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Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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A Lighted Village Shop

I opened the Christmas bin and pulled out the lighted village shops one by one. Over the years, I collected about a dozen Lemax shops, churches, and accessories that we’ve set up under our tree. Each one was a gift from my husband or one of the kids.

For the first two Christmases, after Adam died in 2019, I left the bin untouched. I just didn’t have the energy to do much holiday decorating. I eked out the bare minimum. But this year, I braved the bin. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that! In fact, a gut-punch grief wave interrupted my decorating session. It was so intense, I had to sit down. Thankfully, my husband let me cry and talk my way through it.

“Merry Christmas – From Adam ’07”

What caused the wave? A village shop – Longs Drugs (the company now owned by CVS). It was a gift from Adam in 2007 when he was 16. He worked at Longs/CVS for five years until he moved away to finish college. Those were good years. He was healthy, doing well in his studies, played guitar in a band, enjoyed friends, and had a life full of adventure. 

As I held that village shop in my hands, the memories came flooding back. The last five years of his life were so dark. Mentally, he simply unraveled, and we couldn’t bring him back. But this lighted shop transported me to a time filled with such hope for his future.

Two and a half years into this grief journey, I’m finally able to embrace both the hard, painful memories, as well as the beautiful, bright ones. For me, it was a HUGE victory. I really enjoyed my lighted village this Christmas season. Of course, the lighted Longs store will always have a special place in my heart.

Thanks for letting me share.

Handling Grief during the Holidays

I often read posts on the Alliance of Hope Forum from survivors who express anxiety – and even dread – about approaching holidays. Holidays, which are normally marked by happy family gatherings and rituals, can be harsh reminders that things have changed and a loved one is not there to celebrate this year. 

This morning I noticed that several members were expressing their concern about upcoming holidays. Here is a little bit of what they wrote:

“Not to be the grinch, but I dread the holidays, most especially Christmas. Coming together as a family is just different now, and I have little tolerance for stress during the holidays. Our family has a big, gaping hole since his passing. Other people take the presence of their loved ones for granted and worry about things that just do not matter. I wish I had the willpower to just decline to participate. I just want to skip some of those big days. I get so angry hearing people complain and take for granted what they have.” ~Lemon

“Sigh, no words, I just so understand. I’m not looking forward to the next few months. I wish I could hibernate for the winter (or maybe forever.)” ~SadMom78

“Yes, there is definitely a ping to the heart. Well, no – a breaking ball of sadness for the holidays for myself as well. Not through the whole season any longer, but it still stings. Life without someone who passes from suicide is still an “Are you kidding me moment.” I know it is a disease but the complication and mystery of it still hurt. In my world, the holidays bring pain for all my relatives that have passed but more so for my beloved son.” ~Always4Hope

Reading further, I saw that other members, further out in their grief, responded with empathy and hope:

“Holidays can definitely increase the awareness of the void of our loved ones. I’ve found it to be somewhat of a mixed bag through the years. Do what feels right for you.” ~Turtle

“Socializing becomes very difficult in traumatic grief. Add the holidays and all they are supposed to represent, and all the memories, and it is like the worst kind of event for us. If these types of gatherings are difficult for you, I suggest you let a few people know how tough this is for you. Maybe they can help you take your leave if the time comes that it is too difficult. I totally understand not wanting to try to put on a fake face and act like you are having a carefree day when you are still struggling with your grief. Wishing you strength as we enter this season that is so difficult for so many of us.”  ~Merm

I can relate to what those forum members were discussing. I recall feeling profoundly out of step with the rest of the world during the first holidays after my stepson died, in 1995. In Chicago, stores were filled with decorations. Houses and trees were adorned with lights. The agency I worked for was holding a festive party. Yet I felt nothing other than a tremendous emptiness – a sense that there was a sheet of glass between me and the rest of the world.

Because the year-end holidays are so impossible to ignore, I encourage you to take some time to plan. You do not have to do things in the way you have done them before. It is OK to change things up – or to do nothing at all. Above all, do what feels right for you the in the moment, in the circumstances. Planning a bit, to whatever extent you can, is usually helpful.

Here are several suggestions commonly distributed at support groups. They may help you feel more in control of holiday challenges:

Openly discuss past traditions. Talk things over with family and friends and make changes according to the wishes of those who are hurting most.

Create a special tribute for the day. Light a candle, gather some special remembrances or develop something to mark the memory of your loved one that is helpful and meaningful for you. Be creative. Be unique. Be yourself.

Plan in advance where to spend the holidays. It is hard to escape the holiday atmosphere. Rather, try to face the pain at a place or home of someone who will understand and provide nurturance. If being at home is more appropriate, stay at home. You may be surprised to find that your anticipatory fear of the holidays is worse than the holiday itself.

Balance solitude with sociability. Being alone can help renew our strength, but being with the right friends and family can also be supportive. Try to attend holiday events and enjoy them if you can. Having an enjoyable time is not a betrayal of your loved one, nor is it a denial of your grief and loss.

Relive pleasant memories. Trying to pretend that nothing has happened or changed is not only burdensome but nearly impossible. Try to recall happy holiday memories and rituals. Celebrate them. Change them. Make new memories flow from the old memories. In doing this, you may end up with the best of the old and the energy of the new.

Set aside some “letting go” time. Set aside some time for crying, for writing down your thoughts and feelings, or for talking to your loved one.

Counter the conspiracy of silence: It is not unusual for family and friends to be afraid to talk about the loved one, for fear of causing hurt or pain. You can take the initiative by talking about your loved one. This will alert others to the fact that it is okay to share, talk, cry, and remember.

As the holidays approach, I urge you to go within and honor your feelings.

Seek the wisdom of your higher self. There is no right or wrong. Think about what you want to do – what is meaningful for you – and trust your instincts. 

During that first holiday, 27 years ago, I felt such deep despair I could not envision a future of anything but loneliness and pain. With the help of others, I survived and eventually began to thrive. It was a journey of many years, but during that time, I grew stronger. I believe you will too. I grew wiser. I believe you will too. I chose to live, and then live in a way that makes a difference. I believe you will too.

Be sure to check out our website if you are looking for additional articles and holiday tips, and please know that others understand, and will be there for you on the Alliance of Hope Forum. You are not alone. As always, my thoughts and prayers are with each and every member of the Alliance of Hope community.


Bought Myself an Early Christmas Present

In fall and winters past, we would gather in the upstairs family room that has a fireplace and hang out there. We would usually shut off the heat in the house as the fire was plenty warm enough (and we hate forced hot-air heat!). Sometimes, we would camp out on the floor and sleep in front of the fire, but when we did venture back to the bedroom, it was cooooolddddd! We used to try to jump into bed under the covers simultaneously, and if one of us had to make a pit-stop on the way, the other would cry out, “Holding! Holding! Holding!” to call the other to warm up the sheets.

I haven’t had any fires yet this year as I need a fireplace repair first. They are coming next Monday. I will surely cry the first fire I make … this was a nightly ritual for us, and on weekends we would keep the fire burning continuously from Friday night until Sunday night.

Well, regardless of where I set the thermostat now, I have been freezing every day and every night. I cried the other night when I recalled the cries for HOLDING when jumping into the cold sheets.

I mentioned to my sister-in-law (husband’s sis) that I thought I needed an electric blanket, but she told me about her electric mattress pad and claimed it was “the bomb”. Yesterday, I took one of my many Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons and went to buy one. I put it on the bed last night and set it to pre-heat while I was getting bath and bed done with my son. I went to bed shortly after, and ahhhhhhhhhhh… what a warm and snuggly feeling. After my body caught up and was warm too, I shut off my side of the bed and set my husband’s side to low, I’d slide over to that side if I got cold again.

Well, I think it’s the first time I slept through the WHOLE night in over eight months … and deeply and dreamlessly too. Kind of poignant, but I guess that’s part of moving forward, right?

A well-rested Christine

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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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

Bittersweet Memories

In 2020, we lost my daughter Ariana to depression-suicide. We will miss her presence once again, this Father’s Day. The approach of Father’s Day brings bittersweet memories. We traditionally spend the day enjoying brunch, opening gifts and eventually end up playing a game of “croquet for dad’s cash” with my daughters, their boyfriends, and friends of my daughters who have adopted me throughout the years.

Making brunch is a family affair. My wife ensures an entree is prepared or take-out is ordered from our favorite restaurant. My youngest daughter Ashley always volunteers to make one of my favorite desserts. Ariana would have prepared her signature spinach casserole dish that was made with enough garlic to linger in the house for days.

I am embarrassed to admit that I’m showered with too many gifts that are generally beyond the budget of a young working adult. My wife often gets me something practical, such as a new shirt and matching pants for work. Ashley will almost always give me a basket of my favorite snacks from Trader Joe’s and a pair of goofy socks.

Ariana would have put some thought and time into picking out a keepsake. The keepsake that stands out the most is a gift box of handwritten letters, some of the letters have already been opened, and others are to be opened on future memorable occasions.

Ariana’s letters included “To My Incredible Dad”, “Read Me When You Miss Me”, “Read Me When It’s Your Birthday”, and many more.

Father’s Day was never about food or gifts. It was about the time spent together with family and friends. Ariana had an uncanny understanding of the value of time, whether it was coming by the house early to chat and warm up her signature dish or writing letters that now provide me comfort to reread and letters to look forward to opening in the future. Her final gift of time was taking the last minute of her life to text and say how much she loved me.

I know you’re asking yourself, what is “croquet for dad’s cash” all about. It’s a modified game of crochet where $20 dollar bills are taped to the top of the metal hoops. The objective of the game is very simple, knock the croquet ball through as many hoops as possible to win dad’s cash. Ariana never really won any money playing croquet, she was more interested in spending time talking with everyone and playfully refereeing a player’s questionable winnings.

The Ghosts of Christmas Not to Come

To My Son Peter,

On the April morning you departed us some twenty months ago, I was at work fifty miles away. My sister had texted me for your new address to send an Easter card, so I pulled up an online map of your neighborhood to check your zip code. I noticed the small county park with trails across the main road and behind the strip mall and told myself to tell you about it for walking your new dog, in case you hadn’t found it yet. I did not imagine you were soon to be heading there, gun in backpack.

I went back to my duties for a while until an overwhelming wave of peace made me stop what I was doing. I wondered where THAT sensation came from! I had only ever felt such profound serenity after deep, quiet meditation or prayer, never in the noisy bustle of my office. I turned back to my daily tasks. Within the hour, my cell phone rang. The policeman said there had been an acc –hesitated and changed it to — incident with my son. He then asked, “Do you know why he would do this?” Clueless, I asked, “Do what?” “Shoot himself,” he replied.

I believe your spirit came to me to say goodbye, to let me know you were at peace and intact.

Or else an angel came to gird me for the news I was about to receive. Only that sense kept me functioning over the next few harrowing days while we waited for the organ transplant teams. I knew that it was no longer you in that hospital bed, breathing mechanically. You had already left for another realm that morning by the stream, under the two trees that leaned together to make an arch.

A few weeks later in May, your fiancée gave me the Mother’s Day gift you had bought for me in advance, five novels of Charles Dickens, my favorite author, including A Christmas Carol. Dickens had such a heart for those who suffer due to cruelty, greed, and status-seeking in society. I think he would approve a twist to his classic morality tale.

If blessed with Dickens’ talent, I would pen “The Ghosts of Christmas Not to Come.”

First, the Angel of Mercy would lift you up and out of your own tremendous pain into the loving embrace of my departed mother who held a special place in her heart for you growing up. She would introduce you to her husband, my father, who took his life when I was a child. Of all people, he would understand what you were going through and rush in to soothe your self-condemnation with an infusion of love.

You would then be shown how those who had hurt you throughout your twenty-five years, intentionally or not, had been misled or had themselves been hurt in the past, and just did not know any better. This is your tour with the Angel of Empathy. These scenes play out before your eyes not to excuse anyone, as each will face his own life review and reckoning, but rather to explain what happened so you might understand and forgive them.

Then another spiritual guide would whisk you away to see and experience every tear of sorrow, pang of guilt, stab of rejection, and ache of abandonment your suicide caused person by person, for generations. This is the Angel of Justice, demonstrating that actions have consequences far beyond our short-sighted, narrow views. This fearful journey is not designed for your punishment, but for your instruction.

Next, the Angel of Promise would transport you to the life you would have lived, to take in a vision of your simple but beautiful wedding to your girlfriend of five years. You two were very good together and could have been better if only you had learned how to navigate rather than bury disagreements. You would meet and hold the children that you could have raised together in love, if only you had loved yourself. I remember you picked the house you bought together by the school system, so your one-day children could have a good education. You might have become a voice for the environment and the animals that depend on humans to provide space for their survival, if only you had not seen yourself as less than motivated, smart, and capable. Your professor said you had a terrific mind, and he expected to hear you had done good things for the earth and its creatures one day.

Once you had gained a panoramic perspective over the span of your life and that of those you impacted, you would be transported into the presence of the All-wise. Based on all you had seen, God would ask you to weigh the achievements and joys you had foregone against the difficulties and distress you faced, and to decide if you were mistaken when you wrote “life seems like too much of a burden” in your last note to me.

I don’t know if you’ll get the opportunity to return to earth in some form with your newfound knowledge and decision, but if you do, I pray that you never do such a thing to your priceless and irreplaceable self again, or to those who love you. Instead, you let your loved ones help you to find a better way.

The last time I saw you in person, we all ate cake in your home for your older brother’s birthday, ten days before you died. For some reason, I brought up in conversation Frank Capra’s classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, surprised to learn none of you twenty-somethings had seen it. You all said it was crazy to watch a Christmas movie in April, and I would have to wait until December for a chance to get us all together to see it. Your birthday’s just before Christmas, so we plan to watch it then. From your vantage point, I hope you can see it on the big screen and help us all take to heart what really matters in this life and the next. I believe that’s the way to earn your wings!

Love always,


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

Our Third Christmas Without Him

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, but not for the commercialism, food, or festive ways it’s thrown at us. I’ve always loved the holiday for the time I have been able to spend with family, the traditions I grew up with, and because of my faith. Knowing my family was together and making memories has always been the best gift to me.

Christmas was NOT my husband’s favorite holiday, but he grew to like it very much when we got married. We would celebrate with my family. He even got to the point he would take our children Black Friday shopping. He would get VERY excited about mapping out what stores they would go to together and where they would stop for breakfast or coffee. He always found great deals, but his joy at taking our children out with him was better than any deal he ever found.

This will be our third Christmas without my husband.

On our first Christmas I felt uncertain but ended up keeping our original plans. My children and I spent the holiday with my family out of town. It turned out to be the best thing for us to do, even though we were quiet and numb the whole day while the rest of my family was jovial. They understood and gave us the space we needed. They always have, and for that we are incredibly grateful.

Our second Christmas was also with family, but we didn’t have to travel out of town.

I didn’t have to worry about decorating again, which was good because I just didn’t have the energy to do so. We made it through the day more easily than the previous year, but still missing my husband intensely.

This year, we will be celebrating Christmas at my house.

My children are once again excited about the holiday and the fact that family will be coming to us. Since my children are old enough and want to do it, they will be the ones to decorate. I enjoy seeing the decorations, and I don’t mind that they will be put up this year, but I still do not have the desire to do any decorating. I realize that’s ok, and my family understands, too. On Christmas we’ll have family with us, exchange a few gifts, and share a meal together. New memories will be made, but there will still be a void. I’ll start a new tradition this year of lighting a candle for my husband on Christmas as we move through the day.

Since my husband took his life, every holiday has become different.

There is an emptiness that cannot be filled, but as we move further out from our loss, we realize that the time we had with my husband was truly a gift. Time is also a gift in that it has offered me and my children the opportunity to learn ways to cope with our loss, move forward, and work on healing. We are no longer numb and disengaged with life around us. We are rediscovering activities and making new memories. We understand that by continuing to live our lives, we are honoring him in the process.

My husband will always be missed, and the constant presence of his absence reminds us that he will not celebrate another holiday with us in this realm again. We also know, though, that he will never truly be gone, for he lives on in our hearts and minds.

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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Dealing with the Holidays after a Suicide Loss

Finding hope and happiness can be hard for new survivors during the holiday season.  The first Thanksgiving and Christmas – just 7 months after our son died – felt more like an obligation than something we wanted to do. We had lost our voices and were struggling to express how we really felt. The world had moved on for everyone but our immediate family. 

We stumbled through that first holiday season with a mix of tears and profound grief. That winter, our life shut down. We didn’t take control of those first holidays.

Instead, we went through the motions as other people wanted us to. We went to Thanksgiving dinner at a relative’s house, put false smiles on our faces, and tried to pretend we were thankful – but our son was missing. No one said his name to us at first. We felt alone in a room filled with people who loved us. They were just clueless and struggling too.

We put up the Christmas tree and cried as we held the handmade ornaments our son had made over the years. What had been a cute addition in years past was now a painful reminder of his absence. We discussed if we should hang his stocking by the fireplace with the rest. (We did and still do!) We were lost and we knew we had to do something better in the future. 

With holidays just around the corner, it is time to think about what you want to do this year. When you lose a loved one to suicide, it is impossible to celebrate as you have in the past and expect things to be the same.

You are missing someone, and that is the elephant in the room. Some family and friends will want to discuss the person who is missing from the gathering, and others will avoid mentioning their name. You may not have the strength to participate in formal events. It comes down to doing what works for you. It is hard to feel happy, merry, or thankful right after you lose a loved one to suicide. The sadness and pain can be overwhelming.

I always thought the lyrics to a song called “Better Days” by the Goo Goo Dolls captured how I felt about the holidays right after our son’s death. The lyrics read:

“And you asked me what I want this year

And I try to make this kind and clear

Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings

And designer love and empty things

Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.”

Here are some tips and ideas to help with the holidays ahead:

Talk among your immediate family about how you are all feeling and what you are up to. Don’t let anyone push you to go to an event that you are not ready for. Not everyone has to attend. Do what you think will give you the most strength and energy. That may be different from what other people tell you or push you to do. Only you truly know what you are up to doing for these events. 

You don’t have to do the same activity as you have done in years past. In fact, trying to do the same event without the missing person may only make things worse. You can do something different: have a Thanksgiving breakfast, just have desserts, have a coffee tasting, or go out to a restaurant. You can take out all your photos and leave them around for people to talk about, ask people to bring stories, videos, or photos of your loved one to share with the group. Or you can stay home and have a quiet day. For a few years, we shifted to just stopping in on family and friends for only coffee and dessert after the event was mostly over. That allowed us to see everyone, but not feel the pressure to stay the whole time. Folks just want to see how you are doing.

If you attend a gathering, it may help to have a “friend” in the room – someone with whom you can speak honestly. Your trusted ally can help get you out of uncomfortable conversations.  They can be your “wingman” for the day, and provide any added strength and support you might need. 

Have a “Plan B” – just in case. You may wake up and find you don’t have the strength to follow through with your original plans. That’s when you shift to “Plan B.” It is not a failure; it is just a different choice for the day. It might be something as simple as a walk in the park, stopping by a house of worship, or visiting someplace that gives you strength and happiness. People know you are grieving and will understand that you might need a change of plans for that day.

Avoid hosting the event at your home. If you suddenly feel overwhelmed, it is hard to disappear if you need a quiet moment. Consider letting someone else host the event this year. You deserve a break.

Don’t hesitate to mention and acknowledge the person who is missing around the table. There are many ways to do this. Some people go around the table and ask each person to tell a short, positive, or funny memory about the person who is missing. Some people make a remembrance jar that can be used at any family event. Some folks even set a place at the table for the missing person and place a picture or candle on their plate. Here is an article about doing a candle lighting ceremony

It all comes down to healing the way you need to and acknowledging that those around you are also healing.

One more important tip: avoid alcohol or other intoxicating substances during these events. You need to stay sharp and manage your emotions, even though folks around you are having too much. There are always people in the crowd that will say the wrong thing and you want to be able to respond or walk away with a clear head. Alcohol can also lower your energy and just make your day worse. It is never a good idea to get lost in a drink when your emotions and grief are causing you pain. 

And last, remember it is only 24 hours. Most survivors start thinking and worrying about the events long in advance. Be kind to yourself and know that you will wake up the next day and the sun will rise once again.

A Bereaved Thanksgiving

It doesn’t seem to get any better – but it doesn’t seem to get any worse either.
For that, I am thankful.

There are no more pictures to be taken, but there are memories to be cherished. 
For that, I am thankful.

There is a missing chair at the table, but the circle of family gathers close. 
For that, I am thankful.

The turkey is smaller – but there is still stuffing. 
For that, I am thankful.

The days are shorter – but the nights are softer. 
For that, I am thankful.

The pain is still there – but it only lasts moments. 
For that I am thankful.

The calendar still turns – the holidays still appear – and they still cost too much – but I am still here.
For that I am thankful.

The room is still empty – the soul still aches – but the heart remembers.
For that, I am thankful.

The guests still come – the dishes pile up – but the dishwasher still works. 
For that, I am thankful.

The name is still missing – the words still unspoken – but the silence is shared.
For that, I am thankful.

The snow still falls – the sled still waits – and the spirit still wants to.
For that, I am thankful.

The stillness remains – but the sadness is smaller. 
For that, I am thankful.

The moment is gone – but the love is forever. 
For that, I am blessed: for that I am grateful. 

Love was once (and still is) – a part of my being. 
For that, I am thankful.

May your holidays be filled with reasons to be thankful. Having loved and having 
been loved is perhaps the most wondrous reason of all. 



Of Light and Shadows

Dear Zack,

It has been 5 1/2 months. It seems like forever. It is hard for me to remember not feeling this way. It is now November, and everyone has been doing those 30 days of Thankfulness. I am not. Of course, I could find something to be thankful for each day: your sister, brother, brother-in-law, nephews, and your dad – but it reminds me too much of what I do not have – what I have lost.

But I will write on this 28th day of November that I am grateful for you. You are my son, and you were here for almost 25 years. I think back over the years, though it is still hard for me.

I think of your energy. You had such zest for life! You were always in a hurry. It was hard to slow you down. You were always running ahead and jumping off things before I could even catch up to you. I think of the letter I still have that you wrote at age 10 to Sting, to say you were his biggest fan and would make a great partner for him!

I think of your music. Of you playing guitar in the school talent show and everyone standing and clapping wildly as you put the guitar behind your head and played the Star-Spangled Banner just like Jimi Hendrix. Of you in Battle of the Bands, your awesome hair flying as you played Metallica. Out of all the memories of your music, I cherish most the many, many nights that we would go sit out on our front porch. You would play your classical guitar for me as your little brother caught fireflies. It is one of the happiest memories in my heart.

I think of how close you and your sister were right from the start. She read to you each night, holding the book upside down and telling you stories the best she could remember –  how you loved that. I think of you playing dress up and playing Harriet the Spy with her. I am grateful for the concern and the love you shared with her when she was fighting cancer: helping me wash her hair after her surgery. You were so scared and yet so brave for her.

I am grateful for you being not only a big brother to your younger brother, but his friend too. He looks up to you so much. I remember when he “borrowed” something from your room, and the look on your face when he said he was sorry, then the look on your face when you found he had spray painted it gold. So I am grateful that you both were able to find humor in gold spray paint over the years.

I am grateful for the love you have for the man who started out as a stepdad and became your Dad, as you grew and realized how much he loves you. How the two of you shared a sense of humor of ‘Steelers and Bengals,’ and of course pink princess gift bags. I remember birthdays and Christmases, spending Christmas Eve setting up wrestlers, building Legos, putting bikes together, etc. just to make it perfect on Christmas morning. How you taped/wrapped everything, especially the guitar you gave your little brother for Christmas, it took him forever to get it unwrapped.

I think of how much you loved your dog. Of course, I remember the hard things too and words said by others that left scars on you. But I also remember you fighting through it. I am grateful for the many Saturdays we spent together in front of the fireplace, glued to a marathon of Law and Order or movies.

I remember teaching you how to draw, how to look at light and shadows. I remember telling you countless times to stop drawing on your homework and on yourself. I think of how you fell in love with the art of tattooing. How much you respected Tony, how much he taught you. I loved hearing the stories when you came home and watching you become a great artist. I am especially grateful for the tattoo you did on me. It is a part of you that will always be with me.

I am grateful for your humor and laughter! You were so funny, always making everyone laugh. I am so grateful I have some of your laughter on video. I remember every time you saw me you hugged me and told me you loved me! Unconditional love that I am sure I do not deserve, but you always loved me. I am grateful that I know you still do! I know that you loved with all that you had.

This could go on for pages, but I just wanted to say on this Thanksgiving Day that I am thankful, for singing you to sleep, for tracing your face, for playing games and having time for you always. Even though you have yet again run ahead of us, I know we will be together again. Every day, you show me more about life and that you are not gone. I am so grateful for you, my son. Thank you so much!

Love, Mom

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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Navigating Halloween After Loss

October is here. I find myself wondering how summer went by so fast. There is a crispness in the air now that lines the edges of even the warmest days. Trees in my yard have started to turn. Flowers are wilting … and up the street, one of my neighbors has orange lights strung through his yard.

Each year, many of my neighbors decorate for Halloween. Back in the day, when I was young, we simply put a pumpkin out. Things are more elaborate now. Last year, I’m told that Americans spent over eight billion dollars on Halloween decorations alone, not counting costumes and candy. Many look forward to October 31st, planning costumes for themselves, their children, or their pets, but those who are grieving often feel an added ache of loneliness. Their loved one is not there to help, to participate, and to enjoy.

Over the years, at support groups, I’ve heard many newly bereaved survivors say they are disturbed by some of the particularly grotesque decorations that pop up in stores and around their neighborhoods. I can understand that. Three years ago, that neighbor who is now working on the orange lights built a real graveyard in his yard … with grave robbers, half-finished … looking like they left in a hurry. Ten years before that, my new next-door neighbors, unaware that my stepson had hanged himself the year before, installed a dummy hanging with a rope around his neck, off the front of their roof. (To their credit, when my daughter mentioned our loss, they immediately took it down.)

For newer survivors especially, Halloween is often a holiday to be “endured.” 

New survivors have little emotional resilience and are in no mood for a party, especially one involving blood, gravestones, or gore. They struggle with intense emotions, often feeling suffocated by their feelings. Generalized anxiety is frequently high for new survivors. They have experienced real-life horror and are often haunted by their dreams. Many are troubled with symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

It will not always be that way. Things do get easier with time, but in the beginning, each landmark day brings a deepened awareness of one’s loss.

On another note, I was recently told by an Irish friend, that Halloween has its origins in Ireland’s Celtic past: that it was an important fire festival, celebrated on the evening of October 31st, and into the next day when flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids. In many respects, it was a festival like our modern New Year’s Day in that it carried the notion of casting out the old and moving into the new.

Today Halloween doesn’t carry that connotation. Our culture focuses on candy and costumes, which for the most part, results in a lot of fun. There is no reason, however, that we as a survivor community can’t hold in our awareness that we are rekindling our fire and that of others around us… and moving into the “new.”

Bearing Witness to the Love

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

“February 14, 2008

Hello, my name is Ronnie Walker

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

Ronnie Walker, MS, LCPC”

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

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

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

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

With love,

Ronnie Walker MS, LCPC

This New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safely and always.

Happy new year, sweetie.

About the Author

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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At Four Months – A Little Bit of Light in the Darkness

Last night was difficult. This week has been difficult

I am looking at a Thanksgiving entirely alone this year. My husband took his life on July 7th and this will be the first real holiday without him. Normally I would be with family or friends, but due to COVID-19, I’ll be “celebrating” at home alone. I absolutely dread this.

But: I’m determined to make the best of a bad situation. I’m planning to Zoom with a few friends. I purchased a small Thanksgiving feast from Whole Foods. I’m taking all of next week off of work and have a list of movies and TV that I’m planning to binge.

But still, I’m scared to death for this first holiday alone.

So: I went to Target today and bought an enormous amount of Christmas lights that I put up. There is a little bit of light in the darkness for me (and quite frankly the world, at this time). This is especially poignant as my husband refused to have any Christmas decorations at all last year. At the time, I thought it was because of his depression. Upon reflection, I think he may have been already contemplating taking his own life and didn’t want a reminder that that would be his last Christmas. Hindsight is always 20/20.

We had twenty wonderful Christmases together. I know this holiday season will be different and difficult in so many ways.

Like everything: one day at a time.

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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An Angel In Every Room

We are headed into the holiday season, which is often a tough time for those grieving the death of a loved one. You may be feeling little call to celebrate, decorate, or buy gifts. Or you may be growing increasingly anxious and sad as the holidays approach. Family holiday traditions, as well as the festivities and expectations of the outside world, are hard to navigate with a broken heart.

This year, I imagine that most everyone will be doing things a bit differently – whether they have lost someone or not. The pandemic, unemployment, and economic anxieties have altered so many things for all of us. And you may be rethinking or revising the traditions of previous years in order to satisfy social distancing guidelines. I know I am.

For eight months now, I have been talking to new loss survivors who are grappling with the pandemic in addition to the death of their loved one. They have needed to social distance while managing funerals, memorials, and tending to all the collateral tasks resulting from loved ones’ deaths. Many have postponed memorials or held very small gatherings. They have been isolated, without the close, in-person support of friends, family, and counselors, which is so important. It has been heartbreaking to me, to know they are going through this.

New loss survivors are often very concerned about upcoming holidays and special occasions. If this is true for you, I’d like to suggest something that helped me immensely 25 years ago, when my grief was new. Find a way to “own” your own holiday. Take it back from the culture and make it personal. Make it just big enough and just small enough to fit what is happening for you and your family right now.

Do what you need to do to get through it

I still recall the emptiness I felt the first year after my stepson’s death when previous traditions no longer fit. I could not shop. I certainly could not put up elaborate decorations. I could barely get through each day. At some point, I decided to put an angel figure in every room of the house. That seemed appropriate. I recall that my daughter Heather gave me a pair of angel earrings with a note: “If you wear these Mom, there will be an angel in every room you enter.”

So, if I can give you one tip, as the holidays approach, I urge you to go within and honor your feelings. Seek the wisdom of your own higher self. There is no right or wrong. Our culture dictates so much, but it is possible to take things back. Think about what you want to do – what is meaningful for you – and trust your instincts. 

During that first holiday 25 years ago, I felt such deep despair I could not envision a future of anything but loneliness and pain. With the help of others, I survived and eventually begin to thrive. It was a journey of many years, but during that time, I grew stronger. I believe you will too. I grew wiser. I believe you will too. I chose to live, and then live in a way that makes a difference. I believe you can too.

Be sure to check out our website if you are looking for additional articles and holiday tips, and please know that others understand and will be there for you on the Alliance of Hope Forum. You are not alone. As always, my thoughts and prayers are with each and every member of the Alliance of Hope community.


Thoughts on Halloween

During the month of October, America celebrates Halloween, the second most decorative event in our country after Christmas. It is amazing to see all the decorations around houses and surrounding areas. People are going all out. When I think of Halloween, I think of masks and I also think about how flippantly people depict death.

When I think of masks, I think of the masks that people put on in masking their real, desperate feelings. Over the years, I have heard it said countless times that the person who completed suicide gave no real signs they were contemplating wanting to end their life. They hid this fact from everyone.

One would think that someone thinking about taking their life would give off some sign or message, but people in this desperate state often don’t give off signals. Why? It could be that they do not want to be stopped and fear if they shared what was going through their minds, their plans would be thwarted. People contemplating suicide have lost faith in medical intervention and counseling, thinking it would be futile.

Another reason people might not share their innermost thoughts is that they are too embarrassed or ashamed of having such thoughts. They are fully aware of the stigma attached to mental illness. Yet mental illness is an illness like any other illness, and there should be no shame attached to this illness. Mental illness attacks a different part of the person. Instead of attacking the heart, or some other vital organ, mental illness attacks the mind and the brain and the soul.

When I think of masks, I also think of the masks that survivors wear to hide their grieving process. My suggestion is that survivors be honest when asked how they are doing. Survivors don’t have to give every detail about the grief journey nor should they give the impression that everything is fine. One can admit the grief journey is painful without unloading every detail.

Still another aspect of Halloween is the flippant approach to death. There is nothing flippant about death. Survivors can become quite upset when they see dummies hanging from trees or other parts of a neighborhood. If some scene is particularly upsetting to a survivor, a gentle reminder to a neighbor could be warranted. My suggestion is that when the scene can be removed or altered, survivors should take the initiative and express their feelings. People are generally very sensitive to the situation and will either remove or alter the scene. Survivors do not have to suffer in silence.

Survivors look at the world through very different eyes. Halloween decorations may trigger painful memories, especially in the early years after the loss. With time, as survivors incorporate the loss into their psyche, sensitivity to graphic decorations tends to lessen.  

As we head into fall events and the holiday season, my thoughts and prayers are with all survivors.