EOLU Blog

Finding Meaning in a Broken Life

Focus on the goodness of life rather than the regrets to find healing.

Jody was just 36 years old when she found out her colon cancer was incurable. I came to her apartment for our first hospice visit and saw that she was depressed and despondent over her diagnosis—as I had expected for someone her age who was raising two children by herself. She told me story after story of all the regrets she was carrying. And I just listened.

Her life had been unimaginably difficult—in foster care for most of her childhood then finally adopted at age 12 by a wonderful couple who loved her dearly. But she had been so filled with rage she couldn’t receive their love. She experimented with drugs and alcohol and was in and out of juvenile detention for petty crimes throughout her teens. There had been other even deeper regrets, but she didn’t want to talk about them. 

Jody was angry and bitter, but also ashamed. She believed she had wasted her life and now her children would grow up without a mother. She asked if there was any way to speed up her dying process because she could no longer face all of the emotional pain that was coming to the surface. 

We talked about things she could do to help with grief for her children, like writing letters to them that they could open at various milestones throughout their lives. She liked the idea that she could make sure her children didn’t feel unwanted, which she had experienced for most of her life.

I wasn’t sure how we could help Jody heal from all of these regrets. There were so many broken threads in her life and so many pieces to help her put back together. But then a little miracle happened. On my next visit with Jody she was like a different person: joyful and filled with energy and laughter. And she had more stories to tell me. 

Jody’s adoptive sister had come for a weekend visit and had brought with her boxes of old photos and a scrapbook. The two of them spent hours each day going through the photos together and gluing them into the album as a keepsake for Jody’s children. They wrote little stories on the pages to explain the pictures, which were arranged in a chronological timeline of Jody’s life.

She showed me each of the pages and told me entirely different stories than I had heard on my previous visit. Here was a family trip to the beach when she was 16. There was her favorite Halloween costume. And look: she was all dressed up for senior prom. Then there were pages and pages of pictures of her with her children: playing games, reading books, opening Christmas gifts, laughing, hugging, eating—all the little moments of life.

Jody wiped a tear away and smiled at me with a radiance I hadn’t seen before. “I’ve had a good life,” she said. “And I’ve been a good mom.” 

Here in her hands were the photos that documented all of the goodness of her life. In comparison to the magnificence of these moments, her regrets had faded away. She found meaning in the memories captured in these photos and was able to weave the broken threads of her life into a beautiful tapestry that was uniquely hers. 

Jody died just two weeks later. But she had been able to go through the album with her children and tell them all the stories that were depicted there. And she managed to write each of them letters that they could open when they were older. They would know they were loved and that their lives mattered and that an angel would be watching over them for all of their days. 

For most of us—like Jody—life hands us a mixture of sorrows and joys. We can view it all through the lens of regret and wish that things had been different. But we can also find ways to pick up the broken pieces and put them together to create a work of art–the likes of which has never before been seen–that might just change the world.

EOLPodcast

Ep. 331 Looking Ahead to 2022

Learn how the innovations of the past year are going to create more positive change in 2022!

In this final episode of 2021 I’ll share with you some of the innovations of 2021 that are going to be driving further change in the coming year. I’ll remind you of some of the conversations from this past year that provide potential solutions to the issues we are currently facing around end-of-life care. And we’ll recognize that amidst all the pain and sorrow of this pandemic year there has been much to be grateful and joyful about! (This episode is overflowing with information so keep a pen and paper handy to make note of interviews you may want to hear!)

Listen here:

This episode includes:

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patrons Teri A. Portugal Gooden and Cari Zlotnick; and thank you Brittany Ellis for increasing your monthly pledge! Your contributions make all the difference.

EOLPodcast

Ep. 308 Map of Memory Lane: A Grief Book for Children with Francesca Arnoldy

Learn about a new book for children that gently introduces the idea of loss and cherishing our memories.

My guest Francesca Lynn Arnoldy is a community doula and educator who developed the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine’s End-of-LIfe Doula training programs. She is also a bereavement researcher with the Vermont Conversation Lab, and leads workshops about doula approaches and end-of-life wishes. She is the author of Cultivating the Doula Heart: Essentials of Compassionate Care as well as the forthcoming picture book Map of Memory Lane. She discusses the importance of resources for educating children about death and grief from an early age. Learn more about her doula work and her book at these websites:

www.contemplativedoula.com

www.francescalynnarnoldy.com

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • Why Francesca was inspired to write a book about grief for children
  • How children grieve differently from adults
  • Why we need to teach children from a young age about the cycle of life and death and how to approach grief
  • How Francesca handled grief with her own children when their dog died
  • Many adults today are still dealing with issues of unresolved grief from childhood
  • Why we need “healthy preparedness” for the end of life at all ages – the education should begin in childhood
  • How the book is a valuable teaching tool for parents/grandparents/teachers/doulas to use with children
  • Why simple and clear information is preferable for children
  • The importance of grief legacy work and how doulas can help families with this process
  • How Francesca is using crowdfunding through Kickstarter to get the book into print

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes! Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my newest supporters Michael F. Potvin and Jeremy E. Damec! Your contributions make all the difference!

EOLPodcast, Grief

Ep. 252 Trauma, Grief and Resilience for Children in 2020 with Linda Goldman

Learn tips and resources for helping children deal with grief during this unique time in history.

My guest Linda Goldman is a grief therapist, counselor and teacher who does trainings on children’s grief and trauma and working with LGBT youth. She shares insights and resources for helping children who are dealing with grief and trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent protests and riots over police brutality. Linda was a frequent consultant and thought leader for programs responding to the impact of 9/11 on children and sees this current unprecedented time in our history as an opportunity for post-traumatic growth for both children and adults. Learn more about her work at her website:

www.grievingchildren.net

Download FREE ebook for children (includes memory workbook):

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How current experiences with COVID-19 and racial unrest can be opportunities for teaching children about healthy behaviors, compassion and kindness
  • The positive and negative aspects of media and internet for children at this time
  • The physical, mental and emotional consequences of repressed grief
  • How children grieve differently than adults and what they need from adults to cope with grief:
    • Honor feelings
    • Provide a safe haven
    • Mentorship
  • Resources for helping children with grief:
    • Play as a form of emotional expression
    • Books to read together
    • Sesame Street videos
    • Memory book or journal
    • Letter writing
    • List top 5 worries
    • “Linking objects” to maintain sense of connection with loved one
    • Support group
  • Attributes of a resilient child:
    • Proactive behavior
    • Creativity
    • Empathy
    • Communication skills
    • Optimism
    • Perseverance
    • Gratefulness

Links mentioned in this episode:

  • Get Linda’s book hereLife and Loss: A Guide to Help Grieving Children
  • View Linda’s other books here
  • Download FREE children’s book here: Children Also Grieve
  • Sesame Street videos
  • Love Over Fear Story Page
  • Join the team at Patreon.com/eolu and get access to the EOLU mug“Mind if we talk about death?” (only Patrons can purchase it). PLUS get our new bonuses: the monthly EOL News Update, movie reviews from 2 Doctors and a Movie, and automatic access to A Year of Reading Dangerously!

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes! Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference!

End of Life, EOLPodcast, Grief

Ep. 224 How to Help Children With Grief and Talk to Them About Death with Joe Primo

Learn why we need to do a better job recognizing and helping with the experience of grief for our children.

My guest Joe Primo is the CEO of Good Grief, an education and advocacy organization for grieving children. He is the author of the book What Do We Tell the Children: Talking to Kids About Death and Dying and in this interview discusses how the way we talk to children about death can shape their experience of grief throughout their lives. His insights are especially helpful as we approach the holiday season where grief tends to rise to the surface for all of us. Learn more about his work at this website:

www.good-grief.org

Get the book here.

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • What we are getting wrong in our approach to grief with children
  • How grief can be good
  • How addressing grief openly can help us address other issues in our society
  • Teaching moments for talking about death with children
  • Why cliches and euphemisms about death are not helpful
  • Why teachers and other support people need to be educated about childhood grief
  • Why grief should be revisited with children as they grow and develop over the years
  • Tips for parents to teach children about death
  • Hospice workers and medical personnel should educate themselves about talking to children about death
  • Why attending a funeral can help establish continuing bonds

If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.

Joseph Primo – Good-Grief.org

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes! Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my newest Patrons: Sherrill Shimek, Linda Read, Elisabeth Cascada Rogolsky, Hilary Walker, and Joanna Brown; your contributions make all the difference!