My mom died by suicide 26 years ago and in those 26 years, I have had exactly one dream in which she appeared. One dream. That’s it. I hear people, all the time, mentioning the dreams their loved ones have been in and how comforted they were after seeing them. That has not been my experience.
The one dream I did have in which my mom appeared was anything but comforting. If our dreams are comprised of the thoughts and feelings our brains and hearts are wrestling with, my dream speaks volumes. The dream occurred about two years after she passed. In the dream, I saw my mom and we stood about ten feet away from each other. I told her we had all just purchased Christmas gifts for her even though she was no longer alive. I think, in my dream, I was seeking her approval or love. I was just seeking something. Anything. Her response? “Oh, that was so kind of Randy (our neighbor) to buy me a gift.” That was it. She didn’t care I bought her gifts. She didn’t care I was standing right in front of her. She didn’t care she had put me through the most traumatic life experience when I found her lifeless body. She didn’t care about any of that. She didn’t care about me. She just thought it was nice our neighbor had purchased her a gift.
In my heart of hearts, that is exactly what I felt when she took her life. Worthless. No value. I didn’t matter. She didn’t care about me, her ten-year-old daughter. And here I was, in my dream, having that very same powerful and overwhelming feeling. I rarely remember any details of any dream and yet, I can remember all the specifics of that dream that took place about 24 years ago. I remember it because it was a bit traumatic. I remember it because it felt like truth. I remember it so well because my heart was already telling me that same message. She didn’t care.
If I think about the suicide today, perhaps she did care. Perhaps she cared more than her actions displayed. Maybe she cared so much and felt that leaving permanently was actually better for us all. Who knows? Not me. Only her. What I do know is it doesn’t matter. If she cared or if she didn’t, the results are still the same. Was she selfish or was she selfless? Again, it doesn’t matter. She is gone and we are still here. 26 years later. We are still here.
Here is what I know. I graduated 8th grade, and then high school, college, and grad school. I traveled the world, got married, had kids, and wrote a book. All without my mom. She missed all of that. Every single moment. Early on, I missed her presence for every event but as the years passed, I haven’t always thought of her because she has been gone far longer than I ever knew her. I was barely ten when she died and I am now approaching 40. Most of my life has been without her. Mostly, I miss the idea of having a mom, not necessarily her, because I truly don’t remember much about her.
At the end of the day, her suicide planted an incredibly painful belief into my mind and heart. “I don’t matter.” If I am honest, that belief is still present all these years later. Sometimes it is a faint whisper and other times it seems to be the lens through which I see life. My dream all those years ago knew my internal battle with worth and value and clearly displayed it for me. The truth though is this: her suicide says more about her and her own struggles than it says about me or my lack of value. Some days I know and accept this with every ounce of my being. Other days. though, I struggle to not give into that old familiar lie that I do not matter. On those days, I have to choose to believe that I matter despite my mom’s actions. Her actions do not define me. They never did. They never will.
If I ever have another dream with my mom, I hope I can introduce her to my husband and kids. I could tell her that I am doing just fine. In the dream, maybe she would be proud of me. Maybe she wouldn’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I am proud of myself.
Healing is a journey.
It is a journey straight through your heart.
Most of us have grown up afraid of pain. Afraid of death. Afraid of suffering. Afraid.
What does this fear do to us? It creates more suffering. It makes us try to hide from our pain and avoid it. It tries to trick us into stuffing down our emotions.
What do I think I have done to heal that was crucial? I broke open my heart. Yes, my heart cracked in half when my late husband died. And then? I busted it open even further.
Break open your heart, listen to your pain, find your healing.
Your heart knows everything about you. It knows every joy, every laugh, every memory, and every pain. It knows what to do to heal itself. Will your heart ever be fully healed and back to new? I don’t think so. But the cracks fill with gold and your heart expands. Let it expand. Don’t let it shrivel up and become bitter and cold. Go into your heart and listen for your healing.
When my late husband died I tried to push away the pain. Yes, at first the pain was excruciating. I can hardly even describe it but days after he died I would sit on my couch late at night, my heart burning and beating in my ears, my entire body in pain, my head pounding, my soul screaming….me posting messages to my dead husband on his Facebook page in hopes that somehow this was a way that he could hear me or that someone would please read my pain and come and hug me until it disappeared. The pain was almost unbearable. Almost. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to blink. It just hurt. It was the shittiest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and I wanted to die. I tried so hard to push away that pain but then something whispered in my ear to write my grief, to go inside of my heart and listen. So I did. And that’s when my true healing journey began. I stepped straight into my broken heart and I listened to what it had to say. I listened to it when it said it was pissed off that my husband left with no goodbye. I listened to it when it said it felt unworthy of ever finding love again. I listened to it when it just said…….it hurts…it hurts so much. And I listened to it when it told me to rest. My heart knew the way.
I have been on a healing journey now for almost two years. Am I “over” my grief? No. It’s different now. The wound is still there. The loss….the missing person….my children not having their Dad….our lost future……..that loss will always be there beside me in my life. But I have learned how to honor that. How to realize that it’s okay. It’s okay to still have a wound but yet still want more life. It’s okay to know your grief is still in your heart but be brave enough to do things that will get people talking. My grief will be with me in some way or another for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. It’s a part of me. I’ve made it a cozy and warm spot in my heart for it to stay. I’ve learned how to love myself through it all……the hard days, the messy days, the crying days, and the happy and joyful days. It’s life. It’s just life. Life has no plan. The plans you think you’re making for your future? They aren’t yours yet. Live for today as much as you can. Tell fear to hit the road or just pack it in your backpack and get out there and live. All of this is true no matter if you are grieving the death of a loved one, battling the emotions of a divorce, tackling your own self-worth and self-love, or struggling to find your purpose in life. It’s all a journey through your heart. Slow down and listen to what your heart is telling you. Slow down and listen to the things you say about your pain and what that might mean and what might still need some more healing. Are you still bitter about your Ex leaving you? Are you still mad that your spouse died by suicide? Are you mad at yourself because you just can’t accept yourself until you lose 20 pounds? Are you screaming to the universe to give you a clue to what the hell your purpose and passion in this life is supposed to be?
Go inside of your heart. Write down your struggles. Write down what you love about yourself and your life despite and maybe because of those struggles.
Follow your heart. Follow your intuition. It always, always knows the way to your healing, to your renewed life, to your purpose, to your truth, to your path.
Accept that sometimes the wound, the suffering, the grief will last just a little tiny bit….forever….and that’s okay. Feel it. Listen to it. Love yourself through it. Heal it.
Then let it be. Just let it be and get out there and live your life.
Nik Tebbe writes a lot about her journey after her husband’s suicide. She has a great website full of pieces just like this one. You can read more by visiting her HERE.
You can find the original piece here: “Healing is a Journey Straight Through Your Heart.”
My son was my best friend, we could talk about anything. At times I would be angry because he would call me in the middle of the night just to talk or say, “I love you, mom.” Now, I would give anything for a call just to talk or just to say, “I love you, mom.”
It has been almost three years since I lost my son to suicide. Yes, time does help, but the emptiness I feel in my heart feels like it will never heal. I know he was in so much pain and I know I’m selfish to want him back no matter what he was going through, but I miss him so much.
He was so young to have such a strong need for alcohol to help him cope with the pain he was living with. My need to have answers to questions that I know I will never have is hard to accept. No one could ever understand the pain a parent lives with due to the loss of a child by suicide. Some of the stories on this site have really helped me to understand, that his decision to leave this world the way he did, doesn’t have anything to do with the lack of love we had for each other.
I love and miss you so much, Son.
What would you say now? A letter to my Angel who blessed us with her beautiful heart.
When you are told the pain will never go away – that is no lie. It is now 6 long months since you left this earth but there is no day that I wake up without thinking that I am just living a dream. There are many times that I have picked up the phone or waited to hear your bubbly voice telling me what new adventure you are involved with at school. I look at my phone expecting a text full of funny emojis of you telling me how much you have accomplished beyond all the school and other work you have to do. Boy, I miss you so much… miss our little silly conversations together, how we love Christmas and Thanksgiving and what a silly holiday Halloween is. Whom am I going to laugh with now that you are gone? This was not a life I dreamt of having. The worst is the hollow empty feeling in my gut that won’t go away. I often wonder whether you are feeling the same, too, wherever you are now. The worst is the constant reminder that I get anywhere and everywhere I look which reminds me of you, my sweet angel.
I wake up in the morning and the first thing I see is the picture with your smile on my phone. I cannot take your voice off of my voicemail because as much as it hurts, I feel that that is my little way of keeping you with me. I wake up and the next thing I see are the clothes and shoes that occupy most my whole wardrobe that we bought together. I remember the shopping escapades we had together, trying the maximum number of outfits we were allowed in the changing rooms. Now I think, whom am I going to shop with? Whom am I going to laugh with? Should I throw away everything to ease the pain of remembering you through all my clothes? Everything in my life from the pen I use, the food I eat, the music I listen to, the next girl I see on the street, has your face and body all over them. I miss you baby girl, I can hear you say, “Ah ma, you are so funny” when I share my good-old-days story, or “Ah ma, it’s OK” when I’m feeling weary. You could ease the pain of others with all your being but we did not know what pain you were going through within yourself. What would you be saying now?
You showed so much love to everyone around you but you never asked for help. Everyone talks about your selfless deeds and how you were so ready to serve, but you never asked for help for all the hurt that we now know you endured. What would you say now? I love you and everyone loves you. So, I would like to say to you on behalf of all of us, I want to thank you for what you showed and taught us in your little time on earth. May all those who are now with you keep you safe and at peace.
“Mazvita mwanangu nezvikomborero zvawakatipa”. Thank you, my angel, for what you were here to teach us.
My sister Amanda…
It’s been just over two years now. Did you know when you shot yourself that you would take the whole family with you in one way or another?
Confidence in our perception of reality, hope for the future, peace in each day, and emotional and physical health, have all been stolen from your siblings. The old is gone, replaced by new, more fragile, burdened and anguished sisters.
That lovely optimism of youth and the belief that life is good and the future is bright has been undermined in your nieces and nephews. If beautiful, funny, talented Aunt Amanda could despair of life, what does the future hold for us? The old is gone, replaced by new, tentative and confused young people. Each embarking on life with skill and bravery, but with baggage that is heavier than it should have been.
The pleasure of a vibrant lush family tree has been lessened greatly for Mom and Dad. Their energy and laughter draining away. Their golden years, deeply tarnished by salty tears. The old is gone, replaced by defeated and tentative sketches of who they want to be. Valiantly moving forward but wondering what, if anything, they did to deserve this pain.
The roots and wings have been stripped from your child. First the wings, when his father left for greener pastures in this world. And then the roots when his mother left him behind in this world alone. The old is gone, replaced by a young person who, despite his valiant efforts to be strong, is navigating life by stars that cannot even be seen. The very life was stolen away from one of our sisters, whom I know you loved. Almost 2 years to the day of your suicide, she died. Not the same way you did; a heart attack in a woman not very old, the doctors said. In my soul, I know it was a broken heart. Over the last 2 years, she lost the things she valued most, starting with you, her best friend and trusted confidant.
We loved you so deeply! We miss you so much! You were our kind and gentle sister and friend, beautiful and funny aunt, the last baby born to our loving parents, the teacher and lover and partner-in-crime to your only child! Diligently, we are working through our grief, which seems to manifest itself in new ways as time goes by. They say that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” No; none of us are stronger as a result of losing you. We have built fortifications around our hearts; the older of us push through for the sake of the younger.
But, yes, we have learned to cherish each other more and lean into the time we have together. Because time is short and there are no guarantees in life. Some of us who are old enough to understand, are gentler and more engaged with the hurting and lonely people we encounter. In my mind, I want to change the world, to shout out to those thinking about following in your footsteps: “You are loved! People will miss you! You will change the lives of others you don’t even know are counting on you! Don’t believe the lies in your head!”
I ask, anew, “why?” It’s been over 2 years and I know, but I don’t know, the answer. My hope is that we will ALL see you again someday and the past will fade away into oblivion, with perfect love and forgiveness. Until then, we strive to be best we can be, the old stripped away with the new in its place.
It is human nature to be curious. “Why?” is the most commonly asked question among any age group. When someone dies by suicide, people automatically want to know why. There has to be a reason. Who did what to them? Someone had to have pissed them off. Thus starts the blame game. It’s the spouse’s fault, it’s the mother’s fault, it’s the child’s fault. It has to be someone’s fault. Everyone NEEDS someone to blame for their loved one’s death. Oftentimes, the family bands together and the spouse or partner, as the outsider, is the source of blame. I have seen it all. I have experienced it all. I have been on the receiving end of it all.
My boyfriend died by suicide. I was blamed for his death, even though I had nothing to do with it. I was not the last one to be with him, nor was I the last one to talk to him. We were on good terms. We had a great day the last day he was alive! Somehow when the family started talking and couldn’t find a single reason for blame (surely not the alcoholism, not the mental illness, not the plethora of reasons it might have actually been), I was clearly the obvious choice of the blame. It stung at first. It downright hurt. These people, just a few weeks prior, hugged me at the cemetery and told me to call if I needed anything at all because they were “so worried about me.” Now, I am suddenly shunned and I truly have no idea why. No one even had the courtesy to tell me why or what they think it is that I did. I can’t even defend myself.
I know immediately that I have two choices. I can let it drive me mad. I can let it consume me and every last bit of my daily life. Or, I can let it go. Do these people’s opinions of me really matter? How does their hate for me stop me in my tracks? The answer, friends, is that it cannot unless I allow it to. They have zero power over me. It has taken me some time to realize that they are grieving and hurting just as much as I am. Actually, more than I am because they refuse to heal. At the end of the day, if blaming me helps them sleep better at night, then so be it. I can take it. I made the decision to block them from social media, from my cell phone, from my life. I removed them from my life just as though I had never met them. I removed myself from my boyfriend’s memorial Facebook page. It hurt like hell to do so, but my life is so much easier now. If I don’t see the negativity, it can’t bring me down. You see, I forgive them. I hold no ill will against them. I have found peace in my heart. I know you can too, friends.
It is imperative that we, as suicide loss survivors, are able to differentiate between guilt and responsibility. Even still, almost two years later, I feel guilty every day that my boyfriend died by suicide. I feel guilty that I didn’t recognize the telltale signs. I feel guilty that I lived with the man and I was supposed to be the closest person to him in the world, but I didn’t see the situation for what it was. It is the true meaning of the phrase “I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” Friends, there were so many trees. As much guilt as I feel, I am not responsible for his death. He made his choice, and no matter how illogical that choice was, it was his choice and I had nothing to do with it.
It is normal for a suicide loss survivor to feel guilt. The “what if’s” will fill our heads for an undetermined amount of time following our loved one’s suicide. The guilt weighs very heavily on our hearts. What if I had only stayed home from work that day? What if I had just come home at lunch? Somehow our imperfect mind turns those what if’s into guilt. Of course we could have saved the day, right? But friends, if you only take in one thing from this post, take in this – YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE. Read this again.
You are absolutely not responsible for your loved one’s suicide.
You did not cause your loved one’s suicide.
And probably, most importantly, you most likely could not have stopped it.
So, I need you to realize that it does not matter if you got into a big fight the day before, it doesn’t matter if you accused them of something just before they died. None of that matters. Suicide is not a normal reaction to anything – not the loss of a job, a breakup, the loss of a marriage, criminal charges, nothing. Suicide is an act of desperation from someone who has a sick mind. Yes, a sick mind. The mind can get sick just like the heart or liver can. If your loved one had died of a heart attack or kidney failure, would you experience the same feelings? Would you be walking around blaming yourself? Chances are you would not. Suicide is an act of mental illness. Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt and responsibility you feel. It’s okay to do so. Friends, we are going to be okay.
My husband, Troy, took his life on May 12th 2015. In the 800 and some odd days since, I’ve learned a lot about grieving, parenting and being kinder to myself along the way.
1) Self-care is non-negotiable.
The way I look at it, I’m the only captain of this ship now. If I go down, there’s no one left. This journey is brutal. Losing the person you were supposed to co-parent with, to love and guide your child into becoming an adult with, is awful. One income, one bank of sick leave, school events as the only parent. Knowing that if something happened to me, my daughter would be left parentless. That’s about as heavy as it gets.
I have to be constantly filling my tank so I can be there for her. If I let myself get depleted, I get cranky, easily frustrated and that leaves me unable to fulfill all the things I need to do. I will say it until I’m blue in the face, self-care isn’t selfish. Someday when my daughter is an adult, I can’t expect her to care for herself and put herself first, if I never show her how to do it. A significant part of my budget is devoted to things that are for me. Babysitters for exercise classes, massages to keep my stress/migraines in check. I take walks at work, and when I need a break or a minute to step away, I call one of those people who have said, “call anytime”. Because I’m worth it and because she deserves a healthy, happy mom.
2) It takes a village, no seriously.
I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be loved in so many ways in the time since Troy’s death. Meals made, monetary help, helping me move, free babysitting and dance classes. Playdates where friends have offered to bring the dinner so we can just show up. Installing a dishwasher, putting a new roof on my house, hand me downs for my daughter. Both sets of grandparents have taken her overnight so I can go camping, be with friends, go on dates etc. All this helps me remember who I am as a person, not just a widowed mom.
Another huge part of my village are people who get it. A support group of others who’ve lost loved ones to suicide. An online support group of widows/widowers who get what it’s like to lose your spouse. A work environment where taking care of my mental health is supported. And therapy, seriously, do it.
3) Re-grieving is a thing
Here’s a great article, but to summarize, children will continue to grieve different parts of the loss as they develop and mature. My daughter was 16 months old when he died. She was mostly pre-verbal and so the extent of her grieving at that time was to look around the house and say “dada” with a confused look on her face. This continued until she turned two and I had to explain that daddy was never coming back.
Now, at 3.5, she understands that he died because his brain was sick and he didn’t go to the doctor. That death means your body stops working. That everyone dies at some point, most people do from getting really old. This has prompted questions like, “Are you going to die, mommy?” “am I going to die?” “why didn’t daddy go to the doctor?” “Why did my daddy die and (her friend)’s dad not die?”
These questions don’t just come up at home. They come up at the grocery store, in restaurants, at school events and they’re only going to continue to get more complex as she gets older and can understand more.
Finding a play therapist for Norah at 2 that we’ve continued to meet with several times a month has been a huge help for us. It helps me feel less alone and to ensure the answers and explanations I give are age appropriate. Then I take what I’ve learned and share it with her teachers, family members and friends so we can all make sure we’re consistent.
4) Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good
I used to think if I just tried hard enough, I could do it all. Then Troy died and I realized how ridiculous and unnecessary that was. In any given day I have my own needs, Norah’s needs, whatever needs to be done at work and the house to take care of. And that excludes anything fun or pleasurable. There simply isn’t time to get it all done. I’m constantly on a budget with my time, energy and emotional resources. That means we eat quesadillas for dinner more than we should, the dishes pile up more than I’d like and my backyard landscaping style can be best described as “every man for himself.” But at the end of the day, if we’re both healthy, she feels loved and I can go to bed knowing I did the best I could, that’s enough. I’m doing enough. My worth is not tied to the cleanliness of my house or the number of tasks I accomplish in a day.
5) It is always going to suck, but it will get better
That terribleness never goes away. Someone told me early on that losing someone you love is like being handed a brick when they die. It’s heavy and awkward and you have to learn to carry it. We never get to let go of the brick but we get better at carrying it, and more accustomed to the extra weight. That’s where I’m at now. I’m carrying it and I wish more than anything I had never been given this brick, but it doesn’t feel as heavy as those first few weeks.
I’m not a writer by any means. I don’t even keep a journal. In recent weeks though, I’ve found myself writing lengthy posts, texts, and emails about my experience. Experience. It makes it sound so normal and, in a way, it is. I experienced the death of someone close to me. In that, I’m not alone, I know that. People die every day, it’s a natural thing. None of us were meant to be here forever. The difference between me and a lot of other people is that I lost my child. My only child. I know I’m not the first, or last, mother to experience this. What most people don’t know, and what I’ve been scared to admit for years, is that a part of me has known this day was coming. I knew I would live to see my child die. I did everything I could think of to keep this from happening, yet it still did.
You see, my son was quite sick. Not the kind of sick you can always see, or recognize. My son suffered from mental illness. Even at this point in time, it’s still very difficult to talk about with people who haven’t experienced it first hand. He was one of the most generous, caring, thoughtful, kind, and truly genuine people I’ve ever known. If you were lucky, you knew that part of him. He was also manipulative and cruel. That wasn’t really him, that was his illness. He was extremely intelligent and had a unique way of looking at almost everything. Sometimes it was difficult having a conversation with him because you’d feel so lost. Where did he come up with some of these ideas? He was also in constant pain. He was struggling every day, just to get through to the next. I always hoped he’d get the help I thought he needed. Help I hoped was out there. We had many, many conversations about what I thought would help, and he’d argue that it wouldn’t. His moods were on a cycle. Every few months his mood would get extremely dark. We’d talk about how hopeless he felt, and the fact that he didn’t want to do ‘this’ anymore. By ‘this’, he meant ‘live’. It broke my heart every time I heard that from him. Several weeks before his death, we were having one of these conversations, and I said something I’d never said to him before. I told him, while I can’t help him die, and I don’t want him too, more than anything else, I don’t want him to suffer anymore. I told him that if he’s only here because I want him to be, that’s selfish on my part. ‘I don’t want you to stay here just because of me’ I said, as tears ran down my face. It was the hardest thing I ever did……or so I thought at the time.
Two weeks later I waited outside his friend’s house while paramedics were working on him. They tried to bring him back for about an hour. When I saw the paramedic come out of the house I knew what he was going to tell me. “I’m very sorry, we did everything we could, he’s dead.” Dead. I was going to call him tomorrow, I’d been giving him some space.
I have questions, but the answers won’t change anything. I have thoughts of things I could’ve done differently, but that won’t change anything either. I’m trying to focus mainly on the things that he told me over and over again through the years. ‘I don’t want to hurt you’, ‘I don’t want to die alone’, ‘I don’t want it to hurt’. I hurt, but it’s ok, it’s because I loved you more than anyone. You weren’t alone, you were surrounded by friends. I hope and pray that you didn’t feel anything or were even aware of what was happening. I know you’re at peace now. The struggles, the pain, the torment, they’re gone for you, and for that I’m grateful. That helps me get through each day. I also know you’re with me, I can feel you in little things I see or do. Last night was the first time since you died that you appeared in a dream. It was your beautiful smiling face, just a flash of it, in the middle of a dream. Thank you for stopping by to say hello. I love you around the world a million times, turkey noodle.
I’ll never be the same and that’s okay was originally written for Trying to Find a New Normal. Check out more writings from Dawn there!
Suicide touched my life before I was even born. My mom lost her younger brother while she was pregnant with my brother in the early 70’s. He was never talked about and I didn’t even know he existed until I was about 10 years old. I guess that’s just how things were done back then, push it way down and don’t talk about it.
The last time I saw my dad was when he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. 18 months later I received a phone call from my aunt that would instantly alter the course of my life. “Your dad is gone” is what I heard, but nothing could prepare me for the “how.’ The next week seemed like a blur, I didn’t eat or shower and I only left the house to get some sleep-aid pills just so I could get some rest. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I remember constantly checking the mailbox in hopes that there was a letter from my dad. There never was. I was just left with the feeling of fear and I no longer knew who I was. I felt myself questioning every aspect of my life.
Growing up, I was an outgoing and very social person. I always wanted to be where the action was and I enjoyed being out with friends. I even was voted class clown of my graduating class in my senior yearbook. I am no longer that person; I always find an excuse to say I can’t make it when, in reality, I’m just not comfortable with myself right now. I miss the person I once was, not only was I grieving the loss of my dad but I was also grieving the loss of my former self.
I’ve made it to the two-year mark. I’ve survived two of my dad’s birthdays without him, two anniversaries of his death and two fathers’ days. I find that it’s more of the anticipation of the dates than the actual “day” for me. My wedding anniversary is a bittersweet time, it’s a reason to celebrate with my husband but it’s also the anniversary of the last time I saw my dad. When I’ve reached milestones in my life like purchasing my first home and turning 40 I am able to find the happiness in them but I also find myself feeling guilty for being happy. I deserve happiness and it’s slowly entering back in my life. I have an extremely supportive husband; he was next to me when I received the phone call and has never left my side since. He checks in on me and encourages me to talk and to let him know if I’m feeling down or not myself. I attend a support group for survivors of those left behind by suicide. Knowing there are others out there who understand and want to listen has been crucial to my healing and moving forward.
I’ve heard the mundane phrase uttered many times that “time heals all wounds.” It may not seem like it right now, but it gets better, it really does. The initial sting of the loss has worn off but I still cry, I still have an anxious mind, I still replay scenarios in my head, and I still have regrets. They may not know it but I look at my grandparents as a reason to continue on. They lost their only son to suicide; they are in their 90’s now but have built a wonderful life for themselves and their family. Thankfully, for me, things are much different now than they were in the 70’s. There are so many resources available and suicide isn’t seen as such a hush-hush subject as it once was.
I thought I knew what heartbreak felt like before but I had no idea until that hot day in August of 2015. As long as I live I will never forget the moment I learned my boyfriend was gone. Sometimes things go terribly awry and they can’t be put back together the way they were before, no matter how much you want it. I see things so differently now. I have a whole new family of people with whom we share a terrible connection, yet I can’t see my life without these people. They were my lifeline for a while, and some days they still are. I thank God for bringing them to me. I have learned so much about a disease and a cause that was rarely even part of my vocabulary before. I wish I knew nothing about suicide. I’ve learned a lot about God and even had a screaming match or two with him this year. I have learned that there’s a lot of cruelty and unfairness in this life but there is nothing we can do to stop that. As of the day of writing this, it has been 683 days since I’ve heard his voice, been kissed by him, received a random text, or saw his face. He is still my first thought most mornings, my last thought when I lay down, and what pops into my head when I wake at 2 am for no reason. There were all these small things that seemed so insignificant that, looking back, I see were all the big significant things. They are what I miss. Mostly, I hate that our goodbye was never said, however, I am still connected with him-wherever he is. I know how lucky I am. There are people who spend their whole life looking for what I had with him, and I am grateful for every second we shared. There were so many things happening that I couldn’t see at the time.
I lost my mum to suicide September 23rd, 2013. In reflection, I was already very depressed and having suicidal thoughts myself. Trying to juggle a manager’s position, 3 kids, a home and trying to look after my mum was breaking me. My mum’s suicide nearly tipped me over the edge. I was so angry that I could have ripped the clouds from the sky. The anger, rejection, and abandonment killed me. I fought with my husband. I was so consumed with anger and grief and I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
My breaking point was getting drunk and getting arrested. My arms were nearly broken and I spent a night in the cells. My anxiety was through the roof and I made a decision then that I could not do this to myself or my family anymore.
My mum was dead but I had to be strong. I took the medication and I went into therapy. I’m not going to say that it’s easy but I’m going to say that I deserve to live and I deserve to be happy. I want to fight for me and my kids and not put them through the same. Some days are good and some are bad but that’s ok and Its ok to just be ok. I can be content with that.
I was saddened to hear about the recent suicide of Chester Bennington, lead singer of the rock band Linkin Park. He left behind a wife and six children who are, no doubt, reeling in the devastating loss of their husband and daddy. He had so many fans and people that loved him and his music. He had fame and riches. It seemed he had it all…from the outside. It breaks my heart whenever I hear of a recent suicide. But I am not shocked.
I was shocked when my mom died by suicide twenty-six years ago. She was a high school teacher who worked with at-risk youth. She was the favorite teacher on campus and the last person on Earth anyone would expect to take their own life. I pinched myself every day for the first year after her death because I felt I was in a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Our community was in shock.
I was shocked when my cousin took his life shortly after returning from his military deployment to Iraq. He was the life of the party, a jokester at all times, and a master at karaoke. He was handsome, engaged, and a great guy. His death was shocking to his military brothers.
When news of Robin Williams’ suicide broke, I was in shock. He was the funny man, successful, and well loved. How could someone who had it all kill themselves? The world was in shock!
The more I learn about suicide, the less I am shocked when someone completes one. You see, suicide has never discriminated against a certain type of person. Suicide affects all of us. The celebrity who has riches and fame the rest of us can only dream of, the brand new mom, the elderly man, the teen with such a bright future, our favorite teacher or pastor, the sweet lady next door, the strong and brave police officer, all of us. Every single person is susceptible to suicide.
There is no equation for suicide. A + B does not always = C. There are warning signs and help lines for those thinking about it or those concerned for another person, but those don’t always prevent suicide. If they did, the suicide rate would be close to zero. Don’t get me wrong, we need those help lines in place and each of us needs to pay attention to the warning signs for our friends and family, but it does not save everyone.
At the root of suicide is a profound level of hopelessness. Hopeless that things will ever get better or improve. Hopeless that their physical or mental pain will ever subside. Hopeless that life will ever be worth living again. Suicide has never been about being selfish or cowardly, but more about ending the pain they face on a daily basis, sometimes in secret.
I am not shocked by the suicide of Chester Bennington. To say that I am shocked reveals a belief that he was somehow immune because he was a celebrity. To be that naive does not progress the conversation of suicide, it only delays it. We need to stop being shocked by suicide and, instead, look at it as the tragedy that it is. A tragedy that kills approximately 121 Americans every day. We cannot be shocked by this any longer. We need to educate ourselves. We need to reduce the stigma about suicide. Suicide does not make people “freaks” or “cowards” or even “selfish.” Suicide is the manifestation of a very real emotional, physical, and mental pain/illness that we cannot always see. Let’s stop being shocked and do more to help those around us who are fighting this battle daily, usually in secret.
If you have been impacted by the suicide of a loved one, check out the book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide. You can watch a video trailer for it here.
I was honored recently to be interviewed for the Mom Struggling Well podcast. During the interview, we discussed my mom’s suicide, what it was like to grow up without my mom, the unique grief a suicide brings, how suicide impacts my parenting today, and how this website, The Gift of Second, came to be created. The interview is fun and funny, but also shares the raw reality of how suicide impacts those left behind. I hope you will be able to connect with the feelings and experiences after a suicide and also find hope and encouragement in the process. The podcast is #95
On TV tonight I was watching a show where a woman was told that her husband had died. It was ten years ago that my husband took his life, but tonight, I was right there again – feeling the shock, the loss, the anguish. I sobbed as I felt us both absorb the words. Sigh. It happens. I won’t lie-I imagine it always will. Triggers or memories will always take us back and we relive it all over again. While we will always be transported to those dark places occasionally, at least we won’t live there all of the time, the way we did at the beginning.
After Jim took his life, and those first few blurry days … or was it weeks … had passed, I began reading, EVERYTHING I could, trying to understand, trying to unlock the why. I found a wonderful book: No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One (by Carla Fine), that resonated with me. It might not speak to everyone, but it did to me, and even after I finished reading it, I carried it in my briefcase or purse with me everywhere, for months! I didn’t let it out of reach. It sounds kind of silly now, but it was like a security blanket! Probably because it was the first thing I read that gave me hope, that helped me begin, just begin to understand that I would never actually unlock the why. The way it resonated helped me begin to heal. Now, it’s been ten years, and I would not kid anyone, I’m not healed, I don’t know if I ever will be. I am resolved though, I have survived, and I have been able to move on.
My sons have been able to move on too, though I doubt they would say that they are healed. They missed their dad when they graduated from college and he wasn’t there, and they missed their dad when they married and he wasn’t beside them. When they have children of their own, they will feel the loss yet again, still. Nobody would ever, ever want this for their children. They were 20 when their dad passed – and as I have stood at their graduations, and weddings–unbidden–this thought “Jimmy, you should be here for this – you’re missing the good stuff!” just kept rolling through my mind. This was when I felt a touch of that anger that everyone told me I should be feeling.
In the course of my journey towards healing, I have learned a few things. The first thing I learned was that you have to walk right through the deepest, darkest, most painful places to get to the other side. Shortcuts don’t work. Neither do detours or skirting the edges – you must go right through the middle. Embrace the pain, cry and keep moving. It’s ok to say out loud that he/she ‘broke our contract.’ They were supposed to be here, to share our lives, the good and the bad, but they ditched, and in abandoning us, they let us down. After a time, when you are ready, set aside a specific period of time daily, or weekly to grieve. Make yourself remember, let yourself cry, listen to that favorite song or read old letters and acknowledge how much it still hurts. When the time is up (15 or 30 minutes), put it away and do something else. There will be time tomorrow.
Your friends and acquaintances will re-arrange themselves. Some people you least expect will become true champions, and some friends you may never hear from again. This hurt, and was hard for me to learn and accept, but I expect it relates to the final ‘lesson’ that I will share. I’ve learned that most people simply don’t have the ‘tools’ in their ‘emotional toolboxes’ to know how to react to you. Give them a break and a little help. Accept what they offer whether it’s a casserole with an awkward “gotta go,” or an authentic coffee and shoulder to lean on. If they ask, tell them what you need. They truly don’t know and they’re afraid, they say, to do the wrong thing. Be gentle with them, and with yourself. This is a truly life-altering event in every imaginable way. You, my friends, have survived. Wishing you peace.
For the longest time, I hated the realization that time goes on. I felt time stopped when my boyfriend died by suicide, and in a lot of ways, it did. In so many other ways, it’s marched on, whether I wanted it to or not. So much is different now. Time is always viewed as the enemy, but time is the only thing that made this loss even slightly bearable for me. No, time does not make it better (as many, many, MANY people feel the need to point out). Time does, however, ease the pain and sting of the initial loss. With each passing day, it does get a little bit easier to make it through the day. Time is what made me want to swim instead of sink.
For the first half of the year or so, I had been mostly medicated. Suddenly, there I was completely dependent on medication to make it through the day. Let me reiterate that – I was on multiple mind-altering medications just TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE DAY. No other reason – just to survive another 24-hour cycle. Wake up, stumble through the day, lay in bed for hours unable to sleep, and then finally sleep off and on for what only feels like seconds. My heart actually physically hurt. I can’t tell you how many days I stared at the wall aimlessly. I lost track of time. I forgot what I was doing mid-task. I couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without crying. Slowly and surely, these things got better for me, just like I know they will for you. Let time do its thing and trust it to do so.
What does all this mean? One year later. So many sleepless nights. 12 months. 365 days. Where should I be? What is the proper amount of grieving time? If this were a natural death or a break up would I be in the same place I am now? Is there a timeline? There are so many questions, with so few half answers. Only I can come up with my answers. In this first year, I became an advocate for suicide awareness and prevention. I have become his voice. The voice I wish with every fiber of my being he would have used to ask me for help, but he simply couldn’t. The voice he felt so desperately he did not have. I started this journey the day he died, and I have a purpose now. My purpose is to raise awareness, and take part in prevention and make sure his life meant something. He should not be forgotten. He was too special to just be forgotten. He was such a wonderful and loving man with so much potential, yet he felt he had no voice. I have become his voice and I’ll shout as long as I live for anyone and everyone to hear.
With that, this marks the end of the “first-year” chapter of my life. What does the next chapter bring? Who knows? Whatever it is, I know it will be a good chapter. I know that I can learn to keep his memory alive and keep my love for him while learning to love another. I have really high hopes for that. I am capable of moving forward without forgetting him. I will forever have an open wound that will never heal, but I can keep that wound doctored and live my life to the fullest. Friends, I am okay, and you will be too.
The following was written for the Survivors of Suicide Loss newsletter (page 3).
Today, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned through the devastation of suicide. I love others in their greatest time of pain because I remember what it was like when others moved on and forgot my daily grief. I make a big deal out of my kids’ birthdays and decorate their cakes so they know how incredibly valued and treasured they are. Something I, myself, questioned when my mom took her own life. Today, I realize I have the power to ensure my kids know the value of speaking about their thoughts and feelings and never fearing they will appear weak if they need to ask for help. Something I wish my military cousin knew before he took his own life. I am thankful I recognize my own self-care is as important to me as it is to my family. They all benefit when I choose to take care of myself. These are all lessons I learned through the devastation of suicide. I experienced tremendous grief but I am a better friend, mom, and wife because I choose to love others and myself fully!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m on a mission to challenge biases — conscious and unconscious.
It was the spring of 1983, my boyfriend, who later became my husband, shared some distressing news with me. His mother had just been hospitalized at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, MD.
“When are you going down to visit her?” I asked.
“My dad doesn’t want me to go,” he replied. (Years later I would learn that his dad thought he was protecting his son.)
“Would you visit your mom if she was hospitalized with a heart attack or breast cancer?” I asked.
“Of course,” he replied.
“Would you visit your mom if she was hospitalized for a surgery?” I prodded.
“Of course,” he replied.
“Then why aren’t you going to hop in your car and visit her?” I argued.
The proverbial light bulb went off. He took time off from work and hopped in his car to visit his mom six hours away at NIMH.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. About four weeks after being discharged from the hospital she died by suicide.
Call to action
Please treat mental illness like any other disease. Visit your friend or loved one who is hospitalized or suffering at home. Send cards. Pick up the phone. Express your love. Listen with compassion.
Don’t remain silent. You need support, too. Tell your close friends, colleagues, and/or family if your spouse or partner, parent, child, sibling, or other family member is suffering from mental illness, just as you would if he or she had a heart attack or were diagnosed with cancer. Of course, just as you would with any illness, ask their permission first.
Until we can both act and talk about mental illness like we do any other illness, we will never remove the stigma and get the support and compassion we all need to heal. Will you join me?
This post was originally written by Margaret H. Greenberg and titled, “What if We Treated Mental Illness like Any Other Illness?”, and first appeared on LinkedIn.” Margaret’s bio is impressive: “I am a writer, executive coach, speaker, workshop leader, and veteran entrepreneur who is so grateful that I get to do what I love every day. I get to coach amazing leaders, write about topics I care deeply about, and travel to interesting places giving talks and workshops at Google and other companies, associations, and universities around the world. I’m the co-author, with my dear friend and colleague Senia Maymin, of the Amazon best seller Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill Professional) which is now available in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Last year our book was developed into a Certificate Program which is rated among the top 11 positive psychology courses you can take online. Both Senia and I graduated from the inaugural Masters of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania more than a decade ago and are also the Positive Work columnists for Live Happy Magazine. I also occasionally write for Forbes Woman, Positive Psychology News, and the Association for Talent Development. My other LinkedIn blog posts can be found here. Please click “Follow” if you enjoy my posts and connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @ProfitBook.”
So many people, including ourselves, often expect our grief to be finished by the one-year anniversary of the death. People expect us to move on and their words shame us for still being impacted. Often, we, ourselves, shame ourselves for not getting “over it” quicker and we beat ourselves up. The path of grief, though, is not confined to just one year. It is a life-long journey that manifests itself time and time again. The following is an excerpt from the book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide.
In 1969, after extensive research with dying individuals, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, created the theory that people grieve in stages. She discovered that each person, near death, experienced a series of stages as the end of their life drew near: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Widely used in the mental health profession and accepted in the general population as well, this concept has since been commonly adopted by the world to describe the stages an individual goes through after losing a loved one.
Although the theory created by Kübler-Ross is strong and has merit, it gives the illusion that, at some point, grief is complete. We, as survivors, know the grief is never finished. The intensity lessens over time, and the consuming emotions become more stable, but grief is never fully complete. When folks expect their grief to end and their pain to be erased, they are, oftentimes, focused on an imaginary timeline, waiting for that magical day to wipe away their hurt and allow their life to resume as it was before this great tragedy. When we expect the impossible, we are always disappointed.
Grief is neither linear nor does it adhere to a particular path. I created this image to depict the manner in which grief really affects us.
The Realistic Grieving Path begins with a suicide, causing a surviving individual to begin the grief process. The feelings one experiences are overwhelming, chaotic, erratic, and all-encompassing. I liken this feeling to the destruction of an earthquake. Not only does it rock our worlds and bring devastation to our lives, but it also creates cracks in our foundation, causing us to doubt all that was. The picture depicts waves of grief similar to an earthquake’s seismic waves. One moment we can feel intense heart- ache and sadness, and then next moment we are full of anger and rage. Always unpredictable and never convenient, walking through grief can be unbearable much of the time.
As survivors work through their grief, they will eventually arrive at a phase titled ‘New Normal.’ New normal is labeled as such because we will never return to the person we were before the suicide. How could we? This phase becomes our new status quo, the phase in which we go about our days, no longer so consumed with grief. Life begins to carry on in this new normal stage until a ‘life event’ occurs. A life event can be positive, such as a wedding, the birth of a baby, or a graduation, or negative like the anniversary of the suicide, a serious illness, or a job loss. Regardless of the event, this scenario acts as a trigger and causes the survivor to walk through the grief path again as they process the death of their loved one once more in light of the new events.
As I prepared for my wedding, I thought very little of the absence of my mom for the ceremony. Nor did I think of her at all during the honeymoon. Upon returning from the honeymoon; however, while setting up house with my husband, something out of the blue, it seemed, occurred. Two days after returning, my husband and I sat down to make our first grocery list as a married couple. Every idea he had for meals seemed horrible, and I began to snap at him for each suggestion. Eventually, my wise husband asked, “What is the matter? Why are you so frustrated?” Without pause and without thinking, I began to sob. The only thing I could get out between deep crying breaths was, “My mom should have been at my wedding and she wasn’t.” To me, at the time, (and I am sure my husband as well) this seemed so odd and unexpected. In reality, it is a perfect example of a ‘life event’ as described above in the Realistic Grieving Path.
The wedding took place seventeen years after my mom’s suicide and, leading up to the wedding, I had been relatively unaffected by her death as it pertained to wedding preparations. The major life event, though, rocked my world and caused me to walk through the process again as I mourned my mom missing my wedding.
The events do not need to be big; they can be small, such as running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years who reminds you of your loved one or even simply hearing a song your loved one enjoyed. The idea is that events happen our entire lives, and many can trigger different parts within us to feel the loss of our loved one more fully. It is then that we must work through the death again. Walking through the grief path again by no means negates any grief work we have done before; instead, it brings to light different aspects that need more healing or attention. Grief is both cyclical and never-ending. We will never fully ‘get over’ the suicide of a loved one, and I believe this model best depicts the reality of grief. When discussing his son’s suicide, Tony Dungy, former NFL Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, wrote in his book, Quiet Strength: A Memoir, “First, there is no typical grief cycle, and second, it’s not something I went through. I’m still grieving.”
When an individual has experienced such a tremendous loss as suicide, the entire body feels it. Symptoms of grief typically manifest as follows: Difficulty sleeping, Loss of appetite, Loss of appetite, Headaches, Crying, Aches and pains, Anxiety, Aches and pains, Isolation, Anger, Guilt, Sadness, Fatigue, Shock, and Depression.
Each of these symptoms feels ever-present in the beginning, and the survivor may fear these feelings will consume them always. In time, though, these feelings will lessen in intensity and come in waves instead, often arising without warning. Eventually, feelings will surface with only a life trigger or memory of the loved one. Getting through will not always be so overwhelming. The grief path is normal and one to fully expect as you traverse life after suicide. We will never be ‘over’ the pain and devastation completely, but it won’t always dictate our lives.
This passage was pulled from the book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide, by Brandy Lidbeck. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one to suicide, grab a copy of the book today. Watch this short book trailer video to get a sense for the heart of the book.
Mother’s Day is a beautiful day filled with appreciation, love, and adoration. We get to celebrate and spoil the women that brought us into this world and receive the same from our own offspring. It is a day of homemade cards, breakfast in bed, and gifts that say we value the most important relationship a human can have: a relationship with their mom. Sure, some of us think it is simply a Hallmark holiday, but none of us shy away from loving on our moms and making it as special as possible. It is truly a wonderful day!
Unless it isn’t.
Mother’s Day, for me, as a child and young adult, was nothing more than painful reminders that my mom had left this world by choice. While my classmates were making Mother’s Day crafts to present to their moms, I silently read a book, alone, at my desk until they finished their masterpieces. Every commercial and advertisement leading up to that dreadful day were full of moms and kids hugging, kissing, and smiling. I was not smiling. I hated every minute of this stupid holiday. As I got a bit older, I would stay home from church on Mother’s Day because they would hand out a flower to all of the moms and do some sort of special presentation talking about how selfless, caring, and loving moms are. Salt in the wound. I was so angry my mom left us. Why would I want to sit through such a presentation? While my friends were preparing special brunches for their moms, our family visited the cemetery. Mother’s Day was a horrible day each and every year.
Then, one year, it all flipped for me. I became a mom myself and began to count down the days until my child would create their own masterpiece in school and deliver it with smiles, hugs, and devotion. It became one of my absolutely favorite days. Maybe because I am making up for lost time! I treasure those hugs, their creativity, and their innocent love for mom. This is the other side of Mother’s Day: being a mom. For me, after 19 years of hating this holiday, I actually started to anticipate the sweetness of the day.
Unless it isn’t.
I know several moms, this week, who are dreading those stupid Mother’s Day commercials and will not have a handmade card, a gift, or a hug from their own child. It is a day that will bring up pain and sting every year for the rest of their lives. It will not be replaced 19 years later as mine was with my own children. It will only bring about sadness and thoughts of “What if they were still alive?” It will be a day of tremendous sadness and likely guilt, as well, for not being able to save their child. While other moms are enjoying those delicious brunches prepared by their kids, these moms are visiting the gravesites of their own children.
Mother’s Day can be the sweetest and most special day of the year. Unless it isn’t. And, if it isn’t, it is likely, instead, the most painful day. If this is you today, I am so sorry. I know this pain all too well. If this is someone you know, reach out to her. Invite her over for brunch, bring her flowers, send a card, or deliver her a meal. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Say her child’s name, don’t pretend he/she never existed. Empathize with this person no longer having their mom to celebrate. One of the greatest pains someone in grief experiences is when others move on, fail to acknowledge the loss in an ongoing manner, or forget the pain they are experiencing daily.
I wish you the happiest Mother’s Day! And, if you know someone who likely won’t be experiencing the sweetest of days, I encourage you to acknowledge the pain this day brings for them and do something to show them you care.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While I’m on a mission to help prevent suicide, I’m also on a mission to change how we talk about suicide. Want to know what you can do to help your friends, family, and colleagues who have lost a loved one to suicide? Stop saying he or she “committed suicide” and replace it with “died by suicide,” and please keep your morbid curiosity in check and don’t ask “How?” This may sound like a small thing, but for those of us who live with the stigma of suicide, it can be a big thing.
We commit crimes. We commit murders. We commit sexual assault.
We die of cancer. We die of heart disease. We die of complications from diabetes. We don’t commit cancer, heart disease, or diabetes even if our habits somehow contributed to the horrible disease.
Recently I saw a trailer on a national news station about a famous person who “committed suicide.” My heart went out to his family.
I lost my mother to suicide when I was about to enter middle school. I didn’t even know what “committed suicide” meant when I was told of my mother’s death.
I used to lie about it
Six years later I went off to college and thought I could re-write my past. When people asked about my family situation I told them I had a father and three older siblings. Of course, the next question was, “Where’s your mom?”
“I’m so sorry,” was most often followed by “how?” I used to lie and say, “She had cancer.”
Everybody knows somebody
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce the loss of life from suicide. With more than 38,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater.
My husband also lost his mother to suicide a few years after we met. Friends have lost children, siblings, and parents to suicide. You probably know someone, too. Every 13 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide. Every 14 minutes the family and friends left behind try to make sense of something that can’t be.
Call to action
One small way you can show more compassion to people impacted by suicide is to change how you talk about suicide. Please stop saying he or she “committed suicide” and replace it with “died by suicide.” When you hear others use the term “committed suicide” don’t get offended; instead, think of it as a teachable moment. Will you join me in this mission?
This post was originally written by Margaret H. Greenberg and titled, “Three Words that Can Help End the Stigma of Suicide, and first appeared on LinkedIn.” Margaret’s bio is impressive: “I am a writer, executive coach, speaker, workshop leader, and veteran entrepreneur who is so grateful that I get to do what I love every day. I get to coach amazing leaders, write about topics I care deeply about, and travel to interesting places giving talks and workshops at Google and other companies, associations, and universities around the world. I’m the co-author, with my dear friend and colleague Senia Maymin, of the Amazon best seller Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill Professional) which is now available in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Last year our book was developed into a Certificate Program which is rated among the top 11 positive psychology courses you can take online. Both Senia and I graduated from the inaugural Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania more than a decade ago and are also the Positive Work columnists for Live Happy Magazine. I also occasionally write for Forbes Woman, Positive Psychology News, and the Association for Talent Development. My other LinkedIn blog posts can be found here. Please click “Follow” if you enjoy my posts and connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @ProfitBook.”
After a loved one’s suicide, survivors often feel an incredible amount of guilt for not preventing the suicide. The following excerpt is from The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide.
Guilt is the belief we did not do enough to keep our loved ones here on Earth. Oftentimes, with guilt, we get stuck in ‘if/then’ thinking.
“If only I had known how he was feeling, then I could have helped him get the assistance he needed.”
“If only I had come home an hour earlier, then she might still be alive today.”
“If only I had paid more attention to the warning signs, then I could have prevented this.”
If/Then thinking is the false belief that we had the power to prevent the suicide, and, because we failed to keep the person alive, we are to blame. This belief is typically self-imposed and always inaccurate. Most survivors discuss the shock they felt after their loved one’s suicide. It’s shocking because we never saw it coming. We cannot prevent something we don’t see coming.
When my mom took her own life, my dad and brother were out of town, and my mom convinced me to go play elsewhere for the afternoon. She told me I could come home after 3:30. After I came home and discovered her lifeless body, I realized that evening that if I hadn’t left the house that day, my mom would still be alive. When my dad returned home, one of the first things he said to me was probably the wisest statement he ever could have spoken to a young girl, “This was not your fault because you left the house. If you had stayed home she could have killed herself the next day or the next week or the next month. You cannot blame yourself at all for this.” In that moment my dad spoke an incredible truth to me that, I believe, prevented any chance of guilt planting a seed in my mind. He didn’t blame me because I was not to blame. He was right. My mom was strategic in getting me out of our home, but if her attempts at achieving an empty house that day failed, it might only have prolonged her life a short while.
If I had known she was going to kill herself, I would never have left. And you wouldn’t have left either if you had known. Hear me on that one, friend; if we knew they were going to take their lives, we would have done everything possible to stop it. We cannot blame ourselves for unforeseeable events. Many survivors state they saw no signs their loved one was contemplating suicide but will often blame themselves for not doing more, saying more, or being more. Merriam-Webster defines ‘guilt’ as “feelings of culpability esp. for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy.” Survivors often carry an unrealistic and imagined sense of responsibility in the death of our loved one. In this imagined state of thinking, we believe we are to blame for not preventing another person from ending their life, an action which we knew nothing about beforehand.
I know some of you reading this are thinking, “I should have known though because my loved one had attempted suicide before,” or “They told me they were going to kill themselves, and I didn’t believe it, so I did nothing to stop it.” Still, some of you will say, “We had a fight right before he killed him- self; I am the reason he took his life.” I understand all of these sentiments, I do, but, honestly, we cannot take responsibility for another’s actions. In a survey I posted online, I received the following response from a fellow survivor who lost her child, “Do not shoulda, woulda, coulda. Remember that your child made a choice from free will. Remember that they died of mental illness.”
I think we sometimes hold on to the guilt as our last sort of connection to our loved one. We often have a false belief that if we stop feeling guilty for not preventing the suicide, then we, by default, consent to it. It is simply not true. In one of the most beautiful pieces I have read on the subject of loss to suicide, LaRita Archibald writes in Reinforcement in the Aftermath of Suicide:
“To assume responsibility for this death, or to place responsibility upon another, robs the one who died of their personhood and invalidates the enormity of their pain and their desperate need for relief.”
We cannot accept responsibility or assume guilt for our loved one’s decision to end their life.
I took your ashes to Atlantic Beach last night. I fished until it got dark and the people thinned out and then I went to the truck and got your ashes.
I took them under the pier for a little more privacy. I opened the box and pulled out the bag. I poured your ashes just inside the place where God had told the waves they could go no further and watched as the last lick of each wave took just a little bit of you out to sea until you were all gone.
I pondered that scene on the trip back home and it occurred to me that was just how it happened. I watched you slip away from me a little at a time until you were all gone. I tried so many times to gather you up before you slipped away, but to no avail.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
Rest in peace, my love.
Your Loving, Lonely Husband.
A lot of times, in our journey after a suicide loss, we feel completely alone. We can often greatly benefit from the wisdom of others who have also experienced a suicide. The following is a chapter from the book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide.
Sometimes the only thing helpful to a survivor is to hear from others who have experienced the same pain and devastation and, yet, survived themselves. I asked hundreds of fellow survivors what wisdom they would pass on to others and here are their answers. I hope they will speak truth, understanding, and hope to you in this overwhelming time.
“Just breathe. It’s agony and confusion and pain and guilt and questioning running nonstop in your mind. It’s normal to react that way. It’s normal to cry, scream, push people away, reach for people, and fall apart. Day by day, you’ll slowly come back up. Art, photography, hiking, what- ever gives you solace—do it. Blast music, watch funny movies. Do what you can to just get through another day. And another. You’ll always have days that knock you down, even months later. I’m at one year and I still fall back. I just do what I can to get through it. Reach out to other survivors, and try to remember the good times.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Do what’s right for you, when it’s right for you . . . not when others think is right for you. Everyone grieves differently and at different paces. Stay true to yourself. Try to think of positive and good times with your partner versus the bad and negative things. Make changes only if that’s what you want to do. It has to be up to you to find comfort, solace, and peace and learn to live again. It will be different but you can still live life. I feel that’s what our partners would want for us. The big thing also is to understand that other people (for the most part) have no clue what it’s like to lose a spouse (unless they have, too). Most people mean well, and some- times we have to understand that.”
“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve as long as it’s not doing harm. There’s also no time limit for grief. Everyone is different.”
“Everything you are feeling is normal. Feel the grief. Don’t run away from it through work, drugs, alcohol, or any other way.”
“Give yourself permission to cry, and don’t try to ‘hold it off until later.’ For me, the more I tried to fight or delay the tears the longer they would last once I did finally let loose. If I let them out when the wave first hits, then I’m ‘done with it’ and can move on with the rest of my day.”
“I don’t think any words make a difference. It’s the hugs and just having someone around you that is helpful.”
“The pain does not stay as intense in the following months and years.”
“Don’t beat yourself up with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘I should haves.’ It doesn’t matter—what’s done is done. Find peace that they are not suffering with mental illness anymore.”
“Just try to hold on and breathe. Seek help from a therapist. Try to find peace, cry, and break down whenever you must.”
“The worst part and yet the best part is that life goes on. God has a plan.”
“They say time heals all pain…this is not true…you always feel the pain. You just learn to live day to day with it a little bit better than the day before. Nobody has answers, nobody knows why…many people hold on to those two things the most. Thinking about the best of memories is the most painful for me because I always question how someone who seemed so happy could ever really be living with such misery and I not even know it…but again…we have no answers. Survivors are the worst at beating themselves up over something we could never have controlled to begin with. We have support to move forward and away from hurting ourselves pondering the whys and what ifs. Utilize the resources. Learn to speak about it, whether you realize it or not, we all have one thing in common: we are still here. We have each other.”
“Just know that this is a long process. One day you may feel pretty good and the next day you may be slammed with sadness, grief, pain, and all of the negative emotions you can imagine. Just understand this is nor- mal and will be your new life. For how long I can’t tell you because I have been here a year and still go through this. Hold on and hang in there; this has to get better.”
“Everyone grieves in their own way. Do not, for any reason, blame yourself. I carried a lot of anger toward my mom for ending her life, until a very wise man shared this advice with me: ‘Would you be mad at some- one for dying of a heart attack? No, because their heart was sick and it was beyond their control. With suicide, the person’s mind is sick, which is also beyond their control.’ It was in that moment that all my anger to- ward my mom melted away. That changed my life forever, and if it can help one more person, then I’m happy. Also, allow yourself to grieve. Give yourself time to deal with the devastating blow you’ve received. And take your time. Suicide, in my opinion, is very different from any other type of death. There are many emotions and a lot of pain that comes along with losing a dear loved one to their own hand. Don’t feel guilty for how you feel. And know, above all, that you’re not alone. There are many people who are dealing with some of the same emotions. Reach out and allow people to help you. To any other survivors, my heart goes out to you. May God comfort you and give you the strength to survive your loss. God bless you each and everyone.”
“You are not alone.”
“Try not to figure out the ‘why?’ It never will make sense and we will never know the real answers. Just breathe and cry; let the gut wrenching pain out or it will destroy you. Each day will bring different emotions, which are all scary but normal. I’m on my twelfth year without my son and it’s still hard. I talk about my son; I post things on social media all the time about him and suicide. I hate that word but it’s just a word—it doesn’t define who my son was. He was my world and I will forever speak of him. I am proud of my son always.”
“Be kind to yourself.”
“I know it’s hard to talk about but talk to people. I actually got more out of talking to friends than I did a counselor. Support groups are great too!”
“It has been thirty years for me since my mom took her life when I was 11. Every day brings with it new emotions and new questions. Try to remember the person as they were in happy times.”
“Breathe and take one day at a time. That is enough for you in the beginning. That’s all I was able to do. Let your feelings come, and go with them. Cry, scream, sleep, and I promise you it will get better with time. You learn how to cope and ride the waves of pain. My son took his own life almost 5 years ago. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Reach out, go out if you’re alone and walk around where there are people—I guarantee someone will offer you a smile, you’ll hear a baby giggle, see some beautiful flowers or a sunset and will realize that life can be good for us all. Rest, eat well, read, listen to your favorite music, and try to realize that you are worth it. You can work through a hard time and at the end of the night comes the dawn.”
“Be kind to yourself. Others mean well but say dismissive cliché phrases that sting to your core. Do whatever it takes without harm to get you through the day. Everything you feel has already been felt- you are not alone even though this may be the loneliest path in life.”
“Reach out to help others.”
“Talk often about your loved one, say their name when talking about them. Share about them—happy times and sad times. Have open and hon- est conversations with your family and friends. Holding in your thoughts and feelings does not help. Laugh, cry, praise, scream. It all helps.”
“It is ok to be sad and miss that person, but is not ok to be miserable and allow that death to rob you of your own joy and happiness. Still struggling with this twelve years later. Suicide grief is a complicated work in progress.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s never your fault.”
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train. Healing takes time, sometimes a lifetime. Do not compare yourself to others. You will smile and laugh again.”
“Healing takes time and others might not understand, especially if they have not experienced a death by suicide, which leaves a lot of “what if” questions. Our loved ones were not thinking of others but only ending their pain of living. They don’t realize what it can do to the survivors. Don’t allow anyone to tell you how long to grieve or that you should be over it by now. It’s your grieving time, not theirs. Find a group of survivors of suicide in person and/or online.”
“Never feel ashamed of how you lost your loved one; learn from this horrific experience and help raise awareness. I’m fifteen months out from losing my dad, and my other siblings hide what the truth is. Just embrace the reality of what caused the death. Yes, I know it’s horrible, but remember it was depression/other mental illness just as real as cancer that took your love one. Don’t feel ashamed ever.”
“Don’t forget to breathe. Sometimes it is the only thing you have control of. Take as long as you need to grieve; it will come in waves. No one’s experience is going to be exactly like yours. Be around others who will let you feel what you feel.”
“I think it is important to try to remember people will hurt you during this time. If they haven’t gone through it, they do not know what we have endured. We can’t expect them to, really. They might say all the wrong things and do all the wrong things. Your story is going to be different than mine, and you might not know how to help me, and your story is different than mine and I might not know how to help you. In other words, don’t let others offend you!”
“Just breathe. One day at a time. Be kind to yourself.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed of. If you are Christian, you must know that God understands this.”
“Take your time. Your grief is yours, uniquely yours. There is no time frame, but it does somehow get tolerable, yet it never goes away. Don’t apologize for anything—be you and do you. Keep the faith and pray! It’s a club none of us asked to join, but good members are in it.”
“Write a letter to the one who has died. Write a letter to them every day or night. Keep them in a book. It was the single most useful thing that I did. Later I wrote a book about my experience and I drew on the letters that I had written. It took me about sixteen years to do this, so don’t worry when others tell you, ‘you have to move on.’ Your grief has its own timeline and is not a measure of how much you loved the one who has died. After I wrote my book, my health improved, and I gained valuable distance on my grief. There is never a day that I do not remember my brother, but now I remember the good times and the love that we shared. I pray that this will be your future too.”
“They genuinely believed that you would be better off without them. They were ill.”
“It’s not your fault, you are not alone, and healing takes time.”
“I understand exactly how you feel. This is going to be a very difficult journey, but you can find life and happiness again.”
“You are not alone; there are those that truly understand. Tell us all about it and then tell us again.”
“What you are experiencing is normal. Feeling like you are losing your mind and the inability to focus or concentrate are all expected. Give yourself grace to get through them. Be honest with yourself and those around you about what you need.”
“Get prompt access to another (seasoned) suicide loss survivor.”
“It wasn’t your fault. Feel the feelings. Cry, cry, cry.”
“No two people grieve the same way. Your relationship with that per- son was your own, and therefore, your grieving might be different than others.”
“You are not alone. You will have good and bad days. Don’t beat your- self up. Different people grieve in different ways for the same person. Although you will never get over your loss, your grief won’t always be so overwhelming, and it is possible to feel happy again.”
“I understand and I feel your devastation.”
“You are not alone. Reach out to others. Share your story. Let yourself grieve, and don’t feel guilty about it.”
“If you feel it, acknowledge it, and don’t let anyone tell you shouldn’t feel that way. Listen to your own emotions and physical reactions. Talk. And if something is important for you to do while grieving, don’t let any- one tell you it’s wrong.”
Not sure how to start – everything is rushing to my mind at once. My story is no different than yours; though it is unique in every way. So this is it….
I put my son, David (he was 33 – never flown), on an airplane in mid-August 2013. He was moving to NC to live with his sister and her family; wanting to start over after his separation from his family. March 5th 2014, he went for a walk. March 11th, he was found and I received that dreadful phone call. March 22nd we had a memorial service back home. Honestly, I do not remember much of the entire month of March. Everything is still blurry – foggy. I do know that my entire family (I have 2 sons and 2 daughters) are forever altered with the loss of David (my youngest son).
He was not just my son, he was my rock, my companion, my friend, my light! I moved through the days talking to him. I told him that I was so mad – screamed it at the top of my lungs! I wanted him to know I was pissed, ripped apart, and empty! That I love him so much. I was sorry that I did not do more. I wanted my son back!!!
People came around less and less. Maybe they got tired of seeing me cry or not talking. Maybe they just felt uncomfortable around me – I do not know. I just know that one day I looked around and no one was here. That scared me – for I live alone and then I was completely alone!
A moment at a time, I re-entered “life” going through the routine that I had done before though I would never be that person again. I did not smile, laugh, and barely ate. Just went through the motions of each day like a robot. I went to a couple of grief support groups. Sweet people though they did not understand the loss of a loved one to suicide. All of the questions that a survivor has, thoughts, and wonders of “why?”. So I founded “Smile Through The Storms” support group in New York for the ones left behind due to suicide. We had the first group support in December 2014.
I have a closeness with other survivors – a bond. Though we do not have the answer to the question of “why?”, we understand one another’s feelings and thoughts. We know that we are not going through this hell alone. We provide a sense of comfort to one another. We come together to share memories of our loved ones, to cry, to comfort one another – this is an all healing time that is so needed.
I miss David each and every day! Talk to him? Yes, all of the time. He is always in my heart and thoughts. I will always grieve the loss of him – this will never end. I have forgiven him for his actions. I brought him into this world and loved him each and every day he was physically here. I will love him always!
I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been working to be as fully present in the here & now as possible. It was a conscious choice to tuck the grief, the loss, the trauma of my dad’s suicide neatly into my back pocket. I needed to turn away from it, at least for a while.
In Judaism, when you are in the period of shiva, the 7 days following the burial of a loved one, it is customary to cover all of the mirrors in your home. In the immediate days of grief, we are not supposed to focus on our external selves. Rather, we turn inward, we reflect, we dwell not on the details of our appearance, but on the memories and the life of the one we have lost.
I didn’t observe that tradition while sitting shiva for my father. As a Reform Jew, it didn’t resonate for me. But there was another reason, a deeper one. In the moment that I learned of my father’s suicide, the person that I was shattered into a million pieces. The fragments lay seemingly sprawled in every corner. And how to even begin gathering them up seemed far too overwhelming a task. In the days that followed, I vacillated between feeling totally numb and sobbing uncontrollably. I lashed out in anger one moment, and then sadness swept in and overwhelmed me the next. There was no peace, no comfort, there was only a pain beyond words. I wandered through my home and my days feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
Looking in the mirror was the only way to find some sense of the familiar. Even with swollen eyes, I found tangible evidence that while my inside felt broken beyond repair, some small sense of wholeness still existed. I gazed into the mirror and saw that I was still me… forever altered, but still me.
I will tell you a truth. Almost 23 months later, I still feel broken. Yes, I have gathered up those fragments, and put myself together anew. But I often feel that if one were to look at me too closely, they would be able to see every fissure & every scar that I must now carry. Sometimes I avoid my own reflection, when it seems to contradict what I am feeling inside. It feels like a cruel mind game, looking whole yet feeling fractured.
I tucked my loss away for a while. I laughed more, I found myself able to be more present for my children, my husband and myself. I read for pleasure, I made jewelry, I spent time with friends, I created in the kitchen and yes, I even needed time to heal from some physical challenges as well.
And I haven’t thought much about my dad. Not because I don’t want to remember him, I do. But reflecting on my dad in life, seems to inevitably bring me to the way he died. That horrible, violent, darkness looms at the end of his story and it permeates each and every other chapter that I try to visit. So, like the mirror in a house of mourning, I draped those reflections off. I averted my gaze with intention. Because that felt a necessary part of my healing.
Today begins the month of March. And looming ever so closely behind is the month of April. My mind has begun to go back to that place, of reliving his final weeks on this earth. I feel my body re-entering that fight or flight mode, the muscle memory of trauma. Creeping back into my psyche are all of the missed signs & the missed opportunities to try and save my father from himself. My rational mind knows there is nothing to be gained by that. But my soul still clamors for a different ending. My eyes still seek the hindsight of a more apparent truth, every fiber of my being yearns for another chance to know then, what I know now.
And so it seems, I must take the covering off of the mirror. Not so I can focus on the external, but so I can reflect. I can’t continuously wall off the pain, there is not a wall strong enough to contain it forever. My soul is crying out to me, to feel the pain, the sorrow, the trauma and the loss & to tend to it with gentle honesty. And my heart, still so full of hurt, wants to make room to sort out the memories of my father’s life; the good & the bad, the laughter & the tears, the loss & the love.
It’s almost two years. I simply can’t believe it. I miss him. I look into the mirror, and once again I feel exposed, vulnerable and wounded. But these days, I also see strength, resilience and courage. I have survived, I am still surviving. And I am finding ways to thrive.
The mirror beckons, asking that I find a way to let these two truths co-exist. My father died by suicide. And I must live with that. But our story deserves to stand in the light; all of it… because without that, I lose him all over again. How do I find a way to let the reflection hold both of these pieces?
I look in the mirror now. I see a daughter who loved her father. I see how much she misses him. Perhaps, if I close my eyes, and let the wall come down, I’ll be able to find my father gazing back at me. And through our tears, we can smile and for a moment, be together.
“Uncovering the Mirror” was originally written by Deborah Greene for Reflecting Out Loud, where she writes about family and suicide. If you would like to read more from Deborah, head on over there and grab some of her wisdom and insight of life after her father’s suicide.
Recently, I was interviewed by Sue Bidstup for the podcast over at “Great Big Yes.” We talked all about The Gift of Second, suicide, how the website came to be, why suicide grief is so unique, and how to reach out to someone who has just recently experienced the suicide of a loved one. We covered it all! Today, I would love to share this podcast with you as well. I hope you walk away hearing some truths and feeling less alone in your grief. Just click the link below to be directed to the podcast.
If you would like to hear more from Sue and some of the amazing people saying “yes”, head over to Great Big Yes and listen to some encouraging stories!
March 1st 2016 started off as any other day, until the phone call came at 10:30 am. I can tell you exactly where I was and the impact of the words I was hearing. Never in a million years would I have thought my husband would take his life. My entire world fell apart that day. Almost one year and I still can’t believe it, this entire year has been a blur. I’m living hour by hour, day by day.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I feel like I take two steps forward and three back most days. To go to the grocery store alone is sometimes a big ordeal. If there are too many people there I become very anxious and have actually had to leave. Food tastes bad. I eat because I have to but only when I’m hungry or I remember to eat. My memory has changed. Sometimes I don’t think straight and I have zero concentration. I just misplaced my ATM card for three days. I enjoy reading but for me to pick up a book and concentrate on it doesn’t happen. I will read a chapter or two and put the book down for days or weeks. I haven’t been to the gym in a year. I am back to work, after being out for a month.
My husband was my source of strength, he took care of me when I was sick. He took care of a lot of things. I feel like my source of strength is gone. Now I have to pull the strength from myself. Coming up on 1 year I do feel like I have come a long way from that first day. I know there will be hard days but I have to say: as time goes on, there are more good days than bad. Every day is a gift. To me his suicide put a lot of things in perspective. Some of the little things that used to bother me or upset me before no longer do. I now say, “if that’s the only thing that happens to me today it’s a good day.”
My husband Tom left two letters so I have had some clarity of why suicide was the answer for him. I wish I could have stopped his decision or saw something that would have alerted me as to what his plans were. That bothers me every single day even though he said in his letter I would not have been able to stop him and there was nothing I could have done differently. Almost 1 year and it still hurts every day. I miss him every single day. I read a quote from Carla Fine she says, “Gradually I came to understand that while it may be possible to help someone whose fear is death there are no guarantees for a person whose fear is life.” I know my husband was afraid to live. Almost one year but I have to believe that he is no longer in pain and in a better place.
My cousin, Chad, was a really funny guy. Hilarious, in fact. Every time we were together we would laugh the entire time. He would quote Saturday Night Live skits or throw baby carrots into my soda. He was so much fun. He died by suicide after he came home from Iraq.
My mom was also very funny. The life of the party. Outgoing and a lover of people. She was witty and had a silly side, too. She also died by suicide.
I recently came across a song by Walker Hayes called “The Comedian.” If you do not know Walker Hayes, you ought to get to know him. His music will make you dance nonstop.
Anyway, in the song, “The Comedian,” Hayes sings about his friend, Josh, who was the funniest guy he knew. He was the life of the party and everyone loved him. But then, one day, Josh died by suicide. Some of the lyrics below make me think about my cousin and my mom:
“It’s too bad being funny and being happy ain’t the same thing.”
“It’s so sad- some of the loneliest hearts in the crowd are the most entertaining. It’s such a strange thing.”
“Here’s to the ones that make us laugh to keep themselves from crying.”
So often, when someone dies by suicide, we are shocked and feel so blindsided by their death. We think to ourselves, “They were the funniest person I knew.” I think this is true for so many people. The line from the song that mentions making others laugh to avoid crying has some real truth to it. What do you think? Why are some of the funniest people we know also the ones most hurting?
Check out the full song, “The Comedian” below and check out Walker Hayes on his site.
Today marks 20 months since my father’s suicide. I suppose it is time to begin counting not by months, but rather “year.” One year and a half, one year and 8 months… That word… “year” is hard for me. It makes the time since his death loom larger than I am ready for.
I remain fundamentally and forever altered. I’ve set down the advocacy work for now. Though it imbued my father’s death with some sense of meaning, it had begun to take a toll on me. Dwelling in the world of suicide loss and prevention came at a cost. It felt worth it, until it didn’t. And hard as it was to admit, I needed to step away. Harder to admit was that I wanted to.
I need to figure out who I am, outside of being the survivor of suicide loss. Yes, I know I remain a devoted mother, wife, and friend. But where these newly altered pieces of me fit and how to fulfill and strengthen myself remains undefined. I began building a jewelry business. A business I once found successful & fulfilling. A business my father was so proud of. Ever so slowly it has allowed me to begin to see and slowly embrace a creative purpose, an identity… artist, designer, entrepreneur. These are titles, names that are not a part of the horrific loss I’ve endured. And there is so much symbolism in this endeavor. The beads are the pieces, stringing them together one by one, is like picking up the pieces of my life. They come together to create something new, something beautiful, quite different than before. My journey is deeply reflected in such work. Fragments and pieces coming together in this new self that is unfolding.
Today marks 20 months. I will never ever be at peace with losing my father to suicide. Every day I strive to learn how to live with it. And I strive for a balance between giving his death purpose and imbuing my life with the same. I deserve that. Don’t I? Guilt tells me no. But I cannot let guilt define where I go from here. I don’t let many people in these days. I’m guarded, feeling vulnerable and fragile in many ways. But this is my truth. It’s still hard, every single day. But I journey on determined to find happiness, fulfillment, and joy. My dad would want that.
20 months… I miss him. I can’t undo his final act. But I’ve discovered that I can’t get lost in it either. The journey is long and hard. I’m tired. But I know there is a resilience within. He lost sight of his. I must continually tap into mine, even when I lose faith in it’s existence. He lost hope. I cleave to it, the notion that it won’t always hurt like this, that it will get better in time. His death has forever altered me. But I cannot let it define me. I still want to bring meaning to such a senseless loss, but I want more than that. I need to find that balance.
So onward I walk, I step, I falter, I stumble, but I get up and keep going. So perhaps I’ve already discovered that this altered self, is strong, courageous and braver than I’ve ever given her credit for. And healing is a continual process… even 20 months later.
And still, I miss him. That will never change.
I was recently asked by The Dialogue Projects, a website created to reduce the stigma of mental illness by opening the dialogue around it, to share how The Gift of Second came to be and how the site is helping to reduce the stigma around suicide for those directly impacted by it.
It is an honor to share the story. You can read it for yourself over at The Dialogue Projects.
May another survivor never feel alone in their pain and grief!
It was never about me. Never.
I used to be so angry at my mom. How could she leave me while I was still so young? How could she plan for me to find her lifeless body? How could she write me such an insignificant note goodbye? Didn’t she care about me? Didn’t she love me? Didn’t I matter enough for her to want to continue to be my mom? Didn’t she care about the wound she would create inside of me for the rest of my life? Didn’t she know what this would do to me?
It was never about me. Never.
Maybe I could have prevented it. Maybe if I were better behaved. If I had stayed home that day, maybe she would still be alive. Maybe if I told her how much I loved and needed her. Maybe if I had picked up on the signs that only hindsight 20/20 vision reveals.
It was never about me. Never.
Suicide is never about the people left behind. It is only about the one who wants to end their pain.
It was always about her. Always.
I spent two decades blaming and shaming myself for not doing enough, saying enough, or being enough. I took the blame and guilt and shame when it was never mine to claim.
It was always about her. Always.
She didn’t love herself. She didn’t see her value. She was in pain. She needed relief. She thought we would be better off without her.
It was always about her. Always.
The healthier I become the more I realize it was never about me. Never. It was always about her. Always.
The following is an excerpt from The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide:
Many people fear working through the grief, expecting it will be too much to bear. They believe if they allow themselves to start crying, they may never be able to stop. And so, out of self-preservation, they refuse themselves the opportunity to grieve appropriately. They lock up all those feelings and emotions and avoid conversations pertaining to the death. Although they may feel they are protecting themselves, they are actually only injuring themselves further. When we do not grieve, the feelings do not simply go away. Instead, they simmer and boil beneath the surface until they can no longer be contained. When we prevent grief from naturally occurring, it is similar to pouring gasoline on a field of dead grass and shrubs. Eventually, an unexpected spark will come along and engulf the entire lot, leaving a blaze that is completely unmanageable. The repercussions of grief-avoidance are limitless. Not only does it impact our condition of life, it also impacts each succeeding generation. Substance abuse, broken relationships, mental illness, and suicide are just a few of the common consequences of unresolved grief.
The reality of working through grief: It is painful and exhausting. It’s true. It is called ‘grief work’ because it is just that: work. So why do it? We must work through the grief because when we do, we find healing. When we allow ourselves the opportunity to fully feel the pain, trauma, sadness, anger, devastation, betrayal, and abandonment, without censor, we can then also fully experience healing. Healing brings peace, comfort, joy, and the ability to continue living a beautiful life. The grief work is painful, but it is also temporary. Resisting the work, however, has lifelong ramifications. When we are courageous enough to do grief work, we fully acknowledge our own worth and the value of our loved one, and we choose to be honest with the pain.
This excerpt was pulled from the book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide. If you have not yet had a chance to check out the video trailer for the book, you can get a glimpse of the heart of the book here.
…”and a little child will lead them.” Bible, Isaiah 11-6b
A few days after my sister left this world via suicide, I had a dream like no other I had ever experienced. All of my senses were engaged. I could see our hometown as Amanda and I flew over it, side by side. I could smell the spring air, hear the sounds of the town below and feel the wind on my face and in my hair. We were both silent as we sailed over the places where we had grown up together. It felt so real that part of me still wonders if it was an “out of body” experience. I do know it was a gift from the Lord. It was my chance to have one more moment with her. It was our good-bye.
For over a year after that, I did not dream at all. You may have been taught that you always dream and that if you awaken with no memory of your dream, it is simply because your conscious mind has forgotten it. But contemporary science has determined that this is a myth. In times of deep grief, the brain is focused on survival, and, as a result, some non-essential activities – such as dreaming – may be set aside.
It was only when my dreams returned a year later that I even realized that they had been missing. My recovery had thus far been focused on Amanda’s pain before she left, the well-being of her child, and the grieving of my children and extended family. But what I had left for last was how much she had hurt me personally. She was my best friend, closest confidant, the “baby sister” that I had taken care of and even planned to grow old with, instead of pursuing romantic relationships after painful divorces. I’ve written before about how I had to force myself to be angry at her, because it did not come naturally.
This period of anger culminated in another dream. Like the one I had shortly after her death, this one was once again very tactile and vivid. The surroundings were unfamiliar and I was wandering aimlessly and emotionless. Suddenly my nieces and nephews and children – fourteen all together — came running up to me, exclaiming that they had found Amanda and I should come with them. I did not follow, disbelieving, until I looked into my daughter Abbi’s eyes. They were sparkling and filled with joy. She said to me, “Come see her. She wants to talk to you.” She led me by the hand through a maze of walls until we came into a small opening where all of my nieces and nephews and children were waiting in expectation. Amanda was there but was somehow separated from us. I could see her but not touch her. From across this invisible barrier, she looked directly at me and said, simply, “I did not do it to hurt you.” There was true regret in her voice, but she was not in pain as she had been in this life. I silently forgave her. Seeing her and hearing her words brought peace to my heart. I looked at my daughter’s sparkling eyes, so pleased that she had been able to lead me there. There was a sense of accomplishment and completion.
I am grateful for these infrequent but poignant dreams. They are signposts in the road of my grieving. Upon awakening, my heart still ached that we could not be together, but the dream had allowed a leap forward in the healing of my heart.
I haven’t blogged in a year. Something happened and I haven’t really wanted to write about it or anything else until now…so here I go.
It was a year ago yesterday that I heard my daddy say “I love you too,” for the last time. And it was a year ago today that I found out he had passed away. Actually, saying ‘passed away’ puts diamonds on what happened so let’s try this again.
It was a year ago today that my daddy shot himself. It’s such an ugly thing to say. It really is. And until you’ve been through the situation personally, lost someone to their own will, will you agree with me. I remember every ugly detail of that day. I remember my mom calling me to alert me what had been seen on Facebook. I remember other people calling me to see if I knew what was going on. I remember some calling to say, “There’s no way J.D. There’s no way.” I remember calling around to see if we could find him, because, I live five hours away…going door to door wasn’t an option for me.
And then I remember the squealing tires of a yellow school bus stopping in front of my house, my husband running through the door with fire and hurt and fear in his eyes. I remember the reluctance behind his face. He didn’t want to have to tell me what he knew, but he did. My poor husband.
I remember having to put my hand over my chest because I really thought my heart was going to leap from my chest. You read about that in books, and hear people say it in movies, but to experience it is a different feeling all on its own. I remember trying to take a shower and throwing up all over the place. I remember feeling as though someone’s hands were all over me and I pushed them away. It could have been an anxiety attack, but I could’ve sworn, in that moment, it was my daddy saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, forgive me.”
I didn’t want that though. I didn’t want apologies. I wanted him.
I remember pulling into Abilene, finding my youngest brother (who’s a foot taller than me), I let his arms wrap around me and I could feel the blood pulsing beneath his skin. And I cried. He didn’t. Not in that moment. Instead he was expressing his anger the best way he knew how and that was with silence.
I remember my other brother ordering me the strongest drink on the bar menu at Texas Roadhouse. He said I needed to not feel for a little bit. So I drank and actually felt nothing. Seriously. The alcohol didn’t effect me at all. I was already numb.
I’ll also remember how his family rallied around each other to be there for me and my brothers. I’ll remember the 400 plus attendants at the funeral. If anyone had tried to tell me my daddy was alone I would have laughed in their face. My daddy wasn’t alone. He had the world…he just refused to accept it…
I’m going to change the subject for a moment to talk about the ways I’ve experienced death recently. I’ve had the luxury to watch someone beautiful die twice now. The first time was in March of 2012. My husband’s Nana passed away after battling cancer. No, there’s really nothing beautiful in that, or death, but the experience…it was beautiful. I watched my husband’s family rally together, hold one another, sing her to her final resting place and bid her goodbye. Every time I entered the room, all eyes were on Nana, her every breath. You could tell everyone wanted each breath to be her last…but not really. If they had the option to hold on to her forever I know they would’ve. But. It was in the moment, when I was sitting on my husband’s lap, a few cousins were scattered around the room, and we were talking and gently laughing about something other than Nana did she slip away. It was as if she waited for the moment when everyone had a smile on their face, and when she knew all would be okay did she go.
The family fell, of course, on their knees, around her bed, into each others arms, to wail and pray. And in every heart breaking moment all I could think was, “this is beautiful.”
At this point in my life I’m watching my father-in-law wilt away due to the effects of ALS. Another ugly ugly situation. But again my in-laws are binding together and finding ways to hold on to every ounce of love they have. My sisters-in-law will smile the brightest of smiles to Gordon’s face and cry the moment he turns around. This isn’t weakness. This is strength and they have it. I’m watching my mother-in-law nurse another soul to the path of heaven with such grace that all I can do is lift her up in prayer. And I’m watching my husband stay busy, and loving, and act every bit as the man of the household…all the while knowing he will be losing two fathers in the span of two years. I’m watching this and again, there is beauty.
However, let’s get back to the ugliness.
I am past the anger phase. I truly am. I know it sounds like I’m still angry, but I think the bitterness is deserved. I loved this man with every beat of my heart. I was a daddy’s girl through and through and I’ve been marked with him quitting on life and on me.
My brother, David, has turned his life around in the last year and a half. I used to think he harbored a monster inside of him as a result of being in the army…which is partly true…but he’s found reason to live, to love others, and more importantly love himself. It’s a miraculously beautiful thing to see and my daddy is missing every moment of it.
Please please, I do not need to hear that “He’s in heaven’s balcony, watching the things we do,” bit. I want him here. I want him to see David. I want him to hug my brother and tell him that he is legitimately PROUD of how he is living his life. David deserves to hear that from his daddy because I don’t think he ever had. It’s one thing to have everyone else tell you, but to live your life in the shadow of your father and then to never hear those words from him is a story all in itself.
Now Michael. Michael has a lot of life left to live and experience. He’s nearly seventeen, and of course he “already has life figured out,” as all seventeen year olds do. Ha! He hurts differently than the rest of us. He has many vices and none of them are good. He finds peace in potions and I do raise my fist at my dad because that pistol caused a lot of this. He’d never admit this, but he lives life with fear taking control of most of his decisions. He’s afraid of new. He’s afraid of rejection. And he’s afraid to feel. He wasn’t like this a year and a half ago.
There is a future in my brother. I don’t doubt it for a second. He has the ability to find the value in his own life and make something of himself…but he has to learn how to deal with abandonment, and it’s not an easy thing to do. He’s going to graduate high school, college, get married, bring children into the world all without the wisdom and advice of his daddy. But, he was robbed.
And me. I’m pregnant. Something I didn’t expect, and I won’t lie, I didn’t necessarily want to happen. But it’s a little boy. Who’s going to teach this kid to pitch?! No that’s not my greatest concern, but hell, it was definitely a dream of mine to have my daddy teach a kid of mine the Slurve…or whatever that is. I am mad and angry and I do hurt, because a year ago when my daddy told me he loved me too, he had promised to come visit very soon. He told me he missed me and wanted to see the new town we lived in. He promised me the world in a ten-minute conversation, said he loved me and shot himself six hours later.
He had SO much to live for and so many people who loved him that I still sit here at a loss. Suicide is ugly! The people that love me will patiently sit by my side and listen to my words but it’s ugly and I hate burdening people with it. I miss my daddy and not one day went by for the last year where I didn’t think of his face, his last moments, and then wonder what more could I have done for him. Well, everything. I could have done more of everything. I could have stood up for his life when he was living and drinking his paychecks away with that woman. I could have told him how happy I was that they broke up because she was never good for him. No good person pushes that much alcohol into your life when you’re depressed at where your life is headed. She did that and I never stood up for my daddy’s life.
It’s possible that I was complacent with the fact that he WAS alive and now that it’s too late, I’ve worked the situation backward to see where I could go back and fix it. But I can’t.
I do know, that with God’s good grace I’ll be able to hug my daddy’s neck once again. I know that all the hurt he felt in the last couple years of his life stopped the moment he pulled the trigger. But it still sucks. And hurts.
I miss you, daddy.
This piece was originally written by JD Doty for her website, Doty’s Dish. Thank you, JD, for your willingness to share your story with us. So many of us can relate to your words.
I’ve gone two years now and there’s always the feeling of grief and anger. Recently though, the feeling of being unnecessary is big. When I think about my daddy’s last moments (which is often and not just on this day) I think, why couldn’t I have been enough for him to stay alive, and then I think maybe he didn’t think of me in that moment…both of these thoughts are depressing because either he thought of me and I wasn’t enough or he didn’t think of me…which means I simply wasn’t.
Today, a realization came to me when I was silently feeling sorry for myself, it’s not about me being unnecessary. It was my dad’s feeling of being unnecessary to everyone else. He was unnecessary in a marriage that saw trouble throughout 21 years and didn’t last. He was unnecessary in the two relationships later. And that last relationship was so unhealthy that all the drinking and smoking and ugly way he lived became a burden. He had become so bitter and angry the last year of his life that he pushed all his kids away and when it came down to it I’m sure that feeling of being unnecessary was strong.
The last conversation I had with him was brief. It was quick, like most of ours had been in the end. The woman he had been dating put a strong wedge between us and even though we both loved each other very much, it was hard to break into the old goofiness that we used to share. So in that last moment of his, whether he thought of me or not, I’m positive he didn’t feel as if HE were important enough for us.
People. Look around you, love on your families and friends. Let them know they are important. Let them know they are loved. Let them know they are necessary. Even if you lose someone this way, you will know that you tried and that you did all you could for them. I will always wish I had done more for him.
The other morning I saw MedFlight in the sky while I was driving to work.
It jogged my memory of when my dad was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery in July of 2014. Not because he had to be MedFlighted there, but because we got a special tour of the helicopter and landing pad on the roof of the hospital while he was recovering. He needed to get out of his room, so one of the RNs arranged the excursion. And of course he knew somebody who was part of the MedFlight team, too, so up we went.
It was pretty awesome. We were shown every nook and cranny, inside and out, and got to walk out on the helipad to look over the city.
The other morning, though, as I thought about it, other thoughts crept in. Did dad really think it was awesome to be up there on the roof in a wheelchair getting some fresh air? Or was he just acting like it so the rest of us would be ok? Was he struggling that far back with the perception of this new life he thought he’d entered? And then I started crying. Because I don’t know the answers to those questions and I never will.
About four months later – two years ago today – my dad committed suicide.
Life for the rest of us has moved on, but I still think about him a lot. I do believe he thought it was cool to be up there, too. I recall how desperately he wanted to be out of that god-damned recovery room. The morning they discharged him he called me and I could hear the relief in his quivering voice. “Ryan, they removed that damn thing from my arm and I just…I got all emotional. What the hell?” he confessed to me. I told him that was completely understandable; he’d been through a lot! Physically, emotionally, mentally…”feeling emotional” was an understatement as far as I was concerned. I’ll always treasure that moment we had.
I’m not sure if I’d say things are easier or better two years later, mostly just different.
I still get sad a lot and I’ll admit that sometimes I still get upset. Every time one of my kids has a birthday. Every gymnastics meet. My son Sam received his black belt in karate last weekend after working hard for more than four years and Papa wasn’t there to see it and to celebrate and to tell Sam how proud of him he is. That kills me. It kills me. And I know people mean well when they say things like, “Oh, he was there watching, too!” and “He IS so proud of Sam!” but the truth is, it’s not the same. It’s not the same at all. He should have been there smiling and clapping and shouting and cracking inappropriate jokes with me in the stands. He should have been there to shake Sam’s hand and give him a big hug and be in the picture pointing.
My brother Joey got engaged last weekend, too. He NAILED the proposal. Had his friends hold homemade signs and play music at the Wisconsin Badger football game! Just perfect. Now, I’m not speaking for him because I know he handles this all in his own way, but for me…I’m devastated my dad isn’t here to congratulate Joe. I know he’d be proud of him. But, he won’t be at the wedding. And if they have kids, they’ll never meet him. It just sucks.
What’s so difficult about suicide is that the person is doing what they think is going to help everyone. My dad wasn’t trying to hurt us. He apologized and still did it. It was the only other solution he could come up with that made any sense…to him. In so doing, though, he left a hurt in everyone who loved him. And a lot of people loved him. That wasn’t his intention, but it was the result.
On a personal level, his not being here is hard because I’m learning so many things about myself that I want to talk to him about. My parents divorced when I was four and the fact of the matter is that both his presence and his absence in my life while I was young had a profound impact on who I am today.
Years ago a homeless friend of mine, Al, told me his story about his relationship with his dad. Al’s life crashed and burned because of his addiction to alcohol. One day he got a call that his dad was dying and he should come right away. Instead, he went on a week-long bender and never got to say goodbye to his dad, even though he had the chance. “If your dad is alive, talk to him. If there’s stuff you’re afraid to talk to him about, talk to him about it anyway,” he told me. I vowed I would and to a certain extent I did, but there’s so much more I know now that I want to talk to him about than I even knew back then. And trying to figure it out without him is hard.
So, what now?
Sure, there are times that are more difficult than others and grief still sits for spell, but by and large life goes on with only his memory now. Julie and I are both busy with the things we’re passionate about and the kids are probably busier than we are. We work, we relax, we do our best to focus on the future and the good things lying in wait for us there. It sucks that he won’t be here to see what happens next, but that’s the reality.
Dad, I miss you. I love you. That won’t ever change.
This piece was originally written by Ryan Haack for Living One Handed. Ryan is a blogger, author, and motivational speaker. He recently wrote a book called Different is Awesome. To learn more about the book, you can read more here. Or check out his website and watch some of his videos to learn all about Ryan and what he does and what makes him so great.
“A Life Worth Living” was OHEL’s Feature Film at its 47th Annual Gala. The Roth family shares about losing their precious son, Jonathan, to suicide four years ago. This video is very well done and was created by OHEL, A Jewish Social Service agency in New York City. To learn more about OHEL, you can check out their website here. Many thanks to the Roth family and OHEL for allowing us to share it here on The Gift of Second.
An unexpected challenge developed for me less than a year after I lost John. I never considered I would have to answer questions about him, questions about my family, to people I just met. Everyone in my life at the time of John’s death either knew John or knew of John. There was no question of my sibling status.
Once I graduated from college and started a new job, I began meeting new people: people who did not know me or my family, people who did not know of my loss, thus the question arose, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” The first time I was asked this question I froze. I don’t remember what I answered. It caused a lot of anxiety for me and prodded my still-healing and open wound. Not only do I have to grieve the loss of my brother, now I have to think about how to present this to new people I meet –people who don’t know John and never will.
Even today, a decade later, meeting new people is still difficult. I always find myself thinking: What will they ask me? When will they ask? How much do they really want to know? How will I answer? More often than not, the question inevitably comes, “So, do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Since John was my only sibling, this means I am an only child now. I never know how to answer. I want to contribute to the conversation, but I don’t always want to invite questions. If I don’t speak, I feel left out and alone. If I say “No,” then it’s like I am disrespecting John’s memory or I’m ashamed of how he died, which I’m not. If I say “I had a brother, but he passed away ‘x’ years ago,” the next question that typically follows is, “How?” This is a difficult first conversation and you have to be prepared for the comments/questions/judgments that will likely come your way.
The first few years after John died, if I met someone I knew I wouldn’t have much contact with, I would answer as if he was alive: “Do you have any siblings?” Yes. A brother. He’s eighteen and in college.” Obviously, this was easier early on. Now that I am twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, it gets harder to pretend, causing more questions, such as “Wow, why is there such a large age gap between the two of you?” Then, I am lying not only about his death but other things as well. This was a coping technique I needed to use more within the first five years of John’s death. As I moved into the final stages of the grieving process and was able to accept his loss, I can now answer this question truthfully or not at all if I choose to.
Another method I use to field questions I don’t want to answer is to answer the question quickly, without much depth, and immediately throw a question back at whoever is asking: “Do you have any siblings?” “No. How about you?” Or… “Yes, but he/she passed away ‘x’ years ago”… (do not stop, do not pass go)…“What about you?”
If I do not want to answer the question at all and I am in a position to do so, I pretend I did not hear the question or feign a distraction. Then, I barrel ahead with a question for them, hoping they will forget. There are many creative ways to get around answering uncomfortable questions, especially as you adjust to this change in your life. It is up to you to find out what will work best for you, but keep in mind it will likely change from situation to situation and that’s okay too.
Today we have the privilege of hearing from Mo Isom! Isom writes, “In my former life I was an All-American soccer goalkeeper, the first female to train with and tryout for an SEC football team, and LSU’s Homecoming Queen. Now I’m a New York Times best-selling author, speaker and blogger, as well as a wife and mom.” Today she is sharing with us an incredible excerpt on forgiveness from her book, Wreck My Life: Journeying from Broken to Bold.
“Loving others deeply doesn’t just apply to those whom we have peace with and whom it feels good to extend love to. Living boldly and loving deeply looks like forgiving freely, no matter whom that forgiveness must be outstretched to. That’s a hard concept to wrap our heads around. Because, in truth, there is probably someone sitting on the forefront of your mind that you have been so wronged by the thought of forgiveness is nauseating. Maybe it was the abuse. Or the rape. Or the theft. Or the deceit. We can think of ten thousand reasons why the people we don’t want to forgive don’t deserve forgiveness for all they put us through. But the fact of the matter is the longer you withhold forgiveness from another, the longer they own a piece of you. And if we believe Christ has bought us, in full, at the price of His own life, then we are robbing ourselves of the freedom that grace grants us when we allow another person to mentally or emotionally or spiritually hold possession over a piece of us.
Maybe it was the infidelity. Or the gossip. Or the abandonment. Maybe it was the suicide. That was the dark chain that still wrapped itself around me.
I had healed in so many ways. It had been years since my dad’s death. But I still harbored resentment toward a man I still believed, at the core, was a coward. A man who had run from the mess he made and taken a foolish way out. A man who had left a wife and two daughters to put back the pieces of a shattered life. Deep down, I blamed so much of my wandering and my promiscuity and my struggles on my dad. Sometimes that was the easier way to process things– to dismiss them as cause-and- effect results of another person’s shortcomings.
>But, in truth, my resentment and my anger and my frustrations were really just rationalizations for a heart that was calloused with years of unforgiveness. My soul still reeked of blame. And while I understood how all-inclusively Christ had forgiven me, I just couldn’t surrender the cemented belief, deep down, that my dad’s actions weren’t worth forgiving.
But in Ephesians 4:31-32, there was a word that stood out to me and helped peel back an unexpected layer in the process of forgiving freely. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Compassion. A sympathy and concern for the misfortunes of others. After coming across those words, compassion was a seed God planted in me and began to nourish. A new thought that began to slowly reframe my perspective of forgiveness. My prayers shifted from, “God, help me forgive more freely.” to “God, you have known the greatest compassion for me in my failings. I long to look more like you. Will you nurture a heart of compassion within me?”
I saw him first as a little boy. My daddy. With his soft olive skin and his round face. Carefree and joy-filled and innocent. A simple southern boy with two parents who loved him, deeply.
I saw him as a young teen, bouncing around from school to school with each of his dad’s job transfers. Bouncing around from football team to football team, trying to establish his footing. Maybe he was bullied—or struggled to feel like he ever really fit any one place. Uprooted and moved every time he’d finally made a name for himself amongst a team.
I saw him as a college football player and, eventually, a law student. Navigating the dating scene and balancing his course load. I smiled imagining what he must have been like so near to me in age—and laughed remembering the time he told me he once dated a girl with the nickname “Toot”. I wondered what his friend group had been like, and what had stirred his passion for law.
I saw him as a young man meeting and falling for my beautiful mommy. I imagined the butterflies he must have felt as he watched her glide down the aisle. The excitement and nervousness he must have felt as he took on the role of husband and they dreamed dreams of a future family.
I could almost feel the warm tears that rolled down his cheeks as he helped deliver my sister and me. As he navigated the highs and lows of carrying the title of daddy. As he wrestled with the pressures of raising preteen girls and the expectation of providing for a busy family.
I ached for how his heart must have broken with the death of his own daddy. How deeply he must have grieved. And I smiled thinking about the laughter he brought to the basketball court as he volunteered his time to coach Special Olympians and other athletes with disabilities.
I ached for the stress and pressure he must have felt when work was tough and money was tight and everything in him wanted to seem strong for his family. And I saw him in a new light as I thought about the demons he admitted to wrestling. The strangleholds that gripped him sexually, in regards to his struggles with pornography. The pride that must have felt so damaged by Satan’s relentless taunts and schemes.
I thought about his insecurities. His deep-rooted weaknesses. And how similar he and I truly were in so many broken ways. I saw the man who was always able to love others far more than he was ever able to love himself sitting on the edge of that hotel bed, his heart pounding and his hand trembling.
My heart broke for that innocent southern boy who truly believed life was worth giving up. The olive-skinned baby who had seen a lot of life and who was worn out and tired and aching.
Compassion bred forgiveness because it allowed me to see another human as just that—human. Worn and ravaged and navigating a broken world, just like me. It gave a history to the action that had wronged me and opened up a broader perspective to understand that even the people who have wronged us so deeply have a story—a reason why sin has a stronghold in their life. Hurt people hurt people. I wasn’t instructed to withhold forgiveness from the hurting, I was instructed to be kind and compassionate, having mercy for the lost and wandering, just as God had mercy for me.
Grace. It’s what had been extended to me. It was what was being called of me. By finally forgiving my father, I encountered an intimacy with Christ that stretched away from logic and made sense of the nonsensical and introduced me to a different kind of humility. A Jesus-kind of humility. That had everything to do with God and little to do with me. I had been foolish to mistake kindness for weakness—the strength of a lion can exist within the spirit of a lamb. Forgiveness is selfless strength. If we want to look even a bit like Jesus, we must embrace the willingness to forgive freely.
This excerpt is from Isom’s New York Times Best-Selling book, Wreck My Life: Journeying from Broken to Bold. To read more from Mo, check out her blog here or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
The following is an excerpt from the book, The Forgotten Mourners: Sibling Survivors of Suicide by Magdaline DeSousa. Magdaline gave us permission to share this excerpt as she wants fellow sibling survivors to know she understands the difficulties that come within a family when a sibling takes their own life. We will also be sharing a different excerpt from her book in an upcoming post.
When you grow up for a significant portion of your life with this other person attached to you, how do you cope when that person is suddenly gone?
When they are not there to complain to, or commiserate with, about Mom and Dad being ‘unfair’…
When they are not there to play around with, sit on you, fart on you, or wake you up in the middle of the night to wish you a Happy Birthday…
What Do You Do?
To this day, my answer to that question is I don’t know. A part of me is gone forever. I am an only child now, but I did not grow up as one. Coming from a Greek family, it is hard to explain this to new people I meet. I am immediately type-cast and horror abounds when I say I am an only child. How could you be an only child? Don’t most Greek families have a lot of children? I hate it. I also feel like I am not acknowledging John’s existence when I say that because I did have a brother for two-thirds of my current life. I often wish I had another sibling so I wouldn’t be alone in mourning this. But that would not make this any easier.
The hardest thing about going from a couple to an only child is having the focus entirely on you. My relationship with my parents has been very challenging at points. Sometimes it feels like the weight of their happiness and their worry is on me. They became extremely overprotective after my brother passed away.
I still don’t tell my dad when I travel all the time because he worries about me leaving, getting there, and returning home. Additionally, it’s hard for me to show them any signs of sadness or depression because they freak out. Their biggest fear is something happening to me too, which is understandable, but stressful. While it is difficult feeling like I have to keep certain things from my parents, worrying about their anxiety is worse.
When I am feeling depressed or anxious over something regarding my brother, I have learned to find other avenues to express my grief. I can call any of my friends and lean on them. I can schedule an impromptu session with my counselor. I can drive to the beach, take my journal, and write to John, finding comfort in the sounds of the ocean and my memories of him.
The main guidance I can give here is to reassure your parents you are not your brother or sister. You are here, you are not going anywhere, and you will get through this. They may need to hear that over and over again immediately following your sibling’s death until they are confident you will not do anything drastic as well. Keep in mind you and your parents are going through an adjustment and it will not happen overnight.
What About Families with Multiple Siblings?
For families with multiple siblings, different challenges will surface. There are several scenarios that may occur here. Perhaps you lost the sibling you were closest to out of the three, four, or five of you. You may feel anger or resentment at being left with a brother or sister who no longer understands you, not the way your other sibling did.
Perhaps you lost the sibling you were not the closest to. You may feel guilty for not being closer to them, not getting to know them better. What if you tried harder? Maybe they would still be here. You may feel anger toward the sibling who was close to them. How could you not see this coming? You talked to them all the time!
If you come from an extremely large family, there may be small cliques amongst the siblings, where the three oldest and three youngest are close-knit. You have lost one of the Three Stooges and now the two of you are left staring at each other, wondering how you missed the warning signs and questioning how you will go on without your sibling.
In each of these situations, you may identify with some of the challenges of the now only-child discussed above, but you will also have the dynamic of redefining your relationship(s) with your remaining sibling(s). First and foremost, blame has no place in any of these situations. None of you is responsible for your sibling’s disease or actions.
Second, try not to direct your anger toward your remaining sibling(s) or any other family member. Yes, anger is a common and important part of the grieving process, but pointing fingers will only hurt those at the receiving end. In order to heal, you all have to work together.
Finally, get help. If you are fortunate enough to have a sibling(s) remaining in your life, see if they are willing to go with you to an SOS meeting. Maybe you can share books or other helpful resources amongst each other? You might even decide to honor your sibling’s memory together, holding an annual ceremony to toast his or her life.
If you were not close with the remaining sibling(s), this could be something you choose to change. Tragedies such as these often make us rethink the decisions and paths we take in life. You may feel guilty at first for trying to get closer to your sibling(s), as if you are replacing your lost brother or sister.
Whatever the reason for your change in relationship, as long as you don’t actually try to transform your sibling(s) into your lost brother or sister, I would say it is fine. I am sure your brother or sister would be happy to see all of you together, making meaning out of his or her death, and keeping their memory alive by maintaining the sibling relationship.
Turn to each other, learn from each other, and provide each other the support only another sibling can – the understanding of the loss of your precious brother or sister and the pain you are suffering together.
This excerpt comes from The Forgotten Mourners: Sibling Survivors of Suicide by Magdaline DeSousa. Check out the book to read more on sibling specific suicide.
Shanetta Brown, Grief Recovery and Empowerment Coach, recently put together a two-week video interview series for those impacted by suicide. Therapists, psychologists, and authors volunteered their time in order to get some important and valuable information out there to the suicide loss community. The series was fantastic with so much wisdom and honesty shared!
Here is the interview I did. We discussed self-care, the power of forgiveness, and what moving on really looks like. I hope you are able to pull some nuggets of truth from this video.
I lost my husband to suicide May 2008. At that time it felt like the end of the world in a sense. I had two daughters, one going into college, and one going into her senior year of high school. Watching their pain was harder than my own. I became withdrawn, very angry, weak, ashamed, guilty, hurt more than ever, and my gut had an unfamiliar ache as if holes were being eaten into it. I didn’t eat for weeks. It felt like the pain would never go away. It was too much. To me, suicide survivors are left to feel like it is the ultimate betrayal, ultimate rejection, and the ultimate pain you will ever receive because it is a choice that is made at the time they decide to take their life; The choice to leave this world and everyone in it. I have heard that that is not true. That they think of no one at the time, only the hurt they are trying to escape. It is still very hard to deal with.
I read many books on surviving suicide loss, and sure they help, but until you are ready to take on this war single-handedly, it just consumes you. After a few years, I turned to God. I gave him all of my worries and just decided that I would just have to trust in him to get me through this because there just wasn’t anyone else that would understand. I started trying not to overthink things and stopped trying to figure out why and to stop questioning what had happened. There would always be more questions, even if I had an answer.
I learned through all of this that God was my ticket out of this misery I was going through. I could let it continuously eat me up, or I could destroy it by accepting it for what it was. Sure it is horrible, but I believed that I could overcome it. At the time, it felt like we, as a family, were going through it alone. What I realized is that people go through it everyday. It affects so many lives. I started focusing on helping others cope. My hope was to offer hope to someone else. Eight years later, the pain is still there. But it does not control me any longer. I believe no matter how much something hurts- we have control of our minds. It just takes time to get there. I don’t believe it happens right away and is different for everyone.
I want people to know that this is indeed a horrible thing to experience. But I also want them to know that they do not have to let it consume them. One day at a time. Find the joy in things wherever you can. Find the fight in you to do some things you enjoy. Wake up every day knowing that there is something good out there and always something to be thankful for. Trust in God.
With the holidays quickly approaching and Thanksgiving just one week away, I wanted to share a bit as it pertains to grief and the holidays. Below is an excerpt from the book The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide.
“One of the most difficult aspects of the first year is what is often referred to as the Year of Firsts. The Year of Firsts is all of the first times we experience an event, holiday, or tradition without our loved one. This includes birthdays, holidays, vacations, events, seasons, or any other life event we are now navigating without them. Survivors often talk about the difficulty of the first Thanksgiving or Christmas after the suicide and how to handle the typical traditions and expectations from others. Oftentimes, we have traditions we have always participated in, whether it be decorating in a certain manner, cutting down our own Christmas tree, or hosting a celebration. Maybe these were our loved one’s ideas originally, or maybe they simply loved participating in them. Whatever the case may be, it can sometimes produce dread as the season approaches.
This is a good time to evaluate if you want to continue with the traditions. You might need to look at them this year and ask yourself, “Do I really want to continue with these?” You might think, “We have to do it because my loved one adored participating in it” or “We always do that tradition. We can’t skip it this year.” This might be a good time, though, to look at those traditions and honestly assess if you have the desire, energy, and ability to continue with them. If you decide you do not, then it is important to give yourself permission to skip them.
This might also be a great time to create new traditions. These do not have to be permanent, they may only be temporary for the first year or two. I remember always celebrating Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family, but after she died, my dad, brother, and I decided it would be too painful to attend the celebration. We decided to go out to a nice dinner and then a movie together instead. We did this for only the first two years, but it was what we needed during such a difficult time that would have otherwise been a constant reminder of my mom’s absence. It did not make the season pain free; instead, it simply gave us an opportunity to choose how we wanted to spend those difficult days and lessen the pain just a bit.
The Year of Firsts might also involve how to navigate annual vacations or trips that have always been a family favorite. It is okay to continue with this trip if it is something you feel would be enjoyable and will find pleasure in. If, however, it is something you are dreading, it is okay to cancel the trip or perhaps change the destination. The important thing to remember during the Year of Firsts is that it is okay to say no to celebrations and change or cancel plans entirely. You need to do what you are comfortable with and what you can manage emotionally and physically. We don’t want to just endure events for the sake of keeping with tradition. We want to take care of ourselves the best way possible (see the chapter on self-care).
Often, society tells us we should be done mourning by the first anniversary of our loved one’s death. Sometimes we believe this ourselves. The truth is it is not realistic to expect our grieving to be complete and wrapped up nicely simply because we turned the twelfth page on the calendar. We do a disservice to ourselves when we believe everything will be easier once we make it through the first year and then later beat ourselves up when we recognize life is still hard. It is important to note the anniversary is merely one day; it is not the culmination of grief. As I explained in the grief cycle chapter, there is no absolute timeline when we can expect to be ‘over’ this incredible loss. To expect the first year anniversary to be the magic day when mourning and pain disappears is unfair to ourselves.
Unfortunately, many survivors share their second year was actually harder than the first. I mention this not to be discouraging but to give you insight instead. I remember walking around in a constant state of shock the entire first year and then slowly recognizing the finality of her death. It was then, in the second year, that life became less about ‘firsts’ and more about the new reality of life without my mom. Also, I think people expect us to have moved on by the completion of the first year and, thus, they stop asking us how we are doing, stop seeing how they can help, and stop thinking about our pain. It felt a bit lonelier beginning that second year. This is not to scare you but rather to normalize it so you do not have false expectations but a more realistic understanding instead. This is normal to experience.”
The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Last week my sons performed in a Veteran’s Day concert at school. They invited all of the community veterans to attend and then these adorable elementary- aged children sang their little hearts out for all of those who have served our country. They even had a bake sale and gave unlimited free treats to the veterans as a small way to say thank-you.
At one point during the concert, they had each veteran in the audience stand up when their branch of the military was called. They also had them stand up depending on which war they served in. When they called out for all veterans to stand up if they had served in the war in Iraq, my eyes instantly became watery and I couldn’t hold back the tears. My cousin served in that war and shortly after returning home took his own life. As I saw his fellow soldiers stand up to be honored, I couldn’t help but think of my cousin and how much I miss him.
I went to the concert to watch my kids. I wasn’t even thinking of my cousin before the event but once they mentioned the war in Iraq, I was instantly brought back to thoughts of him and the devastation his suicide brought upon our hearts. I was in tears and unable to fight them back. This is how grief works. It just finds us when we are least expecting it and forces us to respond, even when it is not convenient.
I tell you this story as a form of encouragement. Sometimes we kick ourselves for “losing it emotionally” or having an off day. Sometimes we get mad that we are still crying or not “further along” in our grief. The reality is grief comes and goes. Some days (or seasons) are harder than others. Some days we go to a concert to see our kids sing and we leave crying because we are reminded of a family member gone too soon. Grief triggers can come in all shapes and sizes and, usually, they are unexpected. A familiar song, an old friend, or a photograph from yesteryear can all act as triggers that remind us of our loved ones and bring about a wave of grief we were not expecting.
The next time this happens to you, I encourage you to embrace it. Grief is never easy but it is healthy and part of the process. Although I was brought to tears at the concert, it was still a great time to honor my cousin for his service to our country and remember him fondly. I do not get to choose when grief comes into my life, but I do get to choose how I respond. Last week, I chose to embrace grief. Embracing it always gets me further along than avoiding it.
Here’s hoping you, too, were able to honor your military family and friends last week!
Have you lost a loved one to suicide? Are you feeling overwhelmed or stuck and you don’t know how to put the pieces of your life back together? Have you thought to yourself “Is the pain, anger or guilt ever going to go away?”
My friend and colleague Shanetta Brown has put together an amazing group of authors, therapists, psychologists, and more to create a dynamic video interview series where we truly show you how to find hope and happiness on the other side of grief. I will also be sharing during the series.
Here are some tools that you will learn:
-Recognize grief can be used as a transformation process to reach a fulfilling and purpose-filled life! (Thrive instead of just survive!)
-Move fully into your heart and body to process and release grief, mourn openly and grieve freely to reach a deep level of healing!
-How to handle the holidays after a loss and still finding reason to celebrate.
– Recognize ways to support your child through the grieving process.
-Determine things you can say to your child to help them with the loss.
-Recognize that you can maintain connection with deceased loved ones knowing that love lives on through them!
-Build supportive and caring networks and give yourself permission to share feelings, emotions and memories easily!
-Move from fear to faith that you can and will get through loss to find a new appreciation of life. (Be a victor over grief, not a victim!)
-Re-write your grief story and reclaim your life!
-Honor your loved one’s legacy with love, remembering a life well lived!
So, what does this all mean for you?
The experts in The Other Side of Grief speaker series will show you how to use their BEST tools to promote your healing and move through grief to heal with less struggle and hardship than necessary, so you can live again NOW with a life of purpose in honor of those you love. Support your healing with the best tools, tips, and methods to do so! The speakers are generously donating their time so you can get access to this value-packed online event at no cost. All you need is a computer to participate from anywhere in the world. Reserve your spot right away!
This series will help you embrace the fact that there is Hope and Happiness on the other side of grief.
Please take this opportunity to join me for this powerful interview series where authors like myself are generously showing you the way, and make this the first step of your journey toward healing!
See you there,
PS: It’s easy! Just click this link and sign in with your name and email in the boxes! Leave the rest to Shanetta and her team!
Tomorrow would have been your 74th birthday. I still felt the impulse to buy you a card, then I passed the display and instead, began to weep. I thought this second birthday without you would be easier, I was wrong.
I remember when we reconciled, I learned to cherish & never take for granted the simple act of picking up the phone on a holiday or a birthday, to share in good wishes and special sentiments of love & joy. After all, we had endured six years of special days coming and going, marked only by our absence from one another and the silence that filled the void. Yes, it truly felt like we were embarking on a brand new chapter in our relationship, full of promise, forgiveness, rebuilding and a love that felt deeper, stronger and even more authentic because of what we had endured. But that chapter came to a violent and abrupt end 18 months ago. Now our story can only be told in the looking back. And the thought of all that could have been, the pages left unwritten, break my heart.
Eighteen months; I know it’s been a year & a half, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to count it in that way. I’m not ready to put the word year in that space. Isn’t that silly? It is, I know. I wake up almost every day at 3:00 in the morning Dad. We never did get a time of death for you, another missing piece to the puzzle of your suicide. My mind is still trying to make sense of it all. But how do you make sense out of something so very senseless. And yet, my eyes open at 3:00 in the morning and I wonder, is that when you died? Are you trying to give me something to cleave to? Are you trying to answer one of the myriad of questions that occupies my mind at some point each & every day? I’m beginning to believe it.
Oh Dad, I thought getting through all of the firsts would make these seconds without you easier to bear. But I’m told that the second year can be even harder than the first. That darn grief does not follow a linear path, that much I have learned. It’s a constant dance of forward, back and side to side. Right now I feel like I’m just spinning, dizzy, unable to find my center. Tomorrow is just another day I feel like I have to get through. Then some balance might return.
I wish I could have helped you more. I wish that I knew then what I know now. I wish that all that I have learned and all that I have done in the aftermath of your suicide, could help you. I wish it could bring you back. I wish, I wish, for so much I wish.
Why did you go Dad? What happened? What was that final straw that took you from us? Why didn’t you tell us that you were feeling suicidal? Why? I hate that word. Because I will never have the answer. I know the truest answer lies in the illness that consumed your mind. But why didn’t you feel like you could keep fighting on? What made that morning different from all of the others that you had pushed through?
Listen to me; it’s the eve before your birthday and I’m rambling on about me & what I feel. But what about you? Are you at peace? I hope so. Do you know, do you see how much you are missed? I hope so. Do you know how much you were loved? I pray you did.
Tomorrow is your birthday. I wish I could say that I’ll celebrate you, but I just want to get past it. Your suicide has made it deeply complicated to remember you in life, to touch upon the good memories and reminisce. Maybe one day that will come. I’m told it will. It would be nice to savor a shared moment of joy without having trauma barging in on every darn memory I try to access.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t help you more Dad. I tried my best. I believe that you know that. But you didn’t tell me your whole truth. You kept a mask on and allowed me only to see a portion of your pain. Were you trying to protect me? You didn’t. You know that now Dad, right?
But I love you. I’ll always love you. And most days I forgive you. Other days I feel like you abandoned me. I can’t lie. You were not always easy, and goodness knows you could be a deeply complicated man. Ours was not a relationship without perils and pitfalls & for a long while we walked on separate paths. But we stood at a fork in the road and found one another again. I am eternally grateful for that. And even in your last months and weeks on this earth, stripped down to your most vulnerable self, you allowed me to know you on a deeper level. I felt like I understood you better, and I came to see that just like me, you were shaped by your own upbringing and all of the dysfunction that you endured. In short, I knew that you did as a father, the very best that you could with what you knew. Not every child gets to see that in their parent no matter how old they get. I thank you for that. I thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your own very human journey. I only wish I could have seen more.
Tomorrow is your birthday. So I’m going to try to end this note with a birthday wish for you…
I wish for you that the peace that eluded you in life, is now yours. May your soul be at rest. And may you always carry with you the knowledge that you were loved, even in your most broken state. Even when darkness blinded you to it, You were loved. And even when you felt most alone, you were loved. I wish you were still here. I wish that I could pick up the phone and call you. I wish I could give you a hug.
And it is my fervent wish that the love we shared can transcend
time & space
pain & sorrow
life and death
So that all that I’ve written can find its way to you with God’s grace.
This piece was originally written as On My Father’s Birthday by Deborah Greene. She writes about life and suicide at Reflecting Outloud. Follow her there for more heartfelt conversation around love and the aftermath of suicide.
My story starts on January 31, 2012. That day my mother took her life. It’s something I carry with me every single day, and I have the images that are engraved in my mind. I really can’t express the feelings I had after that, I was just so in shock and felt so guilty. We had a fight right before it happened and the last words we exchanged were not very nice. We never really had the greatest relationship. It is a struggle to deal with that alone. Knowing that I will never have that closure and realizing the permanence of suicide is unbearable. I stayed around my home for the rest of that year, but I knew I couldn’t do it any longer. There were memories everywhere. My dad was having a hard time and basically wanted to be by himself, and was not a good resource for me at the time. I had a one-year-old son also. I felt so alone. So January of the next year I moved with my son 9 hours away, where I had some family. I didn’t know what was going to happen with my life but I just knew that I had to get away. I had wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember and I started working on a few more prerequisites that I needed and got into a nursing program. It was hard, but that nursing program brought me back to life and gave me something to work for. The wonderful professors that I had were so encouraging, and were there for support when I needed someone. Two years later, I graduated nursing school with honors and won an award for “Outstanding Clinical Leadership.” I am proud to call myself a registered nurse.
When you lose someone to suicide, you need something that you can hold onto that will keep you going. I thank God every day for my son and my nursing career, which keep me going. It’s hard to reach out to people, because most don’t understand or know what to do for you. I still try though because I need people so badly. I have gone through the most darkest, horrible days of my life. I suffer from depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. Certain times of the year, or going to familiar places are tough for me. I have never once felt angry at my mom. I feel sad – like a deep, empty sadness that stays with me. I ended up moving back home to be with my dad. We’re in the house that my mom died in and every day is a reminder of her and that day. But being here also brings back some good memories that we had. I have my really bad days, where I feel depressed and shut out the world and am stuck inside my head. Sometimes I sit in my parents’ closet and go through pictures and old things and just cry. Then I have my good days where I am able to focus on the good. This experience has softened me as a person. I am so different now than I was, and look at life so much differently than other people – it’s hard to even explain. It has made me more patient and kind with others, because I know what it is like to feel like you don’t want to be here anymore. As for my mother, she just couldn’t do it anymore. And I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way. I feel like I was put on this earth to be a nurse – to nurture and take care of others. To know that I can make a difference to others is what keeps me going.
I wanted to live on for my mother – the good memories and good parts of her that I carry with me. I try to forget the bad. She could not do it, so I am doing it for her. Go on for them, see the beauty in this world for them, and live your life in honor of them. There is hope. I have a ring that I wear every day that says “hope” because without it I would be lost. I choose to hold onto hope.
Week 2: HOPE
Day 1: It’s a big deal
(The following is from the free devotional Faith, Hope, Love by Jennifer Lane)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” — Romans 8:18-28 ESV
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:38-39 ESV
I can tell you the day the idea hope became a big deal to me. I was sitting on a couch with my family, planning my little brother’s funeral. We were picking out scriptures to be printed in the bulletin, and hope was my life vest in a sea of numbness that I was feeling in that moment. The scripture that appeared in my head like a lightning bolt was Romans 8:38-39.
My brother had died by suicide, and I felt the need to clarify to every attendee that walked into that funeral that my brother couldn’t be separated from his Savior Christ Jesus, not by his loneliness, alcohol, drugs, or that choice he made or the gun he used.
Death is a powerful thing. It tramps around with fear as its shadow.
But praise His Holy Name that hope is more powerful. It is a tidal wave that rushes in with freedom, goodness, glory, and vital assurance in its wake.
We are weak, but we wait in patience for those things promised that we cannot yet see. In our weakness, we are helped by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit offers words to Heaven when our mouths and minds cannot communicate our hearts and minds.
I have hope that my brother is with Jesus. I have hope that one day I will be with Jesus. These aren’t just ideas. These are promises found in His Word. I can have assurance of these promises.
My brother was saved and baptized at a young age. He was so eager to pray to receive Jesus, so excited to be baptized. He was adopted as a son, and that adoption was finalized, sealed on high, and cannot be undone. Nothing in creation could cause my brother to become disowned by His Father.
I will cling to hope until I am reunited with my brother, Christ, and the rest of His Bride.
This post was written by Jennifer as part of a 3-week devotional called Faith, Hope, Love. If you would like to download your free copy, VISIT THIS LINK.
Here is a sneak peek into the book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide. The book is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in print and Kindle versions.
The following excerpt is from the book The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide. This passage discusses one aspect of self-care after a suicide.
It’s Okay to Say “No.”
We often feel we need to commit to all things and all people because, if we don’t, we will feel rude or unsupportive. Sometimes we say yes to things because people ‘expect’ us to. The truth is nobody can say yes all the time, and we need to be okay with it. Sometimes the best way we can take care of ourselves is by saying no to commitments, obligations, and responsibilities. If a friend or family member invites you over to their home for a holiday because you always spend that holiday with them but it feels overwhelming this year to even think about going, much less prepare the feast you typically do, it is okay to say, “I’m not feeling up to it this year. I think I will stay home instead.” If you typically run the PTA at your child’s school but the responsibility is too much to bear, it is okay to step down for a season (or permanently). If you and your friends always go on a huge summer vacation with all of your families and pets and this year it seems like too much to even consider, it is okay to say no. Sometimes the best self-care we can possibly do is to say no and lighten our loads. In the aftermath of a suicide, we typically need less on our plates, not more. If we fill every minute of every day, avoidance, not grieving, is actually taking place. Self-care involves grieving and giving ourselves what we need during the grieving process. People will not always understand or agree with you saying “no” and that is okay. It is called ‘self-care’ not ‘care for everyone else first.’
For a season it is perfectly fine to say no to people, things, and commitments. If, however, you are saying no all of the time and find yourself completely isolated and removed from friends and family, it is likely depression instead of self-care. At that point, it is necessary to talk with your doctor. Self-care is intended to promote better health and is a preventative step to feeling overwhelmed. If you are simply removing yourself from the world, you may need to evaluate a deeper cause.
You can read more from The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide by grabbing a copy of the book on Amazon now. You are not alone. You can watch the Book Trailer Here to get a sneak peek into the book.
I want to give readers a glimpse into the book,The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide. It is my hope this book will begin the healing process for so many impacted by a loved one’s suicide. You can check out this short 3-minute video trailer to see what the book is all about. The following excerpt is from a chapter titled “Guilt and Shame.”
Many times after a suicide, the survivor believes they failed in some regard, failed as a protecting parent, a lovable child, a supportive spouse, a safe sibling, or a caring and listening friend. We believe that if we had been more approachable or more helpful, or if our loved one knew how much we truly loved them, then they wouldn’t have been forced to choose death. We believe we failed and so we believe we are failures. We go through life shaming ourselves for not measuring up, not showing up, and truthfully, we shame ourselves for not being their Savior. We kick ourselves for not being everything our loved one needed to stay alive, and we blame ourselves for not keeping them alive. We carry the burden of a scarlet letter ‘F’ for Failure. We failed to protect and save our loved one because we were not enough.
I bought into this lie for far too long—decades, in fact. I believed all of the things mentioned above, and after several interviews and conversations with other survivors, I know I am not unique in this regard. We are not their Saviors, and to accept the responsibility of their choice to die is neither fair nor healthy. There is no other cause of death that wrecks the emotional psyche of a survivor quite like suicide. I have met people who lost a loved one to suicide forty years ago who still express feelings of guilt and shame. The emotional and physical toll this self-imposed blame takes on a survivor can be devastating. Countless survivors share that they have chronic health problems today, likely due to the stress of blame, shame, and guilt compounded over years.
Out of this entire book, there is no more important message that I want to share with you: You are not to blame, and you are enough. Our loved ones were sick. They were dealing with mental illness, they felt hopeless, and they believed their lives had no value. They were in an incredibly dark place which we could not penetrate. Professionals could not save them, medicine did not cure them, and love from others couldn’t touch them. Their choice to die was their last solution to end the unimaginable physical and emotional pain they experienced every minute of every day. They were not intentionally trying to bring us pain but rather desperately trying to end their own. We will not condone suicide, but neither can we continue to take responsibility for it or allow it determine our own value.
The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide is available now on Amazon. I encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself or anyone you know impacted by a suicide loss.
I have spent the past year writing a book for those impacted by suicide. The book is titled, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide. You can see a short video trailer for the book here. My hope is this book will be the best possible resource for a fellow survivor trying to navigate the waters of suicide loss. Below is a short excerpt from a chapter discussing grief:
Grief is neither linear nor does it adhere to a particular path. I created the image below to depict the manner in which grief really affects us.
The Realistic Grieving Path begins with a suicide, causing a surviving individual to begin the grief process. The feelings one experiences are overwhelming, chaotic, erratic, and all-encompassing. I liken this feeling to the destruction of an earthquake. Not only does it rock our worlds and bring devastation to our lives, but it also creates cracks in our foundation, causing us to doubt all that was. The picture depicts waves of grief similar to an earthquake’s seismic waves. One moment we can feel intense heartache and sadness, and then next moment we are full of anger and rage. Always unpredictable and never convenient, walking through grief can be unbearable much of the time.
As survivors works through their grief, they will eventually arrive at a phase titled ‘New Normal.’ New normal is labeled as such because we will never return to the person we were before the suicide. How could we? This phase becomes our new status quo, the phase in which we go about our days, no longer so consumed with grief. Life begins to carry on in this new normal stage until a ‘life event’ occurs. A life event can be positive, such as a wedding, the birth of a baby, or a graduation, or negative like the anniversary of the suicide, a serious illness, or a job loss. Regardless of the event, this scenario acts as a trigger and causes the survivor to walk through the grief path again as they process the death of their loved one once more in light of the new events.
As I prepared for my wedding, I thought very little of the absence of my mom for the ceremony. Nor did I think of her at all during the honeymoon. Upon returning from the honeymoon; however, while setting up house with my husband, something out of the blue, it seemed, occurred. Two days after returning, my husband and I sat down to make our first grocery list as a married couple. Every idea he had for meals seemed horrible, and I began to snap at him for each suggestion. Eventually, my wise husband asked, “What is the matter? Why are you so frustrated?” Without pause and without thinking, I began to sob. The only thing I could get out between deep crying breaths was, “My mom should have been at my wedding and she wasn’t.” To me, at the time, (and I am sure my husband as well) this seemed so odd and unexpected. In reality, it is a perfect example of a ‘life event’ as described above in the Realistic Grieving Path.
The wedding took place seventeen years after my mom’s suicide and, leading up to the wedding, I had been relatively unaffected by her death as it pertained to wedding preparations. The major life event, though, rocked my world and caused me to walk through the process again as I mourned my mom missing my wedding.
The events do not need to be big; they can be small, such as running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years who reminds you of your loved one or even simply hearing a song your loved one enjoyed. The idea is that events happen our entire lives, and many can trigger different parts within us to feel the loss of our loved one more fully. It is then that we must work through the death again. Walking through the grief path again by no means negates any grief work we have done before; instead, it brings to light different aspects that need more healing or attention. Grief is both cyclical and never-ending. We will never fully ‘get over’ the suicide of a loved one, and I believe this model best depicts the reality of grief. When discussing his son’s suicide, Tony Dungy, former NFL Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, wrote in his book, Quiet Strength: A Memoir, “First, there is no typical grief cycle, and second, it’s not something I went through. I’m still grieving.”
The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide is available now on Amazon. I encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself or anyone you know impacted by a suicide loss.
My mission in life is to eliminate the stigma related to suicide loss. I lost my brother to suicide in 2002. For a long time, I hid from the reality that I was impacted by sibling suicide loss. The unfortunate reality, up until 2014, is my friends didn’t even know about my deepest loss. They didn’t ask and I didn’t share it.
Why did I not share? I was afraid of being judged. It is hard to understand and my experience has been that people generally don’t want to enter into this pain. There are obvious exceptions to this and for this, I’m forever grateful.
All I wanted was someone to listen to understand rather than try to respond to make everything better. Nothing is going to make it better. We can’t bring Brian back…
We can listen to understand. What does this mean? At least, in part, this means listening without trying to fix anything. If I share this with you I’m not looking for you to fix my situation. I just want to know that I matter and that my emotions matter.
I am a therapist, author, and speaker by profession. This is exactly what I provide in my office, through my book and through any opportunity I have to share my story.
If as a therapist I start to listen to respond then I am no longer providing a helpful opportunity for my clients to learn, grow and process.
Let’s be the best listeners. This isn’t something that we spend a lot of time talking about, but society needs those who are willing to listen to understand- not to fix the situation. There is a time and place to work through and problem solve.
I think by genuinely listening to understand we can help support others in their grief. I believe that the most helpful thing a few of my friends did at the beginning was listening to understand. They didn’t try to provide answers. I didn’t want answers.
I think writing our thoughts and feelings down in a journal is a tremendous way to express our deepest emotions and to be “listened to.” The great thing is that the journal always listens and it only provides “answers” over time.
Nathan S. Wagner MA LPC is a therapist in Harrisburg, PA. He is the author of Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope. Pick up a copy at Amazon today.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Walk in Auburn, California. There were over 300 people in attendance and there is something really special about getting to speak with folks who know the specific pain and hurt a suicide brings to a family. There is an understanding that nobody else quite grasps.
I had several individuals come up to the booth I was hosting for The Gift of Second, and they were unable to finish a sentence without sobbing because the pain is still so fresh and raw. To be able to sit there with them, in their grief, and understand their sorrow without having to say a word brought tears to my eyes each time. The thing about suicide is we feel so alone. We feel as if nobody could ever understand. But, for one morning, 300 people did exactly understand. We know the questions we continually wrestle with in our minds. We understand the pain, the guilt, the shame, the unique grief, the stigma, everything. We get it. This weekend, 300 of us got the chance to be together and support each other on this journey.
There are about 50 AFSP Walks every weekend in cities all over the USA through September, October, and November, bringing people together to raise awareness, support prevention, and offer connection with one another. It’s beautiful and it’s powerful. The Auburn event had a really cool photo booth donated by the generous folks at Classic Photo Booth Rentals. I decided to pose for a few pictures alone, trying to repeat a strong message so many survivors need to hear.
Dear Anderson Cooper,
You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but we do share something in common. We are both survivors of suicide loss. In 1988 you lost your brother Carter to suicide and 17 months ago, on April 20, 2015, I lost my father.
In just a few days you will join Martha Raddatz at Washington University in St. Louis, to moderate the 2nd Presidential Debate of 2016. This is a chance to speak to some of the biggest challenges that our country is facing, and open up a dialogue with each candidate as to how they might solve those issues, or at the very least, tackle them in such a way as to make a meaningful difference. And so, as a fellow survivor of suicide loss, I am asking you to raise the issue of suicide.
Every day it is estimated that we lose 117 people to suicide; people like your brother and my father. And every 12.3 minutes in this nation another family is left to navigate the painful aftermath that your family and mine has had to face. You understand better than most in the media, that every person who dies by suicide is more than a statistic; they are parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends and neighbors.
The most recent federal data analysis tell us that suicide rates in the United States have surged to a 30 year high. The same research showed an alarming increase in suicide among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, rose by 63 percent over the course of the study, while it increased by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. And men over the age of 75 have the highest suicide rate of any age group.
Add to that the fact that we lose 20 veterans a day to suicide and that the suicide rate among female veterans is six times higher than the rate of non-veteran women.
Anderson, these are statistics, numbers, and they are staggering to say the least. But they are so much more than that. These are the casualties of a war that is being fought in the dark. These are deaths so often cloaked in shame, stigma and silence, that those of us left to grieve a suicide loss, often find ourselves feeling alone and isolated in the experience. But you can help to change that.
Don’t you think it is time that we shine a national spotlight on the realities of suicide loss, Anderson? Don’t you think it is time that any conversation about our nation’s healthcare include issues of mental health and suicide prevention? Isn’t it time that we normalize those conversations as part of our national dialogue? And I might add, isn’t it time to change the discourse in the media and on the campaign trail when it comes to the language we use, being mindful not to belittle and further stigmatize those living with mental illness?
It’s been 17 months since I lost my father to suicide. And not a day has gone by, where I have not tried to make some meaning come from his death. I have shared my story openly in the hopes that doing so can help spare another family the pain that mine has endured, a pain you are intimately acquainted with.
You told People magazine, in a March 31, 2016 interview that your brother’s suicide had a definite impact on your career.
“I started going overseas and going to places where life and death was very real and where people were suffering tremendous losses. Hearing their stories and hearing people talk about it sort of helped me to get to a place where I could talk about it, I think.”
This Sunday night, with millions of people watching, you have the chance to further the conversation about suicide in this country. The suffering of those who die by suicide is very real and families like yours and mine are living with tremendous loss. You’ve learned to talk about it, and so have I. So let’s use what we have endured to make a difference. Let’s talk about it. Let’s ask our nation’s potential leadership to talk about it. The spotlight is yours to shine, as a fellow survivor, I hope you will use it.
An Open Letter to Anderson Cooper from a Fellow Survivor of Suicide Loss was written by Deborah Greene. If you would like to read more by Deborah, head over to Reflecting Out Loud, where she writes more about life and the impact of suicide.
My son left our family on 7/7/15. He died by suicide.
Our hearts have never been the same. After months of shock and denial, we entered the holiday season. It used to be my favorite time of year. We have two more sons so we put up decorations for them to be as normal as possible. Holidays were horrible. I cried a lot and didn’t know to get through the devastating time.
We were surrounded by love but we just wanted to hide and wish the holidays away. I find, as we are drawing close with the starting of fall, that I still don’t want to participate in the festivities- so we are going to leave town and start new traditions to get through.
I miss my son so very much and Christmas was his favorite time. He loved the house decorated. I have good memories of those times and will forever hold them in my heart.
So I guess the lesson is to do whatever you can to get through the year of first holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Do what you can to survive this. Be selfish. Do what you need to do to get through this. It won’t be easy but you will survive. And that’s all we want to do at this point!
Love to all,
Mother of an angel
Often times, as survivors, we feel alone and isolated. We feel as if nobody could ever understand our pain and hurt. Too often, we suffer alone because we don’t know anyone else who has ever experienced a suicide. Fortunately, there is a way to connect with fellow survivors in your community and also raise awareness around suicide.
During the months of September and October, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosts community walks all over the United States in hopes of raising awareness, offering support to fellow survivors, and bringing the community together. If you have never been to one, check out the 1-minute video below to get a closer look at what you can expect when attending. Each weekend you will find people in your own backyard fully aware of the pain and devastation suicide brings. We no longer need to feel alone.
I encourage you to head over to AFSP and check the schedule for walks in your area. It’s a great way to connect with others in your own neighborhood. Who knows, you might even gain a community of fellow survivors to lean on during the upcoming holiday season when it is often difficult to cope.
If you do attend a walk, let us know how it went by leaving a comment or writing about your experience.
I didn’t think it could happen to me. I thought God was done with me after being hit by a drunk driver and having a miscarriage in my third month of pregnancy. I was so wrong.
Suicide, how could this happen to me? I quickly learned that suicide does not discriminate, no matter what you may think. It has nothing to do with color, race, age, or any other beliefs you may have.
It happened to me on a fall night in September of 2014. Sleeping in my bed, my husband woke me from a deep sleep. Two police officers stood outside with the news that my daughter had been found less than a mile from our home and that she had died. I stood outside in disbelief, saying “no, no, no, this can’t be happening!” That night would forever change me.
Suicides are sometimes planned by those attempting to do it. My daughter, having a medical background knew how much medication it would take to get the job accomplished.
I would no longer be able to talk and laugh with my daughter, friend, and confidant. She has now forever gone to heaven to live with God. I stumbled through the next days of my life with a heavy fog of helplessness. It was tough to make a simple decision and other people had to make them on my behalf. With raw emotions, I went through my days like a robot. I didn’t realize how many lives she had impacted with her friendship, love, caring, and kindness. I just wanted to hibernate from the world and cry. My heart was shattered like a broken piece of glass on the floor, spreading in every direction, my emotions raw with pain. My life has forever been changed.
The out pouring of love and support from people for us was an act of pure kindness and love I never expected. Friends, family, and neighbors gathered around us to offer their love, support, and whatever we might have needed at that time.
Professionals say you go through 5 stages of grief. I probably went through all of them many times. It has been two years now, and now I call myself a survivor. I am still going to therapy, take my medication, and have had many talk sessions with a grief counselor. It has made a such a positive impact on my life. I am still grieving for her, but moving forward. I have screamed, cried, gotten angry at God, and even bargained with him. Journaling and talking have been the best things for me. I was told to feel my feelings, and not hold them in. I will continue to do that. I have days that are wonderful and days when I just want to be left alone with my thoughts. I have become much more spiritual in my thoughts. I still ask the question “Why?”
I will walk down this path for the rest of my life without her. It is a long, hard and rough road that I will be on. It is said it takes an army to raise a child. I now have my own army of love and support for which I am so grateful. My journaling is a great outlet for my feelings. It gets the haunting thoughts out of my head, and I can release them if only on paper. Over and over, I may write the same thing. We all grieve differently and in our own way.
I still deal with many feelings, moods, and things I don’t understand. Her memory will live on in me, her daughter, and all the other people that love and miss her. I would like to mentor other people traveling down this rough, tough, lonely road in my future. I am still working on me and hope one day I can help others as I have been helped by professionals, and the love and caring friends, and family. I pray for guidance and direction every night, and for God to watch over my angel.
I can’t take the blame for the choices she made, and I won’t. I choose to survive one day at a time.
My granddaughter is now 2, has a wonderful father, and a man I am blessed to have in my life.
I am a survivor, and for that I give thanks.
The last time I spoke to you was from the phone in Jeff’s apartment. I loved hanging out there with him, my big brother. I called to tell you I was going to stay all night at Dad’s house.
You chose that night when I was twelve as the one you would take your own life.
I was not enough to live for. Do you realize how embarrassing and awkward it makes a kid’s life when she has been abandoned by her mom? I didn’t cry, didn’t grieve, for about eight years. When the tears eventually came, they were agonizing.
You weren’t there to teach me how to apply makeup, when I started my period, or had my first crush.
You messed with my head by leaving me, and I closed up and kept everything emotional inside for years. I eventually mixed drugs and alcohol with the trauma; my goal being to either numb pain or make another kind of pain.
You weren’t there when I was nominated for prom queen and then got kicked out of prom for drinking. You weren’t there when I dated losers, when I married a non-loser, moved to another country, gave birth.
I wonder if you assumed I’d be better off growing up with my dad and stepmom. Did you plan ahead or did you make a rash decision that night when you were drunk? It shouldn’t matter but it does. But alas, I can never know.
By the way, if you did think I’d be better off, you were incorrect. No fault of theirs – but my new parents weren’t really looking to take in another kid and didn’t really know how to handle someone so damaged.
I was left by you. And I was left alone by them.
There’s no decent place in a letter to tell you this, but I should let you know that your firstborn, Jeff, followed in your footsteps and died a drunk by his own hand and left two children behind. He was 34. Five years younger than you when you did it. I’m 45, so I have you both beat.
What have I been up to? Well, here’s where things get weird. You won’t believe it, but my life is completely remarkable. My heart is so full of love and joy and compassion, sometimes I think I will explode from all my blessings.
You’re probably wondering if I’m serious since I have mentioned all the crap I had to deal with. But it’s true. I am one of the happiest people I know. I never expected anything good to come my way, but somehow I won the life lottery. My life is so great it’s almost not fair to others.
My life is sweet, but it’s not without constant heartache. Almost every time I’m alone in my van in the garage, I think of you and how you were in a garage when you died. I think of suicide every day. Every day.
It’s not an easy, shallow happiness I carry with me though. No, I have deep inner joy. Contentment. I have met depression and anxiety, but still I am able to have a joyful soul.
In a way, this is possible because I used your bad example as the motivation to get my life cleaned up. When I was a wretched, drug-addicted drunk before I was even legally allowed to drink, I recognized I didn’t want to live an unhappy life. Suicide was not going to be my way out.
So, uh, thanks, I guess, for giving me a perspective that not many people get to have.
I also knew that I wanted God, so I searched for him. I wanted peace that came from somewhere beyond me and the world. I realized eventually that Jesus had been with me all along, weeping for me when I couldn’t and drying my tears when they did fall. Oh, that you could have seen Jesus in your life, that you could have seen that tomorrow is always a new day and the sun will rise. Always.
I mourn the idea of you probably more than I mourn the real you. I have to fight off jealousy when I see friends turning to their moms for babysitting and recipes and traditions and advice. I was cheated. When a friend’s mom drove two hours to deliver chicken soup to her sick daughter, I physically hurt with envy.
I am fiercely devoted to my own children. I’m deliberate about my mental health and will not let them have a disinterested, damaged mom. They are having an incredible childhood and they know they are loved.
I have cried all the tears I can cry for you. I’m emptied of that grief.
I want to share what I’ve learned. That we can all overcome hardships, heartaches. That we are all valuable and worthy to be alive. We all have strength we haven’t tapped into. Life sucks a lot of the time, but life is fabulous most of the time.
My story convinced a friend to change her plans to jump to her death. She mustered up strength to take one more step, even in her utter despair and weakness. One more step is always possible.
Who knows where I would have ended up had you stayed…
It’s a frightening thought, because I absolutely love where I am.
I was in chains for years but am completely free now. I surrendered to God’s love for me. I knew my wounds would either keep me chained or set me free. I decided to build on the pain and make a way to peace.
We have all been given one time around. My hope for others is that they choose to live untethered to those who have harmed them, but choose rather to dance in the joy of freedom.
My hope is that others will choose to live.
That’s it, JJ
Whenever you’ve lost someone to suicide, one of the most difficult things about your new normal is figuring out what to say. The stigma attached to suicide is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It makes the whole matter so murky, it can be tough to navigate.
As I have begun to heal from the loss of my brother, I have felt more empowered to speak out, to drive away the darkness of that stigma by shining the light of the hope I have in Christ.
There are times, like as I write this now, I feel strong when I share about living with my brother’s suicide.
I even begin to think it is my responsibility to speak up, to elevate the stigma, to be a crusader that educates every chance possible. Doing any less feels like a disservice to my family.
But there are other times when I just don’t have the peace or the braveness to talk about my loss. Worries about making others uncomfortable or how others will think about me creep into my brain, and I stay silent.
Another thing that makes it difficult is reactions I have received when sharing about my loss with friends that have experienced losses very similar to mine. I can get a range of reactions. Sometimes they are thankful that I have reached out and brought up how difficult our loss feels. They are grateful someone else recognizes that about their life. But sometimes I have gotten puzzling responses that seem to just change the subject.
In receiving those reactions, I have to remember that they are in the same murky “what to say?” waters I am. I have to have grace. I also hope to receive grace when I’m having a tough moment with no words.
Grace always applies, especially to yourself. Don’t criticize yourself, thinking you are responsible for pushing back all the stigma, when you find those moments when speaking out and sharing seem impossible.
The ugly truth is that some people are incapable of giving grace and understanding. Sharing your story of suicide loss might be completely wasted on their ears. They will judge you and decide you’ve done something to warrant such a devastating time in your life.
These judgements grow out of their fear. They don’t want to think that a person just like them could experience this loss without deserving it. They want to think that there is something they can do to make sure they are never in your position.
But we all learn something as we experience a loss from suicide. We all now know this could happen to anyone. It happens to typical, everyday families about 117 times a day in the United States.
Don’t let fear rule your life, but don’t take it personally when someone treats you ungracefully because of their fear.
Even well-meaning, kind people who are trying their best will say offensive things. It is just so easy to be ignorant of what loss from suicide is like. Before I had lost my brother, I would have had no idea what to say or how it felt. I pray most people will never experience this type of loss.
Even people who have become familiar to the issue of suicide through research will never be able to have enough information to know what this loss is like. They can be more sensitive with their words and actions, and that is such a gift to someone who has suffered this type of loss.
What to say, now that you are a survivor of suicide, will always be an internal struggle. What might be right in this moment will be wrong in the next. Just know that you are far from alone in feeling the ache from the stigma. Let grace be abundant in your life in the times full of brave truth and times full of silence.
That day started out as any other day. It was a Monday in the final days of winter. I had gone to school like any other Monday. My mom had picked me up and took me home after school, just as she had done every day. We got in a fight that day, over something that didn’t matter, it was just harmless teenager and mom bicker. Something, I knew we would forget about quickly.I left the house that evening to go to a sports banquet, I was there most of the night; my mom and sisters remained at home. I didn’t notice anything different or out of the ordinary with my mom or her personality. It had been a relatively normal week for us. We had our talks about life and how after winter- things will get better for us. “Just a couple weeks Mom, then spring will be here and things will be better!” They would’ve been better. I was so sure of it. Life was not easy for us during that time, but I knew things would be better.I talked to my mom all day, everyday, and we were together all the time. We were the same person and it was actually scary at times how much. Our laugh and our sense of humor always had us laughing hysterically.When I got home after the banquet that night. The front door was locked. This was unusual. I was banging on the door and my mom finally opened it. She didn’t say a word to me. I went upstairs and changed in to my pajamas and got ready for bed. My mom came in my room to talk to me. I never knew, in any way, that this would be the last time I heard her voice. The last time we would talk to each other. We got distracted by my dog who decided to relieve himself in the house. My mom cleaned up the mess. We said goodnight and that was it.That was it. I had no idea what I was about to face and I would never think that last moment together would be it. That “goodnight” was our final moment.About an hour later, as I was laying in bed, our dog started barking at me. I felt like something strange was going on because the dog is always by my mother’s side. I got up to see what the dog was barking about. I went downstairs and my mom wasn’t there. I saw the basement light was on……I went to check why.Within moments, I was collapsed on our front porch as the ambulances were approaching my house. I was screaming for my mom. I knew it was too late. I was too late. All I could do was scream. My younger sisters were upstairs. I made them stay upstairs on the second floor. I made them stay. I would never want someone to experience what I had when I found my mom. Now, in an instant, at 16, I am the one that needs to protect my sisters. I was left to pick up the pieces.The days after were mostly a blur. Friends and family, people I didn’t know approached me with an awkward “I’m sorry for your loss,” not knowing what to say. Everything seemed surreal and a blur. Life doesn’t do this. But it had, and it had done it to my sisters and me.In the end, my mom wasn’t happy. She hid this from us a lot of the time. I wish she hadn’t. I loved her and would have done anything for her. I was devastated, my sisters were devastated and after she was gone I honestly didn’t see happiness in my future. We were heartbroken. I was in shock. It was the hardest days and months I would ever go through.The support of my family and family is the only thing that made me want to survive. And I did. I survived. At my mother’s one year anniversary memorial, with the most important people in my life, I thought to myself – how did we get through this? How did we survive? I wouldn’t wish this on to anyone or anyone’s family. Depression is just as real as any disease. People may not show it on the outside but it can tear your life apart inside of you. You can be screaming but nothing is coming out of your mouth. You can be standing in a crowded room but feel so alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. My mother was so loved by everyone she met. She was such a special person that I will cherish knowing her and having her for the rest of my life. Everyone is a fighter, so let’s fight this. Let’s fight depression by showing kindness, and spreading love to everyone you meet.Sometimes I look around my life now and I wonder “how did I get here?” ….and within moments, I realize that this is my life now and I am going to keep on living it for my mother. She would want that for me. I will live it for her and for me. I will be her voice now for anyone who may need. I may be 17, but I am beyond that in years for what I have lived through. I am here to help any young adult I can, anyone I can. I love you, mom.Anne-Marie Varney April 2, 1979- March 30, 2015
As both a therapist and a two-time suicide loss survivor, there are a variety of topics that I hear on a daily basis from fellow survivors. My heart breaks for the amount of pain and torment a suicide brings to those still living. In response to this, I decided to write a book to address each of the issues in order to speak truth and give hope to other survivors. The book is written as both a therapist and a survivor and includes clinical information as well as my own personal experience. Hundreds of fellow survivors also contributed to the book by offering advice, tips, and encouragement. The book is called The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide and it will be available in October. (You can subscribe to this website to be kept up-to-date on the exact date the book will be released).
Below is a list of 5 things every survivor should know. Each one contains a small excerpt from the book.
1) It was not your fault. “I think we sometimes hold on to the guilt as our last sort of connection to our loved one. We often have a false belief that if we stop feeling guilty for not preventing the suicide, then we, by default, consent to it. It is simply not true. In one of the most beautiful pieces I have read on the subject of loss to suicide, LaRita Archibald writes in “Reinforcement in the Aftermath of Suicide”:
“To assume responsibility for this death, or to place responsibility upon another, robs the one who died of their personhood and invalidates the enormity of their pain and their desperate need for relief.”
We cannot accept responsibility or assume guilt for our loved one’s decision to end their life.”
2) Their suicide says nothing about you or your value. Often times survivors feel they have no worth or value if their loved ones could leave them permanently and sever the relationship. “Our loved ones were sick. They were dealing with mental illness, they felt hopeless, and they believed their lives had no value. They were in an incredibly dark place which we could not penetrate. Professionals could not save them, medicine did not cure them, and love from others couldn’t touch them. Their choice to die was their last solution to end the unimaginable physical and emotional pain they experienced every minute of every day. They were not intentionally trying to bring us pain but rather desperately trying to end their own. We will not condone suicide, but neither can we continue to take responsibility for it or allow it determine our own value.”
3) You are not alone! “Far too often we go through life alone, refusing to mention the suicide for fear of how others might react and what they may think, or fear of the emotions we may, ourselves, produce. It’s a shame that any of us would ever suffer in silence.” There are millions of fellow survivors worldwide and support groups are available almost everywhere both in-person and online. You are not alone. We understand the pain.
4) You don’t have to live with PTSD and the constant reminders of finding your loved one dead.
Finding our loved ones after they killed themselves can be scary, devastating, graphic, and traumatizing! “The trauma of a suicide does not end the day we bury our loved ones. Like the water in a ripple effect, after a stone has been tossed in, we continually feel and experience the consequences of that stone in our lives. To deny the impact is to deny ourselves. Recognize there is no shame in needing help. Often, the survivor becomes angry or sad their loved one did not seek help from family or professionals, but when it is time for us to seek help, we dismiss the need for assistance and suffer alone. A licensed psychologist or therapist, trained in trauma work and with a great understanding of PTSD, can dramatically improve a client’s life by working through the trauma with them.”
5) Self-Care is a Must! “If we are not consciously taking care of ourselves, something or someone will fill that void for us. This is a dangerous place to be. In his book, What to Do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss, Bill Jenkins writes, “It is very easy to see the allure of alcohol to dull the pain and the temptation to punish myself for something that is not my fault. But the sobering truth is that if I step onto the path of self-destruction, I know I will never come back. ” Taking care of ourselves is a must.
“The home should be the treasure chest of living.” -Le Corbusier
Leaving my childhood home today for the very last time, I have so many mixed emotions. I am grateful for the love that lived there. I am grateful for the childhood that began in that place after our move from Brooklyn, when I was in the first grade. That house that saw family celebrations, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and more. That house that knew anger, sadness, loss and pain just as intimately. That house where I found friendship, first crushes, first romance and even first heartbreak. If those walls could speak, they would tell so much of my story.
And I am grateful for the reconciliation that it was witness to. After six years had passed, in the driveway of my childhood home, I shared a first emotional embrace with my father and my mother, and healing took hold. Yes, I am grateful for the joy and even the hardship that shaped me into who I am, so much of it in that place that I once called home.
But I am also grateful to let go of the place where my father ended his life, and the palpable pain & grief that brings each time I enter the space, where he drew his final breath. The house haunts me only with sorrow now, it is filled with what was and what should have been. I look for him in every corner, out on the porch basking in the sun, sitting in his recliner in the family room or his favorite spot in the living room. I can’t even bring myself to sit in his chairs. I hear his voice on the answering machine and he still sounds so very alive. He recites the phone number I’ve committed to memory and he says that “we” can’t get to the phone right now, but “we” will get back to you as soon as “we” can. But my mother is a widow now, and we will never hear his voice in life again.
So fare thee well house. I’ll hold the good you gave me close and in leaving you, I hope to leave behind some of the pain. Be good to the next family that calls you home. A new chapter begins for my mom and for us. Another door closes, and somewhere else a window opens…
Yesterday, my four-year-old son and I were looking through a box of old pictures. When he saw one of my mother and I, when I was about the age he is now, he asked a question I’ve been anticipating for years, but was somehow unprepared to answer.
Where is Grandma Sue now?
“Well,” I said, “Grandma Sue is an angel.”
My son only knows death as the process by which one becomes an angel. I am not a religious man, but “Grandma Sue is an angel” was better than “Daddy doesn’t know,” and infinitely better than, “Grandma Sue died by suicide.”
“I know,” he said. “But why did she die?”
I didn’t want to lie, but couldn’t possibly broach the subject of suicide, not yet. After about 20 seconds, I figured out a gentle, but honest answer.
“Well…Grandma Sue was sick, and she didn’t get to the doctor in time to get the help she needed.”
I’ve heard the best way to learn something is to teach it. Explaining the loss of my mother in a way a four-year-old could understand helped me make more sense of it, and brought me a degree of peace I hadn’t experienced in the 20 years since she ended her life. It’s one thing to know suicide is one piece of a complex mental health puzzle, but it’s quite another to fully grasp what that says about the losses we’ve endured.
“Why she didn’t go to the doctor?” my son asked.
“Sometimes people don’t know they are sick, or they think they can get better by themselves. That’s why, if we don’t feel good, we should always let someone know.”
And that’s how I started what I hope will be a lifelong conversation with my son about family, love, and the importance of self-care.
First of all, break the silence. There is nothing worse to the suicide survivor than the “sound of silence”. It is not the things that people say that generally ruin our day. It is what is left unsaid, and the deafening silence left by people who are afraid to speak. Imagine losing one of the most important people in your life, under one of the worst possible circumstances, and everyone is walking around as if absolutely nothing has happened, because they are afraid to speak. THAT is maddening. I remember in the days and weeks after my brother Joey died, how many people said absolutely nothing at all. Not a simple condolence. No acknowledgement whatsoever. I wanted to scream. In the words of the Rolling Stones, I saw a red door and I wanted it painted black. That entire song reminds me of those days, watching people walk by and interact with me as if things were still the same (“it’s not easy facing ’em when your whole world is black, no more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue, I could not foresee this thing happening to you”).
Ultimately the point is, SAY SOMETHING, ANYTHING! It is better to say the wrong thing, than to say nothing at all. At least if you say the wrong thing, you have tried. And that means a lot to us! And please, I beg of you, if we break up the silence ourselves by bringing up our loved one, don’t immediately change the subject because you are uncomfortable. Please don’t pretend that you didn’t hear what we just said. Yes, this actually happens. Like, all the time. I know it can be uncomfortable, I get it. But imagine how uncomfortable it is for us to live it. Please take the time to listen, to encourage, and please look us in the eye. Changing the subject and/or not making eye contact makes us feel like emotional lepers.
Having established that saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all, here are some things to avoid when talking to a survivor of suicide loss, just so things go smoother and there are no hurt feelings:
- Please avoid asking about delicate issues regarding our loved one’s method of suicide. Just don’t go there, please. It is too painful to rehash.
- Please do not make comments about their final destination, unless they are positive ones. Everyone is welcome to their own spiritual beliefs, that is what makes the world go round. But we are already worried about our loved one, beyond what you can ever know. If you have beliefs about suicide victims immediately going to a terrible place, please discuss it with someone other than a suicide survivor, or keep it to yourself. We are not the proper audience for those philosophical discussions.
- Please (and this should be a no-brainer but believe it or not it happens), don’t suggest any blame on the part of the survivor. I have people in my world who insisted on blaming anyone and everyone who ever came in contact with my brother, including myself. They are in my prayers, but they are otherwise not in my life any longer.
Guess what- that’s it! Just three things to avoid: prying, preaching, and blaming. And chances are, you would not dream of doing that. So you see, you really have a lot of leeway.
And if all else fails, there is always this…. “I’m so sorry about _____, I have been sooooo concerned about you. Is there anything I can do?”. Chances are, they will start talking, and just need you to listen. Which is the best thing you can do for a survivor. Make eye contact, and listen. If you cry, that’s okay. If you feel uncomfortable, that is okay. If you don’t know what to say, that is okay. Try saying “I don’t know what to say”. That is perfectly fine. All you need to do is just simply break the silence and, from there, listen. That is worth a million bucks.
Finally, if you have a happy or funny memory about our loved one to share, please do so. You will break the silence in the most beautiful way. You will not ruin our day, you quite possibly will make our entire year! We long to hear our loved one’s name. We long to hear memories about them. We long, so please help us express those longings that we so desperately need to let out.
Speaking of letting out those emotions and thoughts and feelings, here is a poem that I wrote on my brother’s birthday this year:
I sang a song for you today, the exact words I can’t recall
The tune was sad and off kilter, and the emotion was chilling and raw
As I went to hit the high note, I choked back the tears that would fall
So I decided to wish it with a whisper
Happy birthday, my brother, my all
I looked into your eyes so blue
And saw the smile that I once knew
You pointed to the sky and flew up high
And you said, remember the way….
Cause I’ll see you again, sooner than you know
And remember that I am okay.
Higher and higher and higher you flew
‘Til you were sadly out of sight
But your memory stays with me through the dusk, through the dawn,
Through the morning, through the day, through the night
So I’ll sing and sing and sing your song with all my strength and might
High and strong and soft and long
As the darkness gives way to the light.
“The Sound of Silence- Helping Others After Suicide Loss“ originally appeared on Girlfriend’s Guide to Good Mental Health. If you would like to read more by Carol, you can check out her blog here.
Ever since my son Charles died by suicide in June of 2015, I categorize everything as either before his death or after.
His death literally split my life in two and I am forever changed.
I still instinctively scan family photos taken after his death looking for him. And when I don’t see him I feel shock and ache that loss all over again.
I have always heard when you lose a limb it takes a while to get used to the fact it’s missing and you feel it’s still attached to the body and moving appropriately with other body parts. They call this a phantom limb. That’s how I feel sometimes about Charles. Phantom child.
My family of 4 is now 3 and it feels unnatural and incomplete. Learning to live without the person that was my purpose is probably the hardest part of my grief journey.
Before his death, I knew what I wanted to do and where I was headed.
Charles’ suicide triggered a complete about face and reassessment of my life.
Once I lost something precious to me, the reality that I was not exempt from tragedy inspired a fear that it could happen again.
I often feel untethered, like a kite cut loose, flapping uncontrollably in the wind. Those are the days I feel unsure of myself. That is often followed by a grief relapse after which I come back fighting.
Slowly I have gotten back on my feet and started to find myself. I fall backward still and I respect that I am not always the captain of this journey.
Things that meant a lot to me before, mean nothing now. My family has always been important. That hasn’t changed. But my purpose definitely has. And it changed the moment I heard the words, “Your son Charles killed himself.”
My mission as a mental health advocate is now a passion that I won’t give up until the day I die.
I can look at a person now and know they are hurting. I can instinctively pick up that someone else has lost a child. I reach out more. I am bolder about exposing my failures, my grief and my guilt as well as my joy.
Some days I feel worthless. Other days my heart is so full I swear it will burst.
When people ask if I have children I tell them my oldest child is living his dream as a filmmaker and that my youngest died by suicide and suffered from addiction and depression. I feel no shame. I honor my son’s struggle. I use the word suicide; I talk openly about my son that died.
I tell my friends I love them. I have wisdom that I didn’t have before. I stand up for people others dismiss. I push the envelope daily.
I tell my own story before audiences without fear or admonishment. I give back to help me fill that hole in my heart. I worry less about what others think. I stop and smell the roses. I hold onto hope despite having suffered the most devastating loss of my life.
I listen to others tell their stories because each and every one of them is important and woven into the tapestry of life.
I am determined what I do after his death will mean something. That from the ashes of despair will emerge a new person who will make a positive change.
I feel if I can survive this, I can do anything.
To read more from Anne Moss, you can find her blog at Annemoss.
This article is difficult to write, because re-living the fresh pain of losing a loved one to suicide is not enjoyable. But, I feel compelled to put this out there, because it involves some of the most helpful and relevant advice I received after my sister died by suicide in May 2015. And when I talk about this with other survivors, it is always received with knowing nods of agreement. So, onward.
The days following Amanda’s suicide were a blur. I travelled by plane to be at the side of my family of origin including Amanda’s only child. One of the necessities in the wake of any loved one’s death, is the spreading of the news by various means: the obituary, Facebook, phone calls. In this case, Amanda had left strict instructions: no funeral, no wake, no grave, no headstone, only the scattering of ashes in a faraway city. We had to contact a lot of people.
Dianna’s sister, Amanda, as a small child.
It was almost immediately clear to me that the fact that Amanda died by suicide was going to influence how people reacted. Suicide is misunderstood, scary, taboo in our society. Often the deceased is judged as cowardly, selfish, ungrateful. Some religions teach that it is a ticket straight to hell. (Note: This historically-based opinion is categorically false.) Could there be a more uncomfortable subject?
In light of this, one of my surviving sisters shared with me some advice that she was given by a bereaved mother of a young man who had suicided months earlier. She was a long-time friend of but we had never expected to walk in her shoes. Her advice: “Appreciate the scraps.”
She gravely recounted that acts and words of compassion in the wake of her son’s suicide had been few and far between. She and her husband were well known in their community, so it was not for lack of friends. Was it for the reasons I listed earlier? Regardless, it was the truth. HER truth and soon to be mine, although I was yet unaware.
But I took it to heart and I am so glad I did. Because that attitude of painful but honest expectations helped keep me sane and aided in keeping relationships intact while I was grieving long and hard.
Appreciate the scraps of compassion.
Only a few notes of sympathy when everyone in my life was aware? Many thanks to that small cadre of souls. And shun the thought of “why don’t more people care?” Appreciate the scraps.
Words of acknowledgement when I ran into people who knew the story were so rare. I was often greeted by silence. For those who ventured to say “I’m so sorry” or took the time to mention Amanda by name, I was grateful. Appreciate the scraps.
Those who I thought of as close friends who initiated no contact at all? I understand it’s hard to know what to say. I will call YOU when I am feeling stronger and we can still be friends. Appreciate the scraps.
Hurtful comments? “You must have seen it coming.” “Suicide is so selfish.” “You’re her sister, you should have known.” “Isn’t it time to move on?” I’ll sweep them away into the back of my mind and replace them with the kinder thoughts I hear. Appreciate the scraps.
The well-intentioned but painfully inappropriate advice? They just don’t understand, but they care. Appreciate the scraps.
I’m not recommending that you lay down and give up. There is a time to advocate for suicide and mental health awareness, but for me, that was not the time. If your expectations are rooted in the reality of how suicide is treated by our society, you can more easily move through what could have been devastating encounters, or lack there-of.
And, the unexpected feasts are so much sweeter.
To the tattoo artist who listened to me cry and looked at pictures of Amanda as he penned her name on my arm, and then waived the fee? I will never forget you.
To the former coworker kindly met for coffee promptly after finding out, and then listened to the horrifying details for two hours while barely flinching? Your compassion has a place in my heart forever.
To my best friend and my Pastor who dropped everything the day I got the news, and managed every detail of my entire life for me and didn’t leave me alone for a moment? Both of you are precious gifts from heaven.
To my ex-husband and his wife who upheld the kids, went beyond the call of duty, and even presented me with a flower and cupcake on my birthday (as I still cried on my couch)? I will always be amazed at your reflection of God’s grace.
To my Pastor, whose door was open for months to listen and encourage as I grappled with one spiritual question after another? There were days I would have burst if I hadn’t been able to talk to you.
To the suicide grief group I found in a neighboring town? Words cannot describe what a relief it was to be surrounded by so many understanding hearts at my first meeting.
So I learned…
“Appreciate the scraps” …
But also …
Savor the feasts.
In memory of my sister, my heart, my Amanda.
I was fourteen when my Aunt Missy killed herself. It was the last day of June in Alabama when a police car pulled up to our new house, which was still under construction. I remember how hot those 2×4’s were, as they baked in the sun. Per the officer’s instructions, we loaded up in the minivan and drove down the hill to the fire station where my dad worked, so Mom could call her parents. Very few people had cell phones yet, and my Momma wasn’t one of them. I’ll never forget the way she screamed, “My sister!” as she dropped the grey receiver and it swung out and slammed back against the concrete wall, there in the lobby of Fire Station #1.
She’d been missing three days. And this wasn’t her first attempt. She’d had many episodes in recent years and as hard as my grandmother tried to help, there was nothing else anyone could do. Even with all the training I’ve taken and books I’ve read, I don’t think you can stop someone who is bound and determined to end their suffering. And even though we all carried the eerie expectancy of that dreaded phone call, my mom’s sister was dead, and my cousins had just lost their mother.
I was a pallbearer at the funeral. It was my first time to be a pallbearer, and carrying my aunt in her final resting place was an unusual burden to bear as a preteen. I remember letting go of the metal handles as we set her mauve casket down, my lip quivering as I turned around. I walked right into my Dad’s chest and sobbed as my head landed there.
Aunt Missy was my favorite aunt: tall, thin, blonde. Beautiful. She looked like she’d just walked off the set of The Dukes of Hazzard, and she had the most infectious laugh. I loved to stay at her house during the summer with my cousins, her daughters. We would play in their above ground pool until all day long and by the end of summer, we’d be as dark as a glass of iced tea. They lived just up the hill from my Grandparents’ house and we would walk along the dirt roads between the two houses, often.
In the immediate aftermath of her suicide, the days crawled by. I remember being visited by the associate pastor from our church and the question at the forefront of everyone’s mind was, “where is Missy spending eternity?” We’d heard mixed signals about what happens to someone who willfully kills herself. The days are blurred together in my memory, but the loss left a hole in my heart that only Aunt Missy could fill.
Eventually, life went on. Her birthday is still marked on the calendar at my mom’s house, and so is the day she died, year after year. Just last week, we shared tears and laughter, thinking back on the past nineteen years without her. But she’s not a topic of daily conversation anymore. Mom goes over and visits her grave on rare occasion. She never talks about it. She says she thinks of her sister when she sees a butterfly, but how often do you actually see a butterfly?
Aunt Missy was the only person I knew with mental illness, though no one ever called it that. I had never attended a funeral of a suicide victim before hers. For a fourteen-year-old, only very old people, like Papaw Thompson, died, unless they were sick with some rare illness. I never knew a brain could be ill.
As a teenager, I expected grief to be over in about six months. A year, max. Nobody tells you that grief can last a lifetime.
Four days before Christmas, when I was seven, my mother suffered a devastating brain injury in an automobile collision. For the next six years, her recovery was an inspiration to everyone around her. She never regained her pre-accident self, but in many ways she became something better. I believed she was the toughest person in the world. Then, three days after my 13th birthday, she ended her life.
There is a lot of information out there about suicide. You can research the causes, the aftermath, prevention and coping techniques. But one thing you don’t understand until you experience it up close is the way that type of death affects the way you feel about the life lost, and about yourself.
I thought suicide was something that only happened to people who were mentally weak or selfish. When the toughest, most selfless person I knew took her life, it created a series of questions that only one person could answer, and she was gone.
Every birthday I’ve had for the last 21 years has been accompanied by the lingering cloud of the anniversary of my mother’s suicide. For most of those years, that meant focusing on my perceived shortcomings as a son.
Last year, I started volunteering for the local chapter of the AFSP. At the first meeting I was asked about my mother. I started to describe the circumstances of her death until I was stopped by the woman who leads the chapter.
“No, don’t tell me how she died. Tell me how she lived.”
That was such a turning point in my loss journey. Last week, I was able to celebrate my birthday with my wife and two young sons without the lingering cloud, because for the first time in two decades, I don’t see the anniversary as a time to focus on her death; I saw it as an opportunity to focus on her life. I don’t try to figure out what her death says about her or me. I think about her toughness and resilience, and the way she loved me while she was here. Because she, and all those we’ve lost, should be remembered for how they lived. That celebration makes it easier to attack the way they died, and try to prevent others from having to fight this battle.
In more than 25 years as a suicide survivor and over a decade as a professional writer, I have never written publicly on the topic.
But with news of Robin Williams’ death taking center stage in both traditional and social media, I feel the need to speak up for his children. To speak up for my sister and myself. To be the voice of kids who have lost a parent to suicide.
Why do I think Williams’ death has struck such a tender nerve of society?
Because he had three grown children and a new wife he appeared to adore. Because, despite his addictions, he had gotten help and was sober, living relatively scandal-free by Hollywood standards.
Because he maintained a prolific acting career for more than 30 years, earning an Academy Award and starring in more than 100 movies, including four new ones yet to debut. Because he was, by all accounts, as intelligent, hilarious and compassionate as the characters he portrayed.
Because Robin Williams, the iconic actor and comedian, looked like he had it all and then some.
How could he be so “cowardly” and “selfish” to thumb his nose at a seemingly perfect life?
“Aye,” I imagine Williams quoting “Hamlet,” dropping into one of his quintessential Shakespearean accents. “There’s the rub.”
Indeed, at the core, there are no simple answers to the inevitable question that follows suicide: “Why?”
The problem, says author Tom Clempson in his August 12 blog post “Robin Williams Did Not Die From Suicide,” is that suicide implies a choice, that Williams chose to die.
“When people die from cancer, their cause of death can be various horrible things,” he writes. But if asked how that person died, he says, “You never hear anyone say ‘pulmonary embolism,’ the answer is always, ‘cancer.’”
And just as a pulmonary embolism is symptomatic of cancer, so suicide is to depression. Williams didn’t die of suicide, Clempson argues. He died of depression.
“Depression is an illness, not a choice of lifestyle,” he says. “You can’t just ‘cheer up’ with depression, just as you can’t choose not to have cancer.”
Yes! I thought when I read that. It’s as ludicrous as blaming a cancer patient for dying of a pulmonary embolism! Clempson nailed it!
The thing is, there’s a dramatic difference among the loved ones left behind.
Sure there’s grief, mourning, sadness. Most of us have lost someone who died too young, too quickly or too horribly from a chronic disease.
And if, for example, cancer wins the “fight” against our loved one, there generally aren’t the “coulda, woulda, shouldas.” Yes, cancer is awful. But in the end, “cancer” is the bad guy. No one else is at fault.
And let me be perfectly clear: Regardless of the cause of death, grief is the same. One doesn’t trump the other in that department. Losing a loved one, for lack of a better word, sucks. Period.
But when a loved one dies by suicide, that grieving process for those left in its wake adds with it shame and guilt. Shame that a loved one will be judged for taking his own life. Guilt that you could have, no, should have done more to prevent that devastating result.
And if you’re a child whose parent dies by suicide, those feelings become all the more complex, with an extra dose of guilt.
Add in an overwhelming sense of abandonment and betrayal, and you get one very mixed-up, dejected soul, who can’t help but ponder that fact that a parent chose death over flesh and blood. That he chose death over you.
My father, Vince, died more than 25 years ago, shortly after my 15th birthday; my sister, Briana, was only 10. A longtime alcoholic, he had moved to Northern California and remarried.
Hundreds of miles away, in a stable home with our mom and stepdad, we remained blissfully unaware of my father’s struggles. That his many attempts at sobriety were unsuccessful. That his second marriage was ending in divorce. That many of his family members suspected schizophrenia after hearing his outlandish stories of undercover DEA work and street gangs.
It was all too easy to ignore the fact that our father wasn’t a significant part of our daily lives.
I’ll never forget the crack in my grandmother’s voice that night in November 1988, when she called asking to speak to my mom. It was just nine days shy of my father’s 36th birthday.
Amid all of the tears and confusion, I was beating myself up inside: Why didn’t I try harder to be a better daughter? Why didn’t I write him letters? Why didn’t I call more often? Did he think we didn’t love him?
And I knew even then that others were exacting judgment. I felt it keenly in the pitying stares of the adults in my life — neighbors, teachers, friends, even relatives — beseeching, “How could he do that to his girls?”
After the funeral, we went back to life as usual; we didn’t talk about my father. I believe the adults were trying to protect us from further damage. I worried that asking questions would cause them more pain. And still I blame no one.
But now as a 40-year-old adult, I’m reliving my father’s judgment through Williams’ critics. And I can’t stop thinking about his children.
I don’t profess to know a thing about them. But I do know this: They are probably in pain. They probably feel guilt. And despite what you feel about suicide — be it a choice or a symptom of depression — his kids are probably bearing the brunt of that judgment.
Compounding that anguish is the shame of suicide and resulting isolation. Others don’t know what to say or how to offer comfort, which only perpetuates the silence and stigma surrounding suicide. Before you know it, 25 years have passed with hardly a word.
Only since becoming a mother have I begun excavating the details of my father’s death. I might never answer the question “Why?” But in doing so, I hope I can guide my children toward a fulfilling life, despite a family history of depression, and to be free of the shame that’s kept my family silent for a quarter century.
Finally, to Robin Williams’ children, Zachary, Zelda and Cody, I am profoundly sorry for your loss, and even more so that you have to grieve publicly.
If I can offer reassurance, it’s that you are not alone; there are many of us out here who understand your anguish. And you don’t need to be ashamed or silent.
In the days since hearing of your father’s death, I’ve thought often about a favorite movie of his, “Dead Poets Society.” As 16-year-old student, I felt his character, Mr. Keating, was speaking directly to me when he chanted to his class:
“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
I hope my verse has offered you some comfort. And I hope yours includes peace.
When I think of anniversaries I typically think of things like wedding anniversaries and birthdays. The third type of anniversary is why I am writing this today: a death anniversary.
July 25, 2016, was a death anniversary of my brother Brian. In the past few days, I’ve had a lot of anticipatory anxiety. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I felt like I should know how I was going to cope, but I didn’t. In 2016, 14 years later, I would have thought I would have “mastered” being able to cope with this death anniversary. I didn’t have an effective plan.
Ok, so what did I do to cope? Well, first I asked fellow sibling suicide survivors what they do. Their suggestions varied from going to their favorite restaurant, or go to the gravesite, or do something he would like.
I didn’t do any of these things. I didn’t want to “celebrate” the day he died, but I do want to take the time to care for myself. I had off today and it so happened that my wife did as well. She took care of the kids while I spent the morning at Starbucks. I needed time to think and just relax outside of the chaos of life (having two kids under the age of 5).
I went to my favorite coffee shop and listened to a podcast while coloring an adult coloring book. As a therapist, I often will recommend adult coloring books to my clients. I decided to try it myself. It was relaxing and helped me slow down my breathing (which helps me be calm).
After I finished listening to the podcast (about 30 minutes) I decided to write some thank you notes. I was able to focus on being grateful for the support of my friends and family. It’s hard for me to stay depressed too long when thinking and practicing gratitude. I focused on them rather than on myself.
I spent my morning focusing on personal self-care. Around lunchtime, I went home to spend some time with my wife and our daughters. Later on in the afternoon, I was grateful for a friend who called to see how I was coping. Death anniversaries are never easy.
Simply having this friend call me and then later having a friend send me a simple Facebook message to make sure I was doing okay meant the world to me. It is truly the simple things that helped me through today.
I also had dinner with a growth friend who asked me “how I’m doing with things?” This allowed me the choice to either talk about how I was doing if I wanted to, but he didn’t force me.
A growth friend knows all my “stuff” and still wants to hang out with me. This year I felt more supported than I ever did in the past.
In summary, the things that helped me the most through the death anniversary was taking time for self-care (this will look very different for everyone), showing gratitude through thank you notes, talking with friends (in person and on the phone). For me coping was as simple as getting some coffee, coloring an adult coloring book, writing thank you notes, as well as interacting with my growth friends.
What helped me the most through this death anniversary was knowing that someone else cares and that are willing to enter into my grief. Let’s do this for each other.
I think more needs to be written about how to handle death anniversaries. What did you do that has helped? How can I support you?
I am a therapist and I am in the final process of revising and publishing my memoir called Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope to be released in September 2016.
The Gift of Second will be taking a vacation for the rest of July. We will return with new and wonderful content August 1st.
If you would like to share your story with us, we would love to have you. Just click the link on the bottom of the page that says, “Write For Us.”
Have a wonderful July.
When I was a kid, every 4th of July, my family and I would drive four hours north of Phoenix to a small town called Pinetop. About 100 family and friends gathered to play a weekend tournament of horseshoes. It was our most fun vacation each year because we got the chance to see our good friends and get out of the horrible July weather Phoenix is prone to! Also, it was a tradition our family had participated in for years and years, even before I was born.
My mom died July 12, 1991, and, in 1992, my family decided not to go to Pinetop because we feared we would get one million questions about my mom. The people attending the horseshoe tournament were from all over Arizona, so it was likely many had not even heard she had passed away, much less that it was a suicide. We stayed away from the tournament for years because it was too uncomfortable to go back. Our favorite family tradition was ruined!
In 2008, my fiance and I were looking for wedding venues and found the perfect place. We wanted to get married in July and the only dates they had available which also worked with our calendars were the 4th and the 12th. My fiance wanted the 12th because it was not a holiday and I told him there was no way I was sharing my wedding day with the anniversary of my mother’s suicide. We agreed on the 4th.
I am so happy we chose to get married on the 4th. It feels like the beloved holiday my mom’s suicide stole the joy from all those years ago has been redeemed. What was once a painful day of looking back at what and who my family was missing is now a day of celebrating all that my life has become. Sometimes we feel guilty for moving on with our lives and we become stuck. The truth is, though, that our lives continue and we get to move forward living life. Our lives can and will be beautiful again if we allow it. July 4th was once an amazing and fun family tradition as a child until it became tainted and painful after the tragedy of my mom’s death. Today, it is beautiful again and worthy of much celebration with my husband and three kids! Happy Fourth of July!
My grandfather, Mendel Ham, grew up on a farm in rural South Carolina. Although racial inequality was rampant, I’ve been told that one of his best friends was an African-American farm hand. And that pretty much sums up my grandfather. The stares and jeers of others weren’t strong enough to break his spirit.
Throughout my childhood, Paw Paw, was a figure of strength in my life. He was my rock.
I didn’t know him as a young man, but I try to envision him approaching my grandmother to ask her on their first date. Or, as an eighteen-year-old marine, serving our country in Japan, which he once told me was the loneliest time of his life.
I only know about his younger days from the stories he shared over our weekly breakfast when I was in high school or the occasional reminiscing of my own father as he shares old family photos.
There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t thank God for those memories with my Paw Paw. Those memories are all that I have left. A year after his much-deserved retirement, Paw Paw began a battle with cancer that ravaged his body.
I remember the hope I felt when he told me, “When you finish your freshman year, I’ll be done with my treatments.” But that’s not how his story would end.
On Sunday morning, June 24, 2001, Paw Paw took his own life.
The Day I Saw My Rock Crumble
June 24, 2001 was a beautiful summer day in coastal North Carolina. I was home on summer break and had just left church with a friend, headed to the Goody Goody Omelet House for lunch. My cell phone rang. It was my mom and she was crying. Through her tears I heard, “Something has happened to Paw Paw.”
My friend and I rushed home. Before the car had come to a complete stop, I jumped out of the passenger seat and began running toward my parents who were in the garage. My father was pacing and seemed angry. He was shouting, but I couldn’t make out the words. My mom was frantically trying to comfort him and I was confused. The emotions were thick, like a heavy humidity that filled the air.
Somehow, in the midst of the hysteria, I heard someone say, “Paw Paw shot himself.”
The crushing weight of the news collapsed my knees from underneath me. I fell in our yard as confusion mixed with heartache to create a nauseating sensation. I wanted to yell. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw up. Somewhere inside I hoped that this was all a mistake, that somehow, this wasn’t real.
In moments that seemed like hours, we learned that Paw Paw was still alive, but on life support. To this day, I’m not sure how I gathered the strength, but I went with my dad to see his father. Fear filled my young, nineteen-year-old mind, but I stood by my father as we went into the trauma unit to see Paw Paw.
The hallway to his room seemed endless, a never-ending pathway to a place I didn’t want to go. As we turned a corner, I saw him. Paw-Paw was lying on a bed, his life sustained by a breathing apparatus affixed to his mouth. His head was in bandages. His eyes were closed. The rhythmic beep of the heart rate monitor acted as a countdown timer. My grandfather was going to die.
I was simply an onlooker, able to experience the moment, but paralyzed from speaking. My father was in front of me, slowly approaching his dad. As he dropped to his knees, I gently placed my hand on his shoulder. I could feel his anger and his heartache on my fingertips.
Through questions and tears, I heard my dad say, “You were a great father.”
The memory of those words will forever be imprinted on my soul.
Shortly after that exchange, our pastor and friend, Tim Russell, came in to pray with us. We stood in a circle, our hands on each other’s shoulders, and we prayed for Paw Paw.
A few minutes later, the countdown timer stopped as the heart-rate monitor flatlined. My grandfather had taken his last breath.
Perspective in the Midst of Tragedy
For years these memories have haunted me—circumstances beyond my comprehension. And the more people I talk with, the more I realize that these stories exist for all of us.
Only in time have I come to realize: Sometimes questions have no answers.
The truth of that statement doesn’t make it any easier to write. I want answers. I want to know why. But I’m learning that maybe it’s not our purpose to have answers. Maybe it is our purpose to choose how we will respond when answers aren’t readily available. Maybe the answers we’re looking for will only be found through perseverance.
In these moments, we must recognize our ability to continue with strength that isn’t our own. It is in the valleys of life where God has taught me that He is my rock. And as I press into my faith, I’m reminded that I have been given a choice. These moments will define me, but I get to decide how.
I have come to realize that I have the power to carry on my grandfather’s legacy. I will remember him for who he was, not what he did.
As I think back now, Paw Paw and I had a little secret. We parted ways with a handshake almost every time we said goodbye. And hidden inside his weathered palm was a twenty-dollar bill. These handshakes, coupled with his soft chuckle, are the very thing I will hold on to.
His generous spirit gave me far more than twenty dollars with each handshake. He was passing on his legacy to me. And that is the legacy I will pass along to my sons. It is a legacy of strength mixed with gentleness, faith mixed with action, and joy in the midst of pain.
Whatever adversity you face today, I pray that you understand that you still have a choice to respond. In fact, your response has the power to create a legacy that will be a beacon of hope for those who are walking through the valley.
I lost my only sibling July 25, 2002. From that day forward I found myself grieving the loss of the memories that I longed to have. This impacts me to this day. I want to offer hope that you can become stronger through this loss. The number one thing I did after losing my brother to suicide was to journal. During the first six months after my loss, I often wrote my raw emotions. This was not easy. I now realize that it was courageous. It was necessary and so helpful. I don’t think I would be where I am today without my journals.
I find that it is difficult to continue to grieve the reality that I can’t have a relationship with my brother. I also realize that my current relationships are impacted by this loss. I find that I am not satisfied with surface level conversation. I want that deep relationship. Not everyone understands this and it is difficult to communicate.
The greatest hope I have to offer those who are recently going through a suicide loss is the idea that each of us go through loss at a different pace. We can’t rush things. I realized that I needed to go through my emotions. Sometimes this was incredibly difficult.
An illustration that really helps me think about this is the effort that it takes for a new highway to be built that needs to go through a mountain. I can only imagine how much effort and specific attention is needed to make that happen. This is similar to my own journey through this grief. It isn’t easy. It isn’t pretty. No one wants to do the work, but I’m the only one who can do it.
If I could only share two things that helped me in my journey I would talk about the importance of journaling and how important exercise was to my recovery. I didn’t always want to go for a walk or run, but it was very helpful in providing the energy to do the rest of my life.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was on the summer break before my senior year of college. It rocked my world and almost immediately took away my energy. Any type of exercise helped provide the energy and the strength to do what I needed in my classes.
Going back to college and finishing school was a great decision for me. I believe that if I would have stayed at home I would have felt sorry for myself and I would have been stuck in my grief. Taking that step and going to back to school even if it meant I needed to drop a few classes so I could make it through was worth it.
I know that my choice to go through, not around, my grief and my emotions is what helped me to become who I am today. My mission in life is to help those who are going through suicide loss.
I am a therapist and I am in the final process of writing my memoir called Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope to be released in September 2016.
Today I was reading a bit of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott and found this paragraph that speaks so pure and honest of the way grief works in our lives. I thought I would share it with you all as it is so fitting for many.
“The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away. After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes. It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can’t be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering. But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination. “
How about you? What are you doing to avoid the pain? Better yet, what are you doing to walk THROUGH the pain? It’s a tough road, for sure, but if we don’t face it head-on, it will only swallow us whole eventually.
July is PTSD Awareness Month and I couldn’t be more excited to bring some education and truth to the subject. Most people are unaware of what it is exactly and reserve the diagnosis for those in the military coming back from war. And even then, it is hardly talked about and treatment is rarely sought because it seems ‘weak.’
A large number of folks I have spoken with have downplayed their symptoms because they were either unaware their symptoms were serious or they felt ashamed and embarrassed they couldn’t just ‘get over’ the trauma. So, instead of reaching out for help, they continue to unnecessarily suffer. Here are some questions to ask yourself pertaining to the trauma.
Do you have continued thoughts or memories related to the event?
Do you have recurring dreams about the event?
Do you have flashbacks of the trauma?
Do you have a difficult time when anything triggers a memory of the event?
Do you try to avoid thinking about the trauma or avoiding memories of it?
Do you try to avoid people, places, conversations, objects, or activities that are associated with the trauma?
Do you have a difficult time remembering details of the trauma?
Do you have negative beliefs about yourself such as ‘I am bad’ or ‘people are untrustworthy’?
Do you blame yourself for the trauma?
Are you in a continued state of feeling guilt, shame, anger, fear, or horror?
Do you have less interest in activities you used to enjoy?
Do you find it difficult to experience love, joy, happiness, satisfaction?
Are you have difficulty sleeping?
Do you have difficulty concentrating?
Do you have anger outbursts?
Are you in a constant state of worrying about something bad happening?
Do you behave recklessly or engage in self-destructive behavior?
Did you answer ‘yes’ to some of these questions?
If some of the above symptoms resonate, it is important to seek professional help. As much as we would love to believe these signs will disappear with time, the reality is the opposite. As time progresses, without proper treatment, the symptoms will only intensify. These indicators will eventually make it difficult to even function in life. Far too often, a level of shame enters into our being. We stop talking about it and begin to isolate from others. Once we isolate, we have little to no resources in place and life becomes unnecessarily difficult. There is help available, though, and it is critical to seek it out. Please recognize there is no shame in needing help.
Michel Templet wrote, “Always remember, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD, it is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is proof of your strength because you have survived!”
When I was little my father had a magic trick. He would light a cotton ball on fire and put it in his mouth to extinguish the flame. It never failed to impress.
Then one day, an actor who was famous at the time for his role in Grizzly Adams had an accident. A flaming drink set fire to his beard and he was hospitalized with severe burns. News of that accident caused my father, who also had a beard & mustache, to stop performing his magic trick. It turns out that trying to swallow fire could be far more dangerous than he believed.
I think of that trick often these days as I reflect on my father’s suicide. Depression is the flame not extinguished when swallowed. Rather, it grows and festers in the darkness. And in time, it was the depression that consumed my father. Like a sweeping brushfire its power was overwhelming, it progressed too fast to be put out. Anxiety, an added accelerant, fanning the flames, further & higher. A wildfire bent on destruction of spirit and soul. Still, he kept the full truth of it contained.
No, depression is not meant to be swallowed. It needs to be exposed to the light. Because left to smolder on the inside, its flame will smother the embers of hope and ignite despair.
Once upon a time my father knew that swallowing fire could be dangerous. Until one day, it was the fire that devoured him. And we who loved him most are left standing in the ashes.
I contented myself with whiskey, for medicinal purposes. It helped numb my various aches and pains. Not that the alcohol actually reduced the pain; it just gave the pain a life of its own, apart from mine.- Haruki Murakami
Dealing with the death of a child is difficult enough. Make that death a suicide, and for many, the pain becomes unbearable and they look for ways to cope. When I talked about dealing with depression at a recent Community Forum, I talked about the signs of depression and how eating too much or too little, as well as the abuse of alcohol and drugs, can play a role in the battle to dull the pain. For me, I turned to whiskey and milkshakes.
As a staff, we were excited when they opened a Chik Fil A in front of the school. Now we had access to decent fast food within walking distance. Their salads sustained me on days when I forgot, or was too lazy, to make my lunch. It was easy for me to walk over during my conference period, grab a salad and store it in the fridge in the coach’s office until lunch. Unfortunately, it also meant I was within walking distance of their milkshakes, one of my biggest vices. After Peyton’s death, their milkshakes became a crutch for me.
The days and weeks after Peyton’s death were a fog for me. I worked, coached, picked up my daughter, and went home. Some days I don’t remember, others, I don’t want to remember. After particularly bad days (and there were a lot of those), I would swing through the drive-thru and buy a shake, usually a large cookies ‘n cream. It became almost a habit. It got to the point that when I picked up Emmy, she would look in the cup holder to see if I bought a shake that day. For a while, I bought one almost every day. It helped me ease the pain as I escaped into the cold, frosty goodness.
One day, I stepped on the scale and realized that I had been eating my feelings. It wasn’t just shakes, but other sweets and fatty foods that gave me momentary release from the pain. I knew what I had been doing, but never did anything to stop it. I knew exercise would have helped, but I chose to go the other way and ate and ate and ate. Maybe it was comfort in a full belly or that tired feeling that helped take away my anxiety. Regardless of the reason, I knew it was time to make a change.
The rational part of my brain told me to get off my ass and exercise, which I did. Once track season was over, I used my downtime to run, or I took Earl the Fat Corgi for walks. The emotional part of my brain told me that the exercise was helping, but not enough, and if I wasn’t going to drown my pain in milkshakes, then I needed something else. Enter whiskey.
I have never been one to down shot after shot. In my younger, dumber days, I was not above taking a slug straight from a bottle to prove just how stupid macho I was, but I never developed a taste for hard liquor until later in life. I began with vodka chilled and moved on to brown liquors, particularly whiskey. I developed a taste for single malt Scotch and single barrel whiskey. I also learned to appreciate sipping rather than shooting it. I discovered that it took a while for me to down a couple of fingers of my favorite brown water either neat or on the rocks. Often I would take my drink to the back yard where I could sit by myself and be alone with my thoughts. Unfortunately, when those thoughts turned to Peyton, the drink went down a little faster in order to dull the pain. Whatever brief respite I got from the emotional pain would vanish soon enough, and the pain would be back, often with a vengeance.
I finally decided I needed to concentrate more on ways to deal with my pain that didn’t make me fat or kill brain cells. First of all, I went back into therapy. I know this is not something I can go through alone. I tried therapy once, but felt that I had gotten as far as I could with that therapist and stopped, but as time moved on, I realized I needed more. I threw myself into my writing, especially my blog. It gave me not only an outlet for my pain but also a platform to call out what I see as problems in how our society deals with mental illness and suicide, especially in schools. I also escaped into books. The writings of Brad Thor, Brad Taylor, Ace Atkins, and others allowed me to not only escape into another world but to also hone my own style as a writer. I submerged myself into Netflix, especially DareDevil, Jessica Jones, The Flash, Arrow, and Peyton’s favorite The Walking Dead. When I spend my time hoping Pike Logan will save the world, or will Quinn Colson keep law and order in Tibbehah County, or who Negan was beating up during the season finale, I don’t delve into the pain.
I made the mistake of letting my grief get away from me the first time. I don’t plan on allowing that to happen again. My heart and my liver can’t handle it to begin with. If I take care of myself physically, it actually helps with the mental aspect of recovery. Yes, there are times I spend too much time reading or watching TV, but the alternative is worse. I still grieve on a daily basis. Not all days are good, and not all days are bad. On the bad days, I try to find a constructive way to take away the pain. I read, write, or watch. It’s not perfect, but I know by now that whiskey and milkshakes don’t dull the pain.
‘Whiskey and Milkshakes Don’t Dull the Pain’ was originally written for Peyton’s Heart. David writes over there regularly about suicide, the impacts of it, and how we can better respond as a society. Check out his site for more.
My husband Troy took his life when our daughter was 16 months old. We stayed in a hotel for 10 days, moved into a new apartment and did the best we could to move forward. She was only slightly verbal at that point so the extent to which she understood what was happening, was her walking around saying “dada” and looking for him in the usual places. I told her “daddy’s not here” and that seemed to placate her.
I started driving his car and she’d say, “dada’s car” whenever we’d get in and I’d tell her, “yep, mommy is driving daddy’s car.” Around this time the car song game started to become a part of our routine. She’d yell out a word and I’d make up a silly song about whatever that word was, “grandma”, “milk”, “baby”, whatever, all to the same tune, of course, because I’m just not that creative. One day she asked me to sing “the dada song” and I was gutted. I had promised him though when we did the viewing before he was cremated, that I would tell her about him every day, so I took a deep breath, and came up with a song to tell her about her daddy. The first dozen times she requested it, it made me want to puke, but I sang it all the same. She eventually stopped asking.
I had enough child development classes to know that children will ask questions to the degree to which they can understand. I had been telling her, “daddy’s not here” when she’d been obviously concerned about where he was, and that was enough, until the day it wasn’t.
I don’t even really remember what she asked or said, but I remember it was right before her second birthday and I just knew that “daddy’s not here” wasn’t cutting it. I held her in my lap and said something to the effect of, “we’re not going to see daddy anymore”. And I watched as our beautiful perfect child had her world collapse. She cried and cried and cried, and I held her and did all that I could not to throw up. I composed myself and told her, “it’s okay to be sad, mommy feels sad too.” As time went on, I’d repeat, “we’re not going to see daddy anymore”, “it’s okay to feel sad, mommy feels sad too” and “even though we can’t see him, we can feel his love” and “we can talk about daddy and look at his pictures.”
I saw a therapist specializing in children and loss the week after I told her that we weren’t going to see her daddy anymore. I saw her for a few sessions on my own to insure that I was saying the right things and she assured me that I was. She told me that children don’t understand death until about 4, and to, as I had done, answer her questions to the extent that she asked them.
Around this time, I put up all the pictures of him in her room. When we’d moved I had stashed them in the closet but hanging them in her room seemed like the right place for them. The wedding photos and all the photos of us together were hung. It became our ritual. When she’d get upset, we’d go to her room and I’d tell her a story about her dad. Sometimes when she was sad about daddy, and I told her I was sad too, she’d say, “don’t worry mama, we can look at his pictures.”
And of course, my beautiful, sweet strong little 2 1/2 year old girl has an extraordinary emotional bandwidth. She picks up on how others are feeling. She can tell you when she’s mad, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy etc., and ask you how you’re feeling and respond appropriately. All very good things that I’m so proud of.
But the books and the research says 4. Kids don’t understand death until 4. And tonight, my sweet child asked me where her dad was. She asked if he was at work. And I tried what I had been saying, “we’re not going to see daddy anymore”, “it’s okay to be sad, it makes mommy sad too, but we can talk about him and look at his pictures.”
I looked back at her face reflecting in the mirror positioned in front of her car seat and she said, “I want my daddy to come out of the pictures.”
Me too sweet girl, me too.
As another May comes to a close I have decided that this year I will do something different. This year I will use my experience and emotions to help others. Most people know that May is Mental Health month, but what most people don’t know is May 7th was the day my little brother was born. This year that beautiful boy would have turned 30 years old but, instead, he will forever be 19. It will be 11 years this August since we lost him to suicide. May always seems to weigh a little bit heavier on my shoulders. It is something that others cannot always understand. I can honestly say thank goodness they have not had to experience this same type of loss. When May 7th comes around each year there is an empty pit in my stomach and I often feel like that day somehow has more than 24 hours in it because the hours seem to pass by so slowly. Friends and loved ones often say, “Don’t be sad, he wouldn’t want that,” or “We should celebrate. He would have wanted that,” or “It has been so many years- it should be easier now.” I forgive these comments because I know they are not said to hurt me. They are said because people just don’t know what to say. I can’t blame them and I know that now. I wish every year I could go out and buy him a birthday present. I often wonder if he were still alive what things would he have wanted for his birthday. Would he still have been a music lover and wanted an iTunes card? Would he have bought his own car shop or wood-working shop and needed something for his work? I satisfy my need to get him a present by buying a balloon and writing him his birthday card, which I watch drift up into the sky and get smaller and smaller as it makes its way to its destination. And I can’t help but smile knowing that wherever he may be he will never go a year without receiving a birthday card from me.
As a survivor of suicide, we are often faced with these types of specific dates that trigger a flood of emotions. We are also faced with questions that trigger these feelings as well, but they are probably not the questions that you are thinking of. I love meeting new people and am one of those people that, from a very young age, could strike up a conversation with anyone around me. As an adult, I talk to strangers differently now and am more cautious about the themes I choose to ask about or the way I choose to answer. When I meet someone new, those simple questions people often ask make me cringe and I find myself assessing the person and situation to see how to answer. A question like, “How many siblings do you have?” or “Is your sister your only sibling?” can make my heart pound a little faster. Of course I have more than just my sister and I always will, but the line of questioning that follows and the awkward silence at the end can be deafening. There have been times when I just say ‘yes, I only have a sister’ because I can’t handle, “How old is your brother?” When people find out he passed away, they then ask, “Oh how old was he when he died?” Then, when they learn he was young, they ask, “What did he die from?” And finally from more people than you would think the unthinkable question, “How did he do it?” or “Did your family know what was going on and try to help?” It is amazing how many people ask that but they really do. Like I want to spill all the horrible details about the worst day of my life for all to hear when I first meet someone. This is the point in the conversation where it abruptly dies and crickets can be heard in the silence. This is also the point where I get THE LOOK. Those who have lost someone by suicide know which look I am speaking of. The look where they are judging, questioning and at a loss for words.
The stigma behind suicides is real. I did not have a horrible childhood; in fact, it was actually just the opposite. My siblings and I were very fortunate and grew up in a loving home with two supportive parents. We went on family vacations, had water fights in the backyard, and snuggled on the couch on Christmas day to watch movies we got from Santa. We supported my brother in every way possible. He was in and out of treatment but nothing made him feel better. I remember borrowing different cell phones at night from friends in my dorm when I was away at college just so he would pick up an unlisted number and I could hear his voice and see how he was doing. When someone dies by suicide so many people ask, “Didn’t he/she see that so many people loved them?” and the answer is no. Depression is an illness and they are not able to see that love. They are not able to shake it off. They are not able to think of their families or their children because the thought of getting themselves out of bed in the morning is unbearable. The question, “Why didn’t their family do more to help them?” You can’t help someone who doesn’t want the help. We would not ask these questions about someone who has decided to no longer receive treatments for their cancer, so why does it change when it comes to depression? I hope and pray for a day that the stigma no longer exists. A day when talking about my wonderful and beautiful little brother does not stop the conversation like a needle coming to a scratching halt on a record. It has taken a long time to be able to share all of this, but I do it to support all those who struggle with mental illness and for all the families who have gone through what I have. I know wherever my brother Stevie Joe is right now he is no longer suffering and he is with me every day in everything that I do. I know when I started reading other people’s experiences it helped me heal and know that I was not alone. I hope that this helps others know they are not alone either. Happy Birthday, Baby Boy!
I can count the number of times I’ve been angry on one hand. Since I’m almost 51 years old and I have raised five children, most would see that as an accomplishment or evidence of extraordinary self-control. However, I know the truth. And the truth is that I am afraid of anger. I am afraid of losing control.
A little over a year ago, I awoke to the news that my “baby sister” and “best friend” had shot herself the night before. She had not survived. I live over 800miles away from my family of origin; my pastor and my best friend arrived at my house within the hour. The first day’s emotions were intense sadness, shock, confusion, pain, and denial. I attended to the mechanics of finding each of my children and telling them in person. I made arrangements to travel for her funeral. I cried. A lot.
The following days, weeks and months, I was in survival mode. Not just for myself, but for my children, my parents, my sister’s child and my extended family. I couldn’t manage this and my demanding job so I resigned. I experienced a myriad of emotions that summer, fall and winter: abandonment, pain from missing her, intense sadness for what she went through, guilt for missing the signs, responsibility for keeping my family afloat, heartbreak for my parents, fear of losing another family member, shame as I discovered the double life my sister had been living, despair and wondering if I even wanted to go on, and finally, determination to do so. I cried every day, at least once and usually more, for months.
While all of this was normal, I never experienced any anger. Part of me wondered why I didn’t, as it seemed to be at least a portion of what “everyone else” was going through. And it was widely reported in suicide survivor literature. It was around ten months after her death that something shifted.
One day, I was at the post office and saw a woman from my suicide support group. I hadn’t been there for several months and I didn’t think she’d recognize me, so I just observed her. I came to the realization that, even if I didn’t know her story, I would have known just by looking at her that she carried a huge burden. It was almost visible like Santa’s bag, but not stuffed with goodies. As I descended the stairs to my car, I suddenly knew that I, too, was carrying this burden. I loved my sister more than my own life, but the memory of how she left this world had become a huge weight on my shoulders that I carried everywhere. I said to myself, “my sister has become a bag of bricks.” And for the first time, I felt angry.
I went to my therapist a few days later and announced it because it was a new feeling and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. It felt wrong to be mad at a deceased person, especially one who had experienced so much pain and despair that they took their own life. My therapist sagely asked, “How does your anger hurt your sister?” And I realized it did not. It did not hurt anyone. Handled properly, it was probably necessary.
I gave myself permission to be angry at her. I made a long list of the “bricks” I was carrying. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide knows the reality that comes with not only the emotional issues but the logistical issues that remain after saying goodbye. A good example is that I had left a lucrative job in the weeks of pain that followed. I turned this over in my head and pondered all of it. Finally I gave myself permission to express it out loud. First, to my mom when she was expressing her anger to me. “I feel like I was climbing the same mountain of life with Amanda, and then she suddenly gave me a kick which sent me reeling down the mountain, before she herself jumped off a cliff.” That summed it up. We had both been battling depression, recovering from ugly divorces, struggling with money, re-entering the workforce. Together. And then she left, in a way that set me back years. That sucked!!
As the calendar turned and a full 365 days had passed, I was able to know that I was not “stuck” in my grief. That slowly, I was making progress. And, awash in tears, I realized that, for me, letting myself experience anger was part of that.
In memory of my amazing sister Amanda,
I made the following video for the Huffington Post to share with the general public in regards to joking about suicide. It seems these jokes impact all of us as survivors so I thought I would try to educate folks in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness month.
What do you think about when you hear the term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?” The first thing I think about is the military. We so often hear about our veterans returning home from war with symptoms of PTSD. We are also all aware that this untreated PTSD often leads to suicide. But, what we do not often think about is PTSD experienced by survivors in the aftermath of a suicide. In fact, I believe that PTSD after a suicide is more prevalent than we think.
The National Institute of Mental Health states that, “PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.” Essentially, PTSD can develop after someone experiences a traumatic event. I think it is important to discuss the trauma associated with suicide in order to identify how PTSD can develop in survivors.
The night my father took his life, my sister was the one to be notified. Around midnight, two policemen and a grief specialist rang her doorbell. Her husband quickly jumped out of bed, bewildered by who could be at the door at such a late hour. My brother-in-law answered the door while my sister stood on the stairs. She quickly ran to the door when the policemen asked, “Does the daughter of Robert L. live here?” She has expressed to me the pain and shock she experienced when the men told her that our father had taken his life. I flew back to Colorado shortly after receiving the call from my sister. I remember sitting up with her those nights following my father’s death. We were both somewhat creeped out and could not figure out why. My sister expressed to me the sickness she felt when she looked at her front door, and the fear she had that more bad news would come to her front door if she fell asleep. She discussed the jumpy feeling she had when someone rang the doorbell. I remember her saying, “It’s like I have PTSD, but how is that possible?” It is possible because my sister and I both just experienced a traumatic event. Something happened in our lives that would forever alter our path. The world as we knew it had changed.
My sister and I played detective after my father’s death. I am ok without knowing the details; in fact, knowing them makes it that much harder for me. My sister, however, needed to know every last detail. Within a week of my father’s death, we knew the gun he used, where and when he purchased it, where he was sitting, the angle of the gun, etc. You name it, we knew it. Talk about trauma! There isn’t a movie out there that could make me feel so ill. Why did we do this to ourselves? Because we wanted answers. As a survivor, you are always searching for answers that often do not exist. This search can expose you to more pain and trauma than the suicide itself. Experiencing this level of trauma can ignite symptoms of PTSD.
I did not speak to the pain and trauma experienced by those who may have witnessed or been the one to find their loved one. I have never been one to pretend to understand something that I simply cannot. I can only speak to my own experiences. What I can say as a licensed therapist is the risk of having symptoms of PTSD is greater for those who were a witness or found their loved ones. I want to also pass along the signs and symptoms of PTSD for those who are unsure if what they are experiencing is PTSD. You can read them by clicking that highlighted link.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please know that you are not alone. Know that what you are experiencing is a normal reaction after you lose a loved one to suicide. I encourage everyone to speak with a licensed professional when they feel ready. And if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Remember you are paying them, they aren’t paying you. So, if you do not feel a connection with the person who is treating you, don’t keep going. There are plenty of great therapists out there!
This piece was originally written for Our Side of Suicide. Jessica is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and the co-creator of Our Side of Suicide. It is a fantastic site and worth checking out to relate to other survivors.
Talking about your story will help you heal. Being in a suicide-focused grief support group will help you heal. Finding and talking with a counselor or therapist will help you heal. Those things are healthy and good, and I recommend you do those things as you heal from the loss and navigate your grief.
Today I want to point out that there is something that is being done on The Gift of Second website that I believe is helpful in a different way: sharing stories. I want to tell you why these stories matter.
The day I lost my brother to suicide, a family member gave my parents the book called No Time to Say Goodbye by Carla Fine. In that book, there are numerous stories with various experiences losing a loved one to suicide. The stories were all so very different. There were all kinds of ways that suicide took place, how that person was found, and reactions to the suicide. There were people in the book who were extremely open with others about their loved one’s suicide. But there were also people in the book who had never shared about their loss to people who were very close to them, who had been in their lives for years. Knowing that gave me permission to choose how I shared with others about my brother’s death.
Reading such a big variety of stories helped me. Hearing stories that I didn’t identify with at all was even helpful.
Here’s the common thread about stories: They are all complicated, messy, and always unique. God created us all unique. Because every single person is different, their suicide story will be different.
There is comfort in knowing that we are not alone in suffering this type of loss, a loss of a loved one to suicide, but there is also comfort in the knowing that our loved one and the circumstances around their death are unique.
We might think that what we have gone through in this loss is too weird or too morbid or too strange. Look long enough and you will find a story more “weird,” “morbid,” or “strange.”
We might think that our reaction to our loved one’s death was not normal. As we hear others stories, we see that there isn’t a normal reaction to suicide. Reactions run the spectrum of possible reactions because the world contains a full spectrum of personalities and feelings.
I felt better about my own story as I saw not only similarities with other in their loss, but differences with others in their loss.
These stories helped me get to a healthy place.
Coming to the Gift of Second for posts from others who have survived a suicide, I sometimes find stories that I can relate to and I sometimes find stories I don’t relate to. I find comfort in both because there is comfort in knowing that we are not alone, but there is also comfort in knowing that both our lost loved one and ourselves are individuals, uniquely created.
Today’s post is written by Jennifer Lane. To read more from Jennifer, please check her out at Jenniferllane.
My dad made a decision that would forever change MY life. My whole life was destroyed. My world was turned upside down. My heart was shattered. My chances of making new memories with him were over. My, my, my…
I couldn’t see past these thoughts. I was consumed with how much my life was affected, that I didn’t even notice my husband was grieving the loss of his father-in- law. When I finally stepped out of the “my” fog, I felt incredibly selfish that I had taken a chance away from my husband to grieve with me. I’m not great at opening up about my emotions and thought I should grieve on my own in private. When I made that decision, I then made a choice that affected more than just myself. I realized I was no different than my father in that way.
My husband needed me to let him in so that we could grieve together. Not only did he need me, but I needed him as well and hadn’t even realized it. I wasn’t strong enough to grieve alone and make it out on the other side. My staying silent tore us apart. There was this giant cloud looming over us that neither would acknowledge.
Over a year went by and we were still stuck in the same place. He couldn’t mention my dad without me instantly breaking down in tears and completely shutting down. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him because I felt it would show weakness. The thing was, I was weak. I was emotionally exhausted. I was burnt out on trying to hide my tears. I woke up one morning and realized that this was not how we should be coping with my dad’s suicide. That’s when the words started pouring out. When I couldn’t say anything else, my husband started talking. I realized that he was feeling a lot of the same emotions I was. We were BOTH angry. We were BOTH confused. Most of all, we were BOTH heartbroken. Hours went by and eventually, our tears turned to laughter. We began reminiscing about my dad. We told stories that neither of us had heard before. I finally understood that my husband had a unique bond with my dad, and it was unfair of me to downplay his grief.
Making that decision to open up was one of the best things I could have done. I don’t regret trying to grieve on my own. It’s just who I am. I try to fix everything first, and if I can’t, then I call in reinforcements. I just wish I wouldn’t have waited so long to let him in. We did need each other to make it through such a difficult time. Letting him in also gave me a chance to learn about a different side of my dad. Sure, I spent 20 years of my life with him, but I didn’t have the same kind of relationship with him that they had.
Drew knew my dad in the same way a son would. It was the little things that they did that made an impact. Drew would invite my dad along to get a haircut and grab a beer. I can honestly say that those are things I would have never thought about doing with my dad. They would work on the Mustang together, and enjoy it. I’m pretty sure my dad would pretend to enjoy me being out there with him, but I mostly complained when it came to working on the car. Drew was able to fill a void in my dad’s life that no one else could, and for that, I will be forever grateful to my husband. I know my dad looked up to him and told me numerous times that he was so happy I found someone like Drew to spend my life with.
Drew and I have since been able to have conversations about my dad together. At times, we still cry together when we speak of him. He was a huge part of our lives and still is. My dad somehow makes his way into our conversations almost daily. We finally enjoy talking about him. Sometimes it’s just memories or laughing about little things my dad would say or do, but occasionally, we like to imagine what our future would have been like if he hadn’t made the choice to leave. It’s refreshing to have someone to share these moments with, especially since suicide has become so taboo in society. I have noticed that I tend to make people uncomfortable when I mention my dad. I don’t do it out of anything except habit. It’s become natural to me to bring him up. My hope is that others will be able to feel comfortable with talking about their loved ones who chose suicide. We shouldn’t feel ashamed of a decision they made, nor should we stray away from the topic.
Ashley Gamble writes over at Riding Without Dad. You check out her blog for weekly posts about her journey after losing her dad to suicide.
There was a moment as soon as I found out that my mom had committed suicide where time stood still. I’ve never experienced anything like the loud ringing in my ears that came seconds after hearing the news. I clenched my ears as hard as I could, trying to drown out the deafening noise that left a migraine for days long after it stopped. For hours that night, I found myself staring at walls, switching between utter brokenness and complete numbness. I went through every stage of grief within minutes and found myself circling right back to denial every time.
I will forever regret ignoring my mom’s phone call the day of her suicide. I probably wouldn’t have known what was going on, let alone been able to change her mind, but just telling her “I love you” one more time might somehow help my grieving process.
Despite the regret of not answering her call, I quickly learned how far adrenaline can carry you in the beginning of grieving. Some part of me thought that the faster I ran, the sooner I would reach the finish line of this whole process. Perhaps I could just bypass it altogether if I stayed busy enough. I quickly realized, though, that no matter how fast I run, reality always catches up.
One of the hardest things to process has been my lack of anger over the entire situation. So many other loved ones seem to be angry, and I believe that they have every right to be. It seems like everyone else wants me to be angry with them though. As if knowing I am angry is easier than knowing I am simply broken. However, even after 5 months and a lot of genuine self-reflection, anger just simply isn’t there. A lot of people keep telling me it’s ok to be angry, but surprisingly, I’ve had to keep telling myself it’s also ok if I’m not.
I used to think suicide is so selfish. I still do, to be honest. But so am I. On my best, happiest, most clear-headed days, I am selfish. In little ways and big ways… intentional and unintentional… I make decisions every day that are all about me. I’m not proud of that, but I know there is grace for me in those moments. So when I am selfish even on a great day, I cannot possibly expect someone to be selfless on the darkest, most desperate day of their life. I cannot be angry that in a very confused and lonely state, she was imperfect. I must have grace for that. And I’ve found that allowing her to be imperfect and selfish during such a vulnerable time has given me a lot of freedom, and it has kept anger from robbing me of my joy.
Please know that I am in no way minimizing suicide at all or saying that loved ones have no right to feel anger and betrayal. The trail of brokenness that this has left behind is immeasurable. The guilt, what if’s and confusion is overwhelming. I simply want to highlight the fact that how my mom passed is not at all what I’m focusing on. It does makes the sting deeper and the list of questions longer, but I get to choose how I remember her.
So I choose laughter. I choose dancing. I choose memories of the mother who made me who I am today, and I am honored to be like her in so many ways. I choose to remember my mom as she was before getting so physically and mentally ill. She was little, but with the biggest personality you could imagine. A woman who lit up every room she entered and made people feel better about themselves by loving them so well.
I know I won’t ever “finish” or be fully done with the grieving process. But I also know there is a day ahead with no more nightmares. No more living in a constant state of nausea. No more “If only’s” or guilt or shame. I have no idea how far away that day is, but I certainly know now that sprinting isn’t going to get me there.
The way my mom left this life does not negate the way in which she lived it. And she lived it beautifully. Mom… You are loved, cherished, forgiven and missed deeply. I hold onto the hope that you are finally free of all pain.
Darnell Young writes over at It’s Only a Tent. Feel free to stop by and see her other posts. It is a great website.
Our last labor and delivery was completely silent. A void of sound so deep, only someone born hearing, now deaf, could fathom. No beep of monitors, family chatter, or happy banter with the nurses. Our Ruby Claire slipped silently from me. We had 20 weeks of pregnancy with our precious daughter. This May, she would have turned 6.
I was thinking of her today, as I often do. I realized that I didn’t quickly change the subject in my mind. I was thinking of her, all the way back from the store, and..I could still breathe! I was no longer immobilized by my grief. It changed nothing about the heartbreak; my love for her didn’t diminish in any way as a result. The importance of her life didn’t lessen with the sharpness of her loss. But, I had released the guilt that was a part of our story. Mine and my daughter’s. Mine and my sister’s.
My sister, Shannon, flew in soon after we had lost Ruby Claire. I wrote a poem, The One Who Came, I have no idea where that is. The faith I had relied on to paint lovely pictures of my daughter’s heavenly home, had crumbled. I didn’t share a lot with her. Only the poem, and the tiny wrap they had put Ruby Claire in. We sat on my bed and smoothed that little scrap of satin and lace, a piece of someone’s wedding gown. Did you know, there is a special cabinet on maternity wards? It holds disposable cameras for photos many will not be able to develop. Hand-sewn wraps, in all of heartbreak sizes.
I was greedy with what little I had left of my baby. It was a drastic change from sharing everything with her. She was understandably hurt, and confused, by my unwillingness to open up. I was furious with grief. Seething under the surface so long, my attitude cool and removed. For years. She told me that I had changed. My heart was not so tender.
One month from her saying this, 4 years since Ruby Claire, I lost my sister to depression. I hadn’t softened the edges of my fury enough to really see that her illness was winning. I unconsciously, and in ways, consciously, minimized the depth of her sadness because I had given my own loss such weight. She hadn’t lost a child, I thought. She doesn’t understand how deep, how dark, the places in my heart. Oh, the selfishness of my grief!!
I navigate the minefield of regret several times a day. Suicide survivor’s grief is described as ‘complicated’. It’s very difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. So far, for me, the best memories don’t come to mind when I think of Shannie. Instead, it is more like what I imagined being in the judgment seat would be like. The slideshow is every negative word, thought, or deed that involved my sister. The last weeks of her life, everything that I missed. All the ways that I failed her. Far back to childhood, innocence is no longer an excuse. I have put myself on trial for her death. Our closeness only compounds the weight of my guilt. She was my person, and I, hers.
Not that I haven’t had blame that I was willing to share. I have. I do. It is still no respite from the responsibility that I hold. Years have passed, with no shift from this mental maze, this ‘complicated’ grief. That I had noticed anyway.
Then today. Today, I thought of my precious daughter. I forgave myself for not being able to share her with my sister. One reprieve. I understand now, that the rage was the glue holding me together. That I relied on it to move forward. It was my momentum to get up, be a mom, and a wife. Healthy? No…probably not. But it wasn’t without purpose. It fueled living. My Shannie, my sister, ran out of fuel for living. She would forgive me for using my fury to continue on. Today, I do too.
Three days after I lost my husband I went to a local retail store because I had to. I didn’t want to be there, the lights, people, noise were too much but I needed a phone card for my cell phone. The cell phone I have uses pay as you go cards that only this store sells and of course, they are all the way in the back. I didn’t care that my hair was a mess, that I hadn’t showered, that my face was swollen from days of sobbing. So I put my head down and walked toward the back of the store and picked up my phone card. I didn’t want to look at anyone let alone see anyone I knew. Talking was too much for me, I couldn’t do it without falling completely apart. I saw someone I thought I recognized and turned quickly down an aisle to avoid her.
I came upon these little notebooks…journals. I looked at them and immediately knew I needed to get what I had in my head onto paper. I grabbed one without a second thought and walked briskly to the self-checkout. Soon, I was back in my car and sobbing. The confusion, devastation, agony, fear, overwhelming sense of loss, not knowing where “home” was anymore, complete and utter chaotic emotions went down on the pages of that little journal I bought the moment I got back in my car. I wrote and wrote until I finally ran out of things to say. I had written about 5 pages.
I am new on this journey so I haven’t filled the whole journal yet but I keep it with me always. I have written everything I think, prayers, what I am afraid of, how I feel inside and triggers that cause me the most pain. That little book has become a lifeline. I have not looked back to previously written pages very far because in my mind, I want and need to move forward, one baby step at a time. I may not always be able to take a step ahead but that little journal reminds me of where I’ve been already and it shows me how many little steps I’ve already taken. I didn’t notice it before but the word on the front of that journal is DREAMS. I’m figuring out how to have those again and journaling has become a part of my “new normal”.
Adjusting to life after losing a child is like shooting at a moving target. Just when you believe that you have leveled up in the game, you fall through a trap door and you’re back at level two. Although there is never a day that I don’t think of my son, it isn’t always a moment that makes my heart stop. Sometimes, it puts a smile on my face to remember his quirky humor or how he put the empty cereal box back in the cabinet. Those thoughts often pass through my mind but, like an airplane, I am able to fly above the clouds and stay focused on the horizon. When the sky darkens, I simply keep moving until I get to the other side.
Yesterday, as I sat waiting in a physical therapy office for my husband, a mother and her young son came in. Her son was a lanky boy of 12 or 13, who had injured his arm playing baseball. I watched them as they sat together in the waiting room. The unspoken language of their bond drew me in and I felt myself beginning to slip through the trap door. They were engaged in a conversation just a few feet away, but I couldn’t hear their words. Instead, I heard my son’s voice, newly deepened, and his laughter played loudly in my head. I could feel his thin but muscular arms as he hugged me and tried to lift me off the floor. He was only a boy– almost 15. Still trapped between the man he would become, and the boy who wanted to hold his mother; he would be forever fourteen for me. I would never see how beautiful his smile would be without braces or watch him walk in a cap and gown. The life that was out in front of him fell over the horizon line and it took part of me with it.
My plane was stalling. I could see the ground rising up to meet me. I had the controls in front of me, but I sat paralyzed, unable to move as the nose veered straight down. Conflicted about whether to let it crash, or to save myself, I was rescued by interruption. As the boy was called back, I watched him walk away and realized how far I had fallen. I looked away for a moment, took a long deep breath, and the plane began to level out. I sat numb in a quiet daze. What felt like an hour, had only been moments of time that I had lost.
I suppose that I will always experience “stalls” in my momentum; times where I sit helplessly by and watch myself spin out of control towards the ground. It’s a sort of out-of- body experience and you can’t predict when you may be overcome by it. For me, it happens frequently when I see a mother and son together in the grocery store, or at a shopping mall or restaurant. There is a unique bond and a closeness that I relive when I see them, and it sometimes makes my body ache from the loss. In those moments, I try to breathe in gratitude for the life I have, breathe out the pain, and look out over the horizon again. Sometimes it takes more than a breath or two, but at least I’m still in the air.
Sometimes You Stall was originally written by Amanda Blue for Survival and the Silver Lining. Check out her blog to read more beautifully written pieces “for those living with loss and a life that may not have gone the way they planned.”
On June 12th, my sister-in-law woke me up with a phone call that shattered my world as I knew it. Splintered in two with the fragments having such an emotional impact. Everything I thought I knew about my life and family changed. My brother had tried to commit suicide. Six weeks later, he tried again and was successful. My little brother. Husband. Father. Soccer Dad. Cheer Dad. Businessman. His life and the life I knew was and is over. As I dealt with the pain of my grieving, shocked, and shattered heart, the guilt was overwhelming and immediate. I searched my texts, emails, and relived conversations I had had with him, trying to find answers to my many questions.
As I thought back to our lunch four days before he died, I saw the deadness in his eyes – all hope was gone. The next day when he came over to kill my carpenter bees in my pergola, I recognized the frantic energy and pace that he was moving, but I didn’t know what to do. As I go over each minute of our conversations, could I have changed the outcome? Should I have recommended him to talk to my friend who had similar troubles – could that have triggered his suicide? When I asked him to come over last fall for a BBQ and he never responded, why did I blame it on his wife not wanting to be around us? Why didn’t I see him pushing away from us the last two years? When I learned he wasn’t sleeping and working 18 hours a day, why didn’t I recognize the signs of mental illness? The guilt was consuming as I pondered these questions with no answers.
As I work with a counselor trying to handle the guilt and to seek answers, I am learning that what I’m experiencing is survivor’s guilt. I’ve learned that “People who die by suicide don’t want to end their lives, they want to end their pain.” And the challenge is that my brother only showed us what he wanted us to see – he hid his pain very successfully from not only his wife, but also his children and me. So as I contemplate guilt and the many “what ifs” – I’m challenging myself to turn this pain into a positive call in my life to make it mean something. I want to turn it into what I’ll call “productive guilt”. Guilt by being consumed by things or emotions that really do not matter in the big scheme of life. Guilt when I miss the new budding of the fragrant jasmine vine in my backyard because I’m too wrapped up in my grieving thoughts to see that yes –spring will come again. Guilt when I’m impatient with the bagger at Kroger (he’s someone’s brother) who is enthralled with telling me about the newest Star Wars movie instead of enthusiastically bagging my lettuce and tomatoes. Guilt when I’m too busy being busy to throw the tennis ball to my bouncy energetic yellow lab and miss seeing the joy in her sweet brown eyes. Guilt over obsessing with the number on my scale that I miss seeing that spectacular sunrise that is painted in the sky. These are moments in my life that I can control as my broken heart begins to heal on this emotional journey of life.
While my heart has been shattered and I slowly pick up the pieces as I continue the grieving process, I’m learning so many lessons that I really did not want to learn. Yes, the guilt over the “what-if’s” is still there, but there is so much to learn about mental illness and suicide survivors. The fragments of grief are there still waiting to be picked up, but there is a sunrise and a sunset every day. The jasmine vine is starting to bloom and produces the gift of a heavenly fragrance. And the tennis ball is waiting to be thrown to my lovable, enthusiastic yellow lab that puts a smile on my face every day.
It was a Monday afternoon when my husband’s phone rang. The number was not saved in his phone so confusion showed on both of our faces, but when he answered, I heard a familiar voice and I just knew. He hung up the phone and looked at me in fear and all I asked was if it was an accident. He said nothing. Suddenly, time stood still and I instantly thought of my next move. At the time, I lived halfway across the country from my dad. I needed to make plans on how I was going to get to him. The next day I loaded up my toddler and we drove two days and a total of 25 hours to Texas. The next month was chaotic. I was exhausted. Not only was I a single mother during this time since my husband was stuck in North Carolina, I was also a new Graduate student, and an only child trying to figure all of this estate stuff out.
After a month of being there, I couldn’t take anymore. I couldn’t handle the pettiness that was surrounding me. I needed out. I called my husband and asked him to fly down and drive back with me, and he did. During my month in Texas, I really didn’t have a chance to grieve. It wasn’t until I was back to my “normal” life that it all hit me like a giant boulder continuously rolling over me. It was when I would least expect it. When the house was quiet and I needed to focus on school- I would instantly start crying. In these moments, I so badly wanted to call my dad and yell at him. How could he leave me? He wasn’t just a father to me. He was the man that came into my life when I was a child and chose to love me when he didn’t have to. He was the man that backed every crazy decision I made even when he shouldn’t have. He was the one I always called when I needed to be lifted up. He made me feel like I could conquer the world with just one conversation. How was I supposed to exist in a world where he no longer did?
At the time, I was already seeing an amazing therapist. I needed “life help.” When I started back at my regularly scheduled visits I explained that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. There were so many emotions that I couldn’t begin to sort through and I needed something to help me! I needed a tool out of her valuable toolbox to work through this so I could start enjoying life again. My husband and daughter were suffering because I couldn’t figure out how to breathe. My friends were seeing less of me since I just wanted to be a hermit. That’s when she suggested writing to my dad.
Sounds crazy, right? How can I write to someone that isn’t physically here to read it? Well, the letters weren’t for him, they were for me. I started a journal for the first time in my life. Each page started with “Dear Dad.” It wasn’t until the words just started pouring out on the page that I realized what I was really feeling, anger. Before this, I had fallen into the habit of what everyone else was doing, making excuses for what my dad chose to do. When I started writing, it freed me from that habit.
The journal gave me an outlet. Any time I felt unable to focus, I would pull it out, look at my dad’s funeral program and my eulogy, and just write. I wrote often in the beginning. Then, the journal entries became less frequent. I started to feel human again after a while and I could finally breathe again. I no longer hated him or was angry with him. I was no longer consumed with guilt over his decision. It took almost 2 years, but I finally felt like I could be a wife and mom again. I saw myself living my life instead of just trying to make it through each day. I still have days where I find myself in tears. Everything reminds me of him and I wish he was here to enjoy life with us. I wish he could have met my daughter and could be here to celebrate our son being born later this year, but he made a choice that the rest of us have to figure out how to live with. That part is never easy, but eventually you find a way to finally breathe.
After losing my brother to suicide, I was surprised how quickly anger became a big emotion I was feeling. After the shock and disbelief of what was occurring wore off, there were a couple days of extreme grief. But as I sat in a hotel room, the night before my brother’s funeral, the anger became overwhelming.
My husband, the videographer, and I were trying to put together a slide show of pictures to show at the funeral. I had gathered photos from my parents’ house for days, trying to include a few photos from each stage of his 24-year life. There was a void of current pictures, so we reached out to some friends to email us pictures. Most of the pictures I received were great. My brother was fun and such a ham for the camera, and the pictures his friends sent me reflected that.
My husband still felt we were short on recent pictures to fill the slide show, so we looked through his Facebook pictures to see what could be used.
Looking at those pictures, most of them at parties where it was clear that my brother was drunk or high on drugs, the anger became overwhelming. I was so mad at him for being so reckless with his precious life. I couldn’t see straight. I found myself sitting in the hotel bathtub, fully clothed, screaming into my hands.
The whole thing felt incredibly unfair. Why was I left here to sort through his party pictures, deciding what looked innocent enough to show at a church service tomorrow?
My parents were so distraught that much of the funeral planning had fallen to me, the oldest child. Picking songs, deciding which Bible verses to put in the programs, finding a photo for the obituary, and now making this slide show became my responsibility. I felt unprepared to do any of it.
And where was my brother?
That was a familiar question that added fuel to my anger. It was not unusual for me to pick up responsibility, to attend family events, to make sure Thanksgiving dinner was served, to clean up messes while my brother was doing whatever he wanted to do, usually with a friend, any friend, new friends, old friends, groups of friends. He always had friends around. I was convinced that he was afraid to be alone.
Most survivors of suicide feel anger at some point in their grief. Maybe I felt anger so quickly after losing my brother because it was a familiar emotion in our relationship.
There were just so many times in the last decade of his short life that I had legitimate things to be mad at him about. Bad decisions, quitting school, losing jobs, smoking, partying, staying out, not showing up, causing my parents heartache, causing my parents to fight, lying. The lying was the worst, caused the deepest anger.
There was a good side to my brother, and I wanted to remember it. There’s no one else in my family that I could laugh the hardest with, with almost no prompting. We didn’t need much material to go on.
On the day of the funeral, my proudest moment was when our slide show got a big laugh. Jeffrey did the hard lifting with his sequence of photos over-exaggerating putting on a friend’s lipgloss.
It has been almost 6 years, and I rarely feel angry these days. In the first few years, every bout of anger was quickly followed by strong feelings of guilt. Those feelings still come up, but they are not as strong. The majority of the time, I feel a big absence. I wish he was here. This year he would have turned 30, and I grieved that I would never see my brother at 30. I will never see him married. There will never be nieces and nephews or conversations about getting old.
The anger has lessened because, this time, I know where my brother is.
I have an understanding- a hope that my brother is in Heaven, with Jesus. I have assurance that he is no longer filling voids of loneliness and feelings of failure with temporary things like drugs, overindulging in alcohol, and constantly seeking out friends.
My anger has been replaced with hope.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” -Romans 15:13
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:38-39 ESV
I sat alone on the fading brown and orange sofa as the film projector portrayed Sunday afternoon of many years earlier. I chased him behind one side of the brand new brown and orange sofa; we emerged on the opposite side. Grinning and giggling, we ran around our grandparents’ living room again and again. As the film cycle-clicked into darkness and the projector clicked off, the silence screamed.
His brother and I sat on the chilled floor of his dimly lit, abandoned room. We sifted through remnants of his possessions… Searching for… peace for our own souls. Quietly, we intruded into his belongings. His brother uncovered a tidy stack of Sports Illustrated magazines featuring the trials and triumphs of the Denver Broncos and the University of Nebraska Cornhusker’s football teams. As he flipped the pages, he voiced, barely above a whisper, “Remember how we use to fight about football?”
Rummaging through his top desk drawer, I discovered a stack of photographs. Slowly, I turned toward the lamp and placed one behind the others to see each photograph. His strained family portrait taken three years earlier introduced the stack, followed by my school pictures from the past four years along with two of my dance team shots. A couple friends school photos. And one snapshot, he captured in Seattle just as a lowering drawbridge silhouetted in the dusking sun, completed the stack.
On top of his desk, his brother noticed a stack of perfectly clipped Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. Scanning them, he read them slowly to me. Quietly, we snickered together. Calvin and Hobbes framed his humor and his brilliance within its simplicity; and somehow, despite the heaving unknowns, we experienced a transfer of humor and brilliance. An unconscious weight… we carry.
A couple decades before, two young brothers married to two young sisters in a small country church planted on the prairie in Wyoming. A couple years later, he- Carlton Jamison Plinsky– was born to one couple. Seven weeks later, I was born to the other couple. Since our families lived so close, we grew up nearly inseparable. Great-Grandma Ruth often chanted her revised version of the “Jack & Jill” nursery rhyme. “Jamie and Heidi went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jamie fell down and broke his crown. And Heidi came tumbling after…” Jamie sat on her right knee while I sat on her left as she told us story after story with her ageless grin. “Jamie gets so tickled!” she’d say time and time again. I can still hear his laugh echo in the confines of my mind.
We shared family; we shared memories. We shared humor, as well as questions, as we grew older. Our extended family’s structured strictness often stirred us to question. While we recognized the necessity of guidance, we often discussed our opinions of what we perceived as harsh rules. We wondered. We may have mocked. Mainly, we navigated our childhood together.
We no longer make memories, share humor or questions. My Dad quietly told me the news. Dropping to my knees, I sobbed hysterically. Time froze. Sleep evaded me. Shock overtook me. Thus, I wrestled to rein in every pelting thought until we arrived at his home pulsing with people, but lifeless without him.The Sheriff’s Report read, “On January 18, 1992 at approximately 7 p.m. 17-year-old Carlton Plinsky committed suicide while visiting the lodge with a youth group.
Just two months earlier, at Thanksgiving 1991, he and I spent hours watching football, sharing thoughts, and exchanging questions. Although his gaze -distant and sad-, his stance appeared more confident and his demeanor more peaceful. Our family, our holiday, our lives sighed “normal.” My parents and I took him to the airport. As he walked slowly down the terminal ramp, my Dad yelled some crazy (maybe even bordering on coarse) joke. Jamie turned his head over his left shoulder and LAUGHED. I saw him laugh. I heard him laugh. But, sometime between Thanksgiving and January 18, he stopped laughing.
This piece was written by Heidi Paulec and originally posted to her personal blog Shadows Presence. To read more from Heidi, check out her blog!
The following piece was picked up by the website The Mighty and is a great piece to share with anyone that has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one. Please share it with others so they may know there are resources available and are not alone.
My mom’s funeral had over 500 people in attendance. She was a high school English teacher and well-loved by her 200 students. She was the leader of my Girl Scouts Troop, and the snack mom of my soccer team. She had countless friends and colleagues that enjoyed her humor and her ability to bring a room together. She was the glue in our family, organizing events and maintaining traditions. Her influence was significant in the lives of others. When she died by suicide our community was rocked. Her suicide impacted more than six.
Shortly after losing my father to suicide, I was watching a television interview with a fellow survivor. There was a particular part of her interview that has stayed with me throughout this grief journey. She talked about a “psychological autopsy.” When we lose someone to a physical illness, the autopsy, if performed, is left in the hands of the physicians. When we lose someone to suicide, it is left to the family and loved ones to try to piece together what it was that led them to end their life. Yes, we may know the
method by which they died. But the “why” of it all, well that eludes us.
I’m sure I am not alone in sharing that as my wounds were fresh, raw and wide open for all to see, there were questions that continuously doused them with salt.
Were there signs?
Did you have any idea he might do this?
Had he tried this before?
I had to endure many variations of the above.
There we were, examining the rearview mirror, trying to look for the clues, the answer to the unanswerable question of why my father would leave us this way. We were troubled by guilt, wracked with grief, desperately trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle to find what it was that we must have missed; and those questions continuously came.
I wanted to scream, “Don’t you think that if we saw signs we would have gotten him more help?” “Don’t you think if we thought he might attempt suicide, we would have hospitalized him?”
I wondered if they thought all suicides were preceded by large flashing yellow lights and bold signs that stated, “Warning, Danger Ahead.” I wondered if they thought we simply chose to bypass those signs, take a detour and treat my father’s struggles with depression and anxiety simply as a bump in the road he could just plow through. I wanted to say those things. But I didn’t.
Instead, I tried to answer them. And with every answer I had to give to that unsolicited question, my guilt intensified and my anger began to grow. Because what I heard in those early days, lurking at the root of those questions was, “What did you miss?” What didn’t you see?” And that only added to the burden of my pain.
Eleven months later I have come to understand much more about the signs that were there. I’ve learned them in hindsight. There were drastic changes in my father’s mood, changes in sleep and eating patterns and more. There was talk of being a burden. And above all, there was a sense of hopelessness. Today I know these are some of the signs that somebody might be in crisis. I’ve completed the mental health first-aid training, I’ve read the articles, and I know now that there were indicators that my father was in danger. I know now what I didn’t know then.
I have re-framed my guilt as regret. Guilt can swallow you whole. Regret, while painful, is something that slowly, I can come to live with. I regret that I didn’t know these things when my father was still here. I regret that I did not ask the question of him, “Are you feeling suicidal?” And I regret that I did not know how to answer those who pondered what it was that we, who loved him most, might have missed?
Today I would ask people to honor my pain and my loss. I would ask them to consider why they are asking the question in the first place? Today I know that I need not answer curiosity, that there is rarely a good reason to ask those questions of a survivor. Even when asked with the most innocent of intentions, we must acknowledge that at their root they are an attempt to draw a line in the sand. On one side, is the survivor, and on the other a basic human desire to know that what happened to them can never happen to us. Because surely we would see it coming, even if they did not.
Of course, there will be those with loved ones who are struggling with mental illness, who might ask in hopes of preventing this tragedy in their own family and community. That is an honorable intention. Still I would encourage, a thoughtful and honest statement instead, such as, “If and when you are ready, I was wondering if you’d be willing to share what your father was experiencing. I have a loved one that I am concerned about.” And then let the survivor answer, or not answer, when it is right for them, if it is right for them. And know that for some survivors, that day may be very far down the road.
Yes, suicide loss and grief have placed in my path some of the most painful lessons I’ve ever had to learn. I am a survivor, navigating this difficult road toward healing. This is my story to tell, on my terms, in my way, and in a manner that honors my father and me. And that is true for so many survivors. So please, when you encounter us, before you ask a question of our experience, consider your motive. Consider that we are working through vast layers of trauma and grief that are not visible to the naked eye. And consider whether the answers you seek are helpful or hurtful to the one you are
And after all of that, consider setting your questions aside, and stand with us in loving silence instead. Because in truth, the answers you may seek are the answers we will never find in full. So be present, hold our hand, extend your comforting embrace and when it comes to your words, be guided by compassion and “proceed with caution.”
I looked around at all of the faces while my other Mom and I stood in line to check out. The young couple with the brand new baby; the man who had to get around the store in the motorized scooter; the lady with the long weave that was red and yellow and the lady behind us with the adorable little girl. Everyone was living their lives, buying Easter baskets and candy, greeting cards, Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, toilet paper….all of those things that make life, well life. Just another day at Walmart!
But as I stared at those people, I wondered how they could go on with their mundane tasks of Walmart shopping when I was standing here surrounded by my grief. When my heart was overwhelmed with sadness for my Mom and my family. When a limb from our family tree had broken off in the abrupt and deadly wind. Didn’t these shoppers know I was mourning? Didn’t they know that they needed to not be so normal? Didn’t they know that inside I was screaming?
On Saturday, March 19, 2016 my Stepfather took his own life. He had dealt with depression for quite a while. His job was very stressful, especially in the last two years under different supervision, his relationship with his parents was broken, and he used alcohol as medication. I know that the demons inside of his head, mixed with vodka is what caused him to take that final step. The one that made him say “enough is enough”; “I’m done”; “no one will care anyways”; “I’m worthless”; “I’m a burden to my family”.
At times, he was a burden. You didn’t know which guy you were going to get. The sweet, funny, quirky helpful one or the one who had self-medicated and slurred a few words. But he was never worthless. Never did we want him gone. Never did we want him to say “I’m done”. And the demons were wrong….we do care. And so many others do as well as evidenced by the over 200 people who showed up to his Celebration of Life Service.
He was a smart man. Brilliant many have said. He worked tirelessly to make the lives of our soldiers better. He developed projects that helped to save their lives. Besides his family, his entire world revolved around the Green Suiters. The military has lost one of their more formidable advocates. Our family has lost a presence for the past 26 years.
The saying “he’d give you the shirt off of his back” was created for him. That’s the kind of guy he was. Always wanting to help. Always wanting to make life better for someone. I remember one time making a dumb comment about a waitress in a small town restaurant. I don’t even recall what it was but I do recall how upset he was at me and how he defended this young woman he didn’t even know. He was always a proponent of the underdog and fought tirelessly for them.
He has, in one way or another whether financially or through physical labor supported everyone in our family. If someone was in need of a computer, he found one. A car? He gave one to someone for minimal cost because he cared about her future. Food? Always handing someone food. Always trying to feed someone. Always wanting to nurture. The times I tossed him out of my kitchen for “helping”.
He was a quirky guy but much of that can be attributed to the fact that he was truly brilliant. We’ve all been around people like this. So smart that they can’t hold a regular conversation? That was him. He would try to explain something to you but you’d tune out within minutes because he used words that you never heard of. He wasn’t doing it to show off his intellectual superiority. He was doing it because it was all he knew.
Depression started to change him and it finally took full hold. He is at peace now but has left behind a slew of people who are wondering what happened. Why. Him? No way. Not him. Scratching our heads. Wiping our eyes. And wondering how to move forward.
Worthless? No. Loved greatly? Yes. Not cared about? No. Missed terribly. Yes! The demons have lost control over him and now, he can truly rest in peace.
And when we see him again, and we believe we will, I believe he will have finally realized how much he was loved and cared about.
This piece was originally written for dktyriver
I didn’t get it then. I was 13. A pre-teen who lived with my mother, step-father & sister Cindy a couple of months a year, due to being caught in the Custody battles between my Mother & real Dad. Cindy & I argued. She was 15. I was a little bratty sister who idolized her & would steal her cool clothes to wear them to school so I could feel cool too. We were best friends before we got torn apart by those custody battles. I idolized her. She was smart, pretty, funny-loved. I was always in trouble. The one who wanted acceptance like her. Cindy was my Mom’s favorite. My Mom didn’t accept me because I loved my Dad, & she hated him. Any time we got to spend together was precious. She’d hide my hamster on me. Kid stuff. We had fun together, until THAT day. The day I woke up lying next to my sister in her bed, & watched her eyes roll to the back of her head as she became unresponsive.
I have nightmares to this day, & can’t sleep through the night. My sister was taken to the hospital & put in ICU for 13 days & nights in a brain dead coma because my parents argued over life support. Cindy had decided 2 weeks prior to end her pain by taking a few pills daily over a 2 week period & was now in organ failure. They hadn’t even waited to turn off life support before my mother moved me into her bedroom & started painting the walls. They weren’t going to be sleeping in there, in that room, that bed. Sure-just cover the walls, cover it all up! Cover the guilt & shame in a new shade of lavender. At 13, I watched my Dad get escorted out of the ICU waiting room & told he is “not allowed back or able to attend her funeral because my mother was a Paralegal & could have any fancy documents printed up that she needed to fuel the fire in the insane custody battle that tore my life apart. My Dad was destroyed. My life & childhood was destroyed. My childhood ended at 4:18pm on March 31, 1984, the day the hospital called to let us know Cindy was gone. Gone because she was depressed. Gone because I didn’t live with her full-time & it was my fault according to my mother.
I never told my mother she was sad. NOW she wanted me around because I was the replacement kid. The void-filler. I missed 2 days of school. They whispered about me in the halls. Now I was the center of attention. Suicide. No one talked about that. Kids were cruel. “Was your sister crazy?”, & when I stated “I would have done it if she hadn’t, people now paid attention to the replacement kid & to the goings on in my Mother’s house. People should listen to kids. My mother blamed my Dad, my Dad blamed himself, I blamed my step-father but you know what?-everyone is to blame! Suicide is the silent Cancer that eats away everything you thought you knew. Cindy had planned this & when she finally confided in me what she had done, it was too late to save her.The secret Cancer was destroying her organs inside. I can still hear the sound of her hospital room & the vent breathing for her. I work in the ER now & always tense up when I see that long tube being used on a patient who can’t breathe for themselves. There I see my idol, my childhood, my sister as her organs shut down. In my heart I know why she did it, but she didn’t really want to die. She just wanted to end her pain & sadness. That’s what it’s all about right?
Losing my best friend at 13, forced me to grow up real fast. Her death opened my eyes & taught me so many things I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I can’t stand seeing anyone unhappy. What if they are sad & have no one to talk to? I never want anyone to feel the way Cindy did. Hopeless.There is help. Be the Voice for them when they feel they don’t have one. Give back. Healing is hard, but it happens. Speak out. Join support groups. Raise awareness for Suicide prevention by walking in Out of the Darkness Walks. There’s no better therapy than being around hundreds of other people who “get it”. They took their own life; don’t let them take yours too. I get it all NOW.
Nearly 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year and for each person who dies by suicide, there are an estimated 6 survivors who cared deeply and are left trying to pick up the pieces. Many of these survivors are left with anger, sadness, frustration, guilt and shame. How do these survivors move on or even attempt to cope and return to some type of normalcy? Well, here is my story.
Friday the 13th, March 2015 was the worst day of my life to date. Simply put, my dad committed suicide. Devastated was an understatement for myself and my family, he was the best man we knew and we couldn’t comprehend what had occurred or the reasoning. I had no idea what to do, I was in shock and it didn’t feel real. From that point on it seemed like everything in the world revolved around suicide or somebody had their own story or family/friend affected. You become more aware of suicide around you, it seemed that every movie I watched had somebody committing suicide or attempting. You also become more aware/sensitive (not sure which one) to people joking around, saying F my life and pretending to place their finger to their temple or in their mouth, pulling the fake trigger due to some irritant at work, being overwhelmed or irritated by some person.
For my personality getting back to work right away was the best thing to keep my mind and body busy. I had trouble sitting doing nothing since I was having flashbacks and with any downtime my brain wouldn’t shut off. Despite the tragedy, time doesn’t stand still. Unfortunately life continues on and we have responsibilities, like work, but most importantly for me I had my spouse and kids to care for as well. Eventually going back to work too fast was not the best idea as it resulted in being easily frustrated, irritated, more tired and increased my anxiety at work and home. It got to a point where I needed a change or something else to focus on.
I started simple and for fun I grew my hair out from the end of August to New Years before cutting it. It went from a nice short fade to a feathered 70s look and after 4 months, I succeeded this test and even won a burrito. But that was too easy, If I wanted to test myself and resolve, I would have to do something that I hated. I would have to accomplish something both physically and mentally challenging. Something that was unrealistic mentally in my mind but physically doable, yet highly frowned upon by my orthopedic surgeon after having multiple left knee surgeries; half marathon it was! I mean Forrest Gump did it after tragedy, he just kept running, and running and running, so why not me.
Have I ever told you how much I hate running? For me the only running I do is for sport, like running while dribbling a basketball, running to get to a loose ball in soccer, running to first base after hitting a groundball to shortstop, or occasionally running to grab my 2 year old as she attempts to go into the street. Running just for fun to me was just plain stupid and I made sure all the runners I knew heard about it. I researched running a half marathon and before you could even start the 10 week training program, it was recommended you were running 2-3 times per week 1-3 miles at a time. So I started slowly in October/November running 2-3 times per week to get myself in shape with a heavy dose of foam roller sessions after these runs. I ran with a Garmin GPS watch my wife bought me for Christmas which was great to keep track of time and miles run, but so truthful and humbling at the same time. I was increasing my distance around my neighborhood and surrounding ones, thinking I was running 5 miles at a time, but in actuality I was barely running 3 miles at a time. Eventually, running started to be part of a routine and I was able to tolerate increasing distances, even if it was just going from 1 to 2 to 3 miles over weeks of running, it began to be slightly addicting. Although this wasn’t always the case, I had difficulty in the beginning making it out the door and telling my brain to stay on task. It was like going to the gym. You know it’s good for you and once your there its not a big deal and sometimes even enjoyable, but just getting there was really difficult. This was the same for running, I just had will to myself to get out of the door. I would go run after helping put my kids to bed 3-4 nights a week and it started to become a release for my days anxieties. I would run and think of old stories of my dad, have flashbacks of my dad, or think of nothing and have random songs playing in my head on repeat since I was without music due to my poor electronic intelligence. I had a collection of music in my head like the Chainsmokers- “Roses”, Empire of the Suns- “Walking on a Dream”, anything Bieber, and even some Big Pun- “Still Not a Player”. One time I had the acoustic version of “Stitches” running in my head for nine miles! Although it wasn’t traditional meditation, it was my form of meditation and it helped put me at ease.
January started the ten week training for the Shamrock’n half marathon, which coincidentally happened to be on March 13th, 2016, the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing. I signed up for the race before even knowing the date, it must have been meant to be, or like I always tell my wife…fate. I ran 4 days a week for nearly ten weeks, with long runs on Sundays, getting up as early as 5:30am and increasing my distance each week. I was getting stronger with each run and although I was told not to run on my left knee, it was actually the strongest it had felt in years and without pain. The physical part of running was getting easier, but the mental part was difficult to adjust to. Each run I found myself wanting to give in to thoughts of stopping or bargaining to shorten a run time from 45 minutes to 30. I realized why running is so difficult and why more people don’t do it. I get it, it can be hard on the body, but mentally its draining and tough to muster up enough will to get out the door to train after a long day at work. You battle yourself with each run to keep up with the training and to stay on track. It’s like having the good angel on one shoulder telling you ‘you can do it, keep going’ and on the other shoulder the cartoon devil saying ‘this is dumb, just walk the rest of the way’. But if you stay on track the results will come. For me is was dropping 10-15lbs over 3 months and having the best lab results I’ve had in years, including lowering my normally high cholesterol levels.
Over that ten week training period, there’s no doubt honoring my dad pushed me through, because running flat out sucks. Lets face it, I’m not a runner, but I run for my dad. And although I hated it, it helped me through this past year. It decreased my anxieties and helped me meditate while pounding the streets of Elmhurst, Tahoe Park, Oak Park and East Sac. Running allowed me to express my emotions without having to talk about it, which at times was difficult. Kinda like this blog, a way to put my thoughts on paper, because sometimes I feel like I can’t really articulate how I feel. Running gave me perspective because no matter what happens, there’s always somebody that has it worse. My job is unique as a PT in the hospital, I see people at their worst daily. Although I have a love/hate relationship with running, at least I’m able to physically do it. It’s difficult to complain about having to complete a run when your 30 year old patient has an inoperable brain tumor that’s left them to use a wheelchair or another patient being dependent on a ventilator and stuck in a hospital bed for over a year. Perspective is amazing, but being able to keep perspective for more than 5 min is the real feat. So when I fatigued and was mentally weak, I leaned on my dad and just thought how lucky I was to be able to run.
Eventually Sunday March 13, 2016 came and of course El Nino was rearing its ugly head, with rains and wind pounding the Sacramento area all week. What a welcome to my first organized run. Yeah I know it was only a half marathon, but for me this was an impossible feat being made possible, especially with all my knee troubles. The race course was changed multiple times due to some flooding from the river and before the race it was miserable with angle rain and winds. 8am sharp my wave started and there I was with my Donald Duck race shirt to honor my dad so he’d be with me the whole race. I had a temporary semi colon (;) tattoo to match my wife, on our left wrists to honor anyone with or affected by mental illness, addiction, self injury or suicide. Composure was hard to keep while making my way over the tower bridge, nearly breaking down in tears multiple times. So I would look down at the semi colon to remember to pause, take a breath and continue on. I had a goal of breaking 2 hours but time wasn’t important. My main goal was to run the entire distance. I was cruising up to mile 7 when I saw my family cheering me on which gave me some extra juice. I weaved my way back for the 2nd half of the course and saw my sister in law and coworkers running and the streets filled with cheering fans. James Bay’s “Let it go” was on repeat in my head, despite how many times I tried to pick a new song all I heard was ‘come on let it go, just let it be, why don’t you be you . . . ‘ I don’t even know what the song is about, but was it a sign that it was time to finally let the past year go? Or maybe it was just a really catchy chorus. I continued to run and thought to myself “I could do this again, maybe I’ll run the Shamrock’n every year”. That all changed after hitting mile 11. I started to think “what the hell are you doing? You are never doing this again! Just walk the rest”. The last 2 miles were part of the changed course and were uphill against the wind with rain. Pretty messed up if you ask me. I struggled and wanted to walk so bad, and I nearly walked a few times up until the last mile, but somehow something kept me going. At about 2 hours and 5 min I crossed the finish line with the mc calling my name overhead as I finished. My daughters and wife found me through all the people, with rain and wind. Then my mom, aunt and brother followed. Tears of joy came when seeing my family as I was bent down trying to rehydrate. This was ~4 months of training that not only involved me, but them as well and I was grateful for them giving me the opportunity. Tears of sadness followed because I missed my dad, and I knew how proud he would have been. I would have given anything for a hug and a “Timbo!”out of his mouth.
It was a day to honor my dad, 1 year to the day of his death, and a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I was able to run a half marathon without stopping. I still don’t consider myself a runner, I was just running for my dad. But I have a new respect for it and its healing powers for anxiety and its meditative ways. Over the months of training I never got that so-called ‘runners high’, but I did get to a point where my body was moving and my brain was focused on something else, almost disassociated, which was pretty cool. Training for 4-5 months put my body in the best shape I’ve been in since high school. Better yet, the training put my mental conditioning in the best shape its ever been and really tested my limits. Without that mental training it would have been very difficult to run the whole race without walking. This journey has taught me to always try and have perspective, no matter how difficult it may be . Also to remember a semicolon is a place in a sentence where the author has the decision to stop with a period, but chooses not to. A semicolon is a reminder to pause and then keep going. Push yourself and try something new, life is to short to stay in that box. I’m reminded of a quote from my favorite movie of all time, ‘Rudy’, “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.” So dream big!
This piece originally written for timmy5blog
The year 1998 started with the discovery that my dear Dad was struggling through an intense season of despair and depression. Summer arrived, we joyfully celebrated at my youngest brother’s wedding, and Dad seemed to be pulling out of the worst of it. Then one day he fainted and hurt his head in the fall. After a trip to the emergency room, the doctors delivered the bad news that his liver was failing. They were uncertain of the cause, but suspected it was some sort of reaction to one of his medications. Immediately, they took him off not only his cholesterol medication, but his antidepressant as well. We learned that he needed a liver transplant, and he was sent home to wait. It was very traumatic for him, and the depression returned with a vengeance. He struggled with coming to terms with this huge medical battle he was facing. Fears about being a financial burden and no longer being productive overwhelmed him. It seemed to threaten his identity of being the provider, the one who took care of everyone else. He hid most of these thoughts from us. We were unaware of the depths of this struggle for him.
I will never forget the panicky phone call from my brother that Sunday afternoon, a few weeks later, telling us of Dad’s suicide attempt. We quickly drove back home to be with him, trying to sort through feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. When we arrived, the mood was grim and doctors held out very little hope. We felt as if we had stepped into a dark, surreal, nightmarish world. Ultimately, there was little the doctors could do and on a Wednesday in late July, he died.
Thus began my journey through darkness and confusion, trying to understand that which is not understandable. I experienced the range of sad, scared, and angry emotions shared by the survivors of a loved one’s suicide—with conflicting feelings of guilt & anxiety thrown in as well. Questions loomed large. Why didn’t we see this coming? Why didn’t the doctors warn us about this possibility? Would my mom and my brothers be ok? Would my three young children who lost their beloved granddaddy be ok? Would I be ok? How come he couldn’t see how much this would hurt us, the ones who loved him? And, I questioned where God was in it all…how come He didn’t stop him?
I don’t have answers to these questions. And this side of heaven, I don’t think I ever will. But I’ve come to believe that perhaps God gives something more valuable than answers. Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” The pain and suffering surrounding Dad’s death led me to a deeper, more intimate place with the Lord. He offered Himself and His presence to me in ways I had not experienced before.
One of these ‘treasures of darkness’ was opening the door to creativity. I had always loved art but in the busyness of my life, I didn’t do much with it. It was during this desperate season of grief that I signed up for an art class through a city program. Once a week I would drive across town to my painting class and pour myself into the project for the day. Time, which seemed to move so slowly in my grieving, would pass without any awareness. I could lose myself in making something. Over time, I realized that this act of creating was actually bringing healing to my broken heart. I have come to believe that creativity is one of God’s most powerful gifts to us.
Creativity offers a less threatening way to access our hurting souls. Our thoughts and feelings become clearer to us as we do something creative, which leads to healing and wholeness. It brings hope to our broken places and reminds us that life is indeed good and will continue. And although I will never be the same person I once was, I’ve experienced that healing and new life comes in time. God has graciously provided “treasures of darkness,” riches rising from a very dark season, to usher in hope and joy and to remind me that I am deeply loved.
My mom’s funeral had over five-hundred people in attendance. She was a high-school English teacher and well-loved and adored by her two hundred students. She was the leader of my Girl Scouts Troop, and the snack mom of my soccer team. She had countless friends and colleagues that enjoyed her humor and her ability to bring a room together. She was the glue in our family, organizing events and maintaining traditions. Her influence was significant in the lives of others. When she died by suicide our community was rocked. Her suicide impacted more than six.
My cousin made every holiday gathering such a delight. He was hilarious and we played pranks on each other like we were children. I would often find baby carrots at the bottom of my soda and upon discovering them glance over at my cousin to see him uncontrollably laughing. He was a joy to be with and loved by all. He served in the military and was deployed to Iraq. Shortly after his return, at the age of thirty, my cousin took his own life. Our family was devastated again, his friends were in shock, and his Army buddies grieved their brother. His suicide impacted more than six.
Statistics typically estimate each suicide ‘intimately’ or ‘directly’ affects six people*. Six people?!? When we account for family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, church congregations, participation in community organizations, and military involvement, the impact of a single suicide can be catastrophic. Suicide always directly impacts more than six.
There are organizations in place to help reduce suicide. Prevention phone lines and text lines are available 24/7 to assist people thinking about taking their own life. There are hospitals that exist to keep individuals struggling with mental illness alive when their depression tells them death would be best. We designate our money, time, and efforts into keeping people alive. And we should! Once a suicide takes place, however, the resources are minimal at best. There are, on average, 117 suicides in the U.S. every single day.* Only in the past five years have more realistic numbers become available to account for survivors. In his article Estimating the Population of Survivors of Suicide: Seeking an Evidence Base, Alan Berman estimates that although it is difficult to determine the exact number of survivors directly impacted by each suicide, the average could be as high as thirty-two, not six. If we use this more realistic number, then we have approximately 3,744 people becoming survivors of suicide loss every single day in the United States. At the end of one year, in the U.S alone, the number of survivors would exceed one million people. And for some reason, those one million people feel completely alone, isolated, and believe they have no one that understands them. How is that possible?
I want to change this for survivors. Today, when those 3,744 unsuspecting individuals become survivors, I want them to know what is in place, where they can turn, and who they can talk with. I want them to know they are not alone because millions of people worldwide know this same loss. To say that only six people are directly affected by a suicide is to minimize the impact on a survivor and glance over the devastation it causes. In his book Deaths of Man, E. Schneidman wrote, “The largest public health problem is neither the prevention of suicide nor the management of suicide attempts but the alleviation of the effects of stress in the survivors whose lives are forever altered.”
Suicide postvention is the best prevention and because of that, we must reach out and do all we can to connect survivors to resources, reduce the stigma, and talk about suicide openly. We must take care of those impacted by the suicide of a loved one. After my mom’s death, it took me thirteen years before meeting another person affected by suicide, but statistically that cannot be accurate. I believe it took me thirteen years because A) nobody wants to talk about suicide, B) nobody knows how to respond to survivors within society, and C) the stigma around suicide is far too great and creates such an uncomfortable setting that we would all just rather ignore suicide completely. If we refuse to openly discuss suicide though, we only reinforce the stigma!
After a suicide, our feelings are ever-changing. Some days we are filled with grief, shock, trauma, pain, and millions of unanswered questions while other days the loneliness, betrayal, isolation, anger, and despair are too much for a survivor to process. And, in the midst of all this pain, to feel alone and believe that nobody understands us is sometimes just too much as we contemplate our own suicide.
When we pretend something only impacts six people directly, it is easy to overlook the need for resources to be made available. When we look at numbers honestly though, we see a sincere shortage of assistance and available programs. We cannot magically make new resources become available overnight, but we can point folks in the direction of existing resources. Sometimes, programs exist in our own backyard and we are unaware of them because such little dialogue is taking place.
There are some fantastic resources currently in place:
The Gift of Second– Offering hope, encouragement, and connection through blogs and videos for anyone impacted by a loved one’s suicide.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention– contains resources for survivors as well as a search option for in-person groups in your area.
Our Side of Suicide– offers blogs written by survivors for survivors.
Friends for Survival– offers in-person support groups in California and a national newsletter sent out monthly.
Heartbeat Grief Support– One of the national pioneers of in-person support groups. Located in AZ, CO, HI, IN, LA, KS, MN, WI, WV, WY and internationally as well.
American Association of Suicidology– offers online support as well as an annual national conference for survivors.
In honor of the 112,320 people that will become a survivor in the month of April alone, I want to challenge you to share this piece 112,320 times. Share it with someone you know that has been impacted by suicide so survivors are made aware of resources. Then, if you know of other resources that are currently available for survivors, comment below or head over to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and use #morethansix to share those resources with other survivors and to start the discussion for postvention care being just as important as prevention. It’s a long time overdue and yet invaluable to this demographic.
Regardless if the suicide took place forty years ago or just last night, the grief lasts a lifetime. Most people not impacted by a suicide will never fully understand this. Let’s make sure anyone affected by a suicide knows there are people that understand. Let’s let survivors of suicide loss know we see them, we haven’t forgotten them, we know their pain, and we are here for them. Let’s start talking.
Mostly, I just want other survivors to know they are not alone and to never have anyone go thirteen years again without finding someone that understands.
*Statistics pulled from Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
The following post is a chapter in an upcoming book I have been writing. This information is the result of countless interviews, surveys, and conversations with other survivors. This is not the finished product by any stretch, but I would like your input as a fellow survivor. Would you please read it and respond to me at email@example.com to share what you like, what you hate, what you would add, etc. The book is intended for anyone impacted by suicide and this chapter simply serves to normalize what you may be feeling and experiencing when we, otherwise, feel all alone. Your insight and constructive criticism will help make this book the best it can be and help other survivors in their journey as well. Thank you in advance!
Suicide is devastating for those left behind regardless of their relation to the one who died. The guilt, shock, and grief are universal and even overwhelming at times. After talking with and interviewing countless survivors for The Gift of Second though, I began to notice some common beliefs, emotions, feelings, and experiences within specific loss groups. I created subgroups (parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends) and then began surveying folks in order to get a better understanding for the commonalities within these subgroups. I share this research with you now in hopes of normalizing your own feelings and also allow for you to hear from fellow survivors who have expressed similar experiences.
Of course all the information shared below is not absolute, but these are the most common responses received and hopefully you will be able to find common ground with others and recognize again that you are not alone.
Losing a child:
The resounding emotion for parents who have lost a child is the intense and profound feeling of guilt. Parents expressed this sentiment more than all other survivors in all of the other subgroups combined. Parents articulated time and time again feeling guilt as it pertains to not being able to save their own child. Approximately 95% of parents interviewed and surveyed explained they feel guilt for not seeing their child’s pain and the impending suicide, not being able to save their child, and for not doing more to get them the help they needed. Several parents interviewed also expressed a level of second-guessing themselves in the way they parented. “Was I too hard on him?” “Where did I fail as a parent that my own child could not come talk to me about how he/she was feeling?” “Did I not convey how much I loved them?”
Most parents also shared the common fear for the safety of the remaining living children. “Will they also kill themselves?” is a common question for which parents find themselves ruminating. The fear of a repeat suicide within the home caused parents a tremendous amount of anxiety and pain. Some parents; however, used this fear to become more protective of their children and also more involved in their lives. They became more proactive in talking with their children as they were, this time, more in tune with the symptoms of depression and the benefits of open dialogue.
I asked each survivor if they had wisdom or advice to share with other survivors within their specific subgroup and the following is for parents who have lost a child.
“You are not alone. You did nothing wrong. It is not your fault. It is horrible. It sucks. There are days you don’t know how you will live on, but you do. You have to. Take your experience and use it to educate and raise awareness. One day at a time. It’s okay to not be okay.”
“Keep moving forward, keep talking about it. Don’t let the way they died be a secret. Keep your face toward hope. If we keep talking about it openly we can help save others.”
“This is the hardest thing you will ever deal with in your life. Nothing hurts and breaks you like losing a child, especially to suicide. Don’t let anyone tell you when to do things or tell you how you should feel.”
“Grief counseling is very important. You never get over it; you work your way through it. It helps to talk with others who have suffered a similar bereavement as others (who have not) don’t understand how we feel.”
Losing a parent:
This subgroup had several common themes dependent on the age of the child at the time of their parent’s suicide. All participants in this study were adults at the time of this interview, but the age of the individual at the time of their parent’s suicide varies greatly. Small children, for example, expressed an intense development of anxiety and fear. They conveyed that after their parent died they constantly feared the other parent would also die, leaving them to become an orphan. Several expressed a continuing struggle with anxiety in adulthood as well.
A similar belief in several children, regardless of age at the time of their parent’s death, is the feeling of not being valued enough by their parent to want to stay alive. Several children expressed not feeling loveable, worthy, valuable, or enough in the eyes of their parents. Almost all of the participants expressed the suicide impacting their ability to trust others, explaining, “if my own parent could abandon me like this, how can I ever trust others to stick around for me?” These doubts of self-worth and the inability to trust others have continued throughout life.
Children also expressed intense levels of anger toward their parent for leaving and abandoning them. Some children, who were adults themselves at the time of their parent’s suicide, expressed great sadness for their parent missing out on major milestones in the child’s life such as getting married, having kids (the first would-be grandchildren), and job placements.
Some wisdom from others who have lost a parent to suicide:
“The pain does eventually become less intense. I would encourage you to seek out a support group for survivors of suicide loss. Connecting with others who “get it” can be just the help you need.”
“Write them a letter or do some journaling and tell them that you love them and in time you will forgive them for leaving you.”
“Your parent’s choice to take their own life speaks nothing to your value or worth. It merely speaks to their own mental state.”
“Let yourself be angry and not okay. Let yourself feel all of it. Focus on all the good memories but also accept the bad ones, too. Work on it. It’s going to be a long journey but don’t do it alone. The worst thing you could do is not talk about it.”
Losing a Spouse:
Many spouses expressed intense grief at the loss of their future together with their spouse. Several survivors conveyed a deep sadness and could remember feeling an overwhelming desire of wanting to join their spouse in death in the aftermath of the suicide because the grief was simply too much. Each survivor expressed feeling lonely. One woman shared, “It’s a couple’s world. I never noticed it before. It’s really lonely to all of a sudden be single.”
This subgroup explained the unique struggle of trying to help their children through their grief while grieving themselves and not wanting to show too much pain and emotion for fear of scaring their children. These parents also explained that one of the only things that got them through the pain and devastation initially was the responsibility of continuing to care for children in their home.
Anger was a common theme within this subgroup, but the cause of anger varied. Some were angry with their spouse for leaving them to raise children alone and angry their spouse caused so much pain to their offspring. Many were angry about the financial burden they now carried alone. One sentiment that was repeated endlessly was anger about both being single again and anger toward friends and family for trying to set the survivor up on dates because “it was time to start dating again.” One survivor remembered feeling, “I don’t want to go on a date with another person, all I want is my husband back!”
Many spouses expressed feeling betrayed because they had no idea the depth of pain their spouse was experiencing or they discovered a ‘hidden life’ their spouse was living (such as an addiction or debt) that the survivor can never get answers to, causing the survivor to question how much of their relationship was real.
Some wisdom from other spouses:
“You’re going to be okay. It doesn’t feel like it right now but you are going to be okay.”
“I have been angry at what my wife did to me and our children. I have found that talking with other survivors of suicide loss has been the most helpful.”
“Our loved ones were thinking with a broken brain that was more powerful than their heart, which was still full of love for us.”
Losing a Sibling:
Many of those who have lost a sibling explained they feel looked over and minimalized. They conveyed that their parents received a lot of emotional support as did the spouse and children of the sibling, but the surviving sibling received minimal attention and care. Many expressed feeling as if friends and even family members discounted their loss.
Guilt is a recurring theme within this subgroup as well. Several siblings conveyed being best friends with their sibling and feeling guilty for not doing more to help them or even recognizing the amount of pain they were experiencing. One sibling expressed guilt for not helping her brother more and instead “waited on the sidelines for something to change.” Overwhelming anxiety is commonly shared within this subgroup as well, “I suddenly feel like life is fragile and anyone could die at any moment.” Anger and grief were expressed as well with one person sharing, “I feel grief for happy childhood memories that are now tainted.”
Many siblings expressed the suicide strengthening the relationships with their parents and being able to talk openly with them about their sibling while others conveyed the overwhelming stress and responsibility of having to now care for the grieving parents that seem unable to move forward. One survivor wrote, “I’m now an only child and provide the emotional support to my grieving parents who can’t seek external support on their own.”
Some, not all, siblings have felt the pressure, whether consciously or sub-consciously and whether expected or not, to fill in the gap from their now absent sibling; whether it be personality traits like humor and interests or being readily available to other family members. One sibling expressed, “I feel the pressure to be smarter, healthier, and funnier. I’m always trying to be like my brother to keep my dad happy.”
Some wisdom from other siblings:
“Don’t let your sibling’s life choice affect you to the point where you can’t live your own life.”
“I am not sure there is a right set of words. I would hug them, tell them I understand and let them cry or talk or be quiet or whatever they need to do. I would just be with them.”
“No two people grieve the same way. Your relationship with that person was your own and therefore your grieving might be different than others.”
“Don’t blame yourself and be kind to yourself.”
Losing A Friend:
The overwhelming feelings for friends are feeling alone, isolated, and discounted! Several friends expressed feeling left out and forced to grieve alone because they were not family. One friend shared she wanted to be more involved in planning her best friend’s memorial service as a way to honor her but the family refused to allow her to help. Some friends explained the difficulty in not being known by the surviving family because they lived in separate cities or states but had been extremely close to the one that died. As a result, the family, despite her close relationship to the friend, treated the surviving friend as a stranger. Others explained if there were not mutual friends to grieve with, the surviving friend is isolated in their own pain.
Guilt, again, is a common feeling within this subgroup as these friends shared everything with one another and to not know the enormity of depression and agony their friend felt is overwhelming. Frustration that their friend did not speak of their pain is common. Some expressed anger and confusion as they had made plans with their friend in the coming days and then their friend killed themselves without any clue. Some conveyed sadness that the one who died left a note to the family only and without any mention of the friend.
One survivor expressed not feeling like he fit in at a grief group he attended because he was ‘just’ a friend and felt the family members in the group discounted his grief as minimal because he did not lose a family member.
The themes for this subgroup were alone and lonely. These were mentioned time and time again.
Some wisdom from friends:
“Be gracious with yourself and take care of yourself. Don’t expect things to make sense. Don’t expect forgiveness to come easily. Don’t expect to have it all figured out. It doesn’t make sense. It may take a really long time but be kind to yourself.”
“Don’t let their death shake your love for them. It’s okay to be mad and hurt but when those feeling are gone you will realize that you still love them and miss them.”
“Attend a bereavement group specific to friends such Friends in Grief”
The responses from these subgroups clearly illustrated the fact that each person’s relationship with the one who died is unique in the same way the impact of each loss is equally as unique. Carl Jung once said, “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” I think the same can be true for grieving and yet there is something freeing and valuable in knowing others who have suffered the same type of loss fully understand the depth of pain. In these subgroups we realize we are really never alone.
It’s been almost eleven years since my 15 y/o son, Jonathan, suddenly stopped his own life. I have learned things and grown stronger yet grieve as heavily as I did on the day it occurred. The only difference is that I can now embrace the grief in a way that gives me comfort. One of the first things I learned, however, is that no one, whether a fellow survivor or not, should offer specific advice about how one should feel or act. I was truly fortunate to have understanding friends, family, and coworkers.
Instead, let me relate some of the specifics of the journey that my family and I have been on and if it strikes a chord, take what you will from it.
Within hours of his passing, my wife and I agreed to not dwell on “why”. We did not see it coming and we could only speculate. The only true answer can never be accessed which is as frustrating as it is sad. For us, it has kept us relatively free from feelings of “what if”, “what was he thinking”, and unfounded guilt.
My son had 3 brothers; one he was not getting along with; one he adored and protected (he is autistic), and one who was his best friend. We recognized early that they were all grieving differently but just as intensely as my wife and I. Difficult as it was to step away from our own grief, we had to allow our other children to have availability to us. Ultimately, helping them, and others, became it’s own best reward. Listening and sharing with other survivors was cathartic and strangely comforting. We joined a support group and after a time discovered that we no longer depended on each other because we had managed our grief together. I do remember our first group meeting. We all introduced ourselves and timidly offered tidbits about what had happened. No one, including myself, mentioned to the group the name of their lost loved one. By the second meeting most of us were able to say their name and, in fact, looked for opportunities to say it as often as possible. I found this kind of progress in my healing consistent over the next few months and I am forever grateful.
I had a pretty high-level supervisory position at my job and could be demanding and impatient at times. After Jonathan’s passing, I noticed significant changes in my demeanor at work. I became much more patient, understanding, and forgiving and subsequently happier. I felt a need to take people under my wing and truly mentor them, sharing both my work and personal experiences. Maybe that was the result of guilt over parental inadequacies but I am grateful for that as well. My son’s death changed me and the positive aspect of that continues to help plug the hole that will always be there.
Most of us probably thought that this would never happen to us. Like so many aspects of life, we pay little or no attention to things that don’t affect us. Now that we’ve had this experience we are much more sensitive to other tragedies and can spot quickly those who have no idea what we have gone through. We are patient and understanding with them; glad that they don’t have this experience to draw on.
Forgive my random thoughts but as you are no doubt discovering in yourselves, they come often and from the heart. Tragedy and grief are neither contests nor a race. We all make the journey through not around it. We survive, we smile again then laugh. We have additional joys and sorrows. I am sorry that you have to make the journey. Safe travels.
On July 12, 1991, as a ten-year-old little girl, I walked into my home to find my mom’s lifeless body lay on the floor. The note she wrote me before taking her own life read, ‘goodbye and good luck.’ On that hot summer day in Phoenix, I lost much more than my mom. I lost my sense of value and worth. It wasn’t until recently I regained what was taken from me twenty-five years ago!
Most people impacted by a suicide express intense feelings of guilt for not preventing their loved one’s death. ‘I should have known’ and ‘I should have saved them’ haunt survivors of suicide loss for years, even decades. I never experienced any feelings of guilt over my mom’s suicide. It was quite clear that day she was determined to end her life and I recognized I could have done nothing to prevent it as I was only a child. Instead, the pendulum swung to the other side of the guilt continuum and grabbed hold of me from day one. Shame snatched me with its tentacles vowing to never let go. If guilt says I didn’t do enough to save her, shame says I wasn’t enough for her to stay. And there I was, at ten years old, fully believing I wasn’t enough for my own mom to choose life.
There were these tapes that continued to play in my head, on repeat, with messages I could not refute. ‘I have no value or my mom would not have chosen death’ and ‘I am not worthy of being protected if my own mom intentionally planned for me to find her dead body.’ These were just a couple of the messages I believed as truth. I also owned I am worthless, I am not loveable, and I am a freak. Edwin Schneidman said, “I believe the person who commits suicide puts his psychological skeleton in the survivor’s emotional closet.’ For all that my mother was trying to escape mentally and physically, it was like she wrapped it all up in a dirty little box and handed it to me to open and sort through for decades to come.
These messages I heard were not just audio clips played here and there in my mind. They were much bigger than that! They were my truth. I believed them, I accepted them, I repeated them, and I lived them. I responded to relationships from a place of self-hate and doubt. I went through life feeling less than, insecure, and second-class. They became my mirror for which I saw myself. I was shame!
Last summer, twenty-four years after my mom’s suicide, I had a conversation with a woman that changed the trajectory of my life. Her husband had taken his life several years earlier and her adult son had articulated, “I must have no value if my own dad killed himself and didn’t want to stick around for me.” Something clicked in my head right then and there when I heard his familiar message of shame and self-hate. I knew the lie he was believing was not true and in that instant I said to myself, my mother’s suicide speaks nothing to my value or worth, it only speaks to her own mental state. Like a gift dropped down from heaven, my mirror was shattered and I saw her suicide for what it was: her decision to end her own life, not a litmus test to determine the value of mine.
I walked a little lighter in the days that followed that life-changing epiphany. I believed I could take on the world with my new found courage and strength! But then, two weeks later, I found shame sneaking into my being once again. This time the tape was a bit different but the message was the same. I am not enough. I then began to notice I was shaming myself for shaming myself. It was this pattern I had set up for decades and I had been unaware of it until that fateful conversation with a fellow suicide loss survivor.
Shame, I have learned, is cunning and deceitful. We experience shame from the depths of our being and we accept it as truth. The problem is that those lies are neither true nor healthy. Instead, they are destructive and have the ability to wreck lives. I have to wonder if my mom carried some shame as well, telling her she had no value or worth and we would all be better off without her.
I have vowed to catch myself when I notice shame trying to enter into my head and heart. I want to kick those messages to the curb with the other worthless garbage I don’t need. I learned something valuable last summer: my mom took her own life but she didn’t take mine. I have to daily choose to dismiss those lies of shame and replace them with truth. I am loveable. I know this because I am a wife and a mother and a good friend to others. I am valuable because I now walk beside others impacted by suicide and help dismiss those lies of guilt and shame they also carry.
Today, I am not always shame-free, but I am determined to work toward it for myself and vow to speak truth into my kid’s hearts and minds. They will not grow up hating themselves if I have anything to say about it! They will know they are valuable and worthy and loved! A message I wish I believed twenty-five years ago!
THE DROPPED SMILE
It’s early. I’m up by myself watching the rain come down. No sleep last night. I couldn’t stop the thoughts of what day it is. It’s a grey, dreary day; perfect for the way I feel. Today’s the 24th-anniversary date, the suicide date, the one anniversary date I absolutely hate. I can’t wait until tomorrow.
I lost my first love, my best friend, the father of my first son on this day 24 years ago. You’d think it would get easier, but on this date it never does. To top it off, he died on a Friday the 13th. I always try to avoid going back to that day but no matter how hard I try these thoughts just come crashing through. So once again I’m forced to relive the day. Everything from that day is so crystal clear, it’s like a photo has been taken with all the minute details of the day. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know how come it’s so vivid. I guess that’s what happens with shock and trauma. The weather, the feel of the spring day, what I was wearing, what my young son was wearing, what I was going to fix for dinner, everything so clear. The breath being knocked out of me, slumping to the ground when I found out, watching my darling boy play outside the window and knowing his life would be forever changed by this day. How could I tell him; my God what would I say? If only the why of why he killed himself were that clear?
I’ve come to hate most of the month of March because from the very first day of March I think of day 13. Every day leading up is filled with dread. Then it comes and the pain hits, the tears come, the “whys” and “what ifs” start. I try to block it out or change it every year. However, it doesn’t work that way. So, I’ve just learned to let it happen knowing tomorrow I’ll start living again.
I was walking downtown yesterday, deep in thought about tomorrow’s anniversary, and had a man walk past. He said, “Was that one of your smiles I saw dropped back there?” Caught off guard I just replied, “It most likely was.” The comment rubbed me the wrong way. I was kind of offended but then I thought, how was he to know why my smile wasn’t there, how my heart was aching just thinking of tomorrow? Just let it go I told myself.
My son and I are very close. We both experience March in much the same way. We lean on each other. Everyone else forgets that date as the years go by, but it’s always very real for the two of us. Today, he has his friends to get him through. I have God. I know that my smile “has been dropped” the past few days. I also know I’ll go back to my life tomorrow. It’s a happy life filled with love, family and friends. I thank God for every day of life. However, for today, I’ll allow myself to grieve in my own way, to reflect, to cry, to hurt, to let that smile be dropped.
Today’s post was written by Deborah Greene. Deborah writes about life and suicide over at Reflecting Out Loud. Check out her site for great insight and truth about life after suicide.
Noa asked me today if I felt that I was any closer to making peace with how you died? Ten months later, I answered her as honestly as I could.
I told her that I didn’t think that I will ever make peace with your suicide. How can someone make peace with something that feels so utterly wrong, violent and senseless? No, peace is too much to ask for. But, I do believe that I am learning simply to live with it. My head understands that it was an illness that took you. Depression and anxiety took hold, and caused you unimaginable pain. They distorted and diminished your sense of self, of value and of hope. And, like a cancer, they ate away at you, coursing through your blood day and night. My head has come, as best as is possible, to understand that. That is the truest answer to the question of why, and yet it is so very unsatisfying. It doesn’t rest comfortably on my tongue, it doesn’t offer me any solace. But it is the only truth that I know for certain.
But my heart has yet to let go of the unanswerable questions. I am haunted by the why of it all. The what if’s find their way in as well, and the wonder at what we missed, and what we might have done, if only we’d known. But in the immediate days, weeks and months after you died, those questions reverberated daily, seemingly set on the highest volume. Daily they intruded upon my world, rocking the shaky foundation beneath my feet. They woke me up at night, they kept me from falling asleep, they played like a broken record of a song I didn’t want to hear, but couldn’t turn off.
Today, those questions still linger, but they are softer, less palpable day in and day out. They whisper to me quietly. Sometimes they come at the most predictable of moments, and other times they sneak up on me, when least expected. But I have learned to answer them with the only other thing I know to be true; I do not know. I will never know; the final catalyst, the last straw, the reason that you turned to death, when so much love still surrounded you. I will never know how it became so dark and why you didn’t ask for help. I do not know. It is the only answer to the unimaginable, unfathomable question of heart, is how I answer my when what my head believes simply offers no comfort.
Why was once a question full of wonder. The favorite word of young children learning to understand the world around them. Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why do cows moo? Why do dogs bark? They asked, and we answered with what we knew. And when we had no answer, we simply answered with because. Sometimes that satisfied them, and sometimes it didn’t.
And so here I stand, ten months later. I am the child still trying to comprehend the act of a parent. The truest answer to the question, thebecause, is that you had an illness. That is the answer my head knows, and it is the answer that leaves my heart and my soul unsoothed, unsatisfied and eternally uncomfortable. But it is all that I will ever know. The only answer that I will ever have. And all I can truly ask of myself now is to continue to learn to live with that. What my head knows to be true and the answers my heart still seeks now must find a way to live within me, to coexist. And I must continue finding ways to live with them.
Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question. (Tennessee Williams)
This post was first written for Reflecting Out Loud and was shared with The Gift of Second with permission by Deborah.
I had never been a journal writer before they handed out journals to us at our Survivors of Suicide meeting. The idea of my silly thoughts and words being recorded for someone or myself to pick up years later and judge made me hesitant to journal.
Our group leader shared how journaling had been her lifeline during the grief of losing her son to suicide.
I took it home and I wrote.
You can use your journal a couple different ways. One way is “yuck” journaling. Basically, you write all the yucky feeling and thoughts that are swirling around your brain. You get them out. You put them down on paper. It is a safe place to get out the anger, resentment, bitterness, or guilt you might be feeling. Once you’ve voiced those yucky thoughts, you can attempt moving on from them. Having those yucky thoughts down on paper allows you to look at them objectively. You can decide whether or not those thoughts are true or not, whether the feelings are worth hanging onto or letting go.
Another way you can use your journal is letter writing. When you have lost your loved one to suicide, there isn’t a chance to say goodbye. In journaling letters to your lost loved one, you have a chance to tell him or her what you are thinking and feeling. You can have a conversation, at least, a one-sided one. You can be gentle, imagining that your loved one is actually reading it. You can be harsh, knowing that you can say anything since your loved one will never actually read it. You can do both if you’d like. Write one draft that combines “yuck” journaling and letter writing, and then you can write another letter that is more compassionate.
The funny thing about journaling is that I was afraid of looking at those thoughts, the words and feelings I put down on paper until it wasn’t a possibility.
It has been 5 years since I lost my brother to suicide. I journaled and wrote him letters in that journal that I had been given in the meeting. I “yuck” journaled. A few weeks ago I looked for that journal, and I couldn’t find it. My journal was lost, probably in our last move. I was hopeful that I could look at my journaling and see that I had come a long way in healing from that loss, but I couldn’t find my journal. I mourned the loss of my journal, which brought up those feelings of loss of my brother.
Even if I never find my journal, I’m so glad that I was given the tool of journaling as a way to navigate my grief. It was freeing to write down my thoughts and feelings, good and bad. Try it. I think it could be freeing and helpful for you too.
Today, Victoria Banks shares a song with us she wrote and performs on her latest album, Indigo. Here is what she had to say about ‘Get on the Train’:
“Get on the Train’ was the first song I wrote after my mom took her own life. She lost a battle with mental illness a week before my first tour started. When I got home from my tour, I had no clue how to write another song, or how to express what I was feeling, in a way that wouldn’t just be depressing and sad…and who would want to listen to that?! One morning, I woke up to find this title singing over and over in my head, but I didn’t know what it meant. I shared it with my cowriter (Tia Sillers, the writer behind ‘I Hope You Dance’). She said, “I know exactly what that means. It means sometimes you just wanna lay on the tracks and give up, but you can’t. You’ve gotta get back up and get on the train. And that’s exactly what you’re doing right now.”
Photo courtesy of Victoria Banks
Also, here is a fantastic VIDEO by Victoria that shares a little bit more about herself, her mom’s suicide, and life as an artist.
Victoria Banks is a staff songwriter for a publishing company in Nashville, where she was labeled “one of the best songwriters in the business” by Music Row Magazine. She has penned ASCAP, SOCAN and Covenant-award-winning hit songs for Sara Evans, Jessica Simpson, Terri Clark and more. Victoria was named Female Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association on the strength of her 3 self-produced albums. You can sample all of Victoria’s music on her website and check out her tour schedule as well.
How to Hurt a Suicide Survivor – by Victoria Banks
Five years ago, my Mom took her own life. She did it after six months of sudden-onset, undiagnosed mental illness at age 68: manic highs and depressed lows that forced our family to commit her involuntarily to psychiatric hospitals over and over again. Since her death, I have learned how to live with the reality of being a suicide survivor, and how to heal over the gaping wound in my spirit. But sometimes – especially when a high profile suicide happens and a public dialogue is opened up – I find that wound opening again. I guess it’s because much of the language society uses to try and prevent people from committing suicide is extremely painful to those of us who have lost someone to it, and it’s very difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of loss first-hand to put themselves in the place of someone who has.
Photo Courtesy of Victoria Banks
These are some of the things that are most hurtful for a suicide survivor to hear:
1) Suicide is weak and cowardly. There is nothing more painful in the wake of having lost someone you love than to hear someone insult their character. Not only does this lack compassion, it’s ignorant. My mother was NOT a coward. She was one of the strongest women I know, and she fought like hell to protect the people she loved. In the end, she lost her battle with mental illness, like a gladiator losing a fight with the lions. She was beaten by it…but she was not a coward.
2) Suicide is a choice. I don’t pretend to understand what drives people to commit suicide. But I do know that my mother spent about 60 years of her life putting everyone else’s needs in front of her own. She was compassionate, nurturing, funny, and kind. She was the person my friends went to for advice or confided in when they were suffering in a way that nobody else would understand. My mother would NEVER hurt me. She would NEVER hurt the people she loved. Not if it was a choice. And yet, her suicide hurt me more than anything else in my entire life. So IF suicide is a choice, it is one that’s made in a place of such delusion, such desperation, and darkness that you can’t think straight. Is that still a choice? I guess so. But maybe we need a different word for it.
3) Suicide leads to damnation. This is a lovely little stumbling block for the suicide survivor to try and navigate. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I have to admit that I spent my share of tears on this one. Let me just say that if there is one person in my life who deserved salvation or heaven or eternal peace, it was my Mom. I would have said that about her before she died, and I believe it even more now. So if someone tries to claim that suicide is an unforgivable, go-directly-to-hell act, I don’t buy it. Not for a minute. Where’s the compassion in that? Where’s the understanding? And I just can’t bring myself to believe in a God that isn’t compassionate and understanding.
4) Here’s another thing you can do…Here’s something else you can do to hurt a suicide survivor: let the way their loved one died overshadow the way they lived. Let the darkness steal the joy that person brought to the people around them. Let their suicide outweigh everything good in their memory. I’m not saying there isn’t a time to discuss it…as painful as it is, the dialogue is terribly important, and it’s natural to grieve. But we have to let it go. Eventually, we’ll need to think about that person and laugh with pure joy again. We’ll need to laugh, so we don’t let their death matter more than how they lived. I still struggle with this. I find myself looking at pictures of Mom holding me in her arms as a child – pictures that should make me happy – and sometimes I cry thinking about the kind of end her life was headed towards. But here’s the thing: we ALL die. For some of us, it’s a cancer cell that multiplies in our body. For some, it’s a heart attack. For some, it’s turning our car onto a specific street at a specific moment. For some, it will happen in old age; for others, it will seem to happen before our time. We are ALL ticking clocks. That’s just life!
So how do we deal with that? We laugh. We love. We live. We shine our light out into the darkness for as long as we can, as brightly as we can. And we celebrate the light in others, every chance we get. Even after they’re gone.
Victoria Banks is a staff songwriter for a publishing company in Nashville, where she was labeled “One of the best songwriters in the business” by Music Row Magazine. She has penned ASCAP, SOCAN and Covenant-award-winning hit songs for Sara Evans, Jessica Simpson, Terri Clark and more. Victoria was named Female Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association on the strength of her 3 self-produced albums. Check out her Website to sample her music and see the upcoming tour dates!
Almost two years ago Kay Warren, wife of well known Mega-Church pastor Rick Warren, wrote this piece on her Facebook Page as she approached the one-year anniversary of her son’s suicide. This is such a fantastic piece and one that is well worth the read. Check out her words below:
As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.
Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least, you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children.
Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”
None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.
Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB).The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.”
My father committed suicide in 2001. I was 30 years old and had just gotten married. My brother committed suicide in 2010. He left behind 3 children under the age of 11.
What is it like to go through such a devastating tragedy? Those of us that have been through the suicide of a loved one know. We are an exclusive group. wink…wink…
It’s incomprehensible. It’s beyond one of the worst things imaginable. It can be such an extreme trauma. The world stops turning for you, while everything is going on around you.
It changes your life forever.
This is how I would describe the days and years after my father’s suicide. The world, my world, stopped turning. All there was – was excruciating pain. Pain, anger, extreme grief, questions of why, guilt thinking I should have done this or that. There are no answers, or there may be some, but the pain didn’t go away.
No one explained the grief process to me. I did stumble upon that on the internet (the stages of grief). Being familiar with that is helpful, so you know you’re not going crazy, but that you are human. Thus, be kind to yourself.
Everyone grieves differently. Do what you need to do for yourself and other survivors. Be patient, kind and understanding to others affected as they grieve in their own way. Some people need to be alone for a while. Some need to reach out and talk to others. We go through the grief process in our own time. There is no explicit timetable. Know you are not alone. This has happened to other people. Do what you need to do for yourself. However, do not isolate yourself from people too much. If you want to reach out, look for support groups in your area. Look for resources on the internet. Go to a counselor if you want. However, find one that has had experience with suicide or survivors of suicide. Not all counselors have experience in that area and thus can’t provide the level of support you may need. Looking back, I think it would have been helpful for me if I had been able to talk to other survivors that were further along in the grief process. Just to talk to someone that had really been there and knew exactly what I was going through, a lifeline. The counselor I went to was not experienced in suicide and did not know what to say to me. She just looked at me dumbfounded. She would listen to me, but not provide any advice, just schedule the next appointment. The support group I went to had recent survivors, and telling “your story” is ok and can be helpful, but the advice may or may not be there. Thus, I think a counselor experienced with suicide or talking to other survivors of suicide further along in their grief process would be the best options for support.
I went between excruciating pain and numbness in my body, to anger and back and forth again many times. You have to take it one day at a time. Sometimes one minute at a time. I won’t give you the cliché that you will hear a lot, “things will get better”. You don’t think the pain will ever go away.
The reality is your life will never be the same again.
However, the pain will lessen month by month, year by year. Even though, your loved one and thoughts of your loved one will always be in your heart. Some days will be better than others in the beginning days, weeks, and months that go by. For me it moved into a hurt and sadness that comes up every once in a while and I still miss them both! Now, I am working on remembering the happy moments and memories, when thoughts of my loved ones come up, instead of the sadness. With my beliefs, I like to think they are my angels now watching over me and most importantly – they are not hurting anymore.
Write in a journal, seek help, let yourself cry. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself comfort. I put one foot out of bed and then the other. I went through the motions in life, felt like a zombie at times. The birthdays, holidays, certain days were all painful. But year by year that gets better. I will always miss my dad and brother though. Sometimes it’s a struggle.
I have realized that my perspective about life has changed completely. I know that I am a much stronger person and can now handle a lot more than most people. I see people freak out or worry about, what I now see, as small minor things in life. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. I have learned that your own mindset is everything, your self-talk is huge. Pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself because this really does impact your own life experience.
Thus, I figure, if I have been through everything that I have been through in the almost 15 years now, I can most certainly handle anything that life now dishes out at me. I now live by the saying “live life to the fullest”. I am living my life for my dad and brother and want to experience all the good things that life can offer, that they didn’t see or couldn’t experience.
Today we have the wonderful opportunity to hear from LaRita Archibald. LaRita is the author of “Finding Peace Without All the Pieces” and the founder of Heartbeat-Grief Support Following Suicide. Her words are profound and her message is powerful. LaRita is a pioneer in helping those impacted by suicide and it is a gift to read her writing. Enjoy!
A Suicide Survivor’s Beatitudes by LaRita Archibald
BLESSED are those who recognize our grief is compounded; that we grieve the death of a beloved person but foremost, we grieve the cause of the death…suicide.
BLESSED are those who give us permission to mourn the loss of one dearly loved, free of judgment, censure and shame.
BLESSED are spiritual guides who relieve our concerns for the repose of our loved one’s soul with the truth that God is All-Knowing, All-Loving and All-Forgiving.
BLESSED are those who don’t offer the meaningless cliché, “Time Heals”, because, for a long while, the passing of time holds no meaning or value for us.
BLESSED are those who don’t say, “I know just how you feel”, but instead say, “I am here for you. I will not tire of your tears or your words of sorrow and regret.”
BLESSED are those who have the patience and love to listen to our repetitive obsession with WHY? without offering useless answers or explanations.
BLESSED are those who reaffirm the worth of our deceased beloved by sharing memories of his/her goodness and times of fun, laughter and happiness.
BLESSED are the mental health care providers who explain to us that, very probably, our loved one died of a terminal illness called depression.
BLESSED are those who challenge our sense of omnipotence with the reminder that no one has enough power or control over another to cause them to end their life.
BLESSED are the first responders to our loved one’s suicide who try to relieve our sense of guilt and responsibility by assuring us “This death is not your fault”.
BLESSED are those who lend acceptance to the value of the relationship we shared with the one who died by allowing us to speak of them and ‘what might have been’.
BLESSED are those that allow and encourage us to use our loved one’s death in a manner that gives our loss and grief meaning and purpose.
BLESSED are those who do not expect us to find “closure”, “grief resolution”, “recovery” or to “be healed”, understanding that these terms define ‘grief work in progress’ that will take the rest of our life.
BLESSED are community caregivers who direct us to suicide bereavement support groups where our anguish is understood, our loss validated and where we are encouraged by the example of others who have traveled this road before us.
BLESSED are long-term survivors after suicide who role-model not only can we survive, but, in time, we can thrive…we can regain peace of mind, restored confidence, renewed productivity and a revived zest for living.
Today we have the privilege of hearing from Melissa d’Arabian. Melissa is well known for having her own show on Food Network and shares with us her journey since her mom’s suicide. You can find more about Melissa HERE.
Photo courtesy of Melissa d’Arabian
One spring evening in 1989, I called home from college with a simple request: I needed my mom’s credit card number for a GMAT prep course. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t even get my mom.
Instead, an unfamiliar male voice answered: “Hello?” He was an officer with the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department. We had a short conversation, but I still remember it vividly 25 years later. My mother had died by suicide.
Losing my mom crushed me logistically, financially, and emotionally. But losing my mom to suicide almost crushed my spirit. I was 20 when she died, and it plunged me into a decade-long crisis of faith.
My 20s were a mess. But the only way out is through, and sometimes the other side is so glorious you’re grateful for whatever got you there. That’s how I feel about that season of my life.
Here are some of the lessons that decade taught me:
Happiness is an inside job. Of course, that’s both good and bad news. Good news: I don’t need a new car to make me happy. Bad news: A new car won’t make me happier. Second, I believe I have more value than I can always see. I remind myself not to compare my insides with others’ outsides, or, as a friend puts it, my blooper reel with others’ sizzle reels.
Mostly, I emerged empathetic. My anger at my mom for leaving me morphed into imperfect understanding. For years, I’d seen her as the perpetrator, but I grew to see her as her suicide’s victim.
Those years of reflection gave me another gift. Mom was found on April 13, but she had died on April 12. The death certificate said April 12, while the police report and tombstone said April 13. So the anniversary of her death always lingered over 48 difficult hours—a black hole of loss, a sense that the world was diminished without my mom’s warm hugs, goofy wit, and wise advice.
One year, I decided to start commemorating the two-day anniversary by creating something to contribute to the world. It takes surprisingly little effort to comfort me on these days. Making brownies for a neighbor or writing an overdue note to a relative soothes my sense of imbalance.
In 2004, my husband and I were struggling to get pregnant. When I finally got the coveted two lines on the pregnancy test, I met with my doctor, and he told me what I already knew: I had become a mom sometime between April 12 and April 13.
The most important job I have today is being a mentor to my four young daughters. My children know that my mother died, but they don’t know the details; someday soon, I will have that conversation.
Being a mom doesn’t make me miss my own any less—it makes me wish she were here even more. She would have adored her many grandchildren. I live a few houses away from my sister and her five kids, so I imagine Mom might have moved here, too, and been a part of our never-ending cycle of birthday gatherings. And my Food Network career? She would have been so jazzed, probably asking weekly if I ever run into Brad Pitt. (Nope.)
Without my suicide season, I wouldn’t be the mom I am today—or the wife, the woman, the friend. Most days, I like who I see in the mirror. I am pretty sure my mom does, too.
This article originally appeared on Parade.com as Lessons of Loss: Melissa d’Arabian Reflects on What She Learned From Her Mother’s Suicide.
In Michigan the leaves are changing, bold and beautiful hues all falling to the ground. Autumn has always been my favorite season, but this particular fall day lacks beauty for me.You see, today marks the one year anniversary of my Mom’s death.
One year ago today she took her life.
Last year on October 13th I was crawling into my bed in Oklahoma (after staying up late to watch a movie) when I heard my cell phone ring. It was my brother, which confused me because with the time difference it was well after midnight in Michigan. I sucked in air and braced myself for a blow, calls after midnight rarely bring good news. My husband ran for the phone, as I was a slow 30 weeks pregnant. After he hung up the phone he gently filled me in.
Earlier that evening my mother had taken her life on the same train tracks where my sister had a brutal car accident 10 years back.
I didn’t burst into hysterics or tears, I sunk into shock as all the hope I’d so desperately held for my mother’s recovery shattered on the tile floor of our bathroom. There was no coming back from her depression, it had finally defeated her spirit. She had been so mentally and emotionally unavailable for years, and now she had faded from my life completely.
So today, a year later, I want to write about what it feels like to spend one year processing and grieving suicide. Many people tell me that they can’t imagine what it must be like to have your mother take her life.
If I could sum it all up into one word it would be this: confusing.
After 365 days of living with suicide I am still confused. I know that the body, mind and soul of a person are unbreakably connected. I know that when the mind is sick it has the power to take down the other two. That when the body is sick it can take down mind and soul down as well. However, I have seen enough optimistic cancer patients to lead me to believe that the worst place to get seriously sick, is in the mind.
My mother struggled with depression for roughly 30 years, it is a disease that eventually took her life. Some days I view her death as a struggle with terminal depression, a disease of the mind. Still other days I wonder what was inevitable because of her diagnosis and what she could have fought through, done differently.
But not a day goes by where I don’t wonder who my Mom really was underneath that thick, crust of pain and sadness. Near the end of her life she was mostly just a warm body and a blank stare, existing in a world I couldn’t seem to reach. Even now, I listen to stories and glean pieces of the person God created her to be and I struggle when faced with the woman I knew as Mom.
They tell me she used to be bright and fun loving, a warm hearted, servant minded person. She felt other people’s pain like it was her own and she was a vibrant cheerleader, the star of the school play. I miss her even though I hardly knew her at all. But mostly I am frustrated that I missed out on her, the real her. I hate that my life was spent watching her blow away like dandelion fluff,
For a long time I was angry at her, not only for her failures as my Mom, but for being locked behind a wall I couldn’t penetrate. I kept reaching for her just like my own baby son reaches for me, because you always need your mom, don’t you?
But she wasn’t there anymore, even though she was sitting across the room from me. She wasn’t the woman who read me stories and applied my band-aids, that woman was gone.
It’s utterly terrible grieving someone who is still alive.
I don’t know why some people die of physical illness, some of mental illness and some in sudden tragic accidents. I do know that one out of every one person on the earth will die and that even though my moments on earth seem endless, they are anything but.
I try to remember the good memories of my Mom, but most of them happened years ago. When she was alive, the idea of being like her terrified me, so I rejected everything about her in hopes of avoiding her fate. Now, with wisdom and time, I am confident that I can be her child and still avoid suicide. So I dig, searching for the parts of her that I can bring alive in my own life.
Things like this:
1) She would kiss my newborn daughter right on her tiny lips, I thought that was weird, but now I smooch those little lips whenever I want to, because I am mom, and I can.
2) She always left her coffee cup in the bathroom because she finished her last mug while she was doing her makeup. I do that too.
3) My mom’s favorite season was fall, mine is too. She would drive us around town just to find beautiful trees to fuss over, as a kid I didn’t get it, but I have every intention of subjecting my kids to this as well.
4) She wore the diamonds my dad gave her when he proposed, and now they belong to me. They are a symbol of all the beautiful intentions they had when they started our family, and I want to carry this into the future.
Suicide is messy and inexplicably selfish, but I doubt she had much control over it, as far gone as she was, it is painful and life shattering and a confusing legacy to leave your children. All that being said, I am my Mother’s daughter and I have every intention to fight like hell against mental illness.
So I will carry her with me as I leave an empty coffee cup in the bathroom before leaving it to live my life as bravely as I can.
Leanne is a writer, wife, mother and wavering hope ambassador who is passionate about partnering with God in the business of redemption. She lives with her husband and three kidlets in SouthWest Michigan where she writes, cooks, folds laundry and dreams of a day with a few less dishes. Find more of Leanne on her blog right here. On Facebook here, Twitter here and Instagram here.
July 14th by Roger
I had a very hard time getting to sleep last night. I kept thinking about Dan and wondering where he is and what he
thinks of how things unfolded after he left us. Could he have ever imagined how people would react to his selfish act of
suicide? I don’t think that was on his mind when he made that fateful decision. I am quite sure he staged his death as a
protest against an injustice that he could forgive. Now it is up to me to forgive Dan for his impetuous act. I am in the most
intense pain imaginable. A pall of sadness hangs over me and makes working up the energy to act on anything nearly
impossible. I try to be happier and that doesn’t work because although happiness seems to be a conscious choice, the
emotion springs from within. I feel rejected. I offered Daniel help in so many ways and he chose death rather than accepting
the proffered help. That is the way it feels. I know that Daniel wasn’t thinking of any of these things when he chose death, but
that is the way I feel. Daniel didn’t want to die, he wanted to escape his pain. Daniel never learned how to love himself and
accept his imperfections. I was never able to instill a sense of self-worth in Daniel. In the end everything comes full circle. I
can choose to wallow in my misery forever or chose to forgive. It sounds too easy. It isn’t. Rejection is not easy. DANIEL, I
FORGIVE YOU. I LOVE YOU AND ALWAYS WILL. I MISS YOU AND ALWAYS WILL. Is this goodbye? NEVER. TILL WE MEET
AGAIN, I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU DAN.
Daniel ice fishing with his family just 3 months before taking his own life.
Today, we have the honor of reading a wonderful piece by Lori Nunnink. Lori’s uncle took his own life when Lori was a small girl and she wrote this piece recently, when her grandfather turned 90 years old. She wrote to her grandfather from the perspective of her uncle John. It is a moving piece. Lori is the Executive Director of Anew Day, a counseling agency located in Northern California.
Dad, Dance like Someone is Watching
For 68 years you’ve been the guiding force in my life.
You’ve been there beside me for every success, every failure, every tear, and every smile;
And I was there alongside you…I’ve never left your side.
Remember when you made that hole-in-one?
It was actually my swing that sent the ball in the right direction.
O.K., I had a little help from you. Best shot we ever made!
Remember that time when you spent an entire week waiting for that world-record buck to come along, but it never came?
Yes, I was there too, enduring the long, cold, exhausting, but precious silent moments.
I have to admit, though, it was a rare occasion when you didn’t get your monster, worthy of bragging rights.
I really think it was my scent that always drew them in your direction!
Remember all those nights when you would lie awake, and sleep refused to come,
I helped you find that place of peace that gave you rest.
Remember that moment when the world seemed to come crashing down and the choices others made left you feeling desperate and questioning your own will to live?
I felt your pain. But you found the strength to go on. It was my hands; I helped you find that strength.
Remember when you danced with mom at your 60th wedding anniversary with your friends and family gathered around?
I watched in admiration from the far back corner of the room as you held her close, swaying to the rhythm of the music.
Remember the day mom left the comfort of your arms to be with Jesus?
His arms, and mine were waiting for her. Thank you for giving her back to me.
Even in those moments when the distance between us seems unbearable,
Nothing will ever divide the love we share.
Thank you for helping my children grow into good and honorable people.
They know how much you’ve always loved them and, even in the most difficult times, they were never far from your heart.
Thank you for being a constant source of support for my sisters and brother; that’s what family is all about.
I’m so honored to have watched the depth of your love for one another deepen each day.
You were always a source of strength for me; not only then, but now.
You taught me the meaning of hard work
You taught me the value of a dollar.
You taught me how to be successful.
You taught me how to be a good man.
You taught me not only how to be a loving father, but how to be a loving dad.
Thank you for being my hero.
I thank God for giving me a father like you.
You are a precious gift from Him.
I am blessed to be your son.
Happy 90th birthday dad.
Enjoy your party.
Enjoy your day. And…
Dance like someone is watching.
Your loving son,
Jessica Hutchison shares her story with us today of life after her dad’s suicide. Jessica is a licensed therapist in Chicago and works closely with other suicide survivors. She is the co-founder of Our Side of Suicide which is a fantastic website for those impacted by suicide. There are loads of helpful writings on her website, make sure to take a look!
Did I Really Know My Dad? Life After Suicide by Jessica Hutchison
Life after suicide leaves you feeling unsettled as you question whether you knew the person you lost. The person that died that day looks nothing like the person you knew. How could I have not known? You often know the person you lost for the duration of either their life or your own. In that amount of time, you just assume you know exactly who that person is. But the truth is, we often don’t truly know the person at all. Why is that?
A hard concept to accept is the notion that the person you loved had more to them than you knew. While we think we may know someone, we only know what they allow us to see. I remember my own father’s funeral. We put TVs in extra rooms for “overflow seating” because there wasn’t enough room to accommodate everyone in the main chapel. Again and again I heard the same comment, “Your dad was always so happy,” they would say. “He was always smiling, laughing and telling jokes.” He was the life of the party, and the person that everyone loved. It was hard not to love him. Yet, was that really who he was? I no longer believe so. I believe that was the person he wanted us to see, not his true self, the one that lied underneath the smiles, laughter and jokes. While I knew my dad for 28 years, it appears that I only knew the man he wanted me to see.
I have often compared those who die by suicide to someone who battles an addiction. An addict spends every second of his day trying to hide his addiction from those that love him the most. Those that die by suicide are a lot like that. They spend every single second trying to hide their true self. For those who are caught off guard by their loved ones’ suicide this is often the case. Who they were on the outside was so much different than who they were on the inside.
Others’ struggle with the belief that they could have done more, as they may have been given more insight into their loved ones’ true self. I am not sure if I have written about this before, but my dad did tell me that he was feeling suicidal. Actually he told me two days before he ended his life. While I myself battled with tremendous guilt I have come to acknowledge that there was little I could have done differently. Could I have admitted him to the hospital? Sure, but would that have really changed the outcome? Here is the thing about any illness; we can only do so much. If your loved one died of cancer would you be asking yourself if there was more you could have done? Maybe, but probably not. We can’t make someone get chemo, and we cannot personally cure cancer. We know that. So why expect to cure a mental illness, or make someone get help who may not want it? We aren’t all doctors, or therapists either. So to expect to personally change someone is just not realistic. Especially if you don’t even know the whole story.
Accepting that we did not truly know the person we lost is a hard. I always wonder how different my life would have been if I really did know my dad. Maybe the memories wouldn’t be the same. Maybe the tender moments would have been erased. In a strange way, I think I am kind of happy he didn’t show me everything. As not knowing everything allows me to remember the smiley, joke telling man that I knew and loved.
Today we have the wonderful opportunity to hear from LaRita Archibald. LaRita is the author of “Finding Peace Without All the Pieces” and the founder of Heartbeat-Grief Support Following Suicide. Her words are profound and her message is powerful. LaRita is a pioneer in helping those impacted by suicide and it is a gift to read her writing. Enjoy!
Reinforcement in the Aftermath of Suicide
|RESPONSIBILITY: Putting it into perspective.|
|To assume responsibility for this death, or to place responsibility upon another, robs the one who died of their personhood and invalidates the enormity of their pain and their desperate need for relief.|
|THE PROCESS DEFINED:|
I looked down at my phone when it started to ring and saw, “Daddy.” 11:21pm. My dad is not one to call me, but more than that he is not one to call me late at night. After walking through my mom’s cancer journey in early 2012 ending with her stepping into Heaven and my grandfather passing away 4 months before in 2011, I knew the second I saw his name on my screen that late summer night in 2014 that bad news was coming.
My grandmother. Suicide.
I wish I could tell you that I handled the last year with grace.
I wish I could tell you that the 7 years prior that I spent in therapy working through my own battle with depression and mental illness kicked in and out popped a strong girl standing in the strength of Jesus.
But no. I spent weeks not feeling anything and then moments feeling everything all at once. The hurt would come in waves. Mostly on the days I least saw it coming. Eventually it came to a place where I was just angry. Angry at my grandmother for making this family, specifically my dad, hurt again. Angry at God for letting my grandmother think she had whatever she thought was a “sign from heaven” that let her know she could go. If I was to be honest with you, a lot of the days I spent angry at myself. How could I not have done something? How could I let anyone I knew feel so lonely? Yes, we live 700 miles away. But there are phones. Excuses were invalid. As someone with mental health battles myself, whenever I hear of someone committing suicide there’s a piece of me that thinks I let them down. How could I sit and know their struggles and not reach out? How could I not have known?
Days turned to weeks and I was emotionally worn out. There was no funeral. There was no family trip to Louisiana like there had been when my grandfather passed. Closure never came. Nobody talked about it. When people asked everybody would just say my grandmother had passed away, but nobody would say how. I haven’t heard a family member mention it since maybe a few months after it happened.
That made healing and moving forward a very, very lonely process.
My life has held a lot of secrets. To hide in this one, though, was something else. It occurred to me maybe 6 months after she left that to not acknowledge what had happened to her, and why it happened, made me feel as if the depression and the mental illness was something to hide as well. Which is why I wasn’t talking about it with anyone. I knew if I sank back into hiding those as my own secrets, I would be right back to the dark broken place where Jesus found me years before. Right back where I knew I needed Him or I wasn’t going to win. That’s where the breakthrough came. It wasn’t instant, it didn’t happen overnight and I would say I had more angry prayers in that time than prayers of actually asking God to get me through it, to find peace, to see His love. Eventually, though, I came around and saw that Jesus had won those battles for me time and time again, and he would do it again. None of it was mine to hold onto. None of it was mine to “fix.” My grandmother was mine to miss and think about and talk about, but the battles were to be laid down at the cross where I had left them a long time ago. I just needed to stop picking them up. It was up to me to trust in Him and His plan and to find the faith that His promises are true.
Starting with, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
To be comforted by the Creator of the Universe? To be comforted by the Savior of the World? Jesus himself? Because He loves me and you THAT MUCH? To be brought closer to God through the darkest times in life? That’s where my hope stands now a year out from my grandmother meeting Jesus.
In the small moments and the day to day I think comfort looks like different things for different people. I think Jesus will lead you to those places if you let Him. He knows what His children need. I am only a year out in this walk, and to me comfort has shown itself in the places where the truths are spoken. Where people acknowledge it happened and are willing to walk with you through whatever the road to healing has on it. Where I don’t feel like I have to pretend it didn’t happen. There’s also comfort in the little things. Right now for me it’s in cool breezes and catching myself smiling again. It’s in being two weeks out from Christmas and realizing there is so, so much to be thankful for. The little things are everywhere and being present and seeing them is how I know I’ve come so far, by the grace of God. I can see through the sadness and pain and see the sweet memories that I had and still have.
It’s been a year and I don’t have all the answers. My words to you would just be don’t dwell in the past and what could have been. Allow Jesus to comfort you and show you what brings you peace on the hard days, find what makes your smile real. Also, allow yourself to be comforted. Sometimes I think we are our biggest hurdle in getting help and finding healing. Your life is not over and you are still here, and dear ones reading this, you deserve to live it.
My brother’s birthday is smack in the middle of Thanksgiving and Christmas. This makes the holidays extra tricky. I lost my little brother to suicide in 2010, and I’ve found holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries one of the hardest times of year to navigate emotionally. These “big days” can be draining, and they can bring back those feelings of anger or guilt that you thought you had dealt with.
There are two things that have been helpful for me. One is to honor my lost, loved-one in a personal way, and number two is to let go of the “big day” dread.
There are lots of ideas online for ways you can honor your loved one on a “big day.” Letting go of balloons are a popular choice. You can also give a donation to a charity in your loved one’s honor.
My suggestion is to pick something that reminds you of a good memory you had with your loved one. I also suggest that you pick something that is active, that gives you something to do.
My yearly action that honors my brother is making cupcakes. One of my favorite memories with my brother was watching comedy with him. We loved to retell jokes from funny movies and skit shows like Saturday Night Live. We both loved the digital short from SNL called LazySunday. It’s a rap song about going to the movies to watch the Chronicles of Narnia. In it, Adam Samberg raps about eating cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. When my brother Jeffrey turned 19 and was living with me for a few months, it seemed appropriate for me to make cupcakes from the recipe that Magnolia Bakery uses. Those cupcakes were good. The lyric “I told you that I’m crazy for those cupcakes cousin” honestly made sense.
We lost my brother to suicide in the summer of 2010. When his birthday came in December of that year, I decided to make those cupcakes. It has become a tradition. I’ve honored his memory by making those cupcakes every year since. Sometimes it has lined up where I can make extra of the cupcakes and take them to church to give away to kids in my Sunday school class or my Bible club class. I’ve loved it when that works out. I feel like I’ve honored him well when I can share a little joy with others, even if it’s just a little thing like a homemade buttery cupcake.
This year my brother’s birthday falls on a Friday. I have decided I’m going to take some of the cupcakes to the downtown area where homeless congregate. I want to tell them about my brother, about his drug use, and encourage them to seek help or maybe just call their big sisters.
Secondly, please don’t let yourself play the dread game. When a “big day” is approaching, I have a tendency to think “this day is going to stink” over and over again, and the dread build and boils over. Once the actual “big day” arrives, that day isn’t actually as bad as I had built it up in my head.
Just don’t let yourself play that game. When you start having dread about a holiday, birthday, or anniversary approaching, remind yourself that it isn’t going to be that bad. You can end up ruining weeks leading up to a “big day” over dread. Your life is precious. Those days are precious. Don’t waste them on dread. Do some dread-blocking. (Not to be confused with dread-locking.)
Holidays are tough, but just give yourself grace and do the best you can. Hopefully by not giving into dread and honoring your loved one with an active and personal tradition, you can get through it and find some needed peace.
What about you? Do you have a special way that you honor your lost loved one? Comment below.
(Dedicated to my Father Fred)
You will always have a place in my heart
You left me a long time ago
It still hurts to think of you
And the things of your life I don’t know
I wasn’t enough to keep you here
You made your mind up to go
It must have been so lonely for you
The hurt too much for your soul
My heavenly Father has taught me so much
But I still miss your earthly touch
Sometimes it’s hard to conceive a Father’s love
But I do receive it from above
I don’t understand my life at times
Why did you have to leave?
I wish we could have made more memories
Now all I can do is grieve
God is so good, He has blessed my life
I think you would be proud
I wish you could have been part of it
And be here with me now
We wanted to get away. My fiancée Kyle’s family was embroiled in a mess. His parents had recently separated after having divorced and remarried one time already. Kyle was a bit of a pawn between his parents which was taking its toll on his state of mind. It felt good to be getting away.
When we returned, his dad picked us up at the airport. The plan had always been for his mom to pick us up. When Kyle asked where his mom was, his dad said she wasn’t able to make it and not to be concerned.
On the way to my house his dad told us that no one had been able to reach his mom since the day before. She had been depressed and upset and my mom had been out to visit with her and offer encouragement over the weekend. So, she hadn’t been missing, right? I mean I couldn’t imagine what he meant when he said she wasn’t anywhere to be found. But Kyle knew. She had attempted suicide at least one other time when he was a young boy, but I had never heard that story.
He went to her house as soon as he could. The door was locked and no answer when he rang the bell. Instinctually, he ran full speed down toward the pond on their property, now iced over from the winter’s cold. Peeking out of the broken ice was the tail end of his mother’s car and nothing would ever be the same again.
By the time I am got there with my parents, the paramedics were there. But it was too late. She was gone. Almost thirty years have passed and I still cannot find the words to express the magnitude of the shock and horror that filled the cold air that night and so many thereafter.
His mother believed the lie that everyone would be better off without her. She told my mom, though my mom did all that she could to convince her otherwise. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Everything unraveled after she died. Everything.
Kyle was plagued with monumental guilt that he wasn’t there for her. He could not forgive himself. He sort of dropped out of life after that. He dropped out of college, our relationship, and escaped through alcohol. It was a tragic chapter to follow what his mom had imagined would make everyone “better off.”
It wasn’t my parent who committed suicide so I could empathize only so much. But let me tell you, I was profoundly impacted by it. I racked my brain to remember conversations with her and things she had said. Were there clues that I missed? Should I have been more encouraging? Should I have offered her more hope than I did? Should I have never suggested we leave town when things were such a mess?
My safe little world was shattered. I couldn’t imagine that someone would actually choose to die. I mean sure, I knew people did it but my only experience was through the news of people who killed themselves to avoid public humiliation or the consequence of crime. I was horrified to find that someone in my world, whom I loved, would just leave the world by choice. I struggled with fear in ways I never had before. Nothing seemed safe or trustworthy anymore. If this was possible, what else might happen?
Now, with the gift of time, I can look back on the loss and understand that her mind was fogged over by deep depression. I know that the world still has a lot of light in it apart from the darkness in the belief anyone would be better off if a suicide takes place. This lie that so many believe is both mind blowing and devastating. To truly believe this is beyond sorrowful, but the real tragedy is that the opposite is actually true. When you leave someone with the shards of agony that comes from your suicide, you aren’t giving them something to make their life better, you are taking something from them. It’s not just your life you’re taking, you’re taking part of theirs. The depressed person often leaves with the primary belief that they are doing everyone a favor. But they are actually taking away any sense of normalcy and calm in a person’s life and it may take years to rebuild if it ever does.
Now I pay resolute attention when someone tells me they feel helpless. I lean way in and pray for the cloud over their mind to lift. For the lie that their life has no value to be exposed…that taking it will not make anything better for anyone, including them.
Thank you, Melinda, for your incredible story of being impacted by a loved one’s suicide. There is such wisdom and healing in your words that we can all benefit from.
To read more from Melinda, you can find her at her blog, melindamattson.com
In 2006 I booked a weekend alone at a resort on the beach in Santa Cruz, California. The entire purpose of the trip was to do something I had been working on for quite some time: forgive my mom. I had spent 15 years being incredibly angry with my mom and I realized my anger was only hurting myself, not her. They say not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. In this case, she was already dead and I was trying to punish her by not forgiving her. I felt like if I forgave her it would somehow condone her actions or let her off the hook. For years I fought the idea of forgiving her but alas, I realized it was in my best interest to finally forgive. I was neither forgetting what had happened nor excusing it either. I was simply forgiving her.
That Saturday morning I went to the store and got a helium-filled yellow balloon and headed to the beach. I laid out a comfy blanket and pulled out a marker and began writing on the balloon all of the things I was forgiving my mom for doing. Committing suicide, planning for me to find her, a worthless goodbye letter, leaving me without a mom, being selfish, etc. The balloon was completely full and I truly was forgiving her for each of those. I said a prayer, stood up, and released the balloon. In that moment, I was forgiving her for each of those injuring actions and I felt freer than I have ever felt. The power of forgiveness is life giving, really. My anger was gone.
This fall, nine years after that balloon flew away; I started The Gift of Second. I have been reading a lot of stories from people that have experienced a suicide and have also interviewed a handful of others for the video section on here. There seems to be a common theme I hear in everyone’s story: empathy. Empathy for their loved one’s hopelessness, depression, and desperation. Empathy for their loved one who was hurting so much. I understand this empathy and I express it for everyone else except my mom. A weird thing has happened this fall for me. For the first time in nine years, I am back to being extremely angry with her for taking her own life. Angry with her selfishness. Angry she was so intentional in her actions that day, knowing her ten-year-old daughter would be the only one to find her lifeless body. Angry she left me without a mom at the time a girl needs her mom the most. Angry she took the easy way out. Angry she didn’t care enough about her family to get the help she needed. Angry, angry, angry!
As a result of my anger towards my mom, I have found I have become angry with myself as well. Angry for being angry. Angry for still caring. Angry I am not ‘over this’ yet. Angry for not moving on. Angry for starting a website to help other people and apparently being the only one that does not empathize with the one that died. I’m angry. What is wrong with me?
Did I truly forgive my mom 9 years ago for her actions? Yes. Did I mean it? Absolutely. Then why am I angry all over again when I thought I had moved beyond this stage? Welcome to grief! I am a licensed therapist and am still learning first-hand the ins and outs of suicide grief.
I am learning forgiveness is not a one-time thing, it is likely an event that will happen over and over and over again. It’s not neat and tidy, it is messy. It is not without pain, the sorrow is real. Forgiveness needs to happen when life brings about waves of emotion and then triggers memories and feelings I thought I had worked through. Forgiving my mom for her suicide will happen many times in my life, not just that one time on the beach when I let the balloon fly.
So, for today, I am giving myself grace. I will not shame myself for being angry. I am embracing the anger because I want to give myself value, the same value she robbed me of when she took her life and forced me to question my worth for decades after. I am right where I need to be; angry. And I am okay with that. I am not okay with her suicide and her choice to leave a small child, but I am okay with validating how I feel today, working through grief when it hits and never discounting the raw emotion attached to her suicide. She took her life, but she didn’t take mine. I will live fully. The good, the bad, the anger. All of it, I will live!
With Thanksgiving just two weeks away and Christmas around the corner, I wanted to focus on a season that typically is more difficult than other times of the year. I recently ran across a list compiled by What’s Your Grief on how to make it through the holidays after losing a loved one and wanted to share it with you here. A lot of these focus on, what seems, the first holiday after losing someone, but all are applicable to anyone that has lost a loved one. There are some really great ideas that can be very helpful during the upcoming holidays. Throw out the ones you don’t like and embrace the ones that will work for you. The original post can be found HERE.
- Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and they will be tough.
- Decide which traditions you want to keep.
- Decide which traditions you want to change.
- Create a new tradition in memory of your loved one.
- Decide where you want to spend the holidays – you may want to switch up the location, or it may be of comfort to keep it the same. Either way, make a conscious decision about location.
- Plan ahead and communicate with the people you will spend the holiday with in advance, to make sure everyone is in agreement about traditions and plans.
- Remember that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are grieving.
- Remember that the way others will want to spend the holiday may not match how you want to spend the holiday.
- Put out a ‘memory stocking’, ‘memory box’, or other special place where you and others can write down memories you treasure. Pick a time to read them together.
- Light a candle in your home in memory of the person you’ve lost.
- Include one of your loved one’s favorite dishes in your holiday meal.
- Be honest. Tell people what you DO want to do for the holidays and what you DON’T want to do.
- Make a donation to a charity that was important to your loved one in their name.
- Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one and donate it to a local charity.
- If you are feeling really ambitious, adopt a family in memory of your loved one. This can often be done through a church, salvation army, or good will.
- See a counselor. Maybe you’ve been putting it off. The holidays are especially tough, so this may be the time to talk to someone.
- Pick a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.
- Make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honor of your loved one.
- If you have been having a hard time parting with your loved one’s clothing, use the holidays as an opportunity to donate some items to a homeless shelter or other charity.
- Send a holiday card to friends of your loved one who you may regret having lost touch with.
- Visit your loved one’s gravesite and leave a grave blanket, wreath, poinsettia, or other meaningful holiday item.
- Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.
- If your loved one hated holiday music, that’s okay! Play whatever music they loved.
- Journal when you are having an especially bad day.
- Skip holiday events if you are in holiday overload.
- Don’t feel guilty about skipping events if you are in holiday overload!
- Don’t get trapped. When you go to holiday events, drive yourself so you can leave if it gets to be too much.
- Pull out old photo albums and spend some time on the holiday looking at photos.
- Talk to kids about the holidays – it can be confusing for kids that the holidays can be both happy and sad after a death. Let them know it is okay to enjoy the holiday, and it is okay to be sad.
- Make a dish that your loved one used to make. Don’t get discouraged if you try to make their dish and you fail. We’ve all been there (or, at least I’ve been there!).
- Leave an empty seat at the holiday table in memory of your loved one.
- If leaving an empty seat is too depressing, invite someone who doesn’t have family to spend the holiday with.
- Don’t send holiday cards this year if it is too sad or overwhelming.
- Don’t feel guilty about not sending holiday cards!
- Create a ‘dear photograph’, with a photo of a holiday past.
- Skip or minimize gifts. After a death, material things can seem less meaningful and the mall can seem especially stressful. Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.
- Put out a photo table with photos of your loved one at holiday celebrations in the past.
- Go to a grief group. When everyone looks so gosh-darn filled with holiday cheer, sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who are struggling.
- Skip (or minimize) the decorations if they are too much this year. Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of decorations outside your house.
- Don’t feel guilty if you skip or minimize the decorations!
- Remember that crying is okay. The holidays are everywhere and who knows what may trigger a cry-fest. We’ve all been there and it is okay to cry (even if you are in the sock aisle at Target).
- Volunteer in your loved one’s memory.
- Let your perfectionism go. If you always have the perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and perfect table, accept that this year may not be perfect and that is a-okay. I know this is easier said than done for you type-As, but give it a try.
- Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday. Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works for you.
- Seek gratitude. I am the queen of holiday funks, so I know this is tough. But try to find one daily gratitude throughout the holiday season. Write it down, photograph it, share it on facebook. Whatever. Just look for the little things. Here are some tips if you’re struggling with it.
- Watch the food. Food can make us feel better in the short term (damn you, dopamine!) until we feel like crap later that we ate that whole tin of holiday cookies. Don’t deprive yourself, but be careful that you don’t let food become your holiday comfort.
- Watch the booze. Alcohol can become a fast friend when we are grieving. If that holiday party is getting to be too much, head home instead of to the open bar.
- If you are stressed about making the holiday dinner, ask someone else to cook or buy dinner this year.
- If you are stressed about the crowds at the mall, cut back on gifts or do your shopping online.
- Splurge on a gift for you. Grief can make us feel a little entitled and self-involved, and that is okay sometimes (within reason, of course). Splurge on a holiday gift for yourself this year, And make it a good one!
- Say yes to help. There will be people who want to help and may offer their support. Take them up on their offers.
- Ask for help. If people aren’t offering, ask. This can be super-hard if it isn’t your style, but it is important. Asking others to help with cooking, shopping, or decorating can be a big relief.
- Have a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or toast in memory of your loved one.
- Donate a holiday meal to a family in need through a local church, salvation army, or department of social services.
- Identify the people who will be able to help and support you during the holidays and identify who may cause you more stress. Try to spend more time with the former group and less with the latter.
- Make some quiet time for yourself. The holidays can be hectic, make quiet time for yourself to journal, meditate, listen to music, etc.
- Practice self-care. I know, how cliché. But it is true – whatever it is that helps you recharge, do it. You can find some self-care tips HERE.
- Support kids by doing a memorial grief activity together.
- Donate altar flowers or other holiday decorations at your place of worship in memory of your loved one.
- Prioritize and don’t overcommit. When the holidays are filled with so many parties, dinners, and events, save your energy for those that are most important. Look at everything you have to do and rank them in order of importance. Plan for the most important and skip the rest.
- Make a list and check it twice. Grief makes it harder for us to concentrate and remember things. When you have a lot going on at the holidays, make a list even if you aren’t usually a list-maker, and write things on the calendar.
- Skip it. Really. If you just can’t face the holiday it is okay to take a break this year. Before you get to this extreme, consider if you could just simplify your holiday. If you do skip, still make a plan. Decide if you will still see friends or family, go see a new movie, or make another plan.
- Enjoy yourself! The holidays will be tough, but there will also be love and joy.
- Remember, it is okay to be happy – this doesn’t diminish how much you love and miss the person who isn’t there this holiday. Don’t feel guilty for the joy you do find this holiday season.
Trevor was my first love, my first real boyfriend, the first one that loved me for me no matter my flaws, and I loved him with every part of my being. We started dating when I was 18 and he was 21, we had already known each other for 4 years and somehow it finally clicked that we were crazy about each other.
When we figured out that we were each other’s person, he was in the military and stationed in Texas, getting ready to head out for a 15-month tour in Iraq. Through losing many of his brothers, and seeing things that no one should ever see, Trevor returned home and was never the same. We stayed together, worked through some really trying times, and continued to fall more and more in love no matter the trials.
Trevor and Heidi
In June of 2009, a year and a half after returning from Iraq, at 24 years old Trevor took his life. I will forever remember that day like it was yesterday. I had just gotten to work, sat down at my desk and saw his mom’s name come up on my phone. I knew in that moment that my world was crashing around me, and I hadn’t even heard the words yet.
The first year after his death was a blur, every moment seemed to pass in slow motion, and nothing felt real. I was scared to go to church, I knew I would find a comfort there, but that comfort would only solidify a reality that I didn’t want. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t cry, I hardly laughed and really just went through the motions of life. Just enough to make sure people wouldn’t worry about me.
After two years, I decided it was time to get out of the dark cloud and move forward. I moved to Southern California, started going back to church and began writing my story for my own therapy. Once I realized that my writing wasn’t going to talk back and give me comfort, I knew it was time to really talk to someone. I found a counselor who truly listened to every word I said, she hurt with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and ultimately pushed me in seeing that just because my daily life of having Trevor with me was gone, my life wasn’t. It was time to take control of the pen and continue to write my story the way God intended.
I got really involved at my church and rediscovered the joy in Christ that I had pushed aside for too long. After 4 years, I recently moved back to Northern California, where I always dreamed that I would have a life with Trevor. I never thought I would be able to continue life here completely happy and moving forward. Yet here I am, with the support of family and friends, and am truly the happiest I have been in a long time.
After 6 long years, I have opened my heart up to true happiness and to finding love again. I’m not saying that every day is a walk in the park. Some days are heavy and I would give anything just to give Trevor a hug and tell him how much I will always love him. But those hard days are few and far between, and I know that I am not alone on this journey. I have found a lot of “me too’s” along the way, and those people have helped me and I pray that I have helped them as well.
This journey is one big beautiful mess; remember that there is always beauty to come from the ashes. We just have to be brave and know that the tragic loss of suicide is not the end of us, and it is not the end of our loved one’s story. Talking to someone can be the biggest, hardest and ugliest step, but it will help you to take control of your pen and continue to write your story.
Heidi Redmond writes over at www.thebeautifulashes.
I am humbled by the incredible response The Gift of Second received this week. After only 4 days live on the internet, we have had more than 450 visitors! It is both tragic that this site needs to exist and, as I have heard from so MANY of you, such a blessing! So, let me say, welcome!
The Gift of Second exists because of people like you that have experienced a suicide. It is our stories and journeys that provide the encouragement and hope to others. In order for that to happen, I need as many of you as possible to be willing to write an essay or participate in a video interview with me. I know neither are very comfortable, but if you are willing to step up, please contact me asap.
If you write, please send me an essay 500-800 words of your experience.Share about the pain, grief, anger. Tell us about your journey. What has been helpful, what hurts, etc. Please share any wisdom you have come across that may help others.
If you are willing to do a video, let me know. It involves me asking you a bunch of questions and then editing it down to 6-8 minutes. I can give you a list of the questions ahead of time if you want to be thinking of your answers.
If you know of any helpful resources, please pass them on to me so that I may list them on the page.
I want this to be a helpful website that provides some healing for others. I also recognize that reading about suicide can bring up a wave of emotions in us. My mission is to make this a safe place. Therefore I will not have specific descriptions of the actual suicides explained nor will we focus on the reasons our loved ones took their lives. This is for us, the living, to connect with others who have also experienced a tragic loss to suicide.
Also, I want to keep you all updated with new blog posts and videos. I know that our emails are often sent to your spam folder. So, please add us to your address book and keep an eye out for emails from us.
Thank you so much for stopping by and please pass our website on to anyone you feel can benefit! And, if you have any ideas for this website, let me hear ’em!
Alicia shares her story and how she has found healing along the way after her uncle’s suicide.
I was in 7th grade when it happened. I had come home from a school dance and the moment I walked in the door I knew there was something wrong. The air felt dense in every room. My dad called me into the living room and sat me down. I can still remember the look on his face, one of extreme sorrow and pain. I didn’t even fully understand. I don’t think I had ever even heard the word “suicide” before, the concept felt strange in my head.
The following days passed quickly, we flew back for the funeral. Cousins, aunts, uncles and my rock of a grandmother surrounded me. Everyone’s face seemed happy to see each other and filled with sorrow at the same time. My twelve year old mind couldn’t even really compute what all was happening.
Alicia on the day of her uncle’s funeral.
All of our lives kept going, but now with this massive hole in it. I tried to keep a brave face if only because my dad couldn’t. I saw it in his face, the pain of loss always hiding just behind his eyes. I heard his cries and tried to stifle my own. I was angry, not at my uncle but at this situation. I suddenly was privy to this sense of hopelessness and despair that had never known but that I grew to hate. I knew his pain was real, I knew that he must not have seen a way out and I was angry that this pain existed. And that it had now been transferred to the rest of us. Now we would have to learn to cope with this loss. We would have to find answers to questions that we didn’t know existed.
Life as I had known it, a quiet life in a small town in New Jersey, was now filled with questions and mysteries. I experienced grief in a real way, not in a observatory way through tv and movies but in a tangible way in my own life. I had feelings that I couldn’t explain. So my mom took me to the only place she could think of to help me cope – the church.
We started going every Sunday. I received my first communion as a middle schooler, alongside the group of second graders who had been raised in the church. I started attending youth group and kept seeking answers to these massive questions I had about life, death and everything in between.
I kept going; working through this new piece of baggage I was carrying. And as I’ve grown up, I’ve lost some baggage, added some new ones, but this one remains. Not in a way to imply I haven’t dealt with it, but as a reminder that hopelessness and despair are all around me. This is the broken world we live in. But God is also all around and has the power to give hope to the hopeless.
They say that time heals all wounds, but I would say that time dulls all wounds or maybe numbs. The only true healing comes from God, the kind of healing that lets us get up the next day and keep going.
Washington Irving once said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.” In my adult life it has given me great comfort that it is okay to grieve, to cry over the loss of a loved one. A tragic loss that feels like it comes out of no where and knocks the wind out of you. Tears help you to name that grief, contrition, and love that you are feeling. And when shared in communion with God and with others, can bring the wholeness that you are longing for in your heart.
So dear friends, if this pain is real in your life, if you’ve felt that gut-wrenching breathtaking sorrow of losing a loved one to suicide – you are not alone. Reach out and talk about it. Be honest about where your heart is with those around you. You don’t have to walk this path alone.
To read more from Alicia, check out her blog HERE.
Lindsey Andrews shares her story with us today and the importance of a legacy of a loved one not being marred by suicide.
Telling your story is scary, overwhelming and tends to flood back the shame and the regret you felt during those specific points of your life. The scale and my driver’s license like to remind me that I’m a grown-up woman, an idea to which I regularly object. With kids, a full time job, a hobby I’m passionate about, a husband, three dogs and a mortgage, there are more than enough elements to form a conclusion that I AM in fact a grownup. I should be comfortable by now after age and experience with sharing the pieces of stories. I would be, I think at times, except for the nagging fear in my head about sharing the hardest parts of who I am and where I’ve been. Inside that specific, doubtful part of me is nothing but fear and a timid teenager who doesn’t want to admit that she has failed.
Being asked by someone else to tell a piece of your story is its own liberating version of torture. It’s liberating in the sense that you believe someone, somewhere, in a similar situation, may read your heart and connect with your words. Sharing can also be tortuous in nature because retelling a story means reliving it and the reliving can be quite painful. I am prayerfully hopeful these words help comfort you and perhaps provide even a ray of light that leads you to hope. It is the hope that must be our driving force against the darkest of times.
In the fall of 2002, my little brother suffered a major brain injury after a being in a car wreck. After learning to walk, talk, function and be a whole person again, his outsides had almost completely returned to normal. It was miraculous to be a part of seeing his physical restoration. None of it could have been further from the truth about his insides, though. A frontal lobe injury to his brain made some tasks completely impossible in his daily routine and then came the depression. This side of heaven his family will never know the depths of which my brother struggled. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Dry, quick and delivering a punch line with a deftness known only to comedic greats, he had us all in stitches over dinner. He fought the hardest to hide the shadows of his life from those who loved him hardest.
It was the loneliness he hid so well. He always said he was taking his meds and things were all right. We didn’t know what other questions to ask beyond those. My biggest beefs with the mental health community are these: we don’t talk about it enough, we isolate those who do and all the medication changes that occur can cause them to fall straight back into the depths of hell from where they came. Please hear me: medication works wonders for some and everyone struggling should be under the care of someone whom they trust and is competent. Someone who can have an open dialogue of medication and other positive changes such as exercise and nutrition in order to combat the disease, and the warning signs that a particular prescription has run its course and changes may need to be made. Also, educating loved ones and family on the warning signs and how to cope would be wondrous as well.
On February 1, 2014, after 12 years of struggling, my brother took his own life. He was 29 years old. My father drove to his house and found his only son gone. The regret plagued us hard as a family. Relationships were broken and almost irrevocably severed because of what happened after my brother’s death. “We should have” and “You didn’t” were common themes we said to one another and, more often, to ourselves. It is an after-effect with which most grieving families grapple.
Lindsey and her brother.
Listening to those outside our circle of trust was our biggest mistake as a family during those days. Instead of holding on to one another, we clung to those who appeared to have our best interests at heart. They didn’t and we were deceived. There are people who are drawn to misfortune like flies to manure and they swarm until they are swatted down or driven away. Be wise in who you trust and if your emotions are such you cannot be sure, select a family member or close, trusted friend you do believe can and allow them to build a cocoon around you and yours. Have them handle all social media posts (or the decision to remain quiet) and navigate the influx of calls and communications on behalf of the family.
There is not a day that passes I don’t wish I would have done something different when my brother and I spoke for the last time that February afternoon. That’s where the regret comes in, the fear, and the shame. Suicide wants to leave me with those feelings forever; my brother would not. To say that depression is anything other than a disease is untruthful and unfeeling and it is a LIE. It’s empowering and necessary to separate the action from the person. Suicide is not who my brother was nor is it a major piece of what I want people to remember about him. Knowing I have those feelings would devastate him.
In the days and months following his death, the world and those around us said some really stupid and hurtful things. We’ve been told our whole lives there are no such things as stupid questions, but in truth, there are and there are many of them plaguing families following a suicide. “How did he do it?” “Why did he take his own life?” “Will the casket be opened or closed?” These are just a sampling of questions people asked us and those like us in the days after. They are all stupid.
One of the things I wondered about after my brother was gone was “What about his legacy?” Did he even have one anymore? What did I want the world to remember the most about who he was and how he loved? I only have two answers: he DOES have a legacy and it is NOT going to be defined by suicide. The only people who could insure these things to be true were those who were going to tell my brother’s story in such a way that the why of how he died was ancillary to who he was but the struggles he faced were real.
My family members love to remember him and gaze lovingly at his pictures. We also make it a point to remember the kind of soul he was: kind, gentle, loving and true. You did not come to my brother without being a better person after leaving him. He was true to himself and loved something fierce. Hazel-green eyes that could stop you in your tracks and a “hey sis” so sincere it could save your soul. That is who my baby brother is and was and will be when I bear hug the snot out of his 6’ tall frame when I see him again.
He has a legacy just like every other soul that went before him. It is the job of those who love him to live out that legacy and to live it out well. Suicide did not rob him of that legacy; it only gave it over to those who knew him best and want to see more of his kind of humor and love poured out into the world. His legacy is different, which makes him unique and the “how” surrounding his death is nothing compared to the “how” he lived while he was here.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide and depression, there are so many resources to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and one of my favorite organizations is TWLOHA, To Write Love On Her Arms. Their website http://www.twloha.com is an excellent resource for local and national lifelines and in-person locations to treat addiction, depression and discuss suicide prevention.
Lindsey Andrews is a lawyer, writer and speaker whose passion is seeing people fall in love with who they are in this life. A wild-haired bohemian in spirit, with her feet trapped in the corporate world, she daydreams of a nose ring and a wrist tattoo. She is tolerated by two kids and a husband but is adored by a French Bulldog, Walter. She lives in Oklahoma and writes at http://www.lindseyandrewswriter.com. She re-tweets @ethiopiabound and follows too many people on Instagram @linzandrews.
There is a quote floating around the Internet that several people have taken credit for originally penning. I have no idea who actually said it, but I can assure you it was not me.
After my mom’s suicide, I desired compassion and understanding. I longed for a sense of belonging and community. I wanted to feel some semblance of value and worth.
Clearly missing from my life were friends that could relate. I doubted my significance and felt less than around others. I built walls to protect my heart and a fortress to keep the distance.
I wanted trusted people in my life but not one was safe. Nobody could handle my intense grief or my rage. My tears were overwhelming to others and there were no answers to my questions. I felt lost and confused and nobody could understand me.
I created The Gift Of Second for the person out there searching for the same things I was searching for after my mom’s death. My hope is that the courageous people sharing their stories will resonate with viewers and an entire community will be formed. A community where people share and relate and emp