Monday, April 13, 2009

The Body's Old-Fashioned Need to Cry

I was listening to CBC yesterday and a reporter was summarizing Saturday's memorial for Wendy Ladner-Beaudry at UBC.  He said the message was "Don't mourn her loss", celebrate her life and cherish those you love in your life.  

This is a fashionable approach to death, but I'm suspicious of it.  I don't have a problem with celebrating the life of a person who has died, but at times it seems like an attempt to do an end run around mourning.  The attitude seems to be -- I'm not talking specifically about Ladner-Beaudry's family here -- that mourning is a downer so focus instead on the positive of the deceased person's life and get on with yours.   But there is no substitute for deep mourning.  

Sometimes there is nothing to do but cry. 

Tears not cried don't conveniently evaporate; I can name more than a few therapists who would agree that they simply get repressed. I read a therapist's account of a depressed man who entered therapy as an adult.  When asked about his mother dying when he was a child, the depressed man said that it hadn't affected him all that much, that he hadn't cried.  So the therapist walked him through the actual moments in which as a young boy he was told that his mother had died.  He saw himself looking down at his little shoes and he saw big tears splashing onto them.  For a moment as a child he had done what the body does naturally, cry profound tears.  But he had soon forgotten that he had done that; he had too soon repressed his need to cry and had gotten on with life. 

When therapist Theresa Shepperd-Alexander's mother died, she didn't look for short cuts.  She later wrote that she had grieved long and deep.   Despite her thorough grieving though, a remnant of her grief caught up with her years later when she was an out-patient at a hospital. Something a nurse said, the way she said it, triggered Shepperd-Alexander's grief about her mother and her eyes filled with tears.  Grief left unfelt continues to try to be expressed.

It seemed a tad air-headed of a Province reporter this weekend to write that people had gathered at Ladner-Beaudry's memorial "to remember not what they lost but what they had". This modern celebratory approach to an ended life may work fine for an hour-long memorial, but it can never outsmart the body's physiological need to grieve long and grieve deep.  Jenna Beaudry said at the memorial that her mother "reminded me every single day that she loved me."  Her mother will never again be around to tell her that. Sometimes there is nothing to do but cry.   


Anonymous said...

for your info in case you have not read it...

VANCOUVER -- Money hasn’t saved Canada’s most blighted neighbourhood, the drug-infested Downtown Eastside. Resources aren’t wanting; it’s estimated that $1-million is shovelled into the area every day to pay for myriad services and examples of social housing not seen in other communities.

All that money didn’t save Wendy Desjarlais. She died there last month, inside her subsidized, roach-infested apartment. A 54-year-old drug addict, Ms. Desjarlais was found in her bathtub. She had been there for days, but no one knew until water began dripping into an apartment below.

Her death was barely noted. Indeed, Ms. Desjarlais might seem just another Downtown Eastside casualty. She’d been alone, in terrible physical condition and in a constant state of paranoia, thanks to years of heavy drug use. In short, she was like hundreds of other neighbourhood denizens.

Examined closely, the circumstances that led to her death demonstrate something else: failures and neglect inside a social services network that’s either overwhelmed by the challenge, or incompetent. Or something worse. Despite regular cash injections — or because of them, critics argue — the Downtown Eastside continues to deteriorate.

Initiatives to help the estimated 5,000 addicts who live in the area don’t seem to work. The neighbourhood remains an open drug market and is riddled with disease. Meanwhile, a connected poverty industry chugs along, dispensing jobs and favours.

Tightly controlled charitable organizations and social agencies grow ever larger as more initiatives and services are introduced. Governments, meanwhile, see nothing but upside to spending pronouncements. Free and subsidized housing is perhaps the biggest attention-grabber, and certainly the most expensive.

Consider the string of announcements made this year, ahead of a provincial election in May. Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government trumpeted the purchase of six decrepit hotel buildings, “acquired to protect 341 units of affordable housing.”

Only in this neighbourhood would housing people in single-room occupancy hotels (so named because they serve as permanent residences to single occupants) be considered a winning strategy. Many of the SRO hotels, including a privately owned one where Ms. Desjarlais had lived, are located on top of businesses and bars where drugs are sold. Rooms, typically, are less than 250-square-feet and are not equipped with bathrooms or kitchens.

Since 2007, the Liberal government has purchased 23 SROs in Vancouver, almost all of them in the Downtown Eastside, for $84.5-million. According to B.C. Housing, the provincial agency responsible for the purchases, an “equal amount” must now be spent on their refurbishment.

Thus the total projected outlay for this “new” housing is $169-million, or $123,268 per room. That’s if all goes well in the renovation phase. At least one of the hotels that the province purchased was in danger of falling down.

“Structural beams were completely rotted through and needed to be replaced entirely, which was not evident in standard due diligence until we had full access to the property,” a B.C. Housing spokesman told the National Post.

Spending on other SROs has run wild. Consider the Pennsylvania Hotel, a century-old building with 44 miniscule rooms in the heart of the drug zone. A local charitable service provider purchased it with public funds in 2001. In a state of disrepair, the hotel sat empty for years until more public funds were tapped. An extensive heritage restoration was then initiated and two months ago, the province announced that the Pennsylvania had reopened as a single-room occupancy hotel for the “hard to house,” a euphemism for the addicted and the terminally ill.

Cost of the renovation, including building purchase, designs and construction: $14,365,000. That works out to a staggering $326,484 per room, or $608.85 for every square foot of building space.

Incredibly, the hotel’s ancient, inefficient windows were not replaced — that would have upset the building’s “heritage value.” The windows were refurbished instead. The Pennsylvania’s total restoration price didn’t include $70,000 spent on a new neon sign outside.

Experts calculate that the per-square-foot cost of the Pennsylvania renovation would have easily covered the cost of construction for a luxury condominium tower built from scratch. With plenty left over. In what was, until recently, a hugely expensive, boom-time market.

Ms. Desjarlais was not housed inside the Pennsylvania, despite her advanced stage of drug addiction. A former social worker in Vancouver, she lost her job after hurting her back, says her sister, Darla Hildebrant, who lives in Alberta. She was placed on long-term disability insurance and received monthly disability and pension payments of $2,400, enough to keep her adequately housed and fed.

But Ms. Desjarlais was injecting drugs and contracted hepatitis C. She began smoking crack cocaine. This affected her behaviour, obviously, and consumed a lot of her income. She was evicted from her rooming house in Vancouver’s West End, and moved into a private SRO in the Downtown Eastside. It was miserable but she stayed there until November, when the hotel’s landlord evicted her for non-payment of rent. By this time, her sister reports, she was extremely ill and malnourished, and was losing her teeth.

Ms. Desjarlais was referred to the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA), one of the neighbourhood’s oldest and largest publicly funded charitable organizations, and among its most controversial.

DERA is closely associated with the Anti-Poverty Committee, a radical group that frequently engages in acts of civil disobedience and vandalism. “I’ve got so many court dates that I can’t keep them straight,” its leader told the National Post in a 2007 interview.

(DERA executive director Kim Kerr was himself in court last week, where a defamation suit he brought against a Vancouver city councillor was dismissed. A judge found that contrary to his denial, Mr. Kerr had told another city councillor in 2006 that she would “look good lying in an alley, on your back in an alley, with that red scarf tied tight around your neck.” Mr. Kerr did not respond to an interview request.)

DERA offered to help find Ms. Desjarlais a place to live. A staff member rushed her to the Pendera, a building of subsidized apartments run by the association. The Pendera had an opening, a small, second-floor apartment. Its long-standing tenant, an elderly man by the name of Lindsay Wong, had just passed away. Ms. Desjarlais was told she could have it in exchange for one-third of her monthly income, or $800. She was moved into the unit.

Contrary to normal practice, and to the province’s Residential Tenancy Act, the apartment had not been cleaned and inspected in advance. In fact, it had not been cleared of the late Mr. Wong’s many possessions, which had accumulated for almost 18 years.

“It was a rush job,” concedes one Pendera staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Ms. Desjarlais was someone in extremely poor health who required “palliative care,” yet she was put into a cluttered, unserviced apartment, regardless.

“We do not provide special-needs housing,” says the Pendera staff member. “This was a person who needed it. But I just do what my boss tells me to do.”

Ms. Desjarlais was warehoused. Her condition worsened, yet she received no assistance. The apartment became even filthier; eventually, cockroaches invaded.

Ms. Desjarlais died on Feb. 15. Her sister, Darla Hildebrant, was informed two days later; by then, the body had been removed. It was cremated. There was no funeral.

Ms. Hildebrant tried to recover the one possession that her late sister had held dear — an old Bible, filled with handwritten letters, but someone had taken it from the apartment. When I inspected the place a few days later, it was in shambles; Mr. Wong’s possessions were still scattered everywhere. I found a few items belonging to Ms. Desjarlais: crack pipes, two bags of clothing, a wet bathrobe lying inside the tub where she had died and an apartment rental receipt for $800.

Her sister can’t understand how this could have happened. “I spoke on the telephone with Wendy every day, almost to the end,” Ms. Hildebrant says. “She’d cry, and say that there was no one to help her. And I’d say, ‘Come on, that’s what all the services and stuff down there is for, there must be someone who can help you.’ But I guess there really wasn’t.”

National Post

reliable sources said...


Thanks for bringing this article to our attention.