Grief is a kind of love

Sometimes, we forget that grief is kind of love.

And we know love. Love, like an unending vine of shiny green leaves, winds and curls itself into the crevices of our lives and tenderly wraps us int its embrace.

We have met love, witnessed love, and, even, challenged love. We have held, hugged, laughed, cried, whispered and howled because of love. Love reverberates from our deepest being, rattles our knees, expands our vision and hums in our ears. Love is the current that turns us upside-down and inside-out. We are never the same after love and, most certainly, we are never the same after grief. Love and grief are energies that transform us into something more, something better.

“Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning. For grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy, and after all these mortal human years love is up to the challenge.”

                          Kate Braestrup

 

Pain and suicide

Pain does not discriminate. It moves among us equally, wearing many faces, including that of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain.

Pain can look like a physical wound, broken parts, a speeding mind cycling through multi-dimensional layers, heartbreak, trauma, abandonment, shattered dreams, a wailing debate with God, homelessness, hunger, failed attempts, low-slung despair, high-pitched anxiety, self-hate, the endless push and pull of addiction, torture, and the intractable agony of chronic pain, among other conditions. Both cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia are called the “suicide diseases.” The excruciating levels of pain associated with each disorder make the individuals want to die to be free of the inordinate pain.

Unrelenting pain can wear a person down. It feels as if it will never end. It feels like there is no solution. It hurts so, so much. That sort of pain can leave you breathless. And, that kind of fetal-positioned, tear-producing pain can prompt thoughts of suicide.

A very brief history of suicide

Suicide has been part of the human experience, across the globe, as long as we have been recording our history. Over the centuries, suicide has been perceived as a personal choice, a mortal sin, a social issue, a mental illness, as well as an act of honor, piety, or shame.

In ancient Egypt, it is said, “There is no direct archaeological evidence for suicide . . . nor for any discriminatory treatment of people who died at their own hand.” In other words, suicide did not break any laws or codes. There was no taboo against it.

Romans and Greeks (with the exception of Pythagoras for mathematical reasons, and Aristotle due to his belief in a finite number of souls and the consequences of same) were not troubled about suicide. Roman and Japanese soldiers were known to take their own lives if defeated in battle. It was considered a point of honor or a ‘patriotic suicide’ and may have also served as a way to avoid capture and possible torture.

Early Christians, often en masse, chose voluntary death and martyrdom in lieu of persecution. These suicides were considered a great act of piety. In the fourth century, St. Augustine was the first Christian to publicly declare suicide a sin.

During the Middle Ages, a time that was deeply influenced by the venal actions of the Roman Catholic Church, suicide was shrouded in great shame and fear of eternal repercussions. If you took your own life, your body became an object of public ridicule and torture. You were excommunicated from the Church, your property was seized, and you were prohibited from burial in consecrated or sacred ground.

Suicide moved out the Dark Ages and became a topic of social interest during the Renaissance and Reformation. Shakespeare, as we know, wrote of suicide in a number of his plays, as did the poet John Donne. The philosophers Voltaire and Montesquieu also defended an individual’s right to choose death.

French sociologist, social psychologist, and philosopher Émile Durkheim wrote Le Suicide (1897). This book was the first social analysis of suicide, and it helped increase awareness of suicide as well as decrease the shame surrounding suicide.

Sigmund Freud stepped onto the world stage in the early twentieth century, and with his arrival, mental illness was first viewed as a medical condition. Studies in psychiatry and psychology blossomed; suicide awareness, education, and treatment strategies were created. In 1983, the Roman Catholic Church reversed its canon, and those who died by suicide could have a Catholic funeral and burial.

Today, suicide is a worldwide epidemic that is indifferent to the boundaries between cultures, age, religion, gender, and socioeconomic classes. Suicide has many faces, and each one is part of humanity regardless of our differences. Suicide may be a response to despair, pain, illness, and the pull of inner demons. It can be an act of war, a reaction to violence, or a final surrender.

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.

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.