Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Might Want to Interview You

Despite the holidays, I'm currently researching the third and fourth books in the Friend Grief series. One is on the experience of grieving the death of a friend in community, the other in the workplace. Part of that research is interviewing men and women who have gone through this.

There are several demographics I’m interested in:



Medical personnel (all levels, but not those who work in a doctor’s office)


Performing artists (musicians, actors, dancers, singers)



Senior citizens

The criteria for all demographics are the same:

They must have experienced the death of a friend they worked with (except senior citizens – for that group it’s a friend they lived with in a retirement community).

They need not be currently working at that job.

They must be willing to discuss that experience.

Interviews will be conducted from January-March, 2013 (by phone, email, snail mail, in person)

If you fit the criteria, or know someone who does, I’d love to hear from you! Please email me at If you’re in Chicago, St. Louis, New York, or Los Angeles, I’ll be doing face-to-face interviews as much as possible.

Thanks in advance for your help!




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where Do You Go to Grieve Your Friends?

Student at fork in the road
I was raised Catholic, though I probably don’t fit the definition of what some people consider a “good” Catholic. But I assume God and I will discuss the finer points of that topic at a later date.

So I was brought up going to funeral high masses, listening to “Dies Irae”, coughing from aggressive use of incense. Before the funeral was a wake at a funeral parlor, sometimes lasting several days. Flowers sent by friends and family were delivered as people gathered before the dead person in their coffin.  Mass cards were left, and everyone signed the condolence book so that thank you’s could be sent in the weeks ahead. There was a little room where family could escape for coffee and food. After the funeral, the family often hosted a gathering, in their home or at a restaurant, for extended family and close friends.

Those were our rituals. Every culture has their own. But there is comfort in those rituals. A large part of that comfort is physical: you have a place to go in the immediate aftermath of someone’s death.

There has been much talk since the murders in Connecticut last week about community, and that’s good. There is no more appropriate time for people to come together than after a tragedy.

But though we can all connect online, watching live broadcasts and following tweets, those are not a substitute for being in a particular place.

Memorial services – sometimes months after a death – are now commonplace. The kind of wake I’m used to is not the norm any more.

The beauty of those kinds of traditions was in the ability to gather together right away. We knew where to go to grieve, to support, to remember.

But now we improvise. We leave tons of flowers and candles in front of Buckingham Palace after the death of Princess Diana. We go to a bar with friends. We create shrines on the roadside after traffic accidents.

The events of last Friday have convinced me more and more that often when people say “I don’t know what to do” after a death, what they really mean is “I don’t know where to go.”

I talked to first responders on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 who traveled from as far away as Australia to attend the ceremonies. Why? “I needed to be here,” they all explained.

The need to share your grief with others in a place that has meaning is stronger than we think. That’s why Facebook tribute pages have become so popular: people who could not attend a funeral or memorial service can share their grief in a particular place (albeit online) with others who also grieve.

Does it help your grief to have a place to go, a place to share your grief for your friend with others?

Does the lack of such a place make it harder to grieve?

I’ll be interested to hear your experiences.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Grieving for Friends You Never Met

Jessica Hill, AP
I had a blog post ready for today, but it will have to wait until next week.

I turned on my computer to see “Breaking News” screamed in big red letters across the screen: shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

At first, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the story: was it a domestic dispute? An angry student? A disgruntled former employee?

But then I read a little more, and the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut revealed itself to be more horrible than anyone could have anticipated.

I can’t watch the news about this on TV. I check on Facebook and Twitter, and now and then on news websites, but that’s the extent of what I’m capable of doing right now.

My daughter in college texted me: did something happen in Connecticut? We talked on the phone about it, but only a little, preferring to change the subject as soon as we could.

Social media is exploding with news and comments, and already some people feel the need to reaffirm their support of gun ownership. Talk about an inappropriate moment.

I’m not going to get into the gun control debate, other than to say I don’t believe mass shootings of kindergarten students are what the Founding Fathers had in mind with the 2nd Amendment.
What I am going to say is that right now, millions are grieving for people they’ve never met – the adults and children who were murdered today.

They’re grieving for the victims’ families and friends whose lives have been changed forever.

And they’re grieving for their country. Because a tragedy like this reflects on us all.

Let’s put away the posters and rhetoric and join together to find a way to avoid these kinds of senseless tragedies.

This is supposed to be a season of peace and love.

Let’s make it so.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Luxury of Grief

“You have to get over it.”

“It’s time to move on.”

“They wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

I’d like to call for an immediate, international ban on all of the above.

Grieving your friends is hard enough. A lot of people – even those closest to you – just don’t get the depths of your sadness. While they may cut you some slack if you lost a family member, the death of a friend doesn’t usually inspire a lot of compassion.

You may even agree with those pious words of “support”. You may convince yourself that you’re too busy to grieve, especially during the holidays when our busy lives get even busier.

Denying yourself the time to grieve is an invitation for complications down the road. You pat yourself on the back for moving on, for getting over it, for putting on a happy face when others are around.

I think of this kind of denial as an unnecessary challenge to God, who eventually will say, “You think you’re done grieving? Trust me: you haven’t begun to grieve.”

When you avoid or minimize your grief, you’re leaving yourself open for a return visit, when you least expect it.

Maybe you run into a mutual friend, and begin reminiscing about the friend you both lost. Maybe you’re flipping channels and come upon a movie or TV show that your friend loved. Maybe you’re having a bad day and want to pick up the phone to call them, but you can’t.

I deliberately used the word ‘luxury’ to describe grief because that’s how many people think of it: as something we can’t afford to indulge in. But it’s not.

If grief is the price you pay for love, and you loved your friend, then why wouldn’t you grieve? You let them into your life, you loved them, loved your friendship. After all, you are who you are today because of them.

Make a promise to yourself. During the holidays – and all year round – give yourself the luxury of grieving your friend. Honor their absence as you honored their presence. And don’t listen to everyone else. Someday they’ll be in your shoes, and understand all too well.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thoughts on World AIDS Day

AIDS Memorial Quilt
National Mall, Washington DC
In all honesty, it was a week of AIDS.

Early in the week I completed the first draft of the second book in the Friend Grief series: Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends. As the week progressed, that high was sustained by anticipation. I was going to a screening of United in Anger and then to a memorial service, organized by a friend and led by my former pastor.

But in between the book draft and Saturday, that anticipation became tempered with frustration. The first World AIDS Day was in 1988: why are we still commemorating it? Why do we still need to commemorate it?

By Friday, my frustration had hardened into anger. I wanted to scream at news people who talked about “celebrating” World AIDS Day. “Celebrating”? What exactly are we celebrating – 34 million people infected and another 30 million already dead? Little children in Africa who are raped because superstition holds that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS?  Young gay men getting infected on purpose, to access social services and the sympathy of their peers?

On World AIDS Day, I sat through United in Anger, an excellent new documentary about ACT UP, still angry.

At the memorial service that evening, I calmed down a bit. The opening hymn was one that always makes me cry, so perhaps that was all I needed to get rid of some of that anger. I listened to testimony from people living with AIDS, men who, years ago, would have never willingly offered their full names.

What I ultimately took away from the service – and the documentary – was that AIDS is one of those issues, one of those moments in time. It brought out the worst in a lot of people, and still does. It seems inconceivable that it could bring out the best in people, too.

The professor who led the Q&A after the film looked remarkably unremarkable. But this gentle man had been a member of ACT UP Chicago, demonstrating and sitting-in to demand better treatment for his dying friends.

The priest who led the memorial service admitted his homophobia and fear when the epidemic began: attitudes that changed when he witnessed the bravery of friends taking care of their friends.

And that is, finally, what I took away from the day: the bravery of friends. Abandoned by families, many people with AIDS had/have no one left to turn to.

Their friends fought for them, cared for them, buried them. And some have been doing it for decades.

Perhaps what we really need is a World Friends Day.



To learn more about United in Anger, click here.