Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coming Soon to Friend Grief

Have you been busy? I sure have. And that means there’s a lot coming soon here on Friend Grief in the next few weeks:

  • The re-release of Friend Grief and AIDS: Thirty Years of Burying Our Friends with updated statistics and resources for 2015. As always, 25% of the retail price of ebook and paperback versions will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
  • The release of the fifth book in the series, Friend Grief in the Workplace: More Than an Empty Cubicle (cover reveal next week).
  • Another great guest post for your enjoyment.
  • The debut of my new, full website, (Don’t get excited – it’s not live yet) The new website will include this blog, along with lots of added content:
    • Discussion questions for each book
    • A list of resources specific to each book
    • Links to my freelance articles
    • And more!
  • And one last thing…the first issue of my monthly email newsletter. Some of you receive these blog posts via email. This is different, and you’ll have a chance to sign up for it soon. We’re still designing, but I can tell you it’ll include links to the previous month’s blog posts, along with news about my books and appearances. Don’t be surprised if there are contests, too.

So, yes, a busy time! I hope you’ll stick around for a wild few weeks, because I promise you, it’ll be worth it!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grieving Your Friends on Facebook

Last week two separate articles caught my eye.

The first was the announcement by Facebook that users could now designate an “executor” to manage your account after you die.

I’ve written before about friend grief and Facebook: finding out about a friend’s death, setting up a tribute page, and the shock of seeing a notice of their upcoming birthday. You'll see a few links at the bottom of this post.

For years, surviving friends and family members have struggled with what to do about the deceased’s online accounts. Sometimes it’s the challenge of finding the password that no one else knew. Sometimes it’s proving to Facebook that that person died and their page should be archived. In addition, multiple tribute pages can pop up after someone dies.

Now we can all name our Facebook executor, who will be responsible for our page(s) after we die. That’s one less complication left for survivors to deal with: though, sadly, they will not have the power to delete those embarrassing selfies that you felt compelled to share with the world.

The other article was a column by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune, about grieving for someone she only knew on Facebook.

A friend of mine compared Facebook friends to pen pals (remember pen pals?): someone we write to but never really expect to meet in person. It defines the friendship, but doesn’t diminish it.

Like it or not – and plenty of people don’t – Facebook and other social media are not going away any time soon. Our attention may wander from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ to Instagram to Tumblr to Pinterest…you get the idea. But go away? Not likely.

I hate turning on my computer and seeing a Facebook post or open an email like I did this morning that begins with “Sad news…” The email was about a former customer who became a friend, a passionate school librarian I hadn’t seen in over a year. I’d noticed her absence at a couple of meetings, but never got a straight answer about why she wasn’t there.

Knowing her, that was deliberate. Either she told no one or gave strict instructions to not share what was going on in her life. And trust me, if you’d seen ‘that look’ she sometimes gave (I saw it directed at others, not me), you would keep your mouth shut.

I’m sad not just that she’s gone, but that I didn’t know how ill she was. Maybe sending a card or email wouldn’t have meant anything to her, but I would’ve had the chance to connect one last night.

She didn’t have a Facebook page, so I can’t go there to post anything. At least I got the email from the librarians’ organization, so now I can attend her funeral. That news pushed me to email another former librarian customer who’s not on the email list, so maybe a little good can come of it all.

But I do miss that opportunity to go on Facebook and share a story or express my appreciation for the almost 20 years that we knew each other.

Keep that in mind as you consider appointing a Facebook executor. Maybe you’ll take the option of crafting final messages, maybe you won’t. But before you dismiss the idea of what your Facebook page will be like after you’re gone, take a moment to think of the friends left behind.

They may be a tight-knight group who all know each other in real life. More likely, they’re a far-flung group who have never all been in one place at the same time, other than your page.

Give them the parting gift they’ll appreciate the most: the chance to say goodbye, to say thanks, to say they love you.

Trust me, they’ll be grateful.

Here are some other posts about grieving on Facebook:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Friend Grief and…Valentine’s Day?

Good. I got your attention.

Valentine’s Day is certainly not a day we associate with friends. It’s one designed to guilt-trip us into spending lots of money on flowers, candy, dinner, lingerie, etc. to share with a romantic partner. Friends? Not so much.

I remember when I was younger, that I hated the time between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. The holidays were all about families, and I was single. The last holiday was the worst, because the expectations were so ridiculously unrealistic.

So let’s ignore all the hype and guilt and consider our friends.

I don’t know about you, but I found 2014 to be an unusually challenging year. So did a lot of my friends. Relationships, finances, health, or a combination of things brought many of them to the brink of despair. I couldn’t begin to count the phone calls, online chats, texts and emails shared about serious crises. Even watching the “In Memoriam” slide shows at the end of the year depressed me, seeing the loss of famous people I admired.

Last year I lost two friends, and I miss them both. Another friend had successful cancer surgery. And yes, I get that some of this is because, as my husband is fond of saying, “we’re at that age”. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

“We can’t keep putting this off any longer.”

I’ve heard that line a lot lately. In fact, in the last couple of weeks I’ve had a surprising number of conversations with friends – on Facebook, Twitter, email, and phone calls – about getting together. These are friends who are spread across the country; the shortest distance apart is about 400 miles. The shortest time I’ve been apart from one of them is almost three years ago; the longest separation is since the early 80s. And though no one has used the words, the motivation is “I don’t want to wait for a funeral”.

Tonight I’m taking out my calendar and penciling in a few dates. One will be the end of March, another sometime in the summer. My high school reunion is already set for June. The remaining one needs to be set soon, too.

I couldn’t have gotten through my challenges in 2014 without my friends, and I suspect you feel the same way.

So, how about this: make a date with your friends for Valentine’s Day.

Call them up, email them, text them. Share a picture of the two of you on Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram to get the conversation going. And make a date to get together.

No, it doesn’t actually have to be on Valentine’s Day. People are busy and sometimes it takes a while to come up with a time you’re both free.

But do it. No excuses. Tell them you miss them. Celebrate your friendship, which is – whether you admit it or not – based in love.

Valentine’s Day is about love. Show a little to your friends.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Story of a Pink Cloud – Guest Blogger Rebecca Bricker

Rebecca Bricker
My friendship with Rebecca Bricker is like many of those in the 21st century: online. We met four years ago (time flies when you’re having fun). We’ve never met in real life, though she may meet my daughter soon.

The story of how she wound up living in Tuscany is both funny and compelling. No, she’s not the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, but her Tales from Tavanti is every bit as entertaining.

If you’re like me, certain things will trigger the memory of a friend who died. For example, whenever I see a steel-grey PT Cruiser, I assume it’s Delle behind the wheel. Rebecca Bricker has a very deliberate ritual to ensure that she’ll remember.

My thanks to Rebecca for sharing the blog post she wrote last month about her friend, also named Rebecca, and how she remembers her. This is an edited version:

When I hear the news that someone dear to me has died, I go outside and look at the sky. I memorize the way it looks and each time I see a sky that’s similar, I pause to remember that person and send up a big hello…

I had a close friend named Rebecca. We had been Cub Scout den mothers and active volunteers at the school our young sons attended. When I met her, she was recovering from breast cancer and for the next couple of years appeared to be in remission. But then one day she said to me, “I went to the doctor last week – the cancer is back.”

She had 30 tumors in her liver. Her doctor put her in a clinical trial for a new cancer drug that seemed to have a miracle effect. Within a few months, the tumors were gone. When she got the news, we were sitting at my dining room table finishing a quilt for her sister for Christmas. She and I danced around the table.

And then she did something surprising to me. She essentially threw away the list she had made of the things she wanted to do before she died – like making that quilt for her sister (which we did wind up finishing).

“I’ve been given the chance to live my life again,” Rebecca told me. She wasn’t dying anymore. She was alive.

A talented artist, Rebecca began giving art lessons to young people in her home studio. She camped out on her roof one night to watch a meteor shower. I slept through it, but she told me all about it the next day. She was living her life each day with joy and zeal.

The drug’s cancer-quelling effect lasted almost two years. Rebecca knew, as the results came in from other women who had started the trial before her, that her cancer would likely return. And it did, with a vengeance.

On the night she died, just a few months later, her husband called me to tell me she was gone. I walked outside and looked up at the sky. The moon was bright, with Mars twinkling just above it. A billowing pink cloud slowly filled the sky. The air was still, not a breath of a breeze from where I stood. But as that pink cloud swirled around the moon and Mars, blown by a wind I couldn’t feel, I knew she was there. I envisioned her at heaven’s special-effects board playing with the buttons.

A few weeks before Rebecca died, she said to me, “I’m not leaving you for good, you know. I’ll be back to visit you, I promise.” These conversations always took my breath away. I couldn’t bear to think of life without her sunny face, her mirthful laugh, her joie de vivre.

The summer after her death, I took myself to France to celebrate my 50th birthday. I felt Rebecca’s presence on that trip. She sat next to me at the Basilica of Sacre Coeur in Paris and wandered with me through villages in Provence. As I stood knee-deep in lavender one day, she assured me this was as close to heaven as any place I could find on earth.

On the flight back from that trip I awoke from a nap and lifted the window shade. Next to the wing was a big puffy pink cloud.,

“There you are,” I whispered.

A few days after I got home, I had dinner with a friend, who had known Rebecca well. My friend said to me, “I had the strangest dream last night about Rebecca. She came to me, asking me to massage her feet. Isn’t that odd? She said her feet were so tired.”

I smiled. “That’s because she’s been with me.”

In my travels, Rebecca is with me often. She always wanted to experience the places I’ve been so fortunate to visit. Every time I see a pink cloud hovering, I smile at her and say, “Isn’t this amazing?”

You can follow Rebecca Bricker on her website.

Her book, Tales from Tavanti: An American Woman’s Mid-Life Adventure in Italy, can be ordered here