Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What’s New on Friend Grief?

I always considered the first day of school to be more like the start of a new year than January 1st: lots of new beginnings and excitement (not to mention shopping for new clothes and supplies).

There is certainly a lot of excitement here (though not much shopping)! So, I thought I’d bring you up to date on what’s coming up with Friend Grief in the next month:

1.      I’ll be a guest on Madeline Sharples’ website tomorrow, August 28, talking about how my writing made me an activist - again.

2.      Through Labor Day, I’ll donate 25% of the price of the paperback and e-book versions of the second book in the Friend Grief series, Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends, to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

3.      Next week I’ll reveal the cover and give you an excerpt from the next book in the series, Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners, which comes out September 11.

4.      I’ll be a guest on Audrey Pellicano’s blog talk radio show, GriefTalk, on September 10, talking about my books.

5.      On September 26, I’ll be a guest on Kathleen Pooler’s Memoir Writer’s Journey, talking about…well, you’ll just have to check it out.

6.      A report on our next Death Café in the Chicago area.

7.      Information on the fourth book in the series, Friend Grief and Community: Band of Friends, about the military.

8.      Book signings and Goodreads giveaways.

9.      And that’s just September!

So check back often, for all this and more, as I share stories about people who have gone through the same experience you have – grieving the death of a friend. You’re going to meet some terrific people who mourned and struggled and laughed, and ultimately found a way to carry the memory of their friends with them every day.

As Doctor Who would say, “Allons-y!”


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Scattering Ashes at Death Cafe'

Monday night we had another successful Death Café in Evanston, Illinois. Nearly 50 people joined us for coffee, tea, cookies and muffins while we talked about issues surrounding death and dying.

We broke up into four groups, each led by a facilitator, for an hour. The conversations were wide-ranging and passionate. My group included people of various religions and no religion; male and female; college-age through retirement. No one was required to share, but most had feelings they wanted to express. Honestly, we could’ve talked for hours.

At one point, in discussing our own final wishes, we focused on burial vs. cremation, and, in the latter case, how to dispose of the ashes. Fears of being caught spreading ashes in a place that’s restricted were assuaged by offers to help do the deed.

One woman expressed a concern that I believe was on the minds of many there: what happens if your family is all gone? How do you make your final wishes known when you’re the last of your family?

So I thought that was a good situation to share here today. Maybe you know someone – maybe elderly, maybe not – who has no close relatives. Maybe they are, like this woman, the last of their family. Maybe that describes you.

You may not have a will. You may not have designated someone your medical power of attorney. You may not want to think about it at all. That means “Five Wishes” is for you.

The Five Wishes are:

·         Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can't make them.

·         The kind of medical treatment you want or don't want.

·         How comfortable you want to be.

·         How you want people to treat you.

·         What you want your loved ones to know.

Now is the time, while you’re healthy and able to make these decisions for yourself. No family? Ask your friends. Again, it’s an uncomfortable conversation for many people. But one that will avoid all kinds of complications down the line.

For more information on the Five Wishes document (which meets legal requirements in 42 states), check the Aging with Dignity website.

And have some fun, too. Your funeral will be your last chance to make your friends laugh.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Grief Trolls

The internet can be a source of great knowledge. It can bring people together. But there is a dark side, too.

Many people have found Facebook and other social media sites to be helpful as they grieve. Information about a person’s death is easily disseminated, along with funeral arrangements. Its efficiency is a blessing for the families, because it eliminates the need to make dozens of emotional phone calls.

Tribute pages are set up by family and friends, as a way for people to express their grief and share memories of the person who died. Not everyone can attend a funeral or memorial service, and this gives them the opportunity to give comfort to those left behind.

There is a phenomenon called “R.I.P. trolling”. People go onto a page – even a tribute page – often anonymously. They don’t know the person who died. But they post jokes and make fun of the person who died, even celebrating their death. They’re not just on Facebook: you’ve probably seen them on Twitter.

A suburban Chicago couple was warned to stay off the internet after their 15 year old son drowned in Lake Michigan last month: strangers were posting cartoons of people drowning with lots of LOLing.

Facebook issued a statement on R.I.P. trolls:

"Sometimes, just like in the offline world, people can say or do things that are offensive and in extremely poor taste — even in the wake of a terrible tragedy," the statement said. "When this happens, Facebook users are quick to report the offensive content, and we are quick to respond."

If you see this kind of behavior, obviously, report it immediately.

Everyone has the option of limiting who can comment on their Facebook page (I’m limiting the discussion here to Facebook – this happens on Twitter and other social media platforms). But that’s hard to do if it’s your page and you’re dead.

R.I.P. trolls defend themselves by saying they’re countering what they see as insincere condolences posted online by people who didn’t know the deceased.


It bothers you so much that strangers are offering their condolences that your response is to ridicule the person who died?

I’ve been trying to come up with an opinion I can post here, but I’m not having much luck. Maybe you can find the words.



Monday, August 12, 2013

What Do You Miss The Most?

Delle's scarf
On Saturday I went to Halsted Street Days, a street festival in the heart of Chicago’s gay community. I’d been there many times over the years, and have watched it grow more mainstream: Walmart and Marriott had booths.

But as I walked through the crowds, past the bars and my favorite Chinese restaurant, I began to think of friends long-gone. There were many, not all of them from the time in my life when I was involved in the AIDS community. And when I thought of them, there always seemed to be one thing that immediately came to mind.

I miss Mary Ellen’s laugh: always loud and unrestrained, occasionally embarrassing but always sincere.

I miss Steve’s work ethic and child-like enthusiasm.

I miss Delle’s wisdom and impressive spirituality.

I miss John’s calm assurances.

I miss Dennis’ constant flirting.

Right after a friend dies, you’re numb and angry and inconsolable. Later, when the grief is less raw – more like a scab – that’s when little things pop into your head. It might be a memory of something the two of you did together, or a conversation late at night. It might be a physical trait or a personality quirk. Every time you think of them, that one special thing is what you remember.

Whatever it is, it’s probably the thing you admired – and miss – the most about your friend.

What do you miss the most about your friend?




Saturday, August 3, 2013

What A Death Café is All About

Dan Bulf and I recently facilitated our second Death Café in the Chicago area, this time in the near north suburb of Evanston. It was a huge success, just in terms of numbers: more than double what we expected.

Our next one will be held August 19 in a larger space, at the Evanston Public Library. That one’s filling up very quickly, too. We will undoubtedly have to cut off registrations soon, especially because of the great press coverage we’ve received. REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED.

Here is a terrific article by Jessica Reynolds in this weekend’s Chicago Tribune. It gives you a real sense of what it’s like to be there: the conversation, the emotion, the camaraderie.

You can sign up for our mailing list, and be the first notified about future Death Café events in the Chicago area.

For more background on the Death Café movement around the world, just check out Jon Underwood’s site.

These are conversations that are often much-avoided and long overdue. What are you waiting for?