What We Read This Summer: For Grievers and Caregivers

As we’ve posted about before, we have a special interest in books about dying, books about grievingand other such uplifting topics! Actually, we truly admire those that can write about such heavy topics in an honest and even humorous way. Here is a short review of what we’ve been reading lately. Post in the comments section or email us if you’ve read any great books this summer!

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Sheryl Sandberg shares her tragic story of losing her husband unexpectedly, leaving her a single parent to their two children. In addition to Sheryl’s experience, this book shares others’ stories of loss and suffering while also finding ways to impart wisdom and inspiration. It somehow digs out the uplifting aspects of grief, sharing how we may become better. We especially liked the discussion of “post traumatic growth” where you move forward in a positive way after loss.

“It is the irony of all ironies to experience tragedy and come out of it feeling more grateful. Since I lost Dave, I have at my fingertips this unbelievable reservoir of sadness….But along that sadness, I have a much deeper appreciation for what I used to take for granted: family, friends, and simply being alive.”

There is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell

It’s no secret that we are big fans of Emily McDowell, her hilarious cards and other products. We've mentioned this book before, but continue to recommend it to anyone that wants to help a friend in grief or a difficult situation. It may also make a good gift as everyone could benefit from learning to do better in those "don't know what to say" situations.

The authors provide real life scenarios with supportive things to say and do. Beyond practical advice, it is easy to read, funny, and full of of pretty graphics and “empathy tips”. One of our favorites:

“If fix it platitudes are so unhelpful, why are they so common? ….We (our culture) believe in getting things done rather than just letting things be, and we believe that “healing” means getting over rather than learning to live with loss. Our discomfort with suffering, and our rush to make it stop, can result in simpleminded fixes that suggest the problem of grief is an easy one to get over. This superficial effort just makes the suffering person feel even more broken (and pathetic) for suffering at all, and more detached from the person trying to help. For all these reasons, it’s best to avoid look-on-the-bright-side phrases and platitudes. Instead, find out how your friend is feeling about what’s going on. It’s simple: just listen.”

(Reminds us of our rants about the grief police.)

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

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The author tells her story of undergoing breast cancer treatment while losing her mother to cancer, and ultimately losing her own life to her cancer. Although devastatingly sad at times, it is also touching and hilarious, and covers the perspectives of patient, caregiver, and griever. Some of our favorite passages:

“I don’t belong in bed, but I don’t fit in out in the world either. I have a sense of myself as a broken camera – focusing on something out on the horizon (the future, cure, recurrence, death) and then, without warning, zooming in on a blade of grass (what is that weird taste in my mouth… did anyone remember to pack a snack for the kids). And then zooming out to the horizon again, and then back, and then again. I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to point this thing.”
“If there were an exam on the caregiver booklet that hospice gave us… I feel confident that Charlie and I would both ace it. It’s almost midnight. We are sitting at the kitchen counter of our parents’ house, obsessively going over the checklist that attempts to break it down by weeks, days, hours, moments. Preparing for the unpreparable… scanning for something that is not there.”

Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom, by Kristin van Ogtrop

This book puts concepts that every working mom will recognize into vocabulary terms like “close encounters of the half-insane kind” when a mom gets mistaken for an extraterrestrial by normal humans, or “list paradox” when you make a to-do list to give you a sense of control but there are always more items than can be crossed off.  Even though it isn’t about grief or dying, the author keeps it real and keeps us laughing. Caregivers may find it comforting to read about another “half-insane” person or coping skills like “ignore the tray” – meaning rather than focus too much on the load you are carrying, watch where you're headed and everything will be just fine. This book normalizes the chaos of being a working mom. We enjoyed reading that we weren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed and imperfect sometimes- something that we all, including caregivers, need.

The Complete Book of Home Organization by Toni Hammersley


Since we are obsessed with home organization, this book can only serve to take our obsession to a new level of crazy. It offers tips room by room in short blurbs and easy to manage projects. Plus the pictures of beautifully organized houses are so pretty!

How to Be a Helpful Friend to Caregivers and Grievers

Unfortunately, we have become all too familiar with the struggles of caregiving and grieving, and have been contacted several times for ideas about how to help a family member, friend, or colleague struggling with a variety of difficult situations - a new caregiving role, a terminal diagnosis, a death of a loved one. It feels like these tragedies are happening all too often, even to young adults. We don’t consider ourselves the experts, but we try our best to provide useful tips and ideas. 

First, know that simple actions of support and concern are often enough.  We have previously talked about comforting products and how to help a friend in grief  as well as related topics in other specific posts noted below. Here, we came up with additional ideas - that anyone can do - tailored to certain situations. We reflected upon our own experience, but also received great tips from family, friends, and experts - all listed below!

For those in a new caregiving role:

  • Consider how you might ease your friend's burden in other areas of life besides their new caregiving role: Do they have a pet you can walk or check in on? Can you drive their kids to after-school activities? As our Mom suggested, “Offer to do a specific errand- like pick up groceries, pick up kids, make an airport run-sent by text. No calls!"
  • An easy way is to help with meals. Perhaps a group can organize meals on a schedule or invite others to sign up via mealtrain. Or it can be as simple as baking some cookies and dropping them on the porch.
  • But it may be that you are not local and want to do something from afar. Simple ideas are a funny card from our favorite Emily McDowell, or one of her bravery pins, a small care package of their favorite things like coffee, chocolate, lotion.
  •  We heard from Feylyn Lewis, M.A., NCC; University of Birmingham, who is an expert in young adult caregiving and recalls the most important things that help her in caring for her mother:

  1. Grace. Someone giving me grace to be imperfect and to simply 'not be myself'.
  2. Realness. I appreciate when a friend is authentic, as that allows me to feel free to be authentic too. It's so freeing to live from a place of honesty.
  3. A perfectly timed encouraging word or Bible verse. Spoken with kind heart, the gentlest words can truly help transform my perspective.
  • Another nice idea is to send a journal for your friend to bring to appointments and to write down questions.
  • Stress relief gifts include: soothing lotion, aromatherapy, adult coloring books.
  • A new company, Wellthy, will provide you with a care coordinator. 
  • This post has ideas for helping with communication and organization, but here are a few highlights: Help to keep family and friends updated with a website such as Caring Bridge.  Or setup a shared calendar for appointments, visitors, and other important obligations such as a Google calendar.

For other grief related situations:

  • Dr. Gloria Horsley, a grief expert, bereaved parent and founder of Open to Hope along with her daughter Dr. Heidi Horsley, shares her wisdom and recommends her website www.opentohope.com. She states, "Lean on our hope until you find your own." Helpful things that were provided to Gloria after the death of her son were: 
  1. Sitting with us and reading a book while we ate our first meal
  2. Getting a dog
  3. Having my boss at the nursing school assign a friend to stay with me the first week back to work.
  • Do something in honor of the deceased. Run a race for them or donate to a cause that they supported.
  • Write down a funny memory of the deceased and send it to their family members.
  • April Koontz, a sibling griever, caregiver, and founder of Daughters Unite, remembers a kind gesture from a friend. "The day following my brother’s sudden death – I looked out my front door and saw my neighbor mowing my lawn. I broke down in tears. She knew how important it was for me to have my lawn looking good and took it upon herself to mow it without asking."
  • Drop off brownies and a six pack of beer. It doesn’t have to be a full course meal, just a way to show that you are thinking of the person. (Thanks, Mom)
  • Friend and guest blogger, Lindsay, opens up about what helped her after the loss of her sister: "With respect to people who were primarily my friends (i.e. not necessarily family friends or people who were also close to my parents or sister), asking how I was doing in particular and not just how things were going in general. I imagine this would be especially true in a caregiving situation, as it made me feel supported at a time when I sometimes felt like it was my job to support other people or to hold it together." She adds, "Picking up when I didn't want to talk about it and distracting me by talking about other things and treating me like a normal person." 

For various difficult times that are probably pertinent to both cases involving the stress of caregiving or grief:

  • One thing April would recommend is, "Respite. Just figure out when you can give an hour or more and call and make arrangements to do it. Don’t ask ‘what can I do?' or say, ‘call me if you need anything’."
  • If they have a sense of humor, send funny cards on a regular basis. Send cartoons.
  • Don’t unicorns make everyone feel better? There’s this gift idea.
  • They may not be sleeping well, so how about caffeine and a fun, new mug
  • If you are curious about how to talk to children about illness and grief, this post may be helpful  And this book which was recommended in that post, How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness .
  • People don’t seem to make “mix tapes” anymore, but you could send them a playlist of soothing music or music that may help them cry and grieve. You could also send an iTunes gift card for them to download their own choice of entertainment.
  • Feylyn Lewis again shares sage advice for one simple thing that a friend can do: "Understand when asking how I'm doing, I may immediately respond 'Okay, just fine.' because I don't want to burden my friends with my heavy emotions. Don't be afraid to ask again, and/or help create a space where it's easier to share, i.e., going for a walk, sitting quietly, etc."
  • Our Resources page has some other ideas too.

What other useful or creative tips do you have? Let us know what you did that was helpful to a friend.

Celebrating a Hero Today

We would dance with her to celebrate if that is where the night led us....

We would dance with her to celebrate if that is where the night led us....

Birthdays are a big deal in our family. Growing up, we got to pick our favorite meal, enjoy cake and homemade birthday banners, and open presents. As adults, we continue to send each other cards and gifts to make the day extra special. It would be hard to let this week go by without acknowledging an important time of year and day dedicated to one exemplary woman. Our sister’s birthday is this week- today, in fact- and she deserves special attention. We celebrated this day for 39 years with her and we want to continue to celebrate her today even though she isn’t here. This year isn’t a milestone birthday, unlike last year which would have been her 40th birthday. As you can imagine, that was incredibly hard for many reasons. But this year allows us to reflect further on her birthday and more importantly, her. The word “hero” comes to mind.

There are many heroes and role models in life. We learned about a Special Operations Marine who was his brother’s real-life hero from our guest blog writer, Tyler. We also recently watched Michelle Obama's farewell speech, and were moved by her inspiring words : “Don’t be afraid...Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.” We have been thinking about the unsung, non-famous, everyday heroes. A hero is defined as a person who is admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. We were previously asked by Working Daughter about our heroines, and we were grateful to be asked this and to answer: 

“Our sister, Colleen, was our role model, because she was extremely hard working, made the most of her time, and managed to be good at almost everything. We still don’t know how she accomplished all that she did in her 39 years on this earth. In addition, our Mom is not only a Super Mom, she is also a Super Caregiver. She managed to watch her child decline and somehow kept it together while providing the best kind of love and support that only a mom can provide."

Until we watched our sister face the end of her life, we didn’t understand what a brave person was. To be told that your time is limited and a disease will take over your body and life, as you are just starting your adult life, is something that must be at the forefront of your mind every minute of every day. Yet Colleen had goals, ambitions, and people she cared about, and she was determined not to let cancer define her. She wasn’t given a choice, a different path to take, and she faced it in typical fashion - with grace, a fierce outlook, and a humorous attitude. She eventually had to accept defeat, yet she still managed to show courage in that acceptance, and we will never forget that. There are many people like her, facing their own uncertain future, battling illness, and we remind ourselves of that often. It is an incredible heartache, a pain that is unreal, but these everyday heroes pull themselves up and take it on, good or bad, each day.

Our sister fought cancer like the super human she was. She didn’t act afraid, but remained protective and concerned about OUR futures and OUR well being. Even in her most difficult times, she still mothered us and wanted us to be ok. She didn’t shut down, become enraged, or disengage from us. She came to a place of peace on her own - her own timeline, her own terms. And in her final stand, she yet again led by example. As Michelle Obama said, “Don’t be afraid.” Somehow she wasn’t. Colleen is our unwavering hero.

So on this day, we’d like to hear your stories. If you know Colleen, share a story or memory of her, or tell us about your hero. We want to celebrate all the unsung heroes today.

Nov. 10, 2016 Caregiving and Grief News Roundup

November is National Family Caregivers Month! There is even an official proclamation from President Obama. We are reminded of our prior post, A Caregivers "To Don't" List, and hope you are finding time to relax. Let us know how you are celebrating or if you are thinking of a special caregiver this month. We are always celebrating siblings! Other great organizations are also recognizing this special month, such as WorkingDaughter.com and National Alliance for Caregiving.

This new business “Wellthy” is brilliant and just received $2 million in seed funding. Families are actually assigned a coordinator who helps with various overwhelming tasks such as dealing with insurance claims, refilling prescriptions, and arranging specialist appointments. We love what Lindsay Jurist-Rosner, founder of Wellthy, says at the end of this article: “Starting a business is hard work,” she says. “But after the experience my family and I have had, starting a company is nothing.”

This article offers an interesting perspective and plenty of facts and links to information about caregiving costs and need for more support.

Read about the honest conversation featured on a Cosmopolitan.com podcast that includes one of our favorite authors, Nora McInerny Pumort (“It’s Ok to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)”), and the CEO of a helpful website featuring stories of loss, Rebecca Soffer (ModernLoss.com), who discuss loss and how to help yourself or a friend.

As we’ve already said, we love Emily McDowell’s greeting cards and appreciate her humor and sincerity. And it is perfect that she has written a book - "There is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love" - with empathy expert, Dr. Krowe. We can’t wait for this book to be available in January, but for now we wanted you to get as excited as we are about it.

The Guardian shares insights from readers about what death and grief means to them.

This article describes a recent stand-up set by comedian Patton Oswalt, who opened up about his grief over the sudden death of his wife with humor and honesty.