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.

 

The Blurt Factor

I wrote this waaaaaaaay back on February 5, 2011. It was around 7 weeks after the death of my son. I’m sharing it with you now, more than 8 years later because I think that these experiences are more common than we might imagine.

If you are someone that is grieving, it’s my hope that this will assure you that if you ‘blurt’ you are not alone. When grief is new and fresh, our brain simply does not operate in quite the same way as it does typically. Please be gentle and forgiving of yourself.

If you are supporting someone who is grieving, please be patient and aware that they are doing the best they can. Often with less grace than they would prefer, but it is their best at the moment.

February 5, 2011

I’ve been calling it the ‘blurt factor’. At times it seems so strange to me that the death of my son has not caused the planet to stop spinning. I’m sometimes puzzled that when I turn on the radio, pick up a newspaper or switch on the television that there is not wall to wall news about Mike dying. Perhaps similar to what we see and hear when there is the death of someone like Princess Diana or President Kennedy.

Mike died on December 17, 2010. I returned to work on January 3rd. I’m self-employed so that made it somewhat easier. I can and do postpone or cancel appointments when those feelings overwhelm me.

And yet, on the phone with a treasured client a few hours ago, I found myself telling her that my son had died last month and that the cause of death was suicide. Because of the nature of my business, many of my clients including this one know quite a lot about my personal life.  I use examples from my own experiences all the time to help them to move forward in a positive manner. Still, this particular client has moved to another state, she had no way of knowing this had happened and the phone call was not ‘about me’. Hence what I call The Blurt. There was no reason to share this with her, it did not benefit her in any way to know. At least not then and not in that way. Many, if not all of my clients do know because they see one another and also because I have had to cancel or postpone appointments when I’ve had a particularly emotional day. Ugh!!! This was only a moment or two of the one-hour conversation and of course, I apologized profusely. On the phone as well as in follow up communication. I don’t like that I am doing this – this blurting.

As with many of you, this is new territory for me. Part of my brain detaches often and observes with fascination the process that is unfolding. The day before my son died a client contacted me and asked if she could simply come and share for a while with me on Friday. She had lost two people that she cared about to suicide in the previous weeks. These people were unknown to one another but she was feeling overwhelmed and simply needed to share. So, we spent over 3 hours in my office. As we talked I realized that it seemed to me that survivors rarely ‘get over’ suicide. The day I spent with her and with another client who was sharing deep concerns and worries about one of his sons is the day my son died. Another fact that seems to hang around that part of my brain that is simply keeping notes and is not as emotional.

When I experience something life-changing, one of the ways I cope is to read, read, read. So, after losing Mike I began reading websites and books about grief. I was horror-stricken when I read a book that told me that I should expect to curl up in a fetal position and want to die myself. Of course, that’s not literally what the book said, but that is what I took from it at the time. Talk about selective reading! I know that is the experience of many people and I feel horrible that is so, but it’s not been my experience. At least not yet and I pray that it never will be. It sometimes feels to me that I’m not moving through this the way I’m supposed to. But I don’t know just how I am supposed to. What are the rules, the guidelines?

I remember the morning after the officers left our home telling us about the death of our son. My husband and I were sitting together, numb. I kept thinking and even saying ‘I don’t know what to do, say or think next. There must be directions somewhere.’ I think that’s what I look for when I read, directions. There isn’t a manual that I can find so I’m stumbling through doing the best that I can and I think I’m doing okay. Still, there’s the blurt.

I think what bothers me most about the blurt is that it hurts so many people and that feels unnecessary and cruel. It occurs to me that for me at least it’s the verbal equivalent to wearing mourning colors, an armband that signifies that you’ve suffered a loss or a wreath on the door indicating to all that you may be in a fragile state of some sort. While I absolutely do not consider myself fragile, I know that I am changed. Just what that change will look like down the road, I don’t know as yet, I guess I’ll find out as time goes on. For the moment that change brings the frequent blurt, the frequent memory lapses, occasional issues with focus and thankfully diminishing problems with sleep. As sleep returns, I suspect and hope that some of these other issues will dissipate to some extent as well.

I often find myself laughing and enjoying the many pleasures in my life and I am so grateful for the blessing that while I experience profound sadness I have not experienced depression. Still, the tears surprise me often, many times without warning. The last several days were incredibly rough, but today feels pretty darned good and I’m enthusiastic about teaching a class tomorrow followed by watching the Superbowl.

I suspect that blurting is sort of my way of announcing that I’ve changed in a fundamental way. People can see that I’m short, they can see that I’m aging but they can’t see that I’m emotionally wounded. Maybe that’s what the blurt is, a way of sharing and in a small way re-balancing my world. I have always shared my excitement about my family with clients when one is coming home, has something to celebrate, etc, so I suppose that in some way this is continuing to share. For some reason, it’s important for me to assure them that while Mike is gone from my physical life, he’s not gone from my heart or mind. And that I absolutely know he’s near whenever I need him.

Perhaps the blurt will diminish or even go away. Time will tell. At any rate, It’s my intention that by expressing myself here, by sharing this strange bit of behavior (at least new and strange to me) that I will be more aware and able to release the need. Again, time will tell.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

How can I Support Someone Grieving?

That’s a really good question, and I’m so glad that you asked. (wink)

When someone’s heart has been broken, we want to help. It’s human nature and let’s face it, you are a really good human! The problem is that we don’t know what to say or what to do. How would we? We have not supported this friend through this experience before, we’re all new at this and doing the best that we can.

– Show up. Call, text, email, drop a card in the mail. Let the one you care about know that you care. Grief doesn’t heal or go away after a few days. Keep reminding them that you care, that they matter.

– Please be patient. Shock often sets in almost immediately and can last days, weeks or even months. For some, it means that focus takes a walk and memory seems to be on an extended vacation. The one grieving may not be able to process what she is reading or hearing and may need to have things repeated, more than once. He may not remember what you told him a few moments ago. Please, take a deep breath and remember this is someone you care about.

– What do we hear or say? Just call me if you need anything. And we mean it, we really do. But can I let you in on a secret? The one who is experiencing grief may be too overwhelmed to make that call even if they are able to focus enough to determine what they actually need.  This was certainly true for me. What I did find helpful were very specific offers. So here are a few suggestions to give you an idea.

– Ask if you can mow the grass.
– Call and say that you are going to the store for milk and eggs, ask if they have a meal for supper or would they like some tea.
– Headed out for a walk? Invite the one you care about to join you.
– Offer to take the dog for a walk or the children to the park. Ask if they would prefer to join you or have a bit of quiet time.

I think you get the idea. Specifics make it easier for the one who is experiencing grief to focus for a moment and discern what they want or need.

– Say their name! Say the name of the one that is missed. Tell a story about them, something that touched your heart or made you smile. Ask the one who is grieving to share a bit more. This is a gift that will always be cherished.

– Be the back-up. When a day or event is coming up that you expect may be difficult, offer to be their reinforcement. If there is an event coming up and your loved one is considering attending, let them know that you will be there for them. Shoulder to shoulder, it matters. Talk ahead of time about what sort of signal they can give you to let you know they need to have a break or even to leave. In short, be their safety net.

– Take a deep breath if the person you are supporting is unkind or short-tempered with you. Count to 3, or 5 or 137 before responding. What does your heart tell you they intend to convey to you? This does not mean that it’s necessary for you to be a doormat! As gently as possible, in a calm and quiet tone, respond from your heart. Kindness always matters.

– Notice language. If in doubt, ask. When my son died, I realized how many people were terrified of the word suicide. Because the word is so strongly stigmatized some would whisper or avoid saying the word. For me, that was not a concern, but it might be for others. Terminology can land quite painfully for some, please be sensitive. Again, thinking about losing my son to suicide, some would use the phrase ‘committed suicide’ this never bothered me at all. But I do know and care about folks who are deeply offended by that phrase. Notice, be aware and if in doubt, simply ask what is okay.

You are going to make mistakes. Forgive yourself. The one you are supporting is going to make mistakes. Forgive them. Remember that we are all doing the best we can and let that be enough. What matters most is that you care enough to let the person grieving know that they matter to someone. That they are loved. Bless you, for sharing your heart.

Namaste,
Sandy

Who are You Now? How do You Identify Yourself?

A few days ago I was thinking about how we introduce ourselves to others. I began thinking about some identifying aspects of myself.

– Amateur Gardener
– Bacon Lover
– Short Woman

Now here’s the thing, each of these things is true. They are facets of me, but they are not the primary way that I identify myself. In my own head or when I’m speaking with others.

When one is experiencing grief, it’s not only common but quite reasonable that at least in the beginning, that feeling, what they feel they have lost becomes their primary focus. Depending on how deep the wound, it may be the only thing they are able to think about, talk about or feel for a time. That’s natural and normal.

Having said that, I want to acknowledge that we are not our wound. Regardless of how painful the loss of my son, I was always Sandy. Some of the aspects of my being had certainly changed, but there were so very many that remained. I was still a wife, a mom, daughter, friend, etc.

Human beings are marvelously multi-faceted being. This is not about ignoring the wound that brings on grief or denying that it is a part of you – not all of you. It is about trusting that in time, with safe, healthy grief work, you will once again shift from identifying yourself with as your wound to a person that has been wounded and is healing.

I am not Suicide Loss, I am Sandy.  That’s what you will always read on my name tag. How are you identifying yourself?

Namaste,
Sandy

Grief and Healing. What do the Words Mean to You?

I only speak one verbal language, English of the American variety. The truth is that I looooove words! I find language, the nuances, the various ways that we use words to express a variety of meanings to be absolutely fascinating.

Something that I realize more and more is that phrases and words may not mean the same thing to you and me. While I find some words or phrases to be helpful others may find them hurtful. The reverse is also true.

For example, the phrase ‘You never get over it.’ I’ve been assured by more than one rather brilliant professional with all of the appropriate letters after their names that assures me they are licensed counselors, that phrase is true. Hands down, no discussion, it’s true for everyone who is experiencing grief due to death.

Each time I explained that I find the phrase absolutely terrifying! For me, it feels as though I am being told that I will suffer, hurt and never laugh again and that neither will anyone of those I love who have also experienced grief.  Ever. It feels final. A bit like being shackled and tossed to the back of a dark cave. As I said, a horrible feeling – for me.

At the same time, I realize full well that many are comforted by that phrase as they are reminded that it’s perfectly natural to have difficult moments, hours or even days long after the one they love has died.

The same phrase, but very different responses.

I often read websites or books that tell us what to say and what not to say to someone we are endeavoring to support through grief. As I read those books and those websites, I greatly appreciate the kind assistance that is offered. At the same time, again and again, I find myself wanting to suggest that those are not hard and fast rules. What feels good today may be painful tomorrow… or not.

* Forgiveness
* Healing
* Life after death

To offer just a few. I know how each feels for me, what the meaning is for me. At the same time, I am very aware that they may land differently for you.

I offer this thought, or perhaps a suggested exercise. When you are speaking about your own grief or with someone about theirs, ask how these phrases and words feel to them. Discuss what feels helpful for you and be open to hearing what is true for them in their own experience.

Yes, we share a common language. But the most helpful conversations are when we feel welcome and supported to understand one another.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Self-Care, Yes, it Matters

If we’ve worked together for anything, you’ve heard me suggest… encourage… alright, I nag about self-care! Because it matters so very much. Self-care is right at the top of the list as far as I’m concerned.

Why? Because if you are not taking good care of you, you cannot possibly take care of anyone or anything else.

What does self-care mean? It means something different to all of us and it’s quite likely that it may mean something different this evening than it does at this moment. Put as simply as possible, it’s giving yourself permission to do what you need most at this moment.

For example, a cup of coffee and a stroll around the yard in the very wee hours of the morning is excellent self-care for me. The coffee feels warm in my hands even while the morning dew refreshes my feet. Taking a peek at plants as they are opening up, some showing off brand new blooms put me in a very excited and at the same time very tranquil frame of mind. It’s good for me.

Later, I pretty much need a walk. On nice days, I may need a couple. Walking, stretching my legs calms me and reminds me that I am strong and capable.

As the day winds down, I almost always feel a strong longing to spend time in the bathtub. It may be 10 minutes or an hour. Here’s the thing, it truly is a very intense feeling, my body and body are telling me to carve out time to spend in the water. I always feel like my very soul craves being near water and whenever possible, in the water.

Other days, self-care means checking off boxes that are on my list. Maybe cutting the grass or cleaning the house. Please, please, please let it be cutting the grass and not cleaning the house! 🙂

It might be realizing that concerns or worry are money related. The act of acknowledging and understanding what is prompting this feeling helps to find a solution. Perhaps cutting an expense or picking up a few extra hours at work. Also, excellent self-care if the feeling within you is good.

The very process of discernment, what is mine and what can/should I delegate? Making those decisions are excellent self-care as this brings around a calm which relieves stress.

It’s absolutely, completely, entirely alright to ask for support! We can’t do everything for everyone all of the time. It’s a gift to others as well as ourselves to ask for and allow support and caring. To share a hug, a meal or a conversation.

Self-care is about treating yourself with at least as much kindness, compassion and courtesy as you would a stranger.

Notice what your body is telling you, is it being nurtured with healthy food in the right proportions? Hear what your heart is saying to you. Are your thoughts and feeling being expressed in safe and healthy ways?

Excellent self-care is not any one thing. It is many small things. It’s making yourself a priority. After all, there’s only one like you. I know this to be true because I heard it from Mr. Rogers.

“Taking care is one way to show your love. Another way is letting people take good care of you when you need it.”
― Fred Rogers

Namaste,
Sandy

Your Feelings are Valid!

What you feel matters. It is important that your feelings, your emotions are acknowledged, accepted and respected as valid. Because they are valid.

Far too often we think about and even label emotions or feelings as negative or positive. I don’t feel that’s accurate at all. I think of emotions are sign-posts or indicators of what is happening inside of us. They tell us where we are in any given moment.

Here’s one way of looking at this. Pulling out a map of the United States, perhaps I am quite determined to walk my path until I arrive in Olympia, Washington. Sounds just fine, doesn’t it? I hear things are pretty swell in that area.

Without knowing where I am currently, I have no clear way of discerning that direction that I would prefer to walk. Now to be clear, there is no right or wrong way to get there! Perhaps I would walk north for a while, taking long rests along the mountains and appreciating the solitude. The steps to take and the direction to move is always a very personal decision. However, if I don’t know where I am beginning, I will only hope to arrive at Olympia, Washington. I won’t have any way to know if I am getting closer, circling around the edges or even if I’m smack in the middle of the place – unless there is a sign, an indicator which tells me where I am.

That’s what our emotions do for us. They indicate our mood and tell us what we need. Anger, resentment, and frustration deserve every bit as much awareness, acknowledgment, and respect as happy and content.

Knowing what these indicators help us to use safe, healthy, effective strategies. Sometimes there’s nothing to be done except acknowledge and support. There are most definitely times that the best we and those who love us can do is to simply breathe together. To know that it is okay to feel the way that we do. For as long as we need to. It’s okay, we’ll take steps when we’re ready. And our emotions will indicate that to us as well.

Human beings are amazingly intricate, fabulously multi-faceted beings. As such we are capable of an incredible range of emotions. I encourage you to close your eyes for a moment and really notice what you are feeling. Let go of any judgment, simply notice… acknowledge and know that whatever you are feeling is a sign-post for you.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

Reiki and Grief

As a Reiki master/teacher, I’ve been very fortunate to work with many during very difficult times in their lives as well as when they are simply looking for a bit of relaxation.

I also have the ability to flow Reiki for my own self-care, to bring balance back to my entire system. Most often this is a gift that I cherish and deeply appreciate, the healing energy of Reiki always feels so very good to me. What I didn’t realize until I was plunged into my deepest grief, was how extraordinarily beneficial I would find receiving Reiki from others.

A week or two after my son died, one of my dearest friends, who is also Reiki, invited me to have a session. Even now, I remember driving there, anticipating the processing of emotion and beginning to feel lighter. That gift was something that I needed far more than I realized and I still appreciate it greatly.

Yes, receiving the healing energy of Reiki helped me to process thoughts and feelings that I was struggling to release. And they most definitely need to be released.

I appreciate that Reiki does not force anything, but rather allows the flow, the movement, the release that’s right for the person receiving. This was incredibly important for me then and continues to be just as important now.

Laying on that table, relaxing. Feeling the hands very lightly touch me and trusting that the Reiki energy was doing just what was right for me. I’m grateful. Grateful to be able to flow the healing energy for myself and those I care about as well as those I work with. I’m grateful for the friend who shared that gift with me as well. Reiki, the energy gift that keeps on flowing.

Namaste,
Sandy

Reiki Level One – Class coming up

Are you ready to welcome the gentle vibration of Reiki?

Reiki is energy work which supports relaxation and the release of stress. As stress is released, balance is restored. Ahhhhh, don’t you feel better already?

Completely safe, Reiki supports your best overall health.

This interactive class provides plenty of opportunity to share your thoughts, ask questions and of course, to both give and receive Reiki yourself. It’s a hands-on experience.

Dress casually in comfortable clothes.
You may want to bring paper and pen for notes, though this is not required.
Water and a light snack will be provided

To register, contact Sandy.
Serenity@SandyWalden.com
or follow the link: http://www.sandywalden.com/reiki-classes/

Namaste,
Sandy

 

Healing Support for Suicide Loss

This group is for adults who have lost someone to suicide.

Meeting with others who have experienced suicide grief is powerful. Spending this time together provides a safe, respectful space to truly acknowledge your feelings and experiences… and to begin healing.

You are not alone! Sandy and many others have walked this path, and continue to do so. Healing can and does happen. It’s a very natural part of this journey, made much easier with the support of others.

Join with Sandy, to walk that path, through grief, into healing.

Questions? Contact Sandy
E: Serenity@SandyWalden.com
_______________________________

June 4, July 2, August 6, September 3
7-8:30 PM
CATHE Center – Gray House
Free of charge