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April 2006


By Linda Vigil

"Life's Uncertainties"

"Uncertainty" means liable to vary or change, not steady or constant. "Certainty" means not failing, reliable and dependable. Certainty —suggests a firm settled belief or positiveness on the truth of something. I now know that life is truly uncertain.

In my life the only certainty is Grace and Love given by my God.
How I look at life helps me believe in that statement.

So many transformations take place with changes in your life, which so many times, helps us more from false certainties (having a lot of money, having the perfect job, owning a big home, etc,) towards life's true certainties.

Grief, as we all know has it's true uncertainties, love and marriage which can end in devastating divorce and disappointment. Loss of job, loss of home, and loss of a loved one through death
are other possibilities.

I have come to understand more clearly that God seems to work through events in our lives,
yes, even through our deepest losses.

I never imagined that Mia's suicide would in turn be a gift —it is certainly not the way I
would have planned my life or Mia's. Mia had so much on this earth left to do. But she was such a gift that the certainty of Grace and Love gave me the gift of my view of life. In turn, I have been able to give back the 'gift of Mia' by talking and sharing my life's events,
— Mia's story, her happiness, her beauty, and her tragic death by suicide.

In my grief work I have found it necessary to throw out all the rules for grieving.
There are no rules! There are helpful suggestions. The roller-coaster ride of grief work is unexplainable to those who have never experienced the ride! It is a lot of work!

There is only one thing Al and I ask of survivors, "Please don't hurt yourself
or anyone else, and any expression of your pain is OK."

Each one of us needs our very own time in grieving.

The true certainty of Faith, Hope, and Love is in the way they work in each of us.
Life's events and journeys are unique and precious in our Sharing and Healing.


"STEPHEN LIVES!" By Anne Puryear

(Reviewed By Al Vigil)

Published in 1992, this soft- cover book takes the reader through a very personal journey, a roller-coaster, a path after the loss of a child to death. The book cover and the title pages show the title as reading completely, — "Stephen Lives! His Life, Suicide, and Afterlife."

It is impossible to those who have not lost a child to death, to begin to understand the depth and the anguish of grief-pain and the search for answers; especially if the death is a suicide. I have met over 700 families that have lost a loved one to suicide, and there is almost always a journey, a personal journey through the valley of the shadow of death. We search for the answers to what might have been, what we might have done differently, what happens to us now. And every search is personal.

In "Stephen Lives!", Anne Puryear takes us through own her personal journey. She begins with the early years of her marriage and the birth of her children. She carries us into the teen-years with them and on through the suicide of her teen-aged son. She painfully describes her thoughts and feelings about reading her son's journal —the last page written by him as he was hanging with the rope around his neck.

This is the first account I have read about a child who committed suicide, and who subsequently communicated with his family from "the other-side" after his death. Both my own daughters, Melinda and Marlo, have described similar experiences after the death of their sister Mia, so I do believe that the communications do occur. In the "messages" from Stephen to his mother he tells her the reasons for his suicide and how to help prevent other children from committing this irreversible act.

A well-researched, ground breaking book, it may help you find answers to some of these questions:

* Why do children commit suicide?
* Can you help prevent suicide in your family?
* What are the warning signs to look for?
* How do suicidal patterns develop?
* How can family members heal from loss?
* What is the after-death experience of a suicide?
* Can you communicate with the other side?

The author, Anne Puryear, is ordained minister and therapist. She and her husband are co-founders of Logos Center in Phoenix, Arizona. This book was sent to Sharing & Healing by Bill Guggenheim, in Florida —who has published the book "ADC-After Death Communications ."

"Never forget the power of listening and the strength it takes to be there–not curing but caring. The world is in need of listeners. Picture a child lying in a mother's arms ...the world needs to be like a mother."
---- Dr. Bernie Siegel ---


The following is edited from several newspaper articles:

On Jan.6th, 1994, President Bill Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelly, died after a long struggle with breast cancer. For several days afterwards the American public watched the six o'clock news to see the Clinton family and friends public expressions of grief during the funeral and burial services in Arkansas, keeping in mind the fact that the President would immediately after the burial have to fly to Europe for several conferences with world leaders.

It was expressed by many psychologists that it appeared that the president hardly would have anytime to grieve. In San Diego, Dr. Nancy S, Haller, was worried that people might hold up the president as an example of how best to deal with grief. She also recalled Jacqueline Kennedy also appeared, at least publicly to repress her grief after her husband's assassination. "She didn't cry, and that's all we read about. What a strong woman she is."

The presidential widow set a standard of strength that is equated with not crying, and President Clinton appeared to be doing the same, Haller believes. "But that's not necessarily the best message to send," she said. "Dealing with feelings really is the ultimate in strength," she added " and in some respects, people in the public eye are shortchanged because they don't have the privacy they need."

Bill Clinton has shown publicly that he can be an emotional and expressive person, with his voice breaking during sensitive times and his eyes watering during gentle tender moments. Dr. Haller said her advice to Bill Clinton would be "take time to have that privacy, whether it's alone, whether it's with your wife, whether it's with people who knew your mom real well. Work that into your routine somehow."

While in Russia, Clinton was observed in a prayer for his mother's memory while in a Russian Orthodox church on the edge of Red Square. He closed the moment, by lighting a candle in her memory.

Psychologists agree that the important thing to do is to take time to sort out emotions after a death and to remember the loved one. A suggestion might be to look at old photograph albums, realizing that the emotions that accompany loss -lack of appetite, crying, difficulty sleeping, confusion,—are natural and normal experiences. Allowing for these feelings are part of a good healing process.

In the Grieving Notes of this issue Linda Vigil writes, "In my grief work I have found it necessary to throw out all the rules for grieving. There are no rules! There are helpful suggestions."

Bill Matulich, another clinical psychologist said, "I suppose in some ways we want to see our president, the leader of our country, strong and in control all the time, even in the face of personal loss. On the other hand, there's something about being able to express your emotions. In my opinion it's much better to be true than strong. It's not the John Wayne approach," he added, "but it's better to express sadness."

The death of the Bill Clinton's mother is not the first personal loss to the first family while serving in the White House. Mrs. Clinton's father, Hugh Rodham, died after a stroke. Then Clinton's longtime friend Vincent Foster committed suicide.

Psychologist Sigun Solvesson was quoted as saying," ...all people have their own unique style of coping. There is no correct way. It's a unique experience, and even though, hopefully, we have support systems, we have to go through it alone."

"The terrible fire of grief is an energetic furnace, refining character, personality, intellect and soul. It is a catalyst for creation. What is created may be dreadful –a distorted inapproachable monument to despair –or a distillation of experience that is wholesome, useful, bright, and even wise."

Quoted from "Rituals For Living and Dying"

By David Feinstein & Peg Mayo


By Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt

Each year thousands of teenagers experience the death of someone they love. When a parent, sibling, friend or relative dies, teens feel the overwhelming loss of someone who helped shape their fragile self-identities. And these feelings about the death become a part of their lives forever.

Caring adults, whether parents, teachers, counselors or friends, can help teens during this time. If adults are open, honest and loving, experiencing the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.

Many Teens Are Told To "Be Strong" — Sad to say, many adults who lack understanding of their experience discourage teens from sharing their grief. Bereaved teens give out all kinds of signs that they are struggling with complex feelings, yet are often pressured to act as they are doing better than they really are. When a parent dies, many teens are told to "be strong" and "carry on" for the surviving parent. They may not know if they will survive themselves let alone be able to support someone else. Obviously, these kinds of conflicts hinder the "work of mourning".

Teen Years Can Be Naturally Difficult — Teens are no longer children, yet neither are they adults. With the exception of infancy, no developmental period is so filled with change as adolescence. Leaving the security of childhood, the adolescent begins the process of separation from parents. The death of a parent or sibling, then, can be a particularly devastating experience during this already difficult period. At the same time the bereaved teen is confronted by the death of someone loved, he or she also faces psychological, physiological and academic pressures. While teens may begin to look like 'men' or 'women', they will still need consistent and compassionate support as they do the work of mourning, because physical development does not always equal emotional maturity.

Teens Often Experience Sudden Deaths — The grief that teens experience often comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A parent may die of a sudden heart attack, a brother or sister may be killed in an auto accident, or a friend may commit suicide. The very nature of these deaths often results in a prolonged and heightened sense of unreality.

Support May Be Lacking — Many people assume that adolescents have supportive friends and family who will be continually available to them. In reality, this may not be true at all. The lack of available support often relates to the social expectations placed on the teen. They are usually expected to be 'grown up' and support other members of the family, particularly a surviving parent and/or younger brothers and sisters. Many teens have been told, "now, you will have to take care of your family." When an adolescent feels a responsibility to care for the family, he or she does not have the opportunity ——or the permission to mourn. Sometimes we assume that teenagers will find comfort from their peers. But when it comes to death, this may not be true. It seems that unless friends have experienced grief themselves, they project their own feelings of helplessness by ignoring the subject of loss entirely.

Relationship Conflicts May Exist — As teens strive for their independence, relationship conflicts with family members often occur. A normal, though trying way in which teens separate from their parents is by going through a period of devaluation. If a parent dies while the adolescent is emotionally and physically pushing the parent away, there is often a sense of guilt and 'unfinished business'. While the need to create distance is normal we can easily see how this complicates the experience of mourning.

Signs A Teen May Need Extra Help — As we have discussed, there are many reasons why healthy grieving can be especially difficult for teenagers. Some grieving teens may even behave in ways that seem inappropriate or frightening.

Be On The Watch For:
Symptoms of chronic depression, sleeping difficulties, restlessness and low self esteem.

Academic failure or indifference to school-related activities.

Deterioration of relationships with family and friends.

Risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, and sexual experimentation.

Denying pain while at the same time acting overly strong or mature.

To help a teen who is having a particularly hard time with his or her loss, explore the full spectrum of helping services in your community. School counselors, church groups and private therapists are appropriates resources for some young people, while others may just need a little more time and attention from caring adults like you. The important thing is that you help the grieving teen find safe and nurturing emotional outlets at this difficult time.

Caring Adult's Role — How adults respond when someone loved dies has a major effect on the way teens react to the death. Sometimes adults don't want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so, young people will be spared some of the pain and sadness. However, the reality is very simple: teens grieve anyway. Teens often need caring adults to confirm that it's all right to be sad and to feel a multitude of emotions when someone they love dies. They also usually need help understanding that the hurt they feel now won't last forever. When ignored, teens may suffer more from feeling isolated than from the actual death itself. Worse yet, they feel all alone in their grief.

Be Aware Of Support Groups — Peer support groups are one of the best ways to help bereaved teens heal. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. In this setting most will be willing to acknowledge that death has resulted in their life being forever changed. You may be able to help teens find such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Understanding the Importance Of The Loss — Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience for an adolescent. As a result of this death, the teen's life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

Grief is complex. It will vary from teen to teen. Caring adults need to communicate to children that this feeling is not one to be ashamed of or hide. Instead, grief is a natural expression of love for the person who died.

For caring adults, the challenge is clear: teenagers do not choose between grieving and not grieving; adults, on the other hand, do have a choice—to help or not to help teens cope with grief.

With love and understanding, adults can support teens through this vulnerable time and help make the experience a valuable part of a teen's personal growth and development.

(About the Author : Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing clinical thanatologist.)

"Mia's Little Sister"

by Marlo T. Brooks ( ... and Dedicated to the Memory of Neil Gordon)

When someone takes their own life they are never grieved for in the same way by all those affected. Losing a sibling is not the same as losing a son or daughter, a grandparent, or a cousin. It is not any less painful, or any more painful.

It is still unnecessary death without answers.

The most frustrating thing for a sibling to deal with is seeing your parents' pain, the helpless feeling of trying to take away the tears and loss of your brother or sister, and not being able to give the answers to your family that they are so desperately in search of. It seems to be easier to try to take the place of -instead of grieving for one's own loss.

When Mia was alive I was known as "Mia's little sister". Sometimes when I talk about her I still refer myself as "Mia's little sister", but the ironic part is, she was 18 when she died, I am now many years older. Many years have gone by since Mia completed suicide. At times I can't believe how many years have passed by since I last saw her, and other times I can't believe how much it still hurts.

Recently I had a friend come to me and share her pain of her brother's suicide. He was the typical stereotype: intelligent, good looking, a high achiever, a family man, and someone's sibling. I listened to my friend describe and explain the pain of her mother and father, and how she wished she could take their pain away, not realizing the depth of her own heartache.

As I listened and identified with her, I recalled all those nights I would lie awake in my room listening through the walls to my mother's tears and my father's questions of "why"? It was then I realized that I would do my best to take their pain away and fill their empty hearts. I tried for three years to fill the shoes of my sister, but somewhere, somehow I lost myself. I was no longer Marlo. This was an on-going struggle until one day I panicked because the person that I saw in the mirror was someone I didn't even know. That is when my grieving for my sister began.

I look at my friend now who speaks to me through her tears. I want to reassure her, 'your parents' will get through this and you need to go on and start your grieving for your brother." I want to take her pain away, yet I know that she has to go through her own grieving process in her own way. Everyone does.

Many years have gone by, I am a mom now. I pray that I will never have to go through what my parents have gone through. I pray that my parents will never have to go through what I have. I am at peace with Mia. She took all the answers with her as did my friend's brother, but in time those questions just don't seem as important as the memories.

"I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, the world would be wise; since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable."
- Ann Morrow-Lindbergh


By Norman L. Farberow, Ph.d.
Co-founder and Director of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center

Bereavement for the loss of a loved one is complex and idiosyncratic experience, with each person mourning at his own pace and in his own way; yet the process is surprisingly uniform. Survivors of deaths due to natural causes, accident, homicide or suicide experience comparable phases of shock, disbelief, protest, disorganization, yearning, and eventually, recognition. Similar feelings of depression, grief, anger, anxiety, guilt, physical symptoms, and emotional distress develop.

Clinical observations, however, consistently confirm that the experience of surviving a loss to suicide is more difficult, more complicated, and more intense. Although many suicidal behaviors may precede a suicide, it's suddenness will still shock. Death by suicide is frequently violent and bloody. Finding a loved one after a shot to the head, or having to cut down a hanging body may leave the family member with nightmares, severe anxiety, intrusive memories and other symptoms of post traumatic disorder. Feelings of abandonment and rejection are common in survivors who feel that the decedent willingly chose to separate, to leave behind loved ones and friends, to permanently and non-negotiably sunder bounds with spouse, parents, children and siblings. These feelings are hard to reconcile, and suicide survivors may be left with persistent, troubling concerns.

Particularly the need to understand "why" drives survivors to search and review endlessly, hoping to find some logic in the act that will allow their feelings to be tolerated. In extreme cases, the need to find this answer may become an obsessional preoccupation that derails the bereavement process, while all too often death has made this answer inaccessible.

Clinical reports show that not only has the suicide branded the decedent as psychologically damaged, it has often left the survivor feeling stigmatized and defective. Survivors may have a potential for themselves committing suicide because of the example set by the suicide of their loved one.

Other feelings frequently found in excess are guilt and anger. Guilt feelings may plague the survivor with questions of "what if" and thoughts of "if only". Constant rumination over the events leading up to the death may leave the survivor convinced it could have been averted if only he had said this, or done that. Sometimes the guilt is projected onto other, and therapists, lovers, or family scapegoats may be blamed. When survivors fix blame on an outside source, their intense anger may dismiss all sources of help, even for unrelated problems.

Suicide affects the readiness of the survivor to trust–fears of abandonment may provoke hesitancy toward commitment to any subsequent relationship. Suicide death in our society is often a source of shame and embarrassment–suicide survivors get less social support and experience more intense feelings of guilt than survivors of other modes of death. Feelings of stigma may cause the survivor to withdraw at the same time that social taboos on discussing suicide cause friends to feel awkward and uncomfortable. The end result is the absence of supportive and comforting friends who would customarily have made themselves more available for emotional and practical support at the time of a loss by death.

Not every survivor needs therapy, and not every therapist should treat survivors. Needs differ, so that some survivors react to the death by seeking therapy immediately, while others mourn for a long time and recover slowly. Some develop somatic conditions, which are directly or indirectly attributed to the loss; when the symptoms are unusual and unrelieved, treatment is indicated. Severe depression, intense guilt, self-blame and suicidal feelings and behavior may appear along with withdrawal from customary social networks. The therapist must be non-judgmental of any treatment the deceased received, and should not blame the family nor the suicide.

Treatment may be offered to individuals, groups, or to families. Family therapy is indicated when the suicide affects the family severely, disrupting its functioning and producing scape-goating, blaming and isolation. While there have been few systematic evaluations of these treatment modalities, group therapy is usually the treatment chosen, as it offers survivors opportunities to discuss their feelings in a sharing atmosphere, to find their feelings were typical and normal, and to find care and support. The exchange of experiences in the group helps teach group members a variety of coping strategies. The feeling of helping each other often serves to relieve strong feelings of anger and frustration at not being able to help their loved one.

Despite the lack of research, it has been gratifying to see how quickly therapists have developed creative clinical responses to serve survivors who experience severe psychological distress. Bereavement, grief, mourning and survivorship are all part of a new field that is only now being studied.

There is still much work to be done.

"Don't try to destroy a beautiful part of your life because remembering hurts. As children of today and tomorrow, we are also children of yesterday.

The past still travels with us and what it has been makes us what we are."

- Earl Grollman -


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