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The Holidays Remind Us That Grief Cannot Be Wished Away

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The holidays remind us that grief cannot be wished away

by Heather Servaty-Seib for The Conversation

The year-end holidays are a time of social gatherings, traditions and celebrations. They can also be a time of revisiting and reflection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.8 million people die each year in the U.S. If we conservatively estimate four or five grievers per death, there are 11 to 14 million people who are experiencing their first holiday season without the presence of an important person who has died.

No matter how long it has been since a family member or friend has died, the holiday season can understandably bring grief to the forefront of our minds. Lost loved ones are no longer physically present, and our rituals can remind us of their absence in poignant ways. And it can be challenging for others to know how best to comfort and offer support.

As a licensed psychologist and professor of counseling psychology, my clinical and research interests for the past 25 years have focused on death, dying, grief and loss. A primary goal of my work has been to “make death talkable.”

How do you speak of death at a time like this?

But how, you might ask, can death be talkable during the holidays? The general tendency within U.S. society is to avoid the topic. In the process, Americans tend to avoid not only our own grief, but also the grief of others.

My sense is that a good bit of this avoidance is connected to misunderstandings about the grieving process and problems with what society views as necessary, critical and “normal” for grief expression.

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s work with dying people, beginning in the mid-60s, was groundbreaking and facilitated increased conversations about death among health professionals, dying patients and their family members.

And yet the five stages that she observed in dying patients – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – have taken on a life of their own. They have been applied well beyond the dying process, and have become a kind of prescription for grief – an unfolding that Kübler-Ross specifically warned against in her 1969 book.

When people focus on grief as a linear process with distinct stages and a clear endpoint, they are seeking to control and contain an aspect of life that is overwhelming, unpredictable and confusing. Although quite understandable, the attempt to put grief in a nice neat box has its costs. Most specifically, grieving individuals can begin to judge their own experiences, which can lead to just as much, if not more, pain than the grief itself.

A distinct experience

There are a few key points about grief that can make a tremendous difference for people during the holidays and beyond.

First, grief does not end. It is a reflection of attachment and love, and our connection with loved ones does not end when they die. Therefore, our grief will not and does not end. Grief is not a sickness to recover from, but rather an unfolding to experience.

Second, grief is not equal to sadness. In fact, it is not the same as emotions. Grief is multi-dimensional, and often incorporates emotional, cognitive, physiological, social and spiritual reactions. There is no indication in the literature that grievers must cry. Some grievers may be more emotional and social in their grief expression, while others may be more cognitive and physical.

Last, grief is unique to each person within their distinct familial, community and cultural contexts. Individuals will grieve based on who they are as people and based on the unique relationship they had with the person who died.

Those relationships can be quite dynamic and complex, and grief will reflect that complexity. It can often be challenging for family members and friends when they are grieving differently from one another. However, they are grieving different relationships with the loved one who died and their grief will then also be distinct.

The level of support to offer to a grieving friend often depends upon the level of closeness. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Ways to bring comfort, if not actually joy

Contemporary theories expand far beyond stages to acknowledge the tasks of grief and the central nature of sense-making in the grieving process. For example: How do I integrate this death into my life story? Grief is not just about missing the person who died, but also about learning to live in a world where they are no longer physically present.

Developing a more nuanced understanding of the variability, adaptability, and unfolding nature of grief has encouraging implications for grievers and for those who seek to support them.

For grievers:

  • Resist societal messages that limit, compartmentalize and minimize your grief.
  • Observe your thoughts, feelings and actions, and honor the unique ways that you are expressing your grief.
  • Remember that rituals related to grief go beyond formal services, and that post-funeral rituals can take many forms. Allow for recognition of both separation and connection. Annual rituals, such as those that may be incorporated into the holidays, can become new traditions and opportunities for meaningful reflection.

For those who seek to offer support:

  • Acknowledge that grief does not end. Even brief messages of recognition and remembrance of their loss, regardless of the time since death, can be quite meaningful at the holidays and during other significant times.
  • Keep in mind your level of closeness. If you know the griever well, then you will have more sense of what they will view as helpful. Consider offering tangible assistance in terms of errands, tasks, or responsibilities that you know will be difficult for them. If you do not know them well, keep your responses more inline with that level of relationship, such as sending emails and cards, or donating to a cause.
  • Reflect on your own death anxiety and apprehension. Own it and then use it. Push through the common tendency to avoid those who are grieving and act on your thoughts of concern for them.

Remember that there is no set of words or phrases that will “fix” grief. It just does not work that way. What will make the difference is your presence and your willingness to reach out.

If it would help to consider specific statements, phrases that communicate presence and care, such as “I am here for you,” or “I care about what happens to you,” are more likely to be viewed as helpful than those focused on advice and forced cheerfulness, such as “You should keep busy,” or “Do not take it so hard.”

Heather Servaty-Seib is a Professor and Associate Dean of Counseling Psychology at Purdue University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.


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Health

County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family

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LOS ANGELES – 300 iPads have been donated to Los Angeles County hospitals to facilitate patient-family communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gift is through a partnership with the Annenberg Foundation, Brilliant Corners, and the Los Angeles County Center for Strategic Partnerships.

“The engagement of loved ones during hospitalization has been shown to improve clinical outcomes,” said DHS Director, Dr. Christina Ghaly. “Clinical staff identified a role for virtual visiting through technology in order to facilitate this family involvement. The generous donations by the Annenberg Foundation and MobileDemand will help support this critical element of our patients’ care.” 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, patient visitation by family and loved ones is limited at facilities in order to prevent exposure and the spread of disease. While there are some exceptions, such as the birth of a child or death of a patient, visitation is not permitted for the vast majority of patients and not allowed at all for COVID-19 patients. 

The donation provides 300 iPads to ensure patients and their families are able to connect, despite restrictions in access to the hospital. A second donation, by MobileDemand, provides rugged, protective healthcare iPad cases to protect against damage and loss. The rugged case also has an adjustable easel attached, providing effortless viewing for patients who are too weak to hold a tablet. Additionally, it frees health care staff from having to hold the device for patients.

“This is a wonderful example of how philanthropic organizations, nonprofits, government, and businesses can collaborate and meet an immediate need in our community,” said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “Being able to offer an opportunity for comfort and connection to those suffering and to alleviate some of the stress from our frontline caregivers is of utmost importance.”

While social distancing has been successful in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, it is anticipated that it will continue for several months. With this gift, physicians and nurses will be able to place an iPad in the room of COVID and other critically-ill patients for the duration of the admission and reduce potential exposure and use of personal protective equipment going in and out of the room. Having a stationary iPad helps relieve medical staff who would otherwise have to hold the phone for a patient or search for the person’s personal phone. It also will allow patients who do not have a personal mobile device to communicate and “visit” with their family.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) is the second largest municipal health system in the nation. Through its integrated system of 26 health centers and four hospitals – LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center – and expanded network of community partner clinics, DHS annually provides direct care for 600,000 unique patients, employs over 22,000 staff, and has an annual budget of over $6 billion.

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Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is putting a strain on essential workers such as first responders and healthcare workers who are on the frontlines in the effort to care for coronavirus patients so the City of West Hollywood is setting out to recognize them in a special way on May 6.

National Nurses Day is a day of recognition to celebrate and honor the contributions that nurses have made and continue to make in our communities and throughout the nation. National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6, which marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, a week-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of nursing and educate the public on the role nurses play in meeting the healthcare needs of Americans. National Nurses Week concludes on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, or as she was more commonly known, “The Lady of the Lamp” and founder of modern nursing.

The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is coordinating two motorcades to honor healthcare workers on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, which is nationally recognized as National Nurses Day. The processions will begin at 9:45 a.m. and at 7:15 p.m. on Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienega Boulevard and the motorcades will head west and then travel southbound on N. San Vicente Boulevard passing multiple medical center locations in West Hollywood en route to a destination outside the emergency room entrance of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Gracie Allen Drive. First responders will briefly stop, exit their vehicles and applaud healthcare workers while wearing face coverings and practicing appropriate social distancing.

“Our nurses and healthcare workers are nothing short of heroes,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey P. Horvath. “The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us just how critical their work is to our everyday health and safety. This National Nurses Day means so much more to all of us — the City of West Hollywood and our LA County Sheriff’s West Hollywood Station and LA County Fire Stations; the City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills Police and Fire; the City of Los Angeles and LAPD and LAFD; the California Highway Patrol, and more — and we will honor these heroes in a special way for the care that they provide, which often goes unseen and unrecognized, in carrying us through this crisis.”

“As the worldwide response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, the critical importance of nurses in our society has been brought sharply into focus,” said City of West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman. “More often than not, when a coronavirus patient ends up in a hospital, it is the nurses at the frontlines who are responsible for their care and treatment, putting themselves at risk in the process. We can’t say ‘thank you’ strongly enough.”

The City of West Hollywood encourages residents and community members to participate during this day of celebration while still adhering to LA County Safer At Home Orders and social distancing requirements. Suggested forms of participation include amplifying posts on social media channels, making yard or window signs and banners, participating in a coordinated daily applause or shout out for nurses and healthcare workers, and donating to organizations that are addressing the emerging needs of nurses and healthcare workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) health pandemic.

According to the American Nursing Association, nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than four million registered nurses in the United States. Registered nurses comprise one of the largest segments of the U.S. workforce and are the primary providers of hospital patient care, delivering most of the nation’s long-term care. In nursing, where workers are on the front lines of patient interactions, women make up more than 85 percent of the workforce. This year, with the onset of coronavirus, nurses have stepped up and shown the incredible impact they have on our healthcare system. It is more important than ever that we recognize National Nurses Day and celebrate the significance of nurses every day.

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Health

Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

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Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

(TMZ) — It’s becoming more clear by the day that wet markets are NOT just a China problem — it’s an American problem too … just take a look at these latest clips from Texas and California.

TMZ has gotten a hold of even more graphic videos of two different live animal shops in TX and CA — where people pick out the animal, have it slaughtered on the spot and then sold to them right then and there — and you see the mixed-in livestock runs the gamut.

There are pigs in pens, goats and sheep hoarded together … and, of course, as we’ve seen in New York and elsewhere — chicken and rabbits cooped up in cages — all in the same area within earshot of each other, and all getting butchered.

Ya got pigs hanging from hooks out in the open, chicken beaks, feathers and guts all over the floor and in an exposed trash can — this while customers (including kids) come in and browse the freezer for whatever cuts of meat they want. It’s downright dirty and gross.

As we’ve been told by the experts, these one-stop-shop slaughterhouses/storefronts can be breeding grounds for disease — including new viruses, like COVID-19, which supposedly got started at a wet market in China.

We already know of lawmakers in Cali and New York working to get these things shut down, but it’s pretty apparent there needs to be federal legislation rolled out to address this. Can’t call the kettle black when we’re swimming in the freakin’ pot.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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