Thursday, June 30, 2011

Social Media Day - Grieving Your Friend Online

The internet has become such a pervasive element in society – and in our lives – that it was inevitable that grief should find its way online.
The Yahoo group my high school classmates started after 9/11 is still going strong, though its purpose has changed.
My friend, Joe, started a Facebook group to keep friends up to date on the health of his partner, Dennis, who died a few months ago.
There are Twitter accounts that exist to inform the world about deaths of celebrities.
Blogs and websites are devoted to grief support.
Is civilization better off with these resources?
As much as I’m tempted to say “no”, I have to say yes. The ability of the internet to connect people not just with each other, but with resources, is staggering. People who may not be comfortable expressing their grief in a traditional grief support group can find websites that allow them to do so in a less public way. Less public? Definitely, because even though nothing’s truly private on the internet, grieving online means never having to face people. Not everyone’s ready or comfortable doing that.
In the coming days, a new page will pop up here: “Resources”. It will list books, films, TV shows, websites and organizations that relate to the experience of grieving the death of a friend. All websites and organizations will be vetted by me, so you can be assured that they are legitimate and helpful. Others will be introduced here in the coming months.
Obviously, some are online resources, some are “IRL” – “in real life”. In the long run, the source is not important. What matters is that you find the support and solace you deserve.

Monday, June 27, 2011

When Your Best Friend is Your Boss

We spend a good part – perhaps the majority – of our waking hours at work: shared purpose, shared cubicles, shared snack room. The people we work with become a second family. For some people they may actually serve as a family. Most of the friendships we make last only for the time we’re in the same building. Other friendships may carry over to weekends or vacations. Some few become long-term, deeply important friendships.
One such friendship is at the center of a story in today’s Chicago Tribune:
 “When word spread of Chief Executive James Tyree’s death spread through the 12 floors of Mesirow Financial late on March 16, several dozen employees converged on President Richard Price’s office to console each other. ‘There seemed to be a magnetic pull to Richard’s office,’ Dennis Black, Mesirow’s general counsel, recalled. ‘Richard pulled out a bottle of vodka that a client had given him, and we passed it around the crowd as though we were sitting around a campfire.’ Initially it was a hushed scene. Then, stories about Tyree, a charismatic leader in Chicago’s business community, began to flow, along with tears. ‘Richard encouraged the sharing, and everyone who stopped in left knowing that we were all going to be all right,’ Black said.”
James Tyree, the chief executive of Mesirow Financial in Chicago, was seriously ill with stomach cancer. Still, his death, due to improper removal of a catheter during a routine procedure, was accidental and unexpected. Two days later, Richard Price was named CEO. Tyree wasn’t only his boss; he was his best friend.
So here was a man, in shock from the news of his best friend’s death, consoling others who worked with him, too. Here was a man who not only had to come back to work, but step into his friend’s job. Here, too, was a man who not only continues to ensure employees who need grief counseling receive it, but who gets it for himself, too.
Many of us welcome work as a diversion for our grief. But few of us are as lucky as James Tyree’s friends, to work in a place where their grief is respected, and support is readily available.
They’re lucky not just for knowing James Tyree, but for knowing his best friend as well.

To read the complete article:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Giving a Eulogy for Your Friend – Fr. Michael Duffy

I’ve never been called upon to give a eulogy for a friend. I wrote the eulogy a hospice chaplain read for my father’s funeral. I’ve made remarks at friends’ memorial services. But I’ve never given a formal eulogy: never stood up in front of a gathering of mourners, script in hand, before a microphone, praying for strength.

The photo here is one of the most iconic images of September 11, 2001. Fr. Mychal Judge was a New York City fire department chaplain. He died ministering at the World Trade Center. His funeral, at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street four days later, was nationally televised.

Franciscans are required to leave instructions “in the event of” their death, and on the morning following the attacks, Fr. Michael Duffy was told that Fr. Judge had left instructions for him to give the eulogy.
I was shaken and shocked … for one thing, as you know from this gathering, Mychal Judge knew thousands of people. He knew, he seemed to know everybody in the world. And if he didn’t then, they know him now, I’m sure. Certainly he had friends that were more intellectual than I, certainly more holy than I, people more well-known. And so I sat with that thought, why me … and I came down to the conclusion that I was simply and solely his friend … and I’m honored to be called that.

I always tell my volunteers in Philadelphia that through life, you’re lucky if you have four or five people whom you can truly call a friend. And you can share any thought you have, enjoy their company, be parted and separated, come back together again and pick up right where you left off. They’ll forgive your faults and affirm your virtues. Mychal Judge was one of those people for me. And I believe and hope I was for him …
How do you sum up a life and a friendship? Fr. Duffy’s eulogy is as good as they get: personal, joyful, mournful. Even if you never met Fr. Judge, by the end of the homily you’ll feel that he was your friend, too.
Thanks to Fr. Duffy for teaching us all about his friend.

For more information on Fr. Mychal Judge, his life and his legacy:

For the entire transcript of Fr. Duffy’s homily:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“Let Us Learn to Show Our Friendship…”

My high school reunion - 2010
“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I heard that line while watching a rerun of Law & Order: UK, and I thought it was perfect for the topic of grieving the death of a friend.
As I’ve interviewed people for my book, there is one subject that raises genuine passion. They’re telling me the story of a friend who has died. Sometimes there is a lot of pain: they were shut out by the family, maybe not even notified; they were not allowed access to their friend while they were dying. Maybe they couldn’t get off work to go to the funeral.
Maybe their story is not so sad, but rather an example of how a friend’s life – and death – served as a catalyst to change their own life.
But if I ask “did your friend know how you felt about them?” more often than not there is regret. No matter if they functioned as a caregiver, or kept in close contact while they were ill: there is almost always regret.
“There wasn’t anything I could do, but…”
The regret is that most people never tell their friends that they love them. I didn’t tell my best friend I loved her until after 9/11. “I know that,” she insisted. “I know, but I needed to say it.”
So I took Fitzgerald’s comment two ways. First, that we have to stop making excuses now for not calling, not emailing, not getting together, because we never know what tomorrow brings. And second, stop assuming they already know, and say the words that are in our hearts.
Tell them you love them while you can.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Dad’s Friends

In the backyard with Daddy
My parents were part of a group of about 6 couples. All had married around 1949, stayed married, raised their families in the same place they grew up themselves. My Dad met one guy when they were 5 years old; others he met when they worked at a factory. The men were loud and a little goofy at times. Their culinary adventures rarely extended beyond meat and potatoes or Italian food (my Dad was a notable exception to that rule). We’ve celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, weddings and baptisms with them all. With the exception of one couple closer to my age, in my fifties I still refer to them as “Mr. and Mrs.” rather than their first names. They’re still the grownups.
When my Dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the fall of 2004, this group became even closer. They were still loud and goofy, but different. They would continue to meet for lunch, but also kept him company during chemo. They were there for him, in that nonverbal way men have of expressing love.
We finally brought in hospice in June, and my mother started calling his friends. The first ones were there in an hour, and the rest showed up over the next couple days. By then my Dad was in a hospital bed in the living room, barely able to communicate, in and out of consciousness. In short, not the man they’d known for 50, 60 or even 70 years. It was hard on them; so hard one man took one look at him and walked back out. He couldn’t take it: the most outrageous man in the bunch broke down on the front porch.
My Dad was the first one in their group to die, and it was hard on them. But I will always remember how they made sure that the time they spent with my Dad was as normal as possible. They didn’t abandon him or treat him with kid gloves. They laughed and argued and told stories, just as they had for decades.
So, I share this because it’s Father’s Day weekend, and yesterday was the 6th anniversary of my father’s death. When I talked to my mother last night, she said she’d gotten a call from one couple who called from their vacation to tell her they were thinking of her. Those are the kinds of friends everyone wants to have.
I wish those kinds of friends for you.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Welcome She Writers!

         Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!   
Welcome She Writers to the Bloggers Ball Re-Re-Redux!

My blog is for people to share their experiences grieving the death of a friend. Many people feel not only the loss of that person, but a surprising lack of respect for their grief. That's why the title of my book is "It's Not Like They're Family": Mourning Our Friends and Celebrating Their Lives.

Feel free to browse and comment, and follow if you'd like. I look forward to visiting your blogs this weekend, too!

Don’t Tell Me How to Grieve!

There have been times when my grief has been so overwhelming that I didn’t realize what people were saying to me. I’d nod my head, as if in agreement. I thought if they believed I was agreeing with them, they’d leave me alone. It was only later – hours, days, even months later – that their words began to make sense.
My post on Wednesday, “Types of Grievers – Part 4”, really hit a nerve with people. In addition to comments on this blog, I got private emails about the subject of the post. In it, I talked about the worst kind of grieving, when you feel you can’t or shouldn’t grieve the way that makes the most sense to you.
“You need to get over it.”
“You need to move on.”
“You need to cry.”
“You need to get out more.”
Who hasn’t heard these things? And when it’s a friend who dies, you can add the phrase that is the title of my book: “it’s not like they’re family.”
In the 80’s, I lost friends and colleagues to AIDS. Some people felt my grief should be relative to how the deceased contracted the disease. It was all right to grieve a woman who was infected by her husband, or a child who was infected by a blood transfusion. A gay man? No, they brought it on themselves, so my grief shouldn’t be so strong.
I can’t repeat here what was my typical response. But in essence, I was saying what we all wish those around us would take to heart:
“Don’t tell me how to grieve.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Types of Grievers – Part 4

“You need to be strong for...”
“You need to move on.”
“Why haven’t you cried?”
We all grieve in our own way. But the fourth and final type of griever described here is the type no one wants to be. This griever can’t or won’t express their grief the way that feels most natural to them.
Generally speaking, in our culture, men are expected to be the strong ones when dealing with grief, and women are expected to willingly express their feelings.
Men may feel that any expression of emotion is not “masculine” and should be suppressed.
Women may feel that there’s something wrong with them because they’re not crying.
Men may feel they should limit their physical contact with others to stiff hugs and formal handshakes.
Women may resist the efforts of well-meaning friends and families to ‘let it out’.
Men may want desperately to talk about the person who has died.
Women may wonder why they feel relieved instead of sad.
Disapproval from friends, family, bosses and even strangers, can stifle our natural reactions to grief.
Our cultural and ethnic heritage, as well as the society we live in, can also contribute to the pressure that we need to grieve in a way that makes others feel more comfortable.
How do you grieve? Does it depend on the particular loss, or do you recognize that you handle grief in a certain way?
However you process grief, remember: everyone does it differently, and no one person’s way is the only way. No one should be bullied into grieving in a way that others dictate.
It may not be the way you grieve. But it’s just the right way for them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Objects Speak

This is a picture of a scarf that belonged to my friend, Delle. She had quite a collection of scarves. Tall and vivacious, she wore them with style, unlike those of us who struggle tying them.
At the gathering after her funeral mass, those attending received “goodie bags”: a blue paper bag, with her photo on the side, with one of her scarves inside. I remember making my selection very carefully, and choosing this one. I wanted something of her, some piece of her. Its bright blues and reds and purples were familiar to me, and comforting. When I wear it, I say I’m “taking Delle with me.”
Delle has traveled with me to Missouri and New York, California and Kentucky. She has given me the courage to pitch my book, and attended the theatre.  She’s always with me, but when I wear her scarf – even now after almost 5 years – I feel closer to her.
The World Trade Center Tribute Center has a new exhibit called “Objects Speak”, a small but powerful example of the meaning of things.
Objects from the site are preserved in Plexiglass cases. Their owners – or someone related to the original owners – comment on their meaning when first found, and their meaning nearly 10 years after the attacks. They illustrate how the significance of an object can evolve over time. As one participant in the exhibit stated:
“I felt these things are not a possession – they are a treasured memory.” (Christina Cerciello, Elegant Affairs)
Perhaps you have a keepsake from your friend – a photo, a note passed in history class, a ticket stub from a concert. At the time, it may not have had great meaning. But today – perhaps years after they died – that little scrap of paper may mean the world to you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Service to His Friends

I thought I'd post something else appropriate for the week of Memorial Day.

To hear a touching account of working in Graves Registration during the Vietnam War, click on the link below.

And consider the opportunity to preserve the memory of your friends through StoryCorps.

Friendship StoryCorps