Thank you for joining us on our Virtual Book Tour.
Today we Welcome Catherine Greenleaf, the author of “Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide”. Catherine’s interview offers many insights and practical suggestions on how to assist a loved one that is a suicide loss survivor.
Please feel free to comment or share your own experiences with grief and the healing process in the comment section below.
“Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide” is featured on our Helpful Books page under Healing after a Suicide.
And now our interview with Catherine Greenleaf:
1. What inspired you to write the book Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide?
I wrote the book I wished I’d had when I was first going through suicide grief. My first suicide loss was in 1980. While there were many books written about suicide during the 1980s and 1990s, I found most of them to be published by academics writing for a professional audience of psychiatrists. I was yearning for a book in plain English I could understand, written by a suicide loss survivor like myself, so I could read about how to get through the grief. I wrote my book so survivors could identify the stages, or passages, of suicide grief and know they were not going crazy. I also wanted the book to help survivors know that things do get better and it is possible to hold that special person in your heart and still live a happy life. I finally published my book in 2006 – it took many years to write!
2. How did losing your friend to suicide change your life?
I was so young back then. I was in my mid-20s and I had never really experienced a sudden death before. I was devastated. He was one of my closest friends, and more like a brother to me than a friend. I felt like I had totally failed him as a human being, that I should have done something to somehow stop him. I can remember every night after coming home from work lying down in the bathroom on the cold tile floor and just weeping and sobbing. This went on for months. I ate a lot. I gained weight. I didn’t really take very good care of myself. I didn’t reach out for help. I just kept it all inside and didn’t talk to anybody. But you know, back then, there weren’t really any support groups or therapists specializing in suicide loss. Things are a lot different today.
3. How does the death of a loved one by suicide differ from other losses?
Suicide is sudden and violent. It gives you no opportunity for closure. Your loved one is there one minute and gone the next. There’s no chance to even say good-bye. The self-inflicted violence of suicide is appalling, and often family and friends are diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether they witnessed the suicide or not. Just the news alone sometimes is enough to cause PTSD. Suicide is also considered a form of complicated disenfranchised grief, because there is so much shame and stigma attached to it, and society in general just does not offer support to grieving families. The irony of suicide grief is we are the ones who must reach out and ask for the help at a time when we are most in need of help from the community. I am happy to say that is finally beginning to change.
4. Is there any one thing that your family or friends did for you that assisted you through the grieving process?
I have to say I am very fortunate that I have incredibly wonderful friends. After the suicide, I had several friends encouraging me to take care of myself and seek help. One of my friends drove me home from work after I got the news of the suicide by telephone. I was so shell-shocked I don’t even remember it, but apparently she drove me home and cooked me dinner! My friends are good listeners. They will let me rant and rave and they will just sit there and offer support. I should add here, however, that some friends will be unable to offer support and may even disappear from your life. This happened to me. Not everyone is cut out to handle the pervading stigma around suicide. It’s another loss, to be sure, but it does happen. Stick with the people who can support you and validate your loss.
5. Our website focuses on providing tips to friends and family members on how to support a loved one through the grieving process. What would be your suggestions on how friends and family can support a loved that is grieving due to suicide?
Be a “first responder.” Since suicide loss survivors are very likely to pull down the shades and hide inside the house, you be the one who rings the doorbell or makes the phone call and offers unconditional love and support. You have to understand that suicide in the family makes you feel like the whole world thinks there is something abnormal about your family. That is not true, of course. Suicide can happen in any family. But you feel the heavy weight of shame nonetheless. The best things you could say would be: “I am so sorry,” and “Is there anything I can do?” Silence is the worst thing. So many people aren’t sure what to say, so they don’t say anything. To the suicide loss survivor, unfortunately, this could be interpreted as condemnation.
Ask them what they need. If they want to talk, then you can be a tremendous help by just listening. If they just want to sit silently and enjoy the closeness of your company, then that can be just as comforting as well. You’ll want to remember that at times they may not know their own minds. Suicide grief is a form of complicated grief because dying through violent self-infliction is extremely traumatizing to the loved ones left behind. Not only are they trying to work through the stages of suicide grief, they are also often diagnosed with PTSD and experiencing various symptoms like agitation and sleeplessness. They may also have to go on medication for anxiety and depression. There are going to be days where they have no idea what they want, so your patience will be key.
6. What do you wish your family or friends had done differently after you lost your friend by suicide?
I wish my family had talked about it. There wasn’t even a discussion to not discuss it. It was like a silent, unwritten pact to pretend nothing happened. My family didn’t mention Bob’s name for 11 years. It was like he never existed. There was so much shame and stigma and confusion, the decision was made to sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened. I think my family’s reaction is pretty typical of many families today who experience suicide loss. Unfortunately, the trauma and repressed emotions don’t go away. They are buried alive and will come out unexpectedly during another loss or crisis like divorce or illness. I would suggest family and friends urge their loved ones to get help, and start talking about it.
7. What are your top three suggestions to help people move forward in the grieving process after the loss due to suicide?
1. Be sure to find yourself a sudden loss bereavement therapist. Just any grief therapist will not do. You really need someone well-versed in the trauma of sudden, complicated grief. I can tell you Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief do not apply to suicide loss. Kubler-Ross’ created those stages of grief in the 1950s for hospice patients. Unfortunately, since that time many therapists have used a cookie-cutter approach with those stages. I have documented 12 stages, or passages, through suicide grief in my book.
2. Don’t feel guilty if you feel relief after your loved one dies by suicide. Many of us have lost loved ones with brain disorders. Living with someone with a personality disorder, schizophrenia or bi-polar can be extremely stressful. From my own experience, you kind of walk on eggshells hoping they won’t go off their meds and have an “episode.” So when they do die, it’s not that you feel relief because they’re gone, it’s because you no longer have to tiptoe around hoping not to set them off.
3. Don’t isolate. Join a suicide loss survivor support group in your area. Make friends with these people. Go out for coffee and ice cream with them when you are feeling lonely or overwhelmed. Put yourself with friends who validate your loss and encourage your recovery.
8. What is one thing you would like your readers to take away from your book?
That my book is strictly for them – for the suicide loss survivor. I don’t go on and on about what to do and what not to do to prevent the suicide of a loved one. My book does not focus on suicide prevention. There are plenty of organizations and books out there addressing that side of things. The big problem is there are not enough books addressing the needs of the loved ones left behind. That is why I wrote my book: to address the confusion, anger, hurt and despair. I want my readers to know they can survive their grief and go on to live happy lives.
9. What would you like our readers to know about you and your book?
I’ve lost three people, the first in 1980, the second in 1986 and the third in 1992. Since I had been through it three times, I naturally started to notice a pattern to my reactions, my grief and what I needed to do to get through it all. I started writing it all down and eventually my journaling turned into a book. I would suggest that any survivor keep a journal. It is a very powerful tool for healing. I tell my journal all my deepest, darkest secrets and fears.
10. Have you written any other books? Do you plan to write any other books in the future?
I just came out of the recording studio! I have created a CD of healing music and positive affirmations called Today, I Am Healing. The affirmations are designed to help restore a person’s self-esteem and self-worth after a suicide loss. I found a wonderful New Age music composer to write the music. It should be out by May of 2011.
About Catherine Greenleaf
Catherine Greenleaf is a suicide loss survivor. She travels all over the United States to share her experiences with other survivors. Her website is: http://www.healingthehurtspirit.com. You can follow her on http://www.twitter.com/todayiamhealing. You can also read her articles on suicide loss at: http://www.healingfromsuicidegrief.blogspot.com.
Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide is featured on our Helpful Books page – http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/helpfulbooks.html
Grief Support Resources: http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/grief_support_groups.html