Here, There and Everywhere

Here is an excellent, in-depth article about grief, loss, and trauma from Western Governors University.

April 10, 2020

TEACHING & EDUCATION

Helping children with grief.

Sad child face

Grief is the body’s natural response to a loss. Historically, there have been five general stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). Going through the five stages can be expected and understood, but the grieving process is individualistic; you can experience one of the stages, all of the stages, or none of the stages because all people deal with loss differently — including children.

According to Bereavement: Reactions, Consequences, and Care, the impact of trauma in children depends almost entirely on the life stage that the event occurs during. The same book goes on to say that imposing adult grieving models on children’s lives has led to confusion and a generalized misunderstanding of how children grieve.

Particularly when it comes to coping with death, children have a unique way of processing and dealing with their grief. Oftentimes the first step to helping children grieve is ensuring that they understand the concept of death, and that there aren’t lingering misconceptions. In an article written by Mark Speece, he indicates that a child’s concept of death varies due to an inability to grasp the following terms:

  1. Universality: an understanding that all things that live and, eventually, die.
  2. Irreversibility: an understanding that once something has been declared dead, the death is irrevocable (aside from personal beliefs such as reincarnation, resurrection, etc.).
  3. Non-functionality: an understanding that when someone dies, the life-defining functions of a physical body cease to exist.
  4. Causality: an understanding of the relationship that everything has an origin: cause and effect.

In order to help children grieve, you need to understand the areas in which they are struggling. The same article by Speece elaborates on the terms of death and why children struggle with these concepts:

  • Universality: children are more likely to think that death is avoidable, and not universal. Overall, an inability to grasp that death can occur at any time, to anyone.
  • Irreversibility: children are sometimes unable to understand that death is permanent, not temporary or reversible through some means of intervention (either medically, or divine).
  • Non-functionality: children may have trouble comprehending that someone — or something — that has passed is unable to perform functions (both internally and externally).
  • Causality: children can oftentimes misunderstand the cause of death by unknowingly creating unrealistic causes of death (i.e. poor behavior), or fixating on specific concrete cases of death specific (poison, precise incidents).

It is important to take an individualized approach to helping children cope with grief. A great way to think of the grieving process is noted in Psychology Today, which says that “grief is like a fingerprint.” Yes, everyone has a fingerprint (like most individuals understand some form of grief) but every fingerprint is unique and unparalleled (similar to how grief varies from person to person).

How to help a grieving child as a teacher.

Empathy and creating an inclusive classroom are some of the top qualities and skills of a good teacher that go hand in hand with helping children cope with grief. While teaching degrees aren’t the same as counseling degrees, it is important for educators to learn how to be attentive to their students both physically and emotionally. Understanding the balance of too much and too little support can seem overwhelming, so creating an understanding of best practices can include the following tips:

  • Help younger students understand what has happened. While it is not a teacher’s responsibility to have the initial conversation, it is important for educators to reinforce the basic realities of death. Avoid using confusing ways of talking about death such as “passed away” or “deceased;” rather, be direct and reinforce the idea of death by using straight-forward approaches to the topic including words like “death” or “died.”
  • Reassure students that they can talk with you. Encouraging students and reminding them that they can speak to you openly can be a crucial resource for a grieving student. Leave the invitation open; by leaving the opportunity open, a child can approach and talk when they feel ready with little to no pressure.
  • Allow students to grieve in the manner that they choose. Some students will want to confide in anyone listening, while others would rather keep to themselves. Avoid making suggestions on how a student should grieve, and avoid telling a student they cannot grieve a certain way. How they cope may be extreme, but there are ways to manage extreme student behaviors.
  • Communicate with parents to get insight into the situation as a whole. Positive parent-teacher communication is crucial for the entirety of the education, but also specifically for insight into how the student functions best. Let the parents know of the various counseling resources available for the students, but also ask questions about how the child responds best, what things may evoke feelings, etc.
  • Provide structure and learning support groups. Keeping a child busy with structured activities can help students grieve while they are also learning. There is a lot going through a child’s mind at any given moment (especially following a loss), so it is important to offer alternative learning spaces such as tutoring, additional support, as well as flexibility surrounding deadlines and normal educational expectations.

How to help a grieving child as a parent.

Parents have a steep responsibility in helping their children grieve. While a parent cannot take away feelings of loss, they can help build healthy coping skills alongside being a key figure to confide in. If you have more than one child, it becomes exceedingly important to keep in mind that grieving may look different between children. Regardless of how young or old the child is, it is important to consider a variety of coping methods that can help. Parents should consider the following:

  • Be direct and honest. Anything less than the truth and the absolute truth can cause more harm than good. Just as stated above, children often misunderstand death, so it is important to be literal. This does not mean you have to do so in a blunt, inconsiderate manner, but rather avoid euphemisms that downplay or muffle the concept of death. If this is the initial time that the topic of death is brought up, this is especially important.
  • Be developmentally considerate. How you approach helping a 17-year-old may look entirely different than how you attempt to help a 10-year-old.
  • Encourage questions. One way to help get an understanding of aspects that a child is struggling with, is to encourage them to ask questions. Encourage them to always ask questions as they arise.
  • Encourage feelings. It is important to encourage children to express their feelings. Since everyone grieves differently it is important not to critique the manner in which someone may choose to grieve. While it may not make sense to you, the child is vulnerable, and criticism may make them feel like they are wrong in doing so.
  • Validate feelings. When a child expresses anger or frustration, support and acknowledge their feelings and reiterate that their feelings are completely okay, valid, and maybe even shared. Creating an atmosphere where feelings are normal is critical.
  • Communicate with other adults. Explain the current situation to others when the child(ren) is out of your care (e.g. teacher, dance instructor, coach, etc.). Creating an open communication channel for people in authority can give them insight into why behavior may be happening, as well as giving the individual time to prepare ways they can help the child grieve. When you don’t communicate these things, you can be doing your child (and whoever the individual is) a disservice.
  • Lead by example. Do not try and hide your grief. Be expressive, and grieve alongside them. Acting tough and avoiding the pain you are feeling can make a child feel that they need to do the same thing. In some cases, it can be reassuring for children to see that being upset is okay. This also gives you the opportunity to show a child (or children) healthy ways of dealing with grief.
Help Parents Homeschool Kids

Grief in elementary age children.

Elementary-age children — typically ages 5 to 12 have unique emotional needs when it comes to dealing with grief. Although teachers with elementary education degrees are trained specifically to work with children in this age range, not every adult is. During this period, a large hurdle can be introducing the concept of death. Children struggling with grief within this age group may ask questions about the deceased individual such as “When is ___ coming home?” or “Where is ___?” so it is important to be ready about how you plan to approach that conversation. Some tips to consider when helping elementary-age children cope with grief are:

  • Reiterate that the death happened. Sometimes elementary-age children need to be reminded time after time that the person isn’t coming back.
  • Avoid half-telling, or half-truths when talking about loss. The time is confusing enough, so be direct.
  • Pay attention to children that are grieving by distancing themselves.
  • Encourage children to talk about it, or ask questions. Create an understanding that it is important to talk about death.

Symptoms of grief.

The following are common symptoms of grief in elementary-age children, regardless of the type of loss:

  • Anxiety
  • Clinging
  • Developmental regressing
  • Academic struggles
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Focus issues
  • Guilt
  • Change in energy
  • Imaginary beings
  • Isolation

Grief in middle schoolers.

Middle school-aged children become more and more fixated on observing how other people are responding to death. They may pose questions such as “Are you okay?” and “How are you doing with everything?” while worrying less and less about themselves. It is common for individuals to mimic the mannerisms or role that the deceased individual had. They also may ask extreme questions surrounding death such as “If I do ___ will I die?” or “What if ___ happens?”

Symptoms of grief.

The following are common symptoms of grief for middle-school children regardless of the type of loss:

  • Emotional extremes
  • Expression troubles
  • Blaming
  • New interests
  • Humor
  • Isolation
  • Guilt
  • Easily molded
  • Developmental regressing
  • Academic struggles

Grief in high schoolers.

It is common for high schoolers going through the grieving process to isolate themselves; in fact, they may appear like their normal self. They feel that expressing a certain emotion is a sign of weakness. This can become exceedingly true if they have younger siblings, or are considered the “man” or “woman” of the house. They feel new responsibilities, and will oftentimes distance themselves both from their feelings and people. Phrases such as “I’m fine,” or “Stop worrying about me,” are common.

Symptoms of grief.

The following are common symptoms of grief for highschool children regardless of the type of loss:

  • Removed
  • Lack of academic drive
  • Bullying
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Trouble in school
  • Confrontational
  • Moodiness
  • Emotional outbursts and extremes
  • Irritability/short-fuse
  • Displaced anger
  • Lack of motivation
Father and son

Loss of a friend.

The loss of a good friend can feel the same — if not worse — than the loss of a family member. It is important not to downplay this death as anything less than the loss of a family member. If the death was sudden and unexpected, a lot of questions can arise, and a child’s stress level can spike drastically. When a child loses a friend, it is important to address the situation. Call attention to what happened, then use your body language, and verbal language to indicate that you are there to listen, to answer questions, and to be a shoulder to cry on.

Loss of a family member

The loss of a family member can oftentimes be one of the hardest and most traumatic experiences that a child goes through. The important thing to consider is the relationship of that family member, and how close they were (both locationally, and relationally), can make a large difference in how to cope with the death. You can expect that when a mother — that is part of the child’s everyday life — dies, it will evoke a different response and set of needs than when a great aunt that the child(ren) had only met once passes. Be direct when having conversations about the family members death. Be okay with silence. You do not need to force conversation, and giving time to process things can give children time to feel, ask questions, and express themselves.

Loss of a pet.

The relationship between a child and their pet is something that is truly unique and one-of-a-kind. In some cases, the pet may have been their very first friend in life. Many children feel guilty for the death of a pet, and they obsess over things that they could have done differently to avoid the death. Sometimes the loss of a pet can be a more intense grieving process than the loss of a human. There are some things you can do to help a child with their pet loss, these include:

  • Avoid downplaying the loss of a pet. This may be the first experience with loss, and this type of loss can be deep, personal, or could be emotionally hurtful for a child.
  • Talk to the child about their feelings surrounding the loss. Ask questions, encourage the child to ask questions as well
  • Create a memorial (e.g. burial ceremony, sit around telling stories, make a memorial clay paw mold, etc.).
  • If you choose to get another pet, let the child know (no matter how long ago the death occurred) that the new pet will never replace the old pet.

Loss of a classmate or teacher.

The loss of a classmate or teacher can be a very traumatic event for a child. Whether in high school or preschool, these are the faces that they spend the majority of the day with. Teachers and classmates can both have big impacts on the life of a child, so it is important to treat the loss of a classmate or teacher like any other type of loss.

Be direct and be patient, allowing them time to think and to ask questions. Encourage conversation, ask them about their relationship, and just be there for them.

Talking about suicide with a child.

When a child loses someone as a result of suicide, there are specific, unique concerns to bear in mind that vary depending on the age of the children. The importance of mental health awareness in schools is crucial, and so is talking about mental health awareness at home. In an article titled “Experts Explain How to Talk About Suicide With Kids By Age, Deborah Dilboa claims that it is important to talk about suicide with children for three reasons:

  1. Children deserve truth. Lying or hiding the truth from children in order to protect them can cause more harm than good in the long run.
  2. Mental health conditions can be genetic, so if a family member takes their own life, it becomes exceedingly important to talk about mental health, and give children accurate information.
  3. Hearing (and talking) about suicide and its impact on others is something that is good for all individuals to talk about — regardless of whether a suicide has pressured the conversation.

The same article goes on to give tips and suggestions for talking about suicide with children by age. The breakdown goes as follows:

  • Preschool – Kindergarten: Stick to the basics and keep it simple. Providing the foundations of what suicide is, and the specifics of the occurrence is not necessary at this age unless they are explicitly asking.
  • Ages 7 – 10: Offer truthful, concise answers. This is still considered an age group that doesn’t need all the details, but this is a good time to introduce suicide as someone dying from a disease, or an illness stemming from depression. This age needs truth, but not an overwhelming amount.
  • Ages 11 – 14: Be more direct and concrete. Talking about suicide during this age is more crucial because pre-teens are starting to become more aware, and some are experiencing mental health issues, or mood dysregulation that elicits some sort of coversation. Enter the questions by asking the child what they understand about the situation, and enter the conversation where they are.
  • Ages 15 – 18: This is the age where you switch from hypotheticals. Using phrasing such as “if you or a friend” changes to “when you or a friend.” During this age, teens are often distant and do not want to talk to parents about this, but so it becomes important for parents to let teens know that their feelings are completely normal, as well as offering resources available to them (e.g. counselors, family friends, prevention centers, etc.).

If you — or someone you know — are at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “TALK” to 741741.

Coping with the trauma of witnessing death.

Coping with loss when an individual has witnessed death takes special considerations, tips, and approaches. Regardless of age, children may experience the following effects from the trauma of witnessing death:

  • Fear
  • Clinginess
  • Immobility
  • Nightmares/night terrors
  • Unfounded fears
  • Irritability
  • Academic struggles
  • Sleep troubles
  • Flashbacks
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Suicidal thoughts

Coping with these various effects requires extra reassurance and support following the traumatic event. Helping children cope with trauma should include the following considerations:

  • Minimize media exposure: The media can often cover material in a way that is more traumatizing for children. Avoid exposure to graphic images and videos, and if your child seems interested in the media’s coverage, watch alongside and fill in contextually as needed.
  • Engage your child: While you cannot force a child to talk, you can provide structure in order to be a key part of emotional healing. Provide ongoing opportunities to talk and encourage conversation while validating feelings. By and large, create a safe area to feel, express, and ask questions.
  • Encourage physical activity: Burning off adrenaline, and releasing endorphins (caused by physical exertion) can help children sleep better at night as well as help taking a child’s mind off of the traumatic event.
  • Create a healthy diet: Nourishing the body in a healthy manner affects an individual’s mood and ability to cope with the stresses of a traumatic event. Cook more meals from home to promote whole, minimally-processed food. In doing so, more opportunities for conversation arise, and you can promote healthy food choices by eating the same diet.
Child playing on tablet

Addressing the emotional needs of a child.

A death — no matter the type of loss — can be emotionally draining, confusing, and frustrating for a child. While addressing the loss of a relationship, you need to address certain feelings. It becomes exceedingly important to know of the different emotional needs of grieving children to be aware of. Like dealing with all types of grief, the emotions that children feel following loss vary from person to person, but the following are common emotional needs of children that warrant addressing:

  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Stress

Acknowledging and validating these feelings is important to help these feelings turn into something positive. As current research evaluates stress and mental health of Generation Z, it’s obvious that mental health is of vital importance and it’s crucial to learn to validate and accept emotions to help younger generations. These are the feelings that they are experiencing following the loss of a loved one, so it is important to normalize them, be mindful, and encourage conversation surrounding each.

Healthy management of childhood grief.

There are many efforts that a parent, teacher, or another figure of authority can do to help a child who is experiencing grief. Each grieving process is individualized, and ongoing, so it is important to be aware of the ways you can contribute to the healthy management of childhood grief.

How to have a conversation about grief.

How a child reacts to having a conversation about grief will always vary, so regardless of how children grieve, there are ways parents and other adults can support them. According to a document written by American Academy of Pediatrics, “After a Loved One Dies — How Children Grieve and How Parents and Other Adults Can Support Them,” they write that while explaining death to children:

  1. Speak frankly and directly. Use word choice such as “dead” or “died.”
  2. Check back with your kids after giving them some time to process in order to make things exceedingly clear.
  3. If a child seems reluctant to talk, respect their space and check back later.
  4. Encourage feelings and questions.
  5. Allow all expressions.

Coping with loss in the short-term.

Coping with loss in the short-term may entail things such as conversational coping. The beginning stages are generally focused on creating understanding, grieving, and processing. These short-term stages are the foundational pieces that create the basis for healthy coping mechanisms, and for the groundwork leading into long-term coping strategies.

Coping with loss in the long-term.

Long-term coping strategies for loss are focused on moving on, healing, and creating normalcy. This stage is less involved with creating the foundational pillars, and focuses more on moving on. This phase often includes counseling, new hobbies, reminiscing, re-visiting a gravesite/spreading ashes (if applicable) and other steps towards letting go.

Resources.

There are various resources that are important to be aware of when learning how to manage childhood grief in a healthy manner. Some examples include:

If you’re studying to become a teacher or if you’re a parent, it’s important to be as prepared as possible to help children. Particularly when it comes to grief and death, these situations can creep up unexpectedly, so it’s important to be prepared before that happens.

 

Samurai’s and Dildos

Hot Love Inferno – Prophecy Allocation Series Book Two by Nicky Blue.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41qmTGabhiL._SY346_Once again, Mr. Blue provides a wonderfully creative, bizarre, and entertaining tale, that has the awkward hero and gardener, Barry, using his debatable ninja skills to fin an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Flo from the Pleasure Factory, where she has been taken by three seven feet high, helmeted samurai warriors from a different dimension and time. Luckily, Barry is not alone in his quest, as he is assisted by a dog named Keith, Dr. Harper, and an ancient Goddess called Mrs. Jittery Twitch.

Hot Love Inferno is a cosmic compilation of every genre imaginable – sci-fi, fantasy, horror, humor, family saga, romance, satire, and other indescribable categories. The narrator in the book says it is “savory sci-fi”.  If you took Mr. BeanBruce Lee, Mr. Ed the Talking Horse, and Maude (from Harold and Maude), and threw them all into a Monty Python movie, you’d have an inkling of this series. An added kick are the footnotes at the end of each chapter. These aren’t ordinary footnotes, but humorous explanations and thoughts about British people, food, and slang. The notes are as funny as the main course.

Here is an excerpt from chapter ten (Be Careful What You Wish For).

Barry flapped open his kimono to reveal his portable cassette player, took a deep breath, and hit play. ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred came blaring out of the speakers, and Barry launched into some furious body-popping. A bit rusty at first, he soon began to find his mojo. His routine started with the classic two-step, progressing into the robot. As his confidence grew, he went down for a bit of floor work. An awesome back-spin took him into a position known as the freeze which set him up for a moonwalk to the bottom of the staircase. The routine may not have won Barry first place at a New York dance-off, but it served it purpose. Above him, the samurais looked confused as hell.”

Nicky Blue’s ability to write characters that are believable, different, and set in situations that are far from the ordinary, is remarkable. The predicaments, reactions, and combinations of science, fiction, fantasy and various cultural euphemisms, is fantastical, yet somehow grounded. It all makes sense, even though it is bizarre, weird, shocking, and out of this world. Only in Hot Love Inferno (and the Allocation Series) will you find an elder mother who loves death metal; an adult boy/man who still lives at home, is a terrible gardener and sees himself as a skilled ninja; a dog from another dimension; and Mrs. Garrett getting half of her body stuck in one world, and the other half in another.

Staring at the Door

Yasodhara: A Novel About the Buddha’s Wife by Vanessa R. Sasson.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51I1VkEDTUL._SY346_The name “Yasodhara” means. “She who is full of splendor.” This novel, about the woman who became known as Buddha’s wife, is as splendid as the person on whom it is based. The story is told in the first person, with Yasodhara telling her own tale. She describes her birth, early childhood, friendship with her cousin (Siddhattha) and other members of the royal family, as her father’s brother is the king (Suddhodana). It takes place in what is now known as Nepal, or northern India.

Ms. Sasson doesn’t pretend that everything in the book is factual and does a wonderful job in the afterward informing readers’ about what is her imagination, and what is based on historical records, or writings, in each chapter. There is actually very little known about Yasodhara, other than some fables, and stories, which were written down in Sanskrit and Pali at least 500 years after she lived. It is believed that she and Siddhattha were born on the same day, married at age sixteen, and were together twelve years before having a son (Rahula). It was the day following their son’s birth, that Siddhartha left Yasodhara, and everything with palace life, to search for the meaning to life.

Here is a touching excerpt from that time in the story.

“I always prided myself on being strong. I might have had a temper, but I managed despite it. I could make my way across any hurdle like a well-trained athlete. I never knew myself in any other way. Until, that is, I found myself alone in my room, nursing a newborn while I stared at the door.

Sidhattha and I had been together for such a long time. Our togetherness had always seemed timeless to me, as though it had been threaded from past lives into this one. We were not just husband and wife. We were everything to each other.

Or at least he was everything to me.

I could not understand why he walked away, so I stared at the door, day after days, wondering if it would ever open again. I lay on my bed, my baby beside me, utterly oblivious to his little cries.”

Yasodhara is an excellent contribution to literature about those that surrounded the man known as Gotama, The Buddha. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in, and historical nonfiction works about, Yasodhara, as well as several fictional accounts. Ms. Sasson has studied and taught Buddhism for a number of years, as well as now written this fictional version, which is well told. The characters come to life and after a short time begin to feel like family.

If you enjoy Yasodhara, you may also be interested in another work of fiction about her life, which is called Buddha’s Wife. Ms. Sasson’s story focuses on the childhood and married life of Yasodhara, whereas, Buddha’s Wife, concerns itself with her life as a nun and the memories she has of her husband (now The Buddha), as well as what she has learned about intimacy, family, and community. It also mixes fact and fiction.

Getting Care As You Age

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How to Get the Care You Need in Old Age.
Very useful guest post by Harry Cline.

Most Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care at some point as they age. That could mean residing at a nursing home or seeking home care, both of which are among the wide variety of solutions available to meet the needs of the elderly. The problem is the costs, which can be frightening.

A private room in that aforementioned nursing home? That runs an average of over $8,000 a month, while a home health aide would set you back over $4,000. In some extreme cases, the total price of such support and services grows into the millions. Wow.

So, what’s a financially-responsible person to do in the face of such financial challenges? Plan. Here’s a breakdown on how to assess your basic needs and pay for care.

Do Your Research

The first step is learning what services are available. The most basic level is visits from friends and family or custodial care at home. There’s also adult day care, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. What you need depends on your level of health along with whether you suffer from a chronic condition and its severity.

Assess Your Health Risks

It’s tantamount to looking into the future. However, the likelihood of certain diseases can be gauged based on your lifestyle, current overall health and family history. If you have a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s, for example, you are more likely to develop this form of dementia, and the same goes for some cardiovascular conditions.

Make Lifestyle Changes

The risk of falling ill can be reduced through exercise and a better diet. There’s no simple recommendation as far as what to eat, though Elders’ Helpers recommends nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans and whole grains. As far as getting your body in motion, choose something you enjoy, whether it’s swimming, cycling or long walks on the beach.

Modify Your Home

This not only prevents injury, but allows you to stay there for longer and save money on costly assisted living and nursing homes. Some adjustments include installing railings on both sides of the stairs as well as automatic lighting to avoid nasty falls when you wake up in the middle of the night. You should also remove loose rugs and carpeting to enhance mobility and safety.

Now, we’ll move on to how to pay for all that. Bear in mind that the earlier you start, the better, and some options aren’t even available after retirement or a diagnosis with a severe medical condition.

Get the Right Insurance

Specifically, long-term care insurance. As implied by the name, it covers the cost of home care, assisted living and nursing homes, though the premiums can be high, averaging $2,700 a year, according to information cited by the AARP. That could be a worthwhile investment, though, if there’s a history of serious health conditions in your family.

Use Your Living Benefit

That means the living benefit rider in your life insurance, if you have one. If not, your insurer may be able to add one to your policy, in which case you would be able to draw from your death benefit to pay for medical expenses. Again, this could be a great option to have if you’re at high risk of chronic illness.

Put Money In Savings

Take this step before retirement with a health savings account. Both you and your employer make contributions, but the money stays with you when you’ve finished working. It’s tax-free when used for medical expenses, making it an attractive option along with high-deductible health plans.

Tap Into Your Property

You can do that via a home equity line of credit. This financial instrument allows you to withdraw money with your property serving as collateral, and offers a simpler alternative to a reverse mortgage, with lower associated costs. Both are common means of securing cash for long-term care, and which one’s right for you depends on your circumstances.

Planning for your care is not always easy, but you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when you’re done knowing that your future medical care is assured. Get started as soon as possible.

Image via Pixabay.

Make No Apologies

Bonds That Bind: A Short Story Collection by Austin L. Wiggins.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41khyPzdn8LMost of these stories are about people who are alone and isolated, and/or lonely. The writing is flawless, and you can feel the pain, sadness, despair, and hopelessness, seeping from each character. With Bonds That Bind, Mr. Wiggins has compiled an array of men and women who bleed metaphorically and literally. Each story in the collection takes us inside the head and heart of someone who has nothing left to lose. They live within their self-imposed box of how they see the world and themselves.

Here is an excerpt from The Outsider, where a marginalized tuba player expresses his dissent the only way he knows how. “It took him until mid-afternoon to regain composure. With cloudy eyes, Derek glared at the tuba and scolded it for mocking him, but the cumbersome heap of brass pipe would make no apologies. Like his playing ability, the tuba had gathered a thin, palpable layer of dust that had been piling up since Christmas. ‘It’s been two months,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to start practicing again.’ By this small, noncommittal decision, the mere spark in Derek’s chest became a storm. The first notes blared like a horn of war, and they didn’t stop. He channeled the fury in his tempest heart, and it was only then that Derek knew he was angry.”

This collection includes a foreboding tale about a young man who joins his brother Dave in a failed quest for a fast buck (The Bird That Flew Overhead); an insurance agent who helps his brother, which results in his becoming a life-long target (One Man’s Sin); a meticulous office worker, George, who is oblivious about his home life until it’s too late (Radiance); a shunned tuba player (The Outsider); a lonely teacher with a bad addiction (Of Flowers); and a counselor who takes matters into his own hands (What Ails Us).

Bonds That Bind is not a feel-good, romantic, or inspiring set of tales. If it tried to be, it would have failed. The author doesn’t shy away from emotions or situations that are uncomfortable – all signs of a writer who knows what they are doing and isn’t afraid to reveal what we often sweep under the rug. The icing on the cake is that in spite of their flaws, thoughts, and deeds, Mr. Wiggins has captured traits and feelings with which readers’ can identify. Though we usually don’t go to the extremes of his characters, we care about what happens to each one.

Gods Travel to Mangina

41OEBYgH4XLTritonium: Greek Gods In Space by Yelle Hughes.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

The entire premise of Tritonium is so outlandish, that it caught my attention as soon as I saw the title. Greek Gods In Space… that’s original. Who thought of that? Well, it turns out that Yelle Hughes wrote this creation. She is an author that is deep into Greek mythology, and this book is an introduction to some of the gods and goddesses, and of her other titles. This story was short, funny, and entertaining.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the beginning, where Poseidon enlists the help of his son to go retrieve Namakai’s (sea goddess) twins. “In the warm, aqua water of the Aegean, bubbles drifted around two figures in an undersea palace. “My Lord, help me understand correctly. You wish for me to board a spacecraft, travel to the planet, Man-Mangina? And, I’m to retrieve Zeus twins?” Triton freely floated in front of the god, Poseidon.”

Each of the immortal’s that go on this journey takes a nickname, such as “Erok” for Eros, and “Zeke” for Zephyrus. They banter and joke around like the crew from Guardian’s of the Galaxy, and learn how to fly the ship with the help of C.H.A.N.E.L., which stands for Computerized Heuristic Avatar and Navigational Embodied Loudmouth. Tritonium: Greek Gods In Space takes readers’ where no man, woman, or immortal being has been, which is easy to do because it takes place in the future and humans are not aware of its existence, let alone that the Greek gods exist.

Visions & Visitations

51bI14kqjwLThe Wall People by AnneMarie Dapp.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Moving away from San Francisco to a small cabin in the Napa hills was the perfect choice for Katie. She meets wonderful neighbors Camellia Sanchez, her husband Steven, and their three children, and gets to know people in town. Then, strange images, visions, and visitations to and from the past in Kinvara, Ireland began to invade her newfound serenity. The Wall People brings Katie’s Irish ancestors to life and places her in the middle of a fight between good and bad, abusers, and saviors.

Ms. Dapp writes in great detail about the daily life of Katie after she has moved to Napa, and describes the landscape, environment, people, and seemingly mundane events, with beautiful clarity and precision. Here is a wonderful example of her prose. “The sharp aroma of the grand oak trees filled her senses. The mid-morning sun gently caressed the moist, forested canopy. Steam rose from the rain-soaked flora. The natural beauty of the forest would have normally filled her heart and mind with happiness and peace, and yet on this sad morning she observed the miraculous scenery with a numb indifference.”

I really enjoyed the way the author introduces each of the characters in The Wall People and how they care for one another. Her neighbors, the Sanchez family, are especially well fleshed out and could be seen and heard through the pages. The primary protagonist, Katie, also comes alive with understanding and empathy. Both Camellia and Katie’s past experiences of abuse are also sadly relevant. Readers’ don’t need to believe in the supernatural to appreciate the conflict, people and settings within this story.

Rites of Passage

41uBGeLbd8L._SY346_Midnight and Holding by Joyce DeBacco.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Midnight and Holding is a lovely collection of stories that include a woman daydreaming about the past, which helps her see the present clearly (Rubies and Other Gems); a shed which brings together a husband and wife (The Shed); a carefree youth who awakens dreams and desires of an older woman (Rainbow Years); a humorous account of a wife’s suggestion being taken to extremes (Mad Dogs and Fisherman); a parent’s rite of passage (Midnight and Holding); and a woman who buys her husband a new suit for his last big occasion (Harvey’s New Suit).

Ms. DeBacco has a wonderful sense of home, place, family, marriage, and a life of raising children. Themes of loss, living for others, and losing one’s self, run throughout these tales. In Midnight and Holding a mother speaks about waking up in the middle of the night to a quiet house, once the children are gone away to college. “It’s the middle of the night and, unable to sleep, I wander through the quiet house. Unshackled from the invisible chains tethering me between laundry room and kitchen, I now seek to busy myself with something, anything to keep my mind from dwelling on their absence. Reluctantly, I strip the beds on which they’d slept, my fingers pausing over the deep indentations in the pillows. The neatness of their naked dressers and floors assaults my eyes.”

It is a rare writer that can take the ordinary, and everyday family life, and stretch it just enough to be familiar, yet daring and different from our daily routines and expectations. The author of Midnight and Holding has this ability – the ability to nurture reality, blur the lines and witness characters gaining insight and/or having a transformative experience in the process. At first glance, this collection of stories is about the mundane, but upon reading it becomes clear that each one is a unique creation. They feel authentic and take one to the core of time passing, and the impact those in our lives have upon us.

Extreme Confrontations

City Lights & Side Streets by Patrick Brown.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51guT-D0OYLPatrick Brown has put together an interesting collection of short stories (and one novelette) that focus on family, friends, and lovers, and pushes ordinary life events to extreme confrontations with self or others. City Lights & Side Streets has a story about teens in the eighties, who take an unstable young man to a niece’s birthday party; a busy family of four who hire a scheduler; a young woman coming to terms with the loss of her father; a group of marginalized individuals and their misfortunes; and an extension of a previous series about a private investigator named Salem Reid.

Here’s a slice from The Scheduler, when Leo, the person Lesley convinced her husband to hire (and move in with them), to help make sure everything got done on time, is speaking to ten-year-old Jenny. “Your science project is due Friday. Spend an hour on it tonight, so you are not rushing on Thursday to get it all done. If there are any other supplies you need, tonight is the night to inform your parents, as I have allowed for thirty minutes of variable time. The weather looks clear for Thursday so your dad will be doing yard work and your mom has a tennis match at 6:30. Asking for supplies tomorrow will throw them off schedule! We don’t want that, do we? Jenny stared at our guest like he was from outer space, but Leo remained unfazed by the reaction our daughter had given him.”

All of the tales in this collection has some unexpected, or surprise, turn of events, which will catch you off guard… in a good way. Mr. Brown is very skilled at capturing moments, events, and describing people and places. All of his characters are well rounded and believable. The novelette (Lab Rat: A Salem Reid Novella) could be taken straight out of a detective film from the forties and fifties. Hard-boiled, but loyal, clever, and honest detective, has a private love interest and works with colleagues and friends to solve the crime. Some of the dialogue sounds like it could come straight out of Humphrey Bogart’s mouth in The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. When all is said and done, City Lights & Side Streets is well worth the ride.

Marked by The Goddess

Intrigue In The Summer Court by Mistral Dawn.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51YeDoxp13LI never thought I’d find myself intrigued by an erotic fantasy that takes place in a land called Fairie ( which is populated by fairies, fae, humans, brownies, goblins, magic, spells, etc.), and whose royal couples (Princess Roni and Prince Uaine, The Huntsman and Cassie) enjoy intense, graphic BDSM lovemaking that will make your nerve-ends tingle (along with other parts of your body). Neither fantasy or BDSM is high on my “to read” list, but somehow Intrigue In The Summer Court pulled me in and kept me bound throughout.

There is a plethora of characters, and terminology, in the tale that took me a while to figure out and keep straight. Little did I know, until the final page, that there is a literal Who’s Who at the end of the book, with character descriptions, and a section on terminology, flora, and fauna in the land of Fairie. Nice to know it was there, but not knowing everything at the beginning didn’t take anything away from the story. Most of the actresses, actors, and nongendered beings are introduced in the first chapter.

Here is a sample. A Fae named Angelica is trying to convince Jillian (who serves Queen Briallen) that there is a plot to kill Roni and Uaine on their honeymoon (who have been ordained by The Goddess to rule the land). “The small Fae sat on the tabletop and crossed her legs over each other. Taking a deep breath, she said, ‘I’m old enough to remember Fairie before the Courts were formed. While I haven’t been happy with the way things have been in The Summer Kingdom for quite some time, ‘ she threw a less than friendly look at Briallen, ‘I’m not willing to allow things to go back to the way they were.’ She gestured at Roni’s left wrist where the goddess had marked her. ‘Besides, you seem to have the goddess’s approval, which she doesn’t bestow lightly. If something were to happen to you, there’s no guarantee that another as qualified would be found to fill your position.'”

Perceptions of good, bad, right, wrong, justice, intuition, and forgiveness are observed throughout, as well as truth-telling, protection, pain, and revenge. There is a sense of freedom, and fluidity with the love scenes, and an honoring of differences and similarities between sexual desire and expectations. Sex is presented as a mutually satisfying activity, with partners honoring, and respecting one another’s wishes. Oh yeah, there is also a pixie (Ciane), who has love and lust magic, which can cause intense uncontrollable orgasms with her touch. You’d think that would be wonderful, but she uses it to control and enslave others against their will.

Intrigue In The Summer Court has many familiar beings of historical magical kingdoms, but they do not always act as they do in those well-known tales from the past, yet they feel just as authentic, perhaps more so. Ms. Dawn has established herself as a talented writer who I see has a number of other adult stories (which come before and after this one), which include further flights of fancy, domination, love, and spells. If erotic fantasy isn’t your usual cup of tea, I’d invite you to take a sip. You might be tantalizingly surprised, and find yourself submitting to its magic.

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