Sensitive Content: in this post I speak about my experience with child loss and suicide loss.
Since my son, Jairus, died in 2019, I’ve received countless messages either asking for support or sharing stories of losing a loved one to suicide. This type of loss can feel incredibly isolating in this grief-illiterate and phobic world. No matter how we lose a child, or someone we love to suicide, our world is turned upside down. I’m adding helpful resources to this page as I come across them.
We need each other as we journey through grief
Death and grief are sacred (and scary and horrible) times in life. As David Kessler says, “grief can be traumatic and transformative.” This is certainly my experience. Sometimes grief involves trauma. All trauma involves grief.
We need each other as we journey through grief yet it’s hard to find the energy or emotional capacity to find safe places to talk and regulate together. I don’t know how I’d have survived this journey and incredible pain without the company of other moms navigating the experience of child loss. Women ahead of me on the journey.
As I write this, I’m nearing the three-year mark of Jairus’ death. I will never want this to be my reality. But having traveled through acute grief (the first weeks and months after the loss) and early grief (the first two or three years+ after the loss depending on whether or not trauma is also involved), I’m now at a place where I feel ready to take tiny steps beyond survival into living more fully again around my deep grief. This season of the journey is called “mature grief” though in no way does this mean it’s easy or that the work of grief is done.
From the start of my work I’ve spoken openly about mental health and mind-body wellness. I will continue using my voice by speaking openly about my experience with suicide and child loss and creating space for other brave and weary people to truth-tell, be witnessed, and remember how to feel safe, at home, and even joyful in their bodies and their lives once more after significant or traumatic loss.
RELATED: In this podcast interview, I speak about navigating a dark winter season of grief (as I navigate perimenopause), about giving rage and grief a voice, and emerging into ‘Second Spring’ after the three-year death date of my son. Listen here.
The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.Parker Palmer, The Perils of Advice
TOOLS for child or suicide loss: what HELPED ME SURVIVE THE FIRST 2 YEARS
Every story and loss is unique so keep that in mind. Jairus struggled hard and we experienced trauma before his death as we tried to keep him alive, not only after. In addition, my husband and I were in a traumatic car accident only three weeks before he died. I experienced severe panic disorder for 17 months and my youngest child also experienced severe anxiety and panic too.
The most important thing I want to share is: do whatever the heck it takes to stay above water the first two years! Here are the tools for child and suicide loss that stand out to me as most helpful for my journey:
- Friends (mine and his) and family: to help bring his memorial to life, clean out his apartment, make some of the hard initial phone calls, and make us eat. I still haven’t finished closing all his accounts or going through all his belongings. Do things in your own time;
- Community: especially the Left of Center Grief Circle of other women navigating child loss and meeting Kathy whose son Jared died by suicide just 5 days after Jairus and companioning each other; reaching out to my close friends when I was in despair and the circle of women in my Brave + Beautiful Community (I highly recommend a grief circle specific to child loss and ideally led by or co-hosted by someone with lived experience);
- EMDR (especially in conjunction with psilocybin);
- Micro-dosing with Psilocybin: in just two days it stopped 17 months of severe panic;
- Writing: my journals and grief journal (now private), and this resource page;
- Self-Trust + Self-Compassion: ample rest, Netflixing, lowering the bar, asking for help, going at my own pace;
- Really strong boundaries: I ended unhealthy relationships (those that did not feel safe) and forged others;
- Reading memoir of loss and learning to thrive again;
- Doing things that felt like honouring Jairus: talking openly about mental health and suicide loss, starting a scholarship in his name (it no longer feels nourishing), co-creating a book about child loss to help other parents;
- Wellbutrin**: grief and post-concussion syndrome made it hard to focus and concentrate; this medication helped me “get my brain back”;
- Somatic Embodiment work (and I chose to dive in and study this for my benefit and that of my clients);
- Removing all expectations for special holidays; it isn’t your job to make it OK for anyone else (you can’t!) – Just show up;
- Making space for everyone to grieve in their own way. My husband and older daughter grieve very differently from my younger daughter and me;
- Walking, walking, walking: friends became my walking partners to get me out into the wooded trails three times each week in rain, snow, ice, sun… walking helped me process, to move pain and grief through my body, to be surrounded by moss and trees and be reminded that joy and grief, beauty and suffering, live side-by-side in a messy and beautiful life.
When you lose a friend, you not only lose that person, you also lose the part of yourself that person brought out. When a friend dies, part of you dies as well.Dr. Daniel Z. Lieberman
Do not add to shame and stigma: a word about medication
We all need to recognize the ways that we are complicit in contributing to the shame, stigma, and isolation around mental illness, neurodivergence, being LGBTQIA+ or otherwise not fitting into the tiny little box society hands us and deems acceptable. In this space, I’d like to address the ongoing shaming that I witness online around medication.
There is NO SHAME in taking medication, in asking for and receiving help whatever form that takes, or in simply being human in a messy world.
I am so grateful for Wellbutrin and the role it has played since November 2021 in my ability to show up fully to life through pain, PTSD, and post-concussion syndrome. I am as grateful for this as I am for the thyroid medication that keeps me mind-body healthy as I live with Hashimoto’s.
Meds don’t fix life (and grief in and of itself does not need to be medicated). But shaming absolutely harms and can rob people of life.
If you find a medication that works for you (the science around anti-depressants is still very much in progress and trial-and-error is generally required), they can simply give you the capacity to take action in your life as you ask for help and explore the different factors contributing to your pain or suffering. Or, as in crisis situations, they can help keep you safe and alive while accessing tools and resources to help you find your way forward.
There is concern that they are over prescribed and not enough education and support around mind-emotion-body health, lifestyle, and environment is offered. In addition, sometimes people in pain and health-care providers conflate grief and depression (though a grieving person could also be depressed or have another reason for needing medication).
But none of this is a reason to avoid medication if you’re suffering or to judge yourself for trying medication. This is an example of “both/and.” The imperfection of it doesn’t discount it’s usefulness for some of us.
I have lived experience with struggling to live, kids, friends, and clients for whom medication keeps them alive and thinking clearly enough to be able to plan, eat nourishing food, be in community, feel moments of joy, experience a bit more steadiness in their highs and lows.
I also resisted medication most of my life, preferring ‘natural methods’ and working incredibly hard, harder than anyone else I know. Until post-concussion syndrome + my son died + trauma and grief and PTSD and then no amount of mindfulness, self-compassion, walks in the woods, good nutrition and gut health, supplements+ was enough. I used every tool within my extensive resilience toolbox and added in more.
I also recognize that I had permission to receive help through medication earlier on (especially the ages of 14-18 when I was actively suicidal), completely shame and judgment free. I wish my son had accepted medication and therapy years earlier instead of feeling shame and judgment around it. Perhaps he’d be alive today; he was treatment-resistant at the end (though he was never given the option to try psychedelics which is so disappointing).
Please do whatever is needed to keep yourself safe while learning to live fully and thrive again.
I love Jairus’ smile in this photo though it’s super grainy. One of the hardest things is not having new/more photos of him. This one (in the original with 2 friends) was sent to me by a friend which I deeply appreciate.
six needs of a grieving person
We can’t bypass grief, we don’t “get over” the loss of our favourite people, but we can learn to heal forward, to live fully again with and around the loss and grief.
There is no timeline for grief (yet we’re often made to feel like we should be “back to normal” already). There is no one-right-way to grieve, no linear, neat and tidy process to follow. But there are some themes and tools that we can all benefit from as we do our personal healing and grief work.
The following is a recap of six needs of a grieving person taught by world renown grief expert, David Kessler.
- To have their pain witnessed. To have others come sit with them in their pain without fixing.
- To express their feelings and use their voice.
- To release the burden of guilt. It’s often more comfortable to feel guilty than helpless.
- To address the old wounds that arise during the grieving process.
- To integrate the pain and the love. Integration feels like a million little acceptances rather than a one-time choice.
- To find meaning in time. The meaning isn’t in the tragedy or loss itself, but in the way we move through the loss and decide to live again, in what we choose to do with our newly acquired wisdom and experience.
We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible.Edith Eger, The Choice
Further support As you navigate child or suicide loss and grief
You don’t need fixing. You’re not broken, you’re grieving. There’s no rushing or bypassing this process. Each type of loss is different.
For parents whose child has died, I want to repeat something because I think it’s incredibly important to hear and let it sink in: the first TWO YEARS after losing someone we love is still EARLY GRIEF. And if trauma is involved, as with suicide, it’s even longer.
Long before then you may lose relationships and the people who love you most will have ‘moved on’ – because they must. This might feel painful and isolating which is why connecting in a grief circle is so important. You’re not doing it wrong! It really is this horrible, and hard, and some days you might feel like you cannot survive this. But you can.
All you need to do is walk through this moment, this hour, this day. Slow and steady it won’t feel quite so hard. You will learn to keep living and thriving around your grief. Please be kind to yourself.
1. build Community with other brave, weary, growth-minded women
I started my Brave + Beautiful Community four weeks before our car accident, 7 weeks before our son died. This is a beautiful, compassionate, growth-minded community and it served as a lifeline for me in the worst season of my life.
It’s not ideal for those in crisis or the first year of child loss or other significant loss. In this first year I recommend a grief circle specific to your type of loss, grief counselling or grief coaching, therapy, or a combination of these. After the first year, if you are a grieving parent in need of community you can join anytime rather than waiting for doors to officially open.
The B+B is a paid community and I offer a number of equity “pay-what-you-can” spaces to the people on my email list with preference to those in marginalized communities.
2. discharge stress and feel more empowered workshop
This workshop (currently $7 but if you’re grieving and can’t afford the fee, reach out) will help you understand the different parts (and experiences) of your autonomic nervous system. It will help you become more familiar with what it feels like to be AT HOME in your body and your life, how to recognize when you shift into chaotic or anxious and overwhelmed energy (when you feel like you’re searching for home), and what it’s like in your body and your life to feel unmoored, collapsed, or shut down (or when you feel disconnected from home) and how to COME BACK HOME. Find the workshop here.
3. grief and trauma-aware private Coaching + Education
Some of my clients have lost children and we talk openly about grief and trauma. I bring my lived experience, study of trauma, nervous system regulation, self-compassion, mindfulness, resilience, and more to the work. I’m certified in somatic embodiment regulation strategies, have worked as a women’s coach and educator for 8 years, and I’m certified as a Grief Educator with world-renown grief expert, David Kessler. My work is not a replacement for therapy nor offered as treatment for any medical condition.
A Certified Grief Educator is committed to providing the highest level of grief support through education, experience, and insights into the often unacknowledged rocky terrain of grief. Certified Grief Educators completed a certificate program designed by world-renowned grief expert, David Kessler. They bring his unique methodology, tools, and decades of experience to help people navigate the challenges of grief. Learn more about working together.
I’ve also talked about grief on various podcasts. This is a presentation I offered as I neared my son’s fourth death date. It’s about thriving through and beyond grief as a Highly Sensitive Person.
4. How to Hold Space Without Losing Yourself in the Process
Based on my lived experience and my coaching and health education work, I explore what it means to hold space, how to know if you’re the right person to hold space for another, and 5 ways to hold space without losing yourself in the process. Read the post here.
You can’t change the world but you can change someone’s world.Jared Escobar
5. grief education + support that doesn’t suck
Megan Devine has a book, podcast, writing circles and other forms of support for grieving people or those who want to learn how to better support their grieving loved ones. I appreciate her work. Learn more here. As mental health professionals who have experienced significant losses ourselves, the folks at whatsyourgrief.com know individual grief is unique and there is no “right” way to cope. Their goal is to create a community that provides hope, support, and education to anyone wishing to understand the complicated experience of life after loss. Learn more here.
6. DOUGY CENTER (US ONLY)
Dougy Center offers a wide range of resources for people of all ages (kids, teens, young adults, caregivers and teachers) who are grieving before and after a death. Grief Resources.
7. The best and worst things to say
Most of us are kind of awkward around people in pain. People often say hurtful things in times of grief, not because they’re trying to be hurtful but sometimes due to ignorance, other times because they want to ease their own discomfort, and at times simply because they share very different beliefs about life and death and share their beliefs uninvited. David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross share a short list of some of the best and worst things to say to someone who is grieving. And, as always, there’s no one-size-fits-all truth for every grieving person. Read the list here.
8. grief resources: grief isn’t only about death
“We have such low representation of Black people in grief research, and because of the kinds of questions we’re asking, we haven’t really captured what the experience is like for this community,” Wilson said. “That could also have far-reaching effects to other communities that have been marginalized and may have experienced grief on a similar level, such as Indigenous populations.” Read the article here. As Rachel Ricketts writes, “Simply going through hard times will not make you stronger, but how you choose to respond to them absolutely can.” Take a look at her excellent list of grief resources.
9. Tender Hearts Grief community
Grief expert David Kessler runs this “community of courageous grievers.” Learn more here.
10. 10 Core Principles of Being Grief-Informed + resources for kids and teens
Here is the list of 10 core principles of being grief-informed if you want to learn more about supporting others through grief. The Dougy Center offers a wide range of resources for people of all ages who are grieving before and after a death. Learn more here.
If you’re navigating child loss and/or suicide loss, I send you so much love. You may feel at times like this is impossible, that you will not survive. I hear you. I felt that way often. But all you have to do is to focus on one breath at a time. Then one hour at a time, and one day at a time. This is the only way to do the impossible.
Though we will all die one day and certainly bury people we love, we live in a grief-illiterate and avoidant society. Many of us feel isolated, and even judged or shamed, as we navigate deep grief and pain. We need to change this story.
The tools for child or suicide loss that I’ve shared with you are what helped me in the first two years in particular. But remember, there is no rule book for this journey. You’re not doing it wrong – all that matters is you’re doing it. My body and brain still have a hard time making sense of the reality that my son is really, truly gone forever. I’m here with you choosing life and even joy each morning.
Feel free to share this page with people you know who are navigating child or suicide loss.