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Uncovering the will to live after a tragic loss

A healer’s approach to healing, following her own path to recovery after her son committed suicide

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Doucet

Gabrielle Doucet offers her insights into the healing path following tragic loss, a path she followed after the suicide of her son.

Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Doucet

The labyrinth, "Drew's Way," that was created by Gabrielle Doucet, at her home, as a way to honor her son, who committed suicide as an adult when he was 42. The labyrinth is open to all, whenever anyone may want to experience it.

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By Gabrielle Doucet, RN BSN MHA MBA
Posted 4/25/16
Author Gabrielle Doucet offers her tools to recover from tragic loss, a healing path she discovered after the suicide of her son, Drew.
What are the factors that have resulted in an increase in the number of suicides nationwide? What have been the responses by the state and by mental health professionals to the fact that some 10.5 percent of high school students attempted suicide in 2015, according to the R.I. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System? What is the correlation between the rate of attempted suicides in Rhode Island in young people and the increased number of hospitalizations of children related to mental health issues, with 2,744 hospitalizations in 2014 of children with a primary diagnosis of a mental disorder, according the 2016 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook? How many of the suicides are directly tied to gun violence?
There is a wealth of information contained in the R.I. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey, conducted every two years as a collaborative effort by the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Department of Education. The 2015 survey, which includes 99 questions for high school students and 49 questions for middle school students, is the only comprehensive source of adolescent health risk data that describes the prevalence of health risk behaviors for Rhode Island youth. The broad categories include bullying, violence and mental health; tobacco use; alcohol and drug use; and sexual activity.
Some of the findings are both alarming and provoking: 38 percent of middle school students reported that they had been physically bullied on school property in 2015; another 20.8 percent reported that they had been electronically bullied in 2015.

PROVIDENCE – Sometimes a moment arrives in your life when you are so unprepared for what follows that your mind just sort of stops. Everything you know with certainty is simply washed right out of your brain, creating a kind of paralysis.

It is replaced by messages so incomprehensible that it seems to require Herculean strength just to move your eyes.

Suicide – the loss of someone we love by their own hand – is such a moment. It becomes difficult to even say the word, suicide.


These thoughts captured the way I felt initially after being at ground zero of suicide, after losing my adult son Drew in the spring of 2011.

Since then, my perspective has changed.

Imagine a quiet body of water, still and clear as glass. Suddenly a huge drop of liquid, rain perhaps, falls from a great height and strikes the surface.

What happens is that there are rings that are sent out from the central impact and, perpetually move outward into infinity.

The largest and most clearly defined waves begin with the first and second rings and sometimes even the third.

As the result of this initial strike of liquid, an endless series of circular movement seeks its activity into the greater body of water until it reaches the shore.

The last minutia may be hardly noticeable, but still it leaves its mark somewhere on the sand. The great drop is tragic loss; the rings are the people that receive that loss to varying degrees.

Let go and let love
In my book, Let Go and Let Love: Survivors of Suicide Loss Healing Handbook, I introduce the concept of three rings, exploring what it is like to be on the receiving end of tragic loss:

• The first ring is what I call the Ring of Fire. Within this group are those people whose lives are forever and irrevocably changed, people permanently scarred, temporarily paralyzed and totally lost without a safe mental foundation, and this can last for a very long time).

• The second ring is the Ring of Quake. This is when the ground has totally shifted beneath people and they cannot get their footing. What they thought they knew and believed has crumbled, and they don’t know where to go from here. They do the very best they can, but there is an unspoken effort to escape being too close to the first ring for too long.

• The third ring is the Ring of Impact. Here, peoples’ lives might have been impacted by something through interactions with the victim in some way – even if it was a visit or luncheon engagement. Their lives have changed and they need to rethink a lot of what they had always accepted as a given. These folks can feel very sad, but they have little idea how to convey this well to others.

Perspective
My perspective comes from being at ground zero of suicide, but the reality is that it has loss at its heart. The concept and descriptions of these rings were born out of the reality and environment I faced after losing my son Drew to suicide.

They remain true in their nature as much today as they did five years ago.

For some individuals, the rings are still an active component of their lives, and moving on toward healing and joy is not part of their journey. I would like to believe that could be changed for the better.

Sometimes, in response to these kinds of tragic or supreme loss, we feel not just the pain of loss, but irrevocability.

For me, I was standing completely in the dark. There appeared to be no roadmap, no headlamp for finding my way into any kind of light again. I did not seem to have any choices; they had all been made without me.

And yet, I managed to negotiate a pathway to now without crumbling under the weight of it.

I found the way to keep from endlessly trying to comprehend the “why” of losing Drew to suicide; instead I managed my life in response to it.

That still small voice in my soul told me that I had then, and still do have, healthy choices that I can make that meet my needs and move me forward every single day.

Tools of survival existed that helped keep me from the crumbling – even in the face of statistics that declare, survivors of suicide loss have twice the likelihood of committing suicide as the rest of the nation.

Tragedy meter
In my view, loss has a “tragedy meter” that is unique to each person, and it cannot be compared to someone else’s in severity.

I say the following to myself every day: loss is loss – there are no measuring sticks to tell you which loss is greater than another.

There are many tragic losses humans face every single day: loss of a spouse; losses from a deadly illness; stress and anxiety at the workplace; the losses experienced by physicians, nurses, caregivers of all types; the loss of livelihood or profession; the loss of self-esteem from bullying; the loss of home or shelter; the loss of a relationship that was thought to last forever; the loss of a family pet.

I believe that we are often missing something vital in this understanding and treatment of tragic loss – both for the victim and the family/friends of the victim.

Toward a greater good, there are significant and pertinent programs being offered by health professionals for persons high at risk for decreased mental health and well-being and suicidal ideations.

But in my own healing process, I have found that there are often many more individuals at risk every day from loss that threatens their health and peaceful way of life.

The question is: what can we do to intervene and forestall illness and serious loss of well-being for all the rest of us?

What is something that will work in conjunction with medical treatment plans and counseling, but puts the person of loss in a position of personal control when they are “out there” in the regular world, away from the doctor’s office, away from religious guidance or a counselor, or the sanctity of a home?

Tools of survival
The following tools are the ones I still use today, years after Drew’s passing. I am stronger now than I ever was before.

Intention. This is a simple statement that captures what you would like to have, become, achieve or be; a positive desire that you are working on, but not yet worked out. It involves your thoughts, emotional input and mindset – not your muscles.

Deep breathing. By breathing deeply, you allow your body to engage the stressor coming to, or at, you; it decreases your physical reaction to it, and allows the brain tissues to get the oxygen and nutrition you need to get through to the other side of it.

Gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings. Gratefulness can give you perspective that is 180 degrees away from anger, fear and pain.

Silence, meditation and release. Silence and meditation calms the mind and allows us to have a voice from the inside out, when most of the voices we receive are bombarding us from the outside in. Release is purposefully and immediately letting go of anything that no longer serves us.

Allowing and zero-judgment. When we allow, we are recognizing, through deliberate action and understanding, everyone’s given right to have a thought, opinion or personal declaration. Done perfectly, this process includes zero judgment – no one is right or wrong – just different. I don’t have to own yours and you don’t have to own mine.

• You manifest what you think. The mind is everything. What you think you become. Words are so important – what you think and say is exactly what you get. This is the basic philosophy of the law of attraction.

• Be in the now moment. This is mindfulness; where you are being very present in what you are thinking and feeling, using absolutely no energy toward judgment. Your thoughts are not concerned with the past or concerned with the future – it is only now.

A new understanding
It is my humble [but experienced] opinion that we, as individuals, managers, CEOs, teachers, leaders, guidance counselors, physicians in the field, nurses and other caregivers, have a monumental opportunity to bring ourselves and large numbers of others in the work forces, schools, health care facilities and institutions of higher learning, into a new understanding of how we can manage our daily lives for the better.

Loss will not ever stop entering our lives. Tragic loss will occur even if we don’t believe that it will. How we view loss, how we work through our loss – that is how and where we can discover the greatest strength of all: within ourselves.

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