Category Archives: month 2

The new science of bereavement.

Today marks the two-month anniversary of Julian’s death. It feels like a lifetime ago. That was the end of “old normal.” That was when my life changed forever. 

The first month was mostly numbness, shock, and deep grieving. The second month was about grieving too… but also seeking, learning, discovering. I’m a different person today than I was two months ago.

As I think back on this second month, I can appreciate how hard I’ve worked to learn about grief and to find meaning in this experience. Long talks with my mom, my friends, and my therapist has helped me honor Julian’s memory and appreciate the time I had with him. Writing this blog has helped me process my thoughts, and really understand how I feel. It hasn’t been easy to take this aggressive approach to my “grief work,” but I’ve been trusting my instincts and working through the grief.

Ironically, my challenge now is that my progress makes some people suspicious and uncomfortable. I don’t fit the picture of what a bereaved parent is supposed to look like. There are people in my life who are concerned that I’m not grieving enough.

These people, and so-called “grief experts” that have written the books I read, seem to discourage my pursuit of happiness. Comments that seem supportive on the surface, such as “You’re so STRONG,” seem to be laced with judgment. I’m warned that what I perceive as progress is probably denial. I’m accused of not “feeling my feelings.” Some comments even suggest that the amount of my suffering is proportional to my love for the one I lost — in other words, less-than-average suffering must mean less-than-average love.

The latter example is easy to ignore, because I have no doubts about the love I had, and will *always* have, for Julian. But what about denial? Is it possible that I’m not really feeling my feelings? Is it possible that any day now, I’m going to suddenly curl up in the fetal position with some new understanding of what has happened?

Despite my confidence in my process and my “grief work,” I started to get paranoid. So I obsessively began buying books, hoping that I’d finally come across something that would make me feel less unusual. Less odd. Less suspicious.

Do a search for “grief” on and you’ll get over 19,000 results. So far, I’ve read about a dozen of them. Topics have covered loss of a child, grief in general, life after death, and science. And it’s the last category — science — that gave me what I was looking for. Rather, a good friend gave me the book I was looking for: “The Other Side of Sadness” by George A. Bonanno. The subtitle is, “What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss.”

This “new science of bereavement” changed everything.

This book explained why so many other books haven’t been helpful to me:

There is no shortage of books on grief and bereavement. Most take a surprisingly narrow perspective, avoiding the bigger questions. One reason is that many of the books on grief are written by medical practitioners or therapists. This is not surprising, but it does create a bit of a problem when we try to understand grief in broader terms. Grief therapists are apt to see only those bereaved people whose lives have already been consumed by suffering, people for whom professional help is the only chance of survival. These human dramas may be compelling, but they do not tell us much about what grief is like for most people.

This book confirmed that there are other people like me who have had the same frustration:

Many who volunteer for our studies make the point that they tried to read up on bereavement. They quickly add, however, that they couldn’t seem to find anything in their reading that matched their own experience.

This book validated that it is not uncommon for people around me to have the reactions that I’ve experienced:

Inherent in [books and journals on bereavement] is also the assumption that grief is more or less the same for everybody and that there is something wrong when people overcome their grief quickly or when they appear to have skipped some of the “stages” of mourning. Armed with these ideas it is easy to become suspicious when a bereaved person seems too happy or at ease. “Is this some sort of denial?” we may wonder. Or worse, maybe the person never really cared about the loved one in the first place? Or maybe, without help to get in touch with the grief, she or he will suffer some sort of delayed reaction years from now.

This book chased away my paranoia that those people might be right:

Remarkably, though, after many years of studying bereavement, I’ve found no evidence to support any of these ideas. A good deal of what my colleagues and I have found, in fact, suggest a completely different picture of grieving…. The good news is that for most of us, grief is not overwhelming or unending. As frightening as the pain of loss can be, most of us are resilient. Some of us cope so effectively, in fact, we hardly seem to miss a beat in our day-to-day lives. We may be shocked, even wounded, by a loss, but we still manage to regain our equilibrium and move on. That there is anguish and sadness during bereavement cannot be denied. But there is much more. Above all, it is a human experience. It is something we are wired for, and it is certainly not meant to overwhelm us. Rather, our reactions to grief seem designed to help us accept and accommodate losses relatively quickly so that we can continue to live productive lives. Resilience doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone fully resolves a loss, or finds a state of “closure.” Even the most resilient seem to hold onto at least a bit of wistful sadness. But we are able to keep on living our lives and loving those still present around us.

The book — and the years of scientific data it is based on — supports me in my aggressive pursuit of happiness and joy:

Bereaved people are able to have genuinely pleasurable experiences, to laugh or indulge in moments of joy, even in the earliest days and weeks after loss. Most of the early literature about bereavement tended to gloss over these kinds of positive experience, which were often dismissed as examples of avoidance or denial. My research has suggested the opposite. Not only are positive experiences common, but they also tend to have an affirmative impact on other people and may actually help the bereaved recover more quickly after the loss.


I’m not unique. I’m not odd. I’m not likely to slip into denial that hasn’t shown up yet. I definitely have many moments (… or hours… or days) of “wistful sadness.” I don’t blog much about my sadness, but it’s a welcome emotion for me. I recognize it as an important part of “feeling my feelings.” But ultimately I’m sad, not destroyed. In fact, each week that goes by brings me a little more appreciation for life.

I’ve completed the first two months of the “after.” I’m two months into the creation of my “new normal.” And I found powerful relief and comfort in the new science of bereavement. It showed me my truth: I’m not in denial, I am RESILIENT.

p.s. All of the quotes in this post are from the first chapter of the book. You can expect more posts about the specific insights that I learned throughout the book, and how they impacted me.
I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below.


Posted by on May 3, 2011 in month 2


Think about it tomorrow.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts (especially the last one), I’ve been frustrated by the grief resources that I’ve found so far. Most books are focused on the grief itself, and encourage us to dwell in our grief until we are “ready” to take a small step in the direction of health and healing. There’s not a lot out there that focuses on action — yet when I think back on the past 8 weeks, it’s the *actions* that I instinctually took that were the most helpful to me.

The first few days after Julian died seemed to go by in slow motion, yet my brain was going a mile a minute. I couldn’t stop thinking about the last week of Julian’s life. I constantly re-played and obsessively analyzed every detail, repeatedly asking myself, “What if I had done *that* differently?” There were countless “thats,” and none of them were logical.

But logic didn’t stop the loop in my head. Logic had nothing to do with it. I was searching for something that I could go back and change, to result in a different outcome. I wanted to rewind, command-z my life, change history. My brain was on auto-pilot, and was convinced that this would be possible.

The day after Julian died was the worst day of this illogical mental treadmill, and by the end of that first day, my brain needed to rest. I don’t think I was able to make the distinction between logical and illogical thoughts at that point. I just wanted to take a break from thinking, period. My instincts told me that these thoughts — and the suffering they caused — weren’t healthy or helpful. But I couldn’t seem to stop them.

So at the end of the day, it occurred to me that if I couldn’t stop the mental loops, maybe I could distract myself. So I turned on the TV in our bedroom, picked something from the DVR queue, and tried to relax. Yet there it was again: The Voice. It was back on that mental treadmill.

So I took action.

I got up out of bed, found a pad of post-it notes, and wrote this:

I stuck it on the TV just below the screen, and I got back in bed. I vaguely remember giving John a reason for doing this, but I was operating on instinct… I didn’t really have a reason, other than it just seemed like it would be helpful.

And here’s what happened: I would follow the TV show for a few minutes, then my mind would start the loop again. My gaze would drift down from the TV screen — and then I’d notice the bright yellow post-it.


I reminded myself that there was nothing to be gained by thinking about this right now. Maybe tomorrow I’d discover a way to turn back time and change the outcome, but not right now.

Eventually, the number of minutes between loops slowly increased. I don’t think I really comprehended anything on the TV show that first night, but I had taken one small action and it WORKED. It made a difference that night, and every night since then. Each day, the illogical looping got weaker.

Today, thanks to the post-it note and other actions that I’ll describe in future blog posts, the looping has stopped. My brain has given up the hope that it can change the past. But the post-it is still on the TV, just in case I need a reminder.

The post-it is still there, an ongoing reminder to not get stuck in thought patterns that aren’t healthy or helpful — especially right before bed. I can always just think about it tomorrow.

Posted by on April 29, 2011 in month 2


Imagine if we treated “mental health trauma” with the same urgency and commitment as physical trauma.

Wikipedia defines a medical trauma as a “serious and body-altering physical injury, such as the removal of a limb.” Psychological trauma is described as “an emotional or psychological injury usually resulting from an extremely stressful or life-threatening situation.” I’m inventing my own variation on these terms: “mental health trauma.” I define this as “a serious and life-altering emotional injury, such as the death of one’s child.”

When I imagine a typical response to a victim of a car accident or other physical trauma, scenes from Grey’s Anatomy and ER flash through my mind:

  • Teams of medical professionals, working urgently and comprehensively until the physical trauma patient is stable.
  • Once the patient is stable, the rehabilitation process starts. Doctors and specialists work as a team to make sure that the patient comes to a full recovery.
  • Physical therapy is often painful, but doctors insist that patients work through the pain to regain as much of their previous abilities as possible, and to learn to adapt to any long-term side effects.

Let’s compare this to someone who has recently experienced a “mental health trauma”:

  • Medical professionals aren’t involved unless the patient seeks them out.
  • No one works urgently or comprehensively with the patient — in fact, they often work cautiously and slowly, if at all.
  • Religious professionals, family, friends, and others sometimes offer advice, but mostly don’t know where to begin because they don’t have the tools. They are afraid to say or do the wrong thing in case they make the patient feel worse.
  • There’s no “mental health trauma standard of care” that could help the patient’s network of professionals, family, and friends to confidently and effectively provide support to the patient.
  • The most frequent advice given to a mental health trauma patient is, “find a support group.”

Next, let’s imagine a car accident victim being treated like this mental health trauma patient:

  • The ER doctor might say, “I heard you were in a car accident. I’m so sorry for your loss. How ARE you?”
  • The car accident victim (in shock, of course) says, “I can’t believe that just happened. DID that just happen? What happens next? How can I possibly survive this? Did I break my leg? Will I walk again?”
  • The doctor thinks about the various surgical and pharmacological treatments that could potentially be helpful to the patient, but he keeps them to himself because the patient is probably not really ready for anything that aggressive, having just been in a car accident.
  • Instead the doctor says, “When you are ready, I can tell you about how I’ve treated other car accident victims. Maybe we can try one of these treatments down the road — but only when you are ready, and only if you feel like you need it.”
  • The patient (still in shock) says, “I hurt so much. I just want to stay in bed and cry until it hurts less.”
  • The doctor says, “That’s totally fine. There’s no right or wrong way to recover from a car accident.”
  • As an afterthought, the doctor adds, “You should find a support group where you can talk with other people who have survived car accidents. Here are a couple brochures and websites. You can tell your story, and listen to other survivors’ stories. People who had car accidents years ago can tell you what they did to recover from their accident.”

Obviously this scenario is ridiculous, because:

  • Decades of scientific research and practice enable doctors to know exactly how to treat car accident victims.
  • Doctors don’t hesitate to recommend aggressive, urgent treatments for physical trauma.
  • Car accident victims today aren’t given the exact same treatment as car accident victims 20+ years ago, because there are new medical advancements every year.
  • Physical trauma patients aren’t invited to wait until they are “ready,” because the doctors know that the longer they wait, the harder the recovery will be.
  • Medical doctors don’t shy away from painful physical therapy or bad tasting medicine, because evidence shows that the long-term benefits are much more important than temporary discomfort.
  • Car accident victims typically aren’t told that they should meet regularly — perhaps for years to come — with other people who have been in accidents, to tell their stories and get comforted by others who have survived the same trauma.

I’m not suggesting that the treatments of physical and mental health traumas should be identical. But I am suggesting that maybe we need to take a closer look at what I consider to be the biggest difference: when a physical trauma occurs, the medical professionals are in the driver’s seat. The patient is only asked to consent to the recommended treatment; to agree to be passenger in the medical industry’s state-of-the-art car, driving through a pre-defined route on roads that are constantly tested and updated, going as fast as possible but within the legal speed limit. Destination: Recovery.

When a mental health trauma occurs, NO ONE is in the driver’s seat. Not the medical professionals or anyone else, because society tells them that a mental health trauma patient is fragile and different than a car accident victim. And certainly not the patient, because society tells us we are in no condition to drive. As  a result, most parents who lose children seem to end up stuck in their grief like a car up on blocks in the back yard. Destination: Support Group.

I’m not interested in a gentle, passive, when-I-am-ready-I’ll-join-a-support-group approach to my mental health trauma treatment. Like a car accident victim agreeing to painful physical therapy or bad-tasting medicine, I’m ok with temporary discomfort if it brings me long-term healing benefits. I want to take an urgent, comprehensive approach to my recovery from mental health trauma.

Maybe it’s time for someone to kick-start a new generation of grief treatment. Maybe this new generation can be focused on science, research, and ACTION, instead of support groups and years of talk therapy.

I’ve climbed into the driver’s seat. I don’t care if my roads are bumpy and my route takes some twists and turns, because I know I’m headed in the direction I want to go.

Destination: Happiness & Joy. 

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below.
If you’d like to send me a private message, use the comment box but start with the word “Private.”


Posted by on April 22, 2011 in month 2


Grief in my pocket.

A few days after Julian died, I had a conversation with a children’s minister about how children grieve. She explained that children relate to their grief like an object they keep in their pocket. From time to time they take it out, look at it, think about it, and then they put it back in their pocket.

Many people have asked me, “How is Oscar doing?” The answer is, he’s fine. Great, really. He has emotional moments from time to time, but for the most part, he’s as cheerful and happy as always. It’s a real blessing to us that Oscar is this way, because he keeps us motivated to feel happy too.

I think we can learn a lot from a typical child’s response to grief. It’s interesting to recognize that a child’s response is based on instinct rather than life experience. It’s also interesting to recognize the core difference between my grief and Oscar’s grief: I am grieving the loss of the future that I had planned, Oscar is not.

He misses his brother, but Oscar stays in the present. He sometimes takes grief out of his pocket, looks at it, maybe thinks something like “I wish Julian was here to play outside with me today.” But he’s certainly not thinking, “I’m sad because Julian won’t be my best man when I get married.” He might think that on his wedding day, but even then he will be grieving the present, not the future he expected.

There could be something helpful about visualizing grief as an object I can keep in my pocket. I can take it out, ponder it, grieve the present instead of the future I planned, design a new plan for the future, create my new normal. Then put it back into my pocket… not for the purposes of forgetting about it, but for the purpose of helping me focus on the present… until I take it out again.

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below to get access to a comment box and a “like” button. Just like on Facebook, you can “like” the post as a method of saying hi.
If you’d like to send me a private message, use the comment box but start with the word “Private.”


Posted by on April 19, 2011 in month 2


How am I… today?

Today I had lunch with a dear friend who also has had more than her share of loss this year. One of the things we talked about is how frequently we are asked, “How ARE you?” — usually with a concerned facial expression and tilt of the head.

Or worse, “Hey! How’s it going?” — followed by a facial expression that says, oh crap I totally forgot her son just died and of course she’s not doing ok and I can’t believe I just asked her that question.

And it happens on my side of the question, too. Someone will ask me how I’m doing, and out of pure habit I answer, “Great! How are you?” And then I’m sure my facial expression says, oh crap of course I’m not ‘great’ and now I probably look like I’m either totally lying or totally in denial and I don’t want to correct myself now but I feel awkward and I just want to change the subject.

The real answer is, I’m ok. And devastated. And fine. And heartbroken. And motivated to make the most of life. And exhausted. And excited about being back at work. And struggling to stay focused. And a million other emotions. I’m ALL of these things. Sometimes all at once, sometimes a different one every ten minutes.

I’ve decided that the best question for someone to ask me is, “How are you, today?” That’s usually a question I can answer. And more and more often, the answer is genuinely, “Today, I’m doing well.”

Because the reality is, I do have good days. Maybe not “great” days, but certainly not the can’t-get-out-of-bed days that I would have expected someone who just lost a child would have. Until that someone was me.

Because now I realize, you just don’t know how much you can live through until you have no choice. I can’t choose to bring Julian back to life, but I can choose to honor his life and his memory by working hard on my healing journey. I can choose to not get stuck in the deep well of grief. I can choose to aggressively pursue a future that is filled with happiness and joy.

I know that eventually I’ll be able to honestly answer, “Great!” when someone asks me how I’m doing. But in the meantime, if you run into me (or anyone else in your life who is grieving), don’t ask “How ARE you?” Instead, ask: “How are you… today?”

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below to get access to a comment box and a “like” button. Just like on Facebook, you can “like” the post as a method of saying hi.
If you’d like to send me a private message, use the comment box but start with the word “Private.”


Posted by on April 14, 2011 in month 2


The difference between moving “forward” and moving “on.”

As committed as I am to find joy again, I have often struggled to find balance between moving *forward* (bringing my memories with me) and moving *on* (leaving my memories behind).

There are benefits of both. On one hand, I want to always remember the wise but mischievous twinkle in Julian’s eyes, and his sweet voice asking me to “go fast like a jet!” when he wanted me to do something quickly. On the other hand, I’d be happy to forget the details of his terrifying last day in the hospital when I was totally and utterly powerless to help my son.

Then yesterday, it hit me. The way to find the balance between moving “forward” and moving “on” is to make the distinction between “mourning” and “suffering.” When something reminds me of Julian (as many things do), sometimes it makes me smile and sometimes it makes me sad. If I start feeling sad, I ask myself, am I remembering something positive about him, and mourning that loss? Or am I suffering because I’m re-living something painful?

So far, this technique has made a big difference for me. Happy memories are great, and deserve to be contemplated and carried forward into the future. But when I recognize that I’m suffering, I force myself to think about something else, something that I love remembering about Julian. I choose to move “on” from the suffering memories. Those can stay in the past, they don’t serve me now.

I give myself permission to release and move *on* from the memories that make me feel sorrow or suffering. Besides, I have plenty of wonderful memories to bring *forward* with me into the future.

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below to get access to a comment box and a “like” button. Just like on Facebook, you can “like” the post as a method of saying hi.
If you’d like to send me a private message, use the comment box but start with the word “Private.”


Posted by on April 9, 2011 in month 2


Erasing the line between business and personal.

My husband and I own a consulting firm together, so when we experienced this personal loss, it rippled through our professional lives as well. Many of our clients are also people we consider as friends, and it was wonderful to receive their support through emails, cards, and attendance at Julian’s Celebration of Life.

Our firm publishes a monthly newsletter article, and after some discussion, we decided that the April article would be a case study about how John and I used social media tools to communicate about Julian’s diagnosis, treatment, and death. (You can read my newsletter article on the firm’s website.)

I received an email from a friend and fellow business owner, who asked me, “Can you tell me about your decision to bring your story to your clients in your company newsletter?” I thought about it for a few minutes, then replied to my friend:

There were a few reasons why we decided to share this on the EG site. It kind of started with the “baby wall” in the office kitchen. The photo of Julian was about 2 years old (I’d been meaning to update it forever), so I took it down and had to decide what to do. Leave him off the wall to avoid people asking questions about him? Use a recent photo, and treat him the same as all the other kids? Put up the keepsake photo we passed out at his Celebration, which will draw attention to his story and could make people uncomfortable when we give tours?

Ultimately, John and I together decided to go with the latter… the keepsake photo. We decided, this is part our lives now. If we start “hiding” it, or start making decisions based on other people’s potential discomfort, we’d never be able to stop. And, why should we hide it?

So then, we gave a tour. When we were in my office, one of our clients saw my set of framed photos of the boys and said, “Oh! Are those your kids?” I knew these moments would happen, but this was the first time. “Yep!” I answered, then walked out of the room and took the group quickly through the kitchen, hoping no one would notice the keepsake photo. They didn’t.

So after that day, again we needed to make a decision. Let the topic come up organically? Or just put it out there and get it over with, proactively? Again, we chose the latter. Most of our current clients already know, anyway.

Ultimately, even though John and I are introverts, sharing the story in a personal but appropriate way was more consistent with the EG brand.

After this month, our newsletter will move on to a less personal topic. But for now, anyone who visits the firm’s website is invited to read our story. There really isn’t a line between personal and professional for us, and that’s just fine.

We want to integrate Julian’s memory into as many parts of our lives as we can.

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to post a comment or just let me know you were here, click the “Comment” link below to get access to a comment box and a “like” button. Just like on Facebook, you can “like” the post as a method of saying hi.
If you’d like to send me a private message, use the comment box but start with the word “Private.”


Posted by on April 6, 2011 in month 2