When tragedy strikes, it’s important to grieve in an honest and healthy way.
Death and grief are part of each of our lives, but sometimes these losses are more difficult – or even impossible – to understand. Today, the sudden and premature deaths of nine people aboard a California helicopter, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, has left the country reeling in grief and disbelief. Here at The Grief Girl, we send our love and deepest sympathies to the families and friends of everyone in that helicopter.
Sudden deaths, along with natural disasters, terror attacks and other tragedies, evoke a range of emotions in all of us. It’s normal to feel saddened, vulnerable, fearful of the future and overwhelmed by the helplessness you feel to comfort others or inflict change on a seemingly cruel world. At times like these, it’s important to honor your feelings in an honest and healthy way. You might feel shock, sorrow, fear, anger, grief or any number of emotions. Through this time, there are a few things you can do to heal and help others heal:
Talk to someone. Even if you were not personally affected by an event, it’s natural to seek comfort in a time of grief, fear and stress. Whether you talk to a friend, family member or a professional, it’s important that you allow your feelings to be heard.
Take a break. It might be empathy, curiosity, anger or worry that compels you to sit in front of the news for hours on end – or frequently check headlines on your phone. Being informed is important, but obsessively following the news (particularly following a tragedy) can deepen your sense of distress and helplessness. It’s okay to unplug. Honor those affected in quiet prayers or meditation instead.
Help others. In the wake of a tragedy, there is always help needed. And when you’re feeling helpless, small acts of kindness and love can help these feelings dissipate. Whether you’re donating blood, raising money for victims or simply lending a hand in an unrelated cause, helping out – and being around others who are doing the same – can restore your faith in human love and kindness.
Please remember that the world in which we live is filled with love and beauty. As we struggle to understand events like these, it’s important that we, above all else, show kindness and acceptance to each other. From all of us at The Grief Girl, our prayers and love are with you.
Movies speak to us, not just because they acquaint us with worlds and emotions we’ve never experienced, but more often, because they do. And for as many as two thirds of American adults, Honey Boy will speak straight to the heart.
According to Psychology Today, long-term studies show that as many as 60 percent of children experience neglect, abuse or another type of trauma by age 16, and more than 30 percent were exposed to multiple traumas. Unfortunately, for most of us – including Shia LaBeouf, who wrote and starred in Honey Boy – past trauma doesn’t stay in the past, often haunting adulthood through addiction, depression and even suicide.
Honey Boy brings the LaBeouf’s past trauma frankly and wrenchingly into the spotlight. Portraying his own father, a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic and registered sex offender, LaBeouf underscores the gritty reality of abuse and the tragic effects that remain years after the trauma is over.
As a mental health professional and certified grief counselor, I have seen firsthand how childhood wounds can fester and grow, urging their victims toward unhealthy coping mechanisms and preventing them from experiencing healthy, fulfilling relationships.
After months of deteriorating mental health – and just one day after I’d left the Dana Point home we shared, fearing for my own safety – Bill walked onto the Metrolink tracks in Capistrano Beach and waited for XX tons of steel to kill him. And it did.
Had Bill died from an overdose of painkillers or a self-inflicted gunshot wound, perhaps my life would have taken a different trajectory – one of quiet grief accented with the frustrating and painful work of healing. But there was no hiding from Bill’s death. Not a single friend or family member – or local stranger, for that matter – didn’t know how and why Bill died. And as I picked up the broken shards of my once-happy life and marriage, I knew I could either die with Bill, or find a way to help this suffering stop.
For me, the grief of losing Bill will never leave. But in the wake of that grief – and in honor of the person he was – I’m committed to preventing this from happening to others – other wives, other parents, other caring friends and, most importantly, other Bills.
Through the wise and regretful lens of time, I now see that Bill’s suicide plans were plain – if not obvious. Today I live with the regret of failing to recognize the severity of these warning signs – hoping that you won’t do the same. For months, Bill quietly told me he was going to complete suicide. Here’s how:
He lost interest in things he once loved.
Bill wasn’t just a gym rat; he was a fitness fanatic. He competed in bodybuilding competitions across the country. He prioritized his workouts above everything else. But in the months and weeks before his suicide, Bill didn’t seem to care as much. When a friend canceled workout plans, he wouldn’t go to the gym on his own. His muscle-ripped, 250-pound frame began to shrink. He just didn’t seem to care as much.
He talked about death.
It was usually theoretical, almost like he was just making obligatory conversation, but Bill frequently, even daily, talked about death – mentioning deceased friends or family, stories from the news or even hypothetical scenarios about his own. I knew Bill was depressed, and while talk was morose, I assumed it was typical of someone with depression and anxiety. What I didn’t know is that it was a hallmark warning sign for suicide.
He was abusing substances.
Bill didn’t just abuse substances; he was completely dependent on them. After years of steroid use to help him excel in the competitive bodybuilding world, Bill “needed” a host of prescription painkillers, and anti-anxiety drugs to combat those side effects and cope with his deteriorating mental health. Sometimes, Bill would quit these cold-turkey, sending him into a spiral of withdrawal that seemed worse than the dependence. It was a cycle he could never seem to break.
His friends completed suicide.
Bill wasn’t a stranger to suicide. In fact, three of his friends had taken their own lives. One, a longtime friend from his bodybuilding days, reportedly shot himself. His trainer at the gym also shot himself. Another friend, a long-term member of the gym Bill and I owned together, set himself on fire and jumped off a bluff near our home – just two days after we’d seen him last. At the time, I had no idea that knowing people who complete suicide increased your risk for doing the same. Now I do.
He isolated himself.
He looked like the quintessential bodybuilder, but Bill was a big softie at heart. He loved people. He loved helping friends. He loved talking to strangers. He called his parents regularly. But before he died, Bill became quieter, more subdued. His happy, easygoing self was clouded with worry and sadness. Once, he disappeared for long enough that I called the police to report him missing. He returned, completely surprised by my panic, simply saying he just needed some time to think. As Bill cut himself off from the people he loved, it was a clear warning that he was in trouble.
He’d attempted it before.
When stood on those railroad tracks, Bill knew he wouldn’t survive the oncoming train. But it wasn’t the first time he’d reportedly harmed himself. Months before his death, I awoke to a suicide note – short and to the point – and panicked before hearing Bill in the shower. I ran into the bathroom and Bill told me he’d taken a whole bottle of sedatives the night before – which I couldn’t imagine was true since he was alive and well in front of me. I convinced him to go to the hospital, where he was placed on a three-day involuntary suicide watch, then released. While I still don’t know whether this was a cry for help or Bill actually intended to end his life, I begged him to let me get him help – which he did, for a while. Today, I can see that this act was an unmistakable red flag.
As Autumn approaches, two significant days loom in my near future. October 10 marks the seventh anniversary of Bill’s suicide – seven years I’ve replayed these warning signs in my head, wishing I’d recognized them for what they were.
In the meanwhile, National World Suicide Prevention Month is September – a month where we can work together to prevent more October 10ths. If someone you love is exhibiting warning signs for suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or call 911 for immediate help.
by Kristi Hugstad
Each of us has attached ourselves to something or somebody, and when you lose that special thing or person, you grieve. Always. You can try to run from it all you want, but it will always find you and tackle you when you’re not looking. My blogs, along with my books, will give you the tools to help you learn to live with your new self as you journey through your grief.