Pandemic Traumatic Grief

To a certain degree there is trauma in every loss, whether it is the unexpectedness of it, the suffering of it, the impact of it, the violence of it or the massiveness of it. Every loss has an element of trauma to it.

It is the magnitude of the event that makes it traumatic.

As a three year old, I woke in the middle of the night due to a loud noise and ran into my parent’s room for solace. Instead, I found my father lying tangled in the bedsheets on the floor. I didn’t understand what I was seeing. To me he was sleeping on the floor, so I tried my three year old best to wake him up. Shaking him and calling his name and telling him to wake up. When that didn’t work, I ran into my grandmother’s room, woke her up and told her ‘something’s wrong with Daddy’.

Traumatic grief.

What made it worst is that no one ever talked with me about it. I didn’t speak for three days and did not say the words ‘good bye’ again, that I remember. I suppose their thought was that I was three and was too young to remember. Yet, at fifty-five I still remember it as clearly today as I did that night.

Traumatic grief.

The common experience of devastating natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, earth quakes and tsunamis is that what was absolutely known one moment is absolutely gone in the next. The landscape of our lives, our homes and our city skylines are completely destroyed and eliminated – physically and emotionally.

Traumatic grief.

September 11, 2001 when the first plane struck the twin towers in New York City, New York, USA, there was grief…”How could this awful accident happen?” Before we could even process that grief, the second plane hit and the question turned to a statement, “This was on purpose.” As the following two planes were identified as part of the plan, the new revelation brought more grief.

Traumatic grief.

With the realization that there would be more recovery than rescue, our trauma compounded. With the information that insurance companies did not cover ‘terrorist attacks’, our trauma compounded. With each last voicemail messages shared, our trauma compounded.

Traumatic grief.

Today a biological siege is upon us.

We are at the mercy of an enemy we cannot see, but who’s damage is leaving bodies in bags and crushing spirits. We panic at the subtlest of symptoms because information is nebulous at best, ever changing at worst. The emotional, mental, financial and social landscape of our lives has changed almost overnight.

Unlike weather related natural disasters we have no visual evidence of destruction available on the news to help us move from the initial denial stage of grief. While in denial, we can’t possibly make the right decisions to ‘stay safe, stay home’, because we are still reaching back for the life that so swiftly disappeared. It is almost as if we see the old life before us and we struggle to realize we are looking at a memory.

Others who are not in denial, those who are in an anger stage, see these choices as irresponsible and stupid. They will blame those in denial for the ongoing worsening of the situation. The anger stage causes increased bullying, trolling and arguing. This compounds trauma.

We find ourselves bargaining ‘too little, too late’ into our new reality. We stay home from work, but make needless trips out into the community. We stop hugging and shaking hands, but hold parties in the park. Still in the throws of denial we attempt to create a reality that is less dissimilar from our ‘before’ reality, than what currently is. This often looks to others like we just refuse to follow the rules. And it might be true, but this is grief and everyone follows grief in their own way, in their own time. You can’t mandate people to move through grief faster than they can.

As the new reality is absorbed and the magnitude of the trauma is processed, depression sets in. Add in the social distancing and isolation requirements of quarantine with stay at home mandates, the traumatic depression is compounded.

Our normal remedies for such things are not available with social distancing, isolation and quarantine in place. So the damage/danger rises. The trauma compounds.

In addition, we have the financial upheaval this creates individually, locally and globally. The trauma compounds.

Our healthcare professionals are being asked to perform super humanly. They are not staying at home, staying safe, because they can’t. We need them on the front lines and they have stepped up. They sacrifice their needs for the needs of the whole which is more than the system does for them.

When this is over these heroes, who gave their all, will not have the opportunity to recuperate, because healthcare needs are always present. There won’t be the opportunity to sit on the couch watching netflix or play board games with their children. In fact, many will develop PTSD. The trauma compounds.

What does acceptance look like in a scenario like this?

It looks like neighbors having dance parties in driveways, virtual celebrations of life for loved ones, individuals making hundreds of respirator masks for healthcare professionals, teachers teaching online, neighbors checking in on neighbors. It looks like people moving from busy to being. It looks like calm within the chaos.

It looks like creating a new reality that holds more reverence for life and relationships. It looks like a society that takes care of the whole not the few. It looks like healers stepping forth as a new kind of hero.

It also brings with it a new acceptance of our mortality, the need to plan for it and discuss it more openly. Our death, while we do not need to hasten it, we cannot deny its inevitability. The discussions about advanced care decisions and end of life ceremony and disposition preferences have been taboo for far too long. Now, we are faced with what the end of life community has begged you to understand.

Not only is the date of our death unknown, unimaginable and unpredictable, but so too are the circumstances of our death. We may or may not have forewarning, and any forewarning will likely be only weeks, days or mere hours in advance. And if you are not listening close enough you may not even hear the forewarning when issued.

Every day has a birth and a death written in it’s sunrise and sunset. Every day you too carry your birth and death with every inhale and exhale. It is a luxury to think your next breath is a given. It is a luxury to think your tomorrow is a given.

This is part of what compounds our traumatic grief during this time. Because left and right we are now forced to face mortality as the death toll is announced. The truth is though that we are a society almost desensitized in our traumatic grief. Soaring murder rates, increased poverty, mass shootings, terrorism, war and violence against women and people of color has all contributed to our collective trauma. So, once again, our trauma is compounded.

Our experience with death is changed right now. We don’t even have the basic right to have someone at our hospital bedside, much less the choice to have a funeral or memorial with all loved ones in attendance.

This is not the time necessarily for discussing whether or not you’d prefer lavender or peppermint essential oil diffused in your bedroom in your last days. It is, however, the perfect time to seriously discuss where your quality of life line lies. What aggressive measures you would or would not want taken should it come to that.

It is the time to make sure your legal documents are in order, your passwords are accessible to a trusted person and someone knows something about your wishes regarding your final resting place.

It is also the time to do some emotional estate planning. Write letters to loved ones to be read at a later date, at your celebration of life service, or by a loved one at a wedding or milestone birthday. Create photo albums, scrap books or slideshows. Document who is who on the backs of every photo. Allocate special items to special loved ones. Secure arrangements for the care of your beloved pets upon your death. Make a collection of poems, bible passages or other writings that bring you comfort.

Just doing these things will empower you, helping to move you through your traumatic grief and nurture acceptance.

The world as we knew it is over, that’s true; that in and of itself is a traumatic loss. Within us lies the capability to create a new world, though.

Let’s make sure we create a better one. #traumatotranscendent

Employee End of Life Benefits

In my 30 year career I have worked several places and not one employer had what I call sufficient support for those who were bereaved. Not even the hospices.

Three days of paid leave and maybe some flowers. That’s usually the sum total of support an employer lends to an employee after they experience the death of a loved one. There is of course, FMLA but that just protects your job to some extent, it is not truly support. It’s also mandated by law. Sometimes, individual employers will extend additional emotional support by offering some workplace flexibility when an employee is taking care of an aging or ill loved one, but it isn’t status quo across the board.

Our aging boomers have caregiving children in the work force. Many have to give up their jobs in order to take care of their parent. While employers are not required to do more, I think they could.

I am exploring a new benefit and am looking for emplyers who would be adventurous and caring enough to join me in providing a non-traditional benefit to their employees.

End of Life Specialist Benefits

In addition to the traditional three day paid bereavement leave and flowers, I suggest employers consider end of life specialist services in addition to traditional EAP. As an end of life specialist I provide services including but not limited to:

  • advanced directive planning
  • emotional estate planning
  • bedside support
  • healing bedside rituals
  • education on the end of life process
  • assistance and emotional support navigating the medical community
  • facilitate support groups
  • bereavement support follow along
  • support for anticipatory grief
  • grief counseling
  • legacy projects
  • facilitate educational and interactive seminars
  • mediate/facilitate difficult family conversations
  • provide grief support to co-workers after a employee death

A one year contract specifically designed for your company and your employees can include all or some of these services. In an age where the topic of death is taboo and the event often spirited away behind the walls of medical institutions there is a new age dawning. I am part of that new age, providing support when it matters most. I have a lifetime career of experience that has proven time and time again to benefit in the simplest ways resulting in profound shifts regards coping and healing related to the end of life stage.

As a business owner you must realize the impact that illness, dying and death have on your caregiving and bereaved employees. You must also realize that this impacts the quality of work they can provide you during this time. Having your human resource amply supported during times of caregiving and bereavement prevents depression, job loss, production decline, grave errors in judgment, apathy as well as reducing absenteeism.

I hope I do not have to outline all the benefits to your bottom line that such a non-traditional benefit would provide. Just look at how non-traditional benefits have impacted the bottom line of companies such as Google and Amazon!! Non-traditional benefits decrease turnover rates, increase morale, decrease on-boarding costs, increase productivity, increase creativity and encourage unity and loyalty just to name a few.

But really, all other benefits aside, its the right thing to do for those who have chosen you as their employer. With this non-traditional benefit you make a difference at a time when no one else knows how to. We each only have one death in this life. There are no do overs and I meet people everyday who have profound regrets surrounding the death of someone they’ve lost. It doesn’t have to be that way. The loss of a loved one hurts, we can’t change that. We can however, change the circumstances in which it happens and provide more support to those in need.

I’d love your feedback to this non-traditional benefit whether you are an employee or an employer. I welcome all conversations. Please share your thoughts on how you think this benefit would impact you as an employee or an employer.

Thank you.

The Importance of Emotional Estate Planning

True or False?

“I’m not sick. I have plenty of time to do my emotional estate planning.”

False.

While it is never too late to start emotional estate planning, it is also never too early.

Emotional estate planning should not be reserved for those suffering a terminal or chronic illness who are nearing death.

Just think back on the deaths you have experienced. How many were unexpected or were the result of a rapid decline in health?

As I reflect back on the many deaths of family and friends over my lifetime not one of them did much, if any, emotional estate planning and with the exception of my grandmother and aunt, all were rather swift and unexpected deaths.

My father succumbed to a brain aneurysm at age 46. My uncle, to an aortic aneurysm, also in his 40s. My aunt died in a car crash in her 30s. My mother died over the course of one week at the age of 74 of chemotherapy poisoning, just six months after a breast cancer diagnosis. My friend’s husband died almost instantly of a heart attack in his 50s. My friend died just a few months after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in her 40s. My ex-husband, a non-smoker, died at age 56, six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. While he underwent chemotherapy he developed a rare secondary cancer that spread to his brain.

This is just a sample taken from my own life, but out of eleven deaths only three were a natural result of a long well lived life. Not much time or opportunity for getting affairs in order, much less for crafting last words, goodbyes or making last memories in the last month of their lives.

My mother and my godmother were the only ones who really did any emotional estate planning and that wasn’t all that much, honestly.

My goal is to prevent as much emotional, spiritual and suffering as possible. I know how much suffering emotional estate planning can relieve. Unfortunately, most people still believe they will ‘know’ when their time is ‘about to come’ and have time to prepare.

Here’s something no one seems to remember to mention…

When you’ve received a diagnosis with a terminal prognosis, the life expectancy they give you is not a guarantee.

A prognosis is not a contract.

We’ve all heard those wonderful stories of someone being given six months to live and they went on for another five years. Those are exceptional. Emphasis on ‘exception’. The stories that are not passed along but much more common, are the ones who are given three months and only get three days.

Most importantly though, life expectancy and prognosis refers only to the state of being physically alive. It does not indicate the quality of that life. For instance, one may be given six months to live, however the last two months may be in an altered cognitive state at best, and unresponsive at worst.

The benefit of emotional estate planning is the opportunity to provide your emotional support to your loved ones before, during and even after you’re death.

How many times have you said ‘I wish I had one more…’, after you’ve lost a loved one? One more story. One more “I love you.” One more something? Emotional estate planning enables you the opportunity to set up these sorts of bonus ‘one mores’ by prompting you to make choices, take action and express yourself.

There is so much benefit to your bereaved when you do emotional estate planning, however you are the one who benefits the most!

By accepting our mortality, before it is knocking on our door, we can deepen our experiences of life, gain perspective and even change the trajectory of our lives. We gain insights not otherwise available to us when we are living in denial.

It puts things into perspective and offers us the opportunity to forgive, make amends and even repair damaged relationships. More importantly, it enhances relationships that are already awesome by strengthening our bonds in sharing profound thoughts and fears.

Taking the opportunity at any age to acknowledge death as a constant companion only brings more depth to our living. As we age however, emotional estate planning becomes increasingly necessary because death falls more into our direct line of sight rather than in our peripheral vision.

Ok, great, you now understand how important it is to do emotional estate planning, so now what?

You could begin by scouring the internet for end of life planners.

Some resources are simply books of checklists and blank lines to record where a document can be found. Others have thought provoking topics to reflect on.

A checklist is fine for grocery shopping. It’s great a tool for not overlooking something. Thought provoking topics are better. They prompt you to dig deeper than the checklist so that you are more prepared emotionally than if you simply filled out a checklist.

What neither of them have though is the availability to support you in processing the emotions that come up when you are doing this kind of planning.

And the feels are real, my friends.

There are feelings of failure, disappointment, worry and fear just to name a few. There are also feelings of overwhelming gratitude, appreciation and love. What do you do with all that? How do you process it and not allow it to overpower you? How do you transform those feelings into actions and gifts that will ease the grief of you and your loved ones?

By doing it with an experienced guide.

Initial Inventory Planning Session

90 mins.

That’s all it takes to get a good portion of the basics of the necessary planning completed. Included is your copy of the Healing Rites of Passage End of Life Planner. This planner is not available anywhere else.

The session will quickly identify where you are lacking in legal, financial, social, medical and emotional preparation as well as facilitate and complete some parts of your plan.

The session serves two purposes: 1) To get the basics of emotional estate planning completed. That’s self explanatory. At the end of the 90 mins you will have your advanced directives outlined at the very least.

At most you will have had a deep conversation outlining exactly your intentions for the end of your life care, whenever it should happen to be. You will have laid the first steps to making your family’s job of memorial planning easier.

…and the second goal…

2) To build a relationship with your end of life specialist. This is less obvious. When you build a relationship with an end of life specialist by initiating your emotional estate planning, that specialist becomes an intimate part of your life. That relationship can then be drawn upon down the road when you are in crisis. Because when you are in crisis you are automatically surrounded by professional strangers (or strange professionals, I suppose).

How about a familiar professional with all the experience necessary to help you sort out the jargon and double speak? How about a familiar professional who can remind you of the things that you decided were important when you weren’t under duress? How about a familiar professional who can remind you of those things to relieve your panic? How about a familiar professional who can ‘be the strong one’ while you and your family have that much needed break down?

It starts with 90 minutes, but lasts the rest of your life.

We Aren't Immortal

So I find myself speechless, an animal unheard of…my father is now on comfort care, unexpected to live past the weekend. Who prepares you for such a calamity of events? Who prepares you for a hostile mother, wickedness and comfortable in her environment. I’m not prepared, is anyone?”

This is an actual facebook post of an acquaintance of mine.

As I read it I felt my heart break a little. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus and you can prepare for calamities like this. In fact, preparing for them often prevents them from becoming calamities. (You can prepare, you are just never ‘ready’.)


Let me let you in on something else….that acquaintance? She’s a registered nurse with a law degree. She’s is highly educated and works WITHIN the medical system!


We can’t keep living like we are immortal! The moment we are born we have a date with death. To see that perspective as ‘morbid’ is nothing more than denial at its finest.

Emotional Estate Planning is the forethought of emotional, psychological and spiritual preparation for your transition. Emotional Estate Planning ensures that you leave nothing ‘undone’ and that your loved ones feel supported during and after your passing.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, then it is time to start emotional estate planning now.

  1. Have you lost one or both of your parents?
  2. Have you, or anyone you love, had a life-threatening medical scare?
  3. Have you had a partner die?
  4. Have you, or anyone you love, received a life-limiting diagnosis?
  5. Have you, or anyone you love, experienced a decline in health in the past five years?
  6. Do you have a family?
  7. Do you have children?
  8. Have you experienced the sudden loss of someone dear to you and were left with the feeling of “I wish I had one more day with them”?
  9. Have you had conversations about your wishes for medical interventions or post-mortem services but haven’t documented it?
  10. Did you answer no to all of the above?

If you answered yes to any of the above -including #10, it wasn’t a trick question- then it’s appropriate to schedule an Initial Inventory Planning Session with an experienced guide.

The session is 90 minutes long and includes a copy of LIFE’S Book: Healing Rites of Passage End of Life Planner, that has everything you will need to easily create, update and maintain your emotional estate planning.

We even work nationally and internationally with the help of video. Upon receipt of payment we will send your book and conduct a video session after you receive it.

When Death Comes – An End of Life Doula Perspective

Early on Life taught me that it had a set of bookends named Birth and Death. I was not afforded the luxury of death denial. I understood clearly that death was always part of the deal.

This perspective impacted my life in a deep soulful way. A way that made me seem odd in the eyes of my peers.


When I first heard the term, ‘End of Life Doula’ I thought, “this is what my whole life has been about.” Because death has had such a prominent place in my experience of life, I organically became the ‘death guru’ in both my personal and professional lives. Intuitively I understood what someone dying was seeking and what those who were grieving required. It isn’t something that can be taught, it must be lived through.

Death in our modern society is viewed as a medical opponent meant to be thwarted at all costs, yet the reality is that we all have two book ends. At some point we must come to acceptance that our time on Earth is finite and that treating death solely as a medical event, without proper attention to the spiritual and emotional needs, leads to regret and complicated grieving.

Because of my experiences I have learned how to walk with death while in the midst of living. I have discovered the sweetness this perspective brings to living and wish to bring it to others. This is why I suggest people begin looking at end of life issues as early as age 45 or with the first hint of a medical scare, rather than just when death seems imminent.

It is off-putting to some because our society has done such a good job of hiding death away in sterile environments and labeling any reflection as ‘morbid’ or ‘negative’. To the contrary, openly embracing the inevitability of death makes us appreciate life even more. We live deeper because we are not closing our eyes and lips in denial. When our eyes and lips are open, we place more value on our relationships and experiences and less on the pursuit of material gains.

The more we integrate discussions about dying preferences into medical treatment discussions the more informed each patient’s choices can be. Subsequently, the more discussions we have the less alone we feel.

This is not easy for most though and that is where I want to be of service. I want to be one to facilitate discussions, listen actively, offer inspiration and comfort in situations where others may not know how. To this end I have compiled my experience and education into an End of Life Planner that gives structure and direction through these waters. It serves as a guide for those who wish to explore their fears, preferences and beliefs around death and dying. I call this ’emotional estate planning’.

Through tragedies we are opened up to a new level of connection with others. Why wait until then, though? Why not open up to real connection talking about something so real and inevitable as death and our wishes around our care during that time?

When death comes we may never be ready, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be prepared.

When Death Comes
by Jade Klemos

When Death comes, it is not convenient, or better, or easy.
It doesn’t come with manners, etiquette or rules to follow.
It doesn’t come bringing a gold leafed invitation you can decline,
It comes with surgical steel precision dissecting your life.

Death may come in the quiet of night with a crash
It may come at high noon with a silent breath.
It may be welcomed like a soft bed of blankets after a long journey.
It may be as disagreeable as a bed of nails.

Death comes without explanation, justification or reason.
It comes without being fair, or just or reversible.
It comes without your permission, approval or acceptance.
It comes without an undo button or an option to refuse delivery.

When Death comes, it cares not what God you do or do not believe in;
Whether you went to temple, church, mosque or Sunday brunch.
It cares not what’s in your bank account, or on your to do list.
It certainly cares not whether you are ready.

When Grief comes, it comes ripping shreds of flesh from emotional bones
Filling them with marrow of sorrow.
It cares not how many birthdays you’ve had
Nor how many degrees hang on your wall.

Grief comes bringing unbelievable pain and intolerable numbness.
It comes bringing more questions than answers.
It may come as a gentle wave on the shore Or as a tidal wave tossing you under and over.

Grief comes without respect to place, or time or status.
It wreaks havoc with equilibrium and motivation.
It causes doubt, isolation and disorientation.
It is unilaterally deaf to desperate pleas for mercy.

When Grief comes, it comes without kindness or compassion.
It cares not that you are overflowing with it and unable to breathe.
It cares not that it brands epitaphs on your heart.
It cares only that it change you forever.