2014 – What a Year

Since my last post in July, so many things have happened in the survivor arena.

In August, Robin Williams succumbed to suicide. As someone who has attempted suicide (and has been suicidal most of my life) and a lifelong devoted fan of Robin’s, tears came instantly and easily. The entire country mourned for him. I live just across the bay from his family home and I openly sobbed for him as I stood at my sliding glass door facing the cove into to the small town of Tiburon. I felt closer to him because of proximity. I felt for his survivors, his children, his family – immediate and extended. My business side kicked in and I wanted to hop in my car and go to his house and help his family deal with all the things they would encounter. The pain that suicide inflicts is beyond the words that have ever been written and ever will be written. I have been there, and for anyone who is a survivor of someone who has committed suicide, it is no one’s fault; and for the person who commits suicide, there is no other way out, period. Being a survivor of someone who commits suicide is one of the most painful experiences in the world; worse when you are experiencing it with the world watching and judging. My heart goes out to his children especially.

In September, one of my heroines Joan Rivers died under unthinkable circumstances. Joan has meant a great deal to me for many reasons, primarily her comedy, but the first reason I felt a connection with her was because her husband committed suicide in 1987. At that time, I had already been suicidal most of my life, so I felt for her and for her husband, and for Melissa. Joan was an inspiration to me in that she was able to raise Melissa (from my perspective) quite well and with few known major disasters for a Hollywood kid. Raising kids is hard enough under the best circumstances. As for Joan’s comedy, I love the pioneer that she was and will continue to be for women in the business. As a survivor, Melissa faces the horrendous task of grief as well as her understandable litigious plight to prevent the same cause of death of her mother to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. As if the grief isn’t enough.

October marked the widespread panic of Ebola in the US with the first death of Thomas Eric Duncan. The disease did not spread like wildfire as many news media outlets hoped (tongue firmly planted in cheek). However, it did raise awareness for preparedness and training; both of which I am an advocate. Proper training for the most basic tasks has proven to make a difference of life or death throughout history. Think of the lives saved by basic Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation which I was taught in middle school on Annie (the mannequin used for the CPR training). Although recently there has been some discussion on the amount of lives the practice has saved (approximately 2% fully recover-not enough, some say), I think anyone would agree the 2% saved is worth the training. Being a survivor of a preventable death due to lack of training is beyond painful; it happened to my family member and it has its own set of emotional obstacles to face, along with the grief.

In November, Brittany Maynard captured the world with her determination to end her life on her terms, death with dignity. Brittany’s terminal cancer gave her the unfortunate vehicle to be a crusader for the cause. The topic is no doubt one that has affected us from the beginning of civilization. The discussion, however, is more recent in our western culture. According to Compassion and Choices, in 1967 “A right-to-die bill is introduced in the Florida legislature. It arouses extensive debate but is unsuccessful.” Since then, much work has been done to address the need and evident desire for choice when one is terminally and exceptionally painfully ill. We are all survivors of Brittany; and her immediate family and friends grieve the reluctant legend in their midst who made a sea change in our views of dying with dignity.

As the year comes to a close, I reflect on the challenges survivors face. New survivor tools appear online constantly, some weather the storms, and some die out within a year. Social media’s presence in our lives makes it nearly impossible to grieve in our own way without privacy; on the other hand, the comfort that the collective positive support it may bring to a survivor has the potential to be a lifesaver.

If I do anything worthy of note in this life, helping survivors will remain my constant primary goal. Making someone feel less alone in the process is worth all the gold in the world.

Thank you all for your ongoing support and have a wonderful 2015. Peace.

P.S. Due to several requests, I am working on some planning tools for the site to be uploaded in the new year!

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Another Great Tool for Closing Online Accounts After a Death

My wonderful friend Mary sent this link to me and what a great site it is! Everplans (currently in beta) is a great tool for funeral and death planning with a few tools for after a death including an extensive list of online vendors with links on how to close the accounts online.

From the website: “Everplans is genuinely a service that is valuable to EVERYONE. We don’t know when or how, but we do know that we can do a few things to prepare. We do know we can do a few things now that will save our families a huge amount of stress later on. We started Everplans because we thought there was a need. After the past years of building Everplans, talking daily to people who have experienced loss, and experiencing loss ourselves, we now know there is a need. Having an Everplan changes everything.” Keep up the great work, Abby and Adam!

People ask me all the time about death planning, and many of our customers use Begin Here to plan. Everplan is at the top of my list among the many planning tools available. They have free tools and there is an option to pay $35.00 per year for some additional services.

And of course, if planning didn’t occur, Helping Survivors Manage and Begin Here will help after the fact.

Disclaimer: Helping Survivors Manage is in no way affiliated with Everplans.


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14 Questions to Ask a Creditor When Reporting a Death

Another blog worth repeating since someone asked me about this recently. Here is the PDF if you would like to print it. It is in our Downloads tab on this website.

When I contacted the Social Security Administration to notify them of my mom’s death, I picked up the phone, dialed the number and was all ready to professionally notify them of my mother’s death and ask them what I needed to do. When someone answered, I unexpectedly started sobbing and yelped ‘my mom died!’ The woman replied in a kind southern accent, ‘oh honey, I’m sorry’. What a wonderful response we all deserve! One hint, the funeral home usually manages this task, ask your funeral director.

Although, later, I thought ‘that is no way to report a death and to handle such a task’ and proceeded to create a script for myself so that it would be – not easier – less difficult going forward.

Here are examples of questions to ask that are on free downloadable forms on our website. They are in the Download tab and will help make the task less daunting.

When you call anyone, the goal should be to talk to someone kind and helpful. If a customer service person is neither, ask to speak to someone else, or simply hang up and try again later to find a different person. There is no reason you should have to go through more agony by talking to someone who is unkind while you are grieving and trying to handle these unfun tasks.

  1. Hello, I need to report a death, can you help me? (if not, keep trying until you find someone who can – you may need to call back later and if someone is unkind, hang up and try again later to find someone compassionate)
  2. May I get your name and will you spell it for me? (write it down and repeat it back to them)
  3. What do you need from me? (write down what they need, copy of death certificate? original death certificate?)
  4. What is the easiest way to manage this?
  5. Where and how should I send this information? (write it down and repeat it to them to confirm you have the correct info)
  6. May I send it to your attention?
  7. Is this something I can do online?
  8. How will I know this is accurate and complete?
  9. What else do you need from me? (ask this question several times, people sometimes forget to tell you something, take your time; the last thing you want is to have to manage the whole process over again because they failed to tell you a step you needed to take)
  10. May I have your direct phone number or email if I have a question?
  11. May I check online to see if this is complete?
  12. What else do I need to do regarding this?
  13. When can I follow up to make sure this is complete?
  14. How can I verify this change is reflected in your records?

Keeping notes is legally prudent. It is easy to forget when you have so much to do and are also grieving. After looking at notes years after my mom’s death, I remembered NONE of the conversations.


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A Tribute to Another Woman Who Changed My Life – Maya Angelou 1928-2014

This morning my New York Times headline email in my in box brought me to tears in a matter of seconds. This post is a bit unusual, as I do not address grief often on this site. As Maya was always an exception to the rule, I decided to post a poem I wrote about her many years ago after seeing her speak in Santa Cruz, California in the late 1990s. Thank you, Maya, for being the brave and beautiful woman you were.


upon first sight
i inhaled quickly
and i don’t think i breathed again
until i got in my car to leave

her stride is that of
a ruler
lacking every insecurity
one foot
and then, the other
anxious for the next

arms swinging
hips swaying
inviting swooning
sweeping us into her corner
of the kitchen
right where she wants us
and right where we
want to be

one arm bent
at the elbow
carrying the additional extremity growth
from youth
her words on pages
the exact words we await

a space shuttle pales in comparison
to the grandiosity i witness
without breath

flowing layers of cloth
her glorious body
red, red, red

barefoot, she was twenty feet tall
african queen, mother of all children
the mother i did not choose
the guru in my karma

as the words traipsed through diaphragm
to throat to tongue through teeth
she looked at us, enveloped us…knew us
the bottle of wine i had beforehand

a wordless child becomes the voice of millions
excluding so few…

she spoke the words i remembered
poems i memorized
philosophies i adopted upon initial exposure
the voice of a thousand mothers and fathers
grandmothers and grandfathers
sons and daughters…an old soul

she is the pyromaniac inflaming my desire to learn
and receive…

holding my breath, i hate that it will end…
her voice will stop whispering in my ear
telling me the secrets of poetry
the passage to remain phenomenal
the sense of being
the art of cherishing what i own (my power)
the appreciation of pure simplicity in its most complex form

yes, i will have to breathe
she will have to stop
and i will have to carry on alone
as she taught me to do so well…

Kat Reed

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California Bookstore Day, May 3, 2014 – What about the rest of the world?

Please visit your local independent bookstore on May 3 and suggest they join the California celebration! If you are in Northern California (Corte Madera or San Francisco), stop in at Book Passage to pick up a copy of Begin Here: helping survivors manage.

Independent stores have been a part of all of our lives at one time or another. The store that first comes to my mind is the record store called Co-Op (if the term ‘record’ confuses you, find someone over the age of 40 to explain). When we were young, we felt so grown up to go there because it wasn’t in the mall, and they also sold smoking paraphernalia. It was an institution and I loved it.

The independent store journey has gone from a popular, neighborhood necessity to a murder victim of the collective big box store takeover. Now we are back to a new surge in the desire for the elusive mom and pop options that we all unwittingly helped obliterate. A few survived and they remain a model for the new generation of independent entities.

As a self published author, it is much easier for me to approach (and be approached by) independent bookstores to carry my book. I have my book in several independent bookstores throughout the country and it warms my heart to be able to help any independent bookstore make a buck.

Visit your local independent bookstore, record store, food store, and you will likely be happily surprised at the people who work there. From my experience as a consumer, I see them not as much working there for a paycheck as much as working in a deliberate, purpose-driven and noble vocation. They really seem to care about what they are doing whereas the big box stores try to pretend they care with their scripted upselling training.

Thank you, independent entrepreneurs, especially independent bookstores!

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