Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Solitary Grief of Those Who Feel They Do Not Have the Right to Mourn

Slate's Dear Prudence (Daniel Mallory Ortberg) has a heartbreaking letter from a woman stunned by the sudden death of a man she loved dearly but had only been dating for two months. Adding to her sense of grief and dislocation was that she received the news away from home, on a vacation they planned to take together, and that she felt doubly isolated since she was not officially a part of his life and worried about intruding on his family's grief.

The man I was seeing died suddenly last week. I found out through an urgent call from a good friend in the minutes after I landed overseas for a monthlong vacation. I’m grieving in a beautiful country, where I feel so far from the people who knew him. Thankfully, I am with good friends, who are giving me space, but I feel guilty that I wasn’t there to help pack up his apartment or take part in memorials with our mutual friends, and guiltier that I am bringing down this trip for everyone. We had only been dating for two months, but it was intense, and we had known each other for a few years as friends and colleagues in our grad program. He helped me through treatments of a major illness. He was supposed to come join on this vacation.

Now I don’t know whether to come back early for the funeral, or if that would be overstepping. I’ve talked to his mom and we’ve stayed in contact, but she didn’t know me before. I am drowning my grief in bad ways, drinking and smoking more than I would like. I am trying to devote myself to more productive things, drawing him and working on a video compilation of his work for his family, but they are making me feel almost worse, since they aren’t very good yet. I feel like my talent has left and all I have is empty effort. I want to reach out to friends, and I have to a few and to family, but I don’t have the words right now for social media, and most people either don’t know what’s happened or don’t know that we were dating. The posts I see about him mostly make me sad or angry, with people I know he wasn’t close to, especially an ex-girlfriend, milking his sudden death for attention. I don’t want to be this way, and I don’t want to make his passing about me. I’ve just stopped looking at Facebook and Instagram. I want to reach out, but I don’t know how to find the words to memorialize him. I’ve been waiting until I had a drawing that I could share, but I don’t know how long it will take to finish one that’s actually good. If I have to make the choice, do you think I should cut my trip short and go home to the funeral? Do you have resources for dealing with grief?

Ortberg's wise response says in part:

Fly home, call on your friends for support, attend his funeral, and don’t rush the project you’re working on or beat yourself up for not making something perfect. This is a huge, devastating, sudden shock, and you should be as kind to yourself as possible, and reach out as much as you can.

The Annapolis Newspaper Mourning Its Staff Regrets Not Taking the Time to Know Them Better

The funerals are over.

We said goodbye to John McNamara on Tuesday at the University of Maryland. In the 13 days since the rampage in the Capital Gazette offices that killed John, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen, family, friends and colleagues have gathered to say a final farewell.

We have many regrets, but perhaps none greater than this one: We regret we didn’t know our friends better.

Of all the regrets to have, this should be the easiest to prevent.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Baby Boomers Consider the End of Life

Robert Kopecky writes in How to Survive Life and Death:

Every generation must have more or less the same experience of life—updated to current times, that is. The basic life cycle couldn’t have changed all that much, except that we generally live a lot longer now. We obviously all get born—a shared experience that I don’t think anybody can remember. As little children, our brains aren’t developed enough to receive all the complicated transmissions, navigate “reality,” or fill up with lots of (mostly useless) “important” stuff for a while yet. I think that’s why so many little kids appear to be so endearingly insane. For a little while at least, they’re free of the complicated world of “who you are supposed to be.” They haven’t yet reached that threshold of sanity that we call being “grown-up” (which some of us never truly reach) and which always tragically tends to interrupt our ability to perceive the simplest magic of Life. That can be our critical loss of innocence, I suppose.

It isn’t until you get a little older that a slightly more adult perception starts to form and you also first begin to notice the seriousness of death, perhaps with the loss of a beloved pet—a loss that never gets any easier because of the shared innocence of our animal partners. Then maybe a grandparent passes away. Sometimes there’s an illness or an accident involving a young friend or acquaintance, and occasionally the loss of another person now and then throughout your life. Then your second generational wave of deaths arrives: an uncle, a friend’s parent, and on into your own parents’ generation. It’s a far more involving wave, that one, because it sets you firmly into a middle age when you begin to lose your parents and mentors, and when you first begin to sense that “ultimate” wave that’s drawing ever nearer to your own generation—and, most important, to you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Kafka on Loss

Franz Kafka, the story goes, encountered a little girl in the park where he went walking daily. She was crying. She had lost her doll and was desolate.

Kafka offered to help her look for the doll and arranged to meet her the next day at the same spot.

Unable to find the doll he composed a letter from the doll and read it to her when they met.

'Please do not mourn me, I have gone on a trip to see the world. I will write you of my adventures.'

This was the beginning of many letters. When he and the little girl met he read her from these carefully composed letters the imagined adventures of the beloved doll. The little girl was comforted.

When the meetings came to an end Kafka presented her with a doll. She obviously looked different from the original doll. An attached letter explained 'My travels have changed me.'

Many years later, the now grown girl found a letter stuffed into an unnoticed crevice in the cherished replacement doll.

In summary it said:
*Every thing that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.'*

- Kafka and the Doll, The Pervasiveness of Loss

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dementia: Letting Memory-Impaired Patients Maintain Some Agency

From William Haseltine's thoughtful series of articles about caring for people with dementia:

allowing residents to sleep, eat, bathe, and congregate when and how they want has ripple effects across the organization.

“If you let people sleep as long as they like, they are far happier when we help them up out of bed,” says Ms. Mitchell. “We need fewer staff when the resident is not angry that we woke them up and are forcing them out of bed. It is the same for eating, showering, and all other activities.”

Caregivers and family members often take control away from people living with dementia in a misguided attempt to protect the person from physical harm. Mitigating risk for people living with dementia in long term care centers and at home is an important aspect of care that cannot be overlooked.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Melissa Fay Greene on Her Son's Life and Suicide

Melissa Fay Greene writes about the suicide of her son.

It was so impossible, so unthinkable, that even when we sat in the office of the university president on Friday afternoon and were told by the county sheriff that they’d found a body, we scoffed and said it couldn’t be him. Then the sheriff said the coach had identified the body, and for me, at that moment, the air above the sheriff’s head split open, a rent in the fabric of the world as I’d known it....

It turns out there are a lot of things the general public doesn’t know about suicide. At least I didn’t know them. And learning about three specific aspects has helped me, a little.

The first bit of information arrived a few days after the event, as I staggered in shock through a neighbor’s tangled backyard, sleepless, unable to eat, barely able to swallow. A friend of our middle daughter phoned to say he’d recently learned something about suicide, following the shockingly sudden death of his own close friend. He felt it was important for us to know, in case we didn’t, that there were two types of suicide: the widely known “premeditated” and the lesser-known “impulsive.”

...Suicide-prevention strategies are based on the theory that a person first thinks about suicide, then plans it, then attempts it, and that this “template” can take weeks, months, or years to unfold. Interventions can occur at various points along the timeline, beginning with the identification of an “at-risk individual” whose progression from one stage to the next you try to interrupt. But people who act impulsively blow past the timeline. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that suicide rates have risen in nearly every state and that “more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.” Scientists hope that, in time, a set of red flags will be identified for this different sort of at-risk population. But, for now, there aren’t any.

...The second fact I learned about suicide is that about a third of people who kill themselves used alcohol just prior.

And the third, she says, is that just as it it too late to change their minds, many suicides regret their choice. Greene finds that a comfort.

Grief: The Gift That Gives As it Takes -- Sudalakshmee Chiniah