“Grief Recovery for Teens – letting go of painful emotions with body- based practices” by Coral Popowitz, MSW

What do you say to a teenager after they experience the death of a family member or friend? There are a lot of things one can say, but for teens, talking about grief is one thing, but demonstrating how to MOVE through it can be far more effective. That’s what sold me on this month’s book “Grief Recovery for Teens – letting go of painful emotions with body- based practices” by Coral Popowitz, MSW. All  the exercises in this book can be real game changers in helping youth (and adults, too, I believe!) move through the pain of loss and grief. 

The book begins with a very digestible understanding of neuroscience as it relates to grief, then moves into the ways our bodies hold and carry pain. Chapters carefully break down how pain can manifest in the body, be it anxiety, depression, numbness, denial, stomach aches, etc. It presents creative exercises to address the pain and stress. Chapter titles such as “Your Grieving Brain, Your Angry Body, Your Lonely Body”… and ending with “Your Healing Body” explore the reactive modes experienced in the face of death and grief. It features detailed accounts of three teenagers’ loss of a family member or friend. The detailed focus on just three stories really helps the reader better understand how grief manifests in so many ways. That focus was a wise decision on the author’s part, so the reader learns each teens’ story in the context of the chapter themes.

After having taught for many years in school and library programs, I think this book could be a great resource in many types of curricula. Obviously, it would be a great resource for bereavement camp counselors,too. The appendix is full of more great questions and resources for further exploration. For many reasons, I think this book should be on the reading lists for all teenagers and older students. I wish my sons had this book as teenagers, since they lost friends to drugs, murder and accidents. I have since recommended it, because it’s never too late to begin healing from any loss. This book is definitely on my top favorites list. Check it out at your local Lake County Library, or buy yourself a copy. 

 

Until the book ends,

Esther Suarez 

Hospice of Lake County Volunteer

Finding Peace at the End of Life- A Death Doula’s Guide for Families and Caregivers by Henry Fersko-Weiss

Hallelujah! When I think back on books I have read, a phrase, question or just a word often comes to mind. For this month’s book, “Finding Peace at the End of Life- A Death Doula’s Guide for Families and Caregivers by Henry Fersko-Weiss, that word was enough. I’ll explain at the end.

Even though “death doula” practices have been around for centuries, the term didn’t become a job title until 2015 when INELDA- The International End of Life Doula Association was founded by Henry Fersko-Weiss. Now in its 9th year of development, the term is still little known or is misunderstood even amongst people who work in hospice and palliative care. Thankfully, this book is the perfect crash course into all that death doulas can offer families and patients with a terminal illness.  

Topics include:  finding meaning by creating legacy projects, planning where and how a patient wants to die, honoring the sacred nature of dying via rituals, guided imagery, vigiling during active dying, coordinating after-death care services, and “reprocessing” (reviewing the whole experience with a death doula weeks after death). These are primary services a certified death doula can provide, along with essential skills such as reflecting, patience, planning and active listening. Naturally, they require humility and patience to “master.” The book is also full of patient and family engagement stories, an excellent reflections chapter, and a valuable resources appendix. Read this book and deeply comprehend the dying process, and how engaging a death doula can help make dying surprisingly peaceful.

I was touched that “Hallelujah” – the song by Leonard Cohen – was the one a death doula felt moved to sing to her dying patient, only to discover it was the very song played at his wedding ceremony! It triggered my memory of asking the wife of a dying hospice patient if she would like me to play one of their favorite songs. It, too, was their beloved wedding song. The sharing of that memory and witnessing their love is a gift I treasure, as I do this book. Hallelujah!

This book can be found at your local Lake County Library. Also, check out the INELDA Death Doula Training website https://inelda.org/ . There are also death doulas working in Lake County! Search your local area via the internet for more information.

Until the book ends

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

Words at the Threshold – What We Say As We’re Nearing Death

by Lisa Smartt

“Come closer, watch me disappear.” Can you guess who said these final words? As a hospice volunteer, one of the many gifts I have received from the dying are their final words. Hence my immediate attraction to the book “Words at the Threshold- What We Say As We’re Nearing Death” by Lisa Smartt. Though many books address end of life communication, this is the first I have seen by a linguist. What can a linguist’s skills add to this topic? You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn how linguistics illuminates the language nuances in what may seem to be unintelligible speech.

Sitting with the dying can leave one wondering, “Who and what are they talking about? Are they seeing things invisible to me? Why can’t I understand them?” Smartt’s analysis of speech patterns, such as babbling, situational nonsense, non-referential language and more, helps to explain and expand our understanding of language. After documenting hundreds of “words at the threshold” cases, she asks if final words are expressing “Nonsense or new sense?” The book makes a convincing case that speech patterns of the dying can transcend time and space. It can also put to rest attempts to dismiss or correct their “unintelligible” communications. It is full of examples of the dying offering us their wisdom, love and forgiveness, clues to and visions of the afterlife, up to their last breath–and even beyond! 
As for “…watch me disappear” ….  aren’t those the perfect last words of a MAGICIAN?! To get the full story on that and other soul-nourishing final words, check out this book at your local Lake County library, or treat yourself to a purchase. It’s a treasure of a book! Also see her website: www.finalwordsproject.org, which includes an invitation for final words submissions. 
Until the book ends,
Esther Suarez
Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

Modern Loss:  Candid Conversations About Grief, Beginners Welcome by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

My dad wrote WHAT for publication? Sharing our grief can lead to some of the most unpredictable conversations. Why? Because death, for the living, has the power to transport us to the essence of authenticity. Of course, witnessing a person’s authentic experience can be hard. That’s why “Modern Loss: candid conversation about grief. Beginners welcome.” by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner is greatly needed. The modern world welcomes authentic sharing, and this book exemplifies being “candid.” Both the main authors and the contributing writers illustrate traditional grief themes in new ways, while some themes often thought “taboo” are given a fresh perspective. Some of the themes would resonate with any person who has experienced intimate loss, and likely elicit, “I know what that’s like!” Section titles such as “Triggers, Intimacy 1-1+1=?, Journeys, and Secrets” introduce themes not always primary in discussions on grief. In addition, masterfully illustrated comic strips titled “Things to Know Before Scattering Ashes, Survivor Gilt, There’s No Will, What The Bleep Do I Do Now?, and A Brief Guide to Griefspeak” gift us a mini-course on after-death topics. 

Having met in a grief support group, the main authors felt destined to co-create this exceptional book on grief for people of almost any age. This book of 355 pages can seem daunting at first, but trust me you’ll whip through it in a jiffy! The book’s format, with less print per page and large page numbers, helps make it an easy read. They also launched an online publication platform where anyone can submit their story on grief for possible publication (mine is in the works!) The website includes great blog posts and resources on “types of loss, hot topics and advice.” See www.modernloss.com 
Being a natural prude, just a few of the stories heard me saying “Oh my!” or I laughed out loud. Dave Isay’s comment, from the back cover, rings true: “Modern Loss is book about grieving and death that shimmers with life…..  [It] is full of surprises and definitely not your mother’s death and dying book.” However, if your mind is open and you welcome diverse stories about death and grief, you’ll love this book. I loved it as a beautiful reminder of our common humanity. To learn the answer to the question beginning this review, be sure to read the section titled “Inheritance,” and prepare to be amused. Find the book at your local Lake County Library and/or purchase it online. 
Until the book ends,
Esther Suarez 
Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

For You When I Am Gone by Steve Leder

After we die, what we leave (besides stuff!) for others matters A LOT. Since ancient times humans have been writing what is now called “ethical wills.” These wills are an expression of the sacred tradition of passing on personal life stories. Ethical Wills (akin to Legacy Letters) is a testament of life reflections meant to pass on a worthy legacy, because all of our stories matter. In the book “For You When I Am Gone: Twelve Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story,” Rabbi Steve Leder illuminates major life themes. His insightful questions inspire deep reflection. Having helped thousands of people write ethical wills, Rabbi Leder is a master at guiding us in honoring our own personal story. Three of my favorite questions he explores in depth: “How Do You Want to Be Remembered?, Have You Ever Cut Someone Out of Your Life?, What is Good Advice?” Chapters begin with the rabbi’s insights, followed by responses from a broad range of people he interviewed. To conclude, he shares a truly beautiful and heartwarming ethical will addressed to his own family.

 When my mother died at 88, one of my hardest moments of grief was placing her picture in my family altar. Full of tears, I found myself repeating, “That’s it…we all just become pictures.” Thankfully, my mother wanted more than to only be remembered from a picture. Years before her death, she wrote an entire book of her healing journey– her version of an ethical will. Her words are always there to gift me peace and inspiration. While not the writer my mother was, with the help of Rabbi Leder’s book, I have full confidence I can create an ethical will. I am happy I will be leaving words of comfort and possible direction for my family when I die. Most of us know the importance of timely completion of advance care health directives, wills, living trusts, etc.  After having read this book, I strongly believe Ethical Wills should also be added to that list. Our lives are precious and our stories should be cherished. 

 Check out this wonderful guide book at your local Lake County Library, or purchase via bookstore or internet. Also, check out Rabbi Leder’s website for my information and other books he’s written. https://www.steveleder.com

 Until the book ends,

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

A Beginner’s Guide To The End: Practical Advice For Living Life And Facing Death” by BJ Miller, MD and Shoshana Berger

Among the many books on end of life planning, this book rates as one of my top favorites, mainly because the advice it gives is so comprehensive and practical. Reading this guidebook is akin to listening to your most trusted friend lay out an action plan to navigate all the ways to control our most complicated (and sometimes easiest) things to forget when making end of life plans. Included is valuable information on: completing advance care directives, navigating health care, decluttering, how to talk to family about your approaching death, and survivor after-death tasks such as closing social media accounts, and so much more. This book is not only for the dying, but also for caregivers, family members, and anyone that is simply interested in this ‘life and death’ subject.

“Our ultimate purpose here isn’t so much to help you die as it is to free up as much life as possible until you do.” 

Dr. Miller’s quote points out the importance that having the freedom to live as you wish until your dying day can be achieved when action plans are put into place. This guidebook should be in every home, hospital resource center, senior center and the like. You don’t have to read this book cover to cover. Simply review the table of contents and begin with any chapter that resonates to you. There are pearls of wisdom found throughout the book and I loved it. Check your local library or purchase as a print, audio or e-book. Also check out Dr. BJ Miller’s website for more great resources here: 

https://www.thecenterfordyingandliving.org

Until the book ends, –

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for the Living from Stories of the Dying” by Dr. Karen Wyatt. This book shares many heartfelt stories from her dying patients and their family members. Inspired from these stories, Dr. Wyatt has structured the book as a life guidebook. The “lessons” she shares include: suffering, forgiveness, fear, love, and more. These provide us a foundation to reflect, revisit and possibly reframe how we choose to think about “What Really Matters” to each of us.

I love this book because she synthesizes so many of the gifts dying patients have also shared with me. Dying really can illuminate the quality of our lives, as this book beautifully shows. Check your local library or purchase as a print, audio or e-book; I think you too will love it.  You may also enjoy Dr. Karen Wyatts website, eoluniversity.com EOL stands for end of life. There you will also find a free “What Really Matters” workbook that can serve as a great companion to her book.

Until the book ends,

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer 

Sitting bedside with over a thousand patients, hospice doctor Christopher Kerr could not help but notice how pre-death dreams and visions are an integral part of the end of life experience. Expanding his medically trained mind, Dr. Kerr took a decade-long dive into the significance of end of life dreams and visions. His research shows that dreams and visions very often provide the dying an unquestionable sense of love, peace and forgiveness. Even for patients whose trauma seemed unforgivable, after working through the stages of anger and grief, dreams eventually provided peace and freedom for them to die on their own terms.

 The book shares fascinating stories of dying patients, from the very young, to grandparents, developmentally disabled, former felons, and more. The common theme of meeting deceased loved ones (including pets) isn’t about proving if there is life after death, but does demonstrate that pre-death dreams happen very frequently, and give great peace to the dying. Grieving family and friends of the deceased also find great comfort in knowing that their loved ones felt transcendent peace as they died. Dr. Kerr says this, “The dying most often embark on a hopeful journey in which they are embraced one more time by those who once gave their lives meaning, while those who hurt them drift away. Death is also a form of final justice, one in which the scales are balanced by love and forgiveness.” 

 Whether the reader has explored the dream world deeply or not, they should find in this book a deeper insight into the meaning of pre-death dreams, and what we can all learn from them. Being a lifelong dreamer myself, I intimately understand how dreams can prepare me for what comes next. Dreams can teach us a great deal about love and forgiveness, certainly two of life’s most challenging lessons.

 Find this book at your local library or purchase it as print, e-book or audio book. Also, Dr. Kerr’s website https://www.drchristopherkerr.com is a fantastic in-depth resource. It includes links about the movie (of the same title) he made, based on the book. 

Until the book ends

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

“Grief changes the rules of the game, rules that you thought you knew and had been using until this point.” 

According to the author, “rules” related to grief are about being open to new experiences, because grief is essentially about learning something new that you never fathomed you would be trying to learn, or even desired to learn. 

In this trailblazing scientific journey into exactly how the brain processes grief, neuroscientist and psychologist Mary-Frances O’Conner, PhD, invites the reader to look at grief from the perspective of how the brain is designed for learning even in the face of painful loss. The wiring of neural pathways to develop attachment/love becomes neurologically ingrained over time. When someone experiences loss, a rewiring process slowly begins. Understanding the neurology of loss can be very helpful in feeling that one is not going crazy when waves of intense grief come on. The brain processes loss in the virtual map where a loved one resided. This challenges the brain to adapt to the new time and space that the loved used to inhabit. Among numerous documented studies of what the brain does to process grief, O’Conner explains acute and/or complicated grief disorder, what resilience and restoration is in reference to grief, and many more fascinating studies and insights on the topic. I found this book to be a great indirect “therapy session” with this wise psychologist.

I recommend anyone who is currently experiencing grief to read “The Grieving Brain,” because learning the deep lessons of grief helps us re-integrate and heal the mind/body connection. Grief is real and stressful. Learning to understand it and restore oneself is well worth the challenge. For more information on Dr. O’Conners work, see her website https://maryfrancesoconnor.org/about and her TedTalk “How do our brains handle grief?” She also gives interviews on Youtube. Check out her book through the Lake County Library system, or purchase your own copy. 

Until the book ends,
Esther Suarez
Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

Like many, a love of learning motivates me to read. Some books also provide a pleasant surprise. Such was the case with “The ABC’s of Grief: Reclaiming Life After Loss” by Loretta McCarthy. In the Forward section, I discovered that the author was a volunteer for Lake County Hospice! A book by a fellow hospice volunteer was just what I have been wanting to find! Feeling inspired, I read the book in one sitting. Of the many books on grief, I often wonder which might be the most helpful to offer one experiencing deep grief? At 92 pages, this book feels more like a pamphlet to offer, so less likely to seem a burden. The title “ABC’s…” doesn’t mean there is a  corresponding chapter for every letter. Rather, this comprehensive book illustrates a universal language for all the thoughts and feelings a grieving person can experience. Chapter titles such as: “Earthquake, Yelling, Zone Zero, Harvest” lead one into new perspectives on how grief manifests and how to recalibrate life after loss. Folded into the beginning of each chapter are the author’s personal experiences with grief, which makes the book all the more compelling. It is comforting for a grieving person to feel deeply understood by someone who has also experienced intimate loss. In this way, sharing pain together can open a portal to a renewed sense of self within a supportive community. The book also provides “Simple Tributes and Meditations” that can help the bereaved find a more peaceful path forward. While on the last page of the book, a hummingbird visited me (a rare event), which helped confirm to me this book is something special. I highly recommend offering Loretta McCarthy’s book to anyone that needs a little book on their night stand, to slowly read, and breathe, as grief ebbs, and flows…

 Find this book in the Lake County Library system, or purchase at your preferred book outlets and online. 

 Until the book ends, 

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer

I try not to judge a book by its title, since many titles are similar, especially those on death. Beyond the title, I make sure to study the table of contents. What piqued my interest about “Last Acts of Kindness-Lessons For The Living From The Bedside of the Dying,” by RN and death doula Judith Redwing Keyssar, was how the table of contents is organized into four main parts. The first three are stories of people who died in hospital settings, residential care facilities, and at home; the last is, planning for the inevitable. All of which had my curiosity turned up.

 A key lesson from the book for me, is the importance of advocating for myself and family members, regardless of where death takes place, and to always stay humble, curious and flexible in the process. Dying in a hospital, a residential care facility or at home can, naturally, be difficult, yet also quite beautiful. How the care team, patients, and their families accept the dying process is crucial to a peaceful closure. Even though home deaths can be ideal, I found comfort in the stories about peaceful hospital deaths where nurses, like the author, understand the medical and emotional needs of the dying. Also, reading about heart-felt friendships that developed between perfect strangers, dying in residential care facilities, illuminated the beauty of how love can be shared anywhere, anytime.

Throughout this book, “Redwing” demonstrates death midwifery at its best. The importance of having cultural competency, and listening from a place of humility and authenticity are masterfully illustrated. Quotes I enjoyed: “The importance of listening cannot be overstated. Spending time getting to know a dying patient’s cultural history and beliefs is as important as understanding their medical history.” “We must encourage the understanding that the last breaths are as holy as the first ones and it’s an honor to witness them, not a curse.” “It is time to reflect on the depth of creation and the profound meaning of impermanence.” 

A meditation on impermanence was certainly my experience reading this book. To fully live is to fully accept impermanence. 

Being in two end-of-life book clubs, I am impressed when I find a book that is truly book club worthy. This book is a great choice, not only because of the author’s wisdom and insights, but also because of the wonderful “List of Questions,” and “Ideas to Consider” found at the beginnings of Part One and Two. You’ll find yourself saying “Oh, that’s a good idea, I hadn’t thought of that!” The glossary of terms and websites listed at the end is a great resource, too. You can find this book in the Lake County Library system, or purchase it in stores or online. Check out the author’s website https://redwingkeyssar.com for more wonderful resources. 

 Until the book ends,

Esther Suarez

Hospice Services of Lake County Volunteer