Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surviving the Aftermath of Suicide

When you first receive word of the suicide death of a loved one, it’s as though the world has tipped on its side. I’ve survived this nightmare twice, and both times as the news descended I felt as though the ocean was roaring inside my ears. There is no way to prepare for this kind of loss. After the initial blow, thankfully a sense of numbness prevails. This is followed by the welcome intervention of the Comforter. Somehow you get through those first difficult days carried by the Spirit. In a state of shock, you handle things you never dreamed you would ever face. Then finally, the funeral, the visits, the final decisions are made. That time passes in a blurred haze—and then the pain descends.

Suicide goes against everything we’ve ever been taught about enduring to the end. As such, when a family member chooses to exit this mortal world by their own hand, we are left without the comfort of knowing it was their time to go. We are inundated with emotions that threaten to tear us apart. Guilt, anger, and grieving pain alternate for attention as we struggle through a loss we can’t put into words. It helps to know that this life isn't the end, nor does progression stop on the other side of the veil. I know that loved ones who commit suicide live on, and receive the help they need on the other side of the veil. That witness has come after years of prayerful research, talking to priesthood leaders, and sacred moments within the temple walls. What a comfort that knowledge has been in my life. It is not our place to judge--we do not fully understand the mindset of those who commit suicide. That task is left to a loving Father in heaven who will take all things into consideration. Our responsibility lies in continuing on, letting go of the pain, and finding peace in forgiveness.

I was told in the days following my father’s suicide that this type of loss is comparable to the trauma experienced by those who survive a war. I would agree with that analysis. Thankfully, we are not left alone in our suffering. It has been my experience that heaven’s eyes are upon families torn apart by this type of tragic loss. We witnessed miracle after miracle in our family following my father’s demise. Hearts around us were touched to help when the need was great. How grateful we are for those who followed through on important promptings.

Since we’re all different, we tend to heal in varied ways. In our family it took a combination of things to repair our broken hearts. We learned that heartache is truly a physical pain. For the longest time I felt as though a stone was wedged tightly inside my heart. Then one day I stumbled onto something that eased that discomfort: serving others.

Nearly a month after losing my father, I was called upon to take dinner into a sister who had been ill. At first, I was resentful. Because of the way my father had died, I had been treated like a non-person. This loss had taken place during a time when suicide was a rare occurrence. Most people didn’t know what to do or say; I can count on one hand the number of people who were brave enough to wade into the mire of grief that became my life. So when I was asked to help someone else, I wasn’t overly thrilled. An overactive conscience prevented me from declining.

I’m fortunate I didn’t cut off a finger as I angrily chopped vegetables for the homemade clam chowder I had decided to make. I was still upset as I toted that kettle of soup inside this sister’s home. But when I saw how sick she really was, the iceberg that had settled inside my heart began to melt. Her need for help was great, and as I did minor household chores before leaving, I pulled outside of my own grief to serve. That was a turning point for me. Serving others proved to be a healing balm for my aching heart. Soon I was looking for ways to help those around me who were struggling. Each time I rendered service, the pain I carried lessened.

On the nights when I couldn’t sleep, I found that if I wrote out everything I was feeling, it also eased the pain. I shredded those pages and with each tear, peace replaced the anguish. I later learned that I had been guided toward taking care of my own therapy. Writing things out is an important release, and something that is recommended when facing traumatic loss. Writing became another healing balm for me and in time, I would become a published author. I truly learned that when much is taken, much is given in its place.

Something else that helped: letting go of the guilt. We had done the best we could under extremely trying conditions. We had to realize we were not to blame for Dad’s death. He was very ill at the time and committed an act he never would have considered had he been in a healthy state of mind. I suspect this same fact is true in most cases, including the more recent suicide death of my brother-in-law. The “what-ifs” can eat us alive if we’re not careful. Prayerfully seek help to heal from this volatile emotion. Professional counseling is a great way to work through this part of the healing process.

Holidays and special family events tend to bring back intense grief. For years I spent nearly every Father’s Day in the bathroom at the church, trying to paste myself back together. In time, those days soften. But at first, they rub salt in an extremely tender heart wound. Prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, and remembering there is strength in numbers are all crucial helps to surviving difficult days. We still gather together as a family to weather the holidays. We try to focus on the good memories of the past, and aim to make fun memories for the future.

Another tip to enduring a difficult day: reflect on the blessings. I would often make a list of the good things happening in my life. It was a needed reminder that despite all that we had lost, numerous positive blessings were also taking place in our lives. Instead of blaming God for what had happened, I tried to realize it was through His help that we were surviving.

I am living proof that it is possible to work through the devastation of a loved one’s suicide. That darkened tunnel can be survived. If this has been your challenge, place your hand in God’s and take each day as it comes. Step by step move forward knowing that eventually the pain will cease. The sun will return to your life and you will feel the warmth of knowing you are not alone in this trial.


It was mentioned to me at the completion of this article that it might be helpful to know how our family did in the years that followed Dad's unfortunate demise. Here is a brief run-down. As you'll see, we were each able to go on with our lives and enjoy a certain amount of success despite the tremendous heartache we endured:

I was a twenty-two year-old wife and mother when my father passed away. My two younger sisters were both in high school, and our brother was nineteen. Our mother was forty-three when this tragedy struck. A remarkable woman, she moved the family to Logan, Utah so everyone would have access to a college education. She then attended a trade-tech where she graduated as the valedictorian of her class. She worked for several years as a dental assistant and is now retired. She is still a great example of perseverance and fortitude.

My brother was able to serve a mission compliments of some friends of our father who wanted to finance that opportunity in honor of Dad's memory. He left for the mission field about 6 months after we lost our father.

Both of my sisters graduated from college. They are married, have great families, and enjoy wonderful careers. One works as a technical writer for a software company. Her first novel was published this year. The other works for a medical research company where she is a Clinical Research Coordinator.

Our brother served a successful mission in Montreal, Canada. He returned to Logan where he majored in psychology. He eventually obtained a master's degree and he works for the state of Utah, counseling those who are injured in accidents. He is also a talented web designer. He and his wife have three beautiful daughters, and they reside in Utah.

Kennon & I are the proud parents of three sons, we have welcomed two wonderful daughters-in-law to our family, and we love being grandparents to a cute tiny girl. I am a published author with nine books to my credit at this time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Survived NaNoWriMo!

So about a month ago, I was challenged by a family member to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo In a nutshell, this is a writing challenge. One has to commit to writing 50,000 words in one month's time. Wow!!! I've dabbled in the writing world before, but I'm not sure I've ever written 50,000 words in 30 days---until now. I'm proud to share that as of this afternoon, I have indeed completed this remarkable feat. (You may hold the applause for later.) ;) [Kidding!]

I have to say this challenge was just that---a challenge! And yet it was a refreshing way to break through writer's block. I used a storyline that has been rattling around in my head for a couple of years. Now it's finally down on paper . . . actually typed up on a word processor on my laptop, but I digress. True, it needs a bit of polishing and such, but it has morphed into a workable manuscript, complete with a plot-line.

Would I have completed the story without this little nudge from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? I'm not sure. All I know is despite all of this past month's adventures, which included feeding 23 people for Thanksgiving dinner, I squeaked in under the wire to finish. What a feeling of accomplishment. Even if this story never succeeds in getting published, what a rush to know I completed what I had pledged to do.

Will I tackle this challenge next year? That remains to be seen, but at this point in time I wouldn't be at all surprised. After all, my future bestseller will possibly be in need of a sequel. ;)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

God's Tapestry

This past month has been a blur in our neck of the woods. So many challenging trials are taking place all around me. A couple of those have had quite an impact on my own life.

I've served as the YW president in our ward for nearly 5 years. In that time, I've grown close to the young women that I serve. A month ago, one of my Laurels was involved in a horrible car accident.

My husband and I hurried to the hospital as soon as we learned the news. Samantha was in ER, still unconscious. As I'm also a visiting teacher to Samantha's mother, I spent some time trying to offer comfort as we all prayed that Sam would wake up.

Sam didn't regain consciousness and it was decided that she would be flown by Life-Flight to a hospital in Salt Lake City. However, the weather was nasty that night and fate had other plans. Instead of taking Sam to Salt Lake, the helicopter flew her to the hospital in Idaho Falls, where she has been ever since.

It was a tough few days in the neighborhood. The accident had taken place on a Thursday afternoon. That Sunday she was still in a coma. I had to face a room full of grieving young women and didn't know quite how to handle things. Our Father in heaven did, however. After a heartfelt prayer, an inspired idea popped into my mind. We would make a cassette tape for Sam, one that would contain messages of love from all of the girls and YW leaders.

As we made the tape that Sunday morning, we decided to include a few musical numbers since Sam loves music and she was our main pianist in the YW realm. We saw a tiny miracle take place during YW as tearful frowns turned into hopeful smiles. Making that tape for Samantha was healing for us all.

We were able to get the tape to Sam's family two days later, and it was transferred to the hospital in Idaho Falls. We were later told that Sam had tapped her foot in time to the music as it had been played, and she had moved around in her bed during the messages. Still unconscious, Sam's reaction to the tape gave us hope that she would eventually wake from the coma.

We've seen several miracles with Sam the past few weeks. Prayers have indeed been answered. Despite the brain shearing injury Samantha sustained, she finally woke up, and she is recovering at an amazing rate. She is now in the rehab center of Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, making impressive progress each day. You can see daily updates on this link: Sam's Blogsite

Every bone in Samantha's body should have been broken in that accident. Aside from the brain injury, she was fine. That in and of itself is amazing, and a testament to how watched over she really was.

My husband and I stopped in for a quick visit at the hospital in Idaho Falls this past week. It was heartwarming to see Sam's smile, and to hear her call my name. Though she has a ways to go toward a complete recovery, an inner light radiates from her eyes, indicating she is determined to win this battle.

How grateful we are that the Lord is truly at the helm. We have to put our trust in Him, especially when things spiral out of our control. Though life's trials continue, we know that things generally work out for the best. We can't see the entire picture now, but someday it will all make sense.

Along those lines, I will close with a favorite poem that pretty well sums things up:

Written by B.M. Franklin (1882-1965)

My life is just a weaving
Between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaves so skillfully.

Sometimes He weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reasons why-

The dark threads are as needful,
In The Weaver’s skillful hands
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.