Monday, November 10, 2014

Friend Grief on Veterans Day

For Veterans Day, I'm reposting the announcement of my latest book, Friend Grief and the Military: Band of Friends. It recently earned an honorable mention in the Chicago Writers Association 2014 Book of the Year Awards. But what means even more to me are the reactions of veterans who have read it: "You get it."

Grief is hard. Grief for our friends is often dismissed as unimportant, at least when compared to losing a family member. But friendships forged in the military are different, very different. You’re friends, but more, because your lives depend on it.

In my book, you’ll meet men and women on the front lines who watched their friends die, and carry the trauma of that moment with them for decades. You’ll meet noncombatants – doctors, nurses, chaplains, war correspondents and even a little drummer boy from the Civil War – who struggle with grief and guilt and carrying on.

You’ll learn about moral injury, and how that may be a much bigger story than PTSD. And you’ll learn why the oft-recited statistic of 22 veterans a day committing suicide is shockingly inaccurate.

And because grief also changes people for the better, you’ll be introduced to individuals and organizations who are working with veterans to resolve their guilt, work through their grief and honor their fallen friends.

I struggled with the title. Everything I came up with was too vague or too wordy. So I explain in this excerpt how I made my decision:

The popular mini-series Band of Brothers took its title from what has become known as the St. Crispan’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V:

                        This story shall the good man teach his son;

                        And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

                        From this day to the ending of the world,

                        But we in it shall be remembered –

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother…

Since Shakespeare’s time we’ve often heard soldiers, sailors and Marines refer to their battle buddies as “brothers”. Even though it’s somewhat problematic, given the increasing role of women on the front lines, the designation has stuck.

In writings as far back as the ancient Greeks, the relationship between soldiers has been described as comparable to family. A family is a group of people related by blood that functions together with common goals and dependency. “Blood is thicker than water,” right?

In the military, nothing can be accomplished without the trust and dependability of those in the unit. That cohesiveness is the difference between success and failure, life and death, every hour of every day. The bond is stronger than a normal friendship because your lives depend on it. So, when asked why they refer to their friends as brothers, you are likely to get an answer along the lines of “because they mean as much to me as family.” Referring to other soldiers as family members is, from their perspective, the highest compliment.

A similar phenomenon existed in the AIDS community in the 80s and 90s. People with HIV/AIDS – gay, straight, young, old, male, female – were often abandoned by their families. Their friends became their family of choice – of necessity, really – because their lives depended on them.

Conventional wisdom still holds that the bond between family members is normally stronger than that between friends. But I wonder why, considering this quote that’s quite a bit older than Shakespeare’s:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13)

That’s why this book is not titled Band of Brothers or Band of Brothers and Sisters.

This book is titled Band of Friends.

Friend Grief in the Military: Band of Friends is now available for Kindle, Nook and Kobo; paperback version available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Keeping in Touch with a Friend Who Died

Delle Chatman
I was helping my mother sort through old papers yesterday morning: bank statements, tax returns, paid bills. The shredder simply stopped twice, overheated and tired. On one of its breaks, I picked up two envelopes addressed to her in my handwriting. Puzzled, I opened them both to find copies of emails I had shared with my parents: emails from my friend, Delle Chatman.

When I realized what they were, I had to smile. You see, today is eight years since Delle died. I’ve felt her presence on occasion – so strongly at times I’ve heard her voice and once even felt her arms around me. My first thought upon seeing the emails was, “Gee, you’ve been quiet for a while. Where have you been?”

Those of you who have read my books or this blog for a while will recognize the name. Delle is the reason I’m a writer. I told her when she was in remission from ovarian cancer that I wanted to write a book about people who are grieving the death of a friend. She was enthusiastic about the idea, and made me promise to do it. It took a while, but I did.

The first email was dated New Year’s Eve, 2004. I won’t go into detail about it. It was deeply personal, reflecting on both her cancer battle and that of my father. She closed it saying she wanted us to get together the following week for coffee because she wanted some guidance from me on a new project.

I’m struggling to remember that project. It might be one of several; she always had something percolating. But I was a little surprised to see in print that she had asked for my help. I know we’d ask each other for input on various things, whether related to our daughters or our work. But still, it gave me a little comfort to see confirmation of her respect for my opinion.

The second email was dated Feb. 18, 2005, exactly four months before my father’s death. Delle, herself, was just out of the hospital after another recurrence of what she called “the beast”. While the first email was only for me, this one was sent to “Delle’s Elves”, those of us who had rallied around her since her initial diagnosis in 2002. It was one of her occasional emails bringing us up to date on her condition, outlook and needs.

As usual, she cut to the chase and related the bad news first. But most of the three page email was devoted to good news, exciting projects and her love of her daughter, The Remarkable Ramona. And she ended it as only Delle could: giving hope to those who sought only to hold her up:

I just wanted to let you all know there’s fresh cause to give thanks and to praise God. I wanted to share the depths of it all with you because for a few years now for some of you (thank Heaven for new friends!) you’ve walked with me in spirit, truth and love. I’m grateful for your company and your friendship.

This is what matters.

This is all that matters.

As you pray for me and Ramona, know that we are praying for each of you.

God has given us to each other.

And I, for one, am very, very glad about that.



Like I said, I’ve “heard” from her many times since her death. Whether it was a candle flame sparking a fire on the side altar at our church during a Mass being said for her, or the sun blinding me through a stained glass window during my daughter’s confirmation (Delle was supposed to be her sponsor), each occurrence has been marked by a certain…theatricality. That’s how I know it’s her. Nothing subtle will do.

“God has given us to each other.”

I know all of Delle’s friends feel that way.

And we always will.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Friend Grief and the Holidays

Now that we’re past Halloween, the holidays are upon us. You may not be ready, but they’re coming anyway. For the first time in a long time, I will have my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. But that was a self-defense decision, as I have an unusual amount of holiday commitments this year.

This may be a year in which you’ve lost a friend – or more than one. We tend to think of grieving during the holidays in the context of losing a family member. That’s often the case. It’s been forty years since my uncle died in a car accident less than two weeks before Christmas. There was not much to celebrate that year. Even when a death occurs much earlier in the year, the holidays become one of those ‘firsts’ we struggle to get through.

But little attention is paid to those who are missing a friend during the holidays. That grief is every bit as important. It’s just too often dismissed.

That’s why this Wednesday, Nov. 5, I’ll be the guest on a Google+ hangout on that very topic.

CHANGES, hosted by Sally Ember, will be live from 10-11am EST. You can be a part of it or check it out afterwards, if the time conflicts with your schedule.

Here are the links:

Wednesday, November 5 - , LIVE:

            Or catch our conversation any time on YouTube:

I hope to see you there with lots of questions for us! If you can’t make it, but would like to have your question answered, email me at, and I’ll do my best to include it in our discussion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The End of the Friend Grief Series?

Don’t get excited. It’s not happening tomorrow.

When I made the decision to serialize what was originally one book I knew it would eventually end. I believed there would be six books in the series. That’s still my assumption. What’s changed is the subject of the sixth one.

By now you know that I’ve published four books

            Friend Grief and Anger: When Your Friend Dies and No One Gives A Damn

            Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends

            Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners

            Friend Grief and the Military: Band of Friends

The fifth book, Friend Grief in the Workplace: More Than an Empty Cubicle, comes out in January (details will be announced in mid-December).

I thought the sixth book would be a wrap-up. It would be just about people who made major life changes after their friend(s) died. But those stories can be found in the first five books. They’re not just stories about someone dying and how their friend coped. They’re about those friends and how they lived their lives afterwards. That sixth book, in effect, is spread among the first five. But instead of ending the series after five books, I realized I already had the beginnings of a sixth book.

In 2012, before I decided to serialize my original book idea, I wrote a guest post for The Good Men Project. It was my mea culpa for assuming that it would be near impossible to get men to talk about grieving their friends. As I said in the article, I’ve never been so wrong. I promised then to write a book on this very topic. And so I shall.

Before you ask why I have not considered writing a book just about women grieving their friends, read the post. Women are much more likely to share their grief – in fact, they’re expected to. Men? Not so much.

After sleeping on the idea for a few nights, I decided today that the sixth book in the series will indeed be about men grieving their friends. I don’t have a title yet; that usually comes while I’m working on the book. But I have some damn powerful interviews to share.

Who knows? There may be a seventh book or even an eighth. I’ve had intriguing suggestions for future titles, so we’ll see.

There you have it, then: the change of subject for the sixth book is my big news for now. Next week, you’ll hear about the anthology I’m proud to be part of, as well as more announcements about book signings.

As always, stay tuned!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Where to Find Friend Grief

Don’t you love autumn? As far as I’m concerned, you can’t have too many sweaters. It feels like everything ramps up in intensity once the school year starts. And so it is with me.

Here are some upcoming events where you can find me:

Oct. 23            I’ll be leading a chat on Twitter from 7-8pn (EDT) for @DeathwDignity. Look for the hashtag #dwdchat. If you’re n ot already following me on Twitter, you can find me                                         @Victoria_Noe.

Oct. 25            If you’re near Rockford, Illinois, I’ll be at the InPrint Book Fair, hosted by the fabulous Rockford group, In Print Writers. Over 30 writers will be at the Mendelsson Performing Arts Center, 405 N. Main St., from 11-4. Join us!

Nov. 5             I’ll be live from 10-11am (EST) on the CHANGES Google+ HOA. If you’re not already following me on Google+, you can find me at Victoria Noe

I’ll be sharing more next week, including:

                        Upcoming guest blogs

                        Readings and book signings

                        Links to new places where you can find the Friend Grief books

Lots of excitement coming soon, so stay tuned!

And most importantly, thanks for following me here and on social media, for your wonderful feedback on my books, and spreading the word. 

I couldn’t do it without you!

Friday, October 3, 2014

An Awkward Response to a Coworker's Death

I blogged about the famous “Chuckles Bites The Dust” episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 2011. I looked at it in terms of a person’s reaction to a friend’s death, which can sometimes appear inappropriate (like laughing at a funeral).

But I decided to return to it as I work on the next book in my series, Friend Grief in the Workplace: More Than an Empty Cubicle.

Chuckles, after all, was a clown – or rather, playing a clown was his job. He was – to put it mildly – not taken seriously by his coworkers. So it was not surprising that on hearing of his death, they immediately began to joke about him.

Mary was horrified that they made fun of a man who’d just died. But when she got to the funeral, she found herself laughing uncontrollably. This time, it was her coworkers who were horrified.

In the pilot of LA Law, upon seeing the body of one of the firm’s partners who died unexpectedly, Arnie Becker announced, “I’ve got dibs on his office.”

Yes, they’re both TV shows, not real life. But they point out the awkward, uncomfortable situations we can find ourselves in when a coworker dies. We have a lot of questions:

            What’s the proper way to grieve in the office?

            Will I get (paid) time off to go to the funeral?

            Am I going to get stuck doing their work?

They’re not the questions that normally occupy our minds when a friend dies. But they’re the questions that complicate the experience of grieving a friend in the workplace.

Every situation is different, as you’ll see in the book. But in every one, people struggled to figure out how to grieve their friend while still being expected to do their job.

I have no easy answers, only suggestions. One of which is to watch the funeral scene I mentioned above. I know Chuckles would’ve loved it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Avoiding Grief at Work

He looked great in a tux, too
I’ve been working hard lately on the next book in my series, Friend Grief in the Workplace: More Than an Empty Cubicle. But I struggled to find some validation about the importance of friendships at work.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence: stories you’ll read in the book. What I wanted was something more objective. Maybe I needed to conduct my own survey, a daunting prospect I was not prepared to seriously consider. So I ignored the issue for a couple days. As luck would have it, just such a survey presented itself yesterday morning.

You’ll learn more about the survey results in the book, but one of the obvious truths in it was the evidence that we are happier when we’re friends with our co-workers. Whether you love your job or hate it, sharing the experience with others makes our lives a little less stressful. Celebrating promotions, commiserating over a nasty boss, working on a project together: all are enhanced by friendship.

When I worked in the AIDS community of Chicago in the late 80s/early 90s, I did my best to not make friends with co-workers. It’s not that they weren’t nice people (though some weren’t). I knew their HIV status, and back then, being HIV+ was essentially a death sentence. I was never afraid of them or dismissive of them (though I did worry about my assistant’s ability to complete some of the more physical tasks of his job). But I was afraid of getting close, of making friends with someone I spent at least 10 hours a day with, someone I would certainly outlive.

I’m embarrassed to say I’m grateful that Steve and I were no longer working together when he died. To this day, he remains one of the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful men I’ve ever known. And while I was glad to visit him, enabling his partner to take a brief break from caregiving, I knew I would not have wanted to watch his decline every day at work.

Despite my best intentions, I did wind up making friends with some of the people I worked with then, though most of them were volunteers who  were not around all day, every day. I’m still friends with some of them. We rarely talk about that time, because if we do, we inevitably find ourselves sharing a story about Steve or Ernest or someone else who’s been dead now for decades.

Am I sorry I didn’t make more friends at work? I’m surprised to admit I am. There were people I knew in the community – not actually in the office – who I only knew a little. We weren’t friends by any definition. But I regret now that I didn’t take the time, didn’t put aside my own fear of losing them. There’s no question that my grief would’ve been greater when they died. But my work life would’ve been a hell of a lot richer.