Tag Archives: Dying

The Survivors of Suicide

NaseknanThis week is National Suicide Prevention Week. It is heartbreaking to think that suicide is that pervasive of a problem in our society to warrant such a week. And yet it is. Suicide takes the lives of over 30,000 Americans every year. There are twice as many deaths from suicide as there are from HIV/AIDS. It is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year old Americans. And there are more than 800,000 attempted suicides every year.

Those are the statistics.

And then there are the stories.

Perhaps the worst thing about suicide is the pain it causes to those left behind. These people are known as the survivors. And telling our stories can help us to heal from the trauma of this experience.

When Gia Allemand, the reality television star, took her own life last month, the topic of suicide became a part of a national discussion. Gia’s distraught mother spoke with Dr. Phil about her feelings, which echo those of many survivors.

Sometimes there are warning signs. And then sometimes the incident seems to come from out of nowhere. That’s how it was when I found out that my friend Ophir had died. I remember getting a phone call from our mutual friend Curt. He was in a state of disbelief as he had just gotten the news. It took a few phone calls to figure out exactly what had happened. Ophir had committed suicide.

I knew Ophir as an extremely talented and creative composer. We worked together on several music projects. We had a close friendship and a great respect for each other. Ophir helped me bring my songs to life. When Ophir had a hernia operation, I had him stay at my home while he recovered.

I was aware that Ophir used drugs. I spoke with him about it many times, offering him alternatives, and suggestions for a more healthy way of life. But he did not want to hear it. He did not want to talk about it. He always functioned perfectly well when we were working, and he assured me that he did not have a problem. When I heard that Ophir had died, I assumed it was an accidental overdose. But there was no accident about Ophir’s death. He planned it. He put a rifle in his mouth and shot himself.

Like most people do in this situation, I started asking myself all kinds of questions. What could I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I see this was coming? What was so terrible that he had to do this? I felt awful, not only for myself, but for his family, everyone who loved him. Suicide is such a violent act. It is terribly hurtful to everyone left behind with so many unanswerable questions. I don’t know what brought Ophir to his decision. I do know and recognize that although our relationship has changed, he is still very much a part of my life. I have the songs we wrote together on my websites. He taught me so much about music and the creative process. When certain songs come on the radio I am reminded of him, and his amazing energy, sweet smile, and sly sense of humor. His words still influence me. His music still moves me.

I know the agreement Ophir and I had was complete even before his death. There was no unfinished business between us. We learned from each other, both creatively and personally. At his funeral I met many others who felt the same way.

This was the second time that I had been affected by suicide. When I was around eleven years old, shortly after my parents’ divorce, my mother’s brother took his own life. He was a Vietnam veteran, and he became hooked on drugs while he was in the war. When he got home, he couldn’t handle normal life after seeing everything he saw in combat. His drug problem got worse, he would have hallucinations, and he overdosed to escape the pain.

I saw how this shattered my mother and grandmother. He also left behind a wife and baby daughter. It was tragic. As a child I could sense how awful this was for everyone. And now as an adult I can see how my uncle’s life mattered. Even in the short time he was with us, he brought joy to his mother and love to his family. He struggled with life, and he chose to die. But while he was here he lived, and he had the opportunities and experiences that allowed him to learn and grow. He may not have made the best choices, but they were his choices. In situations like this you have to get past the blame, and the guilt, and know that there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. For whatever reason, this person took his own life. It is not rational, or logical, or right. But it is irreversible. And we learned by going through all of this together as a family.

Chaim Nissel, PsyD is the Director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center in New York City, and an expert with the American Association of Suicidology. He has this to say about coping with the loss of a loved one from suicide:

The death of a loved one by suicide has all the trappings of conventional grief plus a host of other intense, difficult, and confusing emotions. These include feelings of guilt and responsibility, anger and blame and often a disconnect with the individual who killed himself. When we lose a loved one to cancer or AIDS, we accept the reality, feel the loss, grieve, yet we don’t blame ourselves. Following a suicide, it is hard to accept the reality that the individual chose death. We feel responsible and wonder “if I had only…..” he’d be alive today. We would rather blame ourselves because it is difficult to place the responsibility where it belongs, on the individual who killed himself.

One who experiences the death of a loved one to suicide is fittingly called a “survivor.” They must now learn to cope and survive their loss. Most survivors experience anger, guilt and emotional turmoil. There is often anger at the deceased for taking their own life, it is seen as selfish, because their pain ends, but the survivor’s pain begins. Guilt over what they could have and should have done to prevent it (although if the loved one wanted to die, they would have despite your interventions). We like to think that we can control events, but when another person is in such emotional pain that they want to die, the choice to kill themselves remains their choice, despite everything that you can and did offer them.

There is still tremendous stigma and shame associated with suicide and when the fact that one died by suicide is hidden or denied, it becomes so much more difficult to come to terms with it. When we try to “cover” or pretend the death was accidental, it takes its toll on the survivors and will impact them the rest of their lives.

To help us find closure, Dr. Nissel has this advice:

  • Talk about it! Find supportive people in your life who you can share your feelings with.
  • Focus on the person’s life, and the good memories you have of the person. Know that you will never truly know why he killed himself.
  • Recognize that the person’s pain is over, now it’s time to start healing your own pain.
  • Have answers prepared for when people ask questions. This will help reduce your anxiety and emotional reactions. You can say “He took his own life” or “died by suicide” or even “he suffered a long illness.” If someone is persistent, blaming or insensitive, you can say “it is too difficult to talk about right now” and end the conversation.
  • Know that you are not responsible for your loved one’s death, in any way. Only the individual who killed himself is responsible.
  • Know that the likelihood is that the person was in such pain, for so long and now the suffering is over. 90% of those who die by suicide suffered from some form of mental illness, most commonly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Seek resources such as professional counseling, support groups, and books.
  • Being exposed to a suicide makes you somewhat more susceptible to suicidal thinking. If you are having thoughts of killing yourself, get help immediately by contacting a local psychologist or psychiatrist. If you feel you may act on these suicidal impulses, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) helps survivors of suicide. Actress Michelle Ray Smith, who played “Ava” on the daytime drama “Guiding Light,” talked about her father’s suicide in an interview with Soap Opera Digest magazine a few years back. She said that participating in AFSP’s “Out of the Darkness” event, an overnight 20 mile walk, helped her connect with people who had been through the same thing. “For the first time since he died – it’s been three years in September – I feel at peace.”

Talking with people, sharing our stories, is one way that we can help each other to heal.

For more information about how to find closure go to http://www.closurebook.com

Deepak Chopra: Facing the Fear of Death

Why are we so afraid of death? Is it the pain? Facing the unknown?

In this episode of “Spiritual Solutions” on The Chopra Well, Nick asks Deepak: Why are we afraid of death, and what can we do to face that fear? Deepak responds that all fear is the fear of death in disguise, which is why death is constantly like an elephant in the room.

Facing our fear of death is all about stepping into the unknown and struggling with the reality of impermanence. We can deal with this fear by moving toward the unknown in some way every day. Take a risk, try something new, challenge a belief you hold dear just to see what that encounter with the unknown does for your consciousness. By creating some distance between ourselves and our routines and static beliefs, we can begin to explore impermanence and get comfortable with the fluid nature of reality.

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I am that I am

I-am

 This is me up there. Yes, that is what I Am. I talk with nature. Trees teach me how to be alive on Earth, and rocks, and big cats. I received a lesson from a panther only a few days ago, it taught me how to be present and not collapse when I am surrounded by people. It was a valuable lesson at the time, especially given my limited experience with human interactions. I do not look for those.

It is not that I don’t enjoy them, at a certain level, but they are not as fulfilling, not as open as relationships with nature. Human interactions require words and concepts. I find words and concepts limited and shallow.

I do not believe that the mind is the be-all and end-all of human perception. I find the mind to be pitifully small and constricted, utterly unable to comprehend reality. I am not my mind.

I am my body and my life and the world and by feeling it, by being present with it, I shift it, I affect it, I redesign it. I clean up the trauma that causes sickness to heal my body. I do not require medication to deal with sickness, pain or  inflammation. I bring myself up from a collapse to allow my life to flow smoothly when there are problems or lack of any sort. I do not require marketing to attract clients or money.

I enjoy the idea of dying one day. It will be a spectacular adventure and I am looking forward to it. Because I know what I am. And I remember when I chose to be born. I know why I chose it, and I know why I was born to my parents. I know that I did not begin with this birth and I will not end with this coming death. I know that I have no beginning nor ending at all.

I do not mind pain nor fear, I experience it as a natural element of growing in places where I need to grow.

I do not believe that there is such a thing as a tragedy. I do not believe there is such a thing as wrong, evil, bad, nor do I believe there is good nor right.

I do believe that values, moralities, ethics are nothing more than stories created by human minds to manage trauma.

I do not believe that anyone deserves or doesn’t deserve anything. I do not believe that anyone is entitled to anything. I believe that I create my own experience. I believe that everyone creates their own experience.

All of it.

This is me. This is what I am.

This is what I am hiding. This is what I have been hiding since I was a little child because, even when what I was was not clear to me, I could feel what I wasn’t. This awareness caused pain when I was a girl wanting to fit in. This awareness caused a discomfort when I was a young woman wanting to belong. This awareness caused great joy once I grew into myself, but the pain is still there. Scars left by the fear of rejection tighten my skin still, become inflamed when rubbed.

It got rubbed during the last few days. The scars got rubbed until they throbbed with pain, and the pain brought out the childish misery and that, in turn, brought out the rebellion. And anger.

“I will not hide anymore,” I thought.

I am not yet entirely recovered. The scars, mostly gone, left raw flesh in their wake. It itches still and so I am not as gentle, as gracious and considerate as I might be. And so I write in this way. Clearly, openly and straightforwardly.

And yes, it scares me, but the fear does not bother me. The fear is simply a natural element of me growing in this place where I was afraid, where I am afraid, to own myself fully.

In this place where I am that I am.

Deepak Chopra: How Do We Deal With Loss?

We all know that death is a part of life. How could we not? And yet even awareness cannot fully soften the blow of losing a loved one, no matter how spiritually prepared we may be. What, then, can we do to deal with loss?

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak addresses methods for coping with loss, beginning with releasing anger and denial:

Death and the loss of the body and brain is a realm of potential, where thought still forms and consciousness still exists. Local consciousness becomes non-local consciousness, but this local consciousness is where we have our relationships, those who we care about and love. The people who are dealing with the loss of another should try not to grieve with anger or denial, but with love and remembering the great times they spent with the person who passed away. Remembering the life and experiences of the person we lost can bring joy and fill the void the loved one left behind. Ultimate love translates into compassion, empathy, a desire to do good. This helps us deal with loss.

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Find Out What You Want – Step #9

include-death

 “Why does God allow children to suffer and die?” read the question.

To which I answered:

“Because God sees death as a beautiful transition, not a horrific disaster.”

And he responded: “Every torturer sees someone else’s torture and death as beautiful.”

And what did I say to that? I said this:

“What if death is actually quite beautiful, and the habitual terror of it blinds humans to that fact?”

You did, I am sure, notice that I did not speak to the suffering. Though maybe I should have … maybe I should have said that suffering is when we deny, refuse, and resist that which we are: nature, god, life, death…

Isn’t it?

Helping Homeless People Die Indoors

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 12.33.21 AMThere is one certainty in life – we are all going to die. How and where we die are the only issues.

Will we die quickly or have a lingering death? We don’t know. However, most of us housed people are pretty sure we will die indoors in some health facility or in our own home. In fact, some of us buy insurance so that we are assured of the particular standard of care and facility we prefer in our last days.

However, what about unsheltered homeless people? They live outside and very likely will die outside.

How do I know this? Because over the past several years I have been involved in the end of life care for three homeless friends. I’ve written about Bobby Ojala who passed in late August 2012 and Susan Hunt who died twelve days later in early September. But, Karen Lee Creeden was the first homeless person I helped die indoors.

I first met Karen Lee on July 11, 2010, in Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA. An elderly woman with medium length graying hair pulled back into a rubber band, Karen Lee was sitting on the grass in Saratoga Park. Even from a distance, I could see her distended abdomen.

As I approached her, I wondered how to begin the conversation and decided just to introduce myself, ask her name and inquire how she was doing.

“I’m Karen Lee Creeden,” she said, “and I need size 8 shoes. I just got out of the hospital and I have no shoes.”

“Is that all you need?”

“It would be nice to get some medium-sized warm clothing – it’s cold at night. All I have are the t-shirt and light pants I’m wearing.”

I offered to look for these items, but made no guarantees I could find the needed items in the correct sizes.

Upon leaving Ocean Beach, I called family members and friends who I thought would be sympathetic and would have access to the correct sizes of clothing and shoes. Sure enough, they kindly donated the requested items.

When I delivered these gifts to Karen Lee, she was thrilled. She posed for pictures and had fun modeling her new clothes and tennis shoes. Over and over Karen Lee told me to thank her donors for the much-needed items.

KLC2Res150But what to do about her apparent medical condition? I contacted a psychotherapist friend who suggested I ask Karen Lee if she had a social worker and, if so, whether she would give me permission to speak to the worker on her behalf.

Karen Lee did have a social worker and readily gave me her phone number and permission to discuss her case.

The social worker told me what I suspected; Karen Lee was seriously ill and dying. She said she had paid cabs several times to take Karen Lee to hospital after hospital for end of life care, but the hospitals continued to release her.

I offered to go with a friend and take Karen Lee to a hospital and do what I could to get her end of life care.

The results of my efforts are outlined in the following thank you letter I sent to all of the parties who were involved in Karen Lee’s care until her death 24 days later. My letter is a tribute to all of the people and institutions involved in assuring that Karen Lee, an unsheltered homeless person, died free of pain and indoors. It is also evidence of the steps Karen Lee had to go through to die with dignity indoors.

My thanks again to all of those people who provided end of life care to Karen Lee and to all givers of end of life care everywhere.

“August 15, 2010
Dear Concerned Care Givers and Service Providers,

On July 14th, after consulting with her social worker, my friend and I took Karen Lee Creeden to the local hospital where she received excellent emergency care from the doctor and his wonderful staff. Thank you.

After being admitted to the hospital, Karen Lee was expertly cared for by her attending physician, a hospital social worker, nurses, chaplain and staff. Thank you.

I called the president of Alpha Project and he reassured me that ‘no one dies outside’ because of the Alpha Project Hospice Program. His chief operating officer made herself immediately available. Although we did not make use of these kind offers of help, I thank you for your much-appreciated assurances at that time.

After her stay in the hospital, Karen Lee spent several days in the San Diego Rescue Mission Recuperative Care Unit under the concerned supervision of the residential manager. Thank you.

During her brief stay in the Mission, Karen Lee met with a program representative of San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care who gently assisted Karen Lee in enrolling in this program. Thank you.

At San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care, doctors, social worker, patient advocates, nurses, chaplain, staff and volunteers compassionately helped Karen Lee. Thank you.

KLC6Res150I was going to write individual notes of thanks to each of you, but upon reflection, I thought perhaps one note to all of you might be more appropriate because each of you was an indispensable part of the process of helping Karen Lee transition from this life to the next. And I thank you all for being so supportive of me during this time.

Karen Lee was 55 years old when she died. As you may know, for the last ten years of her challenging life, Karen Lee was homeless. However because of your care, Karen Lee lived the last 24 days of her life free of pain and indoors.

While at San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care, Karen Lee wrote the following words on the patient white board in her room: “Do you love me as much as I love you?”

Witnessing your many kindnesses and genuine compassion, I can answer her question, Yes, you each loved her as much as she loved you.

May God bless you for your compassionate service for people in need.

Very truly yours,

Christine Schanes, JD, PhD”

Deepak Chopra: What is the Deeper Meaning of Death?

It is an age old question: What is the significance of life if all we do is die in the end? Is there a deeper meaning to death?

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak examines life and death from the perspective of identity and the myth of the permanence of identity. There is no such thing as a permanent identity, either as a perceiver or an object of perception. What exactly, then, is death? Is life itself dependent on death, and what IS permanent in our existence?

What do you think about life, death, and the deeper meaning of these cycles? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Don’t fail to die.

death-achieved

 Have you noticed, did you know that perfect societies exist? Maybe in imagination only, yes, but still they do — places where beings, humans, live in perfect peace for there is no reason for violence. Did you know? You might not have realized if you are not a lover of stories, but there are places, realms, worlds were human lives are devoted to growth and expression, entirely. Where no one lacks for food nor shelter, where there is no need to strive, to gain, to protect, to survive. There is only freedom to be what you are. To grow and create and experience.

Do you know which stories are those? Which people?

Those who do not die.

Elves, wizards, the immortals. Free of the nagging fear, free of the all consuming drive just to live, just not to die — they live fully and completely. And they enjoy living.

I have thought about this for the last few days. I have thought about this since the day when the famous boobs came off in defense against death. I wondered — what would I have said if asked about my flagrant disregard for yearly checkups, mammograms and cancer protections, my lack of interest in defenses against disease, defenses against death?

What would I say if asked why do I not strive to survive, to gain, to protect, to remain alive just one more day, just one more?

I would say: death is not a problem.

I would say: death is not a problem because I will not end. The body will change, the mind will dissolve and I will transform, graduate and open to the next adventure. I rather look forward to that.

I would say: death is not a problem. Fear is.

Without the fear of dying I am free to live life that is nothing but freedom to be what I am. To grow and create and experience. Free of the need to strive to gain, to protect, to survive.

I would say: death is not a problem because it is not an end — it is a change.

I would say: avoiding death is not my purpose. Avoiding change is not my purpose.

My purpose is to live well.

My purpose is to die well.

The Hospice Diaries: Transcending the Traditional

HAND IN HAND IS THE ONLY WAY TO LANDThis morning, as I lie in bed, contemplating what the next few days might bring forth on all planes–physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually–what the days could look like, I begin to wonder how I could possibly best manage to “enjoy” them.

As I contemplate how to cope with moving my mother from hospital to hospice, the word “creativity” bubbles to the surface.

cre·a·tiv·i·ty – [kree-ey-tiv-i-tee] / noun (source: dictionary.reference.com)

The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

Precisely!  I set my intention to transcend all that is traditional; to question the agreed upon realities–the thoughts, feelings, patterns, relationships that our culture has embedded into my mind (our minds) about death, dying, hospice, family, love, self.   I set my mind to create new meaningful ideas and expressions, to utilize the most under-utilized resource that humans have: the imagination.

I breathe and imagine.  I imagine how it feels to be soothed and comforted.  I am strengthened by the calm.  I imagine slowly and carefully moving through the day, perhaps slipping once or twice into a dark spot, but always able to catch myself and, once again, find calm.  Serenity and peacefulness are there once more to comfort.  While my inner-resources are sometimes obfuscated by clouds, I realize that they are always there for the taking.  I need only remember that they are there.

In knowing this to be true, in knowing that I have the ability access serenity, which enables me to clear a path to be fully present in these most extraordinary days, I am able to find satisfaction; to “enjoy.”

Spread the word–NOT the icing!

Janice
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For the best life and wellness wisdom, visit:  Our Lady of Weight Loss

photo by: Neal.

10 Tips on Dying with Dignity

By Laurel Lewis

These tips come from my experience of being with hundreds of people as they have died and with the thousands of family members who have witnessed this event. Consider using these tips for dying well… and for living well!

10. Talk about what you do and don’t want.

Tell your family, friends and doctors how you want to be treated and what kind of treatments you want or don’t want! Consider a living will or other advance directives so that your wishes will be known prior to end of life choices. Consider your needs: physical, emotional and spiritual because they all impact your final days.

9. Have a life review. Recall significant and meaningful events .

Share your stories either verbally or written with your loved ones, in a journal or on tape. As you do this forgive yourself and others for everything! Let go of judgments. Judging people and events take up precious energy that could be spent loving instead. Release the judgments and allow yourself to be fully present to what is in your life right now.

8. Express gratitude daily – for something, anything!

This will help move you from the context of small self who is dying to connect with the bigger part of Life that is surrounding us always. Expressing gratitude creates a positive shift in our mental state, which in turn has positive physical benefits.

7. Connect with something more than yourself.

Connect with your family, your friends, nature, art, pets, your God, Spirit, your ideals. Allow yourself to belong to something more than yourself so that when you die, you will be connected to those things in which you invested your time and energy.

6. Be authentic and transparent.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Express yourself courageously holding nothing back. Your vulnerability will be rewarded with intimacy. Allow yourself to feel your feelings – all of them. You are allowed to be just as you are. Give yourself permission to explore this concept and to explore really being YOU! This is the time to do it.

5. Be optimistic and realistic about what is happening.

Expect the best while being prepared for the worst. This can be challenging but from my experience, extremely rewarding. Put your affairs in order. Write your will, choose a mortuary, talk about your funeral, talk about what’s happening in order to bring understanding to your experience and alleviate confusion for your loved ones.

4. Accept what is as it is happening.

No one can really know what you are going through. This is your private journey. All we can do is support and love you. It is true that we are all going to die, but not all of us have the experience of the deathbed. As you find yourself contemplating death and accepting this inevitability look for the places inside that fight against this reality. There is a quote I like that captures this theme, “When we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind, and fearless.” ~ Byron Katie

As you gracefully yield to your body’s end, you may indeed find peace, joy, and pleasures in the days you have left surrounded by love and loved ones.

3. Say please and thank you.

These words express kindness, respect, and appreciation and will elicit positive responses from everyone who is close to you. The energy behind these words is powerful and respectful. Even if someone has to wipe your butt in your final days you can still maintain a dignified experience simply by the energy of your presence.

2. Look people in the eye.

People generally don’t know how to behave around someone who is nearing the end of life. This is an opportunity to “get real”, to allow yourself to be seen, really seen. Gazing into someone’s eyes without words allows our hearts to connect at a very deep level and can be very satisfying and rewarding.

1. Breath.

While you have Life moving through you, allow it to move through you. When you feel tight or anxious: breathe. When you feel sad or tired: breathe. When you feel angry or hurt: breathe. Consciously breathe and open yourself up to the present moment. Allow Life to reveal its preciousness to you for as long as you can and with all of the awareness you have. Live until you die.

If you are interested to know more please contact me through LaurelLLewis.com.

I am happy to share more from my years of hospice work and research and my personal transformation of dealing with the sudden loss of my husband at the age of 27.

Thank you and bless you.

~

Laurel Lewis, a registered nurse and hospice provider who features on The Chopra Well show, 30 DAYS OF INTENT, shares her tips for dying with dignity. The end of life can be an extremely difficult time, as Laurel has witnessed in her many years as a hospice nurse. Her tips address the healthiest ways to confront death and meet a happy, satisfying end.

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