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OOD Walk 2015

It’s the emotional day again… The AFSP walk day. This day is fun, this day is hard, this day is unifying, this day is hopeful, this day is heavy, this day is exhausting.

LOSS will be there eager to meet new friends and share resources. I will be Mom – not LOSS leader. I will walk quietly with Robbie in remembrance of my son. I will weep and I will smile. I will thank God for my boy and lash out at Him for not saving him from himself. I will silently ask “why, what did I miss, and how was my love not enough to just chose life?” dozens of times. Living without Drey means living with pain. And on this day it’s just best to experience the pain along side fellow survivors. There’s something peaceful and safe about this walk. I am blessed to be part of other survivors lives.  💚💜

Here I go again…

I wish I were just singing a Whitesnake song but that’s not the case…

I’ve decided being the leader of Cornerstone of Hope Grief Counseling Center is in conflict with my passion around suicide awareness advocacy… Specifically LOSS. When I accepted the position of ED at Cornerstone we thought it was clear how I’d support – how I’d lead – both organizations. But questions have been raised.

Better now than 6 months into the role, right? Whatever.

Unfortunately my self-talk platitudes aren’t helpful.

And now I’m reminded all over again that my son is dead. No – I didn’t forget. But something was happening with my grief when I joined Cornerstone. A purpose for the pain? in a visible way? In a worldly way perhaps?

But now I’m back to “just volunteering.” There’s far more to it than that… Anyone who’s talked to me about the LOSS team for more than 1 minute can clearly see my passion. But I guess I just need a day or a week or however long to be sad. Sad that things didn’t play out the way I thought they would. And sad that I’m even in this situation. My son is still dead.

Yesterday – the same day I resigned from Cornerstone – I received a thank you card from a Mom who’s child died by suicide. I was there with another volunteer that day as LOSS team volunteers. Feeling awkward. Answering her questions – the family’s questions. Not sure if our words were helpful. Quietly praying for God’s comfort. And now a thank you card from her that brought me to my knees. The timing of it. A thank you card on the day I resigned. On the day I choose to stick with LOSS. I’m humbled by this precious gift and I am confident that some day I’ll be able to share with this Mom the impact she had on me.

And still through all of it my son is dead. He is still dead. I am sad. I have self doubt. I doubt God. I doubt my ability to discern Gods will for my life. These doubts and feelings seem permanent – but they are not. It’s just for now. One foot in front of the other regardless of my feelings. But still, just damn.

Outreach to survivors of a suicide loss.

Vaca was wonderful last week. A sweet time to enjoy good food, the ocean and a super slow pace. I knew I was coming home to a busy week. Busy from a time commitment perspective but also emotionally busy. I’ve taken steps to prepare. I’ve gotten up early to talk and listen to God in spite of the required hour for rising. I used to get up at 5:30 regularly. That seems like a very long time ago. Most mornings are harder now. We all wear our grief differently. Maybe if my son hadn’t taken his life in the morning they wouldn’t be as hard? Who knows. It doesn’t really matter now.

Yesterday was national suicide prevention day. I did nothing to recognize it in spite of its importance. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’ve “moved on” or don’t do other things to honor Drey (she says silently reassuring herself). One person can only do so much in a week.

Over the last 3 days I’ve met amazing people. People who are dedicated to serving others. And unlike last years LOSS conference I couldn’t easily divide the attendees into 2 general groups. The first being the clinicians and the second being survivors of a suicide loss. The lines were more blurry for me. But someone made a comment towards the end of the conference mentioning they could see 2 separate audiences – so the makeup of the group wasn’t different this year. I just wasn’t as aware – I wasn’t as sensitive to it. This is God at work In a miraculous way! For me to not take notice of the clinicians unique language, questions, or approach is a miracle. I’m not the prickly survivor I was last year. The survivor that was irritated by their textbook knowledge but lack of personal traumatic experience. My quills are smooth and controlled along my body now.

All signs point to the Franklin County LOSS team launching very soon. I am guilty of continually looking forward at what we haven’t yet done instead of celebrating how far we’ve come. We started this work just one year ago – and now we’re about ready to launch. Wow. I never could’ve imagined it as I walked into last years conference not knowing a single person. God has opened so many doors and has given me the strength and wisdom to be obedient and walk through them.

So this September I once again won’t collect that big, fat bonus I used to get as a result of all the hard work through the year at marketing, leading and serving customers. Instead this September I’ve collected a team of amazing, sacrificial people who have raised their hand and said, “Yes. I want to help people who are facing a tragic loss to suicide. I can sit with them in silence. I can give them resources to leverage when they’re ready. I can even cry with them. I want them to know they are not alone.” I am grateful to this team of volunteers. Survivors, clinicians, hotline volunteers. We are all so different but share the same passion. It will be amazing to see what unfolds over the next year. And maybe maybe maybe some day soon there will be no need for a LOSS team.

Suicide Postvention

Yesterday was a big milestone – the L.O.S.S. First responder training.
We had just over 40 people attend. What I was most excited about was the diversity of the group… So many organizations were represented. Counselors, a hospital chaplain. A couple of handfuls of suicide hotline volunteers. We had at least 12 survivors of a suicide loss there. 4 law enforcement folks – all homicide departments from both the county and the city. And the coroner & an investigator. Wow wow wow. God is so good.

Being available to people ASAP after a suicide loss is so very important.

During my days, weeks and even months after Drey died, several people reached out to me and many people very sacrificially poured into me. Every single interaction has been important to me. Without knowing it at the time I very much needed those cards, random text messages, FB posts, phone calls, gifts and meals.

The pain I carried for several months was sickening.

The people who could break through – even though it was just for a moment – the thick, heavy despair were the small handful of women who were ahead of me in grieving the sudden loss of their child. Those momentary break throughs gave me hope and over time they joined and became hours – and dare I say days – rather than just moments.

I am quite emotionally tired from the training yesterday. Sadly my mind is not shutting down… no sleep for me. So I lay here in bed considering the flood of feelings I wish I could name. I guess I need more time to digest them.

My thoughts continue to drift to those early days and weeks. To those momentary break throughs. They were so damn brief but so amazingly bright.

Suicide postvention is important. L.O.S.S. Teams are important. I will continue on this path.

A Priest and a foul-mouthed soccer Mom walk into a Bob Evans…

    I had lunch today with Father Leo Connelly. Father Leo delivers death notifications with the Sheriff’s department – including in the case of suicides. As our work continues towards launching a first responder LOSS team I’ve met a lot of people I never imagined I would.

    Father Leo had a lot of good information. I learned more about how Law Enforcement is structured, other agencies I may want to connect with and about different scenarios he’s been in. Most importantly I learned to expect we’ll need to “prove ourselves” so to speak as valuable at a crime scene. Father Leo talked about the ministry of presence and how important it is. But that’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived through a tragic death of a loved one. There are no words to make it better. None. But knowing someone is there with you – some times perhaps just sitting silently – is impactful beyond words. Especially when the person sitting with you is also a survivor of suicide loss. Just small comments Father Leo said… like how sometimes when he goes to a scene he is initially an unwelcomed intruder that surely just told the family a bad joke rather than the truth. But by the end of his time there he is no longer an unwelcomed stranger. Most of the time he never knows if his presence was valuable in some small way. But that doesn’t keep him from moving forward in serving others in this way. What an important ministry. Through meeting people like Father Leo I’m becoming more equipped – and learning how to equip others – to be part of a LOSS team.

    I feel God’s hand in this. I can’t explain it but I do sense it… It’s not moving along in my preferred time table (we would’ve launched the LOSS team and hindsighted what’s working & what’s not by now – and you can bet the “what’s not working” part of the list would’ve been way longer!) I’m confident it has been God’s timing. I hope as people read this and other blogs about the LOSS team that they’re praying about it… that God would continue to open doors to these important Postvention efforts. I know this is my personal journey and my personal passion. Not everyone carries the same depth of concern for complete strangers that have lost someone to suicide that I do. We are all shaped by our own personal circumstances and experiences. I hope I can be a diligent prayer warrior for my family and friends as they pursue God and as they pursue the good works He’s given them to do.

    And for anyone reading this that knows me fairly well… Yes, I successfully enjoyed a meal and conversation with Father Leo without any colorful language 🙂

Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide – L.O.S.S. first responder team

We continue to make progress with the implementation of a LOSS first responder team here in Franklin County.  The LOSS team goes to the scene of a suicide where there are survivors.  A survivor can be a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, etc.  Anyone that’s been impacted.  The goal is for those of us that have lost someone to suicide to connect – even if only for a moment – and leave information and resources for support.  Then to follow up as appropriate. My blog from January 27, 2014 shares more info about this.

Today we met with the 8 investigators at the coroner’s office. It went well. They had some challenging questions about how the LOSS team would function which was good. They were engaged and honest – can’t beat that! And they were themselves… meaning they work all day every day with the deceased so they talk about horribly graphic things regularly – even casually. It’s what they live and breathe so who can blame them? One person shared a gruesome situation in detail. They were clearly making a point to me. I was up for the challenge. This investigator then closed their gruesome example by asking… “I medicate and drink in order to handle what I do – how will a survivor of a suicide loss handle it?” I reminded them the LOSS team will not see the body. “Yes, but you are there to help the people who found the body. How will you handle it?” I felt defensive. I sure hope I didn’t come across as defensive. I answered this investigator honestly by sharing personally what I was capable of – and what I may not be capable of. We left the meeting with the team’s support and with three of the investigators offering to be part of the planning/creation of the team & how it’ll function. We had only asked for one volunteer 🙂 Good stuff.

When I got home Robbie and I talked about how it went and how I was doing. I told him I got a nice big dose of reality today. If I’m going to lead these efforts it means working with folks from the coroner’s office and with law enforcement. People that live and breathe this and therefore talk about it regularly. Am I up for this? Am I pushing myself to do this when I really don’t want to (“I have to” vs. “I get to”)?

I have a fear… a fear that I will function through it. I’ll stuff it then explode but the explosion won’t come until after the LOSS team launches. Robbie reminded me that’s not been the case so far. I am talking to people about how I’m feeling, I’m doing fun things too, I imperfectly depend on God’s strength, and I’m not spending a ton of hours working on this project all at once – I’m pacing myself.

I don’t have to do this. I want to do it. I know that’s hard for most people to understand. I wouldn’t be able to understand either had I not walked the last 1 year, 7 months, 1 week, 3 days and 9 hours in these heavy, clumsy grief shoes.

What do you say to someone who just lost her son to suicide?

What do you say to someone who just lost her son to suicide?

Nothing. You listen.

And when she can’t talk because she’s staring off into space in utter shock you just sit with her. You silently stroke her hair.

You quietly pray to God in your helplessness that He’d comfort her somehow. Because only He can do the impossible.

Don’t ask her what she wants to eat. Even the littlest of questions are too overwhelming. Just set a small plate of fruit and crackers next to her. Keep a bottled water next to her, too.

Don’t tell her you understand. Don’t tell her you can imagine how she feels. She can’t even imagine how she feels. It’s the most sickening day of her life. There are no human words to describe this – just groans. The reality of living the rest of her life without her son is simply too much to bear physically, emotionally. It’s incomprehensible.

Make sure someone is with her at all times for the first several days. The temptation to be with her son may be strong.

It may take months or even years… But in time her grief will begin to turn into useful sadness.

Hang in there with her for the long haul. She needs you.

What I’ve been doing in the Suicide Prevention space…

I’ve learned more about my pace and how to gauge my ability to enter the Suicide Prevention Nonprofit space. 

I didn’t touch it – no research, no questions, no nothing until June, 2013.  That was 10 months after Drey had died.  And I had to take it slow.  I learned that I needed to take it slow the hard way.  I guess that’s the best lesson.  I hesitate in sharing what I’ve learned and what I’ve engaged in because the majority of people that read this won’t care – at least not much.  But then again… I started this blog for me.  As a big part of my healing.  So if I’m ready and wanting to summarize what’s taken place to date then I guess I oughta.

I’ve connected with people at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I’ve met them, learned more about how the organization functions and coordinated a team walk last October.  We had 40 people attend and raise over $3,500.  For the record… I would’ve been even happier if we had 100 people and had only raised $1,000.  The love I feel by having others come out and remember Drey means the world to me.   Erase the stigma… TALK about him and about suicide and depression.  Don’t sweep it under the rug.

I’ve joined the field advocacy team for AFSP, too.  What’s that mean?  It means a handful of staff of AFSP keep me and other volunteers updated on what legislation – local and federal – is being considered, passed, etc that relates to suicide prevention/mental health. They also provide suggested language for writing local and federal officials. And of course I add my own $.02. I don’t know if it’s making a difference or not. I hope so.

I spoke at the Delaware/Morrow County Suicide Prevention walk and at their Annual Meeting. I got to share about Drey. I love talking about him. I showed everyone at the Annual Meeting one of his senior pictures, too. I’m sure that wasn’t necessarily part of the agenda but who cares. He’s not a suicide statistic. He’s my baby, my boy. Drey. I’m grateful for the people I met through doing that – one gentleman in particular has been really helpful in understanding the “players” in this space and helping me to navigate it.

I met with one of our State Representatives and shared my story and Drey’s story with her. My main purpose for my meeting with her is not one I’ve shared with many people… in large part because I haven’t actioned the outcome and I’m a bit ashamed? Embarrassed? Not sure what word to use. Drey had been taking acne medication at the time of his death. And one of the side effects of the medication was suicidal thoughts/ideation. He was only issued one month’s worth at a time and would have to go in for blood work before he’d get another 30-day supply. So I’m comfortable the doctor was cautious. And I have no way of knowing if this contributed to his suicide. I do believe it’s a safe bet it sure as hell didn’t help matters though. So… I met with this State Rep to ask about getting a law passed around how doctors communicate what depression and suicidal behavior and thoughts might look like before and during administering the meds. The first time Drey was on this medication he was a minor so I was there with him. The doc asked, “are you feeling depressed” and some basic questions. That wasn’t enough in my opinion. How about asking, “Does depression or anxiety run in your family? If so, this could be an indicator of increased susceptibility to suicidal thoughts on this medication.” And how about talking about what happens if alcohol or other drugs are in the mix along with the meds? We could’ve been more informed. So… the State Rep shared a piece of legislation she thought would be a good fit to add my request as an addendum. She gave me the bill (all 50+ pages of it) and the name of the Rep that was trying to get it passed. The bill still sits on my night stand – next to Drey’s ashes and one of my fave pictures of us. Pacing myself… it’s important. I just haven’t been ready to engage that doctor or that issue. Not yet.

What I’ve really pursued more than anything else is “Postvention.” Postvention is helping those who have lost someone to suicide. I’ve learned they (we!) are one of the larger “at risk” groups for suicide. I’ve learned that both statistically and from my personal experience. I am now part of the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Coalition. And in that role I am working on a strategic plan around Postvention. What services do we currently have? Are we communicating what our resources are as effectively as possible? What programs/resources do we want to implement? One program we’d like to implement is a LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) team. This is a first responder team of 2-3 people that go to the scene of a suicide. One of the three people that goes is an actual survivor of a suicide. The single purpose for being there is to point the new survivors to resources that they can reach out to WHEN THEY ARE READY. After being trained and learning more about the LOSS teams (they are in other states and a few are here in Ohio – but not in Columbus) I’ve come to understand when a survivor can meet someone who just lost a loved one and can make even a few second connection and let them know they, too, lost a son to suicide (in my case) that the doors often open to follow up conversations and eventual healing. What an important role to play. God has blessed me to lead these efforts which includes meeting with law enforcement officials, the Coroner, mental health agencies and so on. Our goal is to launch in the Fall of 2014. Will I be able to be part of a first responder LOSS team? I don’t know. One step at a time. For now I plan, organize, champion, and communicate.

A big piece of my healing has been engaging in this Suicide Prevention space. Will that be the case a year from now? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. I’m just learning to be grateful for the strength God’s given me for today.

Getting my “marketing” groove on

I began doing some occasional work for a woman who started her own Marketing Consulting company.    I’m putting a marketing plan together for one of her clients – a Pilates studio owner.   I like Marketing – kind of.  There’s way more to it than that.  What I like is understanding what people are trying to solve for and what makes them tick.  Why did this business woman decide to buy a Pilates Studio (and not give up her day job)?  What’s she most excited about?  How would she define success a year from now, 3 years from now?  What kind of environment does she want to create for her employees and her clients?   Why should her clients choose her Studio over another?   Share your vision with me and from there I can help create a “marketing” plan – if that’s what you want to call it – to help you get there.  

Same goes for my Marketing Consulting company owner…  why does she have this company?  What does she love?  How is she setting herself up to focus on the parts of running this business that she loves while delegating or minimizing the stuff she doesn’t love, doesn’t know or doesn’t care to learn?  We started to talk about some of these things… but now I’ve slipped into helping her with something specific – the marketing plan for the Pilates chick – rather than helping her be strategic with the company as a whole.   Hmmm.  Not sure how I feel about that.

There’s a boy working at the company who’s got graphic design and online technical skills.  We worked together more today than in past weeks.  I asked him when he graduated high school.  2012.  Hmmm.  Same age as Drey.  Yes, he plays soccer, too.  I caught myself staring at him – the back of his head and neck.   I know – I sound like some weird stalker lady.   He didn’t look like Drey from the front.  Their faces are different.   But he did from the back.   My mind would drift off while he was talking to me.  What would Drey be doing if he were alive?    Would Drey be as confident as this young man in a work environment like this?  No one there knows I have a son.  Had a son?  Have a son in heaven.  They don’t know anything about my personal life.   Learning how my grief coexists with the rest of my life is an interesting journey.   Listening to people, what’s important to them, what frustrates them.  My lens is completely changed.  I’m more curious.  I’m more humble.   I’m much more in tune with discovering what’s at the root than I ever have been.  As I get out and do more I’m slowly finding what fits the “new me” and what doesn’t.   God is definitely teaching me patience through this.

Next Tuesday I have another speaking engagement… the topic is suicide.   And on Wednesday I’m meeting with State Representative Anielski for breakfast… again the topic is suicide.   I’ve met so many people in the suicide community.   I’ve learned the environment is just as dysfunctional as any other… meaning there are a handful of non-profit organizations and it isn’t always clear where one organization ends and the other begins.   I would like to work with every one of the organizations and help them learn to work together to divide and conquer.   The synergy that could come by combining the resources excites the shit out of me.  Everyone in the same room, learning to work together.  Then ongoing communication – sharing of learns.  We should all come together with this goal in mind:  Ohio will provide the best in class suicide prevention, awareness, education and postvention services.  How will we measure this?  ZERO suicides in 2014.   How’s that for a goal?  AND AND AND what we do has to be scalable… and easily replicated.   

Direct my paths, Lord.  I’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other but please, direct my paths. 

SOS groups

Robbie and I attended our second Survivor of Suicide (SOS) group Sunday evening. Our first one was at a different location. There are 3 that meet around Central Columbus – each one meets just once a month. It’s still surreal for us. As we got ready, locked up the house and headed towards the car we paused and looked at each other knowingly. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “welcome to our new fuckin life.”

I liked this second group we went to – I didn’t like the first one. The facilitator’s of the first group didn’t introduce themselves or share why they were leading an SOS group. Who does that? I want to know what you’re doing here… are you here just because it’s your job? Because you’ve read in some book about suicide grief? If so, I ain’t interested in listening to you. I normally would’ve asked how they had been impacted by suicide but I was especially pissy that evening so it was best I kept my mouth shut. I’m getting irritated just thinking about the leaders lack of eye contact as people were sharing their stories. Yuck.

The group we attended just a few days ago that I liked was run much differently. The leaders introduced themselves, they provided beverages, snackage, and free reading materials. We all shared who we lost, when we lost them, and if we were able how we lost them (no thank you). Then we talked a bit about “the first year” since there were 3 of us (me & Robbie + one other person) who were just at the 1-year mark. Everyone else there was 3+ years ahead of us in this grief journey. The leaders had each lost a son to suicide. It was nice to know why they were there.

When the group was over one woman asked me how I had survived a whole year without coming to an SOS support group. I got to share – once again – about what a wonderful church family I have. That’s such a foreign concept to the people I’ve met at these groups. Sometimes I just want to gather them all up in my arms and tell ’em how much Christ loves them and that there are normal people out there who love the Lord and want to do life with them!

As a survivor there’s a bond that’s present when I meet other people who have suffered a loss to suicide. Our pain is all unique but there are commonalities. One of the women had lost her boyfriend to suicide and she shared that just a few weeks ago her best friend died, too, but not from suicide. She said dealing with her best friend’s death has been so different. “So this is what it’s like to grieve more normally,” she said. “I don’t have to feel shame, responsibility or guilt in addition to all the sadness, pain and loneliness.” I was glad she shared that.

As we walked to our car Robbie & I agreed we’d go back to that group next month.