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He Let Go Too

What I’m about to share with you is personal.  This is a complicated post to write precisely because this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, or ever expect to do in my life.  While I’m sharing the experience, I’m not going to dissect what I did. It would take away from what happened. It has been a 3K-plus word project and as I type this I think why not just type three words and leave it at that.  While that would make reading rapid, it won’t get the facts across. So, brew up your favorite drink hot, or cold, and happy reading. I don’t know what the final word count will be.  

When I first met my husband Jon he was recovering from a single manic episode of bipolar disorder.  It had been triggered by medication and now he was working in IT and relieved to be back doing life.  In the years that followed I would learn how mental illness can traumatize the soul.  

The longer we dated, and by the time we married four years later, I was only too aware that I was involved with a man who could take his own life. It scared me.  Bipolar disorder is a killer. It is estimated that 30% of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt to take their own lives. I now get why. I had become involved with someone at high risk. 

The only way to make a high risk situation work within a relationship is to develop solid communication whereby both parties are committed to honesty.  It isn’t easy work. Marriage, at best, is hard and this only threw a wrench into the mix. We had resolved early on in our relationship to talk things out even if it took days to work it out.  We both valued the hard work of making things work. 

While the first 10 years of our marriage had  challenges, his mental health was mostly stable.  As I learned how to listen to the language of bipolarism better, I was becoming aware of how I could lower his stress levels. When I talk about this the best way to help you, the reader, to understand is to say that it looked a great deal like “emotional violence”. He never touched me physically, but the pain and experience of seeing someone in a type of mental anguish takes a unique toll on the soul.  I had to set boundaries, and when someone is in a rage, that isn’t always easy. I had to learn to get beyond the fear and hold my own. I couldn’t do everything but I could do many things to ease his stress. With some good coaching from the psychiatrist I learned to disengage. By doing this, he learned to calm himself, and I began to trust that he would calm himself. It was a difficult journey for both of us because I wanted to fix it and he needed me to pull back and not fix it.  Fixing it can take away a person’s dignity. This way he claimed the right to know what he could do for himself.  

In 2010 the slide began and this time there was not much I could do.  I watched as a severe depression crept in despite a well constructed cocktail of drugs and a great deal of talk therapy.  In November of 2011 he hit rock bottom. He was in bed and barely functioning.   

It was this episode that caused me to call his psychiatrist.  It was this conversation that forced me to rethink my attitude towards holding on to the fear of “what if he does it.”

As a therapist I knew the statistics. I also knew when, and where, dangerous things could happen.  When he was not functional there wasn’t an issue…it was when the energy returned that all hell could break out.    As a wife I didn’t want to hear any of it. I wanted assurance. And then the doc said “Gail, you have to let go.” This comment, and thought, took me on a three year journey.  For three years I asked myself what this meant to me. Letting go has many meanings: which one was I looking at and struggling to unravel and understand?  

Did I need to let go of the relationship?  Let go of the thoughts that he would fully recover and be able to return to work as he had previously done?  Did I need to let go of the fact that there was a 30% chance he would attempt suicide and succeed? Was I looking at a higher probability that he’d do something?  

I knew that there were things I knew and understood.  Mental illness, at its more intense levels, operates on the theory of “thirds.”  One third of diagnosed bipolar people will never improve no matter what. They’ll struggle with medication and hospitalization, never seeing improvement. This is called “treatment resistant” bipolar, or depression.   Another third will be revolving-door patients. They’ll swallow the pills and when they are feeling great they’ll quit the regimen and wind up back in the hospital and in crisis. For this third, if you can educate them about staying on the drugs and staying in treatment, there is hope. This is hard work and I’m not stating that there is much success with this third.. The last third will seek treatment and do everything they need to do to stabilize themselves.  My husband was in this last group. My nightmare was that something awful could happen. My fear was that something bigger than either of us could deal with would show its ugly head and what would, and could, be done at that point in time. My fear was that in a reckless moment of time he’d do something I couldn’t reason him out of.   

After sitting with the question of what did letting go mean to me, and going through a three-year thought process, I came to the conclusion that “letting go” meant giving up the idea that he would never seriously consider, or act, on suicide.  That he’d want to live above all else. What did this mean in terms of how I looked at him and our relationship?  

As I sat with this question and explored it deeply, I realized that if I was to fully let go, there were two things I needed to ask Jon to do for me.  I had to be very clear about them because once they were out there I couldn’t retract them. 

The time finally came for me to broach the subject of letting go fully and completely.  He cried, I cried, and an understanding was reached between the two of us. He promised to honor my request.  It was liberating for the relationship and it caused deeper healing to occur for both of us. While it took me until 2014 to say the words, the deeper work of healing had begun previous to this disclosure.  During 2011-2012 he made some connections that enabled us to trust more deeply and because of that, things smoothed out for us and peace set in. During June of 2016 I reminded him that I meant what I had said in 2014. I think it was a deep knowledge that he needed to hear the words again  that caused me to repeat them to him. On the 28th of August, 2016 the pain proved too great and he did end it after a weekend of planning.  (I was unaware that this planning was happening. That was not part of what I’d asked for and therefore he felt he could withhold this from me.)  

What I discovered is that my value system would not allow me to hold on to someone that was suffering so much pain and that to hold him here would have been selfish on my part.  As I spent time thinking about my needs and his needs, I came to understand that I had to turn this over to someone far wiser than myself. You can call it your higher power, or God, or whatever you will.  I let go of holding on to him. I had to trust that he’d act in a way that would be good for him and for me even if it was the hard thing to do. 

What I came to understand in hindsight, was that I had done everything in my power to love and honor my husband. I had cared for him in the good times and the hard times. Despite the trials of the bipolarism, I had done well.  Letting go of him has made my recovery a wee bit easier as I’ve not felt the guilt that I might have felt otherwise.  

Having said the above let me also say this:  My husband was in his mid 50’s when this happened.  This was not something he did on a whim. He spent a good 31 years of his existence trying to make life work. He did his best at living.  Sometimes the only way to end the suffering is to stop it completely. As I understood all of this, the ability to let go, while hard, became clear to me.  He deserved someone who would let go.  

I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about all of this.  It is complex, hopeful and a plea, that we do as much as we can to understand why suicide happens and come to an understanding that not every suicide can be stopped.  Stopping suicide is beyond our ability. Putting resources in place to enlighten others IS within our capability.     

Did my husband do the right thing?  Yes, I believe he did. He spent years living and when the relapse hit he made a choice to end the suffering.  He had lived a good, but hard, life. THAT being said….

I”m aware that so many people are working to prevent suicide among one group or another. In particular: LGBTQ youth.  This has made me stop and think. I would not wish what I’ve been through on anyone. I didn’t want this to happen, but I can accept that it did, and that is OK.  It has made me think about others who “find the note”, the body, or hear of the death, and wonder why it happened.  

I’ve asked myself what I would say to a parent with a child between 12-25 who expressed a desire to leave this life. I don’t think there is an easy answer, but there are things that can help along the way.  

I’d take into account that there is so much going on in their young lives and that they aren’t fully developed mentally, or physically. I’d try to remember that for most kids, this time of life can be a real hell and that life is lived intensely from minute to minute and day to day.  I’d offer a safe place to fall. Sometimes mom or dad are too close and are not the option they are looking for. Sometimes parents are the right option. I’d try to remember my own explorations and struggles. I’d try to shovel up every resource possible. Mostly what I’d want to do is create safe-havens for these kids and their parents. It really is all about the resources!  

I think what helps the most, is to listen when it scares you and to accept when it challenges you.  Questioning for understanding and motivation will then be open to you. Be willing to learn the pain of their reality.  Never assume that you know what that pain is because most likely it is what we least expect.  

By opening the door you open up the options! YOU might need to be the one to do the research.  You might be the one that needs to take the lead. Keep in mind that you are raising an adult who is in a child’s body.     

Rather than shutting them down, I would want to hear their stories, and in hearing and then understanding, offer alternatives.  I’d go down the suicide rabbit hole with the understanding that sometimes talking about it can do amazing things for everyone involved.  I’d set some huge groundrules to let them know how keeping themself safe works. I think there is a huge misunderstanding that if the person talks about it they’ll do it.  Talking about it helps someone to explore their fears and the reality of what is in their head. We’ve gotten away from serious conversations about death, and by not speaking about death, we also fail to speak fully about life and what it means to become engaged with it.  

I’d tell them that they are valued for who they are and, even more so, for who they can become.  Telling someone they’d be missed might sound good, but telling them why they’d be missed provides reasons for remaining around and engaging in life.  

One of the huge things I learned in my 20-plus years with my husband is that: suicide takes only three seconds and happens when the person can’t see any resources to bring to the situation.  In my husband’s case, the time for the resources to become effective this time around were too long of a wait. He wasn’t willing to remain in the pain.   

I offer all of this up for consumption in hopes that you, the reader, will not face the experience of walking downstairs to get lunch only to find the note on the table telling you where the body is located.  

I offer this up in an attempt to bring some understanding that the pain survivors live with, is real.  This is traumatic. But, you can recover and move on. I believe my recovery has been smooth in many ways, but rocky in others.  

I offer this up, to bring comfort to those who struggle to let go in life, and death.  There is hope and a pathway to peace. It takes time and the companionship of those who understand and can walk with you. “Letting go” leads to self exploration.  There is no schedule. There are no stages. In facing grief, remember that grief just IS.  

I offer this up because in my letting go, I was able to understand that I had no control over another human being as much as I wanted to hold on to someone I dearly loved.  But, this is the contract of life. We all are born into others’ hopes for us. We hope for a long life, a safe life, a healthy life, or many things in life. We come to believe in all of these things.  We hope for them, and even plan on them. We learn all of this, and in our learning we become deluded! It is our delusions that cause things to come crashing down on us when the ultimate, whatever it may be, happens.  

I offer this to the reader because I understand that letting go is complicated and not something any of us can do easily. I admit that in sorting this out, I found myself in some scary and dark places.  I wish that I’d had someone to talk it through with. I didn’t.   

I offer this to the reader so that those who have become victims of a a loved ones death by suicide will understand that you are enough.  You did your best and it was good enough and nothing could have stopped your loved one from completing an unthinkable act. Give yourself credit for where you were in your thinking and understanding then and the movement to where you are now.  

I offer this up to reinforce that the only thing we have in our control is the power to move through, and beyond.  I recognize that we will never get over this act of violence in our lives, but we will get through it. If you have not faced this awful situation but fear it could happen, seek a safe place to explore your feelings and fears around this subject.  Get to know these particular monsters that dwell in the dark cave. Befriend them and they will teach you in ways you least expect them to.  

I write this to honor those who have found constructive ways of celebrating those who chose to leave this life.  I accept that their reasons were their own. I will not judge anyone’s decision for making the exit. I am thankful to know families who remember with courage and grace.  

I write this in the hope of informing people that peace can be found.  

I write this believing that while we may not be able to stop suicide from happening, we can offer up solid solutions for others so that they can live long and productive lives.  

I type these words knowing that I had to let go.  I don’t regret having done so. He also let go and it was the right choice.  

Please Do! Suicide and Trauma

Please Do! Suicide & Trauma

When someone takes their own life, what do you say to those left behind who must rebuild, pick up the pieces and move forward?  

If natural death is difficult for people to deal with, traumatic death and death by suicide are far more complex.  This is about what I call “the death bubble” bursting and making a mess. Oh, what a mess a traumatic death can be! An d a death by suicide is far more complex than any other type of death.  Why? Maybe it has to do with the unthinkable and that the person taking their own life, in a sense, is “playing God”, or choosing to control a process that society says, and believes, should come at a natural end of life sequence.  To so many it is “taboo”. 

Maybe this taboo is what makes others pull back and not say anything to those affected by the death. In so many ways, those who are faced with a death caused by trauma or suicide, need different support than others.  I’ll try to say some helpful things here.

This grief is on steroids 

The grief that surrounds suicide is intense and feels like a volcano erupting. The catch here is that it erupts in stages, each violent.  It quakes, it steams, and at some point in time, it will explode, and then all that lava slowly runs down the sides burning everything it touches. Everything about the event and its aftermath will alter how most people who survive those they love, will alter their world view.  This subject matter can be addressed in another post. For now the reader can choose to accept that the above stated fact, is fact. 

As I’ve stated in other posts “grief does not have stages” It never has.  Grief, at its best, is messy and grief that surrounds suicide is best likened to a catastrophic eruption in slow motion.  

During the first days, people might have to deal with a biohazard team cleaning up a very unpleasant mess.  There might be a loss of possessions. These possessions could be meaningful to family and friends. The biohazard team takes it all away.  If the area the person resided in still places crime tape at the scene of a suicide there is that added burden on loved ones.  

There may or may not be a viewing.  There may or may not even be a funeral or memorial service.  The closure that these events offer to those who mourn can be shadowed by the difficulty of these events.   

During the first few years, those who mourn are forced to come to terms with their own lives, deal with the contents of a note, or the lack of a note, ask the “why”, say over and over “I should have”, process guilt, come to terms with the death on a spiritual (not religious) level, as well as process any religious beliefs around suicide and possibly confront them. Simply stated, many survivors of a loved one’s suicide face an existential crisis.  Supporting such a crisis is challenging.  

What can you do?  

Everything I stated about death still applies here.  There is more: and here it is:

The first 24 hours: 

If the death has occurred in the family home, please, if possible, provide another place for the survivors to sleep. Try to keep everyone together. Ideally, a hotel should not be on the list of places to gather together. 

If sleeping somewhere else will not work, the next best thing is to move in with them for the first two nights, make sure the family is fed, cared for, and assured that for right now, they aren’t required to show up for life.  They are going to need to deal with arrangements for the service if there is to be such an event. They will need help on so many levels.  

If there are young children involved, and if schools are in session, ask the children what they would prefer to do and arrange for it.  YOU be the one to make school calls. Empathetic staff will understand the gravity of the situation and support the children in their needs. 

Assistance with meals and errands can be helpful.  With meals consider the fact that clean up needs to be kept to a minimum.  

The Death Bubble 

If you’ve been through a death you know what I’m talking about; that place where the world stops for you and the focus isn’t about getting it done and for however long it takes, you are in this place, or state, of surreal being.  The world has stopped. Then the memorial or funeral happens and society tells you that you have to get back to the races. You step outside, see the cars and people whizzing by, and you think, “I have to get back on this grand people-mover that is whizzing by me a million miles an hour!  How? So you jump for it, and maybe you make it, but most likely you fall off again and wonder, “Why? What is wrong with me?” Then you stop and you think, “I forced myself to move, and I tried to leave the bubble, but I’m still really in the bubble, and HELP!” With suicide, it is as if you jump into the people-mover, but you are hanging in the air and you miss the people-mover and you get all banged up.  Re-entry into the bustling world happens at a slower pace.  

When someone finally reaches a place of resolution and forward movement, it is because the hard work of grief has been journeyed, and while all might not be as it once was, a new normal is emerging.  

I tell you all of this so that you, the reader, who have not been in this place, can be aware of how to help in the beginning, the middle, and the continuing future.  You get through it, but you don’t get over it. For those of us who have faced this in our personal lives, there will be differences in our process, but the understanding is there.  

Please Do! 

1. Look with your eyes.  Act with those eyes and be proactive about bringing in meals, coming to clean the house, take the children for play dates, or whatever else is needed.  In other words don’t ASK when, TELL your family, or friends, when you will show up! Then show up.  

2. Listen to, and provide a place for, someone to talk if, and when, they want to do so. 

3. This is about them, and not you.  If someone is behaving in a self-centered manner they are doing so because the pain they are facing is raw.  Gentleness is needed. 

4. Keep in mind that no two suicides are alike.  Once again, make no assumptions that what your friend, or family member, is now dealing with is anything like what you dealt with.  Ask what the experience is like for them. 

5. Never ask about how the suicide happened.  It isn’t any of your business. If the person wants you to know they’ll share it. The fact is that you might not really want to hear the details that would be shared.  This is not violence on a screen, this is real.  

6. What was in the note?  Once again this is private.  Some people leave a note, and others don’t.  Some notes give detailed reasons, and others don’t.  To share a personal example, my husband worked on several versions of a note which I have.  In the end, the note I found was only for me and it was short and signed in a way only I understood.  The note doesn’t get shared with others for that reason.  

7. Please stay near your friend and family member. Now, more than anything, they will need you to be present.  They won’t need “fixing”, just lots of love and support.  

8. Please support them and remind them that while they may have the urge to make major life decisions, “now” might not be a good time to do so, and if a major life change has to happen before the first year is completed, be present to support it.  

Why is #8 important?  If you are in a place of dealing with trauma, the chances of making a good decision in your life is slim.  Staying in a routine can help to calm the eruption that is occurring during the first part of the process. When a volcanic eruption happens, you are in “fight or flight” and survival modes.  This means that cognitive functions might not be functioning as they need to in the realm of competent life choices. Offer to be a sounding board and sit with them to help them flesh out the “why” of the process.  

9. While there are no set stages to this process, there might be some feeling that are common to suicide.  Some of the most common feelings and emotions that arise are anger, guilt, shock, hurt,”if only I’d known”, and being stunned into inaction by what has happened.  This is normal. You don’t fix it; you listen to the survivor. In understanding this, you might also be better placed to listen as someone works through #8.  

10. Could this suicide have been stopped?  This might seem strange, or out of place, on a tips list.  It isn’t. I’ll share some things I learned from living with a man who was bipolar, and who’s ideas about why some people decide that suicide is an option, we’re discussed. 

People in emotional crisis need resources that work.  They need psychiatric, and other mental health people, to be fully present and fully willing to serve as holding containers for their pain.  The family and friends that surround them, need to be open to serious listening. For instance, I had to go to some very dark places with my husband.  It was going into these places that enabled me to understand the magnitude of the pain he was in. He had a workable cocktail and a great psychiatrist, and psychologist, who were extremely supportive.  It wasn’t enough. For this post it doesn’t need to be explained.  

One of the things he shared is that when the urge comes, it could be just that: an urge.  I would remove what he asked me to remove from the house and get him calmed down. Those three seconds of non-access to tools made all the difference for years.  He knew that I understood.  

I’m glad that places like NAMI and Suicide Prevention are around.  They do good work. I’m especially glad that they are present for children, adolescents, and those in early adulthood.  When the brain isn’t fully developed, understanding the consequences can be challenging, at best.  

I’ve said it often: no one should have to find the note or the body.  

The answer to the question above is complex.  The answer is no, not all suicides can be prevented.  There are several reasons why this is so. I’ll list them in no particular order. 

  • Lack of accessible resources
  • Lack of support, or ability to get to the resources
  • Undiagnosed mental issues that could have been treated had the person sought help
  • Family structures that are too rigid and do not tolerate outside assistance
  • Religious beliefs that prohibit mental health consumerism 
  • Lack of understanding by others of what the person is really dealing with 
  • The person masking the severity of the symptoms
  • Secrets that are thought to be so terrible that they can’t be shared with another person
  • Intense mental health issues that are so painful and untreatable that the only way out for that person is to end it
  • Uncontrollable impulsivity
  • Isolation that has gone on for decades

I’ve listed just a few of the reasons the person who completes their suicide chooses this route.  

I’d like to make a plea to the Western world.  Please do take the time to know your family and embrace them for who they are. Please recognize that while we can’t save anyone, we can support and help those within our reach.  A smile, a hug, sincere concern, and understanding go a long way to stopping the flood that causes so many to cross over and reach for whatever they have that will end it forever.  Please Do!  

Please Do! Death

As I was out walking today, I got to thinking about how many times I’ve been asked “What do I say? What do I do for someone who is experiencing grief?”  Those are great questions and as the words hit the screen I found this post one of the hardest I’ve ever written. Why? Read on and I’ll try to lay it all down for you. 

So, here goes! I’ll write from the first person perspective and you can consider my words as if they were also coming from others.  The catch? It isn’t so easy because pain is universally messy and anyone who says or thinks otherwise needs to rethink that view. However, I’m not trying to make this any more challenging than it is. 

Consider grief and loss as a complex process. 

We aren’t limited in our grief to the death of someone. A move, a change in schools, a friendship that goes bad, a failed relationship, an act of God that destroys everything you owned, a shift in belief, growing up and moving on: it is all part of the cycle of grief and loss. For this post we’ll journey with death.  

Please consider your feelings as you think of others who face the unthinkable in their lives.  Please credit them for facing what they are dealing with in their own way just as you do the same. Please consider their minds, hearts, souls, their physical needs, and the relationship you have with this person. 

You never know what will happen to you to set you on the path into grief and loss.  You never know how your life may suddenly transition along paths you thought you would never be walking.  

We as humans tend to think of ourselves as indestructible until we are well into adulthood and we still avoid the thoughts that it–whatever “it” may be–can, and will, at some point, happen to us.  When it does happen, we are caught ill-prepared. Few people think about the “what will I do if” scenario seriously. True, you might let your mind wander, but most people don’t really go there because we don’t want to think in those terms until it blows up in our face.  

I’ll admit that I was rare.  I was forced to think about it at age 14 and again at 16 when my younger sister underwent heart surgery.  I thought about her possible death and when it actually happened shortly after my high school graduation, I still wasn’t prepared for what actually happened.  But, having thought about it earlier, helped. Living through it was another thing entirely.  

Some handy things to know: 

The catch is that what might work for one person may not be the right thing for another person, so, with that in mind, I’m going to lay down some general guidelines, and a few specific things you can say, and do, for people in emotional pain after a death. 

The first rule is that we all miss those we care about.  To say that we will never think about them is an untruth.  We get through the process but we don’t, if we’re honest, ever get over it completely. No matter what you believe about death and an afterlife, we miss those we care about being with us! Yes, at some point in time we move forward, but that movement is a process.  It is normal and OK to miss and hold onto the memories. Someone just got removed from our life and whether it has been a life-long relationship, or a shorter one, that person is irreplaceable. This is why the “at least you can” comments, or the “God must have needed an angel” hurt so much.  Regardless, these people can’t be retrieved.  

Who we are is formed by our relationships.  Our memories, the love, the pain, what we’ve gained, or lost, by having them.  Death happens and we can’t replace that person. I won’t delve into the negative side of a loss.  I know; it exists.  

The next rule is: there are no other rules, because everyone’s grief and pain and journey look different.  So, the first big “to do” is to remember that there is no such thing as “fixing” someone’s grief. There is nothing wrong with anyone who is grieving that a good cry and lots of caring won’t help.  

Another thing you need to understand, is that humans can react like injured animals to grief, loss, and pain.  We might feel the need to defend our territory aggressively. Like an injured cat, or dog, it might be important to secure the wound/person in safety, and let them know you are aware of the loss they have experienced.  They still might snap and react. Stay calm, keep a cool head, and give them a wee bit of space. Don’t abandon them: tell them you are still with them.  

I know, now you might be saying “snap?”  (Any label might fit this behavior, but I’ll use “snapping” here)   I don’t think I want to deal with a snapping person. Why should I have to deal with snappy behavior?  You need to deal with it because at the core of pain, depression and uncontrollable reactions camp out like an ugly monster.  This monster is in attack mode until it understands that it can let down the defenses it has erected. Many times this is when people turn and leave, abandoning their family member, or friend.  Knowing why a person is reacting violently by displaying intense emotions toward you, is helpful. Hopefully they are also letting you see them in this state because they trust you enough to let you in to their space. Reserve judgement because you don’t know enough to have an opinion yet.  When they calm down, ask gentle questions. They’ve just let you into a dark and scary place and sympathy is needed here. Remember that empathy can allow reflection in a gentle manner. What both of you have just witnessed was powerful. You may both be sitting with strong emotions. Your reactions, both verbally and non-verbally, can be crucial here.     

Keep in mind that they might be triggered by something that they don’t understand yet.  Helping them by listening as they talk it out, will bring both of you closer to an understanding.  Remember, this is one of the things that friendship is all about. Remember, you aren’t there to fix anyone.  You are there to support and listen.   

Setting healthy boundaries is also helpful.  For instance: “I think that this is pretty scary for you and I can tell that you are showing it by snapping at me. But, please don’t snap at me.  I’m willing to sit here with you. I know you need someone to sit and hear the ______ that you are feeling and when you snap it causes me to want to back off.”  I actually had a friend remind me of this after I told him not to interrupt me. It was, for our relationship, the right thing to say and I was relieved that he could keep a cool head when my emotions and pain were tumbling out in ways that I would have rather not hurt him with.  At the time, things were raw, but I recognized that I did need what he offered me.  

Boundaries, set in a gentle manner, tell the person being heard that you will be patient with them, but are also needing to protect yourself so that the urge to leave when the hard stuff hits the fan, is safe for both of you.  

This next part is tricky.  In setting boundaries you may have to go to some places and hear some stuff you don’t want to hear.  If someone has to let a string of words fly that you don’t like to hear, sit with it. Sometimes the use of multi-letter words is shorthand for the stuff that, in the moment, the person can’t verbalize.  It buys some time to be able to return to the thought and rephrase it. Sometimes it is all someone has. Don’t set too rigid a boundary in this. Be tolerant.  

During the first days, or weeks, people are in hyper-sensitive mode.  Everything is a trigger. Relationships and boundaries get tested in new and horrible ways. This test can go on for weeks or months.  I’m not excusing awful behavior. I’m saying that you can gently set some healthy boundaries so you don’t feel like running away. You can do this by acknowledging the pain you may both be feeling.  The two of you are feeling it differently and there is no correct way to manage pain. It just is.   

For some people, the depression around their grief and pain hits them hard, and for others, it is a gentle, on-coming cloud.  They may, or may not, see it or feel it coming on. They might get defensive about it. Part of the defensive behavior is that they might not fully understand what they are dealing with.  This might be a huge first for them. Don’t try to fix it. Sit with it. Our feelings and thoughts with grief are’t always worked out quietly and gently. Trying to fix something disrupts the natural process of things.  

There are some helpful things to know in this process.   

Please tell me: 

Tell me you respect me for getting up every day and facing the nightmare I’m living. 

Tell me that you don’t understand, but that you want to understand, and mean it. Tell me this even if you’ve been through something similar.  I’ll tell you what it feels like for me. Most likely it will not feel, or be the same version of grief, loss or pain. 

Tell me that you will listen to my stories no matter how many times I need to talk about whatever it is I’m dealing with, and follow through with this promise.  I’ll move forward in my own way and in my own time. Don’t expect to see me on a schedule, because it doesn’t work that way.  

If it is OK with you, tell me I can call you when I’m in a bad place and then be there for me when I do get courageous and risk calling you. I’m not going to be in a good place, so you will need to drop what you are doing and create a safe place for me to let it all out. 

Tell me I can fall apart if I need to, and mean it.  

Tell me you will sit with me until….  This might mean different things to different people.  This sitting business is hard.  

Get curious

Sometimes what ails the soul needs exploring and understanding.  So ask if you can question me about what it is I’m struggling with.  Your healthy curiosity will cheer me on. I may, or may not, be desirous to share my experience with you.  Ask open-ended questions that require a sentence, paragraph or even a page to answer; be patient. Grief, loss, and pain aren’t contagious, so feel free to learn about what I’m willing to share.  The things I’m not willing to share might change over time, so be open to a changing landscape.  

This means that you might ask some very basic questions.  Tell me in advance that you are wanting to understand me, the pain I’m in, and you, just like me, are summoning up the courage and bravery to explore and learn.  Turn towards the unknown. As you face the pain with me I’ll still struggle but I won’t be as alone.  

Understand that when I’m alone I may still dissolve into a ball on my bed. I might shed tears that I can only cry in privacy.  This is normal and part of the healing process.  

Consider that the “first” of everything will be hard.  I don’t know how I’m going to feel, so ask if I want company on a holiday, birthday or anniversary.  If I say that I need to be alone, ask if there is anything that you can do to help ease the day. A simple phone call might do the trick. I might not be ready to do lunch, or anything in public.  Respect my wishes. On the flip side of this, keep me in the loop. I might be one of those people that need to know what’s going on in the world despite not being able to pull it together enough to get out. However, I might want to get out and then when I’m there, I find it was the wrong choice, so allow me to exit stage left gracefully.  

Sometimes someone’s struggles might require a meal 6 or 12 months after the grief has set in. (The grief might not set in for over a year)   Bad days come at different times. They are not predictable. This is also true for being able to provide self-care for oneself. While the thought might be appealing, the energy needed to actually pull off the self-care might be lacking.  Making the coffee, or tea, and cleaning up the mess is a huge help. Running the bath water for the much-needed soak, and cleaning up the mess might be necessary.

Sometimes the person can tolerate reading, or being read to, and other times, the sensory overload is way too much for them.  It is the same with music. This is not abnormal. The brain can get messed up during this process, so be gentle and sensitive.  

Fixing me and fixing “it” doesn’t work 

Fixing me or fixing it–whatever the “it” is–can’t be done, so instead, learn to sit with the ugly pain and uncertainty that the ugly pain brings to our doorsteps.  I think it is the idea and desire to fix the pain that someone is feeling that leads to all those “don’t say this articles” as those comments, no matter how well meaning, cut like sharp knives and cause deep wounds to be opened. If you want to offer reassurance, offer the reassurance that you will walk with someone through their grief and pain for however long it takes.  Saying something like, “get over it”, and other comments like it, tells the hearer of the comment that you are wanting to fix it and rush them through a process that can’t, and shouldn’t be rushed. “Fixing it” is more about your needs.. I think this is also one of the reasons why “at least” and “they are in a better place” comments are so unwanted. While it might reassure the person who says it, such things are insensitive to the loss that is on the surface.  If feels like a fix, and “I need you to exit your grief and get back to the way things were” kind of thing. Things won’t ever be the way they were. 

What do I say? 

Start with, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m really sorry that this has happened in your life.

I can’t imagine what this is like for you. I’m bringing dinner over tonight/ tomorrow.”  (hen show up, no excuses!

Make this about the grieving person.  Ask about sharing memories of the deceased.  Many times people hold back about this. Sometimes when people lose someone, they want to know about the things that others remember and reminisce.  There is a desire to share what we loved about them. “Gone” doesn’t mean it’s a taboo subject. “Gone” can mean that the need to remember is vital and it should be present in our relationships.  

Sometimes it’s actually the “doing” of something.  One of the hardest things for widows, or widowers, to do is to grocery shop.  There is something about roaming the aisles that sets the mind, the memories, and the grief flowing in ways that nothing else does.  Maybe it’s all the stuff they loved to eat, or the fact that you won’t be fixing it any more for them. Maybe it is all the stimulus going by that causes people to abandon grocery carts and head for their cars without having purchased anything.  The cupboards may remain bare. So, offering to help with the shopping might be useful. Offering support for this task might be just what is needed, but then again, it might not be easy for the person to tell you what they want and need. It might be helpful to go with them and have a list, so if they need to leave they can, and you can finish the job for them.  

Keep in mind that it is embarrassing to have laundry pile up and not take out the trash.  Offering to help with this, if you know them well, might really hit the spot. Brew up the tea, or coffee, or whatever it is they are drinking, and let them relax.  The fact is, a cleaned up space can help them relax. Actions count!  

There is so much, but I think I’ll leave the reader with this parting shot: you can’t fix it, replace it, or rush it.  Speak words of gentleness and care. If the words don’t contain your own need for fixing, replacing, or rushing of the process, you are on the right track. 

Being In The Room Part 1

Being In The Room: Part 1

I’m posting this as an update. I realize this is a long post but read and learn. My friend, George, is on new medication and is doing great. It isn’t a perfect fix, but it really works for him. I’m also posting this as a 1 of 2. I’ll be adding to this blog.

Today I discovered something about my kitty, Princess Penelope. She needs me to hang around while she eats. The reason for this is that when ‘Roo and Bob ( my other cats) were alive, I supervised the eating process so that they did not “mooch” off of each others food. I guess she got to like the secure feeling my “anti-mooch” presence provided her.

After Bob died, I took to placing Princess’s food down and letting her eat. I’d go about my business and I thought everything was fine. It wasn’t.

This morning when I fed her I stayed in the room and sat at the table. She’d eat and then come over to see me and then return to her eating. Just like a two-year old!! I thought about this and realized that in her time of adjustment by being in the room while she eats is part of her process of building a new life without Bob. For 15 months I was in, and out, of her daily life. I’d better remain present now: She still needs me to be in the room.

Lately I’ve been thinking about being in the room for those who need us. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes it can be frightening to watch someone you know and love suffer either physically or emotionally. So, how often do we remain in the room for those that need us? How often are there enough people in the room? Rarely.. Sometimes people run from friends and family because they don’t know what to do or are just scared. They run from perceived rejection which can be very real. People turn from the room because of the anger and resistance that are present there. In all honesty, who needs any of that anger, rejection and resistance-to-help stuff? However the person in the room needs you.

Yesterday I had a talk with my mother and she asked me about someone who I am presently “in the room” with. I’ll call him George. Her comment to me was that George is really suffering. Yes, he is and I hurt for him. Both my mother and I have known those who have suffered in life and it is hard not to hurt when you see this type of emotional pain in others. Seeing this type of pain isn’t a highlight of life, but it is what life is made of and I have chosen to not run from it.

George is suffering from depression and despite the fact that there is a treatment team in place for him, he feels very much alone within his life. He feels many things: some are rational and others not so rational. Depression is a blood-sucking alien that distorts every aspect of life. For some there is no escape from the daily ravages that depression can cause. George is one of those people who, despite medication, is not helped as much as he’d like to be helped.

Here is something I found to be very valuable in my process of remaining in the room with George: (Full Lecture) This is a great lecture and explains depression well. It is well worth your time to listen and learn.

Staying in the room is challenging, heart wrenching, and at times frustrating. It takes work on my part to remain supportive and present. I remain a friend to George because I am committed to our friendship. True friendship entails being there for the fun, the good, the bad, and the hard stuff. True friendship seems to be a dying art.

We each know someone who needs us. If your circle does not include such a soul, look deeper into your circle and you will find your own George, or Georgina. If you say that you have looked and there is no person with needs then ask yourself WHY? I promise you there ARE people who need you this way in your life.

What George teaches me is to show compassion when it is hard to do so. He teaches me to remember that there is hope. I learn each time with him, to search within myself for understanding. He teaches me that I can’t fix it, but that I can listen. He has taught me to be a better therapist. Knowing George has enabled me to look at the way I deal with my own struggles in a more honest manner.

What I hope George is learning is that I will not leave the room. What I hope George is learning is optimism in his daily life. He might never be completely rid of the depression, but it can be far better than it is now.

We all know a George. This is someone who struggles with something that causes you to question what you can do for them. Sometimes the feeling is that you don’t know what to do so you do nothing. You feel embarrassed, or clueless, and feel as if you can’t relate to this person. You might not want to admit that you are truly ignorant about what to do with someone facing a particular challenge in life. But, don’t walk away!!! There are many ways of dealing with those in need. There are things you can do to learn how to remain in the room.

Getting into the room may not be easy. You might find resistance at first. That is because there is going to be disbelief and shock and skepticism inside. At first you may not be welcomed with open arms. Keep your heart in the right place and things will happen.

Here are some things to start with and to keep in mind when entering the room. It isn’t a complete list: it is meant to get you to think of what you can do if someone needs you.

If you don’t know what to say at first, be loving and kind and tell them that you aren’t certain of what to say. Tell them that you will listen a great deal. The fact that you care enough to be there is a grand beginning. Once you have started to earn their trust as someone who will remain in the room with them, offer to help. Ask them what they need.

One woman I know sat for hours and did some needlework while her friend sat, slept, and then wanted to eat. Just being there opened a door so that her friend could learn that there was someone who cared.

People with depression suffer from low energy. Don’t challenge them physically. Let them set the pace. While you can see the benefit of getting out and walking, the thought of putting one foot in front of the other might be too much of a task for them.. Reassure them that it can get better. Don’t expect them to move towards anything rapidly. At this point in time, my friend, George, manages to walk for five minutes on the treadmill. That is all he can do and it is enough for him.

Try quiet things. Keep it low energy. Sit and talk. You might try giving them a back rub (if they are comfortable with you doing so) to help stimulate the body. Music and other quiet, soothing activities can also help. You might discover other things that are easy and low energy. Don’t try to over-stimulate someone; let them set the pace. Think about doing things that take little concentration. People who suffer from depression have brains that are often offline.

Make sure they eat. Meals are great. Lack of energy and lack of ability to keep nutritional things on the table is an issue for many with depression. When your brain and body aren’t working efficiently, the ability to make good choices becomes difficult. Easy, fast and low energy consumption is how many people with depression function. Grocery shopping takes time and energy. Everything takes energy! Thinking takes energy, so a depressed person might try to avoid activities that entail complex thought processes. Cooking and cleaning are two such activities.

Commit to being there. You might get hurt. You might get told to “get lost”. You might wonder why you bother with this person. You might want to leave: don’t leave. The more you listen and learn, the more you will know what to say to your friend when they feel as if there isn’t hope. Don’t promise them things you can’t deliver. Deliver what you say you will do and be consistent about it. If you are honest with them, they’ll be honest in return.

Your friend may be really embarrassed. This isn’t easy for either of you to deal with. Your friend may be feeling embarrassed with the situation. Your friend might not be totally honest about what he, or she, truly needs. They may feel as if they are not deserving of your time. Your friend might think that the only way they are going to get through the ordeal is to go it alone. Let them know that they aren’t alone by showing them that you are with them.

Depression sucks the life out of its victims. The depressed person may attempt to drive you away by creative means. THAT is the DEPRESSION talking. Realizing that you are actually having a dialogue with an illness will make hanging in there easier to deal with. You might not be thanked at first but hang in there as eventually the tide will turn.

You may see how important it is for your “George/Georgina” to get professional help. They may understand the need for help as well, but might be too worn down to help themselves. Offer to help them get the help, but make certain that they are still in charge of the situation. They might need reassurance, they might be scared, and they might not be able to understand how bad it really is. Point things out gently and don’t push. If you are kind and gentle you will have an easier time being successful.

Switched off brains.

Imagine that you have a laundry pile that needs doing. You walk by hurriedly because you are running out the door and can’t get it into the machine. When you return home, you go put the laundry in the machine and simply get the wash done. That is what normally happens. Now in the mind of someone who is really depressed, this is what happens: they see the pile of wash, walk by and think, oh I must do that wash and I will do the wash later. The next day they still see the wash and think the same thing. This goes on for some time until a crisis, or something else, triggers the wash having to be done. In simple terms, the brain is switched off. One of the plusses regarding medication is that it can switch the brain back on.

I am just scratching the surface here but my goal here is to get you to think of remaining in the room.

Briefly, I want to talk about suicide and medication use. Suicide happens because there aren’t enough resources to bring to the situation. Most people want to live and move on. Most people, even when they do have feelings of suicide, don’t want to act on them. This does not mean that a person won’t act, but rather that they are driven to act because they feel that the resources have run out. I’ve known family friends who did act. They are now beyond my voice. For them I wish that there might have been a way to help. I wonder what went wrong. What could have been done to bring the needed help to each of them?

The most dangerous time during depression is when a person has the energy to act on the impulse to suicide. It takes energy to kill yourself. A person with a lack of energy can only think about a plan, but once their energy rises, they can carry the plan out. You might want to know what your friend is thinking as far as a plan and be prepared to “suicide proof” the house. Make a protection plan in your mind. Don’t be afraid to ask directly “how suicidal are you right now?” I’ve asked this at times and been told what I needed to know. George says that my asking lets him know I’m in the room.

Medication is a tricky thing. It isn’t the answer for everyone but for those that it works for, it can be truly helpful. Medication is a process of hit-and-miss and it takes some time to get it working well. A good psychiatrist will work with you to find a good drug, or combination of drugs. The best results for treatment, combine medication and talk therapy. But, don’t expect the problem to disappear in one to six weeks!!!! Be gentle with yourself and work with your mental health professionals for the best possible outcome. Think of those involved as part of a treatment team. Help your friend to understand this and to be gentle and realize that it will take some time to see results.

Penelope is now sleeping here on her blue table by the window. She seems content to sleep and enjoy life. I smile at her lovingly, because she is acting better and feels my love for her. Okay, I assume she thinks all of this. Meanwhile, George continues to learn about his depression and how he can strengthen himself. Life does go on and each day that I am in the room with him is a day that is good. Now if it would only rain chocolate. AHA there’s a thought.

Being In The Room 2/2


A few of my readers have contacted me off-blog with questions. This second post is meant to address those questions and focus on the area of support and maintaining a positive outlook when you are in the room with a person that is stuck in the tube of depression. This is long, but worth it. (In my humble opinion.)

One of the issues with depression is that there are many who distance themselves and few who are courageous enough to enter into a support role. This can be a really dark, lonely place to be in with someone. Depending on the variety of depression that is being dealt with, there can be many dynamics occurring.

Here are some suggestions. 

Be a friend. You can’t fix it or make it better. You CAN urge them to take steps to get help. Know that this is easier said than done.

Above all else, you are a friend first. Your love and caring for this person is far more important than anything else and they need to know that: no exceptions. However this doesn’t mean that you fail to set boundaries with them.

There are several reasons this is hard to do: a) The depressive brain is not thinking logically. b) The person with depression might behave in an aggressive manner that shuts you out because they are fighting to protect their dignity, their space, their denial, or their uncertainty about what they are witnessing within themselves. And this is just a fraction of what might be going on in their head!

YOU have to decide if you care enough to push through the facade. Sometimes you act out of love and you find that it is more than you bargained for. Once you are in that room, leaving can do a great deal of damage, so hang in and learn how to be a good friend.

Recognize that the depression will most likely speak louder than your family member, or friend.

Remember the laundry pile? You are dealing with somebody who has switched off logic. While their brain might tell them on some level that something is not right, they may not be in a position to make the connection.

Something called “psychomotor retardation” is occurring in their body. This means that physically and mentally processes slow down. They can’t think at a normal rate. Movement may also be impaired.

They may, or may not, know what they really need. You will have to ask questions. Ask slowly: Don’t ask them several things at once. Their ability to process answers may be impaired due to psychomotor retardation.

At first they may not have the energy to think about the answers, but as you persist, over time they will open up. They might not believe that you are taking a genuine interest in them and might push you away: Stand firm. You are doing a great thing, but remember their brain is processing inaccurate information. Reassure them that they are worth your time and that you really are there because you care about them.

Once you break through and establish some trust in this area things will change. You’ll know this because they might call you and tell you they are having a bad day or that they need a walking companion. It could be anything. They might admit to some of the chores that they really struggle with. Offer to help out and follow through.

Sitting in the room.

You are now with them, they know you care and they are willing to accept your support. How do you keep yourself healthy?

Reward yourself!! Dig into your movie stash and watch a favorite film. Read a book or article. Pursue your hobby. Do anything that lifts your spirits under normal circumstances.

There are times when you might need to talk and let it out. Make certain that your talking partner understands your need to process your own feelings. Just as you can’t fix the depression for your friend, you don’t need someone to fix your feelings about being a support person.

I’ve mentioned setting boundaries. Often people think that setting boundaries is about saying NO. It is also about saying YES and compromising. It is about knowing and understanding when you can say I need to finish x y z. There are times when hearing the urgency in their voice will signal a decision that it needs to be heard right then.

You can’t force anyone to do anything.

As much as you might want to force a promise out of this person, you can’t. They’ll promise you only if it is their choice to do so. If you expect them to commit when they aren’t willing it will cause both of you to have stress. It will strain the relationship and you will burn out.

Now that the above paragraph has been stated firmly I’ll explain further what you can do. I’ll explain what you need to know in order to keep your head together.

Professionally, I want to keep people safe. If I have a client who has the energy to both create a plan and carry it out, that client is going to need to be in a safe place. That might mean a hospital. I set very firm boundaries with my clients.

George is my friend. George and I have a deal. George has promised me that he’ll talk to me before he would carry out a dangerous plan. The problem with the type of depression George has is that his mood swings are sudden. George knows that if he were to complete suicide it would hurt me and others.

I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that you can’t stop someone if they are really hell-bent on doing it. That is also part of the depression dynamic. It really is a no win situation. The thing is that by knowing and accepting what could happen I am less stressed about it. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring, but it does mean that I’ve come to a peace about how I deal with the threat of suicide. I can listen and try to understand.

I’ve known multiple people who have committed suicide. I’ve shed tears and yelled and screamed and I wish every one of them were still here. I’ve also realized that for each of them they felt there was no other option. This has caused me to listen to people seriously and to respect the power of depression in their lives. This is why I have the policy that I do towards my clients.

Take what your family member or friend says seriously. When they can’t move and do much is one thing, but when they can move and carry out a plan, that is a time for action on your end.

Support Teams

You shouldn’t support alone. The ideal would be to urge your friend or family member to seek professional help. Build a treatment team. If at all possible find someone local. Find a professional that works with depression. Ask around because depression is common and someone you know might be aware of that professional person who helped them. Some are better than others. If medication is an option know that there are some psychiatrists that are better than others. Here are some tips you might not find on other sites:

• Anyone who won’t take the time to do a proper intake and evaluation is out. I once saw a psychiatrist spend two hours on an intake with a man. Because of the time he took, the doctor was able to look at this man and his depression from a completely new angle. It made a great deal of difference. It might take several visits to really understand the issues. This is also true in terms of locating a good therapist.

• Does your friend or family member want you involved in the treatment process? Sometimes you, or others, must be contacted if the need arises. I’ve had family members contact me to report urgent psychiatric situations. When depression and suicide are involved I can only ask for this to be in place, and we talk about it before it is put in place. This is a relationship and can be negotiated. So, as a therapist I have signed release forms before I speak to someone of my clients choice.

• Does this professional work in a holistic manner or are they only focused on their particular slice of the therapy pie? If the therapist or psychiatrist takes a more holistic view be prepared to support this. They’ll most likely start with the diet and exercise. People with depression don’t eat well and often they don’t have the ability to exercise because of low energy. The list goes on but these are two basics. When the time is right both eating and exercise should be addressed. You, as part of the team, may have an influence here. Most folks like a good meal. The exercise is a wee bit trickier. That will take time. George is into food because it is one thing he can enjoy.

• Getting a gym membership might not be an option. How can you exercise? At first it might be that walking or running around the house is all you can do. Then as things pick up, walking or running in front of the house or building, up to a walk around the block!! Keep it simple and low energy. George lives near a foot bridge so we walk and feed the duckies. This activity works on multiple levels. Get creative. Walk a neighbors dog for them because doggies should be walked. Find something that is easy for the depressed person to do. They might have insight into this as they become stronger in dealing with the depression.

I haven’t mentioned it all.

I’ve only scratched the surface here. This is meant to get you thinking. I hope it does do just that. Get in that room and stay there and become a person that says yes to being a true loved- one, or friend in a time of need. You will be thankful that you did this for them and when they finally pop out the other side of the tube, it will be a grand celebration for the both of you.


Three years Ago

As I sit typing this, I’m remembering.  It doesn’t hurt like it did.  It doesn’t cause the eruption of tears it once did.  Tonight, three years ago, was our last date.  We went and got ice cream and sat out talking and when he got saturated by the surroundings we went home.  We didn’t go out the next day.  I have no memory of what I did that Saturday as  it has been wiped out.  But, I can tell you what happened Sunday: that will never be wiped out. That was the day that he “did the deed”, as I now think of it.  

Pain like this doesn’t just disappear, it doesn’t do anything helpful.  Pain like this is a pernicious tyrant of a thing, hanging around and teasing you.  Just when you think there are no more tears you start to tear up again.  When you think you have the tears under control they continue.  Oh, they aren’t the same ugly tears of the beginning, but they are still ugly.  This is an ugly cry on steroids.  It is beyond description.  

Three years later I can tell you that  grief and pain have altered who I am on some level.  There are times when I have become selfish and ungiving.  “I’m not that”, I scream to myself!  And yet when the pain surfaces in waves, “I am that”.  Grief on steroids alters the soul.  

I’m having to be real about this.  Getting through this means getting really real about what happens inside the mind as well as the soul, and how you handle it.  

Some of the things I thought I was certain about have become large uncertainties.  In the beginning I thought that everyone would pull together and rally with me.  Not so.  What I discovered in the first six months was that people were clueless about what to say.  Let’s be real here about what you do say to the widow whose husband did what he felt was, at that point in time, the only option he had left.  Treatment had not failed him, but the thought of continuing on wasn’t an option for him.  What does one say when the guy was in so much mental pain that the ultimate act was the only option left.  

I’d gone into things knowing the risks.  We’d talked many times during our 22 years together about “what if the mental pain gets so bad that…”  He knew how I felt about him and the suffering he was in.  Three years ago it boiled over.  

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.  Knowing what I do about bipolar illness,  just makes it harder at times.  And now as I write this, I cry.  

It doesn’t go away and it never will.  Pain like this changes in quality and quantity, but it will always be present. 

You might be wondering, well, if it’s changed, then are you over it?  NO!!!  You work through some things and when you work through that stack of stuff other stuff surfaces because that is how life is.  I can say this about my process but not someone else’s: in meeting grief head-on it has reared its ugly face to me.  Grief has caused me to stand stronger than I ever thought possible.  I’ve had to risk, to grow, to survive, and learn how to thrive on my own.  I’m still working on it.  You know that line from “The Abyss” where she drowns herself and he carries her to the pool and they’re trying to revive her and she isn’t coming back?  Yeah, the one where he slaps her silly and tells her to fight because she’s never walked away from a battle. That one.  Well, that’s me.  I’m just doing what I’ve always done.  This time around it really sucks.  

Yeah, three years ago, my life took a strange turn.  Three years ago it altered me in ways I”m still discovering.  Only three years and I remember it like it were yesterday. 

The Rose Room

As some of my readers know I’ve just painted and will be painting the rest of the space soon. There was one Room that has gone untouched. It is a beautiful rose color and in it there are many treasures. It is the Room of All Things Gail.

On the walls there are works of art and each piece has a loving history.

There is a painting that my aunt Ruth did way back when, that I treasure. I love it because she let me have it knowing how much it meant to me. There is the counted cross stitch that my friend Leann labored to create for me. It is beautiful, and I cherish it because she performed a labor of love when she stitched it.

Along with that, my older sister Beth has a place of honor with the picture that has been with me since childhood. It is a Gail version of “The Princess and The Pea.” She put me in a blue dress on top of many mattresses. Each mattress is a different color and design. I love this so much and someday it will go to one of her daughters.

Hanging in the Room, and moved from the bedroom, is another counted cross stitch. My sister-in-law Peg made this for our wedding. It too was done with love. Shared love is the only requirement to be placed in this Room.

I also have two stained glass pieces of art that my mother-in-law, Mary made. I am so thankful to have them.

Hanging in another place of honor is the wedding bouquet that my three sisters-in-law Peg, Bev, and Rebecca, created for me.

There are two parasols that Jon hung up. I’ve mentioned in “Sneakiness” that he backlit them for me. That is a day I will remember forever. Oh, the love that filled the space that day!

The Room holds objects that span the years of my life and are sacred to me. It holds something from a friend who I came to know in the last five years of my life. That friendship has given me many gifts of thought and hope. Thank you, Betty. The Room is my place of healing and restoration. I can sit quietly, get ready for my day, and read in that room.

In some ways the Room has existed for a few years but in other ways the Room is new. The Room, in its present form emerged into its new role in my life over the late summer and early fall. It started with knowing that I wanted to place a new piece of furniture in the Room and as I envisioned where it would go and how it would feel in the Room, The Room grew in purpose and my understanding of the space began to change. What I had used as an office during Jon’s life would be no more. My office was to move to the other side of the house where the sunlight can stream into it and I can see out into a larger world.

This Room, called Gail, is a place of healing and hope. This is where my heart is found, where the healing is strongest and where, when I enter, I find the most peace.

For those of you who read “Raw” or listened to the podcast (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) that I posted late in 2017, my healing journey has been both traumatic, challenging, amazing and in some ways, even peaceful. I suppose that it has been a combination of watchfulness, the love and caring of others, and the understanding that this type of pain and hurt only dissipate when faced head on. It is my tiny sanctuary, however, that allows me to find what I most need in my heart.

It is the realization that I can say a loving goodbye to someone I have loved deeply. He is not in pain now. It is also an acceptance that I can hold on to his memory in new ways.

The creation of this space has done its secret healing and holds a place in my soul that I didn’t understand until I let go to find it.

I don’t think that there is any single or correct way to heal from something like this. I think that the best healing comes from following your heart and soul and listening to your gut. Healing involves talking and finding a supportive listener. For the listener you need to choose wisely. Find someone who you feel a bond with, someone who respects you and who you respect. If there is not such a person in your life then find a good therapist who understands both grief and the loss involved with a completed suicide.

Healing is about recognizing that you will have really good days, really bad days, happy days and days of hopelessness. Healing is about allowing the depression that will come because of the death enter into your life. Sit with the depression for a time, and if it doesn’t fade, seek professional help. Healing is about understanding that the pain will diminish and calm. Healing is about loving yourself. It is about seeing yourself in the mirror as “enough”: no more and no less than, “enough”.

Healing takes strength and courage. It is your own unique journey.

As I spend time in this healing space I’m discovering its complete power. It is the power of the lit candle in the darkness. It is the homing beacon that steadies me. It is that place that tells me that I’m loved both by myself and by many others who I both know personally and who I only know because of the Internet.

To walk through the process of healing is also to be able to look out the window on a grey day and see the sun that the clouds hide. It is a knowing that you and only you can fully understand. It comes from traveling  “Through” it and stumbling along the way. It happens when you stand up once more and say AGAIN! You are never beyond, but you have moved on.

Forward movement takes on many forms. Sometimes it is a return to the old haunts and other times it is the unexpected and unfamiliar that call to the soul. In many ways the Room of All Things Gail was totally unexpected to me. It was a feeling that I had to create a place of sanctuary.

As I write this I am in my new, blue, office space surrounded by books, my sand tray collection, and hope. This space is one I’ve claimed as mine. As I look out of the window I see the stormy skies closing in, I see the other homes in the area. Most of all I see LIFE. It is good. It is peaceful and this is my space now. This is the room where he wrote the notes. This is the room where he spent so many hours…and yet this is not “that room” any longer.. The painter came one November day and covered the rich green walls with my beautiful blue color. The painter took nothing away but what had to go. It doesn’t hurt like it did a year ago. This is a place I come to work and to enable the healing of others. This Room also holds some treasures.

While blue is the color of my soul it has not been the color of my deepest healing. That has been rose. That Room is just a few steps away from where I now sit working on this and I shall go there to feel the warmth of the sanctuary: the Room of All Things Gail.

As I sit here I realize that I could not have created this lovely space without the Room of All Things Gail. It was the power of healing that let me say goodbye to what had been and greet anew what was to be. It was the power in that Room of Rose that set me on a journey to claim the space I’m now working on. It was the realization while sitting in that space that I could and should listen to my heart and follow my desires to create what I wanted for myself. Thank you Rose Room. I think I’ll go there now to pause, give thanks and continue the journey.



River pilots have been a mainstay of the great rivers of the world and in the U.S. they taught many how to navigate dangerous places and waters. I’ve used this analogy in closed groups and am now choosing to use it here in this space. I hope the message is one of hope. This is an imaginary conversation.

The master river pilot and I sit in the boat eating bread and cheese, drinking the cold water of the river we’ve been on. The pilot is silent and waiting for me, the student, to comment.

“Devastation and damage is there. That is what I see.”

“Is that all?”

I slice off more cheese and bread and drink the water.

“No, I see triumph and wisdom.” We turn back to view what was navigated and we both sit in silence thinking over the trip that has placed the boat in its current location.

WHOA! We both survey the damage, crazy as it is, and we embrace. I’m sobbing in joy and gratitude. I stammer an “I could not have done this alone” and take the pilot’s hand. “You didn’t tell me how beautiful it would be and I didn’t think I could see it this way. This river is magnificent! And so is the damage!” Yes, in my fresh realization I discover that the damage I have navigated has its own beauty.

We can see it all! The mountain and the sacred space. We can see the dark,creepy forests and valleys that held spaces of peace. I wonder if the people that were there are still present or if they have also left for new destinations. I notice a city and inhabitants exploring its environs; they are being told to get on the newer, more elaborate boat that has been brought to this point in time. I knew it was time for a new boat, and a new journey. I understood the pilot would not be as active this trip but that if I asked for help and assistance I would have it. I had grown much and it was time to test my new strength against the currents on my own.

I remember the terror of boarding a tiny, dilapidated boat and feeling as if it would get me nowhere and I prepared to sink as I went out on the water. But, I remember thinking that if I had to be on the water in this craft, I’d better do my best to save or repair it. And that is how the journey began. I remember beaching the craft and walking inland to a forest that looked dark and threatening. I sat on a rock and cried because I knew I had to go into that place and I was alone and fearful of journeying into the darkness. I wasn’t afraid of what I would find, but I was uncertain of navigating in the darkness. As I sat there I heard the tinkle of bracelets and earrings. It was a gypsy lady! She was saucy and vibrant and said that she’d been into that particular forest in the past and would be glad to serve as a guide. Together we reached a meadow of great beauty where the gypsy helped me locate a magnificent chrysalis that was just about to hatch and as we watched it the most beautiful butterfly emerged. It was the soul of the woman who had gone into the forest! “This is yours and it will be with you forever.” The memories come back and the memory of the bond between the two of us floods my mind. The butterfly has remained nearby as the journey has unfolded. It holds magnificent strength! I know now that I have been molded by this soaring creature of such beauty, and I still wonder why I have not captured its deeper essence. In wondering about this the butterfly responds to my heart. “You have! You have been so busy on the journey that you’ve failed to look in the mirror! All you see is the damage! You know the beauty is there, but have you really claimed it for yourself? You are aware of triumph and wisdom, but are you aware of them residing in you? Don’t you remember when I broke free? Don’t you remember how I soared? Do you think that was only the beauty of my wings? You doubted what I gave you, but I’ve been near you all of this time. I am you, in pureness! Take a fresh look at me!”

I return to the boat and realize I’m crying. I gasp for breath and try to calm myself.

The master looks at me, the student of the river, and echoes the butterfly. “Your butterfly joined you so long ago that I think you have forgotten her full power. You have held her close and soared and at other times sunk into deep despair. She never left you and when times required her to, she reached down and pulled you up to travel on the river another day. I sent the gypsy lady to you when you needed a primer that would serve you well and prove to you that you could do this work of Life.” I sit speechless. What words can I use to respond to this? I don’t have words; only a realization that truth has been spoken.

When I asked you what you saw, you spoke the worst, first. You have done this type of thinking for so long that it has become primary to your functioning and yet when you stand tall and survey the surroundings you also speak to the triumph, and finally, the wisdom that you have gained.

The master teacher and navigator focuses me on the rapids that I so recently transited.

“Look! What is there?”

“Only triumph. I don’t see anything else.” But you were there with me guiding me through the rocks and when the boat began to take on water you stood and watched as I bailed myself out.” “I only did that to teach you to trust me as you never have trusted me before. I knew that in your heart you wanted to learn it for yourself.”

“You have learned this part of the river well. Well enough to guide others. Look again and learn from the journey you have been on. You are not that scared, younger woman of so long ago. Look at your hands. Feel your strengths.” Once again the truth is spoken to my heart.

In the past two years the journey has taken me to many places on the river. It has been a transit and journey of a new type. Leaving the old and finding the new only to discover that the old has served in ways I never felt it could.

The boat I am in now is simpler, yet sleek and modern. The guides who have served to enable me to navigate the rough stretches have come and gone. Each has taught me new things. Each guide has been specialized in a very particular portion of the river. But the pilot who began the journey with me has remained.

As I think back over the journey, I’ve come to understand the lessons the river has taught me. Pain and growth, whether in childhood or adulthood, teach strong lessons. I’ve gathered them in and managed to weave something out of it all, yet I’m not quite certain what the is all about. I just know that it is there, and that someday I’ll look over it and maybe have some insight that isn’t present now.

What I have learned from all of this is that there are times when the insights we gather serve us well and other times our view can trap us into paths we’d rather not wander on.

So, as I pause on this river, look and observe, I can’t get too snarky or certain. I am, like each of you, a traveler on this river. I navigate it with respect. I turn to the master pilot and navigator and announce that it is time to run this new river area. I get a smile, a slice of bread and cheese and more fresh water. I wonder who the new guides will be. I wonder if I’ve learned enough to guide myself or others. I realize that it’s not my call. But the master of navigation seems to feel that I’m ready. I turn my back on the damage holding the triumph and wisdom in my heart and raise my voice to the skies in a way I have not done in two years. “Okay, cast off!” I drop the ropes that have anchored the boat to shore and sing as I do so. The boat feels good and sturdy and I know that on this new stretch I’ll learn, grow and move in ways I have not done before. I wave to the navigator who is once again on the shore but never out of contact range.

“Show me what you can do now! I’ve been waiting so long for you to run this portion of the river, and run it you will!”