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New Book! Losing My Son to Suicide: Poems for Dylan

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Red Rose in June

Losing My Son to Suicide: Poems for Dylan

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The book you’ve been waiting for

New Book! Losing My Son to Suicide: Poems for Dylan. Available on Kindle and Soon-to-Be- Published Paperback.



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Child Loss Child Loss to Suicide Family loss Grief Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Poems Poems about Losing a Child to Suicide poems of love and loss Reflections after Suicide Loss

A Poem About Losing My Child: Sorrow Buried in Love

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A Poem About Losing My Child: Sorrow Buried in Love

Sorrow Buried in Love

So swish to sway to sweet lullaby,
Baby will fall in dark of the night.
Rocking cradle to grave turning truth upside down: 
Parents die first leaving children behind.

In a world topsy-turvy that cannot make sense,
Sacred trust shines the brightest in a child’s innocence.
When children die first leaving parents behind,
Hope flees with the child leaving grief here for life. 

To live without sorrow seems an admirable stance,
To love without pain always breaking your heart,
To smile again when it’s been enough time, 
To heal back to whole what was once then your life.

Yet the loss of a child can’t be undone,
Even though bid us well, wishing hope move us on.
We can move only forward with our child whom we love,
Always there with us always, sorrow buried in love.

Beth Brown, ©2022


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Holiday Grief Series: “Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season”

“Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season” By Alan Wolfelt The suggestions below offer practical tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Alan D. Wolfelt, the author of these suggestions, writes prolifically about all aspects of grief. He offers practical suggestions for handling grief (including for teens and kids), and he addresses grief in…

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Living in the Glare of My Son’s Suicide

Living in the Glare Listen to Your Narrative It isn’t wrong, this narrative of yours. Isn’t something to be fixed. Adjusted. Changed. Rewritten. God knows you’d rewrite your narrative if you could. Consider the whole thing a tumultuous, torrid first draft. A rough sketch ill-constructed. The consequence lacking intention. Not giving words, shapes, ideas, even…

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“How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents”

Surviving Your Child’s Suicide Marcia Gelman Resnick wrote “How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents” in 2019, 20 years after losing her son to suicide. She shares her experience surviving the suicide of her son alongside 15 tips that may be helpful to other parents grieving the loss of…

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Child Loss Coping with Loss Family loss Grief Holidays Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide

Holiday Grief Series: “Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season”

Photo of green evergreen pine branch, a few small pinecones, 2 strings of star lights around a gold leaf wreath all arranged on a table with a light pink background

“Helping Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season”

By Alan Wolfelt

The suggestions below offer practical tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Alan D. Wolfelt, the author of these suggestions, writes prolifically about all aspects of grief. He offers practical suggestions for handling grief (including for teens and kids), and he addresses grief in all the many ways it affects our lives. This article, “Helping Yourself Heal During the Holidays,” can be found in its entirety at Center for Loss. His considerable number of books are available on his website.

You Are Not Alone

Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of someone loved. Rather than being times of family togetherness, sharing, and thanksgiving, holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss, and emptiness.

No simple guidelines exist that will take away the hurt you are feeling. We hope, however, the following suggestions will help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet painful, time of the year. Remember that by being tolerant and compassionate with yourself, you will continue to heal.

Talk About Your Grief
During the holiday season, don’t be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won’t make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen—without judging you. They will help make you feel understood.

Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Psychological Limits
Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season.

Eliminate Unnecessary Stress
You may already feel stressed, so don’t overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself. Realize also that merely “keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief but may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Old-fashioned artistic rendering of a post card of 2 tabby kittens, green holly with red berries, and a brown and pink-flushed bird tweeting "Merry Christmas"
Cats at Christmas, The New York Public Library

Be With Supportive, Comforting People
Identify those friends and relatives who understand that the holiday season can increase your sense of loss and who will allow you to talk openly about your feelings. Find those persons who encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings—both happy and sad.

Talk About the Person Who Has Died
Include the person’s name in your holiday conversation. If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.

Do What Is Right for You During the Holidays
Well-meaning friends and family often try to prescribe what is good for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do. Discuss your wishes with a caring, trusted friend. Talking about these wishes will help you clarify what it is you want to do during the holidays. As you become aware of your needs, share them with your friends and family.

photo of a beautiful long-haired tabby cat reaching into a Christmas tree to play with a fragile gold and red decorative ornament.

Plan Ahead for Family Gatherings
Decide which family traditions you want to continue and which new ones you would like to begin. Structure your holiday time. This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens. Getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear, and anxiety during the time of the year when your feelings of grief are already heightened. As you make your plans, however, leave room to change them if you feel it is appropriate.

Embrace Your Treasure of Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. And holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with your family and friends. Keep in mind that memories are tinged with both happiness and sadness. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If your memories bring sadness, then it’s all right to cry. Memories made in love can never be taken away from you.

Renew Your Resources for Living
Spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life. The death of someone loved created opportunities for taking inventory of your life—past, present and future. The combination of a holiday and a loss naturally results in looking inward and assessing your individual situation. Make the best use of this time to define the positive things in life that surround you.

Express Your Faith
During the holidays, you may find a renewed sense of faith or discover a new set of beliefs. Associate with people who understand and respect your need to talk about these beliefs. If your faith is important, you may want to attend a holiday service or special religious ceremony. As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don’t let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.


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Birds Beneath the Snowy Hemlocks, My Forever Son

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New in the Holiday Grief Series-Handling the Holidays After Suicide Loss

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Child Loss to Suicide Coping with Suicide Loss Family loss Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Reflections after Suicide Loss Suicide loss survivors of suicide loss

Living in the Glare of My Son’s Suicide

Living in the Glare

Listen to Your Narrative

It isn’t wrong, this narrative of yours. Isn’t something to be fixed. Adjusted. Changed. Rewritten.

God knows you’d rewrite your narrative if you could. Consider the whole thing a tumultuous, torrid first draft. A rough sketch ill-constructed. The consequence lacking intention. Not giving words, shapes, ideas, even context, enough thought. A hapless quick free-write in the middle of the night. Rushed. Out of character, both for him and for you.

“It just isn’t right,” say some.


“Maybe it wasn’t suicide,” say others.


“Didn’t that happen a long time ago?” asks your friend.


“He wouldn’t want to see you so sad” says your community.

So much pressure to revise your narrative. Erase the version of the narrative you’ve lived. Revise. Rewrite. Omit. Delete.

Change your life’s story, the way everything changed that day he ended his own. His narrative just started. Only a few chapters in. A promising start. Having left so much unsaid, unwritten. His chasm, your darkness. His absence, dark ache your heart.

As if you could undo what was done. As if you could live past the pain and not feel the whole of you disappearing in your life’s tragic moment. Its fatal eclipse. Your narrative forever changed.

Shaped by Grief: Then, Now, and Ongoing

But what if someone, somewhere, (even yourself) does not ask you to change your narrative?

What if, instead, that someone or others (or even you) wants to hear your narrative? How your life in all ways —emotional, physical, mental, and intellectual—is shaped by your grief: then, now, and ongoing.

What would happen if they (or even you) sit with your grief? Hear the song your heart sings, even if melancholic and haunting?

Listen to your story? Even tragic. Even with chapters that do not end well. Chapters needing rewritten, but that cannot be. Chapters that have changed the trajectory of your life. The chapter that day he plunged, en medias res, changing all that you are. All that your were. All that you will be.

For to lose your narrative is to lose him all over again. All. Over. Again.

As if you haven’t lost him enough these minutes; hours; days; months; years; 10 now–and counting.

As much now as then, when abruptly, everything about your narrative changed and you started chasing minutes, hours, days, months, years. As if you could bring them back. Restore all the time before that date, time, month, year.

That date where ending his narrative meant ending your own. Your story, your narrative, en medias res: Changed forever because love and grief cannot be separated. Love–and grief–has a way of changing us forever, a new permanence come to stay where once we thought ourselves immutable.

Shaped by love (19 years and not knowing I was counting), I am now shaped by this grief come to stay. A permanence in love’s shadow, I am etched forever by the shape of his love.

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Child Loss to Suicide Coping with Suicide Loss Holidays Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Suicide loss

Surviving Grief at the Holidays (Part of the Holiday Grief Series)

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Tending to a Broken Heart: Surviving Grief at the Holidays

People say, “I can’t imagine.“

But then they do.

They think that missing a dead child is like missing your kid at college or on the mission field but harder and longer.

That’s not it at all.

It isn’t nostalgia for a time when things were different or better or you talked more: it’s a gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, knee-buckling, aching groan that lives inside you begging to be released.

There is no smooth transition up the ladder of grief recovery so that you emerge at the top, better for the experience and able to put it behind you.

Melanie “What Grieving Parents Want Others to Know, ” The Life I Didn’t
Choose
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Holiday Grief Series: Handling Holiday Grief After a Child’s Suicide

Acute Grief

I could feel the dread even before the holidays arrived.

The wallop of sick weight in the pit of my stomach; the sheer panic in realizing the holidays were coming (and that I couldn’t stop them); and the exhaustion of grief where I felt I just couldn’t make it through any more pain.

Early grief sent me whirling and frantic into a proverbial spiral. I felt helpless, hopeless, and too filled with despair to find a way to face the holidays without my son. Reading about how others handle grief during the holidays helps me find a way through. This year, my reading includes the article below, “How to Survive December With a Broken Heart” written by a mother who lost her son. It resonates with me, and I’m sharing it in hopes that it might help you, too.

“How to Survive December With a Broken Heart”

How To Survive December With a Broken Heart

By Melanie  – The Life I Didn’t Choose

It comes up again and again-and not just for the parents facing their year of “firsts”:  How do I survive December with a broken heart?

There’s no single answer or list of things to do that will suit every family. But there are some general principles that can make even this awful reality a little easier: 

Be gentle with yourself.  Accept that you will not be able to do all the things you could do before child loss.  Understand that tears will fall at the most inconvenient moments and grief waves will take you under when you least expect them to.  That’s OK.  You do not have to be strong or brave or keep smiling when you are sad.  Feel what you feel.  Do what you need to do.

Be honest with others.  No matter how wonderful it would be if they could truly understand what it feels like to bury a child (without the experience, of course!), it is not the way things ARE.  So if you need something from someone, speak up.  If you don’t want to go to this or that, say so.  If your heart can’t take one more family gathering or meal, send your regrets and stay home.  Use “I” statements and say something like, “I’m just not able to participate in gift-giving (or whatever) this year.  My heart won’t take it.”  They may not like it.  But they can’t argue with your experience.

Do not let people cross the boundaries you set up to protect your heart.  Once you have figured out where you need to draw the line and have communicated that to others, hold fast.  It’s really just fine to not return phone calls or text messages designed to force you to meet others’ expectations.  You don’t have to be rude, but you also don’t have to submit your heart to constant trampling.

Be open to change.  This is the fourth set of holidays for me without Dominic.  Each year I’ve entered the season with certain ideas about how they will go, what will and won’t be helpful, and where I needed to set boundaries.  And every year I’ve made adjustments.  Some things I thought I COULD do, I couldn’t. Some things I  swore I’d NEVER do, I’ve done.  Work schedules, plane delays, illness, or even happy surprises alter plans and require adjustment.

Remember that December doesn’t last forever.  As hard as this season is, it is only a season.  The earth turns, the sun rises and the days pass.  If you spend the month in bed with the covers over your head, January will still roll around.  If you get up and participate (whatever that looks like for YOU) then January will also show up on schedule.

These days are just like all the rest:  in the end we survive them one breath, one moment at a time.  

But we do survive. 

Melanie, The Life I Didn’t Choose
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Holiday Grief Series: Handling the Holidays After Suicide Loss
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Suicide loss

“How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents”

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Surviving Your Child’s Suicide

Marcia Gelman Resnick wrote “How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents” in 2019, 20 years after losing her son to suicide. She shares her experience surviving the suicide of her son alongside 15 tips that may be helpful to other parents grieving the loss of their child to suicide.

The article is published in full at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents

Sept. 20, 2019- For 20 years, I have been healing from the loss of my son to suicide. I learned to survive one day at a time. I’ve put this list together, from one parent to another, in the hope that it will be of some help to other parents who are just starting this journey. You will survive.

  1. You are not alone. You may think that as a parent whose child took his or her life, you are on another planet, all by yourself: but there are many parents walking the same road. You don’t yet know them. Find an AFSP chapter in your community, make use of the support they offer, and connect with other survivors of suicide loss. There are many people enduring the same pain as you. We all understand.
  2. Get the help you need. After my son died, I found a therapist for my surviving son, as well as a grief counselor for myself. My husband and I continued to see our couple’s counselor. I eventually took anti-depressant meds. There is no shame in getting help. If you don’t have the energy to do it yourself, have a close friend find the appropriate therapist or support group for you. Speaking of which…
  3. Let your friends provide support in whatever ways you or they can think of. If I had a doctor’s appointment, I asked a friend to call in advance to tell the doctor what had happened, because I couldn’t bear the thought of answering the typical question, “So did anything important happen this year?” As another example, I’m a lawyer, and eventually after my son’s death, I had to appear in court for clients. I took a friend with me for support each time. Everyone is different. Your friends want to help. Let them be there for you.
  4. When you’re ready, re-connect with your regular routines. Before my son died, my daily routine included going to the gym. As emotionally shattered as I was, I continued to go. It wasn’t always easy, but in the end, it helped. Figure out what you liked to do before your child died. Knitting, reading, cooking, cross word puzzles, yoga, reality TV, painting. Everyone has their own thing. It will help you maintain your sanity.
  5. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do whatever feels comfortable for you, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do. You have a “pass.” If you are invited somewhere, and don’t want to go, you can say something like, “I’m not up to it, but please keep asking. Eventually I will accept your invitation.”
  6. When you go back to work, make sure you have a safe place to hide when you have a meltdown. Let those close to you know it will probably happen, and have them protect you as much as possible.
  7. It’s okay to smile and laugh. You are miserable enough. You don’t have to prove, or show, how sad you are to anyone.
  8. Plan ahead for holidays, or have several alternate plans, depending on how you’re feeling. Holidays can bring up a lot of complicated feelings after a loss. See how you feel that day, and do whatever feels right to you then.
  9. Try not to make any big decisions for at least a year. Don’t move out of your home. Don’t clean up your child’s room or their belongings until you are ready.
  10. Try your best not to spend a lot of time agonizing over the question of, “Why?” There is probably no good way to protect yourself from doing this. But try to keep in mind that no matter how long you think about the “why,” you may come up with possibilities, but never a conclusion.
  11. Know that you will always be your child’s mom or dad. You might wonder, “If I lost my only child, am I still a mother or father?” You raised your child, and can keep your child’s memory alive in meaningful ways, when you are ready. My son’s picture is on a memorial quilt. You can share happy memories of your child with others. Some people find that giving their child’s friends a special item of theirs is meaningful. Many raise awareness and funds through Out of the Darkness Walk teams, or by creating their own events in honor of the people they’ve lost. Whatever feels right to you.
  12. Many people feel guilty after the loss of a loved one to suicide. You might think, “I should have done more, or done things differently.” Our children did not come with instructions. Know you did the best you could. We would give our own lives to have our children back. It was not within our control. Taking one’s life is not a rational decision.
  13. Realize your child did not take their life to hurt you. You might feel angry; it’s a common response. Realize your child had tunnel vision in that moment, and just wanted to end their pain.
  14. Know how to deal with inappropriate questions, like people wanting details about your child’s death. It is none of their business unless they are close to you and you feel like sharing. You can simply say, “I do not want to discuss it.” Or, “This isn’t helping me right now.” You need consoling. You do not need to console others.
  15. When you’re ready, consider volunteering. Get involved with your local AFSP chapter. Whether it’s helping out with the annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, the Healing Conversations program, or any number of other ways you can get involved, I have found that once I had given myself time to process my loss, giving back to a community of fellow loss survivors aided me in my own grief journey.

We need to work hard not to be ashamed or embarrassed by the way our children died. Our children had an illness, just like cancer or any other disease. There’s no need to hide it. As survivors of suicide loss, we learn to survive and live a fulfilling, although different life than what we had expected. My hope is that you can use some of the ideas I’ve shared to help you find your own way forward.

Marcia Gelman Resnick
Photgraph of red and yellow rose bushes against a brick wall

The pain of grief is extremely intense as parents digest the finality of never seeing their child again and the loss of future hopes and plans.

While memories of the child flood their mind, they also experience a deep emptiness and unimaginable void in their lives.

Grief impacts a parent’s whole identity as well as the identity and security of other members of the family.

The Compassionate Friends

MORE THOUGHTS

More thoughts by Marcia Gelman Resnick, author of “How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents”

WHAT TO DO IF THIS HAPPENS

-People will ask you inappropriate questions- like wanting details about your child’s death. It is none of their business unless they are close to you and you feel like sharing. You can simply say “I do not want to discuss it” and hold your ground, even if they become annoying. Or “This isn’t helping me right now”. Or walk away if they are persistent. Do the same if someone approaches you with a sad, tormented face. Compassion for you is not the same as making you feel even worse than you already do. You need consoling, you do not need to console others.

-People will ask you how many children you have, which many consider a conversation starter. It’s also asked of someone who wanted, but could not have, a child. How you answer depends upon who is asking, and how you feel. Possibilities are: “I had two children but one died.” Or “one, or 2, or 10″.You do not have to answer any further questions unless you want to. If you decide to tell your sad story, try not to feel sorry for them or that you need to protect them.

GENERAL INFORMATION

At first you feel like you are walking with a huge boulder on your back. As time passes, the boulder stays the same but your back gets stronger. (Wise words from a fellow survivor).

Suicide notes are usually not helpful. If there is one, it usually says that you were a good parent and they love you, that everyone would be better off without them, etc. Remember our children were not in their right minds when they took their lives. They had a pain that they thought would never go away. They did not think about those left behind.

-Our children did not commit a crime. Try not to use “committed suicide” and correct others who do. “Died by suicide” or “took their life” is more appropriate, in my opinion.

-The stigma of suicide. We need to work hard not to be ashamed or embarrassed by the way our children died. Our children had an illness, just like cancer or any other disease. No need to hide it.

-Don’t sweat the small things. Unless someone is dead or dying, it is a small thing.

-You never get over it, but you learn to live with it.

WHEN YOU ARE READY

-When you are ready, if you so choose, do something to remember your
child. My son’s picture is part of a memorial wall, I made a square for a memorial quilt. Every year, I host an event at Belmont racetrack in honor of my son, who loved horses. We built a softball field at Doug’s camp, dedicated to him. Whatever is appropriate for you.

-Share happy memories of your child with others.

-Some people find that giving their child’s friends a special item oft heirs is meaningful.

-You learn who your true friends are. And try to rid yourself of toxic people (those who take more than they give, or stress you). You need to preserve whatever energy you have, and take care of yourself and your family.

-Help others.

Marcia Gleman Resnick
Photograph of 2 bright pink roses paired together on a rose bush

Give yourself time, time and more time. It takes months, even years, to open your heart and mind to healing. Choose to survive and then be patient with yourself. In time, your grief will soften as you begin to heal and you will feel like investing in life again.

The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide

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“Bruised and Wounded: Understanding Suicide”

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All death unsettles us, but suicide… brings with it an ache, a chaos, a darkness, and a stigma that has to be experienced to be believed.

Ronald Rolheiser

Struggling to Understand Suicide

Ronald Rolheiser writes a great deal about the suicide. He lends an understanding and spiritual perspective to suicide, and in so doing, removes much of the stigma and deep questioning that suicide leaves behind. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide and are searching for answers in the wake of their death, you may find comfort in Rolheiser’s thoughtful responses to understanding suicide. Both articles are available in full on Ronald Rolheiser’s website.

Bruised and Wounded – Understanding Suicide

Ronald Rolheiser, Bruised and Wounded-Understanding Suicide

July 18, 2021

Some things need to be said and said and said again until they don’t need to be said anymore. Margaret Atwood wrote that. I quote it here because each year I write a column on suicide and mostly say the same thing each time because certain things need to be said repeatedly about suicide until we have a better understanding of it.

What needs to be said again and again?

  1. First, that suicide is a disease, something that in most cases takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack.
  2.  Second, that we, the loved ones who remain, should not spend undue time and energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed, and what we might still have done to prevent the suicide. Suicide is an illness and, as with a purely physical disease, we can love someone and still not be able to save him or her from death. God also loved this person and shared our helplessness in trying to help him or her.
  3. We need a better understanding of mental health. The fact is that not everyone has the internal circuits to allow them the sustained capacity for steadiness and buoyancy. One’s mental health is parallel to one’s physical health, fragile, and not fully within one’s control. Moreover just as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, stroke, heart attacks, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and multiple sclerosis, can cause debilitation and death; so too can mental diseases wreak havoc, also causing every kind of debilitation and sometimes death by suicide.
  4. The potential role that biochemistry plays in suicide needs more exploration. If some suicidal depressions are treatable by drugs, clearly then some suicides are caused by biochemical deficiencies, as are many other diseases that kill us.
  5. Almost invariably, the person who dies by suicide is a very sensitive human being. Suicide is rarely done in arrogance, as an act of contempt. There are of course examples of persons who are too proud to endure normal human contingency and kill themselves out of arrogance, but that’s a very different kind of suicide, not the kind that most of us have seen in a loved one. Generally, our experience with the loved ones that we have lost to suicide was that these persons were anything but arrogant. Rather, they were too bruised to touch and were wounded in some deep way that we could not comprehend or help heal. Indeed, often times when sufficient time has passed after their deaths, in retrospect, we get some sense of their wound and their suicide then no longer seems as surprising.
  6. Suicide is often the desperate plea of a soul in pain. The soul can make claims that go against the body and suicide is often that. 
  7. We need to forgive ourselves if we feel angry with our loved ones who end their lives in this way. Don’t feel guilty about feeling angry; that’s a natural, understandable response when a loved one dies by suicide.
  8. We need to work at redeeming the memory of our loved ones who die by suicide. The manner of their death may not become a prism through which we now see their lives, as if this manner of death colors everything about them. Don’t take down photos of them and speak of them and their deaths in hushed terms any more than if they had died by cancer or a heart attack. It’s hard to lose loved ones to suicide, but we should not also lose the truth and warmth of their mystery and their memory.
  9. Finally, we shouldn’t worry about how God meets our loved one on the other side. God’s love, unlike ours, can go through locked doors, descend into hell, and breathe out peace where we cannot. Most people who die by suicide awake on the other side to find Christ standing inside their locked doors, inside the center of their chaos, gently saying, “Peace be with you!” God’s understanding and compassion infinitely surpass our own. Our lost loved ones are in safer hands than ours. If we, limited as we are, can already reach through this tragedy with some understanding and love, we can rest secure that, given the width and depth of God’s love, the one who dies through suicide meets, on the other side, a compassion that’s deeper than our own and an understanding that surpasses ours.

Julian of Norwich says, in the end all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of being will be well. I shall be, even after suicide. God can, and does, go through locked doors and, once there, breathes out peace inside a tortured, huddled heart.

Photo of red and yellow and brown fall leaves close up on brick sidewalk

Suicide and Our Misunderstandings

June 20, 2022

By Ronald Rolheiser, Suicide and Our Misunderstandings

Margaret Atwood once wrote that sometimes a thing needs to be said, and said, said again, until it doesn’t need to be said anymore. That’s why I write a column annually on suicide, mostly saying the same things over and over again. The hope is that, like a note put into a bottle and floated out to sea, my little message might find someone needing consolation after losing a loved one to suicide.

What’s needs to be said, and said again, about suicide? Four things.

Ronald Rolheiser

First, that it’s a disease and perhaps the most misunderstood of all diseases. We tend to think that if a death is self-inflicted, it is voluntary in a way that death through physical illness or accident is not. For most suicides, this isn’t true. A person who dies by suicide dies, as does the victim of a terminal illness or fatal accident, not by his or her own choice. When people die from heart attacks, strokes, cancer, AIDS, and accidents, they die against their will. The same is true for suicide, except that in the case of suicide the breakdown is emotional rather than physical – an emotional stroke, an emotional cancer, a breakdown of the emotional immune system, an emotional fatality.

This is not an analogy. There are different kinds of heart attacks, strokes, cancers, breakdowns of the immune system, and fatal accidents. However, they all have the same effect; they all take someone out of this life against his or her own will. No one who dies through suicide actually wants to die. He or she only wants to end a pain that can no longer be endured, akin to someone jumping to his death out of a burning building because his clothes are on fire.

Second, we should not worry unduly about the eternal salvation of a suicide victim, believing (as we used to) that suicide is the ultimate act of despair and something God will not forgive. God is infinitely more understanding than we are and God’s hands are infinitely safer and gentler than our own. Imagine a loving mother having just given birth, welcoming her child onto her breast for the first time. That, I believe, is the best image we have to picture how a suicide victim (most often an overly sensitive soul) is received into the next life. God is infinitely understanding, loving, and gentle. We need not worry about the fate of anyone, no matter the cause of death, who exits this world honest, oversensitive, gentle, over-wrought, and emotionally crushed. God has a special love for the broken and the crushed.

Knowing all of this however, doesn’t necessarily take away our pain (and anger) at losing someone to suicide; but faith and understanding aren’t meant to take our pain away but rather to give us hope, vision, and support as we walk within our pain.

Third, we should not torture ourselves with second-guessing when we lose a loved one to suicide: “What might I have done? Where did I let this person down? If only I had been there? What if …?” It can be natural to be haunted with the thought, “if only I’d been there at the right time.” Rarely would this have made a difference. Indeed, most of the time, we weren’t there for the exact reason that the person who fell victim to this disease did not want us to be there. He or she picked the moment, the spot, and the means precisely so that we wouldn’t be there. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that suicide is a disease that picks its victim precisely in such a way so as to exclude others and their attentiveness. This is not an excuse for insensitivity, especially towards those suffering from dangerous depression, but it should be a healthy check against false guilt and fruitless second-guessing.

We’re human beings, not God. People die of illness and accidents all the time and sometimes all the love and attentiveness in the world cannot prevent a loved one from dying. Love, for all its power, is sometimes powerless before a terminal illness.

Fourth, when we lose a loved one to suicide, one of our tasks is to work at redeeming that person’s memory, namely, to put that person’s life into a perspective wherein his or her memory is not forever tainted because it is viewed through the prism of suicide.

A proper human and faith response to suicide should not be horror, fear for the victim’s eternal salvation, guilty second-guessing about how we failed this person, and a hushed, guarded tone forever afterwards when we speak of him or her. Suicide is indeed a horrible way to die, but we must understand it (at least in most cases) as a sickness, a disease, an illness, a tragic breakdown within the emotional immune system. Most of all, we must trust God, God’s goodness, God’s understanding, God’s power to descend into hell, and God’s power to make all things right, even death by suicide.

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Child Loss Coping with Suicide Loss Grief Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Reflections after Suicide Loss Suicide loss

5 Years of Grief After Suicide Loss: For Here Now, I Stay

Japanese Maple Close Up of Orange and Red Leaves in fall
Japanese Maple Leaves in Red and Orange in Fall

For Here Now I Stay

These dark, incessant droning on of days, months, years, and most sadly of all, a lifetime, more so carve in us (should we choose and choose we must, for grief is not so clearly delineated in its outcome), a strange capacity to integrate both a lesser joy and a deep sorrow.

Losing Dylan has changed everything. Yes, I am to the point of feeling the highs of life again, though never so sweetly as to silence the ache of my heart that beats still for my son.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son
Photo of red, bronze, and green leaves of a burning bush in fall
Bronze, Red, and Green Leaves of a Burning Bush in Fall

For Here Now I Stay

And so where from here?

For here now, I stay
For here now, I breathe your love

For here now, I am with you always

So many days, so much time having passed and yet, and yet, still as it has been still these past 5 years.

It is sometimes, Dylan, as if I am in some kind of fog, a thick can’t-see-clear kind of fog, a fog where I don’t know if what I am and what I see is real. 

Were you? Are you? Where are you?

Year 5 Grief After Losing My Son to Suicide, My Forever Son

In the Shadows : The Shape of My Grief at 3 Years

5 Years Out: The Shape of My Grief

I am five years, 1 month, and 14 days into this journey that though, not chosen, has become the construct of my life.

Five Years, 1 Month, and 14 Days

My life is a paradox. I live in time that marches obediently along in increments of seconds, minutes, hours, and days, calendar years. I know it is 2017, late summer in the midwest, and a perfectly temperate day; and yet, and yet, all of me is not, in fact, here. I live undone and yet somehow caught still living, the ache between my limbs, my joints, tissues, and fibers where yet still, I am Dylan’s mom.

But it is through a haze, a blurring of what is and what is not, of what is here and what is not, a sense and grounding of what is tangible and what is not, that I now navigate. I know, I know. . .I should be writing about hope, that my life has been redeemed, reclaimed, re-invented, renewed, re-invigorated, resilient. but just for today, I don’t feel resilient.

And so I wonder, where from now this? For here now, I stay, linger, and yet to what cause? I have passed through so much. And I am utterly depressed.

Gray, Black, and White Digital Abstract Wall

The Shape of My Grief at 5 Years :

For Here Now, I Stay

For Here Now I Stay

I do not know why time passes this quickly now. Yes, when we are young, the world is ours, old people are static and staid, our moms and dads are just that—moms and dads. I think with familiarity we miss the gradual stripping away of our youth years, and frankly, in youth, we are so inward-turned that it’s difficult if not impossible to usher forth compassion and awareness towards others, especially those from whom we see ourselves as being most far apart.

Change is inevitable. Death comes. Tragedy besets us. And really, and this I only realize in the hindsight of the wake of Dylan’s suicide, our lives are much more about sorrow and our response to enormous loss and impossible circumstances than our capacity and ability to feel and to cultivate joy.

How easy it is, in the moment, to feel exhilarated and high on wings of flight that sail only blue skies drenched in sun. But storms come what will, torrents of rain, ice, and hail pelt us from all angles, and skies black as nights without stars cover us with a darkness whose duration we cannot know. There is no presumed joy, though those around us want to garner false belief in this when we travel such dark skies. 

The Deeper the Sorrow, the Greater the Love

How’s it go? The deeper the sorrow, the greater the love. Yes, but love stripped violently from our hands, touch, hearts, bodies, lives always casts shadows that will forever travel with us.  Our bleakest nights do not bring greater capacity to feel joy, to feel the warmth of the sun, to see in color.

These dark, incessant droning on of days, months, years, and most sadly of all, a lifetime, more so carve in us (should we choose and choose we must, for grief is not so clearly delineated in its outcome), a strange capacity to integrate both a lesser joy and a deep sorrow.

Losing Dylan has changed everything. Yes, I am to the point of feeling the highs of life again, though never so sweetly as to silence the ache of my heart that beats still for my son. 

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Help, Hope, Healing After Suicide Loss: Support, Books, Resources

If You’ve Lost a Child to Suicide, These Resources May Be Helpful

Few things can so devastate us
as the suicide of a loved one,
especially of one’s own child.

Fr Ron Rolheiser

Seven Resources for Support

  1. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention page for survivors of suicide loss.
  2. The American Association of Suicidology’s Suicide Loss page.
  3. The A.F.S.P. support group listing.
  4. Survivors of Suicide
  5. The Compassionate Friends runs in-person groups, which you can find here, as well as 34 closed Facebook groups, one called “Loss Due to Suicide.”
  6. Alliance of Hope provides information, consultations and support to suicide loss survivors though its website and online community forum.
  7. Parents of Suicides

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. (Or 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources

Pink ground roses with yellow centers surrounded by green leaves
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Suicide Is Not Selfish

Current research absolutely supports the validity of mental illness. Current research and researchers in the mental health field know indelibly that suicide is not a choice your child makes.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son

Viewing suicide as a choice promotes the misunderstanding that people who engage in suicidal behavior are selfish. Selfishness has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” Suicide does not generate pleasure, advantage or well-being. People who take their own lives commonly feel like a burden to others or experience intense emotional pain that overwhelms their capacity to continue with life. Making others feel guilty is typically the furthest thing from their mind.

John Ackerman, PhD, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

The Stigma of Suicide

We often underestimate how many factors contribute to an outcome as complex and final as suicide. Those who experience the kind of emotional pain associated with suicide do not typically want to die; they wish for an end to unbearable emotional pain and, often, the resources that allow them to hold on aren’t available. Individuals who struggle with thoughts of suicide usually have a hard time thinking flexibly and their ability to see an end to pain and a life worth living is greatly compromised.

John Ackerman, PhD Nationwide Children’s Hospital

A choice usually involves making a selection based on multiple factors or preferences. Sadly, an inability to make rational, life-affirming decisions is a hallmark of suicidal thinking. Intense emotion pain, hopelessness and a narrowed, negative view of the future interferes with balanced decision-making.

John Ackerman, PhD, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Suicide is Not a Choice

It takes as long as it takes. Be gentle with yourself. And in the wake of catastrophic loss, remember to breathe.

Beth Brown, My Forever Son

Books and Resources for Loss Survivors

Read More

. . .the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that after a stable period from 2000 to 2007, the rate of suicide among those aged 10 to 24 increased dramatically — by 56 percent — between 2007 and 2017, making suicide the second leading cause of death in this age group, following accidents like car crashes.

Jane E. Brody, December 2019, The New York Times, “The Crisis in Youth Suicides”

Along with suicides, since 2011, there’s been nearly a 400 percent increase nationally in suicide attempts by self-poisoning among young people. “Suicide attempts by the young have quadrupled over six years, and that is likely an undercount,” said Henry A. Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, who called the trend “devastating.” “These are just the ones that show up in the E.R.”

Jane E. Brody, December 2019, The New York Times, “The Crisis in Youth Suicide”

Nationally, suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 years old.

*Nearly 1 in 6 teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.

*Suicide affects people of all backgrounds. 

*Early identification of risk factors can aid behavioral health specialists in prevention strategies for youth at risk of suicide.

*Suicide is complex and tragic yet often preventable if communities are provided with the right tools.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide and Research

Suicide Breaks Hearts

“10 Ways to Support a Loved One After Losing Someone to Suicide”

by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Refrain from saying “I know how you feel” unless you are also a suicide loss survivor. Instead, something like, “I don’t know what to say: I have no idea what you’re going through, but I care about you and I want to be here for you,” will be more honest and meaningful.

Read about suicide loss. You’ll better understand what your loved one is experiencing, and in the process might discover helpful information you can share with the

Don’t wait for your loved one to ask you for help; they may be too deep in their grief to realize what they need. Rather than saying, “Let me know if I can help,” do something specific for them, like shop for groceries, offer to babysit, bring dinner to their home, etc.

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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

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Surviving Your Child’s Suicide: Support, Resources, Hope

Surviving Your Child’s Suicide:

Support, Resources, Hope

Surviving the Suicide of Your Child

Resources, Books, Support

Find resources, books, support groups, and narratives from parents who lost a child to suicide below.

Many of these resources have helped me survive these past nine years of grieving.

That’s when my world changed. That’s when hope for me became something I used to have. That’s when I lost my 20-year-old son, Dylan, to suicide.

Carrying on in the wake of his suicide has meant seeking support, resources, and groups. Many of the resources below have helped me find a way to keep going after my child’s suicide. Perhaps they will help you too.

Coping with Suicide Loss

Iris Bolton, the author of “Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors,” has written several books about suicide loss, grief, and healing. Her book, My Son, My Son, helped me feel less alone. Bolton writes about losing her son to suicide, stories of hope and healing, and grief after suicide loss.

“Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors”

by Iris M. Bolton

1. Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can.

2. Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until YOU are satisfied with partial answers.

3. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but that all your feelings are normal.

4. Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.

5. Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s okay to express it.

6. You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.

7. Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.

8. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.

9. Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.

10. Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.

11. Give yourself time to heal.

12. Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence on another’s life.

13. Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.

14. Try to put off major decisions.

15. Give yourself permission to get professional help.

16. Be aware of the pain in your family and friends.

17. Be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.

18. Set your own limits and learn to say no.

19. Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.

20. Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups.

21. Call on your personal faith to help you through.

22. It is common to experience physical reaction to your grief, e.g. headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.

23. The willingness to laugh with other and at yourself is healing.

24. Wear out your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.

25. Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and even go beyond just surviving.

Iris Bolton, Suicide and its Aftermath (Dunne, McIntosh, Dunne-Maxim, Norton et al., 1987). American Association for Suicidology

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More Resources and Support

The suicide of a child of any age presents unique circumstances that can intensify and prolong the mourning process for parents, family members and friends. Suicide is believed to be a reaction to overwhelming feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness and depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 10-14 year olds and 15-24 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds.

2017 The Compassionate Friends, USA
“Every 11 Minutes, Someone Dies by Suicide-A Look at the Staggering Suicide Facts and Figures”
Beth Brown, My Forever Son

Support Groups:

Coping with Impossible Grief: Losing a Child to Suicide

Nationally, suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 years old.

*Nearly 1 in 6 teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.

*Suicide affects people of all backgrounds. 

*Early identification of risk factors can aid behavioral health specialists in prevention strategies for youth at risk of suicide.

*Suicide is complex and tragic yet often preventable if communities are provided with the right tools.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide and Research

Suicide Data and Statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

SuicideData: United States State Fact Sheets

Online Support After Suicide Loss

Parents, Friends, Family Members

Parents of Suicides 
Friends and Families of Suicides 

These two online groups offer support, hope, and healing for parents, friends, and families of those bereaved by the suicide of a child.

They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Both online support groups for parents of suicides and families and friends of suicide are free.

These support groups for survivors consist of other bereaved parents (parents of suicides), and family and friends (Families and Friends of Suicide).

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Memorial Day-Echoes that Haunt

Here Comes the 25th Most days, I cannot imagine my life without my son. Perhaps this is why starting my day is so difficult. It isn’t always like this, and after two years and almost 11 months, I am sometimes able to greet my day with gratitude and balance, a centeredness that defies my tragic…

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The Unbearable Ache of Memorial Dates

The Unbearable Ache of Memorial Dates Now I know what day it is I wish I didn’t I am not in the moment Indeed, I am not Here really Here anywhere really Lost, just so terribly, terribly, terribly lost Wanting to save you Dylan All over again Grief Remembers What Time Cannot Forget: Memorial Dates…

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Child Loss Child Loss to Suicide Coping with Loss Family loss Grief Healing Heart songs: Poetry from the Heart Hope Hope and Healing Letting Go Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Poems Poems about Losing a Child to Suicide Poems about Loss poems of love and loss Reflections Reflections after Suicide Loss

A Poem of Love, Loss, and Healing: Rain Comes to Heal Us All

Close up photograph of large pink resurrection lily covered with fresh rain drops after a rainstorm
After the Rain

A Healing Poem of Love, Loss, and Forgiveness:

Rain Comes to Heal Us All

Pink ground roses with yellow centers surrounded by green leaves

Rain Comes to Heal Us All

Rain comes to heal us all,

Falling tears from a sky of love,

Remembering even when earth forgets

To nurture all that we cannot forgive,

Bringing love remembered to restore

Even flowers that forget how to bloom 

Absent all that loved them from sky above.   

Beth Brown, My Forever Son

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Losing My Only Child to Suicide: “My Forever Son” Backstory

“My Forever Son” In the beginning, I had no words. I couldn’t speak. My voice was stilled. I lost my only child, my 20-year-old son, to suicide on June 25, 2012. In the beginning, who I was went away. What I did for a living went away. My professional life came to a grinding halt,…

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Grieving the Suicide Loss of a Child: Helpful Grief Tips

And can it be in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up. Charles Dickens If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever. Adopt Healthy Coping Strategies The aftermath…

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Find Hope Here: Featuring Poems About Losing a Child

A Poem of Love, Loss, and Hope: Tillers of the Earth and Tenders of the Soil A Poem of Love, Loss, and Hope: Tillers of the Earth Tillers of the Earth and Tenders of the Soil We are the tillers of the earth and the tenders of the soil. These trees and plants and water garden…

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Child Loss Child Loss to Suicide Family loss Memories and Stories Reflections Reflections after Suicide Loss Suicide loss

Remembering

Remembering

Even though this house hasn’t been hers for at least five years, my grandma’s old house still awakens memories deep inside of me.

I remember the family dinners and her tiny cocker spaniel. Most of my fondest childhood memories are from my grandma’s old house.

Dylan Brown

Even though this house hasn’t been hers for at least five years…

Dylan Brown

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“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep”–Poem and Song

“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” By Mary Elizabeth Frye I give you this one thought to keep- I am with you still. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sunglight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn…

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A Prayer for the Unanswerable Question of Suicide

A Prayer for the Unanswerable Question of Suicide A Poem brought to the dedication of the International Suicide Memorial Wall in Nashville, Tennessee, held in May of 2019. The original poem has been revised to reflect all who have lost a loved one to suicide and who now must live with the ongoing and forever…

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Hold Onto Hope-Grief Comes to Stay

When you lose your child, there is nothingness, the descent into the abyss of losing not just your child, but also yourself Beth, Dylan’s Mom, My Forever Son Grief is Unfinished Others can come alongside us for awhile, but our journey into the deep, dark night must be our own. Here, we rally against the darkness, awaken our soul’s…

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Child Loss to Suicide Coping with Loss Coping with Suicide Loss Family loss Grief Parents Who Have Lost a Child to Suicide Reflections Reflections after Suicide Loss Suicide loss survivors of suicide loss

Grandparents’ Grief After Suicide Loss of Grandchild

Pink ground roses with yellow centers surrounded by green leaves
Pink Ground Roses

A Grandparent’s Grief

Even though this house hasn’t been hers for at least five years, my grandma’s old house still awakens memories deep inside of me.

I remember the family dinners and her tiny cocker spaniel. Most of my fondest childhood memories are from my grandma’s old house.

Dylan Brown, My Forever Son
Tiny cocker spaniel puppy beside a stone wall. Gold-colored fur with white chest and white line in the middle of its forehead. puppy's head is tilted to the left. floppy puppy ears and puppy paws

The Family Table

I was with my mother when she purchased the sturdy, long, pine table. With two leaves, one for each end of the table, this table would be big enough for our small, close-knit family. My sister and her family, including her two children, plus my parents, plus room now for both Dylan and me.

A pretty, southwestern style, fabric-covered bench provided room enough for three grandchildren on one side of the long table. My parents sat at the ends of the table, and my sister, brother-in-law, and I sat in chairs aligned to our corresponding child (or children in my sister’s case) across the table. Dylan sat on the bench closest to his grandmother, and I sat across the table from Dylan, closest to my mother.

Pizza night, all of our holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), summer picnic-style food get-togethers, New Year’s Day celebrations, elaborate formal dinners, and casual grab-a-plate-and-a-burger: our family’s everything happened at this table.

Homework when Dylan spent time with Grandma while I was teaching a late class, birthday galas through the years, special occasions when great-grandma was still here: all happy times, take-it-for-granted times. We laughed, relaxed, and enjoyed good food and family. Later, we would play card and board games on the table. This table. This family of ours. These then our children. Dylan my child. Dylan belonging to all of us.

A Double Loss

As a mother, I know the pain of losing my son. As Dylan’s grandmother, my mother knows the pain both of losing a grandchild and the pain of witnessing my grief in losing Dylan. As I write, it’s now been a decade of grief, and while I have come so far from those desparate days of not wanting to be here without my son, I am forever changed.

I have learned to move forward with my grief, carrying my son always wherever I am and wherever I go. But I bear the weight of having lost my son and my mother sees and knows this in me. She bears the weight of a double loss: a great and infinite grief in losing her grandson, and a deep, abiding grief in watching me change so much this past decade.

A Special Bond

In grieving twice, grandparents also grieve what might have been.

The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is very special and unique. When a grandchild dies, the grief associated with the loss is often so intense and painful, it leaves bereaved grandparents feeling hopeless as they experience what many refer to as a double loss. Not only do they mourn for their grandchild, they may also feel a sense of helplessness because they are unable to take away the pain felt by the parents of their grandchild, one of whom is their own child.

The Grief of Grandparents, The Compassionate Friends

And in so many ways, their connections change. Those who have not lost a grandchild talk easily and well about how proud they are of their grandchild, what he or she is doing, the trials and tribulations in their grandchildren’s lives. In this ordinary world (where the grandchild, by nature, outlives the grandparents), a grandparent belongs to the rich tradition and prestige ascribed to them. Grandparents belong both to their grandchild and to all the rest of their community. They share photos and accomplishments of their grandchild. And they feel proud.

How to Help Grieving Grandparents

“When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition

Alan Wolfelt has written several books dealing with a parent’s grief after child loss. He has also written about a grandparent’s grief: Healing a Grandparent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Grandchild Dies.

Wolfelt offers suggestions about how to help grandparents who are grieving the loss of their grandchild:

Realize that a grandparent’s grief is unique.

When a grandchild dies, the grandparent often mourns the death on many levels. The grandparent probably loved the child dearly and may have been very close to him or her. The death has created a hole in the grandparent’s life that cannot be filled by anyone else. Grandparents who were not close to the child who died, perhaps because they lived far away, may instead mourn the loss of a relationship they never had.

Grieving grandparents are also faced with witnessing their child-the parent of the child who died-mourn the death. A parent’s love for a child is perhaps the strongest of all human bonds. For the parents of the child who died, the pain of grief may seem intolerable. For the grandparents, watching their own child suffer so and feeling powerless to take away the hurt can feel almost as intolerable.

Acknowledge the grandparent’s search for meaning.

When someone loved dies, we all ponder the meaning of life and death. When a child or young adult dies, this search for meaning can be especially painful. Young people aren’t supposed to die. The death violates the natural order of life and seems terribly unfair.

For grandparents, who may have lived long, rich lives already, the struggle to understand the death may bring about feelings of guilt. “Why didn’t God take me, instead?” the grandparent may ask himself. “Why couldn’t it have been me?”

Such feelings are both normal and necessary. You can help by encouraging the grandparent to talk about them.

Respect faith and spirituality.

Many people develop strong commitments to faith and spirituality as they get older. If you allow them, grieving grandparents will “teach you” about the role of faith and spirituality in their lives. Encourage them to express their faith if doing so helps them heal in grief.

Sometimes, however, faith can naturally complicate healing. The grandparent may feel angry at God for “taking” the grandchild. He then may feel guilty about his anger, because, he may reason, God is not to be questioned. Or the grandparent may struggle with feelings of doubt about God’s plan or the afterlife.

Talking with a pastor may help the grandparent, as long as the pastor allows the grandparent to honestly express her feelings of anger, guilt and sadness. No one should tell a grandparent that she shouldn’t grieve because the child has gone to heaven; mourning and having faith are not mutually exclusive.

Listen with your heart.

You can begin to help by simply listening. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judging are critical helping tools. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on the words that are being shared with you.

The grieving grandparent may want to share the same story about the death over and over again. It’s as if talking about the death makes it a little more bearable each time. Listen attentively. Realize that this repetition is part of the grandparent’s healing process. Simply listen and try to understand.

Sometimes grandparents, especially grandfathers, don’t want to talk about the death. They may have been raised to believe that talking about feelings is frivolous or selfish or unmanly. It’s OK; they don’t have to talk. Simply spending time with them demonstrates your love and concern.

Be compassionate.

Give the grandparent permission to express her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from the granparent; don’t instruct or set expectations about she should respond. Never say, “I know just how you feel.” You don’t. Think about your helper role as someone who “walks with” not “behind” or “in front of” the grieving grandparent.

Allow the grandparent to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he is feeling at the time. Enter into his feelings, but never try to take them away. And recognize that tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with the death.

Avoid clichés.

Offer practical help.

Write a personal note.

Be aware of holidays and other significant days.

“When a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice. They mourn the loss of the child and they feel the pain of their own child’s suffering. Sometimes we forget about the grandparents when a child dies. You can help by not forgetting, by offering the grandparents your love, support and presence in the weeks and months to come.”

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition

Out of Order

Grandparents who outlast a grandchild struggle with a death that seems out of order; they may cope with survival guilt, perhaps wondering why they couldn’t have died instead. Moreover, a grandchild’s death chips away at a grandparent’s assumed legacy.

Most of us hope to make a mark in the world, and the achievements of our children and grandchildren are a part of that dream. When one dies prematurely, that loss resonates through the generations, and like the bell in John Donne’s poem – “it tolls for thee.”

By Helen Fitzgerald, CT, Working through the Grief of Grandparents
Image

The Family Table

Even though this house hasn’t been hers for at least five years, my grandma’s old house still awakens memories deep inside of me. I remember walking to her house after elementary school and riding my bike over to play computer games. I remember the family dinners and her tiny cocker spaniel. Most of my fondest childhood memories are from my grandma’s old house.

Dylan Andrew Brown, My Forever Son

Our family’s table is now my own. The beautiful memories are all still there, interwoven in the stories we continue to tell about Dylan, his growing up years, the happier times–when we were all one.

We will be one again–someday–and inbetween the stretch of here and wherever forever is, I find comfort in the familiar table and chairs. But the bench? Well, my sister’s children are grown, and I just haven’t had the heart to use the bench as it always was at our table. I’ve repurposed it, tucked it against a wall where still it’s practical, a good place to sit and a good place to set groceries and what not.

But sometimes when I look, I still see Dylan, all his growing up years, all when we, as a family, were one.

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What I’ve Learned in 3 Years of Grief After the Suicide of My Son

I Remember Joy All these things I recognize, I remember delighting in them-trees, art, house, music, pink morning sky, work well done, flowers, books. I still delight in them. I’m still grateful.But the zest is gone. The passion is cooled, the striving quieted, the longing stilled. My attachment is loosened. No longer do I set…

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