Losing a loved one to suicide or sudden death

This is a guest post by Emily Boller who lost her 21-year-old son to suicide. She shares this advice for those who want to help when a family experiences the devastation of suicide. Although one reader suggests that it applies to helping loved ones going through any kind of “tragic death.”  

When Someone Dies by Suicide,  What Does One Immediately Do or Say?

First of all, the family is in intense shock. They may not totally understand or grasp the news of what just happened. Initially, in those first few hours, they are in this perpetual state of shock–just surviving–and scrambling to get the news delivered to other family members.Their brains are on overload.

At this point they can’t process a lot of phone calls or texts, except a few from very close friends and family members. If you know details about the death, don’t post anything on Facebook or send emails out to contact lists until the family is talking openly and publicly about it. Give the family time and space to process what just happened.Sit tight for a day or two. Do nothing but pray at this point. Close friends and clergy should come by the house during this time, of course, because their comforting presence is invaluable. (A nearby neighbor brought over warm soup and fresh fruit that first day. Another close friend brought a large salad–and another gave us a wad of cash.)

After a day or two, food in disposable containers, and practical items such as paper plates, toilet paper, tissues, and bottles of water are welcome and appreciated. The family is consumed with funeral and burial decisions, and the last thing on their mind is life’s basic necessities. If you are bringing food, consider foods that promote healing instead of foods that induce additional stress to their already fragile state of being. Examples would be vegetable or fruit platters, bean dips, and hearty vegetable and bean soups.

Monetary gifts, gift cards, and cards of sympathy are also greatly appreciated. (They are also suddenly inundated with an avalanche of unplanned expenses; everything from funeral and burial expenses to crisis-intervention counseling. And especially, if a child was involved, I can’t think of any parents who financially budget for the death of a child!)

Practical helps such as mowing the lawn or taking out the trash are also appreciated. The family is mentally and emotionally overwhelmed and distraught. They may not have the mental capacity to even know what needs to be done. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and just do practical tasks for them–whether they are a close friend or not.

Try not to say, “Call me if you need anything.” Although the kind intention is much appreciated, they don’t have the mental fortitude yet to take the initiative to reach out.

In that first week/month, the family’s routine is completely out-of-sync. Sleep habits are severely disrupted. Everything is upside down in their world. They may not even be able to comprehend or remember anything that is spoken to them. Wounds are profound. Emotions are raw.

Eventually, after the funeral is over and life is a bit quieter for them, visit in-person–but call first. If they don’t answer the phone, take no offense. They may just need space at that moment . . . or they may be embarrassed how messy their house has become in the aftermath of the tragedy. They may want company on-down-the-road. Try again a week or two later. Extend a listening ear without asking a lot of questions. Silence is okay. Just sit with them in their grief. Your presence is invaluable.

And whatever you do, please don’t tell them your grief story. They may act interested, but on the inside they may be falling apart and can’t handle it.

Younger children appreciate getting breaks away from the chaos and sorrow at home. Offer to involve them in your family’s happenings for a welcome distraction–but not for long periods of time–home is still a place of comfort for them. Teens oftentimes are uncomfortable with receiving hugs from adults they don’t know; be sensitive.

Most of all, know that they may suffer for weeks, months, and for many, possibly years to come. Suicide is very complicated to process. It’s not normal grief. Don’t expect a normal grieving pattern.

Most of all, never stop reaching out to the family, even if it feels awkward — and never stop praying for them — even months after the funeral. (The funeral was just the beginning of the long, healing journey ahead.)

Dayspring Greeting Cards

And if you don’t know what to do or say, send a thoughtful card or brief note that expresses you are thinking of and praying for them.

Always remember, love never fails.

Love is what heals a broken heart.

If you have experienced a sudden death, please feel free to share in the comments what helped you the most through those first days and weeks. It is beneficial information for those who don’t know what to do or say–but want to be supportive. (You can do this by going to Emily Boller’s blog here http://emilyboller.com/?p=1840

If a child has died, “The Compassionate Friends” is a wonderful support group for grieving parents. Almost every city in the US has a local chapter.

Emily Boller is a well-known Indiana artist and public speaker whose life was transformed when she lost more than 100 pounds. Please visit her blog at http://emilyboller.com/ to learn more about this inspiring woman. Emily requests that readers feel free to share this post on Facebook or with anyone who might benefit from the message. 

*************************************************************************************************

On another note, if you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, please remember the devastation for those who love you is incomprehensible, instead please speak your a clergy or counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-TALK or visit their website at www.suicidepreventiolifeline.org

 

Thank you, Emily, for your bravery and compassion in being willing to share the wisdom you learned from your own heartbreak to comfort others. It is powerful advice! Emily and I recently reconnected at the 2017 Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference.  

Please follow and like us:

The Danger of Glamorizing Suicide

me-before-you-2Did you ever think of suicide as being romantic or glamorous? In September, as we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month it’s important to remember that young adults with impressionable minds might be persuaded to. That’s why it’s crucial to talk about suicide, because “one conversation can change a life.” This statement is from www.nami.org, the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, which also reports that “suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people.”

Yet Hollywood has sometimes glamorized suicide. A prime example is the recent movie, “Me Before You.” Billed as a drama/romance starring Emilia Clarke “Lou” and Sam Claflin,”Will” the film was released on DVD on August 30, 2016. It’s frightening to think of all the teenagers who will be viewing this movie and ingesting the deadly message that if you are disabled, it’s all right to put an end to your existence. (No apology for not offering a spoiler alert.) www.imbd.com describes the movie as, “A girl in a small town [who] forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.” www.amazon.com says, “Will’s cynical outlook starts to change when Louisa shows him that life is worth living…their lives and hearts change in ways neither one could have imagined.”

I sure couldn’t have imagined that “Will” would decide to end his life in a physician assisted suicide clinic with his adoring love interest “Lou” at his side. This scene’s gushing cinematic drama is better suited to a royal event than the intentional death of a vibrant young man. moneySupposedly, the happy ending is that “Will” leaves “Lou” all kinds of money, so she can have a wonderful life after he’s gone. This too is a fallacy, because those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide will tell you that no amount of money in the world is worth their loss.

Another example of suicide being idealized is that of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard who was suffering with terminal brain cancer. She took her life on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. This young woman’s tragic story went viral through a YouTube video when Brittany described her plan to end her life with lethal drugs administered through Oregon’s Death by Dignity Law. She even moved from California to Oregon to fulfill her final wish.

Some applauded Maynard as a courageous heroine for stepping into the national spotlight while working with the group Compassion and Choices to herald the cause of what proponents call the, “Right to die with dignity.” My heart breaks for Maynard’s family and for the pain and suffering she endured. Her gesture of ending her physical suffering from this incurable illness might appear rational and even altruistic. It seems she spared her family the horrible progression that losing someone to a terminal disease can entail.

Pill bottleLike many folks, I have held the hand of a loved one dying of cancer and witnessed this end of life suffering firsthand. I am thankful for any medication that will alleviate their pain, but not death, because those last days can be precious gifts where miracles of reconciliation and preparation abound for them.  An essential point of this debate concerns the legacy suicide leaves behind. Especially, for the young and impressionable who will face life crises which can seem hopeless. Suicide appears to be an option, a way out of these difficulties that this earthy existence is guaranteed to present. Besides, statistics indicate that if an individual within a family takes their life, the probability that someone else within that family unit will die by suicide increases. According to www.nami.org, “Family history of suicide” is an important risk factor regarding suicide or suicidal behavior among youth.

As someone who almost died from an overdose resulting from debilitating depression as a young woman, I do not view Brittany or “Will’s” tragic choice as either brave or romantic, but as deeply misguided. After all, millions of folks live with daunting challenges each day. One in five American adults annually battle a mental health issue, returning military personnel fight post-traumatic stress disorder, countless individuals suffer with incapacitating physical illnesses, aging limitations, disabilities, and the list goes on. It was once considered noble and courageous to allow the end of life to come in its natural timing, because each day of our existence is vitally meaningful. Many people of faith still believe that it is only in the Creator’s way and His time that we should breathe our final breath – that truly is dying with dignity.

Suicide Prevention LogoIf you are someone you love is suicidal, please rethink this tragic decision by getting professional help. Call the National Suicide Prevention hotline or a local mental health center in your community. The life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please follow and like us:

Finding purpose in life

iPhoneIt was one of those phone calls that you don’t expect to get. No, it wasn’t a middle of the night crisis, rather an early morning candid confession. “I don’t have a purpose anymore,” said my elderly friend with desperation.

In reality, there were still community events for her to attend, and restaurant lunches or suppers with friends. But there were no longer children to raise or even grandchildren to fuss over. Everyone had long ago grown up and moved away. My aging acquaintance’s body stubbornly refused to allow her to work or even volunteer for all the causes she had once so passionately supported. Quite simply, the fragile widow was searching for a reason to get out of bed each morning.

It is part of the human condition to seek fulfillment through what we do. “The two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.” This quote is from renowned humorist and author Mark Twain. Twain died over a century ago, but his wise observation remains relevant.

Purpose Driven Life coverProbably, the most well-known book ever written specifically about the subject is “The Purpose Driven Life” by Pastor Rick Warren. Originally released in 2002, the book had sold over 32 million copies by 2012 when it was reissued in an updated anniversary edition. Publishing experts never predicted this widespread success. The book’s subtitle, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” echoes Twain’s assertion. Apparently, learning the “why” of our existence continues to be a pivotal question for most people.

Besides, for much of the time we spend on this earth, we have defined roles. As a child we discover the world around us, and then assume the job of learning as students. We eventually find a career in the professional realm, and some folks embrace the awesome responsibility of becoming a parent.

Our days can be filled with mundane duties and tedious tasks that bear little resemblance to the lofty dreams of youth. It’s then we can experience burnout or become very disillusioned, which can result in a midlife crisis.

The Urban Dictionary online defines a midlife crisis as, “When a person regrets how they have lived his or her life, and they attempt to ‘correct’ their mental issue in a variety of ways which usually always harms themselves or those closest to them.” The satirical website says those “harmful” decisions could include buying an expensive convertible, or getting divorced. Society pokes fun at folks having a midlife crisis, since they are desperately trying to hold onto their youth.

Life is a journey, and we are all at different places along the pathway. “We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way,” according to songwriter Gloria Gaither.

We don’t want to rush through our days missing the precious moments that need to be cherished. Yet it’s good not to get too comfortable, because often our purpose changes dependent upon the season of life we are in. When things don’t work out the way we have planned, that’s when a wise individual reinvents themselves to discover meaning in each new stage.

Purpose Driven Life anniversary editionEven in unexpected tragedy like Rick Warren’s family experienced in 2013 when his 27-year-old son Matthew committed suicide after a lifelong battle with mental illness. In the past two years, the famous minister and his wife Kay, have become a highly visible force in the field of mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Within the national faith community, they are now championing churches to reach out to those individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Often it is our life circumstances that are the most difficult that result in new direction. The “why” we are here changes, and we have to adapt. Similar to society’s recent trend to repurpose everything from old furniture to broken jewelry, we have to pick up our own shattered pieces and figure out how to make something beautiful out of them.

No matter our age, if we are still on this Earth, there is more for us to do. Like my friend who was panicking because she no longer felt that her existence had meaning. I wish I was an early morning thinker, because in that instant I could have reminded her, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Please follow and like us:

Remembering a Brave Prom King

Corsage and CrownMost people attend a prom or two, but I’ve attended lots of proms. Like most teenage girls, as a high school junior, I was excited about the prospect of my first prom. Truthfully, it wasn’t much fun, since the boy I had a crush on didn’t ask me.

My senior prom was monumentally worse. By then, I was a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital following an almost fatal suicide attempt. After spending a couple months in a private psychiatric ward, my insurance ran out. I was committed to the decaying institution that then housed thousands of mentally ill individuals. Before Mental Health reform, that horrible place was reminiscent of the one depicted in the classic film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Battling depression and an eating disorder, I looked more like a 17-year-old Holocaust victim than a carefree teenager. The psychiatrist granted me a weekend pass hoping that attending prom would lift my spirits. My date was a classmate who suffered from epilepsy. He must have empathized with my situation, and proudly escorted me to the prom ignoring the stares from a few overly-curious students.

Fast forward three decades to May 2002, when my life looked nothing like that struggling teen. Faith, education, and the support of a few encouraging mentors had positively changed my circumstances. I was also engaged to a wonderful man who was a school administrator, whose job necessitated that we chaperone prom. Never having had an opportunity to go to prom together, Larry and I decided to don a tuxedo and gown and make it our night, too. Larry and me

Since then, my husband and I have attended quite a few proms. The impressive decorations, twinkling lights, and colorful dresses, still take my breath away. But the prom I remember most vividly is the one when a precious senior who was dying of bone cancer was elected prom king. It was the last year that my spouse served as a middle/high school principal at a rural school in northwestern Ohio.

We had all come to love this quiet dark-haired youth whose given name was Anthony-Dillon James. Better known as A.J., he had waged a long and valiant battle against Osteosarcoma. For nine months, he was spot-free, but then the disease turned deadly. Despite his illness, A.J. was compassionate and wise beyond his years.

Somehow in a tight-knit community where folks have known each other forever, tragedy is worse, because everyone is affected. Prom wouldn’t have been prom without A.J. being there, and he knew it. Even though, it had been months since the senior had been able to attend school, he mustered all his strength and accompanied by his dedicated fiancée`, he showed up looking handsome in a white tuxedo.

As the disc jockey played pulsating music, the students danced energetically, while silently grieving the inevitable loss of the fun-loving youth who had always been part of them. When his classmates voted for their prom king, I shouldn’t have been surprised  when A.J.’s name was announced.

There was a moment when the reality of the high school student’s dismal prognosis hit me full force. It happened when a pretty senior asked if she could take a picture with him, and they  posed humorously cheek to cheek with toothy grins. What A.J. didn’t see, was that when the blonde turned away, her expression crumbled into a painful grimace. She had taken the photo as a memory of the boy she had probably known since kindergarten, realizing he would soon be gone. Like a trained actress, before she turned to face A.J. again, the golden-haired girl mustered her courage and smiled brightly. Her affection for her terminally-ill classmate wasn’t romantic love driven by adolescent hormones. Rather it was the kind of caring that country kids take for granted growing up in a close circle of friendship.

When my husband and I visited him for the last time, A.J. sensed that my heart was breaking. He smiled his dazzling smile, and said, “I’ll be okay.” Then the 18-year-old lifted his T-shirt sleeve and displayed a large tattoo of a compassionate Jesus. A visual reminder of the Bible’s promise, “I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

That July, the bravest prom king I’ve ever known took his last Earthly breath. Still, he lives on in the hearts of those he inspired, forever wearing a white tuxedo and a jeweled crown.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an AP & Amy award-winning journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Please follow and like us:

An Obituary’s Message to Call your Mother

Mom, This one's for you!

Mom, This one’s for you!

Earlier this year, my local daily newspaper changed the placement of the obituaries moving them to page two. I’ve often wondered how many other newspaper readers are like me, keenly interested in the obituaries. I also question how my gradual transition from reading the comics as a teenager to devouring the death notices as a boomer occurred. Once, an elderly relative humorously confided that he read the obituaries right away to make sure he wasn’t among those listed. Of course, in case you miss one, you can simply go online and Google the person’s name and date of death. Often you can even post condolences to the family or send flowers if you like. Facebook can be another great way to be alerted to the passing of a friend or former co-worker when someone posts their obituary online. Living in a society that is in a constant state of flux geographically necessitates that we stay in touch electronically.

But what’s so important about an obituary anyway? In explanation, caring about people makes you realize what a vital part that death plays in the game of life. Commemorating those who have gone before us is an integral rite of passage, and being there for those left behind is of paramount importance. Yet, to be there, you have to be informed, thus the relevance of the obituary.

An obituary can tell you a lot about a deceased individual, even when you think you already know them. Then there are times, when you aren’t acquainted, but you are startled by the details of their death and human curiosity and compassion kick in. For instance, when someone young dies, even when they are a total stranger, most people probably lament this untimely passing in a deeper way. We sympathize, because the death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and your heart aches for those suffering this loss.CassieCasket

There is death by suicide, too. An obituary doesn’t usually reveal this heartbreaking detail. However, sometimes you can read between the lines to decipher that for some reason an individual could no longer bear to be part of this world. Other tragic deaths include accidents caused by alcohol consumption or those drug-related, of which there are far too many lately. As with a violent murder, the facts are frequently disclosed in a related news story. Another heart grabber is when several members of a family die together.

No one is spared the pain of burying loved ones, that’s why it’s necessary to be there for those left behind. I learned this valuable lesson in my youth, when a teenage friend committed suicide, and I failed her dear mother who was like a second mother to me. In the midst of this crisis, I disappeared. I didn’t visit the funeral home or call, because I was terrified of dealing with death. It wasn’t death itself that frightened me, rather the fear of saying or doing something wrong, or of not being strong. My misconception was that I wouldn’t be missed, but I was.

Growing up through my own funeral home tour of duty I have come to realize that you remember the faces there, and you are acutely aware of the absence of those who don’t come. It’s a defining moment like serious illness, when you realize who your true friends are. After all, the Bible says we should, “…mourn with those who mourn.” When I do pay my last respects now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the need to have eloquent words of comfort. I simply say how very sorry I am, and offer a hug, remembering how grateful I have been for those consoling embraces in days past.

I wish I could give Robert Downey Jr., my condolences and a big hug. Sadly, the famous actor lost his 80-year-old mother on Sept. 22, 2014. A few days later, he courageously posted a beautiful obituary that he had written about her on his official Facebook page. He candidly included that his mom’s broken career dreams were caused by alcoholism, something she successfully overcame. He even credits a 2004 phone call from her as the catalyst for his own sobriety today.

Obituaries like Downey Jr.s’ are a startling reminder to the living to appreciate our tragically flawed loved ones. He closes it with the poignant words, “If anyone out there has a mother, and she is not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…”

Oh, how I wish I could, but the only obituary I’ve ever written was my mother’s. Still, maybe it’s not too late for you to take the actor’s wise advice and call yours.

Robert Downey Jr.s Mom

 

Click on the photo of Robert Downey Jr.s’ mother, Elsie, to read his touching obituary.

 

Please follow and like us:

Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide Prevention LogoSeptember is National Suicide Prevention Month. For me, suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends, and almost died myself by suicide as a troubled teenager.

That’s why in August, while folks were freely expressing their opinions about the tragic death of actor Robin Williams, the inappropriate comments made it painfully obvious that our nation still understands little about the complex reasons behind suicide. As in Mr. Williams’ case, suicide is most frequently accompanied by a mental health issue like depression. This lack of education has been my catalyst for spending almost twenty years championing for suicide prevention.

Sharing my story publicly began while I was working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44 in the 1990s. My former supervisor, Ginger Stache, a talented journalist, who is now with Joyce Meyer Ministries, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary, and I agreed to be interviewed for the project.

To explain, as a depressed teen living in a dysfunctional environment in the early seventies, a near fatal suicide attempt landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death. Following that, much of my senior year of high school was spent in Toledo State Mental Hospital. After a couple other serious suicide attempts, and intermittent hospitalizations, a psychiatrist in charge of my case said I would probably die by suicide or in a mental institution.

Instead of fulfilling this dire prophecy, almost three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing through faith, counseling, and living life one day at a time. Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. Like taking part in Ginger Stache’s documentary, “Before You Say Good-bye,” which aired nationwide and in Europe. She was nominated for two regional Emmys for the half-hour film.

When Ginger invited me to attend the 1999 black-tie Emmy Awards banquet to be held in an opulent ballroom of an historic Cleveland hotel, I felt like Cinderella. There was only one problem, being a single mom on my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns.

When I found a dark green crepe formal at 85 percent off, I could hardly believe my good fortune. It was my size and fit perfectly. I handed over my hard-earned $20.00 bill and triumphantly left the mall with the dress. In the days that followed, I tried to be grateful, despite the fact that I didn’t care much for the nondescript gown.

A couple of my female colleagues were also attending the celebration. While they were excitedly describing their formals and accessories, I couldn’t help but envy them. They weren’t wicked stepsisters, simply women who had more disposable income.

Cinderella in VelvetOne day, another producer, Sheri Ketner noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my dress. While I was expounding the virtues of finding such a bargain, Sheri candidly asked, “But, you don’t like it, do you?”

My countenance must have visibly fallen, as I dejectedly answered, “No.” Then I saw a determined look on my compassionate co-worker’s face. A couple days later, Sheri brought a large cardboard box into the TV station and handed it to me. Inside was a breathtaking burgundy velvet gown with a beaded neckline, and a skirt made of countless yards of translucent tulle over the velvet.

At the bottom of the box were matching velvet heels. Instantly I was saddened, since shoes rarely fit my narrow size 9 feet. However, I was amazed to see that the shoes were marked, “9N.” Sheri, smiled with satisfaction, and told me, the outfit was “borrowed,” and would have to be returned after the Emmys.

Larry & Christina Ginger Stache didn’t win a regional Emmy that night, nor did I get my prince. But a few years later on the evening of June 8, 2002, Ginger’s documentary about smuggling Bibles into China garnered the coveted prize. At the same time, I was marrying my handsome husband, who is a public school administrator in a candlelight ceremony.

Battling depression is still an occasional struggle, but if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. Tragically, every forty seconds someone dies by suicide and 800,000 people die annually according to a September 2014 Newsweek article. Before you say, “Good-bye,” please call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK, or seek professional counseling. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Please follow and like us: