Parents, cars can be replaced but kids can’t—one father’s story about forgiveness.

Grief Diaries

Yesterday, an 18-year old girl, her mother, older sister and brother-in-law came to my office. The girl had just rear-ended another vehicle.

When I asked if everyone was okay, they all politely smiled and said yes. But I sensed otherwise.

As an insurance agent, I spelled out the steps to file a claim, then came back to the girl.

I told her it was okay. Everyone makes mistakes and she needed to learn from it and let it go.

Her eyes welled up, she said, “My mom and dad will NEVER let this go.”

She said never through gritted teeth, and I sensed she’d already been given quite a bit over it.

I said, “I want to tell you a story.” 

“On my 26th wedding anniversary, my son came home from his drive to school almost as soon as he’d left. His face showed anguish like yours does now. Behind him I could see his car hood standing up like a tent, his grill and headlights smashed.

For some reason, I felt calm. And I never feel calm. I told him it was okay, we all make mistakes and I was just glad he wasn’t hurt. It was probably one of a handful of things I did right as a parent in his eyes.

He later thanked me for the way I handled that morning. And 58 days later, he was gone.”

My gaze turned to the mother who, until then, had been silently seething. “We can replace cars and houses and boats and ATVs. But we can’t replace people. How this situation today is handled will always be remembered.”

There wasn’t a dry eye. Even macho brother-in-law was sobbing. Mom and daughter embraced.

When someone asks my advice about getting into my business, I tell them what an older, wiser agent told me—it’s a tough job. But there are payoff days that make it worth the ride. Yesterday was such a day.

And parents, cars can be replaced. Children can’t. Learn from it, forgive, and give thanks they live to make other mistakes.

SCOTT SMITH, Jake’s dad

Grief Diaries

Answering God’s nudge

Grief Diaries

The nudge came 3 hours in to the 5-hour flight. Sigh.

I was tired. And sore.

Just a few hours earlier on the way to the airport, we were involved in a 3-car accident. Hit from behind by a car at 45 mph, thankfully my friend’s truck was larger than the car. Three vehicles, two tow trucks, no obvious injuries. And, thanks to Uber, I still made my plane on time.

Thank you, God.

With security behind me, Starbucks in hand and two cookies in my purse, I boarded the plane bound for home.

My seat was nestled between a young man traveling to Alaska and a small elderly woman reading a book. I swallowed the last of the Starbucks, rested my head against the seat and closed my eyes. The cookies could wait.

Some time had passed when turbulence woke me. Not wanting to ruin a good night’s sleep in my own bed, I pulled out my iPad and began watching a movie.

Thirty minutes into my movie, I felt the nudge.

THE nudge. A nudge from God.

Sigh.

I paused the movie, laid down my iPad, and pulled out my earbuds. God pointed to the elderly lady to my right.

She had been reading earlier but the book was now in her lap. I opened the conversation by asking whether she was from Atlanta or Seattle.

Seattle, she said.

Her kind face was framed by short silver hair, wire-framed glasses and soft pink lipstick that accentuated bright blue eyes. She was wearing a beautiful blue sweater.

The nudge was still there. I obeyed and continued.

“What were you doing in Atlanta?” I asked.

She started to speak and then burst into shoulder-heaving sobs.

I wrapped my arms around her as best I could and just held her, resting my cheek on the crown of her small head.

I recognized those sobs. They were the sobs of a newly bereaved mother.

The sobs of a mother who lost a 47-year-old son to suicide just 4 months before. The sobs of a mother who had just traveled to his house to tend to details no parent should have to tend to.

The rest of the flight was spent in conversation with my new 86-year-old friend, a conversation punctuated by occasional sobs, lots of tissue, and a few smiles. I reassured her that one day it wouldn’t feel so raw.

We parted at the luggage carousel. No goodbye was needed, just a long hug before heading in opposite directions, she to a taxi and me to a northbound shuttle.

I’m still tired. Still sore. And still on the shuttle. But when my head finally meets my pillow tonight, I will fall asleep with a heart full of gratitude, gratitude for God’s nudges.

Thank you, God. XOXO

Lynda Cheldelin Fell

Grief Diaries

Why suicide isn’t selfish

In light of Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain‘s deaths by suicide, I’m struck by the harsh comments by those who don’t understand. Suicide is not a crime (thanks to modern law), and it isn’t selfish. It happens when pain exceeds coping skills. Just as people with heart disease sometimes die from a heart attack, depression is a mental illness that sometimes leads to suicide.

It’s important to understand that suicide can also happen in the absence of depression, like a teen or young adult in acute pain from overwhelming circumstances they can’t see past.

If you haven’t lost someone who died from suicide or know someone who survived a suicide attempt, it can be hard to wrap your brain around it. But judging someone else’s actions when you don’t walk in their shoes only brings more heartache to the loved ones left behind who now face a lifetime of shame and stigma.

My heart is broken for all families left struggling in the wake of suicide, and serves as a good reminder to embody simple kindness. One hello can change a mood. One hug can change a day. One act of kindness can change a life.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Text HELLO to 741741
1-800-273-TALK. It’s free and open 24/7.

 

Grief Diaries

Finding life after suicide

Grief Diaries

Grief DiariesI met James Cameron Mjelve in 2005 while we were both living in Edmonton. At the time he worked for a laborer’s union. We married in 2007 and had three beautiful children together, one boy and two girls. In 2009, Cameron decided to go back to university and finish his Education degree.

In 2010, Cameron was in his second year when I began to notice that he was struggling more with the course load. During Christmas break Cameron seemed different, a little off from his usual self. Perhaps a little depressed, but nothing to be overly concerned about. In January 2011, our youngest daughter was born with a disability and the stresses of life became overwhelming for Cameron. He began to struggle even more with his university courses.

On July 21, 2011, my husband committed suicide. We were both forty-two at the time and our children were three, two, and five months old.

There is much that has changed in my life from losing a spouse. Perhaps the first is that I’ve had to learn how to use the word widow when speaking about myself. That alone has been a tough adjustment. I’ve become single again and I’ve had to learn how to be comfortable in a room full of couples. I’ve had to become comfortable in a room full of widows. I’ve had to become comfortable crying in front of both those groups of people.

It has been a difficult experience, losing a spouse. I’ve had to face major decisions for myself and the children alone. At times this has been very stressful, especially when I’ve had to make decisions which impact my children’s health or our financial stability. It has been so difficult not having anyone to bounce ideas off of. Friends will always tell you they are there to help you and listen, but it’s still not the same. I miss my friend who shared everything with me.

But I have learned from my experience, and developed a stronger decision-making process. As a result, I have been able to become more confident in the decisions I make. Another way my life is different is that I simply cannot do the things I want to do. I cannot run to the store at 10 p.m., there is no one to watch the children. I cannot sleep in on a Saturday if it’s been a tough week of being up in the night with sick children. Even something so simple as taking a vacation has become a major undertaking. Not only is there no one to help me with the children, but there’s no one for me to share the experience with. Even if we as a family are on vacation and the children are enjoying themselves, who did I get to tell about my experience?

Life is lonely. I don’t have anyone to share even the small moments with. There is no spouse who laughs with you or remembers with you. There is also no one who touches you. Yes, the kids hug and climb all over me, but it’s different than the simple loving touch of a husband.

Life has been different and even difficult, for sure. But I also see it as an opportunity to grow. Although my life will never be what I had dreamed it would be, I am discovering there is a new life that I can make. It unfortunately doesn’t include my husband, but it does include my children and we take Cameron’s memory with us wherever we go. And we are learning that we can still live a life that is full of meaning and adventure, even if it wasn’t the life we originally chose. And I do feel like I have a choice. We live in a society that is very focused on couples. This is not the life that I chose, to be single at forty-two years old, but I also feel like I’m presented with a choice on how to react. I can sit and wallow in self-pity and despair over broken dreams, or I can get up and start life over again.

I will always, always remember my husband. I will always grieve his loss. I will still cry over his loss. But I will choose to keep on living and to help my children find their life as well.

Written by Julie Mjelve. Julie’s 42-year-old husband Cameron died by suicide in 2011 Read her full story in Surviving Loss of a Spouse.

Grief Diaries

How loss by suicide changed me

Grief Diaries suicide

There is a certain type of person who, when he or she walks into a room, the atmosphere changes. It suddenly becomes more vibrant and exciting. It’s the type of person you know you can count on—the type of person who makes you feel deeply loved, and the type of person whose energy and laugh are contagious. That was Hannah.

Grief Diaries suicideShe was one of my best friends and also my roommate. We met each other in south Florida and quickly connected, so moving into an apartment together was the perfect fit. Everyone’s initial response to seeing a picture of Hannah was how beautiful she was. She was incredibly beautiful, yes, but the most beautiful thing about her was her heart. She lived passionately, loved deeply, and had a lively spirit. We always had fun together, and I have precious memories of our many spontaneous adventures.

The deep authenticity in our friendship was what meant the most to me. We did life together. Neither of us had family in Florida, so we were each other’s family. Hannah was a truly loyal and supportive friend and made me feel so important and loved. She embodied confidence and joy.

What most people didn’t know, however, was how much Hannah struggled with insecurity over her potential, her personality, her worth, her relationships and her future. I never understood why she felt so self-conscious; she was such a lovable, smart, fun and valuable girl. I’ll never be able to understand exactly how it felt to be in her head but from talks we had, I knew Hannah was struggling to feel hopeful about her ability to overcome the internal battles in her mind and to succeed at all the dreams she had for her life. Hannah had been going through a particularly rough patch when she took her life. Her insecurities were affecting her relationships, she doubted her potential in pursuing a career in nursing, and she felt stressed out handling the responsibilities of life on top of her emotional battles.

A few days before her death, Hannah came home crying and told me she had been fired from the job she loved. Other events that weekend had been extremely tough as well. On the evening of May 5, I was sitting at a restaurant when I got a call from her mother, who lives out of state. She was concerned about Hannah’s well-being and asked if I had talked to Hannah that day. I hadn’t been home and hadn’t talked to her, so when I got off the phone with her mom, I called her. Hannah was crying and obviously in distress when she answered, so I told her I would meet up with her and help her figure out how to get through whatever was going on. I needed to close my check at the restaurant, so I told Hannah I would call her right back to figure out where we should meet. But when I called back shortly after, she didn’t answer. You know that bad gut feeling you sometimes get in a certain situation? I felt that, so I went looking for her. I drove around for hours, looking everywhere I could think of where Hannah might be, but had no luck. When it got late and I ran out of ideas, I finally had to return to our apartment for the night. I hoped maybe Hannah had fallen asleep at a coworker’s house or somewhere similar.

The next morning, her mother called me at 8 a.m. to tell me that Hannah had taken her life shortly after I’d spoken to her. She was at her boyfriend’s apartment and was found that night by his roommate. The police contacted Hannah’s parents shortly after. I’ll never forget that phone call from her mother. I’ll never forget the way my phone slipped out of my hand as I leaned on a chair for support, shaking and struggling to breathe. My thoughts were racing, yet the only thought that was clear was, “This isn’t real. This can’t be happening.” I remember laying on the floor at one point, because the solidity of the floor was the only sense of stability I could find in that moment. I remember the gut-wrenching sobs, sometimes so deep that there were moments no sound even came out of my mouth.

Losing someone to suicide forever alters your life and who you are. Hannah’s death has changed my perspective on life, my priorities, my relationships, my routine, and my heart. Some changes are good, while some have felt damaging. I have hope that the changes that currently feel negative will be redeemed and healed as my journey continues.  Because Hannah was part of my daily life and one of my best friends, I think I took too many moments with her for granted, because I assumed we had a lifetime of moments ahead of us. I didn’t realize just how deeply my life was intertwined with hers until she was ripped away from it, and I found myself left with the sharp, jagged edges around a crater where her presence once was.

I was forced to start a new chapter in life, even though I hadn’t finished writing the one before. I’ve stood on wobbly feet the past year, looking at a new chapter I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t want, trying to figure out exactly how it has changed me and how to find solid ground again. I’ve grappled with the concept of closure and wondered if it’s even possible.

Experiencing this level of grief itself has changed me forever. I’ve learned that grief isn’t a coat you put on and then take off once you feel warm again. In a way, you have to absorb grief. It’s been a process of acceptance and a process of change and adjustment for me. It has become a part of me, not in the sense that it is my identity, but in the sense that it has redefined the person I am.

I ask myself exactly how Hannah’s death has changed me, but I honestly don’t think I fully know yet. I know that time will reveal more, but for now there are a few things I do know. I know that since Hannah died, I have a deeper level of compassion, love, and concern over the well-being of others than I ever did before. I’ve become more sensitive and educated in how to support people in ways that will be most helpful to them. I’ve found a deep desire to make a difference, to stand up for those who suffer silently and could too easily slip under the radar. I’ve found a voice to advocate for those who suffer from mental illness. I want to be a light in the darkness. And although Hannah’s death itself will never be something I view as “good,” I do know that the qualities I’ve gained are good gifts, because they make me a stronger, more loving and more dependable person. And I am grateful for that.

Written by Emily Barnhardt. Emily’s best friend and roommate, Hannah, died in 2014 at age 20. Emily’s full story is available in Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss by Suicide

Grief Diaries suicide