Be There for Survivors of Suicide Loss. Donate Now!

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.

The First Words I Have Managed to Say to My Daughter

I wake every morning feeling your absence in my world. I feel it in every breath I take, every beat of my heart. I know you are not alone in Heaven for a piece of me went with you the day you died.

Mine was the first face you saw the day you were born and the last voice you heard the day you left us. I loved you before I met you when you were still in your mommy’s tummy and will love and miss you every second of every minute, of every hour, of every day, until my time on earth is done.

God only shared you with us for a short time as He knew you were not meant for this harsh world. You are now God’s Angel in Heaven, but know you were my Angel on earth.

Lord,

Please give Keisha a big hug from me and tell her that I will be okay!

Show her the treasures of the universe and share with her all the wonders You have made.

Take her to meet all those that I have loved and lost and who already live in Your house.

Tell them that this is Keisha, sister, granddaughter, cousin, friend and most especially – my baby girl.

Let them love her in Heaven as I loved her on earth.

Hold her close by Your side until we are together again.

Always and Always,

Daddy

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 The First Words I Have Managed to Say to My Daughter

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.

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 »

5 Comments on Two Have Passed

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. 

Still

The greatest gift I ever received by far is you
Not was, but Is

The proudest thing I’ve ever been is your Mom
“Is” is the key word again

The heartstrings hum louder today with the vibration of distance
as I prepare myself to witness the outside world
and the public celebration of Mother’s Day around me

Though mine is inward and quiet
Still I celebrate being a Mother
Still I am forever one, forever yours
No matter the distance

Still I celebrate
All the wonders of you
And all the joy you continue to fill my heart with

Being your Mother has been
and continues to be, a privilege

You are,
have always been,
and continue to Be
the greatest gift in my life

Always your presence remains
Falling gently on me like stardust
Forever brightening my heart within

Still

You are,
have always been,
and continue to Be
a miraculous ever-present force

Mother’s Day for me will always Be
loving and embracing all the wonders of You

Still

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 »

2 Comments on Still

Thin Places

It was a spectacular June day in every way. My husband and I decided to take our kayaks out on Lewiston Lake nestled in the mountains of Trinity County, CA. We had never been to Lewiston Lake before, but we were definitely up for a new adventure. We were staying in a cabin in the area that week for one reason and one reason only: our son is buried in nearby Weaverville, an old mining town established in the mid-1800s.

Adam’s suicide death was so sudden and unexpected. Of course, we had no idea what his wishes would have been for a resting place. We decided the Weaverville cemetery was a perfect spot. Not only is he surrounded by eight other family members, including two great-grandfathers, his grandfather, an uncle, and their spouses, but the cemetery itself has a rustic, natural landscape with deer and other wildlife freely roaming. Being an avid backpacker and nature lover, I think he would approve.

On the way to the cabin earlier in the week, we visited the cemetery. I brushed off his headstone and re-adjusted the painted rocks each family member had decorated for him. Aside from the rocks, there wasn’t a whole lot of color bursting from the cemetery. It was mostly just dirt, dry clusters of wild grass, and a few shade trees hovering over to stand watch.

Our hope is to visit the cemetery at least a couple of times a year. It’s quite a long way from home, but definitely worth it. Meanwhile, we are exploring the area, staying at different places, and making new memories.

As we approached the entrance to Lewiston Lake that sunny June day, I had to catch my breath. I’d heard about “thin places” – even discussed the topic some time ago during a grief support group meeting at my church. But I’d never encountered one.

As my kayak moved through the glassy water, it was like entering another world. Fluffy white clouds poured out over the horizon, blurring the water and sky into one. I glided forward slowly, silently. God, are you there? I can’t explain it, other than to say it was like I found the entrance to heaven. It was so pure. So divine.

In his book, Understanding Your Suicide Grief, Alan D. Wolfelt Ph.D. writes, “In the Celtic tradition, “thin places” are spots where the separation between the physical world and the spiritual world seem tenuous. They are places where the veil between the holy and the everyday are so thin that when we are near them, we intuitively sense the timeless, boundless spiritual world.”

I would agree.

“Thin places are usually outdoors,” says, Wolfelt, “often where water and land meet or land and sky come together.”

There at Lewiston Lake, surrounded by deep blue sky and endless clouds’ soft touch, I knew I had encountered one. I closed my eyes and took in every moment. Hope settled over me like a cool blanket. One day, we’ll be together again. In the meantime, I got a glimpse into something astonishing and beautiful beyond my wildest imagination.

Mothers Who Mourn: The Strongest People I Know

Recently, I attended a fundraiser for a coworker who lost her 17-year-old son to suicide three years ago. It would have been his 21st birthday. This woman and I would never have been friends if not for the fact that both of our sons chose to end their own lives. My son Adam died at 22.

A mother’s love for her child is different than any other. Mothers are there from the moment of conception. Those children are instantly a part of us. We nurture them and look forward to their arrival. We put up with morning sickness and back pain and childbirth just to welcome an amazing new person into this crazy world.

We love them, nurse them, bathe them, kiss them, sing to them at 2 am, and take them to the doctor for well and sick child visits. We hurt for them when they are teething or have diaper rash or earaches. We make holidays and birthdays special for them because we want them to be happy and enjoy life. The life we gave them.

The first vaccination … the first boo-boo … the first ear infection … the first virus … the first scolding … the first hurtful thing said to them … the first day of school … the first fight … the first ER visit. We cried along with them.

The first smile … the first step … the first word … the first belly laugh … the first happy meal … the first birthday party … the first Halloween. The first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The first spring when we can go for a walk and feed the ducks … the first day of kindergarten … the first day of school. We smiled along with them.

And we would do it all again if we had the chance. If we only had the chance. So please remember and pray for the mothers who not only lost a child but a part of themselves. Far from being what was once labeled as “the weaker sex,” they are the strongest people you will ever know. To continue breathing, living, and loving takes enormous strength after the loss of a child.

I am the strongest person I know. I am also the weakest person I know. But somehow, I keep on breathing and giving because that is what I do. Because I am a mother and always will be.

Two Worlds

Imagery is powerful for many people but has been especially so for me as I walk the path of the suicide loss of my younger son. I bought this small pillow many years ago because I thought the image on it was interesting. Since my son’s death, it has become more than a decor accent; it is a reminder of the spaces my son and I occupy.  It is a visual reminder that our relationship continues and that we see each other and acknowledge the worlds beyond even as we understand we cannot live in the same one. 

The stems of the lotus flowers are the ties that bind our love. These ties do not adhere to boundaries as we understand them and reveal a depth and beauty that is symbiotic and continues to nurture us both. That is what keeps our worlds connected – pure love. I believe this is what many of us search for – the knowledge that death doesn’t end love or a relationship, but rather it offers a peek into a vastness beyond our imagination. 

With prayers for strength and peace, 

Atlasofspace

Hope

March is a month that now sings to me of Hope.

This evening we prepare to spring our clocks ahead and with it comes the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

As an early riser, I like to sit quietly and watch Nature lift her blinds as she welcomes the return of light.

This morning, even the birds seem to be reveling. There’s a chill in the air but my windows are open just enough to hear their song as they call to one another.

Do they know what tomorrow brings?

Certain things come to be forever stamped in time, and three years ago, March was a thief. I remember standing at my backdoor feeling broken and betrayed that the season dare change while I stood frozen.

Today I stand at that very same doorway, no longer betrayed by the return of Spring.

I now welcome her light and I’m hopeful.

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 »

Leave a Comment on Hope

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.”

The Grampy Jacket

My son had one of those puffy Columbia down jackets. It was bright orange like a lifejacket. Never a color he’d have chosen for himself, but it was a gift, and he didn’t have the heart to say anything other than, “No, it’s perfect. I love it.”

The first time he wore it he said he felt like Grampy, because my dad tends to go for bright colors. At some point that just became the name of the jacket. If he couldn’t find it, he’d say, “Have you seen my Grampy jacket?” or “Did I leave my Grampy jacket in your car?” Always the Grampy jacket.

I gave the jacket to my dad about a year ago and told him why I wanted him to have it. He had a special bond with my son, and he really got a kick out of knowing Mario called this his “Grampy” jacket. I didn’t know if he’d wear it or not, and that was never the expectation. I just wanted him to have it.

My folks were having some friends over this evening, and I stopped in to visit. My dad was heading outside to sit by the fire after dinner and he walked into the room wearing Mario’s jacket. I wasn’t expecting it and words aren’t big enough to say how incredibly heart-warming that was. As I walked by, I smiled and rubbed my hand along his shoulder and said, “I like your jacket.” He just smiled back. Someone nearby overheard me and chimed in, “Yes, it’s very nice” … and then my dad smiled and said, “It was my grandson’s.”

As I continued down the hall, I could hear my dad telling this person the Grampy jacket story.

Somehow I know my son heard him, and he’s smiling too. 

 

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 »

4 Comments on The Grampy Jacket

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,

Mom

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.

Twelve Things that Have Helped After the Suicide of Our Son

It’s been two years and three months since our son, Adam, died by suicide. I’ve spent some time thinking about what has helped me deal with the loss. Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to capture everything that came to mind. Here are 12 things that have helped me (in no particular order):

1) Supportive people who allowed me to cry and express emotions freely. One of the best gifts I received after our son died was from a close friend who showed up on my doorstep with a box of Kleenex. The gesture said it all.

2) One-on-one counseling with an understanding & empathetic therapist. My husband and I have seen Katie a couple of times a year off and on over the past decade for various reasons. Marital tune-ups, help with a major decision in selling our house/moving to a new city, and most importantly, support in dealing with our son’s mental illness, which emerged in 2015, as well as continued support after his suicide death in May 2019. We met with Katie a few days before Adam died, plus the week after. Her assurance that we did everything we could was priceless! Although it still took my heart many months to catch up with my head regarding the guilt battle, her insights and words still resonate with me today.

3) Support groups. I was very lucky to be able to attend a grief group at my church for several months (pre-covid). We went through Alan Wolfelt’s book, Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. I highly recommend this book. I also attend meetings with Friends for Survival, a national non-profit that provides peer support and resources to those who have lost someone to suicide. Currently, there are monthly Zoom meetings going on, which are helpful.

4) Books. I’ve read about 30+ grief-related books, some specifically on suicide loss, others just on general grief. The most helpful were Wolfelt’s book (above), My Son . . . My Son . . .: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide, by Iris Bolton, I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother’s Quest for Comfort, Courage and Clarity After Suicide Loss, by Susan Auerbach, and A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. While all the books I read had some “nuggets” of wisdom, these four have underlining and yellow highlighting on just about every page.

5) TedTalks/Other Talks on YouTube. In the first few months after our loss, nighttime was the worst. It was near impossible to quiet my mind down so I could fall asleep, even with prescription sleep meds. I found some very helpful TedTalks on grief, as well as other faith-based talks/interviews with individuals who have gone through catastrophic loss. Hearing other people’s stories helped me to know that I’m not alone and gave me much-needed hope. Many nights, I fell asleep to these talks while lying in bed with my iPhone in hand.

6) Music. Although I enjoy all genres, faith-based music has been especially helpful (Pandora at home, K-Love in the car). It keeps my mind focused on the positives.

7) Alliance of Hope (AOH). A family member recommended AOH right after Adam died, but it was a couple of months before I began to explore the website and resources. … I started with the blog, and eventually landed on the Alliance of Hope Forum. I created a profile, posted on the “Introduce Yourself” link, then got sort of stuck. I kept trying to welcome others, rather than joining in on the forum links and topics below. I finally settled on two links: “What Helps?” and “Community Connections, For Parents Who Lost Children.” Though there are many other topics I can relate to, I’ve given myself permission to stick with just these two for now.

8) Journaling. I’ve been a lifelong journaler/writer, so this outlet has been extremely helpful in processing many things, not just loss. From time to time, I revisit my old journals and can see where I’ve been, and what progress I’ve made, and identify areas where I might still be stuck. A journal can be a great listener, offers zero judgment, and is available 24/7.

9) Spending time in nature.  Walking, hiking, and visiting the beach have all been very therapeutic. I feel the most connected to Adam when I’m outdoors because he loved nature so much.

10) GriefShare emails. I subscribed to receive daily emails from GriefShare for a year, which provided encouragement and reminders of the recovery process. These emails were very brief, which was nice.

11) Time off from work. Three days of bereavement leave is certainly NOT adequate for any loss. I used two weeks of sick leave to at least get through the memorial service. Then I had to briefly return to the office. Lucky for me, I only had to be there about three weeks because I had a major surgery scheduled the month after Adam died, so I ended up being off another five weeks post-surgery. During that time of rest, I was able to read, listen to music, cry, and cry some more.

12) Talking about my son with those who knew and loved him.

Thanks for letting me share! I hope my experience will be helpful to others.

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 »

1 Comment on Of Light and Shadows

I Am Not My Grief

A while ago a friend asked why I use a pen name whenever I submit a written piece about grief and loss. Although I never thought about it before, I said that “I am not my grief. Loss is only a small portion of my life. Using my real name would mean that people would immediately identify me with the loss of a child instead of getting to know me as the whole and healed person that I am today.”

I am not my grief and haven’t seen myself as a bereaved mother for many years. Although I lost a piece of my heart and soul, I am still not my loss – purely because I’ve grown beyond that.

But it didn’t start out that way. Early on this grief journey, I was angry at everything that dared to breathe. I felt like a victim. I was angry that Life/God/The Universe/Something Bigger Than We Are, took my child away. I was angry at the Angel of Death who had the guts to come into our home, rather than the neighbour’s or one in the next town over.

In the beginning, I also asked: “Why ME?!?” Why did God deal out emotional pain that I surely wasn’t equipped to handle and surely not strong enough to survive? During the first months, I spent more time sobbing on the floor than being upright and vividly remember wiping a tear from my dog’s eye with my soaked tissue.

Why me? For a couple of months, I was a willing and participating victim until I stopped asking “why me” and started to ask, “what now?” Rock bottom is always a good place to start to rebuild. When I was told by a professional that “I couldn’t,” I rebelled and fought back because nothing is ever impossible. Our thoughts and beliefs can be the biggest prison. What we believe is how our lives will be and sometimes it is necessary to re-examine what we’ve been taught.

Ever so slowly I realized that I’m not my child and that I’m not dead yet (although I prayed for it on many occasions).

Later came the realization that I’m not my grief either. Moving away from feeling hopeless and victimized and feeling that life “owed” me something or that life is somehow unfair, changed everything, even though I was still very deep in a pit of depression at the time.

A “forever-grieving state of mind” was a label that didn’t fit comfortably. I did not want it to become my identity, or the first thing others would think when we meet. It is not something I pull out at every occasion so that the other person can feel sorry and give me special treatment, but when I do take my tender heart out for inspection, I always share that it is possible to wake up after a loss like this and someday heal and thrive too.

I have learned that when sadness comes to visit me, all I can do is say “I see you.” I spend some time with it, see what it wants to teach me, and examine it through journaling or talking to a friend. I don’t push it away, I own it, and because I own it, I can let it go.

Everything changed the day I decided that this is a lesson of some sort and not a punishment. The secret of change is where you focus your energy. Is it to fight what you cannot change or is it to (eventually) live a life of wholeness?

When you let go of what you think life owes you, you are free to fly.

It wasn’t until I was able to let go of how I thought my future should look like (two children with their growing families), that I was able to create the one I’m living today. Accepting that some things do happen over which we have no control leaves space for growing beyond grieving.

I am not my loss or grief, and you aren’t as well. The only difference between lifelong grief and healing is whether you are willing to take ownership of your pain and work towards healing it. Healing that gaping wound is mostly a spiritual journey which also means taking responsibility for our lives and decisions and cultivating the opportunity to grow beyond our perceptions.

Building a bridge between being a bereaved parent and a healed individual didn’t happen overnight or by itself. Separating the community’s beliefs and my own desire to heal was very necessary in order to move forward.

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?”
― Erin Hanson

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 »

7 Comments on I Am Not My Grief

The Beauty that Still Remains

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” ~Anne Frank

I often hang my hat on a quote. It’s the peg I choose and use to refresh my mindset for the day.

I go for those that whisper hope and grant me courage to start each day anew. Such is this.

It’s been over two years since my son, my only child, took his life.

The years embedded, but the overflow months, no longer a reflex, require counting on my fingers.

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

Grieving the loss of his physical presence, the hopes and dreams I carried for him present and future, that part has been a difficult climb. But I take the zig-zag trail now instead of the steepest route.

There I can catch my breath.

Along that gentler trail, he walks by my side. The tenderness of his heart resides in mine and his smile somehow shines brighter than before, radiating warmth and lighting my way.

Not simply deep desires, these things are palpable.

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

Longing remains . . . how could it not? But it’s not all misery.

I do my best to avoid background noise and see deeper beauty in the quiet of simple things. Mostly nature.

Mother Nature continues to be both Teacher and Healer.

So strongly my son resides within, maybe he brings that clarity. I see for the two of us now.

Perhaps it is my job, as his mom, to always seek and show him the beauty he somehow lost sight of.

The beauty that still remains.

The ties that bind . . . perhaps we show that beauty to each other.

My Daughter Came Back to Help Her Dog

My daughter’s dog was already an older dog when my daughter passed over via suicide. The dog was confused at first, looking around for her, waiting for her, but my daughter, Buttercup, did not return. The dog would never go into the closet where my daughter died though. She seemed to sense something about that space she wanted to avoid. About a year and a half later, her dog became extremely ill with cancer, and we had to put her down to relieve her suffering. I posted about it in March of 2017 in the Pets section of the Alliance of Hope forum. This is what I wrote: ​

___________________________________________________________________

It began nearly 2 weeks ago. Our daughter’s dog, which she got as a puppy 10 years ago, was lying on her bed near me. Suddenly she began to look up at the ceiling near the stairway. She behaved as though she saw someone she loved and wanted that person to come down and pet her. She wagged her tail, and was so excited, continuing to look upward. I asked her if she saw Buttercup, our daughter, and she got even more excited, continuing to look at the same spot. She then behaved as though she was being petted, and after about 10 minutes, she lay her head down, as though the person had now left.

About 2 hours later, I noticed her lying next to her dog bed, which was unusual for her. She began to have a seizure, which lasted about a minute, then came to after a bit. She had never had a seizure before, but I knew what it was, as Buttercup had severe epilepsy. Several days later, the dog awoke, and her left rear leg was completely paralyzed. At the vet, we learned she had a spinal tumor and a brain tumor, which had caused the seizure.

Within 5 days we were forced to put her down, as the tumors advanced so quickly that both rear legs were now paralyzed, and she was in kidney failure. It went so fast we could barely keep up with it and had to end her suffering as soon as we were able. Our family all gathered to say one last goodbye, and then it was over. We are having her cremated and buried next to our daughter.​​

Buttercup loved her dog as much as any dog or human could ever be loved. It did not seem possible that they could ever be parted. I believe that Buttercup came for her dog because she knew what was coming for her, and to prepare her and us for the transition. Buttercup had come last summer, in much the same way, right before we learned that her dog had a life-threatening infection and needed emergency surgery. Our loved ones do not just want to maintain connections with us, but with their beloved pets as well. These best friends will now be reunited forever.

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 My Daughter Came Back to Help Her Dog