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.

 

Period or Ellipsis?

Facts can be funny things. Some are truly universal. The sun is hot! Yep, that’s true for you and me as well. But other facts are not necessarily true for both you and me… unless they are. Oh boy, here we go already.

For instance. I read and hear many experts give guidelines of what to say to someone who is grieving They frequently also offer very specific guidelines about what not to say to someone who is experiencing grief. I appreciate and find value in these guidelines, but what if they are not helpful for everyone? Is it possible that what feels supportive for one may not be for another? Put on your pondering cap, and feel your way through.

Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learned. Life is like that. I try to remember that when something shares a fact as hard and fast, it is because to them it is indeed true. Period. End of sentence. I get that, but I also have found that hearing or reading some of these truths or what felt like rules to me was not always helpful but was in fact often confusing and even painful as I considered that if experts were telling me one thing and I was feeling different clearly the conclusion was that I was wrong. I was hurting in the wrong way. I was taking comfort from the wrong things. I was grieving and healing all wrong!

Wow, this was less than helpful. Very quickly, I began to read and listen in a new way. When someone would share a truth, a fact and end their sentence with a period, I would find myself hearing or imagine seeing an ellipsis… this gave me the freedom to find my own way. And to know that what is true for me, what is factual for me, may be different than it is for another.

Period. For me, this means non-negotiable, no flexibility, written in stone.
Ellipsis… ahhhh, what if this is true for some and not for others? This felt more supportive, more open to walking the path in my own way.

So if you hear me say something and it sounds like a fact, please know that it is factual for me. If it doesn’t sound or feel right for you, go ahead and add that ellipsis… and ask yourself, what if things look or feel different for me?

You and I are all walking this our own path of grief into healing. Even while we walk together, sometimes hand in hand, we continue to have our own unique experience.

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

 

Grief to Healing

Grief is a noun. Sometimes I think about the word grief and I feel almost as though the word describes a thing, a place, a state of being. Grief. I wonder what it would look like if I could visualize it…

You’ve experienced a profound loss. It may be a person, a relationship, a financial situation or a myriad of other experiences. When we experience loss when we are faced with a profound change in our status of being. We may well feel as though we are victims. Fair enough. You are now in Grief. I visualize a sign-post designating this place.

Depending on many factors, we may spend quite a lot of time in that place without much movement at all. This is not unusual and may well be what we need at that time and possibly for a while. That’s alright, it’s where we are when we begin.

At some point, we begin movement. Healing. It can happen incredibly slowly or more quickly than we expect. We process our thoughts and emotions, we make strides along that path, through grief into healing. We are taking action. Up ahead is a new sign-post, it clearly says Survivor.

Grieving is a verb. An action word. Safe, healthy, productive grieving is taking place. So very important! As the pain is released, it makes room for healing to happen.

The Victim is now taking action, walking the path, moving forward to that new situation. The Victim is transformed into a Survivor. When I think of a survivor, I easily call to mind the image of someone who has been through something that has changed life as they knew it. They are changed, forever. The person is now a Survivor.

How would it be to deliberately continue to process thoughts, emotions, all of the aspects of grief? To continue walking that path, through grief into healing? Up ahead there is another sign-post you know.

Keep doing the work! Each step you take toward that new sign-post is an important gift of self-love that you give to yourself. And you deserve it!

Processing the hurt, finding out who you are now. Learning to love yourself in new ways and to integrate your experience. Celebrating all that you treasure from your past, appreciating your now and looking forward with joy to your future. You are evolving with every step, you are growing, you are healing.

You are a Thriver! Of course, I want to share the definition of thriver with you.

To grow vigorously; flourish.

To be successful or make steady progress; prosper.

This is you and me as well. We all begin at that same place, regardless of how we got there. Grief. As we do the work, we walk the path, together. We move at whatever pace is right for each of us. But each of us has within ourselves the ability to be a Thriver.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

 

The Contract

The words you are about to read are an excerpt from my book, ‘The Acorn Journal: Messages of Connection from The Other Side’.

I’m sharing this because Mike has been on my mind in such wonderful ways recently. You see, his birthday is right around the corner, Sunday, June 2nd. This year, he would have turned 32 years old. I’ve been thinking about all the laughter we shared over those 23 years. The squabbling, debating, playing… all of it. And I have to say, I’m so grateful for all of those years.

Mike loved knock-knock jokes, especially of the pirate variety. So, expect to see more of them on my Facebook page in the upcoming days.

As you read The Contract, I encourage you to think about the people you love, imagine the agreements that you made with them. And I hope that your heart feels both more full and lighter, all at the same time.

The Contract

My son Mike was 23 years old when he died. One day I was thinking about Mike and his short life, how much he was loved and how much he loved all of his family and friends. After much soul searching and contemplation, I made up a scenario in my head. What if…

What if before Mike was born I had the opportunity to read a contract. This contract would explain that on June 2, 1987, at precisely 6 am I would give birth to a 9lb bundle of love. As the contract went on it would explain that this hazel-eyed little boy would announce that he was awake by laughing and giggling in his crib. He would grow into a sweet, bull-headed, smart boy who would drive his elder brothers crazy by always humming or singing. He would not care about playing sports or being cool, he would be passionate about books and music. As he grew he would favor cowboy boots and flannel shirts, of the red and black variety.

As he became a teenager he would deal with Addison’s disease, but in his normal manner, he would seem to take it in stride. An intensely private person he would be very open and opinionated about how others should live their life. He would make strong friendships and he would develop interesting hobbies, brewing beer and wine and cooking, as well as hunting.

The contract would go on to clearly state that while we would be able to love and interact with this amazing person, on December 17, 2010, at some point he would end his short life by shotgun. There would be no negotiating this ending, it would be so. It would be written in the contract.

What if I had the option of signing that contract? Would I opt to learn to love this person with all of my heart if I knew that same heart would break in a million pieces on December 18, 2010, when my doorbell rang and a sheriff told me of my son’s death? Would I sign that contract knowing how profoundly my sweet husband would be affected, that I would watch him age years before my eyes? Would I sign the contract knowing that my two surviving sons would never be the same, that they would have to experience the most severe heartbreak imaginable while still in their 20’s? Would I sign that contract if it meant that we would all have to experience everything that we have in the past year?

Yes! I would, again and again, I would sign that contract! And I believe that my husband, two surviving sons, and my daughter-in-law would put their signatures right alongside mine and Mike’s. Without hesitation.

Knowing and loving my son was worth each and every moment of heartbreak. The blessings, the smiles the laughs, the aggravation, yelling, and squabbling were all blessings. And I would indeed sign that contract.

For the record, it is my belief that my soul did sign an energetic contract saying just what I’ve laid out above. That’s my belief and it may or not be yours. But I find comfort in knowing that even if I had known all those years ago how it would end, I would do it again. It’s so been worth it, at least for me.

And that gives me the strength to go forward for another day.

Namaste,
Sandy

Grief – What IS Grief?


What is grief? Grief is the feeling that we experience when we have a loss. Deep sorrow and hurt. It may be accompanied by shock, lack of focus, loss of energy, feelings of overwhelm. We quite naturally think about feelings of grief when we experience loss of a loved one to death. It’s important to be aware that many other experiences in our lives can bring on the feeling of grief.

  • Divorce
  • Loss of job/career
  • Loss of home
  • End of friendship or other caring relationship
  • Saying goodbye to a beloved pet
  • Financial or economic loss

There are of course many other experiences which can bring about feelings of grief, I think you get the idea.

All of these experiences matter and deserve our attention. At some point in our lives, we are all likely to experience grief in one form or another. While grief due to loss can deeply hurt, it is absolutely possible to grieve or mourn in safe healthy ways which support your healing.

This is important, so I’m going to repeat it.

Feeling deep sorrow and pain after loss results in grief, but that grief CAN evolve, transition and heal. You do not need to feel deep pain every day, all day long for the rest of your life. Healing is possible. And I believe that healing is quite natural.

As I focus on coaching clients through grief, I am particularly focused on those who are grieving the death of a loved one. Grief is NOT a life sentence. Our relationship with our loved one can continue, in a new way to be sure, but it does not need to end with that last breath.

I’ve heard it said many times that we don’t get over a loss. I simply disagree, I believe it is possible. I believe that I have healed from several losses. Each and every one of these people remains in my heart today and always will. However, I no longer feel the deep pain when I think of them. Today I feel love and appreciation for having them in my life.

This didn’t happen in the blink of an eye, but it did happen. And I am deeply grateful.

Are you ready to transition your relationship with the one you have lost? Are you ready to begin healing your pain and grief?

I’m ready when you are. Let’s begin today.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

The Acorn Journal: Messages from The Other Side, One Acorn at a Time…

Hello, my friends,

Today’s message is incredibly personal. I’m sharing because this is something that I imagine all of us have dealt with or will deal with at some point in our lives. At the very least, it’s probably a point of curiosity and discussion. I’m talking about communication of some sort with someone who has died.

No, I’m not asking you to set aside your belief’s whatever they may be. I am simply asking you to consider having an open mind. To consider that perhaps, just perhaps someone who has left the planet earth is as close to us as our own heartbeats. Because I believe this is true.

My youngest son died seven years ago. Such a hard thing for me to wrap my head around, even now. I remember so very clearly having conversations with people almost immediately, about feeling confident that Mike was still around, in a very different way of course.

So, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when we began finding acorns at our lake home. It soon became very clear that these acorns were in fact, messages from Mike. I began keeping a journal of these occurrences and my thoughts and feelings when they were discovered. I needed to be sure that I wasn’t imagining things.

Time went on and these experiences have continued. This was both an intensely personal experience and something that I wanted to share with the world. When the time was right. Well, it feels as though the time is right and so  ‘The Acorn Journal: Messages of Connection from The Other Side, One Acorn at a Time’ has now been published and is available on Amazon.

This is my story and yes, it continues. Because life does not end when we take our last breath, it simply transforms. I hope that reading my story reminds you that those you love are with you. Always. I hope that you share your own story of connection with me. I would love to hear it.

Namaste,
Sandy

 

 

 

When Grieving – Become ‘The Observer’

On December 17, 2010, my son Mike ended his life on this planet. Yes, he died of suicide. And so began my journey. Walking the path of grief into healing.

Now this walk is not one that any of us have chosen. Many were hurled here without warning, those that did have warning were often overwhelmed before this all began. This sort of loss is complicated, traumatic. It’s sometimes hard to keep our focus and find our direction. Natural and normal human reactions.

When things are the most muddled and confusing, I find it can be tremendously helpful to step back. Sometimes quite literally! Remove me from the thoughts, feelings, conversations, behaviors of myself and others. Become ‘The Observer’.

Imagine what the current situation (whatever it is) might look, sound and feel like to someone who knows nothing about what is happening. Perhaps someone from far, far away. With no history that connects to any of us, what would they see? Most of the time when I do this, I can easily imagine The Observer is aware of people who are in great distress. Doing the best they know how to do.

The one who is telling others what they should be feeling, or perhaps tells others that they don’t care? The Observer may become aware that this person is feeling confused about how to express their own fears about those who are also grieving. They may be judging their own behavior of the past very harshly.

The one who… fill in the blank. We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s as simple as that. We imagine that we know and understand what is happening within ourselves and everyone else as well, but the truth is that we can’t know all of these things, at least not as humans. It becomes easier for us once we recognize that reality.

The one who never sheds a tear? That some have decided is cold and unfeeling? Perhaps The Observer is able to see that this person is in such deep pain that they might fall apart if they let the tears begin…

Let your own tears fall. They are cleansing, healing. It’s okay. When the accusations come, let them go on by, remind yourself how much you always loved this person and always will. Feel the love. In the end, the love is all that matters.

The rest will heal. In time and with work, oh boy is it work. But it is work that is so worth it because you see as we continue to do the grief work, we heal and that helps us to feel that ongoing love more fully. To embrace gentle memories. To remember smiles, hands holding ours. The life we will always cherish and celebrate.

This exercise allows us to see or at least consider seeing things from the point of view of others. There have been more times than I can count that people who I know in my heart love me. And they have sometimes said awful things. They didn’t say those things to hurt me, they were expressing themselves as best they could at that moment, from their own vantage point.

Step back. Take a deep breath. Let some of the anxiety go. Of course, it’s easier said than done, it gets easier with practice. Once we are able to take that step back, and hold open the possibility that even those who are hurting us are really doing the best they can at this moment, we experience much less stress. In its place, a feeling of compassion for ourselves and others can emerge. You might be surprised how much easier stepping back gets with practice and more importantly and how your perspective enlarges.

Namaste,
Sandy

How Connection Heals

This is a Guest Blog written by Jan McDaniel.

LegacyConnect members sum up what they do as follows: “grief support groups & expert advice on coping with loss, writing condolences, attending funerals, mourning death and celebrating life.” A sense of community and connection with others is perhaps the most important tool for healing that survivors can find. Getting advice from experts in related fields is something we all long for from the very beginning, but becoming a part of a community in which we can interact and share both pain and healing is something that is priceless, especially to “celebrating life.”

Celebrating life, whether I realized it or not, was something I did naturally, even at the beginning of my mourning for my husband. Reaching out to connect with others was another instinctive healing urge that guided me back toward life and hope. I had always heard this was possible, but I also realized – in 2007 – that I had never encountered this kind of darkness before.

If you think about it, we all learn from others. We start at the beginning of life, and this is one task that never ends. Learning and sharing are as old as mankind, yet we have not learned everything yet. Some things cannot be passed by information alone. Some things have to be experienced. I believe that each person who enters this world leaves a special and unique message that no one else can deliver. I think each person who loses a dearly loved child, partner, sibling, other family member or friend can provide comfort to others that is uniquely his or her own. In this way, we are all adding to the body of knowledge in the universe.

It may be that when we have completed our time on earth – no matter what age that time comes – we are ready to move forward. Our message has been delivered; our impact on the world has been made. For people who love us, there is never a good time to lose us. I cannot ask for more time with my husband in exchange for a date when I must let him go – again. That is something I cannot give. I would never willingly let him go.

Or would I? We two used to talk about things like that in deep conversations that ran long into the night. I suppose everyone has that kind of conversation at some point. How do we want to face the end of life? What are the best decisions regarding the care of our children? Should the one who is left remarry? Are there certain people we should consult for advice if the unthinkable happens?

We had it all planned…except that nothing happened the way we thought it would. Personally, I was sure we would take our lasts breaths together in our sleep one night, passing from one peaceful existence to another wrapped in the arms of each other. We would be well into our ninety’s, and our children would say, “This is how they would have wanted to go because they loved each other so. This is the way is was supposed to be.”

I did not plan for my daughter to walk alone toward her handsome bridegroom. I did not realize my husband’s recounting of his dream in which I wore a yellow dress would be his last. I did not think of holding his grandson in my arms for the first time without his arms around me.

Yet, I celebrate his life every day. I understand the path he took had more to do with saving me than saving him. I look forward to holding that child, who will be so much a part of him. My husband was so much more than the way he died.

When my daughter smiles or my grandson laughs, when I see in a beautiful spring day all the echos of days my husband and I shared that were good, I know I can never return to those innocent days in which I could just read about loss without knowing something else deep in my heart. But I also know, I will share the joy he brought to my life and the way he made the world around him better.

I will tell the stories he used to tell and share stories about the things he did and said. I will sit in a sandbox or push a swing and pass the love he gave me on to someone else who, in turn, will one day talk about the grandfather he never met as if he knew him.

Note: For more information about LegacyConnect, visit www.connect.legacy.com.

Jan McDaniel
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors:
Forum Moderator
Stewards Program Manager

Blog columnist
http://www.allianceofhope.org/blog_/jan-mcdaniel/

Reiki – Is It A Religion?

Nope, ’nuff said? Hmmm, perhaps it would be best if I elaborate just a little bit. 

Take a look at the beautiful trillium growing amongst the leaves. The flowering plant is indeed a living thing, it is energy. That’s what Reiki is, energy. Plain and simple. Well, not too plain and simple or this blog would be over and we would all understand just the point I’m trying to get across.

When we talk about Reiki, we define it as Universal Life Force Energy. It flows with our intention, calming and balancing our body, mind and spirit so that we are able to release, relax and heal. While I suspect that most of us do indeed consider this a spiritual event, it seems to me that the energy flows just as well for the atheist. After all, energy is energy and flows regardless of where we believe it comes from or how we explain its existence.

I have electricity in my house, that electricity or energy allows my laptop to operate and that allows me to share my thoughts about Reiki with you in this blog. Do I believe that this energy comes from God, Universe, Source or Creator? Yep, it just so happens that I do. However, I have a very dear friend who is ‘knows’ in his heart that my belief in a deity is a way to comfort myself, he considers it a myth. Turns out that the electricity flows in his house just as well. In the same way, I believe that the energy that we call Reiki does come from my Creator, use whatever name you prefer, I don’t think he/she minds a bit. I am simply a channel for this energy, it flows with my intention. Feels pretty darned good too.

This lovely flow of Reiki energy happens regardless if I am Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim or any other religion. Oh yeah, it’s important to note here that the Reiki energy also flows for those who are of no faith as well. Reiki is energy. Doing its job, completely independent of where I think the Reiki energy originates. How fabulous is that? 🙂

My belief regarding how the trillium grows, why electricity works, or indeed where the Reiki comes from is not an issue, at least for me. So, while I continue to feel that offering Reiki, accepting Reiki, simply thinking about Reiki is a spiritual experience. Reiki is absolutely not a religion. Reiki, along with all of these other wonders, exists. I see, enjoy and experience all of these things in one way or another each and every day. Reiki and all of these wonders that are made up of energy enhance my life in marvelous, wondrous ways. I am deeply grateful. That’s good enough for me.

Namaste,
Sandy