Friday, November 30, 2012

World AIDS Day 2012

Despite the fact that my production schedule has been blown to hell, this week I managed to finish the first draft of the second book in the Friend Grief series: Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends.

It’s not the book I thought it was going to be. Whether it is any good at what it is remains to be seen.

But what came up time and again – as I re-read classic books by Randy Shilts and Larry Kramer and watched new documentaries on the history of ACT UP – was the frustration and anger that still exists today. And it exists because AIDS still exists.

Even the victories have unintended consequences. The AIDS cocktail of drugs that has saved so many? Can you afford it? Can you tolerate the combination of drugs? Can you even get it? If you’re one of the 69% of those living with HIV/AIDS, that means you live in sub-Saharan Africa, so the answer to these questions is ‘probably not’.

Do you live in a country that considers AIDS a health crisis? Despite the focus on it here in the US, there has been – due to medical advances – a change in thinking that is both heartening and disturbing. AIDS is now considered a chronic disease – like diabetes: something that is treatable, if not curable. Getting infected is “no big deal”. People even get infected deliberately.

But it is a big deal. Thirty-one years into the epidemic 30 million people have died, and another 30 million live with AIDS. In the US, 1.2 million people live with HIV/AIDS…but 230,000 don’t know it because they haven’t been tested.

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not done yet. People are infected every day – sometimes deliberately, sometimes unknowingly. At the beginning of the fourth decade of the epidemic, superstitions still abound, including one that insists that sex with a virgin will cure you of AIDS.

If you want to know more about AIDS – both here and around the world – here are some organizations that will help.

And take a minute tomorrow, December 1 – World AIDS Day – to remember those who died and those who have fought for 31 years to wipe AIDS off the planet.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

George Harrison's Friends

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you already know I’m a huge Beatles fan. What I didn’t expect was that they’d actually give me something to write about here, something important about grieving your friends.

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the death of George Harrison. It’s also the tenth anniversary of The Concert for George, a superstar musical event produced by his friends in his memory. You can watch it all day today on the George Harrison YouTube channel.

What struck me the most about that concert film – and the emotional documentary Living in the Material World – was the willingness of his friends to talk about their love for George.

In the former, Eric Clapton freely admits that putting the concert together was a way to work through his grief – a way for most everyone involved to work through their grief.

In the latter, the impact of George’s death was felt deeply by all who spoke, but perhaps most surprisingly by former race car driver Jackie Stewart. He talks about how he’d lost a lot of friends in his race career – watched many of them die – but no death had affected him, even ten years later, like George’s.

So, here are some links for you. Enjoy the music (I’ve included the music video of one of my favorite George Harrison solo efforts, “Got My Mind Set On You”). Watch the concert and look at this scene from the documentary, where Ringo recounts his last minutes with George. When it’s over, you’ll probably have the same two reactions I had:

What a good friend he was.

I hope my friends think the same of me.








Friday, November 23, 2012

Getting Through The Holidays After Your Friend Dies

I hated the holidays – Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day – when I was single and not dating. I felt like it was the annual reminder from the universe that I was alone. Everyone had someone during the holidays except me. At least that’s what it felt like.

It’s hard to lose a friend, whether they were our best friend, a co-worker, a neighbor, the girl whose locker was next to ours. The holidays are hard after you’ve lost a family member. But what about for those of us who have lost a friend?

I’ve been reading articles about coping with grief during this festive time of year. Without exception, they focused on grieving a family member. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve had a couple of bad Christmases myself. The one after my uncle died in a car accident earlier in December was horrible. We went through the motions, but it wasn’t the same.

So it is when our friends die. Maybe there were special things the two of you did together during the holidays: Thanksgiving Day football games, shopping, office parties, afternoon tea, organizing mini-class reunions, baking cookies. When they’re gone, those activities lose a lot of the happiness they brought you.

You may find yourself shopping and thinking “oh, they’d love that,” only to realize that there’s no need to buy it. You may find yourself avoiding the holiday rituals that had been a part of your friendship, making excuses that no one – including you – believes. You may find yourself, like me, just wishing you could hibernate during the holidays.

Taking care of yourself is paramount. Too many of us who grieve our friends are encouraged, coaxed and otherwise told in no uncertain terms that we need to “move on”. And all that does is create resentment and stall our healing. So – always with the disclaimer that I’m not a therapist – here are some things to consider while you grieve a friend during the holidays:

1 – Get some sleep. No, seriously, get some sleep. No one gets medals for being sleep-deprived, and when you’re grieving, your body is under additional stress. Do whatever you have to do to get more rest – naps, earlier bedtime, meditation. A few minutes a day can make a big difference.

2 – Don’t over-indulge. We hear it all the time during the holidays: don’t overeat or drink too much. But again, when we’re grieving, we’re often less self-aware of what we’re doing. It can be easy to eat and drink more than we should. Neither one will help you get through the holidays with any semblance of peace of mind.

3 – Find a buddy for your journey. It might be a mutual friend of the one who died. It might be a therapist. It might be group therapy. Someone you can talk to about what you’re going through, someone who understands and won’t pressure you to go back to “normal” as soon as possible. Talk to your dog. Write in a journal. But find a way to express your grief.

4 – Revisit or create new rituals. Maybe doing the things you did with that friend give you comfort; make them feel close to you. If they don’t, do something different, maybe something your friend was not interested in doing.

5 – Honor your friend’s memory during the holidays. Make a donation to a cause they supported. Gives gifts to needy families or deployed soldiers in their memory.

None of these things will change the reality: your friend died and you miss them. But they may help you get through a challenging time of year with your sanity intact.

In the end, Scrooge talked about “keeping Christmas every day.” May you find a way to keep your friend’s memory every day.

(And if you have any suggestions to add to the list, feel free to share.)


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Setting Up A Facebook Tribute Page for Your Friend

Families have an advantage when someone dies. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true.

They have legal rights. Society views them as the primary mourners. Most people will take their cues from the family, as far as appropriate ways to mourn.

But what about you? What about the friends?

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn – are part of our lives. Some people are more invested in it than others, for social and/or business reasons. But it affects most of us in some way.

So it stands to reason that the subject of expressing our grief online would be a topic of discussion and controversy: Should a death be announced online? That debate has been brewing for a while and won’t go away anytime soon.

The issue is a touchy one, especially for those unsure about how to use social media in a respectful way.

Facebook and Twitter in particular are great for spreading information quickly. I’ve learned about friends who were in accidents, had surgery, and yes, who died. And while seeing the news on my computer screen was jarring and upsetting, it would have been jarring and upsetting had I found out by phone, mass email, or in person.

So I was delighted to read an article that actually gives thoughtful guidelines about setting up a Facebook tribute page. That’s a page devoted to a person who has died – often a friend – giving people a chance to express their feelings in a safe group setting.

As Steve Jacobsen, Executive Director of Hospice of Santa Barbara acknowledges:

“These online tributes can be powerful tools for bereaved people to communicate with each other and to act as a bridge with others.”

But how to do that in a way that respects your friend, as well as their friends and family? Among the “do’s and don’ts”, Jacobson’s organization offers these tips:

Post a link to your loved one’s memorial page on your page. Sometimes it can take a while before news reaches people’s ears, so posting the link to their memorial wall will let you sensitively announce their death and encourage people to express their grief. (A terrific solution to the shock of seeing the announcement pop up in your news feed)

If the deceased had a friend or relative you did not get along with, do not make rude or aggressive comments towards that person on your loved one’s Facebook wall. (Seems obvious, but in our grief, we can say things we shouldn’t)

There is definitely a generational issue here, as far as deeming this appropriate. But online grieving – including Facebook memorial pages – is not going away anytime soon.

Where do you stand?


You can read the entire article, with more thoughtful suggestions, in the Santa Barbara Independent.

And here are a wide range of opinions on online grieving from USA Today, Mourning Becomes Electric.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Should You Tweet a Friend’s Funeral?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have texted from a funeral. I sat by myself in the last pew, at least five rows away from anyone else. I was texting my girlfriend two states away who couldn’t attend. I figured if I didn’t disturb anyone and God didn’t strike me dead, my good intentions were sufficient to justify my behavior.

But I have to admit that when I read Matthew Ingram’s article What I Learned While Live-Tweeting a Friend’s Funeral on that it gave me pause.

Ingram felt that live-tweeting was a tribute to his friend, a long-time user of Twitter who was interested in social technology. He also felt it fit his friend’s sense of humor, and the family agreed. And the funeral was already being live-streamed online.

There have been instances before of reporters texting and tweeting from funerals they’re covering. Is that worse than filming? Is tweeting different than taking notes by hand?

As you might imagine, the comments on Gigaom were passionate on both sides of the appropriateness of Ingram’s actions. “Disrespectful” and “Brilliant” were typical responses, and everything in between.

What do you think?

Is nothing sacred? Are we truly obsessed with sharing online?

Or is Twitter an opportunity for friends and family around the world to connect to the final tribute for someone they love?