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.

Understanding Intolerance, Bullying And Suicide

Intolerance is a battering ram directed at anyone who is perceived as different and who has therefore become a focus of enmity. You want them to be like you. If they are not like you, you have things to say and you might become enraged, disgusted and afraid — all of this in the name of like-mindedness.

They, those other ones, become your enemy and the focus of your attention as you rain down your vitriol on their different-from-you selves. They, those other ones, become fair game for your averted eyes, comments, slurs, stares, grimaces, cold shoulders, bullying, graffiti, hate crimes, attacks, thefts and warheads.

Intolerance is predicated on fear. “Otherness” has scared people for centuries. Wars and conversion missions have been started in the name of homogeneity: Be like me and then we can understand each other. Intolerance smacks of fundamentalism: I’m right, and you’re wrong. It seems there can be no middle ground, and no acceptance of the other.

Many a suicide happens because of this rampage of intolerance. The horror of bullying is a prime example, a universal phenomenon, and it is just beginning to get the attention it deserves.

There are three kinds of bullying: verbal, physical and social, with verbal abuse being the most common. Bullying includes physical bullying, emotional bullying, and cyber-bullying (i.e., bullying on the Internet, and circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about someone).

According to studies by Yale University, bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than their non-bullied classmates. A study in the U.K. found that at least half of the suicides among young people are related to bullying. Further, ABC News (U.S.) reported statistics that showed nearly 30 per cent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying. Some 160,000 students stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.

Kids are bullied because they are different, and they can be different in any possible way. If you are different you can be picked on, and you become a potential target. Parents of bullied kids will sometimes go to extreme measures to help their children avoid bullying: one first grader was given plastic surgery to have her ears pinned back.

Kids are bullied for any number of reasons. Common “differences” that can draw unwanted negative attention include:

• Having an unusual appearance or body size
• Showing behaviors of attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
• Being diabetic
• Being gay
• Being a gifted student
• Having food allergies
• Displaying a noticeably high level of anxiety
• Having learning disabilities
• Having medical conditions that affect appearance
• Being obese
• Stuttering

It’s easy to understand that bullying leads to shattered self-esteem, poor self-worth, depression and suicidal thoughts or actions. Bullying can have long-term emotional ramifications for the victim. Further, a number of school shootings — for example, Columbine — have been caused by bullied kids seeking revenge. Bullying is a symptom of intolerance that escalates and becomes a vicious cycle.

So much suicide is a result of intolerance. Think of all the heartache that is caused by simply not accepting people for who they are and where there are. Intolerance is a mighty powerful belief system. It prevents peace, contributes to suicidality, and causes pain across the globe.

Let’s make bullying an intolerable. Let’s teach our children. Let’s model tolerant and compassionate behavior and tip the societal balance in favor of understanding and acceptance.

 

This post was also featured on The Huffington Post Canada.

The three common elements of suicide

From my perspective, all suicidal gestures and actions, no matter how large or small, injurious or lethal, share these three elements:

  • Pain
  • Disconnection
  • Disenfranchisement

Pain
Pain means any and all pain in all its permutations—be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or any combination thereof. Pain hurts. When we are in pain, we have one goal: to stop hurting. We do everything we can to get out of pain. Often, we don’t care what it takes to be pain-free; we just want the howling, can’t-take-a-deep-breath or think-clearly pain to be over as soon as possible.

Constant, chronic pain—of any variety—changes people. Pain is exhausting and debilitating. Pain makes us cranky and intolerant. Pain wreaks havoc with our sleep cycle. It rearranges our thinking as well as diminishes our ability to cope and withstand the vagaries of everyday life.

When we are in pain, we contract into ourselves. Our world becomes smaller, darker, and enclosed. We shut out the world. There is only so much bandwidth, and we use it to manage the pain. The only thing that matters is to be pain-free, now. And, unfortunately, that can sometimes result in a suicidal action.

Disconnection
Disconnection speaks to the separation between the self and others. Separation is the operative word. We feel unwanted and unloved, alone and isolated, misunderstood and alien. There may be no one in our corner or no sense of connection with another person, a group of people, or a higher power. We can even feel profoundly disconnected among family and friends, who do not understand us and, more pointedly, do not comprehend what we have experienced and what has happened to us. This can be the height of loneliness.

We know from research that people who feel socially isolated (i.e., divorced, widowed, etc.) are at increased risk for suicide as compared with those who have responsibility for family members and are part of some kind of social grouping, network, or organization.

With disconnection, it feels as if there is no tether to stay anchored and grounded on the earth plane. We are alone. No one gets us. This is particularly true of survivors of a suicide loss, the military and veterans, and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Disenfranchisement
Disenfranchisement, in the psychological sense, is disconnection to the nth degree. It is the ultimate sense of disconnection; it’s as if we are looking at the world with our nose pressed to the glass. We do not feel that we belong, nor are we connected in any larger sense. We are no longer a part of the whole. We are a free-floating entity adrift in the world, alone, without value, purpose, or plan. There is no meaning in our life. We feel invisible and worth nothing. This is the utmost of pain.

All three elements — pain, disconnection, and disenfranchisement — take us to shut-down, closed-off places. This leads to inactivity, inertia, passivity, and powerlessness. We feel stuck. We have lost our abilities to be creative and expansive. There is precious little energy or flow. And, from that position, it is easy to become dispirited and hopeless, which is another kind of pain. And pain of all kinds can lead to suicidal thinking and action.

Suicide is a complicated and multi-factored issue, and yet there are three common elements that serve as the foundation to suicidality. These elements address the full spectrum of suicide. They can help us understand the ineffable “why” of suicide and, also, serve as warning flags for the future.

These three elements also underscore our need to find better ways to reach out and provide safety nets, support, and aid for our most vulnerable and traumatized.

“The Well of Grief” by David Whyte

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

~ David Whyte ~

(Where Many Rivers Meet)

When you are ready, this can help you heal from a loss by suicide

Remember the theme song from the show M*A*S*H? (“Suicide is painless…”) Alas, that is so not the case.

Your loved one’s suicide is the day you stop taking a full breath; the day you are left holding your broken heart in your hands; the day time stands still; and, unfortunately, the day people talk about, avoid or even blame you.

Suicide leaves you, the surviving loved one, holding the bag of squirming emotions and memories. There is the taint and taboo, guilt and remorse, rage and despair, confusion and regret, and the shame or guilt that somehow — in some possible way — you are responsible. You are left in a wake of jumbled emotions and self-doubts.

Suicide turns your life upside down. You find yourself vibrating with shock, disbelief, grief and, most likely, trauma from what you witnessed or envisioned in your mind’s eye. It is an enormous challenge to find yourself again and reclaim your desire to live fully after such a devastating loss.

How do you make sense of this kind of heartbreak?

Read more here .

 

Son, I won’t come to your grave by Diana DeRegnier

For twenty-three years I have grappled with my identity as a mother of a son who took his own life. I am also a woman, a sister, a child, a writer, an activist. I have met many life challenges, yet the scars and weight of the loss of my son make other assaults on the body or soul insignificant in comparison.

It is very hard for others to listen to someone stuck in the anguish of losing a child and doubly so when there is insatiable anger and guilt at ourselves and others, and when we aren’t yet reaching for peace because we think we have to do something about the anger and guilt in order to be worthy of healing. In my journey, I had to decide I wanted healing and peace and love even if I don’t deserve it; I cannot live in the vomit of my son’s suicide.

All losses of loved ones are inhumanely cruel, and suicide comes with an extra-large bottle of the toxins guilt and anger which some of us feel obliged to drink again and again—it never does empty. Some of us have an insatiable need to see everything, talk about the loss, to examine each aspect, to learn every detail of our child’s life that we can. And then many of us stay stuck in experiences of sorrow, disappointments, regrets, guilt, and anger. We may move so slowly through the totality of our story that no one, including us, can discern change within us.

When my son died, it was extremely important for me to see, hear, touch, and feel what happened from all available angles. I’ve done that now. I understand and know all I need to know of the circumstances. With work and self-tolerance, I finally arrived at the point where even without every detail, I see the large picture and each snapshot available to me, and let the rest go.

Not every parent of a child who suicides will feel this way, but when we do, it is excruciating and so rare to find the support of someone who will stand on the shore as we trek through neck-high muck. In addition, some parents whose child did not die by suicide will go through similar angst. For each soul has its own challenges.

Now, I have put the memories of my son’s death, linked with a part of my own death, into a secret room for which I hold the key—to lock myself out as well as others. I may enter for moments, or I may crack open the door to remind myself of some item or to grab something in there and retreat. I enter with great caution and do not immerse myself in the totality of that room.

That room is polluted with toxicity and danger. The evils of suicide beckon. Our children were not evil; they were poisoned by real and imagined demons in the harshness of life. They were seduced by suicide.

Greg Furth, author of The Secret World of Drawings: Healing through Art, said to me that my son did not commit suicide; suicide took him. My son became addicted to the idea and immersed himself in a romanticism of suicide. “Suicide ideation” professionals call it, but for me, giving something a catchy idiom turns it into a cliché that doesn’t do a suicide victim justice.

So much belongs here in between the beginning of my journey and where I am now, but what I want to tell you is that there came a time when I could no longer willingly jump into the well of despair—what a small word for what I feel. The climb out was killing me and nothing had changed when I reached the top. I was still in anguish and only more weary. I felt no relief. I felt no resolve.

In 1991, I wrote a note to my son on the anniversary of his death that explains some of my crossing:

Dear Son,
I won’t come to your grave today
I won’t do that to me.
If you have any kind of existence
You know the pain of my loss is always with me.
I don’t need to hurt more today
Though I can’t help it
My rational mind and my heart are not in sync
My subconscious won’t let me forget that this is the day I lost you
Flashes of memory and dreams of horrors come unexpectedly.

But your grave doesn’t offer solace
It only tempts me to follow
So if I’m going to live
In protest of the choice you made
If I’m going to see my life to its natural end
And fight my demons rather than lie down for them
I won’t come today.

I’ll go somewhere that comforts and strengthens me
In honor of you
The you that was music and beauty and genius and life
And in compassion for the beaten spirit who took your life
I will not condone your grievous error by following
I will keep reaching for life
And seeking its treasures with whatever strength I hold within.

All my love,
Mom

 

Diana DeRegnier, a former columnist for UPI and author of the children’s storybook, Mortimer Loses a Friend, is a wicked dancer,  cancer kicker and way-shower living in the deep green of the Pacific Northwest.

 

This essay was originally published in Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding and Comfort (2015).

Slipped Away by Jean Mellano

March 15, 2015 was the darkest day of my life.  It was the day I lost my life partner, Steve Tarpinian, to suicide.  We had been soul mates for over 33  years.

Have I made peace with his suicide?

If I separate the cause of Steve’s death from the tragedy of forever losing the love of my life, I can say yes.

I have come to terms with the fact there is nothing that I could have done that would have resulted in a different outcome.  Steve’s mental anguish must have been so intense, so much so, that he lost sight of all the love surrounding him.  He had already tried suicide once before and failed, so it seems out of his hopelessness, he was determined to try again. That is how insidious the disease of the mind is.

The first two years after losing Steve were filled with  so many unanswered questions;  ; “Why, he had so much going for him”, “What if I had said…” , “What if I didn’t say….”, “What could I have done differently?” , so there was no possible way for me to make peace with his suicide.  At times these questions still haunt me, however, for the most part, I have accepted the fact that Steve made up his mind on his course of action and nothing anyone could have said or done was going to dissuade him.  The suicide and mental illness collateral damage such as destroyed relationships, being blamed for his death, uncalled for vitriol aimed at me and judgments on how I grieved are fading from my memory. Hence, I believe I have finally made peace with his suicide.

Losing the love of my life is what I still struggle with even though I realize that this is now my new normal  and that Steve and I will not grow old together and share the same pillow.  There is a huge hole in my heart that can never be filled.  Steve and I had a once in a lifetime relationship, filled with a deep respect and love for each other.  When we love deeply, we grieve deeply.  I  am  forever changed by Steve’s death.  Yes, I still have days with meltdowns and not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, but, I am only human.  My tears and sadness over the loss of Steve  is now a part of who I am.  As such, I have come to accept and embrace it.

My grief journey has taken me in directions that have helped me cope with my great loss. It is a daunting task and I must continuously remind myself to stay on track and not to fall back into the bottomless  pit of despair.     I realize  that trying to make peace with losing Steve, regardless of the cause of his death, will be a lifelong commitment that will not come easily for me.

How do I cope with my loss?

Living in the moment  and trying to pay it forward  have helped me the most in moving forward in a life without Steve.

Within 7 months of Steve’s passing, I wrote and published his memoir; Slipped Away, a single minded task that did not permit me to wallow in self pity.  Yes, it was draining, but, I was able to re-live many happy moments in my life with Steve.  I wanted Slipped Away to be more a celebration of Steve’s life and how he positively impacted so many people rather than a book about suicide.  The focus it took for me to complete the book  truly allowed  me to live in the moment.

Since publishing, I now do book talks, write blogs and use social media in an effort to inspire conversation about suicide and mental health issues.  These  topics, even to this day, are still stigmatized and most people are embarrassed to talk about these issues and would prefer to stick their heads in the sand.  As a suicide survivor, I have experienced this first hand.

In an attempt to try and have something  good come out of such a tragic loss, I wanted the telling of Steve’s story to allow him to continue helping people even though he is no longer with us.  The proceeds of  Slipped Away are donated to Project9line.org;  a  non-profit organization of veterans helping other veterans deal with depression and PTSD that provides outlets for them in the arts (writing, music, comedy etc.).    It was through Project9line that  I was introduced to AirborneTriTeam.org (ATT).  ATT’s mission is to promote teamwork and endurance sports to help veterans “… better their life style, change their attitude towards life and give them a purpose”.  There was a great synergy with myself and ATT since Steve was an Ironman triathlete many times over and the company Steve built was responsible for the foundation of the sport of triathlon on Long Island.  Supporting  the veterans of ATT in their mission gives me a sense of purpose.

Steve was not a veteran, however, even though the paths that lead our veterans to suicide are different than Steve’s, they shared the similar pain of hopelessness and mental anguish.   The end results of suicide are the same, the tragic, sudden loss of a precious life and the loved ones that are left behind, feeling the terrible heartbreak  of loss, with so many unanswered questions, wondering if they could have done something different to help their loved one.

Never in my life I would have thought I would be affected by the suicide of a loved one, let alone trying to make peace with suicide.  The time has come for me to accept my reality and as a suicide survivor, I can now say I have made peace with suicide.

Jean Mellano retired in 2010 from a 37-year career in the Information Technology industry. After so many years in the computer industry using the analytical side of her brain, she decided the time was right to exercise the more visual and perceptual side of her brain. Graphic design was a natural next step. Jean began to do the creative work for the event business of her 33+ year soul mate, Steve Tarpinian, designing event logos and promotional print work.

When Steve took his own life on March 15, 2015, her world changed dramatically and her life was turned upside down. Jean began to take solace in writing about Steve and found purpose in trying to bring more awareness to mental health by telling Steve’s story and published his memoir, Slipped Away.

In addition to her goals of keeping Steve’s legacy alive and inspiring conversation about mental illness and suicide, she is donating the majority of the profits from Slipped Away to a non- profit organization that is focused on supporting veterans suffering from PTSD and depression.  

www.SlippedAway.org

Imponderables by Dianna Vagianos Armentrout

 

Imponderables

—for Jeanette or henry

 

Tuesday in homeopathy class

“imponderable” remedies

 

moonlight blue

sun

 

I want to take

luna 200c

to feel the waves more,

come and go with my grandmother

 

Thursday I hear

that you are gone

 

all smiles, good soul

you took yourself away

 

transparent you

transparent me

 

       where did the veil go?

 

laugh at us

as we try to understand

 

mercy, moonlight, madness

 

my heart, my heart, my heart

 

my feet wet in all this rain

 

—Dianna Vagianos Armentrout

 

Dianna Vagianos Armentrout is a published writer, teacher, workshop facilitator and poetry therapist. She is the author of Walking the Labyrinth of My Heart: A Journey of Pregnancy, Grief and Newborn Death.  You can contact Dianna at www.diannavagianos.com and labyrinthofmyheart@gmail.com.

This poem was originally published in The Vermont Literary Review Summer/Fall 2009, Volume XI, Number 1 and also featured in Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding and Comfort (2015).

 

Some thoughts on peace

In honor of International Peace Day, September 21, 2017….

Ideally, peace is our natural state. More often, peace is hard-won. It takes lots of practice to find peace and lots of hard work to create, much less maintain, a state of peacefulness. When peace does come, it can be a blessing or a miracle. We can take a full breath. We are no longer conflicted or distressed. We have learned to let go, allow, and, most importantly, accept, even the unacceptable.

With peace, we reclaim the vital energy needed to support our life and future happiness. Peace is the root of all healing. Without peace, there is no healing, and we hemorrhage our own life force.

In our chaotic and fractious world today, we need peace more than ever. In our personal lives where there is deep grief and heartache, peace is the ache of our heart.

May this blessing lift your spirits and soothe your heart.

Deep Peace, Deep Peace
Deep peace, deep peace of the running wave to you;
Deep peace of the flowing air to you;
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you;
Deep peace of the shining stars to you;
Deep peace of the gentle night to you;
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace to you.
Deep peace to you.

—Traditional Gaelic Blessing