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Blossoms of Joy

Two months ago I welcomed an eight-week-old puppy into my home. Her name is Magnolia Blossom. “Maggie,” for a favorite E. E. Cummings poem, and “Blossom,” because that’s what beautiful things do.

I also have a thirteen-year-old dog. Her name is Betsy and she truly was the apple of my son’s eye. She surrounded him with love every day and he showered her with the same. I can look at certain photos of him wrapped in her embrace and see her willingness to be the vessel to take on his sorrow. The tilt in her head says, “Leave it all here with me,” and, in the heaviness of his posture, I know that he did. There’s no doubt in my mind that his time here was made longer on account of her love. She’s an amazing girl, and throughout my grief, my constant companion. She’s sat with me through my darkest of days and walked a countless number of miles with me those first two years. She never leaves my side, still. Age has slowed her steps, but not her unconditional love. She’s also grieved this loss. I recognize it at times in our similar and somewhat somber demeanor.

While I take great refuge in the sound of silence, I also miss the sound of joy in my home. The sounds of the living and everyday life… my laughter, my son’s laughter, Betsy’s happy feet jumping about on the floor.

The arrival of the new puppy brings a sense of joy back to my life and I see that for Betsy, too. For her, I see a returned pep-in-her-step as she prances about with a toy in her mouth. She can’t keep up with the speed of the little one, but she walks in a showing-off fashion with her toy held high as if to say, “Sure, she’s cute, but can she do this?!” She’s patient, kind, and incredibly tolerant of Maggie’s puppy shenanigans. She was born to be a mentor and Maggie follows her everywhere. We all need purpose and Betsy seems to have found a renewed sense of one having Maggie under her wing.

And then there’s me. I watch Maggie experience things for the first time and, through her eyes, I’m reminded to look at things for the simple joys they bring. She chases her shadow to the fence as though she can coral it and it reminds me of being a kid trying to catch my own. She stops and stares to the sky at the sound of a bird or a plane flying overhead and I’m reminded how beautiful it is to simply stand and look to the sky. She watches the wind rustle the trees and tosses her head while she tilts her nose up as though she might land the breeze. She loves to go for walks and she trots down the sidewalk with such poise. She’s so confident in her steps and I wish to find the same in my own. I can’t wait to take her for her first hike, first swim, her first visit to the ocean. She’s so full of wonder.

She’s already associated the ringtone on the alarm clock to be get-up-and-go-time, so the fun for her repeatedly begins every morning with a joyful energy that has her licking my face as if to say, “It’s a new day-hurry, hurry, getup-it’s a new day!!”, and nothing wakes you up with a smile quite like having your ears licked.

And her excitement wakes Betsy. She might not have the oomph to jump on the bed anymore, but her wiggly behind and wagging tail thump her happy drum roll on the wall. I watch them play together and I can’t resist sitting on the floor and letting them drag me in. It brings out my own joyful laughter. A sound I’ve not heard in my own voice, and a sound I’ve not heard in my home, for almost three years.

And somehow the sound of my son’s laughter comes to return with my own.

About the Author

Maria Sallese

Maria Sallese lost her 26-year-old son to suicide in 2019 and joined the Alliance of Hope forum shortly after. She finds hope and healing through writing and wishes to help others by sharing her words. Maria can be reached at: sallese.maria@gmail.comRead More »

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This New Life: What is Healing?

New survivors of suicide loss often wonder if healing is even possible. And they fear that “being okay” equates to the death of their loved ones being okay. (Not true). Recently I talked to a group of long-term survivors about healing – what it is, how it looks, and how we navigate it. They generously shared insights about how their lives had changed over time, which I share now with you.

One survivor said: “Healing for me was the slow return of my senses. When I could actually begin to see, smell, taste, hear, and feel again. When the love I feel for my son was more in balance again with the love I feel for others.”

Another survivor, who also lost a son, described healing as when you can talk about the person and/or the way they died without falling apart or experiencing anxiety. “Healing is when their death doesn’t have a negative influence on your day-to-day living or occupy your thoughts 24/7, when memories aren’t met with tears, and when seeing/touching their belongings doesn’t bring you to your knees. Anniversaries aren’t filled with the same level of anxiety as before, and memories don’t hover in the back of your mind all the time to jump out when least expected.”

The earliest signs of healing may go unnoticed. Eating, washing/styling hair, wearing makeup, leaving the house, not having a panic attack, not crying during the day – all are signs of healing. As time passes thoughts turn to “Now what?” Sometimes our children move us forward. “I found myself seeking ways to return to life and living, venturing out, joining a widows’ club, planning ahead a little, and envisioning a future. I tried harder and wanted to return to life.”

What is healing? I asked the group. “When you can laugh again. Giving yourself permission to be happy. When you can see joy in your life. When you can function without your every thought being about your loved one. It is realizing you will always miss them but you can go on living a decent life.”

Three to five years out from the loss brought a “real shift” for a woman who lost her husband. “Truly believing I could still have a happy future, I toyed with the idea of another relationship. I no longer felt my kids were in danger and saw they could have a happy future, too.”

In another couple of years, the widow continued, the kids are finally grown up and independent. “My focus was no longer just on them. I know for a fact I will and have survived. Confident that we are over the worse, I have a sense of pride and accomplishment in how we’ve coped and what we have achieved.” Despite a “Mega What Now?” moment, another feeling triumphs: the best is yet to come.

The theme of joy kept coming up in the conversation. “Healing is accepting you will miss the person you lost forever but realizing you will have joy and happiness in life. It is a duality. That is a word I have heard recently and it resonates with me. The biggest part of healing for me is that when a grief wave creeps up, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I will survive. I know it will pass and joy and happiness will reign. I know it for a fact. That is true healing.”

Two Years Later… Still on the Journey

I have learned that as a survivor, I can be whole again.

On December 2, 2010, the man I loved to distraction sent a text message to three people saying that life was too difficult. He turned off his phone, went out on the front porch, and shot himself. In the two years that have followed, I have learned a great deal about surviving suicide.

In the early months following his death, I was in excruciating pain … all of the time. I felt like a fish hooked deeply and painfully. No amount of writhing or maneuvering could free me from that pain. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t. I tried drinking, but drinking just made me sadder. Nothing brought relief. When I tried to think of what my future was going to be, I was overwhelmed by sadness and fear, and revulsion for a life I didn’t want. Someone (actually, Ronnie Walker) told me not to think about the future – it was excellent advice. She told me to just try to get by minute by minute until I could handle hour by hour. Two years later, I am able to think weeks or even months out, but trying to plan years out just depresses me. I have learned that’s ok, I only have to do what I can.

Several months after his death, the terrible pain started to ease. I thought I was returning to normal. When you’ve been so far down, each little improvement feels like a huge move up. Other people also saw the improvement, and some felt like I was back to my old self. But I was not normal. I have learned that normal if it returns, takes a long, long time. And that however long it takes, you have to accept that and work within your new limitations to get through.

I have seen that tiny disappointments can now result in emotional meltdowns and days and days of depression. My resiliency is not what it was. I had always been cheerful and optimistic, but eventually after the loss, to protect myself against disappointment, I began to imagine the worst and plan for it. I wasn’t obsessing about the worst; I was just preparing for it. If the worst didn’t happen, it was a relief instead of a crushing disappointment. Viewing the world that way works against my natural personality, but it allows me to function. Some people find it disturbing, especially if they knew me before, but I’ve learned to do what works for me.

I have learned that those who have not survived cannot be expected to understand what survivors are going through. People may be cruel, or they may be kind. In the early days, I reacted much too strongly to well-intentioned but ignorant people. Perhaps my reactions taught them something, but probably not. Now I’ve learned not to listen to the opinions of those who don’t know, and I’ve learned to tell them firmly (but I hope not rudely) that I hope they never have to know what they are talking about.

On this grief journey, I have changed. I was an outgoing, bubbly, optimistic person who loved life and truly believed that no matter how bad things looked, they would work out somehow. Now I know that terrible things can happen, and you may not be able to stop them. I used to believe my strength would allow me to absorb blows and move forward without being crippled by them. Now I know I can be brought to my knees in pain, but still rise up and live each day. And I have learned that even if you don’t really love all of life, there are still moments of great joy to be found that make it worthwhile.

I have learned that grief is selfish. When you are grieving, you cannot be the good friend and thoughtful daughter or sister or parent that you once were. I found the expectations and needs of others, however much they loved me, to be a burden. And for a while, that’s ok. But you do have to work back to thinking of others at some point. And I have learned that getting in touch with gratitude helps with that. Counting whatever blessings you can find helps heal you. This may feel like hard work, but trust me, without gratitude you won’t survive as a whole person.

And I have learned that as a survivor, I can be whole again. Perhaps I’m not the bubbly, outgoing, optimistic, and resilient me that I was, but still a whole person. I may never have the life I wanted, but I am learning to accept the life I have and truly appreciate the good parts of it.

I am still on this journey. I can make the adjustments I need to make to compensate for the scars that I bear. I can contribute to the world around me. I can return the love that others give me. And I have learned that I can have wonderful moments that would not have seemed possible two years ago, and the only way to have them is to keep surviving.

Beyond Just Surviving

In the final scene of the musical Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton reflects on her life and on the life of her husband Alexander. In a beautiful tribute, she sings “Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Tells Your Story?” I am always moved by that song. To me, it drives home the importance of stories as acknowledgment, inspiration, and guides for living.

In listening to the stories of those who have journeyed before us, we grow and gain wisdom. In sharing our stories we empower others and provide hope.

In the weeks and months after my stepson Channing ended his life, dozens of people shared their stories with me. Their words pierced through the isolation and reassured me. Knowing others had survived similar losses, gave me hope. Now – 26 years later – I’d like to share my story with you. It is a story that reflects archetypal themes of human loss and renewal, as old as womankind.

Of course, there was a before and after …

Ronnie Walker
Ronnie Walker is the Founder and Executive Director of Alliance of Hope.

Back in 1995, weeks before my stepson, Channing, ended his life, I knew where my life was going. I had just accepted a job as director of quality assurance for a child welfare agency. I was set to transform a dysfunctional organization and had no doubt I could do it. I could articulate my vision, produce results, and had a whole bunch of transformational tools in my pocket. 

Following Chan’s death, all bets were off. I was catapulted onto a journey I didn’t expect. The path was filled with debilitating grief, symptoms of PTSD, and fractured relationships.

In the weeks after Chan died, my emotions were unpredictable – just as they are for most new survivors. Anxiety, guilt, and despair were constant companions. I couldn’t focus at work. My 10-year marriage began to falter and then, five months later, it failed. Although I was a clinical mental health counselor, nothing in my traditional training provided a context for what I was experiencing. When I began to feel suicidal myself, I did not know how common it was for survivors of suicide loss to feel suicidal in the aftermath. I found that taking “one day at a time” was too much for me.  At one point, with the help of family and friends, I lived two hours at a time.

In the initial months and years following my loss, there were many dark days. Looking back now, I can see that healing was taking place, even though I lacked consciousness of that at the time.

About five years passed before I began to feel an interest – or a calling to contribute. I believe that most people experience something similar, at some point in their healing journey. It can show up like a very subtle growing interest or a yearning to participate with the world in some way that makes a meaningful difference.

I experienced a yearning to work with those who had experienced traumatic loss and in particular, survivors of suicide loss. Back then there was little online support for suicide loss survivors. There were a few websites – mostly filled with statements like “You never get over it. You just learn to live with it. You’ve joined the club no one wants to join.”

I understood why people made those statements – especially after losing a child or close family member – but I wanted to add something more hopeful, so in 2008, I launched the Alliance of Hope to offer information, friendship, and hope to other survivors. I wrote about the possibility of being forever altered, of growing wiser and stronger on the journey through grief, and the possibility of even eventually making a meaningful difference as a result of one’s loss.

Looking back now, it’s remarkable that anyone ever found the first website I built. Initially, allianceofhope.org was number 10,000 in a Google search! Yet survivors found us. They came, first in a trickle and then, in a steady stream. Today our forum hosts more than 21,000 loss survivors and we have expanded to serve survivors in numerous other ways.  

Having told you a bit of my story, I want to return for a moment to what I said earlier. My story – my journey – is most valuable when seen from the perspective of the archetypical human story of loss and renewal. I believe the themes, rather than the content of my story are what is important. I suggest to you that those themes are at play now, both in the specific suicide loss you have experienced, and, whenever we experience sudden and traumatic upheavals.

In my story …

A tragic, unexpected event occurred. Life as I knew it altered. I was catapulted into unknown territory and a challenging path. In the early days, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of another. It was a very dark time for me. I was unable to feel touched or moved or inspired by anything in life. At one point, I even wondered if my soul had died.

In my story, as in most everyone’s story, eventually, I began to emerge from the darkness. I found myself, not just in a “new normal” as we often say, but also stronger and wiser about life. And like tens of thousands of other people who have traveled this journey, I wanted to use what I had gone through to help others. 

I encourage you …

If you are in a very dark place right now, reach out for hope by connecting with others who have been there too and who have survived – people who understand the journey you are on. Check out the Alliance of Hope forum if you need support. Our community is kind, welcoming, and compassionate.

With time, griefwork, and a community of support, the initial devastating pain usually does diminish, allowing for more and more moments of peace, and even joy. You will never stop loving, missing, or being influenced by your loved one and by their life and their death – yet you will also grow stronger and wiser and quite possibly, begin to feel a call to make a meaningful difference out of the loss you experienced.

Eventually, you might want to do something in the realm of suicide prevention or postvention, but you don’t have to. And while you may feel called to do something in honor of or in memory of your loved one, it doesn’t have to be that either. Each of us is an expression of the eternal. We each bring some special contribution to the buffet of life.

There is no need to rush any of this or to worry about whether a calling will come. It usually does. Post-traumatic growth, as they call it these days, is one natural outcome of the journey.

As you continue to heal and make a difference in ways that are important to you, please know, that you are not alone on the journey. I hold you and all who are grieving in my heart.

Ronnie

How Long Will It Take?

Three months after our son died back in May 2019, I called my friend’s sister whose son had tragically died the year before.

“How long will it take before I stop crying every day?” I asked.

“It takes a while,” she said.

I told her about the aqua t-shirt hanging in my closet, unworn, tags still on it. I’d purchased it just weeks before our world exploded. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to wear it given our new reality. I might as well donate it, I mused.

On the front was a sailboat and three words: Life Is Good.

“Life Is Good,” the company that sells apparel, donates 10% of its profits to a foundation that helps kids. I love supporting them.

But I felt the sentiment would never define my life again. How could it?

“I promise you’ll wear it one day, “Jen assured. “And when you do, I want you to take a selfie and send it to me.”

Sure enough, a few months later, I went camping and wore the shirt. Granted, I cried off and on during campfire time and a few other moments. But it was a start.

Over the course of the next two years, I’ve literally worn the shirt out. For Christmas this past year, I asked my husband for a new one. To make shopping easier, I sent him a link to the website with two shirts sporting turtles (my fave!) and two color choices. He bought both.

I’m wearing one of them today. Truth is, life is hard without our son. Very hard. But it’s still good. Very good.

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.

Two Have Passed

Two years have passed since the day my daughter Kelly ended her life. That day was the most horrific day I will ever experience. Along with the pain, anguish and confusion were feelings I can never possibly articulate. I was completely lost, disoriented, and hopeless. At 4:00 a.m. the morning after I put my wife on a plane to Asia I got in the car and drove 2,600 miles to my mom’s house, stopping only for fuel, coffee, and two hours of restless sleep when I recognized I was becoming dangerous for the other people on the highway.

Looking back, I believe I thought I could outrun this nightmare, and if I could make it home, my mom would fix it somehow. She had died two months prior, but somehow, she would make it OK, as she had so many times before. After the first night, I understood I could never outrun the reality, and Mom could not fix this.

As the reality of everything slowly began to sink in, the pain that I thought could never possibly get worse … did. More anguish. No sleep. Serious thoughts of ending my own life. Repeat.

But life is a strange thing. Other pieces of reality began to intrude on my thoughts, including financial responsibilities. Two months later I dragged myself back to work, detesting every minute of every day. I saw that other people were going on about their lives like they always did. How could they not understand that the world had ended?

At some point, Life began to seep back in – very much against my will. One day I spoke more than three words to a co-worker. I had a short conversation that wasn’t work-related and smiled a little bit. On another day, my wife and I shared a genuine laugh and didn’t feel guilty. I was moving forward imperceptibly, almost like a glacier.

Many people say the second year is worse than the first. For me it was just a different kind of bad. Nothing can compare with the blackness of the early days and months. I still carried the pain and anguish, but I began to function again. I took on more responsibilities at work and eventually started managing people again. There were nights my wife didn’t sob while I did my best to console her with my own broken heart. We went out to dinner for the first time. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but there were interesting moments. Sometime around 18 months the understanding came to me. This is the way things are and always will be. What happened to Kelly cannot be undone. I will never see her again in this world. It was another heartbreaking but necessary realization.

The comparison has been made, rightfully so, to suicide being the equivalent of a bomb going off for the survivors. There is just a shattered shell of the building left standing. But nature begins to perform its magic. A tiny seed sprouts and begins to grow. Vines start creeping up the walls. A bird builds a nest in the corner and the first tiny flower blooms. The wreckage will always be visible, but maybe something beautiful will grow around it.

I enter the third year at least 10 years older than my biological age and 70 pounds lighter. And that’s OK. I don’t have an appetite for food, but I’m beginning to have a little appetite for life. Kelly lives in a way I can’t comprehend. She steers my life in ways I often don’t understand until time has passed. I heard her voice in the early days; four important things I needed to know that only she could tell me. She was silent after that but made her presence known in other ways. Two days ago, I saw a magnificent sunset and I heard her again. Her voice was a whisper but unmistakably Kelly. “I’m still here Dad”. Yes, you are kid, and you always will be.

If you have recently lost a loved one to suicide and entered the darkness that only survivors understand, my heart breaks for you. It’s impossible to believe now, but you will not always feel this way. Take the next breath, the next step, the next day.

As survivors, we will always carry the pain, but it can be carried along with beautiful memories. As strange as it may sound, pain can coexist with happiness. Life will seep back in. It’s OK to let it happen.

To everyone in this wonderful Alliance of Hope (AOH) family, you have my gratitude and love. Wishing you peace, and may God bless you all.

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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The Journey: Ten Years Later – Thank You to the Alliance of Hope

It started like this: I found the Alliance of Hope Forum a few weeks after my son Ian died. I posted my story and right away received kind and gentle words. This was my first experience with an online group. I didn’t know what to expect and was grateful to find people who understood my experience and didn’t ask questions. They offered what worked for them and allowed me to share what was bothering me – those feelings in my heart that I didn’t dare share with other people. 

There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone; that there are others with similar experiences. Having an anonymous sounding board gave me the freedom to share thoughts and feelings that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others in my life. Usually, after sorting it out on the forum, I was able to talk with my husband, other family members, or friends.   

Grief shared in community distributes the burden over many shoulders. Collectively we can help one another. This reaching out to others becomes a blessing to each person – we release our own grief and then can help shoulder someone else’s burden. The Alliance of Hope forum provides a framework for doing this in a safe environment that is monitored and supported by clinicians and moderators. 

Susan Andersen

There is no timeline or straight path for grief.  Each person’s journey is unique, and we all feel stuck at some point in the path. Those around us who mean well and don’t want to see us suffer try to get us to move forward. But what they don’t understand is that we can only move forward by dealing with each emotional obstacle that arises. There are many tools that can help – individual counseling, group therapy, yoga, meditation, writing, art, and the safety of the Alliance of Hope forum. 

I remember the first time I laughed after my son died. I was having lunch with close friends, and we were talking about funny things our kids did when they were little. For that moment, laughing, I felt like my “before” self.  In a short span of time, my emotions looped, and I was feeling guilty and sad. When I relayed this in the Forum, I was assured that “hey it’s okay to feel good and laugh while you are grieving.” It felt so good to share my experience and get reassurance from folks who were further down the grief journey.

Ten years later and of course I still miss my son. I talk to Ian every day. I’ve worked through so many emotions and made meaning from my grief.  Working with people who’ve experienced loss and are grieving through yoga and movement has become my mission.  Thank you, Alliance of Hope, and all the good people on the Forum who have been there for me. You were a lifeline when I needed it most. 

Another Season – Before Suicide Or After Suicide

This is the first day of Spring. I want to enjoy it. I want to feel again that life is good and that soft cuddly bunny rabbits do exist. I want to believe again that flowers are beautiful and smell wonderful. I want to feel and see that somehow, at least most of the time, life is good too.

I used to think of the calendar like everyone else, but now life is either B.S or A.S. I find myself caught between 2 worlds: Before Suicide or After Suicide — and ahead. an unknown frightening future where previous dreams and hopes were laid waste.

As the seasons change it reminds me that life has seasons also. That there is a time for everything under the sun. I was thinking of the poem Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and
A time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.”

Somehow I cling to the hope that I can have courage to live through the seasons of life and with your help, I can.

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 »

1 Comment on Another Season – Before Suicide Or After Suicide

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 »

5 Comments on What Helps – Flipping the Script

Finding New and Different Ways to Continue the Bond

I am personally a fan of the Continuing Bonds Theory, especially when considering that there are literally decades of grief theory that only provided one option for a person in mourning—closure, acceptance, and moving on. There is little wonder why so many grievers develop self-conscious feelings or believe they have to “put it all away” when trying to regain normal operations in their life. Times indeed are a changin’ and people are finally realizing that healthy grief might involve finding a new and different relationship with the person who died.

Ways to Continue Bonds with a Loved One

If you feel that the Continuing Bonds Theory makes a lot of sense in your own life and style of grief, you might also be looking for ways to continue a bond with your deceased loved one. Here are some ideas that you might want to try as you implement this theory in your life.

  • Talk with your loved one. Go ahead! Do it! It doesn’t mean you’re crazy and is completely okay! This is not only a natural thing to do but it can also bring so much comfort to you in the moments that you miss them the most. So talk away, no matter if it is out loud or in your head. This is a very common and normal way to continue your relationship with your loved one.
  • Write your loved one a letter. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Write a letter on the computer, in a journal, or on letterhead or stationery. You can keep these letters or get rid of them. You can get creative with them. No matter what you choose to do or how often you choose to write, this can be a great way to stay close to your loved one.
  • Keep their photos around. Of course, this might seem incredibly obvious, but I can tell you that there are going to be people who will make you feel like you are doing something wrong. Keeping photos around will keep your loved one present in your life and it will provide continuing influence of their presence in your household.
  • Involve your loved one in special events, holidays, and annual traditions. Consider leaving an empty chair for the individual at Thanksgiving dinner, get out old home videos, or make dishes that your loved ones always enjoyed. You are going to naturally think of them on these days, don’t feel like you have to bottle up those thoughts or emotions. Express yourself in any way that allows you to keep the person close to you.
  • Imagine how they would have given you advice or what they would have said if you had a question that you couldn’t find an answer for. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you suddenly have to make big decisions on your own that you might have made before with the help of your loved one. Imagine a conversation with them and put yourself in their shoes to think about what they might have said to you.
  • Discuss your loved one with new people in your life. You are going to meet people who never knew your loved one. Know that it’s okay to tell these people about the deceased and don’t hesitate to share photos or stories. This will help you keep your loved one’s legacy alive as you move forward and change as a person yourself.

 

No matter if the person you lost was a spouse, life partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, or friend, it’s easy to struggle when you realize that this person won’t be there to celebrate milestones, accomplishments, and achievements with you. I suggest you think about applying the Continuing Bonds Theory to simply live your life so that your loved one would be proud.

We Don’t Have to Let Them Go

There are many words that are used when a person is grieving. Words such as “closure,” “letting go,” “moving on,” and “getting over it.” I believe those words do not really help much. I think they put too much pressure on the grieving person, giving them yet another thing to do as if the grief itself was not a large enough task.

How can we “let go” of a child who has passed? How can we have “closure” when our parent succumbs to suicide? How can we “get over” a lifetime relationship that began with young love? We don’t have to “move on” or “let go” or have “closure” and we certainly do not have to “get over it.”

Our relationship will continue. They will always be dear to us because even though they have left, our love for them does not die and we hold their memories close to us.

We can hold on to them by remembering. Remembering not only the struggles but also the good times. We can learn to live our lives like they could not.

So, as far as getting over it? How can we “get over” raising and loving a child? Or nurturing a loving relationship with a spouse? How can we “get over” losing a parent or sibling or friend? Wouldn’t it be nicer, and much more realistic, to just take them with us? To keep loving them from here.

Eventually, we will integrate this experience into the rest of our lives. We don’t have to let them go. We can choose to rebuild our lives and take them with us, not just in our minds, but in our hearts.

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 »

3 Comments on We Don’t Have to Let Them Go

Finding Hope in the Broken

I remember when the world broke in,
To rip apart my soul,
For years after that one event,
I thought myself not whole,
My hours were spent with trying,
To fix it up with tape and glue,
Until one day I discovered,
Everyone else was broken too,
Here we were with pieces,
Of ourselves in both our hands,
So fragile and so open,
That I began to understand,
Maybe I’d been greedy,
To want my soul all to myself,
When it could be a lot more helpful,
In the palms of someone else,
Now every time I go somewhere,
I leave a part of me behind,
And collect all of the pieces,
Of others’ souls that I can find,
So when I’m meeting someone new,
It’s not just me they get,
But also tiny fragments,
Of all the others that I’ve met,
And all my life’s become much bigger
Now that it’s home to things so small,
And if this is what “broken” means,
I do not mind at all.

– e. h

This New Life: A Glimpse of the Heart

When suicide touched my life, everything in my world changed. I was married for 33 years to a wonderful man who – in my eyes – could do no wrong. Happy as two people could be, our union kept us very close.

Losing him meant losing myself for a long while. Yet, when I found myself again, his love was still there. His place in my life had only shifted. When I accepted that, I began to see that healing is possible and that my life – no matter how painful it felt at the time – could be full and vibrant again.

My husband and I had shared our hearts and our lives. Many of you understand what that means because you have done the same. Whether your heart broke after the suicide of a spouse, partner, child, parent, or other family member or friend, something was taken that can never be replaced. The wound that leaves is deep, so deep.

What I needed after my husband’s death did not seem to exist.

I did not find it in the workplace or on the grocery shelves. There was no pharmacy that carried it, no professional who could hand it over. I wondered where in the world I could find wholeness or even peace?

Healing was not even at home or in the solitary places I clung to. Yes, bits of good advice and comfort landed here and there around me. Those who loved me lingered nearby.

I searched for answers to all the questions that follow suicide and I searched for my new place in the world. I did not want it. I did not think I could do more than live between the dead and the living, in a hollow place … alone.

However, I was wrong. Looking back, I see the shining light that found me, that guided me onto a new shore.

This light, so clearly visible now, is composed of many, many tiny flames of hope. They come from the voices of other survivors. They light when one of us opens his or her heart to another.

Talking about pain and longing, memories, or love with strangers and friends can seem like a daunting proposition, but it helps. It’s a time-consuming process, I imagine, set to the pace of our grief. Mourning is never over in a day or a month or even a year. After mourning comes rebalance, rebuilding.

When survivors on the Alliance of Hope Community Forum replied to my posts, or shared thoughts of their own, an amazing thing happened. I collected their words and held them to my heart like a salve that might ease the pain of a physical wound. Small moments, a sense of open sharing, gave me and countless others the healing moments that could be found nowhere else.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you may feel that you are beyond help, beyond hope. That’s not true. No matter how long it has been since your loss, no matter how your journey has gone since, you can find peace and comfort among those who understand. I’ve seen this replicated in my community as well, as what I learned at the Alliance of Hope spread like ripples on the water into other areas of my life.

It takes courage to open your heart, but when you find people willing to do that, you find a new life that is worth living. Start with the first glimpse into a human heart. Start here.

Within a Prison of Pain, We Still Have Freedom

Realizing January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day has given me a strange, inexplicable comfort because that date is also significant in a personal and very painful way. On January 27th, 1945, the Red Army freed 7,000 ill and dying prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp. Days before, 60,000 healthier captives were forced by the SS to leave the camp in the infamous Death March, where thousands more died.

While honoring those who were liberated that date 70 years ago, Remembrance Day also commemorates the loss of six million Jews, approximately one million Roma or Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and at least 9,000 homosexual men at the hands of the Nazi regime and its collaborators. This global horror shares a date of tender, tragic, and intimate remembrance for me and my family.

Watching the news coverage one night several years ago, I wept to hear the stories of survivors who returned to the camp to mark the 70th anniversary of freedom. They were teenagers then, but they returned to this wretched place as respected doctors and successful business people, their adult children at their side.

“I’m a victor,” one of the elderly men said tearfully — wiping away the label of “victim” that others might’ve used, considering what he suffered. “I’m here!” he added with resolve.

Former Auschwitz prisoner #A11832, Jack Rosenthal, a successful realtor, said to NBC reporter Bill Neely, “Somebody told me nobody ever gets out alive from here. So, to be here now 70 years later…I consider it an accomplishment, to say the least.”

I greatly admire Mr. Rosenthal and his accomplishments and the accomplishments of the other survivors. They reached deep inside and willed themselves to live. Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, wrote about how the will to live was drained from some and they would then, simply, die—even when lack of food or medicine was not the cause. Still, as Harold S. Kushner writes in the 2006 Foreword of the book, “Frankl’s concern is less with the question of why most died than it is with the question of why anyone at all survived.” Frankl writes, “We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” In that collective agony, an individual searching for meaning needed a scent of hope.

Hope is central to our existence. It is sometimes the difference between living and dying. It is the difference between failure and success, whatever those look like to the individual. It is the difference between resilience and surrender. It is possible to lose hope and claw through the muck and mire to get it back. But a person must be determined to seek it, fight for it, and cling to it.

The determination, the resilience, the emphatic will to live of Holocaust survivors — it inspires me every day and most of all every year on January 27th. Because it was on that day in 1995 that my eldest daughter, Jocelyn Albright Desmond, was born. My pregnancy was easy, the labor quick, and her young life blessed with good health. She was a beautiful child with sparkling brown eyes and an eager and friendly smile. But things changed. She struggled in adolescence, words cutting her deeper than they would most, anger bubbling close to the surface disguising depression. Various forms of therapy and treatment couldn’t heal the festering ugly wounds that were hidden from most.

She was a prisoner, held captive by her own pain. The love that surrounded her couldn’t set her free. Jocelyn was only 17 when she gave up hope in 2012. It is sometimes hard at that age to see hope, to know that it can get better.

But I live every day clinging to or clawing towards hope and trying to breathe it into the upended lives of all those I know who have suffered the suicide loss of a loved one and who suffer from their hopelessness.

The Holocaust victors give me strength to always keep clinging and clawing. I cannot consider putting myself in their shoes, comparing my experience to theirs, but there is an oft-quoted statement in suicide prevention and postvention books and articles that binds me to these victors: “The level of stress a person feels after losing a loved one to suicide is catastrophically high – equivalent to that of a highly traumatic concentration camp experience, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).”

That level of stress is the evil twin of the even greater evil, hopelessness. It speaks to the experience of a family and loved ones picking up the pieces of a shattered life — of shattered lives. Viktor Frankl said, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Suicide loss survivors may, for a time, be locked inside their pain, chained to hopelessness and standing among the broken shards of the imagined and planned life. But I fought to break free and to free my loved ones. It is my hope and mission to help others do the same, on their schedule and in their own way. We do have the freedom to choose how to respond and I hope each of us, eventually, can say, “I’m a victor.”

Healing Affirmations Bring Relief

On the day I lost my husband to suicide, my world came crashing down. I was catapulted into a dark abyss. I could barely move from the shock and trauma. I was consumed by thoughts about my husband and his death. I pondered the why’s as well as how he could do such an act. I felt an unbearable pain that I could not imagine ever existed before the awful day – overwhelming grief, shock, despair, anger, confusion, shame, guilt, betrayal, and depression. I was lost, barely able to function in life.

As a survivor of suicide loss, you may be able to relate.

Now, many months later, I’ve realized I cannot stay in this dark and awful place for much longer. I cannot live life harboring these feelings. My husband has killed himself, and his death has been slowly killing me. I need to move to a better place and find the way to a new and better me.

I recall that a wise person once asked me three questions: “How do I want to feel?” “What type of person do I want to be?” “What kind of life do I want to live?” This person suggested I write my thoughts down, so I did.

This is the vision – or healing affirmations – I have created for myself:

“I am happy, peaceful, living in the present and not in the past. I am brave and do not fear what may come my way. I am mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually strong. I am the strongest I have ever been.

My mind is uncluttered, quick to think. My mind assesses, analyzes, and calculates easily and accurately. I solve problems in life with ease. My emotions are upbeat, positive, peaceful, and happy. When I experience emotions of sadness, despair, or anger, I can easily lift myself up, by myself. My body is physically in great shape. I am very healthy and very attractive. My spirit is healed, aware and strong. My spirit can soar to great heights. I have a very high level of energy. I am highly functional, organized, solving problems, and creating daily.

I have reconciled my thoughts and feelings about my husband and his suicidal death. I have developed a new relationship with my deceased husband, in which I can continue to love him and remember him fondly. I am fully engaging in life and see the world has endless opportunities for myself and my family. I am creating new opportunities and achieving my goals in life. I am on top of the game of life.”

As I began to write these healing affirmations, my viewpoint shifted and changed. I felt a huge sense of relief. I believe my grief journey has taken a turn. New life is breathing inside me. As a daily reminder on what I am aiming for, I printed up what I wrote. I taped it on the mirror in my bathroom. I read it in the morning when I wake and at night when I go to bed. I placed extra copies in the kitchen and in my bag. When I feel lost or sad, I read it and remind myself to keep focused on what I need and want in life.

Thank you for reading about my grief journey. I hope you can see something useful in it for yourself. 

With much love and support, 

Sunsets

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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I Want To Do More Than “Survive”

A short time ago, I read an interesting post on our forum, from a woman who recently lost her husband to suicide. She wrote: 

“All of us here on this forum are considered to be ‘survivors.’ We did survive the unimaginable acts of our loved ones – but I want to do more than survive. 

Surviving, in my definition, means merely getting by. I want to live a purposeful and happy life. I want to smile, laugh, feel loved and wanted, and be someone’s priority instead of the one who must pick up the pieces and survive. Survival is merely existence to me. I don’t know how much more time I have left on this earth, and I desperately want to be able to live a fulfilled life. But the complications of this single act performed by my husband will most likely deter that. 

I’m praying that God will define the purpose of all of this, grant me the life I crave and that eventually, I will not be “just a survivor.“

I understand this widow’s desire to go beyond the pain and beyond just surviving. I appreciate her yearning for purpose – and I know that many of you will as well. 

The Context of “Journey”

I believe it is especially important to offer the context of “journey” to new loss survivors like the woman who wrote this postWhen I talk with new survivors, they often ask: “How long will I feel like this?” “How do people survive this?“ And in the midst of their devastation, many also say they hope that something of value might eventually come from the loss. 

I always tell new survivors that people do survive and even eventually go beyond just surviving. I think most don’t believe me – and that’s understandable – but I believe it is important that it is said. It’s important to hear that there is the possibility that with time and griefwork, the pain will diminish, and loss will become integrated into our lives. Our losses will inform us. They will influence us. They will color how we relate to others and the work we do in the world. They will deepen our compassion and our courage to reach out to others in pain.

After Traumatic Loss, We Move Forward Incrementally  

Most survivors say the consuming pain diminishes slowly — far too slowly. Yet all the while, something else is happening that often goes unnoticed. As we process the devastation, we are strengthening our capacity to be with the “duality” of what life offers. We grow in our ability to navigate a world that includes love and loss, joy and pain, good and evil. 

Two survivors on our site have written eloquently about duality and going beyond surviving: 

The first, Johna Tichenor, lost her husband to suicide 10 years ago. Johna wrote about duality:

“There are two aspects of surviving – a duality to surviving. You never get over your loss, but you move forward to live a happy life. … The most tragic event of our lives will become embedded in our souls, but we will also be happy again someday. That is a very hard concept to get your head around. Forget about trying to explain it to a broken heart.”

The second survivor, Elizabeth Neeld, wrote about the later stages of the grief journey when one begins to integrate their loss and turn back into life: 

We have known from the moment of impact that our life was changed forever. As we travel the journey of grieving, we come to a place where we realize that we must change too. From the moment – a very valuable moment – that we even ask the question of how we will replan our lives – we are making the turn back into life. We don’t have to know the answers to make The Turn. We just must realize that replanning our lives is critical to our finding our way forward on this journey.”

(Elizabeth Neeld outlined seven phases of the survivor journey. You can read more about that here.)

After experiencing the loss of my stepson Channing and working with so many other survivors for over two decades, there is no doubt in my mind that suicide loss is one of the most complex and devastating losses one can experience. The collateral damage of suicide shatters the foundations of life. One must first determine they want to survive, then find a way to survive, and eventually go forward. 

It is no easy journey, but thankfully, there are now many ways to connect with others who understand, and many more people are speaking openly about their loss. In support groups around the country, and on the Alliance of Hope Forum, there are thousands who have traveled the journey, and who understand. They have walked the walk and are not afraid to reach out with support. 

Please know we are here for you during the difficult days of this holiday season, and every day. I hold you and the community in my heart and my prayers. 

Ronnie

This New Life: Honoring a Loved One

If you have lost a loved one, you may think all is lost. That’s not true. Somewhere, deep inside you, there is a knowledge and an abiding love that will save you.

The challenges I faced in building a new life after the loss of my husband ultimately became ways to honor him and the life he lived. If anyone had told me in the early months or years, that this would happen, I would have said – like the country fellow giving directions to the city dweller – “you can’t get there from here.”

At first, I could see no good coming from what had happened. I didn’t want a new life, and I didn’t have a way to even accept his death. Gradually, I began to do things to honor his memory. Simple first steps, like planting a tree on the anniversary of his death. He liked trees.

The long and winding path through grief took every bit of my energy, and I felt disconnected from the world. Worst of all, I was certain this was as good as it was going to get. In other words, I was not coming back from the limbo world between life and death where I had followed him as far as I could. I loved him too much to let him go.

At least that’s what I thought. I saw other survivors on the Alliance of Hope Forum talking about the progress they had made, and the healing they had found. I didn’t buy it. I thought they were kind-hearted people trying to make me feel better. But I couldn’t feel better. However, I did as they suggested and continued to do small things to mark special days. The second year, I planted a rose bush. He always brought me roses.

What happened next surprised me. I realized (with a little help) that even though he was “gone,” my half of our love and my half of our marriage were still intact. I was alive.

I began to think about the life we had before instead of the tragedy that had consumed me. No one had a bigger influence on my life than he did. I thought about the way he had lived, the things that were important to him, the unique things he said, and the gentle way he treated everyone he met. His life still had meaning.

He would not be forgotten, not if I had anything to say about it. In some strange way, I began to build a new relationship with him. It was not without its problems. His photos were taken down on some days and put back out upon others as I shifted back and forth between anger to understanding. I wanted to live, and I wanted to continue to love him.

I began to live the way we had lived all our lives together. I found peace and, eventually, acceptance in the old familiar ways. He was “gone,” but not really.

I found a compassion and wisdom inside myself that could only have come from knowing him. He never met a stranger, so I didn’t. He always stopped to help others in trouble, so I did. Special days and holidays ceased to be anything more than brief memories. I felt a growing connection to him.

Each time I stopped to comfort someone, I felt like he was there. I asked myself what he would be doing if he were here. Then, that’s what I did. He loved me.

And that has made all the difference.

If you have lost a loved one, you may think all is lost. That’s not true. Somewhere, deep inside you, there is a knowledge and an abiding love that will save you. Not only that, the love of the person you lost will help you build a new life that feels right.

Think about him or her. What was most important in their lives? Who were they? What would they want to do if they could? Do those things. Honoring our loved ones is perhaps the most important thing we can do to achieve true healing.