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Dying & Death Talk

Looking at dying and death for what it is: a part of life.

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Sibling Loss

The Quiet Blessing of Grief That Never Ends

Courtesy of NextAvenue.org | By Jill Smolowe | Originally Published 04.27.2016 | Posted 11.14.2018
This writer finds beauty in the pain she feels over the loss of her sister.

In the almost seven years since I laid my husband to rest, followed barely a year later by the loss of my sister and mother, I’ve developed an appreciation for just how unpredictable and, well, amazing grief can be.

I’m not talking about the period of hollowing when the shock and fog of loss clouds every thought and informs every waking (and perhaps sleeping) moment. No, I’m talking about the grief that comes after that. After the deceased loved one’s absence is no longer a constant presence. After the acute ache subsides and then, unthinkably, stills. After life moves forward, opening new melancholy-free vistas that trace no connection to the departed.

The grief I’m referring to lays claim to no stage and holds no hope of being put behind. Even on the happiest days, it lies patiently in wait for some quirk of logic to unleash it. A scent. A song. A glimpse of an almost-familiar face. Suddenly — whap! — you’re puddled in a heap, sobbing and thinking, WhatTheWhatThe. Continue reading “The Quiet Blessing of Grief That Never Ends”

Anderson Cooper: Thirty years after my brother’s death, I still ask why

Courtesy of CNN.com | By Anderson Cooper |Originally Published 06.24.2018 | Posted 07.05.2018
Anderson Cooper anchors CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°,” which airs weeknights at 8 p.m. ET. A version of this article was originally published in the September 2003 issue of Details magazine. Cooper will host the CNN Special Report, “Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis,” Sunday, June 24 at 7 p.m. ET. If you or someone you know needs help, call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

(CNN) My brother died by suicide nearly 30 years ago, and still not a day goes by when I do not find myself thinking about what happened and asking, “why?”

That is one of the things about the suicide of a loved one: It’s easy to get stuck on how their life ended, instead of remembering how they lived their life.

July 22, 1988. That was the date. It was a warm summer night in New York. When my brother died, I was in Washington, D.C., sitting on one of those silent subways the city is known for.

You always hear tales about brothers who can feel each other’s pain. This isn’t one of them. When my brother died, I didn’t feel a thing.

His name was Carter Cooper, and he was 23 at the time, two years older than I was. I’d always considered us close, though now I’m not so sure, because I didn’t see the pain he was in. And when I did get a glimpse of it, it scared me so much I didn’t know how to help. Continue reading “Anderson Cooper: Thirty years after my brother’s death, I still ask why”

Greg Wise: love, cancer and the sister I adored

Courtesy of TheTimes.com | Photos by JUDE EDGINTON and GETTY Images | Originally published 02.10.2018 | Published 03.06.2018

When film executive Clare Wise was diagnosed with breast cancer, she started a blog. Her brother, the actor Greg Wise, took it over when she became too weak to write and he moved in to look after her. The result is a remarkable account of illness, loss and the power of sibling love.

September 6, 2015
Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the cancer is back. Can you believe it?

I really thought I had passed cancer with flying colours … Well, almost. Apart from the toxic poisoning and losing a quarter of my breast, I really thought I had done it well and stylishly. As if I knew …

It was a Tuesday, at 10.30am. I saw my surgeon, Jo. I was alone. Absolutely sure that a recent CT scan wouldn’t have shown anything. I should have twigged that something was up because there were at least three other specialists and nurses in the room. “There’s no easy way to tell you this, Clare. You have incurable bone cancer and the reason you can’t move your right arm is that the humerus is fractured.”

Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Rather stupidly (remember from the first diagnosis I am a cancer moron): “Can I still go on holiday on Thursday? On a boat?”

“Not a good idea, because the tumours (yes, many of them) cause your bones to fracture and a boat isn’t very stable, is it?” Ah, no.

So once again I had to call Greg and tell him to drop everything because I had cancer.

September 20, 2015
Back in July, I was in so much pain the consultants thought I had fractured my spine. Then they worried I had injured the spinal cord, so once again I went for another emergency MRI. Luckily, there was neither a fracture nor a spinal-cord compression, but a few of the tumours in the spine and pelvis were causing problems on other nerves. It was decided that I should have another big dose of radiation at the bottom of my spine. But of course it was a weekend, and that would have to wait for the following week. Until then, I was forced into bed rest and large doses of painkillers.

Once again, our little section of the ward became party central, thanks to lovely staff, Em [Greg’s wife, Emma Thompson], and my fellow patients. The staff were all very respectful of Em until the moment I was discharged, and then they all wanted selfies.

Continue reading “Greg Wise: love, cancer and the sister I adored”

Road to Recovery

Courtesy of The New York Times | By James G. Robinson | Photo by Credit Eleni Kalorkoti | Originally Published 12.07.2017 | Posted 12.15.2017

In January, our son died at the age of 5, suddenly but not unexpectedly. He had been born with a complicated heart condition that required multiple surgeries and frequent medical attention. His short life had been filled with miracles, and he had a calm spirit that balanced the normal-kid energy of his two brothers.

The five of us often took road trips together in our aging but usually-reliable ’98 Outback, the boys singing along with the Blues Brothers in the back seat. Down to the beach in blazing sun; out to their grandparents in snow and slush; back home to Brooklyn on the interstate after months at a hospital miles away.

In the aftermath of his death, we felt sad, and proud — and empty.

Therapists we spoke with told us the various ways that people deal with loss. My wife was an “attender,” immersing herself in the reality of our son’s death and confronting her grief head-on.

I was a “distractor,” busying myself with a million little things to avoid sinking into the depths of despair. Work was an obvious outlet, but not enough. I organized our small apartment. I helped our older son build a computer. And I planned a crazy road trip. Because all I really wanted was to get away, preferably at 65 miles an hour. Continue reading “Road to Recovery”

One Physician’s Perspective On Death And Dying

Courtesy of Forbes.com | By Jeena Cho | Originally Posted 06.14.2016 | Published 10.03.2017

Physicians have a unique insight into death and dying. I sat down with Dr. Crystal Moore, MD/Ph.D., to learn her perspective. Even though many physicians work with patients who are facing death, I really appreciated her perspective. She has seen first-hand patients who struggled with their own mortality and she’s also seen the aftermath of death, performing autopsy. Additionally, she has struggled with the death of her family members, her sister, her mother and her grandmother. She is a practicing physician with a specialty of anatomic and clinical pathology. She knows death firsthand—she has seen it, felt it, smelled it, dissected it.

Here’s what she knows about death and dying.

Jeena Cho: Could you share any personal experiences you’ve had with death and dying and how that’s shaped your view of end of life? Continue reading “One Physician’s Perspective On Death And Dying”

Good Grief, Bad Grief, And Dealing With Death

Courtesy of HuffPost.com | By Daniel Coffeen | Posted 01.24.2017 | Published 09.27.2017

It all happened very quickly, five months from initial symptom and diagnosis to death. She was 49 when she died, the mother of three. She was relatively young, vital, luminous with a smile so big and sincere and radiant, it would stop you in your tracks.

She was my sister so, well, I’d known her my entire life. When we were young, she, my brother, and I shared a room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In all of my memories of that time, I slept in her bed, eating dried soy nuts and farting as the three of us whispered in the dark.

The entire event of her dying remains surreal. She was transformed right before my eyes, withering so swiftly, mercilessly, horribly. It’s been over four months since she died and every day, at various junctures, I see her in this or that state. I am haunted by her death, by her dying, this spectral presence of pain, all too palpable, infiltrating my body until I am hysterical, devastated, eviscerated.

The event of her dying was, needless to say, overwhelming. But it was a more or less discrete event. Of course there was a funeral, a big affair with friends of hers from all parts of her life flocking in from all corners of the country. I had condolences, sincere and touching beyond belief, coming out the yin yang. Friends of mine from my childhood, people I hadn’t seen in decades, people I didn’t even know knew of her sickness, showed up and showed me a love I simply don’t know in my day to day life. Some of my present friends, meanwhile, disappeared in the face of the misery, it all too much and too inconvenient. Death has a way of redistributing patterns and expectations of intimacy.

 

Continue reading “Good Grief, Bad Grief, And Dealing With Death”

After A Suicide, Sibling Survivors Are Often Overlooked

Courtesy of NPR.org | By Cheryl Platzman Weinstock | Posted 08.25.2017 | Published 08.28.2017

When Taylor Porco’s brother, Jordan, died by suicide during his freshman year of college in February 2011, people told her to be strong for her parents, who were incapacitated by their grief. Hardly anyone seemed to notice that Porco, only 14 at the time, was suffering and suicidal.

“I was really depressed and in such extreme pain. Nothing, literally, mattered to me after he died. All I wanted was my brother back. I never loved someone as much as I loved him,” she says.

Porco’s experience is hardly unique. Approximately 25,000 people each year become sibling survivors of suicide, according to the support group, Sibling Survivors of Suicide Loss. Those who lose a sibling to suicide at any age can experience anger, complicated grief reactions, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of taking their own lives.

Continue reading “After A Suicide, Sibling Survivors Are Often Overlooked”

Now We Are Five by David Sedaris

Courtesy of The Electric Typewriter & The New Yorker | 10.28.2013

In late May of this year, a few weeks shy of her fiftieth birthday, my youngest sister, Tiffany, committed suicide. She was living in a room in a beat-up house on the hard side of Somerville, Massachusetts, and had been dead, the coroner guessed, for at least five days before her door was battered down. I was given the news over a white courtesy phone while at the Dallas airport. Then, because my plane to Baton Rouge was boarding and I wasn’t sure what else to do, I got on it. The following morning, I boarded another plane, this one to Atlanta, and the day after that I flew to Nashville, thinking all the while about my ever-shrinking family. A person expects his parents to die. But a sibling? I felt I’d lost the identity I’d enjoyed since 1968, when my younger brother was born.

“Six kids!” people would say. “How do your poor folks manage?”

There were a lot of big families in the neighborhood I grew up in. Every other house was a fiefdom, so I never gave it much thought until I became an adult, and my friends started having children. One or two seemed reasonable, but anything beyond that struck me as outrageous. A couple Hugh and I knew in Normandy would occasionally come to dinner with their wrecking crew of three, and when they’d leave, several hours later, every last part of me would feel violated.

Continue Reading

Now We Are Five by David Sedaris

Courtesy of The Electric Typewriter & The New Yorker | 10.28.2013

In late May of this year, a few weeks shy of her fiftieth birthday, my youngest sister, Tiffany, committed suicide. She was living in a room in a beat-up house on the hard side of Somerville, Massachusetts, and had been dead, the coroner guessed, for at least five days before her door was battered down. I was given the news over a white courtesy phone while at the Dallas airport. Then, because my plane to Baton Rouge was boarding and I wasn’t sure what else to do, I got on it. The following morning, I boarded another plane, this one to Atlanta, and the day after that I flew to Nashville, thinking all the while about my ever-shrinking family. A person expects his parents to die. But a sibling? I felt I’d lost the identity I’d enjoyed since 1968, when my younger brother was born.

“Six kids!” people would say. “How do your poor folks manage?”

There were a lot of big families in the neighborhood I grew up in. Every other house was a fiefdom, so I never gave it much thought until I became an adult, and my friends started having children. One or two seemed reasonable, but anything beyond that struck me as outrageous. A couple Hugh and I knew in Normandy would occasionally come to dinner with their wrecking crew of three, and when they’d leave, several hours later, every last part of me would feel violated.

Continue Reading

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