Gratitude – So Very Healing

When your heart is broken, it can sometimes feel as though nothing is right in your world. I get it! It’s fair, reasonable and completely normal to feel that way.

What I also know, is that in those moments of deepest sadness, it’s been profoundly helpful for me to take a few moments to be aware of what’s right in my world. And to be grateful.

This is not about denying what is happening or what I am feeling. It’s about very deliberately being aware that the event or feeling is not taking up all of me – even when I feel like it is.

The early days after my son Mike died, it often felt as though the pain was everything. But then my dog would come and lay down next to me and I would find myself grateful to have his love and steadfast devotion. To feel his warm breath and the softness of his ears. One of my sons would tell a story about growing up and I would find myself laughing and thinking about how lucky I have been to have had these boys (now men, of course) in my life. I would sit in the family room, watching the flames in the fireplace and find peace as I remembered all of the times my husband built a fire for us to enjoy time together.

When we deliberately focus on something for which we can be grateful, we open ourselves up to healing. Gratitude reminds us that our world is more than pain. Research shows that gratitude helps to reset our emotions, lower our blood pressure and even improves our immune system. Amazing, isn’t it?

Keep a Gratitude List. Put it next to your bed or someplace that you see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Make it a point to write down a few things every day. Here are a few suggestions.

– What act of kindness did you experience today?
– Do you have enough food to eat?
– Did you enjoy a hot bath or shower?
– Did something go better than you expected?
– What did you say or do for someone else that made you both feel good?
– Do you have somewhere safe to sleep tonight?

Taking the time to notice these things, and so many more is powerful stuff. Our brains are wired to notice and remember danger and pain so that we learn to be safe. However, much like the 6 o’clock news, that which is good, doesn’t always get a lot of attention.

When we focus on what is good, whether it’s a hug from a child or a bite of chocolate, and really take a few moments to savor the thought, the feeling, and notice where we experience this in our body, we are taking steps in healing.

Embrace the goodness in full. And revisit those moments frequently. It matters.






Guest post by Ari.


When my boy died I was left with only photos and memories. I could still hear his voice, the sound of his laughter in the house, could still feel his hug. No-one hugged me like he did – both arms around my back, his head on my shoulder, holding on for longer than just a few seconds. How I missed those hugs!

I often walked around the neighborhood during the first weeks and months of my grief, long walks that would take me away from the house, away from some of the memories and questions and sadness. It really didn’t help- the grief followed me! But in connecting with nature, crying to the sky, seeing the beauty that was in a sunrise, or feeling the cold rain mix with my tears, I started to feel my boy’s spirit. He walked with me, giving me comfort, trying to give me peace. He did not give me any answers as to why he left so suddenly – that will probably never happen, but he did help me to re-enter life, after many many months, and to start learning acceptance. What had happened was never in my control, perhaps not in his either, but in learning to accept that he had died, and the way he died, started me to heal, to learn to let go of the guilt, and with it some of the sadness.

I started seeing seagulls whenever I walked and thought of him. Had they always been there, flying around, white wings beautiful against the blue sky? One would suddenly come into view, gilded by the golden light of the sun, do a few turns over me as if saying hello, I’m here, then fly away. Sometimes whole groups would fly over me. Once I asked God if seagulls are a sign of his spirit then let me see a dozen all at once. The next morning, as I opened the drapes to the morning light one, flew by, followed by another, and another. I counted 12. I had my answer, and it stayed in my heart. I still say “hi” when I see a seagull.

I walk almost every day still, it has been over five years without my beloved son. I don’t look towards the sky as often anymore, there is so much beauty all around me to explore and enjoy. Flowers, little kids at the park, dogs, people. I see my seagulls on days when I feel happy as if he comes to say “good job mom!”, and on those sad, back into the hole kind of days that I will invariably continue to experience while I live he comes too, calling his mournful call, up in the sky, circling until I see and acknowledge him. He comes to comfort his mom. If I believe it and feel it in my heart it must be so, right? Yes, this is how I connect with my son, since the beginning he has watched over me, and I will continue to smile when I see his spirit in the shape of a beautiful seagull.

Find what comforts you, what makes you feel close to them, what fills your heart. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, it only matters what you feel when you connect with your beloved.



Healing Support for Suicide Loss – Through Grief, into Healing

This is for adults who have lost someone to suicide.

Meeting with others who have experienced suicide grief is powerful and healing. 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 who care deeply and understand.

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

This is FREE. Donations to the C.A.T.H.E. Center are always welcome.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
7 – 8:30 pm
We meet at C.A.T.H.E. Center (Cathe Center)
125 E State St, Burlington, Wisconsin 53105
(Gray house attached to the parking lot)

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.


Q&A series: Why Can’t I Sleep?

Sleep. We need it, especially after traumatic loss, but it is often elusive. The stillness of night does not bring stillness when the mind is filled with turmoil and worry, thoughts of not only the loss but also circumstances that can be quite horrible. The nervous system is on hyper-alert, with anxiety and perhaps depression adding to the melee. Too often, this is a time of pain, not peace.

If sleep does come, it may have a nightmarish quality. Certainly, a second or two after waking – whether in the middle of the night or the morning – the harsh realizations begin, sliding over a new survivor mercilessly. Everything we don’t want is there waiting.

It often takes a lot of time to find real rest again. The journey that began with the loss of a loved one is not a quick trip. It is no wonder that survivors who are left behind lose strength, become exhausted, eat little or too much, or begin to suffer health problems. From shock to the grinding period of dealing with the aftermath to the early stages of finding support and healing, a survivor’s work is just to breathe, to do what must be done.

Here are a few suggestions that might help ease the nighttime hours, for sleep is important to both healing and health:

  • Consciously make your bedroom a special and safe place. Add comforting plants, candles, or pillows. Perhaps a rocking chair and lap blanket. Use a soft lamp. This is your room for respite.
  • Place a notebook and pen beside the bed. These are for writing down any worries you think of so that you can keeping them in the book will help free your mind from the burden of remembering. Deal with them in the morning.
  • Create a gentle routine. Perhaps a bath or a cup of hot herbal tea before bed will help you relax.
  • Think of yourself as deserving and needing this kind of care. You have been deeply wounded and need an “intensive care unit” of your own. Even if no one can see your wounds of loss, they are there.
  • If you wake in the night unable to go back to sleep, sometimes it helps to check in with online support, such as the Alliance of Hope for Survivors of Suicide Loss. After a few minutes reading or posting, you may be able to sleep easier, knowing you are not alone.
  • Place a soft blanket within easy reach, just for comfort if not for warmth.
  • Take your time with recovery. This is more like a marathon than a sprint.

When Relationships Change or End

I’ve heard and read, again and again, that when one is grieving, we learn who really cares about us – they are steadfast. Beginning and end of story. No exceptions. But what if relationships end? Does it mean that no one cared?

While some friends remained close, the fact is that I did lose friends after my son died. Some were friends I had been very close to for many years. People that I thought I would be close with forever. But that’s not what happened.

This didn’t happen immediately for me, but over a few months. At first, I was really hurt. Yeesh! I had lost my son, if they cared about me, why didn’t they stay? Clearly I was undeserving. Unlovable. I felt abandoned.

It took a lot of time and reflection and some very painful honesty to consider things from another point of view.

These were people who had known and loved Mike in their own way. It’s entirely possible that their own grief needed to be expressed in ways that I was not offering.

In each of these friendships my role was primarily as the staunch and ever cheerful supporter. This changed dramatically after my son’s suicide. I was not able to offer much support; and I was no longer a cheerleader. Instead, I needed support in ways that I felt difficult to express and may not have aligned with what my friends expected. In truth I needed a lot of alone time and one friend in particular had a problem with that choice.

One of these friendships had been suffering for quite some time. Perhaps this was simply too much.

There are so many reasons why a relationship may end and we don’t always receive clarity or what is generally called closure. It hurts, there’s no doubt about it.

Here are some things that I came to realize.

My pain was 24/7; there was no getting away from it. These people had their own lives and even though they cared, my grief may have simply been too much.

Now that may sound simplistic, but I have come to believe that all relationships have a beginning and an end. Sometimes we don’t recognize or want to acknowledge the endings because they can be very painful.

As I thought about these people, I realized that they still were quite important to me. I don’t believe they ended our relationship because they suddenly decided I was a terrible person. For whatever reason, it was simply time.

This allowed me to think about the relationships in a new way. One that was filled with appreciation, gratitude and yes, love. These people had meant so much to me; I will always hold them in my heart. They were there for some amazing times and some very difficult times. Yes, gratitude and love.

Now while a couple of relationships did come to an end, I want to share something quite wonderful. Some other friendships became much deeper. These were primarily people who had not known my son (one did). Perhaps their lack of personal grief allowed them to lean forward in this way, I don’t know. They became ardent supporters and are now some of my closest friends.

And there are the new friends that I made along my grief journey. Others who had lost people they loved to suicide. As we got to know one another, our relationships went far beyond the connection that first drew us together. My son has been gone for almost 9 years, and these friendships flourish.

And they are all over the globe! Scotland, Australia, Canada, various states in the U.S. I’ve been able to meet many in person and while we always share about the ones we miss so much, the connection is strong and sure.

We all do the best we can. That’s all that we can do. Some relationships, family or friends become deeper and stronger after tragedy. Some come to an end. I encourage you to work through the hurt when you have to say goodbye to some of them. Remember the love, the companionship, all that made the relationship important. It’s okay to be hurt, it’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to grieve this additional loss. And it’s also okay to process those feelings and to heal. As we do, we are left with love.

Beginning, middle and end, the love is always there.


Remember them …


guest column and photo by Ari

I used to sit by my boy’s photo and look deeply into his beautiful hazel eyes, wondering how on earth this had happened to him, to our family. There was nothing there that told me any secrets – they were bright and clear, crinkling around the edges as he laughed. His inner demons did not come through those eyes. So much for them being a window into the soul!

But as I sat there, day after day, I stopped looking for the “why’s” and instead I started focusing on his face, his smile, his soft hair, his crooked front teeth and cleft chin, his eyes – those wonderful, kind eyes. I remembered his laugh, his voice calling me “mom,” his soft snores on the couch late in the night when I would carefully wake him to go to bed.

I remembered him, in life, not just his death and the sadness that came with it. I remembered him.

I light a candle every Sunday, early with the sunrise, and it stays lit for the whole day, unless we go out somewhere, which we usually don’t do. Sundays were always family days, when my boy was home, and we stayed in our pj’s, eating a big breakfast, watching football, snacking all day, relaxing before the beginning of another busy week.

Sunday remains a quiet, peaceful day still, even with him gone. His candle shines bright all day, the smell making me smile whenever I walk by it. It is one way to keep his memory alive, to keep him close to us still. It sits by his photograph and lights the way into his eyes, so that I don’t forget, so that I remember him.

During the holidays it is easy to succumb to the ever present grief of them being gone. But doing small, meaningful things, such as lighting a candle in their memory, can make the sadness recede just a little bit, and sometimes that’s all we need- a small respite.

Remember them!

Don’t take anything Personally

As you read the title about this message, did you find yourself saying ‘Okay, but grief is different. Grief is intensely personal!

I get it. Really I do. At the same time, holding on to this Agreement has allowed me to hold on to more peace and sanity than I would if have if it weren’t something I learned long ago.

You’ve heard me say it, or you’ve read my words, this stuff of grieving is less than graceful. In fact, I personally find that grieving and healing is incredibly messy stuff. I have made some incredible blunders along the way and so have those who have supported me. Usually with the best of intentions. Even so, we’re all human, and that means that from time to time we will make mistakes.

Years ago, my first Reiki teacher, Deb Karpek told me about a small book, ‘The Four Agreements’ by don Miguel Ruiz. This book is one of the most important and meaningful that I have ever read. The Agreements are deceptively simple, but that doesn’t mean that they are easy. Still, understanding them and being open to being guided by these Agreements has helped me tremendously.

The 2nd of the Agreements is ‘Don’t take anything personally.’ Yep, that sounds reasonable on the surface, but I needed to understand it better to make it a part of my being.

Here’s the scoop, and as I said, it sounds simple enough. Anything that I say, is about me – not you. If I am nasty, it’s got nothing to do with you! It’s about the way I feel. Think of that silly rhyme we sang as children, something along the lines of ‘I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.’ As it should because it’s all about the person who is being nasty anyway. As much as possible, imagine yourself ducking and weaving, let it go right past you. Because it is not about you. It’s not yours to receive or hold on to. Let it go, let it go, let it go.

At the same time, if I am kind, that too has nothing to do with you. It is the feeling that I need to express. If you choose to accept that kindness, it’s a win for both of us.

Remember you have the choice to accept or let anything go on by.

As I said, the business of grieving and supporting someone we love through grief is complicated and often messy. We may lose our tempers. They may phrase something in a way that is hurtful. Deep breaths are helpful here. Ignore the words if you can and do your best to become aware of the intention behind the words. If it is not kind, go ahead and let it go, don’t take it personally. You may choose to walk away. If the intention feels loving and supportive, you have the opportunity to accept to the degree it feels right for you.

Mistakes will be made. Even after almost 9 years, I’m still astonished at some of the bone-headed remarks that have been made to me. But here’s the thing, most of them were intended to offer comfort and ease, to convey compassion and support. These people simply didn’t know how to articulate what their hearts wanted to convey. And so, I didn’t take it personally. It was and continues to be, tremendously helpful.

Here is a link to that incredible little book. I suggest buying at least 2 copies. One to keep and one to share. It’s that life-changing.
The Four Agreements




What Your Loved Ones Can Expect While You Grieve

I was going through some old messages looking for something quite specific. What I found was a message that I had sent to a few special people about 8 weeks after my son’s death. It helped me to explain my thoughts and feelings and also let some of these people know where my head and heart were at the time. I’m sharing it in hopes that it may help others.


Good morning,

I was visiting a site this morning and found the helpful post that is below. I apologize for not knowing who the author is, but I still wanted to share.

This sums up and explains more clearly than I possibly can the ups and downs, clarity and confusion, interest and lethargy, etc. that have been occurring. You have been very patient and I’m afraid that if we are to continue to ‘hang out’ together I’m going to need to beg for more patience.

While I have searched, researched, read books, visited websites, etc. I cannot seem to find a guideline for moving through this time with any sort o grace or even a way to minimize the bumbling.

I’m working on not being short-tempered. Trying to hear what is said and not interpret (often in the wrong way) what is said to me. I am very aware that I often do not hear or read what is actually said or written. It’s almost as though something in my brain is filtering, but the filter is faulty.

My patience is short and my energy is very limited. It surprises me every time, but there it is. I have no idea how long this will last. It may be over by 2:17 pm this afternoon, that would be my preference! But I suspect these things may hang around or at least visit from time to time for quite a while. Only time will tell.

I want to thank you for the patience you have shown, I’m very aware of it even if I am not always able to thank you as I should and would like to do. Please know that the gratitude is there. It’s deep and it’s real.

I’m still in here, but it’s a bit murky and foggy and I’m simply finding my way one step at a time.

I have no doubt that I will resurface entirely at some point. Until then, I’ll keep bobbing up and I want you to know how much I appreciate having you around when I do.


What Your Loved Ones Can Expect While You Grieve 

My grief process will take much longer than you want it to.
You can’t fix this for me by doing anything but you can just be there for me.
I will be in a sort of fog for at least 3 months. When the fog lifts, I might get worse.
I will have periods of doing okay, then I will feel despair again.
I will be exhausted. Grief is hard work.
My desire, creativity, and motivation will be gone for quite awhile.
My ability to experience joy may also be absent.
I will have a range of emotions from irritability to inexplicable rage and it may be targeted at you. Please forgive me.
I am vulnerable, I feel brittle, and I do not feel resilient.
I can’t take too much stimulation. I probably won’t feel like being sociable.
I know you miss the old me, but I’m forever changed by the loss of my loved one.

It will feel as though I haven’t made any progress. However, I am slowly healing with occasional normal setbacks.
I will heal. Please be patient, loving, and understanding.

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.