MERI Center Blog

March 30, 2020
Personal Reflections

On Friday, I learned that a friend of the family died of COVID-19.  She (with her husband) was a pillar of the community and my mom volunteered in her business.  She always gave my kids cookies when they would visit and would always buy her small staff, mostly volunteers, lunch when they worked. 

While my feelings of sadness remain the same, her death feels different.  She is the first person I knew personally that has died from COVID-19.  Her death has brought the pandemic home, made it tangible, personal.  And I know this is just the beginning… I wish that knowing this made things less terrifying, but it doesn’t.

We’re trying to do everything “right”: social/physical distancing, hand washing, keeping the kids engaged and on track, trying to encourage others to do the same.  I’ve tweeted/retweeted/posted COVID articles and #stayhome ad nauseum as if somehow it would prevent or delay the inevitable.  But sadly the inevitable has arrived.  And I knew that it would, while hoping against all odds that it wouldn’t. 

Her death won’t change my day to day, but it has hammered home a few things:

  1. The importance of taking all the precautions we can to flatten the curve.
  2.  We need to do whatever we can to support & protect our healthcare workers. Their health will be a major factor in how many will people die during the pandemic – and not just from COVID-19.
  3. That we need to find ways to be resilient and sit with grief & loss. Need to make sure those on the frontlines are taking care of themselves mentally, emotionally, & physically. 
  4. We need to have frank discussions with our loved ones about our wishes for care if we are unable to...
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*This piece is also being published by the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.

Words are not enough, they never are, but particularly in this pandemic of loss.  Still, here are a few thoughts to help us find a way through the terrible pain of grief in the time of COVID-19.

Grief is the pain of loss

Our losses are multiple, nearly overwhelming, and being experienced right now by everyone on this planet.  We all know the ache of being at odds with our own lives.  We all know vulnerability.  We all know loss.  The current pandemic is bringing us loss—and grief, the human response to loss--at scale.  Many losses are of people-- our family, our lovers, our  friends, our neighbors, people across the world we have never known.  But our losses are of other important things too-- school, work, connection, the prom, sports, certainty, predictability, blissful ignorance, weddings, funerals, normalcy.  Some losses are life delayed (for who knows how long), some are life canceled and gone forever.  Each person’s grief is personal, and true, and incomparable to another’s.  There is no ranking of loss, just what it means to each of us to go without, to miss, to be separated, to be disappointed, to feel alone and bereft.

Grief has to be, because we love

Grief is normal.  We grieve the loss of what we care about.  If you are hoping to avoid grief, then you’d have to avoid love.  Noting this connection can help soften the sting of these hard feelings.  In this way, grief is something of value and is worth protecting.  Hence, many cultures and societies have long ritualized the mourning period.  Our funerals must now be...

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March 24, 2020
Resilience Tips

At today's UCSF Symptom Management Service Interdisciplinary Team meeting, Judy Long, Chaplain extraordinare, led us in a short resilience exercise.  We hope to record them in the future, but alas, did not record today's session.  

Judy started with a grounding exercise, asking us to breathe in and out. Then she prompted us to ask ourselves:

Why:  Why am I here? Why am I doing this work? Why do I care (about my work, my family, etc.)?  

What: What is going on in my body right now? Do I have a headache, stomachache? Notice in your heart anything that dominates. What emotions are on the surface?

Next, think about the person you are meeting with next. What are the stories I have about this person? What are my preconceptions? What is the narrative I have about this person.  Recognize that they are preconceptions and narratives.

Now imagine what they may be going through, what they may be feeling.  Are they in pain? Nauseous? Are they scared? Angry? Worried?

What narratives may they have about you?  Be mindful of how all of this affects your interaction.

Bonus tip:

Think about someone you’d like to connect with and how you could connect with them.  Phone, text, video.  


March 18, 2020
Resilience Tips

Judy Long, Chaplin, compiled a list of online resources to cope with stressful times.  This list includes minfulness & meditation apps, articles, and the like. You can download it here.  We hope that you all find it helpful to cope during this time.

Much love and blessings to all.

~The MERI Center

March 18, 2020

Just over a week into working from home due to the coronavirus, 4th day of the kids staying home from school, and I did not leave the house once yesterday.  Yesterday night was difficult as we mourn not only the loss of our spring break vacation plans but the loss of the back-up plan to cohabitate with our best friends in another state.  The internal struggle to stay hopeful while things seem to change daily.  The external struggle of getting the seniors in my life to stay home and keeping the kids sane.  I broke down in the shower this morning letting the stream of water wash away my tears of frustration, fear, & despair.   And this is only the beginning.  Now more than ever, we need to rely on and strengthen our resilience.  The MERI Center will continue to tweet out resilience tips and post poems and self-care links in our blog.  

Here's some recent tweets/retweets & Blog posts that I hope you'll find inspiring and brighten your day:

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March 17, 2020
Resilience Tips

I am passing along a meditation suggested by my personal teacher that has been really grounding and uplifting for me over the past few days. I want to share it in case it is of assistance to any of you as well: 

  1. Find a comfortable seated position (or a comfortable position lying down).
  2. Imagine a gentle energetic cord grounding and connecting you to the center of the Earth. Once you do, find a similar energetic cord connecting you to the stars. Find a point of balance in between the two. 
  3. Tune into yourself to find a color (or combination of colors) that represents healing, immunity, and health to you. The first color that comes to your mind is perfect. It may also change from day to day, and that is fine. 
  4. Once you have your healing color in mind, allow that color to coat the outside of your Aura, or the energy field that surrounds your body. Then allow it to completely permeate the inside of your Aura or energy field as well, until you feel surrounded and supported by it. You can also imagine the healing color permeating every cell of your body.
  5. Once you feel grounded and comfortable with the above step, create a tiny rose in your mind's eye in the same healing color. This represents your healing gift to others. Once you see the tiny healing rose in your mind's eye, imagine sending it out energetically to everyone in the universe so that they can find their intention to heal/optimize health as well. 

I have been doing this meditation every day and it is definitely...

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March 16, 2020

The UCSF MERI Center held a What Matters Most? A 2-part Advance Directive Workshop in the community on February 19 & March 4, 2020 at The Center for Creative Exploration, a non-profit arts education organization in Glen Park.  This was the first community session we held outside UCSF and it was organized by Suzanne Harris, a member of CCE and a UCSF employee.

The workshop took place at The Center for Creative Exploration, a wonderfully warm and inviting space and we sat in a circle while Redwing facilitated the workshop. In Session 1, we had 13 people in attendance & Redwing explained the importance of an advance directive, naming your agents, and clearly stating your wishes. She used Go Wish cards to help participants think about that is important to them if dealing with serious illness. In Session 2, we had 9 members join us in person and a couple more joining remotely via video. Participants had great questions as well as shared what they learned from their conversations with their prospective agents and in completing their advance directives. One person shared that she used very specific, medical language so her wishes would also be clear to medical providers after consulting with her agent, an acute care provider. Others shared their experiences with loved ones at the end of life and how that formed their own wishes. At the end, we notarized the advance...

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March 13, 2020

These are some surreal times while we’re living through a pandemic. For us in San Francisco, public school will be closed starting Monday, March 16 for three weeks, two weeks of instruction and one week of Spring Break. The City has cancelled the St. Paddy’s Day Parade, the 150th Anniversary of Golden Gate Park & the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.  Pro sports teams are suspending play or delaying the start of the season.

Here at UCSF we are trying to limit traffic to our medical centers to only essential, in-person visits, converting as “non-essential” visits to video visits. Support groups and other small group meetings have been cancelled or “paused” while we all wait and see how widely affected our communities will be. The MERI Center has cancelled our in-person workshops for March and April.  There are many virtual townhall meetings about the policies and procedures our leadership is putting into place to treat cases of COVID-19, protect our staff and the greater community, and to “flatten the curve.”

Personally my lifestyle has changed in the past week.  Gone are the carefree days of just hopping on a bus or scheduling a Lyft to go where I want or need to go. How much social distancing do I need to practice?  Can the kids see their friends? How are we all going to survive 3 weeks all together. I think about my mother, who is in her 70+ and smoked 50+ years, and the likelihood she would get a severe case of COVID-19 if my family were to bring it home. She lives next door to us.  Is the risk of my mother catching COVID-19 worth going here or there? If we can’t go here or there, what are the consequences?  I’m trying to convince her to stop riding the bus,...

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March 12, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems

Redwing Keyssar shared this poem via Commonweal Healing Circles:


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

--Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

March 11, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems

The Raincoat

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

~Ada Limon