I Did Not Know What To Say Blog

Posts Tagged ‘suicide survivors’

Virtual Book Tour – Interview with Annie Mitchell – Author of “HOLDING BACK THE TEARS”

Posted by ididnotknowwhattosay on January 26, 2014

Thank you for joining us on our Virtual Book Tour.

Today we welcome Annie Mitchell author of Holding Back the Tears. Annie’s interview offers many insights and practical suggestions on how to support a parent that is grieving the loss of their child from suicide.

Please feel free to comment or share your own experiences on how your friends and family have assisted you in restoring balance in your life after the loss of a loved one in the comment section below.

What inspired you to write the book Holding Back the Tears?

The loss of my son to suicide on 6th February 2000 age 26yrs born 1st June 1973 the hottest day of the year.41zzqnU-RmL__SL210_

How did losing your son to suicide change your life?

It affected my health mentally and physically.
Mentally, I became a recluse, I was frightened to face people in fear of what they would say to me or not say to me.

I felt at the time I had to justify myself as to why my son took his own life as I felt I was to blame somehow. I was also frightened as I did not know what to say to them so I hid myself away from the world for 6yrs the only contact I had was with people on the internet and medical staff and my husband. I lost all contact with all family members who could not accept me for the person I had become. I felt low self-esteem and did not like myself for a long time, with having to cope with depression and anxiety on top of my grief it all became too overwhelming to cope on my own so I went and asked for help and accepted I needed it. I can be forgetful and very nervous in a social group but I can cope with these feelings by using self-help methods which again I learned through my journey.

Physically I tire very quickly and get stressed very quickly now. My energy is low so I have had to learn to pace myself out more over a day time. I can only take on small tasks and when I do, it takes me longer to complete these. This made me very frustrated indeed, but now I accept this is me now.

How does the death of a loved one by suicide differ from other losses?

In my own opinion, it differs as it is very unexpected if you expect a death of a loved one you prepare yourself for the worse to happen when this happens, it is unexpected and out of the blue and the last thing on your mind. So you are unprepared and in a state of shock.

Is there any one thing that your family or friends did for you that assisted you through the grieving process?
Yes, they did not focus all of my attention all on my grief, I was given space to for some me time to deal with my grief with a little guidance from them when I needed it also a lot of reassurance telling me it was normal to feel how I did at the time.

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 the loss of a child due to suicide?

Have patience and understanding and do not put a time limit on their loved ones grief recovery as for me, I did not really start to grieve until around two years later, even then I was still not believing my son was not coming back I did not want to accept that I would never see him again. I feel also for family and friends to accept you for who you are and not look for the person you once were as I felt I lost me after the very first contact of receiving the news of my son’s death. Something inside me broke and I knew then it could never mend. A bit like someone telling you shall never be able to stand up and walk the way you did ever again.

What do you wish your family or friends had done differently?

I wish they had, had a better way of communicating with me and did not pussyfoot around the fact my son was not coming back. For when they did this it only led to me feeling more and more confused and holding onto my belief that one day he would once again walk through my door.

Learning to cope with Grief is bad enough for the mother or father, etc. Who has been affected by their loss, but it is just as difficult for others around us as they too have to learn how to cope with you too. For some, especially those around me they would sometimes change the subject quickly or pretend you had not spoken or ignored the fact you were in the same room as them. Anything rather than cope with your pain. It was horrible for them and also for myself.

What are your top three suggestions to help people move forward in the grieving process after the loss of a child due to suicide?

Do not rush into anything, no matter what it is; going back to work or moving houses or even writing a book about your loss. Take time out to enjoy what you have in your life and what is going on around you at that moment in time.

Appreciate that you do have a future ahead of you to spend with your loved ones all around you.

What is one thing you would like readers to take away from your book?

To realize their loss was an important milestone in their life, one in which no parent ought to have had to face but to accept they did face it and that they can and shall come through it and go on to give themselves and others around them a stronger family bond, not take what they have for granted and to love and cherish every moment of every day they spend together which in return shall give their own life a purpose and a meaning.

What would you like our readers to know about you and your book?

Annie Mitchell (D.O.B 1953 – born in Scotland, to Scottish parents, a true Scottish Lassie grew up in Scotland and still lives in Scotland.

A Highly skilled ARTIST/WRITER/POET/MUSICIAN/THAI-CHI/POET/DANCER
Has sold many Art pieces throughout her life from miniature to full wall murals /pet portraits /Scottish landscapes to 3D textured sea scenery.  Master in all mediums.

I now put all my energy and time into devoting myself to my writing and promoting books my aim is to help others who have lost a loved one.   “HOLDING BACK THE TEARS”.

You can sit back and do absolutely nothing to help your bereavement grief loss situation and continue to feel the pain for longer with choosing not to try to help yourself.
Or you can choose to learn new ways of coping and accepting your loss and pain by using trial and error coping skills.

Have you written any other books? Do you plan to write any other books in the future?
Yes, I have a poetry book coming out soon with mothers in mind and others if they so wish. Available pocket size, I felt if I had had some little support which I could carry around with me in my pocket I could bring it out and read it whenever I felt the need for an emotional link to be once again with my child in thought and spirit it would give me great comfort on the darkest of my days.

BOOK IS AVAILABLE
http://www.rosegardenbooks.co.uk
HOLDING BACK THE TEARS is featured on our Helpful Books page –
http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/helpfulbooks.html
Grief Support Resources: http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/grief_support_groups.html

Posted in Gratitude, Grief Resources, Grief Resources - Newsletter, Loss of a Child, Suicide Survivors, Virtual Book Tour, What Not To Say, What Not to Say to a Grieving Loved One, What to do for someone that is grieving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In Loving Memory of a Widow: Quiet Reflections…and Loud Actions

Posted by ididnotknowwhattosay on April 28, 2011

Guest Post from  
http://widowswearstilettos.blogspot.com/2011/04/in-loving-memory-of-widow-quiet.html

Today is a very quiet day.
 
Make no mistake – it’s still a typical Tuesday at work.  Lots to do, lots to write, lots of deadlines, emails, phone calls…
Lots of…stuff.
 
But it’s still a very quiet day.
 
It’s one of those rare times where I struggle for words – but not for tears.  Tears are coming easily.
 
Because we lost one of our own yesterday.
 
She was one of our own because she was a member of our widowed community.  She belonged to every single one of us.
 
Every single widow/er who knows the incredible pain and despair.
 
Every single organization who seeks to help and support the widowed community.
 
Every single organization who is dedicated to allaying suffering and bringing healing to those in pain.
 
She was one of us.
 
I did not know her personally – but that really doesn’t matter.  She was a part of our community.
 
She was one of us.
 
The question of what causes someone to take tragic measures always looms large.  And in the days to come, many will ask that question.  Many close to her will suffer from the guilt that such a tragedy leaves in its wake.  People will ask questions:
 
“Were there any signs?”
 
“Why didn’t she get help?”
 
“How could she do ‘this’ to her children?”
 
All questions for which there may never be any answers.  But I do know this.
 
Sometimes there are no “signs”.
 
Sometimes a person doesn’t know how to ask for help – or thinks that it makes them look weak or wimpy to look at another person and say, “I can’t deal with this”.
 
And she did nothing “to” her children.  For as I have said in the past, oftentimes a person who takes their own life isn’t necessarily “choosing” to leave…it is simply too painful for them to stay.
 
A horrifically permanent solution to what can be a temporary situation. 
 
I don’t know of any widow support organization who has not intervened at one time or another on behalf of a widow/er in despair.  Many of us have sought training to do so as effectively as possible.  Recalling the time years ago that I was on vacation and received a letter via email that mentioned suicide, I now travel with the telephone number of crisis hotlines at the ready…just in case. 
In the days to come, there will be pain of unbelievable measure.  There will be much speculation.  At some point in time, there may even be blame assessed.  And at least one person will say something that is unbelievably mind-numbingly stupid…
 
But not from our community.  Never from the widowed.
 
Because we’ve been there.
 
We know that pain.  We know the despair. 
 
We’ve been startled by the sound of feral wailing that came from within ourselves because the pain in the pit of our stomachs and the breaking of our hearts was almost too much to bear.
 
We’ve suffered the lonely nights laying awake in the dark and praying for an uneasy sleep.
 
We’ve endured the ridiculous comments (and worse) from those around us.
 
We’ve fought for financial benefits to which we were rightfully entitled; only to have doors slammed in our faces.
 
We have been betrayed (and worse) by those who were supposed to have our backs. 
 
We know.
 
And so, while today is admittedly a quiet day – it nonetheless calls for very loud action.  And I’m really good at being really loud.
 
Please….PLEASE…if or when that day comes that you feel that you just can’t go another step on your own journey…REACH OUT!  Reach out to another widow/er – it doesn’t matter who they are; just the fact that they are widowed will bring you comfort in the immediate and love and friendship for the long haul.  REACH OUT to any one or ALL of the wonderful organizations that you know are out there.  That’s why we’re here…to help YOU.  We WANT to help.  We WANT to get you through the pain to a place of peace.  That is our entire purpose for existing.  Support.  Comfort.  Community.  Strength.  And if we can’t help you, we’ll get you to someone who can…immediately and absolutely FREE of charge. 
 
And remember…it is not a sign of strength to try and go through this alone – nor is it a sign of weakness to say, “I need help”.
She was one of us.
 
As a sadly-large community of the widowed, let us all declare that her death will not be in vain.  Let us recommit every day to helping one another recover – and when we are able, reaching out to others who are in pain.
 
She was one of us.
 
She was not the first.
 
But please…Dear Lord…let her be the last.
 
And may she rest in peace.
 
Written in honor and memory of Nichole Haycock.
 
 

About Carole Brody Fleet

Carole Brody Fleet is the award-winning author of the critically-acclaimed, “Widows Wear Stilettos: A Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow”  (New Horizon Press) and “I’m ‘Heeling’ One Day at a Time: The ULTIMATE, One-and-Only Question, Answer and Reference Guide to Life After Widowhood” (due in 2011); as well as the author and executive producer of the best-selling CD entitled, “Widows Wear Stilettos: What Now?”.   To learn more about Widows Wear Stilettos; including the newly formed “First Month” Foundation as well as Widows Wear Stilettos’ nationwide in-person support groups, visit www.widowswearstilettos.com.

 

Posted in Grief Resources, Grief Support Discussion Topics, Loss of a Spouse, Suicide Survivors, What to do for someone that is grieving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I Did Not Know What To Say Newsletter Archives

Posted by ididnotknowwhattosay on April 9, 2011

We invite you to join our free newsletter mailing list on how to assist your friends and family members through the journey of restoring balance in their life after the death of a love one.

Our past issues are listed below for you to explore and pass on to your friends or family members that may find the information helpful.

Are you an expert in the grief recovery field? Do you have a story about your own life experience dealing with the loss of a loved one that you would like to share? Do you have tips or suggestions on how to assist a loved one after a loss? We would love to hear from you. We are open to article and story submissions for our website, newsletter and Facebook page. Please email us at info@ididnotknowwhattosay.com.

If you have a product or service that you would like to advertise on our website or in one of our upcoming newsletters, please visit our website for more details on our advertising opportunities – http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/advertise.html

We invite you to explore our Newsletter Archive

WELCOME Newsletter
Featured Article: What To Say… When You Don’t Know What To Say
by Lori Pederson, Founder, I Did Not Know What To Say

AUGUST 2009 Newsletter
Featured Article: SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?
by Ann Leach, President, Life Preservers: a global grief support community

SEPTEMBER 2009 Newsletter
Featured Article: Operation: Heaven
Writings & Tips for those who know someone who has lost their hero in the military.
by Taryn Davis – Founder/President, The American Widow Project

OCTOBER 2009 Newsletter
Featured Article: The Simple Ingredients for a Less Stressful Life
by Jill Rheaume

NOVEMBER 2009 Newsletter – Happy Thanksgiving
Featured Article: Be the Gift of Comfort, Joy and Love this Holiday Season
by Lori Pederson

DECEMBER 2009 Newsletter – Happy Holidays
Featured Article: Less Than Perfect
by Lori Pederson

JANUARY 2010 Newsletter – HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Where we have been… Where we are going… & How you can assist us reach our goals in 2010

FEBRUARY 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: Are Grief & Depression the Same Thing?
by Mark D. Miller M.D.

MARCH 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: Our Interview with Mary-Suzanne Peters on Reference Point Therapy

APRIL 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: What Grieving Moms Want for Mother’s Day: The Comfort Company Offers 10 Simple Ways to help Moms Cope When Mother’s Day Hurts

MAY 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: The Gift of Listening
by Lori Pederson

JUNE 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: What to Do on Father’s Day When Dad is Deceased
by Laurie Mueller, RTC, ID, AED, MEd

JULY 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: Tips for Feeding Grieving Friends
by Tamar Fox

AUGUST 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: A Hug to Remember
by Lori Pederson

SEPTEMBER 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: Helping a Suicide Survivor Heal
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

OCTOBER 2010 Newsletter
Featured Article: On Writing: Your Stories Can Heal Your Heart
by Joan Hitchens, Storybooks for Healing

NOVEMBER 2010 Newsletter – Happy Thanksgiving
Featured Article: Five Things You Can Do For a Grieving Widow
by Marcy Kelly, Author of From Sorrow to Dancing

DECEMBER 2010 Newsletter – Happy Holidays
Featured Article: 12 Simple Ways to Support a Grieving Friend this Holiday Season
by Lori Pederson

JANUARY 2011 Newsletter – Happy New Year!
Featured Article: The Art of the Inspirational Adventure
Helping your Love One Find Fun & Adventure in the Grieving Process
by Lori Pederson, Founder I Did Not Know What To Say

FEBRUARY 2011 Newsletter – Happy Valentine’s Day
Featured Article: HAVE A “SINGLE-Y SENSATIONAL” VALENTINE’S DAY
by Carole Brody Fleet, Author of Widows Wear Stilettos

MARCH 2011 Newsletter
Featured Article: The Myths Surrounding Suicide
by Catherine Greenleaf

APRIL 2011 Newsletter
Featured Article: What Not to Say to a Grieving Loved One
by Lori Pederson

Posted in Grief Resources - Newsletter, What to do for someone that is grieving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t Miss Our I Did Not Know What To Say Monthly Newsletter

Posted by ididnotknowwhattosay on March 17, 2011

Don’t miss our monthly newsletter featuring tips, articles and inspirational stories on how to assist a loved one through the journey of restoring balance in their life after a loss.

March 2011 – Featured Article:

The Myths Surrounding Suicide
by Catherine Greenleaf

Catherine Greenleaf is the author of the highly acclaimed book Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who HaveHealing the Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide Lost a Loved One to Suicide.

Be sure to also visit our Virtual Book Tour and read our interview with Catherine Greenleaf.

To read more, Click on the link below to sign up for our Monthly Newsletter: http://www.ididnotknowwhattosay.com/mailinglist.html

Our Newsletter includes tips, articles and inspirational stories on how to assist your friends and family members through the journey of restoring balance in their life after the death of a love one.
Plus You will receive my FREE Special Report, “Twenty-Five Supportive Things You Can Do For Someone That Has Lost a Loved One ~ Plus Ten Thoughtful Gift Ideas”

Our Past Newsletters are Now Available Online.   Click Here for our Newsletter Archives.

Posted in Grief Resources, Grief Resources - Newsletter, Suicide Survivors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Virtual Book Tour – Interview with Catherine Greenleaf – Author of Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide

Posted by ididnotknowwhattosay on January 15, 2011

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, Healing the Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicidethere 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

Posted in Loss of a Friend, Suicide Survivors, Virtual Book Tour, What to do for someone that is grieving | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Virtual Book Tour – Interview with Ellen Gerst – Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story

Posted by ididnotknowwhattosay on December 29, 2010

Thank you for joining us on our Virtual Book Tour.

Today we Welcome Ellen Gerst, the author of “Love After Loss: Writing the Rest of Your Story”.   Ellen’s interview offers many insights and practical suggestions on how to assist a widow heal and find love again after the loss of her spouse.

Please feel free to comment or share your own experiences with grief and the healing process in the comment section below.

And now our interview with Ellen Gerst:

1. I understand you were quite young when your husband died. How did losing him at an early age change your life? 

I was 39 years old when he died, and we had been together for over half of our lives. On the fateful day that he took his own life, I lost more than my husband; I lost everything that I thought was true about life and my personal world. The laws of nature had been broken, and it took quite a while to steady my compass. This made by grief journey very complicated.

Although this sounds incongruous, my late husband was the most sane and rational man around. If he could commit this heart breaking act, then it was possible for anyone to reach such a crisis of faith. His death was truly a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

And so he became the wake-up call for many of our friends to take stock of their own lives. Although I disliked having to be the example, I took stock of my own life too. I knew that I had a choice to either spiral downward or use this moment as the jumping off point for a life led in gratitude for what I did have rather than bemoan what I was lacking. And, if I had to lose my husband, I was grateful that I was young enough to have many years in front of me where I could utilize the lessons I had internalized from this life changing event.

After many years of gut wrenching introspective thought and study, I was able to accept the duality of every circumstance man encounters. Consequently, I was able to look at my husband’s death as the very worst thing that happened to me, as well as the opportunity that allowed me to evolve and grow into the woman I am today.

I have chronicled my journey from grief to renewal in the Introduction of Thin Threads of Grief and Renewal, an anthology of life changing stories of which I served as co-editor.

2. What inspired you to write the book Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story?

Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story has been a continual work in progress. It actually started off as a blog (before blogs even existed!) of my Internet dating adventures.

Let me digress for a moment …

About two and a half years after my husband died, I started a relationship with a man I met on a blind date set up by mutual friends. And although it didn’t work out, I believe its greater purpose was to awaken my senses. I was so glad to feel SOMETHING – to know that my emotions had only gone on hiatus while I was healing from my loss.

At about six or seven years out, I decided I was ready to look for a new life partner. Now, I knew I was capable of having a relationship; I just had no idea how to find one! So, what did I do? I turned to the modern day matchmaker … match.com!

At first, I treated it as a science experiment. I wanted to have lots of different experiences, meet lots of different people, and mostly have some fun. As I progressed through the process, I started to hone my dating expertise and technique. Having only dated two people my entire life, I was pleasantly surprised at how well I performed this task!

With a professional background in English education, I was always drawn to writing. With every job I held and with every personal experience, I either wrote a manual or a book. Since I was so steeped in dating, I decided that I would record how to Internet date safely and successfully. And when I felt disappointed by an encounter, I would write a story about it to see if I could extract the lesson I was supposed to learn. The book continued to grow in content as I included my thoughts on the tenets of a successful relationship. I started to share it with my prospective dates who I thought had promise as a treatise on “how to date Ellen.” They welcomed reading it – after all, isn’t it easier to proceed when you have the instruction manual in hand?

After some time, I earned my coaching certification. Specializing in grief and relationships seemed an easy choice. I then revised Love After Loss to include a section that takes the reader through various coaching exercises to help him or her reach clarity about his/her situation. 

Looking for love after the death of a spouse is a bit more complicated than other types of dating. Contrary to a divorce or break-up, a marriage or partnership was not ended by choice and feelings of love and positive attachments are left intact. A widow/er must take an arduous journey towards personal renewal so he/she can find the place where welcoming new love does not feel like a negation or a dishonoring of the relationship experienced with a revered late spouse.

At the heart of the matter is that I strongly believe that if one has navigated difficult waters successfully then he/she must put a hand out to help the next person travelling along a similar road. Love After Loss is that outstretched helping hand.

You can read the first chapter of Love After Loss, “The Do-Over” on Scribd.

3.  How does losing a spouse differ from losing a parent, a sibling or another immediate family member?

Losing any close relative is devastating, so it is difficult to compare them. Moreover, since all losses are highly individual, it will affect each person differently.  That said, I do think the depth of your grief and the affect it has on your life is somewhat proportionate with the length of your spousal relationship and with how close and/or dependent you were on him/her or the family member.

Personally, I left home at age 17 when I started college. Upon graduation, I moved 3000 miles away from my parents. At most, I saw them twice a year for a couple of weeks. When my father passed away, I mourned him deeply, as well as the milestones he would be missing, especially since I was 8 months pregnant with my second child and my parents were scheduled to await the birth with us only two weeks before he died.

However, since I neither frequently saw my dad nor talked to him on the phone because he was hard of hearing, it took a long time for it to sink in that he was actually gone. And although I felt his death emotionally, my daily life was not impacted by his death.

What is tough about losing a family member is that you have a long shared history filled with memories that ‘outsiders’ can never appreciate. I think Erma Bombeck said it best.

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”

For me, I had this same bond with my late husband because we met before we were fully formed adults. We grew up together and, as you do with family members, we shared so many firsts. And as my siblings did, he saw me evolve from a teenager to a woman to a mother. Consequently, his death was a double whammy for me – the loss of a spouse and a close family member.

So to answer your question … to me, the emotional pain of losing a spouse or another family member is pretty consistent. However when a spouse dies, the logistics and rhythm of life are disrupted more so than when a mom, dad or sibling passes.

4. Is there any one thing that your family or friends did for you that assisted you through the grieving process?   

They allowed me to progress through my grief journey at the speed that was just right for me. Moreover, I was not pressured by their expectations of what they thought I should be doing.

Family and friends remained constant without hovering. I felt their love and support and knew they would swoop in to catch me if I were to fall, but, at the same time, they allowed me the space to try out my new wings.

5.  What do you wish your family or friends had done differently after you lost your husband? 

Actually, I was very lucky. I know some widow/ers are disappointed by the reactions of friends and family, but I did not encounter that situation, except for one instance. Of course, it was partially my attitude too. I ignored, or chose to remain oblivious to, negative or hurtful words and actions. I know that before I lost my husband I, too, felt awkward and didn’t know what to say to the bereaved. I know one day when loss is experienced, each person will realize his/her inappropriate or hurtful words/actions. After my late husband’s death, I chose not to expend unnecessary energy on this type of behavior by taking offense and learned to accept that life is just a learning process for us all.

The one disappointment I did have was that my husband’s two brothers deserted us. It’s been 15 years, and I still haven’t heard from them. However, I believe this is more about them than me. I imagine they still have not done their grief work, and they believe it would be painful to interact with me and their nephews. I simply feel sorry for them. They have given up a relationship with the two people who could have brought them the closest to the memory of their brother. It’s very sad, and I’m sure they will harbor regrets at the end of their days. 

6. What suggestions do you have for widows that are looking for ways to start over and find love again? 

In order to be successful at this task, it is imperative that you finish your grief work before looking for new love. I think it’s okay to try dating before you are completely done grieving – as long as you realize it is only practice and that you are not ready to enter a fully committed relationship.

The first step in the process of starting over is to discover and get to know the new you. In Love After Loss, I refer to this person as the “New Single You.” After having experienced such a momentous event in one’s life, it is virtually impossible to have remained the same. Consequently, one must spend time in introspective and explorative thought to find out who this person is and what he/she wants in life.

Attitude and perspective are also at the top of my list for those who are looking to enter the dating scene. A couple of tips to keep in mind include:

1. Dating is supposed to be fun, not a chore. Choose that mindset for the best result!

2. It is a numbers game. The more people you meet, the better your chance of finding someone to whom you can connect. Consequently, be open to meeting different types of people and ones that you might not have considered before your loss.

3. You must keep your expectations in check. Don’t approach each date with the idea that you are going to meet “the one.” Instead, look at each encounter as simply an interaction with another human being. Even if this person is not to your liking romance-wise, EVERYONE has something to offer …. even if it is only to reinforce what you don’t want in a new relationship.

7. What are your top three suggestions to help people move forward in the grieving process after the loss of a spouse?  

1. Don’t grieve on anyone else’s timetable. Mourning is very personal, and everyone moves through the process at different speeds. However, this does not give you a “free pass” forever. You must continuously move forward, even if it is only in baby steps.

2. Make a conscious decision that you will conquer the grief issues that confront you so you can reach a place of personal renewal. I believe in order to reach a goal, you have to articulate it first; it is also imperative to know why you are moving towards it. If you don’t have good reasons why you want something, it is very easy to come up with excuses for not taking action. In truth, this true for any endeavor and not just mourning.

3. If you want to move successfully through your grief, you must have a change in perspective. While in mourning you will experience a myriad of emotions and swing from high to low – sometimes in a matter of a few minutes! Allow all these emotions to surge through your body, although do not attempt to make important decisions during this time. Think of yourself as a pendulum which swings back and forth and eventually comes to rest in the middle. After your emotional swings, you too should come to rest at the midpoint, or what I call neutral.  At neutral, you can adjust your perspective and you are able to look in all directions to decide where you want to go next. Going forward with a positive attitude and one that allows you to be grateful for the things you do have instead of bemoaning what you don’t allows you to step into the renewal phase of your life. Awakening and throwing off the dark mantle of bereavement is a rebirth of sorts and allows you to see the world with clarity and to truly know what is important in life.

8. 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 widow that is beginning to write the new story of her life?

In actuality, we all live our lives in stories, and they include many different aspects, including personal, professional, educational, charitable, familial and so on. Much of Love After Loss focuses on one avenue upon which to travel – that of romance.

To provide support to a widow/er, attempt to put aside your own ego and what you think should be done or at what stage you believe your friend or family member should be. In other words … there are no set “shoulds.” What is or would be right for you is not necessarily right for the widow/er. And it is very possible he or she might make a mistake in judgment. However, as adults we must all take responsibility for our own actions. Simply because someone lost a spouse, he or she does not turn into a child – so do not treat him/her as such by telling him/her what to do.

Additionally, be a good listener; support without judgment; offer an opinion only when asked; and don’t push or nag the widow/er to step into dating – only he or she will know the right time to start this process. And, if a relationship becomes serious and you do meet the prospective mate, take into consideration the pressure this person might feel about being “graded” to see if he/she is good enough. This might lead to awkward behavior, so be generous by giving him/her a chance to prove him/herself.

Here is a link to a YouTube video that outlines 10 ways I believe that family and friends can best support a mourner.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AavjQ-dd_o0

9. What is one thing you would like your readers to take away from your book?

I think there are many lessons to be learned about how to move forward, how to date, and how to have a successful relationship. However, the underlying theme is that there is no such thing as a free lunch!

Everything worth having is hard work and usually involves some sort of risk, with opening up your heart after loss being near the top of the list. You cannot wave a magic wand and wish that your grief would dissipate by itself and that your new prince or princess will gallop up and save you. Each individual must “save” him or herself with the hard work it takes to move from grief to renewal. And once renewed, love is the greatest gift to share with another.  

10. What would you like our readers to know about you and the books you have written?

I have always written from personal experience; it is how I figure things out. And when I do figure them out, I like to share!

When I was widowed 15.5 years ago, support for young widow/ers was practically non-existent. I finally found one support group, and I began to write a newsletter for it. Every month I would write about an issue with which I was grappling. What I learned was that everyone was having similar experiences and that I just happened to be living mine aloud and sharing it with the community. Now online support abounds, and there are many opportunities to connect with others who need support.

I believe I coped well with the hand I was dealt. Despite the loss of their father, I raised two sons who are happy and successful in their own lives. And I was able to reinvent myself and to find a new love of my life.

All my books were born from my innate need to help others to gracefully and successfully travel the roads of grief to renewal. I believe my personal and professional expertise can be that helping hand to change a mourner’s perspective from darkness to light.

Ellen Gerst is a grief and relationship coach, author and speaker. Her books, born from personal experience, include: 

101 Tips and Thoughts on Coping With Grief is an easy-to-read reference guide for every day suggestions on how to deal with the practical, emotional, physical and spiritual sides of grief.

Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story includes my own story, which can be read on Scribd.com. The book is a blueprint on how to use my successful method to find and welcome new love into your life after loss. 

 

 

In Order To Be Terrific, You Need To Be Specific! contains 150 specific actions that can be implemented for terrific results in dating and relationship development.

 

 

The Other Side of the Vail: Spiritual Guidance for Everyday Living was written with Melinda Vail, an intuitive therapist. It is a simple yet fascinating book that is perfect for one who is exploring the concept of spirituality and the possibility of being able to communicate with lost loved ones.

Thin Threads of Grief and Renewal, of which I am co-editor, is a small volume of uplifting stories written by authors who have experienced great loss and who went on to find great personal renewal. It makes a thoughtful sympathy card that can be re-read when inspiration is needed to go on.

To receive your free e-book, 25 Inspirational Tips and Thoughts on Coping with Grief, visit Ellen’s website at http;//www.LNGerst.com. Ellen is available for individualized coaching or workshop presentations for your group. Books are available for sale at the “Book Store” on her website.

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