Parenting through disaster - laundry doesn't do itself

I'm a big fan of the Death, Sex and Money podcast with host Anna Sale. She describes it as "about things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more". I listened to this story this morning and couldn't wait to share it. From the Death, Sex and Money website:

Dr. Jonathan Clark and his eight year-old son Iain watched the space shuttle Columbia launch from Kennedy Space Center on January 16, 2003. Sixteen days later, Columbia exploded upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Jon's wife, Dr. Laurel Clark, was one of seven astronauts killed in the disaster. 

As a newly single parent, he recalls the challenges he faced in the aftermath both large and small, from domestic duties to searching for the cause of the explosion.

Dr. Clark is a wonderful guest, warm and thoughtful. His voice was so compelling I had to go look up a photo of him. Here he is with Laurel and Iain before the crash. He's also got a TED talk which I haven't yet listened to yet, but it's in my queue.  If you want to cry, see photos from Laurel's funeral.

Another tearjerker - Last Minutes with ODEN

Oh dear. I've been sucked into watching sad movies today. This one is a real cry fest.  It reminds me of how desperately I want to hold my pups when they die and take their bodies home and bury them myself. I don't think I could leave a dog's body to strangers. I want only hands that love them touching them even after they die. It's the least I can do.


The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar- my favorite episode of This American Life

Oh my. It's impossible to find adequate words to describe this story. This American Life takes a full hour to tell the tale of Bobby Dunbar, a boy that goes missing by a lake in rural Louisana. After eight months, a boy believed to be Bobby Dunbar is found. Is it really the missing boy? To what lengths will a mother go to dodge the unbearable specter of their child's death? It's a gripping story, filled with glorious Southern accents, long-ago memories and dark family history. The full transcript is available if you prefer, but I highly recommend setting aside an hour to listen without distraction. You won't be disappointed.


Switched at Birth: a story about losing your place

This American Life rarely takes the entire hour for one act, but this episode needs every minute to tell the story. It's about two girls, Marti and Sue, who are switched at birth and grow up mere miles from each other. After 43 years, it is finally brought to light.

From the podcast:

That is the kind of news nobody ever wants to hear. And when you get this kind of news as an adult, that your mom isn't really your mom or your daughter isn't really your daughter, and at the same time you have a new mom or a new daughter, it is not so clear what you're supposed to do with his new parent or new child who's now in your life. What are you supposed to be with each other? And both Marti and Sue worried that the families that always thought were theirs would still want to keep them. And both mothers and daughters each had to figure it out on their own. All four women say things got very lonely for them.

It's such a beatiful piece, filled with subtlety and surprises. The emotion in the families voices is palpable and you can't pull yourself away. You can read the transcript if you'd prefer.


Movie Review: After The End

This is probably the best documentary I've ever seen on grief. Andrew Morgan interviews several people on their life after a serious loss.  There's Holly, who lost her sister after they'd had a fight. Jon, whose dad died when he was 13 years old and his brother several years later. Parents Jeff and Shirley talk about their daughter Sarah's death. Ben lost his father, younger brother and older brother in quick succession. Molly's story is especially tragic- her two year old daughter dies from a choking accident. Reggie tells of his grief after losing his mother- a perspective that surprised me in it's depth and breadth. Andrew shares his own story of loss that surprised me as well. This film really moved me and I think it will move you, too. Right now, you can view the whole movie streaming on HULU.

Movie Review: The Babadook

It's not an exaggeration to say that this movie changed my outlook on all horror films. The story is simple enough; a man dies in a car accident while driving his pregnant wife to the hospital to deliver their baby. The film picks up six years later when she is struggling to raise her difficult son by herself. She is exhausted, he's a tiny asshole and then a book about a mythical boogeyman named the Babadook enters their lives. It's really a terrific suspense film with only a tiny bit of gore. It introduces some compelling themes about motherhood and parental loss that I enjoyed. If you want to know how the dog fares, you can find out on Does The Dog Die? You can cover your eyes and hum loudly (as I do) for that part.

The movie is as predictable as these movies can get- you know- ominous events, bad guy introduced, terror ensues, bad guy confronted in a spectacular climax, happily ever after. The part that gripped me, however, comes after all that. This is where The Babadook is shines. Without giving anything away, I felt a sense of peace in the final scene and how the mother creatively faces a powerful grief that threatens to consume her. Now, when I consider horror movies, I have a new lens through which to understand the boogeyman.


The aftermath of a suicide for families and friends

Family and friends of a person who commits suicide face a complicated grief.

“What if” questions can arise after any death. What if we’d gone to a doctor sooner? What if we hadn’t let her drive to the basketball game? After a suicide, these questions may be extreme and self-punishing — unrealistically condemning the survivor for failing to predict the death or to successfully intervene. In such circumstances, survivors tend to greatly overestimate their own contributing role — and their ability to affect the outcome.

This article from Harvard Medical School's blog details the confusion, anger and isolation many "suicide survivors" experience after the death. It also offers a different perspective on the "why" question so many ask.

Sometimes a person with a disabling or terminal disease chooses suicide as a way of gaining control or hastening the end. When a suicide can be understood that way, survivors may feel relieved of much of their what-if guilt. “It doesn’t mean someone didn’t love their life,” says Holly Prigerson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Psycho-Oncology Research, Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

If you are a suicide survivor, the article recommends support groups and individual help from a skilled therapist. It also outlines the actions that friends of suicide survivors can take in that situation.  It is well worth a read.

Before You Know It, Something's Over- story of a daughter's grief

When I was 14 years old, my best friend was hit by a car and died. Marie Lyn Bernard (or "Reise") lost her father from a heart attack when she was 14. It is a strange age- well past puberty yet not a fully-fledged teenager. Marie's story is the best example of how I felt as a teen grieving for someone.

My father died when I was 14. My father died when I was 14. My father died when I was 14. Heart attack. While he was running. Training for a marathon. Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, just out of the blue. Yeah, just about the worst thing that could have ever happened, just really the absolute worst, nothing worse will ever happen to me! (I will laugh at this part, a little. To make sure you know it’s okay, that I can think about this thing and laugh at the same time.)

Go read the rest of her beautiful, haunting story.


"The revolution will be televised" for our times

Rest assured, your death will probably be tweeted about. NPR's Scott Simon explains how social media makes our private grief public.

I don’t believe that I confuse Facebook “friends” or Twitter “followers” with lifelong friends. But I think that new technologies like Twitter expand the circle of experience we have that form our ideas, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. The internet, television, radio, books, and, for that matter, papyrus scrolls have done that, too. People going through life-changing events learn things about life and are moved to share them, with friends, and with total strangers. They want the person they love to be remembered. It is an utterly human response, imperfect but invaluable.