Friday, June 12, 2015

Bob's Story

When Bob lost his wife of more than 40 years to cancer, he felt lost.  His life was turned upside down and he struggled to get through the days.  A few months after Marjorie’s passing, his friends gently nudged him to get help to work through the pain and despondency he was feeling.  Bob said he was “not really a therapy person,” but he was willing to try something a little different and joined a Pathways Hospice grief support group.

At first Bob just listened.  What he learned was hugely reassuring: Grief is unique; each person experiences it differently.   Some people initially feel disbelief and expect to see their loved one who is gone.  Others express anger at being “abandoned” by their loved one.  Some describe feeling guilt—either for feeling anger, or for still being here, or for things they might have said or done (or didn’t say or do).  Some just have profound sadness like Bob was feeling.  He learned that it’s all normal.  

Bob was comforted by the clear message that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and that there is no set timeline.  He received encouragement not only from the group’s facilitator, but increasingly from the others in the group.  He was relieved and reassured to meet people even more distant from their loss that were still grieving.   Shared bereavement can give hope of getting through this time and learning positive ways to deal with the pain of loss.

Photo credit: jessica.diamond / Foter / CC BY-SA
Bob could see that although his family would never be the same, he would be able to accept the changes in his life and create a “new normal” with time.  He envisioned that eventually, instead of crying at memories of Marjorie, he’d be able to smile.  He learned to expect that his grief might come and go and that birthdays, anniversaries and holidays could bring it rushing back. And that all of that is normal.

Death, loss, mourning, grief—the concepts make many people uncomfortable.  Because the experiences are so different for each person, others don’t always know how to react.  They are not sure whether you want to talk about your loved one or not—so often they say nothing.  In a support group, everyone there knows what you are going through. 

Bob describes his progression as part “eye-opening discovery… and part learning from others farther down the path.”  He now finds himself more involved and more upbeat.  Bob likens his life before participating in the support group as a black and white photo, and that now the color is trickling back in; he has begun the transition into his “new normal” life. 

Pathways opens its bereavement services to anyone in the community, regardless of whether a family member received our hospice care. See Pathways grief support services on our website,

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Healthiest Emotion May be AWE

Photo credit: Satterwhite.B / Foter / CC BY
There is lots of research about the adverse health effects of negative feelings such as depression, anxiety and shame: more heart disease, cancer and premature death. But less is known about how certain cheerier emotions affect overall health, feelings like contentment, joy or pride.

To delve deeper into happier feelings, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and other schools looked first at a variety of positive and negative emotions in 94 Berkeley freshmen. They filled out questionnaires about how frequently during the previous month they had experienced everything from enthusiasm and inspiration to hostility.

Next they analyzed saliva samples from the students, looking for the amount of interleukin-6 (IL-6) present. This is a molecule associated with inflammation and poor health. As expected, the IL-6 levels correlated with the emotions: students with positive emotions had the lowest levels and the converse was true for those with more negative feelings.

In the next step the investigators had 119 students fill out questionnaires about seven positive emotions: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. Again they examined saliva levels. It turned out that the more often a student recorded feeling a sense of awe, the lower the IL-6. The students reported experiencing awe three or more times a week.

“There seems to be something about awe,” said Dacher Keltner PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. “It seems to have a pronounced impact on markers related to inflammation.”

Keltner said that an awe-inspiring event “will pass the goose-bumps test.” Awe is different for each person. “Some people feel awe listening to music,” Dr. Keltner says, “others watching a sunset or attending a political rally or seeing kids play.”

The study was published in the January 2015 edition of the journal Emotion.