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Always

At times I sit and wonder how it is that my son has the capacity to exist, still
Two years and three months, yet always ever-present
Always no more than a heartbeat within, not away

Often, I wonder how can that be
Love never dies but the feeling is deeper than that
Always a determined child, his current grows stronger, still

At times I think and fear I’ve created a false reality for myself
A fairy-tale safe place to exist
But really, it’s quite the opposite

This is reality, my reality, our reality
How I choose to exist within it is my choice
And maybe it’s the same way for my son

Always near and dear, always a part of my every day
Because that’s how he chooses to exist
Always my determined boy, always with me, still

Never my “Once Upon a Time”
But forever and undeniably my “There Is”

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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Continuing Bonds: An Amazing Message

It has been 5 months since the man I love, John, ended his life. We had been arguing. He left me an angry, accusatory note. The pain and guilt have been unbearable at times. A few days ago, I had a bad day. I isolated and stayed close to home.

The next morning I woke, made some coffee, and did a couple of chores. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw my phone-message light blinking. Odd, because I always hear the phone. When I looked again, it was no longer blinking but out of curiosity, I hit ‘play-msg.’ There was a message I had never heard before.

It was John. A message I had never heard. He said he was thinking of me and needed to see me. I almost dropped my cup of coffee. It is difficult to even find the words to say the emotions I felt. After about an hour, I went to listen again, I did not delete it. It was no longer on my machine.

I swear, I heard it. He said my name. I did not hallucinate, dream, or imagine.

Finally, going to a tech who serviced answering machines, I asked him what may have gone wrong. He smiled, and said it could not be the machine, and that I had either made the whole thing up or, he said, “the beyond beckoned you.”

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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Bearing Witness to the Love

Valentine’s Day is approaching. It has a special meaning for me because it is also the anniversary of the day I launched the Alliance of Hope forum. I don’t think I originally planned it that way — it just happened. If you dig deep enough, through the hundreds of thousands of posts that now reside on our forum, you can still find my original post

“February 14, 2008

Hello, my name is Ronnie Walker

I am the person who created the website and this forum that links to it. My stepson Channing, took his life at the age of 21 in 1995. I created the website and this discussion forum because I wanted to support others who have lost loved ones to suicide. I hope that in some small way, this will be of help on your journey.

Ronnie Walker, MS, LCPC”

I had no idea that I had just begun a most amazing journey, or how many extraordinary people I would meet along the way. Over the last thirteen years, thousands of people have added their wisdom to the community, putting aside their own pain to reach out to others who needed encouragement and hope. There is so much love in the community – and continuing kindness expressed in both public and private messages.

I have sensed many changes in the survivor community and in attitudes towards suicide since my stepson Chan died 25 years ago. In decades past, a great many survivors hesitated to speak authentically about the loss of their loved one – lest they or their loved one, be judged negatively. Recently, more and more survivors are willing to talk about their loss. They are willing to discuss their loved one’s struggle with depression, physical or mental illness, economic or social challenges, and sometimes, the side effects they experienced from drugs.

When survivors share, it becomes clear that those who have passed are so much more than just those things that led them to end their lives.

As Valentine’s Day draws near, I invite you to view the Alliance of Hope Memorial Wall, where hundreds of dedications bear witness to the love that continues between the survivors and those who have passed. Together, we honor their spirit and heal ours.

With love,

Ronnie Walker MS, LCPC

This New Year

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.” ~ T.S. Eliot

And now here I am in the first day of another new year,
walking into the second where I’m missing your big brown eyes and how they smiled so contagiously.

I won’t say I enter this new year without you because you’re always with me.

Time is a trickster though with a necessity to keep track.
The ticks turn to miles and the miles log the distance from that doorway where we hugged the last time.

I can still feel that little hump in your shoulder, that gentle curve when you’d lean down to hug me.
It used to be a reach when you were younger.
I could feel the stretch in your back as you’d reach up to hug me.

Tick-tock through time you grew taller and that stretch turned to a downward hump.
A hump and a lean-over defined by a gentle curve.
Sometimes weightless with love, sometimes heavy with worries and sorrow.
I remember the day it was so heavy I could hardly hold you.

But it’s not your job to hold me.
Your job now is to be weightless and silly.
Riding shooting stars across the moon yelling, “Look, Mom, no hands.”
That’s what I wish for you in this new year . . . lots of shooting stars and more moons than you can count.
So off you go, unbound and forever safely tethered to my heart.

That’s what holds me . . . knowing that you are forever safely tethered to my heart.

Safely and always.

Happy new year, sweetie.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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Beyond a Chain of Pain – Continuing Bonds

I posted the other day about a friend of mine whose sister died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart condition earlier this year. Her grieving in many ways is so much like mine—a sudden, unexpected loss that tilted the axis of her world.

This Christmas season was hard for my friend. Her loneliness was compounded by COVID-induced social distancing. Like me, she told me that she had “lost her words” after her sister died. So, I sent her a poem that helped me process my grief.

Her response brought me to my knees—she said that she could only imagine that the pain of a 4th Christmas without my son must be as painful as the first.

Not only was this not accurate—it was so sad that she anticipated that she would forever experience heart-wrenching grief. I explained that I will always love and miss my son, but the past few holiday seasons were not as sad or angst-ridden as those first and second years.

I love Dr. Kenneth Doka’s thoughts on grief and shared a video of one of his lectures in another post. These concepts of “Chain of Pain”, “Moving On” and “Continuing Bonds” kept bouncing around in my head.

What is so wonderful about the Alliance of Hope (AOH) is that the entire organization encourages members to share that even suicide loss grief is not, as Dr. Doka defines, a “Chain of Pain” – that is, a future that contains a gaping hole in one’s heart forever. So many AOH members who are much further down the road on the suicide loss grief journey have shared their experiences of growth. Life may not be easy, but it is better.

The term “moving on” seems to be fixed in the western psyche. “Moving on” implies that we must forget about our loved ones and other losses, leaving them behind to “fix” our grief. Dr. Terri Daniel, a hospice chaplain and trained grief counselor, related that western psychiatric theories in the 20th century cultivated the idea that a person must “give up,” “separate,” and essentially forget a loved one after they died, or they would be “pathologically grieving.” This bias, along with a general avoidance or even acknowledgment of the “dark emotions” (grief, fear despair) created confusion and uncertainty in western society in general – and increased isolation and despair for those who are grieving.

Dr. Doka used the term “ameliorated grief” to describe the process of when an individual has worked on experiencing his or her feelings and is beginning to build a new life. I like Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s definition also:

“Reconciliation … occurs as you work to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death, and a capacity to become re-involved in the activities of living…. Beyond an intellectual working through of the death, there is also an emotional and spiritual working through. What had been understood at the head level is now understood at the heart level.” ~ Understanding Your Suicide Grief, page 198.

Dr. Daniel first introduced me to the concept of “continuing bonds.” She explained that this concept was first written about in the late 1990s. The authors posited that many non-Western cultures continued to honor their loved ones through rituals and celebrations for many years after their deaths. These practices did not harm individuals psychologically, in fact, these rituals and commemorations appeared to be helpful. I find that rituals such as poems, lighting candles, an altar, music, help me to remember my son and my other departed loved ones—and have made the grief journey easier.

Dr. Doka, in ending his lecture, told a story about the grief support groups he facilitated. He always ended the series of meetings with the following exercise: “Imagine that it is a year from today, and I see you in the supermarket. I ask “How are you doing?” He then asked each participant to share their response. He said he was surprised at how optimistic people were. Most said, “I’m doing much better.”

So, what is your response? As for me, in 2022, “I’m doing much better” too.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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One Upon a Time

On December 23, 2019, I wrote a story in my journal to try to give myself some peace. It was just that – my way of self-comfort – not meant as what really happened. I would like to share it now:

“Once upon a time, God spoke with an angel. He told the angel that he would go to earth as a baby to be born to a very broken mother. He told the angel his time would be short. His mission was to teach this very broken woman how to love and give of herself. The angel came into the world on March 9, 1998, at 10:16 p.m. The woman was scared. The man was filled with excitement. The mother had a rough start with her new baby. She struggled. The father was amazing and supported her and she learned she could depend on others.

As the angel grew, so did her love and adoration. They grew to know each other. They built a bond. She learned true, unconditional love.

The angel was not like others. He was picked on and bullied. This hurt the angel and he began to break down, but because he was an angel, he kept his pain hidden. When he did finally share his pain, the mother dismissed it as hormones.

The mother did not realize he was an angel, and that his time was short. The angel thought his time was up and tried to go back to Heaven. God said he still had work to do. So, the angel carried on. He taught the woman about mental illness and suicide and the woman learned compassion.

The angel moved out on his own. He became addicted to meth. This broke the mother’s heart. However, she now saw the things that had broken her as a child in a different light. She had been training for this her whole life. From this, she learned strength. The angel once again felt his time was up. God said no. The angel gave up meth and hoped to inspire friends. Eventually, he eventually seemed happy and he promised the woman he would never try to leave her again.

On August 11, 2019, he was called to return home. The angel did not understand. God told him his suffering was over. He had taught the important lessons, but he had one more to teach. That broken woman had to learn she couldn’t do it all on her own. She had to learn to prioritize. She had to learn to face a pain like no other, yet still, carry on.

As that angel ascended back to heaven, he sent one last message, “I love you, mom! You can do this! Share my story. Share what you know. Reach others. Honor my memory.”

Not a day goes by that her heart doesn’t ache. But that angel? He is with her always.”

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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The Possibility of Life after Death

The event that opened my eyes to the possibility of life after death was something that happened about four years after my son left this world. It was late summer, and I was on my way to work. It was foggy that morning. The visibility was only about 20 feet, and I was traveling on a country road. I was nervous but not terrified. I was more afraid of a deer jumping out of the fog than anything else. Unfortunately, that was not the case for the driver of the pick-up truck that came barreling out of the fog – on my side of the road, driving way too fast for the weather conditions.

I had a split second to decide to move off the road and take my chance that the ditch wasn’t as deep as it looked, or let the other driver hit me head-on. I chose the ditch, and it was even deeper than I thought. I remember looking out the side window – seeing only grass and mud in the bottom of the ditch – thinking “I’m going to roll over,” and praying for help. Then I heard my son’s voice say, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll help you.”

A feeling of utter peace came over me and the next thing I knew I was back on the road and stopped. I got out of my car, knees shaking so badly I could hardly stand, and walked around it to see how much damage had been done. I was amazed. Not a scratch! In fact, it didn’t look like it had ever been off the road. I remember getting back into the car, thanking Josh for helping me, and thanking God for answering my prayer for help. I still had about 20 miles to go to get to work, and the rest of the drive was uneventful. Or at least, I guess it was. I don’t remember it.

When I got to work and parked, one of my co-workers came over and asked me what had happened. I told him about my accident but couldn’t help but wonder how he knew something had happened. He pointed out that both my front tires were completely flat! Not only did my son keep me from being injured, he helped me get my car to where I could get the tires fixed.

This was a major turning point for me. I began reading everything I could find about life after death because, in that moment of panic, I became a believer. Could it have been my imagination? Feel free to believe that if you wish … but I know better.

Our loved ones watch over us and know when we need them the most.

Honoring Loved Ones on Father’s Day – Ritual and Positive Change

Fr. Charles Rubey, Founder of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS)

In June we celebrate Father’s Day, a day set aside to honor our fathers, grandfathers, and father figures – both living and deceased. It can be a very painful day for fathers who are grieving the loss of a child or grandchild from suicide. It is also a painful day for those who are grieving the loss of a father or a grandfather from suicide. The holiday highlights how much we miss them. 

I believe it is important the day is observed, and the void is addressed, and we not pretend everything is the same. It is not and it never will be. The suicide of your loved one has permanently altered the family system and that system will never be the same again. Rituals are a healthy way to address the fact that this key person in the lives of family members is gone. The ritual can be a prayer or a lighted candle or a favorite song of the departed one.

The purpose of the ritual is to make this dearly loved one present in a different form. Your loved one has departed from the earthly scene. They are still a part of the family but in a different form of presence. I believe that a tragedy worse than this person’s suicide is if this person were to be forgotten. As long as there are rituals performed in your loved one’s memory, that person remains a part of the family – albeit in a different type of presence. We never want to forget our loved ones who have departed from this world. 

I am sometimes asked if there is anything positive that can come from losing a loved one to suicide? I do believe there can be some positive results from such an experience. I am not talking about a “silver lining” coming from losing a loved one to suicide. Each survivor needs to ask themselves just what good can come from this excruciating and painful experience. What can a survivor learn from this devastating loss? That is the crucial question that needs to be asked. Can the survivor become a better person or a more thoughtful person? Can they make a difference? What lessons are to be learned?

Obviously, survivors must first get through the initial stages of the grief journey and resolve that this loved one found life too painful to endure. That is one of the most painful parts of the grief journey. That part of the grief journey takes a lot of time and  energy. 

At some point, most survivors recognize that the ultimate goal of the grief journey is not necessarily a return to happiness, though that can happen eventually if the grief journey is successfully traversed. Suicide loss offers us the opportunity to respond to a call to holiness. I do not mean this in a religious sense — but in the sense that survivors look upon life as a series of events that are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. 

The challenge for survivors is to see how this completed suicide can be redeemed into something sacred so that the memories of the loved one have a positive and lasting effect on the world.

Some survivors have formed foundations in memory of their loved ones. The money from the foundation is used to further causes involving mental illness or other issues that are dear to the survivors. There is a myriad of opportunities to foster awareness about depression or support services that assist the survivors of a completed suicide. 

I believe that actions to memorialize our loved ones are transformational in that the pain resulting from the suicide can be transformed and redeemed into something positive. 

Will such efforts result in happiness? I do not know if that is the right question to ask. I think the right question to ask is: will these efforts cause some change in society that makes a difference? If that is the sought-after result, then there can be a sense of satisfaction and contentment that a loved one has not died in vain. The efforts of the survivors have resulted in something positive to the world. What a great gift to offer in memory of a loved one. 

As always, I want to assure all loss survivors of my thoughts and prayers on a regular basis during my quiet time. This will be done especially on Father’s Day. I encourage each one of you to do the same for each other – especially for those who are new to loss. 

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Charles T. Rubey

Remembering with Name Hearts

Several years ago, one of our forum members, Brkn Mom, began to post “Name Hearts” on the Alliance of Hope forum. She used software that randomly displayed our loved one’s names – in different places and different sizes within a heart. I always looked forward to seeing my husband Jim’s name inside the heart whenever she posted one.

When she stopped doing them, I asked her if she would mind if I took them over because they meant so much to me and to so many other members. And so now I post a new name heart for our community every day. 

The hearts are important to me – and to a lot of forum members. Seeing our loved one’s names matters. Why does it matter?  I believe it is another way of remembering them.

Remembering has always been important to me. Remembering is why I still hang the Christmas ornaments from my pets that passed 30 years ago. Those ornaments bring me back to the days when they were with me. They reconnect my heart to my memories. So many memories are tucked away in our brains. I love it when an object or song brings us back to a happier time. I will often just sit for a moment with a special memory and savor it.

Ornaments, mementos, songs, special recipes, traditions, and seeing their names are as valuable as having photos. All those things bring back memories. Sometimes memories bring smiles – sometimes they bring tears, but those memories are ours and we wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.

I believe that seeing our loved one’s name every day is a way to say to the world that they were here, and they are loved and missed. It is a way of acknowledging that they are in our thoughts, hearts, and lives – and that they still matter. My husband lives in my heart and thoughts every day, but speaking about him, seeing his name, knowing that he isn’t forgotten is as important to me 5 years after his death as it was in the early days.

The hearts are random. I hit refresh and every name shows up in a different way. Sometimes a name pops up large as if to say “Hi. I’m still with you!” Often when I post the daily name heart, someone will see their loved one’s name front and center and reply that they were having a difficult day and it is almost like they are being sent a sign. Sometimes a member will write that their loved one showed up large on an important day, birthday, or anniversary. Coincidence or sign, it is special.

Members also say the hearts are healing. PurpleKingsMumma wrote: “Doing this for all of us is like a stitch on the gaping hole that is our broken heart.”

I recently saw this poem that hits home: “We are the rememberers. The people left behind to keep the one who is gone from us alive in heart and mind. The people left to cherish and preserve a legacy. Yes, we are the rememberers … and we will always be.” In a small way, the name hearts help to cherish and preserve that legacy.

Their Presence is Mystical Rather Than Physical

As we enter the month of November, we begin the holiday season.  For grieving people, this is a very painful time of year because a loved one has died. I am a firm believer that families that grieve together stand a better chance of coming to grips with the grief as compared to family members who go off and grieve on their own. With the holidays approaching, I suggest that families gather and have some type of ritual to remember their loved one.

The ritual is a vehicle whereby a loved one can remain a part of a family, albeit in a different type of presence. Their presence is more mystical than physical, but they are present all the same. They remain a part of a family system even though they have gone to the hereafter. They still have a name and are loved by the survivors and have been a part of a family so why shouldn’t they have a part in family festivities? Will there be tears as they are remembered? Probably yes. Tears are OK. Will these tears ruin the festivities for the rest of the participants? I hope not. The alternative is to fake it through and not mention this loved one’s name even though this name is on every person’s mind and this person is very much missed.

I suggest that families confront the issue head on and then get on with the festivities. Address the missing person directly and have some tears and then move on with the celebration. To avoid this loved one can lead to guilt and remorse that this cherished name and person was avoided and ignored. That is too high a price to pay along with the normal guilt and remorse that oftentimes accompanies a death from suicide. 

Some family members might choose not to participate. That is OK. It might be too much for them to endure. They should not be penalized because they avoided the ritual. It is important to remember that people grieve differently.

Overall, I am a firm believer that as we remember our loved ones through rituals, they continue to be a part of a family system. A tragedy worse than losing a loved one to suicide is if these loved ones were to be forgotten.  If there are rituals, these loved ones will always be part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten. 

It takes some creativity to get a ritual together. The ritual can be very simple as a toast before a meal and wishing this loved one peace and goodwill. The person’s picture can be displayed in a prominent place of honor. A candle can be lit in memory of this loved one. A song can be sung or played. A prayer can be offered, or a scripture passage can be recited. 

… The important point is that these loved ones are remembered during these holiday times. Will the gatherings be ruined by such a ritual? I don’t think so. The first few holidays without this loved one take on a very different tone and are very painful. Every succeeding holiday is different because this loved one is missing. The goal is to be able to remember this loved one without going to pieces. This takes time and a lot of practice. The rituals help in the practice and allow family members to develop a comfort level with this missing person.

Integrating Suicide Loss – What That Means for Me

I read somewhere, during the first year following my son’s suicide, that it takes an average of X years to fully integrate a suicide loss. I intentionally plugged in the letter X because we’re all on different timelines; suicide is not one size fits all.

For a time, I thought I knew what integration meant. I thought it meant that I would get back to who I was in terms of being fully functional. I thought it meant that I would once again operate at the level prior to my son’s death. I thought it meant that I could enjoy life again without survivor’s guilt and with a good night’s sleep. I thought it meant I would no longer need to rely on individual counseling or group therapy.

I was wrong. Integration of a loved one’s suicide does not guarantee well-being. Integration guarantees nothing, nor is it easily recognizable. Integration of a suicide loss for me is unique to me, just as integration of your suicide loss is unique to you. Integration isn’t something that you look for, but rather something that will find its way to you.

For me, integration turned out to be more about feeling, and less about thinking.

For the first two years or so, I spoke to my son every night but no matter what I said, no matter how I started my monologue, it always led back to the same place – I’m sorry, I wish things were different, I’m sorry, I wish it had been me instead of you, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

So why did I talk to my son every night? Because the moment the umbilical cord was cut, my son was his own person, physically detached and completely autonomous. After he died, he was still detached, no longer existing, but autonomous just the same. And since I spoke to him in life, it made sense to continue to do so, even in death. Especially in death.

Gradually as more and more time passed, I continued to speak to my son at night, but I’d forget from time to time and this made me feel guilty. Guilty that I wasn’t saying the same thing over and over again every night to someone who may never hear me, and who can never respond. Guilty that I may be forgetting my son as cares of the day come to preoccupy my mind. Guilty for beginning to feel less guilt.

I started talking to my son tonight, more than four years out.

I hadn’t talked to him in a while and I started my monologue the same way I always do. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry … and then it hit me. I don’t feel the need to check in with my son every night because he is no longer detached. He is a part of me, but not in the same, natured and nurtured way in which he was in life; this is difficult to explain but I’ll do my best.

We often hear that death changes us, but how many of us stop to think that it’s the one we lost who is affecting that change? I mean actively as opposed to passively. Just because our loved ones are no longer here with us does not mean that they no longer have an impact on our lives, that they can no longer play an active role in shaping who we are, that they are not, in effect, acting through us.

I’ve become a more compassionate person as a result of losing my son, but I neither give myself nor death, credit for that, instead I give it to my son. I am more self-aware than I’ve ever been before and again, the credit goes to my son. I strive to make a difference in the lives of other survivors, thanks yet again to my son.

For me, integration means acknowledging that my son is acting through me by helping me to make a difference in this world, however small, however fleeting. Would I rather he be here, autonomous and breathing? Absolutely, but that will never happen. So, what is the next best thing for me? Allowing him to have an impact on my life, allowing him to actively shape who I am, in effect, allowing him to act through me. This is how integration found me.

I’m Taking Him with Me

Until five weeks ago, I was suffering depression without ease, since my son’s passing eight months ago. I was torn between continuing my journey and remaining where Keeghan’s journey had ended. I was suffering anxiety over the issue and discussed that with my psychologist. I explained it as feeling like one hand being held stationary where Keeghan’s journey ended and the other hand being pulled in the other direction, trying to continue my journey and stretching me in-between. Of course, this was not possible and led to more confusion for myself.

My psychologist paused for a moment, then asked what I thought of taking Keeghan with me on my journey. This clicked with me instantly. After only a couple of affirmations to this effect, I felt a tranquility wash over me. Since that day, depression has taken a back seat in my life, but I know it’s still lurking, so I remain vigilant.

Sunday 18th of August was the first birthday since my son’s passing. He would have been 19. The week leading up to it was terrible and I returned to the darkness. The day dawned and I went to watch the sunrise, a cup of tea in hand. I spoke to Keeghan, wishing him a happy birthday and letting him know I was getting a tattoo that day to celebrate it.

The tattoo is both an affirmation of taking him on my journey and a proclamation of my love for him. Since yesterday I have felt so peaceful. A major block to my forward progress has been removed.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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Relationships with the Dead Have a Life of Their Own

In November, it will be 39 years since my father died by suicide. He is still with me as much as he ever was, and paradoxically, he is also more absent than ever. My emotional relationship with him has changed and evolved more during the time since he died than it did when he was alive, and I daresay that I understand him better than I understand any other human being I have ever known. And at long last –actually, beginning about 18 years ago –my understanding has given me peace. It almost makes me weep to talk about that, for during the first decade after he died, I had no peace at all over his death, and during the second decade, although I gained ground consistently, I had no idea where I was headed.

Those two decades, more than anything that came before or after, landed me where I am today –truly made me who I am, both for better and for worse. I am not a fatalist –for any number of things, the smallest happenstance, might have turned me this way or that, even toward my own demise or exaltation –but everything unfolded in a way that makes sense, at least now it does, looking back at the thousand subtleties in the push and pull of navigating my life. My father’s presence in my life (even if the most tangible force behind it was his absence) contributed something vital every step of the way, and he still is conjured up at times in a way that makes it difficult for me to separate the symbolic from the thing itself.

Three years ago, my now 18-year-old grandson came to Boston for a visit, and one night, I taught him how to play cribbage –and even without a mention, my father was there. His presence at such moments, it seems to me, is neither complicated nor magical, for it is easily explained by the power of memory. My dad taught me to play cribbage a year or two before I was old enough even to understand the game very well, and I’ve sat across the dining room table from him hundreds of times, watching him shuffle the deck in a kitchen soaked in the smell of Paladin Black Cherry pipe tobacco. The last time I saw him alive, I played a game of cribbage with him, sitting in the hallway of a psychiatric hospital, with the whisking of paper slippers passing next to us and more fear and uncertainty hanging in the air between us than I could bear.

Yet, even though merely saying the word “cribbage”connects me with him –and even as a dozen other sights and sounds and smells and tastes bring him into view –my memories of him are becoming fixed, and those that are lost are lost forever. I can remember clearly only a few things he once said, and I can no longer hear the sound of his voice. Sometimes when my mother tells a story about him –even though I am a character in the scene –I have no recollection of it whatsoever. I remember the oddest incidents –seeing them almost dreamlike in my mind’s eye –but I do not recall him at my high school graduation nor during the birth of my first son (and he was surely there for both events). If I were to write down more than a few lines in an attempt to describe any sustained interaction I ever had with him, I would wonder which parts of my tale actually happened and which I was embellishing to fill in the gaps.

This is the nature of memory, and it operates the same for my memories both of the living and the dead. Similarly, the nature of intimate relationships –both with the living and the dead –is that they continue always changing and evolving. Even as the reality of my father as a living person slips further and further into the past, his influence in my life –which is now almost exclusively a very positive influence –continues to grow. For me, the strength of my relationship with him –the concreteness of his “presence” in my life –comes partly from the fact that my work for the past 18 years in suicide prevention and suicide grief support has been devoted to him. But even that has evolved remarkably: My work used to be motivated by my need for redemption and now it is being driven by my desire to change the status quo, to focusing on my intention to create something meaningful in every moment, in every task, in every connection.

In the end, all that has occurred which keeps me connected to him (who is gone) has come full circle and caused me to be more meaningfully connected to everything unfolding in front of me (which is right here, right now).

They Live On …

“People you love never die. … They live in your mind, the way they always lived inside you. You keep their light alive. If you remember them well enough, they can still guide you, like the shine of long-extinguished stars could guide ships in unfamiliar waters.” ~Matt Haig, H

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am present to the love I feel for friends and family – those who are alive and those who have passed. And I am grateful for the love they extend to me. Quite honestly, I don’t know how I could manage without it.

The love I feel towards those dear ones who have passed has never lessened. I still feel connected to them – not in this physical life, but through memories, thoughts, dreams, and signs.

When I read posts on our forum, I know I am not alone in this feeling, for beneath all the shock and pain, there is an undying love and connectedness expressed for those who have died.

I see this love reflected on the Alliance of Hope Memorial Wall, where dedications reflect the love and bonds that continue between survivors and those who have passed. Our loved ones had talents, made contributions, and touched many lives. The shock and pain surrounding their manner of death does not negate who they were, nor the love we felt for them.

I am grateful that much has changed – and continues to change, in the landscape that surrounds grief. In decades past, the bereaved were often encouraged to cut bonds and “move forward.” Grief theorists saw holding onto a relationship with the deceased as pathological. Yet, theory had little to do with how people really processed their grief. 

We now recognize that deep bonds are not severed by death. Our loved ones are still beloved members of our families and communities, though they exist in a different form. While their physical bodies are no longer present, their essence continues to inform and enrich our daily lives.

This Valentine’s Day, as always, I send my love to the Alliance of Hope community. I am so grateful for the love and kindness expressed here. I invite you to visit the Alliance of Hope Memorial Wall, and add a memorial for your loved one, if so inclined. 

His Essence Is Still With Me

I find myself posting quite often that I “lost” my son to suicide. I also find myself posting often about my firm belief that Tandi is with me. I’ve been wrestling for a while with the idea that those two seem to be mutually exclusive.

Did I lose my son or is he with me? It seemed to me that both couldn’t be true – that either one or the other must be true, but not both.

As I’ve struggled with this seeming inconsistency, I have begun to realize that both are indeed true. I lost Tandi in the sense that his physical presence is no longer with me. But his physical presence, his body if you will, doesn’t describe the essence of who he is.

If I were to describe him, I could describe him physical: 5’3″, brown skin, dark hair, dark eyes, athlete, hunter, skier, etc. I could easily come up with an accurate description of who he was physically, and we have a ga-jillion pictures as proof of that description. But I’d be describing who he was, not who he is.

I could also describe him as the essence of who he is: loving, great sense of humor, kind and gentle, a peacemaker with friends and family, etc. Who he was is indeed “lost” to me. But who he is – the essence of him – his personality, his spirit, his soul – is not lost. Who he is constitutes the intangibles that make him Tandi, whose things I can’t physically touch and feel but are clearly there.

As hard as it is to accept and find peace with losing who Tandi was, I’m thankful that I will never, ever lose who he is. May each member here never lose the essence of who your loved one is.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

As long as there are rituals these loved ones will always be a part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten.

As we enter the month of November, we begin the holiday season. For grieving people, this is a very painful time of year because a loved one has died. When a loved one has died from suicide the family system has been permanently altered by a seemingly senseless act that with the proper intervention might have been prevented.

I am a firm believer that families that grieve together stand a better chance of coming to grips with the grief as compared to family members who go off and grieve on their own. With the holidays approaching, I suggest that families gather together and have some type of ritual to remember that loved one who found life so painful that they could no longer endure the pain of mental anguish. The ritual is a vehicle whereby a loved one can remain a part of a family, albeit in a different type of presence.

Their presence is more mystical than physical, but they are present all the same. They remain a part of a family system even though they have gone to the hereafter. They still have a name and are loved by the survivors and have been a part of a family so why shouldn’t they have a part in family festivities? Will there be tears as they are remembered? Probably yes. Tears are OK. Will these tears ruin the festivities for the rest of the participants? I hope not. The alternative is to fake it through and not mention this loved one’s name even though this name is on every person’s mind and this person is very much missed.

I suggest that families confront the issue head on and then get on with the festivities. Address the missing person directly and have some tears and then move on with the celebration. To avoid this loved one can lead to guilt and remorse that this cherished name and person was avoided and ignored. That is too high a price to pay along with the normal guilt and remorse that oftentimes accompanies a death from suicide.

Some family members might choose not to participate. That is OK. It might be too much for them to endure. They should not be penalized because they avoided the ritual. It is important to remember that people grieve differently.

Overall, I am a firm believer that as we remember our loved ones through rituals they continue to be a part of a family system. Remember that a tragedy worse than losing a loved one to suicide is if these loved ones were to be forgotten. As long as there are rituals these loved ones will always be a part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten.

It takes some creativity to get a ritual together. The ritual can be very simple as a toast before a meal and wishing this loved one peace and goodwill. The person’s picture can be displayed in a prominent place of honor. A candle can be lit in memory of this loved one. A song can be sung or played in memory of this person. A prayer can be offered or a scripture passage can be recited…. The important point is that these loved ones are remembered during these holiday times. Will the gatherings be ruined by such a ritual? I don’t think so. The first few holidays without this loved one take on a very different tone and are very painful. Every succeeding holiday is different because this loved one is missing. The ultimate goal is to be able to remember this loved one without going to pieces. This takes time and a lot of practice. The rituals help in the practice and allow family members to develop a comfort level with this missing person.”

Excerpted from:”From the desk of Father Rubey, Obelisk Newsletter, Nov 2005. Father Charles Rubey is the Founder and Director of the LOSS Program, The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Light Will Return to My Life

Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all the darkness. ~Desmond Tutu

In many survivor groups across the world, December ushers in a special ceremony of remembrance and hope. Survivors gather together during this darkest time of the year, light candles, and recite a communal prayer or affirmation. Each phrase is punctuated with the sentence: “Light will return to my life.

During the years I facilitated support groups here in Chicago, we gathered in a circle and repeated this ceremony. Members brought photos of loved ones and passed them around. It felt very special to see the images of loved ones — faces filled with intelligence, compassion, humor, and warmth. Many were strikingly handsome, surrounded by family — with never a hint of how things would end. Sharing photos always brought group members closer together.

Sometimes new members would tell the rest of us that they had little hope light would ever return to their lives, and we understood how they felt. In the immediate weeks and months following loss, it is often difficult to believe in anything, much less that “light will return to one’s life.”

Newly bereaved survivors struggle – many in the battles of their lives – with debilitating emotions. Some report a surreal quality to their first holiday season after loss. They say they feel profoundly disconnected from the rest of the world, which is immersed in decorating, partying, and buying presents.

I believe it is particularly important at this time of the year for our survivor community to reassure the newest members that the pain does diminish and transform and that those who have died do not stop being a part of our families. Those who have died are still loved as strongly as ever. We consciously and unconsciously find new ways to relate to them and carry their spirits with us as we complete the journeys of our own lives.

Carl Jung once wrote: “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” It would be hard to find a survivor of suicide loss who has not been immersed in darkness at some point. It is in touching the darkness that we come to know more about Life and Light.

Recently, I read an anonymous quote: “I stopped looking for the light. Decided to become it instead.” How simple and how profound. I believe that is what most survivors do eventually. While they may not acknowledge or even recognize that’s what they are doing, a close look at any group of loss survivors reveals their profound compassion and courage to reach out to others in pain. 

As the year comes to a close, I want to wish everyone a peaceful holiday season. I pray that light will return to your lives in the coming months and years and that each of you will become a source of light and inspiration for others.

They Are Gone but Not Forgotten

We have entered the holiday season. For grieving people, this is a very painful time of year because a loved one has died.

I am a firm believer that families that grieve together stand a better chance of coming to grips with the grief as compared to family members who go off and grieve on their own. With the holidays approaching, I suggest that families gather together and create some type of ritual to remember their loved one. The ritual is a vehicle whereby a loved one can remain a part of a family, albeit in a different type of presence.

As long as here are rituals, loved ones will always be a part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten. Their presence is more mystical than physical, but they are present all the same. They remain a part of a family system even though they have gone to the hereafter. They still have a name and are loved by the survivors and have been a part of a family,so why shouldn’t they have a part in family festivities? Will there be tears as they are remembered? Probably yes. Tears are OK. Will these tears ruin the festivities for the rest of the participants? I hope not. The alternative is to fake it through and not mention this loved one’s name even though this name is on every person’s mind and this person is very much missed.

Some family members might choose not to participate. That is OK. It might be too much for them to endure. They should not be penalized because they avoided the ritual. It is important to remember that people grieve differently.

Overall, I am a firm believer that as we remember our loved ones through rituals they continue to be a part of a family system. A tragedy worse than losing a loved one to suicide is if these loved ones were to be forgotten. As long as there are rituals,these loved ones will always be a part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten.

It takes some creativity to get a ritual together. The ritual can be very simple as a toast before a meal and wishing this loved one peace and goodwill. The person’s picture can be displayed in a prominent place of honor. A candle can be lit in memory of this loved one. A song can be sung or played in memory of this person. A prayer can be offered or a scripture passage can be recited. The important point is that these loved ones are remembered during these holiday times.

Will the gatherings be ruined by such a ritual? I don’t think so. The first few holidays without this loved one take on a very different tone and are very painful. Every succeeding holiday is different because this loved one is missing. The ultimate goal is to be able to remember this loved one without going to pieces. This takes time and a lot of practice. The rituals help in the practice and allow family members to develop a comfort level with this missing person.”

The Journey: I Let Something Go

My son had been home for a visit the month before he died. After he died, I found a food bag/wrapper in my car. I hadn’t seen it before, but as soon as I did, I realized he had originally left it there as a joke. We had a lot of those private family jokes. Of course, discovering it when I did took the fun out of it. It served as a reminder that we really did have those interactions. If I had found it sooner, I would have laughed, texted him and thrown it away.

So, this small bag with the empty wrapper took on a lot of meaning for me. I left it in a special container in the car (thank goodness I don’t have to explain that here!) and it became known as my “memorial garbage.” My husband was especially careful that nothing happened to it during a car wash or servicing and I had to physically check that it was still there myself afterward for a long time. My close friends knew about it.

This weekend, we were cleaning some things out of my car and I realized that the story of my memorial garbage was more interesting and important to me than the actual garbage. I know that John would not have been pleased with me keeping any garbage in my car. I can see the look he would have given me! I looked at it and I knew I could let it go. My husband reassured me that I could keep it if I wanted -but I didn’t want to. I was ready to keep the story and not the thing. I could feel my son is pleased with me and I’m okay with it.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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