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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 »

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Survivor Experience: No Warning / No Clue

On August 3, 2012, my significant other of 18 years, Dave, went for a motorcycle ride. He stopped at the local taproom for a beer on the way home. When he got home, he came through the house, said hello, and went to his man cave (the garage), to have another beer and listen to the rest of the San Francisco Giants baseball game. I went out to the garage during the 8th inning to ask him what he had eaten that day, wondering if I should make something for a late dinner.

As I was leaving the garage, he laughed and asked what I was wearing – telling me it looked like a tablecloth. It was a lightweight blue plaid summer dress that I wore around the house when it was hot. I playfully got indignant and said he was wearing a tablecloth. That was the last conversation we would ever have.

I was laying on the couch watching the Olympics and reading a murder mystery novel when he came into the house and went upstairs. I assumed he was going to get ready for bed, maybe take a shower, and then come downstairs to eat. I didn’t hear the shower and peeked up the stairs at one point and saw the bathroom light was off. At this point, I assumed he had laid down on the bed and fallen asleep. I wish I had gone upstairs to give him a hard time about not saying good night.

I laid back down on the couch, reading and pretending to watch TV. When I heard a loud bang, I thought one of our planters had fallen on the front porch.

I got up and looked outside and all the planters were still hanging. Dave is a light sleeper, so I went upstairs to ask him if he had heard the noise. When I entered the bedroom, I smelled the gun powder smell and was confused but thought maybe some neighbor kids had thrown a firecracker in the front yard.

I sat down on the bed next to him and it was wet. I can’t remember whether I turned the lamp on first with my left hand or put my right hand on his chest to shake him awake. I think it was simultaneous. Everything happened at once. The light went on. I saw blood on my hand and realized he had shot himself. Everything is a blur after that. I know I screamed and ran downstairs to the phone and dialed 911.

It felt like it took forever for someone to get there. The 911 operator told me to go back upstairs, check if he was breathing, get a towel to place over the gunshot wound, clear his breathing passageway, and do chest compressions. I did whatever she said. I kept telling her I can’t do this and someone needs to get here soon. But it took forever, so I stayed and did what she told me to do. It was horrible. No one should ever have to see anything like that. I knew he was gone. But I kept thinking if they get here soon enough, they can save him.

I don’t understand any of this. I’ve read other posts where people say there was no sign of depression or suicide warnings. And I believe you.

In his 42 years of life, not one relative or friend recalls suicide ever being a thought. In our 18 years together, we went through some rough times, but we were finally in a great place. We had finally figured things out and accepted each other’s faults and appreciated each other’s quirks. We were actively planning for our future. Trips to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to see family. A group hockey game in the fall. (We did one or two every year and had 75 people last year). Work on our house. The garden (His motto was I grow it – you clean it – you cook it – I eat it).

We were going to spend the rest of our lives together. Everything is wrong now. I can’t imagine having Thanksgiving without him smoking a small turkey and me doing a stuffed turkey in the oven (imagine 30 lbs. of turkey for two people). Christmas morning will be completely wrong. Hockey games without him next to me in a Pavelski jersey is just not right.

If he were here, he’d ask me: “Is someone was feeling lonely?” I would say yes, I’m lonely and I miss you.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

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

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After My Daughter’s Father Ended His Life

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

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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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

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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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

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 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. Its 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

Wisdom From Our Community

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

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Survivor Experience: 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

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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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

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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How Many New Normals?

A Conversation Between Survivors on the Alliance of Hope Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending hugs and hope, Jan

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

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

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

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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 »

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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