Monday, November 28, 2011

Has Tragedy Defined You or Transformed You?

     First of all I need to apologize. I had planned to sit down and write this piece over a month or so ago and I didn't.  My daughter Haley, told me if I said I was coming out with a blog then by golly it should be out!  To be perfectly honest, she didn't say it quite like that!!!  However, I heard her message loud and clear.
     I hope all shared a nice Thanksgiving with family and friends.  The Saturday before Thanksgiving SASS-MoKan held a Remembrance Day which always coincides with National Survivors of Suicide Day.  The afternoon brings together those who have shared a loss by suicide or other traumatic death. As I sat surrounded by others, I again wondered has tragedy defined me or has it transformed me the past eight years? Am I the same person I was before the loss of our son?  Do I value the same things I once did? Does the future still hold promises for me? Have my relationships changed?  What are my priorities?
     Perhaps, the answer is yes to both defining and transforming a person.  One cannot go through a  loss without a change taking place.  I am not the same person I was.  I am eight years older, retired from a profession I loved, have added a few more grandchildren, a few more pounds, shrunk an inch, am coloring my hair a bit more often and you know all those things would have happened even if our son hadn't taken his life.  I value many of the same things I always have such as family, love, honesty, perserverance, friendship, etc.  but added to the list is appreciation for the people who have ridden this bumpy road of life with me and a tolerance and acceptance of others without judgment. Might that have happened anyway?  Probably so.  Do I look at the future differently? I realize with each passing day those moments are gone and living and loving is all we have. Wishing for our son back won't make it so.  Focusing on those dear to me in the here and now creates the dreams of the future. Relationships have always been important but now even more. Say what you want to say to the people you love, because intentions say nothing.  And yes, priorities are different. Being content with being content brings a sense of peace and for that I am grateful.
    So, if this tragedy had not happened would I be the person I am now?  We are living a "new normal" so yes I have changed but  Brett's death does not define me but it has transformed me into the person I am today.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

So, What Is This Thing Called Resilience?

     We have all heard the expression that when "Life gives you lemons make lemonade."  I don't know about you but sometimes I don't want to make lemonade nor do I want the lemons!  However, we know we really don't have control over being the receiver of lemons.  So, that is when I begin to think of my two choices which is always bitter or better.  It is easy to be bittter and think that life isn't fair (which we know is 100% accurate) and feel jealous and revengeful that in our eyes no one has suffered like we have, but I know that isn't true.  My heart goes out to the many who have dealt with much more than I have.
     Sometimes though in the midst of a crowd, seeing a side view of a young man, hearing a song on the radio, looking at family pictures the ache I feel in my heart is still there into year seven of the loss of our oldest son. I know the heaviness, despair, and intensity that I felt the first days of his death do not cast the dark shadow it once did.
     How do people who have lost everything in life continue moving forward?  My guess is resilience.  Resilience is defined as being able to bounce back after failures, setbacks, and losses.  We all face problems and how we choose to deal with them makes a profound impact on the remainder of our life.  After reading an article called "Building Resilience" by Susan Dunn, MA she quotes some attributes written by Dr. Tian Dayton.  I began to think about what characteristics are needed to gain strength after a devastating life changing experience.
The following have been paraphrased  by yours truly:
1.  Self-reflection is needed to look at yourself realistically and have enough emotional distance to see yourself as you were and now how you are
2. Knowing what to do to live a life of value not  spending energy digging trenches and throwing dirt on themselves and others
3 Articulating and knowing what they are feeling and sharing that with others which allows them the ability to face the pain of their loss
4. Having an awareness of their issues and vulnerability and seeing themselves in a realistic view not an idealized one.  When life hurts they can own that hurt still moving forward.
5 .Coping with the loss by calling it by its correct name and acknowleding there is a grieving process
6  Separating the past from the present and living in the now. They have an understanding that focusing on unresolved business from the past is a sure way of sabotaging their future.
7. Finding meaning and purpose in their struggle.  For some a spiritual transformation may take place.
8. Taking this experience and life struggles as an opportunity to grow and deepen their relationship with others and having a new sense of self.
9. Having a deeper understanding of life and a new sense of peace.
10. Most of all they understand that resilience does not happen immediately but eventually.  It takes time and patience.
    So, thinking back resilience begins when we are toddlers.  We fall down we get back up.  Our footing may be wobbly  but as our confidence grows we became steadier.  No one said, life was an easy rode without bumps, sharp turns, and even sliding down the hillside. One thing I know, when life gives me more lemons I might not be able to immediately make lemonade but I sure can begin to put some sweetner in it.  I challenge you to do the same.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Skinniest Duck

     Our family just spent a week together in the Wisconsin Dells enjoying one another's company, swimming, playing games, and having fun.  One late afternoon I was out on the deck with our son, daughters, and grandchildren and the resident ducks waddled by.We found bread and began to feed them.  Interestingly, even ducks can have a" bully personality!"  Sure enough the bread the other ducks had seemed more enticing then the bread the ducks already had in their bills.
     All of a sudden another duck joined the duck group.  This duck's feathers were matted and compared to all his comrades, who were nice and plump, this one looked thin and hung back from the others.  He didn't even seem to mind that the others were bickering over the bread.  Soon, the ducks flew to another balcony leaving the skinniest one there.  I said to our son Zac," That guy must be the one the others pick on as he is a loner, thinner, and certainly less animated than the others.  I began thinking is this how many of our loved ones felt when the decision was made to take his/her life?
      Zac said, "Mom, your next blog has to be called the "Skinniest Duck." So that is how this title came to be.
     Here's what we know- duck waited until all the other ducks had feasted on the bread then zeroed in.  We know he stayed somewhat isolated from the other ducks, and we assume he was thinner than the others because he was less assertive and could even ascertain that his place in the "duck world" left him feeling helpless and hopeless. 
     What we don't know is if this duck chose to wait until all the other ducks bickered and fought and then hoped to have what bread was left to enjoy without chaos. He seemed to be isolated but yet could he have been the leader and was allowing the flock to eat setting an example that he was patient and a good role model?  He was much thinner and had matted feathers, but that might be explained  because he worked harder and vanity was of little consequence for him?
     There are always so many sides when we look at something as simple as my duck story.  If there are so many questions and could of's with this little tale  how indeed, could we begin to even think we could understand the depth and despair of a human? So the endless hours of thinking, questioning, and trying to make sense is just a waste of the precious time we have.  Life doesn't give us "do overs."
    I don't know why and I will never know why our son made the decision.  Wherever his spirit is I hope he is accepted, fed with love and positive feelings, and has found the peace instead of the chaos in his life.
    I shall continue missing my boy with all my heart and wish he had not made the decision he did.      In the meantime, I shall love, play, and enjoy my own flock valuing the time we have. I know that is what our son would have wanted.  I bet your loved one would wish that for you too!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life Sometimes Gets in the Way

      When I started the blog, I had every intention of writing at least every week.  Life got in my way.  For several of my absent weeks, I was working on a presentation called ASIST which stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.  It is an internationally recognized suicide prevention program for people working with others who may be suicidal.  The training for trainers was a five day intense workshop that myself and the care coordinator from NAMI KC took in October.  The notebook is mega thick of  information along with a DVD/ powerpoint component. After our training, I figured we may or may not have the opportunity to present the information and if so, it may be sometime down- the- line.  Well, sometime down -the- line came and the presentation was two weeks ago.  Hours of prep took precedence over my blogging.  With that completed, we decided to move our upstairs office to the basement and turn the office back into  bedroom which again got in my way, so I do apologize.
      One of the topics discussed this evening at our support group group was people often want a suicide survivor to "get over it."  Get over what- is the question? What do we need to get over?  I guess a remark that stayed with me was a participant one time in group said, "I will get over it when my loved one comes back."  We know that isn't going to happen, and we know we will never get over it.  We can however work through it.  So, as I reflect on my own journey, acceptance comes with time and time is different for everyone.  The loss itself is enormous but there is loss in what could have and might have been which is a loss of the future.  Our son will  forever be thirty-one. Seven years have passed and both his sisters and  brother are married with two children each.  Life did not stop the day he took his last breath and as much as he is missed the cycle of life continues as it is supposed to.
      Life is complicated and some questions can never be answered.  We will never know the depth of the why it happened only that it did.  Acceptance is hard but without it we can never hope to see a tomorow for we are stuck in yesterday.  Grieve you will and heal you can.  Healing does not mean forgetting it means accepting and looking forward to a tomorrow.  The best I can wish for you and myself is peace.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spring and Honoring You

     Did you know that more suicides occur in the spring than any other season?  Most people guess that it is winter.  Although there are no concrete facts as to why spring rather than winter, one might spectulate that with the coming of spring and the promise of new life and new hopes life can offer new optimism. Unfortunately, not so much  for those feeling  helpless and hopeless.
      I  received in the mail today The Compassionate Friends Newsletter and would like to share a writing from Connie F. Kiefer Byrd, TCF, Tyler Texas. It is called .....
      To Honor You
To honor you, I get up every day and take a breath, and start another day without you in it.
To honor you, I laugh and love with those who knew your smile and the way your eyes twinkled with mischief and secret knowledge.
To honor you, I listen to music you would have liked, and sing at the top of my lungs, with the windows rolled down.
To honor you, I take chances, say what I feel, hold nothing back, risk making a fool of myself, dance every dance.
You were my light, my heart, my gift of love from the very hightest source.
So every day I vow to make a difference, share a smile, live, laugh and love.
Now I live for us both, so all I do, I do to honor you.

And for me it's ....
 by remembering you as the unique person you were,
 by growing closer to your dad,
 by loving and appreciating your sisters and brother,
 by watching your nieces and nephews change and grow,
 by the relationships we maintained and the promise of new ones yet to come,
 by the opportunity to grow from this devastating loss,
 by the ability to feel hope,
 by learning what is really important,
 by forgiving myself and letting go of guilt,
 by feeling optimistic once again,
 by making a difference for others,
 by focusing on your life's accomplishments not your death,
 by finding my life's purpose and spirituality,
 by knowing I am the person responsible for my own grief recovery,
 by forever knowing you will be a part of us forever.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hallmark Holiday-Mother's Day

     I love Hallmark, I love cards, and I love the beautiful verses. What I have always had a hard time with is finding just the right sentiment.  It doesn't have to be a defined, set holiday to let someone know he or she is special.  Finding my own Mother just the right saying was difficult because our relationship was so strained.  I couldn't go with the sugar and spice because my mother truly wasn't so nice. So, I resorted to the card with a humorous twist. My mother died in 1983, followed by my dad in 1993 and our son in 2003.  You can see why digits ending in three cause unrest in me. 
    As our own children got older and moved out of state, Mother's Day was not that sweet, warm, fuzzy Hallmark commercial.  The day was complete though when I heard from all my chicks. For many of us who have experienced a loss of a child it is one less card, one less call, and once again a jolt of reality that our life has taken on a new normal.  That new normal though doesn't have to be bad and it doesn't have to make us mad or sad. We just need to be grateful for the memorable times we had.
    Instead of mourning for the loss I want to embrace those who surround me with a sense of love and care.  Making a plan for your day will help lessen your  pain and loss. Playing in the garden, weather permitting, always makes me feel better.  Be good to you, do something fun, reach out to someone else. Most of all remember that we have no control over anyone but our own selves.  Choose to make this Mother's Day about enjoying the wonderment and beauty of life
Our loved ones planted their garden with fear, pain, and anger.  We can do the same if we choose, but then the result is the same as theirs.  I  hope you want a prettier, healthier garden.  I will plant strength and courage; fertilize it with love, and share its beauty with others who need it.  Won't  you join me?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The benefits of a support group

After a loved one dies by suicide, family members often feel alone and that no one understands.   In truth, it is hard to identify the enormous sadness and loss felt if one hasn't experienced a similar loss.  Going to a therapist to help put things in perspective is definitely a positive step.  When we first experienced our devastating loss, there was only one support group in the KC area.  We took full advantage of sharing our feelings of guilt, remorse, sadness, the hole in our hearts and the changes in our lives.  Life will never be quite the same and a "new normal" prevails. 
For the past six years, we have facilitated a support group at the Life Dynamics Building meeting the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month.  There are now groups in Independence and  North Kansas City. If you have never attended a group I would highly encourage it.  Many of our participants have made significant
steps toward their healing journey and often now help the new people who are attending for the first time. It is a safe place to cry, if need be, encourage, and share how others may have dealt with situations that arise.  Often times, it is the one place participants can still talk about their loved one.  Family and friends want us to "move on" but we know that we can move through, not on- like it never happenened.  Our group genuinely
 cares about each other and there is a bond in that room that is strong.  Even those participants who now come back now and then have a positive message for those starting this journey.   Life is a cycle and each day we get up we have the choice to make our day better or be bitter.  The clock cannot turn back but we must move forward embracing life and loving those who are a part of us. 
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Monday, March 21, 2011

To Life

As Spring comes walking in the door let's remember that life is a cycle.  There is a time for every season and although we don't always understand a reason for that season.  We have just experienced another loss in our family which is my father-in-law who was almost 94 years old. This  death was from natural causes so it is easier to understand this death than the death where someone takes his or her own life.
I do know that no matter what age our  loved ones leave us they would want us to make the most of our life, feel joy, have fun, and experience love.
May their memories continue to warm our hearts and understand the meaning of peace for them and us.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Seeds of Spring By Bonnie Swade

Spring is renewal and opportunities. It is a time to embrace hope and allow the season to warm and heal a broken heart. Our loved ones died one death and as survivors we have died a thousand deaths as we go over and over the whys, what ifs, etc. Believe me, when I say I know the drill well.

I want to share a bit of wisdom that others have stated before me and I share with you. This is nothing profound just from the heart and a tidbit picked up at a Weight Watcher Meeting: “If you do what you always do, you get what you always got.” This translates to if we continue to dwell on the past, make ourselves and others around us miserable, dwell on the death rather than the life and joy our loved ones brought us then we are diminishing and devaluing their lives and making our own miserable.

Some wisdom other survivors have shared that has helped them.

“Our lost loved one didn’t leave to hurt us. I think they truly believed that we could handle their death easier than they could handle their life” (submitted by SallyAnn G.)

“In the midst of winter, I found within myself an invincible summer” (submitted by Dawn M.)

As we continue our healing journey know that “those who walk together, strengthen each other.” –Swahili proverb