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LOSS Program Office
721 N. LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60654

Main Line: (312) 655-7283
Fax Line: (312) 948-3340

Featured this Month:

From the Desk of Father Rubey
Thursday, October 19, 2017 by Father Ruby
In one of the recent LOSS support groups participants found themselves talking about the impact of stigma they experienced in the wake of their loved one’s deaths. Our groups are intended to be a safe place for survivors to meet others and talk about any struggles they are experiencing. There are many things that make suicide more painful and disorienting for those left behind, and one of those things is the experience of stigma.

We all know that everyone must die, and yet we all wish for ourselves and our loved ones a “good death.” Ideas about what constitutes a “good death” are probably culturally determined, but here in the United States, we generally prefer to believe that people should live a long happy life, and die only after having certain experiences or making certain contributions: finding love, raising a family, having a satisfying career that is sufficiently successful to provide for one’s family and promote a more civil society. But this view tends to be more reflective of the American dream than reality. Nevertheless, most of us do measure our lives against the standard of the dream. So when young people die, by suicide or otherwise, we feel deep in our guts that it is wholly unnatural, like the sun setting in morning. These deaths are hard enough, without having to navigate the extra negativity of community stigma, which is experienced as unfair piling on. When loved ones die by suicide, whether young or old, those left behind feel challenged from the outset about what to reveal, to whom and how much (see October 2014 Obelisk issue for suggested ways to respond, Putting survivors in control, p. 1 ). Sometimes families opt to withhold the cause of death at funerals, which likely imposes extra strain if family members are not in agreement about the need to keep the suicide secret. One group member expressed a feeling of being trapped by this demand. Sometimes the interdiction to disclose extends far beyond the funeral, such as when families decide that the best course of action is to publicize an entirely different cause of death: a heart attack, a fall, a car accident, etc.

When families feel constrained to change the cause of death, ostensibly to make it more palatable to friends, neighbors, or even to themselves, it is reasonable to assume that the death was experienced as decidedly not good; even unspeakable. The degree to which suicide is viewed as unacceptable and unspeakable appears to be culturally determined. But we have welcomed grievers across cultures, all of whom entered LOSS groups looking for a safe place to speak the unspeakable, and to find out if others feel the oppression of community stigma. One survivor who had been forbidden by her parents to speak openly about her brother’s suicide had buried her feelings for five years until deciding to participate in the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk. Participation in the Walk led her to International Survivor Day and from this event she found her way to LOSS, where she can receive the nonjudgmental support she needs in order to “be out” about the tragedy.

If we think about the degree of extra kindness and sympathy we normally extend to anyone when a loved one dies, not receiving similar consideration after suicide is baffling. But in our groups survivors report more than the absence of sympathy; they report silence from friends, a sense that the community is avoiding them; or worse, colleagues ask “What happened?” in a way that suggests the survivor is in some way responsible for the death. One group member reported that after his wife died by suicide, no one from the church where the couple had worshipped regularly and been regular choir members reached out to them; not even the pastor. To make matters worse, we often hear LOSS members express self-derision in the wake of the loss. Parents who have lost a child to suicide experience themselves as incompetent, “I must be the worst mother.” Those who lost a spouse or partner often experience themselves as having failed the relationship and that this failure in some way contributed to the suicide. Taken together these negative responses produce the toxic experience of being shunned by the community, rejected by the self, and abandoned by the deceased, the opposite of what grievers need in their darkest hour.

We are meant to be social beings. We celebrate in community and we need the support of the community to mourn. Particularly, when we cannot hold ourselves up, we need the community to surround and hold us up. Alan Wolfelt, renowned grief counselor and Director of the Center for LOSS in Fort Collins, Colorado, talks about the importance of “companioning” in grief. His tenets provide well- reasoned, gentle guidance for how we might care for one another in the wake of a suicide or other terrible tragedy. These are things that we can all do for each other: be present to another’s pain, bear witness to the struggles and listen with the heart, discover the gifts of silence, walk alongside and respect the confusion of grief (2006). This is the environment we strive to create in LOSS groups, where grievers come together to create new communities of caring.

The Out of the Darkness Walks provide a more literal experience of companioning. Those who participate talk about how the Walks provide hope, help survivors feel proud again, and help families openly honor their loved one. They “leave the darkness behind” (AFSP website video). The creation of a supportive companioning community is one antidote to the stigma survivors experience in the wake of suicide. LOSS began with one small group of survivors who came out of the dark to form the first LOSS group in the winter of 1979. In the ensuing decades the focus of our mission has been to create and sustain a companioning community for suicide survivors through every service that we provide. Whether in counseling, support groups, at the Blossoms of Hope Brunch, or in the way we produce the Obelisk, we hope you experience LOSS as a companioning community of support on which you can rely for as long as your grief journey lasts.

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Rev. Charles T. Rubey


Archives:

From the Desk of Father Rubey
Thursday, October 19, 2017 by Father Ruby
In one of the recent LOSS support groups participants found themselves talking about the impact of stigma they experienced in the wake of their loved one’s deaths. Our groups are intended to be a safe place for survivors to meet others and talk about any struggles they are experiencing. There are many things that make suicide more painful and disorienting for those left behind, and one of those things is the experience of stigma.

We all know that everyone must die, and yet we all wish for ourselves and our loved ones a “good death.” Ideas about what constitutes a “good death” are probably culturally determined, but here in the United States, we generally prefer to believe that people should live a long happy life, and die only after having certain experiences or making certain contributions: finding love, raising a family, having a satisfying career that is sufficiently successful to provide for one’s family and promote a more civil society. But this view tends to be more reflective of the American dream than reality. Nevertheless, most of us do measure our lives against the standard of the dream. So when young people die, by suicide or otherwise, we feel deep in our guts that it is wholly unnatural, like the sun setting in morning. These deaths are hard enough, without having to navigate the extra negativity of community stigma, which is experienced as unfair piling on. When loved ones die by suicide, whether young or old, those left behind feel challenged from the outset about what to reveal, to whom and how much (see October 2014 Obelisk issue for suggested ways to respond, Putting survivors in control, p. 1 ). Sometimes families opt to withhold the cause of death at funerals, which likely imposes extra strain if family members are not in agreement about the need to keep the suicide secret. One group member expressed a feeling of being trapped by this demand. Sometimes the interdiction to disclose extends far beyond the funeral, such as when families decide that the best course of action is to publicize an entirely different cause of death: a heart attack, a fall, a car accident, etc.

When families feel constrained to change the cause of death, ostensibly to make it more palatable to friends, neighbors, or even to themselves, it is reasonable to assume that the death was experienced as decidedly not good; even unspeakable. The degree to which suicide is viewed as unacceptable and unspeakable appears to be culturally determined. But we have welcomed grievers across cultures, all of whom entered LOSS groups looking for a safe place to speak the unspeakable, and to find out if others feel the oppression of community stigma. One survivor who had been forbidden by her parents to speak openly about her brother’s suicide had buried her feelings for five years until deciding to participate in the AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk. Participation in the Walk led her to International Survivor Day and from this event she found her way to LOSS, where she can receive the nonjudgmental support she needs in order to “be out” about the tragedy.

If we think about the degree of extra kindness and sympathy we normally extend to anyone when a loved one dies, not receiving similar consideration after suicide is baffling. But in our groups survivors report more than the absence of sympathy; they report silence from friends, a sense that the community is avoiding them; or worse, colleagues ask “What happened?” in a way that suggests the survivor is in some way responsible for the death. One group member reported that after his wife died by suicide, no one from the church where the couple had worshipped regularly and been regular choir members reached out to them; not even the pastor. To make matters worse, we often hear LOSS members express self-derision in the wake of the loss. Parents who have lost a child to suicide experience themselves as incompetent, “I must be the worst mother.” Those who lost a spouse or partner often experience themselves as having failed the relationship and that this failure in some way contributed to the suicide. Taken together these negative responses produce the toxic experience of being shunned by the community, rejected by the self, and abandoned by the deceased, the opposite of what grievers need in their darkest hour.

We are meant to be social beings. We celebrate in community and we need the support of the community to mourn. Particularly, when we cannot hold ourselves up, we need the community to surround and hold us up. Alan Wolfelt, renowned grief counselor and Director of the Center for LOSS in Fort Collins, Colorado, talks about the importance of “companioning” in grief. His tenets provide well- reasoned, gentle guidance for how we might care for one another in the wake of a suicide or other terrible tragedy. These are things that we can all do for each other: be present to another’s pain, bear witness to the struggles and listen with the heart, discover the gifts of silence, walk alongside and respect the confusion of grief (2006). This is the environment we strive to create in LOSS groups, where grievers come together to create new communities of caring.

The Out of the Darkness Walks provide a more literal experience of companioning. Those who participate talk about how the Walks provide hope, help survivors feel proud again, and help families openly honor their loved one. They “leave the darkness behind” (AFSP website video). The creation of a supportive companioning community is one antidote to the stigma survivors experience in the wake of suicide. LOSS began with one small group of survivors who came out of the dark to form the first LOSS group in the winter of 1979. In the ensuing decades the focus of our mission has been to create and sustain a companioning community for suicide survivors through every service that we provide. Whether in counseling, support groups, at the Blossoms of Hope Brunch, or in the way we produce the Obelisk, we hope you experience LOSS as a companioning community of support on which you can rely for as long as your grief journey lasts.

Keep On Keepin’ On,

Rev. Charles T. Rubey