Bereavement eating: does grief cause carb cravings?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

(originally published here shortly after my mother’s death four years ago today on February 21, 2012)

I’ve heard it said that some people experience a loss of appetite during stressful times like a death in the family.  These people are not my relatives. Indeed, in our Ukrainian family tradition, we eat when we’re happy, we eat when we’re upset, and we eat during all possible emotions in between.

Every family gathering surrounding my mother’s death was no exception.

For example, the delicious lunch following her funeral service was a true labour of love prepared by the women of my mother’s church, just as the women of churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and neighbourhoods around the world have been doing for mourners since time began. Continue reading “Bereavement eating: does grief cause carb cravings?”

How intense grief increases your cardiac risk

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Emelyn_Story_Tomba_(Cimitero_Acattolico_Roma)My Dad died young in 1983, at just 62 years of age. His was the first significantly meaningful death I’d ever been exposed to, and my personal introduction to the concept of grief and bereavement in our family. My father died of metastatic cancer, lying in a general med-surg hospital ward bed, misdiagnosed with pneumonia until five days before his death, cared for (and I use those two words charitably) by a physician who was so profoundly ignorant about end-of-life care that he actually said these words to my distraught mother, with a straight face:

“We are reluctant to give him opioids for pain because they are addictive.”

This pronouncement was made on the morning of the same day my father died. But hey! – at least Dad wasn’t an addict when he took his last breath nine hours later.    Continue reading “How intense grief increases your cardiac risk”

Can it be two years since my mother’s death?

Two years ago today, I wrote this essay on the morning my mother died:

Rest in peace, Mom.

Joan Zaruk    May 7, 1928 – February 21, 2012

At 5 a.m. this morning, after hearing the news on the phone, I reread the chapter called When Your Mother Dies, in Rona Maynard’s wonderful book, My Mother’s Daughter:

“Baby showers herald the transition to motherhood. Roses, greeting cards and invitations to lunch celebrate mothers every May. Yet, despite our culture’s motherhood mystique, no rituals mark the psychological journey we daughters begin when our mothers die.   Continue reading “Can it be two years since my mother’s death?”

It lasts as long as it lasts

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

With deep calm, actor Susan Saint James said this after the tragic plane crash death of her youngest child, Teddy:

“His was a life that lasted 14 years.”

Hearing this, Toni Bernhard, author of the highly-recommended book, How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, tried using Susan’s sentiment to try to make sense of her own losses over a decade of being bedridden with a seriously debilitating illness. For example:  Continue reading “It lasts as long as it lasts”

How humour can help – or hurt – your heart disease recovery

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

“My hubby is stuck with me for another 15 years as long as I keep following doctor’s orders.”

“I told my family that I now had a pig valve in my heart – but I was disappointed when the doctor told me I couldn’t keep the bacon.”

“I am determined to outlive my husband – because I want to clean out his garage!”

Heart patients often use humour like this to distract themselves from the high levels of stress and fear often associated with a life-altering diagnosis like heart disease – such as upcoming surgery, diagnostic tests, or even the ongoing awareness of significantly increased risk of future cardiac events. So reports Nicholas Lockwood, whose research focused on how heart patients use humour to help them cope with such a frightening condition – but ended up showing some surprising results.  Continue reading “How humour can help – or hurt – your heart disease recovery”

When a pet dies: another definition of broken heart

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

My cat Lily died in my arms last Monday evening. We were sitting around watching the hockey playoffs on TV, Lily curled up in her little wicker bed on the floor beside me. Suddenly, I heard an unusual, low-pitched “meeeooow” like I’d never heard before, a small cough, two deep sighs, and then nothing. The vet believes that “her heart just gave out” due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common form of heart disease in cats. Sometimes there are no signs and sudden death is the first, and last, hint of any problem. That trip to the vet was a blur. My daughter Larissa (that’s her on the left showing off Lily’s frog costume last Halloween) and my son-in-law Randy were right there with me.

Later, after a weepy final visit with my Lily in the vet’s office, we were back at home over rhubarb crisp and tea. They quietly removed Lily’s toys, food  and assorted cat stuff so I wouldn’t have to deal with them the next morning.

Let me tell you a little about my Lily. After my heart attack, I found out that owning a pet happens to be very good for heart patients.  In fact, being a cat owner could actually reduce your risk of another heart attack by nearly one-third, according to a 10-year study by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute. And even having a purring cat on your lap can lower your blood pressure.

So off we headed to the local animal shelter, where we adopted the world’s cutest cat.  Continue reading “When a pet dies: another definition of broken heart”