All Articles Tagged "death"

Do You Have A Will?

February 4th, 2016 - By Christine Mwaturura
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Talking about death is never pleasant, and thinking about one’s own death is even more uncomfortable. I guess that could be why a quick informal survey around my office revealed that a lot of people have not yet considered estate planning. I was surprised to even find that some colleagues who own real estate or have children don’t have a will. 

What happens if a person dies without a will (known as dying intestate)?

Generally, when a person dies without a last will, the state’s intestacy laws determine what happens to the deceased’s stuff (the estate). Depending on the particular state, the estate may be distributed to a spouse, children, parents or siblings. Survivors have to go through the probate court system to have the estate distributed and this process can take months, and even years if the estate is complex or there are complicated familial relationships.  

There are countless horror story accounts of what some survivors have gone through when a loved one has passed away without a will: years of court proceedings to have the estate released, thousands of dollars spent on attorney and appraiser fees, stepchildren left out of the distribution, and sneaky relatives trying to claim a portion of the estate. One such story that I came across on the Huffington Post (My Story: Why People Need Wills), was about an estranged spouse who came out of the woodwork to make claim against the estate of his estranged wife. In the end, the estranged husband was able to get his hands on his deceased wife’s assets. The brother of the deceased woman, the author of the article, poignantly writes at the end, “People may think that wills and attorneys are expensive. In the overall scheme of things, they really aren’t. I gladly would have paid ten times the average cost for my mother and sister to have had wills.”

Good estate planning and an ironclad will or living trust can considerably speed up the estate distribution process and avoid a lot of the pitfalls that some survivors have had to navigate.

So when do you need to start estate planning?

At a healthy age 29, some would say it’s premature for me to consider my own death, but real talk — life is fragile. I’ve known otherwise healthy young people whose lives were unexpectedly claimed by freak accidents. It’s these types of stories that make me pause for a second and be thankful for the breath that fills my lungs, even on a sh-tty day. And then I also think about those who would be left behind to mourn me, and the unlucky ones who’d have to deal with my stuff: whose job would it be to pack up my things? who would be entitled to my stuff? would anyone know which banks hold my money and where my 401(k) sits?

I’m an organized person so the thought of leaving my loved ones to dig through my stuff after my death to try piece together bits of information about my bank accounts, insurance policies etc… almost seems like a cruel task to leave them with. This is one reason why estate planning — even for the single, relatively young and not so wealthy — is still important.

Estate planning is also more than just about what you own. Do you have a mortgage or student loans, and do you know what would happen to your debt upon your death? Do you have kids under 18, and have you thought about who would take on guardianship over your kids? These are all important questions considered part of the estate planning process. Other estate planning components include: a living will (also known as an advance directive), and establishing a power of attorney

Estate planning sounds like a laborious task, but certainly one that is worthwhile. I have estate planning on my 2016 to-do list, do you?

Children’s Grief Awareness Day: 10 Things Grieving Children Want You To Know

November 19th, 2015 - By Kweli Wright
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One in 20 children will lose a parent by the age of 18. Most Americans will experience the death of someone close to them before graduating high school.

Death is a part of life, and loss is difficult for everyone, but children and teens grieve differently than adults. When a child’s grief goes unnoticed or isn’t properly addressed, the hurt can last a lifetime. Data indicates that without support, grieving children are at a much greater risk for depression, suicide, poverty and substance abuse.

“As a society we tend to overlook how grief affects children, despite the tremendous impact it can have on their lives,” said Mary FitzGerald, CEO of The Moyer Foundation. “But when we can provide the support children need, it’s truly amazing to watch them start to heal and learn to hope again.

The Moyer Foundation’s Camp Erin® Program is the nation’s largest network of free bereavement camps for kids, serving more than 3,000 children and teens annually in 46 locations.

Observed this year on Thursday, Nov. 19, Children’s Grief Awareness Day was established to draw attention to the unique needs and perspective of grieving children. Grief support organizations and families across the country mark the day each year as a way to remember loved ones and to raise awareness.

“We have been focused on leading a national discussion about childhood bereavement since 2008,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation, a primary supporter of The Moyer Foundation. “We have made great progress, but this issue needs more attention, and we need to reach moregrieving children across the country.”

For those who have a grieving child in their life, here are a few insights into what they might be thinking and feeling, and how you can help, courtesy of The National Alliance for Grieving Children.

1 – I want to be told the truth.

Tell grieving children the truth, keeping in mind the child’s age and maturity level and the circumstances surrounding the death.

2 – I want to know that there will always be someone to take care of me.

Grieving children spend a lot of time worrying about another person in their life who might die. To help alleviate this fear, it’s important to reassure them that there will always be someone in their life who will take care of them.

3 –My grief is long lasting.

Children will grieve the person who died for the rest of their life – they don’t “just get over it.” As a result, they will often be bewildered when other people in their life have seemed to move on.

4 – I often cope with grief and loss through play.

Typically, children cannot sustain prolonged grief, so they use play as a way to cope with and to take a break.

5 – I will always miss the person who died.

Love doesn’t die – grieving children will miss the person they lost for as long as they live.

6 – I probably want to share my story and talk about the person who died.

Telling their story often helps a child heal. Grieving children don’t want to forget the person who died. They also worry that others will forget their person, so it’s important to share memories about the person who died.

7 – I might grieve differently from other kids.

Some children might be more expressive with their grief; some might keep it all in. Even siblings grieve differently, and it is important to honor each child’s story, even if it differs from their sibling’s.

8 – I probably feel guilty.

Grieving children will often feel pangs of guilt, even if it is not justified and has no basis in reality.

9 – If I’m acting out, I’m probably feeling intense emotions of grief.

Grieving children frequently feel sad, angry, confused, or scared. Because they might not know how to express these emotions, they often end up acting out instead.

10 – If you’re not sure what I want or what I’m feeling, just ask me!

When in doubt, ask a grieving child how you can help. They want to talk about the person who died, or maybe not. They may want to write about their grief or do some other activity to express their feelings.

Learn More: Get educated about how grief impacts children and teens, and what you can do to help, starting with the following links:

Moyer Foundation:

New York Life Foundation – A Child in Grief:

National Alliance for Grieving Children:

Can A Child Choose Heaven Over The Hospital?

October 28th, 2015 - By Clarissa Joan
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Do not resuscitate (DNR), or no code, is a legal order written either in the hospital or on a legal form to withhold cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), in respect of the wishes of a patient in case their heart were to stop or they were to stop breathing.

Each year more than 100,000 people are given the choice to refuse medical treatment in the event they become ill and cannot breathe on their own or their heart stops working. In most cases, the option of DNR is given to patients who painfully suffer from terminal illnesses, are above the age of 65, and the chance of regaining an optimal quality of life is slim.

A DNR patient chooses to die peacefully at home with their family or in a palliative care/hospice facility where their comfort and cleanliness while dying is the only attended concern. Families across America have conversations with ill loved ones every day to determine their status on receiving medical treatment. It is a hard conversation to have, but what if you had to have this conversation not with your elderly parent or adult spouse, but your young child?

Meet Julianna Snow (Insert Pic)

Julianna is a five-year-old girl with a severe case of an incurable neurodegenerative illness called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. CMT, is a group of inherited disorders that affect the peripheral nerves, which are the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. CMT is just one kind of neuropathy (also called peripheral neuropathy), meaning simply that the peripheral nerves are damaged. It affects about 2.8 million people worldwide, of all races and ethnic groups.

This is an excerpt from a letter Michelle, Julianna’s mother, sent to their family and friends on October 28, 2014.

“Dear Friends,

 You may or may not know that Julianna was hospitalized almost 3 weeks ago for another respiratory problem. She is better now and will come home tomorrow.

 In 2014, Julianna spent 66 days in the hospital. This was her third PICU [Pediatric Intensive Care Unit] admission in ten months. We tried so hard to keep her out of the hospital, but it seemed like nothing was working…

Julianna turned 4 in August. She is a bright, kind, funny and amazing girl who happens to have an awful, debilitating neuromuscular disease. The worst part of her disease is that it affects her breathing and swallowing – these are the things that ultimately shorten lifespan in people with neuromuscular disease… 

We don’t know how much time we have with her – it could be months, it could be years.”


Julianna has been lucky. Most children with her condition do not live to see their second birthday. She has made it to age five. However, it has not been an easy fight to stay alive. From the age of two, her muscles have been getting severely weaker and the slightest sickness i.e. your common cold ushers her to the hospital where she cannot be sedated but must painfully endure NT, Nasotracheal suctioning, the process of extracting mucus from the lungs with tubes through the nose.

Julianna cannot swallow so she is also fed through a tube in her stomach. She wears a breathing mask 24/7, and she is bound to a electrical wheel chair that her hand muscles are too weak to operate.

Last October, doctors told the family Julianna’s chances of survival post another infection were highly unlikely especially with any level of quality living. It was then that the family began to consider if any further painful medical treatment was worth it.

Mom Michelle shared the conversation they had with Julianna on her blog.

Michelle: Julianna, if you get sick again, do you want to go to the hospital again or stay home?

Julianna: Not the hospital.

Michelle: Even if that means that you will go to heaven if you stay home?

Julianna: Yes.

Michelle: And you know that mommy and daddy won’t come with you right away? You’ll go by yourself first.

Julianna: Don’t worry. God will take care of me.

Michelle: And if you go to the hospital, it may help you get better and let you come home again and spend more time with us. I need to make sure that you understand that. Hospital may let you have more time with mommy and daddy.

Julianna: I understand.

Michelle: (crying) – I’m sorry, Julianna. I know you don’t like it when I cry. It’s just that I will miss you so much.

Julianna: That’s OK. God will take care of me. He’s in my heart.


This is every parents worst nightmare. No one is suppose to bury their child. For most it happens suddenly without choice or consideration, but for this family it is happening painfully and slowly. Are they doing the right thing? Should a child be allowed to make decisions about his or her own quality of life and medical treatment?

The Snow family has chosen to honor their daughter’s wishes and not subject her to any further hospitalization should she get sick. They believe that Julianna is well aware of her own suffering and what options she has in the after life as well as those on earth. The next time Julianna gets sick, what happens next will be up to God, not a doctor.

Can a child choose heaven over the hospital? Would you let your child make that decision?


For more information on The Snow Family’s Story see CNN’s series coverage “Heaven or Hospital.”

Clarissa Joan is a spiritual life coach and editor-in-chief of The Clarissa Joan Experience. She resides in Philadelphia, Pa with her Husband, their two girls, and a yorkie named Ace. Clarissa is also an expert in impact investing. She is the Communications Associate at Impact America Fund.


The Window Has Closed: Joe Biden Announces He Will Not Run For President

October 21st, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Today Joe Biden announced, to the chagrin of many, that he will not be running for President. Today, in the Rose Garden, standing next to his wife Jill and President Obama, Vice President Biden explained why he would not be running.

“As my family and I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along…that it may very well be that that process-by the time we get through it- closes the window on mounting a realistic campaign for President. That it might close. I’ve concluded, it has closed. I know from previous experience that there is no timetable for this process. The process doesn’t respect or much care about things like filing deadlines, debates and primaries and caucuses.

But I also know that I couldn’t do this if the family wasn’t ready. The good news is, the family has reached that point. But as I’ve said many times, my family has suffered loss and I hope there would come a time that–sooner rather than later– when you think of your loved one, it brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. That’s where the Bidens are today, thank God. Beau is our inspiration. Unfortunately, I believe we’re out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination.”

Still, Biden did say that while he is not running, he will not be silent. He praised the progress President Obama made during his two terms and suggested that instead of running from it, the Democratic candidates should embrace his record and attempt to expound upon it.

Many believe the only reason Biden was considering a third run for presidency was because his late son Beau made a plea for him to pursue the highest office once again.

This announcement is bittersweet to me. While I certainly believe that a Biden campaign run would be great for the country, I respect and appreciate him taking time to be human and grieve.

Sadly, he is no stranger to the process.

In 1972, soon after he won his Delaware Senate seat his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash.

Now, politically, he will most be remembered for the service he provided to President Obama and to the nation as the Vice President of the United States.

Medical Examiner Holds Bobbi Kristina’s Autopsy Results Per Court Order

September 27th, 2015 - By Ashley Monaé
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Image Source: WENN


Nearly two months after her untimely death, Bobbi Kristina Brown’s controversial cause of death has finally been determined.

However, the Fulton County Medical Examiner is not revealing the results per a judge’s decision and court order that the results be sealed, as the police are still searching for evidence that could result in a homicide prosecution.

“The Fulton County Medical Examiner has classified the cause and manner of Bobbi Kristina Brown’s death based on information available as of September 25, 2015,” the office said in an online statement. “However, a Fulton County Superior Court Order dated September 25, 2015 has been received Sealing the Autopsy Report and ordering the Medical Examiner to not release any further information to the public. The Fulton County District Attorney and Roswell Police Department have been informed of the Medical Examiner’s findings.”

As the investigation continues, TMZ reports Nick Gordon, Bobbi Kristina’s boyfriend, has been a suspect cops have been looking at since the beginning of the case.

We will continue to keep you posted as new details emerge.

How Someone’s Last Words Gave Me Peace

September 23rd, 2015 - By Kendra Koger
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I’ve been very open with my recent struggles with accepting my mortality.  For a long time, it was never even a second thought to me.  As I grew up, in my traditionally Christian home, we were taught that it’s not “goodbye,” but “’til we meet again.”  With that knowledge, and the advantage of youth, I didn’t think about my own inevitability.

But the first moment of being aware of my own mortality happened in college when a few people I was close to in high school died.  But, though I felt that emotional trauma, youth allowed me to separate my mourning from my own vulnerability, and after a while, things went back to normal.

Then, the last four years happened and people who seemed so happy and healthy began to wither away, sometimes right in front of me.  Some of them were older, some were younger, some were my age and that’s when I knew that this was a fate I couldn’t escape.

All the years of thinking:  “’til we meet again,” were gone, and were replaced with “what happens afterward?”

It was hard trying to know that someone in the past, who felt like the world revolved around them, was now being relegated to past tense verbs, and aging anecdotes.  Then I began to question the idea of how death, though sad, should be the joyous occasion that I was raised to believe it was. If that were the case, then why were so many people crying?  If we knew we would see them again, why be sad anyway?  If the promise of a new life allowed us peace, why were our self-preservation instincts so strong?

My head was beginning to feel heavy with all my morbid thoughts and instead of cherishing each day, I began to worry when and how my “time” would come.

But recently, a memory of one of my loved ones’ last words has been able to cease my fears, if only momentarily.

She’d struggle for so long, and was in a hospital at a different state.  This surrogate family member had been so strong, but we knew that the inevitable was happening.  When I got the phone call that she passed, through tears, I was told that she actually passed twice.  The first time, for a few moments after being taken off of a ventilator.  But when she came back, she turned to her family and said:  “I’m not afraid of dying anymore.”  A few moments later, she finally passed.

I didn’t think about what she said for a very long time.  I focused on being there for my surrogate family and trying to be as much of a comfort as I could.

But nights later, I found myself thinking about the inevitable. I’ve been thinking about those final words.  I don’t know what she saw but it was enough to give this person peace before passing. And if it was enough to cease her anxiety, then it should be enough to cease mine.

Those words have been able to encourage me to not dwell on the possible but to enjoy the present.  I no longer have that dread of “what/when,” but now feel peaceful.

I’m not going to lie, there are moments when my past thoughts begin to arise, but during those times, I remember those words, and I’m able to finally find peace, regardless of my understanding.

Daddy Speaks: My Experience With the Five Stages of Grief

July 3rd, 2015 - By Kweli Wright
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In the book “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined what is generally accepted as the five stages of grief. They make perfect sense theoretically and sequentially: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Whether it is how we are biologically wired or classically conditioned, this is a process that we all go through when we lose someone we love.

After three and a half years, I finally visited the grave of my daughter’s mother. While talking with a friend, I began to have clarity about the relationship with my daughter’s mother and the others that have followed. I went through the five stages; but in a different order than Ross outlined in 1969. To some extent, that made all my other relationships very complicated.

Daddy Speaks: My Experience With the Five Stages of Grief

B.B. King’s Cause Of Death Revealed

May 17th, 2015 - By Courtney Whitaker
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Danny Clifford/

Danny Clifford/

Earlier this week, the hearts of music lovers worldwide were broken. The legendary, B.B King passed away at the age of 89. Now, Coroner John Fudenberg has revealed King’s cause of death. AP reports,


B.B. King’s physician and the coroner in Las Vegas say the 89-year-old blues legend died of a series of small strokes attributable to his longstanding battle with type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Darin Brimhall and Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg (FYOU’-den-berg) tell The Associated Press the medical term for the cause of death is multi-infarct dementia.

It’s sometimes referred to as MID, and is also called vascular dementia.

Dementia is a permanent loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases, including diabetes. It usually affects adults over age 55, and can affect memory, thinking, language and judgment.

Brimhall says King’s strokes resulted from reduced blood flow as a consequence of chronic diabetes — or unhealthy fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

King was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes several years ago.


Palliative Care And Prolonging Life: Have You Thought About Your Final Wishes?

April 1st, 2015 - By Brande Victorian
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Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

This is going to sound weird but for some reason I really love those Colonial Penn-type life insurance commercials that feature parents talking to their kids about insurance policies and death and end-of-life wishes because they’re so real. I especially like the one with the Black girl who has the curly TWA and keeps telling her mom, “I don’t want to talk about this” as she tries to explain her plans for making sure her death isn’t a burden on the family when the time comes. Eventually, there’s a breakthrough and the daughter realizes the conversation is just precautionary planing rather than foreshadowing and I always think, if only more mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands, and wives would have these talks.

This past weekend I found myself in the unfortunate situation of watching my grandfather and my dad and his three brothers attempt to decide the fate of my grandmother’s life. The Saturday before last she collapsed and went into cardiac arrest and, due to a lack of oxygen, now has very little brain activity outside of basic reflexes to pain stimuli and gagging on a ventilator. By the time I got in town, seven days had passed and her status hadn’t changed, which wasn’t necessarily good or bad. But be that as it may, it was time to make a decision. And though everyone had an opinion on what they would want for themselves and what they thought my grandmother would want, no one really knew because no one ever asked or had a conversation.

“She talked about wanting to go home” was all my grandmother’s brother had to offer in terms of last wishes and we all knew that meant she wanted to be buried back down south. That really didn’t answer the question that was trying to be decided in the moment which was, do we do everything we can to prolong her life — despite the dismal prognosis and the expectation of an even lower quality of life — or do we usher her on to rest in peace?

We had the medical opinion which told us that the likelihood of recovery after three days in a coma was slim, but that was juxtaposed with guilt over the fact that my grandmother was in this position to begin with and mounting grief over the thought that the last time each of us had with her pre-ICU would in fact be our last time together. And so, opinions continued to sway back and forth for days.

“Guess we’ll just have to wait and see” was the decision my grandfather announced when the doctor hesitantly told us it was possible — though not likely — my grandmother could wake up one day. And so the doctors moved forward with a tracheostomy to remove the ventilator that’s breathing for her and inserted a feeding tube to give her nutrients while my dad and I toured long-term acute care facilities for her to reside in after her procedure for the next three weeks to a month. Though the plan we’re currently operating under is at least some form of action, it likely doesn’t change the fact that a month from now we’ll all probably be in the same place: Deciding life or death for someone who should’ve decided for herself.

When I came back to my mom’s house and updated her on what’s going on, she told me in no uncertain terms she wouldn’t want to be in that condition, which gave me the answer that I need if, God forbid, I find myself in this same position with her. Hypocrite that I am, I didn’t share my wishes, mostly because despite all that I’ve witnessed I’m not totally certain what they are. At my age, I think I’d want my family to fight for me. But if my quality of life — namely my independence — would be strongly diminished, I’d lean more toward letting me go. Of course, all of these things are easier said than done but they are certainly worth some thought at any age or stage of life and, most importantly, absolutely worth sharing with those who will be faced with seeing to your care should the time come.

Surviving The Loss Of Your Mother

March 24th, 2015 - By Rich
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He’s struggling. It’s evident by his Facebook posts. Sometimes the sadness oozes from the page like tar. Heavy, black and thick. In those moments you’re overcome with sadness too because losing a mother is that thing that we all know is going to happen, but we choose not to think about. Or we simply deny. Lose my mother? Nah, she will live forever. But the truth is, she won’t. She’ll go one day and the pain will hit you completely off guard.

How will you survive?

Well, first you have to be able to talk about it. And not just when it happens to you, like now, when it happens to someone else. One of your best friends lost her mom about a year ago and you can’t remember the last time you asked, “How are you dealing with it?” It’s not that you haven’t wondered. Your fear is that it may upset her or worse yet, that she’s still having a hard time with it.

You remember being on the phone with her not long after she found out. The way she cried reminded you of the utter helplessness you felt when your grandmother passed. It was the kinda pain that made your whole body ache. You never want to be reminded. So you don’t ask. And hope that she doesn’t notice that it is you who can’t take it.

But it doesn’t make you a very good friend, and it keeps you clueless as to what to expect or how to handle it one day when it does happen to you. So what now? Start talking. Better yet, asking.

Since you value a good professional opinion, and this psychologist happens to be the mom of a good friend, you ring up Dr. Jane Fort to see if she has any advice on how to survive the loss of your mother.

She starts off by saying that parental death is unlike any other, and unfortunately, this society doesn’t give much guidance in terms of grieving.

“It’s important to know that this is a long journey. If you’re waking up every day and getting dressed, you’re doing well.” She says, “You want to give yourself two years to grieve. Knowing that can help someone know that they’re not doing so bad if they still feel horrible after the first year.”

She also advises that a person respectfully say ‘no’ to things they don’t want to do. “It’s okay to let the phone ring, and just sit. Some nurturing no one can do for you.”

Utilizing support groups such as the ones that hospice extends to families can also be helpful in that you don’t have to feel so alone.

It’s interesting because opening that door made you want to ask your own mom how she’s doing. Your grandmother died around 2002 and while you made every effort to comfort her the best you could that first year, after that, you stopped talking about it.

She seemed okay. Right?

“It still feels the same,” says your mom, a little surprised that you’re asking. “I mean it gets better in that you can deal with it. But you never get over it. She was my best friend.”

You start thinking about your friend and his Facebook posts. How long has it been? Does anyone still ask how he’s doing?

“It’s like waking up in the morning and getting out of bed to do something that you always do, and then hitting the floor because you don’t have any legs,” he says of the pain he still feels one year later.

You wanna tell him that it supposedly takes at least two years, and he’s probably doing better than he thinks. Never mind, just listen…

“She died a few days before my birthday and then after that it was Mother’s Day. So when this time of year comes around it’s hard. The worst part is when I see a dude and his mom laughing.  I wondered if I was being a ‘b*tch baby,’ because I’m still taking it so hard, but a guy who lost his mom told me you never get over it.”

“Does it help when people ask?”

“It means a lot when someone asks because it could open a door…but when it happens I just say it’s getting better…if there’s a follow up question…I give more.”

You had no idea.

Ultimately, what you learned is that surviving the loss of a mother has a lot to do with managing your expectations. You will never get over it, but one day you will be able to deal with it. Knowing that is better than nothing.

Erickka Sy Savané is a freelance writer and creator of THE BREW, a social commentary blog. Before that she was a model/actress/MTV VJ. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.