by Susan Leem, associate producer
Krista brought Jane Gross to our attention at our weekly Monday staff meeting as someone who knows aging intimately from the “far shore of caregiving.”
This Pulitzer-nominated journalist developed her expertise on caregiving and aging not just vocationally, but through living this experience with her elderly mother in her final years.
She started The New Old Age blog for The New York Times and shared her most joyful moments and unexpected insights from role reversals of “becoming my mother’s mother” to learning how to collaborate with her adult sibling. She also has a book called A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves.
Putting words around end-of-life issues is such a difficult task that, even in our tweets, it became difficult to substitute the words “death,” “dying,” or “aging” literally when she used demonstratives like “this” and “that” to represent those ideas in conversation.
We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and reposting for those who weren’t able to follow along. Follow us next time at @BeingTweets:
Photo by Michael Lionstar.Comments
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Statue of an angel grieving in a cemetery in Houston, Texas. (photo: Timothy Faust/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief. ~Aeschylus
UCLA researchers found that grief over losing a loved one can take an extreme form of bereavement, stimulating the part of the brain normally associated with reward and addiction. This is called “complicated grief” and the name alone gives more weight and depth to our varied experiences of loss.
This phrase is being considered for addition to the 2012 DSM-V, the American Psychiatric Association’s handbook for diagnosing mental disorders. There is no formal definition, but The New York Times describes its symptoms as:
"… a yearning for the loved one so intense that it strips a person of other desires. Life has no meaning; joy is out of bounds. Other symptoms include intrusive thoughts about death; uncontrollable bouts of sadness, guilt and other negative emotions; and a preoccupation with, or avoidance of, anything associated with the loss."
The nucleus accumbens (NA) is the part of the brain associated with reward and addiction. Participants in the study were asked to view images of their lost loved ones paired with words about their loss. The people who showed the most devastating patterns of grieving also showed more activation in the NA.
Mary-Frances O’Connor, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor brain activity told the Times: “It’s as if the brain were saying, ‘Yes I’m anticipating seeing this person’ and yet ‘I am not getting to see this person.’ The mismatch is very painful.”
Though bereavement research and training is very limited, there are some clinical trials in the works modeling treatment of victims of PTSD.
The patient undergoes the painful task of recalling the death in detail while the therapist records the session on tape. Then the patient must listen to the tape at their home daily with a goal of learning that their grief can be put away or picked up again on their own terms, just as one can do with a tape. Also patients are asked to focus on future goals without their loved one.
Asking a bereaved person to compartmentalize and relive their pain in this way sounds painful, even insensitive. However, the method has shown signs of success and is an important early step in understanding this underserved population of sufferers.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This afternoon we received the following email from Ben Depp, a photographer whose sister Martha, an artist and art teacher, was diagnosed with an advanced form of ovarian cancer:
"I put together a six-minute film on her art, life, and cancer. I think this is a good fit for your blog because of her spiritual journey through her cancer process, and it’s very interesting because of how she illustrated the process with painting and drawing. Her blog has touched thousands including many with terminal cancer.”
I don’t know why, but I started watching Ben’s quietly touching video, half expecting an against all odds type of story. It wasn’t to be.
Martha died this past Thursday at the age of 33. May she rest in peace with that brand new body she was awaiting:
"Physically, healing hasn’t happened. I mean, obviously, I still have cancer, and I’m obviously going to die from it. And it’s all over my body. But I’m kind of happy about that because I get to go to heaven sooner and be healed and get a new body and be from pain and suffering, and tears. No more tears."