Grieving Friends During a Pandemic
When I first started working on the Friend Grief series, I Googled ‘grieving the death of a friend’. I went past the normal first page of responses, to check out the first hundred. Many of the responses dealt with how to support a friend who’s grieving; important, but not what I was looking for. In the end, there were less than ten that actually addressed the experience of grieving the death of a friend. There were more that addressed grieving the death of a pet.
My writing has always been a niche. People have written memoirs about the death of a friend, but other than a textbook, my books were pretty unusual.
Last fall, when I was deciding whether to rework that series, I took a hard look at what was going on around me. Early in the pandemic, people had urged me to add a book to the series, one about losing friends to COVID. I resisted: as far as I was concerned, the series was finished. And frankly, early on, the stories I heard were just too similar to warrant a book.
By September, that changed.
Warning: Grief Anniversary Ahead
This time it wasn’t Facebook Memories that reminded me. It was my friend, Ken.
A year ago, the world was experiencing a devastating and profound change. Our way of life was about to be altered in ways no one could have predicted. A year ago today, I arrived in New York City for the beginning of a four-week East Coast trip. I had book signings scheduled in several cities. I had an advocacy conference to attend in Washington. I had lunch and dinner dates set with friends, along with book-related meetings to discuss future events.
When I left Chicago, I told my husband I wasn’t sure when I would be back. It depended on how serious all of this turned out to be. My trip lasted only six days. And though I ate indoors in NYC several times, when I got back I refused to eat inside a restaurant. In fact, I’ve only done that once in the past year. The anxiety I felt in that almost deserted restaurant wasn’t worth it.
Making Plans for 2021: A Leap of Faith
The bottom line was that I wanted to diversify my writing and writing business. I didn't want to be overly dependent on any one activity, whether it was public events or book sales. And that meant I had to learn new skills and upgrade the ones I already had.
The Pandemic Had a Soundtrack
The audio version of my book - Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community - came out in October. I've heard nothing but praise for the narrator, Donna Allen, which makes me very happy. While I was working on the marketing plan, music kept popping into my head. That's not unusual. A lot of people listen to music while they work. These were more like earworms: songs that played endlessly in my head whether I liked it or not.
The music sparked an idea, which apparently former President Barack Obama has stolen for his own book (I'm kidding, really I am). I decided to create a playlist of songs that evoke the first 15 years of the AIDS epidemic, from 1981-1996, the years without effective treatment or hope. Unfortunately, most of the songs I remembered were just, well, depressing. Creating that kind of list no longer seemed like a good idea.
So I turned to the women who inspire me, women whose stories I shared in my book. What songs instantly remind them of that time: of people, places or events? It didn't take long for a response.
Remembering Absent Friends
Yesterday was Halloween, when children and adults dress in costume, many as ghosts and skeletons. We sit in cemeteries at night, waiting for ghostly apparitions, or maybe just the Great Pumpkin.
Today is All Saints’ Day, when we remember the saints and their importance in church tradition.
Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day, when we reflect on the lives of those we loved.
Day of the Dead.
Guy Fawkes Day.
Lots of loss for one week, isn’t it?
Once again, I’m sharing information on a unique festival taking place the first week of November in Scotland: To Absent Friends.
Scotland has a tradition of storytelling, especially at this time of the year....
When Friend Grief Hits Home
Betsy Ebeling was a suburban Chicago woman whose death was noted because of who her best friend was: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Though the obituary made clear that she was loved and admired by everyone who met her, the friendship that began in 6th grade was the one that defined her in the public eye.
A few hours after this story broke, while I was making dinner, my phone chimed with an incoming text message. It was from one of my oldest and dearest friends. The text was about his health and was not good news.
The details are not...
Friend Grief and Pride
This year was a special one: the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Some call it a riot, though there’s some debate about whether the resistance to yet another police raid at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 fit that definition. But it was momentous.
It was a time when being arrested in a raid at a gay bar meant not only legal hassles, but the likely prospect of your name being reported in the local paper the following day. And since you were most certainly closeted at the time, that publicity could get you fired, evicted or worse.
The LGBT community has come a long way, so there was a lot to celebrate at Pride parades around the world last...
Time to Carry On a Friend's Work
I had a blog post ready for this week. Well, not quite ready, but it was getting there. Then on Tuesday, a post popped up in my Facebook newsfeed:
A man of great heart, deep conviction, and scalding wit has been taken from us. Veteran AIDS activist and ACT UP New York member Andrew Velez died today (May 14) in a Manhattan hospice. He was 80.
It stopped me cold (partly because I had no idea he was anywhere near 80). I knew Andy had had some serious health challenges last year, though I didn’t think much of it. The community was rallying around...
Another Celebrity Friend Dies
When David Bowie and Prince died, the tributes went on for months. People shared their favorite songs and what the music meant to them. Some even changed their avatars, in honor. I suppose that was understandable: Bowie and Prince were superstars, well-known around the world, with long, ground-breaking careers. So it surprised me this week when the death of a lesser star provoked almost equally strong sentiments.
Peter Tork was part of a 1966 phenomenon: The Monkees....
Today I'm 8
Thanks to that sometimes annoying, sometimes entertaining feature, I was reminded that my first blog post was eight years ago today.
I’d just returned from my first writing conference in New York. I’d spent a little over a year starting the research for what would become the Friend Grief series. I was in a writing group that was helping me observe and listen and be a better writer. But I’d never been to a writing conference before.
My only social media experience was a couple years on Facebook, and that was pretty much 100% social. Pre-conference, we’d been asked to life-tweet during our sessions. Tweet? You mean on Twitter? Yikes. On the way there, I signed up for...
Grieving a Friend After Another Midterm Election
Twelve years ago today was a midterm election. The Democrats won both houses of Congress, as well as a majority of governorships and state legislatures. It was also the day my friend, Delle, died.
I knew it could happen any time. Her brother Gregory had emailed me that he was writing her obituary. She’d said her goodbyes and was surrounded by those she loved. Those who loved her comprised a much larger group, one too large to fit into her lakeside condo or even the ballroom of any downtown hotel.
I turned off my computer earlier than usual that evening, eager to watch the election returns, needing the distraction. So it was the next morning when I...
To Absent Friends
The first hospice was founded in a suburb of London in 1967. Bernard Crettaz hosted the first “Death Café” in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 2004, but the idea took off when Jon Underwood held one in his London home. In his words, the purpose is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. I’ve hosted several myself in the Chicago area and can attest to the power of releasing the stigma of talking about death.
I’m not sure where I first heard someone offer “to absent friends” as a toast. It might’ve been one of those 1960s WWII...
Remembering the Dead, One Name at a Time
I moved on to a newspaper interview with a woman who helped make her son’s panel. She remarked that every panel, every name, represented not just someone who died from AIDS, but all the people who loved them. That’s true of other memorials.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also in Washington, was controversial when the design was first unveiled. A 21 year old woman, Maya Lin, daughter of...
Grief and Depression
Wouldn’t that be nice?
To have easy access to mental health support and not have to worry about co-pays, referrals or limits on coverage?
Damn right it would be nice.
But would it be enough?
The death of handbag designer Kate Spade shocked her friends and fans. A privileged, talented, successful woman living on Park Avenue who suffered from depression and certainly was able to obtain quality mental health support died by suicide.
As with most of these deaths, we’ll never know what led her to that decision. While the family knew of her struggles, many friends are left recounting past conversations, searching for clues...
Memorial Day for the Friends Left Behind
The first funeral I ever went to for someone close to my age was 50 years ago this summer (and no, I can’t believe it’s been that long).
I grew up with Marianne and Ernie. Marianne was my senior big sister when I was freshman in high school. Ernie, her older brother, was studying to be a priest. I don’t remember why he left the seminary but after a year of teaching high school, he was drafted. A week after he arrived in Vietnam, he was reported missing. I remember arguing at my 16th birthday sleepover that surely he would be found alive, but that didn’t happen. A month later, his body was...
"For They Shall Be Comforted"
When Ron Howard filmed Backdraft in Chicago in 1991, a call went out for extras. The funeral procession at the end of the movie required a couple hundred firefighters in dress uniforms to march down Michigan Avenue. It’s a powerful scene made more powerful by the inclusion of firefighters from around the area who offered their services. In fact, 5,000 volunteered.
So it was no surprise that when Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer was killed last week, his wake and funeral were full of men and women in uniform. The six-hour visitation, at Nativity of Our Lord Church, required a three-hour wait in line for those who came to pay their respects. Most of those people...
When Your Friend's Death is in the Headlines
I didn’t listen to the radio in the car as I drove back to Chicago from St. Louis yesterday, so it wasn’t until I turned on the TV that I saw the breaking news. A Chicago police commander had been shot to death downtown, in the state office building. There was something about a suspicious person, a robbery attempt, but no name given.
My husband was preparing for his organization’s annual meeting that evening when he texted, asking if I was home. When I replied that I was, he called to tell me that the officer was the commander he’s worked with for years, Paul Bauer. What had not been the best of days became...
Dead Friends in My Address Book
I have an address book. A real, honest-to-God address book. I’m not sure when I got it, but it’s at least 25 years old. There are tabs for each letter of the alphabet. Each entry includes lines for name, address and phone number. And it’s a mess. Sometimes I correct addresses and phone numbers, sometimes I just tear off the return address from their latest Christmas card and stick it in the front.
Recently, I had reason to go through my mother’s address book. She’s almost 89, and I was a bit surprised that she updated hers in a way I didn’t: she noted when a friend died.
I’ve gone through mine - mostly during the...
But time has a way of changing things. There are friends in my life who I’ve known for decades. Some have stayed in my life continuously. Others - and I think this is more typical - have moved in and out. But as I get older, those friends are the ones who have moved closer.
I’ve watched my 88 year old mother’s world shrinking as friends and family members die. But...
"Marked Herself Safe"
“Marked Himself Safe” Safe from what? Is that some kind of joke? It was not a joke: he was in Las Vegas. Then a friend also posted, “Marked Himself Safe”.
But the person I first thought of, a friend of 18 years who lives in Las Vegas, did not post anything. She used to work on the Strip and goes to a lot of concerts. There was no post.
After 9/11, there was no easy way to find out if friends or family were safe. Phone and internet service was...