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.
When It Comes to Writing, Everything Old is New Again
I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was returning to the Friend Grief series. That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my Fag Hags book. I have new, exciting plans related to that, so now would be a good time to sign up for my newsletter. In the meantime, I can tell you why and how I’m going back to the stories of people grieving their friends.
I finished the Friend Grief books in 2016, almost a year after I had started working on my next book. In doing so, I kept the promise I made to my friend Delle Chatman in 2006, to write a book about people grieving their friends. Despite the fact that I’d never written a book before, she was enthusiastic and supportive. Six months later she was dead.
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.
Reflection on COVID-19 - More from Trudy James
As I said last week, Trudy James is one of the most remarkable women in my book, Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community. Her advocacy and activism - in HIV/AIDS and the death and dying communities - was recently honored by AARP Washington. She had so much to say about facing a deadly pandemic, that I decided to share more of her thoughts. I hope you find them comforting, too.
In addition to the “Speaking of Dying” film and workshops, I often give presentations, workshops, and consultations on the subjects of grief and loss. For many people this is new information. In these “Excited States of America” we have never...
Reflection on COVID-19 - Guest Post by Trudy James
If you've read my book Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, you were probably surprised by the story of Trudy James, a hospital chaplain in Arkansas in the late 1980s. I know her story surprised me, too! She is now a leader in the field of death and dying, as well as grief and loss awareness. In the first of two guest blogs, Trudy shares an email she sent out on March 30, not long after the lock downs began:
I was enjoying a long-anticipated vacation in Italy with my friend, Jane. We were visiting my son and daughter-in-law who were planning to live in Umbria (mid-Italy, not...
Passing on the Lessons of the AIDS Epidemic
When I was writing Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community, I sometimes heard the voices of the women whose stories I was sharing. It was more of a feeling that they were in the room, reading over my shoulder. I’d had something very specific in mind when I began, but that idea changed, in large part because these women guided me. They made it a much better book.
Many of the women are no longer alive, so they don’t have to face another worldwide pandemic. But I realized that they and the ones still with us have a lot to say.
Dr. Molly Cooke, on facing...
My Second Pandemic
It might have been the word ‘pandemic’.
It might have been ‘only certain people will get this virus, not me’.
It might have been stories of meal deliveries left on porches, or recommendations that counters and doorknobs be wiped down with disinfectants.
It might have been a Republican president indifferent at best to the suffering of those whose lives he did not consider important.
It might have been the blame, the pointing fingers, the demonizing.
It might have been the insistence of many people to carry on their lives as usual, no matter...
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...
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....
My mother died in March, but I’m not alone in experiencing that kind of grief this year.
There was Peter’s father and Sandra’s mother. John’s mother and Sarah’s mother. Jackie’s father and Fred’s mother. Kathy’s cousin and mother both died within two weeks time.
My husband is...
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...
You Can't Hurry Grief
I remember mama said, "you can't hurry love
No, you'll just have to wait"
She said, "love don't come easy
But it's a game of give and take"
You can't hurry love
No, you'll just have to wait
Just trust in a good time
No matter how long it takes.
It felt pretty obvious that the same thing applies to grief.
We grieve over many things: the death of someone we loved, the loss of a job or a home, the end of a wonderful experience, the breakup of a relationship. We grieve for the obvious reason that we loved that person or that time in our life....
Is Everyone Grieving or Is It Just Me?
Friends on Facebook posted news of the death of a parent or a sibling or a friend. And while I didn’t usually know the person who died, I found myself affected.
“Another one?” I’d find myself thinking when I logged online. This was much more than the stereotypical ‘death comes in threes’ that we can debate another time. This was every week. I stopped counting how many friends lost a parent last year, something that spilled over into this year. Since my own mother died in March, there have been more, including one this week.
You might say, “Well, we’re at that age.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. Statistically, people my age...
A Reflection on The Great Believers
When I heard it was coming out, I was less than thrilled. I was almost three years into the research and writing of a nonfiction book about straight women in the AIDS community. Although her book is fiction - and overall, one of the best novels I’ve read in a very long time - I was momentarily concerned. Not concerned: panic-stricken. Another straight woman from Chicago writing about the AIDS epidemic? What are the odds? After an hour...
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...