One Upon a Time

On December 23, 2019, I wrote a story in my journal to try to give myself some peace. It was just that – my way of self-comfort – not meant as what really happened. I would like to share it now:

“Once upon a time, God spoke with an angel. He told the angel that he would go to earth as a baby to be born to a very broken mother. He told the angel his time would be short. His mission was to teach this very broken woman how to love and give of herself. The angel came into the world on March 9, 1998, at 10:16 p.m. The woman was scared. The man was filled with excitement. The mother had a rough start with her new baby. She struggled. The father was amazing and supported her and she learned she could depend on others.

As the angel grew, so did her love and adoration. They grew to know each other. They built a bond. She learned true, unconditional love.

The angel was not like others. He was picked on and bullied. This hurt the angel and he began to break down, but because he was an angel, he kept his pain hidden. When he did finally share his pain, the mother dismissed it as hormones.

The mother did not realize he was an angel, and that his time was short. The angel thought his time was up and tried to go back to Heaven. God said he still had work to do. So, the angel carried on. He taught the woman about mental illness and suicide and the woman learned compassion.

The angel moved out on his own. He became addicted to meth. This broke the mother’s heart. However, she now saw the things that had broken her as a child in a different light. She had been training for this her whole life. From this, she learned strength. The angel once again felt his time was up. God said no. The angel gave up meth and hoped to inspire friends. Eventually, he eventually seemed happy and he promised the woman he would never try to leave her again.

On August 11, 2019, he was called to return home. The angel did not understand. God told him his suffering was over. He had taught the important lessons, but he had one more to teach. That broken woman had to learn she couldn’t do it all on her own. She had to learn to prioritize. She had to learn to face a pain like no other, yet still, carry on.

As that angel ascended back to heaven, he sent one last message, “I love you, mom! You can do this! Share my story. Share what you know. Reach others. Honor my memory.”

Not a day goes by that her heart doesn’t ache. But that angel? He is with her always.”

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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Hope in Her Hair

Today, for the first time since June, my mother braved driving herself to my house to see the gifts Santa brought the boys. She has been fighting cancer like the warrior she is, but chemo and radiation has left her exhausted. She is beginning to feel like herself again. She was afraid to drive, but she did. She was just what I needed.

She played games with the boys for a while, then mentioned how itchy the wig felt. She didn’t bring her wrap she usually uses. I have not been brave enough to see her head. I just couldn’t have that reality “in my face” along with my reality of losing David. However, I didn’t want her uncomfortable. She was brave. I could be brave. Her hair is growing back! She asked if I wanted to feel how soft it is. I did. In that hair, I had an epiphany of sorts.

When I lost David back in August, I was stripped of everything I thought I was and what was true. In those early days, I had no idea how I would ever move forward. Over the last four months, there has been small regrowth. It’s not much, but it’s enough to bring me hope. I am softer, just like her hair, exception being dealing with certain people.

She and I talked for quite some time. She’s scared. We don’t know how surgery is going to pan out for her because of her many past surgeries. However, we will be brave together, all of us.

She shared the reactions of the ornaments I gave to everyone. (Only my sister opened hers in front of me). Everyone teared up, but felt David was perfectly honored according to his relationship with each person. I am grateful I was brave and faced that day.

I really wish that cancer and suicide didn’t have to be the cause, but these devastating days in our lives is what brought my family back together as a United front.

So thank you, momma, for taking off your wig and giving me hope in your hair.

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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Survivor Experience – I Am Bothered By Their Questions

As a mother who lost her son to suicide, I am astonished by the questions people ask me about Tom’s death and their incomprehension of the impact on me when they inquire about the details. Below are some of the questions people have asked me and how they made me feel. I acknowledge everyone’s experience may be different, but perhaps some of these will ring true to you. I have been asked all of these questions at least once, and some of them many times. I do understand there is a natural curiosity around suicides, but I stand firm in my conviction that curiosity is not a justification for me to be asked to share the information.

When someone asks. “How did he do it?” I hear, “The details of Tom’s death are more important than the impact of his life.” Tom was a sensitive, loving, service-oriented, witty, and intelligent young man. I would much rather he be remembered for how he lived than for how he died. In addition, this question opens the door for me to relive seeing his lifeless body as well as the intensely emotional time after his suicide. And even though I received counseling after my loss, I continue to experience PTSD symptoms when I return to that time.

Kimberly Starr with her husband and son, Tom.

Also, research indicates discussing methods of suicide can lead to copycat suicide attempts when people feel emotionally connected to the person who died or the means they used. While it is important to normalize talking about suicide, methods should not be a topic of discussion. All that being said, when a classmate of Tom’s died by suicide a few months after he did, my first thought was, “How did she do it?” so I understand the desire to know. Ultimately, how she died did not matter. She was gone, and another family in our community was forever changed.

I have been surprised by the number of people who push back against this point and say that knowing how Tom died helps bring understanding and closure for them. If someone feels it is imperative they know that information, they may be able to find it in different ways including the newspaper, talking to people other than close family members, and searching public records. Someone’s desire to know the means Tom used to kill himself does not outweigh my feelings or others’ safety.

When someone asks, “Didn’t you see the signs?” I hear, “You failed as a parent because you were not aware.” It took almost a year after Tom died for me to recognize the signs of his depression and suicide ideation, and that was only because I chose to become a suicide prevention advocate and learned to identify them through my research. That then led to a whole new set of issues for me in counseling because I had to come to terms with the idea that had there been an intervention, Tom might be alive today.

When someone asks, “Why did he do it?” I hear, “You should be able to explain his actions.” Survivors of suicide loss often feel stigma and may be questioning their own failures to address potential risk factors. Asking why the person attempted suicide reinforces the idea that their loved ones should know the reason or should have known there was an issue. In addition, suicides and suicide attempts are often presented as plot devices in television shows, movies, books, and plays as having one cause, when in reality there are often a number of risk factors associated with suicide attempts. Searching for one reason or risk factor or looking for one cause may perpetuate the falsehood of only one reason for an attempt.

When someone asks, “Did he leave a note? or, “What did his note say?” I hear, “The details of Tom’s last thoughts are more important than your feelings.” Suicide is a traumatic loss and discussing the existence of a note is intrusive. According to healthtalk.org, only 25-30% of suicides are accompanied by a note. If there is not a note, discussing its absence may be difficult because the family is left with many questions about their loved one’s death, and a note’s absence is just one more point of pain for them. If there is a suicide note, its contents may be highly distressing for survivors and will likely never answer all the questions of those left behind. I can personally attest to this point. It is preferable not to bring it up with survivors.

I want to believe most people do not mean to be hurtful when they ask these kinds of questions, and that they do not understand their painful impact. Wouldn’t it be preferable if people asked us about our loves one’s life, rather than their death?

Here are some examples of questions I would welcome about Tom:

  1. What are some of your favorite things about Tom?
  2. Tell me a story about Tom which would help me get to know him better.
  3. What are some adjectives which describe Tom?
  4. What do you miss most about Tom?

When people have asked me questions like these, I have shared stories about Tom’s life, and in some cases, his death, because I get to control the conversation’s content and audience. There is a natural curiosity around suicide, informed at least partly by how it is portrayed so often in the entertainment we digest. As a culture, we are speaking more openly about mental illness and suicide ideation which is wonderful! However, speaking about it in a larger sense is vastly different than talking about our lost loved ones. I wish those who are curious about our losses could be more sensitive to our feelings.

How Many New Normals?

A Conversation Between Survivors on the Alliance of Hope Forum

MadTobey:  “Coronavirus. Job loss. And now inconceivably, the suicide of my beautiful boy. Give me a reason to go on!”

Ano:  “Sadly, I wish I could give you a good reason, other than you matter to somebody, and that your life isn’t over until it is over. Or that there is much more to life than this pain, even if you cannot see or understand it right now.

All I can say is that I’ve been where you are. I understand your struggle and fight within yourself. Soon after my son died, I fell into a deep depression, hitting rock bottom for the first time at three months and came close to ending my life. Those were really difficult months, and the grief counselor didn’t help by saying that I wasn’t depressed, I was only grieving. I wanted to explode. Then my sister-in-law called and told me to be grateful for everything in my life and that there are some parents who lost two children. She basically said that my loss wasn’t as big as those other parents.

And then the anger about all of this came. I was ****ed at everything and everybody. You would just look in my direction and bat your eyelashes twice instead of once and I would burn down the world. Not proud of myself for acting in such a crazy way, yet that anger saved my life. I learned to use it as fuel to get through one more day. It dragged me by the hair through bouts of depression. As time went on, I learned to get back on my feet, to deal with this grief instead of grief dealing with me.

So, what can I say to you to make you angry enough to get up every day, cursing a little (or a lot) just enough to put your one foot in front of the other while you are working through this pain?”

Ibis1110:  “I am so sorry – it seems like everything in the world is topsy-turvy right now. What do you feel up to doing? If you aren’t feeling like you can read, there are many podcasts on the internet right now, on so many subjects. Be kind to yourself. Basics help. Take a shower. Make sure to eat something. Drink some water. If you are up to it take a walk.”

Lost in the Dark:  “I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy. Six months ago, I lost my beautiful girl. I understand completely not having a reason to go on. Early on I considered following her as a viable option. I found this forum early after the loss. There are others who can give much better advice than I can. Just know you are not alone on this dark journey. Peace and God bless you.” 

Vin2018:  MadToby, life has many flaws … and suddenly way too many of them. Jobless, COVID-19, Losing your son — all at the same time make you crazy. Take your time, be stable, you need both mental and physical help to get through this.”

MissingHim: “Our beautiful forum manager, @hazel, often says “The future is unwritten.” Four powerful words that mean so much. I have often thought about them over the years. I’ve been here a long time and have seen so many survivors – including me – go from the darkest devastation to amazing transitions in which their strength grows into ways to keep, share, and honor the love and lives they shared with ones they lost too soon. — Every single time I see that it is like a miracle. You matter. What impact you will have in the world matters so much. I am so sorry you are hurting so much. All of this is too much. But somehow, we help each other carry it.

Sending hugs and hope, Jan

PS:  I lost my beloved husband but not what he means to me. He is always present. Always loved. Always an influence for good. The people we have lost are not defined by the way that we lost them, and neither are we.”

About the Author

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’m Letting Go of the Guilt

It feels so strange to say this. I really hope I don’t change my mind. I will no longer take the blame for the loss of my son. I have searched and searched. I’ve blamed and blamed. It was my fault for not reaching out more. It was my fault for whispering that if he needed to go, I understood. I knew he was in a lot of pain when I saw him in the hospital. It was my fault for distancing myself when he came forward about his addiction. It was my fault because as a mother, it is my job to keep my children safe. I’ve blamed myself for ever getting involved with the man I’m with now. Recent happenings have left me saying, “All this just so my son dies?!”

When I looked through his phone, for some reason, all of his texts start on July 7. He and I exchanged 440 messages from July 7 through August 11. None of his other text threads came close. I reached out enough.

When I gave him permission to go, it wasn’t that I wanted him to die. I wanted peace for him. I love him enough to let him go.

I distanced myself from his addiction – but I never turned my back. I was always there for him, even if he needed to lash out.

As a mother, I still feel keeping my children safe is my responsibility. However, he was 21 and living out on his own. There was only so much I could do. While I could always sense when he was in trouble and swoop in just in time, I was sound asleep when he did this. It is not my fault for sleeping.

He did not leave a note in his phone, but just as I suspected, he expressed his thoughts in his phone’s notepad. He claims I left him out in the cold to raise his brothers. I felt guilty until his father reminded me that I didn’t. He was always welcome to be here, too. He knew that. He declined every offer I made. I did not leave him out in the cold. He chose to live his life.

It is also not my fault for meeting a man who made me happy and falling in love. Things sure are icky right now, but it isn’t his fault either that David is gone.

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 Possibility of Life after Death

The event that opened my eyes to the possibility of life after death was something that happened about four years after my son left this world. It was late summer, and I was on my way to work. It was foggy that morning. The visibility was only about 20 feet, and I was traveling on a country road. I was nervous but not terrified. I was more afraid of a deer jumping out of the fog than anything else. Unfortunately, that was not the case for the driver of the pick-up truck that came barreling out of the fog – on my side of the road, driving way too fast for the weather conditions.

I had a split second to decide to move off the road and take my chance that the ditch wasn’t as deep as it looked, or let the other driver hit me head-on. I chose the ditch, and it was even deeper than I thought. I remember looking out the side window – seeing only grass and mud in the bottom of the ditch – thinking “I’m going to roll over,” and praying for help. Then I heard my son’s voice say, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll help you.”

A feeling of utter peace came over me and the next thing I knew I was back on the road and stopped. I got out of my car, knees shaking so badly I could hardly stand, and walked around it to see how much damage had been done. I was amazed. Not a scratch! In fact, it didn’t look like it had ever been off the road. I remember getting back into the car, thanking Josh for helping me, and thanking God for answering my prayer for help. I still had about 20 miles to go to get to work, and the rest of the drive was uneventful. Or at least, I guess it was. I don’t remember it.

When I got to work and parked, one of my co-workers came over and asked me what had happened. I told him about my accident but couldn’t help but wonder how he knew something had happened. He pointed out that both my front tires were completely flat! Not only did my son keep me from being injured, he helped me get my car to where I could get the tires fixed.

This was a major turning point for me. I began reading everything I could find about life after death because, in that moment of panic, I became a believer. Could it have been my imagination? Feel free to believe that if you wish … but I know better.

Our loved ones watch over us and know when we need them the most.

One Day the Shelves of Your Bookcase are Full

My 26-year-old son, Rob, died by suicide in December 2016. He was smart, successful and kind, and suffered from a depression that was deeper than I could have fathomed. I miss him every day.

Amy and her 26-year old son, Rob.

Last summer I was asked to recommend an organization to be the recipient of an annual fundraising event by the Heughans Heughligans Facebook Group. Until recently, I had been one of several admins for the group which began as fans of Diana Gabaldon’s book, “Outlander.” Outlander is the first of eight novels and various novellas in the series.

Alliance of Hope immediately came to mind; I was so impressed by the support provided to myself and other suicide loss survivors. I forwarded the contact information for Alliance of Hope to Heughans Heughligans.

Afterward, I wondered if perhaps I should’ve recommended a suicide prevention, rather than a suicide loss survivor group. But as soon as I had that thought, I was struck by the notion that my son wanted me to heal. He wanted me to be happy again one day. He knew his death would cause me indescribably pain, and yet his pain was so vast, so overwhelming, he could no longer hold onto this life. His struggle ended at last and I believe he is at peace. However, while my pain has eased with the years, it will endure as long as I’m living.

I’ve heard the following analogy. Picture a bookcase with a solitary book on the shelf labeled “Grief.” Your bookcase has only that one book for quite some time, but eventually, other books are added. One day the shelves of your bookcase are full. You may exchange one book for another over the years but that volume, labeled “Grief,” is the constant that will remain on the shelf forever.

That forever grief is the reason Alliance of Hope provides such a valuable service to suicide loss survivors and the reason I’m grateful to have been able to help by giving back to this community. I know deep in my heart it’s what my son would have wanted. It’s what all the loved ones we’ve lost to suicide would want for us. They would want us to survive -and also to see us thrive. They would want to see our bookcase overflowing. Alliance of Hope offers the help we need to begin.

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

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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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

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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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

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 »

12 Comments on Where Are They When I Need Them?

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

Wisdom From Our Community

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

3 Comments on Four Years Today

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
      1. a)    share his feelings of sorrow, anger, confusion, fear, loneliness, etc.

      1. b)   be patient, kind and caring with himself

      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

Wisdom From Our Community

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

5 Comments on Finding One’s Way After Loss

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

Wisdom From Our Community

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

1 Comment on Those Who Give

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.