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.

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

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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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

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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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

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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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.

The Day We Came Together

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” ~Eugene Ionesco

I thought about the New Year and realized I, and probably most of us, don’t measure time on a standard calendar. Our reference date is the day of our loved one’s suicide. We also think of life as “before” and “after” that most horrific day.

It was, for each of us, a day of inconceivable anguish and the likely end of future dreams as we knew them. It was a day we replay over and over in our minds as though each piercing detail were etched onto our brains.

Whatever we believed before, we question. Whatever kind of life we had imagined, we ache, physically and emotionally, once wrenched away.

Many survivors begin to question their faith, for example. “How could a loving God do this?” Some question our mental health system regarding a perceived inadequacy for truly understanding and helping suicidal people. We question whether we were “good enough” mothers or fathers or husbands or wives or siblings or relatives or friends.

The day the dreams were brutally shattered was the day we came together in anguish, regardless of exactly when each of us found the Alliance of Hope Forum. Grief does not exist in a vacuum. We are and will remain travelers together on a most difficult path.

In time, however, the words of one can begin to sound exactly like another is feeling. A post about something funny or touching brings a small, but meaningful smile. Holding the anguish of someone else for even a few minutes lightens his or her burden and strengthens our own fragile sense of humanity. We learn to allow ourselves to let in the light of others who have been on the journey longer and who may have a strategy to temper the anguish with triumphs. Different dreams are born out of renewed hope.

It is perfectly fine if a person simply wants to read the posts and not respond until he or she is ready, or ever. Empathy knows no constraints nor does it incur a debt.

The Alliance of Hope is a place of miracles where personal ideologies are put aside temporarily for the greater good. It is a place where the deepest longings of the soul are revealed. It is a place of anguish, but it is equally a place where someone will respond to the loudest and also, the faintest pleas for an understanding ear. Survivors are united by anguish and dreams as well as by overwhelming human kindness offered every day and nearly every moment to friends and strangers alike.

That is an incredible ideology, perhaps a little separate in a way from the mainstream, but somehow making us stronger as one hand holds the next and one heart reaches out to another.

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 Know I am Getting Better

After ten months, I know I am getting better because:

  • I cry much less. 
  • I can tell people in a matter-of-fact way that my brother died by suicide.
  • I laugh.
  • I can think about other things.
  • I have reached back out to my friends. When my brother died, I shut the world out.
  • I baked I-don’t-know-how-many-dozens of cookies for a church fete.
  • My iPod and I have walked miles and miles this fall. In this late fall, I see the beauty of nature shutting down for the winter: the brilliant yellow leaves in the sunshine, the huge number of acorns the mighty oaks gave up, and, of course, those deep blue autumn skies here in the northeast.
  • I no longer drag myself through the supermarket in a fog.
  • I am so much less angry.
  • I am beginning to feel some inner peace – almost this Zen-like feeling.
  • I wish I could get back to doing some serious reading, but I’m not there yet. I can do newspapers, but I don’t have the concentration for books.
  • It’s remarkable what we human beings can come back from. I think about my darkest days, and I didn’t think I was going to make it. Now I know I will make it and have a good, productive future life.
  • I am deeply grateful to the people who have helped me. They have helped me cope with breast cancer, the loss of my mother, and the suicide of my brother. What a 15-month period this has been! I now realize I am still standing. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. 

How do you know you are getting better?

Integrating Suicide Loss – What That Means for Me

I read somewhere, during the first year following my son’s suicide, that it takes an average of X years to fully integrate a suicide loss. I intentionally plugged in the letter X because we’re all on different timelines; suicide is not one size fits all.

For a time, I thought I knew what integration meant. I thought it meant that I would get back to who I was in terms of being fully functional. I thought it meant that I would once again operate at the level prior to my son’s death. I thought it meant that I could enjoy life again without survivor’s guilt and with a good night’s sleep. I thought it meant I would no longer need to rely on individual counseling or group therapy.

I was wrong. Integration of a loved one’s suicide does not guarantee well-being. Integration guarantees nothing, nor is it easily recognizable. Integration of a suicide loss for me is unique to me, just as integration of your suicide loss is unique to you. Integration isn’t something that you look for, but rather something that will find its way to you.

For me, integration turned out to be more about feeling, and less about thinking.

For the first two years or so, I spoke to my son every night but no matter what I said, no matter how I started my monologue, it always led back to the same place – I’m sorry, I wish things were different, I’m sorry, I wish it had been me instead of you, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

So why did I talk to my son every night? Because the moment the umbilical cord was cut, my son was his own person, physically detached and completely autonomous. After he died, he was still detached, no longer existing, but autonomous just the same. And since I spoke to him in life, it made sense to continue to do so, even in death. Especially in death.

Gradually as more and more time passed, I continued to speak to my son at night, but I’d forget from time to time and this made me feel guilty. Guilty that I wasn’t saying the same thing over and over again every night to someone who may never hear me, and who can never respond. Guilty that I may be forgetting my son as cares of the day come to preoccupy my mind. Guilty for beginning to feel less guilt.

I started talking to my son tonight, more than four years out.

I hadn’t talked to him in a while and I started my monologue the same way I always do. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry … and then it hit me. I don’t feel the need to check in with my son every night because he is no longer detached. He is a part of me, but not in the same, natured and nurtured way in which he was in life; this is difficult to explain but I’ll do my best.

We often hear that death changes us, but how many of us stop to think that it’s the one we lost who is affecting that change? I mean actively as opposed to passively. Just because our loved ones are no longer here with us does not mean that they no longer have an impact on our lives, that they can no longer play an active role in shaping who we are, that they are not, in effect, acting through us.

I’ve become a more compassionate person as a result of losing my son, but I neither give myself nor death, credit for that, instead I give it to my son. I am more self-aware than I’ve ever been before and again, the credit goes to my son. I strive to make a difference in the lives of other survivors, thanks yet again to my son.

For me, integration means acknowledging that my son is acting through me by helping me to make a difference in this world, however small, however fleeting. Would I rather he be here, autonomous and breathing? Absolutely, but that will never happen. So, what is the next best thing for me? Allowing him to have an impact on my life, allowing him to actively shape who I am, in effect, allowing him to act through me. This is how integration found me.