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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.

Imperceptible Change

“The coming and going of the seasons give us more than the springtimes, summers, autumns, and winters of our lives. It reflects the coming and going of the circumstances of our lives like the glassy surface of a pond that shows our faces radiant with joy or contorted with pain.” ~Gary Zukav

As summer draws to a close here in Illinois, I note with sadness that the flowers in my garden are beginning to wither and die. Cooler days are coming, leaves are going to turn and then drop and before too long, winter will be here again. Each day, I note that something in my garden is a little bit different in color or texture.  I notice subtle, almost imperceptible changes. 

These changes are very different than the abrupt and traumatic loss experienced by survivors of suicide. Survivors are faced with shocking news that alters their world and shatters the foundation of life as they knew it. In the beginning, it is very difficult to process such abrupt, life-altering loss. Things seem surreal. We cannot believe our loved one has gone. We struggle, trying to absorb and make sense of what has happened. 

Our brains are wired to store shocking information.

Most survivors store vivid memories of the moment in which they learned their loved one died. Years later, they can still tell you where they were standing, what they were doing, and who was with them at the exact moment the news arrived. 

We are not wired, however, to note the very subtle changes that occur in and around us all the time. And for the most part, life is a series of continuous small changes. The paint on our walls, for example, grows imperceptibly darker and more worn each day, until at some point, after several years, we note it is time to repaint. Our freshly cleaned house grows messier and dirtier little by little until suddenly, we note it is time to clean again. 

Little by little, things die down. On the flip side, most things come into existence slowly and sometimes, almost imperceptibly. The seed grows into a flower in incremental steps that are often not noticed until the bloom springs open. 

The healing that survivors experience following the loss of their loved one is often not noticed. 

it is a series of imperceptible changes, accomplishments, and triumphs. Many times survivors feel stuck. They don’t believe they are healing or moving forward. It is important for those who are further along to provide reassurance.  

We can learn more about the grief journey from Elizabeth Harper Neeld.

The emotions and challenges faced by survivors on the journey are as varied as the colors in nature. Yet there are commonalities. Elizabeth Harper Neeld has done an extraordinary job of describing phases of the traumatic grief journey – from the original impact of the traumatic event to the eventual integration of the loss. You can find excerpts from her work on the Alliance of Hope website.

Those who check out Neeld’s work will note that she delineates identifiable phases and commonly shared experiences on the grief journey, but no timetable for grief. That is because there is no timetable for healing – and no right way or wrong way to grieve. 

As we head into a new season,  my thoughts are with our entire extraordinary, survivor community. Let us look to each other for understanding and support as we travel forward – remembering always, that kindness matters.

Ronnie

I Don’t Know How to Be with Others

Having just lost my son to suicide, I’m learning really quickly that my friends don’t know how to be around me. And I don’t think I know how to be around them.

The last half of the week, one of my best friends picked me up to spend a few days at her lakeside retreat. Two other girlfriends invited themselves along. And as much as I love these women, two of them talked non-stop about the most inane, superficial stuff. I couldn’t have gotten a word in even if I’d wanted to. They talked so much, avoided asking me any questions, or taking the risk I might tell them something they didn’t want to hear. There were several times when I just wanted them to STOP TALKING. My response to the non-stop avoidance conversation was anxiety.

As much as I don’t want to isolate myself, I’m starting to feel afraid to reach out to friends. I just don’t know how they will react. I’m starting to feel like a pariah! I’m working hard not to feel judged–even though I’m the harshest critic of my performance as the mother of a son who took his own life–but that creeps in as well. I know they’re worried about me, but they just don’t know what to say or do. And neither do I.

I’m learning that the only safe place to tell my story, my son’s story, my family’s story is in counseling for now and hopefully group down the line. This is too much for friends, no matter how close you think they are.

Grieving my son’s loss is hard enough. Grieving the loss of friendships I’ve had for decades, only adds to the pain I already feel. How do I avoid the isolation?

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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When Survivors Discuss Suicide Prevention

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – a time when many organizations and media outlets share warning signs, resources, and inspirational messages. Some of those messages tell us that “Suicide is Preventable.” Some organizations go as far as to say that “Suicide is 100% Preventable.”  

Suicide loss survivors tell me they view “prevention” campaigns with mixed feelings. While everyone wants suicide to be preventable, many feel that assertion is unrealistic, or overly simplistic, because it is not at all in line with the reality of what they experienced. Many say that prevention messages leave them feeling guilty, upset and fearful of being judged – as if they “dropped the ball” and hence their loved one died.

Over time, I’ve realized how many loss survivors feel alone with these thoughts. They suffer in silence, reluctant to share their own experience in the face of large-scale campaigns led by mental health experts. And they don’t want to criticize a campaign that just might do some good.

Recently a survivor on the Alliance of Hope Forum asked other members for their thoughts on the “Suicide is Preventable” campaign. The responses she received from other survivors reflected a variety of experiences and opinions. Here are just a few:

The Original Question:

MMaryAnne:  “I drove past my local hospital today. They have a large electronic sign out on the corner. Every two weeks or so they change the message. Today it said, “Suicide is Preventable” and provided the suicide hotline number. What do we think about this?”

“It’s Too Simplistic”

Rainy:  “Ugh to the slogan. Bottom line – they mean well but have obviously never lost a loved one to suicide. Far too simplistic.”

CherylD:  “I think different people will have different perspectives on this. Personally, I think it can be (preventable) – but not always. The answer depends on the individual situation.” 

“It’s Preventable Only if Someone Shows a Sign”

Chloe’sMom:  “I believe suicide is preventable “ONLY” if someone shows a sign. …My daughter did not show any signs. In fact, the night she died by suicide we had watched our favourite soap together and made plans for me to go with her on her next flight to China (she was a flight attendant). She had even made plans that very same day to go on vacation with her best friend and lastly had ordered my birthday gift online … bought some clothes … so many things yet not one little sign. So yes, it is preventable in certain circumstances but not in mine. I understand and agree that for most of us this “slogan” makes us feel like we have failed as parents. I prefer to think that my husband and I gave ourselves, our love and our time unreservedly to Chloe. The fact remains that suicide is a consequence of mental illness. There will be some who survive and some who won’t just like cancer.” 

Jay14:  “These campaigns oversimplify suicide. … I think it’s well-intended to raise suicide awareness and create hope. However, not all cases are preventable. If someone is seriously considering it, they will likely make every effort to conceal their plan. And even if some people do show some “signs” – even if we knew what to look for – the signs often don’t sink in. The possibility of a loved one ending their life, is not even a remote reality for most people, until it happens, even if they’ve had previous attempts. It’s just so painful and out of this world …”

“It Requires a Societal Effort”

Tigerlily:  “It should say: ‘Suicide, it’s preventable if you’re willing to vote to increase spending for research on physical and psychological causes and creating the infrastructure needed to treat those in danger – if we are willing to remake our culture into one that works for the betterment of all people and that cares for all the disabilities of our citizens before it cares for the padding of our bank accounts – and that would rather open the door and let light into the dark room than to let someone suffer in it alone.’ Then, maybe then, some of them will be preventable. But none of us can do any of these things on our own. It’s preventable only as a societal effort.”

“It’s Unsettling to Read”

Malia 1230:  “Seeing those words makes me feel so guilty and utterly worthless as a mother. Those words, in my mind, substantiate what a horrible mother I am and that I should have known and been able to save my daughter! I do hope that other parents and loved ones are able to save their children and prevent more suicides from happening.”

AlwaysMissYou:  “I’m finding this campaign very hard. … I lost my husband to suicide four months ago. … it makes me feel cold and sick in the pit of my stomach when I read ‘suicide is preventable’ because I think: ‘It’s my fault, I let him down. I could have prevented this if I’d been better, more loving, more listening, more empathetic, I didn’t do well enough, I didn’t prevent this’. — Then I can’t stand the pain of that thought process so I start on all the reasons that it may not have been preventable, ‘his childhood wasn’t my fault, if he’d been able to say something different to me perhaps I could have been different, could have understood more, how could I understand something when he wasn’t verbalizing it to me, the doctors didn’t listen, they couldn’t balance his meds right, etc. etc.’. … it’s really tough to read ‘Suicide is Preventable.’” 

“It Makes Me Angry”

Always4Hope :  “I think it is a waste of funding. Awareness yes. Preventable no. There was nothing to prevent what happened to my son. Nothing. And I am so sick of the saying it is preventable. The a-holes do not even know what happens. They all have thousands of theories or drugs to prescribe but when it comes down to it. They do not know. Sorry, this anger is not directed at you or anyone. I just think it is pathetic to say suicide prevention. Give me a break.  Ok rant over – truly wishing peace.”

Stay Gold:  “As a newly bereaved mother, I find the campaign offensive & repulsive. It places the responsibility on family members and those who are about to take their lives. We obviously would have done something if our loved ones expressed their intentions … and our loved ones were obviously not in their right states of mind so how/why would they have the foresight to find & call a hotline number. We (the survivors) are the ones that need resources! If half the money that was spent on campaigns & training was allotted to us (an at-risk demographic) then there could be meaningful enhancements to the quality of life. Fewer people would drop out of society if we had more support … this would mean less unemployment or social welfare benefits. … I don’t even want to get started with the cost/benefit analysis. I’m an Economics professor so I could talk all day about the impact on society.” 

In Summary … 

It becomes obvious when reading the comments above or listening to loss survivors, that the “Suicide is Preventable” campaign, though aimed at increased awareness and reduction of suicide, also triggers guilt, frustration and even anger for many loss survivors. And the consensus seems to be that public health campaigns oversimplify the matter – leading us to think in simplistic ways. Suicide is a complex problem with no easy answers. It’s possible to prevent sometimes — but not always

What Helps? Journaling

I have found writing my thoughts and feelings down to be very helpful as I navigate this life without my Colin. In the beginning, it was so hard to tell my family or my friends how broken I was. I did not want to burden them.

I did talk with a therapist and that was good. They are paid to listen or just to bear witness to our tears. But at some point, going was no longer feasible for me. It got too expensive and so I looked for other ways to find some relief. My daughter-in-law gave me my first journal and it sat there for a while unused. Finally, one particularly hard day I opened it and wrote/ slashed the word into the page: WHY? Over and over I filled that blank page with my heartbreaking question, the question we all have after such a loss.

Of course, I did not get an answer, but I did experience some lightness. The next time it was another one-word entry all over the page: SORRY!  Another feeling we – especially parents — experience.

Over time my writing became more expressive. it became an outlet for my daily thoughts, feelings and yes – even my joy. My journal is my friend. It keeps my secrets. It provides a place to unload and clarity after I read through my writing. It has become a place where I create the beauty I crave. This world can be stark and cold. In my journal, it is warm, pretty, funny. I add so much more than words now.

I could not do it in my beginning. Everything hurt, but I kept on with it. Not always every day. Sometimes just when I needed a friend.

I hope you try journaling. It has been a lifesaver for me. If you can’t write then draw, paint, cut out magazine pictures and glue them in. Write quotes that touch you. There is so much to journaling than just “dear diary”.

I thank my daughter in law so much for my first journal and I thank myself for continuing with the practice. It is just one more way I am helping myself survive without my Colin.

Hugs everyone.​

Sad

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 What Helps? Journaling

Lessons from Tears — @5 months

I’m becoming an expert on tears. What I’ve learned:

  1. There are as many kinds of tears in grief as kinds of snow in the Arctic.
  2. You can cry without tears and without sound, just a grimace and an internal shudder.
  3. When you lie on your back, tears leak down your temples and into your ears.
  4. You can look stricken after a cry, but if you wear glasses, no one will notice.
  5. You can get an infection of the eyelids from too much crying. Always carry lubricating eye drops.
  6. The purge of a big cry can bring on a purge from your bladder!
  7. Best places to cry: in the car, going slow or parked; in bed; in the shower; beside moving water; at a place of prayer; in therapy sessions or survivor support groups.
  8. After a really big cry, you feel like you’ll dissolve again at any moment for at least a day or two.
  9. You can move in and out of crying and still smile at pets and babies and kind people.
  10. Tears are a renewable resource. They open the heart and seal the bond with the person you lost.

This New Life:  Treehouses

If “a rose by any other name smells as sweet” (William Shakespeare), would a treehouse always be as sweet as our childhood memories tell us?

That’s what I wondered as I drove by a very nice group of houses the other day. I couldn’t help but notice the one closest to the road. It didn’t look so different from the others, but this house was home to children, very lucky children. A tall, wooden fort loomed in the side yard. Well-constructed hung below with swings and a rope bridge, it made me long for a special place like that.

A hideaway.

As a child, I loved to climb. Trees, jungle gyms, slides. I had no treehouse, but there were corners of the wooded lot next to our house that became circus tents, mud-pie markets, and pirate ships, even if they were only visible to me. The big ditch with its drizzle of water and the board I used to walk across it to my wonderland was probably not as big as I thought when I was nine years old, but it served my imagination well.

I never quite got over my fascination with what could happen in the trees, and I think now, as a suicide survivor, that’s a good thing. We all need a place to hide away, to pretend as we heal.

I imagined the children running out to the tall fort I had seen, but suddenly I wondered if something had been lost in the new construction. A dad might have put the thing together, but it may have been installed by other men. That led me to think about how different our lives are today, even our treehouses.

Life is faster now than ever before. The world doesn’t stop for those who grieve. So, what’s in a treehouse really?

Generations have pulled scrap boards into the branches, nailed floors and tiny rooms in place. Lessons passed from father to son include how to handle a hammer, what to say when fingers get hit instead of nails, and general principles of construction. Building shelters, like building a life, takes a certain kind of planning and execution and a “stick-to-itiveness” that battles frustration, no matter how rough the shape or how complicated the blueprint.

I could see some of these men in my mind, working beside sons and sometimes daughters, teaching more than woodwork, talking but also listening, mastering an unconscious bond that would guide their children throughout their lives.

Is all that gone with the pre-installed, pre-fabricated playgrounds of today? That’s the question I asked myself, but then I realized the answer is “no.”

Maybe things are different. The forts look better. That’s for sure. But countless dads and moms still spend incalculable hours rocking sick children, putting burgers on the grill in the backyard, sorting out problems, and cheering their kids on at ball games.

What does all this have to do with survivors of suicide? For me, it says. “Keep the good memories from the past, the tree-houses built under a tree instead of in one because my husband didn’t want our little girls to fall, but hold onto the new life we’re creating with those we can still hold in our arms. Build a hideaway, if only in our minds. Rest, step forward, rest, and go again.”

Families who lose a loved one to suicide must meet many challenges. Keeping those connections close after such loss is tiring, draining, and rewarding work. 

Even if your treehouse is on the ground, don’t forget to go there.  And take someone with you if you can. 

About the Author

Jan McDaniel

Jan McDaniel volunteers as an Alliance of Hope forum moderator, manager, and blog content provider. She is also a regular contributor to Psych Central’s World of Psychology blog and writes about survival, connection, and hope on her website.Read More »

4 Comments on This New Life:  Treehouses

Inner Peace – Ten Years Later

Recently, I read about Peace Pilgrim, a remarkable woman who devoted her life to spreading a message of peace and love and personal transformation.

“From 1953 until 1981, a silver-haired woman calling herself only “Peace Pilgrim” walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace. Wearing a blue tunic and carrying just a few worldly possessions in her pockets, she shared her simple but profound message in thousands of communities throughout the U.S.: “When enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will become peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war.” ~Peace Pilgrim

Peace Pilgrim described the characteristics of peace, love and personal transformation in a short list:

  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
  • An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  • A loss of interest in judging people.
  • A loss of interest in conflict.
  • A loss of the ability to worry.
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  • Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
  • Frequent attacks of smiling.
  • Increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

When I read this list, I realized just how much inner peace I now have – ten years after my youngest son died. It took a long time and is greatly due to experiencing his death, feeling the depths of sorrow, and finally acknowledging my own faith and hope.

I wish inner peace for all of you.

Cyndi

We Have Been Broken and Yet …

I work in a small town in rural Montana — population 93 if you count dogs, cats, gofers, chickens, and the occasional goat. There’s a little tiny grocery store (about like a convenience store) where I buy lunch most days. Yesterday I mentioned to the clerk, whom I’ve known for a couple years although not well – really just by name — that we went to the high school graduation over the weekend. She asked if I had a kid graduating and I told her that my son who we’d lost, would have graduated. She said “so sorry” and I never thought much more about it.

So today I go to get lunch and she asked “can I ask how your son died” so I told her Tandi had taken his life on the first day of his freshman year. And then the surprise for me — she lost her first husband to suicide many years ago. A nice long chat ensued. Turns out her niece also lost a boyfriend to suicide within the past few months (so I plugged Alliance of Hope. 😊)

My point with all this is I’ve always seen Lisa as just another person living and working in a small rural town — just as normal as normal can be. I never would have guessed she’s one of us! My perspective was completely changed. What I see now in Lisa is a pillar of healing and hope, a glimpse of what I aspire to be many years from now.

I can say with confidence that for every member here, someone in your circle sees YOU as a pillar too. You don’t see it — you’re too close to yourself — but someone does.

The son of some friends of ours fell while rock climbing late last summer. He is now at the Craig hospital in Denver rehabilitating from severe head trauma and multiple breaks in his neck/back. I follow his progress. The Craig Hospital specializes in recovery and rehabilitation for those with severe, life-threatening injuries. Many of their patients will never walk again, most will require a caregiver for the rest of their lives.

Late last week his mom posted an update that said, in part: “There is both joy and awe in watching those who are broken find the courage to pick up the pieces of their lives and find a way to start anew.” While she was referring to those in the hospital who are broken physically when I read that I thought of all of us here. Every one of us here was broken; most of us are still broken. Some see no path to healing while others are a shining example of healing and hope. Most of us are devastated and through our devastation, we can’t see our own healing that is obvious to others. Speaking for myself, I came here looking for an anonymous outlet for the pain and found hope and healing from my fellow travelers.

Every single one of you has been broken, and yet … you have the courage to trudge on. You have the courage to seek support and share your stories. Somehow, you find the courage to pick up the shattered pieces of your life and find a way to start anew. I see you finding those little pieces and I see you fitting them back together.

Seeing that develop in you brings joy to my heart. I AM IN AWE OF EVERY ONE OF US!! If you’re reading this, I refer to you. I am in awe of you. You give me hope and I thank you.

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 We Have Been Broken and Yet …

I’m Taking Him with Me

Until five weeks ago, I was suffering depression without ease, since my son’s passing eight months ago. I was torn between continuing my journey and remaining where Keeghan’s journey had ended. I was suffering anxiety over the issue and discussed that with my psychologist. I explained it as feeling like one hand being held stationary where Keeghan’s journey ended and the other hand being pulled in the other direction, trying to continue my journey and stretching me in-between. Of course, this was not possible and led to more confusion for myself.

My psychologist paused for a moment, then asked what I thought of taking Keeghan with me on my journey. This clicked with me instantly. After only a couple of affirmations to this effect, I felt a tranquility wash over me. Since that day, depression has taken a back seat in my life, but I know it’s still lurking, so I remain vigilant.

Sunday 18th of August was the first birthday since my son’s passing. He would have been 19. The week leading up to it was terrible and I returned to the darkness. The day dawned and I went to watch the sunrise, a cup of tea in hand. I spoke to Keeghan, wishing him a happy birthday and letting him know I was getting a tattoo that day to celebrate it.

The tattoo is both an affirmation of taking him on my journey and a proclamation of my love for him. Since yesterday I have felt so peaceful. A major block to my forward progress has been removed.

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 »

9 Comments on I’m Taking Him with Me

This Is Not an Issue of Failed Parenting

One of the first things a psychologist said to me, was that we are only one of many influences on our children and that they come pretty much with their temperament and personality in place. Also, that their peers are far more important influences on them than we are once they reach about ten. This is hard to grasp at first when so much is laid at the feet of parents. We are led to believe that anything that goes wrong with our children is our fault. This gives society a false sense of control. The fact is, very little is within our control and that is scary. 

Parents are expected to fix everything, be aware of everything, know everything, and work, keep our marriages together and monitor our children’s use of screens. Well, how do you do all those complex jobs successfully? You can’t, not when you have a zillion responsibilities. As parents we can give love and security, we can nurture, we can guide (or try to) and we can pass on our values, both consciously and unconsciously. But we are not given a blank slate when our kids are born. 

I loved my daughter and was her biggest cheerleader. So how come she felt so worthless she wanted to die? Wasn’t my love and pride enough? Nope. It was important, very important, but it wasn’t enough to immunize her against mental illness, nor was it enough to immunize her against what society tells us is failure and success.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it sure as eggs takes a village to kill one. I have often thought that if my girl had been born into a simpler, rural society with no Internet technology and clear-cut social roles, she would have flourished. But she was born at a very confusing, stressful time for young people. It overwhelms them. How can they be a ‘success’ when that goal post is always shifting and getting harder and harder for them? Jobs, housing, work-life security, dating apps, and hook-up culture, impossible body images to live up to, and much more. All of it weighs on them. 

This is not a problem to be defined by failed parenting. It is a society thing. We are failing our young people, our elderly, our disabled, our lonely, marginalized, broken people, our grieving people. We worship success and yet we have very little chance of achieving ‘success’ as our neurotic society defines 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 »

7 Comments on This Is Not an Issue of Failed Parenting

I Don’t Know Why

I don’t know why…

I’ll never know why…

I don’t have to know why…

I don’t like it…

I don’t have to like it…

What I do have to do is make a choice about my living.

What I do want to do is to accept it and go on living.

The choice is mine.

I can go on living, valuing every moment in a way I never did before,

Or I can be destroyed by it and in turn, destroy others.

I thought I was immortal, that my children and my family were also,

That tragedy happened only to others…

But I know now that life is tenuous and valuable.

And I choose to go on living, making the most of the time I have,

Valuing my family and friends in a way I never experienced before.