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Bought Myself an Early Christmas Present

In fall and winters past, we would gather in the upstairs family room that has a fireplace and hang out there. We would usually shut off the heat in the house as the fire was plenty warm enough (and we hate forced hot-air heat!). Sometimes, we would camp out on the floor and sleep in front of the fire, but when we did venture back to the bedroom, it was cooooolddddd! We used to try to jump into bed under the covers simultaneously, and if one of us had to make a pit-stop on the way, the other would cry out, “Holding! Holding! Holding!” to call the other to warm up the sheets.

I haven’t had any fires yet this year as I need a fireplace repair first. They are coming next Monday. I will surely cry the first fire I make … this was a nightly ritual for us, and on weekends we would keep the fire burning continuously from Friday night until Sunday night.

Well, regardless of where I set the thermostat now, I have been freezing every day and every night. I cried the other night when I recalled the cries for HOLDING when jumping into the cold sheets.

I mentioned to my sister-in-law (husband’s sis) that I thought I needed an electric blanket, but she told me about her electric mattress pad and claimed it was “the bomb”. Yesterday, I took one of my many Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons and went to buy one. I put it on the bed last night and set it to pre-heat while I was getting bath and bed done with my son. I went to bed shortly after, and ahhhhhhhhhhh… what a warm and snuggly feeling. After my body caught up and was warm too, I shut off my side of the bed and set my husband’s side to low, I’d slide over to that side if I got cold again.

Well, I think it’s the first time I slept through the WHOLE night in over eight months … and deeply and dreamlessly too. Kind of poignant, but I guess that’s part of moving forward, right?

A well-rested Christine

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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This New Life: Seasons of Grief – Ten Years Out

This autumn is the tenth one without my husband. I have entered a new kind of “after.” The seasons seem to insist on moving on; the protective shock, pain and active grieving I experienced for a decade are different now, too. This new path is leading me to new places.

I feel like an old oak tree. My gnarled branches reach out further than I ever expected. My leaves that sheltered growing children have turned different colors and fallen to the ground though grandchildren still adore those interesting, crackly playthings.

The many layers of grief I’ve moved through once compelled me to focus on suicide, the causes, the effects, the questions with no answers, and the most difficult work of manufacturing hope. I felt like my life was the “suicide channel,” all suicide, all the time. After that, I found the place on the map where I had to confront the depths of the loss itself and grieve the many parts of that.

I’ve passed through periods of numbness, forgetfulness, and uncertainty when making decisions – even big, life-altering decisions that came to be filed under the category of “had to be done, ready or not.”

Through all of it, for better or for worse, I found my husband’s memory and his love were still there. They traveled with me. The love we shared was still alive in my heart, even when I came to a place called Acceptance. I danced around the edges of that spot a great deal before making some kind of peace with the entire situation.

Now, I no longer feel the need to talk about suicide with friends new or old. I drift on the sea of new life, aware that the opportunity to comfort someone, somewhere will come again. And I do consider it an opportunity now, an honor.

Meanwhile, I live. Not like I would have lived if suicide had not entered my life. No. Not like I would have grieved another kind of loss. But with hope that has taken root and grown up all around me, supporting me in the darkness of night, celebrating with me in the coolness of the morning.

I have unpacked some of the things I used to hold onto and cast them aside. I’ve made new priorities. That doesn’t mean I love my husband any less than I did on the day he died. What it does mean is that I’m healing from the terrible hurt and trauma of losing him to suicide or at all.

When I remember my husband, it is with a comforting closeness. Sometimes that’s not enough, but his death has given me a new awareness of life, its precious nature, and its gifts. We still walk along side by side, he on his side of the universe and I on mine. There is contentment there…and sometimes pain. If I am the only one carrying that love, that’s okay; that’s an honor and an opportunity for me to share what he meant to me.

Life – anyone’s life – is like that, full of opposites. Loss – anyone’s loss – is a challenging path through the wide unknown. Sometimes, we have to watch the seasons turn before we are ready, and sometimes the day feels like it will never get done. Sometimes, we don’t even have anywhere to live, anyone to hold onto.

I’ve been in all those places. And beyond. I don’t know what other layers there are yet to find and work through, but I can only try to meet their challenges, one day at a time. Just as I did at the beginning.

Reclaiming Laughter After Suicide Loss

After my husband Victor died by suicide, I thought I would never laugh again. Why would I? Death is devastating. My partner for 30 years was gone. That’s bad enough but the type of loss – suicide – doubled that devastation.

Memories of my husband – even the happy ones – became wrapped up with questions like: “Could that have been the turning point where things became unbearable for him?” and, “What was he really thinking?”

That led to other inevitable questions: “What could I have done?” “Why didn’t he tell me?” “Why didn’t he call me?”

The woulda-coulda-shoulda’s that are never resolved.

For the first years after my loss, reclaiming the interests, activities, and relationships I had before my husband’s death seemed impossible – let alone finding anything to smile about.

There’s a type of grief that occurs from something called “secondary losses,” which are the repercussions from a primary loss. Secondary losses can include friends who distance themselves, traditions that lose meaning, lifestyle changes, disengagement from family – and it can also include losing what you feel is the best part of oneself. In my case, it was my sense of humor, and the ability to laugh.

After Victor died, I was certain I’d never come close to the funny girl I once was. Humor and laughter were always so important in my life before I met Victor, and it was important in our relationship. We both had a funny bone.

I was so deep into my loss that I never thought I would come out of it. Not only did I miss him and my life with him, but I missed the best parts of myself that I was sure died with him – my sense of humor, my whimsy, my enthusiasm, my hopefulness.

Thinking I’d never again be able to see the world through lightness and laughter was a secondary loss for me. Not only was the silliness I enjoyed with my husband gone; it was like I had lost the best part of myself.

I was afraid, and nearly convinced, that my sense of humor was gone forever.

In a podcast interview with Alan Alda called “Making the End a Beginning,” Rabbi Steve Leder said, “When I am gathered with a family to talk about a loved one who has died and to prepare for the funeral, the minute I hear one of them crack a joke, and everyone else laugh, I know they have internally made a decision to survive this loss.”

Three weeks after Victor died in January of 2019, I had a memorial for him in our home. As I was making my rounds to say hello to people and thank them for coming, I stopped in the middle of the kitchen, and blurted out to no one in particular, “I can’t believe he did this before the Mueller Report came out!”

I cracked a joke.

Everyone within earshot chuckled. And I smiled. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was on the way to surviving my loss. I was on the way to saving me.

I’m not saying people should yuk it up at a funeral, and my coping mechanism may not be yours. But after someone dies by suicide (or any other way), it is okay to laugh. To smile again. You aren’t insulting your loved one. You aren’t telling the world you’re fine. You aren’t making light of what happened. The loss you suffered will be with you for the rest of your life. It is possible to experience multiple emotions at once, and to recognize that sometimes, even in small, bittersweet ways, humor still exists in the world, even in the midst of pain.

You deserve to have a life again and laughter can be that bridge between the searing pain of loss and a future with hope.

I did a Google search on humor and spousal grieving and came across several studies. In one, it said that keeping a sense of humor during loss leads to “greater coping efficacy, reduced incidence of negative physical and emotional symptoms, and, overall, aids individuals in functioning during grief.” 

Another study said, “Experiencing humor, laughter and happiness was strongly associated with favorable bereavement adjustments (lower grief and depression) regardless of the extent to which the bereaved person valued having these positive emotions.”

I never thought I could laugh again after Victor died. But, after three years, I’m beginning to see the world through healing eyes, not grieving eyes. I do have moments of lightness and laughter. It’s not the same as before. It’s different. But it feels good when I laugh. When I crack a joke. When I smile.

No matter what studies show, you may think you’ll never be able to laugh again – and it may take a while, but it will happen.

In the meantime, keep your head up and eyes open to what you always loved about yourself. Whatever it is. Think hard about what will save you. For me, it was my sense of humor. For you, it might be something else. Whatever it is, find what will help move you forward through the morass of loneliness and helplessness.

And don’t forget to smile.

About the Author

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is a Writer and Instructional Designer living in the Washington, D.C. area. Her husband died by suicide in January 2019 after a lengthy battle with depression. Sarah is working on a series of articles about her grief journey in hopes that it will help others to move forward alongside their grief and live with purpose and joy.Read More »

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This New Life: What is Healing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Paws of Hope

Muscle memory. It’s an amazing thing. It’s what keeps my fingers playing “Fur Elise” on the piano long after I stopped taking lessons. It’s the pressure I sense in the crook of my elbow from linking arms with my late husband. It’s why every time I go for a walk I feel the pull of the leash from my dog, Elvis, even though he too is gone.

Muscle memory holds on to real memories. And each time my muscle memory kicks in I want to link arms with my husband, play Beethoven on the piano, and walk my dog.

Two years after my husband Victor died by suicide my 18-year-old Shih Tzu Elvis died. He was an old dog, plagued by a chronic UTI and crippled by arthritis – most “walks” were in a doggy carriage. But his heart was strong, he wagged his tail, ate like a pig, loved car rides – and when he was having a good day, he still ran down the street toward home.

Until he didn’t. 

His decline in the last 6 months was steady, but luckily, the end was quick. And, luckily for me, I didn’t have to make The Decision. He made it for me. Within 12 hours he stopped walking, eating, and wagging his tail. He was done trying and he was done struggling and he was just done. I’m glad I recognized it. As heartbreaking as it was, I let him go peacefully and on his own terms.

It’s still tough, as anyone who has lost a beloved pet knows. Between muscle memory, habit, and unconditional love, the death of a pet leaves a huge hole in the heart and in the home.

I always knew that my dog Elvis was the cushion that softened the edges of grief after Victor died. Elvis became my buddy and constant companion. I talked to him, shopped for him, took him everywhere I could, and went above and beyond to keep him healthy. And, as he got older, I didn’t plan anything or go anywhere without considering the impact it would have on him.

And you know what? I could say the same thing about the last years of my husband’s life. The caretaker role that I experienced with my older dog was familiar to me. I slipped seamlessly from caring for my husband as he struggled with depression to caring for my dog in his old age.

Victor’s decline was also steady. And, as he went deeper into his darkness, I didn’t make any decisions, go anywhere, or plan anything without thinking of how it would affect him.

I worked hard to get my husband help and keep him positive and hopeful, healthy, and alive. But it turned out that he too was done trying. He was tired of struggling. Of living with his pain. On good days, I try to respect his decision to end his life, on bad days, I replay what I might have done differently.

I’m not comparing the loss of my dog to that of my husband. The yardstick breaks when one tries to measure grief. But love is love, connection is connection, and emotions run deep no matter what the loss. When Victor died, the love I poured into his life emptied into the love I gave my little dog. And that love for my dog supported me through the most difficult days of my life as I grieved my husband.

Elvis was my pal, my companion, the cute little face I woke up to each morning, a source of laughter, and the reason to get out of bed and go outside. He was four paws of hope during the COVID lockdown. And there’s almost no better way to start a conversation with a passerby than to have a cute little dog by your side, or even better, riding in a “baby” carriage.

And then the dog died. 

That wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. After the catastrophic loss of my husband, I wanted a break, a time to catch my breath before the next calamity occurred – a break measured ideally in decades. But the smooth sailing I thought I was entitled to after Victor’s death, the one where there are no upheavals or catastrophes, capsized when Elvis died. It’s a heavy reminder that as much as we think we deserve a break, there is no guarantee that we’ll get one. Or for how long.

Muscle memory. It’s not only physical, it’s also emotional. Physical muscle memory is triggered by an action, emotional muscle memory by a memory: a photograph of a loved one, the smell of rain, a visit to a former home – or the death of a loved one.

It’s been almost a year since Elvis died and over three years since Victor took his life. When Elvis died not only did I grieve his death, but thanks to emotional muscle memory, the pain of my husband’s death, the exhaustion, the confusion, the despair, the sadness – all came roaring back.

But something else returned too. My emotional muscle memory reminded me of what I needed to do to help myself. My previous loss, in essence, coached my current loss. I wasn’t starting over with grief. I knew the drill. I recognized the pitfalls and how to sidestep them and that I would be ok.

Physical muscle memory may be the reminder of the sweet moments in your past, but it will be the emotional muscle memory that will guide you into the future. Never forget that.

About the Author

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is a Writer and Instructional Designer living in the Washington, D.C. area. Her husband died by suicide in January 2019 after a lengthy battle with depression. Sarah is working on a series of articles about her grief journey in hopes that it will help others to move forward alongside their grief and live with purpose and joy.Read More »

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Two Years Later… Still on the Journey

I have learned that as a survivor, I can be whole again.

On December 2, 2010, the man I loved to distraction sent a text message to three people saying that life was too difficult. He turned off his phone, went out on the front porch, and shot himself. In the two years that have followed, I have learned a great deal about surviving suicide.

In the early months following his death, I was in excruciating pain … all of the time. I felt like a fish hooked deeply and painfully. No amount of writhing or maneuvering could free me from that pain. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t. I tried drinking, but drinking just made me sadder. Nothing brought relief. When I tried to think of what my future was going to be, I was overwhelmed by sadness and fear, and revulsion for a life I didn’t want. Someone (actually, Ronnie Walker) told me not to think about the future – it was excellent advice. She told me to just try to get by minute by minute until I could handle hour by hour. Two years later, I am able to think weeks or even months out, but trying to plan years out just depresses me. I have learned that’s ok, I only have to do what I can.

Several months after his death, the terrible pain started to ease. I thought I was returning to normal. When you’ve been so far down, each little improvement feels like a huge move up. Other people also saw the improvement, and some felt like I was back to my old self. But I was not normal. I have learned that normal if it returns, takes a long, long time. And that however long it takes, you have to accept that and work within your new limitations to get through.

I have seen that tiny disappointments can now result in emotional meltdowns and days and days of depression. My resiliency is not what it was. I had always been cheerful and optimistic, but eventually after the loss, to protect myself against disappointment, I began to imagine the worst and plan for it. I wasn’t obsessing about the worst; I was just preparing for it. If the worst didn’t happen, it was a relief instead of a crushing disappointment. Viewing the world that way works against my natural personality, but it allows me to function. Some people find it disturbing, especially if they knew me before, but I’ve learned to do what works for me.

I have learned that those who have not survived cannot be expected to understand what survivors are going through. People may be cruel, or they may be kind. In the early days, I reacted much too strongly to well-intentioned but ignorant people. Perhaps my reactions taught them something, but probably not. Now I’ve learned not to listen to the opinions of those who don’t know, and I’ve learned to tell them firmly (but I hope not rudely) that I hope they never have to know what they are talking about.

On this grief journey, I have changed. I was an outgoing, bubbly, optimistic person who loved life and truly believed that no matter how bad things looked, they would work out somehow. Now I know that terrible things can happen, and you may not be able to stop them. I used to believe my strength would allow me to absorb blows and move forward without being crippled by them. Now I know I can be brought to my knees in pain, but still rise up and live each day. And I have learned that even if you don’t really love all of life, there are still moments of great joy to be found that make it worthwhile.

I have learned that grief is selfish. When you are grieving, you cannot be the good friend and thoughtful daughter or sister or parent that you once were. I found the expectations and needs of others, however much they loved me, to be a burden. And for a while, that’s ok. But you do have to work back to thinking of others at some point. And I have learned that getting in touch with gratitude helps with that. Counting whatever blessings you can find helps heal you. This may feel like hard work, but trust me, without gratitude you won’t survive as a whole person.

And I have learned that as a survivor, I can be whole again. Perhaps I’m not the bubbly, outgoing, optimistic, and resilient me that I was, but still a whole person. I may never have the life I wanted, but I am learning to accept the life I have and truly appreciate the good parts of it.

I am still on this journey. I can make the adjustments I need to make to compensate for the scars that I bear. I can contribute to the world around me. I can return the love that others give me. And I have learned that I can have wonderful moments that would not have seemed possible two years ago, and the only way to have them is to keep surviving.

This New Life: Strength in Grief

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” ~Washington Irving

In the aftermath of suicide, it was easy for me to believe my life had been destroyed forever. My beloved husband was simply and suddenly gone. My mind could not really fathom a reality without him. My heart did not understand.

I looked for answers, as most survivors do. I tried everything I could think of to renegotiate what had happened. Somehow, I believed on some level that was possible even though I knew it wasn’t.

Tears were my constant companions. Though I returned to work, my face became as soft as tanned leather. I cried outright when I was alone, and the tears slipped from my eyes even in public.

It has been said that the chemicals in emotional tears differ in chemical makeup from those manufactured for any other reason. The tears of grief have two jobs to do. A little at a time, they release pain from the deep wounds of loss and from the self-recriminations and regret many survivors of suicide feel.

Additionally – at some point in time – they leave bits of strength and healing in their salty residue. Somehow, my tears reconnected me with the love my husband and I shared. We shared a forever kind of love. A love like that does not die.

He was not gone, just moved ahead. The pain of parting became the surprise of going forward, toward him rather than away. Confusion and regret left and returned but as less and less disturbing companions.

Healing happens. There is no one way or right way. It is different for each survivor, but knowing that it can happen is a huge part of holding on to hope. If you have lost someone to suicide, you may not feel that hope today … or tomorrow. But hold on to life as tightly as you can, for after tragedy comes strength.

Cry. Those tears are healing.

One day not long after my husband died, I saw a sign in the yard of a church that said, “Crying room available.” I thought that was the most wonderful idea. What could be more comforting than to stop along the way and be welcomed into a room where those who cry are comforted.

Sometime later, I realized that was not what the sign meant. The crying room was for parents who needed to take crying infants from the Sunday service. Rooms like that often have glass windows or speaker systems that allow the parents to hear the remainder of the sermon.

But there is a place where those in pain from suicide-related loss can come in and be comforted at any time, day or night. The Alliance of Hope Forum is a virtual crying room like the one I had imagined on that day so long ago, where survivors greet each other and bear witness to both pain and healing. And in local groups across the world, survivors gather to offer each other support. Sometimes this happens in organized meetings. Sometimes it happens individually. Sometimes, it just happens without being planned.

Strangers are drawn together by the bond of losing a loved one or friend to suicide. Wherever this happens, tears may be shed and healing takes place. What Irving said long ago becomes true one more time. “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”

This New Life: A Glimpse of the Heart

When suicide touched my life, everything in my world changed. I was married for 33 years to a wonderful man who – in my eyes – could do no wrong. Happy as two people could be, our union kept us very close.

Losing him meant losing myself for a long while. Yet, when I found myself again, his love was still there. His place in my life had only shifted. When I accepted that, I began to see that healing is possible and that my life – no matter how painful it felt at the time – could be full and vibrant again.

My husband and I had shared our hearts and our lives. Many of you understand what that means because you have done the same. Whether your heart broke after the suicide of a spouse, partner, child, parent, or other family member or friend, something was taken that can never be replaced. The wound that leaves is deep, so deep.

What I needed after my husband’s death did not seem to exist.

I did not find it in the workplace or on the grocery shelves. There was no pharmacy that carried it, no professional who could hand it over. I wondered where in the world I could find wholeness or even peace?

Healing was not even at home or in the solitary places I clung to. Yes, bits of good advice and comfort landed here and there around me. Those who loved me lingered nearby.

I searched for answers to all the questions that follow suicide and I searched for my new place in the world. I did not want it. I did not think I could do more than live between the dead and the living, in a hollow place … alone.

However, I was wrong. Looking back, I see the shining light that found me, that guided me onto a new shore.

This light, so clearly visible now, is composed of many, many tiny flames of hope. They come from the voices of other survivors. They light when one of us opens his or her heart to another.

Talking about pain and longing, memories, or love with strangers and friends can seem like a daunting proposition, but it helps. It’s a time-consuming process, I imagine, set to the pace of our grief. Mourning is never over in a day or a month or even a year. After mourning comes rebalance, rebuilding.

When survivors on the Alliance of Hope Community Forum replied to my posts, or shared thoughts of their own, an amazing thing happened. I collected their words and held them to my heart like a salve that might ease the pain of a physical wound. Small moments, a sense of open sharing, gave me and countless others the healing moments that could be found nowhere else.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you may feel that you are beyond help, beyond hope. That’s not true. No matter how long it has been since your loss, no matter how your journey has gone since, you can find peace and comfort among those who understand. I’ve seen this replicated in my community as well, as what I learned at the Alliance of Hope spread like ripples on the water into other areas of my life.

It takes courage to open your heart, but when you find people willing to do that, you find a new life that is worth living. Start with the first glimpse into a human heart. Start here.

Healing Affirmations Bring Relief

On the day I lost my husband to suicide, my world came crashing down. I was catapulted into a dark abyss. I could barely move from the shock and trauma. I was consumed by thoughts about my husband and his death. I pondered the why’s as well as how he could do such an act. I felt an unbearable pain that I could not imagine ever existed before the awful day – overwhelming grief, shock, despair, anger, confusion, shame, guilt, betrayal, and depression. I was lost, barely able to function in life.

As a survivor of suicide loss, you may be able to relate.

Now, many months later, I’ve realized I cannot stay in this dark and awful place for much longer. I cannot live life harboring these feelings. My husband has killed himself, and his death has been slowly killing me. I need to move to a better place and find the way to a new and better me.

I recall that a wise person once asked me three questions: “How do I want to feel?” “What type of person do I want to be?” “What kind of life do I want to live?” This person suggested I write my thoughts down, so I did.

This is the vision – or healing affirmations – I have created for myself:

“I am happy, peaceful, living in the present and not in the past. I am brave and do not fear what may come my way. I am mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually strong. I am the strongest I have ever been.

My mind is uncluttered, quick to think. My mind assesses, analyzes, and calculates easily and accurately. I solve problems in life with ease. My emotions are upbeat, positive, peaceful, and happy. When I experience emotions of sadness, despair, or anger, I can easily lift myself up, by myself. My body is physically in great shape. I am very healthy and very attractive. My spirit is healed, aware and strong. My spirit can soar to great heights. I have a very high level of energy. I am highly functional, organized, solving problems, and creating daily.

I have reconciled my thoughts and feelings about my husband and his suicidal death. I have developed a new relationship with my deceased husband, in which I can continue to love him and remember him fondly. I am fully engaging in life and see the world has endless opportunities for myself and my family. I am creating new opportunities and achieving my goals in life. I am on top of the game of life.”

As I began to write these healing affirmations, my viewpoint shifted and changed. I felt a huge sense of relief. I believe my grief journey has taken a turn. New life is breathing inside me. As a daily reminder on what I am aiming for, I printed up what I wrote. I taped it on the mirror in my bathroom. I read it in the morning when I wake and at night when I go to bed. I placed extra copies in the kitchen and in my bag. When I feel lost or sad, I read it and remind myself to keep focused on what I need and want in life.

Thank you for reading about my grief journey. I hope you can see something useful in it for yourself. 

With much love and support, 

Sunsets

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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This New Life: Honoring a Loved One

If you have lost a loved one, you may think all is lost. That’s not true. Somewhere, deep inside you, there is a knowledge and an abiding love that will save you.

The challenges I faced in building a new life after the loss of my husband ultimately became ways to honor him and the life he lived. If anyone had told me in the early months or years, that this would happen, I would have said – like the country fellow giving directions to the city dweller – “you can’t get there from here.”

At first, I could see no good coming from what had happened. I didn’t want a new life, and I didn’t have a way to even accept his death. Gradually, I began to do things to honor his memory. Simple first steps, like planting a tree on the anniversary of his death. He liked trees.

The long and winding path through grief took every bit of my energy, and I felt disconnected from the world. Worst of all, I was certain this was as good as it was going to get. In other words, I was not coming back from the limbo world between life and death where I had followed him as far as I could. I loved him too much to let him go.

At least that’s what I thought. I saw other survivors on the Alliance of Hope Forum talking about the progress they had made, and the healing they had found. I didn’t buy it. I thought they were kind-hearted people trying to make me feel better. But I couldn’t feel better. However, I did as they suggested and continued to do small things to mark special days. The second year, I planted a rose bush. He always brought me roses.

What happened next surprised me. I realized (with a little help) that even though he was “gone,” my half of our love and my half of our marriage were still intact. I was alive.

I began to think about the life we had before instead of the tragedy that had consumed me. No one had a bigger influence on my life than he did. I thought about the way he had lived, the things that were important to him, the unique things he said, and the gentle way he treated everyone he met. His life still had meaning.

He would not be forgotten, not if I had anything to say about it. In some strange way, I began to build a new relationship with him. It was not without its problems. His photos were taken down on some days and put back out upon others as I shifted back and forth between anger to understanding. I wanted to live, and I wanted to continue to love him.

I began to live the way we had lived all our lives together. I found peace and, eventually, acceptance in the old familiar ways. He was “gone,” but not really.

I found a compassion and wisdom inside myself that could only have come from knowing him. He never met a stranger, so I didn’t. He always stopped to help others in trouble, so I did. Special days and holidays ceased to be anything more than brief memories. I felt a growing connection to him.

Each time I stopped to comfort someone, I felt like he was there. I asked myself what he would be doing if he were here. Then, that’s what I did. He loved me.

And that has made all the difference.

If you have lost a loved one, you may think all is lost. That’s not true. Somewhere, deep inside you, there is a knowledge and an abiding love that will save you. Not only that, the love of the person you lost will help you build a new life that feels right.

Think about him or her. What was most important in their lives? Who were they? What would they want to do if they could? Do those things. Honoring our loved ones is perhaps the most important thing we can do to achieve true healing.

Our Third Christmas Without Him

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, but not for the commercialism, food, or festive ways it’s thrown at us. I’ve always loved the holiday for the time I have been able to spend with family, the traditions I grew up with, and because of my faith. Knowing my family was together and making memories has always been the best gift to me.

Christmas was NOT my husband’s favorite holiday, but he grew to like it very much when we got married. We would celebrate with my family. He even got to the point he would take our children Black Friday shopping. He would get VERY excited about mapping out what stores they would go to together and where they would stop for breakfast or coffee. He always found great deals, but his joy at taking our children out with him was better than any deal he ever found.

This will be our third Christmas without my husband.

On our first Christmas I felt uncertain but ended up keeping our original plans. My children and I spent the holiday with my family out of town. It turned out to be the best thing for us to do, even though we were quiet and numb the whole day while the rest of my family was jovial. They understood and gave us the space we needed. They always have, and for that we are incredibly grateful.

Our second Christmas was also with family, but we didn’t have to travel out of town.

I didn’t have to worry about decorating again, which was good because I just didn’t have the energy to do so. We made it through the day more easily than the previous year, but still missing my husband intensely.

This year, we will be celebrating Christmas at my house.

My children are once again excited about the holiday and the fact that family will be coming to us. Since my children are old enough and want to do it, they will be the ones to decorate. I enjoy seeing the decorations, and I don’t mind that they will be put up this year, but I still do not have the desire to do any decorating. I realize that’s ok, and my family understands, too. On Christmas we’ll have family with us, exchange a few gifts, and share a meal together. New memories will be made, but there will still be a void. I’ll start a new tradition this year of lighting a candle for my husband on Christmas as we move through the day.

Since my husband took his life, every holiday has become different.

There is an emptiness that cannot be filled, but as we move further out from our loss, we realize that the time we had with my husband was truly a gift. Time is also a gift in that it has offered me and my children the opportunity to learn ways to cope with our loss, move forward, and work on healing. We are no longer numb and disengaged with life around us. We are rediscovering activities and making new memories. We understand that by continuing to live our lives, we are honoring him in the process.

My husband will always be missed, and the constant presence of his absence reminds us that he will not celebrate another holiday with us in this realm again. We also know, though, that he will never truly be gone, for he lives on in our hearts and minds.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

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

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The Complexity and Consequence of Suicide

When I started this journey – on the day my life simultaneously exploded and imploded – I received kindness, support, questions, and a few judgmental comments about the selfishness of my partner. I was also asked why he had done it and how I had not seen it coming. I heard that it was silly of me to think it was my fault and was told that I should try to think about something else. 

Two days in, and everyone was an expert.

And there’s the rub: there are often too many opinions, too few facts, and low levels of real understanding for those in the throes, from those on the outside of the situation. Ten years in, I say to anyone who cares to listen that I believe suicide – the act itself as well as its impact on others – is one of the most complex experiences that anyone can or ever will go through. 

There really are no hard and fast rules to make sense of it. There is no handbook for those who complete the act or for those who reel from the loss, shock, and horror of it all. The reasons our loved ones ended their lives are complex. There is no one reason or situation. Instead, there are nuances and constantly reframed realities. It’s a melting pot of emotion and moment-to-moment experience. 

The way we feel and grieve is equally complex. We are left with assumptions and it’s messy. We have low levels of real knowledge or verifiable fact because the only one who knows why is no longer here to explain it for themselves. 

I am a veteran survivor of the consequence of Suicide.

Heidi Botterill

I am no longer defined or managed by my experience, yet losing my spouse to suicide has significantly contributed to who I am today and who I will become tomorrow. It has been nearly a decade since his death. During many of those years, I was controlled, managed, and overwrought by guilt about what I did do, what I might have done, or what I should have done. 

Now, with time under my belt, I can honestly say it just isn’t that simple. As survivors, we want to simplify the tragedy into a tidy narrative, but none of what our loved ones experienced is easily understood. We must learn to live with unanswered questions. 

Our journey as survivors calls for endurance, self-empowerment, and self-care.

It also takes nonjudgmental support from those who can understand what we are going through.  

Perhaps as we heal and benefit from nonjudgmental support, we also can begin to extend that same kind of support and understanding to those for whom we grieve. Perhaps in time we can learn to trust, honor, and accept the choice they made, even though we do not understand or agree with it. 

Our loved ones remain within us. They have shaped us.  

It is my honor to be a moderator and contributor to the Alliance of Hope, and it is my privilege to hold the space for others who are traversing a complexity we were never trained for and I doubt will ever fully understand.

Heidi

The Wreck and Everything Else That Happened

At the deepest level, I think what happened to my husband, to me, and to our children was something none of us could control. It happened to us all.

One day after one of his doctor’s appointments, we were going home on a busy interstate highway. He was driving. Suddenly, a wreck happened all around us. I don’t know what caused it. But we were in the middle of a bunch of cars flying around out of control. One huge SUV literally flew off the ground, rolling over and over toward us. It was too close to miss us. Then all I could see was its enormous undercarriage flying within feet of our front windshield.

I don’t know how he got us out of there without being hit. That’s how I think of my husband’s suicide except only I made it out. The wreck and everything else that happened until his death (it was a lot) were terrible, but they were working parts that took on a life of their own. He tried to drive us through it. I tried to help. But it was ultimately not in our power.

After his death, I was left at the mercy of gravity and physics just like I was that day on the Interstate. The life I had known was over. I stayed in a limbo world for a couple of years before I could begin to find my way back to life. From there it was still a long journey.

I understand your longing and how you could feel the way you do. We can’t have the old life back. I wish we could. But we can hold on and knit together something new.

Jan

A Stranger in My Own Life 

My life. 

Everything is familiar. But everything is strange.

I live in the same house. But it doesn’t feel like home. I have watched this show. But it now seems different. I’ve sat at my table a hundred times. But I now feel like a visitor. My bed is my own – with indentations fashioned from my own body. But it’s now cold and impersonal. I’ve sat in the quiet of my living room. But it’s never been so loud. I go run familiar errands, but someone else controls my body.

The plans for the future had been made. But now they’re shredded and blown away with the wind. I converse with the same people I’ve always known, but I don’t feel like the same person. I may do the same hobbies, but I can’t quite shake the unnerving feeling I am crossing over into what is no longer mine and it casts a pall over my enjoyment.

My life.

It’s all familiar. But nothing is the same.

The most puzzling emotion in widowhood is feeling like a stranger in your own life. The feeling of “home” is now a foreign concept. You can almost watch yourself going through the motions, but feel utterly detached from it all.

Even the most routine things now bear an unrecognizable scent. Many things are the same. And yet, nothing is. I’m like a transplant, thrust into an alternate reality.

It takes years to filter through all the residual change. It’s not just life that has changed. I, also, have changed.

There are facets of my life that remain the same, but no longer fit with the new me. There are facets of my life that remain and can blend with the “me” that I’m becoming.

There are parts of who I am that fit with my old life, but no longer fit with my new. There are parts of me that still fit and are morphing to adjust to my new life.

There are so many nooks, so many crannies, so many details, so many pieces of who I am and what my life was that I must sort through, give up, redefine and reforge. It’s a lot of work.

During this long, arduous adjustment, I am left feeling like an actress cast into the wrong show, arriving at the wrong set, confused with where I fit.

It’s not just a simple act of moving forward. Moving forward insinuates continuing. If only it were so simple as to just take another step on the path I was on. But that is impossible. Grief isn’t so simple. Widowhood isn’t moving forward. It’s actually starting over.

My life is no longer my life. I am no longer me. I cannot move forward because the future I had is no longer there. I must shift, dunk, crouch, retreat, crawl, go around, sidestep, jump over, and many other verbs to find my new path before I can function in the simplistic “move forward” motion.

As an amputee must relearn some of life’s most simple acts, like tying a shoe or walking, so must a widow/er. Simple things like balancing the bank account, shopping at the grocery store, cooking, daily conversation, and other such things, all tilt on their axis. Social activities become a huge undertaking that take years to relearn because everything about us has changed or is changing.  Our purpose in life must be redefined. Goals are forced to change. House maintenance must become second nature where it wasn’t before. Hobbies are often cursed with too many heartstrings and we are left to forge new ones. Our self-identity was stolen, and we must take the leftover pieces and try to form a new picture.

Alisha Bozarth
Alisha Bozarth

Yet, one of the single most important aspects of healing I’ve seen for myself is the willingness to create that new life. To Redefine. To Remold. To Relearn. As painful as it is to let go of the things that summarized “us,” it is necessary to begin letting go so the “me” can emerge. It is part of healing. It is part of forming a new existence.

There is nothing more confusing than feeling like a stranger in my own life. And so, healing necessitates the formation of “new.” A new that I can sink my roots into again.  A new I can accept with its new definitions, new goals, new capabilities. A new me.

So I can feel at home in my life once again.

Giving Back – Putting the “Hope” in the Alliance of Hope

When my husband ended his life in 2007, it seemed like he ended mine, too. I felt so alone. Then I found the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors (AOH) and connected with other people like me, people in pain offering hope to each other. Hope was all we had, but it was what we needed.

After participating in the community forum for several years, I became a forum moderator. I wanted to give back. Every day now, I hand out hope to people who are hurting because I remember that pain. And I see how strong this Alliance has made me now.

Someone once said that the moderators “put the hope in the Alliance of Hope.” We work hard to maintain a healing culture where survivors feel heard. We open our hearts to strangers, and they become family. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed. We miss our loved ones, too.

There are often rewards. Can you imagine reading a post by a survivor in searing pain and then, a few days later, reading words of encouragement from that same survivor to another new survivor?

The wounds survivors carry are invisible. The world demands that we go back to work when our hearts are breaking, so we “mask” our grief. Children must be cared for; chores must be done. If others saw wounds this paralyzing on our bodies, they would take us – immediately – to an intensive care unit.

We encourage each other to take care of ourselves. Even the basics like eating, drinking water, and resting are the last things on our minds at a time when our bodies and our hearts need to be nourished the most. The forums are our intensive care.

The aftermath of suicide leaves chaotic circumstances and strife. Insurance companies may not pay claims when death is self-inflicted. Family income may be halved or gone altogether. Jobs and homes can be lost. Mortgages that two wage earners could handle become too much for one. Families react in different ways that are not always supportive of each other. Some of us come home to an empty house, but we can turn on our computers and come home to each other. It helps to tell someone.

As a Forum Moderator, I am aware of all these things. And so are the compassionate people who work alongside me. People from all over the world read the posts on our forums. They come from every background, culture, and economic and social situation. They represent all age groups and belief systems. Together we make the AOH forums a safe place of healing.

That can mean editing a member’s post and sending a private message to tell him or her, gently, why. When I read posts, I often send replies for hours because, well, who do you leave out? The mom who suddenly found out the son she loves killed himself? The young person whose friends don’t understand why she can’t just “get over” her mother’s death? The man who lost his only sibling? The fiancé whose future is ended before it’s begun? The widow my age who writes my own story when she tells of her tragedy?

The rest of the world doesn’t know how many nights we suffer. They don’t see the tears we hide. They are not aware that we were once like them or that they might one day be one of us. If that happens, I pray the Alliance will still be here. Hope is a fragile commodity but, without it, where would any of us be?

My children and I have grown stronger and gone beyond just surviving. We have a new life now, one that would have been impossible without the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. I have learned how to express compassion, to ease pain, and to be there for others.

Sounds like I’m perfect. No. I am just a woman who has lost someone very dear to suicide. I am a fellow survivor like you. Becoming a forum moderator changed my life and continues to change my life every day. I am humbled by the words of others who offer me an invitation into their souls and the deepest part of their suffering. I mourn with them and rejoice in their smallest victories. They reach out to me, in return. This is the way human beings should help each other.

The Bravest Act

Louise was normally a confident passenger, happy to sleep while I was driving long distances. But on this occasion, she couldn’t settle and sat watching the road ahead anxiously. It was 2 AM and we were driving a strange hire car in the dark on unfamiliar Sicilian motorways, returning to our holiday villa a couple of hours south after a long, happy but tiring day trip to Mount Etna and the chic resort of Taormina. I was tired, feeling unwell, and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Louise was alert to the risk of an accident. Three months before she took her life, her will to live – her instinctive desire for survival – was strong. This was not somebody who treated life carelessly. She valued it and did not want to die.

Before I met Louise, my attitudes towards mental illness and suicide were probably typical of those of the population at large; they were signs of weakness, a deficiency in character. I probably even fell back on the tired old cliché that sufferers simply needed to exercise a degree of resolve and ‘pull themselves together.’ While many people were enduring ‘real’ physical ailments, I could find within myself little patience or understanding for something as complex and intangible as a troubled mind. Only the vulnerable and needy experienced mental ill-health. Suicide was a form of cowardice.

Nothing, I now know, could be further from the truth. Louise was as far removed from my antediluvian stereotype as it is possible to be. Independent, resourceful, and a natural optimist, she loved life with a passion that puts most of us to shame and lived it every day with a glorious, inspiring sense of hope, opportunity, generosity, and vigor. Louise was, quite simply, the happiest person that I have ever met. She would frequently cuddle up to me at night and simply declare ‘I’m so happy.’ The light in her eyes did not lie.

But neither did it tell the whole story. For reasons unknown to all but those closest to her, Louise suffered periodically from anxiety and depression throughout her adult life. At the age of barely 18, she demonstrated remarkable insight and maturity when describing something of this state of mind in a school leavers’ booklet so acutely that it was instantly recognizable to me when it was brought to my attention after her death, 22 years later.

To battle a debilitating darkness of mind for a lifetime is extraordinarily exhausting and requires incredible bravery just to summon up the strength and the will to keep going. I saw the daily struggle during those periods when Louise was unwell, when her head was, as she described it, so full of a cacophony of destructive and doubting thoughts that it was impossible for her to escape, to switch off.

I saw how much energy this consumed, how it corroded self-belief and led to uncertainty, indecision, and restlessness. I saw and admired Louise’s openness and honesty in confronting the illness and the way in which she sought to take responsibility for it and identified and pursued means of throwing it off. I came to understand how little a part reason or logic could play in soothing such troubles, the futility of rationalization.

I came to learn that mental illness is as real, insidious, and dangerous as any other one that sufferers have no more control over than they would cancer or multiple sclerosis.

And I came to be in awe of Louise’s resilience and fortitude, not only in enduring the illness but fighting back, never allowing it to define or limit her. To be the person that Louise was, to achieve what she did both professionally and personally, even had she been always completely well, would have made her very special. But to do it all despite the recurring illness made her quite remarkable.

That same bravery followed Louise right to the very end. I know, both from conversations beforehand and the content of her farewell letter, that Louise saw what she was doing as a pragmatic answer to her mental torment. In her muddled thinking at the time, she also looked upon it as a means of releasing me from the stress and challenge of a wife with mental illness.

Louise had enough spirit and tenacity to fight the darkness hard, right up to the very last moments. As that episode in Sicily illustrated, her survival instincts remained strong. She didn’t want to die and had no comforting vision or expectation of an afterlife to fall back on – her Christianity always focused on the grace in this life. But having identified what seemed to be a practical solution she acted on it for her sake and, as she thought, for mine.

Here I must split my mind in two. There is no romance or redemption in suicide. It is always messy and tragically wasteful. It leaves loved ones with unique emotional scars. I still cannot easily fully describe what I witnessed. Not because I lack the words but because I am afraid of setting the tightly held memory free to roam. Even though I understand why Louise was driven to take her life, where the bleakness of thought and outlook had led her, and that I understand it was not an act of free will because of the malign power exerted by the illness, I am still taunted by the cruel needlessness of it.

Nevertheless, it is possible, even while loathing the act and the shattering consequences, to recognize the logic that sat behind Louise’s decision and the incredible courage, generosity, and determination it must have taken to arrive at this point and then follow her thought processes through.

We tend not to think of suicide as a rational act. Even here I have talked of Louise’s confusion and muddled thinking. But rationality is the luxury of a healthy mind. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to avoid the grip of darkness are in no real position to sit in judgment on what makes sense from deep within it. Oblivion must appear to be at the very least a viable alternative to life when you are so tortured, know that you have been tortured in the past, and believe that you will go on to experience the same torture over and over again in the future.

Within the context of her illness as it was affecting her at that moment in time, Louise’s desire for escape from the pain was no different to that of somebody with a severe disability who seeks a form of assisted dying.

The tragedy came in the temporary nature of that pain, the certainty of eventual respite if she had only been able to hold on a little longer.

But regardless of how wrong and misguided we – who are well – can see the act to have been, it was a far braver and more selfless thing than I or most of us would ever be capable of. The easy option would have been to continue to try to muddle through but, as always, Louise went a step beyond, to do what she thought was necessary and right. And typically, even during her distress, she was thinking of others, applying herself to what, in her mind, was the best outcome for me and attempting in her last moments to protect me from its immediate impact.

Louise was not, therefore, guilty of weakness, cowardice, or selfishness. On the contrary, she was the strongest and most giving person I have ever been privileged to know. Her determination in her long battle against mental illness and her monumental courage to follow through with such a drastic solution are testament to her remarkable character. Louise died in the way she lived: courageously, practically, and imbued with love and generosity of spirit. Her only fault, it turned out, was that ultimately, she was too brave.

Eight Lessons of Suicide

“Life is still a gift,” I told my kids after my husband killed himself. “It’s still worth it. We’re still here.”

I said this aloud – to them, to myself, to the cosmos. I wasn’t always sure I believed it, but I said it. And generally, not long after saying it, I collapsed on the floor in some corner of the house and cried out my eyeballs into shriveled, puffy things resembling dried figs. Then I peeled myself off the floor and said it again: “Life is still a gift. It is.”

Amy Biancolli Suicide Loss Survivor
Amy Biancolli

Losing a loved one to suicide hurts like hell: there’s an obvious truth if there ever was one. But there are other truths, some hard, some hopeful. If you’ve suffered such a loss yourself, you know too much of these truths already. There’s no knowing just a little. To lose someone to suicide is to comprehend its aftermath — its endless, agonizing, and messy emotional aftereffects — from the inside out, and to understand, from the first shattering moment you hear the news, that everything you thought you understood about living and loving has been irreparably altered. The result is a profound loss of innocence. There is no going back.

I was in grade school when my homeroom teacher sat inside her garaged car while it idled, killing herself. What I recall most vividly is the sight of another teacher, an older woman with springy gray hair, crying in our classroom with a face crushed by grief. This was Lesson One. I learned from suicide: that it wounds those left behind.

A year or so later, when I was 11, my father attempted suicide with sleeping pills, sending him into a nine-day coma and a six-month stay in a pure talk therapy program (no meds, not ever) at the Institute of Living in Hartford.

Lesson Two. I could lose anyone this way, even the people who mattered most. As a kid, staring at my father’s unconscious, bloated form in I.C.U., I learned that life is capricious. That it could take sudden turns into darkness, no matter the light that surrounds us. I realized at that moment that love, whether my father’s or mine or anyone else’s, might not be enough to bind us all together in this world. I saw that pain can be insidious enough to pry someone suddenly away, even a kind and ebullient genius like my father.

My mother told me this wasn’t my fault. It was nothing I did. It wasn’t a failure to love on my part or anyone’s, including their father’s. I did my best to believe her.

When he returned home, it felt like a miracle – to me, to all of us. And so it was. Lesson Three. Sometimes the darkness abates.

Lesson Four. Sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t in 1991 when a good friend of mine shot himself. It didn’t in 1992 when my sister – another kind and ebullient genius — swallowed fatal mouthfuls of psych drugs after too many years of struggling with neurological and emotional problems, far too many hospital stays, far too many meds.

And it didn’t in 2011. That’s when my husband, Chris, the father of my three children and my rock for more than 20 years — a grounded, giving man with a dazzling intellect and a deep core of goodness – lost his mind over six months of insomnia, anxiety, and depression. After three brief hospital stays and a few failed tries at medication, he leaped to his death from the roof of a parking garage a mile from our home.

Everyone asked why. I had no answers. All I could say to baffled friends, crushed by the grief I first glimpsed as a child, was this: I don’t know. This can’t be understood. He lost himself; he couldn’t bring himself back; nothing worked. No matter how I tried or what I said or how hard I loved him, he just got sicker, drifting further and further away.

Lesson Five. You can’t love someone back to wholeness.

All I could say to my children was what my mother had told me: This wasn’t their fault. It was nothing they did. It wasn’t a failure to love on theirs or anyone’s part, including their father’s. He loved them, I explained. He didn’t make some rational “decision” to leave us. Instead, he was dragged into a deep and enveloping hole that was too dark to see and too powerful to escape.

Lesson Six. Suicide makes no sense. Not the pain that leads to it. Not the act itself.

There never is. I knew that much, and I knew I couldn’t try to explain it to my children. What I tried hard to explain instead is the need to push forward in the wake of such a loss, even if pushing forward just meant getting up out of bed the next morning. Precisely because suicide is senseless, we can’t take the act itself as a refutation of life. We can’t give it that power.

Chris’s death didn’t negate life – not his own, not ours in his absence. It didn’t mean we couldn’t go on. It meant the opposite: It meant we had to.

Saying this to my three kids was one thing. Acting on it was another. Trying to model faith in life while simultaneously expelling bulk quantities of saline from facial orifices was a trick and a half. But in the days that followed, with the help of family, friends, and neighbors bringing warm hugs and plates of ziti to our door, we found ourselves in the business of living. Laughter struck at the strangest, sweetest times. Happiness snuck in over the transom.

Early on, I worried about the increased suicide risk for survivors – and here I was a repeat. But a wise friend reminded me gently that I had learned another lesson from suicide – a lesson filled with hope that fixed me securely in this beautiful world with my beautiful children, embracing what gifts might come. I had learned that the answer to suicide isn’t more suicide. It’s more life.

Lesson Seven. Light is the only cure for darkness; living is the only cure for death.

So my children and I continue to live, continue to love, continue to laugh. We all continue to grieve, in our different ways. Their father’s death wounded us all. He was torn from us abruptly, insidiously. His darkness never abated, and it made no sense. Those lessons all hold and always will.

But the only way forward is forward. The only path out is through. As we walk it, as we stumble, we find new blessings and make new friends.

Lesson Eight. Life is still the only game in town. And it still brings joy.

You’ve Got This

As I was reading through posts here on the Alliance of Hope Forum, I was also sipping my morning coffee. I wasn’t paying much attention to the words on my mug until a minute ago. As you may have guessed, it reads what the title of this post says. This week has been pretty tough at times but looking at the message on my mug this morning reminded me that … Yes, I do have this!

When my therapist suggests a tough activity to help me … I’ve got this.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks that need to be done … I’ve got this.

When I’m faced with decisions I would typically make with my husband but have to now do solo … I’ve got this.

When I’m wondering just how I’m going to get out of bed every day … I’ve got this.

When my emotions rise to the surface and all I want to do is cry … I’ve got this – (and I cry).

When I struggle to find the right words to express how I truly feel … I’ve got this.

When my heart bursts all over again because I miss him so much … I’ve got this.

When boundaries need to be set for my own healing … I’ve got this.

When I feel like I want to give up for the day, but I push on through … I’ve got this.

I could go on. But I think you get the gist.

My coworker and friend gave me this mug to remind me that “I’ve got this.” But I’m not the only one. What can you share for which someone might tell you “You’ve got this!” We all have something. We are all survivors and I firmly believe that …  You’ve Got this!

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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Missing My Gene

The fireworks celebration was the first outing Gene and I took with my boys. They were so funny – laughing and giggling at MOM having a BOYFRIEND!

It was a warm breezy night and we wandered around the crowd and vendors. We set up to watch the fireworks. We took our first couple picture. We held hands and smiled like teenagers. Afterward, he drove like a bat outta hell – like always, but I didn’t know that at the time – thru a heavy rain downpour. Yikes!

The boys and I always did our own fireworks after the big ones, but in my rushed panic about “the date” I forgot to buy some. So, we stopped and bought a huge box of them. My oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum had a HUGE meltdown as we were leaving the store. I handled it and got in the car, thinking … well. this is it. That’s going to be a deal-breaker. Oh well, nice knowing ya.

My sweet man, quietly said: “Are we ready to go?”

Gasp, what? No snarky comments? Just calm acceptance? Wow! Yep. that was when he took the first piece of my heart.

On the way back home, he asked: “Where are we going to do these?” I was like … “Uh, I dunno.” So, he said” “Hey guys, pick the next dark side road with no houses and we’ll go do them there.”

Now, these boys thought that was the coolest idea EVER! He made a big deal of letting them choose the road, looking for no houses and pulling over. He appointed my oldest as the “watch out guy” for car lights and my youngest was honored with lighting the fireworks, with Gene’s help of course. That night was practically magical but so ordinary at the same time. I was the girlfriend watching my boyfriend engage with my sons. They had a ball!

Returning home, we sent the boys inside … TMI moment. LOL

We shared a long, wonderful kiss and he left to go home. When he got home, he called and said— in his deep, low southern drawl – “I thought about that kiss all the way home.” Sigh, Yay!

The 4th of July will always have these wonderful memories. I cry today for missing my Gene. I also am so thankful for having the memories and love we made together. To be loved so completely. To have my boys accepted and loved. To have been a family.

Thank you for letting me share these memories here. Hugs.

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 Missing My Gene