in the family as “Baby Lee.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:24 PM | Permalink

July 26, 2011

Men grieve differently

Why is it surprising that men and women experience grief in different ways? 

Men in Grief Seek Others Who Mourn as They Do

The loss of a loved one is a profoundly heartbreaking experience, but it is not the same for everyone. Research increasingly suggests that men and women experience grief in different ways, and the realization has bolstered a nascent movement of bereavement groups geared to men throughout the country. Many of them are affiliated with hospitals and hospice centers.
Many will be not be prepared for the experience. The loss of a spouse often is crushing for men physically as well as psychologically. In a 2001 paper published in The Review of General Psychology, psychologists at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands confirmed earlier data showing widowers have a higher incidence of mental and physical illness, disabilities, death and suicide than widows do. While women who lose their husbands often speak of feeling abandoned or deserted, widowers tend to experience the loss “as one of dismemberment, as if they had lost something that kept them organized and whole,”
The Harvard Bereavement Study, a landmark late 1960s investigation of spousal loss, found that widowers experienced the death of a wife as a multifaceted tragedy, a loss of protection, support and comfort that left many at sea. The men in the study relied heavily on their wives to manage their domestic lives, from household chores to raising their children, the researchers noted.

The grief of men is compounded, Dr. Caserta added, by the fact that so many have been reluctant to directly address real feelings of deep sadness; until recently, men were expected to be emotionally controlled and inexpressive.
Sherry Schachter, director of bereavement services at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx and a grief specialist for 25 years, said in a telephone interview: “While women grieve intuitively, open to expressing their feelings, men are ‘instrumental’ grievers. They’re not comfortable with talking about their feelings, and they prefer to do things to cope.”

In a men’s group she has run for the last few years, she said, “I never ask, ‘How do you feel?’ Rather, I ask, ‘What did you do?’ ”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:15 PM | Permalink

June 8, 2011

Mourning Picture

"Mourning Picture"

The artist Edwin Elmer painted this "Mourning Picture" after his nine-year-old daughter died of appendicitis.

A surreal remembrance, taut with grief

The force of the loss overwhelmed Mary. Intent on abandoning the house, the couple packed up Effie’s toys and gave away her pets.

Presumably, they were trying to forget — or at least to escape the clutch of the memories the house and Effie’s belongings all held. But before they left, Elmer felt he needed also to remember. (The lurching human soul forever contradicting itself!) So he painted this strange, haunted picture, which seems stretched so tight that it might crumble at the slightest touch.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:35 AM | Permalink

April 28, 2011

The pathologization of grief

Sometimes, life is just really sad

This pathologization of grief, according to Dr. Allen Francis, the U.S. psychiatrist who chaired the task force for DSM-4, is a "disaster," which "ignores the inescapable fact that grief is the necessary price we pay for our mammalian capacity to love."

He's right, of course, but he's spitting into the zeistgeist. Our era isn't governed by common sense and respect for universal human nature, but by therapism – a kind of emotional correctness that confuses aspects of the human condition with disease. Anyone subject to a "stressor" may henceforth claim to be a passive victim. His negative mood or behaviour is seen as beyond his free will or moral agency to overcome.

The DSM-5 could end up making Person A feel there is something medically wrong with her if she mourns the passing of her mate of 50 years longer than Person B mourns that of his beloved dog.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:57 AM | Permalink

April 9, 2011

Gaman and gambatte

How the Japanese are handling their grief.

Jamie Dean on A grief observed

One of the many wrenching scenes in post-tsunami Japan is unfolding in a most unlikely place: a bowling alley. Along the 25 lanes at Airport Bowl near Sendai, more than 100 white coffins replace standard white pins, and each day grieving Japanese citizens somberly peer inside the boxes, looking for lost loved ones.

But even during some of the most painful moments of recovery, many Japanese have remained remarkably calm and resolute: Rescue workers bow in respect for the dead after recovering a body, and homeless Japanese quake victims bow in gratitude for sometimes meager supplies of food and water.

Some call the dynamic
gaman—a word that conveys the Japanese virtue of honorably enduring hardship no matter how bad it gets. Others might call it gambatte—the Japanese virtue of doing one's best no matter how difficult the circumstances might grow.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:13 PM | Permalink

March 28, 2011

The stations of the cross of widowhood

Julian Barnes reviews Joyce Carol Oates new book, A Widow's Story: A Memoir in the New York Review of Books

'For Sorrow There Is No Remedy'

Even with painful passions—fear, jealousy, anger—nature always suggests to us a solution, and with it an end to that oppressive feeling:

But for sorrow there is no remedy provided by nature; it is often occasioned by accidents irreparable, and dwells upon objects that have lost or changed their existence; it requires what it cannot hope, that the laws of the universe should be repealed; that the dead should return, or the past should be recalled.
Of course, at one level we know that we shall all die; but death has come to be looked upon more as a medical failure than a human norm. It increasingly happens away from the home, in hospital, and is handled by a series of outside specialists—a matter for the professionals. But afterward we, the amateurs, the grief-struck, are left to deal with it—this unique, banal thing—as best we can. And there are now fewer social forms to surround and support the grief-bearer.

That both Didion and Oates limit their books to the first year of their widowhoods is logical. Long-married couples develop a certain rhythm, gravity, and coloration to the annual cycle, and so those first twelve months of widowhood propose at every turn a terrible choice: between doing the same as last year, only this time by yourself, or deliberately not doing the same as last year, and thereby perhaps feeling even more by yourself. That first year contains many stations of the cross.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:09 PM | Permalink

February 1, 2011

The Truth About Grief

Five misconceptions about grief and grieving.

New Ways to Think About Grief

The five stages of grief are so deeply embedded in our culture that they've become virtually inescapable. Every time we experience loss — whether personal or national — we hear them recited: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

---If you were to read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's On Death and Dying — the book that in 1969 gave the five stages their debut — for the first time today, you might be surprised to discover that Kübler-Ross, then a staff psychiatrist at Billings Hospital in Chicago, was actually writing about the experience of facing one's own death, not the death of someone else

Myth No. 1: We Grieve in Stages

In her 2003 report, Genevro concluded that the information being used to help the bereaved was misaligned with the latest research, which increasingly indicates that grief is not a series of steps that ultimately deposit us at a psychological finish line but rather a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift.

Myth No. 2: Express It; Don't Repress It

---expressing negative emotions can actually prolong your distress...tamping down or avoiding those feelings, known as "repressive coping," actually has a protective function....talking or writing about the death of a spouse did not help people adjust to that loss any better.

Myth No. 3: Grief Is Harder on Women

--relatively speaking, men suffer more from being bereaved.

Myth No. 4: Grief Never Ends

---the worst of grief is usually over within about six months.

Myth No. 5: Counseling Helps

That doesn't mean that no one is ever helped by counseling but rather that counseling doesn't, on average, seem to hasten grief's departure.

"The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss" (Ruth Davis Konigsberg)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:39 PM | Permalink

January 26, 2011

Bowed in mourning


Photographer Daniel Cox captured this image of Emperor Penguins mourning the death of their chicks.

Part of my job is to accept that with the spectacular sights of nature also come the stark facts of life, and to see Emperor Penguins mourning in a human-like way over the death of their chicks is heart-wrenching,' he said.

'They hunch over like they are in a state of grief and they wander around the frozen ice wastes attempting to locate their chicks. 'It is difficult to say how and why they died, but I was told by other scientists that it was not unheard of. 'Weather and things like starvation, if there is a food shortage, can cause this kind of sad event.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 AM | Permalink

January 25, 2011

"In the hands of a righteous judge"

Shunned as a killer, his funeral brought people together

Killer's Amish burial gives closure

There is fresh grave in the Amish cemetery, next to the one where Katie Gingerich has lain since her murder in 1993. It belongs to her killer and husband, Edward Gingerich, who was 44 when he hanged himself Jan. 14.
His burial within the community that had shunned him after the killing is a gesture of conciliation that remains as bitterly disputed as his life had been. Amish were pitted against Amish over how to respond to a murderer who everyone agreed was psychotic when he killed his wife. It was the only known case of a homicide committed by an Amishman.
The funeral was last Sunday in Atlee's home. The bishop preached, Mr. Miller said. A non-Amish neighbor was astounded at the crowd.

"There were Amish folks who came from far and wide on short notice. They came from other states," said former Allegheny County commissioner Bob Cranmer.

He asked an Amish friend why the community claimed Ed Gingerich in death when it had shunned him in life.

"He told me it was more for the family than it was for him," Mr. Cranmer said.

Mr. Miller agreed, saying he thought it was a gesture of reconciliation toward his brothers and sons. "They buried him right next to Katie," he said.

Mr. Schroeck believes the way Ed Gingerich died only added to his family's anguish.

"His brothers are worried about his immortal soul going to hell because he violated the command 'Thou shalt not kill' by committing suicide," he said.

Mr. Miller isn't trying to sort that out. "He is in the hands of a righteous judge," he said.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:09 AM | Permalink

January 19, 2011

Momento of a Lost Child

From The Burns Archive, an astonishing collection of historic images. Back when too many children died too early, parents, like this devastated mother, would arrange for photographs of their dead children to be taken so they could be remembered them as part of the family.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:01 PM | Permalink

January 18, 2011

The love of a faithful dog


Leao, the dog belonging to Christina Maria Cesario Santana, stays by her grave for the second day. She died in one of the catastrophic landslidesthat claimed 550 people in Brazil last week, its worse flood disaster on record.   

I was reminded of Greyfriars Bobby who spent 14 years guarding the grave of its owner.

HT Deacon's Bench.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:49 AM | Permalink

December 28, 2010

The Lives They Lived

As the year draws to end, The New York Times gives us its idiosyncratic collage of The Lives They Lived, a "collection of narratives that celebrate lives",

From Benoit Mandelbrot

He turns out to have belonged to the select handful of 20th-century scientists who upended, as if by flipping a switch, the way we see the world we live in.

He was the one who let us appreciate chaos in all its glory, the noisy, the wayward and the freakish, from the very small to the very large. He gave the new field of study he invented a fittingly recondite name: “fractal geometry.”

to Philippa Foot, a philosopher who reached back to St. Thomas Acquinas to find

If you focus on traditional virtues and vices like temperance and avarice instead of abstract concepts like goodness and duty, you can see the concrete connections between the conditions of human life and the objective reasons for acting morally. (Why is cowardliness a vice? Because courage is needed to face the world’s challenges.) In the ’80s, after considering how we evaluate what is “good” for plants and animals, she developed the argument, presented in “Natural Goodness,” that vice is a defect in humans in the same way that poor roots are a defect in an oak tree or poor vision a defect in an owl: the latter two assessments have clear normative implications (“oughts”), yet are entirely factual. Even from a secular scientific vantage point, you could locate good and evil in the fabric of the world.

“I’m a dreadfully slow thinker, really,” she said. “But I do have a good nose for what is important.”

and Talitha and Emmanuella Termilus

Termilus had a wife, two daughters and a son. That morning, his daughters — Talitha and Emmanuella, who were 12 and 11, and whose preternatural intelligence had caused their teachers to promote them to the eighth and seventh grades — dressed their 3-year-old brother, Benedict, each slipping a shoe on a foot and tying it for him. They shared everything like this. They were the kind of girls, pigtailed and smiling and outgoing, for whom an excursion to the beach, or for ice cream, often meant packing the car with friends; Frantz at the wheel often marveled at the sweet jabber of children.


Grief is a walk to the ending you already know, and during the seventh and eighth miles, a feeling overtook Termilus, a wish for only one thing: that he might stumble upon someone he knew in the streets — anyone — just to grab hold of the living and tell them the truth: that he loved them. Why hadn’t he ever said so before?

When he came to the school, there was no school. All four stories had come down. And everything all at once left his body — all the hope and energy he’d mustered to match the horror — and even now he couldn’t say how long he stood there, gazing upon the gravestone of that school. In his mind, he still stands there.


There was no phone service, but it wasn’t hard to know that the city was bedlam. Word of mouth traveled: hospitals had been destroyed. There were no services, no potable water. The prison had broken open — and now 5,000 inmates were loose, including all the kidnappers. There were caches of weapons that needed to be secured. And there were more children, trapped, orphaned, injured. He was on the verge of being consumed by memory, but instead of mourning before that pile of rocks, he dusted off his shirt — his badge, the epaulets. He straightened his uniform and went to work.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:59 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2010

Writing, not closure

As recounted in the Wall Street Journal in The Lady and the Playwright, when Lady Antonia Fraser met Harold Pinter, she said

"Wonderful play, marvelous acting," she told Pinter. "Now I'm off."

"He looked at me with those amazing, extremely bright black eyes. 'Must you go?' he said. I thought of home, my lift, taking the children to school the next morning . . . my projected biography of King Charles II. 'No, it's not absolutely essential.'"

So began a 33-year marriage of true minds that ended with Pinter's death from cancer on Christmas Eve in 2008, at the age of 78.


An inveterate journal-keeper for more than 40 years, Lady Antonia began work on "Must You Go" a month after Pinter died. "I never intended to publish it. It wasn't written for that reason," she said, drinking coffee in the lobby alcove of her midtown hotel after an early morning swim.


"The whole thing, including the title, came into my head like that. It was an act of love and remembrance, really, a book of celebration at a time of such tremendous grief," continued Lady Antonia, 78, who has a posh, creamy voice you must sometimes bend close to hear and who has a manner that is equal parts grand and grandmotherly. "It was a very surprising thing for me to do because I'm not a very candid person, and I don't believe I would or could write it now. It was the effect of grief."

She doesn't think much of closure.

Closure? She recoils at the word and the notion. "Thank you very much. No closure," she said tartly. "I don't want closure in stopping mourning. I don't want it to stop. But it is the oddest thing when something happens and I think 'I must tell Harold.'

"And I can't."

"Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter" (Antonia Fraser)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:53 PM | Permalink

Portrait of Grief

Mother Grieving Nationalgeo
In Goma Sushitsa, Bulgaria, a mother grieves over a picture of her late son.

From National Geographic's Greatest Portraits

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

October 23, 2010

She felt she would be accused of something

This poor woman has a lot of issues.

Woman drove around with body of dead friend in car for TEN months... because she felt she would be 'accused of something'

As the flesh started to decompose she scattered baking soda in the vehicle to try to cover up the smell.

By the time the police discovered the dead body it was partially mummified and consisted of just skin and bones. It weighed just 30lb.

The bizarre saga started when the woman befriended a homeless woman in Fountain Valley, California, and let her sleep in the car.

The 57-year-old driver, from nearby Costa Mesa, says she did not know what to do when her friend died suddenly in December last year.

Sergeant Ed Everett, of Costa Mesa police, said: 'She felt she would be accused of something and with everything going on in her life she did not want to deal with that.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:21 AM | Permalink

October 8, 2010

Twenty-five years ago, he was murdered and tossed overboard into the sea

Leon Klinghoffer, R.I.P.

Daughters keep up terror fight for Leon Klinghoffer 25 years after attack on Achille Lauro

For the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer, all it takes is the smell of a cigar to erase the 25 years since Palestinian pirates murdered him and dumped him over the side of the Achille Lauro.

Because Klinghoffer - a tough New York Jew who defied the terrorists despite being in a wheelchair - loved a good cigar.

"I pass a smoke shop in the street and I say, 'Oh my God, he could have spent hours in here,'" Ilsa Klinghoffer said.

Friday, exactly a quarter-century after the gunmen shot Klinghoffer in the head, he lives on in memories like these - and in the anti-terrorism work his daughters do in his name.

"People say, 'Girls, why don't you get on with life?'" Lisa Klinghoffer said. "My answer to them is this is part of my life and I feel honored to be doing the work that I do.

Amd Lisa Ilsa Klinghoffer

It was only after the pirates were captured that Klinghoffer's body washed up on a Syrian beach.

"My mother, when she called us from the boat, told us, 'Do your crying now. We have a lot of work when I come home,'" Lisa recalled. "She didn't want our father's murder to be in vain."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:46 PM | Permalink

September 30, 2010

Mourning Apps

The Daily Undertaker has news of two new Apps to help you with mourning and visiting graves.

Mourner's Kaddish?  Visiting a Grave?  There's an App for That

Just last week, I was excited to learn about Bosan, an iPhone app designed for Japanese families that facilitated a virtual grave honoring from anywhere in the world.  I wondered what would be next app for mourners.  Well, here are two more!

iKaddish teaches the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, which is one of the primary ritual observances of Jewish mourning practice.

It is the ideal tutor for learning the difficult words and intonation of the Kaddish prayer, which is written in Aramaic. The text is displayed with vowelized Hebrew and transliteration.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:45 AM | Permalink

July 27, 2010

Mourning the wrong girl

One accident, two girls, and the hospital mixed up their identities.  One family learns their "dead" daughter is alive and the other family learns they've been standing over the bed, not of their daughter, but her friend.

Mourning the wrong girl

In a case of mistaken identity, two Arizona families were shocked as they found out the truth about two young women involved in a tragic car accident.

The family of Abby Guerra has spent the last week planning their daughter's funeral. The 19-year-old college sophomore and four friends were involved in a car crash after their SUV suffered a blowout returning from a trip to Disneyland.

The Guerra family was first told that Abby died at the scene. But on Saturday, six days after the accident, they learned that there'd been a mix up -- it was 21-year-old Marlena Cantu who died, and that Abby was alive and in critical condition at a Phoenix hospital.

Guerra's aunt Dorenda Cisneros explained how confusing the feeling is when they found out the truth. "You're ecstatic for one -- I mean it's a miracle, but in the same, you're angry because we've mourned all week".

Friends of Cantu said her family was devastated when they learned their daughter was dead, after spending much time standing over the bed of a girl who was someone else's child.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

July 14, 2010

'Sorry, I didn't know my mother was going to die':

The pettiness of government bureaucrats on full display.

'Sorry, I didn't know my mother was going to die': Jobseeker's anger as council refuses to rearrange interview... which clashed with mum's FUNERAL

When jobseeker Josephine Platts called council bosses to rearrange an interview because it clashed with her mother’s funeral, she expected their condolences.

However, the 56-year-old was told that she should have contacted the town hall sooner – and they refused to change the date.

Mrs Platts had been shortlisted for a part-time clerk position - but, shortly after, her 90-year-old mother died unexpectedly.

Despite her loss, devastated Mrs Platts was told by Elm Parish Council, Cambridgeshire, that the date for the interview could not be rearranged 'just to suit one person'.

Council chairman John Brand defended the decision

"You cannot just change things to suit one person."
I did feel sorry for her [Mrs Platts] but it was just one of those things and now the job has been filled by a very experienced person.’

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:49 AM | Permalink

July 5, 2010

"Death is very hard for me to take"

"Death is very hard for me to take" said the 91-year-old widow who had the embalmed corpses of her husband and her twin sister dug up so that she could store them at her "tumbledown house on a desolate country road".

No matter they were already dead. Jean Stevens simply had their embalmed corpses dug up and stored them at her house — in the case of her late husband, for more than a decade — tending to the remains as best she could until police were finally tipped off last month.

Much to her dismay.

 Living With Corpses-

AP photo

As state police finish their investigation into a singularly macabre case — no charges have been filed — Stevens wishes she could be reunited with James Stevens, her husband of nearly 60 years who died in 1999, and June Stevens, the twin who died last October. But their bodies are with the Bradford County coroner now, off-limits to the woman who loved them best.

From time to time, stories of exhumed bodies are reported, but rarely do those involved offer an explanation. Jean Stevens, seeming more grandmother than ghoul, holds little back as she describes what happened outside this small town in northern Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains.

She knows what people must think of her. But she had her reasons, and they are complicated, a bit sad, and in their own peculiar way, sweet.

The poor woman, elderly and all alone in her grief

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:33 PM | Permalink

"Death is very hard for me to take"

"Death is very hard for me to take" said the 91-year-old widow who had the embalmed corpses of her husband and her twin sister dug up so that she could store them at her "tumbledown house on a desolate country road".

As state police finish their investigation into a singularly macabre case — no charges have been filed — Stevens wishes she could be reunited with James Stevens, her husband of nearly 60 years who died in 1999, and June Stevens, the twin who died last October. But their bodies are with the Bradford County coroner now, off-limits to the woman who loved them best.

From time to time, stories of exhumed bodies are reported, but rarely do those involved offer an explanation. Jean Stevens, seeming more grandmother than ghoul, holds little back as she describes what happened outside this small town in northern Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains.

She knows what people must think of her. But she had her reasons, and they are complicated, a bit sad, and in their own peculiar way, sweet.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:30 PM | Permalink

April 16, 2010

Beautiful Mourning

From the WSJ, Beautiful Mourning by Tom Freudheim, a review of "The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mourner 1

A group of modestly sized (c. 15-inch-high) alabaster figures ripped from their context—the tomb of John the Fearless (reigned 1404-19)—seems barely enough to constitute a major exhibition. Yet this grouping casts a magic spell that is as sublime and compelling as anything you are likely to encounter in any museum this season.

Mourner 2

As displayed in the Dijon museum, the mourning figures are in their original position—delicately carved gothic niches, which support the effigy of John the Fearless lying above. With only the figures to display, the Met has created an incredibly moving funeral procession that suggests the universality of the mourning mode. The small alabaster figures here attain a stunning monumentality and convey a variety of emotions that force us to contemplate the meanings in their various attitudes.

Mourner 3

The power of the installation, set in the midst of the Met's majestic medieval courtyard, makes it hard not to get drawn into the sadness, even if we're totally disconnected from the actual subject of this mourning—that is, the death of John the Fearless.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:32 PM | Permalink

April 12, 2010

'The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

The Polish people have suffered so many tragedies in their long history, it hurts to see them suffer another unimaginable loss.

Jules Crittenden calls it Tragedy Upon Tragedy

Everything appears to point to poor judgment in poor weather in the plane crash that killed Poland’s largely symbolic president and much of the NATO nation’s military leadership enroute to a commemoration of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish POWs by the NKVD in 1940. Apparently this will not effect the running of government though the military has taken a severe blow, as has the psyche of the Polish nation, especially with the association to a massive historic war crime.

The entire nation is enveloped in mourning

 Polandmourns  Doomsday

Polish television carried black-and-white montages of those killed in the crash and devoted nonstop coverage to the crash, including lingering looks at Kaczynski and his wife, Maria Kaczynska.

Besides Kaczynski, aboard the plane were the national bank president, the deputy foreign minister, the army chaplain, the head of the National Security Office, the deputy parliament speaker, the Olympic Committee head, the civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers.
That the crash occurred near Katyn served as a stark reminder to Poland of the horrors of that place.

"‘The flower of our nation has . . . perished’

A plane carrying the Polish president and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders to the site of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in World War II crashed in western Russia yesterday, killing everyone on board.

President Lech Kaczynski’s plane tried to land in a thick fog, missing the runway and snagging treetops about half a mile from the airport in Smolensk, scattering chunks of flaming fuselage across a bare forest.

The crash came as a stunning blow to Poland, wiping out a large portion of the country’s leadership in one fiery explosion. And in a bizarre twist, it happened at the moment that Russia and Poland were beginning to come to terms with the killing of more than 20,000 members of Poland’s elite officer corps in the same place 70 years ago.

“It is a damned place,’’ former president Aleksander Kwasniewski told TVN24. “It sends shivers down my spine.’’
Russian emergency officials said 97 people were killed, including 88 in the Polish state delegation. Poland’s Foreign Ministry said there were 89 people on the passenger list but one had not shown up for the roughly 1 1/2-hour flight from Warsaw’s main airport.

Poles united in grief in a way that recalled the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago. Thousands massed outside the Presidential Palace, laying flowers and lighting candles.
Former President Lech Walesa, who presided over Poland’s transition from Communism, called the crash “the second disaster after Katyn.’’

“They wanted to cut off our head there, and here the flower of our nation has also perished,’’ he said.

Poland Feels Shock at the Size of Its Loss


The people were of all ages and political persuasions, families and groups of boys and girls in scouting uniforms. If there were no answers to be found Saturday night as to why the country had been robbed of many of its brightest minds and most dedicated public servants, Poles could at least find reassurance in the presence of so many others in the same searching state of shock.

“I felt I had to be here,” said Tomasz Kielar, 40, a civil servant. He said he knew Wladyslaw Stasiak, head of the president’s chancellery, who was one of those killed in the crash of a plane taking Polish officials to Russia to commemorate the Katyn massacre.

“Katyn was a page in history in the 20th century,” he said. “Now it’s going to be a page in history in the 21st century.”

Almost everyone interviewed knew someone who died that morning in the thick fog of western Russia, not only the famous politicians and commanding generals, but also the Russian-Polish interpreter, the president’s doctor, the eight members of the presidential security detail.

Under the The Shadow of Katyn

The issue in Soviet-Polish relations, however, is not a settling of scores. It is the justified Polish desire for an unambiguous Russian apology for Katyn (which the Russians refuse to give) and, equally important, the refusal of the Russians to release most of the results of their own 14-year investigation into the Katyn massacre. Of 183 volumes of collected material, 116 are classified as state secrets — even though, according to the Russian law on state secrets, information about the violation of rights cannot be classified.

In the Woods of Smolensk

In true Bolshevik style, there was a cover story: the Soviets claimed the Nazis did it. But although the Nazis were guilty of many other crimes, Katyn was not one of them. “In April 1943, when the Polish government-in-exile insisted on bringing the matter to the negotiation table with the Soviets and on an investigation by the International Red Cross, Stalin accused the Polish government in exile of collaborating with Nazi Germany, broke diplomatic relations with it, and started a campaign to get the Western Allies to recognize the alternative Polish pro-Soviet government in Moscow led by Wanda Wasilewska.”  That government in exile continued until the end of Communist rule in Poland in 1990. In one of the crash’s cruel ironies of the accident, the last Polish President in Exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, was onboard the doomed aircraft.

Two days ago, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became the first “became the first Russian leader to ever commemorate the Katyn massacres with a Polish leader [Prime Minister Donald Tusk]“.  But Putin stopped short of opening the archives on the subject, which are still sealed.

The Fog over Katyn Forest remains

'The struggle of people against power," Milan Kundera famously observed, "is the struggle of memory against forgetting." Is there any place that better captures that truth than the Katyn Forest, or any metaphor more apt for Katyn's place in our historical memory than fog?
one can be forgiven for wondering whether the physical and metaphysical worlds didn't conspire in this latest cycle of Polish tragedy. Fog makes the known world unseen; cutting through it is what Poland's long quest for freedom—itself so often dashed to pieces—has always been about.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:21 AM | Permalink

March 17, 2010

The Beauty of an Irish lament

From The Daily Undertaker

Funerals are the means through which we travel from death, back into life. They are important and meaningful to us as individuals and as a culture. In contrast to the United States, where funerals and other memorial rituals seem to be on the wane, the people of Ireland hold fast to their funeral traditions.

The following article by Marie Murray, ...conveys the importance and meaning of funerals better than any I've read in a long time.

Funerals form an integral part of Irish life, Recognising the beauty of an Irish lament

WHATEVER HAS been lost in Irish culture, the tradition of funeral going has not died. Attending funerals remains an integral part of cultural life.

Funeral going is psychologically complex. It is comforting to those who mourn; recognition of the life of those who have died; and a celebration of their existence. It allows lament for their departure and acknowledgment of the loss for those who loved them.

Funeral attendance is a statement of connection, care, compassion and support. It encircles those who grieve and enriches those who attend because it connects each person there to the profundity of living and the inevitability of death. Funeral attendees witness the raw emotions of grief and the extraordinary capacity of the human spirit to love.
But there is psychological reason, social solidarity and cultural cohesion in funeral attendance, and even as the ceremonies, the belief systems they operate from or the expression of grief may change, the meaning of marking death remains, and long may we travel highway and byway to do so.

For St Patrick's Day, here is an Irish lament.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:30 AM | Permalink

January 15, 2010

The Mourners' Bench

In Born Toward Dying Richard John Neuhaus writes about his first experience of dying.  Worth reading and rereading

A measure of reticence and silence is in order. There is a time simply to be present to death—whether one's own or that of others—without any felt urgencies about doing something about it or getting over it. The Preacher had it right: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die . . . a time to mourn, and a time to dance." The time of mourning should be given its due. One may be permitted to wonder about the wisdom of contemporary funeral rites that hurry to the dancing, displacing sorrow with the determined affirmation of resurrection hope, supplying a ready answer to a question that has not been given time to understand itself. One may even long for the Dies Irae, the sequence at the old Requiem Mass. Dies irae, dies illa / Solvet saeclum in favilla / Teste David cum Sibylla: "Day of wrath and terror looming / Heaven and earth to ash consuming / Seer's and Psalmist's true foredooming."

The worst thing is not the sorrow or the loss or the heartbreak. Worse is to be encountered by death and not to be changed by the encounter. There are pills we can take to get through the experience, but the danger is that we then do not go through the experience but around it. Traditions of wisdom encourage us to stay with death a while.
Among observant Jews, for instance, those closest to the deceased observe shiva for seven days following the death. During shiva one does not work, bathe, put on shoes, engage in intercourse, read Torah, or have his hair cut. The mourners are to behave as though they themselves had died. The first response to death is to give inconsolable grief its due. Such grief is assimilated during the seven days of shiva, and then tempered by a month of more moderate mourning. After a year all mourning is set aside, except for the praying of kaddish, the prayer for the dead, on the anniversary of the death.

In The Blood of the Lamb, Peter de Vries calls us to "the recognition of
how long, how very long, is the mourners' bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship—all of us, brief links ourselves, in the eternal pity." From the pity we may hope that wisdom has been distilled, a wisdom from which we can benefit when we take our place on the mourners' bench.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:47 AM | Permalink

January 11, 2010

The Science of Bereavement

Resilience, Not Misery, in Coping With Death

Orthodox psychology has long emphasized the grim slog in store for those who must live without the people they cannot live without. Freud called it “grief work,” a process of painfully severing the emotional ties to the deceased. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross mapped out five morose stages of effective grieving.

But if you actually talk to the bereaved, says George A. Bonanno, you find these classic perspectives are pure — well, Dr. Bonanno doesn’t actually say baloney, but so he implies in his fascinating and readable overview of what he calls “the science of bereavement.”
A professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, Dr. Bonanno has now interviewed hundreds of bereaved people, following some for years before and after the fact, looking for patterns.

His conclusion: the bereaved are far more resilient than anyone — including Freud, and the bereaved themselves — would ever have imagined.

Not so, Dr. Bonanno maintains. In contrast to the grim slog of Freudian grief work, the natural sadness that actually follows a death is not a thick soup of tears and depression. People can be sad at times, fine at other times. The level of fluctuation is “nothing short of spectacular”; the prevalence of joy is “striking.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 AM | Permalink

November 18, 2009

"Heaven:it ain't boring"

Now on his sixth installment of Heaven: It Ain't Boring, Berger is setting out to debunk what he says are "myths" about heaven and dying.

Forget about serenely playing the harp on a fluffy cloud. Berger says heaven is a dynamic place of fun, culture, creativity and happiness.

"When you read the Bible and see what's going on in heaven, there's nothing boring about it. There's nothing boring about God," he said. "Why would God's heaven be boring? The creator of the universe? Come on."

Son's death motivates pastor's study of afterlife

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:55 AM | Permalink

October 28, 2009

The Other Side of Sadness

From The New Old Age, Maybe Grief Isn't So Bad After All

In “The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss,” Dr. Bonanno does not minimize the acute sorrow people feel when someone they love dies. He acknowledges that a small proportion of mourners — 10 percent to 15 percent, he reports — have long-lasting depression and distress and may benefit from medical intervention. But most people are, to use the term he does, resilient: they fluctuate between pain and happier emotions, seek comfort, maintain their equilibrium and, before long, find renewed meaning and pleasure in life.

“Most bereaved people get better on their own, without any kind of professional help,” Dr. Bonanno writes. “They may be deeply saddened, they may feel adrift for some time, but their life eventually finds its way again, often more easily than they thought possible. This is the nature of grief. This is human nature.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

October 27, 2009

Grieving chimps

 Grieving Chimps

Is this haunting picture proof that chimps really DO grieve?

United in what appears to be deep and profound grief, a phalanx of more than a dozen chimpanzees stood in silence watching from behind the wire of their enclosure as the body of one of their own was wheeled past.

This extraordinary scene took place recently at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon, West Africa.

When a chimp called Dorothy, who was in her late 40s, died of heart failure, her fellow apes seemed to be stricken by sorrow.

As they wrapped their arms around each other in a gesture of solidarity, Dorothy's female keeper gently settled her into the wheelbarrow which carried her to her final resting place - not before giving this much-loved inhabitant of the centre a final affectionate stroke on the forehead.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

October 26, 2009

"Each grief is really every grief - that one small grief will open up the vast pool of grief that lies within us."

Father Stephen Freeman writes about the Orthodox custom of remembering the dead on Soul Saturdays and how they have become in his life.

After becoming Orthodox in 1998 these Memorial Saturdays became supremely important in my life. Our congregation suffered two very unexpected deaths (both in car crashes) in the course of our first two years that left all the devastation that grief can wreak. For a congregation that was young, we were suddenly faced with that which faces the old with great frequency.
Thus it was that “Soul Saturdays” became times of deep importance for me. The population of my “grief world” was far larger than I would have expected by that time in life. Praying for the departed, and doing so with such frequency was a part of the Tradition of the Church that seemed in my first introduction – not only wise, but completely essential.
Grief is strange stuff. I was taught, when I was doing hospice work, that each grief is really every grief - that one small grief will open up the vast pool of grief that lies within us. Thus none of us is ever just grieving one person or event. Blessedly, it is all in the hands of the good God who loves mankind and who Himself bore our grief.
I know that I could not bear the weight of all I remember were I not able to stand with others and pray God’s eternal remembrance. There are times as an Orthodox Christian that I am not just grateful for the grace God has given, but wonder how I ever tried to live without it.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 AM | Permalink

October 13, 2009

A Gift Outright

From American Digest PUDDY: The Gift

You can take lots of rides in this life, but a full sled careening down a hill of fresh snow is the closest to a ride of pure joy as you can get. You'll find it near the top of my list of "Best Moments in This Life." It's probably on yours too. If you've never done it, move it to the top of the Bucket List now.

The man buried here died in his 45th year: R. Scott Puddy

On the morning of June 18, 2002, Scott perished doing what he loved: practicing aerobatics in a Yak-52, in the mountains of Brentwood, Calif.

He was survived by his parents, his sisters, and his daughter.

The dark secret fear lurking inside you when you are a parent is that your children will die before you do. That fear came true for this family. All parents can imagine their grief, but all choose not to do so. But they did not choose, as so many do, to be utterly undone by grief. Instead they chose to balance grief with joy, "For Joy and sorrow are inseparable," and place upon this grave a bronze symbol of all that is best in this life and in this world.

It's a gift to their son, R. Scott Puddy, and a gift to any in the world who chance upon his grave. It's a gift outright.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

September 30, 2009

Complicated grief

After a Death, the  Pain that Doesn't Go Away estimated 15 percent of the bereaved population, or more than a million people a year — grieving becomes what Dr. M. Katherine Shear, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia, calls “a loop of suffering.” And these people, Dr. Shear added, can barely function.

There is no formal definition of complicated grief, but researchers describe it as an acute form persisting more than six months, at least six months after a death. Its chief symptom is a yearning for the loved one so intense that it strips a person of other desires. Life has no meaning; joy is out of bounds. Other symptoms include intrusive thoughts about death; uncontrollable bouts of sadness, guilt and other negative emotions; and a preoccupation with, or avoidance of, anything associated with the loss. Complicated grief has been linked to higher incidences of drinking, cancer and suicide attempts.

“Simply put,” Dr. Shear said, “complicated grief can wreck a person’s life.”

It's not unlike post-traumatic stress disorder.  Using cognitive behavior therapy or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) shows very promising results. 

EMDR is considered a breakthrough therapy because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.

EMDR is the most effective and rapid method for healing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as shown by extensive scientific research studies.

The EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation, right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, which repeatly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are "trapped" in the nervous system. This assists the neurophysiological system, the basis of the mind/body connection, to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

September 24, 2009

Sitting at the foot of the cross

There is a great difference in the grieving of those who have faith. Glimpses of grace in a mother's suffering

Mary Ellen Barrett, who writes a homeschooling blog at Tales From the Bonny Blue House, recently suffered through every parent's worst nightmare. In August, her 14-year-old son Ryan, who was autistic, wandered over to a nearby creek during an annual father-son camping trip and was gone before anyone knew what happened. He was found dead in a lake the next morning.

This is what the grieving mother  wrote on her own blog

To learn to embrace the suffering and turn it to some use has been, at times, a nearly impossible task for me. I miss my Ryan so badly it is a physical pain that just will not go away. A stabbing knife in my chest that often makes it hard to catch my breath.

To sit at the foot of the cross in the real way that Dave and I have this past month, it is necessary to surrender to God and to just trust that His plan is for our ultimate salvation. I confess to having my moments of bewilderment/anger at why God called Ryan home but I pray through that and ask Ryan to pray for me. I know that Ryan is happy in heaven, that he is doing good there.

So the grief crashes over us in waves. Mind numbingly, over-powering waves and then we gasp and stick our heads up and catch our breath. We see the world around us and the love being bestowed on us and we know it is good.

Sitting at the foot of the cross gives others the opportunity to minister. We have been so cared for and generously provided for in the last month. I still receive a delicious hot dinner every evening at 5:00 pm. I We spent this last weekend in a beautiful New England resort owned by my cousins, being catered to as if we really deserved such treatment. The dearest friend in the world and her husband and children still take care of so many details of daily living for us so that we no longer have to think.  The generosity of our parish family, community and homeschool group have been unimaginable. Thank you all dear people.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:59 AM | Permalink

July 29, 2009

Giving from Grief

In the Boston Globe, From grief comes giving

For six months now, Michael, Karen, and their daughter, Julie, have been without Lex, their blond, brown-eyed 22-year-old son, who died after a brain aneurysm on a Tiverton, R.I., beach in January.
A few months after Lex died, Michael decided that his family still had a lot to offer. All they needed was somebody to give it to.

What if these parents without a son looked for a son without parents?

At first, Karen was horrified: She worried her husband was trying to replace Lex. But Julie helped persuade her that this was a way forward, a way to avoid surrendering to grief.

“You make a decision to live or die,’’ Karen says.

And so the Iris-Samuel Rothman Scholarship was born. The Rothmans named it for their parents, not for Lex. They have more than enough reminders of him already.

The scholarship includes up to $10,000 in tuition and other assistance, but that’s not the main thing. In addition to the tuition help, the Rothmans want to be there for young men who might not have anybody else to turn to.
-A few weeks ago, they met Vincent Nguyen, a 21-year-old Vietnamese immigrant from Plano, Texas. Raised by his grandmother after his parents split, the aspiring doctor was alone in the world and heading to Columbia University. The Rothmans were immediately struck by the personal essay in his online application.

But from the very first, it was almost like they knew each other. Vincent needed the Rothmans, and they him.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:55 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2009

They just couldn't live without Sam

The sad story of the parents who so grieved the death of their son 5 who had been paralyzed in a car accident and died of pneumonia that they carried off his body in a rucksack and, in a final family outing,  drove to a seaside cliff where they leaped  to their deaths.

They just couldn't live without Sam...their happy little miracle.

Loving Neil, 34, and Kazumi, 44, had given up their jobs to care for Sam after a car crash paralyzed him from the neck down at the age of 16 months.
Proud Neil wrote: “Even though Sam can’t move below his neck he fills a room with his character and chat and it is an absolute joy to us to see what he will say next.

“It is normally, ‘If I am good can I have another present please!’

“All this from a boy given no chance of survival after the accident. He is growing up so quickly and is so intelligent and mischievous. We cannot thank all of you enough for your help.”

Just months before meningitis struck, the couple wrote: “Sam loves his life and he is simply the happiest boy in the world.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:30 AM | Permalink

Life can change in an instant

Now that they have found a debris trail, we are beginning to learn what happened to Air France 447.  France is sending a research ship equipped with two mini-subs but the chances of retrieving the "black box" in the vast deep ocean remain slim.

But whether lightening and heavy turbulence , an electrical failure or a bomb took it down remains to be seen or may never be known. 

A past flight may offer clues  that a computer system may have gone rogue.

"It was horrendous, absolutely gruesome, terrible," passenger Jim Ford told Australian radio. "The worst experience of my life." Passenger Nigel Court said he was terrified to watch people not wearing seat belts — including his wife — fly upward. "She crashed headfirst into the roof above us," he told a reporter. "People were screaming," said Henry Bishop of Oxford, England. A Sri Lankan couple said they were thrown to the ceiling when their seat belts failed. "We saw our own deaths," said Sam Samaratunga, who was traveling with his wife Rani to their son's wedding. "We decided to die together and embraced each other."

After seemingly an eternity — in reality, the nosedive lasted 20 very long seconds — the flight crew wrested control of the plane from its wayward computer and made an emergency landing at a remote military and mining airstrip 650 miles short of Perth.

Neo writes  about the initial emotional impact on the families.

This tragedy, already almost unbearable for the loved ones of those who died, contains the added painful possibility that the bodies of the lost may never be recovered. And all of this happened in an instant; families and friends were waiting at the Paris airport for an ordinary happy arrival, and then they received the dreadful news that will change their lives forever.

Now  are learning about the 228 people lost .  Among the victims on Air France Flight, Doctors, Dancers and Royalty.

They were dancers and doctors, engineers and executives, and even royalty. Many were parents, and eight were children.
The airline said victims included 2 Americans, an Argentine, an Austrian, a Belgian, 58 Brazilians, 5 Britons, a Canadian, 9 Chinese, a Croatian, a Dane, a Dutch citizen, an Estonian, a Filipino, 61 French citizens, a Gambian, 26 Germans, 4 Hungarians, 3 Irish, an Icelander, 10 Italians, 5 Lebanese, 2 Moroccans, 3 Norwegians, 2 Poles, a Romanian, a Russian, 3 Slovakians, 2 Spaniards, a Swede, 6 Swiss and a Turk.

So sad.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:50 AM | Permalink

April 29, 2009

Fathers Forever

A very interesting piece on the difference between male and female grieving.

Bereaved fathers find healing in bonds of friendship

For Bigham, it was a tutorial of sorts, taught by those whose children had died before his daughter. "They looked more normal than I felt," he says. "I had a sense of a road map out of here, light at the end of this deep tunnel I'm in."

As time went on, the men realized that they were consoling, teaching, and learning from one another more than they had in any counseling session. But they do not just sit around talking. They do stuff: hiking, dining, shooting pool, drinking beer, going for an overnight in New Hampshire. Paintball is on next month's agenda.

That, says therapist Thomas Golden, is one difference between male and female grieving. Women tend to interact through talking, men through action. "What men need is to be shoulder to shoulder with other men who are going through the same thing," says Golden

Fathers Forever website

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:09 AM | Permalink

April 10, 2009

"Only solidarity will allow us to overcome this painful trial"

 Dome L'acquila Cathedral
The dome of the cathedral at L'Aquila after the earthquake

Italy Mourns Earthquake Victims

The funeral for about 200 the earthquake victims in L'Aquila took place outside because none of the region's churches were stable enough for the ceremony.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other key government officials were among the 10,000 people attending the outdoor ceremony beneath Abruzzo's snowcapped mountains.

 More-Earthquake Funeral

Mr. Berlusconi comforted mourners, shaking hands and giving hugs before the ceremony began. "Today will be a moment of great emotion. How can one not be moved by so much pain?" Mr. Berlusconi said, shortly before departing for L'Aquila for the funeral. "These are our dead today, they are the dead of the whole nation," said the prime minister.
The Vatican granted a special dispensation for the Mass. Good Friday, which marks Jesus' death by crucifixion, is the only day in the year on which Mass in not normally celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church.


The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, presided over the Good Friday funeral Mass for about 200 of the dead.
Sobbing mourners gazed on coffins adorned with mementos of the dead -- a boy's toy motorcycle, a baby's blue T-shirt -- comforting each other as they said farewell at a funeral mass for Italy's quake victims.
"This is the time to work together," the pope said in a message read by his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein. "Only solidarity will allow us to overcome this painful trial."

 Woman Coffins Earthquake

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:49 PM | Permalink

Death on a Friday Afternoon

 Mary Footofthecross

Death on a Friday Afternoon by Richard John Neuhaus

Such was the curious bond between Jesus and Mary, in the cradle and on the cross. As a baby he first awoke to the Absolute—to “God”—in the loving presence of a mother who was for him the reassuring field of reality. She was the secure field of all being in which he received unqualified permission to be. The alternative to her was not to be, and that alternative was unimagined and unimaginable because she was. Only later, and with difficulty, does the child learn to distinguish between the love of God and the primordial love of the parent. For most of us the distinction is never absolute, and perhaps is not meant to be.
Her heart would break before she fully understood, with a shudder of fear and wonder, what it was that she had been telling him when she whispered to the baby, “You will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. And of your kingdom there will be no end.” Perhaps, she was at times tempted to think, it was a mistake to tell him. But she finally had no choice except to follow, step by step, the way of the strange glory to which she had said yes. She was the instrument, she was the mediator, of the secret into which he would grow. And now his “hour” had come, and it had come to this, here at Golgotha.

 Mary Cross

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 AM | Permalink

March 23, 2009

Remembering the Dead Redux

In going through the papers of her late husband, Amy Wellborn came across this column Michael Dubriel wrote in 1995 entitled Remembering the Dead.

If my great-grandfather was present when visiting his wife's grave, he would speak to her in his native Polish in a quiet voice as though he was informing her of the latest news. My father was more reserved in the visits to his father's grave, but somehow I knew that these visits somewhat the same purpose -- to keep in touch with those who had formed and shaped our lives by their presence. Even though they were gone, they were still very much present to us.

My parents and grandparents did not forget the past. The visits to the cemetery were an act of reverencing and honoring the memory that was still very much alive to them of their deceased par ents and spouses. They dealt with the image in the rearview mirror by pulling off the road and confronting the image ob an ongoing basis.

What allowed them to do this was a belief that life did not end in the physical death of their loved ones. As believers in God who had rescued their loved ones from death by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they realized that those who had died were not gone.
That is not all. They believed tha they could still help their deceased love ones complete their spiritual journey toward God. These cemetery visits always concluded in the same way. All who were present would kneel on the ground over the grave, and we would pray, usually an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. These visits kept the memory of our loved ones before us as we remembered the way they lived and the impact they had on our lives as individuals.

Yet such is not the case anymore. During the past 14 years, I have been involved in various forms of pastoral ministry. I have witnessed a new phenomenon that is the opposite of my childhood memories. Rather than remember the dead, people actively try to forget that their loved ones ever existed. The ideal funeral of the 1990s seems to be the following, according to my experience: The deceased is cremated soon after death. The ashes are strewn either over the ocean or over some other peaceful spot. The problem with this is not that it is against any prohibition of the Catholic Church (it no longer is). The problem is that there is no place to reverence their memory or the effect that they still have on our lives.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:56 AM | Permalink

March 9, 2009

"Normal" vs "complicated" grief

Meghan O'Rourke details the grief she experienced following the death of her mother

"Normal" vs "complicated" grief

One afternoon, about three weeks after my mother died, I Googled "grief."

I was having a bad day. It was 2 p.m., and I was supposed to be doing something. Instead, I was sitting on my bed (which I had actually made, in compensation for everything else undone) wondering: Was it normal to feel everything was pointless? Would I always feel this way? I wanted to know more. I wanted to get a picture of this strange experience from the outside, instead of the melted inside.
Grief isn't rational; it isn't linear; it is experienced in waves. Joan Didion talks about this in The Year of Magical Thinking, her remarkable memoir about losing her husband while her daughter was ill: "[V]irtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of waves," she writes.

She quotes a 1944 description by Michael Lindemann, then chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He defines grief as:
sensations of somatic distress occurring in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, and an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and an intensive subjective distress described as tension or mental pain.
One thing I learned is that researchers believe there are two kinds of grief: "normal grief" and "complicated grief" (which is also called "prolonged grief"). Normal grief is a term for the feeling most bereaved people experience, which peaks within the first six months and then begins to dissipate. ("Complicated grief" does not—and evidence suggests that many parents who lose children are experiencing something more like complicated grief.) Calling grief "normal" makes it sound mundane, but, as one researcher underscored to me, its symptoms are extreme. They include insomnia or other sleep disorders, difficulty breathing, auditory or visual hallucinations, appetite problems, and dryness of mouth.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:16 PM | Permalink

February 3, 2009

Nuances of Crying

Crying as Catharsis Isn't Always the Case

“You can’t work through grief if you’re stuck in protest crying, which is all about fixing it, fixing the loss,” Dr. Nelson said. “And in therapy — as in close relationships — protest crying is very hard to soothe, because you can’t do anything right, you can’t undo the loss. On the other hand, sad crying that is an appeal for comfort from a loved one is a path to closeness and healing.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:13 AM | Permalink

January 30, 2009

"Four years late in grief "

You know those people you like but haven't heard from in awhile.  Varifrank writes

I hadn't heard from him in awhile, so I looked him up today and discovered in the process that he was no longer with us. There are times when a Google search can be like the 'angel of death' and this is one of them.

Now it seems my friend will never retire to the Harney desert and I should stop waiting for a call for lunch that will never come. And I now find myself four years late in grief to the man who once taught me the meaning of the word "crisp".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:08 PM | Permalink

January 11, 2009

A Solemn Pleasure

David Frum has a lovely small essay on Charles Dickens's novel,  The Old Curiousity Shop and its most famous scene, the death of Little Nell.

The death of Little Nell is supposed to have been inspired by the death of Charles Dickens' beloved sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, at age 17 in Dickens' then home in Doughty Street. (Still standing by the way.) At that time, the death of the young was a harrowing but familiar experience. Of Dickens' own 10 children, one died before the age of 1, and another died aged 22. Dickens could expect many of his readers likewise to be touched by similar losses - and to share his intense need to absorb and understand their loss.
For all the medical advances of the 20th century, death remains omnipresent and always will. We've all had losses, and we all struggle not only with the immediate grief but with the longer-term sadnesses and paradoxes of survivorship. Say what you will about Dickens - but have those feelings ever been described better than they were in this one passage from Chapter 17? Nell has entered a quite country graveyard and is studying the humble headstones of the poor people buried there:

I gong to pluck just a small portion  of the scene but for its full impact you should read it in its entirety.

Then growing garrulous upon a theme which was new to one listener though it were but a child, she told her how she had wept and moaned and prayed to die herself, when this happened; and how when she first came to that place, a young creature strong in love and grief, she had hoped that her heart was breaking as it seemed to be. But that time passed by, and although she continued to be sad when she came there, still she could bear to come, and so went on until it was pain no longer, but a solemn pleasure, and a duty she had learned to like

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:29 PM | Permalink

December 18, 2008

Help with obituaries

I learned about from Melanie Waters who wrote to tell me about her website that turns out to be a wonderful resource for grieving people who must write an obituary or a eulogy or friends who want help to write a letter of condolence.

She says  " is a work in progress. I'll be adding to it weekly until becomes the one unified source online for Funerals, Obituaries, and Sympathy and Condolence resources."

For genealogists, obituaries are often the best way to learn about your ancestors and Melanie provides many links and resources.

A site to bookmark.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:34 AM | Permalink

December 10, 2008

An Amazing Example of Forgiveness

When that Marine Corps jet crashed in San Diego, it killed two woman and two children.  Remarkably, the husband who survived, a Korean immigrant named Dong Yun Yoon told the media he did not blame the pilot.

Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident," a distraught Dong Yun Yoon told reporters gathered near the site of Monday's crash of an F/A-18D jet in San Diego's University City community.

"He is one of our treasures for the country," Yoon said in accented English punctuated by long pauses while he tried to maintain his composure.

"I don't blame him. I don't have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could," said Yoon, flanked by members of San Diego's Korean community, relatives and members from the family's church.

Yoon named the victims as his infant daughter Rachel, who was born less than two months ago; his 15-month-old daughter Grace; his wife, Young Mi Yoon, 36; and her 60-year-old mother, Suk Im Kim, who he said had come to the United States from Korea recently to help take care of the children.

Yoon's minister, Daniel Shin, told reporters the Yoon family had moved into the house a little more than a month ago. He said Yoon came to the United States in 1989 and had since become a naturalized citizen. Yoon works as manager of "a variety store -- a store where they sell a variety of things," Shin said.

Yoon's wife came to the United States about four years ago, Shin said.

Yoon spoke softly when he talked about his wife.

"It was God's blessing that I met her about four years ago. She was a lovely wife and mother," he said.

His voice fading, he added: "She loves me and babies. I just miss her so much."

HT Michelle Malkin

It seems to me that his religious faith and patriotism  helped him find a forgiveness so deep, it leaves me awed.  What a noble example he is, one I will not forget.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

December 3, 2008

The Child of all Israel

 Moshe Holtzberg

Little Moshe Holtzberg cries for his mother during a memorial service in Mumbai for his parents, Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who were taken hostage, tortured and killed by the terrorists during the Mumbai terror attack.

Even the little two-year-old did not avoid a beating as bruises were found on his back.  He was rescued by his Indian nanny Sandra Samuel who, when the terrorist attack began, locked herself in a room with another staff member.  The following morning, she heard little Moshe crying for her and went to look for him.  She found him, his pants covered in blood, crying beside the motionless bodies of his parents.  She grabbed the baby and ran outside even as the terror attacks on Nairman house continued.

 Indian Nanny Holtzberg

The state of Israel sent a plan to Mumbai to carry back the bodies of the Jewish victims along with little Moshe and his nanny who was the only person the traumatized toddler responded to.

 Funeral Israel Holtzbergs

At the funeral in Israel, Rivka's father revealed was six months pregnant. 

The rabbi who delivered the eulogy said,

'You don't have a mother who will hug you and kiss you,' Rabbi Kotlarsky cried out during a eulogy that switched back and forth between Hebrew and English. But the community will take care of the boy, he vowed: 'You are the child of all of Israel.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:52 AM | Permalink

November 2, 2008

Flowers for the Dead

 Chrysanthemum All Souls

Painting by Emile Friant, La Toussaint.

Via Tea at Trianon comes Chrysanthemums and All Souls' Day

Halloween is barely noticeable in France. The same cannot be said of All Saints' Day, La Toussaint (November 1st) and All Souls' Day, the Day of the Dead, the Jour des Morts (November 2.) La Toussaint is a national holiday.

This is a time for families to bring fresh flowers, mostly chrysanthemums, to the tombs of their departed loved ones, much as in the 19th century painting below. Cheerful mum blossoms are everywhere in Paris now.

I remember how surprised I was when I moved to California to note that these flowers have no funeral connotation in the United States. They grew to amazing masses of pink, red and gold in my Los Angeles garden (indeed chrysanthemum means "gold blossom" in Greek). But in France they are the flowers of the dead.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:02 AM | Permalink

October 14, 2008

Talking about death

More evidence that what you intuited is true.  Talking about death eases end of life for patients, loved ones.

Researchers led by Dr. Alexi Wright of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report in the Journal of the American Association on interviews with 332 terminally ill cancer patients recruited at seven outpatient clinics. Patients who said they did not have end-of-life conversations got significantly more aggressive care in their final week of life, which was linked to lower quality of life near death. Their caregivers also suffered, feeling regret, poor quality of life, and a higher risk of developing depression.

Patients who said they did have end-of-life discussions were more likely to have a better quality of life in their last days, less likely to get aggressive care, and more likely to receive hospice services. Their loved ones said they felt less regret, and better quality of life, during their bereavement.

"Our results suggest that end-of-life discussions may have cascading benefits for patients and their caregivers," the authors wrote.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:11 AM | Permalink

Talking about death

More evidence that what you intuited is true.

Talking about death eases end of life for patients, loved ones.

Researchers led by Dr. Alexi Wright of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report in the Journal of the American Association on interviews with 332 terminally ill cancer patients recruited at seven outpatient clinics. Patients who said they did not have end-of-life conversations got significantly more aggressive care in their final week of life, which was linked to lower quality of life near death. Their caregivers also suffered, feeling regret, poor quality of life, and a higher risk of developing depression.

Patients who said they did have end-of-life discussions were more likely to have a better quality of life in their last days, less likely to get aggressive care, and more likely to receive hospice services. Their loved ones said they felt less regret, and better quality of life, during their bereavement.

"Our results suggest that
end-of-life discussions may have cascading benefits for patients and their caregivers," the authors wrote.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:11 AM | Permalink

September 23, 2008

"Grief hauled about, and nowhere to put it down"

AND then came the outpouring: for weeks after, people I barely knew would come into my office, gently shut the door and burst into tears. I heard stories of single and serial miscarriages, pregnancies carried nearly to full term, stillbirths — all the lost, lost children. Grief hauled about, and nowhere to put it down. Some said they had never told anyone; who would understand?

Knowing My Stillborn Son

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:32 AM | Permalink

September 10, 2008

When Mourning was a Solemn Duty

From Roman Christendom Mourning: to comfort the bereaved and to pray for the dead.

Praying for the dead is, for those who have forgotten it, a grave duty for all Catholic Christians and one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.  The purpose is to deliver one's loved ones out of the painful, suffering process of purgation that all but the most perfect must endure after death before they are sufficiently pure and holy to be ushered into the presence of Almighty God who is all love. No taint of self-love must remain to those who come before God.

Now this duty is easily forgotten in a busy world and so we wear mourning to remind us to pray regularly throughout the day and night for our dead.
The length of mourning depended on your relationship to the deceased. The different periods of mourning dictated by society were expected to reflect your natural period of grief.
for a widow
2 to 2 and a half years and a widow did not enter society for a year (although she could re-marry after 1 year and 1 day if financially necessary);
for a widower
2 years;
for a parent
2 years;
for children (if above ten years old)
2 years;
for children below that age
3 to 6 months;
for an infant
6 weeks and upward;
for siblings
6 to 8 months;
for grandparents
6 months;
for uncles and aunts
3 to 6 months;
for cousins, great aunts and uncles, or aunts and uncles related by marriage from
6 weeks to 3 months;
for more distant relatives or friends from
3 weeks upward.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:05 AM | Permalink

August 18, 2008

Gorilla Grief

 Gorilla Grief

Eleven-year-old gorilla Gana was holding her three-month-old baby in her arms on Saturday in her compound at the zoo in Munster, northern Germany, when it suddenly died.
Initially puzzled, Gana stared at the body, bewildered by its lifelessness.

For hours the distraught mother gently shook and stroked the child, vainly seeking to restore movement to his lolling head and limp arms. Visitors to the zoo openly wept as they witnessed her actions.

Hours passed, during which Gana continually prodded and caressed the dead child, to no effect.

More Miss Marple than 007: The True Face of British Espionage.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 PM | Permalink

June 24, 2008

Addicted to Grief

Just about every adult has experienced the grief of losing a loved one.  In time, we move on keeping the loved one as a blessed memory,  no longer a painful one.

Some people, a minority to be sure, never get over it.  Years later, they still feel the  loss acutely.

Complicated grief can be debilitating, involving recurrent pangs of painful emotions, including intense yearning, longing and searching for the deceased, and a preoccupation with thoughts of the loved one.
Reporting in the journal NeuroImage, scientists at UCLA suggest that such long-term or "complicated" grief activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain, possibly giving these memories addiction-like properties

Addicted to Grief? Chronic Grief Activates Pleasure Areas of the Brain

"The idea is that when our loved ones are alive, we get a rewarding cue from seeing them or things that remind us of them," O'Connor said. "After the loved one dies, those who adapt to the loss stop getting this neural reward. But those who don't adapt continue to crave it, because each time they do see a cue, they still get that neural reward.

"Of course, all of this is outside of conscious thought, so there isn't an intention about it," she said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:56 AM | Permalink

May 26, 2008

Prayers for the countless dead in China's earthquake

The Chinese earthquake in Sichuan province was so huge in its impact, in the numbers of dead, in the tragedy of the schoolchildren crushed in their schools, in the grief of parents losing the one child they were allowed, that I've been unable to get my mind around it.

"One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic, " Joseph Stalin said.  What can we make of the latest statistics from the Chinese government. 

62,664 dead
23,775 missing
358,816 injured
638,305 rescued and evacuated

Or these
5 million were left homeless
Floods now threaten the 700,000 survivors
69 dams are now in danger of bursting.

When I saw this photo of family members searching for their missing, I began to feel for the agony of numbers beyond measure.

 Missing Flyers Chinese Earthquake

Many victims were buried quickly in mass burial pits and China's Rush to Dispose of Dead Compounds Agony.

They are unknown people being quickly cremated or buried in unmarked graves, and there are thousands or tens of thousands of them across quake-ravaged Sichuan Province. It may be months or years before family members discover their fate, if they ever do. They are very likely to be among the nearly 25,000 people the Chinese government classifies as missing in the aftermath of the May 12 earthquake

President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have urged rescue workers to save lives “at any cost.” But the scale of the disaster has forced the government to dispose of the dead with little ceremony, closing the door on any opportunity family members have of identifying their kin by sight and upsetting the traditional Chinese reverence for the deceased.

This photo broke my heart.  Tiny Bodies in a Morgue

  Chinese Baby Earthquake

Yesterday was designated World Day of Prayer for China by the Pope who composed a prayer for Our Lady of Sheshan.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:57 AM | Permalink

March 30, 2008

The fragility of a broken heart

A broken heart really is fragile says a new study and men are more susceptible to dying on anniversaries of a loved one's death according to new research from the American College of Cardiology.

Heartache and Heart Health Connection

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:28 AM | Permalink

March 7, 2008

French care for parents of stillborn and miscarried babies

In France, parents now have the right to register a name for an unborn child as well as the right to claim the body of their child and to claim maternity leave.

Up until this point, the body of the unborn child was incinerated by the hospital along with other waste tissue.

French Court: Parents Can  Register Names for Fetuses

There  is an increasing recognition in medical circles that miscarriage or stillbirth can be an extremely traumatic experience for mothers and fathers alike, who may have developed a profound emotional connection with their unborn child. "The mourning process can be long and lonely," says the Helping After Neonatal Death (HAND) website. "After the death of a baby, it generally takes twelve to twenty-four months simply to find your new base."

Many parents have found that the process of grieving is helped significantly by the giving of a name to their child. "Giving the baby a name and having the baby baptized or blessed, if such rituals are important to us, are ways for us to acknowledge the reality of the life that has come and gone so quickly," says HAND.

Being able to name your loss will help many grieving parents.  Pro-abortion activists are unhappy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:13 PM | Permalink

February 23, 2008

"I cried every night for six months'

Countess Mountbatten was in the family boat when it was blown up by the IRA one summer August morning, killing two adults, two young boys and leaving three fighting for their lives. 

My own memory," says Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, "is of a vision of a ball exploding upwards and then of 'coming to' in the sea and wondering if I would be able to reach the surface before I passed out.

I have very vague memories, now and again, of floating among the wood and debris, being pulled into a small rubber dinghy before totally losing consciousness for days." In her lucid intervals, unable to open her eyes, or speak, or even weep, she began to realise that a monstrous swathe had been cut through her family.

Her father, her mother-in-law, her 15 year-old son Nicky dead.  Nicky's twin brother Time was left terribly injured and blind in one eye. 

"As anyone whose child dies will know only too well, this news utterly devastated me," she says. "In fact I was so overwhelmed by grief for Nicky, who was just on the threshold of his life, that I began to feel guilty that I was not able to grieve for my father, whom I really adored, in the same way.

For almost the past 30 years, Lady Mountbatten has been turning her personal loss into a force for good - not just mending her own shattered family but using her experience to help other bereaved parents, through her support of two charities, the Child Bereavement Charity and Compassionate Friends.
Lady Mountbatten once confided that, before the bomb, she "would have said that the death of any of my children would have killed me as well, taken away completely my own wish to live".

Through sheer force of personality, that didn't happen. In her endorsement of the Child Bereavement Trust's new book, Farewell, My Child, she refers to "the seemingly endless black tunnel" through which those left behind have to pass to reach "the light that truly does appear at the end, and which we eventually found ourselves".

Though 84 and now widowed, she is in no way to be pitied. The robust family spirit, a tensile weave of humour and stoicism, runs through her conversation, her lively dress sense and her manner.

Her features are still beautiful. Pinned to her ruffled fuchsia blouse is a brilliant yellow butterfly. Her purple and pink chequered tights make me feel dowdy. Survivor is too feeble a word for her.

"She has that half-full attitude to life," says Jenni Thomas, founder of the Child Bereavement Charity, which trains and supports doctors and nurses in bereavement counselling. "We find her an inspiration. You come away feeling better for meeting her. She'll quietly listen to someone in trouble and then put her wisdom to it."

Hats off to a  remarkable woman.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 PM | Permalink

February 21, 2008

Young widows and widowers

Having been a young widow, I can attest that the needs of those widowed at a young age are quite different than those widowed in their sixties or seventies.

Meeting others: Young widows, widowers find support in new group.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:43 AM | Permalink

January 29, 2008

"A Bad Death"

The inability to accept the inevitability of death can ruin your life as this book reviewer writes about Susan Sontag's son and his book,   

"Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir" (David Rieff)

From the NYT review entitled A Fight for Life Consumes Both Mother and Son.

“A bad death” is another matter. We all know those when we see them, the miserably protracted and painful affairs that overwhelm everyone — the deceased and survivors alike — with panic, guilt and bitter regrets.
Obviously,” Mr. Rieff says, “there is no comparison between the sufferings of a person who is ill and the sufferings of those who love them.” Still, one suspects he got the worst of the deal, for despite what he describes as a tense relationship with his mother, he was cast in the role of head cheerleader. His job was to enthusiastically endorse her struggle, always to be optimistic and supportive and never, ever, to talk about death.

“What she wanted from me was an adamant refusal to accept that it was even possible that she might not survive,” Mr. Rieff writes. Ms. Sontag “might be covered in sores, incontinent and half delirious,” but Mr. Rieff would “tell her at great and cheerful length about how much better she seemed to look/seem/be compared to the day before.”

Months of this duplicity left him guilty and miserable, obsessively revisiting every decision again and again, even — and especially — after she died.
He and his mother will undoubtedly survive for a long time to come in medical school courses on death and dying — as a case study in how not to do it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:20 AM | Permalink

January 3, 2008

The Swamplands of the Soul

Miriam Greenspan on Moving from Grief to Gratitude  Through a Glass Darkly,

Platek: You speak of an “alchemy” by which grief can ultimately be transformed into gratitude, fear into joy, and despair into faith. How does that work?

Greenspan: Let’s begin with grief. There is a kind of shattering that happens with, say, the death of a child, or any death, but perhaps most of all violent death. Not only is your heart shattered; you lose your sense of who you are and what your life is about. So reconstruction is needed. But first we need to accept that we are broken. This initiates the “emotional alchemy.” If we can hang in there with grief, it changes from a feeling of being “hemmed in” by life to a feeling of expansion and opening.

We will never get back to the way we were, but eventually we reach a new state of “normal.” I’m not talking about the mundane kind of “getting back to normal,” in which we find ourselves doing the laundry again (although that is important too), but the deeper kind, which is a process of remaking ourselves and how we live.

Grief is a teacher. It tells us that we are not alone; that we are interconnected; that what connects us also breaks our hearts — which is as it should be. Most people who allow themselves to grieve fully develop an increased sense of gratitude for their own lives. That’s the alchemy: from grief to gratitude. None of us wants to go through these experiences, but they do bring us these gifts

via Judith Shapiro at Remembering Matters

You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.
Henri Frederik Amiel 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:03 AM | Permalink

December 20, 2007

“After about three years your grief walks beside you”

Life After Steve Irwin

A woman Terri once met wrote her a “fabulous” letter after Steve’s death to say that when her husband, a policeman, died in the line of duty, she found that “after about three years your grief walks beside you” rather than filling almost every waking moment. This has helped Terri to contemplate a receding of the rawness: “I thought, thank you for that because it feels like I have a cinder-block where my heart was, and I ponder how long you feel that way.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:50 AM | Permalink

November 6, 2007

Mourning Fathers

About the death, I have long hesitated, I was long before I could tell my mind; and now I know it, and can but say that I am glad. If we could have had my father, that would have been a different thing. But to keep that changeling - suffering changeling - any longer, could better none and nothing. Now he rests; it is more significant, it is more like himself. He will begin to return to us in the course of time, as he was and as we loved him.

My favourite words in literature, my favourite scene - 'O let him pass,' Kent and Lear - was played for me here in the first moment of my return.

Letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to Sidney Colvin, June 1887.
HT The Sheila Variation, "O Let Him Pass".

A new blog for me, Postman's Horn posts a letter every day by authors, writers, poets and painters because

A letter can provide that sense of everyday life, a glimpse of the the trials and tribulations of another human soul; and they can underscore the humanity of writers who have become so very famous.

My condolences to Yaacov Ben Moshe on the death of his father whose remarkable In Honor of a Great Dead White Man pays tribute to his greatest hero who
even though he always knew that life can be hard and even cruel, he never lost sight of the fact that it is always wonderful and miraculous at the same time

Especially in this month of All Saints and All Souls, we pay attention to the best of those who have passed before us because

The consequence is that human solidarity, to use that term, must belong much less to the crowd of our predecessors, than to the persons of the past who have realized, in a great way, the fine natural traits of man. Those who pass up the opportunity to serve their great memory, pass up an undoubted opportunity to help themselves, to correct themselves, and to improve themselves.
Charles Murras on All Souls Day

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August 9, 2007

The Last Days of Ruth Graham

A tender story in Time,  Ruth and Billy Graham's Final Farewell.

"No matter how prepared you think you are for the death of a loved one, it still comes as a shock," Billy Graham observes, "and it still hurts very deeply." Ruth and Billy would have been married 64 years this month.
so he has a new tenderness for all those who mourn, that they will be comforted.

Grief is a demanding guest in an old man's house. Let sorrow settle in, and in time it no longer feels like home. His daughters had the hospital bed removed and restored Ruth's room as it used to be, warm and inviting, not sad, so it looks as if she's just away on a long trip. It was Billy's habit, through all their decades of work and travel, to call her every evening at about 5. These days, as twilight rolls around, he finds himself wanting to pick up the phone and call her and then remembering that he can't. "Sometimes I'll be preoccupied with something, and suddenly I'll be reminded of her for some reason," he says, "and I'll find myself almost overwhelmed." One way he copes, he says, is by thanking God for the years they had together. "They are over now — but God was good in giving us to each other, and I want to be grateful for those memories and not suppress them." He has pulled out some of his favorite pictures of Ruth and put them on his desk to remind himself.

We asked him whether, with all our advanced medical technology, we perhaps fear death and fight it too much. "I think we often do," he said. "I'm convinced that in some cases we aren't so much prolonging life but prolonging death." ... But death is a reality common to us all, and for me as a Christian it isn't something to be feared, because I know what lies ahead for me beyond the grave."

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Mourners Crash Like Dominos

He's "bloody furious" with the police

"Here we are taking dad to the cemetery and we are all pulled over and there are accidents behind us. It was just like dominoes."

Mourners crash like "dominos" after cop stops hearse.

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August 6, 2007

Death and Chocolate

Chocolate, the all-purpose mental health food, eases the dying of a difficult mother who reconciles with her daughters.

Death and Chocolate: A Sampler for the Psyche.

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July 18, 2007

Too Much Experience in Grieving

It's the elders among us who handle the details of death and show us how to grieve.  Like Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I didn’t want to become ‘old hand’ at these matters. But, I have. Even though the instructions on the box “How To Be An Elder,” are simple: ‘Be there for others as much as you can. Be there, and be there some more.’ It sounds so easy, but it takes cojones y ovarios. Big ones. Funny isn’t it, being an elder takes being more like the valiant creature: what did I say a brave ‘pet’ was made of? “Loyal in love, sheltering of the vulnerable, more far-seeing, more all-out brave, more decisive, bold, forgiving, more funny and heartful?” Yes, like that, in human proportion. No one is sprung full-born elder, like Aphrodite on the half-shell. I’m can see that I am working on it, finding the ways. Probably all the rest of my life long.

I Promise the Last Voice You Hear Will Be One of Such Love: Pet Loss

via Ambivablog who wrote

As she anticipates the loss of an aged, cancer-stricken Dalmatian ("Pepino is our relative.  That's all there is to it"), she knows it will reopen in the whole family the barely clotted, bottomless wound of the recent loss of a child.  The one thing you do not want to be at such a time is alone, and it is when family (blood family with all its capacious adoptions) rises up and shows its stuff.

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April 18, 2007

The Purpose of Grief

What is grieving for and what purpose does it serve?

Dennis Prager understands more about the nature of grief than some of the university officials at VT who planned the convocation "to begin the healing process" in You're Dead, I'm Healing.

I believe that this early healing talk is both foolish and immoral.

It is foolish because one does not speak about healing the same day (or week or perhaps even month) that one is traumatized -- especially by evil. One must be allowed time for anger and grief. To speak of healing and "closure" before one goes through those other emotions is to speak not of healing but of suppression.

Not to allow people time to experience their natural, and noble, instincts to feel rage and grief actually deprives them of the ability to heal in the long run. After all, if there is no rage and grief, what is there to heal from?

Dr. Sanity is even better on the importance of proper grieving.

Indeed. There is this strange belief among the intellectual elites; even among many psychiatrists and mental health professionals that feeling anguish and grief are wrong and must be avoided at all cost. Or if you must feel them, then they must be instantly transformed into a focus on this thing called "healing"....

These well-meant but ultimately invalidating pressures to "begin the healing process" actually hinder the natural expression of normal grief, which can only come about after painful reflection and the resolution of a variety of conflicting emotions, including anger, sadness, hopelessness, outrage and regret (to name just a few).

Appropriate mourning also requires coming to terms with the nature and manner of the loss; a quest for justice on behalf of the victim when appropriate; and even the painful re-living and re-experiencing of what happened; until it can be completely processed and internally metabolized.

It hurts and hurts and hurts. But that is how we grow.

The major ingredient of a normal grieving process is time. It cannot, nor should it be expected to, be resolved or "healed" in a day, or a few days, or even a month or two. For the families of those who died, it may take years and years.

She ends. 

If nothing else, we owe it to the memory of those we have lost not to "heal" too quickly, but to take the time to experience the pain and suffering of their loss; transforming it slowly into personal growth and wisdom.

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April 17, 2007

The 'Disneyfication' of Grief the Disneyfication of grief The Disneyfication of Grief

Kathy Shadie warns against the Disneyfication of grief.

Please don't indulge in godless modern paganism and set up homely, self-indulgent makeshift memorials with cheap flowers and teddy bears. Don't hold hands and sing bad pop songs.

Go to church. That's what it's for. For centuries, people smarter than you and with more finely honed aesthetics worked on rituals that actually do what they're supposed to do.

She's right.

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March 21, 2007

They do not leave us

For those with faith Our dead are not absent and Love never ends.

The great and sad mistake of many people -- among them even pious persons -- is to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. They do not leave us. They remain! Where are they? In darkness? Oh no! It is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes . . . Oh infinite consolation! Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent. They are living near us, transfigured into light, into power, into love.

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February 21, 2007

Yearning after Death

After a loved one dies, the most common reaction is yearning, not depression, a study shows, underscoring what most anyone knows.

Yearning most common after loved one's death

The study found that the most characteristic feature of bereavement after a death by natural causes "is more about yearning and pining and missing the person -- a hunger for having them come back," said senior author Holly Prigerson, director of Dana-Farber's Center for Psycho-Oncology and Palliative Care Research.

"The focus on depression is misguided," she said in an interview. Yearning "really dominates the psychological picture, (with a feeling) that a part of you is missing and that without this essential piece you won't be happy."
"People never get over a loss, they just get used to it," Prigerson said. "Even years after someone dies, they get pangs of grief, they need to think about the person, and they miss them with heartache," she said. "That's normal. But intense levels beyond that become problematic."

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December 27, 2006

A quiet grief that lasted 50 years

A quiet grief that lasted 50 years.  From Neonatal Doc, comes Parent.

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November 13, 2006

Mourning for a Fallen Star

What does it mean to weep for a star whose life we did not share?

In Mourning Still for a Fallen Star

Two months after Irwin's death, however, I am still chatting online with others -- strangers, though I know their names -- who were touched by his life and death. With the Internet's discussion boards, Web cams, video on demand, we can mourn indefinitely, easily and privately, in our cubicles and home offices.

Paradoxically, our collective mourning has become a solitary experience. I have a global electronic community of other mourners, from Brisbane and Bangladesh to Florida and Minnesota. On message forums, we think we've found kindred spirits, although with the anonymity of the Web, it is hard to know if that is true. No matter. You float a question on the ether -- I am fourteen and cannot stop crying for Steve. Is there anyone else out there? -- and receive dozens of sympathetic replies.


Michael C. Kearl, a professor at Trinity University in Texas, has written about celebrity death in the online "Encyclopedia of Death and Dying." He suggests our grief may be triggered because the celebrity reflects who we are or want to be.

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September 24, 2006

Paul McCartney wrote his sadness out

Paul McCartney was so grief stricken when wife his first wife Linda died that he could not write or play music for two years.
He was composing a classical album for a choir and orchestra when Linda died of breast cancer in April 1998. The work, Ecce Cor Meum, Latin for Behold My Heart, is finally released tomorrow.
For a couple of years I couldn’t do anything, really. I was just grieving,” he says. “And when I eventually came back to it I started doing some particularly sad bits.

There is a piece called Interlude. It still affects me. It is quite a sad thing. The chords are very sad and it is strange, really, how something with no words can affect you so deeply, can affect your emotions.
I gradually got back into it through that. I just sort of wrote my sadness out. I was able after a year or two to pick it up again and complete it.

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June 24, 2006

Pathetic thief

Widow asks 'pathetic' thief to return flag.

A “pathetic” thief robbed more than a Marlboro woman’s patriotism, he ripped off an American flag dedicated to her husband’s World War II service and his bravery back home.

Edna Straw, 89, said her 8-foot by 4-foot old glory was ripped off this week by a heartless crook who has no clue it once draped her husband’s coffin.

Who would steal a flag? Pathetic is right. All the widow wants is for the thief to just leave it on her porch and go.

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May 30, 2006

Online memorials

Online memorials bring strangers and friends together in community of grief.

online memorials have altered acts of bereavement and become palliative retreats for some who grieve. Web sites dedicated to the deceased now number in the millions in the United States, and for those left behind, posting stories, photos and videos is a way of keeping a permanent record of the person's life

While many non-Western cultures build rituals around death that allow a person to grieve over time, in highly individualistic societies, losing a loved one can be isolating, some psychologists say, which may be why some turn to the Web to reach outside their traditional social network.

"When death happens, we're so alone," said George Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia University. "It would be nice if we had a sense of community, and maybe that's what the Internet provides."

Some sites such as, and have been around for about a decade and provide software tools for users to customize their Web pages. and charge one-time fees of $50 to $100 for a permanent place on their sites. There are other, smaller sites started by funeral homes; still others are set up by individuals who purchase domain names in honor of the deceased.
"It's become a lifeline for a lot of families," said Henry Chamberlain, chief executive of In its early days, when the Web site went dark for a few hours, panicked users would e-mail and call, feeling as if they were reliving the loss of their loved one, he said.

The Internet's constant availability makes it possible for people to grieve in their own time.

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May 17, 2006

Vicky Armel

Vicky Armel, 40 years old, a loving wife and mother of two, took a job that put her life on the line.

  Detective Vickie Armel

A police officer and a detective, she was murdered last week in a shootout in Fairfax VA. Her killer was a mentally disturbed teen-ager who had recently been arrested for car-jacking.

Villainous Company reports on her funeral.

And as we pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway, I couldn't help noticing that the road was lined with cars. And people. Lots of people.

Lines of police officers, EMTs, and firemen standing at attention by their vehicles. That was moving.

But what really astonished me was car after carful of ordinary families who turned out to pay homage to a slain Fairfax County police detective. These people had to have been standing by the side of the road for hours. We were late getting out of the service. Many had flags or homemade signs or stood silently with hands or caps over their hearts.

Some were saluting, at full attention, ramrod straight.

For mile after mile as we drove, literally every overpass we went under was filled with people, and every single one sported a fire truck, often with an American flag hoisted between two cranes. It is a long, long way from Vienna to Warrenton. I have never seen anything like it - as the landscape slowly changed from concrete highways and skyscrapers to rolling green pastures and horse farms, the only constant was the silent embrace of a community that turned out by the thousands to say goodbye to a fallen officer: black, white, brown, professionals, civilians, young and old. It was something I didn't think existed in this jaded world anymore: a sense of community.

Last week, a friend asked me who I thought was the greatest living American. Without a single conscious thought, the words that came out of my mouth said those whose jobs require them to risk their lives for strangers because they let me live the life I enjoy so much.

After reading about the funeral of Vicky Armel, I realize how many people think the same.

The deepest condolences to her husband and children and may their deep pain be mixed with deeper pride.

The closest bonds we will ever know are the bonds of grief. The deepest community is one of sorrow - Cormac McCarthy.

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May 4, 2006

Bring the person you love inside you

From Sunday's New York Times Magazine comes an interview with the Latin American writer Carlos Fuentes.

You've had more than your share of sorrows.

Most of all not having my son around. I was very proud of him. He was a very good painter. He had hemophilia. He died six years ago. Natasha, my daughter, just died last summer.

How do you get up in the morning after that kind of loss?

You go on. You go on.
You bring the person you love inside you. That is how you cope. You make him or her live within you. The whole experience I had with my children is in me. It is nowhere else I can see. I can see a photograph, I can feel sad, I can read a poem, but the experience of having them within myself is what matters.

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