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LOSS Program Office
721 N. LaSalle Street
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Main Line: (312) 655-7283
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Featured this Month:

Restoring Family Stability after a Suicide
Monday, September 18, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Every family has various needs for structure. As they grow, families will create the rules and routines that support their ability to function. We know that families have different resources and various amounts of structure supporting day-to-day living, but if they have inadequate structure and routine for too long there can be emotional and behavioral reactions. As parents, we instinctively take steps to “get back to normal” following sickness, vacations, too much activity, conflict or time away from home. We learn to create structure for ourselves as young adults and consume psychoeducational resources to help our babies self-regulate, socialize and learn. We make efforts to construct unique routines and relationships that support the needs of each person in the family. Stability grounds us, offers a sense of equilibrium and keeps us feeling normal.

Stable conditions seem to reflect the health of a family’s relationship bonds, resilience to stressors and the way we view the world. It supports our forward thinking momentum. A family’s dedicated activities toward goals and outcomes is the norm for which we get up in the morning, work, own cars and homes. With stability, we expect everyone to grow, learn, cope and relate better.

But when a parent or child dies by suicide many aspects of regulated family life are interrupted, at least momentarily. A physical link in the family is suddenly gone, and sometimes this includes the people, places, financial resources and accoutrements associated with the deceased loved one. As we respond with shock to the loss we may even experience other cherished family connections with a sense of estrangement, even if we can’t describe why, leading to a sense of isolation. And we seem to not know ourselves in this strange, awful situation of loss. A suicide loss assaults our entire notion of normal. The initial grief reactions are likely to deplete energy and interest in the routines and patterns that had been part of our everyday lives, even causing us to question the meaning of the future that has always moved us forward. A sudden, irrational death like suicide causes disruption at every level of family life. It can greatly alter the stability that a family enjoyed prior to the crisis imposed by suicide loss.

While it might seem difficult to imagine, most families coping with suicide loss do reconstruct a “new normal,” perhaps an over-used, and condescending sounding term. But survival is a complex, energizing process of renewal that includes identity work and meaning and values and determination… and connecting with resources to rebuild the ground for recovery. Stability reforms gradually with patience, love and mindful intention. The intention can steady us, even when we have little energy for following through in the moment. We hope that bereaved parents can find good therapeutic support as they resume the watchful role of raising grieving children.

During the first days and weeks after a suicide adults there is a great struggle with the reality of the loss. Many describe a sense of stopped time, in contrast to the momentum that had characterized the daily life of the intact family. It can be healthy to recognize that these sensations are normal for a suddenly bereaved person, even when they feel crazy or life-threatening. Having someone who wants to be there for us, who can be a reliable witness to the pain and disorientation can be a major blessing as we figure out our footing. In a previous article I wrote about the possible benefits of facing in to the sensation of groundlessness which describes the acute experience of loss and upheaval. In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron speaks from her own experience with loss when she suggests that it is actually the resistance to the free-fall that feels calamitous. She encourages us to take an intimate look into the groundlessness that engulfs us, to find there the “seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.” The author is known for her endorsement of a heart-opening approach to our most vulnerable human experiences. I think she is talking to us about taking on the survival process by first being present to the no-answer mystery at the heart of groundlessness, the recognition that we are here, beginning, being patient with the vicissitudes of recovery from profound loss, turning toward our children and caring for them. Facing in to groundlessness is a courageous practice that may allow us to start rebuilding from where we are. With its spiritual/existential orientation, I only recommend this for mature individuals. As a grief counselor to children and teens, I am more and more convinced that their most beneficial opportunities for processing a profound loss will take place with the best facsimilie of normal that you can put together with a support system. For this age group, developmental tasks, identity and ego development are best addressed with a secure base and less of the abstract searching that adult grief evokes.

We step outside of ourselves when we care for our children. We find ourselves waking them, patching together a day, until days become more solid. A regained sense of equilibrium is the foundation for further steps toward individual and collective healing within the family. Esther Shapiro stresses to grief professionals that the process of restoring equilibrium is what will allow the family system to tolerate the crisis of loss. She identifies four areas or pillars that support the family system during a time of life-changing loss and grief.

- Individuals must find private ways to manage the most intense emotions, perhaps with journaling, therapy, time alone.

- Shared strategies should be created for helping one another during overwhelming stress.

- Involvement of “extended family and community supports for managing day to day living and interpreting the meaning of the death and loss.”

- Use of cultural rituals which elevate the role of each participant, bring dignity to the loss and providing another structure for making meaning of the loss (Shapiro, pg.16).

Shapiro’s strategies cover the bases to guide bereaved families toward channels for healthy grief responses and a secure base for continued individual and family development. Each family requires unique attention based on the developmental stages and needs of the persons i affected by the loss.

We always encourage families to work with grief counselors to navigate at least the initial months following a suicide loss. No parent or family can be prepared for the emotional and often physical disruption to developmental time in which the life-sustaining work of families occurs. Bereaved parents are taxed to the limit. Shapiro’s first strategy for private management of overwhelming emotion can be most safely addressed by a professional who understands the grief process as it is impacts a family system. The LOSS Program attends to adults and children to support a way to look at the loss and construct an honest, adaptive narrative about the suicide. Healthy grief work is life-affirming. When you participate in a clinically based program focused specifically on loss and grief you and your children find a safe place to express feelings and make sense of your experience. And consultation is always available as you improvise the first steps toward creating a new secure base for yourself and loved ones.

Chodron, P. (2001). When Things Fall Apart. Shambhala Publications, Boulder, Co.

Shapiro, E. (1994). Grief as a Family Process. The Guilford Press, New York, London.



Archives:

Restoring Family Stability after a Suicide
Monday, September 18, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Every family has various needs for structure. As they grow, families will create the rules and routines that support their ability to function. We know that families have different resources and various amounts of structure supporting day-to-day living, but if they have inadequate structure and routine for too long there can be emotional and behavioral reactions. As parents, we instinctively take steps to “get back to normal” following sickness, vacations, too much activity, conflict or time away from home. We learn to create structure for ourselves as young adults and consume psychoeducational resources to help our babies self-regulate, socialize and learn. We make efforts to construct unique routines and relationships that support the needs of each person in the family. Stability grounds us, offers a sense of equilibrium and keeps us feeling normal.

Stable conditions seem to reflect the health of a family’s relationship bonds, resilience to stressors and the way we view the world. It supports our forward thinking momentum. A family’s dedicated activities toward goals and outcomes is the norm for which we get up in the morning, work, own cars and homes. With stability, we expect everyone to grow, learn, cope and relate better.

But when a parent or child dies by suicide many aspects of regulated family life are interrupted, at least momentarily. A physical link in the family is suddenly gone, and sometimes this includes the people, places, financial resources and accoutrements associated with the deceased loved one. As we respond with shock to the loss we may even experience other cherished family connections with a sense of estrangement, even if we can’t describe why, leading to a sense of isolation. And we seem to not know ourselves in this strange, awful situation of loss. A suicide loss assaults our entire notion of normal. The initial grief reactions are likely to deplete energy and interest in the routines and patterns that had been part of our everyday lives, even causing us to question the meaning of the future that has always moved us forward. A sudden, irrational death like suicide causes disruption at every level of family life. It can greatly alter the stability that a family enjoyed prior to the crisis imposed by suicide loss.

While it might seem difficult to imagine, most families coping with suicide loss do reconstruct a “new normal,” perhaps an over-used, and condescending sounding term. But survival is a complex, energizing process of renewal that includes identity work and meaning and values and determination… and connecting with resources to rebuild the ground for recovery. Stability reforms gradually with patience, love and mindful intention. The intention can steady us, even when we have little energy for following through in the moment. We hope that bereaved parents can find good therapeutic support as they resume the watchful role of raising grieving children.

During the first days and weeks after a suicide adults there is a great struggle with the reality of the loss. Many describe a sense of stopped time, in contrast to the momentum that had characterized the daily life of the intact family. It can be healthy to recognize that these sensations are normal for a suddenly bereaved person, even when they feel crazy or life-threatening. Having someone who wants to be there for us, who can be a reliable witness to the pain and disorientation can be a major blessing as we figure out our footing. In a previous article I wrote about the possible benefits of facing in to the sensation of groundlessness which describes the acute experience of loss and upheaval. In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron speaks from her own experience with loss when she suggests that it is actually the resistance to the free-fall that feels calamitous. She encourages us to take an intimate look into the groundlessness that engulfs us, to find there the “seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.” The author is known for her endorsement of a heart-opening approach to our most vulnerable human experiences. I think she is talking to us about taking on the survival process by first being present to the no-answer mystery at the heart of groundlessness, the recognition that we are here, beginning, being patient with the vicissitudes of recovery from profound loss, turning toward our children and caring for them. Facing in to groundlessness is a courageous practice that may allow us to start rebuilding from where we are. With its spiritual/existential orientation, I only recommend this for mature individuals. As a grief counselor to children and teens, I am more and more convinced that their most beneficial opportunities for processing a profound loss will take place with the best facsimilie of normal that you can put together with a support system. For this age group, developmental tasks, identity and ego development are best addressed with a secure base and less of the abstract searching that adult grief evokes.

We step outside of ourselves when we care for our children. We find ourselves waking them, patching together a day, until days become more solid. A regained sense of equilibrium is the foundation for further steps toward individual and collective healing within the family. Esther Shapiro stresses to grief professionals that the process of restoring equilibrium is what will allow the family system to tolerate the crisis of loss. She identifies four areas or pillars that support the family system during a time of life-changing loss and grief.

- Individuals must find private ways to manage the most intense emotions, perhaps with journaling, therapy, time alone.

- Shared strategies should be created for helping one another during overwhelming stress.

- Involvement of “extended family and community supports for managing day to day living and interpreting the meaning of the death and loss.”

- Use of cultural rituals which elevate the role of each participant, bring dignity to the loss and providing another structure for making meaning of the loss (Shapiro, pg.16).

Shapiro’s strategies cover the bases to guide bereaved families toward channels for healthy grief responses and a secure base for continued individual and family development. Each family requires unique attention based on the developmental stages and needs of the persons i affected by the loss.

We always encourage families to work with grief counselors to navigate at least the initial months following a suicide loss. No parent or family can be prepared for the emotional and often physical disruption to developmental time in which the life-sustaining work of families occurs. Bereaved parents are taxed to the limit. Shapiro’s first strategy for private management of overwhelming emotion can be most safely addressed by a professional who understands the grief process as it is impacts a family system. The LOSS Program attends to adults and children to support a way to look at the loss and construct an honest, adaptive narrative about the suicide. Healthy grief work is life-affirming. When you participate in a clinically based program focused specifically on loss and grief you and your children find a safe place to express feelings and make sense of your experience. And consultation is always available as you improvise the first steps toward creating a new secure base for yourself and loved ones.

Chodron, P. (2001). When Things Fall Apart. Shambhala Publications, Boulder, Co.

Shapiro, E. (1994). Grief as a Family Process. The Guilford Press, New York, London.