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Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You

Everything about losing my son hurt, bad. All that he felt to get to the point of needing to leave must have been excruciating for him. He saw no other way out of his pain, so he left, but he didn’t say “goodbye”.

Maybe there is a reason he didn’t say “goodbye”. Just maybe at some level, he knew he didn’t need to?

The abruptness of losing my son was the worst thing I’ve ever had to encounter in my life. My heart exploded, my mind ripped open. The agony of the void was all-consuming.

Little by little as I was working through my grief, I caught myself doing something that was giving me some comfort. I found myself talking to my son. Sometimes I would talk out loud, other times the words didn’t pass my lips but just remained as thoughts. There are times as I’m starting my day that I talk to him and tell him of my plans for the day. Heading into the gym, I find myself saying “Come on Jason let’s do this thing.”

I have a few of my son’s cooking pots, bowls, and utensils. Every opportunity I have to use some of his kitchen tools I find some comfort in handling things that had belonged to him. My grandsons play with some of his old Matchbox cars. This past weekend my seven-year-old grandson and I played with Jason’s old Battleship game. Sharing their Uncle’s old toys provides me the opportunity to gently interject little tidbits of information about their Uncle, keeping his memory alive.

I’ve read to my grandsons the book The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. It’s a lovely children’s book about how we are all connected to the ones we love by invisible strings. One of the children in the story asks his mom, “Can my String reach all the way to Uncle Brian in Heaven?” The mom replies, “Yes…even there.”

There is another children’s book that I came across as we were planning my son’s gravesite service to lay his ashes to rest. I was looking for a book to share with the young children in our family, something soothing that they might understand. That day as I sat on a quilt next to my son’s grave, I shared with the children another gentle book that carried a large message, Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You, by Nancy Tillman. The book speaks to the ever-present love between parent and child. One of the passages regarding our love really resounds with my heart, “It never gets lost, never fades, never ends…..”

Maybe we don’t need to say “goodbye”. Possibly our challenge is in finding new ways to say “hello”.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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Who Am I Now?

“My beautiful and talented 17-year-old son, Diego, died three months ago. Now I am the mom of the kid that died. My other son is the kid whose brother died, and my husband is the dad… you get it. I don’t really know who I am anymore. I know my life is forever changed. I second guess every decision. I hear people telling me that although I am changed, it doesn’t define me. So, what does define me now? Sadness, overwhelming grief, tears, inaction. The worst thing that could ever happen – did. It makes everything else seem trivial.” ~ Diego’s Mom

Dear Diego’s Mom:

Your question is very wise, very perceptive, for the loss of a loved one by suicide can for a time “take away” the fundamental things that orient us to who we are, our sense of safety, our confidence that the world makes sense, our knowledge of the nature – and solidity – of our relationships and of our roles within each relationship. So as awful as it is to feel the way you are feeling, you indeed are asking a very important question that is worthy of an answer.

It is very common for survivors of suicide loss to divide their lives into two “parts,” that is, what happened before their loved one died and what happened afterward, and to characterize those two parts of life as two separate “existences.” One of the “grief experts” I admire most, Thomas Attig, calls the process of grieving “relearning our world,” which has been a helpful framework for me.

The world is a different place without my father in it, by which I mean that the internal landscape that included his presence within it – along with every association to him that makes up my very personal view of who I am and what I am doing here – is utterly changed. The world is not just “different” in the way a person’s hair color is different after she dyes it or in the way a person’s lifestyle is different after she gets a new job (or loses one), but different in the way that a person’s home is different after a tornado breaks it apart and scatters its contents hither and yon (destroying some of them along the way, not to mention wrecking the house). One begins by picking up the pieces, assessing what is “still standing” (the foundation, the chimney …) and whether or not any of what remains is still useable. Will any of it provide the basis for rebuilding anew? There are no automatic or formulaic answers, and our search for answers, to extend the metaphor a bit, comes while the “tornado sirens” and the “howling wind” are still haunting us.

Maybe that’s a way to begin? Identify the “pieces” that you can pick up, even if that’s only in some small way. Look around and see if there are foundational elements still in place anywhere, even if they’ve been “knocked off center.” Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun, says “start where you are,” which I think is good advice, but I think the challenge sometimes is that we haven’t a clue where we are. We pinch ourselves to see if this is real. We keep getting input from the world that doesn’t make sense and which, in fact, is hurtful. We are in pain a lot of the time. So perhaps start with as simple of an inventory as possible. Where am I right now? What is around me that orients me to my present reality and makes sense to me? Who do I talk to who actually has a clue what I’m talking about? What do I need to help me get through today, just today? What is “behind” or “underneath” my “sadness, overwhelming grief, tears, inaction” (i.e., what am I thinking about when I feel those feelings, what do the feelings mean, what are they “saying” to me)?

It was many years after my father died before I ever even heard of the idea that my world had been shattered and that it was OK for me to act as if I had to start completely over and get all of the help I needed – just as someone who has been through a tornado has to do that, so I guess my “goal” in saying all I’ve said here is not really to give advice (for truly, these are only possibilities, ideas that may or may not be helpful to you right now) but rather to say, your question is not only valid but extremely important and to encourage you to work on answering it in whatever way suits you, using whatever help and “methods” work for you. I believe your question is the “right” one to ask because simply working on answering it (even if the answers are terribly elusive for a while) has the potential to lead to healing.

Franklin C.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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Three Years After – A Message of Hope

Three years ago, today, my husband and I returned from a short vacation and found our son, George, dead by his own hand. It is the most devastating blow a person can experience, as you all know.

Those first days and weeks were filled with “Why, Why, Why!” We agonized over what we had or had not done or said. Our sleep, eating, and minds were disordered. I started keeping a journal after a week because I could not remember what had happened in the previous days. The searing raw pain was almost unbearable, but we all went on for each other. All the “firsts”- holidays and birthdays – were borne with tears, sadness, and a sense of unreality.

Georgina and her son George, at Pinetop.

In the following two years, my husband, my daughter, and I each experienced major health problems. Hypertensive crisis, cardiac problems, panic attacks, gall bladder surgery, gout, and chronic fatigue. We lost friends and gained a new appreciation for those who had the courage to stand by us and witness our grief. Triggers were everywhere – from the grocery store to the parking lot where we taught him to drive. If I had a momentary glimpse of joy, I felt terribly guilty. Slowly, the pain of our loss changed from gut-wrenching to the constant ache of a bad tooth.

I started therapy in year two because I felt that I was just marking time until I died and this relentless ache and depression ended. There was, even then, a spark in me that wanted to start living again. We talked through a lot of emotions and I worked on forgiving myself. In a therapy session late last year, I finally broke through to a place where I felt I could lay the burden of his death down.

We don’t have to carry it. We can let it walk alongside us.

I write this as a message of hope, particularly for those in the early stages of their loss. It may seem impossible to you that you will ever feel peace or joy again. I didn’t believe it was possible. This third year, on the anniversary of his death, I can say, that I feel a measure of equanimity in my life and a hope for a future where I can enjoy the simple pleasures of life without the shadow of survivors’ guilt dimming my happiness. He is always right there with me, just behind my right shoulder.

Where Are They When I Need Them?

I’ve been noticing the posts of those of you who’ve described an absence of support from family and friends. I have been in situations you describe which has fueled my interest in the subject of empathy. I was struck by the writing of Carl Rogers on “Empathy.” He wrote: 

“When I truly hear a person and the meanings that are important to him at that moment, hearing not simply his words, but him, and when I let him know that I have heard his own private personal meanings, many things happen. This is first of all a grateful look. He feels released. He wants to tell me more about his world.  He surges forth in a new sense of freedom. He becomes more open to the process of change.

I have often noticed that the more deeply I hear the meanings of that person, the more there is that happens. Almost always, when a person realizes he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, “Thank God, somebody heard me. Somebody knows what it’s like to be me.” In such moments I have had the fantasy of a prisoner in a dungeon, tapping out day after day a Morse code message, “Does anybody hear me?  Is anybody there?”  And finally one day he hears some faint tappings which spell out “Yes.” By that one simple response he is released from his loneliness; he has become a human being again. There are many, many people living in private dungeons today, people who give no evidence of it whatsoever on the outside, where you have to listen very sharply to hear the faint messages from the dungeon. 

I have wondered if certain people in my life are capable of “walking in my shoes,” even to the slightest degree. Better than that, however, I would rather they not have to be suicide loss survivors, but genuine people who TRY to listen and offer compassion in the best way they can. For me, denial is the hardest … avoidance of the subject or of my son’s name, there is not much difference between the two. I get that people on my fringes simply want to maintain the idea that things like this “happen to other people and not to them.” BUT people who were close to me and my son have acted like they can’t or don’t want to hear “the faint messages from the dungeon” known as surviving suicide loss and it has not changed in almost sixteen months. I have to assume it never will.

I realize I need to rebuild my life or “get myself out of the dungeon.” It is clear that everything is different now. I notice impatience when people see that I have not moved on very far. (Though in our world, my progress is measurable.) I tend to go on and on so I will simply say that my son’s suicide has enhanced the ability for empathy in me and it has helped me to see the related act of forgiveness as being as important for my well-being as it is for the one being forgiven.

For now, I know that the people on this forum hear all of the faint messages and respond with compassion. I wish my world were like that, too. I hope you find the peace and solace you are seeking. You might also have to look inside like many of us do.

hugs,
echo

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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Losing My Son: Reflections Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, our 39-year old son Robert took his life. Ten years since our hearts were smashed into pieces, our world ripped apart, and we joined an exclusive club no one ever asks to join. The shock and pain that followed I do not need to describe. You who are reading this already know those emotions all too well.

Ten years later, the tidal wave of grief that ripped loose the footings of our lives has receded. The pain is still there but manageable, and the fog of fresh grief has been lightened by the clarity of time. For those of you whose grief is fresher, I write this – hopefully, to offer something that resonates and makes traveling the grief highway just a bit easier.

That first year was absolute hell. The pain was so acute at times I literally could not breathe. I managed to get through the first couple of weeks by focusing on making the funeral arrangements, cleaning out Robert’s apartment, settling his affairs. Afterward, back in our new reality, it was a different story. The warm cocoon of caring relatives and friends went back to their lives, the world moved on. We cried every day, and every night, and when we finished crying, we cried some more.

Finding a skilled grief counselor and a support group at Friends for Survival was a godsend. I needed to pour out my heart; my friends from “before” cared but could not understand what I was going through. Being with people who knew firsthand what it really is all about made all the difference. I learned that with suicide, too many of us tend to chomp down on our feelings, to squeeze off the tears. We try to bravely soldier on and tell everyone we’re fine. Don’t. Ignore your emotions, and your grief will just fester until the inevitable day of reckoning.

When things got overwhelming, which was pretty much every day, I climbed on my exercise bike, determined to ride till the pedals or I fell off, whichever came first. If that did not unbottle things enough, I would listen to the most tear-jerking, rip-my-guts out music I could find. I also started journaling like crazy when I was awake and whenever I woke in the night – which was often.

By the second year, the grief was duller but just as painful, maybe even more so as the numbness wore off. It would have been all too easy to shut down and just go through the motions, to just shout “I’m not here anymore and I’m not returning!” And like many of us, I kept trying to find out why, to recreate Robert’s life in the months leading up to his suicide. I talked with his friends, read his text messages, scoured his bills. Did it help? Perhaps, but it did not change the reality that my son was dead. And it opened way too many futile ‘what ifs and if only’s.’

Birthdays and holidays were a challenge, particularly the first ones. Holidays can be grim sentinels bearing harsh witness to all we have lost. So, we found new ways to commemorate, if not celebrate, those days.

Somewhere around the seven-year mark, I had pretty much forgiven everyone else, except for one person – me. Robert and I were good friends as adults, but I was not the father I should have been when he was growing up. I wondered if God was punishing me for when I had been insensitive to others, too self-centered to notice that someone I loved was hurting. I truly believe, though, that God does not hurt others to punish us for our own misdeeds, and that the first heart to be broken when my son killed himself was God’s. If I was really going to heal, I needed to forgive myself – a work still in progress. In the interim, I’ve managed to negotiate a truce with myself.

This is what I have learned ten years later: My grief was not only for my lost son but also for what I lost of myself as well. A loved one’s suicide is not something we get over, nor even get through, rather it is something we come to terms with over time. By accepting our grief and loss as part of who we now are, we gradually heal. Our ‘new normal’ does not mean that we are doomed to a lifetime of just going through the motions; we can re-engage in living fully. We discover that the hole in our heart can hold both joy and sadness, laughter, and tears at the same time.

There are no shortcuts – the only way to come to terms with grief is to grieve. Be patient with yourself – let time do the heavy lifting of healing. There is no timetable; every person’s grief is unique, so do not let anyone else tell you when grieving should be over. This Father’s Day, when we visit Robert’s grave, there will still be tears, our hearts will still ache. But there will be smiles and laughter as we remember our Robert and the light he brought into our lives. The sadness of his absence will be joined by a calm acceptance holding us tight.

Remember to be gentle on yourself, my fellow traveler, as you walk this road. Your family needs you; you need you. Sometimes it will seem you are not making any progress, just going in circles or even backwards. Be patient and stay the course. It will be the hardest work you will ever do, but I promise you with all my heart there will come a time when the road levels off, when the dark gives way to light, when laughter and joy returns, and you realize within yourself is a strength you never knew you possessed.

Four Years Today

Another warm, sunny, beautiful June 10th. Just like it was in 2016. I wish there would be a stormy rainy one, yet I am very aware that June 10th’s – in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 – have all had beautiful, close to perfect, weather. ​​

Lily and her beloved Mr. B.

This one is different than the last three. It is less panic-inducing. I feel more resigned. This day is just expected now. It will always come again and again. Even the days leading up are less manic in feeling.

Is this acceptance? Is it resignation? Are those two things actually different? ​

Her dogs are still here. Her cat is still here. Her horse is still here. Her guinea pig is still here. Yet she is not. ​

Jojo was 6 months old when we lost Lily. Mr. B. is hers now. She choose him when she was one-year-old. We had a pony for her and 15 other horses. She wanted nothing to do with any but him. “I ride B!!” I like to think Lily would be happy knowing he is loved.​​

I don’t come to the Alliance of Hope forum as much anymore. That is a conscious decision I made about a year ago. I want to support, and do when I can, but realize there will always be new Lily’s and that was overwhelming. Knowing every single day some poor new family would be tossed down this dark hole was hard to deal with. ​​

I am also 100% certain now that Lily became ill with a fatal disease. I do not think any of us could have saved her any more than we could have saved her from unseen cancer. She was involved, active, busy, and loving. She did have moments of moodiness. We called her “sullen” some days. All average for a 14-year-old. She was loved, and she loved. I searched for years for what we “missed“and am confident that the “signs” are only there in hindsight, with the current knowledge I wish we did not have.

But I can also say many things are “better.” They will never be the same and I miss my precious sidekick every single day. Yet I can laugh and love my other grandchildren, enjoy average moments with them. Life is livable and enjoyable more often than not- and I did not feel that was possible early on. ​​

I wanted to post something uplifting, but should have chosen a different day because now I can’t figure out how to do that! The tears are here. Today is one of the hard days. I think there will always be hard days, but I can get through them by crying, accepting my grief is close this day and needs hearing, yet knowing there really are better days ahead. ​​

 

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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How Men Grieve

I should know a lot about how men grieve. After all, I spent the first 15 years of my career pioneering the psychology of men.  My 1984 book, The Secrets Men Keep, mapped out previously uncharted paths to men’s hearts, souls, and deepest needs.

I was featured regularly on Oprah, Larry King Live, Donahue, PBS, hundreds of network news and talk shows, and countless articles on everything “male” in the nation’s largest newspapers and magazines.

For the next 12 years, I traveled the world giving talks about men, men’s workshops, and training programs, consulting with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, and being called upon as an expert on men. And then, my life ended abruptly.

My beloved daughter, Jenna, died violently in 1996 while studying abroad. Racked by more pain than I could possibly handle, I held on for dear life. Searching desperately for answers and for something to hold onto, I immersed myself in the world of grief and loss. I was a drowning man, trying to survive overwhelming pain. My heart, shattered into a million pieces. My life derailed. I honestly didn’t know where to turn or if I was even going to make it.

Nothing I’d learned or been through was helping me navigate the darkness, devastation, and feelings of utter helplessness I was encountering on the path of grief.  I would need to start all over. Learn to walk, breathe, think, feel, love, surrender, rage, cope, and travel by the dim light of the stars. It took every ounce of raw courage, faith, and patience I had to survive. Receiving support from family and friends was not easy. I was used to being the strong one. Taking care of myself was also a real challenge. I was used to powering through everything—figuring it out and fixing it. This could not be fixed. Learning to decipher between people and things that helped me, and those that drained and depleted me, enabled me to hang on. Slowly, I began to fight my way back into life. To breathe. And to find new strength. But not the way you might expect.

Did it help or hurt that I had undergone 47 years of basic training as a guy?

I’d been taught that emotions (other than anger) were a sign of weakness. Shows of sorrow, confusion, helplessness, and fear would be cause for demotion to a “lesser of a man” status. Tears would be automatic grounds for a significant drop in stature on the male scale. “Be a man!” “Suck it up,” “Get over it” and other cliché’s borrowed from sports and warfare, were not only useless—they were harmful.

What I needed more than anything was the strength, courage, and permission to grieve. I needed to feel the hurt, helplessness, sorrow, brokenness, outrage, and confusion. The macho code of posing and posturing as strong and self-reliant would have been a formula for disaster for me. Hiding, denying, repressing my emotions would have prolonged my pain and deepened my sense of isolation. Distancing myself from my emotions and “shooting the messenger” when sorrow surfaced, would have disconnected me from my humanity. And thwarted my grieving process.

The cultural norm for being a man encourages us to shut down and shut up, less we suffer another loss, our status. Dr. Mike Freidman, the father of Type-A Behavior and one of my mentors, called this “status insecurity.” Is it any wonder that 85% of participants who seek grief support after the death of a child, spouse, or parent, are women? Men who are overwhelmed by the intensity of their grief and defenseless against their own feelings of sorrow will try to outrun, out-numb, out-busy their way over and around grief.  As I learned at one of our first support groups in New York after 9-11, they will even shout down others who are trying valiantly to work through their grief.

A disgruntled husband had come to pick up his wife from the support group stuck his head in the room to see if we were done. He was invited by several group members to join in and responded, “No thanks, I know how this stuff works. Misery loves company!” After a brief silence, one of the other wives stood up, looked him in the eye, and said, “No sir, you’ve got it all wrong. Hope loves company.”

Taught to hide, deny, repress and outright avoid our feelings, or fake it by telling everyone “I’m fine,” men learn to fool themselves into believing they can just hold their breath or think their way around it. These men become the dumbed-down, crusty, diluted version of their former selves. But the debt comes due. Cut off from their feelings, hearts, and too often, their loved ones, they wither. As if life after the loss wasn’t difficult enough.

Here are a few healthy and effective ways to support a man who you care about through grief:

  1. Ask open-ended questions like “What has it been like for you since losing ___?”
  2. Listen and gently draw him out by asking, “What’s been helping you? Making it harder?”  “What are your options?” and “Tell me more.”
  3. Men often find that “doing” some form of activity, like going for a walk, fishing, golfing, working on a project, taking a trip, etc. helps them cope.  Consider asking him about, or suggesting, an activity and joining him.
  4. Gently encourage, but don’t push, him to
  5. a)    share his feelings of sorrow, anger, confusion, fear, loneliness, etc.
  6. b)   be patient, kind and caring with himself
  7. c)    be honest and direct with those in his inner circle and place of work about the kind of support he needs.

Going on is never easy after the loss of a loved one. It takes a strong work ethic, bravery, and a lot of faith to fight one’s way back into life. It also takes courage and humility to admit that we need help and ask for it (“help” is, after all, the least utilized 4 letter word in the male vocabulary). Learning self-care, self-compassion, and that it’s OK to ask for what we need are the things that not only help men grieve but slowly transform their pain back into love and enjoy full lives in the aftermath of loss.  Making our lives an expression of love, rather than despair, is a noble quest for any “real man.”

Honoring Loved Ones on Father’s Day – Ritual and Positive Change

Fr. Charles Rubey, Founder of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS)

In June we celebrate Father’s Day, a day set aside to honor our fathers, grandfathers, and father figures – both living and deceased. It can be a very painful day for fathers who are grieving the loss of a child or grandchild from suicide. It is also a painful day for those who are grieving the loss of a father or a grandfather from suicide. The holiday highlights how much we miss them. 

I believe it is important the day is observed, and the void is addressed, and we not pretend everything is the same. It is not and it never will be. The suicide of your loved one has permanently altered the family system and that system will never be the same again. Rituals are a healthy way to address the fact that this key person in the lives of family members is gone. The ritual can be a prayer or a lighted candle or a favorite song of the departed one.

The purpose of the ritual is to make this dearly loved one present in a different form. Your loved one has departed from the earthly scene. They are still a part of the family but in a different form of presence. I believe that a tragedy worse than this person’s suicide is if this person were to be forgotten. As long as there are rituals performed in your loved one’s memory, that person remains a part of the family – albeit in a different type of presence. We never want to forget our loved ones who have departed from this world. 

I am sometimes asked if there is anything positive that can come from losing a loved one to suicide? I do believe there can be some positive results from such an experience. I am not talking about a “silver lining” coming from losing a loved one to suicide. Each survivor needs to ask themselves just what good can come from this excruciating and painful experience. What can a survivor learn from this devastating loss? That is the crucial question that needs to be asked. Can the survivor become a better person or a more thoughtful person? Can they make a difference? What lessons are to be learned?

Obviously, survivors must first get through the initial stages of the grief journey and resolve that this loved one found life too painful to endure. That is one of the most painful parts of the grief journey. That part of the grief journey takes a lot of time and  energy. 

At some point, most survivors recognize that the ultimate goal of the grief journey is not necessarily a return to happiness, though that can happen eventually if the grief journey is successfully traversed. Suicide loss offers us the opportunity to respond to a call to holiness. I do not mean this in a religious sense — but in the sense that survivors look upon life as a series of events that are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. 

The challenge for survivors is to see how this completed suicide can be redeemed into something sacred so that the memories of the loved one have a positive and lasting effect on the world.

Some survivors have formed foundations in memory of their loved ones. The money from the foundation is used to further causes involving mental illness or other issues that are dear to the survivors. There is a myriad of opportunities to foster awareness about depression or support services that assist the survivors of a completed suicide. 

I believe that actions to memorialize our loved ones are transformational in that the pain resulting from the suicide can be transformed and redeemed into something positive. 

Will such efforts result in happiness? I do not know if that is the right question to ask. I think the right question to ask is: will these efforts cause some change in society that makes a difference? If that is the sought-after result, then there can be a sense of satisfaction and contentment that a loved one has not died in vain. The efforts of the survivors have resulted in something positive to the world. What a great gift to offer in memory of a loved one. 

As always, I want to assure all loss survivors of my thoughts and prayers on a regular basis during my quiet time. This will be done especially on Father’s Day. I encourage each one of you to do the same for each other – especially for those who are new to loss. 

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Charles T. Rubey

Finding One’s Way After Loss

My son Tandi was 15 1/2 when he took his life almost 5 years ago. I can relate to the pain that parents feel on so many levels.

I want to tell a story about hope and feeling lost. About 15 years ago I was hunting in Idaho by myself. I had hunted the area for 30+ years and knew it well, but late in the afternoon, I realized I was a long way from nowhere and better start heading for the nearest road or it would get dark and I would have trouble finding my way out.

As evening drew closer, I was still WAY back in the sticks. I realized I wasn’t going to get out before dark, but I wasn’t worried because I knew where I was and where I needed to go. I sat down, took my pack off, dug out my headlamp, and watched the sun disappear, knowing I was a mile, maybe 2 miles from camp.

I knew exactly where I was.

As it got dark I flicked on my headlamp and started hoofing my way out. I was confident, but it is odd how small your world gets when you can only see as far ahead of you as your headlamp will shine. The easiest way out was to sidehill for a half-mile or so to a trail I knew and then hike out that trail. I hoofed and hiked and hoofed and hiked. And nothing was familiar. Nothing looked right. The trees all looked different. Meadows I KNEW were there were nowhere to be found. And I could not find the trail I KNEW was there.

It suddenly occurred to me: “I am lost!”

I sat down in the dark to decide whether to spend a cold night in the woods or try to find my way out. And then it occurred to me – in this part of Idaho there is only one river. Every stream runs into that river and camp was on the road running up the river. I didn’t know exactly where I was, but I wasn’t lost! All I had to do was get into a creek bottom and follow it to the river.

That was a LONG night. Hiking out a brushy, steep, dark, wet, and cold creek bottom was not an easy way to get home. I got poked in the eye with a stick, I stumbled many times and banged myself up, but sometime after 1 AM, I stumbled into camp – tired, bruised, wet, cold, and hungry – but nonetheless home.

Years later, after Tandi died, the lesson was driven home again. My boy died and I thought I was lost. But there have been streams that lead me to the river in this experience too. Certainly not the easiest way to find my way. I stumbled many times. My hands and knees are skinned up. Sometimes I feel like I got poked in the eye by life. Sometimes I wanted to just give up, lay down, and wait for something better to come along. But my streams have indeed helped me find the river that leads me to camp.

What are your anchors? What are your streams – those things and those people who never change? No matter how dark, no matter how dim your headlamp may seem, there ARE streams that lead to the healing river.

Healing to me is about finding your “knowns” again and following them. You may not know exactly where you are right now…but you’re not lost. Find your stream and follow it.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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 Suicide’s Father – A Poem

Baron Wormser, Former Poet Laureate of Maine.

Everything has become a museum.
Where I live is where I lived.
My face in the mirror in the morning
Was my face. I am here the way a chair
Or painting is here. I have weight and
A meaning I cannot possess.

We walked to the war plaza, bought bags
Of popcorn, watched the jugglers and mimes,
Walked home through the lamp-lit twilight.
It was a Sunday in early spring.

What do you do when the past is
No longer yours? I was a simple man.
I thought it was something that could not
Be taken away. I would have it
For always.

In those stances, excursions, mornings—
Even in laughter—I see death.
It is wrong but that is what I see.

I have put my purposes in a burlap bag
And thrown them in the river and watched
Them sink. It did not take long.
It is cold in that river and now when I walk
I wander like a tramp or bored pensioner.
People avoid me or banter courteously.

You, my boy, are never mentioned.
That is for the best. I have
Committed a crime but am not sure
What it was. It is a crime where there
Are no police or reports or even lies.
It is a crime of meals, presents,
Postcards, worries, lullabies.

There was the time you asked for money,
The time I didn’t hear from you for months.
But we have those times and live.
We come around. We walk through a door
Into the right, welcoming room.

I spoke gladly concerning you:
My son this, my son that.
My son built little, wooden airplanes
That really flew. I was proud. Like the mime who
Could not open an imagined door, you frowned.

You were in the river for days
Before they found what they said was you.
I had to say it too.
On what was a hand was a ring.

What was there before this
To think twice about?
Everything. Everything

Those Who Give

Tonight I have a new-found thankfulness for those who give. I watch the news and see harried healthcare providers and I’m thankful they continue to work. I go to the grocery store and I’m thankful for my checker and bagger who come to work so I can eat, yet refuse to allow me to tip them to show my thanks. I’m thankful for truck drivers who deliver needed goods and cops on the front line. I’m thankful for the barista who keeps me caffeinated.

I find myself needing to express my thanks because of my daughter. She’s 24 now, and was 18 when her little brother died. She’s 4 feet 11 inches and proudly bragged a few months ago to finally have “bulked up” to 100 pounds. Since 2nd grade, she wanted to be a teacher. That changed when she lost her brother. She became an EMT and works for the fire department in her Montana home. Whoever heard of a 4’11” 100-pound fireman?

Today she informed me she’s deploying to Southern California to help provide front-line COVID relief. At first, I was angry. Why would she take that risk? I lost one child already! My fragile soul won’t take losing my other child to COVID. And then I was proud. Proud of my baby girl because she says “dad, how can I NOT go help? I want Tandi to be proud of me”.

He’s a proud brother, baby girl. Tonight your brother…and your dad…are proud of you.

So tonight I’m thankful for all who face the risk and give of themselves, especially those who give when they don’t have to. Who give when no one would fault them for staying home and staying safe. Who give because its right. Whose giving comes from a place deep in their hearts.

Tonight I’m scared for my little girl. But more than that I’m thankful for and proud of, my EMS daughter.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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Yoga: Relief for Grief

It’s been eight years since my son Ian took his life. One month after his death began my introduction to how breathwork and yoga would be so integral to my healing journey and my new mission in life. In those early days, weeks, and months, I felt unable to breathe. It felt as if a cloud was sitting in my chest – a dark, grey cloud blocking all of my energy, breath, and emotion. 

When I joined the Alliance of Hope forum four weeks after Ian died, one of the first posts welcoming me read something like this: “Drink lots of water, rest as much as you can, and consider doing this breath exercise: Inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 4, repeating as many times as you need to feel better.” 

I was so thankful and amazed that something so simple could be so healing. Four months later, I started to take yoga classes at a studio close to my home. I went every day that I could. I loved the quiet and anonymity. I found myself craving the physical movements, quiet meditation, and breathing techniques and I noticed over time that the dark, grey cloud was slowly dissipating. 

Yoga and Its Impact on Grief

Yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years and started in India. The word yoga means union or yoke – bringing the mind, body, and breath together as one. Maybe you are thinking of yoga as those crazy poses shown on Instagram and Facebook but that’s not what it’s all about. Although the yoga of today in the West focuses more on the physical practice, the elements of meditation and breathing are just as important.  

Dr. Timothy McCall, a physician, author, and yoga therapist, compiled a list of 117 conditions helped by yoga, many of which are related to grief (such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and stress). I noticed right away that by practicing various breathing techniques in my yoga class or at home, I felt less anxious and more physically relaxed. 

In her book, Yoga for Grief and Loss, Karla Helbert notes, “Grief impacts every aspect of our being. It affects us physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually and philosophically, in every aspect of body, mind, and spirit. The practice of yoga addresses self-care, helps to integrate the experience of loss, and supports feelings of connection and relationship with loved ones who have died.” I found that the more I was able to fully breathe, the more I could relax and let go of my emotions. Yoga helped me move through my grief. The cloud near my heart slowly shrank as I continued my practice.

What Type of Yoga Works Best?

There are many styles of yoga today like Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Restorative, Laughing Yoga, and Yin, and all incorporate various aspects of meditation, physical movement, and breathwork. There is no “one size fits all.” You may be drawn to a more rigorous physical practice or maybe meditation is best for you at this time during your grief journey. My practice evolved over time. I liked the physical movements and poses because that got me out of my head and focused on breathing with each movement. Gradually I came to crave the meditative aspects which helped me go deeper into my soul. 

If you are early in your grief, you may see benefits from simple breathing techniques. Try box breath, a seemingly simple yet powerful technique to reduce stress and anxiety.   

  • inhale to a count of 4,
  • hold the breath for a count of 4,
  • exhale to a count of 4,
  • hold the breath for a count of 4.

Another technique is this 5-minute breath awareness that you can download from my website.

Here are some other resources you may find helpful:

Yoga is just one tool to help you find relief from grief, but it is one that I use every day. As I continued to integrate my loss and grief into my life, I found new purpose and a mission as a yoga teacher helping others find the healing powers of yoga. May you find peace and comfort on your journey and may yoga be one of the tools you can use to help you heal.

Laughing at Myself

The week of my son’s death I received a summons to jury duty. I had completely forgotten about it until a few days ago and so needless to say I didn’t mail my paperwork with my request to be excused. Today was my day to report so I filled out the paperwork and typed up a letter detailing why I needed to be dismissed. My son has been gone just short of two months and so this was one of the first times I have truly had to deal with being out in public much less dealing with having to tell a judge my life story.

As I waited my turn to approach the bench and speak, I started having an anxiety attack and it took almost 20 minutes for it to be my turn. I still thought I can do this. I walked up when he called and stood before him, I handed the papers to a woman beside him when she reached for them and then I couldn’t open my mouth. I could not say a word, I froze.

He is looking at me at this point like I am crazy and with impatience and he tells me again to go ahead. I still can’t speak. I was trying so hard not to burst out crying, the tears welled up and I finally managed to croak out “I CAN’T say it out loud, I typed it” I looked at the women and she looks at me and starts fumbling through my papers. I look back at the judge who is really starting to look confused and frustrated.

Finally, the lady finds my typed letter and hands it to him and he begins to read my almost full page which began – “I, Betsy…………, request to be excused from this term of jury duty because my son, age 16, committed suicide by gunshot wound to the head on April 30, 2011……..” it proceeded to say that I have four other children at home to care for that are having a hard time dealing with their brother’s death.

He had not read far when the look on his face and his entire being read that of shock, horror and pity. He looked up at me then and simply said “You’re excused” I said, “Thank you sir” and managed to make it out to my vehicle before completely losing it.

Then I started to laugh which I don’t know is a better thing. It started out kind of hysterical but then softened as I got it all out. I can only imagine what the other 50 or so people in the court room were thinking and how we must have looked. Maybe I am crazy to have found humor in this at all, but I did so there it is.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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Finding Strength in Uncertain Times

Last week, I stopped reading the news and began to seek ways to calm and center myself. I suspect I am not alone in doing this. Things had become too scary. Too sad. Too out of control.

You may have similar feelings. Members of our forum tell me they are worried about the safety of their families and friends, their jobs, and the economy. Reports of infection and the mounting death rate seem surreal – like something we would see in a disaster movie – but certainly not in real life.

People everywhere, are dealing with issues resulting from COVID-19. Some have lost jobs and wonder how they will pay the rent or buy groceries. Some have had to forgo important medical treatments and worry about that. Some are homeless, unable to shelter in place. Some are separated from loved ones. And still others go out in the world every day to provide care – returning each night, hoping not to infect their families.

Suicide loss survivors in the Alliance of Hope community are reaching for strength right now. Many – especially those newer to loss – were already stressed, traumatized and grieving. Many have lost access to in-person support and counseling.

I along with all of you have been searching for ways to cope, steady myself, and serve in ways that comfort and empower. It was only today, when I looked back at other challenging times in my life, that I saw a way through for myself. I will share it with you and please know, I invite your insights and want to know how you are making it through.

I Am Counting Angels.

I am counting those who come forward in kindness, with love, and generosity. Those who offer to help or who extend a kind word or deed. I am focusing on how extraordinary human beings can be.

The first and only other time I have done this was 18 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I wrote about it at the time – it is very personal to me, but I am glad to share it with you now:

“As I look back now, on my mother’s illness, I have realized that it was less than four weeks from the time she was officially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer until the time of her death. 

“My mother knew that her cancer was terminal. She received hospice services at the end of her life. Those last four weeks were both the worst of times and the best of times. They were the worst of times in that we bore witness to a cancer that robbed her of her strength and independence and eventually took her life. They were the best of times in that we bore witness and were able to participate in an extraordinary outpouring of love and kindness … from family, friends, neighbors, caregivers, and strangers. We sometimes said that we were ‘counting the angels landing around my mother,’ because that is how it felt.

“During those final weeks, my mother received many messages of love and acknowledgment from across the country as cards, phone calls, and unexpected visitors arrived daily. My mother was weak … too weak usually to visit or return a call … but my daughters and I told her of every message and read her every card. We told her of all the friends who were reminiscing about her good deeds to us. We told her about all the people who said that she had made a difference in their lives. We told her of the family members who called daily, who wanted to fly in to be with her, who offered money for her care if it was needed. And we told her how much we loved her.

“My mother was humble and surprised by ‘the fuss.’ I explained to her several times that the outpouring reflected the love that people had for her kindness and compassion. It reflected an appreciation for her life of service to others … and for her wisdom. She didn’t say much. She was weak. But do I believe that by the time she died, she realized how fully she was loved.”

Counting angels got me though that time of incredible loss. This too is a time of incredible loss and uncertainty, yet it is also a time in which the best of human beings is visible – if we look. I am going to focus on that. I can’t go far outside, but I can go deep within myself. I can seek to strengthen my own connection to the eternal and my ability to remain kind in difficult situations.

So, this is what I am doing. I hope you will share with me what you are doing, by leaving a comment on this post. Together, as a community born of loss and anchored in kindness, we are stronger.

Just Hold On

When we are within the throes of uncertainty sometimes all we can do is hold on. 

It might mean literally holding onto someone: someone close to you, someone dear to you, someone you love. Just hold on.

It might mean holding onto something tangible, something in front of you, something to hold you up and support you. Just hold on.

It might mean holding onto a feeling, an idea, a memory that sustains you. Recall it. Feel it. Just hold on. 

It might mean holding onto a friend, a confidant, a fellow traveler through the dark. Or maybe it’s holding onto spirits you see around you, angels you feel guiding you, or the Divine Spirit that is within you. Just hold on.

Holding on means something different, for each of us, depending on where we are, or what we are going through. Maybe it changes from stage to stage or day to day. No matter what it is, regardless of when it comes, when the grief overwhelms us, the night descends upon us, and the darkness comes calling – all that matters is we just hold on. 

There is always someone or something, somewhere to hold onto. So find it. Take hold of it. And hold on to it. Night always gives way to morning. Darkness always gives way to light. Your grief, as hard as it is to believe when you are in it, will eventually diminish and become bearable. Trust. Believe. Have faith. But for now it’s enough to hold on – so hold on.

Here is a beautiful poem to help you hold on.

Hold on to what is good,
even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
even if I’ve gone away from you.

–A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Rabbi B

About the Author

Rabbi B

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

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Meeting the Challenge Together in the Spirit of Compassion

I see the media as an institution that often thrives on creating fear. What sells newspapers? Bad news!! When was the last time you have watched the news or read a paper that was mostly about feel-good stories?

For this reason, I listen to the media with half an ear only. And I’ve long-gone learned to not be so much invested in the world and its beliefs. There are a whole lot of other things that we should be worried about but are never spoken of. This is the circle of life and we don’t have a whole lot of control over it.

Hopefully, these headlines will ease within a couple of months or so. In the meantime, take care of yourself, do what you need to do to be healthy, focus on the good because focusing on the fear will make you more inclined to get sick too.

I’d like to share with you something I read on Facebook this morning by Abdu Sharkawy. He wrote:

“I’m a doctor and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I’ve been at this for more than 20 years seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis, SARS, Measles, Shingles, Whooping cough, Diphtheria – there is little I haven’t been exposed to in my profession. And with notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared.

“I am not scared of COVID-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil. I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer mostly, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of COVID-19.

“What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others. I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they “probably don’t have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know…” and those with heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia and strokes will pay the price for overfilled ER waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess.

“But mostly, I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.

“COVID-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous.

“I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.

“Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.”

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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A Conversation About Suicide Loss

Alliance of Hope founder Ronnie Walker had the pleasure of speaking with Sherrie Dunlevy, host of The Grief Anonymous Podcast, and author of the book: “How Can I Help – Your Go-to Guide for Helping Loved Ones through Life’s Difficulties.” Following the loss of her son in 1999, Sherrie developed a profound commitment to those who are grieving.

Sherrie wanted to know what led Ronnie to launch the Alliance of Hope in 2008. They discussed common, as well lesser-known, aspects of the suicide grief experience, and resources for suicide loss survivors. We hope you will find some comfort and value in watching or listening to their conversation.

You can watch the video below, or listen to the podcast.

A Crow Flew Down

I had a dream the other night of a crow that flew down out of the trees and landed in my arms like a baby. I cradled it and passed it around. It was my spirit returning to me, this was the feel. When I awoke, I had a different feeling, like a corner had been turned.

I love my son. The pain of his leaving was so incredibly painful and gut-wrenching, I thought this time would never come. A clear blue open spot for me to breathe for a moment. 

Today while speaking to my father on the phone, feeling good, I looked up and a single pitch-black crow was flying low among the trees. It circled, and just for a moment I thought it was going to do exactly what my dream crow did. Maybe it will land one day, but it pulled up and made my heart flutter. And as I got back into the conversation with Dad, a nervous grin, a cautious joy visited. I listened and he did something he never does, he told me a story from when he and Mom had been on their third date. 

I still cannot watch home videos of my son, but things are getting better. A corner has been turned. The sky is back to looking blue, and my face smiles before I have the chance to stop it. You, yeah, the person a few days or a few months into this nightmare – my heart is with you. Do whatever you can, do as little or as much as you can, but stay with us. A part of me is reserved to be with you. It is no trouble, this peace is incomplete unless it is for you too.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope 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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After the Interview — Did I Say the Right Things?

I was recently invited to speak with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who was writing an article on suicide loss survivors and what we did to help us cope with our grief. She was talking to other survivors who were further along and wanted to speak with someone who was fairly new to the journey.

I hesitated before responding – wondering if I was really ready to take this step. I have been open about how my son Jared died from day one. I have tried to honor him by speaking out about depression and suicide since he could never acknowledge his own pain and suffering. I was scared about being featured in a national paper, but I took a deep breath and said yes, I would talk with her.

Andrea Peterson, who writes about health and travel for the Wall Street Journal, contacted me 5 days later. We talked for over an hour. She asked me questions and I cried as I relived the day Jared died, the early months after his death and why I joined the Alliance of Hope forum. Andrea was so kind, compassionate and grateful for my contribution. She called me several times to check facts and read me parts of the article before it was published.

I worried about how the article would come across. Did I say the right things? Did I say enough? What would she choose to include from our conversation? How would she portray Jared?

I was at work on the day the article appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Andrea sent me the link. She was anxious for me to read the article and give her feedback. She told me many people were commenting positively. I read the article on my coffee break and cried all over again. It was a wonderful article, illustrated with the last photo ever taken of Jared and me together. It brought back all the happy memories of the week we spent together. I remember how calm and at peace he was and how we laughed as we roasted marshmallows over the campfire.

Needless to say, it has been more difficult to deal with emotions than I thought it would be. I thought I was stronger. I have cried daily and started having dreams about Jared’s death again. There are things I had shoved way down inside, things that I had thought I had adequately dealt with. My therapist is helping me work through these new/old feelings.

As hard as this has been for me, I am glad I did it. I think I am headed in the right direction. My friends and family have read the article and are proud of me for finding the strength to carry through with my desire to be Jared’s voice and the voice of survivors of suicide loss. Changing the conversation surrounding suicide is my passion now. I want to advocate for survivors and offer comfort where I can.

Traveling this journey is so hard. Doing it alone makes it even worse. Having others to turn to gives us the strength to carry on each day.