Wishing You A Peaceful Holiday

Wishing You A Peaceful Holiday

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Taking Care Of Yourself After Suicide Loss

By Catherine Greenleaf

You are most likely reading this blog because you have lost someone you love to suicide. I am so very sorry for your loss, and I hope you are doing all you can to take good care of yourself. Suicide loss can have quite an impact on your sense of well-being, your self-esteem and your physical health. It's very important to nurture yourself during these difficult times while you recover from your loss.

Some things you can do right away:

1) Surround yourself with people who validate your loss. Steer clear of the people who seem to be hurrying you through your grief, telling you to "Buck up," "Get over it," and "Move on." Grief takes its own time. There is no stopwatch for your loss. You will get through it in your own way and on your own terms.

2) While we may be living in the 21st century, there is, unfortunately, still a great deal of stigma associated with suicide. You are in a very emotionally fragile and vulnerable place right now. Be careful to shield yourself from the many conflicting views and opinions of others with regard to suicide. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your loved one when others would prefer to condemn or criticize. Not everyone is aware 90% of all suicides result from brain disorders, including chronic depression.

3) Get plenty of rest, good food and quiet time. In other words, nourish yourself, body and soul. This can be challenging because grief can sometimes cause sleeplessness and lack of appetite. Yoga, meditation, quiet walks, soothing music, gardening, dinners with close friends – all of these can go a long way to helping you feel more centered and grounded.

4) Build a strong safety net for yourself. A safety net is comprised of people you can trust to help you during an emotional crisis. A good team would include: a qualified sudden death bereavement therapist; a licensed psycho-pharmacologist to dispense any needed medications for anxiety, depression or insomnia; a weekly or monthly suicide loss survivor support group; and friends who are good at listening and being there for you. The stronger your safety net, the shorter distance you fall during difficult times.

5) Consider getting yourself screened for PTSD. You may have witnessed the suicide or walked in on a completed suicide, the shock of which can cause PTSD. But you should know that just receiving the news can be enough to propel some people into PTSD. Symptoms include: preoccupation or shell-shocked state; agitation, hyper-vigilance, time distortion, anxiety attacks, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, dissociation, and flashbacks. There are very effective treatments for PTSD. Don’t be afraid to get screened and get the help you need and deserve.

6) Lastly, don’t be afraid to speak up. Communities often need lots of educating when it comes to suicide prevention and/or postvention. When you are feeling strong enough, help your community step into the light of awareness. Ask your town library to carry books about brain disorders. Suggest your local high school offer talks on suicide prevention for its students. Your involvement may not only be rewarding and gratifying for you, but more than likely will save lives.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Invisible Witness: How To Help A Person Who Has Witnessed A Public Suicide

By Catherine Greenleaf

A person is driving to work in the morning and suddenly sees a horrible sight. Someone has died by suicide.  Witnessing the self-inflicted violence and death of another human being can be extremely emotionally traumatizing.
It is important to understand it makes no difference whether you know the person or if he or she is a complete stranger. You can still be traumatized and you may need help to get through the grief you will experience.
Part of the reason for the confusion about getting help is that people who witness a public suicide (these people are referred to as “witness survivors”), have been marginalized for decades.  They are often also referred to as “The Invisible Witness.”
Until recently, there has been no form of support or outreach for witness survivors. Society and its outdated attitudes of shame and secrecy toward suicide have certainly contributed to the lack of helping resources in the past. But, fortunately, that is changing.
The other contributing factor has been the negligible amount of research done regarding the witness to a public suicide. This appalling lack of scholarly work into the plight of the witness survivor means there is little or no trickle-down effect from researchers to psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors. Unfortunately, these helpers on the front lines delivering resources are being left in the dark when it comes to the particular needs of the witness survivor.
The other factor is a logistical one. Witness survivors often see a public suicide but do not stop. Instead they continue driving or walking, which means they miss the opportunity to interact with law enforcement, EMTS, paramedics, or other witnesses. Interaction with these individuals can potentially result in recognition of emotional trauma and lead to getting help.
The other challenge is a general lack of acknowledgement by the witness survivors themselves concerning the potential emotional effects of what they have seen. Perhaps people have become so accustomed to violence in the movies and on television, it doesn’t occur to them that witnessing a suicide could have serious potential effects like developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
That’s why outreach and education are so important. When a witness survivor reaches out for help, they can be screened for anxiety disorder, depression and PTSD and be given the treatment they need so they can heal.
Imagine you are at work when a fellow employee walks into the office. He sits down at his desk and puts his head in his hands. He seems agitated, unnerved and upset.  You ask him, “Are you okay?” and he answers, “I don’t know. I just saw someone kill themselves."
1.  Do not marginalize his experience by downplaying the ordeal. He has witnessed a terrifying sight that can lead to anxiety disorder, chronic depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead validate his experience and make it clear it’s okay to have feelings of shock, confusion, sadness and even anger.
2.  This is not a time for wisecracks or jokes. Often a person will make humorous remarks about a situation because they themselves are uncomfortable. If you feel uncomfortable about what a work acquaintance has witnessed, get help for yourself.  Allow the witness survivor to embrace the gravity and seriousness of what he has just seen.
3.  Don’t tell the person to “buck up and get over it.” Urging a person to repress emotional trauma can later result in anxiety disorder and chronic depression. It can also make the witness survivor feel abnormal because of the intensity of the feelings he is likely to have about the suicide. Let him know that witnessing a suicide would upset anyone.
4.  Don’t walk away without offering help. Let him know there are resources available for witnesses to a public suicide. Tell him it doesn’t matter that the person was a complete stranger, and that talking about his experience with a trained professional can be very helpful.
5. Don’t forget about him. Keep checking in with him. Weeks or months may go by before he realizes the potential psychological impact of what he has seen. Your gentle reminders that he deserves to take care of himself may be just what he needs to make an appointment to sit down and talk with a counselor.
The most important thing you can do is to be willing to bear witness to the person’s suffering. Let them know, in a calm manner, that you see him in his grief and that you are not there to fix him or his situation. This is a way of communicating your trust in his own inner resilience to get through the loss. Be willing to listen, and stay open to different methods of grieving.
Copyright 2012

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tips For Surviving The Holidays After Suicide Loss

By Catherine Greenleaf

As suicide loss survivors, we can often dread the holiday season. Christmas music tells us to be jolly, but sometimes our grief is too heavy and we just can’t work up the enthusiasm. However, by giving ourselves permission to take care of ourselves, we can take control and feel self-empowered – regardless of what the relatives may say. Here are some tips to help you along:

Tip #1 – The most important thing you can do this holiday season, or at any time, is to put yourself with safe people who validate your loss.

Tip #2 – Avoid becoming overwhelmed. Don’t feel you have to accept every holiday party invitation you receive. Pick and choose.

Tip #3 – Have a Plan B. If you go to a party and someone upsets you, have a phone number handy of someone you can call for support.

Tip #4 – Be sure to plan quiet time at home alone for yourself during the holidays, so you can enjoy some peace of mind.

Tip #5 – Be a chipper! To make life more manageable, steadily chip away at your holiday gift list. Instead of attempting to buy all your gifts in one trip to the mall, chunk it down into several smaller trips. This will help you avoid the last-minute “rush.”

Tip #6 – Use the internet or mail-order catalogs to shop if driving to busy stores or malls unnerves you.

Tip #7 – Try to make wrapping gifts a pleasant experience. Put on the holiday music, make yourself a cup of cocoa, eat a candy cane, and wrap.

Tip #8 – As with any activity, if you feel overwhelmed, then put everything away for another day.

Tip #9 – The temptation to overindulge will be great. Keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant. Too much sugar can make some people emotional and even weepy. Dark chocolate sweets can keep some people awake all night.

Tip #10 - The average American can gain 5-10 pounds over the course of the holiday season, which can be very depressing. Moderation is key. Eat before you arrive so you won’t nibble all night. Find interesting people to take your mind off food.

Tip #11 – If family relations are contentious, put time limits on how long you will visit. You can craft a high-quality holiday with family by limiting your visit to five hours. After five hours, put on your coat and get out.

Tip #12 - Remember the Holiday Golden Hour – that first hour of any holiday gathering. It’s the safest time to be there. After several hours, drinkers start to get drunk and obnoxious, kids get whiny and cranky, and relatives start making sarcastic remarks. Give yourself permission to leave any situation you find stressful or unsettling.

For more holiday survival tips, you can order the book: Inspirational Stories of Handling The Holidays After Loss at www.opentohope.com.

Copyright 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's Okay To Cry

by Catherine Greenleaf

Why is the ability to cry so vital to our recovery from the grief of suicide loss?

Crying, lamenting, sobbing and wailing -- all of these allow us to discharge our pain so we can heal. The sadness and despair, when repressed, don't just disappear. Instead, they go underground in your psyche where the pain, unfortunately, intensifies. The feelings are not gone, they are merely buried alive. They then re-emerge at a later time and can cause chronic stress, depression, stomach ulcers, and even a nervous breakdown.

One of the unexpectedly wonderful aspects of crying is that expressing our grief allows us to experience the strength of our aliveness. Our tears let us know we were truly connected to another and that the love we felt was real. Crying releases us from our grief and reaffirms our ability to love and be loved.

You may find some people in your life trying to discourage you from crying. We have all grown up with warnings about not being a "crybaby" or that "real men don't cry." However, crying is the most natural thing in the world for humans to do. Studies show that real healing takes place when we give ourselves permission to cry. I'm sure you've often heard people say they needed a good cry and how much better they felt afterward.

If the people in your life are making you feel uncomfortable about crying, here are a few tips I have tried in order to feel safe shedding tears.

1.  Get in the car. Alone. Take a drive. You can cry all you like in private. You can play music on the radio or your favorite CDs.

2.  Get in the shower. Turn on the hot water. You can cry and no one will hear you under the sound of the water running.

3. Get outside. Take a walk by yourself. Wear sunglasses. You can cry while you walk and no one will be the wiser.

4. Get in the pool. Start swimming. You can cry underwater and no one will figure it out.

If you want to cry, but the tears just won't come, you can try these tearjerker movies to get the waterworks running: 

1) Steel Magnolias 

2) Terms of Endearment

3) Brian's Song

4) The Bridges of Madison County

5) Always

6) Sophie's Choice

7) Charlotte's Web

8) Babe

9) Casablanca

10) An Officer and a Gentleman

Copyright 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Irish Blessing For You...

Beannacht  (Irish Blessing)

On the day when the weight deadens
on your shoulders and you stumble,
may the day dance to balance you.
And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window
and the ghost of loss gets into you,
may a flock of colors,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue
come to awaken in you a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays in the curach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the Earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours.
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donoghue

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hiding Behind The Potted Geraniums

By Catherine Greenleaf

After a suicide loss in the family, it is very typical to pull down all the shades in the house, lock the door, turn off the answering machine and do what is called "sitting behind the potted geraniums." 

In other words, we think sealing off the outside world will somehow protect us. From what? We can conjure up all kinds of reactions from the community in our minds. Perhaps they now think our entire family is "crazy," that there is something terribly wrong with us and we should be avoided, that somehow suicide is contagious and will spread to others should they have contact with us. It is terrifying to think of re-entering the community and experiencing people's "verdict" over your family situation.

The sad part is we are the ones thinking these thoughts. We make up these scenarios in our own minds and scare ourselves into isolation. It is true that some people do not understand suicide loss and grief and we will meet with the occasional person who makes insensitive comments. But we are living in a world now where people are more savvy about the devastating effects of sudden loss, including suicide. Most of the people we encounter will be enormously compassionate and understanding. However, hiding inside a dark house will not help us to meet any of these nice people.

Usually it's our own guilt and shame that compel us into hiding away from the community. For years, I carried guilt that I had somehow said or done something to make my loved one choose suicide. Staying inside the house was my way of avoiding the possibility that someone would point the finger and say: "He died because of something you did." I'll be darned if I know what that "something" was. However, when you are in the throes of suicide grief you don't see the absurdity of that type of thinking. 

The truth is, suicide is never the fault of anyone but the person who chooses it. No one has that much control over another person. There is no need to feel guilt or shame about your loved one's death. Suicide is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and/or a lifetime of not being able to employ the skills necessary to cope with adversity and conflict.

Things are bad enough without adding to the pain of sudden loss of someone you love. We can let go of the guilt and start moving in a more positive direction. The time is now for nurturing yourself. You have been dealt a devastating blow. Be good to yourself. Give yourself time to heal. No, life will never be the same. But you are now on the path to what suicide loss survivors call "a new normal." Taking care of yourself will get you there a lot faster. Try opening a window blind and unlocking the door. Let people love you and take care of you. You are worth it.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Finding Our Center After A Suicide Loss

by Catherine Greenleaf

How do we keep it all together while grieving a suicide loss? Suicide is one of the most devastating forms of loss that exists. The mixture of suddenness, self-inflicted violence and police involvement can leave us with our minds and hearts shattered.

It's important to remember we are not the only ones who have lived through and survived such a horrific loss. We have many suicide loss survivors who have gone before us and they have blazed a trail of survivorship and healing for us. So, with that in mind, we take a look at some ways to get grounded during grief:

1.  Don't isolate. Isolating magnifies the pain. This does not mean putting yourself with anybody you can find. A sense of discernment is required, which can be challenging. We need to put ourselves in the presence of people who care and understand, and who aren't going to try to rewrite history for us or tell us how we are supposed to be feeling.

2.  Ask for help. Millions of people have lost loved ones to suicide. And while this is sad and unfortunate, it also tells us that many have survived such a loss. While it isn't easy, it is most certainly much harder to get through suicide loss alone. Asking for help, and getting it, is perhaps the strongest indicator that a person will be okay. Suicide loss survivor support groups, a sudden loss bereavement therapist, and private, small therapy groups can be a huge benefit.

3.  Do only what you can do. Maybe you don't want to go to that office Christmas party. Don't! You are the best judge of how much you can handle. If the holidays are overwhelming you, create your own celebration at home with a close friend. During overwhelming times, less is more. Make sure to get lots of rest and sleep, eat healthy food and give yourself lots of time-outs!

4.  Watch out for the mood altering substances. After a suicide loss, it can be very tempting to overdo it with alcohol, cigarettes, food, sex, work, shopping -- any compulsive activity prevents you from feeling your feelings. The addictions are merely symptoms for what's going on underneath: not wanting to feel the pain of the loss. This is where a therapist becomes crucial in guiding you through your grief.

5. Steer clear of the critical people. Believe it or not, there will be some people out there who will condemn your loved one for dying by suicide. As if the pain isn't enough, you have someone in the neighborhood who thinks suicide is a sin or a crime. Please remember these people are ignorant, uneducated and foolish and they perpetuate the stigma connected with brain disorders. It is not your job during this tender time to reform them. Avoid them.

Above all, be true to yourself. And remember, suicide is the result of a chemical imbalance caused by a brain disorder. Suicide has nothing to do with what you said, didn't say, did, didn't do. It's time to start cutting yourself a break and learning to love yourself. Right now!