Forward with Hope – Donate Today!

As The Years Go By …

My daughter’s father ended his life eight years ago. I was pregnant with her at the time and because of that, I never fully dealt with my grief. Over the past two months, I’ve known two people who died by suicide. One was the young daughter of a wonderful friend. This has brought up a flurry of untouched emotions and grief that I buried when he died so long ago. I’ve decided that it’s time to deal with these emotions and work through them, whether by talking to others on the Alliance of Hope Forum or helping others through their grief.

I wrote this essay, to share with my friend after she has had some time to absorb the shock of her loss. After reading so many posts on the forum, I felt this would be the perfect place to share my thoughts. Thank you for reading!

My Journey of Loss

Losing a loved one to suicide is the most painful, gut-wrenching experience anyone can ever go through. You look around and wonder how everyone is carrying on with life as normal when it feels like the world has stopped turning. Not only have you suddenly and unexpectedly lost someone you loved and cherished, but you must also come to grips with the fact that their death was a deliberate choice that they made, even though they knew it would hurt you.

This realization rips you in two – you are grieving the loss of your beloved while simultaneously battling feelings of intense anger and betrayal.

“Why?” is a question that plays on repeat over and over in your head and nothing in the note or their final words or actions can answer it. So, you vacillate between blaming yourself and desperately trying to believe the well-meaning people who tell you that there was nothing you could have done. For a moment that thought gives you peace, but the “should have, could have, would have” is just around the corner waiting to take hold.

You replay every single moment of their life, trying to pinpoint the moment when they made the decision to end it. Trying to understand how you couldn’t have seen the pain behind their eyes and smile. Trying to understand why they didn’t reach out for help. Desperately trying to understand how your deep and unending love was not enough to make them want to live.

The sudden, bitter anger that you feel confuses you. You’ve been taught that when people die, you should feel sadness and grief, not anger. But this isn’t like any other death. This person chose to leave you knowing they would take a huge part of your heart with them.

You scream: WHY did they do this, knowing how much it was going to hurt me?! Why didn’t they ask me for help? Why wasn’t my love enough?! Where was God when this was happening?!

And the next minute you feel deep, immeasurable sorrow for how sad and lonely they must have been to have taken such drastic action. And you can’t help but wonder if you had given them more love, reassurance, and support if that would have made a difference…if there was anything you could have done to make them choose to live.

In between bouts of anger and sadness, you miss the person you loved – their laugh, their smile, every single thing about them.

You want them back so desperately, you bargain with God. You’d give up anything for just one more second, one more “I love you,” one more hug. The desperation you feel is unlike anything you’ve ever known.

It’s a vicious cycle that plays on repeat for days, weeks, and months on end.

You feel that it’s never going to stop, that you will surely lose your mind on a rollercoaster of grief. Sometimes you even wonder if your life is worth living without your loved one.

As time crawls by, the edges of your emotions slowly soften.

The sadness isn’t so strong, the anger isn’t so bitter, the grief not so palpable. You still ask “Why?“ each and every day, but it isn’t so desperate and frantic. One day, you catch yourself laughing and wonder where that small bubble of happiness came from. It seems odd to experience any joy when your heart is still hurting so much. You will probably feel guilty experiencing any happiness at all when your loved one is gone.

Just when you think the worst is over, the holidays, their birthday, or the anniversary of their death comes along, knocking the wind out of you.

A few weeks before the anniversary, something imperceptibly shifts inside of you. Sadness, tension, and anger slowly bubble to the surface, where freshly scabbed wounds rip open. You remember exactly how you felt the day they died as if it were yesterday. It feels as though you are starting the grief process all over again. You wonder if other people remember your loved one on important occasions and holidays. If they don’t, you wonder how they could possibly forget something so important.

And then, as the years go by, your grief slowly subsides.

Never a day goes by when you don’t think about your beloved, pray they come to you in a dream, and explain why they decided to end their life. You look for signs of your loved one everywhere you go – a butterfly landing on your shoulder, a song on the radio, a star shining brightly in the midnight sky – anything to give you just a glimpse of their beautiful soul.

And in this deep, aching loss, you are forever changed.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

1 Comment on As The Years Go By …

Butch Is Not A Butterfly

I never post in this “Signs, Serendipity, and Life after Life” section on this forum, and I rarely read here, but … I got a sign!

Well, OK, I think I did post here once about a butterfly, but I didn’t even believe it by the next day. Butch is not a butterfly. I thought he was, but he isn’t. He was a biker. I buried him in leather. He would never come back as a butterfly.

Anyway, I have had a HORRIBLE week. I had my one-year follow-up mammogram for my cancer. I wanted to be sick and was devastated when I found out I am cancer-free. It’s not how I wrote the story in my head. Now I really must face life without him. I had a bad week with him too. I even called him Son of Satan at one point in the car on the way to work.

Today I woke up and a simple thought just came to me – carry him in your heart and not in your head.

And I had a good day. My head is a mess, but I love him with all my heart so that is where I am going to try to keep him. I actually went about 15 minutes on my hour-long commute home from work without thinking about him or suicide.

Finally, about the sign(s): I had read on here to ask for something specific. I’ve had a sign from God that he is OK, but nothing from him. A couple of months ago, I asked him for a white bird if he was OK and still loved me.

Tonight, in the dark, on the way home from work, just as I was telling him I hoped he still wanted to spend eternity with me, I saw this big flock of white birds circling around over the HEB Grocery store parking lot lights. Hundreds of grackles roost there at night in the trees and they are black. I have NEVER seen big white birds fly around at night and I’ve lived in Texas all my life.

I knew immediately that was my sign.

Then I got home and my marriage license and new social security card with my married name were in the mailbox. I thought social security had lost our marriage license and I was getting upset about it and had already written to them. I had to send in the original to have my name changed. Also, my new driver’s license with my married name was in the mailbox.

What a good day…relatively speaking

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

Leave a Comment on Butch Is Not A Butterfly

Continuing Bonds: An Amazing Message

It has been 5 months since the man I love, John, ended his life. We had been arguing. He left me an angry, accusatory note. The pain and guilt have been unbearable at times. A few days ago, I had a bad day. I isolated and stayed close to home.

The next morning I woke, made some coffee, and did a couple of chores. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw my phone-message light blinking. Odd, because I always hear the phone. When I looked again, it was no longer blinking but out of curiosity, I hit ‘play-msg.’ There was a message I had never heard before.

It was John. A message I had never heard. He said he was thinking of me and needed to see me. I almost dropped my cup of coffee. It is difficult to even find the words to say the emotions I felt. After about an hour, I went to listen again, I did not delete it. It was no longer on my machine.

I swear, I heard it. He said my name. I did not hallucinate, dream, or imagine.

Finally, going to a tech who serviced answering machines, I asked him what may have gone wrong. He smiled, and said it could not be the machine, and that I had either made the whole thing up or, he said, “the beyond beckoned you.”

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

7 Comments on Continuing Bonds: An Amazing Message

The Day My Daddy Died – A Book for Children Who Have Lost Parents

As Executive Director of Alliance of Hope, I often receive books. Survivors send them to our office in the hope that what they have written will make a difference for someone else. Last month, a children’s book landed on my desk that stood out for its grace and simplicity and especially,  for the hope it offers.

When author Rebecca Mason’s husband Todd ended his life 14 years ago, she faced the excruciating task of telling their sons ages 2, 5, and 8, that their beloved father had died. In the ensuing weeks and months, Rebecca did what she could to comfort them – and when she could not find a book that fit their needs, she wrote one. Later, not finding an illustrator who felt comfortable capturing the importance of the book’s emotion, she illustrated it herself. 

I want to share this newly published book with you because it is a lovely book for children … but really, beyond that, I invite you to join me in bearing witness to Rebecca’s journey. Her resilience and her accomplishment parallel the journey and accomplishments of so many survivors. In the beginning, it is hard to believe that one will ever make it through, but those who have gone beyond just surviving, like Rebecca, provide examples and hope that it can be done. 

You can find Rebecca’s book, The Day My Daddy Died, in our bookstore.

I leave you with Rebecca’s words, found at the end of her book:

“I wrote this book shortly after my husband passed away in 2007. His death was sudden and tragic, and it shattered my family’s safe world in an instant.

Todd Eliot Mason – “The Best Daddy Ever”

I searched for children’s books that would speak to how my boys were feeling. I wanted to find something that would directly relate to them and help them process the feelings of this unique kind of grief. But my searches left more to be desired.

As I lay awake one sleepless night, I looked at my three small children snuggled in close to me sleeping soundly in my bed. I was determined to do my best for them and give them the support they needed in order to help them process this in the healthiest way possible. It was out of this deep desire that I began to write this story. I wanted them to know they were not alone in having their Daddy die. Because it felt like they were. When I read the finished story to them, they were surprised that another little boy out there know exactly how they felt. And they said it made them feel better … so, we read it often.

It is my deepest desire that this story will also comfort your child or children in some way. I hope they can see themselves in it as my own children did. I hope that you and your children can find strength in the fact that you are unified with many in this experience; you are not alone, and you will get through this horrible time. And I hope that you will ultimately be triumphant in your grief journey and find the will and grace to move forward with love.” ~Rebecca Mason

The Journey Continues: Glimpses of Hope

Good Morning. As I sit here mentally preparing for work – or trying to – I find that there are so many things going through my mind. The questions continue – and fragmented thoughts lacking focus or purpose swirl about with seemingly random abandon.

It is so very difficult to see beyond his suicide. It feels impossible right now. It’s almost as though my thoughts and perceptions have been hijacked by this tragic event. It dominates my every thought, my every moment, my every interaction.

I spoke with a very wise, compassionate, knowledgeable, and caring survivor yesterday. Someone who has walked many emotional miles and endured many hard-fought years of learning and reaching out on this journey. She has embraced her healing. She is my hero and models someone I so aspire to. It was profound.

Through our conversation, I was able to imagine and hear glimpses of a life no longer held captive solely by the specter of suicide. There was no forgetting. There was no “getting over it,” but I gained a sense that forgiveness, purpose, peace, hope, love, and empowerment are all possible – and that the joy I so miss can be had again.

PTSD – the thief of my peace, the robber of my inner tranquility, the blinder of my perspective, the chain that binds me to my present state of chaos. Through this most comforting of conversations, I have come to see that this phenomenon is something many, many of us survivors share. It’s effects leave us feeling constantly helpless, hopeless, traumatized, and victimized – perpetually trapped in a whirlpool of despair.

Yet through educating myself about PTSD, perhaps the help of a skillful therapist, the support of other survivors, perhaps medication be that “natural” or conventional taken with due diligence, self-healing processes such as meditation and art therapy, and a purposeful desire to move through and beyond this PTSD, there lies hope, waiting for me to grasp it and reawaken it.

I am coming to understand that I can eventually experience a shift of focus from the dominance of his suicide to grieving and celebrating his life and to honoring him and myself through healing.

This journey is long and difficult. At every corner there are unknowns. I have no frame of reference for this, no personal compass to guide me. I am under no illusions now.

I know that I must embrace it if I am ever to see a life beyond it – or in spite of it – or with it. That I must not give up “the good fight” to my eventual healing.

And that I must, as I gradually grow physically and emotionally stronger, day by long day, week by week, month by month, year by year, become an active participant in my healing – knowing that there will be many, many times I will stumble and backslide. I did not ask for this, and neither did he. Nevertheless, it is here.

It is a process, a journey, a path that grows step by hard-fought step, tear by tear, memory by memory, experience by experience, victories, and set-backs, healing and renewal, throughout the remainder of my life.

I have no idea how this journey will continually reveal itself and I am frightened by the unknown, but continue I must.

A journey that continues, a personal odyssey, the honoring of his legacy and the building of mine.

Be kind and gentle to yourselves,

Donna

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

9 Comments on The Journey Continues: Glimpses of Hope

Survivor Experience: Ride of My Life

I hate this roller coaster. It was not my choice to ride. I was pushed into it. Sometimes the ride is fine and at first, I feel okay. “I can get through this,” I say to myself. Then out of the blue – like a sneaky trick – I am plunged into a dark hole that is so terrifying I have to use all my strength to hang on for dear life. The timing is unpredictable. In a twitch of an eye, the plunge starts in the middle of a job meeting, at a red light, in a store, with friends or not with friends. Alone or not alone. This is exhausting and I feel like a used worn wet rag.

The ride has a sadistic sense of humor. It sends others to keep me company. Their names are Guilt, Anger, and Depression. They are very friendly. They each have their own personality and want me to join in with them.

Guilt tells me, “It’s my fault, I should have been more aware and less self-absorbed.”

Anger screams loudly to Guilt so I can hear him too, “It may be her fault but he should have never abandoned her like that!”

And my newest companion, Depression says over and over “You both are right so why bother with anything – even living – because nothing really matters.”

These new companions never fail to point out something I didn’t realize or remember. They seem to make sense of this tragedy and I almost give in and believe them.

But then along the sidelines and in the stands, I hear a team, people of all ages on the Alliance of Hope forum, male and female, each with different viewpoints and beliefs. Like one voice I hear them faintly at first and then more loudly. They say:

“No, don’t believe them. They are not your friends! Your loved one was ill and didn’t mean to hurt you. Your loved one was in pain and wanted the pain to end. You would have done anything you could at that time to help. Don’t beat yourself up it is not your fault. You cannot control or make choices for others. They made their own choices good or bad. They would not really want you to suffer so much over this. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Cry and just breathe. It will be alright. Drink water and eat something nutritious. We’ve been through this and can help you get through this too. We will always believe you and support you. Always!”

Listening to this team, a warm feeling grows and gives me hope. I start to feel like I am getting stronger and want to trust and live again. I know deep down they are right and what they say is true. My former companions Guilt, Anger, and Depression start to fade into the background and the roller coaster becomes slower, steadier, and more on an even keel and I want to get off.

Everyone here is that one voice – the Alliance of Hope team. You told me all these things and cared, loved, and believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. This weekend I want to say thank you all for helping me get my life back. You all are in my thoughts and prayers. I love you all.

God Bless.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

Leave a Comment on Survivor Experience: Ride of My Life

At Four Months – A Little Bit of Light in the Darkness

Last night was difficult. This week has been difficult

I am looking at a Thanksgiving entirely alone this year. My husband took his life on July 7th and this will be the first real holiday without him. Normally I would be with family or friends, but due to COVID-19, I’ll be “celebrating” at home alone. I absolutely dread this.

But: I’m determined to make the best of a bad situation. I’m planning to Zoom with a few friends. I purchased a small Thanksgiving feast from Whole Foods. I’m taking all of next week off of work and have a list of movies and TV that I’m planning to binge.

But still, I’m scared to death for this first holiday alone.

So: I went to Target today and bought an enormous amount of Christmas lights that I put up. There is a little bit of light in the darkness for me (and quite frankly the world, at this time). This is especially poignant as my husband refused to have any Christmas decorations at all last year. At the time, I thought it was because of his depression. Upon reflection, I think he may have been already contemplating taking his own life and didn’t want a reminder that that would be his last Christmas. Hindsight is always 20/20.

We had twenty wonderful Christmases together. I know this holiday season will be different and difficult in so many ways.

Like everything: one day at a time.

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

Leave a Comment on At Four Months – A Little Bit of Light in the Darkness

An Angel In Every Room

We are headed into the holiday season, which is often a tough time for those grieving the death of a loved one. You may be feeling little call to celebrate, decorate, or buy gifts. Or you may be growing increasingly anxious and sad as the holidays approach. Family holiday traditions, as well as the festivities and expectations of the outside world, are hard to navigate with a broken heart.

This year, I imagine that most everyone will be doing things a bit differently – whether they have lost someone or not. The pandemic, unemployment, and economic anxieties have altered so many things for all of us. And you may be rethinking or revising the traditions of previous years in order to satisfy social distancing guidelines. I know I am.

For eight months now, I have been talking to new loss survivors who are grappling with the pandemic in addition to the death of their loved one. They have needed to social distance while managing funerals, memorials, and tending to all the collateral tasks resulting from loved ones’ deaths. Many have postponed memorials or held very small gatherings. They have been isolated, without the close, in-person support of friends, family, and counselors, which is so important. It has been heartbreaking to me, to know they are going through this.

New loss survivors are often very concerned about upcoming holidays and special occasions. If this is true for you, I’d like to suggest something that helped me immensely 25 years ago, when my grief was new. Find a way to “own” your own holiday. Take it back from the culture and make it personal. Make it just big enough and just small enough to fit what is happening for you and your family right now.

Do what you need to do to get through it

I still recall the emptiness I felt the first year after my stepson’s death when previous traditions no longer fit. I could not shop. I certainly could not put up elaborate decorations. I could barely get through each day. At some point, I decided to put an angel figure in every room of the house. That seemed appropriate. I recall that my daughter Heather gave me a pair of angel earrings with a note: “If you wear these Mom, there will be an angel in every room you enter.”

So, if I can give you one tip, as the holidays approach, I urge you to go within and honor your feelings. Seek the wisdom of your own higher self. There is no right or wrong. Our culture dictates so much, but it is possible to take things back. Think about what you want to do – what is meaningful for you – and trust your instincts. 

During that first holiday 25 years ago, I felt such deep despair I could not envision a future of anything but loneliness and pain. With the help of others, I survived and eventually begin to thrive. It was a journey of many years, but during that time, I grew stronger. I believe you will too. I grew wiser. I believe you will too. I chose to live, and then live in a way that makes a difference. I believe you can too.

Be sure to check out our website if you are looking for additional articles and holiday tips, and please know that others understand and will be there for you on the Alliance of Hope Forum. You are not alone. As always, my thoughts and prayers are with each and every member of the Alliance of Hope community.

Ronnie

How Many New Normals?

A Conversation Between Survivors on the Alliance of Hope Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending hugs and hope, Jan

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

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

Leave a Comment on How Many New Normals?

Moments of Grace – Six Years Later

After a loss, there are many transitions. During this process, it helps me to limit my focus rather than trying to face my whole future at one time. Thinking about all the years ahead could easily overwhelm me. Besides, no one can “arrange” a future, survivor, or not. Life is far too capricious for that. In return for that precarious existence, however, we all receive moments of grace, periods of time for resting and gathering strength as well as brief miracles that show us over and over that – yes – we are still alive, and we can survive even after the most devastating experiences of our lives.

I’ve been a survivor for over six years now. The struggle to reintegrate into some kind of “normal” life has settled into a peaceful routine most of the time. Still, I’m learning that major decisions and the minor flux and flow of life demand a lot from me.

Yet I’m recognizing more and more the moments and miracles waiting for me “out there” in the world of the living. I still claim the right to withdraw into myself when I need to – back to that “limbo” world, a healing place separate from the outer world – but the happiness I’m finding in just living is a message to myself that life will find a way to help me through.

Where is your healing place? Sometimes mine is just a momentary break I take inside myself while the world rushes around me. Sometimes it is the community forum at the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. Sometimes it is taking time to listen to soft music or sit down in a beautiful place to just “be.”

It can be scary “out here.” The world does not stop for me, nor does it always treat me kindly just because I have experienced a loss. I’m still tender in places, but I can see my growing strengths better, too. I’ve looked for healing moments from the very beginning of this journey, and I have no plans for stopping that sweet habit.

There are unexpected starts and stops in my life still, but the “quilt” of my life is taking shape – block by block, stitch by stitch – and a pattern is emerging. Most noticeable now are the transitory moments of grace I receive now and then, the special gifts friends and strangers or just the universe, in general, bestow on me.

Kristin Hannah, in her novel Night Road writes “…in the sea of grief, there were islands of grace, moments in time when one could remember what was left rather than all that had been lost.” 

A shared word or two, a virtual hug, encouragement, and other wonders arrive on my doorstep just when I need them. These moments and miracles come from fellow survivors, strangers I don’t know, friends, and family.

Have you carried a moment of grace somewhere today? Have you received one? I hope so.  A day without grace is a dark day indeed, but unlike sunshine and rain, we don’t have to wait for them. Reaching out to others is as simple as sending an email, making a phone call, or paying a visit.  The rewards are tremendous.

And they run two ways.

Losing a Spouse – Three Years Out

It has been three years since I lost my dear husband to suicide. We were happily married for 21 years. I write now, for the benefit of those newer in loss, with the hope of offering some perspective on the arduous, but not impossible task, of finding one’s way in this new territory. Losing a spouse to suicide is extraordinarily complicated.

Our life together changed dramatically when my husband was hit by a car while riding his bike. It was then that he sustained the traumatic brain injury that led to his tragic end.

After he died, it took a long time for the shock to wear off. When it did, I found myself sorting through many complicated thoughts and emotions like grief, anger, fear, and what-ifs. Then came the practical questions. Do I move? Where do I want to be now? Endless decisions had to be considered.

Finding a way to continue to live after the fire-storm of this type of loss is no easy task. One must endure the dismantling of their previous life – on their own – while navigating the many choices and decisions needed to create a new and different life.

“Painting has helped me to heal. This image represents the freedom of my husband’s spirit now.” ~Soul Grief

His death shattered our existing life and my foundational way of being in the world, yet, little by little with hand-holding and heart-holding from others before me, I made choices that helped me move forward. I lived through feelings of not wanting to be here without my beloved husband and fearing the future. I made the decision to settle a lawsuit that was just, but far too stressful. I put my beloved home on the market and moved, a year ago, across the country to be closer to my daughter and her family. I’ve returned to my art, hiking, and to loving those who stood beside me. I have been creating a new life from the ashes of my old life. Some pieces returned from old passions. Others are surprising new directions.

I want those of you who are newly bereaved to know it is possible to survive and find joy again even after such an impossible tragedy. The devastating suicide of a spouse should not be underestimated but doesn’t have to break you.

The Alliance of Hope was one of the many tools that helped me to survive and heal. It was a lifeline provided by other survivors who understood the devastating nature and vulnerability one feels after experiencing this type of sudden and shocking loss. The forum community provided compassionate wisdom born of experience and a nonjudgmental witnessing by others of the horror of my first days, weeks, and months. It was the heart medicine I needed.

Other things have helped as well:

Time helped soften the pain. It is not everything, but it is an important aspect of healing our wounded hearts.

A Circle of Support from friends, family, and a counselor also helped. Again, it is not everything, but being with others who listened without judgment allowed my grief to share its voice and paved the way for rebuilding.

Learning Self-Care helped me build true inner strength. Decision by decision, navigating this loss has taught me to choose what will nurture and support me as well as to guard my precious time.

My life is very different today than it was before my husband died. I would still prefer he was here with me, but – and this is crucial – I accept my life now and in honor of him and our love, live my life fully. These days I realize it is possible to grieve, survive, and even thrive after such a devastating loss. Unexpected waves of grief still hit me from time to time, but I know how to sail – or at least float – through those moments and days.

I think it’s important to remember that we are still here. I don’t have a step-by-step map but I can offer a ray of hope. It is possible to survive. You will find your way and we are here for you. Honoring the tasks of grief will bring you to new ground. Possibly even higher ground after integration of all that is lost. None of us can change what happened but we can choose to gather the pieces of our shattered hearts and find a way back to beauty and joy.

For now, find those with big enough hearts to hold you. Trust that the devastating initial pain will soften with time, and you will grow stronger.

May we all honor ourselves and our loved ones by finding a way to hold all our shattered hearts with compassion.

Soul Grief

The Math of Mourning

What is the timetable here? When will I feel better? How do I get my life back together? These are some of the questions survivors of suicide loss ask after the first few months or even a couple of years post-loss. The good news is that there is a formula for navigating this kind of turbulent grief, but the bad news – and it’s not really bad – is each person’s path is unique, the specifics of healing in each situation are different, and what will help one person may not be what another person needs. Timetable? We can’t determine how long it will take ahead of time. But we can avoid grieving for a lifetime.  

In earlier years, mourners were sometimes given a period of one year to do what they needed to do in order to recover from a significant loss: isolate with their sorrow, rest, wear black clothing or use some other tangible symbol of what they were going through, handle legal and financial matters, instigate a plan for moving forward, heal. Suicide, itself, was often viewed as taboo, which greatly complicated this process and brought additional and undeserved burdens.

Today, survivors can follow a similar formula for healing even if “the world” no longer recognizes the need to do so, with the knowledge that outdated ideas about suicide are being challenged. Self-care and rest, isolating at times, and using tangible symbols and resources like journals and counseling are part of the equation. Day by day, sometimes one moment at a time, the tangled path opens up with each discovery of what helps. While setbacks are normal, life keeps calling. There is an end to active grieving. That doesn’t mean an end to missing a loved one or regretting what happened, but the pain of grief softens and is no longer what it was.

Commonalities exist, and survivors are finding them and passing them along. Just this encouragement alone – seeing it is possible to reconstruct a life that is meaningful and joyful – has an effect similar to that of a life preserver being thrown to a man who is almost drowning in a very dark and stormy sea. Connecting like this, inspiring each other through words of understanding, compassion, and hope enable individuals to find their own way through the confusion of losing someone who is greatly loved in such a painful way. Many choose to honor their loved ones’ lives by doing something to help others in some way. Many find a connection or re-connection to God, in whose loving arms healing happens.  

Adding the moments of hope to doing what is helpful to survival equals a new solution, a new life. A changed life, but a place where love outweighs the pain. 

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 »

8 Comments on The Math of Mourning

Acceptance … The Heart Must Catch Up

People who have suffered deep, traumatic loss cannot heal all at once or right away. It is the same with acceptance. The brain knows what happened, but the “heart” doesn’t understand in the same way and must catch up later. For a very long time, I waited and longed for my husband to return. When we think like that – and it is normal for survivors – we are thinking with a different part of the brain where instinct, not reason, lies. It does seem to make the grieving process a bit easier. At first, thinking about a future without the man I loved was far too painful, as was thinking about the past. Somehow, I had to find a bridge between what I had lost and who I would become. There are so many things to mourn. Writing about them and about your feelings is one way to do that. It is difficult, soul-shredding work, but the tears will empty emotions like hate and anger and grief from you so that healing and acceptance can bring you peace. This is the hardest thing you will ever do.

While it feels like nothing will ever change, trust that the pain will soften, that life will be worth living again. I was so sure that could not happen for me, but it did. Believe that all of the terrible collateral damage can be handled. Waking to a wider world is part of the progression of healing. I found that bridge I needed by living in moments, one at a time. And in connections with others who understood what I was going through. I don’t know that healing ever stops, which is comforting to me. I just know the awful agony of the early time is not with me anymore and I live in a duality that includes happiness and sadness, peace and pardon, acceptance, and love.

I think we go partway into death with those we love dearly. We go as far as we can. It is an awful process, dying yet not being dead. The struggle to return to life and rebuild – to let them go – is even more painful. How could we live without them? Life would never be the same. We are not the same. But we are alive, and life calls us home. When I let go of what could not be again, I found I wasn’t really letting my husband go. I was just changing our relationship. His love was still there, warm and real.

I began to see how the loss was now part of me. But I began to be able to think about other parts of me again. I found a new me. That is when the pain started dropping away. I started feeling my love for my husband and his love for me. It was still there. I love him more today than I ever have. And I feel he is only in another room, the way he used to be sometimes. Close, just not right here with me. He is with God now, as I will be one day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Charles T. Rubey

Finding Strength in Uncertain Times

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Counting Angels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Hold On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a beautiful poem to help you hold on.

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

–A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Rabbi B

About the Author

Rabbi B

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

2 Comments on Just Hold On

Meeting the Challenge Together in the Spirit of Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

From Our Forum

The Alliance of Hope online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

Leave a Comment on Meeting the Challenge Together in the Spirit of Compassion

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.

This New Life: Turning Back Toward Life

Survivors must deal with so very much in the months and years after the suicide of a loved one, but life still calls us to return from that private world of grief and mourning. At some point, I heard that call and began to answer.

In small, almost unnoticeable steps, I instinctively found that creating a comforting atmosphere made the hours a little easier to bear. In my bedroom, I put some artificial flowers in a vase, hung a couple of paper lanterns on the windows. Anything to create beauty soothed my soul. I couldn’t listen to music with words for a long time, but I found peace in classical and alternative (zen) recordings. I played this music in the car and when I was at home.

Staying away from the news and disturbing programs on television really made a difference. I visited the Alliance of Hope Community Forum a lot. Eventually, I returned to church, where I found great comfort in prayer and in being with friends who were not grieving.

Meditation, self-hypnosis MP3s, and yoga also brought a physical structure to my days. Simple stretching before bed and in the morning let my body feel nurtured. Water aerobics and massage sessions did the same thing. At different times, when I let these lapse, my health suffered. Even a soothing cup of afternoon herbal tea can make me feel better.

All of this self-care is part of grief, healing, and the unerring journey toward life and living. Each of these things directed me away from death. Sometimes that was painful because it made me feel that I was leaving my husband further and further behind. I felt as if I were losing him over and over again. This stretch of the road fell behind me at some point though as I moved forward to a new life that would develop around me, and as I realized the love we two had shared would never die. I could take it with me.

Jostled by the pace of this new life, I encountered other problems. How would I spend the next part of my life?

Who would I turn to? Loneliness gave way to pragmatism. Faucets had to be fixed. Grass grew too swiftly. Bills continued to arrive in the mailbox.

Well after I had taken care of issues surrounding my husband’s death, I learned that my grace period was over. I could no longer shelter under a cloud of grief. I had to face the real world and all its demands.

One step at a time, I waded through the tall reeds of everyday life. I went to work, dealt with home repairs, came home at the end of the day to an empty house, and felt again a sense of normalcy. I grew stronger. I fell down. I got back up. I explored my new world, made choices, changes, and decisions.

Each type of loss brings a unique set of problems.

For those like me who lost a spouse, the pain at seeing a loving couple holding hands may turn to wonder as we consider what life is left to us. Would there be another love for me? Did I want that? How would it happen? Could the emotional past be part of a new future?

Navigating life after loss to suicide is complicated. Whom do I tell? At what point? Can I start over? These questions remain unanswered for me, and there are others yet to be discovered. At the Alliance of Hope’s community forum, there is a section for those who are asking questions like this. It is called “Turning Back Into Life.” Here, survivors can talk about the issues they are facing. Once again, we find we are not alone.

No matter where you are on your grief journey, connecting with other survivors of suicide loss will help. Reaching out to others may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will be the best thing you can do for yourself.

I promise.