A dad, brother and sister —

Woman who lost three relatives to suicide focuses on helping others with sudden loss

by Alexandra Heck

It’s a level of loss many would struggle to comprehend.

Jane Brown has lost three members of her family to suicide; her father when she was 29, her brother more than 20 years ago, and more recently her sister.

“There are stages in grief,” said Brown, who now offers support for others who have lost loved ones to suicide. “I didn’t always feel how I feel today.”

Brown is part of the Support After Suicide team with a program called Here4Hope, a partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington, the County of Wellington and Wellington OPP.

It’s a program to help families, friends, colleagues and caregivers grieving from the often, sudden loss.

“When a community member dies there are so many that can be touched,” said Cecilia Marie Roberts, suicide prevention lead with CMHA Waterloo Wellington.

She says that Here4Hope is the first of its kind, because it pairs bereaved individuals with a police officer who can act as a liaison on the investigation, mental health support, and the guidance of someone who has similar lived experiences.

She said what follows from a suicide is often a traumatic and complex grieving process, and many may be afraid to talk about it or reach for help.

The program is a three-year pilot project funded by the Ministry of the Solicitor General, aiming to stabilize those in initial shock and work with them in the days and months following.

Both Brown and Roberts say that everyone grieves differently, and that with a traumatic event, there really is no correct order or timeline for how someone may work through the stages of loss.

In the early days, the team helps families with many of the practical questions.

The liaison officer can help answer questions about their loved one’s personal effects, the coroner’s timelines, questions about an investigation.

“There’s definitely support for our officers as well,” said Wellington County OPP Detachment Commander Insp. Paul Richardson.

He said that when someone dies in the community outside of hospital, officers are on scene.

They see what has happened. They are often the ones who speak with family.

He said the program gives officers comfort in knowing that there’s support for those that they meet in these situations.

“They have seen first-hand the pain and the anguish families feel,” said Roberts.  

Questions about writing an obituary, funeral arrangements, speaking with the media and explaining the situation to children are all daunting tasks that the team can give gentle guidance on.

During the next six to eight months, their support changes shape.

“That’s when the anniversaries start happening,” said Roberts, explaining that the first Christmas, birthday, back-to-school, have a tremendous effect. “Those first anniversaries can be so painful.”

Roberts says that life is never the same after losing a loved one to suicide. Instead, things shift and change.

“You move on to a new normal,” she said.

Over and over again, Roberts has heard from clients about the importance of having someone to relate to, someone who has faced a similar experience.

“I think the biggest thing that I offer is hope,” Brown said, noting that she never knows how someone is feeling, but can share how she felt when she was faced with similar circumstances.

“I’m not going to judge them,” she said, explaining her role is primarily to listen.

She shares ideas for coping and stresses the importance of having a strong support network.

Brown wants anyone in Wellington County to know that there are resources available if they are grieving the loss of someone to suicide.

“There’s help out there,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

We Lost Our Son to Suicide.

Here’s How We Survived.

By Julie Halpert

I tried many of the supports available to help parents heal, like therapy, support groups, exercise and finding a way to honor our son’s memory.

On Sept. 7, 2017, my 31st wedding anniversary, a date marked by happy memories turned tragic. That was when I learned that my 23-year-old son, Garrett, had died by suicide. Two-and-a-half years later, the news that brought me to my knees rings in my memory as if it were delivered just yesterday.

Garrett was popular, talented and loved by his many friends and family members. Yet he felt alone in his struggles. Despite our fervent efforts to get him help, he slipped through our grasp. My husband and I had to come to terms with the most brutal outcome for a parent: We could not save him.

Our son is part of an epidemic of youth suicide. He was one of 6,252 Americans ages 15 to 24 who officially died by suicide in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any loss of a child is devastating. But a suicide death takes a particularly severe toll on the survivors. Research shows that people who are grieving a suicide are 80 percent more likely to drop out of school or quit their jobs — and 64 percent more likely to attempt suicide themselves — than those who are grieving sudden losses by natural causes.

Parents often become immersed in self-blame, said Richard Tedeschi, a clinical psychologist in Charlotte, N.C., and author of “Helping Bereaved Parents.” They can be tormented by thinking about what they could have done differently to prevent the suicide. If your child seemed to be thriving and there were no warning signs, you think you should have noticed them. If you knew your child was struggling, you feel you should have been more vigilant to prevent the suicide. There also may be stigma attached to a suicide death that makes the loss even more painful.

Despite the agony, my husband and I made a deliberate choice not to crumble. We agreed that it would not be fair to our surviving daughters to disengage and surrender entirely to the grief. They were grieving the loss of their brother, and we needed to stay present for them.

As a journalist and resource seeker desperate to get through each bleak day, I tried out many of the supports available to help parents gain comfort and start to heal.

The first involved seeking professional help from a therapist. “Sudden death is traumatic,” said Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology. Therapists can be especially helpful to survivors in coping with post-traumatic symptoms that often accompany suicide deaths in the form of flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety, he said.

Peer support groups, where you are joined by others who have lost a child to suicide, can be particularly helpful. “That shared sense of the journey you’re on is so reassuring, and those are the people who will remember and stand by you,” said Dr. Tedeschi. “You’re with people who get it,” added Pamela Gabbay, interim executive director of the Compassionate Friends, which runs support groups for those who have lost a child or grandchild. “That peer model is truly invaluable,” she said.

My husband and I attended a support group, facilitated by social workers, for those who lost children to suicide. Though each of our circumstances were in some ways unique, we found solace in each other, while the social workers suggested strategies for self-care and resilience.

I also joined three online groups for parents who had lost children to suicide. When I was struggling with relentless painful thoughts, I could get immediate helpful advice from others, some of whom were several years into the journey. I benefited from their wisdom and ended up connecting off-line with two mothers. One lived across the country and had a son, also named Garrett, who took his life just two weeks before mine. Another, in a different state, turned out to be someone I recently had contacted to interview for a story. I bonded immediately in phone conversations with these women as we listened intently to each other’s struggles, providing a crucial sounding board.

Experts say that both online and in-person support groups can be useful, depending on your willingness to engage with strangers. Vanessa McGann, chair of the American Association of Suicidology’s Loss Division, said that in-person groups help you build friendships in a more personal, immediate way, but it’s not always possible to find a group of parents who have lost children to suicide in your area. Online support is more widely accessible and available any time of the day. “For bereaved people, often the nights are the worst. You wake up at 3 a.m. and there’s no one to turn to,” Dr. Gabbay said.

Much research has shown the benefits of exercise in keeping depression at bay. I have exercised nearly every day since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and for me it continued to be therapeutic. This includes a weekly ballet class, which I returned to a few months after my son’s death. In this creative outlet, I can momentarily lose myself in the movement and the classical music.

Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that for some people, exercise can be as helpful and potent as other aspects of a treatment plan, such as medications or psychotherapy. But she emphasizes that it can be difficult to get motivated to try something new when you’re reeling from a suicide death. “Go to the self-care activities you know worked for you in the past but don’t be afraid to try new things when you’re ready,” she said. She also suggests meditation, yoga and deep breathing techniques. Practicing breathing techniques for as little as three to four times a day for one minute at a time is a simple yet powerful way to lower stress-related cortisol levels and prevent your brain “from going into overdrive,” she said.

Finding a way to create meaning out of your child’s suicide can be a significant source of healing. Within a year of our son’s passing, joined by leaders in the mental health field, my husband and I established a nonprofit called Garrett’s Space to create a holistically focused, stigma-free residential center for young adults with significant mental health challenges. It’s intended to fill a major treatment gap, fostering hope and connection for young people who often feel alone in their struggles.

In many ways, this project has been emotionally exhausting, but the initiative has provided an essential way for my husband and me to feel that we are honoring our son’s goodness.

Dr. Tedeschi said grieving parents don’t have to invest the time and energy in starting a nonprofit to see the benefits. “What’s most important is to do something that benefits other people, something that is of service to others.”

There obviously is no panacea, and every circumstance is different. Time ultimately may be your greatest ally, Dr. Singer said.

“The grief will never go away completely,” Dr. Singer said, but as the months and years pass, “you’ll have longer stretches between episodes of debilitating sadness.” Dr. McGann says that eventually, the emotions that surface from the memories of your child will be positive instead of the frightening or traumatic ones surrounding his or her death.

Dr. Tedeschi and other experts also said that some bereaved parents eventually go through a period of “post-traumatic growth,” which can lead to a greater appreciation for the value of life, positive changes in relationships and a recognition of personal strength. Of course, it’s hard to view suicide loss through an optimistic lens. As for me, I must accept the life I’ve been dealt, post September 2017. And I have to find a way to live it.

Complete Article HERE!

Start the conversation:

What parents should know about teen suicide

If you see signs of distress in your teen, here is what you need to know before starting a conversation with your teen.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Talking about suicide can be just as difficult as detecting the warning signs.

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network has a resource guide detailing what you should watch out for and how to talk about it with your child.

Warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide, death, and/or no reason to live
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Withdrawal from friends and/or social activities
  • Experience of a recent severe loss (especially a relationship) or the threat of a significant loss
  • Experience or fear of a situation of humiliation or failure
  • Drastic changes in behavior
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  • Preparation for death by making out a will (unexpectedly) and final arrangements
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Previous history of suicide attempts, as well as violence and/or hostility
  • Unnecessary risks; reckless and/or impulsive behavior
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
  • General hopelessness
  • Recent experience of humiliation or failure
  • Unwillingness to connect with potential helpers

Three Farragut mothers who lost children to suicide over the course of three years pointed to sleep deprivation, school pressure and social media as major contributors.

What you should do:

  • Be aware. Learn the warning signs.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Ask if they are thinking about suicide.
  • Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow for expressions of feelings and accept those feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture the value of life.
  • Don’t dare him/her to do it.
  • Don’t give advice by making decisions for someone else to tell them to behave differently.
  • Don’t ask “why.” This encourages defensiveness.
  • Offer empathy, not sympathy.
  • Don’t act shocked. This creates distance.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available. Do not offer shallow reassurance; it only proves you don’t understand.
  • Take action. Remove means. Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

“If you have concerns, it’s OK to just ask someone, ‘Are you considering suicide?’ They’re not suddenly going to say, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea.’ If they’re not considering it, they’re just going to say no, but if they are considering it, you might open that doorway [to talk about it],” said Candace Bannister, one of the mothers who lost her son to suicide. “Maybe Will would’ve responded had I known to ask that question. It didn’t know what was on his mind.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Crisis Text Line: Text TN to 741741 if you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Additionally, the peer recovery call center available in East Tennessee, where those who answer the hotline have first-hand experience in the area.

The center can be reached at 1-865-584-9125 between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Lifeline Crisis Chat: Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, and suicide prevention services.

Complete Article HERE!

5 Lifesaving Tips for Suicide Loss Survivors

By R. Jade McAuliffe

As a trauma and traumatic loss survivor I’ve spent a lot of time grieving, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the fallout following my sister’s suicide.

I struggled to stay alive inside that desolate grief space, even after surviving two suicide attempts of my own and twice witnessing the wreckage of both my sisters’ traumatic and unexpected deaths.

After all I’d put my family through in the past and everything I’ve experienced since, how in the world could I consider checking out… again?

It was the pain. 

Within seven months of my sister’s suicide, my marriage dissolved and I was once again a single parent.

To make matters worse, I had to draft and file the paperwork myself because we couldn’t afford attorneys. This was my lowest point and, for awhile, I feared might have a nervous breakdown or end up hospitalized.

I didn’t, though. I forged on, one moment at a time, and cared for my kids as best I could and vowed to honor myself and the pain of the loss, in every way possible

The following are five tips which saved my sanity and, very possibly, my life.

I hope some of these support you as well.

1. People won’t know how to support you. Always validate yourself.

Platitudes. Oh, the platitudes…

People fear grief and loss, so when approaching someone in significant pain, they often fumble in their attempts to offer helpful consolidation.

To make matters worse, suicide is still stigmatized, so survivors are often guilted, blamed or shamed for their losses, either overtly or covertly.

This, of course, only adds insult to injury and is completely unfair. Unfortunately, it tends to be the norm for suicide loss survivors, so make a promise to yourself: Grieve authentically, in spite of ignorance, and don’t allow anyone to judge or dictate when your time of mourning “should” be over (especially you).

Grief, when honored and companioned, can actually bring lost loved ones closer, and validating your own experience is the first step to empowerment.

You aren’t to blame for your loss, and you don’t ever have to “let go” of or “get over” it either. You likely won’t anyway.

Grief is only proof you dared to love, and love isn’t something from which people “recover.”

Love is yours to keep…
so keep it close, nurture, and cherish it.

Forget about moving on, and concentrate instead on connecting to this love in its new form and, by all means…
take your sweet time.

This isn’t a race and there is no finish line. You’re still in a relationship, albeit a different and altered one. This time, though, you can make it whatever you want it to be.

2. Your body knows how to heal: Follow its lead.

Nobody knows what you need more than you do. You live in your body, and now is the perfect time to gently and mindfully follow its lead.

Grief requires lots of quiet solitude, so use this time to rest and reconnect, with yourself and your lost loved one.

You might need more sleep, or need to nap during the day because you’re unable to sleep at night. Follow your body.

If it wants to sob and shake, don’t resist. If you feel enraged, go ahead and scream, smack a floor pillow with a plastic bat, or throw some old dishes into a garbage can and listen to them shatter. (This is strangely satisfying.)

Honor your body’s specific requests.
It knows exactly what it’s doing, and it will lead you, slowly and eventually, to a place of healing and relief.

Be sure to eat (something) throughout the day, and drink a lot of water. Grieving requires stamina and energy, and this will help you go the distance.

3. Silence can be deadly: Grieve out loud.

The more you hold back, push down, or minimize your grief, the more you’ll become prone to depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal thoughts.

It isn’t mainstream knowledge, but the people most at risk of attempting suicide are suicide loss survivors trying to navigate the wreckage.

If you’ve made past attempts, lost other family members to suicide, or battle depression or unresolved trauma, you’re at even greater risk, so take this very seriously.

The body desperately needs to express itself and suicide grief hurts. Give yourself permission to mourn like a superhero!

Give voice to the good, the bad, and the ugly, and bring all of your feelings to life. Make them big.

Share them out loud with someone you trust (and also your lost loved one) and/or write them all down on paper, uncensored.

Don’t minimize, hold back, or purposely omit anything. Tell your story and tell it often. Repeatedly hearing your own suicide loss story while communicating the feelings associated with it (especially fear, betrayal, and anger) will eventually help you integrate the loss.

Express yourself creatively if you feel led and your energy allows. Sometimes words alone don’t do our feelings justice.

Get it all out. You feel that internal pull for a good reason. Again, follow the prompts of your body.

4. The grief journey is lonely: Make your connections count.

Unfortunately, suicide grief is heavy and messy, and it’s a road we must ultimately walk alone.

No one can know exactly what you’re going through, and it can been exhausting trying to explain yourself and your feelings to others.

People might drop out of your life after suicide loss, and it isn’t uncommon to lose family members too. Everyone and everything is reorganizing around the loss, and this can be one of the most difficult and painful parts of the grief journey.

Guard your heart and steer clear of people and things which might drain or upset you, especially negative media, toxic people, and anyone who tries to minimize your experience.

Your energy is probably at an all-time low now, and nothing will deplete it faster than exposure to another’s anger, fear mongering, and/or anything even potentially upsetting.

Choose wisely, and spend time with others who accept you and your current reality without trying to rescue or fix it.

You aren’t sick, and you don’t need fixing. You’re grieving, and you only need to be seen, heard, and validated.

Supportive people might be hard to find, but they’re out there. I found many online through coaching and support groups. Be relentless in your search, and connect with those who help you feel safe, accepted, and connected.

Connection is the key to survival.

5. Accept your current reality as much as possible, even though it sucks.

I know the “why’s” are killing you, and you’re beating yourself up for words said and unsaid, missing “the signs,” or not being more supportive.

You did your best in the moment, and beating yourself up won’t bring your loved one back. Trust me, it’s also the quickest route to your own demise. We can’t change the past, no matter how often we replay it.

Your loved one made a split decision and didn’t ask for your permission. You didn’t get to choose or say goodbye.

You’ve been shaken like a snow globe, and now you’re doing all you can to survive this experience. Give yourself a break. Give yourself a lot of breaks.

Don’t expect to keep up with things as you did before your loss. Your body and brain are processing and integrating, and it will take a significant amount of time to feel any sense of normalcy again.

Go easy, and above all else, let go of anything not completely necessary for survival. (The cleaning? It can wait.)

I know it’s difficult, but ask for help with chores you can’t do now. Solicit child care so you can have blocks of time when nobody needs you. (Schools, churches, and work friends might know of people who can help.)

Give yourself permission to grieve, in your own way, and for however long it takes.
You didn’t ask for this and you didn’t deserve it either.

You deserve to live the rest of this life on your own terms and in your own way.

You get to decide now what that life will look like going forward.

I know our experiences are different and if you’ve lost a parent, child, or spouse, my pain in no way rivals yours. I get that.

Still, within this vast and lonely wilderness, I hope you feel a quiet kinship anyway and know, without a shadow of a doubt…

you always have a silent partner in me.

Complete Article HERE!

Former Ottawa paramedic on his experience with death…

‘I’ve got a busload of people up here in my head’

J.P. Trottier in 2006, when he served with Ottawa Paramedic Service.

By Bruce Deachman

J.P. Trottier was with the Ottawa Paramedic Service for 36 years – 21 as a frontline paramedic and 15 as public information officer. He retired in January 2017.

“I don’t know how many deaths I’ve seen, but it’s in the hundreds. I remember one shift doing three vital-signs-absent calls in a row. That was a busy eight hours.

“You just never know where you’re going to be in five minutes. Are you going to be in the middle of a crime scene? Are you going to be in somebody’s living room, somebody with abdominal pain? Somebody having a heart attack?

“Sometimes, it’s just the daily grind. It can be very humdrum, and then all of a sudden your next shift will be just crazy. You’ll do a shooting, you’ll do an elderly gentleman who’s collapsed at home and his vital signs are absent, you’ll do a childbirth call … you’ll do a whole bunch of different things.”

“You have some really horrible moments in the job, and you have some absolutely spectacular moments. Paramedics have what they call the holy-shit call. They take a look at the person and they know they’re in trouble — that that person is in deep trouble and probably minutes from dying. We call that the holy-shit call. It’s like, get to work. And you can tell after a little bit of experience — you walk into a room and look at somebody. And then it becomes a bit mechanical; your training kicks in and you don’t really think about it. But when you see them like that and 10 minutes later you’ve given your medication and taken your vital signs, or your partner’s taking the vital signs and you’ve slapped the oxygen on them or maybe put in an IV and put the medication in when all the vital signs are OK and off you go. And 10 minutes later when they’re looking much better, it’s an amazing thing to see. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s absolutely the best part of the job.”

“You don’t forget many of them. The difficult ones you don’t forget. I tell people that I’ve got a busload of people up here in my head, waiting to step out. It’s not being haunted; it’s just that you will never be able to forget that eight-year-old boy who played chicken with a train and lost. You’ll never be able to forget that. If anybody were to come to me and say, ‘Oh, I can handle it … ” Yeah, OK, maybe you can handle it differently than I can, but there’s no way you’re going to be able to forget that. The young boy who comes home from school for lunch and finds his mother dead upstairs because she put a shotgun in her mouth. You’ll never be able to forget that. Never. But they don’t haunt me.

“Very early in my career I had one of those horrible calls – it was a young girl, six or seven years old, crossing the street and was struck by a car. She died en route, and every time I drive by there, it’s like, ‘This is where it happened.’ And it’s no more than that. But they’re with you.”

“There’s that horrible side where you can’t help … they’re in a car crash, pinned, and the paramedics are trying to put the IV in and they’re doing a whole bunch of different things, and you’re waiting and waiting, and the blood pressure is coming down and down and down, and you can’t stem the bleeding because you can’t access where the injury is.

“So yeah, sometimes you can’t resuscitate them, and that’s the moment that you turn your attention to the family. They’re not the patients, you’re not there specifically for them or because of them, but all paramedics will do this; they will turn their attention to the family.

“I used to do presentations for career days at high schools, and they would ask what’s the most important thing about your character that would make you a good paramedic, and I would say two things. The first was that you really have to be a caring person, because that’s what you do. That’s your job, you’re caring for people — their emotional needs, their physical needs. And the second part is good communications skills. You must have good communications skills because of instances like this, where a family member has passed away and you need to inform them. And don’t use any jargon, don’t use any of that nonsense. ‘I’m sorry he passed away. We couldn’t do anything.’ And you don’t give them a lot of info, because they’ll forget most of it after you tell them.

“We have to be careful what we tell them, because they will remember that moment, forever. It really demands respect, and I don’t care if they’re gang members or whatever the case may be. We don’t care; it’s a patient and they have friends or family, and there’s a mother or father somewhere, maybe, or children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, and all of them will be affected by this.”

“I would often turn my attention to people’s rooms to give me an idea of the life they led. The older generation especially will have a lot of photographs on their dressers or in the bedroom. Even if I don’t know these people, it kind of puts you there. Look at the clothes they’re wearing. Look at the cars they were driving. It gives you a bit of a glance at their lives. There are pictures of their children and grandchildren. It kind of gives you a quick bio of them.

“The ones that really stand out for me are ones where someone’s standing next to a Spitfire, because you know they served. Did he fly planes? Was he in the war? Was he a mechanic? You can sometimes ask the family a little bit about them — you have to tread carefully there, because they may not take it very well. But in some instances I was able to ask the family. ‘Oh, he served?’ — because there’s a picture of him. ‘Yes, and he went to this battle and that battle,’ and of course they’re proud of that. And sometimes I take a minute to thank them for their service to their country. Sometimes you’ll see their medals on the wall, and you can talk about that a little bit.

“It can be fascinating. You don’t know about this person or the life they led, if they discovered a cure for something. You just never know.”

“Has my view of death changed over the years? Yes. I think just because of the sheer number of calls that we do with death and near-death … a patient you were able to get back from the grip of death that they were in. The shootings, the stabbings, the crib deaths — Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — for sure, gave me a better understanding of death. You’re more aware of death and what it means and why it happens, a little bit — we can never know why, really. But it gives you a better appreciation of it, and thus a better understanding of it.”

“You see a lot of circumstances. The suicides are sad. And you also see the murder-suicides, and those are weird. There was one I did where this man had custody of his child during the weekend, and he decided on Sunday night that the child was not going back home to his mother, and threw him off the balcony and then jumped himself.

“So you get to the scene and you’ve got this to deal with. And you only know the circumstances after the fact, but you have a damn good clue that at three o’clock in the morning, when the OC Transpo driver found him when going out to his shift, that the kid, maybe two or three years old, didn’t wake up fully dressed at three o’clock in the morning to jump off of the balcony. So now you’ve got that anger issue. You want to kill yourself? That’s somewhat understandable. But to take an innocent child away from his mother and his life? It’s just … it’s weird. There’s this brain storm happening there in your head, in my head, that’s very difficult to deal with and make sense of. So those are very difficult to do.

Complete Article HERE!

As seniors go into twilight years, some of them privately mull ‘rational suicide’

By Melissa Bailey

Ten residents slipped away from their retirement community one Sunday afternoon for a covert meeting in a grocery store cafe. They aimed to answer a taboo question: When they feel they have lived long enough, how can they carry out their own swift and peaceful death?

The seniors, who live in independent apartments at a high-end senior community near Philadelphia, showed no obvious signs of depression. They’re in their 70s and 80s and say they don’t intend to end their lives soon. But they say they want the option to take “preemptive action” before their health declines in their later years, particularly because of dementia.

More seniors are weighing the possibility of suicide, experts say, as the baby boomer generation — known for valuing autonomy and self-determination — reaches older age at a time when modern medicine can keep human bodies alive far longer than ever.

The group gathered a few months ago to meet with Dena Davis, a bioethics professor at Lehigh University who defends “rational suicide” — the idea that suicide can be a well-reasoned decision, not a result of emotional or psychological problems. Davis, 72, has been vocal about her desire to end her life rather than experience a slow decline because of dementia, as her mother did.

he concept of rational suicide is highly controversial; it runs counter to many societal norms, religious and moral convictions, and the efforts of suicide prevention workers who contend that every life is worth saving.

“The concern that I have at a social level is if we all agree that killing yourself is an acceptable, appropriate way to go, then there becomes a social norm around that, and it becomes easier to do, more common,” said Yeates Conwell, a psychiatrist specializing in geriatrics at the University of Rochester and a leading expert in elderly suicide. That’s particularly dangerous with older adults because of widespread ageist attitudes, he said.

As a society, we have a responsibility to care for people as they age, Conwell argued. Promoting rational suicide “creates the risk of a sense of obligation for older people to use that method rather than advocate for better care that addresses their concerns in other ways.”

A Kaiser Health News investigation in April found that older Americans — a few hundred per year, at least — are killing themselves while living in or transitioning to long-term care. Many cases KHN reviewed involved depression or mental illness. What’s not clear is how many of these suicides involve clear-minded people exercising what Davis would call a rational choice.

Suicide prevention experts contend that while it’s normal to think about death as we age, suicidal ideation is a sign that people need help. They argue that all suicides should be avoided by addressing mental health and helping seniors live a rich and fulfilling life.

But to Lois, the 86-year-old woman who organized the meeting outside Philadelphia, suicides by older Americans are not all tragedies. A widow with no children, Lois said she would rather end her own life than deteriorate slowly over seven years, as her mother did after she broke a hip at age 90. (Lois asked to be referred to by only her middle name so she would not be identified, given the sensitive topic.) In eight years living at her retirement community, Lois has encountered other residents who feel similarly about suicide. But because of stigma, she said, the conversations are usually kept quiet.

Lois insisted her group meet off-campus at Wegmans because of the “subversive” nature of the discussion. Supporting rational suicide, she said, clashes with the ethos of their continuing care retirement community, where seniors transition from independent apartments to assisted living to a nursing home as they age.

Seniors pay six figures to move into the bucolic campus, which includes an indoor heated pool, a concert hall and many acres of wooded trails. They are guaranteed housing, medical care, companionship and comfort for the rest of their lives.

“ We are saying, thank you very much, but that’s not what we’re looking for,” Lois said of her group.

Carolyn, a 72-year-old member of the group who also asked that her last name be withheld, said they live in a “fabulous place” where residents enjoy “a lot of agency.” But she and her 88-year-old husband also want the freedom to determine how they die.

A retired nurse, Carolyn said her views have been shaped in part by her experience with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the 1990s, she created a program that sent hospice volunteers to work with people dying of AIDS, which at the time was a death sentence.

She said many of the men kept a stockpile of lethal drugs on a dresser or bedside table. They would tell her, “When I’m ready, that’s what I’m going to do.” But as their condition grew worse, she said, they became too confused to follow through.

“I just saw so many people who were planning to have that quiet, peaceful ending when it came, and it just never came. The pills just got scattered. They lost the moment” when they had the wherewithal to end their own lives, she said.

Carolyn emphasized that she and her husband do not feel suicidal, nor do they have a specific plan to die on a certain date. But she said while she still has the ability, she wants to procure a lethal medication that would offer the option for a peaceful end in the future.

“Ideally, I would have in hand the pill, or the liquid or the injection,” she said.

New Jersey recently became the eighth state to allow medical aid in dying, which permits some patients to get a doctor’s prescription for lethal drugs. That method is restricted, however, to people with a terminal condition who are mentally competent and expected to die within six months

Patients who aren’t eligible for those laws would have to go to an “underground practice” to get lethal medication, said Timothy Quill, a palliative care physician at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Quill became famous in the 1990s for publicly admitting that he gave a 45-year-old patient with leukemia sleeping pills so she could end her life. He said he has done so with only one other patient.

Quill said he considers suicide one option he may choose as he ages: “I would probably be a classic [case] — I’m used to being in charge of my life.” He said he might be able to adapt to a situation in which he became entirely dependent on the care of others, “but I’d like to be able to make that be a choice as opposed to a necessity.”

Suicide could be as rational a choice as a patient’s decision to end dialysis, after which they typically die within two weeks, he said. But when patients bring up suicide, he said, it should launch a serious conversation about what would make their life feel meaningful and their preferences for medical care at the end of life.

Clinicians have little training on how to handle conversations about rational suicide, said Meera Balasubramaniam, a geriatric psychiatrist at New York University School of Medicine who has written about the topic. She said her views are “evolving” on whether suicide by older adults who are not terminally ill can be a rational choice.

“One school of thought is that even mentioning the idea that this could be rational is an ageist concept,” she said. “It’s an important point to consider. But ignoring it and not talking about it also does not do our patients a favor, who are already talking about this or discussing this among themselves.”

In her discussions with patients, she said, she explores their fears about aging and dying and tries to offer hope and affirm the value of their life.

Conwell, the suicide prevention expert, said these conversations matter because “the balance between the wish to die and the wish to live is a dynamic one that shifts frequently, moment to moment, week to week.”

Carolyn, who has three children and four grandchildren, said conversations about suicide are often kept quiet for fear that involving a family member would implicate them in a crime. The seniors also don’t want to get their retirement community in trouble.

In some of the cases KHN reviewed, nursing homes have faced federal fines of up to tens of thousands of dollars for failing to prevent suicides on-site.

There’s “also just this hush-hush atmosphere of our culture,” Carolyn said. “Not wanting to deal with judgment — of others, or offend someone because they have different beliefs. It makes it hard to have open conversations.”

Carolyn said when she and her neighbors met at the cafe, she felt comforted by breaking the taboo.

“The most wonderful thing about it was being around a table with people that I knew where we could talk about it, and realize that we’re not alone,” Carolyn said. “To share our fears — like if we choose to use something, and it doesn’t quite do the job, and you’re comatose or impaired.”

At the meeting, many questions were practical, Lois said.

“We only get one crack at it,” Lois said. “Everyone wants to know what to do.”

Davis said she did not have practical answers. Her expertise lies in ethics, not the means.

Public opinion research has shown shifting opinions among doctors and the general public about hastening death. Nationally, 72 percent of Americans believe that doctors should be allowed by law to end a terminally ill patient’s life if the patient and his or her family request it, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

Lois said she’s seeing societal attitudes begin to shift about rational suicide, which she sees as the outgrowth of a movement toward patient autonomy. Davis said she’d like to see polling on how many people share that opinion nationwide.

“It seems to me that there must be an awful lot of people in America who think the way I do,” Davis said. “Our beliefs are not respected. Nobody says, ‘Okay, how do we respect and facilitate the beliefs of somebody who wants to commit suicide rather than having dementia?’ ”

If you or someone you know has talked about contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat, both available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. People 60 and older can call the Institute on Aging’s 24-hour, toll-free Friendship Line at 800-971-0016. IOA also makes ongoing outreach calls to lonely older adults.

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Solace after suicide…

My journey to forgiveness

by The Listener

For Katie Anders*, coping with suicide grief means remembering how her husband lived, not how he died.

Every suicide story that hits the headlines stirs the pain for those of us who have been bereaved by such a loss. The headlines are bigger and somehow more shocking when such high-profile names as Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade join those of our loved ones. But the grief for those left is the same.

I lost the love of my life to suicide. He was middle-aged, very successful in his profession and loved by family and a wonderful group of friends.

Our communities have such a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in the face of suicides. It is in the crisis period leading up to a suicide that there is the chance for effective intervention, and yet there is little effective help.

And, yes, there is a still a stigma around mental health. For us, it meant we had to protect my husband’s reputation for when he returned to work. The professions are not a lot more enlightened than anyone else.

The crash happened one May day. I walked in on him sitting at his desk at work, and was shocked to find him weeping. He said, “I can’t do this any more.”

We visited our GP and at first it seemed like exhaustion; just plain burnout. We had just come back from three weeks’ travelling and he hadn’t slept well; he had returned to a mountain of work. It was a job he loved and in which he had quietly excelled. He was a gentle-natured man who worked in a world of ambitious colleagues and he had forged a different path to the top. He was respected by most, admired by many.

We quickly arranged for his work to be done by others and he took “stress leave”. Within weeks, it was clear the malevolent black dog of depression was stalking him. We did all the right things: exercise and a good diet. He had great support from loved ones. He began using antidepressants and sleeping tablets. We saw an occupational psychologist, who was enormously helpful. Yet still the black dog circled.

Weeks passed. Then one day I found him curled into himself on a chair, his back to me. I tried to engage him, but he wouldn’t look at me. I took his face in my hands, forcing him to meet my eyes. I demanded to know what he was thinking, but in reality I knew.

He had reached a tipping point. We urgently needed more expertise. An acquaintance who was a good psychiatrist agreed to see him immediately (and privately).

I was determinedly optimistic we would get through it. We were a “lucky couple” whose marriage had fulfilled each of us. We laughed a lot and loved a lot. We had lovely children, now grown and forging their own lives. Many saw our marriage as one of the successful ones; we both thought so, too.

His promise to me that he wouldn’t act on his thoughts seemed to be enough to hold him back from the edge – that and the increasingly heavy doses of medication he needed. We began cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with another psychologist.

A few weeks later, things seemed to be moving in the right direction until some odd things started to happen. The medication had tipped him into a manic state, so he had to withdraw from all the antidepressants. The psychiatrist felt that a prior serious head injury had probably caused the manic response, so mood-stabilising drugs were required.

Some normalcy began to return to our lives. My husband continued his programme of health and fitness and after a few weeks, he seemed well enough to return to work for short periods. We breathed easier.

But then an emotionally stressful event occurred: he was desperately concerned about someone close who was in strife overseas. His sleep was seriously disrupted and he was very worried. The depression was renewing its grip and as the antidepressants were now contraindicated, we were at a loss for effective solutions.

The psychiatrist hoped that since the relapse was in its early stages, we could work to stop its progression by using mindfulness meditation and more CBT and counselling. He was very low, but again, he reiterated his promise to me.

Three days later, he was dead. The black dog’s work was done.

*The writer’s name has been changed.

Questions and guilt

On the night he died, I sat at his bedside, shattered by the horrific development, the crashing grief threatening to crush us all. I was full of confusing questions and guilt. How could he have done this? How could he have walked past me as I slept and not woken me and sought my help?

Sometime in the wee hours, I decided to write him a final letter. And as I began, some things crystallised. I needed to forgive him before we let him go. I read him my letter aloud, then later repeated the words at his funeral. That night, wracked with the deepest pain, I told him, “The man who did this thing was a man in the grip of a fierce depression. It was the depression that broke the promise, not the man that we love. That’s why, distraught as I am, I have to forgive you, because all that I know and have experienced of you through all the years tells me that you never wanted to hurt us, never wanted to leave us.”

Some months later, I heard someone (also bereaved by suicide) on a radio programme put it very succinctly: her husband hadn’t been leaving her or her children, he was leaving himself.

Years before, I had read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ book On Death and Dying and, later, I trained and worked as a volunteer with terminally ill people, and learnt about bereavement support.

It’s accepted now that work around the stages and processes of grief was too rigid. Each grief experience is unique and people don’t necessarily experience all the stages or go through them in any particular order. For example, while others felt anger at my husband, I never have. Even pathetic attempts to somehow manufacture anger failed. How could I be angry at someone so broken?

In the aftermath, I felt the deepest sadness for him, for his loss, for all that he would never get to experience. I felt devastatingly sad for our kids. But for me, the grieving process was delayed by my upbringing. It held messages of “Don’t you feel sorry for yourself” and “Pick yourself up and get on with it”.

It took a long time to let myself feel the full devastation of my own loss. The numbing effects of shock meant that I walked around in a world that felt surreal, that simply couldn’t be true. This wasn’t how our love story was supposed to end. We were supposed to grow old together, travel, have grandchildren.

Tortuous paths

Suicide grief holds so many “If only …” and “What if …” questions. What if I had heard him get out of bed? What if I had handcuffed him to me to keep him safe? What if he had slept through those darkest hours before dawn and woken to sunshine?

The “what ifs” are where the self-torture lies. I felt so guilty that I struggled to want to live. Sometimes I still feel surprised that I didn’t die of the brokenness I felt.

Logic says there is no useful purpose in following these tortuous paths. But some years on, they still come into my mind and I speak to those thoughts as firmly and logically as I can.

I learnt a lot from my counsellor about self-forgiveness. It is more of a journey than a destination. Someone spoke to me about the idea of practising my husband’s presence rather than his absence. It seemed to break down some of the enormity of it all. If I had to completely and immediately accept his absence from my life, you might as well have asked me to swim the Atlantic. But if I could practise his presence, which permeated my life, while slowly adjusting to his loss, then it felt more like paddling in the waves at the water’s edge and not getting completely out of my depth.

Practising his presence is simply being mindful of his hand in the life I continue to live. It’s being able to access his way of thinking an issue through. His presence is in the millions of memories. It’s practising his habits of observing and appreciating the beauty around. He is visible in his imprinting on our kids … aspects of him in their personalities. It’s in watching rugby with my daughter and shouting the way he shouted. It’s in the kids’ love of language and awful puns. It’s in the thousands of photos taken over the years.

We remember how he lived and not how he died, but the truth is that suicide grief is a unique grief. People aren’t comfortable around it. I accept now that even if my life should suddenly become deliriously happy, the loss of such a precious partner through suicide will forever be a hugely black awfulness on its timeline.

Actress Dawn French said that when her father committed suicide, it was like a bomb went off in their family. It’s an apt description. My life is forever changed, my confidence diminished and my happy moments are often tinged with poignancy. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I feel my heart carries a permanent scarring.

Few understand the complexity and longevity of suicide pain. It isn’t easy, as one friend put it, to “move forward” as a simple act of will. If my husband had died of a heart attack or cancer, I know that grief might have been easier to move on from.

Yet I take joy in our amazing children, their partners and now a grandchild. I am fortunate in having some close friends. I try not to let the manner of his dying take more than it should. Above all, he wouldn’t want that and he would hate the pain that his suicide caused. Despite it all, I will be forever grateful that my life was greatly enriched by a truly lovely man.

Complete Article HERE!