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July 2009

GRIEVING NOTES

By Al Vigil

Everyone —each and every person, will experience grief in their lives. The irony for suicide survivors is that the grief will take place in life because someone you loved chose to end their own life.

Sometimes grief is described as work. It can be a process. It can become a journey —whatever description is used, everyone will go through it. Grief is an inescapable part of being alive. It may not seem fair, but it is real ...and it always brings change.

Change that is a multi-faceted response to loss. The feelings and emotions brought to you are numbness, disbelief, denial, despair, sadness, and loneliness.

Grief can come like a rushing wind that can blow our lives into devastating proportions. Recovery can be difficult and painful. Or grief can come like a gentle breeze that can be felt like a slow movement that subtly makes it a painful presence.

The winds and the breezes of grief will have no limit to their direction, time or intensity. You will feel the air move around you at un-expected moments. You may even feel the presence of a loved one for many years after they've been gone.

During the days of early mourning and during the later time and years of lasting grief ...there are only two things that you can do wrong. Those two things would simply be to hurt yourself or someone else.

Our days of 'early mourning' for our daughter Mia, are long past. It has been many years since she chose to stop her life at the age of eighteen.

But, our grief for her death still continues. We still think of her often —probably each and every day. We grieve for the children she never had. We grieve for the nieces and nephews she never met and loved. My wife Linda, and I, even grieve for each other, —Mia will never know us as the senior-parents that we have become.


BEYOND SURVIVING

Struggle with "why" it happened until you no longer need to know "why" or until you are satisfied with a partial answer. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings. All your feelings are normal. Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.

REMEMBER, NO ONE IS THE SOLE INFLUENCE IN ANOTHER'S LIFE

. . . . . . .
GRIEF IS OK

IT'S OKAY TO GRIEVE : The death of a loved one is a reluctant and drastic amputation, without any anesthesia. The pain cannot be described, and no scale can measure the loss. We despise the truth that the death cannot be reversed, and that somehow our dear one returned. Such hurt! It's okay to grieve.

IT'S OKAY TO CRY : Tears release the flood of sorrow, of missing and of love. Tears relieve the brute force of hurting, enabling us to "level off" and continue our cruise along the stream of life. It's okay to cry.

IT'S OKAY TO HEAL : We do not need to "prove" we loved him or her. As the months pass, we are slowly able to move around with less outward grieving each day. We need not feel "guilty" for this is not an indication that we live less. It means that, although we don't like it, we are learning to accept death. It's a healthy sign of healing. It's okay to heal.

IT'S OK TO LAUGH : Laughter is not a sign of "less" grief. Laughter is not a sign of "less" love. It's a sign that many of our thoughts and memories are happy ones. It's a sign that we know our memories are happy ones. It's a sign that we know our dear one would have us laugh again. It's okay to laugh.

... if we avoid grief will it go away?
Grief is as old as mankind but is one of the most neglected of human problems. As we become aware of this neglect, we come to realize the enormous cost that it has been to the individual, to the families and to society, in terms of pain and suffering because we have neglected the healing of grief. Essential to a grieving person is to have at least one person who will allow them, give them permission to grieve. Some people can turn to a friend or to a family member. Some find a support group that will allow one to be the way one needs to be at the present as they work through their grief. Dealing appropriately with grief is important in helping to preserve healthy individuals and nurturing families, to avoid destroying bodies and their psyche, their marriages their relationships.

You can postpone grief but you cannot avoid it. As other stresses come along, one becomes less able to cope if one has other unresolved grief. It requires a great deal of energy to avoid grief and robs one of energy for creative expression in relating to other people and in living a fulfilling life. It limits one's life potential. Suppressing grief keeps one in a continual state of stress and shock, unable to move from it. Our body feels the effects of it in ailments. Our emotional life suffers. Our spiritual life suffers. We say that the person is "stuck in grief."

When a person faces his grief, allows his feelings to come, speaks of his grief, allows its expression, it is then that the focus is to move from death and dying and to promote life and living.

... why we grieve differently !
We accept without question uniqueness in the physical world ...fingerprints, snowflakes, etc. But we often refuse that same reality in our emotional world. This understanding is needed, especially in the grieving process.

No two people will ever grieve the same way, with the same intensity or for the same duration. It is important to understand this basic truth. Only then we accept our own manner of grieving and be sensitive to another's response to loss. Only then are we able to seek out the nature of support we need for our own personalized journey back to wholeness and be able to help others on their own journey.

Not understanding the individuality of grief could complicate and delay whatever grief we might experience from our own loss. It could also influence us, should we attempt to judge the grieving of others -even those we might most want to help.

Each of us is a unique combination of diverse past experiences. We each have a different personality, style, various ways of coping with stress situations, and our own attitudes influence how we accept the circumstances around us. We are also affected by the role and relationship that each person in a family system had with the departed by circumstances surrounding the death and by influences in the present.

... past experience !
Past experiences form childhood on have a great impact on how we are able to handle loss in the present.
What other losses have we faced in our childhood, adolescence, adulthood? How frightening were these experiences? Was there good support?
Were feelings allowed to be expressed in a secure environment? Has there been a chance to recover and heal from these earlier losses?
What other life stresses have been going on prior to this recent loss? Has there been a move to a new area?
Were there financial difficulties, problems or illness with another member of the family? What has our previous mental health history been like?
Have we had bouts with depression? Have we harbored suicidal thoughts? Have we experienced a nervous breakdown?

Have we been treated with medication or been hospitalized? How has our family cultural influences conditioned us to respond to loss and the emotions of grief (stoic father, emotional mother, etc)?

... relationship with the deceased !
No outsider is able to determine the special bond that connects two people, regardless of the relationship, role or length of time the relationship has been in existence.

Our relationship with the deceased has a great deal to do with the intensity and duration of our grief.
What was that relationship? Was the deceased a spouse? A child? A parent? A friend? A sibling?
How strong was the attachment to the deceased? Was it a close, dependant relationship, or intermittent and independent? What was the degree of ambivalence (the love/hate balance) in that relationship?

It is not only the person, but also the role that person played in our life which is lost.

How major was that role? Was that person the sole breadwinner, the driver, the handler of financial matters? The only one who could fix a decent dinner? Was that person a main emotional support, an only friend? How dependent were we on the role that person filled?

... circumstances surrounding the death !
The circumstances surrounding the death. How the death occurred, are extremely important in determining how we are going to come to an acceptance of the loss.

Was the loss in keeping with the laws of Nature as when a person succumbs to old age? Or was order thrown into chaos, as when a parent lives to see a child die?
What warnings were there that there would be a loss? Was there time to prepare, time to gradually come to terms with the inevitable? Or did death come so suddenly that there was no anticipation of its arrival?
Do we feel that this death could have been prevented or forestalled? How much responsibility am I taking for this death?
Do we feel that the deceased accomplished what he or she was meant to fulfill in this lifetime? Was their life full and rewarding? How much was left unsaid or undone between ourselves and the deceased? Does the extent of unfinished business foster a feeling of guilt?

... influences in the present !
We have looked at the past, at the relationship, and how the loss occurred. Now we see how the influences in the present can impact how we are finally going to come to terms with a current loss.
Age and sex are important factors. Are we young enough and resilient enough to bounce back? Are we old enough and wise enough to accept the loss and to grow with the experience?
Can our life be rebuilt again? What opportunities does life offer now? Is health a problem? What are the secondary losses that are the result of this death?
Loss of income? Home? Family breakup? What other stresses or crisis are present?

Our personality, present stability of mental health, and coping behavior play a significant role in our response to the loss. What kind of role expectations do we have for ourselves? What are those imposed by friends, relatives and others? Are we expected to be the "strong one" or is it alright for us to break down and have someone else take care of us? Are we going to try to assume an unrealistic attempt to satisfy everyone's expectations, or are we going to withdraw from the entire situation? What is there in our social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds that give us strength and comfort? What role do rituals play in our recovery? Do our religious or philosophical beliefs bring comfort or add sorrow and guilt? What kind of social support is there in our lives during this emotional upheaval?

... conclusion !
When a person who is part of our life dies, understanding the uniqueness of this loss can guide us in finding the support we will need and to recognize when help should come from outside family or friends.

When the loss is experienced by someone we would like to help or by someone under our care, this same understanding is essential. Thus we can guard against a temptation to compare or to judge their grief responses to our own. The awareness of those factors which affect the manner, intensity and duration of grief, should enable us to guide the grieving person in seeking those forms of support suggested bu the nature of their loss and the unique way it affects them.

---- By Jinny Tesik, M.A. - Survivors of Suicide : WEB Site ----


College Kids Stressed-Out : Worries Include Grades, Money - By Nancy Benac and Trevor Tompson (Associated Press- May 2009)

Stress over grades. Financial worries. Trouble sleeping. Feeling hopeless.

So much for those carefree college days.

The vast majority of college students are feeling stressed these days, and significant numbers are at risk of depression, according to a recent AP poll.

Eighty-five percent of the students reported feeling stress in their daily lives, in recent months, with worries about grades, schoolwork, money and relationships the big culprits.

At the same time, 42 percent said they had felt down, depressed or hopeless for several days during the past two weeks, and 13 percent showed signs of being at risk for at least mild depression, based on the students' answers to a series of questions that medical practitioners use to diagnose depressive illness.

These students complained of trouble sleeping, having little energy or feeling down or hopeless-and most hadn't gotten professional help. Eleven percent had had thoughts that they'd be better off dead or about hurting themselves.

That's not just a case of the blues to be shrugged off by taking a break with Facebook or going for a workout.

Mental health disorders like depression typically begin relatively early in life, doctors say, and college is a natural time for symptoms to emerge.

The poll surveyed students at 40 U.S. colleges, exploring the students' state of mind and the pressures they face, including strains from the tough economy. It found substantial numbers of students with symptoms of depression, many of them failing to receive professional help. Among the poll result:

* Nine percent of students were at risk of moderate to severe depression. That's in line with a recent medical study that found 7 percent of young people had depression.

* Almost a quarter of those with a parent who had lost a job during the school year showed signs of at least mild depression, more than twice the percentage of those who hadn't had a parent lose a job, More than twice as many students whose parents had lost a job said they had seriously considered ending their own life, 13 percent to 5 percent.

* Among those who reported serious symptoms of moderate depression or worse, just over a quarter had ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

* More than half of those who reported having seriously considered suicide at some point in the previous year had not received any treatment or counseling.

* Nearly half of those diagnosed with at least moderate symptoms weren't familiar with counseling resources on campus.


SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS
* Talking or joking about committing suicide.

* Saying things like, "I'd be better off dead," "I wish I could disappear forever," or "There's no way out."

* Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying ("If I died, people might love me more.")

* Writing stories and poems about death, dying or suicide.

* Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury.

* Giving away prized possessions.

* Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good.

* Seeking out weapons, pills or other ways to kill themselves.

* If a teenager you know threatens suicide or shows signs of suicidal thoughts, contact a suicide help line immediately.

" THE LETTER "

DID YOU WRITE A LETTER?
I LOOKED FOR IT
I LOOKED ALL OVER FOR IT
IN YOUR DESK, IN YOUR BRIEFCASE
IN EVERY POCKET OF YOUR CLOTHING
IN STRANGE PLACES LIKE THE MEDICINE CABINET
EVEN THE REFRIGERATOR
BUT THERE WAS NO LETTER
YOU DIDN'T WRITE ONE
AND I WONDER WHY.

IT'S ONE OF THE FIRST QUESTIONS SURVIVORS ASK
"DID YOU GET A LETTER?"
THEY MUST HAVE LOOKED TOO.
I RECALL HOW SKILLED YOU WERE WITH WORDS
IT WAS, AFTER ALL, A PART OF YOUR PROFESSION.
SO I'VE AGONIZED AND TRIED TO UNDERSTAND
WAS YOUR NOT WRITING IN ITSELF
AN UNWRITTEN MESSAGE?

DID YOU FEAR, MY LOVE, THAT WRITING
MIGHT SWAY YOU FROM KEEPING
THAT FINAL APPOINTMENT IN YOUR BOOK?
PERHAPS IT SEEMED TOO RATIONAL AN ACT
AT A TIME WHEN REASON COULD NOT PREVAIL.
OR, IN SOME STRANGE WAY
WERE YOU TRYING TO SPARE ME?

SOMETIMES I WONDER IF YOU HAD WRITTEN
THOSE LAST SORROWFUL LINES
WOULD YOUR HAND HAVE TREMBLED OVER THE WORDS
THE WAY MY HEART HAS TREMBLED A THOUSAND TIMES
SINCE THAT SOFT SUNNY SEPTEMBER LETTER-LESS DAY?
. . . . . . . . . . . .
By : MARION WATERSTON


UNDERSTANDING GRIEF
Helping Yourself Heal - THE MOURNERS BILL OF RIGHTS
By Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

(Re-Printed w/permission from San Diego SOSL / Bonnie Bear)

1. You have the right to experience your own grief. No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.

2. You have the right to talk about your grief. Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about grief.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.

5. You have the right to experience grief "attacks." Sometimes out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. Though frightening, it is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

6. You have the right to make use of ritual. The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More important, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. Don't listen if others tell you rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality. If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

8. You have the right to search for meaning. You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not, and watch out for the cliched responses some people may give you. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to treasure your memories, Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal. Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved, changes your life forever.


- BOOK REVIEW -

"IN THE WAKE OF SUICIDE" - A Child's Journey
- Written by Diane Kaulen -

Explaining Suicide to Children and Teens from a Christian Perspective

Losing someone to suicide is a tragic and traumatic experience, particularly for children. The enormity of difficult issues surrounding such an untimely death often leaves even adults questioning their religious faith. All who experiences the heartbreaking ordeal must proceed through their own grief process, trying to gain understanding of their loved one's death. This is doubly hard for a young child.

The purpose of this book is to help children touched by suicide find solace and to aid in conversation with their supporting adults. The story leads to discovery of God's everlasting presence and His promises to bring joy in the midst of sorrow.

"In the Wake of Suicide" is the journey of a young boy living with a depressed father who eventually commits suicide. Through Max's eyes, readers soon realize they are not alone. They see how the tragedy changes Max's life as the confusion of his emotions run wild, and with his constant questioning to himself and the adults around him.

Is Max to blame?

How much more could Max's mother or the doctors have done to help his dad?

And where exactly is God in all this?

The father's final act shakes the very core of his family's Christian faith, but Max learns how he can draw on God's strength and His Word to help him survive and find his way through darkness and despair back into God's light. We pray that this same lesson also comes alive for the readers. There is no greater place to be than in the Father's arms.

The death of a parent by suicide is a tough issue for any child to deal with. It is especially hard to help them understand how God still loves them and the parent who committed suicide. "In the Wake of Suicide" can help children deal with the fact that their father is still loved by God. It can help them understand that God can help them through ANY tragedy that they may face in their lives. Not only does it help children —it can help parents answer questions about suicide and religion. This book can become a great tool to encouraging communication about suicide and God.

. . . . . . ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Ms. Diane Kaulen, is a Certified Child Life Specialist, with a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education.

Book is available through Web Site : www.inthewakeofsuicide.com ( $14.95 + S&H)

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