Medical Examiners have it rough? It’s the families who do!

May 18, 2014

In today’s Raleigh newspaper, they have started a five-part series  entitled “Fatally Flawed” based on the Charlotte Observer’s investigation into North Carolina’s medical examiners. This is a topic of discussion in our survivors of suicide loss groups as well as law enforcement keeping items of the deceased for months, or years, on end.


Example of Death Certificate

I’ve often wondered what would I go to bat for to make changes in our society. That’s it – how our bereaved are treated when a loved one dies by means other than a natural death. I read that the governor has proposed some changes as well as the DHHS secretary. I sure hope some changes are made.

Families who have lost someone via suicide, murder, and unexplained methods are already befuddled. Adding to their misery by taking months to complete an autopsy so a death certificate can be issued is ridiculous.

Fortunately we didn’t wait too long for my son’s autopsy report to arrive, or his death certificate. It was obvious how he died, but really only to me, as I was the one who found him.

Suicides are considered an active crime scene until all the pieces are glued together. I had to explain what I did when I found my son, where the rope was, etc. I don’t remember much of what was said but I do know the Flower Mound (TX) investigator who handled Cameron’s death was excellent in his demeanor. He did most of his investigating after EMS left and me with a police officer heading to the hospital.

Death certificates are so vital for the bereaved. Insurance policies are not paid until it is in hand. Once again I didn’t have much to deal with Cameron’s death due to his age (18).  There was no life insurance policy since your children are not supposed to die. I do remember needing his death certificate to transfer mileage from his American Airlines account to mine.  And to cancel his cell phone service without being changed a disconnect fee.

I can only imagine all the reasons why adults need death certificates when another adult dies.

I’ll be reading the weeklong series and see if any good directives come out of it. If they need someone to go talk to political officials, I know where I can find many as well as myself.

The grieving do not need extra grief!


Link to article about medical examiners and death certificates.

Do you have a story to share about the length of time it took you to receive a death certificate? Or items back from the police or sheriffs department? Share them here or via email




Death education – really – it’s good stuff!

IMG_2855I attended the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference recently in Baltimore (funny the last time I was in Baltimore was for a suicidology conference – yep I go to all the “fun” conferences!). This was my first foray into this group of helpful people who study and research the bereaved. Very friendly attendees!

I learned so much in my 2 1/2 days there. Some tidbits I gained:

  • Mindfulness is the hot topic this year – let’s all practice it on a daily basis. Be here, now, not in the past or future. But now.
  • Giving and expecting nothing in return (Robert Wicks)
  • To those worried about what to say to the bereaved, don’t be afraid that you’ll make us cry; we’re already crying anyway.
  • Pay attention to your emotions, “go where they want you to go.”
  • Complicated grief disorder – it’s real and violent death losses are predisposed to CGD.
  • College students and grief – faculty and staff see more grieving students than college counselors
  • Widowers want different types of groups. Such as gathering for an athletic or other social event.
  • PR – do one post per day on Facebook (I better get busy!). And include an image.
  • There’s a debate surrounding prescribing anti-depressants to the bereaved. They should not be used to treat life problems (such as grief).
  • And the best one – there are actual pet hospices in the country! YEA!  Our pets are getting the attention they deserve when it’s time for them to leave us.

Wonderful information and I’m happy to share it with you. Comments and questions are always welcome. Got any?

Carolyn Zahnow
Shore Grief Center

Suicide, Empathy and Prevention

May 3, 2014
(Written for Open to Hope)

sunset Tempe Beach AZMy story seems to be like too many others – son (or daughter) died by suicide. But then I forget that as a facilitator of a survivors of suicide loss support group, that I hear stories similar to mine while most of the public do not hear these stories. Or once people know my story and my willingness to help others, they share their stories with me.

Each and every story I hear is sad. But then so are the stories of the parents or children who die too young from cancer or heart disease. Yet suicide is more of a mystery to everyone. Over the years I have learned to normalize it, somewhat, for my support group attendees and others.

I remind them that happy people do not kill themselves. Our loved ones who made that final decision to end their lives, suffered from a depression we have a hard time fathoming. The dark tunnel they were consumed in made it too hard to live. So hard that death seemed a better choice.

Empathy can make more sense out of their choice. Try, if you’re brave enough, to imagine how they felt just before they pulled the trigger, stepped off the ledge with a rope around their neck, took too many pills washed down with alcohol, plunged a syringe full of heroin into their arm.

It’s terrifying I know. I did that. I mentally placed myself where my son stood before he stepped of the edge of the attic into the pull down stairs opening with a sisal rope tied around his neck. He must have been terrified yet he felt it was the correct choice.

I’m sorry to be graphic but sometimes it helps to understand the misery and the darkness of the depression. Yet we scream “why didn’t you ask for help?” I remember clearly after Cameron’s death, similar depression that he must have experienced.

I was so depressed from his death, I didn’t think about calling my therapist to help me out of my funk. I just muddled through for a day or two and it cleared up. What if I felt that way for weeks on end? I might start devising ways to end my misery.

Or what if your body was in so much pain, that you felt like a burden to others – years on end? Even though your loved one rarely complained about assisting you daily, you felt like you were sucking the life out of them. Suicide was a viable option, in your mind.

I’ve heard stories like these as well. So if you’re confused if you lost someone to suicide, try to imagine their pain and perhaps you will free yourself of any guilt you may be harboring because you didn’t “do enough.”

Even if you did know they suffered from depression, as I did with my son, you still can’t always stop someone from ending their life. The key, I believe, is to catch the depression before it takes over the mind. And before the person tries to dull their pain with drugs and alcohol.

Mixing a mental illness with alcohol and other substances is a disaster waiting to happen. It could be a car accident, violence against someone else, or even suicide.

If you’ve experienced the pain of losing someone to suicide, I know your pain. If you fear someone you love may want to make that decision, do everything in your power to help by getting them to a mental health professional on a regular basis. It has been proven that meds and talk therapy are the best course of action for depression and other mental health illnesses.

Two weeks are the key thing to remember when depression is suspected. If depression lasts longer than two weeks, seek help immediately. This could be true for you, your child, your parent, or your friend. Anyone.

To learn more about teen depression and my story, you can find my book “Save the Teens: Preventing Suicide, Depression and Addiction” on my website or

Handguns and Trains

Malia and Spenser I know I‘ve talked about handguns in the hands of those under 18 but I feel I must again since the statistics are not going down involving the two. In recent news – a 12-year old walks into his middle school gym brandishing a shotgun and starts shooting – why does someone, not even a teenager yet, have access to a gun?

A pair of teens in eastern North Carolina, one 15 and the other 16, sit in a pickup truck together on a deserted road near a bridge after school and shoot themselves. I think they should not have had access to a gun.

Guns make it too easy to kill others and themselves. Parents – please lock your guns up! Put a gun lock on them. Don’t advertise the fact that you own a gun.

I know that many folks live in parts of the country where hunting is popular – I live in one of those areas. And generally guns are used to hunt. But when you’re done hunting, lock up your gun. If you feel like that is your line of defense in case someone decides to rob you in the middle of the night (odds are extremely low for that happening), then hide your gun where your kids can not find it.

If someone in your house has been diagnosed with mental illness (such as depression), lock your gun up! Don’t make it easy for them to end their life if they become that distraught. It happens – a lot.

Now trains – what does that have to do with handguns? Nothing except for the fact that people are using trains as another method of suicide. A reporter in the Raleigh area has been brave enough to report this fact. ImageBrave because people do not like to read that word – suicide. A quote from his article is our problem today, “We don’t publicize it, because we don’t want copycats. People see it as a brutal way to go and a way to attract attention,” Worley said. “How do we talk about these things without encouraging more copycats?” (Paul Worley is the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division director.)

Trains are the number one way to end your life in the United Kingdom due to strong gun laws. The number one way in the United States? You guessed it – guns.

Guns – much better screening and using common sense about keeping guns locked up and out the reach of those under 18.

Trains – be aware of those around you who may be depressed or addicted and need professional help.They rarely ask for help so you have to be diligent with those you love noticing when they have been down for too long.

Please! Let’s move forward with some stronger actions to keep guns in their proper place and people off train tracks!

10 Things Crutches Have Taught Me

ImageOn December 19th I had ankle surgery. It was nothing major – arthroscopy – the surgeon peeked in, cleaned up lots of scar tissue and got out that annoying piece of cartilage that had been floating around for too long. Two minor cuts and now scars. Yet I have recovery to do in order to get my ankle working correctly again.

Which meant learning to walk on crutches.

I have never in my 50+ years broken any bones requiring me to use crutches. But I have learned much while being stifled on my metal “sticks.”

  1. The handicapped restroom should be used as a last resort if you’re out in public and you aren’t handicapped. I have struggled to get into the regular stall in our office building and it isn’t fun!
  2. People are generally very nice when they see me coming. I hope to be more accommodating when I see someone in my current state.
  3. When not in use, lay crutches on the floor. Otherwise when leaned against the wall which I like to do, they tend to fall down by themselves – a lot!
  4. Dogs don’t like falling crutches or when you accidentally swope them when walking. Sheila, my dog, could probably write a book about this!
  5. Going out to eat is a whole new challenge! A restaurant is best because people bring food to you. Fast food – not so good. You can’t walk with crutches and carry a tray of food. And you can’t take your leftover drink with you either!  P.S. I miss the salad bar at Whole Foods 😦
  6. Walking around without crutches when it’s not time, is not a good idea! I was angry at my “handicap” so went to lunch with a friend the other day without them. I paid dearly the next day. Fortunately my physical therapist fixed me up!
  7. Crutches are adjustable – mine at set at 5’9″ and I’m 5’7 3/4″. This adjustment makes them fit under my arms better. Play with them to make them work for you.
  8. They have devices called knee walkers which must be heaven if you know you’re going to be on crutches for a long time. But then it must be a pain if you go anywhere in a car.
  9. People don’t understand “toe touch” walking with crutches. Of course, I have gotten a little sloppy with my toe touch but hey! that’s what my doctor said I could do!
  10. Don’t break any leg bones or a hip so I don’t ever have to use “sticks” again! That’s my final lesson from my ordeal.

Friday is my last day on crutches!

Well, maybe I’ll use one for a bit until I’m walking without pain but that’s an improvement in my book!

2014 – Here We Come!

The Shore Grief Center has had the privilege of helping many children, teens and adults since its conception in 2012. It’s a privilege because parents and adults turn to us for help with their child’s grief or their own grief.

We like that we don’t charge for our groups but we do need your support so we can keep it that way. We feel that grief should not come with a price tag and are sure you feel the same way.

Can you support our mission of providing free grief support groups for all who need them? Here’s the link


Karlee, a Save the Teens grief group attendee

Hopes for 2014 include:

  • Getting a place of our own so parents can bring their kids and have a meal before breaking off into separate groups. Parents need to have time to process their grief as well and they could do that while their kids are meeting.
  • Teens need unique groups and we’d love to introduce photography into their groups. Photography is a great means of self-expression and a wonderful esteem builder.
  • Funding to provide salaries for key staff members. This will allow time to provide groups for other organizations and at schools.
  • A grief retreat for adults grieving a death.
  • MORE groups!

Ready to donate?

We love events so more people learn about and share information about The Shore Grief Center (plus they’re fun!). Upcoming events that we’re working on:

  • March – a Comfort Food Cook Off & silent auction in Wake Forest/North Raleigh
  • April – a sponsored car show in Wake Forest
  • May – a run perhaps?
  • September – BBQ plate sale in Youngsville
  • November – suicide and depression awareness walk in downtown Wake Forest

We invite you to sponsor an event to raise funds for The Shore Grief Center. We love to help you advertise your event but it’s time consuming for us to manage lots of events.  Consider becoming a Shore Ambassador!

Thank you for supporting the kids, teens and adults who learn how to manage their grief with the help of The Shore Grief Center. We appreciate any amount you are able to donate. Thanks for helping us grow.

You can donate online at or via mail. Make checks out to The Shore Grief Center and mail to 105 River Watch Lane, Youngsville, NC 27596.

Donations are tax deducible. You will receive a donation letter for your taxes.  The Shore Grief Center is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization (EIN 46-0623348).

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Carolyn Zahnow, the Shore Board, and its many wonderful volunteers!

Early morning random thoughts

I figured since I was up too early that I might as well write a blog. Random thoughts filling my head this morning:

  • Glee had too much sex in it last night. Since when did a show about great singing and dancing high schoolers turn intoIMG_5535 “let’s go off and have sex”? Very disturbing. The show has been known to teach lessons, last night’s episode taught some very bad lessons!
  • The Shore Grief Center has lots of things starting to pop now!
  • We will be getting out among the local law enforcement and emergency teams to let them know we (SOS members) are available for at home visits for recently bereaved families who suicide loss. We can show them that there will be a tomorrow and provide information to them on how to heal even though they feel like they might never do so.
  • There may soon be another SOS (survivors of suicide loss) group – this one in North Raleigh! It will be under The Shore Grief Center’s wing. This will be good for folks who live in that area but also who want to attend more than one meeting a month. Yes, there’s a group in south Raleigh that meets weekly but that’s a long drive if you live in north Raleigh or Wake Forest (or beyond) if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.
  • To turn my book “Save the Teens” into an ebook or not. Or should I save that money for publishing my next book? Would you read it if it were an ebook?
  • I’m going to schedule a writer’s retreat for myself to work on the next book!
  • I sure hope people will attend The Shore Grief Center’s event on 3/16! I am putting a lot of work into making it a fun event as well as a fundraiser. It’s my birthday that day as well. Here’s a link if you want more info:

And fortunately that’s all that’s clogging my brain so early in this morning. I actually think I ate too much chocolate Valentine cake too close to bedtime. Ahh well, it’s almost “wake up” time anyway.

Here’s to a happy and safe Friday to all my friends and followers.

Save a life today!