This newsletter is dedicated to professional caregivers. It is our hope that this Winter 2012 newsletter will help you give comfort and strength to those you serve. Touchstone One When Someone You Love Completes Suicide: Opening to the Presence of by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. Your Loss “In every heart there is an inner room, where we can hold our greatest treasures and our deepest pain.” ~ Marianne WilliamsonS omeone you love has completed suicide. In cover, as I have, that to honour your grief is not self-de- your heart, you have come to know your structive or harmful, it is self-sustaining and life-giving. deepest pain. To be “bereaved” literallymeans “to be torn apart.” You have a broken heart You have probably been taught that pain is an indi-and your life has been turned upside down. cation that something is wrong and that you should find a way to alleviate the pain. In our culture, theWhile it is instinctive to want to run as far away as role of pain and suffering is misunderstood. This ispossible from the overwhelming pain that comes particularly true with suicide grief. Because of thewith this loss, you have probably already discov- stigma and taboo surrounding suicide, many peopleered that even if you try to hide, deny or self-treat think you shouldn’t talk about it, let alone honouryour pain, it is still within you, demanding your your pain by openly mourning.attention. In acknowledging the inevitability ofthe pain and raw suffering that comes with this In part, this article will encourage you to be pres-grief, in coming to understand the need to gently ent to your multitude of thoughtsembrace the pain, you in effect honour the pain. and feelings, to “be with”The word honour literally means recognizing the val-ue of and respecting. It is not instinctive to see griefthat erupts following a suicide death and the need tomourn as something to honour. But I hope you dis-
them, for they contain the truth you are searching for, the energy on,” “let go,” “keep your chin up,” and “keep busy.” Actually, youyou may be lacking, and the unfolding of your eventual healing. need to give yourself as much time as you need to mourn, and these kinds of comments hurt you, not help you.Setting Your Intention to Heal Society often makes mourners feel shame or embarrassment aboutIt takes a true commitment to heal in your grief. Yes, you are our feelings of grief, particularly suicide grief. It implies that if you,wounded, but with commitment and intention you can and will as a grieving person, openly express your feeling of grief, you are be-become whole again. Intention is defined as being conscious of ing immature. If your feelings are fairly intense, you may be labelledwhat you want to experience. A close cousin to “affirmation,” it overly emotional or needy. If your feelings are extremely intense, youis using the power of positive thought to produce a desired result. may even be referred to as crazy or a “pathological mourner.”When you set your intention to heal, you make a true commit- As a professional grief counsellor, I assure you that you are notment to positively influence the course of your journey. You prob- immature, overly emotional or crazy. But the societal messagesably know the cliché: “Time heals all wounds.” Yet, time alone surrounding grief that you may receive are!does not heal the wounds of grief that come with suicide. I liketo remind myself and other survivors that healing waits on wel- If you fear emotions and see them as negative, you will be at risk forcome, not on time! Healing and integrating this loss into your life crying alone and in private. Yet, being secretive with your emotionsdemands that you engage actively in the grief journey. doesn’t integrate your painful feelings of loss; it complicates them. Then even more pain comes from trying to keep the pain secret. You cannot hide your feelings and find renewed meaning in your life. IfA Vital Distinction: Shock Versus Denial you are dishonest about your pain, you stay in pain.Shock along with elements of denial is a temporary, healthy re-sponse that essentially says, “The reality of the suicide death ofsomeone dear to me is too painful to acknowledge right now. Grief Is Not a DiseaseTherefore I refuse to believe it.” While this is a natural initial You have probably already discovered that no quick fix exists forreaction to suicide, you will hinder your eventual healing if you the pain you are enduring. Grief following a suicide is naturallystay in long-term denial. complex, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But I promise you that if you can think, feel and see yourself as an active participantThere are various forms of denial that as a survivor, you must in your healing, you will slowly but surely experience a renewedwork to break through: sense of meaning and purpose in your life.Conscious Denial: This is where you hide the fact that the Grief is not a disease. To be human means coming to know lossdeath was suicide. You may tell people it was a heart attack, mur- as part of your life. While the grief that accompanies suicide is ader or an unexplained sudden death. powerful, life-changing experience, so, too, is your ability to helpInnocent Denial: This is where you hold onto the hope that facilitate your own healing.the findings that ruled the death a suicide were a mistake and willbe changed at a later date. I invite you to gently confront the pain of your grief. Be open to the miracle of healing. Integrating the grief that comes with aBlame as Denial: This is where you blame someone else for suicide death requires your willingness. You must have willing-the suicide, thereby denying the choice someone made to take ness or you would not have picked up this article. Follow yourhis or her own life. willingness, and allow it to bless you.Pretense and Denial: This is where the unwritten family rule is In large part, healing from a suicide death is anchored in a deci-that you never talk about the death or use the word suicide at any time. sion to not judge yourself but to love yourself. Grief is a call forThe motivations for these types of denial are multiple and com- love. So, if you are judging yourself and where you are in thisplex. Often, people don’t even realize they are in denial. So, if journey, STOP! When you stop judging the multitude of emo-you discover you have gone beyond shock into some form of pro- tions that come with your grief, you are left with acceptance, andlonged denial, do not shame or ridicule yourself. when you have acceptance (or surrender), you have love. Love will lead you into and through the wilderness, to a place whereBut here is the problem: By staying in denial, you miss the oppor- you will come out of the dark and into the light.tunity to do the grief work related to your feelings. Until denial isbroken through and the pain is experienced, you are on hold andauthentic mourning cannot take place. About the Author This article is excerpted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s bookFace Any Inappropriate Expectations Understanding Your Suicide Grief, available at book stores and atYou are at risk for having inappropriate expectations about this Dr. Wolfelt’s website, www.centerforloss.com. Dr. Wolfelt is an internationally-noted author, teacher and grief counsellor. He servesdeath. These expectations result from common societal messages as director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is anthat tell you to “be strong” in the face of life losses. Invariably, educational consultant to funeral homes, hospices, hospitals, schoolssome well-intentioned people around you will urge you to “move and a variety of community agencies across North America.
Laughing By Dr. Earl A. GrollmanWhen It Hurts: Part I Ask your counselees: “When did you start to feel better again?” Their frequent response: “When I could laugh without feeling guilty.”M any bereaved people feel uncomfortable when they Learn from Recent History laugh. To them, any signs of merriment are a betrayal of their loved one’s memory. For some, their never-ending Some of you may recall that after 9-11, the population was reluc-heartache is the indication of being the perfect grieving spouse, tant to tell jokes. Some comedy clubs closed. People first daredchild, father, sibling or friend. It is a sign of their eternal loyalty. to laugh when in Jay Leno’s monologue on the “Tonight Show,” he was asked, “Where does Osama bin Laden sleep?” Jay Leno’sGrief therapist, Judy Tatelbaum, recalled her own agony in the response, “If I knew that I’d have the $25-million ransom.” Thehospice newsletter Journeys: “It took me fourteen years to get audience howled. Some later said, “It felt so good to laugh whenover the loss of my older brother when I was seventeen. I stayed you are in so much pain.” There was light at the end of the tun-pretty much frozen in the idea that I had to honor my brother by nel. As America’s comedian, Bill Cosby, sums it up, “If you cangrieving every day.” find humor in anything, you can survive it.”But it’s OK to live and laugh again. Our bodies, minds and spiritsneed a break from the piercing hurt. Like a safety valve, we need a Learn from Norman Cousinsshift of perspective by restoring a needed sense of balance. Thera-pists must grant permission to experience humour just as we grant Norman Cousins, the former editor of the Saturday Review,them our concurrence to grieve and express their mourning reac- was largely responsible for bringing the medical communitytions. We learn from many sources. to a clearer understanding of humour as a healing potential. In 1964, he was in intolerable pain because of a serious ar- thritic disease of the bones and joints. Physicians gave himLearn from Children scant hope for recovery.Babies begin to laugh at the age of two or three months, and Cousins described what ensued in his book, Anatomy of Illness.the rate of laughter increases in the next years until it is es- His regimen was reading humorous books, watching the Marxtimated that they average 40 to 75 times a day. Compare it Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera – and surround-with the average adult – only 12 times a day! Elders lose their ing himself with friends who made him laugh. He said that 10laughter edge together with their talents for finger painting. minutes of laughter afforded him two hours of pain-free sleep.Children can be our teachers. When they are acting silly and Gradually, he reduced the need for analgesics and sedatives. Ofwe scream at them, “Act your age” or “Grow up,” perhaps it is course, humour does not replace medical interventions but hiswe who need some joyful lightness to balance our complicated message continues – laughter has positive effects on the body,lives. mind and spirit.
Learn from A prime example of humour’s abil-Physiological Research ity to help deal with tragedy was the hospital setting of the television seriesThe Journal of the American Medi- MASH. Agonizing scenes balancedcal Association asserts that laughter with laughter made each presentationcreates medical changes in the body both engaging and memorable. Webecause it involves the diaphragm, were able to laugh through our tears.throat, abdomen, heart and lungs.Frequent laughter empties the lungs. The Duke University Medical CenterEach time we laugh, we help to rid Humor Project has a Laugh Mobileourselves of excess carbon dioxide program that has been duplicatedand the water vapour that is building around the world. Skillful volunteersup. It is replaced with oxygen-rich air. help both patients and their families with humorous interventions both forThere is a lowering level of stress hor- the hospital as well as for home use.mones, allowing the immune systemto grow stronger. Arteries are contracted and relaxed by released In Texas, the “Living Room” at Houston’s St. Joseph Hospitalhormones called “catecholamines,” affording tranquil sensations. features performances by standup comedians, clowns, magi- cians and musicians. While in Hawaii, the G.N. Wilcox Me-Dr. Lee S. Berk of the Loma Linda School of Public Health as- morial Hospital has a videocassette comedy library for patientsserts, “It’s no longer mystical. We have always heard that laughter and families. Hospitals in the United States and Canada haveis good for you. Now we have gathered the hard, serious stuff to creative programs with humour as an important ingredient forshow why this is so.” coping with trauma. Many hospitals and hospices, as well as churches, synagoguesLearn from Psychological Research and mosques have bereavement support groups. Mourners usu- ally sit in a circle and relate personal experiences, both happyLaughter is therapeutic psychological as well. Sigmund Freud and sad. Laughter is encouraged and welcomed without feel-noted the powerful influence of humour: “Like wit and the comic, ings of guilt.humor has a liberating element…. It refuses to suppress the slingsand arrows of reality.” The father of psychoanalysis devoted an A word of warning: “Laughter as an antidote to grief can be haz-entire volume on humour entitled: Wit and Its Relationship to ardous to depression.”the Unconscious. While Part I emphasizes the role of humour in clinical experi-Laughter offers a sense of relief to the pent-up emotional tensions ences, Part II will address humour in our cultural and religiousof grief. Human tragedy can be so overwhelming that we must re- life, with practical advice for the professionals.duce it before we are able to liberate our hidden emotions. That iswhy serious thoughts are often expressed in jest. We feel more incontrol, more powerful and carefree. By venting negative feelingsof despair and helplessness, we affirm a more positive approach to About the Authorlife’s events. We really “lighten up!” Dr. Earl A. Grollman, a pioneer in crisis management, is internationally acclaimed as a writer and lecturer. A recipient of the Death EducationLearn from Hospitals and Hospices Award by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, his books on coping with bereavement have sold close to a million copies.Hospitals and hospices are well aware of laughter’s potential both For further information, visit www.beacon.org/grollman.for patients with serious illness as well as for survivors after thedeath of their loved ones.