Thursday, September 26, 2013

Helping Friends Pick Funeral Music

There seem to be two types of funerals.

One is the kind that makes us cringe, may even make us angry. It’s where the person leading the service never met the person who died. It’s obvious – they ramble on in general, pious terms. They mispronounce the deceased’s name. Times like those I want to walk up to the front, say “shut up and sit down” and invite friends and family to do a better job.

Then there are those we never forget. I’ve been to a few, where the eulogies made us laugh, made us cry, and even made us give standing ovations. And the music…well, the music makes all the difference.

I remember walking into my friend Delle’s apartment a few weeks before she died. “Do you want to see my urn?” she asked. Honestly, I didn’t: I didn’t want to think about the inevitable. But she showed it to me anyway: a gorgeous, cobalt blue (her favorite color). She was, when I got there, choosing the music for her funeral.

Now not everyone has the luxury of time to plan their own funeral, once they know they’re dying. That’s why I’m becoming more and more insistent that my family and friends think about this now.

There are as many different kinds of funerals as there are people: religious, secular, sad, celebratory, indoors, outdoors. And for a control freak like me, it’s one last chance to be in charge.

So here’s a question for you, the next time you’re with your best friend:

What kind of music do you want at your funeral?

Use this blog post as an excuse, or maybe refer to the funeral of a mutual friend. While there are many hymns I like (and a couple are on my list of instructions), there are some decidedly non-religious ones that I like. Who can forget Alex’s funeral at the beginning of The Big Chill:

In a very unscientific poll on Facebook, Eileen suggested that one right away. Annie preferred to go in a slightly different – though somewhat obvious direction:

I popped a cd in the car yesterday (Paul McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full”) and was reminded of this one:

Then again, you may want to end with a little humor, like this oldie from Norman Greenbaum, which my friend Mary and I both like:

Whatever you choose, whatever you and your friends agree on, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you begin to think about how you want to be remembered.

Part of that is your legacy: what do you leave behind? Did you leave the world a better place?

The other is your funeral: did you give your friends one last way to remember you?

Cue the music.


What’s on your play list?


Here’s my top pick:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

National Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and if it seems like suicide is in the news more lately, there’s a reason for it. The numbers (not just awareness) are up and three groups of people seem most at risk: teenagers, military and Baby Boomers.

We’ve known that teenagers are at risk for suicide for a long time. Raging hormones, pressure from parents and school, drugs and alcohol make a deadly combination. But a large number of suicides of teenagers – and even pre-teens – can be traced to bullying.

Kids whose only crime is being different or being sensitive or smart or small for their age are hounded by bullies: on the school bus, on the internet, even getting text messages like ‘why aren’t you dead yet?’ Some of the bullies are anonymous; some are kids they know. What they’re doing is reprehensible, but not a crime.

A shocking report found that more active duty military committed suicide than died in action in 2012. In addition, many veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam are victims of the VA’s backlog of cases, unable to get the mental health treatment they’ve earned and deserve. Suicides have been steadily rising for years, and not just in the US. Military officials in the UK and Israel have reported similar findings.

But, Baby Boomers? Not the group you might imagine turning to suicide. But information is starting to come out that this is a fast-rising risk group. Some are veterans. Some are people who have decided that they are unable to face an uncertain old age: depleted savings, poor health, lack of resources.

I’ve been depressed and even in despair. But I’ve never considered suicide as an option. It’s hard to believe that people can see taking their own life as their best option, but many do. Not all are successful, but those are the ones we hear about.

There are groups devoted to helping people climb out of their despair and keep living. I’ve listed a couple here.

The important thing is to reach out to any friend you may believe is at risk. Talk to them, but more importantly, listen. Do what you can and help them find the support they need.

That’s what friends are for.




Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Celebrating on 9/11?

It feels a little odd to be happy on September 11.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the world should stop spinning today. People should go to work and school, do their grocery shopping, eat birthday cake (the biggest piece, with the rose on it).

But today is the release of the third book in my Friend Grief series, Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners. As I tweeted to a friend yesterday, I’m not always happy with what I write, but I’m happy with and proud of this book.

It turned out a little differently than I expected. It has turned into an advocacy piece, because of the people I interviewed and learned about.

The 9/11 Memorial – a beautiful place everyone should visit – is off-limits every September 11 to all but families. I would never say they had no right to be there on this day, but what about the survivors? What about firefighters pulled from the rubble? What about the man who climbed down 78 floors on a broken leg, after his coworkers were killed by the impact of the plane hitting the South Tower? Don’t they deserve to read the names of their friends who didn’t make it? Don’t they deserve to be there at all?

Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners is available today on Kobo, Kindle and Nook. The paperback will be released on September 25. Here’s an excerpt:


"I'm Brian and I'm a survivor."

When I read Brian Blanco’s responses to my questionnaire, I imagined him saying these words. I didn’t mean it in a flippant way at all, or to suggest that survivors are members of some odd 12-step group. But he opened my eyes to feelings I hadn’t considered.

While the word “victim” is charged with emotion and even politics, the designation “survivor” is also one that people who escaped the Twin Towers may be reluctant to adopt. It’s a word that denotes some kind of accomplishment, and that’s hard to accept:

It took me a long time to put me and the word survivor together, as a matter of fact, I tell people I worked in the building and I was there that day, but I avoid the word survivor…It took me 5 years to come to terms with that and be able to say, “it just wasn’t my time.”

Survivor guilt pops up in nearly every story you hear from people like Brian. Some admit to struggling with it more than a decade later. Others worked through it quickly. Not all were able to cope. But it’s something they all faced on some level.

Wouldn’t you want to survive something as cataclysmic as the September 11 attacks in New York? Of course you would. But as Malachy Corrigan, director of FDNY’s counseling services unit, told New York magazine on the 10th anniversary, “’Why did I survive?’ is still a big question.”


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Next Friend Grief Book

“Families only.”

Those who were killed on September 11, 2001 left behind more than family members. They left thousands of friends who are often forgotten and ignored: co-workers, first responders, neighbors and survivors who struggle to find a way to grieve the friends killed when the World Trade Center towers fell. In Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners you’ll learn how they adjust to life without their friends and find ways to honor those they lost on a clear, blue Tuesday.


It’s been two years since I wrote a post here about what became the basis of this book: the hierarchy of grief in the 9/11 community. But let’s be honest: does the world need another book about 9/11? As it turns out, the answer is yes.

We hear a lot about the families, and rightly so. I would never dismiss their grief. But many people are forgotten, ignored, and even officially excluded from the ceremonies each year: friends.

Some of them were not in New York that day. Some of them are survivors. They escaped the Twin Towers, but lost co-workers and friends. Some suffer ill health – physical and mental – because of that experience. All of them deserve their grief acknowledged and respected.

You’ll hear stories about that day from men and women who worked for companies in the World Trade Center, as well as first responders like former NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations (now Chicago Police Superintendent) Garry McCarthy. And you’ll learn that many people have found a new purpose to their lives: changing careers, volunteering, even starting nonprofit organizations like Mychal’s Message and Tails of Courage, in memory of their friends.

Still think you’ve heard it all? Prepare to be surprised.




The e-book versions of Friend Grief and 9/11: The Forgotten Mourners will be released next week (Kobo, Amazon, Nook), on the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC; paperback will be available the following week.