by Jan McDaniel
Hand-in-hand with shock and confusion, pain covered me after I lost my husband. It cut to my core. Now, so many years later, I think of that pain as an integral and necessary part of my healing.
Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her husband, John, after learning of the death of their friend, "My bursting heart must find vent at my pen."
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and you will find survivors doing the same thing. Grief is so big within us we have to find some way to release it. Yet this pain can only be released a little at a time.
Reading and posting in an online support group, letter or journal writing, speaking in person to someone who will let us talk and cry as often and as long as we need to, working with a counselor or local support group … all of these allow the processing of grief..
Tears help release grief and trauma from our bodies, too, so it is okay to cry. It is necessary. I read once that tears from grief are different, chemically, from any other kind. Those chemicals need to exit the body. http://www.scienceiq.com/Facts/ScienceOfTears.cfm
When the pain lessons, when its tide flows outward, what is left is what was under the pain all the time - the love we shared with them.
Pain doesn't last; love does.
Journal prompt: What is the most painful thing about losing your loved one? What do you need to work through that pain, and how can you get it?
by Jan McDaniel
Peace is part of the survivor experience even when it comes in tiny moments. I'm constantly awed by those times.
At first all I could see was the darkness of loss. I could feel no peace except the numbness of shock, the unconsciousness of sleep (when I could get it), and occasionally wild denial and fantastic daydreams in which I made up scenarios that had my husband coming home despite the impossibility.
Not true peace, those moments gave me a bit of relief, strength for the rest of my journey. The beginning is all about endurance. Each breath is a victory though it may not seem so. But I came to a point when I could look back and realize how something someone said or did had held me up.
The journey is long, my friends, and dark indeed. And it may seem that the turning of the calendar is taking more and more from you by taking you further away from your precious loved ones. But in reality, it is taking you closer and closer to more peace than you can imagine now and toward a new life in which you will feel their love only. Their pain will stay in the past. It is done.
We cannot change what has happened. I wish we could. But we can hold on, endure, and seek out those moments of fragile peace. We can hand them to each other and knit them together until they form a full and beautiful pattern for whatever is to come.
I will light a candle for you tonight and imagine how bright the light from all our candles all over the world will be.
What helps you find moments of peace? What have others said that helped you?
by Jan McDaniel
In writing about caregiving and the family, professionals and patients involved, Arthur Kleinman captures the "very core of what human experience is about and what caregiving should be about."
"... each of us at some point must learn how to endure: the act of going on and giving what we have. And we need, on occasion, to step outside ourselves and look in as if an observer on our endeavors and our relationships—personal and professional—to acknowledge the strength, compassion, courage, and humanity with which we ourselves endure or help to make bearable the hard journeys of others. These are the qualities that make acceptance and striving, if not noble, then certainly deeply human—worthy of respect of ourselves and those whose journeys we share. (Kleinman. “How We Endure." The Lancet. Volume 383, No. 9912, p119–120. 11 January 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.)"
When I read his words, I thought of the people I know who lost loved ones to suicide, and while their lives were changed beyond measure, still managed to help others endure similar tragedies. Many had spent countless hours trying to care for loved ones suffering from mental or other disorders and/or addictions before their losses. Some had no warning or were caught with small children still at home who needed their care.
We have so much in common with those who are suffering, no matter how or why. And we can endure. No one needs to grieve alone.
by Jan McDaniel
Healing after significant loss requires rebuilding your life. One small step to doing just that is to look for "mini moments" where you can pause (we're talking actual moments, seconds, and very short segments of time) and tend to your healing.
Such a huge goal … rebuild your life … such small steps. Yes. But life is made up of small steps, small moments, great, long strings of them.
"I don't have time." But you do. Take time from Internet use (after you read this article). Train yourself to recognize tiny opportunities that come your way during each day. Refocus negative moments you're using now into directed positive time-breaks. Schedule mini moments throughout the day. Take mini-moment vacations on the weekends or in the evenings.
You can do this.
by Jan McDaniel
Life must have balance, and never is that more important or more difficult than after loss. I talk and write a lot about healing by taking small steps and establishing a simple path for reaching goals. But sometimes life does these things for us and expects us to follow rather than lead.
I changed jobs three months after my husband died and went from being a newspaper reporter covering hard news on the front page above the fold to teaching college English. Other classes were assigned, too, and tutoring duties. One of these classes was a practical life type instruction that covered basic living skills first year students might need to make their transition from high school to college easier.
Goal setting, one of the topics, was one of my favorites, and much of what came to me over the years might have been meant to help me make my own transition.
No matter where you are in your healing journey, try to make your schedule simple. Include work, but also include time for play and rest. We only heal in the span of a moment. Time might look like it is standing still, but that is an illusion.
Work, play, rest. That's not always easy or even possible. But taking one tiny moment at a time can help.
Here are a few examples of what I mean. Use them as starts for your day or change the words. What's important is just to begin.
*Today, I can take one deep breathe.
*I will drink water because my body needs it.
*I can hug someone still in my life.
*Do I have choices today?
*It won't take long to walk around the parking lot at lunch.
*Maybe I should call an understanding friend.
*It's okay to sit outside this evening and just be still.
by Jan McDaniel
There are so many things, large and small, that call for our attention. The same is true about our grieving. There are many things to mourn. Even after the initial mourning period and when active grieving has passed, small moments can find those tender places in our hearts and bring the pain there to the surface.
One day years ago, while cleaning out my closet, I found a wooden box filled with bits and pieces of my husband’s childhood. Small toys, sticks and rocks, a couple of marbles, stuff a little boy would treasure. My thoughts went like this: How could he leave these? He kept them all those years. How could he leave these … and his books … and us?
When you feel like you have walked off the edge of the earth as if it is flat, after all, find an anchor. Connect with someone who understands. In later years, it will be easier to find your footing again when these things happen, believe it or not. At that time, you are ready for more than just enduring and just doing the things that need to be done. You will be ready to return to life.
If you have done everything you can but still feel hopeless, keep walking. Keep trying. You will never know how far you can go unless you do. Reach out to someone new. Research support groups, local and online.
Flip the situation. Volunteer. Do something nice for someone else. When you are thinking of them, your mind cannot dwell on your own troubles.
Talk to God. Then wait. Listen. It is in those quietest moments that you will feel a nudge in the right direction.
We are all connected. We are all pieces of each other. It is when we abandon what we think we want – what’s not working – and surrender to being led, that we find we are part of a greater wholeness. At that time, we begin to work the puzzle of life. There is a place for you there.
And if you need connection after losing a loved one, there are places for you with people who care, no matter how long it has been since your loss. Click on "Support" at the top of this page to find some.
by Jan McDaniel
A few years ago, I began to realize I needed to reconcile my old life (before my husband's suicide) with the new one I'm living now. I suppose there is a third time period that must be balanced in this equation, too, and that is the period of six years or more when he was ill and when our lives were changing radically.
The "before and after" effect. At first I had to wade through the tasks involved in letting go of his physical presence and of the life we shared … and then there was the process of surviving, healing. That was and is a lengthy process. But I'm finding there are more layers, more hurdles that come after that. No one tells you about those. And I don't think I want to try to live two lives separately anymore. That is too much to carry.
What do you do after you survive? To be fair, we are all different and must find out ourselves. But there are still tender places in each heart and life that need patching or evaluating for greater help. Is there a way to get support for that? How can the past integrate successfully into the present and future? How can I find balance?
With my husband gone, I find I rely on my sister's advice more and more. And I'm grateful to have her in my life. I'm grateful that she does want the best for me and that knowledge learned from her own life experiences can help me out. In fact, I'm grateful for the process that is reclaiming my life, creating a new me.
One thing I found is that I need to be honest with myself about where I am. I'm not where I'm going, and I'm not where I've been. I am no longer desperate for resting spots along the way. But there are questions and emotions that show me there are still problems to face. Some of these are deeply ingrained, hard to find.
But I do see that when I face those issues, they are not as insurmountable as they first seem. Maybe that is the key.
If you are searching for your new life or just for balance, try these journal prompts. There are no right or wrong answers. Isn't that nice?
Journal prompt: Who am I now? Who do I want to be?
by Sandy Walden
Grief. It’s hard. It’s complicated. It’s messy. And so very often there are misunderstandings.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about the times of loss and grief that I have experienced. I found myself becoming quite emotional as I considered the death of someone I care about. We did not have a close relationship, though we both tried in our own ways. It was difficult. As they say, it was complicated.
When he died, there was almost no support from anyone! Some of the people I would have at least expected to ask how I was doing, never even acknowledged his death or that I might have feelings about this ending.
My feelings were so jumbled. Relief that I didn’t have to keep trying to make something work. Sadness that I no longer had the opportunity to build a relationship that was good for both of us. Hurt that these people apparently didn’t care enough about me to even acknowledge that there was a death. Abandoned… didn’t I matter?
Now it’s important that I am clear about my own role in all of this ‘stuff’. I’ve always been quite open about joy and excitement, even anger to some extent. However, when it comes to heartache, deep fears, sadness, I’ve usually either kept it to myself or only shared it with the smallest group of people. If I’m being fair, most of those who never acknowledged this loss in any way most likely thought that they were honoring my preference for privacy and independence.
Hmmmm,… interesting, isn’t it?
At the same time, I found myself considering these people in another way. We have shared many losses and most of them are quite a lot more open about sharing their tears, their ups and downs, and all that brings. They tend to come together and share more with one another than I’ve ever shared with another human being. Truly, stories that I have only shared with my dog!
Have they felt supported by me? My way is so very different than theirs; have they known that I cared and tried my best?
I don’t know. We are very different people. Always have been and always will be. Having said that, we do care about one another very much.
I share this because so often when I work with those who are grieving, they feel sure that others don’t care about them because they are not offering the sort of support that they need. As humans, we often feel as though others ‘should’ know what we want and need. After all, we hurt! Can’t they see that?
If we are not feeling support, cared for, it’s another layer of hurt, wounding, grief.
Others are likely doing their very best. And most often they are offering what feels right to them and have no way of knowing if it is what you need.
The answer? Of course, the answer is more communication. The problem is that sometimes it feels as though we are speaking entirely different languages.
I encourage you to keep trying to learn the language of one another. When there has been wounding, as much as possible, make room for the possibility that each of you was doing your best. Make room for forgiveness and healing.
You both deserve it.
guest column by Mary Gilzean
It’s been two years, three months since we lost our son, Adam. I’ve spent some time thinking about what has helped me these past two years. Here are 12 things (in no particular order):
1) Supportive people who allow me to cry and express emotions freely. One of the best gifts I received after our son died was from a close friend who showed up on my doorstep with a box of Kleenex. The gesture said it all.
2) One-on-one counseling with an understanding & empathetic therapist (though pricey; she is worth every penny). My husband and I have seen her a couple times a year off and on over the past decade for various reasons. Marital tune-ups, help with a major decision in selling our house/moving to a new city, and most importantly, support in dealing with our son’s mental illness, which emerged in 2015, as well as continued support after his suicide death in May 2019. We met a few days before Adam died, plus the week after. Her assurance that we did everything we could was priceless! Although it still took my heart many months to catch up with my head regarding the guilt battle, her insights and words still resonate with me today.
3) Support groups: I was very lucky to be able to attend a grief group at my church for several months (pre-covid). We went through Alan Wolfelt’s book, Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. I highly recommend this book. I also attend meetings with Friends for Survival, a national non-profit that provides peer support and resources to those who have lost someone to suicide. Currently, there are monthly Zoom meetings going on, which are helpful.
4) Books: I've read about 30+ grief-related books, some specifically on suicide loss, others just on general grief. The most helpful were Wolfelt’s book (above); My Son . . . My Son . . .: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide, by Iris Bolton; I'll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother's Quest for Comfort, Courage and Clarity After Suicide Loss, Susan Auerbach; and A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. While all the books I read had some “nuggets” of wisdom, these four have underlining and yellow highlighting on just about every page.
5) TedTalks/Other Talks on YouTube: in the first few months after our loss, nighttime was the worst. It was near impossible getting my mind quieted down so I could fall asleep. I found some very helpful TedTalks on grief, as well as other faith-based talks/interviews with individuals who have gone through catastrophic loss. Hearing other people’s stories helped me to know that I'm not alone and gave me much-needed hope. Many nights, I fell asleep to these talks while lying in bed with my iPhone in hand.
6) Music: although I enjoy all genres, faith-based music has been especially helpful (Pandora at home, K-Love in the car). It keeps my mind focused on the positives.
7) Alliance of Hope (AOH): A family member recommended AOH right after Adam died, but it was a couple of months before I began to explore the website and resources. Partly, it was because I was already attending in-person support groups, and partly because there was just so much on the website, I felt overwhelmed. I started with the blog, and eventually landed on the forum. I created a profile, posted on the “Introduce Yourself” link, then got sort of stuck. I kept trying to help welcome others, rather than joining in on the forum links below. I finally settled on two: links “What Helps?” and “Community Connections, For Parents Who Lost Children.” Though there are many other topics I can relate to, I’ve given myself permission to stick with just these two for now.
8) Journaling/Writing: I’ve been a lifelong journaler/writer, so this outlet has been extremely helpful in processing many things, not just loss. From time to time, I revisit my old journals and can see where I’ve been, what progress I’ve made, and identify areas I might still be stuck. A journal can be a great listener, offers zero judgement, and is available 24/7.
9) Spending time in nature: walking, hiking, and visiting the beach have all been very therapeutic. I feel the most connected to Adam when I’m outdoors because he loved nature so much.
10) GriefShare emails: I subscribed to receive daily emails from GriefShare for a year, which provided encouragement and reminders of the recovery process. These emails were very brief, which was nice.
11) Time off from work: three days bereavement leave is certainly NOT adequate for any loss. I used two weeks of sick leave to at least get through the memorial service. Then I had to briefly return to the office. Lucky for me, I only had to be there about three weeks because I had a major surgery scheduled the month after Adam died, so I ended up being off another five weeks post-surgery. During that time of rest, I was able to read, listen to music, cry, and cry some more.
12) Talking about my son with those who knew and loved him.
guest column by Rosemary
I started my aromatherapy journey long before my son died, but I was grateful I had something to "throw myself into" when I was really lost.
Not only did I find it creative, stimulating, lovely to smell but also realized that these essential oils work well especially with some issues in my experience.
I became certified through a 300 hours course and then continued learning on my own. My friends and family regularly use aromatherapy now.
I can recommend Aromahead Institute which has some free classes to get started and peak interest. https://www.aromahead.com/courses/introduction-essential-oils
It's also interesting to read about the oils so you know what they are used for. There are so many of them and blending them can really increase their benefits.
Note from Jan: Thank you, Rosemary, for sharing your journey with us. There are so many ways to find bits of peace that can help, even a little, after losing a loved one. The challenges are realizing this can happen and thinking of what to explore.
If you are reading this blog post and would like to share something that helped you through grief, contact Way for Hope here. Your ideas may be shared in a future column to bring hope to someone in pain.
Way for Hope
Losing someone you love is difficult, but it can mean a lot to hear from others traveling similar paths.
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Links of Value:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Word of God
"My Story" Big Daddy Weave
"Hope in Front of Me"
The Joy FM
Traumatic loss or preexisting conditions can worsen mental health. Use this info graphic to find help.
"Take Charge of Your Mental Health" - a free download from www.nami.org: