Grief in the Time of Coronoavirus with Andrea Lott

Andrea Lott joined us today to talk about grief and how it might feel different right now because we can’t be with the people we love when we lose them. There’s very little that can replace a hug. Ironically, it’s touching more than just coronavirus victims. Even people dying from other causes are passing at a time when we can’t run to the side of the people closest to them to give them a hug or sit and remember the good times. The risk is feelings getting buried and depression grabbing hold while we sit in isolation.

Andrea offers some advice from her experience as a grief counselor (she also came highly recommended from a client). After talking with her, I can see why she’s so good at what she does. Take a minute and listen to her wisdom and then, if you want to know more about the Anchoring Heart Technique, look below.

And please share this with whoever needs to hear her words of comfort right now. Andrea has graciously extended her availability, her email is lottae at (you know, change the at to @).

Or listen to the podcast

The Anchoring Heart Technique

The Anchoring Heart Technique is an age-old somatic practice that grounds people and helps them feel more secure. It is simple and straightforward; the hard part is remembering to do it when you feel uncomfortable feelings you prefer to disconnect from.

WHEN YOU ARE CENTERED: Calm energy usually resides low and deep within yourself.  You might report feeling open and relaxed.

WHEN YOU ARE “Beside Yourself”: Anxious energy usually rises; it’s no longer deep in your belly, but climbs up in your chest. Your voice often rises in pitch. You might report feeling uptight and flighty.

WHEN YOU ACCESS INNATE BODY WISDOM: Have you ever received bad news that caught you off guard? Maybe you gasped and grabbed your chest with an open palm, UNCONSCIOUSLY anchoring yourself. The “Anchoring Heart Technique” simply applies the same gesture CONSCIOUSLY. It is:
• an act of self compassion you can use whenever you feel anxious, stressed, or helpless
• useful whenever you are in need of strength, courage, or patience
• helpful to re-train  your brain and the synapses in your nervous system to allow emotional pain and hurt sit side by side with peace (instead of fear)

There are 3 steps to the Anchoring Heart Technique:

  • anchor the Heart firmly and tenderly & Breathe deeply
  • feel whatever uncomfortable feeling that you are experiencing (even if it’s just for a few seconds)
  • be curious about the place inside that is NOT afraid of emotional pain (builds awareness and new synaptic nerve connections)

You can use one hand or two; you can keep your eyes open, lower them, or close them — whatever is most comfortable for you or whatever the circumstance might dictate.

Marie Bainbridge, a Vietnam Veteran Bronze-star recipient, uses the Anchoring Heart Technique when her PTSD is triggered. However, she says she also uses it in many ordinary situations: “I can be impatient in traffic. If I’m in a store and someone is blocking the aisle so no one can get around them, I want to huff and puff and complain about their self-centeredness. Now, I use the Anchoring Heart Technique to cultivate patience, courtesy, and self-control. It really helps.”

People can also use the Anchoring Heart Technique with others. People often need anchoring and security, especially during times filled with uncertainty. If a calm person places their open hand on an unsettled person’s sternum, it can often help him/her feel secure, more stable, and less anxious. Place your hand firmly on the other person’s heart and just breathe deeply to induce calmness. This often helps the other person feel more connected with themselves and more secure in their own skin.

An alternative form of the Anchoring Heart Technique is to approach the heart from behind – in other words placing your hand firmly on their back between their shoulder blades. This conveys a feeling of “I’ve got your back.” It can be used with people you don’t know well when placing your hand on their heart would be too intimate or too invasive.

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Lyman and Charlene Smith’s Funeral | What I Remember

My family isn’t really into funerals. Thankfully, I’ve been to very few in my life but the one I remember the most was my grandmother’s brother. They called him “Unc” (short for uncle) and he was the mischief-maker. The one who would steal the fudge frosting my mom would take off her cupcake and try to save until the end (my mom is weird, we eat that first mom!). When we got to the church, no one prepared me for what I was about to see: my great-uncle’s dead body raised so we could see him. That triggered by first-ever panic attack. No idea why – but I couldn’t breathe and I for sure couldn’t go in.

Note: I am doing this thing on my podcast where I read the news from the event and comment on it – like Mystery Science 3000. It’s cool because I see things in the article I have forgotten or didn’t realize now that we have more information. I don’t read the article before I write this blog because I want to write from my memory, not other people’s interpretation of the events. So be sure to listen to the Newscast episodes on my podcast if you want even more information.

My dad’s funeral was huge. At least it seemed huge to me. I don’t even know if it was a funeral or a memorial service or, as I remember it, the place where we hoped the murderer would show up. I guess my life has been a little weird. But let me slow down and go back to what I can remember.

In which, relatives arrive and there’s lots of crying.

I remember my grandpa crying. He couldn’t seem to stop. I can’t imagine his grief. This was his lawyer son who’d had ambition and was bigger than life. And now, he was gone in the most horrific way possible. His life stolen while on the precipice of a huge honor he was sure would come. That judgeship.

Grampa had come to town with his other son, my Uncle Don. My grampa was about the most cuddly, sweet man I’d ever met. Thanks to him, I thought that’s how grampas were supposed to be. Patient, kind and obsessed with his garden. When we saw him at his house in Sacramento, it always included a walk around the back yard and a tasting of the various things he grew. For a Curtis Park backyard, he managed to cram a cornucopia of plants back there. My favorites were always the tomatoes and berries. I gotta give mad props to my mom because as we kids got bored and ended-up playing on his back lawn, she’d stay with him, listening and talking. She loved my grampa very much – he was like her second dad.

My uncle, on the other hand, is a badass. He tended to be quiet, almost broody; but then, if he had a beer or got a little loose, that Smith charisma would shine through. He served in the Navy and did the survivor training (I know I don’t have the right name for it and my apologies to all who know exactly what I’m talking about). There’s a family story about Uncle Don coming home to see me after I was born, and he was bruised and battered after that training. And he wouldn’t tell anyone what happened. For my mom, who has always loved Don as a younger brother, it upset her. I remember her talking about it. I’m sure it upset my dad too. He was very protective of his brother. I didn’t necessarily think of my uncle as James Bond, but his persona had that mystery for me. He was always gone, was doing good and serving our country.

Going through the motions, getting ready to go.

For me, I had decided I wasn’t going to be emotional. These are things 18 year olds think they can control. The police had told us the funeral was extremely important for them. They were going to be there, under cover, because often perps would show up at a funeral, especially if there were feelings involved (I’ll let you speculate on which exact feelings those might be). They were going to be all over this thing and if lucky, they’d catch the bad guy right at the event. I was completely caught up with the idea of this and it provided a course of distraction that would end up helping me not cry.

We all had to dress nicely – buying clothes had been the bane of my existence. As a heavy-set, short teen, I can assure you looking contemporary was not my strong suit. I wore a blazer, shirt and pants. I know this sounds normal, but when you have extra-large arms (thanks Dad for the genetics), it really means I was hopelessly uncomfortable. The boys were in pants and dress shirts. None of us wore black.

The funeral was in Santa Paula, a smaller town just east of Ventura. We grew up there. It’s an amazingly sweet town and by age five I was proud to declare you could dump me anywhere in town and I could find my way home. I might have already mentioned, it’s also where everyone knew we were Lyman’s kids and we’d be busted if we did anything wrong because of that. As a kid, it was both awesome and kinda sucked. But I made damn sure that was the kind of community I chose to raise my kid – Santa Cruz, while bigger, is a lot like that.

We are not church people.

We always had a strong sense of duty in our house and I was raised with great values, but it wasn’t because “God said”. As a family of principles (if you haven’t picked up on this theme by now, you haven’t been paying attention), we did the right thing because it was right. The result was, we didn’t do church. I had, on my own. I don’t think my brothers did at all. The idea we were having a funeral at a church was weird for us. I have no idea how it was chosen and who set everything up. I had been busy with all the other noise during the week and in my mind, the adults had just done what adults do.

There were a ton of people there when we arrived. We walked into a courtyard, as I remember it, that provided the entry to the church. We were escorted in and taken up front. It was me, Jay, Gary, mom, grampa and Uncle Don. I’m sure my dad’s law partners were there and the Lewis’ – the folks who helped Gary just a week before on that fated Sunday. I bet there were Rotarians and folks from the Latino community – my dad was very supportive of local activities. I swear, he had an in with all the Mexican food restaurants because we’d be treated like royalty whenever he took us to Andrea’s, Casa Manana or Las Quince Letras. And police. Lots of police.

Here’s what else I don’t remember.

I don’t remember what people said about them. I know there was talking and probably some ministerial stuff. But nope. Nothing. I don’t remember where my mom was. I just called her, and she said she sat on the end of the pew trying to be invisible. She said she was the ex-wife and felt kinda odd being at the funeral and in a church. I don’t remember something else I did – and I so appreciated my mom telling me this story – because it made me feel really good. Apparently, Gary was initially sitting next to Grampa. Imagine a small boy, still 12, sitting next to a grown older man who could not stop crying. Mom told me she noticed I saw what was happening and told Gary to switch places with me, so I could help Grampa (and Gary). That explains why I remember what I do – me spending the funeral comforting my dad’s dad.

Charlene had a lot of friends as well. She didn’t really have relatives, but there were people who loved her dearly, like the Doyle family. Mike Doyle was her ex-husband, but his mom and sister didn’t seem to care. They had a soft spot for Charlene and likely knew she needed family. Her best friend was a woman named Jill Morrill and we had done things with Jill’s family. Charlene adored her kids and Jill’s daughter Tiffany was like the daughter Charlene wished she’d had. I have always wondered how Tiffany handled Charlene’s death. I think she was still young when it happened. There were also folks from law enforcement and the legal community who had worked with Charlene.

We don’t have the guestbook.

If I truly wanted to know who was there, I don’t have any way to do it. As I remember – and again I could be wrong here – but as I remember the police took the guestbook. It was potential evidence if the killer had signed in (I’ve asked them to keep an eye peeled as they go back through the evidence today). There are also likely many, many photographs of all the people there. I am sure hours were spent pouring over the faces, as the police tried to see if they’d get lucky. I’m also sure someone will ask, but I have no idea, if Joe Alsip was there. I would expect he was; he wasn’t a suspect and it was good manners to come, but I don’t know for sure.

We didn’t have any kind of reception, or whatever it’s called, after the event. I remember people milling about the courtyard afterward, talking with one another. And then it was over. We went home. I have a feeling my uncle left quickly afterward as he had to get back to his Navy assignment. I’m also pretty sure Grampa went home the next day as well.

There were no bodies at the service. Both Lyman and Charlene were cremated but I think that happened later because for a while both bodies were evidence. I wish I could remember more, but with so much happening on several fronts, this didn’t feel like the most important thing. Maybe I’ll remember more when I read the press clippings. I’ll do that for the podcast.

The Day We Learned My Dad and Charlene Were Dead

My grandmother’s piano sat in our front room. It’s dark cherry and well-worn and every Smith kid had to take piano lessons. I wasn’t that great at playing conventionally, but I was good at playing a song by ear. I could read music and loved all things Billy Joel and Elton John. I aspired to nail Funeral for a Friend that starts with what sounds like organ music and ends with pure joy (yes, go listen to it – I’ll wait). The piano was the backdrop for the bombshell my mom was about to drop.  

March 16, 1980

That Sunday afternoon we got a strange call. It came on the mustard-yellow landline that hung on our kitchen wall (sporting the typical tangled 12-foot cord so someone could try and seek privacy). The call was from Phil Drescher. My dad’s law partner. He never called us. Ever. This was my mom’s house and the Smith kids were often considered to be wild children by the upper crust. We hung out with the affluent, but we absolutely were not. While Phil’s kids went to private school, we were JC Penney-wearing public-school kids being raised by a divorcee. Ya know, riff raff.

“Mom’s not home right now,” I told Phil. “May I take a message?” I wasn’t complete trash, we had been raised to one day be ready to have dinner with the President should the opportunity ever arise.

“No,” he sputtered, “I’ll call back.” And that was that. But I knew it was weird. It was mid-afternoon. I was home with my 15-year-old brother Jay. Gary had gone up to my dad’s house to mow the lawn. We lived at 6103 Sutter Street which was about a mile – as the crow flies – to my dad’s house at 573 High Point Drive. It was a way he could make some money as a 12-year-old.

Mom’s house is there in the lower area by the school and dad’s house is up on High Point.

Not long after the mystery call, my brother Gary came bursting into the house and ran directly to his room. We could tell he’d been crying. Mom looked strained and Jay and I came over to meet her at the foot of the piano. I was sitting on our bean bag chair and Jay was standing beside me.

“Your father is dead,” she started.

Just like my mom to just lay it out there. There was a beat while we took in that information.

“Did Charlene shoot him?” I asked. My dad had a conceal carry permit and he kept his gun in his trunk. I always worried one of their fights would escalate into a deadly scene. Not because I thought Charlene wanted to kill him, but she’d do anything to create drama and gunfire seemed like something she just hadn’t tried yet.

One time, my dad called up to the house to break up a fight and Charlene did something that night that I have remembered my whole life. My dad was on the front lawn because she had shoved him out (and probably because he thought walking away would deescalate things). Anyway, before I could do anything to calm things down, Charlene ran into the kitchen and grabbed something. It was the silverware tray that separates the knives from the steak knives and the forks and spoons from the salad forks and dessert spoons. It was loaded with silverware. She took that sucker and snapped it at him sending the silverware hurling – each spinning in rotation as an independent object – toward my dad. Not one piece hit him, but I always thought the move was bad-ass. With the right lighting, it would have looked spectacular. If someone uses this in a movie, please give her credit.

“No,” my mom said calmly. “Charlene is dead too.”

“What!” I nearly jumped out of the bean bag. Jay was quiet.

“Gary found them in the bedroom. The police are there now trying to figure out what’s happened.” I honestly don’t think she said more at that point. She really didn’t know much and had a kid in tears in his room. Jay immediately bolted out the door and took off. He had been preparing to go for a run and this news was all he needed to hit the streets. A few minutes passed and mom went to check on Gary. I had a different plan.

“I’m going to go see if I can find Jay,” I yelled as I grabbed the keys to the VW Bug (yep, the same one you see in those black and white photos). I hopped in the car and headed to Loma Vista, a main drag that connected our neighborhood to others. I figured he was heading toward his good friend’s house. I don’t remember if I was crying. I think I did when she told us. I’m sure I did. But I wasn’t crying when I was driving. I was scouring the streets looking for my brother and yet I knew where I was going to end up. I had to get up to my dad’s house to see if what mom said was real. I headed over.

As I drove up the hill, I could see all the activity. Dad’s house was only about half way up the block. Police were milling around and the yellow crime scene tape was up across the front of the house. Neighbors were outside talking and watching the activity. It was true. They were dead.

Why does it always seem like these folks don’t know what they are doing. Crime scenes always have cops milling around. What’s up with that?

I went back home without Jay. He had made his way to a family friend’s house and mom was glad he was there. They were good people and no matter what, she felt comfortable knowing he was with them. I honestly don’t remember what Gary did after he ran to his room. I was able to learn from mom what had happened. She told me in a quiet moment that we didn’t realize would be one of our last for awhile as police, lawyers and relatives began assembling.

Gary had gone up to mow the lawn.

When we got there, the front door was unlocked so he walked in. It was just as he had expected. Just after noon, he figured they might be eating lunch. Instead he heard their alarm clock going off. If you remember, those awful digital alarm clocks were loud and required an intervention to get them to turn off. He started walking to the back of the house but paused. Maybe his timing was off and they were just waking up. He needed to give them privacy. But after a beat, the alarm kept making noise and he didn’t hear anyone moving. He continued back to the master bedroom.

In the bedroom, he could see two people in the bed. The comforter was pulled over their heads. Gary walked around to my dad’s side of the bed (he slept on the side closest to the sliding glass door) and shut off the alarm. He gently lifted a corner of the comforter. It stuck a little to my dad’s head as he pulled. All Gary needed to see was the scar on the shoulder we all recognized as belonging to my dad. Using the phone on the nightstand, Gary called 911 and police asked him the address. Gary had to run out front and look at the numbers because we hadn’t memorized the house number back then. He came back in and picked up the kitchen phone and gave them the address. They directed him to wait outside so he immediately went out.

While he was waiting, friends of my dad and Charlene, Judge Lewis and his wife Claire, spied Gary sitting on the wall. They lived up the street in the development. They stopped and asked Gary what was going on and stayed with him. Coincidentally, my mom had been at a friend’s house in the same development and she decided to drive by to make sure Gary had gotten there okay and was getting the job done. She passed the house and saw all the activity, so she turned around in the church parking lot and headed back up. She asked to people standing on the side of the road what happened and one motioned “dead” by pulling his flattened hand across his neck.

“Which one?” she asked.

“Both,” he said. Mom parked the car.

All I really remember from that point on, was chaos. People and process and questions and movement. The newspaper wouldn’t break the story until the afternoon edition on Monday. But it didn’t matter. It was a small town and news traveled fast. My dad and Charlene were dead. It would be decades before we understood what had really happened.

My family will kill me for this. One of the few pics I could find. Us at my mom’s house at roughly the age of dad’s death. This was either the Thanksgiving before or after. The women in my family are notorious for gaffing photos. The boys, on the other hand, look adorable. That is my mom’s mom, my favorite person of all, Lila.

Chicken Little: The Night the Sky Fell

Today’s blog is strictly personal. Last weekend, we made a mistake. We accidentally forgot to open the door to our chicken roost so the chickens had to sleep in the coop without the protection of the roost. Around 3am, I heard a horrible noise. I cannot say enough about how horrible that noise was. I thought, don’t worry, “the girls” are safe – they are in their roost.

But of course, they weren’t. When I finally heard what was clearly a chicken sound in the melee, I ran outside to find a huge raccoon attacking my darling little Sweet Pea. She was already dead and our other bird, Lily was in a stupor. I chased the raccoon away in a screaming fit that shockingly, my neighbors did not hear. I managed to get the roost open, get Lily inside and get myself back into the house.

I woke my eight year old daughter up to tell her the news. Frankly, I figured she had to have heard the noise but she hadn’t so instead she had to deal with a freaked out, adrenalized mom. She did a good job too because I was a wreck. Who knew I had become so attached to my little chickens? As a telecommuter, I realize they have become like co-workers to me. I go out and talk to them when I need a break. They are steady, centered companions who don’t react to stress or office politics.

Sweet Pea had a rough start in life – bullied by another hen we had originally. But we made a change and life was good. She was a beautiful Silkie mixed with Cochin and had the prettiest gold chest. She had just started laying and while the eggs were rather small, I admired her steadfast effort.

A friend from Flickr – a woman whom I have never met but shared great chicken stories with via photos and comments – was a great support. She offered advice and consolation. My cousin, who reminded me we share a “farm girl” legacy offered by our grandmother, told me we should get a new chick as soon as possible so Lily, my stunned survivor would have something to focus on.

Meanwhile, on a pragmatic front, my mom, always the trooper – saved the day. She offered to come clean up the mess and brought supplies for a proper burial including a headstone that Katie fixed up. We said our goodbyes and went to the feed store to bring home a new baby chick: a Rhode Island Red. The cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen.

Lily was a godsend for Sweet Pea nearly a year ago and it turns out her mothering instinct is still there. We slipped the baby under her wing as soon as it was dark and the magic began. She’s already taking the baby out for walks in the coop since we are having warm sunny weather. Just wait until she finds out her “baby” will grow to twice her size. She’s going to feel like Michael Jordan’s mom – no doubt!

So this is my little tribute to a sweet little bird that made a difference in our lives. We pet owners share that sweetness: the joy of new love, the enduring attachment as we care for them and the sad farewells.

If you’d like to see some of the pictures, I have posted them on Flickr.