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July 2010

“ SHARING AND HEALING ”torrey-pines

JULY  2010


Written & Edited By
Al & Linda Vigil


By Al Vigil

When an individual dies, family and friends begin a period of grief.  The loss of a loved one through suicide is a swift and devastating experience for the survivor because there is no preparation for acceptance of the death.  Guilt feelings are intensified by the "if only's" and frustration is sharply felt due to the unanswered
questions of "why"?

Often, people who have lost someone by suicide are comforted most by others who have undergone the same experience of loss.  SOS groups acknowledge the pain and the loss of life by suicide, yet offer hope and understanding necessary for the healing process to occur.  Self-help encourages the ventilation of feelings which might not be shared with persons who have not lost a loved one in this manner.  Time heals all wounds is not necessarily true for survivors of suicide.  Time is necessary for healing, but time is not enough.  Shared feelings enrich and lead to growth and healing.

It’s been 26 years since Linda and I walked into our first SOS meeting.  It was in San Diego, Calif.  It was in early February, 1984.  It was a bitter/sweet moment.  We didn’t want to be there.  We needed to be there.

We found our way there through a ‘blue’ card that Mia’s doctor had given us after he heard of her suicide.  The card read,  Survivors of Suicide  —A Support Group for Survivors of A Loved One’s Suicide.  I called the name listed on the card and I spoke with Virgil.  I told him the story of our loss.  He quickly told me that he too, had lost a daughter to suicide.

We worked with the San Diego group for 15 years, healing with its power of sharing and meeting with others who traveled same or similar paths as survivors.  When we retired and moved to Albuquerque in 2005, the San Diego meetings had grown from the one a month to eight or more a month.

Then on January the 5th of 2008, Linda’s sister, Patty, took her life —the very same day of Mia’s death years earlier.

Once again, we clearly knew that the best work for our re-newed grief was to reach out for the support, the understanding compassion, and the open sharing of SOS.

Yes!  We did!  We found an SOS group working in Albuquerque.  They met twice a month, in the afternoon. After several months of afternoon meetings, we had the courage to ask permission and support, to start an evening meeting at a location in another part of the city.

With the blessings of the afternoon group, and with the site to meet at provided by our church, in March 2009 we had our first evening meeting.  Of course only a handful of people were there that first night.  This year, the months of May and June had 17 & 16 survivors in attendance.

We’re beginning to speak of a possible second evening meeting after the end of this year.
In Sharing & Healing,
-  Al Vigil

The Knots Prayerknot 

Dear God:
Please untie the knots
that are in my mind,
my heart and my life.
Remove the have nots,
The can nots and the do nots
That I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,
may nots,
might nots that may find
a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,
would nots and
Should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all,
Dear God,
I ask that you remove from my mind,
my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’
that I have allowed to hold me back,
Especially the thought
that I am not good enough.


(- Author Known To God ~)



Springtime is a good time for graduations, proms, class recitals, baseball season.

On the other side of the coin, it is also the time of the year when suicide rates start to rise. Now you might think that more people would consider suicide during the bleakness of winter, but that is not the case.

Spring is a time for many transitions  —from high school to college, from college to full-fledged adult life. That can be terrifying for some. Sometimes people realize that the depression they felt all winter never really went away in the spring, and so they can't blame it on the weather.

Mark and Bob were best of friends. They helped each other get through high school. And even though they took different paths after graduation, they had the kind of male bond that is very rare these days. When Mark was abusing alcohol a little too frequently, Bob made sure that he got the help he needed.

Mark wanted to return the favor when he realized that Bob just couldn't seem to shake off his depression when he flunked out of the college of his choice.

So what were the symptoms that were troubling Mark? There was no one clear sign. Lots of people can experience failure and bounce right back. Since it can be difficult to predict who will be fine and who may try suicide, the American Association of Suicidology developed a mnemonic device to help people notice more of the signs.

The phrase, used as an acronym,  " IS (the) PATH WARM "  helps jog people's memory to pay attention to things that may otherwise go unnoticed:

IDEATION  - This means a person is thinking about killing himself, and may even begin talking about it.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE  - Including alcohol. A sudden increase in use may be a warning sign.

PURPOSELESSNESS - Many times someone thinking about suicide will say that there life has no meaning or purpose.

ANXIETY  - Suicidal people are frequently anxious and may have insomnia or else sleep for long periods of time.

TRAPPED  - Young people in particular may lack the life experience or skills to problem solve their situation, feeling that the only "way out" is by suicide.

HOPELESSNESS  - This is a very important sign because people may begin to believe that their pain will never go away. When grieving a loss, people feel terrible pain, but usually they believe that one day they will feel better. In severe depression, there is an absence of hope.

WITHDRAWAL  - Individuals will often withdraw from friends, family and society. With teenagers especially, this can be very subtle, like not going to school or hanging out with friends.

ANGER  - A person may show rage or other out-of-control behavior, which sometimes includes hurting themselves or another.

RECKLESSNESS  - A person may uncharacteristically start showing a high risk of un-usual behavior/activities.

MOOD CHANGES  - While everyone's mood may change day to day, in this instance a person may show dramatic change in personality, mood or behavior.

Pay attention to these warning signs. Add one more that is frequently missed.  A person who has made the decision to kill themselves will frequently appear happy and relieved. This is because they think that they have made the decision and feel good about it. They may also start giving away prized possessions that they think they will no longer need. This is a serious symptom!

In the case of Bob and Mark,  Mark made the difficult decision to share his concerns with Bob's family. He knew that he risked making his friend angry, but he felt that was outweighed by the risk of Bob possibly hurting himself.

Bob's family took it one step further. They sat down with their son, and told him how concerned they were and how help was available. They stressed that if he needed to have an operation for a serious health problem, then of course he would go immediately to the hospital. This situation was no different. The brain is an organ also. One of it's main job is to monitor thoughts and feelings. When a brain's chemistry is out of balance, so are its thoughts and feelings.

Bob and his family are very lucky. He got the help he needed. He is still alive.


happy now“HAPPY NOW?”   -   Written by Katherine Shonk
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 pgs.  /   $16.50 or less on Amazon.

Jay was a self-confessed depressive who every few months abruptly descended into a dark, suffocating immobility, spending days curled in bed, refusing to speak. Yet he shunned medication for the flatness it made him feel and managed to keep his illness a secret from those outside his family. And he was charming, warm, and endearing when he emerged from his “spells,”  so Claire found herself ultimatelyfalling in love.

The reader learns, that Claire Kessler believed they were handling her husband, Jay’s depressive episodes fairly well when, just a year and nine months into their marriage, Jay abruptly killed himself, walking off a balcony during a friend’s party.  He left behind not just a cryptic suicide note, which Claire initially can’t bear to read, but a whole suicide binder, including four typed pages of care directions about his cat Fang. The frail stray Jay had taken in long before their marriage becomes Claire’s most direct, if begrudging, link to her dead husband.

Jay was a psychologist, with a specialty in studying infant behavior.  His knowledge about his condition didn't make it any easier for him to deal with it, Claire learns, as she gathers the courage to read the packet of instructions he left behind, containing information on everything from taking care of his difficult cat, to a note exhorting Claire not to blame herself for his act. Both tear-jerking and laugh-out-loud funny, this will have readers rooting for its brave heroine and hoping that, indeed, she will one day be happy again.

“Happy Now?’’  begins just after Jay’s wake and follows Claire as she tries to make sense of what has happened and what will be. The novel vividly captures the sense of dislocation and disenfranchisement that must surely accompany such a loss.  Claire must deal not only with her feelings of loss and sadness, but also with a justifiable anger of shame and guilt. How could she have missed the depths of Jay’s misery?

However, the wandering narrative effectively serves to keep the reader slightly off balance in the way we imagine Claire herself must be, as she grapples with finding meaning, if not exactly “happiness,” in the here and now as well as some sense of hope for the future.

The author Katherine Shonk, has evinced keen sensitivity grappling with shock, guilt, and anger at a painstakingly slow pace as she relives troubling scenes from her brief, uneasy marriage in a harsh, new light. Reticent Claire never confided in anyone about Jay’s bouts of immobilizing depression and now has trouble expressing her complex and conflicted thoughts and feelings. Her practical mother buys her clothes; her kind, pregnant sister takes her in; and her worried father tails his abruptly widowed daughter like a private eye, while Claire endures excruciating encounters with therapists.

Carefully configured with telling details, Shonk’s brooding yet wryly witty drama is a revealing tale of family ties, love gone awry, and the wintry season of grief.


(Tuesday, 4 May 2010)

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A study released on Monday shows that there are no varying suicidal tendencies in adults who take different types of anti-depressants.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said that there was no “clinically meaningful difference in risk among individuals taking different classes of medications.”

“Our finding of equal event rates across anti-depressant agents supports the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) decision to treat all anti-depressants alike in their advisory.”

They continued to say that treatment decisions should be based on efficiency, and “clinicians should be vigilant in monitoring after initiating therapy with any anti-depressant agent.”

Researchers examined medical data of more than 287,000 adults in British Columbia, Canada, who began using anti-depressants between 1997 and 2005. During the study, 751 people attempted to commit suicide in the first year of treatment, and 104 people succeeded.

“Despite the widespread use of anti-depressant medications... there is inconsistent evidence that growth in anti-depressant use has reduced the prevalence of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts during the past decade,” said the study.

In October 2004, researchers claimed the FDA warned that there may be a potentially increased risk of suicidal behavior in children and adolescents taking anti-depressants, but further research found no increased risk in adults who were on anti-depressants.

“Clinicians should be vigilant in monitoring patients after initiating therapy with any anti-depressant agent," they addded.

(This study was published in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry)

puzzle heart
Grief  is  like  a  jigsaw  puzzle,
I  was  all  together  before  the  loss  ...and now,
I’m  trying  to  put  my  life  back  together  again,
But,  ...the  puzzle  won’t  be  the  same,
Because  I’m  missing  an  important  piece.


By Peter Schworm  |  April 28, 2010

South Hadley schools have drafted a new antibullying policy that requires all staff members to report  “any bullying they see or learn about’’  and pledges to “promptly and reasonably’’  investigate any allegation of harassment.

The draft policy defines bullying as acts that cause physical or emotional harm, place students  “in reasonable fear of harm,’’  or create an  “un-welcoming or hostile environment at school for another person.’’

bullyA task force formed after 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself in January. The panel crafted the policy and discussed it at its most recent meeting Monday. The 31-member group plans to complete the policy in the coming weeks.

In the three months before her death, prosecutors and others say, Prince was the target of relentless harassment by two groups of fellow students at South Hadley High School. School administrators have come under heavy criticism for not doing more to protect her.

Six former students at the school have pleaded not guilty to felony charges in connection with her death. Northwest District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel contends the students waged an unrelenting three-month harassment campaign against Prince, an Irish immigrant who entered South Hadley High last September. Scheibel has faulted administrators, saying they failed to recognize Prince’s troubles.

Prosecutors say that Prince spoke with a school administrator a week before she died about being threatened physically and told officials she was  “scared and wanted to go home.’’  A witness told prosecutors that Prince returned to class and told a classmate that nothing was going to be done.

Prince had resorted to hiding in bathroom stalls and even asked friends if she could walk between them to guard against a sudden attack. Shortly before she died, she texted a friend about  “her despair at the ongoing taunting to which she was subjected,’’  prosecutors said.

Schools superintendent Gus Sayer has defended how the school handled the situation and insisted that officials learned of the bullying only a week before Prince’s death.

Since her death, school districts across the state have tackled the issue, calling in specialists, holding meetings, and devising antibullying strategies. Both houses of the state Legislature have unanimously approved separate antibullying bills, but progress on a compromise measure has stalled. Governor Deval Patrick has voiced support for antibullying legislation.

The House bill is more rigorous because it requires school employees to report bullying. If principals determine that the bullying is criminal, they would be obligated to report the case to law enforcement. The bill also requires training for school officials to identify and respond to bullying.

In South Hadley, the four-page draft of the schools policy prohibits bullying  — including off school grounds and online  — if such actions create “a hostile environment at school for the victim, infringe on the rights of the victim at school, or materially and substantially disrupt the education process.’’

In the draft policy, the School Committee says it expects administrators to “make clear to students and staff that bullying will not be tolerated and will be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including suspension and expulsion for students, and termination for employees.’’

Principals would be responsible for handling all complaints. The superintendent would be required to develop a system to report and investigate complaints and to notify parents and law enforcement, when necessary.

The draft calls for the school district to update the bullying prevention plan at least every two years and make an antibullying program part of the curriculum in each grade. The district would notify students and parents in the student handbook each year about its antibullying policy.


carrot-1 Darcie D. Sims, Ph.D.

I know ... I know ... I shouldn't seek comfort from the refrigerator. Food is not the solution, but, at times, it sure seems to ease the pain. Maybe it simply masks the moment, but it also gives me something to do later as I sweat off that extra cookie.

I know about food and nutrition and self-esteem, and I know too, that comfort does not come in bottles, boxes or bags of chips (except for Oreos). I know that food is only a temporary source of solace that will turn into a long-term battle of the bulge. But there are some days when all that knowledge simply leaves me aching and wishing for some chocolate.

I've been on this journey through grief more than once and I've learned a lot about coping skills, healthy choices and positive affirmations. I've also learned that sometimes what I really want is a cookie. There's no comfort in a carrot, but when there are no words left to say, when the pain is overwhelming and the helplessness sweeps over us, there is always chocolate!

Some days are worse than others. Some are not worth remembering and some should not have been allowed to happen. I don't know who is in charge of those days, but I sure would like to speak with that person someday.

Some days are just not worth having. They move so slowly that even the sun gets bored and simply falls from the sky in a rush of despair. Some days the sun is smarter than I am, and it just doesn't get up. Some days are rain-filled while others are shrouded in gloom. Some days are painful, while others just seem empty.

Oh, there are some good days, too. In fact, there are some pretty wonderful days, but we don't seem to remember them as well as we recall the awful ones. Somehow, the tough days get relived more often in our memory and the hours of darkness seem longer than the hours of light.

Some days I need chocolate. chocolate bar

If I am lucky enough to only suffer from an occasional "down" day, then my usual coping techniques of sleeping late, eating a real egg and watching a good movie (while consuming semi-indecent amounts of popcorn) generally suffice. I've read enough and lived long enough to realize that those days will eventually pass, especially if I do not ignore them. And so, I have learned to cope with those days that simply should not have happened.

But, once in a while, once in a great while, one of those days turns into one of those weeks and maybe even into one of THOSE MONTHS, and suddenly I can't remember anything decent, lovely, worthwhile or fun. It is as if my memory banks have been erased of all joy, and the sun only casts shadows of sorrow.

Those days, when we can't remember his smell, the sound of her voice, or the touch of their hand, are the days we fear the most. Those days, when pain sweeps over us like searing flames, those are the days we lose even the light, and then hope seems an empty place.

Those are the days that are meant for chocolate. On those days, we may discover we need more than a good book, a bowl full of popcorn and a box of tissues. On those days, what we need is comfort, companionship, courage  ... and chocolate.  Surviving an attack of those days can test the wit and wisdom of even the best of us. All the tricks of the trade just don't seem to touch the emptiness, and that's when we have to call in the reinforcements. On those days, there is no comfort in a carrot.

But, oh, the caring compassion of a friend bearing chocolate! I'm not sure if it is the chocolate or the friend that lifts the gloom, but I do know the silent blessing of a phone call from a concerned and loving friend, the gentle touch of a companion and best of all, the shared joy of a warm, chocolate-chip cookie. This journey is simply too much to endure alone, and blessed are they who dare to walk with us.

It is the knock at the door that draws me away from my silent suffering and gently nudges me forward. It is the phone call that comes to shake off the emptiness that keeps me moving forward. It is the hand reaching out across the darkness that becomes my lifeline when I am lost in despair. It is the gift of friendship that helps me hold on through those days.

We cannot stagger and stumble across the rocky path of grief alone.

We need all of the help we can get. Some of us need a friend to talk with into the long hours of night. Others need a card or a note in the mail to remind them of their support systems. Tuna casseroles and meals sealed in foil help ease us through those days when we cannot remember where the kitchen is. There is nothing better than a warm, chocolaty something brought in the arms of a loving friend.

I have acquaintances who love vegetables and have tried for years to convince me of the merits and joys of broccoli. I know people who actually jog and who think early morning is best enjoyed from a bicycle seat.  (I love them anyway.)  I have had my share of advice-giving friends, friends who shared their own thoughts and experiences with me and friends who didn't know what to do, but came over anyway. Some of my friends specialize in specific activities. I have a bowling friend, a walking friend, a friend who will shop for bathing suits (and not laugh) and a friend who will mow the lawn. I have friends who will travel with me, some who will loan me their beds and several who have even done my laundry. I have my sensible friends, my psychic friends and my chocolate friends. I have friends who understand my love and battle with cookies and who never actually offer me a brownie, but who send me chocolate thoughts instead! I have friends everywhere and I need them all!

I have friends who will cry with me, laugh with me, sing with me. I have friends who know my secrets and others who think I am still thirty years old. I have friends who know my story and some who can't remember where we met. I have friends who share my passion for living and several who are even crazier than I.

All of us have had our share of struggles and some have endured more than any one should have to. We've danced in the moonlight, cried in the firelight and healed in the sunlight.

We're old, young, tall, short, fat and thin (but not too many!) We're Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, parents, spouses, grandparents and friends. There are some strangers, too. Some who are stranger than others!

Some do like carrots, most love chocolate, and all know the hurt and pain of grief.

Some love winter, while others dream only of basking on a beach somewhere. Fall is the favorite of some, and some love the challenge of spring and tax season.

All of us have birthdays, and mostly we don't remember them except with cakes and hugs. We know other dates bring heavy thoughts and the mailbox and the phone lines are choked with hugs and prayers, sent lovingly to ease the pain of those days.

Friends are our security ...our insurance policies against loneliness and despair. Food tastes better when shared with friends and the very best of friends know exactly what to bring! Some send flowers, others order pizza. Some come toting homemade lasagna and some bring fruit.  A GOOD FRIEND WILL NOT BRING TUNA, LICORICE OR CARROTS.  A true friend comes with hope, a listening heart, an extra roll of toilet paper to more efficiently sop up tears and a bag of Oreos.

It is hard enough to survive those days, but without a friend, those days are glum indeed. Friends know when to talk and when to listen. They know they cannot erase the guilt we carry or talk us out of our despair. They do not try to cheer us up, but neither do they drag us down. They know when to call, when to come and when to just stand silently close ... trusting.

They offer prayers, poems and pastries. A friend will go jogging FOR us (HA!) and always says how nice our hair looks! The gift of friendship goes beyond the mere exchange of gifts and into the magical space created by love.

A friend doesn't have to bring food -- doesn't even have to come! We can simply feel a friend's caring, even when it comes from thousands of miles away. We are connected through compassion, caring, cookies, carrots and chocolate ... (CARROTS?!)

A friend helps us remember and helps us to heal.

I wish Hallmark had a Friends Day, but maybe I won't wait for one to be created. I'll just start one myself! Stamps would be free that day and so would phone calls. We could all go outside, open up our arms and reach around the world to each other. We'd shed a tear and share a smile. We'd sing and laugh and hold on tight.

We cannot do this alone, so I'm mighty glad God invented friends!

So make this day your own National Friends Day and send a card, a cookie, a casserole or a carrot (it could be a chocolate carrot) to say, "Thanks for being my friend! Thanks for caring, for calling, for cooking, for cleaning, for coming. Thanks for being a part of my circle ... for being a part of me. Thanks for helping me skip the cookie and embrace the moment. Thanks for jogging with me, for believing in me and for loving me.

Thanks for not sending chocolate but visualizing it instead! Thanks for YOU, my friends. Someday there will be fat-free chocolate! But by then, I won't need it anymore because I have finally learned it is the gift of YOU that gives the greatest comfort!

carrot-2There's no comfort in a carrot, but, oh, the magic of YOU sharing it with me!

- Used with Permission
- Visit Darcie’s website at www.griefinc.com


“Breathe in Faith
             Breathe out Fear”

- A Silent Prayer Offered by Melinda White

Parents of Amherst Teen Who Committed Suicide
Want To Help Others

AMHERST, N.Y. - Joe Chearmonte was a junior honor student at Williamsville North High School. He was on the school's gymnastics team, loved playing video games, skiing and snow-boarding. You could not find a better kid, or better a teen-ager than Joe.

On February 23rd of this year, Joe took his own life. "It was a week after his 17th birthday when we lost him, and we really don't understand why," said his dad Phil.

Phil and Linda Chearmonte had three boys, two dogs, and one happy and active family. They skied at Holiday Valley in the winter, went boating in the summer, and took lots of family vacations.

"Obviously, we didn't see his demons or his pain," said his Dad.

Joe was one of three teenagers from the north towns who committed suicide within a month of each other earlier this year. Joe's parents say that over the last two days before his death, Joe had complained about headaches and not sleeping well, and had stayed home from school. "That morning he wasn't feeling well and stayed in bed —as they often do, and my wife left to go to work and that was that," said Phil.

Phil Chearmonte added, "The only thing positive that could possibly come out of this is by helping others. And making people aware of the serious nature of this issue. Joe was quiet and shy. I guess looking back he was moody to an extent, but nothing that would have led my wife or I to believe that he had a mental disorder of that nature. We did not see those signs, unfortunately."

The stigma of suicide is something that the Chearmontes made a conscious decision to address by being open and honest with people about how their son died.

"We didn't feel it would do anybody any good to hide behind the fact, it seems to be better for us to talk about it, to bring it out in the open and make more people aware of what's going on in society instead of hiding," said Joe's mom Linda.

“Will I be embarrassed?  Well, we put that all behind us and said the people that care about us will be there for us, and they have," added Phil.

Phil said, "Talk is the primary thing. We can't read minds, we can't know what's going on in some deep hidden secret of a teenager's mind. So the only way to extract that is through communication. I wish that we were able to have that conversation with Joe."

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