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July 2008


By Linda Vigil

Reflections of our past create the Windows of our Minds!

As the journey of life continues, I am beginning to understand why my past is so important to me and my loved ones. Our children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, and grandparents!

Our heritage is important and for a special reason!

In the process of working through grief, pain, and healing, I believe no one ever completely recovers from the loss of someone they deeply loved.

I believe the recovery from grief means you can face and bear the loss, but you are forever changed as a result of the experience. Some of these changes may be positive as we gain and discover strength within ourselves. We are then able to look through the Windows of our Minds.

Through one of my windows I have the cherished memory of wonderful grandparents. They were both killed in a car accident. They were both a great part of my life as a child and as a young adult. They were great-grandparents to my oldest daughter, Mindy. So many memories took place in my grandparents home ...holidays, birthdays and many special events in my life. I remember with the loss, I felt like part of my life had been taken from me.

Through much pain and sadness I was able to work my way to a safe place where I could look through my window and share with my family the loving spirit of my grandparents and the love and celebration they had of life.

Through my years I have lost many people who I have treasured and all who have given me priceless gifts of living. I have lost treasured friendships, I have lost a treasured nephew to murder -(Travis), his life was just beginning. Seeing my brother and sister-in-law, have to go through their grief with the loss of their son is so painful.

The loss of my sister just a few month ago has been so painful. My sister had been unhappy for so long, but there was that hope, that maybe she would find that life was so worth living! So the loss of hope is so painful, for she left behind four beautiful daughters and 13 grandchildren.

I also have a special window I am now able to look through, with tears, much sadness, anger and yes even joy! Our second daughter, Mia who completed suicide at the age of 18 , was such a gift that I am able to share with others her life and her death. I pray, the Mia story has helped make a difference in someone else's pain. We share Mia's beauty, her pain, her mystery as well as her deep spirit! I now know why Sharing and Healing is so vital to our well being.

I believe that God always courts us but never forces, letting us discover the many Windows of our Minds, and the many reflections to give life's journey meaning and purpose.

Which brings us to another issue of Sharing and Healing!

The Hardest Task of All

Cheryl Cottle and Dealing with the Suicide of a Loved One

By Corey R.

If you have not heard of the events surrounding the suicide of Cheryl Cottle's husband, Sonny Graham, 69, then you will probably find this interesting. Graham, is the second husband Ms. Cottle, has had commit suicide. In itself that is not terribly unusual, except that Mr. Graham had received the transplant heart of her first husband after his suicide in 1995.

Police have ruled out foul play and discounting mumbo-jumbo about "transplant memory" or the like, this boils down to a widow who has the incredibly bad misfortune to survive not one but two suicides.

I can scarce imagine what Ms. Cottle is going through right now, having to go through this a second time. Unfortunately I can only "scarce imagine" it, I do have a fairly good idea. My first wife committed suicide on the 26th of February 1996. She left me with a four year old daughter to raise on my own. My wife had been unable to bring herself to deal with the death of our son a year and a half earlier and had suffered a series of breakdowns culminating in her suicide.

The hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was coming home one afternoon, taking my daughter outside and sitting her down on the bench under the tree to explain to her that "mommy is dead, she will never be coming back." My daughter kept asking, "but when will I see her again?" How does one answer that? Forgiving my first wife for putting me through her suicide -that was hard. I must admit to feeling some anger towards my wife, from time to time, in that she left, just checked out, and I must remain to deal with the hard part of raising our daughter alone. I have had the help of family but I have been acutely aware that it was not what it should have been.

Then again, my wife certainly left me with a big empty hole which could never quite be filled.

Oh, I finally remarried to a wonderful woman, but my first wife was my first love, when I married her, I planned to spend the rest of my life with her. We spent the days of our youth together and there were memories which we shared -there is no one else but me to recall them now. Someone who is divorced knows the other person is still out there, that is not so when the other person is dead. I imagine, if the spouse should die in a "regular" way -that is too say not of their own choosing, then that would be one thing to deal with. It would be have been an "act of God" as it were. But when your loved one dies by their own hand, this hurts in a totally unique way. It leaves you wondering, "What did I do to drive them to that?"

My first wife was a Yu'pic Eskimo and, I suspect, she never quite got used to being away from Alaska. We were an Army family and she took being bounced around the world hard. The death of our son was the proverbial, "straw which broke the camels back."

After the death of my wife I thought, "Man, I never want to go through that again!" I thought I knew what to look for, what signs to watch out for. About two years after my wife died I received a call, relayed from a worried aunt, to please go and check on a nearby cousin, one who I was fairly close too and who was going through a bit of a hard time. Oh yes, I should have known what to watch out for but I didn't. I worked on a rescue squad at the time. I dealt with suicide calls on a regular basis. I should have known how badly she was hurting. I was off duty but still in uniform when I went to check in my cousin. I stood there and watched the Medical Examiner bag her body and take it away.

Well, I have learned that it is very difficult to spot someone who is truly suicidal. I have also learned a few things about dealing with the aftermath of a suicide of a loved one. I am a Christian so I offer my advice from a Christian perspective. I do not apologize for this, if you do not like it, read a different article.

The first thing I would like to address is this, your loved one did not "go to hell because they committed suicide." This troubled me for some time after my wife's death, particularly since she was raised Orthodox, I know that the Catholic and several Orthodox churches have long taught that a person who commits suicide cannot get into heaven. I have read the Bible through and consulted with several ministers and biblical scholars on this. I can find only one unpardonable sin in the Bible and that is not accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Everything else is forgivable and this includes suicide. I doubt God is thrilled with it but it is never specifically listed as "unpardonable."

The second thing I would like to mention is guilt. Some call it "survivors guilt." It is the feeling that you, the survivor, drove your loved one to kill themselves. You may have. I cannot sit here at my computer in Virginia and say that everyone who reads this is completely innocent of ever having been a total jerk. We are all jerks sometimes. We can all drive others to exasperation from time to time, What I can tell you is this, you are NOT responsible because your loved one could not deal with the day to day pressures of LIFE. Ultimately each of us must go through life ourselves. We must wake up in the morning, go through the day, go to bed at night and deal with every little thing which come along in between. In today's ridiculous "somebody else is at fault" world, we always look for someone to blame but the bottom line truth is we are each responsible for our own life! If your loved one killed themselves it is because they thought they lacked the strength to deal with their problems, not because of something you did or did not do.

This brings me to the third point, don't you fall into this trap. You DO have the strength to deal with your problems. God will never put more on you than you can handle. It only seems that way sometimes, I know, I have been there; I have buried a wife and a child and lost my career, having to face the world as a newly single parent with no money and no job. THAT was a feeling of having more than I could handle. If I had killed myself where would my daughter be? Always remember this, whatever the problem that seems so deadly is temporary. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

My fourth point, you have to wrap up. Reach a conclusion with your loved one. This will be hard confronting what they did face to face. Look at the facts head on do not turn away from them. When my wife died I made a point of reading the coroner's report, and even spoke with the coroner so I understood what she did and how she went about it. That might be a bit extreme for some, there was some question in my wife's death at first, it was initially ruled "unknown causes" until her suicide note arrived in the mail. None the less, you must understand how and most importantly WHY they did what they did in order to reach the fifth and final point.

Letting go. This one sounds a bit harsh, I know. Yet we have to let go at some point. Do not misunderstand me here, I do not mean to "Forget" your loved one. Never forget them. I do not forget my wife, son, and cousin. I will always remember them in my heart. But I have let go of them. Especially my first wife, if I had not let her go I could not have remarried, it would not have been fair to my new wife. Again, I am a Christian, as was she. One day I will see her again, in God's good time.

Talking May Play Role in Reducing Suicide Rate

Acknowledging Issue Could Help Reduce Deaths! By John Lee : Post-Crescent

Karen Aspenson thinks starting a discussion on suicide is one of the main ways to stem trends in the act that takes thousands of lives each year.

A study released last month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the majority of violent deaths in the United States-56.1 percent in 2005-were suicides.

While the report says the rates of violent death were highest among 20-to-24 year-olds, the rates of violent death by suicide were highest 75-to 84-year olds, at 17 percent, and 45-to-54 year- olds, 16.9 percent.

The figures were included in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Surveillance Summaries, which provide data on violent deaths from 16 states for 2005.

There could be some real awareness," in discussions about suicide, said Aspenson, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Fox Valley. "It all comes down to education. Our generation is kind of lost when it comes to this. They have an awfully hard time talking about suicide."

The cause of death isn't normally included in obituaries, and people don't discuss it with the victims' families, she said.

The CDC report said mental health problems were the most commonly noted circumstance for suicide. While 42 percent of suicide victims were diagnosed with mental health problems, only 33 percent were known to be receiving treatment at the time of death. The study also said suicides by current and former military personnel comprised 20 percent of all suicides.

Aspenson said rates for suicides among teens and younger adults are increasing. "Younger and teen suicides -they are the ones that shock us and they get a lot of attention," she said.

Older adults face issues of deteriorating health, isolation when children move away and friends die, and often the loss of identity when retiring from a job.

A state report on 2006 deaths said there were 46 suicides in the area, including 18 in Outagamie County, 22 in Winnebago County and six in Calumet County.

NAMI has started a support group with veterans, and she said Vietnam veterans are the "highest of all demographics" in suicide risk.


* Programs designed to enhance social problem -solving and coping skills dealing with stressful life events have potential to reduce violence.

* Prevention programs and efforts aimed at dealing with mental health problems may reduce some of the precipitating factors for violence.

* Programs and efforts to increase education and outreach about warning signs for violence are important for prevention.

Talking Veterans Down From Despair

By Patricia Cohen CANANDAIGUA, N.Y.

Nancy Nosewicz was busy fielding calls at the new national veterans hot line on a recent afternoon when someone from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Topeka, Kansas, phoned. He had a 55-year old Army veteran from the Northwest on the line who had called to complain about his benefits, but now the guy, drunk and crying, was talking about not wanting to live. Could Ms. Nosewicz pick up?

In a slurred voice, heavy weeping, the veteran, named Robert, told her that he was homeless and wanted to "just lay down in the river and never get up."

Ms. Nosewicz, a social worker, listened. Then in a voice firm and comforting like a big sister, she said: "We don't want you to either. Today we're not thinking about the alcohol or the housing, Robert. Today it's about keeping you safe."

She gave an assistant Robert's phone number to find his address and alert local police to stand by. The chain of care resembled a relay race, with one runner trying not to let go of the baton until the next runner had it in hand.

The veterans hot line is part of a specialized effort by the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce suicide by enabling counselors, for the first time, to instantly check a veteran's medical records and then combine emergency response with local follow-up services. It comes after years of criticism that the department has been neglecting tens of thousands of wounded service men and women who have returned from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One Monday, a class action suit brought by veterans groups opened in San Francisco charging a "system wide breakdown," citing long delays in receiving disability benefits and flaws in the way discharged soldiers at risk for suicide had been treated. Kerri J. Childress, a department spokeswoman, said Monday that there were an average of 18 suicides a day among America's 25 million veterans and that more than a fifth were committed by men and women being treated by Veterans Affairs.

Up and running since August, the hot lines tries to respond to at least some of those in crisis, Over eight months, it has received more than 37,200 calls and made more than 720 rescues-sending out, from a narrow office here in upstate New York, emergency responders all over the country to find someone on a bridge, with a gun in his hand, or with a stomach full of pills.

Paul Sullivan, the director of Veterans for Common Sense, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, said of the department: "I'm pleased they're responding. However, much more needs to be done so vets aren't turned away from health care and don't have to wait for benefits."

Mr. Sullivan says suicidal patients have not been able to get care promptly; he cited the case of Jonathan Schulze, who was turned away twice from a Veterans Affairs hospital before he killed himself in January 2007.

"More than 600,000 veterans are waiting, on average, more than six months for disability benefits," said Mr. Sullivan, who worked at the department monitoring benefits.

Experts agree that veterans are more likely, perhaps twice as much, to commit suicide as people who have never served in the military. Meanwhile, a study released last week by the RAND Corporation estimates that roughly one in five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which heightens the risk of suicide.

Yet whatever larger failings may exist, the staff of social workers, addiction specialists and nurses who keep the hot line running-24 hours a day, seven days a week-can count at least some victories by the end of each shift.

Unique about this hot line, said Janet Kemp, the national suicide prevention coordinator with the department, is that now the counselors have medical information at their fingertips, which they use to connect vets with counseling near their homes. The model evolved from a new research program on suicide prevention paid for by the department.

"For years people thought that asking questions about suicide put the thought in people's mind, but now we know that's not true," said Dr. Kemp, who travels throughout the country training V.A. staff.

The department is spending about $3 million to start and operate the hot line during its first year, said a spokesman, Daniel Ryan, and another $2.9 million on a mental health research center at the sprawling red-brick V.A. Medical Center in Canandaigua. Referring to the hot line's relay model, Kerry Knox, the director of the new research center, said, "You don't want them to fall through the cracks."

With Robert, for example -whose last name was not provided for confidentiality -Ms. Nosewicz gradually nudged him to agree to be taken to a hospital and to give his name and Social Security number so she could check his file and put him in contact with the department's suicide prevention coordinator in his area.

Meanwhile, Denise Slocum, a health assistant, relayed questions from the local police dispatcher. "The police are asking if you're near an elementary school," asked Ms. Nosewicz, who then nodded her head at Ms. Slocum.

"No, no, no, -no handcuffs," Ms. Nosewicz reassured Robert. "You're going to go to the hospital."

"Do you have a tissue to blow your nose? Then use your sleeve."

"When they come in, you put them on the phone with me, and I'll tell them to treat you with respect."

Twenty minutes later, Ms. Slocum called the police again to confirm that Robert had been taken to a hospital. Ms. Nosewicz alerted the prevention coordinator. One is located at each of the department's 156 health centers.

Robert's name was added to a board near the doorway so that the staff could follow up to ensure a local counselor actually met with him.

Of course, sometimes a crack is unavoidable.

"He's going to do it. He's really going to do it," said Terri Rose, a counselor who was working the noon-to midnight shift. She was wiping her red-rimmed eyes. A caller from Texas, who said he was 65 and a helicopter gunner in Vietnam, said he had a suicide pact with his friend, but the friend had gone off and killed himself. Now he, too, was ready to die, saying he had even found a coffin for $150, said Ms. Rose, who is an Air Force veteran herself. The veteran hung up and stopped answering her calls.

Sometimes veterans have a lot of trouble asking for help, said Jacklyn O'Loughlin, a counselor. "They keep saying, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' " Ms. O'Loughlin said. "Especially marines. They feel they're weak if they reach out."

Mr. Ryan said about half the calls to the hot line-1-800-273-TALK(8255)-were from veterans, split fairly evenly between Vietnam and Iraq. Family members and friends also frequently call. About 30 percent of the veterans are women.

A couple of months ago, Ms. O'Loughlin said that a distraught woman called from Oregon who was driving to the woods and then threatened to "walk and walk and walk and never come back." Ms. O'Loughlin rang the tiny silver bell on her desk to signal the health technician. The health technician checked the area code and phoned the closest Veterans Affairs health center.

"And lo and behold, that suicide prevention coordinator knew her just by her first name," Ms O'Loughlin said. The technician called the police and the co-ordinator called the woman's husband, getting the car's make and model. Ms. O'Loughlin kept her on the line. When she hung up, Ms. O'Loughlin called her back. "This went on for hours," she said. "I could hear her getting out of the car. I could hear the rustling from the leaves."

Meanwhile, the police and her husband were driving up and down roads. They fianlly spotted her car. They dashed through the trees and found her. She had a bottle of pills in her hand but had not yet swallowed them.

Sometimes, the victories are smaller but no less satisfying. That morning, Ms. Nosewicz spoke to a veteran whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and he had been relocated to a different state.

"He called crying because he can't find a job, saying 'my teeth are so rotten and my mouth stinks,' " Ms. Nosewicz said.

Dental referrals are not exactly part of the job description, but Ms. Nosewicz tried dental schools in his area until she found a school to do the work. "He was crying on the phone," she recalled. He said, "Thanks so much. Thanks so much."

"All in all, it's not a bad day's work," Ms. Nosewicz said, as she got ready to leave. "Three rescues, four consults and one set of teeth."

Turbulent Feelings : Surviving The Aftermath Of Suicide

by Tim Jackson

"Suicide doesn't end pain. It only lays it on the broken shoulders of the survivors."

The wounds inflicted on suicide survivors are unwanted, unanticipated, and overwhelmingly intense. Nothing could have prepared them for this assault on their sense of well-being.

Carla Fine's husband took his life in his medical office. She put words to the tormenting anguish that she and other survivors share together in their support groups:

We walked into those meetings rudderless, not knowing what had hit us. We were survivors of a shipwreck, consumed by guilt for having failed to save the dearest people in our lives and ashamed at being alive and abandoned. We were dazed by our helplessness, confused by the anger that laced through our mourning. Anyone caught in a riptide knows how extremely dangerous it is. During major storms the relentless pounding of waves along the shoreline creates powerful currents that suck everything back into the raging sea. Even the strongest of swimmers caught in this dangerous surf risk death.

Emotional undertows are even more dangerous for suicide survivors, Emotional wave after wave pounds on them, knocking them off their feet and sapping whatever strength they had. It can feel so overwhelming that they lose all hope of ever regaining any measure of sanity and stability in their lives.

These turbulent feelings include, but aren't limited to:

Shock & Disbelief.
Shock provides an emotional cushion during the initial stages of any traumatic loss. In one survivor's words, "It took several weeks for my sensations to start to become distinct. The state of shock protects you from taking in the full extent of devastation, so you don't totally lose your mind. You know something disastrous has happened but not the full impact."

Numbness & Disorientation.
It feels as if everything is spinning. Waves of painful reality and competing emotions complicate and intensify the survivor's feelings of chaos. Numbness and disorientation become normal. C.S. Lewis describes this chaotic turmoil as "a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says."

Anger & Sadness.
The tension between anger and sadness is complicated because the person you are
most angry with is the same one who killed the person you are the saddest about losing. The fluctuation between fits of rage and crushing sadness can be milliseconds apart, and totally exhausting both emotionally and physically.

Rejection & Abandonment.
Suicide feels like the ultimate form of rejection. It is one of the cruelest forms of abandonment possible. If the question of being loved or feeling insecure were ever doubted previously, the deadly desertion of suicide cripples many survivors by confirming their suspicions that they are unlovable–otherwise their loved one would not have left them.

Failure & Guilt.
Survivors are plagued with feelings of failure. Having lost perspective, they succumb to feelings like, "If only I had been a better parent (spouse, child, friend), he wouldn't have killed himself." This is especially true if the survivors had some part type of care taking role, like parent, spouse, doctor, nurse, counselor, or pastor.

The social stigma surrounding suicide adds insult to the already traumatic injury and complicated grief that survivors bear. "Not only do we feel abandoned by the one who died, we may also find ourselves alienated, shunned by others who are uncomfortable with the fact of suicide." Margaret Atwood describes this form of social blame in her novel The Blind Assassin: "I'm sure they're blameless, but they're alive, and whoever's left alive gets blamed. That's the rule in things like this. Unfair, but there it is."

"Guilt is a usual and corrosive presence after suicide." Survivors of tragic events often feel guilty for simply surviving when others died. While the same is true for suicide survivors, they get caught in a vicious riptide of regrets, remembering and ruminating about all the "what ifs" and "if only's" that may have prevented this senseless death. It's the assumption of responsibility for the death that fuels this self-inflicted guilt. Over time these feelings will eventually subside as survivors come to realize that their loved one's suicide wasn't their fault.

Grief is the agonizingly painful response to a loss. And while much has been written about the stages of grief, traumatic grief follows no formulaic stages. Stages give the false impression of a predictable linear format to grief. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In writing about normal grief, C.S. Lewis says, "In grief nothing stays put. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round.
Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?" If that's true of normal grief, then suicide intensifies grief beyond words.

The downward pull of grief that engulfs the survivor is complicated by the trauma over the way the loved one died. Many factors contribute to the volatile and erratic nature of suicidal grief. All the feelings previously described get in the way and block healthy grieving. Over the loss.

The sudden and unexpected nature of suicidal loss ambushes the survivor without warning. Getting hit with the loss and also with the "whys" that always follow slows down the absorption time needed to process the loss. For those who discover the body of a loved one after a suicide, the image of what they saw is often permanently etched in their minds, invading their days and haunting nights. The level of violence used also magnifies the level of trauma experienced.

The greatest deterrent to survivor grief may be the unimaginable cruelty of those who force their loved ones to witness their final act of self-destruction. This wilful pain inflicted by a loved one is so devastating to those left behind that it's amazing anyone survives such brutality without going insane. But people do survive. They do go on and they do learn to live and love again. The healing journey, though, is complicated by a relentless barrage of soul searching questions.


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