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The Twelfth Christmas

This year will mark the twelfth Christmas without my husband. I think one of the things that made his suicide so unbelievable was that he had always been so incredibly strong. In mind and in body. Even the strong and the brave, the gentle and the good can lose hope and the will to live. I would not have been so shocked if his heart had given out though a brain is no more indestructible than a human heart. In a way, his heart did give out first though not without a long and hard-fought battle.

I never say my “late” husband. I don’t think of him as gone or late. If anything, he left too soon. And the influence his life had on mine was so powerful it is still there. Seeing the world through his eyes is something that continues to be a part of me. In many ways, he made me who I am. People have that effect on one another, and I don’t expect that to change. We grew so close that when he died, part of me died, too.

I suspect it is that way with each of you and the ones you loved. For those of you who are in the early years of loss, know that you are not alone and that you can survive. For you who are further from your deepest grief, know you are living proof that it is possible to go beyond just surviving to thrive and rebuild a life, “to have happy, meaningful and contributory lives,” as Ronnie Walker, Alliance of Hope’s founder says.

I like to read about the history and mission of the Alliance of Hope, where I volunteer. It makes me feel that my small part in something that makes a difference in the world is a worthy tribute to my husband. It helps me face the holidays (and every day) with joy as well as memories that are bittersweet.

I lost my beloved husband but not what he means to me. He is always present. Always loved. Always an influence for good.

The people we have lost are not defined by the way that we lost them, and neither are we.

About the Author

Jan McDaniel

Jan McDaniel volunteers as an Alliance of Hope forum moderator, manager, and blog content provider. She is also a regular contributor to Psych Central’s World of Psychology blog and writes about survival, connection, and hope on her website.Read More »

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It is Alright to Take Off the Mask

From the Desk of Father Rubey:

Halloween has become a major holiday. It is now second only to Christmas in expenditures for decorations around people’s homes and yards. Many people erect ghoulish figures, fake cemeteries with tombstones, or dummies hanging from trees, to be humorous.

Sometimes, survivors of suicide loss find these to be uncomfortable reminders of a loved one who died by suicide. My suggestion during this time of the year is to be prepared to have the pain of suicide stirred up as a result of decorations that are meant to be humorous but may feel offensive.

Halloween is also a time when people put on costumes and masks, pretending to be someone they are not. Costume parties are the rage. There is often a lot of hilarity and jesting at such gatherings.

Sometimes, survivors of a suicide loss wear a mask.

They pretend that everything is alright when in fact their hearts are broken. While survivors might not want to bare their hearts and souls to each person they meet during the grieving process, I believe that they do themselves a disservice to pretend that everything is fine if in fact, they are downright miserable.

It is alright to admit that your grief process is painful. I am not suggesting that you share your pain with every person that you meet, but it is alright to let people know that you miss your loved one beyond imagination. Otherwise, people are under the impression that everything is fine when in fact it isn’t.  

… It is alright to take the mask off to those people who count in your life. It is alright to let them know that the pain of grief is excruciating, and lasts a long time. It is not something that is going to go away in a few weeks or months.

People in the world around the survivor want nothing more than to see the survivor get over this experience, but they also need to understand that surviving the suicide of a loved one is not something one gets over. It is something that survivors learn to live with. This lesson will take place as survivors take off the mask that everything is alright and let people know that their journey is lengthy and painful, but that they will survive and even thrive in time.

Our loved ones wore masks.

Survivors often mention that their loved ones did not appear to be troubled. They beat themselves up trying to figure out how they could have “missed signs.” The fact is that these many of our loved ones wore a mask that everything was fine in their lives. They went about their lives as if nothing was wrong, when in fact their life was unraveling as they went about their business.

It is possible that these loved ones wore masks because of the stigma that is attached to mental illness or because they did not see any other way out except to end their life. They believed that no intervention was going to end their pain. No intervention was going to work. They believed that ending their life was going to end the pain – finally.

No one knows how long these loved ones carried the burden of mental illness and the ensuing pain. It could have been months or years, but because the mask was worn very effectively there were no signs that they were in such a desperate state of mind. It is only after the suicide that survivors come to realize the extent of the pain.

The mask came off but by then it was too late. The pain was gone and the life of this much-loved person ended, and they finally found peace – at last.

As always, I want to assure each and every one of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a regular basis and I encourage all of the LOSS family to remember each other in thought and prayer, especially those who have recently joined our family and also those who found life too painful to continue living.

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Fr. Charles Rubey

Two Separate Griefs

Being a long-time survivor of the loss of my son, I’ve collected a ton of interesting articles and snippets over the years. I found one this morning and I’m sharing this because I’ve felt the same way.

In an essay published on The Mighty, one mother wrote:

I am mourning the loss of my son Tom’s daily presence including his sense of humor, his generous spirit, his helpfulness, his playfulness, his sarcasm, and his ‘one raised eyebrow’ look. I physically ache for him. I miss his half smile. I miss mothering him, even nagging him about school, and putting his dirty clothes in the laundry room. I miss hugging and encouraging him. … and I am also mourning the way he died. If it had happened some other way, there might be someone or something to blame. A drunk driver. An arrogant doctor. A terrible ailment. God. But for him to die in this way allows me no one to blame but a dark, lonely, and — at least in Tom’s case — invisible illness which calls too many to this end.” ~Kimberly Starr

Instinctively, I knew that if my child died in any other way, I would have handled it very differently. I would have even had a reason not to heal because “life is so unfair” and “it is unfair that children die before their parents.” Now, with it being a suicide, there was not much of a choice but to change my perceptions and beliefs to accommodate healing. Also, we grew up with a lot of judgment (it is a generational thing.) It took me many years to step out of that mindset. And yes, it is a mindset that can be changed. We just need to be willing to see what we are doing and be willing to not continue in the same manner.

If my child died in a vehicle accident, I would have blamed the other driver. Or whomever for whatever the possibilities are endless. I know that because I know myself. His death by his own hand forced me to look inside myself and find my answers there. There was nobody to blame. Nobody forced him to do what he did. And maybe nobody could have prevented this either.

Yet, I did blame myself. It took a long time to realize that nobody is to blame not me, not my child, not life, not God nobody.

It is what it is and it is sad and because of that, this was a wake-up call like no other. Sometimes life gives you a horrible blow, but it doesn’t mean that it was wrong or unfair. If I don’t judge it, it is neither good nor bad but just “is.”

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our 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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When Your Knees Hit the Floor

Since writing A Different Kind of Same about losing my brother to suicide, I’ve had the privilege of talking to a couple of book clubs. Yesterday I did a Q&A with one over the internet. It was a great group of women who were friendly and engaged. They had prepared insightful questions and made me feel welcome, even though I was kind of awkward and super nervous. I can’t shake the belief that I’m rubbish in person. I think a lot of writers feel this way. Like, I’m happy to respond to any questions you have; just give me six months to write 15 drafts of my answer. But overall (I think) I managed to sound coherent. Until one woman asked, “How do you deal with the feelings of guilt and helplessness?”

That shut me right up.

You see, this club lost one of its members to suicide last year. They were right there in it, in the messiest, stickiest part of grief.

I floundered. There were a lot of “Ummmm,” and “Wow, that’s a good question,” and a few ramblings about grief as evidence of deep love. I finally said I needed more time to think about it and asked if I could email them my response. “I want to give you guys a really good answer,” I said.

The problem was that I already knew the answer, and I was worried that it was crappy. Nearly 12 years out from my own loss, I still want to believe there’s something we can do to escape all that pain. There should be a handbook, a manual, or at least a list of helpful suggestions. I know there are a few things we can try: We can read books about grieving; we can talk to our friends and family about what we’re feeling; we can pray, or meditate, or go for walks in quiet places; we can volunteer with suicide prevention efforts. These are all things I did, and they helped, some. But the truth is that the only way to deal with guilt and helplessness is to feel them, to let them soften us, to let them be part of our grief, and to be as gentle with ourselves as possible.

It’s awful. It’s really, really uncomfortable. It hurts. It takes a long time. And it isn’t fair.

All last night I pouted and grumbled about it. I didn’t want to be the bearer of this bad news. I wanted to be the hero, the sage, the one who knows where all the land mines are buried in the field of grief and, most important, how to dig them up safely. Then I remembered a quote that one of the other women shared at the end of our meeting, from the author Marianne Williamson.

“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.”

And I realized, “Who am I to stop anyone’s knees from hitting the floor?” The intent — to decrease someone’s suffering —is pure, but the action robs survivors of the validation their grief needs. The most powerful, most helpful thing I know to do is to tell the truth, even when it isn’t what I want it to be. I also remembered that when you stop trying to chase away the guilt and the hopelessness, they have room to become kindness and compassion. When you give them space, they can lead you to empathy and love.

Your knees are going to hurt like hell. You’re going to think you might never stand up again. But you will.

I hope this answers her question.

Advice to Someone Who Is Feeling Guilty

Guilt is part and parcel of “survivorship.”

I had not spoken to my sister for the six months prior to her death. The separation itself was not ‘pretty.’ Her parting words to me were the most hurtful of all the things she had ever said to me in anger. I did not retaliate, I just separated for my own survival.

I spent the first three months after her death beating myself up, crying over the separation, and hating myself for not being a part of her life for those last six months. I kept thinking that if I had been, she would still be alive.

The truth I’ve come to know is that I was not powerful enough to change her decision. While I might have delayed what she did, I believe that once she decided to go down that path, I could not have stopped her.

I allowed my guilt to turn into regrets instead. Regrets for me are things that I might have done differently, while guilt is taking the blame for things I caused. I did not cause my sister’s death. It was her choice and her decision alone. If I could have stopped her I would. I don’t blame myself; I just regret my decisions and choices, but I have finally let myself off the hook.

Concentrate on all the good you brought to your loved one’s life. Try to remember all that you did for him or her instead of what you didn’t do or what you perceive as things you might have done differently. Don’t forget the love you gave and all the ways you helped. Allow, if you can, yourself to let go of the blame/guilt and replace it with regret. Guilt is such a soul-wrenching emotion and makes healing from this grief much more difficult.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our 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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Celebrate Your Accomplishments

I can hear you grumbling now: “Celebrate my accomplishments? What accomplishments? I haven’t accomplished anything since my loved one died by suicide.”

Oh, but you have! You’ve survived the horrible news of your loved one’s death. You’ve made it through the first few gut-wrenching days, weeks, months, or even years. You’re looking at your computer screen right now, which means you aren’t lying catatonic in bed, though you may wish you were.

Since your loved one died, I bet you’ve gotten out of bed, taken a shower, brushed your hair and teeth, maybe even run errands, or gone to work. Maybe you’ve set about the difficult business of dealing with your loved one’s belongings and estate. Maybe, through circumstances or choice, you’ve dealt with a big life change like moving, confronting a health problem, or welcoming a new child into the family. You may even have been the kind voice that helped another survivor feel less lonely.

On the Alliance of Hope forum, there is a sub-forum titled: “Accomplishments.” Survivors post there about the victories, big and small, they’ve achieved since the death of their loved one. If you still feel like you haven’t accomplished anything since your loved one died, maybe their words will inspire you.

Every Day Bravery

“I vacuumed today. It felt like an overwhelming task, but I did it.”

I remember waking up the morning after I found my friend’s lifeless body in her apartment. I had so much that I needed to do…but I didn’t want to do any of it. I wanted to hide under the covers and pretend that nothing that had happened the day before had been real. If I didn’t move, didn’t function, I could almost make myself believe it was all a bad dream.

But of course, I had to get up, that day and every day afterward. It takes a special kind of courage to get out of bed and face an “ordinary” day when you know your loved one won’t be able to share it with you. It’s no wonder our fellow Forum members list among their accomplishments things like getting out of bed, cleaning the house, going grocery shopping, and balancing the checkbook. When your heart is broken, there are no little things at all. They are accomplishments, and you should be proud of them.

Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide

“I used to keep the closet so I wouldn’t see his clothes. Now I will close the closet, so I don’t have to see the emptiness. You can’t win with this.”

The sudden death of a loved one creates a lot of unfinished business. Members on the Forum often write about having to plan memorial services for their loved ones with very little time and even less money. They also write about dealing with their loved one’s belongings, coping with the police, medical examiners, and inquests, and trying to remember to take the time and energy to thank the people who helped out during their darkest days.

Members of this community also write about finding unique ways to memorialize their loved ones, such as keeping their loved one’s cremains in a special urn or getting a tattoo. One woman who lost her father to suicide wrote, “I’m very proud to have my daddy on my shoulder, and I dare someone to say something about it!”

Picking up the pieces your loved one left behind may be a necessity, but it’s also a huge accomplishment.

Reconnecting with the World

“I finally went to a support group last night.”

Some people naturally seek the support of others when they are sad or grieving, but many of us turn into little hermit crabs. Reaching out to the world when your heart is raw and aching can be so difficult, yet Forum members write of taking huge steps like returning to the comfort of a church family, holding a birthday party for a child in the family, going out to dinner with friends, and even attending support groups to find allies in healing.

If you have fought the urge to hibernate and reached out to another person instead, give yourself a pat on the back. That’s a huge accomplishment.

Major Life Changes

“He’s the best blessing God could have given me through this hellish nightmare and brightens my day and brings so much joy and happiness.”

Many grief experts suggest avoiding major life changes for at least a year after you’ve been bereaved, but we all know that life happens and that change sometimes comes along whether we want it or not. Survivors on the Forum note living through huge changes such as having a new baby, moving to a new house or apartment, leaving an old job and starting a new one, and even forming a new relationship after the death of a partner.

We all know that these things, even if positive, can be stressful enough when there is nothing else going on in your life. To weather a major life change shortly after a suicide takes an especially strong heart–and yes, it’s an accomplishment.

Helping Raise Awareness of Suicide and Suicide Survivors

“It pulled me back into my grief fully again…but I feel it was worth it if it made one family seek help or perhaps [made] one suicidal person aware of how much damage it would do their family if they died in that manner.”

Survivors come to the Forum to get help with their own grief and pain, but they almost invariably end up helping others heal as well. Some go a step further and raise awareness and funds for mission-driven nonprofits, like the Alliance of Hope. Others write books, articles, or blogs. Others give interviews to local reporters in hopes of preventing a tragedy like the one they experienced.

If you have reached out to a grieving, depressed, or suicidal person in any way, no matter how small the gesture may have seemed to you at the time, you can be assured you have had a positive impact on someone’s life.

And if you recognize yourself in any part of this article, you can be sure that you have accomplished many things since your loved one died. Take a moment to think about these accomplishments and, if you can, allow yourself a moment to celebrate them. It is still too soon to celebrate, at least be aware that you have shown grace, strength, and courage that will see you through this hard time.

“Everything is Fine”

by Rabbi Baruch HaLevi

My grandmother killed herself over a quarter-century ago, and yet, I remember it as if it were yesterday. The sights. The sounds. The horror. The grief. However, what I don’t remember were conversations about the grief. Maybe they were had, but not by me or with me. Instead, life forged ahead as if everything was “fine.”

“I’m fine” became my father’s mantra, whether he said it or not. After his mother’s death, my father seemed to “suck it up” and deal with his darkness the only way he knew how – by getting back to his routines, his work, and his life. Like many people in the aftermath of a loss, he believed he was too busy for grief; busy raising a family, building a business, and playing his part within a larger community. I think he believed he was doing us a favor by not delving into the darkness. So, he put his head down and focused on providing for his family and said, “everything is fine,” in the way he lived his life.

This determination carried him forward for a while, and to an outsider looking in, everything probably appeared fine. However, everything was not fine. The unprocessed suffering, guilt, grief, regret and anger over his mother’s suicide were growing louder in his soul. Indeed, everything was far from fine, and roughly two decades later, my father killed himself.

Everything could have been fine for my dad if only he would have stopped pretending that it was fine. There is simply nothing “fine” about avoidance, a-void-dance, dance around the void.

When a loved one dies, no matter how much you want everything to be fine – it is not. Rushing back to work does not make everything fine. Speeding back into the routines does not make everything fine. Jumping back into action does not make everything fine. Everything can be “fine” – someday, but not today. When death’s darkness casts its shadow upon your life, make sure you aren’t simply responding “I’m fine;” “It’s fine;” “Everything is fine,” to simply avoid facing the darkness. It can be “fine” again. It will be “fine” again. Repeating “everything is fine,” however, when it is not, is not how you will get there. Things will only return to “fine” when you are honest, real, face your darkness, work through your grief and share your pain.

Rabbi B

About the Author

Rabbi Dr. Baruch HaLevi

Rabbi Dr. Baruch HaLevi is Executive Director of Soul Centered, a center for loss, grief and healing, and author of, “Spark Seekers: Mourning with Meaning; Living with Light.” Spark Seekers details his journey in surviving the suicides of both his grandmother and father and having guided thousands of people from all religions, backgrounds, and beliefs through death’s darkness, back to life’s light.Read More »

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Addressing the Stigma

Survivors face many challenges, including the attribution of ‘selfishness’ to the deceased by those who lack understanding.

A while back, a post on the Alliance of Hope Forum caught my attention. The gentleman who wrote it was angry at his “uncle by marriage” who had ended his life two days earlier. As he grappled with the death of his uncle, he expressed several of the most clichéd and negative assumptions about individuals who end their lives.

Here is his post:

“Two days ago, my uncle by marriage committed suicide. I wasn’t that close to him, but he always treated me with consideration. … He was a 62-year-old farmer, a pillar of church and community, and his wife found him hung in the barn. No one thought he had any problems. No sign of depression. No note.

I have some mixed feelings. I believe it was his choice to kill himself. Nobody knows how much pain the guy was in, and if that was his solution, then that solution was his to implement. On the other hand, I get the feeling it was like he was saying ‘**** you’ to one and all. Because of that, I say to him, ‘**** you right back at ya. You didn’t get to me with what you did and any suffering you incur because of it is rightly yours and has no claim on me.’

He had a wife, kids, and grandchildren. I think it was a rotten thing for him to do this. It’s like he’s put the reputation of his family, heretofore a family the whole community looked up to, into question. In a way, it let the town down too. He chose this route.”

When I first read the post, it took my breath away.

I was startled by the lack of compassion for the man who had died, as well as the belief system that informed his nephew. And I was concerned about the impact the post might have on other members of the forum. But the post’s writer had invited “other opinions and observations” in his closing paragraph, and “wished everyone on the forum well” … so in I headed in with a response. Here is my response:

“Hello, I am sorry for the loss your family has experienced. A suicide leaves a family and community grappling with complex emotions. Your uncle was a loved and respected man who contributed to others throughout his life. Many will be saddened by his death and may experience turbulent emotions: shock, disbelief, grief, guilt, fear, blame, and anger.

The Alliance of Hope website provides substantial information about suicide. I hope that you will share it with anyone who may benefit from the comfort and education it provides.

Suicide is a shocking event. It leaves loss survivors – no matter how peripheral – with mixed feelings just like the ones you have expressed. Many times people speak of the ‘choice’ the departed made, just as you did. As a mental health clinician and survivor, I believe most people who die by suicide have fallen into a state of such despair that they are not capable of rational ‘choice’ as we regularly define it.

Suicide is not the result of a character flaw. Sometimes individuals have experienced and fought despair for decades – with or without communicating about it. Most people who end their lives do not intend to leave behind a wake of suffering.

Interviews with people who have attempted and survived show that the vast majority who attempt reach a point of hopelessness. Their normal critical thinking ability is severely compromised. Many feel that their death will relieve a burden on their family.

The loss of a loved one by suicide shatters the lives of survivors. They need all the support and love they can get from family and community. Hopefully, you can help those surrounding your aunt recognize that this was a tragic death due to an illness – no different than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Hopefully, you and those who love your aunt will take a stand against the stigma which is born of hundreds of centuries of misinformation and misunderstanding of mental illness.

Lastly, I want to address your thoughts about afterlife following a suicide. Truthfully, I do not know what happens after we leave this earth, but I tend to agree with Father Charles Rubey, founder of the Catholic Charities LOSS Program (Loving Outreach to Suicide Survivors.) In response to the concern of a mother for the soul of her son, he expressed substantial doubt that a loving God would penalize anyone who had already been through hell on earth.”

Thoughtless comments, like those in the post above, cut deeply, especially to those newly bereaved and raw with pain.

In the beginning, all I could do was walk away from similar comments, about my stepson. As time passed and I grew stronger, I was able to take a stand and educate. I was able to speak against the centuries-old assumptions about selfishness and damnation. I hope you can too.

And oh – before I close – this gentleman didn’t stay long on our forum, but to his benefit, he did come back with a gracious response. He wrote: “Thank you for recognizing the context in which this mourning is occurring. I’ll check the info sites you’ve listed on suicide and since knowledge is power, it should help round out my perspective.”

What Helps – Flipping the Script

Hi guys,

I wanted to share a coping strategy I have found helpful. It is something my sister and I have done for years when times are stressful, or we’re overwhelmed. We have continued to do it since my mother died. Now we focus more on dealing with loss and the nature of her death, but it has proven to be helpful for us throughout our lives. We often call it “flip the script.” It is easy to do with someone who knows and understands you.

We both have bad anxiety, so sometimes our fears are not completely rational, but this always calms us both. We begin by saying our fears or things we’re very stressed about, and the worst-case scenarios that could result.

I’ll share mine to protect her privacy:

  1. I fear I’ll always struggle with the last image of my mother, and it will eventually lead me to lose it.
  2. I fear I’ll be a terrible mother since I don’t have one to guide me and wasn’t raised by a functional one.
  3. I fear I’m too young to be buying a second house and I’m in over my head and I’m going to put myself in financial turmoil.
  4. I fear I’m behind at work and that I have forgotten to send out something important since I’ve been so swamped and it will lead to me getting written up or fired.

Okay, now my sister will flip the script for me, and tell me how my worries could have positive outcomes that are also reasonable and rational. For example, she might tell me:

  1. You’re doing EMDR. It is going to help. With therapy and time, you will be able to remember and see mom in a happy way. Also, you are taking care of your mental health so you will not lose your mind.
  2. You will learn from experience and from mom’s mistakes. You will break the generational trend. You will also be a good mother since you’re strong and you’ll have your sisters to help you; we’ll learn from each other.
  3. You’ve already owned your first home for over 2 years and have done well with it. You’ve done your research before making this decision. You’ve been saving and are taking your time. There’s no rush; when you find the right one you’ll be ready. Plus, you’re investing in your future.
  4. Work has been crazy for us both and everyone in our field. It’s a crazy time of year and people understand. You’re feeling anxious because it’s near mom’s one-year mark and you’re overwhelmed. But you know what you’re doing and typically don’t mess up. Your boss also knows you’re a good employee and would not fire you over one mistake. You’re just doubting yourself. Don’t worry.

Just having her flip these for me and show me a positive outcome when I am feeling very anxious is so helpful. When anxiety strikes it is really hard to believe everything will work out and it’s very easy to get in your own head. Since losing our mother our anxiety has increased, but we’ve maintained this practice. It helps even if you must do it 5 times a day some days. I encourage it. Sometimes we all need someone’s help to flip the script.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our 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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I Have Decided

I have decided it is okay for me to be happy. I am going to apologize to my husband for my mistakes and I am going to let the anger and guilt go. I am sure I will have to tell myself this daily, but I know that I do not want to be unhappy, sad, and tired forever.

Most importantly, I am going to forgive myself. I have decided to go to the cemetery and have a long conversation with him. My kids deserve more – and I am beginning to think I do also. I look back on the last year and a half at my own destructive behaviors such as not eating or sleeping. Smoking and drinking too much. At the rate I am going, my health is going to fail, and my kids may be without another parent.

Also, the suicidal thoughts that creep in scare me. What if one day I give up and give in? I am going to try to think positively and I know this will not happen overnight, but if I can think of one small positive thought and then another and another, maybe it will become a frame of mind.

I am also joining a grief support group. Although I cannot imagine I will find more support there than here. This forum is a Godsend! The group will get me out of the house for something besides work. So, it is a small step towards where I want to be.

I have spent the last year of my life holding on to these negative emotions – I think because I feel disloyal somehow or that I don’t deserve the good times because it was my fault.

I think all of you deserve to be happy too.

Motherboots

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our 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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Survivors Deserve a Special Gift

In December, many of us celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, which are very happy times for the celebrants. Families come together, exchange gifts, and eat all different types of food. Years ago, I spent the holiday with my family in Ireland. My cousin shared with me that many Christmases ago the main meal was ruined because there was too much celebrating and she forgot that the meal was in the oven!

One of the key elements of this season is the giving of gifts. I believe survivors deserve a special gift during this season. By this, I mean that survivors should give themselves the gift of deciding that it’s acceptable to experience joy and happiness in the future. That is not something that is going to happen during the immediate and intense aftermath of losing a loved one to suicide.

In the initial stages of grief, one must deal with immense pain, but further on – at some point – survivors can give themselves permission to experience joy, happiness, and pleasure in the future. There is no set timetable for this and no “right” way to do it. It is just a decision that can be made at some point.

Sometimes there are obstacles to making this decision.

Wanting to stay connected: Some hold onto the pain because they think the pain is the last connection to their loved one. Survivors are always going to remember their loved ones and that is also the role of rituals. Rituals provide survivors with an exercise to remember loved ones who found life too painful to continue living.

Fear of Forgetting: Still another reason people hold on to pain is a fear of forgetting their loved ones. Again, that is the role of the ritual. Loved ones will always be a part of the lives of the people who loved them. I have never heard of survivors who have forgotten their loved ones. They do a lot of storytelling about these loved ones and the stories bring up the happier days when these loved ones were a part of a family and a circle of friends.

Guilt: Some survivors feel as if they have no right to experience joy or pleasure because their loved one took their life. This is a very normal reaction, however, survivors need to realize that although their loved ones died, they are alive and they have the right to have good times and to laugh. Survivors might not like the prospect of living a life without their loved one, but the alternative is to spend the rest of one’s life in the shadows, grieving their loss.

The grief journey is never over but there are opportunities in life that may be transformative or bring joy. For that to happen, survivors must be willing to be open to new situations. There is risk in such endeavors, yet very often the risk pays off. The first step is to make the decision to recreate one’s life and redirect one’s life into the world of renewed happiness and renewed pleasure – albeit different that it might be.

As always, I want to assure each member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers during my regularly scheduled quiet time. I encourage all of you to do the same for each other – and especially for those who are recently bereaved and who find these holidays so very painful.

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Fr. Charles Rubey

Mourning Complicated Relationships

Grief isn’t always about lost love.

Even the most loving relationships can have complicated moments. The grief you might feel when a tumultuous relationship suddenly becomes one-sided has its own set of complications.

Most relationships aren’t perfect. There are bound to be disagreements, confusion and conflict even with those who are closest to you. We want to believe all of these complications will be resolved before we die, but the truth is that there are no guarantees. Death can come at any moment, and some interpersonal issues will never be resolved. 

Even in happy, loving relationships with no significant issues, grief is a complicated emotional mess. But when the relationship itself was chaotic or dysfunctional, the grief of having unfinished business can be tormenting for the one who survives.

WHAT IS A LOSS?

Losing someone means not only the end of their physical body, but the end of their continuing presence on earth. Though you will carry part of them with you forever, their advice, perspective and support are gone. 

Grief has been described as love that has nowhere to go. When you love someone who is gone, that love goes inward and is expressed as grief. Love and hate are passionate emotions that live in close proximity to one another. A complicated relationship embodies this love-hate paradox. When love-hate has nowhere to go, it also moves inward, creating a very troubling and intense kind of grief.

WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY ‘COMPLICATED’?

Even the best of relationships are challenging. Even between individuals who have cared for each other for decades, personality differences and preferences complicate all relationships. When the relationship included trauma, estrangement or strife of any kind, death gets even more emotionally arduous. 

The emotional reaction you will have to a death is impossible to prepare for. There’s no way to gauge how your grief will manifest, no matter how expected the death was. However, it’s likely grief will be more tormenting if you didn’t know where you stood with the person prior to death. Unfinished business is the most haunting factor in grief.

Romantic relationships fall easily into the category of complicated relationships. One of the most common obituary-writing challenges is how to include a divorced spouse in the life story in a respectful and discreet manner. Those that had on-and-off-again relationships, or endured abuse at the hands of a partner may also experience an inner conflict when the other party dies. 

But intimate relationships aren’t the only source of conflicted grief. Children whose parents deteriorated due to Alzheimer’s or dementia also face complex feelings at the time of death. Seeing a change in a loved one’s personality affects the way grieving people process the loss, causing many to focus on ‘good’ years rather than the later ones. Family or friends that often quarreled or experienced times of estrangement may also experience difficulty in accepting and processing the loss.

THE GRIEVING PROCESS

When things get really tough with another person, many people share the same knee-jerk reaction. Wishing the other person would die, or simply go away, is a natural response to prolonged frustration and anger. You probably don’t really wish them harm; you just want the pain they bring you to end. 

But when this person dies, this insincere wish takes on a more ominous meaning. First of all, it’s important to remember that simply wishing someone would go away does not contribute to their death. Regretting ever making that wish does not mean you took the deceased person for granted for the whole relationship, or that you are a bad person. It simply reflects the turmoil of one point in time. 

Even if you know this on a cognitive level, it’s difficult to shake these feelings when you’re grieving. Other feelings that might loom around the loss are anger, guilt and dissonance between the grief you expected and the grief you actually feel. Though you may have prepared yourself for this moment, it might be marginally more or less difficult than you expected. 

Another surprising reaction many people have is complete and total ambivalence to the death. It might not hit you that the person is really dead for some time. But it’s also possible that you feel so torn over the death that you can’t determine how you feel about it. Not being able to pinpoint your feelings makes them harder to handle. 

STRATEGIES FOR PROCESSING COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS

There are endless ways to grieve, and this holds true in complicated relationships too. Here are some strategies to unravel your complicated feelings when someone passes away:

Name the difficult emotion you are experiencing. 

No matter how ugly it sounds, it’s not conquerable until identified accurately and honestly.

Determine how emotionally invested you are in the death.

It’s okay if this death doesn’t cause a grief reaction. You don’t need to manufacture pain in the absence of grief.

You may be more devastated by this loss than you ever imagined. Be honest about how much it hurts.

Remember both the good and bad times as accurately as possible.

Relationships come in all shades of gray. Look back over the history of the relationship with a critical eye. Remember the person’s good qualities, and the reasons for the relationship. Then recall the times the relationship was complicated or tumultuous in as good of detail. There are reasons you are feeling conflicted about this death, and they’re worth exploring. Did you react as well as you could have under the circumstances? Are there things about yourself that you can improve on going forward?

Forgive yourself, and the other person.

Agree to let go of the unfinished business you have with the deceased person. Your relationship with them will continue long after the death, but you should embark on this grief journey with as clean a slate as possible.

ACCEPT YOUR FEELINGS

While you can process your feelings any way that makes grief easier on you, it’s important to accept the reality of how you feel about the loss. When someone with whom you had a complicated relationship dies, you could feel a wide range of emotions, including ones that are difficult to accept, like relief and guilt. 

No grief is easy to navigate. Start with honesty and compassion for both yourself and the deceased person as you begin to make sense of the world without them in it.

A Stranger in My Own Life 

My life. 

Everything is familiar. But everything is strange.

I live in the same house. But it doesn’t feel like home. I have watched this show. But it now seems different. I’ve sat at my table a hundred times. But I now feel like a visitor. My bed is my own – with indentations fashioned from my own body. But it’s now cold and impersonal. I’ve sat in the quiet of my living room. But it’s never been so loud. I go run familiar errands, but someone else controls my body.

The plans for the future had been made. But now they’re shredded and blown away with the wind. I converse with the same people I’ve always known, but I don’t feel like the same person. I may do the same hobbies, but I can’t quite shake the unnerving feeling I am crossing over into what is no longer mine and it casts a pall over my enjoyment.

My life.

It’s all familiar. But nothing is the same.

The most puzzling emotion in widowhood is feeling like a stranger in your own life. The feeling of “home” is now a foreign concept. You can almost watch yourself going through the motions, but feel utterly detached from it all.

Even the most routine things now bear an unrecognizable scent. Many things are the same. And yet, nothing is. I’m like a transplant, thrust into an alternate reality.

It takes years to filter through all the residual change. It’s not just life that has changed. I, also, have changed.

There are facets of my life that remain the same, but no longer fit with the new me. There are facets of my life that remain and can blend with the “me” that I’m becoming.

There are parts of who I am that fit with my old life, but no longer fit with my new. There are parts of me that still fit and are morphing to adjust to my new life.

There are so many nooks, so many crannies, so many details, so many pieces of who I am and what my life was that I must sort through, give up, redefine and reforge. It’s a lot of work.

During this long, arduous adjustment, I am left feeling like an actress cast into the wrong show, arriving at the wrong set, confused with where I fit.

It’s not just a simple act of moving forward. Moving forward insinuates continuing. If only it were so simple as to just take another step on the path I was on. But that is impossible. Grief isn’t so simple. Widowhood isn’t moving forward. It’s actually starting over.

My life is no longer my life. I am no longer me. I cannot move forward because the future I had is no longer there. I must shift, dunk, crouch, retreat, crawl, go around, sidestep, jump over, and many other verbs to find my new path before I can function in the simplistic “move forward” motion.

As an amputee must relearn some of life’s most simple acts, like tying a shoe or walking, so must a widow/er. Simple things like balancing the bank account, shopping at the grocery store, cooking, daily conversation, and other such things, all tilt on their axis. Social activities become a huge undertaking that take years to relearn because everything about us has changed or is changing.  Our purpose in life must be redefined. Goals are forced to change. House maintenance must become second nature where it wasn’t before. Hobbies are often cursed with too many heartstrings and we are left to forge new ones. Our self-identity was stolen, and we must take the leftover pieces and try to form a new picture.

Alisha Bozarth
Alisha Bozarth

Yet, one of the single most important aspects of healing I’ve seen for myself is the willingness to create that new life. To Redefine. To Remold. To Relearn. As painful as it is to let go of the things that summarized “us,” it is necessary to begin letting go so the “me” can emerge. It is part of healing. It is part of forming a new existence.

There is nothing more confusing than feeling like a stranger in my own life. And so, healing necessitates the formation of “new.” A new that I can sink my roots into again.  A new I can accept with its new definitions, new goals, new capabilities. A new me.

So I can feel at home in my life once again.

Suicide is (Sometimes) Preventable

The month of September is known as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a time when a lot of attention is placed on suicide and mental illness by news outlets and other organizations. There are typically, an abundance of articles about:

  • reaching out for help if one is depressed,
  • reaching out to help those who are depressed,
  • and recognizing “signs” that someone is suicidal. 

This month – for the third year in a row – we are launching our “Suicide is Complicated” campaign on social media. Our intention is twofold: 1) to increase public awareness of the complexities surrounding suicide and suicide prevention, and 2) to increase support and understanding for suicide loss survivors.  

We began the “Suicide is Complicated” campaign because so many members of the Alliance of Hope forum told us they were bothered by the oversimplification of the prevention messaging. Many were especially troubled by the slogan “Suicide is Preventable” as well as the emphasis on “looking for signs” that someone might be suicidal. 

Survivors empathize with the intention of the slogan, but say the blanket assertion is vastly oversimplified, and often lands like a secondary wound — leaving them feeling guilty and judged. Typical comments are like these below:

“Suicide is Preventable” adds another layer of guilt. If it is preventable, why couldn’t I prevent it? It makes me physically sick to my stomach. It really does.” Purplekingsmomma.

“My husband’s suicide was a complete shock! No signs whatsoever! How can one prevent it if they had no idea it was even an issue?” ~Marybeth975

“I hate the blanket statement that suicide is preventable! For whom? Cause it’s certainly not everyone – obviously. … This was never ever on my radar. My dad never tried anything like this, he never talked about anything like this, there were no signs. One day he just was gone. How in the heck was I to prevent that?” ~Brokn13

Suicide loss survivors have a direct and deeply personal experience with suicide that alters their perspective forever. The profound trauma of their loss, recollections of events prior to and following the suicide, and the knowledge they gain from other survivors leads them to realize the complexity of trying to prevent someone from ending his or her life. Suicide is complicated.

Survivors know this is a very challenging issue. There is no one size fits all solution to prevent suicide and it can’t be summed up in a soundbite. 

Please consider joining us this month, on Facebook or Instagram, and sharing our posts with others, if they resonate with you. Let’s work together to increase public awareness about the complexity of suicide and suicide loss.

Choosing to Live After Suicide Loss

“Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!” ~Chris Stevens (Northern Exposure)

In the aftermath of loss, many survivors enter despair so painful and intense that they lose all hope for a day or twoor more. For most survivors, this does not represent inherent or latent mental illness, but the depth of the trauma and loss they have incurred.

On the Alliance of Hope forum, we see many posts from survivors who have begun to have suicidal thoughts themselves:

  • “This emotional pain is so severe it takes my breath away and leaves me feeling that I too would be happier dead.”
  • “A shrink, the suicide hotline, my friends and family, and this forum are keeping me alive while every nerve ending is screaming GO TO HIM.”
  • “I’m tired of the senselessness, of the waste, of the pain. I want to rail at all of this, but I don’t know who to yell at. And sometimes, I just want to be done with it all. Sometimes, I just want God to take me home.”

Sometimes people weather the initial loss of their loved one but are swept low by a second or third trauma that comes their way soon after the first. This happened to me 26 years ago. Within a few months after the death of my stepson, my husband told me he was leaving our marriage. This had not been on the horizon before the suicide. With no warning, family, social and economic structures slipped from under my feet. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not see a future of anything but loneliness and despair. The pain I already felt exploded geometrically and I began to think about how to end my life.

This had never happened to me before. As a counselor, I knew I needed help and asked for it. I created a circle of support: a psychiatrist, a counselor, an acupuncturist, and friends to be with each evening after work so that I was not alone in an empty house.

I was committed to life getting better. Some part of me was choosing to do things that might make life better. The rest of me was scared senseless.

In the well-known book Seven Choices, Elizabeth Harper Neeld describes points of decision in the grief journey that follows traumatic loss. She describes a journey that takes place over months and years, noting that at various points we must choose to suffer and endure, to look honestly, to act, and to engage in the conflicts that arise in order to gain freedom from the domination of grief.

Choosing to move toward freedom from the domination of grief does not mean that we love or miss the deceased any less. It means that slowly, we have mustered our courage and moved back into the world. Most survivors will tell you that, little by little, they moved back with greater wisdom, courage, and compassion for the pain and discomfort of others.

It is important to know that with time, the pain does diminish and transform. Survivors take ground, inch by inch – in incremental steps forward. The loss does become integrated into who we are. It becomes a part of who we are, and it influences us in ways we never expect.

If you are feeling alone, please reach out. If you are feeling hopeless, please reach out. One of the most remarkable things about suicide loss survivors is their compassion and willingness to support others who are going through traumatic loss. Find the courage to connect with others at a local support group or tap into the strength of the community on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors, at any time of the day or night.

Please know, you are not alone. Thousands have experienced suicide loss. They have fought their way back into life and you can do that too. New survivors often say they have “joined the club no one wants to join” … and that is understandable. Yet, in truth, the survivor community is one of the most compassionate and wise communities around. In the aftermath of loss, those things that commonly divide us fall aside. They become inconsequential. We connect with kindness, guided by our humanity.

Eight Lessons of Suicide

“Life is still a gift,” I told my kids after my husband killed himself. “It’s still worth it. We’re still here.”

I said this aloud – to them, to myself, to the cosmos. I wasn’t always sure I believed it, but I said it. And generally, not long after saying it, I collapsed on the floor in some corner of the house and cried out my eyeballs into shriveled, puffy things resembling dried figs. Then I peeled myself off the floor and said it again: “Life is still a gift. It is.”

Amy Biancolli Suicide Loss Survivor
Amy Biancolli

Losing a loved one to suicide hurts like hell: there’s an obvious truth if there ever was one. But there are other truths, some hard, some hopeful. If you’ve suffered such a loss yourself, you know too much of these truths already. There’s no knowing just a little. To lose someone to suicide is to comprehend its aftermath — its endless, agonizing, and messy emotional aftereffects — from the inside out, and to understand, from the first shattering moment you hear the news, that everything you thought you understood about living and loving has been irreparably altered. The result is a profound loss of innocence. There is no going back.

I was in grade school when my homeroom teacher sat inside her garaged car while it idled, killing herself. What I recall most vividly is the sight of another teacher, an older woman with springy gray hair, crying in our classroom with a face crushed by grief. This was Lesson One. I learned from suicide: that it wounds those left behind.

A year or so later, when I was 11, my father attempted suicide with sleeping pills, sending him into a nine-day coma and a six-month stay in a pure talk therapy program (no meds, not ever) at the Institute of Living in Hartford.

Lesson Two. I could lose anyone this way, even the people who mattered most. As a kid, staring at my father’s unconscious, bloated form in I.C.U., I learned that life is capricious. That it could take sudden turns into darkness, no matter the light that surrounds us. I realized at that moment that love, whether my father’s or mine or anyone else’s, might not be enough to bind us all together in this world. I saw that pain can be insidious enough to pry someone suddenly away, even a kind and ebullient genius like my father.

My mother told me this wasn’t my fault. It was nothing I did. It wasn’t a failure to love on my part or anyone’s, including their father’s. I did my best to believe her.

When he returned home, it felt like a miracle – to me, to all of us. And so it was. Lesson Three. Sometimes the darkness abates.

Lesson Four. Sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t in 1991 when a good friend of mine shot himself. It didn’t in 1992 when my sister – another kind and ebullient genius — swallowed fatal mouthfuls of psych drugs after too many years of struggling with neurological and emotional problems, far too many hospital stays, far too many meds.

And it didn’t in 2011. That’s when my husband, Chris, the father of my three children and my rock for more than 20 years — a grounded, giving man with a dazzling intellect and a deep core of goodness – lost his mind over six months of insomnia, anxiety, and depression. After three brief hospital stays and a few failed tries at medication, he leaped to his death from the roof of a parking garage a mile from our home.

Everyone asked why. I had no answers. All I could say to baffled friends, crushed by the grief I first glimpsed as a child, was this: I don’t know. This can’t be understood. He lost himself; he couldn’t bring himself back; nothing worked. No matter how I tried or what I said or how hard I loved him, he just got sicker, drifting further and further away.

Lesson Five. You can’t love someone back to wholeness.

All I could say to my children was what my mother had told me: This wasn’t their fault. It was nothing they did. It wasn’t a failure to love on theirs or anyone’s part, including their father’s. He loved them, I explained. He didn’t make some rational “decision” to leave us. Instead, he was dragged into a deep and enveloping hole that was too dark to see and too powerful to escape.

Lesson Six. Suicide makes no sense. Not the pain that leads to it. Not the act itself.

There never is. I knew that much, and I knew I couldn’t try to explain it to my children. What I tried hard to explain instead is the need to push forward in the wake of such a loss, even if pushing forward just meant getting up out of bed the next morning. Precisely because suicide is senseless, we can’t take the act itself as a refutation of life. We can’t give it that power.

Chris’s death didn’t negate life – not his own, not ours in his absence. It didn’t mean we couldn’t go on. It meant the opposite: It meant we had to.

Saying this to my three kids was one thing. Acting on it was another. Trying to model faith in life while simultaneously expelling bulk quantities of saline from facial orifices was a trick and a half. But in the days that followed, with the help of family, friends, and neighbors bringing warm hugs and plates of ziti to our door, we found ourselves in the business of living. Laughter struck at the strangest, sweetest times. Happiness snuck in over the transom.

Early on, I worried about the increased suicide risk for survivors – and here I was a repeat. But a wise friend reminded me gently that I had learned another lesson from suicide – a lesson filled with hope that fixed me securely in this beautiful world with my beautiful children, embracing what gifts might come. I had learned that the answer to suicide isn’t more suicide. It’s more life.

Lesson Seven. Light is the only cure for darkness; living is the only cure for death.

So my children and I continue to live, continue to love, continue to laugh. We all continue to grieve, in our different ways. Their father’s death wounded us all. He was torn from us abruptly, insidiously. His darkness never abated, and it made no sense. Those lessons all hold and always will.

But the only way forward is forward. The only path out is through. As we walk it, as we stumble, we find new blessings and make new friends.

Lesson Eight. Life is still the only game in town. And it still brings joy.

The 7 Lies Depression Tells

Grief is a normal reaction to losing something or someone that we love. It’s not a pleasant emotion. We hurt. We cry. We get angry. But eventually, we also heal.

Sometimes, grief transforms itself into something far more ominous: depression. Depression is a mental health problem that hijacks your brain and imitates your voice to fill your head with doubt, confusion, and lies – the same lies that our loved ones probably believed when they took their own lives.

If you’ve slipped into depression, watch out for these seven lies. Don’t take them at face value. They are not your mind talking but an illness that preys on the psyche just as cancer preys on the body.

Whenever these lies slink into your mind, fight them. Drag them into the light of reason and watch them crumble. Talk to loved ones who understand and who will support you. Reach out to your clergy, a therapist, a counselor, or a doctor. Don’t for one moment give in to the following, vicious untruths:

  1. You have always felt this way. Depression has no memory of the time before it existed. As far as it is concerned, this is your “normal” state. But you know better. Seek out happy memories. Look at pictures that make you smile or wear a favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you bought when you were feeling particularly good. If you can’t remember better times, ask others to remind you.
  2. You will always feel this way. Again, depression has no concept of a time when it will not exist. Fight this lie by doing small things that bring you pleasure – working in your garden, taking your dog for a walk, listening to music you love, or taking a relaxing bath or shower. These small acts of self-kindness will not cure your depression, but they will remind you that happiness is possible and is probably closer than you imagine it to be.
  3. Things can only get worse. Depression delights in terrifying us with catastrophic thoughts. Don’t get dragged in by this trick. Someone you love very deeply has just died by suicide. That’s probably one of the worst events you will ever go through in your life. If you lived through the event, trust that, slowly, your life will improve.
  4. You are worthless. This is a lie that we suicide survivors tend to believe wholeheartedly. After all, the depressed voice says, if we’d only been a better [friend, lover, parent, brother, child, etc.] our loved ones would still be alive. Baloney. The song, “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Misérables says it best: “There are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.” Sometimes, no matter how much you love someone and how much you do for them, you cannot give them the will to live. It’s tragic, it’s terrible, but it’s not your fault.
  5. Everybody would be better off if you were gone. Almost everyone who dies by suicide believes some version of this lie. “My friends won’t have to worry about me anymore.” “I won’t be an embarrassment to my family.” “I’d be doing everyone in my life a favor.” I have yet to meet a suicide survivor, however, who felt as if their loved one had done them a “favor” by ending their lives. Did your loved one do you a favor? Of course not.
  6. This pain is unbearable. Yes, the pain of losing a loved one to suicide is horrific, but it is not unbearable. You are bearing it, in fact, at this very minute, and you will continue to do so with the help of those who love you and care about you.
  7. The only way to end the pain is suicide. When you buy into this, you are stepping into a phenomenon known as “the suicidal trance.” From that moment on, you have tunnel vision … and at the end of that tunnel is relief from all your pain. But the tunnel vision is a lie. You do not need to end your life to end your pain. There are other options available. If you can’t think of any, call someone you trust and ask for help. Together, the two of you can probably come up with many solutions that don’t involve suicide.

We’ve always been taught to believe what our senses tell us, but when we are depressed, our senses and our thought processes are unreliable. Reach out to those you can trust until your depression lifts, and you can once again see clearly.

You’ve Got This

As I was reading through posts here on the Alliance of Hope Forum, I was also sipping my morning coffee. I wasn’t paying much attention to the words on my mug until a minute ago. As you may have guessed, it reads what the title of this post says. This week has been pretty tough at times but looking at the message on my mug this morning reminded me that … Yes, I do have this!

When my therapist suggests a tough activity to help me … I’ve got this.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks that need to be done … I’ve got this.

When I’m faced with decisions I would typically make with my husband but have to now do solo … I’ve got this.

When I’m wondering just how I’m going to get out of bed every day … I’ve got this.

When my emotions rise to the surface and all I want to do is cry … I’ve got this – (and I cry).

When I struggle to find the right words to express how I truly feel … I’ve got this.

When my heart bursts all over again because I miss him so much … I’ve got this.

When boundaries need to be set for my own healing … I’ve got this.

When I feel like I want to give up for the day, but I push on through … I’ve got this.

I could go on. But I think you get the gist.

My coworker and friend gave me this mug to remind me that “I’ve got this.” But I’m not the only one. What can you share for which someone might tell you “You’ve got this!” We all have something. We are all survivors and I firmly believe that …  You’ve Got this!

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our 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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In the Aftermath of Suicide, Fear is Normal

Loss to suicide creates complex emotional and neurological responses. Among those, shock and confusion are often the first things felt, but many survivors find long-held beliefs about themselves and the world – about everything – drawn into question.

If something like this can happen, what else can happen? Will I lose someone else to suicide? Am I safe? Can I survive this? What will my life be like now? Who will love me? How will my children handle this? Where is my loved one now? Questions on top of questions tumble through the mind – and answers are elusive.

The existing support one had in their life prior to the loss, may be inadequate for enduring the aftermath of suicide. All these questions and emotions make it easy for fear to take over our thoughts. And stress can affect the body in physical manifestations. Fear becomes anxiety; anxiety becomes panic. Panic sometimes devolves into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

Fear is “normal” after this kind of loss. Just hearing one survivor say that to another brings a sense of comfort to both. “Someone understands me.” “I’m not alone.” “Maybe I can get through this.”

Connection is a basic human need.

When times are good, we connect with others on a relaxed, sometimes shallow basis. However, when tragedy enters our lives, we need specialized care and real coping tools we can use to deal with the far-reaching consequences left with us.

If we do not have a deeper connection, if we do not find people who can relate to what we are going through, we have only our tumble of thoughts and questions. These go around and around inside the mind with nowhere to go and no resolution. Isolation keeps survivors “stuck” and devoid of healing.

Why is it sometimes hard to find support?

The answer to that question is two-fold. It can be difficult for a survivor to ask for help because suicide is different. Stigma, shame, and isolation are connected to suicide (unfairly), and this history lingers in communities of all sizes. Not knowing what is needed or how to find it makes it difficult to take the first step.

For similar reasons, it can be difficult for other people to offer support to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Their associations with the word “suicide” and lack of experience with this type of situation place them in a new and frightening position. There are those who react in hostile ways (casting blame or shame) and those who intuitively share what compassion they can. Some just practice avoidance.

People who have experienced this type of loss often know how to listen and when to share something that helped them. So, a support group or a conversation adds understanding and helps lower the fear threshold.

Counselors or other health professionals who have experienced this kind of loss themselves or who have training in working with this population can bring an enormous sense of relief to survivors, who still must do their own grief work but who now have a guide.

There are some things that can quiet suicide-related fear.

Basic self-care, setting aside time to grieve, and examining what happened with an objective eye are all helpful. As survivors work on these things, they develop a narrative to understand how they helped and how little control they had.

Focus on what can be controlled now. Staying within the present moment is one way to survive intense waves of grief. Learning about treatments for PTSD and “complicated grief,” can help. Knowing that feelings can change over time can help with the development of a plan for survival.

Take time for escape, too.

Try new experiences, offer support to others, volunteer. Make small goals a part of the day. One way to do this is to use a journal and look back often to note any progress made. Make patience a priority.

And lastly, one of the most helpful ways to conquer fear is to find a way to remember a loved one’s life. Requesting help with practical things can bring opportunities to hear memories from others and organizing a simple candle-lighting or inviting friends to a “favorite recipes” meal might give everyone a chance to heal.