Today's your birthday,
and I'm thinking about everything you've done for me...
throughout our lifetime together and since your heartbreaking
Yes, I know you're still around... and yes, I know you harbor deep regret. I do too.
Yet, in spite of this despair, I believe we both deserve forgiveness... especially from ourselves.
I don't believe God awaits you in judgement, but with open arms... longing to reignite your Divine Light with love so you can shine brightly again.
You deserve to move on, and I'm sorry for any part I've played in holding you back.
Run to that Light so you can finally soar ....I long to see you happy and at peace.
I'll be here watching and waiting.
As a trauma and traumatic loss survivor I've spent a lot of time grieving, but nothing could've prepared me for the fallout following my sister’s suicide.
I struggled to stay alive inside that desolate grief space, even after surviving two suicide attempts of my own and twice witnessing the wreckage of both my sisters’ traumatic and unexpected deaths.
After all I’d put my family through in the past and everything I’ve experienced since, how in the world could I consider checking out... again?
It was the pain.
Within seven months of my sister's suicide, my marriage dissolved and I was once again a single parent.
To make matters worse, I had to draft and file the paperwork myself because we couldn't afford attorneys. This was my lowest point and, for awhile, I feared might have a nervous breakdown or end up hospitalized.
I didn't, though. I forged on, one moment at a time, and cared for my kids as best I could and vowed to honor myself and the pain of the loss, in every way possible.
The following are five tips which saved my sanity and, very possibly, my life.
I hope some of these support you as well.
1. PEOPLE WON'T KNOW HOW TO SUPPORT YOU. ALWAYS VALIDATE YOURSELF.
Platitudes. Oh, the platitudes...
People fear grief and loss so, when approaching someone in significant pain, they often fumble in their attempts to offer helpful consolidation.
To make matters worse, suicide is still stigmatized, so survivors are often guilted, blamed or shamed for their losses, either overtly or covertly.
This, of course, only adds insult to injury and is completely unfair. Unfortunately, it tends to be the norm for suicide loss survivors, so make a promise to yourself: Grieve authentically, in spite of ignorance, and don't allow anyone to judge or dictate when your time of mourning "should" be over (especially you).
Grief, when honored and companioned, can actually bring lost loved ones closer, and validating your own experience is the first step to empowerment.
You aren't to blame for your loss, and you don't ever have to "let go" of or "get over" it either. You likely won't anyway.
Grief is only proof you dared to love, and love isn't something from which people "recover."
Love is yours to keep...
so keep it close, nurture, and cherish it.
Forget about moving on, and concentrate instead on connecting to this love in its new form and, by all means...
take your sweet time.
This isn't a race and there is no finish line. You're still in a relationship, albeit a different and altered one. This time, though, you can make it whatever you want it to be.
2. YOUR BODY KNOWS HOW TO HEAL: FOLLOW ITS LEAD.
Nobody knows what you need more than you do. You live in your body, and now is the perfect time to gently and mindfully follow its lead.
Grief requires lots of quiet solitude, so use this time to rest and reconnect, with yourself and your lost loved one.
You might need more sleep, or need to nap during the day because you're unable to sleep at night. Follow your body.
If it wants to sob and shake, don't resist. If you feel enraged, go ahead and scream, smack a floor pillow with a plastic bat, or throw some old dishes into a garbage can and listen to them shatter. (This is strangely satisfying.)
Honor your body's specific requests.
It knows exactly what it's doing, and it will lead you, slowly and eventually, to a place of healing and relief.
Be sure to eat (something) throughout the day, and drink a lot of water. Grieving requires stamina and energy, and this will help you go the distance.
3. SILENCE CAN BE DEADLY: GRIEVE OUT LOUD.
The more you hold back, push down, or minimize your grief, the more you'll become prone to depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts.
It isn't mainstream knowledge, but the people most at risk of attempting suicide are suicide loss survivors trying to navigate the wreckage.
If you've made past attempts, lost other family members to suicide, or battle depression or unresolved trauma, you're at even greater risk, so take this very seriously.
The body desperately needs to express itself and suicide grief hurts. Give yourself permission to mourn like a superhero!
Give voice to the good, the bad, and the ugly, and bring all of your feelings to life. Make them BIG.
Share them out loud with someone you trust (and also your lost loved one) and/or write them all down on paper, uncensored.
Don't minimize, hold back, or purposely omit anything. Tell your story and tell it often. Repeatedly hearing your own suicide loss story while communicating the feelings associated with it (especially fear, betrayal, and anger) will eventually help you integrate the loss.
Express yourself creatively if you feel led and your energy allows. Sometimes words alone don't do our feelings justice.
Get it all out. You feel that internal pull for a good reason. Again, follow the prompts of your body.
4. THE GRIEF JOURNEY IS LONELY: MAKE YOUR CONNECTIONS COUNT.
Unfortunately, suicide grief is heavy and messy, and it's a road we must ultimately walk alone.
No one can know exactly what you're going through, and it can been exhausting trying to explain yourself and your feelings to others.
People might drop out of your life after suicide loss, and it isn't uncommon to lose family members too. Everyone and everything is reorganizing around the loss, and this can be one of the most difficult and painful parts of the grief journey.
Guard your heart and steer clear of people and things which might drain or upset you, especially negative media, toxic people, and anyone who tries to minimize your experience.
Your energy is probably at an all time low now, and nothing will deplete it faster than exposure to another's anger, fear mongering, and/or anything even potentially upsetting.
Choose wisely, and spend time with others who accept you and your current reality without trying to rescue or fix it.
You aren't sick, and you don't need fixing. You're grieving, and you only need to be seen, heard, and validated.
Supportive people might be hard to find, but they're out there. I found many online through coaching and support groups. Be relentless in your search, and connect with those who help you feel safe, accepted, and connected.
Connection is the key to survival.
5. ACCEPT YOUR CURRENT REALITY AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, EVEN THOUGH IT SUCKS.
I know the "why's" are killing you, and you're beating yourself up for words said and unsaid, missing "the signs," or not being more supportive.
You did your best in the moment, and beating yourself up won't bring your loved one back. Trust me, it's also the quickest route to your own demise. We can't change the past, no matter how often we replay it.
Your loved one made a split decision and didn't ask for your permission. You didn't get to choose or say goodbye.
You’ve been shaken like a snow globe, and now you're doing all you can to survive this experience. Give yourself a break. Give yourself a lot of breaks.
Don't expect to keep up with things as you did before your loss. Your body and brain are processing and integrating, and it will take a significant amount of time to feel any sense of normalcy again.
Go easy, and above all else, let go of anything not completely necessary for survival. (The cleaning? It can wait.)
I know it's difficult, but ask for help with chores you can't do now. Solicit child care so you can have blocks of time when nobody needs you. (Schools, churches, and work friends might know of people who can help.)
Give yourself permission to grieve, in your own way, and for however long it takes.
You didn't ask for this and you didn't deserve it either.
You deserve to live the rest of this life on your own terms and in your own way.
You get to decide now what that life will look like going forward.
I know our experiences are different and if you've lost a parent, child, or spouse, my pain in no way rivals yours. I get that.
Still, within this vast and lonely wilderness, I hope you feel a quiet kinship anyway and know, without a shadow of a doubt...
you always have a silent partner in me.
After receiving news of my sister’s suicide, I hissed an angry message into my mother’s answering machine. (I later made an amends.) Shortly after I hung up, I had a very strong impulse to harm myself. It came out of nowhere and rattled me. I knew I’d be wise to get outside support as soon as possible (and I did, the day after I returned from the memorial).
I’ve come to learn it’s normal for loss survivors to think about ending their lives, because they’re longing to be with their loved ones. However, suicide loss survivors attempt more often because of the stigma (shame, guilt, and blame) associated with suicide itself.
According to the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, losing any first degree relative to suicide increases the mourner’s chance of suicide by about threefold. That’s a scary reality.
I’m hoping to shed some light on a dark topic to help you better understand what suicide loss survivors need in order to effectively process their grief and move forward.
Allow me to begin with a story...
I attended a picnic one Sunday afternoon, within about three weeks of my sister’s suicide death.
I was sitting alone (I didn’t know the other guests) and I was content to watch the boats on
the water without feeling obligated to make small talk with strangers I’d never see again. It was
a nice afternoon and it felt good to be sitting outside in the sun. I was there, present, and very
grateful not to have to cook that day. I’d already spent some time conversing with my friends,
so this quiet time to myself was a soothing respite. I’d made the effort to attend the picnic and
I thought it was going pretty well, all things considered.
After about an hour or so my friend Steve came over to the table and told me I needed to
“smile because I was bringing everyone down.” (Nobody there knew me or anything about me.
They were busy chatting among themselves and having a good time.) I looked at him
surprised, wondering why he was acting as if I’d been sitting there wailing and drawing
attention to myself.
I flatly stated, “Steve, I just lost my sister. I might not be whooping it up at this particular moment, but I’m here and having a nice time. I’m not crying. I haven’t even brought it up. I’m just sitting here quietly enjoying the weather.” He then informed me I needed to “get over it,” and that I was “depressing.” Stunned, I told him I wasn’t willing to act fake to make him feel more comfortable.
That was a strangely empowering moment for me, and I learned a few helpful things at the same time:
I was aware Steve’s discomfort had nothing to do with me personally.
He simply reacted to his own discomfort regarding my loss and wanted me to act as if
it never happened so he could feel better again.
Some people just can't to deal, and that’s okay, but I need to express myself in a genuine way, so I do.
I took responsibility for my experience that day by telling Steve I wouldn’t put on a fake face to make him feel better. Steve ultimately took care of his by walking away. Understandable, yes, but not at all helpful to a friend grieving a suicide loss.
So… how can people support loss survivors effectively without wigging out or walking away?
Here are ten suggestions for more sustainable connections:
1. Allow them to grieve in their own way and in their own time.
Grief knows no timelines. It’ll take as long as it takes, and you can’t rush or control it. Doing so will only silence and isolate the survivor. Grief isn’t an illness, it’s a process. Most people eventually adjust to their loss. Allow them their own unique experience.
2. Ask them if they want or need to talk about it.
Some will and some won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. For those who will, repeating their suicide loss story again and again and saying the word ‘suicide” will eventually help the survivor accept and integrate their loss. BE PATIENT. This takes some time.
3. Listen without judgement and validate their feelings.
Suicide loss survivors can experience some volatile emotions which can surprise and disturb even them, so don’t be alarmed. This is natural and normal. All feelings need to be heard to heal, especially the most difficult ones. Paraphrasing and restating the survivor’s emotions is validating. Feelings left unaddressed or invalidated tend to eventually become problematic. Don’t be scared of silence; you don’t have to fill in the gaps. Silence helps a survivor integrate so don’t pressure yourself. Sit and be silent.
4. They will be different: Don’t expect them to “get back to normal.”
Parts of the survivor died when their loved one did, so they’ll never be quite the same. Understand they take on lots of guilt. Remind them suicide is a solitary act, and they didn’t live between their loved one’s ears. The mind is a private and personal world, and we’re not able to watch over people 24/7.
Don’t pepper survivors with questions or blame them for “missing the signs.”
Always, always respect their wishes and their limits.
5. Be genuine and avoid platitudes.
You can’t and won’t ease their pain, so don’t even try. Survivors can smell B.S. a mile away, so make sure your intentions are pure if you decide to connect. Expressions such as, “Time heals all wounds,” “He/She’s in a better place,” “It was God’s will,” or “He/She wouldn’t want you to be sad,” are not helpful.
It’s better to say, “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
If you put your foot in your mouth, you can always remove it, apologize, and try again. (I’ve done this many times. It’s really okay.) If you really don’t know what to say or are scared to approach them, say a prayer or set an intention instead.
We can always do something to support a loved one in pain.
Above all, be kind and respectful.
6. Offer to be of service.
Offer to help with regular household tasks like, cooking, laundry, lawn care, shoveling, child care, rides to and from school events or activities, etc.
Suicide grief is exhausting and overwhelming. People often don’t know what they need, so it’s best to offer something specific or give them some options. If you can’t help in practical ways but know someone else who can, ask on behalf of your loved one.
Never ask a survivor to “call if they need anything.” I guarantee you they won’t.
7. Ask specific questions about their lost loved one.
Not everyone will be willing to talk initially, but the ones who do will appreciate the opportunity.
Survivors don’t want their loved ones to be remembered for the way they died. They want them to be remembered for the way they lived when they were well. Telling personal stories can initiate healing and keep loved ones alive.
8. Take care of your own unresolved feelings: Don’t make it about you.
It isn’t fair to put a survivor in caretaker mode when they’re already in a black hole of shock and despair. Resist the urge to tell your sad stories now. If their loss has in any way triggered anything unresolved in you, find someone (else) to confide in so they don’t feel the need to hold back or rescue you.
Supporting others grieving a suicide loss can be painful and draining, especially if you tend to absorb the feelings and emotions of others. Take breaks and honor yourself. None of this is easy, and you’re a rock star for showing up!
9. Check in on a regular basis.
Let them know you love them and they matter to you.
This journey is long and hard and sometimes continued strength can be hard to muster. Words of love, acceptance, and encouragement can go a very long way. No eloquence required; just speak from your heart.
10. Direct them to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Survivor Outreach Program.
Even if they aren’t initially ready for peer support, they might be relieved to know there are resources available for the future. Nothing is more healing than genuine connection with others who’ve been there, and it might be the only confirmation they aren’t totally alone in their experience.
You can also contact your local health department for support groups and other mental health resources.
Survival is serious business and, in all honesty, it takes a small village to heal after suicide loss.
So, remember to show up for your loved one with kindness, compassion, and patience.
When in doubt ask a specific question, offer to help with a task or chore, or simply say a prayer.
Serve others in alignment with your natural strengths. If you’re a good listener, listen. If you love to do acts of service, do some manual labor. If you happen to have money, give some to the family.
Remember to stay connected because grief is ongoing, and your loved one will need help for awhile. Understand survivors carry lots of guilt and blame, so they’ll need perspective to release it.
Together, we will always be stronger.
Together, we can recover from unspeakable tragedy.
Together, we can learn to love each other, and ourselves, better.
Together, we can heal and come back to life.
My youngest daughter asks the universe for butterflies as confirmation she's in alignment with her life's plan. (She's very connected.)
She recently returned from California and told me she'd seen butterflies everywhere.
Late last week as we were driving home from running errands, she pointed a butterfly on a car bumper in front of us. Huh!?!
I was thinking only about live butterflies at the time, and felt suddenly sad to be stuck in the dark days of the typical mid-western winter, which made finding rainbows (a sign my sisters are around) extremely rare.
I told my daughter I felt disconnected and lonely lately, and I hadn't seen any sign of rainbows in awhile.
Her immediate response was (of course), "Mom! Why don't you ask for them?" (duh.) So, I did.
Within the next several days I saw three rainbow emojis.
A few showed up in Facebook comments, one of which had two in the same post (one from each sister), one was heart shaped with two hands reaching up to the sky just like my book cover, and the last one was in a pic my friend took next to the Golden Gate Bridge. (She wasn't even going to show me the picture, because she feared it would upset me. I did cry when I saw it, but for an entirely different reason.)
Every one of these signs came from someone dear to me; someone who's somehow supported my suicide loss journey.
NONE of this was coincidental, and it all reminds me that we're inextricably connected whether we're aware of it or not.
So, if you're mourning today, I encourage you to ask for a sign from your loved one and, as you wait for it, keep in mind it might not show up in ways you automatically expect.
There are no limitations. Not really.
Keep an open mind and see what happens.
I'm lucky... I have a daily reminder (my daughter) that limitations are lies of the mind. (Hence my business name, No Parameters).
She reminds me to keep asking and looking and, almost every day, I see how these little "miracles" naturally appear in her daily life, just because she's open to them.
So, try to remain open, my friends, even when it hurts like hell and your mind tries to tell you miracles aren't real.
You just never know what today might bring.
Now and then life decides to slow us down at seemingly random times. These breaks aren't always pleasure trips, though. More often than not, they're uncomfortable... even painful... and sometimes we actually manifest physical or emotional dis-ease to render us still enough to actually learn our lessons.
In November, life decided I needed to slow to a screeching halt again.
After writing my first book, promoting the e-book, publishing on Amazon, creating awareness, and co-chairing my second suicide prevention walk (I did this all in the previous six months),
I found myself feeling strangely anxious and depressed.
Don't misunderstand, 2018 was an amazing year of growth and opportunity for me, and I'm unbelievably grateful for the support I received every step of the way.
I made new friends, did some traveling, and even ran my first workshop! I did things I only dreamed of doing in my younger years, and these new ventures helped me to grow.
But... they also terrified me. Every last one of them.
You see, I've been programmed to stay quiet and small while keeping the peace and sacrificing my needs and happiness because... well... that's what "good" mothers (and world champion co-dependents) are programmed do. But, for seven months I stopped doing all of that... and I got an awful lot done... until grief reared it's head again.
This time, though, I was grieving different losses: the loss of my marriage and the loss of my old small self.
I couldn't fully process my divorce as it was happening, because I was knee deep in grief after losing my sister to suicide. My system was already on overload. No matter, though. Grief waited with the quiet patience of a Zen Buddhist until it found an opening... and then, once again, we stood eye to eye.
And so it goes...
and so I went...
down the rabbit hole of sadness, anxiety, anger, and...
depression. (She sighs.)
This November marked two years since my divorce was final. Two years? Already? I have no idea where that time went or how I even managed at this time two years ago. The mind has ways of protecting us during strenuous times and, apparently, it's done its job very well.
My ex has moved on, as I suspected he would, and I'm moving on, too, in my own way, although I'm not interested in getting into a new relationship now. I'd like to repair the one I have with myself first, as this relationship has been in desperate need of need fixing for a very long time.
Thankfully, I've recognized my dysfunctional relationship patterns and, of course, I've connected them directly back to my childhood experiences. This time, though, I've gathered "new" revelations, with which I will now enlighten you. (Prepare to be shocked. Not.)
My chosen partners mirrored every one of my insecurities, and I expected them to love, support, and accept the parts of me I disowned. When they eventually reflected my lack of self-love back to me, I became understandably angry and resentful. (How dare they not love and support me in a way I refuse to love and accept myself! Those...... men!)
Every one of those relationships was built on lack, and that's precisely why they didn't survive.
I should've filed for divorce the moment I signed the marriage license(s). Yikes.
These relationships were perfect examples of what (the book) A Course in Miracles refers to as "special" relationships. (Unconscious partnerships where people attempt to "steal" what they believe another person, organization, or thing has in order to fill a personal void.) Bingo! That's exactly what I did.
These relationships were trying to show me all along who I really needed love and support from was me.
No mistake and no coincidence. My marriages were meant to play out exactly as they did (for my highest evolution). If you've read Wake Me from the Nightmare, you know this is a repeat of words I've already written but it felt, when they hit me this time, like I'd heard them for the first time.
Back to the proverbial drawing board... and back to energy healing, rest, and self-partnering practices.
Yes, the truth hurts but it does, indeed, set you free.
It's been a couple months of processing, and I've got my see legs back (pun intended). I've also been reminded that although I can't really control much of anything in this life, I can control my own actions and the way I perceive this journey.
So, no more self-flagellation, thank you very much. I'm choosing love over fear this time.
Grief continues to teach me valuable lessons and, although it takes some time to bounce back, I keep coming back, and that's the important thing.
I know self-awareness is a practice, and if I can stay in the moment as often as possible and follow the guidance of grief and my Inner Healer all will, most certainly, be well.
As for my old self? Well... I coaxed her out of the closet, gave her a big hug, and told her she's got this. I'm encouraging her to trust the process and keep moving forward, even when she's scared.
I'm also encouraging her to continue reaching out to her trusted supports instead of staying in her head and isolating.
Everyone needs a cheerleader, and this is why the best coaches and therapists I know have coaches and therapists. They understand the importance of support and they're invested in themselves.
I will continue to invest time and money in myself and my own well being, because I want to be the best coach possible for my clients.
In all honesty, we need self-awareness and each other to rise.
It's too easy for me to stay stuck in the complacency of my repetitive habits and safety zones, and I'm well aware safety doesn't lead to growth, success, or contentment. Those are only found on the less traveled roads, so that's where I'm headed again. This time, though, I've got my one true love by my side.
R Jade McAuliffe-
Author and advocate; believer in things unseen.
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o'er wrought heart and bids it break."