Welcome 2020

Today is the first day of 2020. Many have goals and plans and that’s fabulous. I hope that your goals are exceeded and that your plans turn out beautifully. But what if your experience is different?
 
If you have a grieving heart, today may feel overwhelming. As though there is incredible pressure to do better. To strive for more, to excel. I’m here to encourage you to make your New Year’s resolution one of kindness – to yourself.
Know that it is alright to make plans – or not.
Know that it is alright to laugh or cry – or not.
Know that it is alright to be with others -or not.
Know that it is alright to exercise 3 times a week – or not.

I bet that by now, you are getting my point. I want to encourage you, with everything in me, to listen to your heart. What is it telling you that you need? In this moment now, what do you want? What will bring you a measure of calm, of healing?

If setting goals feels right, go for it. But please remember that the grieving heart needs tender loving care.

Sending you my love and wishing that your 2020 will be a gentle year of peaceful grieving and deep healing.

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

 

 

 

Question and Answer series: What do I say?

Way for Hope is beginning a question and answer series of blog posts tackling some of the most immediate issues people face in the early days after suicide or other traumatic loss. Each person’s experience may be different. Even within a family, grief could affect members in unique ways. But most find comfort in knowing others have faced similar emotions and practical problems. You are not alone.

​First Question: What do I say?

When families and friends must be contacted, you might wonder what to say. In some places, suicide has a lingering stigma attached that is undeserved. Historically, some people have feared mental illness or unusual behavior. Today, we know that the human brain is like other organs of the body, susceptible to disease, imbalance, and the effects of stress, medications, alcohol and other drugs. The paths that lead a person to suicide are complex and not completely understood even by professionals.

Maybe you have never known someone who ended his own life. Maybe others will not understand. Try to focus on your own self-care during this time and, if you have children, on theirs. Depending on the children’s ages, give only what information you think they can understand, but answer as honestly as you can. Let teachers know what your child is going through when they return to school. Here is a page from the Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors that provides other suggestions.

It is likely you will be in shock yourself, whether you knew your loved one was struggling or not, so you may not feel like going into detail. You have a right to privacy and to do what you need to when you need to do it. A simple “I don’t feel like talking about this right now” should stop questions and speculation. On the other hand, if people want to help with errands, calls, or chores, let them.

One of the best suggestions I received was to prepare a sentence or two about the situation that can be used any time. I said something like “My husband fought valiantly against depression for a number of years until he was unable to do so anymore and ended his life.” No matter what your situation, you can speak of the love you have for the one you lost, how special he or she was, and how much this loss hurts.

 

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.

Welcome, Fall!

Seasons change. For those who have lost someone they love very much, the changing color of the leaves, once thought so beautiful, may bring additional pain. It is as if the very earth is calling to attention the fact that what once was shared can become a painful reminder of how very deeply loss touches us. The tides of life roll in and out as they beat upon the shores of our hearts. Time won’t wait. However, one of the gifts of grief is that we do have time. Time to draw apart and heal. Time to regain a bit of our footing. Our grief legs. Should we welcome the Autumn season and those that follow?

I think so. If nothing changed, we might remain in the darkest part of grief forever. If nothing pushed us forward, would we go? Life calls and, though we should be tender with ourselves in early days, we are alive and ultimately – for most of us – we want to answer.

What pushes (or leads) us forward? Many times, it is others who understand, whether they have lost loved ones or not. Sometimes, it is our children. Counselors and other professionals, caring friends, grief coaches, those who write about healing or share research and resources.

I hear you. You’re saying now, “But how can I possibly go on with this giant hole in my heart? How can I live without this one who is gone from me? How could I ever be happy again?” I hear you. I do. I was you. My world was torn apart, destroyed. Over. “Then how?’

It comes in the form of connection with other people. A hand reaching out. A hug (even a virtual one). A look or comment that shows someone else cares, that someone else has been there and has survived. A peek into the lives of fellow survivors who light candles on Sundays, who lean into their faith, who give up, fall down again and again before standing upright.

It comes on wings. In the shape of butterflies and dragon flies. In a heart-shaped cloud or rock just when you need it. In a song. In dreams.

It comes in belief when there is none left, in putting one foot in front of the other. In children’s smiles and dirty dishes on the table. In countless other ways, that hole in your heart becomes part of you, not all of you. You become stronger.

​And, while you still remember and long for the one you lost, you count all of the colors of the year until you welcome Fall.

Do Your Best and let that be Enough

We hear about self care, and most of us really would like to take good care of ourselves. Having said that, when we are overwhelmed with grief, we are often quick to be harsh and judgmental about ourselves. Both in our words and our thoughts.

What I would like to suggest is that we take a step back and look at the situation as though the situation was about someone else.

Would we be critical of a man who was unshaven and had stains on his shirt if we knew that he had just lost his wife?

Would we speak harshly to the woman who didn’t use her turn signal if we had a way of knowing that she had just been fired from a job that she desperately needs?

Would we be short-tempered and unkind to the child who is unfocused and belligerent, if we knew that they were being bullied and were afraid to go to school?

Or would we instead offer a bit of empathy, compassion and understanding?

Is there any reason at all, why you are not deserving of that same tender consideration?

That my friends is where self-care begins. By offering ourselves the grace and kindness that we would offer to a loved one or a stranger. Because when life happens, we do the best we can. It may not be perfect, but it is perfectly human.

I encourage you to face a mirror for this next step. Looking at the person who is looking back at you, consider your own situation in this very moment. I ask you to notice all that you are dealing with right now. Perhaps insomnia is your nightly companion, overwhelm, concern about finances or other family members. Put it all in.

Take a nice looooooong, deeeeeeep breath. And looking at that person in the mirror, send him or her as much love and compassion as you would that child who is filled with fear. In fact, looking deep into those eyes looking back at you, see the small child inside who longs for reassurance and a kind word.

Allow yourself to feel that love on the deepest levels possible. And it’s okay if you tear up. It’s a very natural, normal and human reaction to having your innermost thoughts, hopes, fears and emotions witnessed. Keep sending that love.

Allow that feeling of warmth and caring to wrap itself around you like a warm blanket. You are loved. You always have been loved. And you always will be.

This is the perfect time to call to mind some of the blessings in your life. Big or small, they all matter.

Some things to consider, do you have a safe place to live? Do you have a companion, animal or human that makes your heart melt? Do the squirrels scampering about outdoors make you smile? What comes to mind for you?

The good things in our lives, and that is truly anything that is going right, are the things I encourage you to focus on and offer deep gratitude. It’s like a balm to the soul. Frankly, if we are able to come up with something, almost anything for which we are truly grateful, our mood lifts and we find it easier to be kind to that person in the mirror.

Please remember, you really are not intended to be perfect. On the other hand, being your authentic self is perfectly human and more than enough.

Namaste,
Sandy

Evidence

Guest blog by Jan McDaniel

I’ve always been fascinated by old photographs and films. Last Spring, when a cough was keeping me awake at night, I watched several historical documentaries. I knew the people I was seeing in black and white film on the television screen actually lived in color and that these captured and preserved moments didn’t really stop time, only slowed it for a moment, but it felt like they had found the secret to holding on to something precious.

A few days later I realized why. Evidence. Of what happened, who lived in that moment, that it was all real. That it was life that made sense. A baby riding on his daddy’s shoulder. An old man recalling a terrible war. Survival.

I think that’s one thing we seek from grief as we try to hold onto and remember those who are not in our arms anymore. Evidence that, despite the crumbling of our individual civilizations, they did exist. They were more than their struggles, more than the way they died.

They were precious secrets that belonged to us, treasures that held our worlds together. Suicide did come along and steal them. The normalcy of our lives was broken like shards of ancient pottery left behind to be discovered and marveled at – pieced together again – a little at a time.

They were real and greatly loved, and once we were happy.

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.

Changes

Guest blog by Jan McDaniel

Suicide changes everything. Yet, not all of the changes to come are negative. Trust that the pain will soften, that life will be worth living again. Since I can’t do anything to influence the passage of time and cause these things to happen sooner for you, I thought I would share my wishes for your healing.

Over the next week or so, I hope you will find a bit of relief in rest. Naps, especially.

I wish you peaceful moments in which you can hold onto the love you shared with that special person. Love outlasts pain, but when pain is deepest, it is difficult to remember that you never have to give up what this precious one means to you. Never.

I want the weather to be gentle where you live. Walking in natural surroundings or contemplating snow through the window can bring healing comfort. Let it.

I hope you will remember you are not alone, especially if your loss is recent.

I wish for you acknowledgment that this year is different, that someone important is missing. That hurts.

My hope is that your loved one will continue to be included in your life in some way. Through sharing memories and hearing others call his name. Through carrying on the work she wanted to do. Through photos that can cause pain but that can also bring tender smiles to faces streaked with tears. Feeling this pain is the way to healing and acceptance.

I wish you reminders that others do understand, do grieve with you, and will hold your hand.

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.

‘Why’ has been Visiting

I’ve been going through some old writings, reviewing and in some ways even reliving what my journey has been up to this point. When I came across the message below, it felt important to share. As I read my own words, I became aware in a new way that I had, in fact, personified the question that swirls within the minds of most who have lost someone to suicide. ‘Why?’

You see, we all walk this path one step at a time. Each and every breath, every thought and experience is part of our very personal grief journey. For some perspective on my journey, this message was written 3 years after my son Mike died. 

The time since we got the news until today has not revealed a reason for this decision. There are those who swear that only one who is mentally ill would take their life, and perhaps that’s so, but even hindsight doesn’t provide that clarity.

I would guess that there are fewer than a handful of times since Mike died that I have gone to bed without asking him why…why did he choose to leave this planet, this life with the people he loved and who loved him so much. Today, I still have no answers.

Mike loved his job, no one there had a clue. He had terrific friends, they were all totally blind-sided by his suicide. Mike spoke to each of his elder brothers as well as his sister-in-law a few times a week, no one could have been more surprised. He lived the last year of his life back at home with my husband and me, we are still unable to answer this question. Was he depressed? Was there something going on in his life that has yet to come to light? Was he physically in distress? Was he just “done”  with this life and ready to explore the next? I have all of these questions and so many more.

The question of Why has been with me since 4 am on December 18, 2010. Sometimes I’ve been haunted by Why. Other times Why has simply lingered around the edges of my world. Why is still there…not nearly as powerful or onerous as in the past…but still present. I almost have a visual of Why. A personification if you will. No longer terrifying or crushing, it’s much more gentle now. Just sort of hanging around. Not a threat in any way. At one time Why brought along with it recriminations for not knowing ahead of time that this could or would happen. All of that has eased and I think gone away, at least for the most part. Now, Why is simply a visitor, just there.

Others know why their loved one chose to die, I pray that knowledge helps them to heal. Still, I suspect that if I knew the answer to this lingering question that there would be another in its place. I certainly know that grief and healing is no easier for those who know the answer to that question, their grief is just a bit different than mine.

The presence of Why will ease, it always does, at least for me. In what may seem a strange way, I think I’m making friends with Why. I’m learning to be more forgiving of myself and others, knowing in a most profound way that we seldom really know what is in the mind and heart of another. Why is helping me to understand and be more at ease.

One step at a time, one breath at a time. We walk this journey of grief into healing together. For me, Why is a companion in this journey with whom I am becoming more and more comfortable.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Understanding

Guest blog by Jan McDaniel

Information brings knowledge, knowledge brings understanding, and understanding brings peace. While it is not possible to understand everything about the complexities of suicide, it helps to know the following.

  • Suicide crosses all boundaries: age race, gender, beliefs, cultures, economic status, and social standing.
  • Stress, medications, and other things can cause physical changes in the brain, resulting in distorted thoughts, hallucinations, and/or a breakdown in logic and reasoning capabilities.
  • Most suicides are related to mental illness or behavior disorders, but some are not. Other things, like impaired impulse control, addictions, and physical illness, can play a part.
  • When hope dies, a person feels there is no reason to live, no matter how many people love him or her or how much support is available.
  • Often, thoughts are only of escaping mental anguish.  If family and friends are thought of at all, these thoughts may focus on death as a way to relieve loved ones of the burden of dealing with the person in pain.

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.