Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Day 19 - The Qualities That Define Us

One of the most difficult things about grieving a suicide is the fact that so few people know what to say or do in order to help. Many pull back or pull away entirely, because the topic of suicide is too sad, too depressing, and too scary for them to confront.

I did lose a few good friends. People who slipped through my fingers either because of the discomfort of it all, or because in my grief I was at times selfish and insensitive and for them it became too much.

But, I know so many survivors of suicide loss who've become estranged from their entire family and who feel they now have no one to be there for them or to help them get through. It is a loneliness on top of a loneliness that is truly unimaginable for those of us who have not experienced it ourselves.

And I'd be lying if said that there aren't still times when I feel deeply heartbroken and perhaps alone in the sense that I am missing John, and he won't ever be back.

But from day one, from the first moments after he died, I have never questioned whether or not there were people who cared about me. Never.

I know I am blessed. I know that this is not everyone's story. I know that I have been afforded something profoundly beautiful in the fact that I've been surrounded by so much love.

I know.

If you want to support a survivor of suicide loss, but aren't sure what to do - here are some ideas.

This what courage, kindness, friendship, and character looks like.

These are just some of the things that the people who loved me, did for me.

  • Brought me jello and fruit cups and toilet tissue and paper towels and diet coke, without my having to ask.

  • And brought me more diet coke.

  • And brought me more tissue, too.

  • Brought me flowers. And kept bringing me flowers nearly every week for an entire year.

  • Worked in my yard and cleared a tiny forest of weeds, in 100 degree weather nonetheless. And then came back and did it again. And again.

  • Told me about their memories of John.

  • Laughed with me when I talked about my own memories of John, and cried with me too.

  • Texted me every single day for weeks on end to remind me that that it was important to them that I stay alive.

  • Gave me momentos that had that belonged to John. Clothing, books, toys and more.

  • Let me sleep on their couch night after night after night after night. And then told me I could come back and sleep on their couch if I needed to, again. (Which, I did.)

  • Slept on my couch when I wanted to be home but still didn't want to be alone.

  • Met me in parking lots so I wouldn't have to walk into any building or any room all on my own.

  • Gave me rides to places, even when it was inconvenient, so that I wouldn't have to find my way in a world that, to me, was suddenly upside down and backwards.

  • Told me I was family. Treated me like family. Became my family. Called me and checked on me and then reminded me I was family again and again, until I began to believe them.

  • Played scrabble with me, and cards, and trivial pursuit.

  • Read my writing and then read my writing and then read my writing some more. And then told me that they liked what they read.

  • Answered my phone calls and returned my texts, no matter what time I called, even if I all I wanted to do was say that there was no way I was going to make it through this. Or to just weep. And weep. And weep some more.

  • Listened.

  • Asked me to go to movies. Asked me to go to barbeques. Asked me to volunteer at events and help out. Let me say yes. Let me say no.

  • Thanked me for helping to keep the memories and the best parts of John alive.

  • Gave me gifts that reminded me of John and our love for one another. Drawings and cards and jewelry that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

  • Took me to go bowling, and miniature golfing, and to little league games. Paid for me to spend a weekend in Tahoe with wonderful women. And took me river rafting with old and new friends.

  • Moved every single thing I owned into a new house. Spent hours with me as I unpacked and cleaned up and organized.

  • Told me that I was loved. Told me that I was loved. Told me I that was loved again.

  • Told me and showed me and held me until I understood, that I was loved. 

  • Let me cook for them, and pretended that my distracted half burnt poorly seasoned food was good enough to eat.

  • Fixed my car and my cabinets and hung shelves for me too.

  • Invited me over to play with a pack of puppies that were cuter than cute.

  • Called me and emailed me and texted me again and again, day after day, week after week, to tell me:

I was cared about.
I was surviving.
I was in their thoughts.
I was brave.

  • Gave me arms to fall into and hearts to hold me up and spirits to buoy my own.

  • Taught me that grief is made bearable when it is met with Grace. Showed me that sometimes kindness and redemption are one and the same. Helped me to understand that compassion is one of the most important things in the world. 

  • Reminded me that even in the face of terrible loss, there is still a loving God who can hold us and even heal us, during the very worst of our heartbreak.

  • Cheered me on and kept me company and told me they were proud, as I began to learn that finding a purpose in life helps to alleviate pain.

  • Told me silly stories about their day to day activities. Asked my advice about problems they were having. Let me be there for them. Knew that I was going to learn to live again, even when I wasn't sure.

  • Never rushed me. Never shushed me. Never told me to move on.

Some of these things may seem small, but all of these actions were full of love, and love is the biggest thing of all. I have learned that there is nothing bigger.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Day 18 - Bullied To Death

No one heals himself by wounding another.
― St. Ambrose

I guess I should start with this. I feel strongly that when one person dies by suicide, it is not the fault of another person. Despite conflicts. Despite hurtful words. Despite fights, heartbreak, painful boundaries, or making mistakes. Even big mistakes. Suicide is not the fault of another person.

Conflicts, struggles, and painful life circumstances are very often a part of the story of the person who dies by suicide. Some of these are terrible conflicts. People can say horrible things to each other in the heat of an argument. Frustration can bring out the ugliest part of us. The impact that mental illness has on a relationship is confusing at best and tragic at worst.

Often the mental illness that complicates and intensifies conflicts between two people is the same mental illness that lends itself to suicidal despair, or that fuels irrational and impulsive behavior that leads to a death by suicide (even before an argument has a chance to settle or be worked out).

In these cases, what I have seen is survivors of suicide loss who are ravaged by guilt. Suicide takes the life of one person and then guilt destroys the lives of those left behind.

I want to tell the survivors of suicide loss the same things that all experts on suicide would say:

It is not your fault that you did not know any better.

It is not your fault that you yourself did not have enough resources or enough information to understand someone's mental illness or how to help them.

It's not your fault that frustration and pain and chaos entered into your own life and that you reacted.

Try to remember, it is a sad truth but people do betray each other. People do fight. Divorces happen.

Heartbreak happens. People lose their possessions and homes and even lose custody of children due to these ugly circumstances. And yet, people do not take their lives because of it.

Suicidal despair is the result of many things, but it is not caused by conflict with loved ones. It is not appropriate nor is it accurate to blame a suicide death on someone else, even if that person was involved in a conflict with the person who died. Even if the person who died overtly blamed someone else, either as part of their last words or in a note. I feel very strongly about this, and I am not alone. Other people are not the cause of a suicide.

With one exception.


Bullies intentionally use words, humiliation and cruelty as weapons - and those weapons can be lethal.

Unfortunately, in our culture we routinely excuse the actions of the bully, while suggesting to the victim that if they can't find the strength to tolerate or change or fix the bully, then they are at fault for being victimized.

Just ignore it. 

Words can't hurt you. 
Toughen up. 
Stop being so sensitive. 
You just need to fight back. 

And meanwhile, as we've been offering these platitudes, suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-24 years old. So, while we have been telling our children that 'kids will be kids,' kids are dying. We are talking about kids as young as eight and nine years old.

There is absolutely nothing that is funny, clever, strong, or impressive about a bully.

And bullying is not just a youth problem. Bullying has been associated with the suicide deaths of adults, as well.

It is for this reason that it is critical that we recognize the different forms of bullying, and that we intervene when we see it, or ask for help if it is happening to us.

If we don't include comprehensive efforts to address bullying in schools, on playgrounds, in the workplace, and in other areas where bullying occurs - then it will not be possible to have effective suicide prevention.

In order to better understand bullying, let's start with a definition. Bullying occurs when a person repeatedly, intentionally, and without provocation, humiliates or hurts someone else. Merriam Webster describes a bully as someone who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to those who are weaker or vulnerable.

Bullying can take place in many different ways. Some of the more common forms of bullying are as follows:

Physical Bullying / Threats

Fat Shaming / Body Shaming

Sexual Harassment and Assault

Schoolyard Bullying

Verbal / Emotional Bullying

Cyber and Social Media Bullying

Text Bullying

Workplace Bullying

Public Bullying

(If you want to learn more about these types of bullying, is a great resource.)

Aside from learning about the different types of bullying, it is even more important that we know what to do when we see or hear about it happening.

For years, the primary advice was to 'toughen up' the victim. This expectation was not fair, and it was not apropriate for many bullying victims. In recent years, the venues for bullying have expanded (including online bullying, social media bullying, text bullying) and the advice to the victims is not sufficient. People are suffering from PTSD and other long term ill effects of bullying, in no small part because of a culture that fosterd a lack of intervention when bullying was happening. Today, people are being bullied to death. There is even a name for this now. 'bullycide.' People are dying and the number is increasing.

If you withness bullying happening, it is important you intervene swiftly, being assertive and firm. This is true if you see a child being bullied. This is true if you see bullying happening to adults at the workplace or in other areas in public or otherwise.

Effective intervention is incumbent on us all.

Research has shown that bullies can be stopped and that their behavior can be changed. It is important that they are confronted and told in no uncertain terms that their behavior is unnacceptable and must not continue. According U.S. federal government website,

"When others respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying."

In addition, it is important to address the pervasive pro bullying-culture which allows bullies to thrive. Schools need to have mandatory anti bullying educational programs and trainings in place for both staff and students.

Zero tolerance policies must exist in both schools and workplaces. And these policies must be adhered to. It is important that young people understand that this type of behavior will have severe consequences, and it is equally important for adults to understand that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they engage in bullying behaviors.

The evidence that bullying is life threatening is now so abundant, many states have laws in place that make bullying behavior a criminal offense.

If you see bullying occurring, offers the following suggestions for successfully intervening:

Intervene immediately. When you do nothing, you send the message that bullying is acceptable. If you ignore or minimize the problem, victims might not think that others care, or they may believe that there is no one who can help.
Intervene even if you’re not sure it’s bullying. Observing actions, words, body language, and facial expressions will help you determine if bullying is occurring. Even if it’s not, aggressive behaviors need to be stopped.
Stand between or near the victim and the bully, separating them if necessary, so as to stop the bullying behaviors. For young children, consider removing them from the situation to a “time-out” area or room.
Respond firmly but appropriately. Remain calm, but convey the seriousness of the situation. Announce that the bullying must stop. Describe the behavior you observed and why it is unacceptable.
Get help if needed. If the bully is using physical force, or there is more than one bully, you may need to find another adult to help keep children safe and protect yourself.
Do not respond aggressively. Using aggressive behavior sends the wrong message that this is a good way to solve problems. It may also prompt a bully or a bystander to increase his or her bullying behavior or become aggressive toward you.
Avoid lecturing the bully in front of his or her peers. Your goal is to end the behavior, not humiliate or shame the bully. Rather than serving as a deterrent, lecturing and scolding often provide the bully with attention that he or she finds rewarding.     
Don’t ask children to “work things out” for themselves.  Bullying is different from an argument or conflict; it involves a power imbalance that requires intervention.
Give praise and show appreciation to helpful bystanders.  Children or others who try to help the victim or stop the bully are key to bullying prevention.
Stick around. Remain in the area until you are sure the behavior has stopped.
Always remember, when you intervene and assist someone who may be experiencing being bullied, you may be saving a life. 

If nothing else, you are helping to lesson someone's pain in the moment. This in and of itself is an honorable thing to do.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Day 17 - Always

If you were to ask me for advice about how to approach survivors of suicide loss, how to treat survivors of suicide attempts, or how to support those with thoughts of suicide, I would start with these same seven words. Always.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Day 16 - Richard Brautigan

All of have a place in history. Mine is clouds.
- Richard Bratigan

Richard Gary Brautigan was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer. He is best known for his novels Trout Fishing in America (1967) and In Watermelon Sugar (1968).
Brautigan's published career began in the late 1950s. He would go on to publish numerous prose and poetry collections with his last collection published in 1982.
Brautigan suffered from alcoholism and depression throughout his adult life. On September 16, 1984, Richard Brautigan died by suicide. He was forty nine years old.

Richard Gary Brautigan
January 30, 1935 – September 16, 1984 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Day 15 - The Beauty of Grief

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows 
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart.

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).

- E.E. Cummings

Friday, September 14, 2018

Day 14 - What We Know

Those are the numbers. They represent the scope of the problem.

But numbers do not represent the grief and devastation that occurs every single time an individual loses their life to suicide. For that heartbreak, there are no adequate numbers and there are no adequate words.

The data that is available in relation to suicide is startling. We need to increase our efforts and we need to do it now.

If you are looking for more comprehensive data, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center is a good source. You can find data on racial and ethnic disparities, as well.

Click below to access that information. And remember, familiarizing yourself with current data enables you to have an educated conversation with others and to raise awareness. These conversations are critical to fighting stigma. And reducing stigma has the capacity to save lives.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Day 13 - Adele Blood

Adele Blood with her daughter Dawn, 1921

Adele Mary Blood was an actress in silent moviesvaudeville, and theater. As a child she was a talented equestrienne and had an interest in both fashion and the theater.

Adele Blood began acting at a young age and experienced a great deal of success, traveling regularly throughout the United States. Married twice, she divorced both times. Her daughter Dawn was a teenager when her mother began to experience anxiety and depression over financial matters.

On September 13, 1936, Adele blood died by suicide. She was fifty years old. Her daughter Dawn found her mother, she was seventeen at the time. Tragically, Dawn also died by suicide, three years later, at the age of twenty.

Adele Mary Blood 
April 23, 1886 – September 13, 1936

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

DAY 12 - Tara Jean Robinson

In the photo above, Tara Jean Robinson is speaking on behalf of suicide prevention. Last year when speaking at an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention event, she had a barber shave the suicide prevention lifeline number into her hair. It was creative, bold, and brave - just like Tara Jean herself.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recognize Tara Jean. She provided me with the first interview for one of the Our Voices Matter features. Since talking to her last year, I've gone on to interview published authors, national experts in suicide prevention, a Superbowl winning NFL player, and many others whose lives have been touched by suicide. Each time I interview someone, I have to push through some initial shyness on part. That shyness is exacerbated in no small part because of the difficulty of the subject matter.

Becuase of this, I often think how lucky I am that Tara Jean was the first person I interviewed. She is so honest and courageous when she speaks. Tara Jean is both an attempt survivor and a survivor of suicide loss. Anyone who has ever met her will tell you that she is extremely enthusiastic and committed to her advocacy work. Her bravery in speaking to me, in turn, helped me be brave about continuing to reach out to others and to keep writing the features for this blog. One of the big pluses when you yourself act with courage, is that you inspire others to act with courage as well. Certainly that's what Tara Jean did for me.

If you want to see Tara Jean's courage in action - join her at the San Francisco Out of the Darkness walk, on Saturday, September 22, 2018, at Mission Creek Park. She will be the keynote speaker.

Click here to learn more about the San Francisco walk, specifically.

Click here to see Tara Jean's Our Voices Matter feature, on this blog.

(To see a directory of all of the Our Voices Matter features, click here.)

Click here to learn more about the AFSP Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walks

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Day 11 - Never Forget

In addition to the endlessly heartbreaking tragedy of lives lost on September 11, 2001, we will never forget the incredible amount of bravery and sacrifice that was put forth by the fire fighters and police officers who rushed to the scene of the world trade center, on that day. 

When it comes to suicide prevention, we must not overlook those who serve as first responders to tragedies and life threatening situations. First responders have a suicide rate that is ten times that of the general population. In fact, in 2017, more police and fireman died by suicide than in the line of duty. EMT and Paramedic suicide rates are equally high.

If you are a first responder or if you know someone who is, please ensure that your station or place of business provides regular trainings and support services for compassion fatigue and PTSD.

Remember, you are appreciated and you are needed in this world.

Click below to learn more about a crisis call line specifically for those who work as first responders.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Day 10 - World Suicide Prevention Day

September is Suicide Prevention Month, in the United States.

Today, September 10th, is the World Suicide Prevention Day.

Reach out to someone today. Tell the people you love that you love them. Forgive someone you've been upset with. Live in gratitude. Remember that life is worth it. Hold on. Stay.

Grow in your compassion, empathy, and kindness. Do it today.