RIP: The collateral heartache of trauma and violence

This week, there have been three suicides as a result of trauma and violence, two student survivors of the Parkland, FL school shooting and one parent who lost a child in the Newtown school shooting. This is beyond heartbreaking for both families and school communities who have struggled valiantly to deal with the reality and aftermath of  their respective horrors.

Generally speaking, suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame; a plea for help; a response to mental illness and biological vulnerabilities; the last gasp of despair and resignation; a consequence of hopelessness and isolation; an impulsive mistake; a conscious ending of life; the ultimate act of rage and fury; the result of unabated terror; a response to abandonment; the repercussion of accumulated stressors; as well as collateral damage from violence, addiction, and trauma.

In these cases, it is the collateral damage from the trauma of the school shootings and the ensuing complicated grief that most certainly influenced these suicides.

This collateral damage can leave you reeling with extreme emotional pain, gutted by the traumatic endings of  your loved ones’ lives and a high probability of survivor’s guilt.

Deep, intractable, dark-holed depression and breath-inhibiting, complicated grief can leave you in a tight, cramped, airless space where you can feel stuck, profoundly tired, deeply detached and disconnected. You can hurt all over. Nothing makes sense. Your thinking becomes binary, right or wrong, good or bad. In a word, boxed.

You can feel utterly despondent and despairing. Grief can sucker punch you in unexpected waves and leave you swimming in tears. Your sense of self has melted. There is overriding pain, conflicting emotions and, often, a continuous replay of the traumatic and violent specifics that leave you helpless and in agony for your lost loved one. Further, as with all grief and trauma, each experience opens the door to the memory of other experience of loss and trauma.

These three suicides serve as a highly charged cautionary tale that complicated grief and trauma leave our loved ones dangerously close to the edge. Clearly, it’s not easy. It is challenging and calls for all of our compassion, understanding and support of those who have found themselves walking this very challenging (in all possible ways) and, possibly, lethal path.

Suicide is not a natural response. If I were to put a pillow over your face, you would instinctively fight me. The pain, the big grief and the trauma had to be so big for each of these individuals to make the choice they did.

May all three of these survivors of the unthinkable find their respective long-lost peace and be held in the light.

 

Held and remembered

The other day, a small rectangle of a yellowed newspaper article, taped onto a cut piece of an index card, fell out of book that was a pass-along from a friend. I was touched by the compassion of these words, the knowing of the hold and pull of grief on the heart as well as the talisman these words served for my beloved, long-time friend:

“You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You recognize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrow and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevator first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember.” (Author unknown)

The second piece of paper to flutter out of the book was a post-it reading “Be here now.” Again, how apropos amidst the bittersweet knot of loss to be reminded to stay present, carrying on with our hearts full of love and memory. As our unknown author says, “to keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember.”

I have two thoughts: One, a life well lived, clearly carrying forward the memory of our loved one, is the greatest homage to the one(s) we have lost. And two, the ones who are no longer physically present are most certainly present within our hearts and our souls. I often feel they are the quiet guides who help us along the way.

We remember. We hold. We go forward with our someone in our heart.

 

Griefwalker: a film

A touching and beautiful Canadian documentary (2008) on death and dying. This film runs 1 hour and 10 minutes.

This is from the Canadian National Film Board:

“This documentary introduces us to Stephen Jenkinson, once the leader of a palliative care counselling team at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Through his daytime job, he has been at the deathbed of well over 1,000 people. What he sees over and over, he says, is “a wretched anxiety and an existential terror” even when there is no pain. Indicting the practice of palliative care itself, he has made it his life’s mission to change the way we die – to turn the act of dying from denial and resistance into an essential part of life.”

Here is the link to the film:

Griefwalker

 

 

Go gently with your big heart

Go gently with your big heart. It is not a curse or a burden, but a gift that allows you to hold the universe in your being with love.

Go gently with your big heart. It is the doorway to mystery, the path to mastery and the road to compassion.

Go gently with your big heart. It is the opening that allows you to be your best, reach your fullest and connect with the divine.

Go gently with your big heart, it is the answer to your prayers.

 

“Too many things are occurring

for even a big heart to hold.”

from an essay by W.B. Yeats

A sin, really?

I read an excerpt from a book by an esteemed medical professional who has been an advocate for the holistic and metaphysical for decades. This book relates a discussion of sin with his guide, who allowed that “self-suicide” (his unusual word choice) is a sin. I so disagree, adamantly and viscerally disagree.

Where does all this judgment come from? This is not sounding God-like or part of higher consciousness, much less soul development. If you believe in past lives, more than likely your soul experienced a suicide.

The Divine is full of compassion, not judgment. And, by the way, the word “sin” comes from the Aramaic meaning to “miss the mark.” When we struggle and try to find our way through our fears, conditioning, reactions, and wounds, we often miss the mark. Hello, being human. Earth school is where we learn and develop and, hopefully, expand our consciousness to the degree that we perceive the oneness in all and respond accordingly.

Suicide is not a sin. Not only do I feel that down to the marrow of my bones, I have had confirmation with the spirit world and deceased souls. Yes, I talk to dead people.

On the 3D level, suicide, first and foremost, is about pain, pain of all levels and intensities. Suicide also speaks to trauma, substance abuse, mental health, emotional alienation, guilt, shame, neurochemistry and genetic fragilities. Suicide is a response to a confluence of factors that lead to a tipping point where the choice is made, be it well-considered or impulsive.

On the soul level, suicide can be a choice to do important work from the other side, leave compassion as a legacy, re-arrange dynamics and situations as part of a soul contract, a death of the ego, a teaching lesson and much more.

Judgment around suicide is hurtful. Condemnation around suicide serves no purpose than to further alienate us from one another and the divine. Compassion is the only response to suicide.

Allow me to repeat: suicide is not a sin.

How do we help a loved one who has lost someone to suicide?

Suicide is often a sudden, unexpected death. It leaves loved ones reeling with shock, confusion, heartbreak, anger and whole panoply of emotions.

When word gets out about a death by suicide, there is a ripple effect. The loss moves out in ever-widening circles and whoever hears or knows anyone impacted by the loss wants to do something. Bake lasagna, make the calls, organize logistics, walk the dog, help with the service, be a shoulder, lend an ear. They want to feed you, nourish you and hold you. They want to help you stay afloat when you are drowning in heartbreak. They feel your loss, and your loss becomes their loss.

Loss is primal; we all feel it. And this is especially true when we hear of a suicide, and especially, the suicide of a young person with their unfurled life before them.

It is hard to see our loved ones doubled over in grief and pain. We want to do something — anything — to help ease their misery.

What can we do when someone we care about loses a loved one to suicide?

Read more here.

 

N.B. The HuffingtonPost Canada retitled this article to “Don’t be Afraid to Talk about People Who’ve Died by Suicide.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adele-mcdowell/dont-be-afraid-to-talk-about-people-whove-died-by-suicide_a_23280876/

Will peace find you over the holidays?

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the trifecta of holidays that takes us into the New Year.

When loss has made your heart heavy, negotiating the holidays can be tricky. Of course, you understand the merriment and celebration. You also feel the loss of your loved one and that dims the brightness of the holidays. You feel distanced from the dinner-table conversations. And your heart may encounter a trip wire of memory from some seemingly innocuous comment made in the kitchen or the need for whipped cream with the pumpkin pie.

As you deal with the holidays and expectations associated with same, take very good of you. Go gently. Protect yourself. Say no when it’s needed. Be compassionate towards yourself; it’s hard to celebrate with a heavy heart.

For some, the best medicine is to bring your loved one to the holiday, conversationally speaking.  Tell stories, hold your loved one close as you remember their special ways. For others, a toast, a ritual, a candle add honor to their memory and significance to the occasion. We  never want our loved ones to be forgotten.

Take precious care. Perhaps, the following words will offer you a bit of comfort and hope as you deal with the holiday season.

Some dark windless night
peace will come.

It won’t tell us it’s here.

It will be there
when we look up

and see its face
for the first time

at the table
sipping soup,
passing bread.

~ Gary L. Lark

Thinking of you, survivors of suicide loss

November 19, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. According to the World Health Organization, around the globe, on average there is one suicide every 40 seconds.

If you are a survivor yourself or you know someone or know someone who knows someone who lost someone to suicide. Suicide stops us in our tracks. It can be hard to wrap our heads around that much pain and anguish.

Suicide research originally indicated that each suicide left, on average, six people in its wake. However, there are new indications that each suicide could leave 22-26 people in its wake. The higher number is not surprising when you think of coworkers, classmates, neighbors and the like.

We humans are social beings. Our lives are filled with connections and relationships. It is hard to see our loved ones, friends or coworkers doubled over in grief and pain. We want to do something – anything — to help ease their misery.

And if you are a survivor yourself, you know all too well how treacherous the path is out of the well of complicated and traumatic grief from a death by suicide.

To help you as well as to help others, here are eight articles that hopefully will expand your understanding  and assist you in caring for those you love who are heartbroken:

When You Are the Survivor of Suicide

 This is What Grief Feels Like 

Understanding Teen Suicide Helps Make Sense of the Heartbreak

7 Things You Need to Know after a Loss from Suicide

When You Are Ready, This Can Help You Heal from a Loss by Suicide

Dealing with the Death of a Young Person

How to Help your Grieving Child

Shattered Hearts: Explaining Suicide to Children

Thinking of all of you who have walked this path, directly and indirectly. May your heart find peace.