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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.

Letting Go Once More

It will be seven years in December since our beloved daughter, Buttercup, left us via suicide for higher realms than this. We scattered her ashes in the Four Directions and buried what was left on our family farm, next to both sets of her great-grandparents. My original intention had been to bury her next to my older son’s dog in the tiny woods near the creek. She dearly loved that dog, the gentle Pitbull who thought she was a human being.

My mother protested, saying Buttercup should be buried close to the house, next to the ancestors. I relented, and we then buried her next to them, in a tiny grove of birch and pine. We soon buried her beloved dog beside her within a year, thinking we would also be laid to rest next to them one day.

This scenario was not meant to be. Shortly afterward, a deep rift developed in the family over selling the property which contained the gravesites. I was compelled into digging up Buttercup’s and her dog’s remains and re-burying them in a public graveyard two hours from our home. Yet in the back of my mind, I wished I had done as I wanted to in the first place, to bury Buttercup’s ashes next to my son’s dog, on another part of the property.

I had retained some of Buttercup’s ashes, along with some of her dog’s ashes, thinking my sons might want to do something special with them in time. But I decided on Thursday while driving home from work, that I didn’t want to leave them with any hard decisions in the future when I might no longer be here myself. I made the decision to bury all the ashes before the snow fell and the ground froze too hard to dig into. I wept thinking of it all – of once again letting go of the only remaining physical aspect of Buttercup. She was and is such a shining Light and I miss her so very much. But I knew I would be doing what she would have wanted me to do in the first place, and this would bring us both Peace.

Yesterday, it snowed here, over two inches, and I was concerned we might have missed our chance to complete the burial. It was nearing dusk when we finally arrived at the farm and gathered our small family group together in the little woods. A large tree had fallen near the gravesite of our son’s dog, and much of the foliage was overgrown around it as well. It felt powerfully serene though, in the middle of towering and ancient white pines, with the creek softly babbling nearby.

My older son dug the hole, next to the small wooden cross my grandson had made to mark his beloved dog’s gravesite. He then combined Buttercup’s and her dog’s ashes together, and we all took turns placing the dirt over them. My son tenderly made a small heart of leaves over the new gravesite. I read a beautiful and moving poem by John Roedel, as the sleet began to fall suddenly and crisply. We all embraced in one large loving hug to remember Buttercup and her two best dog friends, now together once more. I cried a bit, but I also felt a welcome relief, knowing Buttercup had come full circle back to where she belonged and needed to be.

“It is finished.” Peace!

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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I Am Grateful for Things I Have Learned

Dear Fellow Survivor,

When I lost my son, Josh, to suicide in 2001, I wasn’t sure I would survive. Other survivors reached out to me in those early months and years, providing hope and that was so important. Many years have passed since then, and my pain has softened, but I still remember the searing and raw emotions of early grief and know you may be feeling that now.

They say that grief is a journey. I believe that is a good way to describe it. There are many things I have learned along the way, and I would like to share some of them with you. I have a strong suspicion that you also will relate to much of what I have learned.

I have learned compassion. My “old self” was so busy, I never really noticed others around me. Now I do. I even notice when strangers are unhappy. I feel for them and try to make the moment better for them, to bring them peace and comfort.

I’ve learned tolerance. Little things that used to seem so big to me, are now just a speck of dust. I’ve been through the worst event possible, so anything else should be a walk in the park. The ups and downs of everyday life, the disappointments when things don’t go as planned – well, they just don’t seem to matter anymore. Life goes on and I intend to live it to the fullest and not sweat the small stuff.

I’ve learned empathy. I can look into another person’s eyes now, or read a post on the Alliance of Hope forum, and feel the pain that person is feeling. Knowing how someone is hurting lets me offer comfort and caring.

I’ve learned to love. Without restriction, without rules, but with my whole heart and soul. I’m a much nicer person now than I was when my son died.

I’ve learned faith. It gets me through each day. The faith that all things happen for a reason, that there is a better place when life is over, and the faith that I will see not only my beautiful son again but all the others I have lost over the years as well.

I have learned these things because of my son, Josh. I miss him terribly, but I know I will see him again and I talk to him every day. I love him deeply, and I regret that he felt he had no option other than suicide. I understand the depth of his despair, and my heart aches with him.

For those just starting on this journey through grief, I hope this gives you hope. Life will go on, and if you learn from the experience, it will be a fulfilling and peaceful life again – just different from what you thought it would be before you lost your precious loved one.

Two Separate Griefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

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Marching Band Blues

I live in a neighborhood behind a high school. It’s the high school my kids graduated from almost a decade ago.

Periodically, in the fall, I can overhear a home game and have always stopped to listen when the marching band plays. My son played trombone in the marching band. I still have pictures in his room of him proudly wearing his uniform and holding his brass.

In years past, I would hear the band and it would make me nostalgic for those ‘band mom’ days of handing out water and fixing uniforms. Friday night, I heard the band again and broke down.

I listened to the music and remembered how it felt to watch those beautiful kids play their hearts out all those years ago – my own child included.

I cried for the loss of my son. For the loss of never hearing him play another note.

I cried for the kids on the field Friday night and how no one watching with proud eyes can see into the future or what awaits.

And I prayed. I prayed for the health and safety of every child on the field. I prayed no parent watching or listening has to ever feel what a mom standing on her back porch felt listening to a marching band play.

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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For My Local Newspaper

Editor’s Note: Maria Sallese, who lost her son Mario, submitted the following essay to her local newspaper last year. We have asked her permission to reprint her words here. Thank you, Maria, for your commitment to lessening the stigma around mental illness and suicide. 

“The month of September is recognized nationwide as Suicide Prevention month and September 10th is recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day. Having lost my child to suicide, the slogans surrounding this month have their pangs. The ones declaring ‘Suicide Is Preventable’ tend to leave many who’ve lost a loved one to suicide feeling at fault for not being able to save their person.

I could not prevent my son from taking his life and I cannot say with firm resolve that suicide IS preventable. In some cases, it is, but I don’t believe it can be said as a matter of fact for all. Still, I believe the ultimate message of the campaigns is important, and equally so are the efforts of raising awareness of this crisis.

According to the CDC:

More than 47,500 people in the United States died by suicide in 2019 (about 1 death every 11 minutes)
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10-34, the fourth among people 34-54, and the fifth among people 45-54.

Of equal importance, I believe, is raising awareness of the fact that mental health illness is as real as any other and one that we should speak openly and unashamedly about. Our doing so will help remove the stigma, encouraging others to do the same, while supporting those in need of help to be unafraid and unashamed to ask. I believe that is a step toward prevention and it is where I hope to lend my voice.

Mario Miller

I will never be anything less than proud of my son. Behind his loud presence and raw sense of humor, he struggled with anxiety and depression – but how he died will never define who he was. His life was large and his love was deep.

In sharing his story I wish to convey this message. It’s okay to say that you’re not okay and asking for help is always brave and courageous. You matter and you make a difference. You are loved and the world will always be a better place with you in it.”

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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When Teens Grieve a Sibling’s Suicide

Family systems are often initially paralyzed by the suicide death of a child, with parents being the primary focus of grief support. A 2005 study on sibling suicide bereavement for children who are still at home identify these children and adolescents as “the forgotten bereaved,” for whom “necessary help is impeded due to the extraordinary experience leaving siblings outside the circle of friends and parental grief community”(Dyregrov & Dyregrov, 2005). The study recognizes the devastation of parents who have lost a child, as well as a period of emotional absence that may diminish previous patterns of attunement to surviving children.

We have spoken with teens who perceived themselves as having engaged in grief work “by myself.” Not infrequently, grieving teens will reject the support of parents and family members. What are the grief needs of teens under such disrupted circumstances? What are the unique issues of those experiencing sibling suicide loss?

We recognize both risk and resilience in these young people engaged in the process of becoming their own persons while in the midst of profound family tragedy. Parents may underestimate the levels of their children’s grief, not only because the grief expression looks so different from their own experience, but because adolescents have a tendency to minimize their grief in the presence of their parents (Bank & Kahn, 1975). A study of adolescent sibling grief observed that adolescents did not discuss personal matters with their parents after a sibling’s loss for up to a year (Balk, 1983).

Children may feel the need to protect their grieving parents from caregiving tasks and responsibilities before addressing their own pain (Jaques, 2000). Our work with youth suggests that for individuation purposes, some teens interpret the process as intensely private and boundaried, and emphasize not needing their parents as they confront the great work of mastering loss. For various reasons, teens may prefer to process the loss of a sibling in isolation, a possible characteristic of adolescent grief that may heighten the potential for either risk or resilience as teens deal with the pain of their loss and the questions it generates.

The grief process will be shaped by where teens are in the developmental process. Commensurate with the developmental surge in cognitive skills, teens begin to create a meaningful narrative about the suicide. This is an intense introspective process, varying with the cognitive and emotional capacity of each young person. We notice that if the teen can direct expression outward to a journal, or art, or through speaking to another person, this outward expression externalizes grief while raising the consciousness of thoughts and feelings.

One teen mourned her sister’s suicide under the silent depth of a pool, using the discipline of repetition, breath and the resistance of water to move through her thoughts and feelings. Others have used homework, technology, excessive activity or socialization to distance from grieving because grief feels too unsafe, or the tasks of grieving appear to conflict with the mastery of other developmental tasks. Because adolescent grief can resemble that of children and adults, teens may process aspects of grief with abstract thinking abilities similar to their parents, or with shorter attention spans like their younger siblings, where grief is experienced in spurts.

The immaturity that is associated with adolescence can affect judgment regarding ways to cope and can contribute to denial or distortions about the loss, as well as an inability to find appropriate and reliable support. Developmental limitations, which may include immature coping, can be present at the same time the teen is showing a greater capacity for forming ideas and opinions about their experiential world and can be an indicator of the risk and protective factors in their grief process.

There are some features unique to adolescent grief of a sibling’s suicide. Relational aspects of sibship, such as rivalry, modeling of positive or negative behaviors, gender, birth order, birth spacing and the teen’s observations of parents’ perceptions of individual siblings have implications for how adolescents interpret the sibling relationship, the meaning of the suicide and their role within the family. Siblings can have powerful influences on self-perception, and exploration around this becomes part of the grief process. Was it a validating relationship? Did the teen feel criticized or less important than the sibling who died? Had either sibling taken a protector or caretaking role? Was there anger, or estrangement? If the sibling who died had a history of troubling behaviors or mental illness, was the surviving child idealized or valued more favorably?

Other issues may include survivor guilt and feeling the need to restitute the loss for parents. Some surviving siblings will attempt to replace the role that the deceased brother or sister played in the family (Bank & Kahn, 1975). In sifting through these layers, teens will need to explore and challenge potentially distorted perceptions that increase the pain of bereavement. The conflicts, jealousies and rivalries that may have been part of the teen’s relationship with the deceased sibling will need attention in the grief process, so that feelings of guilt, remorse or responsibility for the sibling’s suicide can be addressed.

Adolescents should be in the process of individuating, distinguishing themselves from parents while remaining a functional part of the family. During this developmental phase they are challenged with forming an identity, becoming competent in chosen areas, building a capacity for nuanced ways of thinking, learning to value intimacy and tolerance for difference and forming a world view. In this process lies the potential for resilience after a life-changing loss such as a sibling suicide. These developmental tasks are central to the grief work of representing the self in the pain of loss and creating a meaningful perception of the deceased sibling and his or her experience leading to the suicide. We observe that some teens use the existential questions invoked by grief to actualize their individuation processes, leading to provisional narratives that may depart from what parents are saying about the suicide. These explanations can evolve over a lifetime as the young person develops socially and emotionally. The adolescent’s past history of coping with disappointment, frustration, failure and other losses can be an indicator of his or her ability to navigate their grief process.

Each family and loss is unique, and this brief article can only speak generally about how an adolescent might process grief when a sister or brother dies by suicide. We always recommend supports, such as a trusted adult friend outside the immediate family, individual counseling or a teen grief group such as offered by The LOSS Program for Children and Youth. We wish to offer teens a place to explore grief safely, hold the vulnerable feelings that can be an extraordinary challenge for those leaving childhood understandings behind, and use new levels of consciousness to create meaning through loss. In addition to the necessary help with coping, the goal is to offer teens support for a private, authentic exploration of their relationship with the sibling who died, and to facilitate growth in identity formation and self-compassion.

References: Balk, D. (1983).Effects of sibling death on teenagers. Journal of School Health, 53, 14-18.Bank, S., & Kahn, M.D. (1975). Sisterhood-brotherhood is powerful: Sibling sub-systems and family therapy. Family Process, 14, 311-337.Dyregrov, K., & Dyregrov, A. (2005). Siblings after suicide—“The forgotten bereaved.” Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 35(6), 714-724. Jaques, J.D. (2000). Surviving suicide: The impact on the family. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 8(4), 376-379.

Blossoms of Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Maria Sallese

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

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This New Life: What is Healing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 »

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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 »

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

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

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

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

Susan Andersen

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

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

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

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 »

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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 »

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