Be a Light in Someone’s Life – Donate Today!

Why are Therapists so Rarely Trained in Suicide?

Over the years, many suicide loss survivors have contacted the Alliance of Hope, searching for a counselor who understands the unique nature of their grief.  Some have told us that a counselor who helped them previously doesn’t know how to help now. This is not surprising because few graduate schools include suicide aftercare (or postvention) in their mental health curriculums and there is little continuing education in this area.

This lack of attention to the needs of suicide loss survivors has always occurred to me as a profound void in the arena of mental health support because the complex and traumatic nature of suicide catapults family and friends onto a challenging grief journey. In the initial aftermath, those closest are almost 10x more likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general public. They are also more likely to leave their jobs or drop out of school.

USA Today published an article that highlighted another crucial gap in support. Prevention campaigns urge suicidal people to seek treatment – yet most mental health practitioners have no formal training in how to work effectively with suicidal people.

Journalist Alia Dastagir wrote: “Suicide-specific training is not commonly offered as part of college curriculums, optional post-graduate training opportunities are limited, costly and time-consuming, and experts say some therapists may not be aware they even need the education.”

Dastagir points out that only nine states in the U.S. mandate training in suicide assessment, treatment, and management. Prominent organizations that accredit graduate programs in psychology and social work do not require specific competencies in suicide prevention.

Lacking training and experience in this area, many therapists feel lost. Some hesitate to take on suicidal clients, fearing they might say or do the wrong thing, that a client might attempt, that they might be blamed, or that they might be sued. Making things more challenging is the fact that there are few options available to therapists treating someone who is actively suicidal, other than sending them to an ER, or involuntary hospitalization – both of which are proving to have questionable outcomes.

Those of us who have already lost loved ones to suicide are keenly aware of the complexity and challenges associated with preventing suicide. We know that “noticing signs,” “calling an 800 number” or “getting a loved one into treatment” does not always work. Too many loss survivors have discovered that being in treatment or on medication, does not ensure suicide will be prevented. 

In her article, Dastagir cites experts who suggest that preventing suicide “requires a holistic approach that includes communities, families, educators and religious leaders working together. But society, they say, has placed the burden of caring for suicidal people on a mental health workforce woefully underprepared to help them.”

It is disconcerting to realize that those we rely on to help us and our loved ones may themselves feel lost, with little training, or few tools and resources to help. It is my hope, that in the coming decade there will be better training for mental health professionals, and greater emphasis on the importance of holistic support, so that we can help those who need it most.

Click here to read the full story: We tell suicidal people to go to therapy. So why are therapists rarely trained in suicide?

The 7 Lies Depression Tells

Grief is a normal reaction to losing something or someone that we love. It’s not a pleasant emotion. We hurt. We cry. We get angry. But eventually, we also heal.

Sometimes, grief transforms itself into something far more ominous: depression. Depression is a mental health problem that hijacks your brain and imitates your voice to fill your head with doubt, confusion, and lies – the same lies that our loved ones probably believed when they took their own lives.

If you’ve slipped into depression, watch out for these seven lies. Don’t take them at face value. They are not your mind talking but an illness that preys on the psyche just as cancer preys on the body.

Whenever these lies slink into your mind, fight them. Drag them into the light of reason and watch them crumble. Talk to loved ones who understand and who will support you. Reach out to your clergy, a therapist, a counselor, or a doctor. Don’t for one moment give in to the following, vicious untruths:

  1. You have always felt this way. Depression has no memory of the time before it existed. As far as it is concerned, this is your “normal” state. But you know better. Seek out happy memories. Look at pictures that make you smile or wear a favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you bought when you were feeling particularly good. If you can’t remember better times, ask others to remind you.
  2. You will always feel this way. Again, depression has no concept of a time when it will not exist. Fight this lie by doing small things that bring you pleasure – working in your garden, taking your dog for a walk, listening to music you love, or taking a relaxing bath or shower. These small acts of self-kindness will not cure your depression, but they will remind you that happiness is possible and is probably closer than you imagine it to be.
  3. Things can only get worse. Depression delights in terrifying us with catastrophic thoughts. Don’t get dragged in by this trick. Someone you love very deeply has just died by suicide. That’s probably one of the worst events you will ever go through in your life. If you lived through the event, trust that, slowly, your life will improve.
  4. You are worthless. This is a lie that we suicide survivors tend to believe wholeheartedly. After all, the depressed voice says, if we’d only been a better [friend, lover, parent, brother, child, etc.] our loved ones would still be alive. Baloney. The song, “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Misérables says it best: “There are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.” Sometimes, no matter how much you love someone and how much you do for them, you cannot give them the will to live. It’s tragic, it’s terrible, but it’s not your fault.
  5. Everybody would be better off if you were gone. Almost everyone who dies by suicide believes some version of this lie. “My friends won’t have to worry about me anymore.” “I won’t be an embarrassment to my family.” “I’d be doing everyone in my life a favor.” I have yet to meet a suicide survivor, however, who felt as if their loved one had done them a “favor” by ending their lives. Did your loved one do you a favor? Of course not.
  6. This pain is unbearable. Yes, the pain of losing a loved one to suicide is horrific, but it is not unbearable. You are bearing it, in fact, at this very minute, and you will continue to do so with the help of those who love you and care about you.
  7. The only way to end the pain is suicide. When you buy into this, you are stepping into a phenomenon known as “the suicidal trance.” From that moment on, you have tunnel vision … and at the end of that tunnel is relief from all your pain. But the tunnel vision is a lie. You do not need to end your life to end your pain. There are other options available. If you can’t think of any, call someone you trust and ask for help. Together, the two of you can probably come up with many solutions that don’t involve suicide.

We’ve always been taught to believe what our senses tell us, but when we are depressed, our senses and our thought processes are unreliable. Reach out to those you can trust until your depression lifts, and you can once again see clearly.

What I Learned from My Therapist’s Suicide

It was a typical morning on May 8, 1997. I woke up in the same black mood that I had been experiencing for the last eight months. I was in the midst of a severe depressive episode and was scheduled to go to my therapy group that day. Normally, my wife Joan would help me get ready and then drive me to the Pacific Counseling Center. This day, however, she took me aside and said, “We’re not going to day-treatment today. I have something I need to share with you.”

Joan took me by the hand and we went outside, walking down the tree-lined streets of Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. After we had gone a few blocks, she stopped and said, “Somebody you know has died. “

I thought about the many friends who were helping me through this horrible depressive episode. Could it be one of them? I asked Joan who it was.

She responded, “I’m sorry to bring you this bad news, but your therapist Anne has died.”

I was stunned to hear those words. Anne was a relatively young woman and as far as I knew in good health.

“Are you sure? How did she die?” I asked.

“She died by suicide,” Joan responded.

My first reaction was that of shock. How could this be? I knew that Anne had been severely depressed since the recent loss of her therapy job and the death of her father. But I didn’t realize that she was experiencing this depth of despair.

I hadn’t worked with Anne for nine months, but the memory of the three years I spent as a member of her therapy group was fresh in my mind. I started attending the group during a painful separation from my wife Joan. Over time, the group had become my new family. The five other members and I had become very close, and Anne was the glue that held us all together. I couldn’t imagine that she had left us. I was silent as I processed the many painful feelings I was experiencing. After a few minutes, Joan asked, “Are you okay?”

“I’m alright,” I replied. “I just need some time to think about this. I’m glad you prevented me from going to my therapy group today. I could not have focused on the group with all of this on my mind.”

As the day progressed, I thought about my memories with Anne and how helpful she had been. Then, I thought about all the times during this depressive episode that I had contemplated suicide to end my current torment.

Suddenly, I realized that Anne’s death was showing me a path I did NOT want to take. My survival instinct had become activated, and a voice within me called out, “I want to live.” I also considered the effect that my death would have on my friends and family; a trauma that could last for the rest of their lives. I knew that if I killed myself, they would not only be grief-stricken, but angry and feeling guilty as well. “Why drag my loved ones into my nightmare?” I thought. I remembered the words spoken to me by a friend, “Suicide doesn’t end the pain; it just passes it on.”

In the days ahead, I had new insights about Anne’s death. During her depression, she left Portland and moved to southern California to live with her daughter. Anne’s support system remained behind in Portland, making it difficult for her to connect with those of us who cared about her. I felt sad that she did not get the help she needed. Thinking about her isolation made me realize that I needed to reach out for more support in my own life.

Anne’s death brought about a determination to stay alive that was an important factor in helping me to survive my suicidal episode. After my recovery, I decided to take what I had learned through my depressive ordeal and use it to support others who were going through similar mental health crises. This led to the publication of my book Healing From Depression, the creation of my website, my depression recovery YouTube channel, and my website I developed the latter website to give people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts the hope that they will be able to recover from their ordeal and the tools to do so.

Anne’s life was tragically cut short. Yet, twenty-four years later I still think about the impact she had on my life. She guided me through a painful period and helped me to survive a difficult transition. This is why I dedicated my book Healing From Depression to Anne Zimmerman with these words: “Although you could not save yourself, your spirit lives on in the lives of those whom you loved and served.“

The Suicidal Trance

Richard A. Heckler, Ph.D. made a fascinating study of individuals who survived suicide attempts. In his book, Waking up, Alive, he described the decline toward suicide.

“As these stories unfold, we can identify critical components of the decline toward suicide. The stages of the descent are these: Pain and suffering remain unaddressed ….The person then withdraws behind a façade designed to protect himself or herself from further hurt and to cloak the suffering underneath. However, the façade only intensifies the slide toward a suicidal trance. Ultimately the trance narrows the person’s perspective until the only inner voices that can be heard are those that enjoin him or her to die. …

Early in the withdrawal phase, people still make some effort to stay in touch with the world and hope for at least some promise of better things. But when hope finally dies, people no longer see or hear anything outside their own minds – the tight spiral of thought that tells them to die. While this shift may occur just moments before a suicide attempt, it can be months or years in the making. A colleague of mine from Louisiana, an experienced therapist for many years, contemplated suicide for over a decade. She describes this mental state as “an almost totally separate reality, in which your world may not look or feel so limited and painful to anyone else, but it does to you. You enter a very powerful trance.”

During the latter stages of the descent, people lose faith that their predicament will ever change. Their strength is depleted and they are deeply stressed. Some people are never able to leave their chronically destructive surroundings. In other cases, there is just no one able or willing to push past their facades. In yet other instances, people are no longer able to recognize support when it is in fact available.

The trance is a state of mind and body that receives only the kind of input that reinforces the pain and corroborates the person’s conviction that the only way out is through death. The trance marks the moment at which the world becomes devoid of all possibilities except one: suicide.

According to Heckler, despite differences in detail, everyone who attempts suicide enters the suicidal trance.

Suicidal trances can be identified by certain common characteristics:

They appear extremely logical, with a premise and a rational series of arguments that encourage suicide as a reasonable response to pain. These arguments are powerful, especially when created by someone who has become emotionally deadened–whose reservoirs of faith, trust, and hope have run dry.

Suicidal trances appear as resignation. A person seems to stop caring at all about the state of his or her life. They are frustrating and frightening to family and friends: it seems as if there is no force strong enough to persuade the person to act on his or her own behalf.

Suicidal trances beckon. As the trance intensifies, it becomes more insistent that the person finally complete the act.

Finally, this type of trance includes a particular vision of the future: an illusion of eternity in which the future is projected as an endless repetition of the present pain and disappointment, never-ending and hopeless.”

A Matter of When

“It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.” These are the words that broke me. These words surfaced long before my brother ended his life. For years, I watched my brother – a lighthearted, smart, adventurous boy – disintegrate into someone I could no longer recognize. His mind took over his very being and, in the end, there was nothing to be done.

This wasn’t for a lack of trying. Not just for me or those closest to him, but for himself as well. Every holiday, every big celebration, and in all actuality, every moment of his life. He tried. His heart wanted to be with us. He wanted to see his family and friends. He wanted to be there. He wanted to work hard, find love, and settle down, but it wasn’t easy for him. He battled inner demons at every turn. Despite living hours away, he always made his best effort to be around. He constantly sent invites to join him for snowboarding or to take a simple 30-minute break to have ice cream together.

Valerie and Adam (AKA Georgie), Thanksgiving 2012

He came to every holiday, birthday, and graduation that he could. Yet, there was always a faint voice in the back of his head telling him he was unloved, that he would never amount to anything, and that he would never find himself where he wanted to be. For him, our family get-togethers quickly turned dark – often to the point he would want to disappear – and many times he did. We would find ourselves wondering where he was, only to realize he had just hopped in the car and left without a single goodbye.

The darkness and anxiety I speak of aren’t born of my own thoughts. These are the words and feelings he expressed to me. Thanksgiving night, two years before his fall, was the first time he told me of his intentions. He told me about his despair, his sadness, and the internal struggles he faced. He told me he had been considering ending his own life and that the only reason he couldn’t was that he was a coward. He told me that he knew he’d never do it because of his fear of what’s beyond …what’s after.

I tried to help. We all did – his family, friends, co-workers, and girlfriend. We all reached out and begged for him to find help, but in the end, the war that raged inside of him wasn’t going to end. Battle after battle after battle. It took its toll.

One by one family members came to me. “Val, we’ve done everything we can. Yes, there is a chance it will happen, but there is nothing more we can do to help.” My mom, my dad, my sister, my oldest brother. Everyone told me about the possibility. Not even of the possibility, but the inevitability. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a matter of when.

For many, suicide is preventable. It is born of traumatic events. The loss of work, family, or some other deeply saddening event or experience – and sometimes, we can help. Yet there are other times, that little can be done. Sometimes a person must help themselves but can’t or won’t. For some, it is premeditative and planned. It’s born of addiction, mental illness, and a combination of all life throws at you. Sometimes it’s thought about for years.

It hurts and breaks us to know the inevitable is coming and is out of our control. The long, slow trauma leaves us shattered in a million pieces, obsessing about “what ifs and if only’s” but sometimes, it’s not a matter of if. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of when. 

The Healing of Sorrow – When Someone Takes Their Own Life

In many ways, this seems the most tragic form of death. Certainly it can entail more shock and grief for those who are left behind than any other. And often the stigma of suicide is what rests most heavily on those left behind. Suicide is often judged to be a selfish act. Perhaps it is. But the Bible warns us not to judge … I believe this is one area where that Biblical command especially should be heeded.

I think our reaction should be one of love and pity, not of condemnation. Perhaps the person was not thinking clearly in his final moments; perhaps he was so driven by emotional whirlwinds that he was incapable of thinking at all. This is terribly sad, but surely it is understandable. All of us have moments when we lost control of ourselves, flashes of temper or irritation, of selfishness that we later regret. Each one of us, probably, has a final breaking point–or would have if our faith did not sustain us. Life puts more pressure on some of us than it does on others. Some people have more stamina than others. When I see in the paper … that dark despair has rolled over some lonely soul, so much so that for him life seemed unendurable, my reaction is not one of condemnation.

It is, rather, “There but for the grace of God…” and my heart goes out to those who are left behind because I know they suffer terribly. Children in particular are left under a cloud of “differentness” all the more terrifying because it can never be fully explained or lifted. The immediate family of the victim is left wide open to tidal waves of guilt. “What did I fail to do that I should have done? What did I do that was wrong?”

To such grieving persons I can only say, “Lift up your heads and hearts. Surely you did your best. And surely the loved one who is gone did his best, for as long as he could. Remember, now, that his battles and torments are over. Do not judge him, and do not presume to fathom the mind of God where this one of His children is concerned.”

A few days ago, when a young man died by his own hand, a service for him was conducted by his pastor, the Rev. Warren Stevens. What he said that day expresses, far more eloquently than I can, the message I’m trying to convey. Here are some of his words:

“Our friend died on his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed him. And it appeared that he lost the war. But did he? I see a host of victories that he has won!

“For one thing — he has won our admiration — because even if he lost the war, we give him credit for his bravery on the battlefield. And we give him credit for the courage and pride and hope that he used as his weapons as long as he could. We shall remember not his death, but his daily victories gained through his kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through his love for family and friends, for animals and books and music, for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember the many days that he was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, but the intensity with which he lived the years he had!

“Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul. But our consolation is that God does know and understands!”

Beyond Surviving: Working to Save Others


Governor Larry Hogan Signing Maryland's Extreme Risk Protection Orders Bill into Law

On April 24, Governor Larry Hogan signed Maryland’s Extreme Risk Protection Orders bill into law. It empowers family members, licensed health professionals and counselors, law enforcement, immediate relatives, lovers, guardians, and roommates to seek protective orders to remove guns for up to one year and possibly also an emergency psychiatric evaluation if an individual’s behavior signals they may harm themselves or others.

I asked my state delegate to introduce this bill in memory of my dad Edwin, 51 who shot himself in 1965 and my son Pete, 25 who did the same in 2012. Passage involved many hours with all sides at the table to craft a bill with strong due process protections that the NRA did not oppose. I gave this testimony before the House and Senate Judiciary committees:

My hope in speaking to you here today is that you will give families whose loved ones pose a danger to themselves or others one more way to save them. Over 250 Marylanders shoot themselves each year. Many of them signal their intent to die to their loved ones. Family members are on the front lines of this battle. We are often the first to see the warning signs.

People claim suicide is inevitable, that it is not preventable. I hear people say, “If someone is determined to kill themselves and you take away their guns, they will just find another way.” But that’s NOT what the research shows. Removing firearms is simple, quick, inexpensive and effective at saving many lives.

My father was an Army Master Sergeant who fought in WWII. In late August, 1965, my mother knew my dad was contemplating suicide. He went out and bought a handgun. He laid out his will and his life insurance policies. If there had been a way back then for my mom to have dad’s gun taken away, maybe he could have been saved long enough to get the help he needed. Instead, my mom raised us five kids, then ages 5 – 15 by herself.

I don’t know what demons my fathers succumbed to at age 51, nor do I judge him, but I know that his last act sent a shock wave that has reverberated throughout my family for over 50 years.

I was at work on a Friday morning in April, 2012 when a police officer called, asked my name and if I was Peter’s mother. He then asked, “Why would he do this?” I asked, “Do what?” He replied, “Shoot himself.”

Peter was just 25 years old. He’d graduated two years earlier from college with honors. He worked as an environmental scientist. He loved music, played soccer and hiked the Appalachian Trail with his brother and friends. With his girlfriend of five years, he’d recently bought a home which they quickly filled with pets. He bought a new car and then, for protection, he bought a handgun. Less than a year later, Peter wrote me and his girlfriend notes of love and apology, walked to the woods, called police and shot himself.

Maybe if my mom had been able to get a protective order, my dad would have set a better example for Peter to follow. He would have known it’s OK for a grown man to ask for help and get treatment for mental illness, just as he would for any physical illness.

I’ve noticed that many domestic violence abusers and mass shooters are known to be suicidal before they turn homicidal. Family members need this power to stop any escalation to lethal violence by removing guns from those in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Please give Maryland families one more chance than my family got to intervene and break the cycle of violence whose devastating effects can last for generations.

The MD Psychiatric Society, the MD chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, MD Sheriff’s Association and many other groups weighed in. Also informing these discussions:
–The 2017 American Bar Association Resolution 118B in support of these laws,
— University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy Vol. 36 Issue 2 Summer 2017 Mental Health Law 50+ page article on Gun Violence Restraining Orders
— Duke University’s Dr. Jeffrey Swanson and team’s 2017 study of the 18-year Implementation and Effectiveness of Connecticut’s Risk Based Gun Removal Law

This “red flag” bill gained traction with bipartisan support after Parkland’s mass shooting, the fatal shooting of a young teen girl at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland by an ex-boyfriend, and that of an off duty police officer killed when he intervened in a domestic assault by a man known to be violent.

Maryland’s law is a model for other states. Most states’ laws currently do not consider danger to self as justification for a protection order, only danger to others can result in firearm removal. Since 1999 in Connecticut, risk warrants have been used most often for suicide prevention which is not surprising since most gun deaths in the US are suicides. In case this could help you in your state, here is a copy of the final enrolled bill. A clean copy won’t be available until it’s added to the Annotated Code of Maryland.

No one thing can save everyone from suicide, but this law will save many. People need to know that access to a gun and ammunition triples the risk of suicide. Asking two questions: “Are you thinking of suicide?” and “Do you have access to a gun?” could make all the difference. Gun safety practices and laws that keep loaded firearms away from minors and suicidal adults have proven effective at reducing the terrible toll suicide takes.

A Navy veteran, Dorothy Paugh lost her father to suicide as a young girl. In 2012, her middle son followed in his footsteps. She can be reached at

The Journey: Two Years and Counting

Oddly I’m feeling him close to me again recently. Only this time it feels different. This time it feels like he is encouraging me and urging me on. Seems to be wanting me to know that he was sick and didn’t mean the things he said and did. Lots of subtle signs, special songs and just the way the parts of the universe come together sometimes. God, I don’t want to let go of him and what we once had! I know I have to move on–and I am–but it still hurts. It’s been so long it almost seems surreal to think that he was really here with us. I’m truly grateful for the occasional dream that let’s me live in my fantasy land for a bit.

The further I get from the chaos that was our final two years (of fifteen) together, the more I realize just how abnormal it all was. Just how serious his mental illness was. I cry when I think of the pain and turmoil he was in. I cry when I think of the mistakes I made along the way. I take comfort in knowing that he is resting now and finally at ease.

Once again, it’s time to reevaluate my life. I have been staying so constantly busy that I just haven’t found the time to go through most of his things. I have a million excuses for not facing this head on. It’s time to stop waking up in a bedroom that looks like he still lives here (guitar propped in the corner, clothes in closet, hat hanging on the door, his books on the nightstand). He doesn’t live here anymore but he will always live in my heart. I hope he knows how much I love him, that I forgive him and will NEVER forget him. I pray he forgives me too.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

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

2 Comments on The Journey: Two Years and Counting

The Journey: A Letter to Ellie on her Birthday

Dear Ellie,

A few months ago while chatting with your dad we discussed how we might commemorate the fifth anniversary of your death this year. It is a very difficult time for us as it comes just four days after your birthday. Oh how painful and almost unendurable that is for us now, to have the day of your birth mixed with the horror and pain of your death by suicide all in the same week in May. Oh Ellie, can all of this really have happened to us?

The day of your birth was the happiest day in our life up to that point. Oh what joy to be blessed with such a precious and treasured gift. Your arrival brought us such joy and made us so happy, you were so beautifully perfect and I could not believe we could be so happy.

The memory of it, that day of your birth still shines out like a precious jewel gleaming in brilliance, it’s hues never fading with time, 32 years ago now exactly. As I lay in the hospital bed that morning unable to move without wincing in pain after childbirth but so mesmerized by the tiny perfection of you in the cot beside my bed. Days later we got home and I can still remember Dad dancing around the house with you in his arms and sitting gazing in cooing adoration in total awe at you. You Ellie our beautiful first born treasured baby.

It was inconceivable back then that in the same week in the month of May we would lose you. Ripped from the safety of our embrace in such a violent manner that it would take part of us your parents with you. Your death by suicide took us out at the knees and we have been crawling our way forward painfully through each day since. Losing the will to live at first but keeping each other up and going forward together for the sake of your brother who we cherish more than life itself now.

You were sick, I know and tried so hard to stay with us. I know you stayed as long as you could and you did the best you could to cope with it and to live. But you were overcome by it, overwhelmed and unable to go on. You died because of your illness and it is not just physical illness that can be terminal, no your mental illness proved to be terminal and it overcame you. You died by suicide Ellie but it was mental illness that killed you.

Dad suggested recently that we would focus on your birthday this year and celebrate it as the joy it was. That was not a new idea to me as I had made the same effort in recent years but on each occasion it ended up with us sitting miserably unable to even talk around a restaurant dinner table. But I was willing to try again.

I organized an early morning mass in the Franciscan friary for you, we got up at 6.30 am and attended the mass remembering what joy you brought to our lives and what happiness we enjoyed as a family when you and your brother were young children. I also cried that you are no longer with us.

We then visited your grave and lit a candle there and recalled how you loved candles. I also recalled the occasions I feared a house fire and that we might burn to death in our beds as we slept as you often fell asleep before quenching the candle on your bedside table. Dad then wanted a celebratory breakfast so we bought pastries. We got home and cooked bacon and eggs, I lit a candle at your place at the table and we enjoyed our breakfast together remembering all the joy you brought to our lives.

Last night we went out to dinner in memory of your birthday to continue the celebration. Your brother was unable to come home this weekend so he was not with us, but we did not let that deter us. We went to a lovely restaurant on the banks of the river and sat out on the riverside terrace in the early evening sunshine and watched the river flowing serenely by, with the odd duck or two.

Dad surprised me by wanting to bring your photo to place on the restaurant table with us, I say this because in the early days of our loss he could not bear to see any photos of you around the house. This was too much for me to do though as I did not trust myself not to break down in public and ruin the occasion. Anyway it all went very well indeed. We had a beautiful meal followed by dessert and a few drinks. We recalled the good times we had with you and how wonderful you were and how kind and loving you were to us.

We also mentioned the bad times which were as a result of your illness, the times when your behavior was so difficult for us all. There were many such times when we could not have any family celebration at all without it being ruined by your behavioral problems. We acknowledged that those were of course as a result of the mental disorder you suffered from and battled so hard. It was not a decision you made. No one in their right mind chooses to behave like that. We did shed tears and bemoaned the fact that mental illness does not enjoy the same credentials as physical illness and is not taken seriously with regard to its ability to be terminal for some.

We lamented the stigma of mental illness in a society that labels those who struggle without acknowledging the overwhelming challenges they face on a daily basis because they do not look obviously in pain. Had you suffered those years with a physical illness that took you in and out of hospital the way your mental illness did we all would have received sympathy from those around us in a different way and that hurts me so much still.

I realize now that in your case medication for depression and anxiety did not work. It mostly swapped one set of problems for another. This I believe is why you chose alcohol and smoking in an effort to cope. This form of self-medicating caused even more erratic behavior and had you judged as just badly behaved. The stigma of suicide has clung to us in the most surprising and unsuspecting places. We have been shunned by some and insulted by others in their ignorance and blindness.

As I heal from the agony of this devastating loss I have come to a better understanding of your illness and death. I know it was as a result of a disorder and not a decision, no one in their right mind decides to die.

Overall Ellie this week in May has been easier to bear this year. We celebrated your birthday like never before and marked the anniversary a few days later by a grave visit to light a candle and bring you flowers. Yes, we miss you very much and wish you were still with us. But now, we can remember the good times with love and carry you with us every day in our hearts.

With all my love to you Ellie on your birthday,


About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

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

5 Comments on The Journey: A Letter to Ellie on her Birthday

Remembering Amy Bleuel – Her Story Will Live On

There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It is why you were born and how you become most truly alive” ~Oprah

This week, I was saddened to learn of the death of Amy Bleuel, founder of the Semicolon Project. Amy was a survivor of the suicide of her father, who ended his life when she was 18. She understood both the pain of loss and the challenge of life-long depression. She was plagued with suicidal thoughts most of her life.

Amy’s compassion and commitment to encouraging others –and her desire to end stigma, struck a chord in the hearts of millions of people across the globe. Her first social media call out was simple:

“On April 16, 2013 everyone who self-harms, is suicidal, depressed, has anxiety, is unhappy, going through a broken heart, just lost a loved one, etc. draw a semicolon on your wrist. a semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended, but chose not to. the author is you and the sentence is your life. Repost and tag to #semicolonproject416”

It’s estimated that millions of people have gone on since then, to share photos of semicolons –drawn or tattooed on their bodies.

When I think about Amy’s short life, it becomes clearer than ever that how we live our life –what we do with the time we have allotted –matters. The world has been changed by Amy’s efforts to erase the stigma that surrounds mental illness and to let those who suffer know they are not alone. Amy ended her life, but her message lives on.

As I grow older, I become more anchored in the belief that each of us brings something very special to the planet: something intrinsically us –a soul imprint or signature contribution –commitments and capacities so familiar we take them for granted. It’s just who we are and what we do. Amy’s death –and her life –remind me to how few days on this planet we really have –and what an opportunity it is to make a difference.

Suicide – When Someone is Too Bruised to be Touched

A few days ago, I was asked to visit a family who had, just that day, lost their 19-year-old son to suicide. There isn’t much one can offer by way of consolation, even faith consolation, at a moment like this, when everyone is in shock and the pain is so raw. Few things can so devastate us as the suicide of a loved one, especially of one’s own child. There is the horrific shock of losing a loved one so suddenly which, just of itself, can bring us to our knees, but with suicide there are other soul-wrenching feelings, too: confusion, guilt, second-guessing, religious anxiety. Where did we fail this person? What might we still have done? What should we have noticed? What is this person’s state with God?

What needs to be said about all of this: First of all, that suicide is a disease and the most misunderstood of all sicknesses. It takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack. Second, those left behind need not spend undue energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed, and what we might still have done to prevent the suicide. Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death. God loved this person, too, and, like us, could not, this side of eternity, do anything either. Finally, we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets this person on the other side. God’s love, unlike ours, can go through locked doors and touch what will not allow itself to be touched by us.

Is this making light of suicide? Hardly. Anyone who has ever dealt with either the victim of a suicide before his or her death or with those grieving that death afterwards knows that it is impossible to make light of it. There is no hell and there is no pain like the one suicide inflicts. Nobody who is healthy wants to die and nobody who is healthy wants to burden his or her loved ones with this kind of pain. And that’s the point: This is only done when someone isn’t healthy. The fact that medication can often prevent suicide should tell us something.

Suicide is an illness, not a sin. Nobody just calmly decides to end their life and burden his or her loved ones with that death any more than anyone calmly decides to die of cancer and cause pain. The victim of suicide (in all but rare cases) is a trapped person, caught up in a fiery, private chaos that has its roots both in his or her emotions and in his or her bio-chemistry. Suicide is a desperate attempt to end unendurable pain, akin to one throwing oneself through a window because one’s clothing is on fire.

Many of us have known victims of suicide and we know, too, that in almost every case that person was not full of ego, pride, haughtiness, and the desire to hurt someone. Generally, it’s the opposite. The victim has cancerous problems precisely because he or she is wounded, raw, and too-bruised to have the necessary resiliency needed to deal with life. Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide know that the problem is not one of strength but of weakness; the person is too-bruised to be touched.

I remember a comment I over-heard at a funeral for a suicide victim. The priest had preached badly, hinting that this suicide was somehow the man’s own fault and that suicide was always the ultimate act of despair. At the reception afterward, a neighbor of the victim expressed his displeasure at the priest’s homily: “There are a lot of people in this world who should kill themselves,” he lamented bitterly, “but those kind never do! This man is the last person who should have killed himself because he was one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met!” A book could be written on that statement. Too often it is precisely the meek who seem to lose the battle, at least in this world.

Finally, I submit that we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide. God, as Jesus assures us, has a special affection for those of us who are too-bruised and wounded to be touched. Jesus assures us too that God’s love can go through locked doors and into broken places and free up what’s paralyzed and help that which can no longer help itself. God is not blocked when we are. God can reach through.

And so our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide are now inside of God’s embrace, enjoying a freedom they could never quite enjoy here and being healed through a touch that they could never quite accept from us.

I Forgive Her – I Forgive Her Everything

I have felt anger at my daughter for not reaching out to me, for downplaying her distress and her obvious (now) lies to me. But what I see is a mixed-up young girl, who loved her mother and hated upsetting her. I think she felt she could deal with it on her own and I think the lies she told were, in her mind, to protect me. She absolutely hated being the cause of my upset. And she got it wrong, she was too young to sort it out herself, she didn’t have the mental skills, she didn’t have to protect me. And I believe she wasn’t really serious until she did it. I think in her mind it was something she thought about often but never actually got around to doing anything about it. So why tell Mum? She didn’t know that thoughts can escalate to action in just a matter of minutes. She made a terrible mistake and paid for it with her life, she couldn’t cure herself, and she certainly didn’t end up protecting me. But I forgive her, I forgive her everything. She was my little lamb and she got lost.

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 »

1 Comment on I Forgive Her – I Forgive Her Everything