What if Signs from my Son are Different than I Expect?

What if the strongest signs are the very absence of things I would expect?

I’ve been thinking about this. When we lose someone we love we look for signs that they are in spirit, that they are well and still connecting with us. We eagerly anticipate smells, sounds, songs, dreams and so much more. When we experience these things our hearts are comforted. I’ve had some of these experiences and I am incredibly grateful each time. Another reminder that someone I love is okay.

But what if things are a bit different?

So many write about sleeping with a shirt or another article of clothing that their loved one wore, allowing the aroma of their loved one to comfort them as they go to sleep. But after my son died, there were no aromas in his room.  None. Nada. Zilch.

In fact, even on the day he died, I remember standing in his bedroom and telling others that it was his time because he was gone so very completely.

His bed pillows – no aroma at all. His sheets and blankets – nothing. He wore cowboy boots – again, nothing. He showered every day after work and put on cologne, but there was no hint of that cologne in his room either. How was that possible?

Again and again, I come back to this fact. The memory of smell is one that our brain holds onto for years, we’re wired that way. Smells can take us back to our childhood. Close your eyes and just think about cookies or fresh grass. I am willing to bet that a very stong part of your memory is what those things smell like. Smells are usually very difficult to eliminate, which is why odor-neutralizing sprays are a huge business. Yet there was no aroma remaining in that room what so ever.

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that was the first sign that Mikey sent. A sign that it was his time, a sign that it was okay that he left the planet. He left totally and completely, not even leaving behind a smell.

Namaste,
Sandy

Q&A series: What can I do when I need something?

People do want to help but often don’t know how. When kind friends ask what they can do to help, be prepared. Receiving the news that a loved one has ended his or her life or witnessing what happened or finding the body of someone you love is traumatic and confusing. If you can, try to keep a note pad and pen with you. As you think of things that you need, write these down and ask for specific help. Note who will help, what they agree to do, and any details.

These are some of the things you may need help with in the first few days.

  • Picking up out-of-town relatives arriving at the airport
  • Running errands (pharmacy, grocery)
  • Making calls to family and friends
  • Answering the telephone and greeting visitors
  • Helping in the kitchen (note who brings food and type of dish)
  • Occupying children in a quiet room (read stories, draw, games)
  • Walking and feeding pets
  • Making a monetary donation for immediate expenses

In the weeks ahead, you may need some of the same things. These help, too.

  • Brief visits or calls
  • Help with errands and driving to appointments
  • Assistance with shopping or someone to go out to lunch with you
  • Help with household chores
  • Someone who can make small repairs/cut grass
  • Babysitting or transportation for older children
  • Helpful resources and assistance in finding support groups

There are charts for this kind of practical help and other information on Way for Hope’s home page. Visit https://wayforhope.weebly.com/ and download your free digital copy of Hope in the Aftermath of Suicide (Second Edition).

Peace,

Jan

 

Communicate with Loved Ones on The Other Side

‘Death ends a life, not a relationship.’ – Jack Lemmon

If you haven’t discerned by now, I want to be very clear. I believe… no, it’s much more than belief, I know that life continues after death.

The truth is that or me, the very meaning of the word death is a bit different than it may be for others. I think of death as a transition. A doorway if you will. Exiting life on planet Earth and entering life on The Other Side.

When we are grieving the loss of someone we love, we miss so many things! One of the most basic and deeply meaningful things that we miss is the ability to talk with them. To hear their voice, listen to their thoughts, have a conversation. It means so much.

The trouble is that while they are absolutely able to communicate with us, we are no longer speaking the same language. They no longer have a body, a voice box, and speech. When they reach out to us – and they will, it will be in a new way.

I’ve shared the experiences that we continue to have with receiving acorns. These little nuggets are very physical, showing up in the most unexpected places. There is no doubt in my mind that my son knew I would have difficulty acknowledging more subtle communication. I simply was not able in the beginning, the grief was too profound.

We often believe that if we ask for a specific sign that we will know it is our loved one. And that rocks when it happens! Still, that may not be the way your loved one is able to reach across the veil. And it’s entirely possible that you are not able to discern that communication at this point. It doesn’t mean they are not reaching out – it just means you are not connecting.

I want to encourage you to be open to possibilities. Notice aromas that make you think of the one you love. Recently while having a Reiki session, I became aware that both my biological father and step-father were communicating and it was all due to aroma. First, the very specific fragrance of the pipe tobacco Clarence smoked. The fragrance changed to be that of fresh wood shavings, which made me think of my dad, Art. There is no doubt in my mind or heart that this was ‘Hello, I love you.’ from both of them.

If you are asking for a white feather, please don’t dismiss noticing a picture of a feather on a package or even someone mentioning a painting of a feather. Perhaps you are asking to see a shape or light from your loved one, but so far it hasn’t happened. At the same time, you may notice that your pet is staring at a specific place, perhaps making sounds or acting playful. This may well be the one you love trying to connect with you.

This sort of communication is new to us, at least with this particular person. We each need to find our way and it may not look, sound or feel as we expect. Please be open to possibilities.

I think of it this way. If I expected one of my surviving sons to connect with me today, I’m most likely expecting a phone call. However, if they show up on my front doorstep, you bet I’m going to welcome them in. It may not be the communication that I expected, but it’s real. It’s wonderful. And it fills my heart with joy.

Talk to them. Sing to them. Invite them into your dreams. And if come to you in ways that you are not expecting, please, open the door. Let ’em in.

Namaste,
Sandy

Q&A series: When will stigma end?

I wish I could say the stigma surrounding death by suicide will end soon. I wish I could say everyone understands that people experiencing trauma and illness, stress, anxiety, and mental/personality/behavior disorders deserve our kindness and support. Maybe I can’t say that today, but I am hopeful that as survivors of suicide loss speak about the reality and complexity of this type of death, others will take up that message and knowledge.

I do know that many people understand. Already. Right now. And I can say that surrounding yourself with these people will help you as you process deep loss so complicated that medical science does not have a complete picture of how suicide happens, much less how to prevent it in every case.

You can understand. Through reading and seeking support, locally and online, you can find help and hope. Right now. More books and blogs and resources are available today on this subject than ever before. More people are studying the pain that leads to suicidal thoughts, and more researchers are looking at those who are left in the aftermath.

Start here: https://allianceofhope.org/bookstore

Start here: https://forum.allianceofhope.org/

Start now.

When will stigma end? It can end with you. I’m not saying you can control the people around you. No one can do that. But you can end stigma in the most important place of all: in your heart.

Sending Hope,

Jan

 

Is it Wrong to Feel Happiness when Grieving?

Ahhh, the amazing complexities of being human.

So very often I will hear someone say that if they laugh or even chuckle, that they feel guilty. Somehow they feel that if they are not exhibiting intense pain at every moment – that perhaps they are not honoring their loved one.  As you might imagine, I believe otherwise.

I have often shared that on the day I learned that my son Mike was dead, at only 23 years old and by his own hand, there was laughter in my home.

Yes, there was sobbing. The sort that shakes your entire being. The sort of crying that feels as though a permanent trail is being carved into your face. The pain was intense. The heartbreak was real. And yet, there was laughter.

And yes, I was one of the people that smiled and laughed. Many stories of things Mike said and did were shared that day and many times since. Because Mike was a person who loved to laugh, to do silly things, to push the buttons of others – a big part of sharing these stories was once again experiencing the thoughts and feelings when these things first occurred. This brought about longing to once again hug my boy, but it also resulted n chuckles and some outright laughter.

No, sharing these warm memories and even the laughter did not in any way diminish my love for Mike or the grief that I felt knowing he would not walk into the room again, that in fact, Mike had died.

These feelings existed within me at the same time. Along with many other emotions. I felt gratitude that I had been given this special person to love and have in my world for 23 years. I felt worried and even fear for my husband and surviving sons. I felt nurtured and cared for by all of them and the many amazing people who reached out in love.

We can and do often experience many feelings at one time.  At this moment, I’m feeling calm and relaxed. I feel a wee bit of sadness that Mike can’t heckle me about my feelings right now while I’m typing this. I know he would have a lot to say.

Even while holding those feelings I am happy and grateful to the amazing teacher and mentor who just interviewed me for business. And I also am a bit worried about someone that I care about who is experiencing a health issue.

Yes, all of these feelings and more are co-existing within me at this moment.  Humans are multi-faceted, complicated beyond comprehension and absolutely capable of feeling many things at one time.

It’s okay to smile. It’s okay to enjoy a meal or an outing, a book or a movie. It’s okay to think about something different and become completely absorbed in that thought or experience.  Even when your grief is very new, raw and intense.

Feeling moments of respite, even joy does not mean that you don’t love the person you are grieving with your entire being. It simply means that you are quite wonderfully human.

Namaste,
Sandy

Is it True?

We have an experience. It’s often quite personal, especially when it pertains to grief. Thinking or sharing about our experience is telling our story. This matters so very much! Sharing our story helps us to process. Important stuff.

Is our story true? By that I mean to ask; are we sure that we have all of the facts straight?

Some months ago someone that I like and respect asked me to participate in something that was powerfully meaningful to me. I quickly responded via email with an excited ‘Yes, count me in!’ And then I heard nothing more. Crickets… I sent another email to the same address which had initiated the offer and again I received no response.

And I began telling myself a story. It went something like this.

Oh boy, I guess she really didn’t want me after all. Hmmmmm, maybe it was something that I said last time we met. Perhaps others included found me to be objectionable in some way.

On and on I went. The story grew in my head and I felt sad. In truth I felt very hurt. This person, someone that I really like must not like me after all. I felt rejected. I asked myself why they would invite me at all if they were going to ignore me. Why wouldn’t they simply reach out and tell me we were not a good fit. It must be because I am not worthy. I am less than. I am not enough. In my head this was all true. And it hurt like the dickens.

Then one day I thought about the question that my clients know they will be asked when presenting a similar story. How did I know that my story was true? Had I taken any steps to confirm the facts? Nope.

Yes, I had responded to the same email address from which the invitation originated, but I’m well aware that email can often have problems.

The next step was to contact her in another way. I received a very swift response! Not only did she still want me to participate, she had been very disappointed when she did not receive the expected response from me. My email went to her spam account, so she had never seen it. Situation cleared up and we went on to cooperate with one another on this project.

Now I should know better than to take thoughts and make them true without verification. Having said that, it’s a very normal, human thing to do. I found myself laughing about this more than once because knowing what we should do does not always mean that we do what we should.

When a heart is broken by grief, it can be very easy to slip into our story of neglect or abuse. Believing that we are unloved or uncared for can feel as though it’s true when we have not heard from someone. When we misinterpret something that is said – or not said. Or any number of other situations.

I ask you to question your own story. So very often when we are hurting the most, we can forget that others have a life separate from our anguish. They may try to reach out and perhaps we are not receptive in that moment. So many things hurt. Misunderstandings happen easily.

Please be gentle with yourself and with those who care about you. Ask them to be patient as well. To repeat things or write them down. Take the steps you need to be sure that your story is true. It matters. You too are human and we are all doing the very best that we can.

And please remember, each story of grief begins and ends with love.  This I absolutely believe to be true.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

 

Q&A series: How do I explain to my Children?

Helping Children Grieve – Children and teens of all ages feel the loss of someone important in their lives. See how you can model handling grief and provide age-appropriate activities designed to help you communicate. Take back the time you have with your children. Most of these ideas are tech-free. Easy and inexpensive, they will bring healing to the whole family. 

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If someone significant in your child’s life dies, it is important to realize that children grieve differently than adults. How we help them depends, in large part, on the age of the child. It might be a parent or grandparent loss, another family member or even the death of a friend or classmate. No matter how young or how old a child or teenager is, the loss will be felt, and there are ways to help.

Tell your child what he or she can understand. Honesty is the best policy here because often classmates or adults will mention something within a child’s hearing that is shocking news. Babies and toddlers may just need extra hugs, for while they will miss the person who died, they are too young to understand what death means. Children do not need explicit details or lengthy conversations. This article, “10 Questions Children Ask about Death and Dying” may help you prepare.

The news is best given by the person who is closest to the child. Calm explanations for a loved one’s absence may need to be repeated at different times, always with reassurances that the child is loved and will be taken care of. Hugs and continuing support for all ages will help, but some older children or teens may prefer to talk to friends, write in a journal or connect with other kids going through the same emotions. (See Kidsaid link below.) Give your child time, and let them know you are there whenever you are needed.

Modeling ways to handle grief yourself can go far in teaching children and teens that it is okay to cry, okay to play, okay to take care of self. Follow these suggestions yourself. Find support, and make sure you have private time when you need it. It’s fine to let activities continue if your child wants to participate. If you need more time before resuming your normal routine, ask a trusted friend for help in getting your child to school, birthday parties or sports activities.

You and your family can get through this time of grief and mourning. Your life has changed with the loss of someone dear to you, but you will become stronger as time goes on. You will be able to face the challenges ahead.

Here are a few resources:
The Dougy Center (The National Center for Grieving Children and Families)
www.dougycenter.org

Childmind (Coping with a Parent’s Suicide; also teacher and Spanish resources)
www.childmind.org

​Kidsaid.com (from GriefNet.org and a place where kids can get support and interact with each other)
http://www.kidsaid.com/index.html

Jan McDaniel creates projects for survivors of traumatic loss through Way For Hope. A former journalist and educator, Jan never expected her personal grief to lead to writing about suicide for people all over the world, but that is exactly what happened. Her greatest tragedy became a hope-filled mission to help others through the devastation that follows this kind of traumatic loss.