TIME psychology

Nine Hard-Won Lessons About Grief

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After journalist Jill Smolowe buried her husband, sister, mother and mother-in-law within the space of 17 months, she expected to fall apart. To her surprise — and relief — her grief bore no resemblance to the portrait of paralyzing despair depicted in American films, TV shows and memoirs. Here, she shares the coping strategies that helped her keep going:

1. Remain connected to your life. When a loved one passes away (or receives a dire diagnosis), your life undergoes a seismic shift. As your Old Normal totters, well-meaning friends and relatives reinforce your feeling of disconnect from your old life by assuming that the only topic you want to talk about is your worry and sorrow. Perhaps that’s true. But if you, as I did, find the concerned “How are you’s” more exhausting than comforting, direct the conversation toward more familiar terrain. “How do you read Putin’s moves in Ukraine?” “What is ‘conscious uncoupling,’ exactly?” Your heart may not be in it, but as the focus moves away from your distress, you may find your thoughts do, too. Even a few minutes respite can be replenishing.

2. Do not assume your sorrow will overwhelm you. Bereavement research of the last 20 years shows that a clear majority of mourners are quite resilient. They experience their grief as a constant oscillation between sadness and lighter moments. This helps them not only to endure their sadness, but also to experience pleasure even during the earliest days of loss. As for the five-stage cycle of grief so popular in our cultural script, it is a myth. Dismissed by bereavement researchers long ago, the cycle’s five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) were based on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s observations of the dying — not the people left behind.

3. Tune into what you actually feel and need. When I lost Joe, my beloved husband of 24 years, I assumed that collapse would follow. The way I envisioned it, one day soon I would get into bed, pull the sheet over my head and not get up. To my surprise — and relief — that day never arrived. Instead, I continued to function much as I normally do, albeit with emotions more intense than usual. Within two weeks of Joe’s death, it became clear to me that sitting home only added to the weight of his absence. So, I went back to work. I resumed walks with friends. I attended my daughter’s crew regattas. Though my sorrow accompanied me everywhere, the effort helped me to get out of my head and reconnect with the parts of my life that remained intact.

4. If you don’t want to, don’t. This piece of advice, offered by three widowed acquaintances on separate occasions, proved a keeper. Early on, I let it guide my responses to social invitations. I also let it inform my responses to inquiries, both sincere and casual, about how I was doing. If I didn’t feel like talking about my grief, I didn’t. As weeks, then months went by, I came to understand that, for me, grief was an intensely private experience. If I was going to cry (as I did daily for many months), I preferred to do it when I was alone. My feelings of loss were too personal and too impossible to explain. Talking about them did not help.

5. People are not mind readers; tell them what you need. Friends want to be supportive, but they will lean on their own (often untested) preconceptions about grief if you don’t speak up. For me, the commiserating hugs, worried looks and somber conversations got old, fast. I let friends know that what I needed most was for them to talk to me about their lives, their kids, their work. That response felt awkward, even ungracious, at times. But later several friends told me that by giving them clear guidance, I made it “easy” for them to help me. (Note to friends: helping a grieving person to focus on her strengths, rather than her sorrow, can be very therapeutic.)

6. For those who aim to lend support, watch for cues, listen carefully. Heartfelt though it may be, an offer of “If there is anything I can do …” is tantamount to offering nothing. (Trust me. A bereft person doesn’t want be saddled with the task of making you feel useful.) Instead, be attentive. If your concerned “Tell me how you are” meets with a brisk “Fine, how was your vacation?” that’s a signal to change the channel. If you notice a grieving neighbor’s trashcans are still curbside two days after the garbage pickup, ask if she wants them returned to her porch — or better yet, just do it. If your phone messages aren’t being returned, try email. Mourners appreciate your concern, but they may not be ready to deal with it on your schedule.

7. Express your love and appreciation. If there was any silver lining in Joe’s death, it was that we had time to prepare. While we didn’t anticipate that he would die, we knew from the day of his leukemia diagnosis that death was a possible outcome. Over the next two and half years, we constantly expressed not only our love, but also our appreciation for each other and for the life we’d built together. I’d always known that Joe loved me, but his acknowledgments of things I’d done for him and sacrifices I’d made on behalf of our marriage would later prove consoling. Those conversations also provided opportunity to address our unresolved issues. After Joe died, my grief was unencumbered by either unfinished business or regret that I’d left something important unsaid.

8. Gratitude is a potent antidote. As I worked on Joe’s eulogy, it occurred to me that too often such loving sentiments are reserved for memorial services. I wanted the people whose kindness had touched or steadied me during Joe’s long illness to know what I valued most about their support. Now. Before it was too late. So, I began writing thank-you letters that detailed what exactly it was about each person’s support that had lightened my load. Each time I unbottled my gratitude, it helped me to recognize the many reasons I had to go on without Joe.

9. Know your loved one’s final wishes. During a particularly gruesome hospitalization, Joe told me, “There are some things I want you to know, in case I die.” He specified the items he wanted me to save for our daughter, and told me to discard the rest. He told me he wanted to be cremated and wanted a memorial service. And he told me, “You should remarry.” Though numbing in the moment, his stated wishes proved a gift. Weeks later when he died and I was in the blur of new grief, I didn’t have to second-guess his burial preferences. His detachment about his possessions enabled me to sift and discard as I chose. And his generous statement about marriage enabled me to move on without guilt, knowing that he wanted me to build a new life.

Jill Smolowe is the author of the new memoir Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief.

TIME Drugs

Spring Breaker Fell to His Death After Eating Pot Cookies

The young man who fell to his death from the fourth floor of a hotel in Denver began speaking erratically and behaving violently shortly after eating the cannabis-infused cookies, the coroner's report finds

A young man who died when he fell off a balcony in Denver last month had eaten marijuana-laced cookies before the accident, according to the local coroner.

The coroner’s report on the accident found that the man, 19-year-old Levy Thamba, died because of the injuries he suffered from the fall from the fourth floor of a hotel, the Denver Post reports. The coroner listed the intoxication from the marijuana cookies he had eaten prior to the fall as a significant factor contributing to his death.

Thamba, a student visiting the city on spring break, began speaking erratically and behaving violently shortly after eating the cannabis-infused cookies.

“[His] friends attempted to calm him down and were temporarily successful,” the report states. “However, [he] eventually reportedly jumped out of bed, went outside the hotel room, and jumped over the balcony railing.”

Pot tourism is a growing business in Colorado ever since marijuana sales for recreational use became legal in the state this year. The coroner’s office said Thamba didn’t have a history of mental-health issues, the Post reports.

“We have no history of any other issues until he eats a marijuana cookie and becomes erratic and this happens,” corner spokeswoman Michelle Weiss-Samaras said. “It’s the one thing we have that’s significant.”

[The Denver Post]

TIME natural disaster

Washington Mudslide Death Toll Hits 29

Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso
Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso, Wash., April 2, 2014. Max Whittaker—Reuters

Authorities say at least 29 people died in the Snohomish County, Wash. mudslide nearly a week and a half ago, as rescue workers continue picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing

Updated April 2 at 11:20am ET

The number of confirmed deaths in the Washington state mudslide has increased to 29, officials said Wednesday.

Twenty-two of the bodies were identified as of Tuesday, up from 19 the day before. As the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office worked to identify the six other victims, rescue workers continued picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing.

The search has been made slightly easier as receding floodwaters have exposed more ground that can now be examined by the search crews, the Associated Press reports. Treacherous conditions and bad weather have complicated the search for human remains buried in the debris, which is contaminated by chemicals, fuel and human waste.

Both rescue workers and search dogs are being hosed down at decontamination stations after completing their tasks.

“We’ve already had a little bit of dysentery out here,” Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department told CBS News. “People are working in a septic tank of materials. We want them washed and decontaminated.”

The mudslide flattened more than two dozens homes when it hit the outskirts of the small town of Oso on March 22.

TIME Music

Legendary Chicago House DJ Frankie Knuckles Dies at 59

2009 Electric Zoo Festival - Day 2
Frankie Knuckles on Randall's Island on September 6, 2009 in New York City. The house DJ passed away on March 31, 2014. Wendell Teodoro -- WireImage

The pioneer of house music in Chicago passed away unexpectedly on Monday

Frankie Knuckles, known to many as the “godfather of house music” because he pioneered the electronic dance music in Chicago club culture during the 1970s and ’80s, died Monday at the age of 59.

Knuckles’ longtime business partner Frederick Dunson confirmed the DJ’s death to the Chicago Tribune in an email, saying simply that Knuckles had “died unexpectedly this afternoon at home.”

Originally from the Bronx, Knuckles honed his musical skills under the guidance of DJ Larry Levan, before moving to Chicago in the ’70s. The disco scene was fading and as the premiere DJ at The Warehouse, Knuckles pioneered house music by mixing extended soul and R&B records into dance tracks and adding drum machine loops. He would later go on to open his own club, the Power Plant, and work as a producer on house anthems such as “Tears” with Robert Owens. He also mixed records for performing superstars such as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Depeche Mode.

Though house music exploded in Europe, where Knuckles had scores of fans, the DJ was always proudest of Chicago’s music scene. “The people I meet all around the world look at Chicago and the house scene with a new romanticism,” he once told the Tribune. “They recognize more than ever that Chicago is the core of where it all began.”

[Chicago Tribune]

TIME Environment

WHO Report: Air Pollution Killed 7 Million People in 2012

People wearing masks are seen on a hazy day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing
People wearing masks are seen on a hazy day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing February 13, 2014. Kim Kyung Hoon—REUTERS

Heart disease, stroke brought on by air pollution led to about 80% of deaths

Air pollution killed 7 million people across the globe in 2012, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk, according to the World Health Organization.

Outdoor air pollution was linked to about 3.7 million deaths, with about 80 percent of those deaths the result of stroke and heart disease. The most air pollution-related deaths happened in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, per AFP. Meanwhile, the effects of indoor air pollution — caused by coal, wood, and open-air fires — killed an estimated 4.3 million people, NBC News reports.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” WHO’s Dr. Maria Neira said in a statement. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

For comparison’s sake, a 2008 WHO report estimated outdoor pollution led to about 1.3 million deaths, while about 1.9 million people were killed by indoor pollution. The jump in figures is due to a change in research methods, AFP reports.

[NBC News]


In Favor of Scandal‘s Big Death Being the First of Many

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in ABC's 'Scandal'
Olivia Pope: Untouchable. Eric McCandless—ABC

On a show where nothing ever truly changes, one character's death may usher in an era of new progress

The thing about Scandal and other shows of its ilk — you know, the ones where crazy, impossible things happen every single week, season after season — is that no matter what happens, you look back after a few years and nothing truly crucial has changed since the first few episodes. (Here’s looking at you too, Revenge.) Lovers get together, break up, reunite, then end up hating each other before finally reconciling — all within the course of a single season. Then they do it all over again the next year. Characters disappear, supposedly forever, only to return at the most (or least, depending on your point of view) opportune moment. This is the primetime soap modus operandi and the reason that shows cling to it so desperately is that, whatever its faults, it works.

Even if they won’t win any awards and aren’t widely considered “serious television,” shows like Scandal are, most weeks, highly enjoyable. Every now and again, they’ll throw us a bone and make a decision that can’t be reversed. That was the case last night when, following last week’s cliffhanger (naturally), the husband of the president’s chief of staff (played by Dan Bucatinsky) was assassinated by the head of top secret spy agency B-613. In the plainest terms, this was a surprise —though not a “shocking twist” or an event that will “change everything,” as the ABC promos would have you believe. Bucatinsky had appeared in just over half of the show’s 48 episodes and even won an Emmy as Best Guest Actor for his role last year. He wasn’t just a bit player on a show that has plenty of them.

On the other hand, this didn’t exactly do much to establish Scandal as the sort of show where “anything can happen.” Though an important character and well-liked by fans, Bucatinksy’s James Novak wasn’t exactly essential to the dynamics of the show. A far bolder choice would have been killing David Rosen (Joshua Malina), who also found himself at the wrong end of the assassin’s gun during last week’s cliffhanger. Problem is, Malina is a show regular who’s appeared in every episode and serves the useful function as the show’s lone character whose morals haven’t been completely compromised. For those reasons, Rosen lived — and Scandal retained its status as a show where anything can happen, so long as anything isn’t an irreversible change in circumstances for one of the main characters.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this — and it’s not even one of Scandal‘s biggest problems (those would be Quinn and the impossibly repetitive relationship between Olivia Pope and President Fitzgerald Grant), nor a new one. Fitz was shot with a high-power rifle by an assassin in Season 2, but was fully recovered just a few episodes later in time to murder a bedridden Supreme Court justice. Neither incident would be likely to crack the top five on a “Craziest Things That Have Happened on Scandal” list.

Knowing that, it’s encouraging that Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes was willing to kill off a significant character — something she previously showed a willingness to do on Grey’s Anatomy. Best case scenario, it’s a gateway killing of sorts — a sign that Scandal is starting to see that if the show wants to be as shocking as it claims in a way that actually matters, it needs to make no character (short of Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope) untouchable. Worst case scenario, James’ death was an isolated incident of uncharacteristic permanence for Scandal.

In either case, whatever Bucatinsky’s objections to James’ death, Scandal fans have something new to look forward to: change. How political.

TIME movies

VIDEO: Brittany Murphy’s Final Movie to be Released in Theaters, Years After Her Death

The film is the final addition to a long list of movies featuring the Clueless actress


Brittany Murphy’s last performance will finally hit the big screen — more than four years after her death in 2009.

The film, Something Wicked, is a psychological thriller in which Murphy plays a psychiatrist attempting to uncover sinister forces causing a newlywed couple’s relationship to deteriorate.

Producer Joe Colleran praised Murphy’s acting in a 2011 interview with USA Today, calling a moment in the film “one of the best scenes of her career.”

The movie will first be released in on April 4 in Eugene, Oregon — in honor of where it was filmed — and will then spread to various theaters in the following weeks.

TIME Music

Rolling Stones Cancel Show After L’Wren Scott’s Death

2011 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter - Arrivals
L'Wren Scott and Mick Jagger arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party hosted by Graydon Carter held at Sunset Tower on February 27, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. Mark Sullivan—WireImage/Getty Images

The rock group has canceled the first concert of its Australian tour after the unexpected death of L'Wren Scott, the fashion designer and long-term partner of Mick Jagger, who was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on Monday

The Rolling Stones have canceled the first concert of their Australian tour following the sudden death of Mick Jagger’s girlfriend L’Wren Scott.

Scott—a former model who reinvented herself as a sought-after stylist and critically acclaimed designer—was found dead in her New York apartment on Monday, in an apparent suicide. The same day, Mick Jagger, her partner of 13 years, landed in Perth with his band to kick off a tour of Australia and New Zealand. The group’s first concert, scheduled for Wednesday, was canceled after Jagger learned about Scott’s death. Jagger posted a note on his Facebook page Tuesday saying he was “struggling to understand” his partner’s death.

The Stones are scheduled to play five more concerts in Australia, but it’s not clear what will happen for the rest of the tour’s scheduled dates. According to The Guardian, organizers released a statement that simply said, “No further information is available at this time and ticket holders are asked to hold on to their tickets until a further update.”


TIME fashion

A Look Back at L’Wren Scott’s Relationship With Mick Jagger

The famous designer who dressed Michelle Obama was found dead in her New York home Monday from an apparent suicide

MORE: L’Wren Scott Found Dead In Apparent Suicide

TIME Syria

Report: More Than 146,000 People Killed in Syrian Civil War

Syrians look at the destruction following an airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 5, 2014.
Syrians look at the destruction following an airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 5, 2014. Baraa Al-Halabi—AFP/Getty Images

The latest figure from the U.K.-based anti-government group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, helps quantify the massive toll of Syria's three-year civil war, with about half of those reported deaths consisting of civilians

More than 146,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year civil war, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.

The report from the Observatory, an anti-government group that tracks violence across Syria, offers an updated death toll since the United Nations said in July that at least 100,000 people had been killed.

The UN said in January that it would stop updating the figure, and it is impossible to verify the Observatory’s figure, collected from a network of sources in Syria.

Roughly half of the 146,065 deaths were civilians, including 7,796 children.

UNICEF said in a report this month that 1.2 million children have fled the country and 5.5 million Syrian children in and outside the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.

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