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Finding Strength in Uncertain Times

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Counting Angels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Hold On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a beautiful poem to help you hold on.

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

–A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Rabbi B

About the Author

Rabbi B

Rabbi B

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

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Meeting the Challenge Together in the Spirit of Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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A Conversation About Suicide Loss

Alliance of Hope founder Ronnie Walker had the pleasure of speaking with Sherrie Dunlevy, host of The Grief Anonymous Podcast, and author of the book: “How Can I Help – Your Go-to Guide for Helping Loved Ones through Life’s Difficulties.” Following the loss of her son in 1999, Sherrie developed a profound commitment to those who are grieving.

Sherrie wanted to know what led Ronnie to launch the Alliance of Hope in 2008. They discussed common, as well lesser-known, aspects of the suicide grief experience, and resources for suicide loss survivors. We hope you will find some comfort and value in watching or listening to their conversation.

You can watch the video below, or listen to the podcast.

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.

Imagine Thriving

It’s been almost a year since my sweet, handsome, loving, giving, funny, kind, and compassionate husband took his life from depression. The shock, fright, grief, confusion, and utter disbelief have been unlike any other. I have finally gotten to the point where I no longer shake every day.

I have given great thought as to how I want my life to proceed, and have come up with my own mantra: “IMAGINE THRIVING”

I ordered a necklace with those two simple, yet profound, words on it. It has two meanings for me. One is to imagine how those with mental illness could have possibly gone on to thrive if they had been willing to get help … if the stigma of this illness no longer existed … if more help had been available. The other meaning is personal. It is my goal: To thrive – not just to “survive this”.

Surviving is simply to bear the pain and exist. Thriving means to go beyond the pain and be better. I will thrive – not in spite of what happened – but because of it. I will flourish. It may take me a very long time, but that is my goal. I will take baby steps and inch forward day-by-day. This will not define my life, but enrich it. That is hard to imagine right now but with time will come acceptance, and hopefully peace.

I hope those two words can help others on this incredibly difficult path, to move forward with grace, dignity, and kindness. I have never met any of you but love all of you. You are playing such an incredible role in my healing.

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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Am I a Widow?

I have been contemplating what it means to be a widow a lot recently. Society has a very definitive idea of what that word means. We visualize a grieving woman who was married to the man who died. For me to claim that status with the government, he and I must have stood in front of someone with proper authority, signed a document and then filed it with them. But, is that what makes someone your husband? Is that truly what would define me as a widow? The more I think about it, the more I believe, “No, it doesn’t.”

Twenty-one years with the same man, does that make me a widow?

For the first few months, I didn’t use that word. I’ve used it a few times, but I’ve felt bad using it. I felt I was somehow cheating the women who were “actually” married. Then it occurred to me that a woman could be married for six months and still be considered a widow. Not that her grief would be less, but is that more important than my 21 years? Should it be, just because we didn’t sign a piece of paper?

Many, many years ago I declared my love for him first. He was young and headstrong and a bit of a misogynist…well at least he didn’t like certain types of women and most women seemed to fall under that umbrella. It took him longer to say the words. I think he felt them but was scared because he didn’t trust me. He had to be sure I wasn’t one of “those” women. I remember the first time he said those words to me. We were lying in bed talking and he said he had something he wanted to tell me and wanted to make sure I was focused on what he wanted to say. He put one hand on the side of my face and looked me in the eye and said, “I love you.” In that moment my world froze. My blood pressure must have shot through the roof when my heart stopped beating for a moment because when it started again all I could hear was the blood rushing through my veins. And then he kissed me.

So when I think of that moment and every other moment since then. More “I love you’s” than I can count or remember. Arguing, laughing, making plans for the future, talking for hours even after two decades and you’d think we’d have nothing left to say, moments when we didn’t have to say anything, cooking him dinner, him taking care of me because I was sick or had surgery, him bringing me a present and looking like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning waiting for me to open it, reading the newspaper together, him saving coupons for me, him teasing me about how I use the words “actually” or “purchase,” him showing me every video he could find about Led Zeppelin, dancing, beer, motorcycles and so many other things I could never possibly fit on this page.

Am I allowed to use that word? Because I still feel guilty when I use it. I feel like I’m lying to people, but what other word describes my loss or our relationship? When I say he was my fiancé, people look at me like it’s not as important, but I feel the need to follow it up with how long we were together because I don’t think they really got it, and then their expression changes and suddenly what I’ve said seems to mean more.

Is it a lie? Am I breaking some rule when I say that I’m a widow?

I’d like to know from the other widows and widowers…does it count? Does it offend you when I say I’m a widow and technically I’m not?

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

A picture popped up on my Facebook memories today – my most commented-on photo of 2011. It was me and my oldest son, at the top of a ski run in Northstar, taken on this day eight years ago.

I decided to share it to my timeline with the simple caption: “8 years ago… crazy how time flies.”

But then I felt the urge to share a little more so that people would understand what that photo really means to me.

I added the comment: “Some may not realize that this picture was taken just days after our first Christmas without Chad. 6 months post-loss. We were in Reno visiting family and spent a day skiing at Northstar. At that time, I was doing anything and everything to prove to the kids, and to myself, that our lives were not ruined. Memories of that time are a blur, but I do vividly remember stepping off the chair lift and smiling for this photo. To see it pop up on my FB memories today, as I sit here pondering the fact that this decade is almost over…. Surreal.”

I don’t know why I am suddenly open to sharing more. I participate here on the Alliance of Hope forum, but other than that, I rarely share publicly about my grief. There are many new friends and acquaintances who may have never heard me say something so personal.

I think my desire to open up could be because I feel like I’m at a turning point. I don’t know exactly when, and I especially don’t know how, but I feel like I will be starting a new phase of my life soon.

The kids are growing up. I am actively trying to start dating. Within the next couple of years, I will likely have an empty nest. I’m closing out my 40s.

The fact that this turning point comes at the end of the biggest decade of change I have ever experienced; I guess that’s fitting.

This decade began with huge changes. I started my teaching career in 2010. Lost my husband in 2011. And have spent the better part of the entire decade learning to survive and trying to thrive. I’ve celebrated accomplishments and rallied from setbacks.

In many ways, I feel like I am indeed stepping off the chair lift; as if I’ve been working my way up a mountain the past eight years. Except it hasn’t been an effortless ride; spent sitting in my chair, swinging my feet, admiring the views. I’ve weathered storms that would rival a blizzard. There have been times when I felt like the chair stopped and I had to pull myself, hand over hand, up the side of the mountain.

But I’m at the top now. I know it’s not the end of the journey. But, I’m ready to ski down this run and enjoy it. I’ll have to get back on the lift again. Ascend the mountain, again and again.

But for now, I’m stepping off the lift and smiling for a photo. It’s time to look at the beautiful landscape, appreciate the people around me, and enjoy the wind in my face as I glide down the slope.

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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Words That Trouble Me Now

Since my husband passed away, certain words are like ticking time bombs to me. There are many words that set me off.

For starters, now I hate the word “expired.” I work in a nursing home and they use it there. Expired is what eggs or milk do when they spoil and go bad. My husband was far from spoiling or going bad. 29-year old’s are not rotten food.

And the word “late.” I got a call last week regarding my late husband. What the heck was so late about him? He died way too early. There wasn’t a late thing about it. That was the 1st and so far, the only time, I’ve heard him referred to that way, but it struck me hard.

I also now hate the word “beloved.” Why is someone who has passed beloved? Like it’s past tense. Like they aren’t loved anymore. I still love my husband more than anything. I will never say that I loved him as if I no longer do. He’s still with me in some way, shape, or form. His physical body may not be here, but he will always be alive to me.

I have problems with the word “deserve.” I’m trying to move on with my young boys as best I can. When we have plans or go somewhere, we are told that we deserve it. And that I deserve to be happy. To me, you deserve credit when you work hard on a school paper or work assignment. This is not something I wanted to work on. This is not something I’m doing because I want recognition. I’m not moving on because I deserve to. I’m moving on because I have my little boys and I must.

The last word I will mention is “surprise.” The word used to have good connotations for me. Surprise parties. Surprises for my children. A happy unexpected event. But now, the word is tainted. After my husband passed, I got surprises that made me cry. Mail in his name. Mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Cards or gifts from people out of the blue. Songs on the radio that set me off. It seemed I was always getting a surprise that ruined an otherwise good day. Surprises sent me right back down to the bottom. Never thought of surprises as a bad thing. Now they are.

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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Survivor’s Anonymous

I have been thinking a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous. Well, that is to say, I have been watching reruns of the show “Mom” (which is a great show by the way) and that got me thinking that AA and grief support have a lot in common.

Alcoholics may come to rehab thinking, “If I just kick this habit, I’ll be o.k.” But the ones who have lasting recovery come to realize that they will never be cured. Instead, they will always be in recovery.

The same can be said for suicide loss survivors. We heal and our lives grow around our grief, but I believe we will always be in recovery.

Most grief groups are geared for the newly bereaved and in the beginning, grief is physically and emotionally overwhelming. It takes intense courage, commitment, and support to get through the initial phase of grief. Just like in rehab or detox.

As a moderator on the Alliance of Hope forum, I relate to the newly bereaved because I have been there. I remember. I offer hope that healing can and will happen. I am living proof. In AA, I would be a sponsor.

But even sponsors need support. They are still in recovery but need a different kind of support than the person in detox or the one who is receiving their 30-day chip.

Watching “Mom,” I noticed that people in the meetings talk about fighting the urge to drink for different reasons. The most common challenges mentioned involve the trials and tribulations of life – the troublesome times. And the characters on the show know they need support to make it through these times without drinking. They have a saying when life’s troubles strike: “I need a meeting.”

Life’s trials and tribulations can thrust survivors into a grief wave. For me, the most common trigger is something breaking down around the house. The toilet is running – and suddenly I am sobbing over my dead husband’s picture. I suppose an alcoholic might have the same dilemma. The toilet is running – and suddenly they have the urge to drink.

I have been worrying that I am viewing life through the lens of my husband’s suicide. Actually, I’ve been kind of beating myself up over it. Telling myself that I am “stuck” in grief.

But I’m beginning to realize, I am not stuck. I’m in recovery. I will always be in recovery.

When the toilet is running, or the A/C needs repair, or one of my children is experiencing a milestone – I need a meeting. That’s when I come to the AOH forum.

The only problem is that I am afraid to go on the forum and share authentically because I don’t want to frighten new survivors. I don’t want to comment on one thread about how there is hope for going beyond surviving, and then turn around and post another thread about how I am feeling sad over anything – from the stupid running toilet to the fact that I am terrified of growing old alone.

It is hard to admit that after 8 years, I still grieve.

So, I come to the forum and support others, but I don’t really share. I am like the recovering alcoholic sponsor, who is at the meeting to be there for others but doesn’t admit when I need support.

I saw a rerun episode of “Mom” recently where the character Marjorie, who is a long-term recovering alcoholic and sponsor of many, was struggling. Her own sponsor, sober for 40 years, had relapsed and started drinking. Marjorie’s husband had a stroke. She was overwhelmed with caring for him. She felt old and invisible, had a meltdown at a grocery store and an argument with a good friend.

Marjorie stood up at a meeting and shared her frustration and heartache. She admitted that if she were new to AA, the things that were happening to her would have been a reason to call her sponsor, but she didn’t have one. She said, “Even an old-timer like me needs to remember that you can’t do this alone.”

All the other people at the meeting, most of whom had far fewer years of sobriety than Marjorie, were moved by her share. They weren’t frightened or upset to hear that a long-term recovering alcoholic was still struggling.

That is where AA has done an excellent job of getting an important message out there. Even people who are not alcoholics know that alcoholism is a life-long disease and an alcoholic will never be cured, but always will be in recovery.

Grief recovery has not evolved to that level of public awareness yet. We are still surprised that people grieve after years of survival. When I was new to the forum, in that detox stage, I would have panicked over a post from an 8-year survivor still suffering from grief.

No, grief is not a disease like alcoholism. Grief is UNIVERSAL. Not everyone on the planet will suffer from the disease of chemical dependency or alcoholism. But everyone will grieve, because no one lives forever. Every person will likely lose someone important to them at some point in their lives.

So, it is crucial that we realize that grief is a life-long recovery process. And that we are not afraid to ask for help, no matter how long we have been surviving, or how many people we have encouraged.

I need to realize that it’s OK to share. No matter how long I have survived or how many people I have “sponsored,” even an old-timer like me needs to remember that I can’t do this alone.

Triggers, from the profound to the mundane, will come along and a grief wave will wash over me. I will need to call my sponsor. I will need a meeting. I will need to raise my hand and say, “I am Shelby, and I am a survivor.”

Halloween is Coming

After my husband died, it was terribly hard to look at anything to do with Halloween. Even just driving to work I couldn’t avoid it all. We had enjoyed a mildly scary holiday with our children as they grew up, but in the aftermath of suicide, death had new meaning. I felt the decorated yards, gruesome costumes and other things were just cruel, and they caused me fresh pain. Many of you probably feel the same way right about now.

It has been eleven years, and I have two little grandsons now, ages 2 and 4. It seems easier this year. Most of what we do is related to the harvest time of year. But this weekend there were jack-o-lanterns with lopsided grins on the front steps again, fake spider webs draped along my walls, and superheroes handing out candy at “trunk or treat.” There was music and laughter and candlelight set against the first leaves changing colors. And cupcakes.

As I watched the cutest Wonder-woman and the kindest Hulk decorate their car trunk in the sunny field, a little Batman hoisted a super-size Batman balloon three times his size and carried it here and there. Spiderman climbed into the open hatchback and declared he wanted to give out the candy while his counterpart balloon settled on the grass and nodded sagely with the breeze.

Truth be told, he and little Batman ate quite a bit of the sweet stuff as they dropped great handfuls into bags and plastic pumpkins. But there they were, an Alliance of Four. Yet another sign that life would find a way to go on. They were continuing their daily routine, creating a family, which is their strongest superpower, adding adventure, tucking in memories around the corners, building trust and love and hope brick by brick.

They wore their real identities that day. Maybe no one else knew what superheroes they really are, but I did. How much it took to finish college when all seemed lost, how many times a text or call came in “just to check” on mom, what power had to be harnessed to raise little humans and go to work without sleep when going on had so many reminders of going back.

Going on is terribly hard for a while. A long while. But there is still a good life to be lived, just like there are still good memories. And those things like candlelight and music and cupcakes will be sweet again. At the center of our lives is still the one we lost. Always present. Always loved. Always an influence for good.

How do you go on?

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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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Imperceptible Change

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

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

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

Our brains are wired to store shocking information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronnie

When Survivors Discuss Suicide Prevention

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

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

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

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

The Original Question:

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

“It’s Too Simplistic”

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

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

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

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

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

“It Requires a Societal Effort”

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

“It’s Unsettling to Read”

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

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

“It Makes Me Angry”

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

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

In Summary … 

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

He Missed Her. I Missed Her. Nothing More to Understand.

Our cat and I were never “close” so to speak. He typically hung with “Moma” and followed her everywhere throughout the house. They were never apart. Any place she was, he was there as well. Losing her was something I’m sure was a great tragedy to him. It’s been nearly 8 weeks since she left us. He has spent most of his time in my closet, under my bed and sleeping on the patio when the evening was cool. I never really saw him cry but I’m sure he did. I’ve had that cat for over 10 years. He was never affectionate. He was never “lovey-dovey”, nor did he really want someone to pet him. My cold little watch cat.

Today, he seems different. Today he has jumped up on the couch and laid on my chest several times. His little nose drooled all over my shirt as he purred his way to sleep. I, couldn’t bring myself to move. I stayed there. Uncomfortable and wanting to turn to my side. I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. He was so at ease. Perhaps this was the first time he felt peace since she’s been gone. I’m not sure. When he would look up, I’d talk to him. “Miss her don’t you Tink? Me too.” We stared at each other as if we understood one another. He missed her. I missed her. Nothing more really to understand. We got it.

Strange but somehow, I am comforted by him. Kimmie taught me how to pet him. How not to “go against his fur” but rather brush downward towards his little tail. He liked that. Didn’t at all like my “man-handling.” I got it, Kimmie. I understand now and Tink and I are getting along just fine. Together, we sit on the couch. No TV. No radio. Just he and I — talking about and remembering you.

We miss you and wish you were here to brush his furry little coat again. His hair covers the floor in every room of the house. I know you wouldn’t care as that was your little buddy. Help me to care for him as you did Kimmie. 

Woody.

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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This New Life:  Treehouses

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

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

A hideaway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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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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Tips from Survivors: Finding Your Way

It’s been 4 years, 10 months and 3 days since John left. My world imploded and exploded simultaneously. I measure the time now by season changes, years and privately important dates. No longer months, weeks, days, hours and minutes. There was a time when I did not think that was possible. There was only before John died, and after.

In that time I have been broken, devastated, despairing, anguished, shameful, guilt ridden, heart and soul broken. With each piece of time passing I’ve really struggled to understand exactly what and where I am in this remarkable and thoroughly cruddy journey. No one should have to travel this path, but in truth there are far too many souls that have no choice.

In a moment of reflection today, I realized that ultimately what I have been, for the most part, is lost. I lost my love and truest of friends, I lost a family, a future, a past, a normal, a reality and a present. I lost my innocence, I lost my naivety, I lost my ability to be carefree. I lost my real smile, I lost my mind, I lost my life, in short – I lost myself.

I am a survivor of the consequence of suicide and so are you. I have come through this despite myself and a mostly unfair world around me. I did not come through it unscathed. I did not come through it without issues and baggage; I did not come through this as the same person I remember. I did however, get to this point. I’m aware that I’m not fixed. I am a work in progress. I’m aware that there are twists and turns still to be revealed. Most importantly, I have found that in being lost, I have been finding my way all along. I just didn’t know it.

Up until today – well about 2 hours ago, I was so quietly desperate to have a way out, I forgot I was finding my way out. I’ve been impatiently and harshly demanding answers from myself and the mostly invisible universe, for a way that ironically would not have been my own. So this I think is a path that we ignore or just don’t see within our grief and loss.

In loving, we became someone else mostly without realizing it, so without them, without the life and beliefs we knew – we spin and flounder. We lose ourselves completely. We are so focused on our loss of them and how we are to blame for it and how we wished we had known and done more, that we missed a big point. We also lost who we were, not just who we became with them. We evolved from our solitary selves into ourselves with others and now we are evolving again. It takes time, effort and will to evolve – things we feel are often in short supply.

If John were here now, he would say “Babe, so that probably wasn’t the best decision in hindsight and no, I had no idea that my decision would have such an enormous consequence for you, my family, and friends I didn’t even know I had. I can’t change it, sometimes I truly wish I could, but I can’t. I was lost. I didn’t know how to find my way out because I don’t think I really realized how lost I felt.”

I would offer, “My angel, we all get lost, we all get overwhelmed, we are all disillusioned that our dreams and hopes didn’t materialize as we had imagined, but we get there. Not always easily and not without struggle and pain of so many kinds but we get there. Step by step, knock by knock, moments of pure joy, moments of realizations, moments of different kinds of love and experience. Life is just a series of moments, they constantly change, they evolve, they retreat, they endear, and they destruct but they keep going regardless.”

John would reply, “Don’t waste more moments than you need to, in traveling this new path you did not choose, because my path is not yours. I will never leave you because you keep me with you. You have to be lost to find your way.” He had many moments of brilliance!

I share this with the new and old, the practiced and the novice. It’s okay to be lost. You are going from point A to point B, with only a partial map filled in by others and your own experience. No one can control or imagine what happens in getting to point B. You just have to keep that as the end point and keep following the route as it appears.

I think the entire point of life is to evolve and adapt to what’s in front of you – we do this with experience and learning. None of us have a life handbook – well if any of you do, please drop me a copy. I have found a lot of joy in far simpler things. I laugh. I cry with happiness. I cry with sadness. I feel. I hope. I dream. I have found a lot of peace in my heart and mind and I have found that I am strong enough to face myself and that is good enough.

I may not have found my purpose–may not have found all the solutions I am looking for–but because I now know I have been lost in this new “me”, in this new reality, that I am finding the way. We all find a way. It’s one dream to the next, one personal realization to another, one step, one day, one 10 minutes – it’s a string of small steps.

Take faith in knowing that we can and do survive ourselves and this arduous journey. At times we do it alone, at times we do it with those we love, with strangers, and with those we thought forgotten or lost to us.

Patience, time, reflection, objectivity, a little self-kindness, stamina, endurance and faith in our capability – these are the tools and skills we have to develop. We can only get those through experience.

May joy and peace find you in every dark corner fold or wrinkle, stitch your wounds and ease your pain. May these experiences make you invincible!

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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The Portable Ted

When my husband, Ted, died by suicide, a dear friend gave me a beautiful basket in which to keep all the things she knew I might want to keep. In that basket, among the cards and notes I received after Ted died, was the laminated ID he wore to work. The photo was a good likeness and looked just like he did when he went to work every day.

One day, after reading through the cards and notes again, I picked Ted up to take him with me. I ached to see his face again, and the little ID was the most “him” of all the recent photos I had. The ID had a clip on it, so soon Ted was clipped to the dashboard of my car – my “Portable Ted.”

He went everywhere with me, clipped to the dash, or clipped in my purse when I went to work. But clipped to the dash was where I talked to him. When it was a “good” day, a day when I missed him and wanted nothing more than to talk to him. Ted heard about how my day had gone, or how much he had meant to me and how enormous was my loss.

Then I reached the stage in my grief when I was angry. And the Portable Ted heard about that, too. There were the days when I asked him endless “whys.” And the days I swore at him like a sailor for leaving me, his son, and my daughter so bereft. Some days the anger was so great I threw him in the back seat and yelled at him. Some days it was beyond anger. It was rage. And he was locked in the glove box – me yelling at him from outside. There was even a period of months when he was locked in the trunk, a veritable Siberia of my rage and pain.

I can smile about this now, almost ten years later. But that little laminated photo helped me express all the overwhelming feelings I had after Ted’s suicide. It was a positive way to let go of the anger and pain, and a way to feel connected when talking to him on the “good” days. We all need to talk out those feelings and the Portable Ted gave me a way to do that.”

I Don’t Know Why

I don’t know why…

I’ll never know why…

I don’t have to know why…

I don’t like it…

I don’t have to like it…

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

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

The choice is mine.

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

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

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

That tragedy happened only to others…

But I know now that life is tenuous and valuable.

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

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

Another Season – Before Suicide Or After Suicide

This is the first day of Spring. I want to enjoy it. I want to feel again that life is good and that soft cuddly bunny rabbits do exist. I want to believe again that flowers are beautiful and smell wonderful. I want to feel and see that somehow, at least most of the time, life is good too.

I used to think of the calendar like everyone else, but now life is either B.S or A.S. I find myself caught between 2 worlds: Before Suicide or After Suicide — and ahead. an unknown frightening future where previous dreams and hopes were laid waste.

As the seasons change it reminds me that life has seasons also. That there is a time for everything under the sun. I was thinking of the poem Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and
A time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.”

Somehow I cling to the hope that I can have courage to live through the seasons of life and with your help, I can.

About the Author

From Our Forum

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 »

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