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From the Desk of Jessica Mead
Saturday, August 01, 2015 by Jessica Mead
As a clinician with the LOSS program, I have met dozens of survivors of suicide, heard many stories of tragedy and loss, and sat with numerous individuals experiencing gut-wrenching sadness, many people trying to figure out if life is worth living again. Some people ask how we (LOSS therapists) can hear these awful stories and find this work tolerable?  I tell people that work we do at LOSS is incredibly meaningful; people get better and I have met some of the most courageous, kind and wonderful people in the process. Most survivors that I see in grief counseling do get better and go on to live very fulfilling and meaningful lives. As grief counselors, we walk with individuals as they process through the phases of grief. We get to be part of the process to help the survivors reconstruct parts of who they are and assist them to re-engage in their life. 

One LOSS member reminds me of our first session when she asked me why I did this work. I answered that I get to see people getting better. She told me that she holds onto that statement, “people get better.” If you are new to the LOSS program this statement may be incomprehensible to you now. For many, the intense sadness and pain of losing someone by suicide is unrelenting. It’s nearly impossible to imagine “feeling better” but I know that you will not feel this intense sadness forever. When I think about what this looks like, I picture an electrocardiograph monitor  (but one that measures pain instead of heart rate). In the immediate aftermath, the pain is so intense that the graph has extreme peaks that are extremely close together. As you journey through the grief process those peaks are still there but become less exaggerated and further apart. There will always be some level of sadness and longing when thinking about your loved one, but that sadness looks very different as you journey through grief. 

While there is no prescription for grief many survivors struggle in similar ways. In those first days after your loss you may feel nothing, numbness and shock, or you may not be able to stop crying for days. Many people who present to the LOSS program at this time are in such crisis that they are almost a completely different version of themselves. Some people come to monthly meetings a week or so after the loss and report that they were able to do this because of the shock. As this subsides and friends and family have gone back to their “normal” routines, survivors often report feeling more sad. When I lost my dad it was hard for me to understand why I felt worse a few months after his death.  I later realized that I was not as busy anymore. The distractions of friends and family, figuring out his estate and paying bills left me with more time to process and sit with the pain of his death. It is during times like these that LOSS members often attend support groups saying that their friends are getting sick of them talking about the death and they feel isolated and don’t have a place for their grief. Groups, other survivors and online forums are mediums through which people find support and comfort when they don’t know where else to seek support. 

A difficult time for survivors can be the one year anniversary of the loss. Weeks before the date many people struggle as they anticipate the dread of this day.  Some people transport themselves to the past and think about what they were doing the days leading to their loved ones death. “I cannot believe that I was getting my hair done and my brother was in so much pain.” Often I hear from survivors that the anticipation of the day is much more difficult than the day itself. We often encourage people to have a plan for the day, talk with friends and family so that you know each others expectations for the day. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do emotionally for yourself on that day. Some people have said that getting through the first year is the hardest part, once you have all the “firsts” done you know what to expect and how to make it different for the next year. 

I have led the LOSS Young Adult Group for about 3 years and it has been truly amazing to witness the evolution of the group. LOSS Members who attended every month for 3 years start coming to meetings every few months. As time goes by, and as survivors process and work through their grief, they spend less time on the grief work. Some LOSS members skip meetings and instead get together for coffee when they need to talk about their loss. Many people begin to form foundations for their loved ones, get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), create their own organizations, and/or become LOSS facilitators. Most people that I work with figure out a way to re-engage in their lives while also honoring their loved one. It truly is like learning to walk with your limp, it’s not like it was before but eventually you figure out how to walk again.  

It is a great feeling to support someone in finding meaning and purpose in their lives again but my heart also aches for those who come to us as their have just recently lost someone.  If you feel like you are floundering I would suggest connecting with other survivors in some way. I hope that the Obelisk, other survivors, individual counseling or support groups can instill some light and hope.


Archives:

From the Desk of Jessica Mead
Saturday, August 01, 2015 by Jessica Mead
As a clinician with the LOSS program, I have met dozens of survivors of suicide, heard many stories of tragedy and loss, and sat with numerous individuals experiencing gut-wrenching sadness, many people trying to figure out if life is worth living again. Some people ask how we (LOSS therapists) can hear these awful stories and find this work tolerable?  I tell people that work we do at LOSS is incredibly meaningful; people get better and I have met some of the most courageous, kind and wonderful people in the process. Most survivors that I see in grief counseling do get better and go on to live very fulfilling and meaningful lives. As grief counselors, we walk with individuals as they process through the phases of grief. We get to be part of the process to help the survivors reconstruct parts of who they are and assist them to re-engage in their life. 

One LOSS member reminds me of our first session when she asked me why I did this work. I answered that I get to see people getting better. She told me that she holds onto that statement, “people get better.” If you are new to the LOSS program this statement may be incomprehensible to you now. For many, the intense sadness and pain of losing someone by suicide is unrelenting. It’s nearly impossible to imagine “feeling better” but I know that you will not feel this intense sadness forever. When I think about what this looks like, I picture an electrocardiograph monitor  (but one that measures pain instead of heart rate). In the immediate aftermath, the pain is so intense that the graph has extreme peaks that are extremely close together. As you journey through the grief process those peaks are still there but become less exaggerated and further apart. There will always be some level of sadness and longing when thinking about your loved one, but that sadness looks very different as you journey through grief. 

While there is no prescription for grief many survivors struggle in similar ways. In those first days after your loss you may feel nothing, numbness and shock, or you may not be able to stop crying for days. Many people who present to the LOSS program at this time are in such crisis that they are almost a completely different version of themselves. Some people come to monthly meetings a week or so after the loss and report that they were able to do this because of the shock. As this subsides and friends and family have gone back to their “normal” routines, survivors often report feeling more sad. When I lost my dad it was hard for me to understand why I felt worse a few months after his death.  I later realized that I was not as busy anymore. The distractions of friends and family, figuring out his estate and paying bills left me with more time to process and sit with the pain of his death. It is during times like these that LOSS members often attend support groups saying that their friends are getting sick of them talking about the death and they feel isolated and don’t have a place for their grief. Groups, other survivors and online forums are mediums through which people find support and comfort when they don’t know where else to seek support. 

A difficult time for survivors can be the one year anniversary of the loss. Weeks before the date many people struggle as they anticipate the dread of this day.  Some people transport themselves to the past and think about what they were doing the days leading to their loved ones death. “I cannot believe that I was getting my hair done and my brother was in so much pain.” Often I hear from survivors that the anticipation of the day is much more difficult than the day itself. We often encourage people to have a plan for the day, talk with friends and family so that you know each others expectations for the day. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do emotionally for yourself on that day. Some people have said that getting through the first year is the hardest part, once you have all the “firsts” done you know what to expect and how to make it different for the next year. 

I have led the LOSS Young Adult Group for about 3 years and it has been truly amazing to witness the evolution of the group. LOSS Members who attended every month for 3 years start coming to meetings every few months. As time goes by, and as survivors process and work through their grief, they spend less time on the grief work. Some LOSS members skip meetings and instead get together for coffee when they need to talk about their loss. Many people begin to form foundations for their loved ones, get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), create their own organizations, and/or become LOSS facilitators. Most people that I work with figure out a way to re-engage in their lives while also honoring their loved one. It truly is like learning to walk with your limp, it’s not like it was before but eventually you figure out how to walk again.  

It is a great feeling to support someone in finding meaning and purpose in their lives again but my heart also aches for those who come to us as their have just recently lost someone.  If you feel like you are floundering I would suggest connecting with other survivors in some way. I hope that the Obelisk, other survivors, individual counseling or support groups can instill some light and hope.