The First Year of Suicide Grief: Some Advice for Pain

The year is kareening around, we're hurtling through space on our tiny blue rocket ship called earth, and the one year mark to Matt's suicide is coming at my face.

We're doing amazing. I love my kids, they love me, I take care of grandma, she takes care of me, I've started a garden, we've got new little chicks, I've written half a novel, made new friends, the girls have learned to read and write English, and I'm learning to crochet.

And it's been bloody brutal. Since the middle of the night when I got the call from the police, my heart has had an ice-metal stake through it. It was a nuclear detonation and although we survived there are hugely echoing after-affects, radiation poisoning that will poison us for years and generations.

But there have been things that have helped. And I think they would help anyone, in any kind of trauma or pain. And I'm going to make a note of them in case I'm floudering, for me to come back to, and add to. And if this is helpful to anyone else, hoorah!

1. What do your senses want? What scent does your nose want to smell? What sound do your ears want to hear? What taste does your tongue want? What sensation does your skin want? Then lovingly, gently, give your senses the things they crave.

2. Can you see red around you? See it. Let it saturate your senses, until every red thing in your view is dazzling and illuminated. Got it? Now switch to orange. It takes a second for your focus to adjust. See all the orange and let it all come to the surface. Now yellow. Let the yellow swim forward. Now green. Let all the green dazzle around you. Now blue. Let all the blue come forward in your perception. Now purple. Allow all that rich purple to become visible around you.

3. When your heart is scorched, it's hard to know what you're feeling or what you need. Start with numbers. On a scale from one to ten, where are you? Just give it a number. Don't try and explain why or how or make any smart-sounding generalizations or conclusions based on this number. Just notice the number.

4. Once you have tuned in a little to your emotional 1-10 temperature, start naming your feelings with that same lack of judgment. Practice saying to yourself and to others, "I feel heartbroken. I feel furious. I feel betrayed. I feel exhausted."

5. Sharing your feelings builds intimacy. Say, "I feel...." to someone. It opens the path to connection. You need connection.

6. Collage your way to insight. Flip through a magazine or two, and pull out any images that draw your eye-- whether that's because you love them, you are repulsed by them, or you just want to look at them more-- take any image that pulls a strong reaction from you. Put them together in a collage, without trying to analyze what they mean. Just put them where they seem right.  Then, and this sounds weird, but talk to the figures in the art you produce. Ask the figures where they came from, what they want, what they're doing, what they've brought for you, what they need to learn, what they've come to teach you. Write down the questions and conversations you have-- you will be floored with the holy wisdom you can find in these dialogues.

7. Go outside. Sunshine is the answer. It won't make you happy but it will make you better. And that can nudge you towards happy.

8. Get in the water. Real water-- not just the pool, although that will do in a pinch-- get into rivers and salt waves. They are the bloodstream of mother earth. Feel her rushing pulse and let your sensation and pain be washed away in her blood. Cold mountain water will shock you into being present and will thrill your soul. Jump in.

9. Talk to the fire. Burn old things. Build heavy iron rings around the fire and then send it up, licking the branches above and the stars above that. Fire is dangerous and beautiful and smells like heaven. It will invite you into immediacy. Share your fire.

10. Embrace healing from all quarters. I've gotten great amounts of health to my navel and marrow to my bones from a myriad of weird sources: utterly loopy energy work, tarot readings, human design charts, professional therapy, my kid's teachers, a montessori preschool class, the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, food trucks and craft bazaars, the farmer's market, a fiber arts group, various online fan groups, the book The Artists Way, an online retreat called Wild Woman Unleashed, and a deeply insecure writing club. These things knock me out of my orbit, give me a fresh lens on my life, give me food for my soul. I can't keep going back to dry wells-- accept magic and divinity and inspiration from ALL the places.

11. Grab the family. I grab my girls. We go places. We talk in the car, sometimes about things that are easier to ask when all eyes are on the road, and listen to loud music. It's good.

12. Start new routines. Now we have piano lessons, then pizza and a movie every friday night, waffles every saturday, and donuts and a hike (aka Nature Church) every sunday. Every night we shower and brush teeth, turn on the fairy lights and snuggle in the cozy corner (a nook under the stairs piled deep with pillows and stuffed animals and rugs and fuzzy blankets) and put lotion on our feet and read together, and then we do "The blanket thing" and float the blankets down over the kids while they put on the Harry Potter audiobook. These rituals evolve but there's always something. And it anchors us. Some days I'm rubbish and the girls get themselves breakfast on their own and go to the bus without me getting out of bed. Some days we have microwaves pizza for dinner for three days in a row. But some things are stable as a pulse.

13. Make space for our shadows. I sat down with MP at the piano bench the other day. I played a series of minor chords and she started to sing. I tried to write down as much as I could-- it was dark-- a song to her dad. She's seven and she's singing about how much he'd hurt her, how could he leave her, she needs him, he's a terrible father, how could he do this--- it went on and on and on. I just kept playing until she came to the end of this agonizing song. It was gorgeous and amazing and so painful. You can't shut down moments of expressing the agony like that. You can't try and pretty it up and say BUT at the end of it. It's just pain. There's no, "But I'm so glad we'll be together again." We won't. He will not be a part of these kids' lives, or mine. There's no way to make that less horrifying. It's harder for me to make space for my own shadow than it is for me to make space for my kids'-- but it's something to be aware of.

14. Do the impossible thing. Imagine what you want to then, why not, give it a try? For me that was really small things-- allowing myself a luxurious-looking red throw for my bed, getting some art framed. Allowing myself to let things be the way I want. But in the future I hope it means I'll remember to do bigger impossible things. I've always wanted to live in Europe as an adult. I need to just go do it, because why not?

I'm sure I'll come and add more as it occurs to me.


  1. Love this. Thank you for writing.

  2. I love your heart and mind . Share away's beautiful , dark , true and loving all at once !!

  3. Thank you for sharing your soul. You have a gift for expression!
    This was beautiful.

  4. As my family and I deal with the loss of my brother to suicide I find your words so enlightening, inspiring, comforting and heart wrenching all at once. It's so true yet hard to leave out the "why?" through all of this and just focus in on the "what now?" and "how?". You are truly wonderful and doing a great service to others by sharing. Mahalo

    1. Oh nooooo, I didn't know, I'm so sorry tita!! Oh, your brother, your poor, heart, your poor family. I'm so sorry. Just keep breathing, keep drinking water and eating nutritious food. I love the story that we heard at the wahi kapu at koloa about the woman driven insane by grief who was supported until she oli, oli, oli her way to a healthy mind. Hiki na mea hawaii ke hoomalu kela eha. Hiki kakou ke heenalu ma luna o ka eha. Love love love to you and yours!


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