Can we make a difference?

Can we make a difference? I often ask myself this question. Since Terry died I have tried to find a way to make a difference and now I am a suicide awareness advocate. I reach out in many different ways to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma of mental illness and suicide. I am part of a legion of people who do this work, all hoping we can make a difference. Sometimes I am fortunate enough to learn that I have.

Last night (August 31/14), a friend, I will call her Kate, tried to contact me on FB I was already in bed. She was concerned because she had received a call from a friend of hers who lives on the opposite side of the country and she believed her friend was suicidal. Kate didn’t know what to do and wanted to ask me what I thought.

Fortunately, another friend saw the message and they talked and Kate decided to call the police in her friend’s area. She was worried her friend would be angry but felt it was better to make a call that maybe wasn’t necessary than not make a call that could have saved someone’s life. The police went and spoke with Kate’s friend who was, indeed, agitated and suicidal. They spent time with her, spoke to her and in the end it was not necessary to take her to hospital.

When Kate spoke to her friend later in the night she kept saying to Kate, “you weren’t wrong”. She was not mad that Kate had made that call. She cried because she was surprised that someone cared enough to worry. It took a lot of courage for Kate to make that call.

Kate and I connected with each other today. She told me that she did not know what to do or say. But she remembered my message that if you know someone who you think might be suicidal listen to them, speak to them about it. Speaking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal or increase the risk. That showing genuine concern by asking directly about suicide can be part of an immediate intervention. And if you feel there is an immediate danger call the police, don’t be afraid.

Kate said: ‘Last night I was thanking the beautiful boy (my Terry) … and his beautiful mother because I recognized the empty pit my friend was in. I felt like I had her hands, you had my feet, and Terry had yours, invisible threads holding that girl up. Thank you. If I did not know you, this story might have had a tragic ending.’

Kate also told her friend about me and how what I thought might be a ripple had turned into a tsunami that is making a difference. She also told her friend about all the people that her death would impact and she wouldn’t even know.

I am very grateful Kate gave me permission to share this story.


Four Years Ago

August 21, 2010:  Four years ago began the most devastating time of our lives when Terry took his own life in the grip of a profound and devastating depression.  I was shattered, I didn’t know who I was and I thought I would never be able to put the pieces back together again. I sometimes wondered how I would survive the pain of losing him, if I would ever feel joy again.

However, life goes on regardless and slowly, oh so slowly, I began to put the pieces back together and re-engage with life.  It was a painful, often confusing journey. Each day brought new experiences and memories. This did not stop the grief, the feeling of being shattered or the missing, but it layered those memories and feelings with new, often happier ones. And my new self began to emerge and take shape. Some pieces of my old self are probably lost forever; some got misplaced but eventually have found a place where they fit; and some new pieces have been added.

August 21, 2014  This year Michael and I spent a quiet, sad day remembering Terry. I got a wonderful gift of an email from a young man who used to game with him which I will post separately. It was a beautiful gift.

On Friday August 22 we drove to Vancouver to spend the w/end with our daughter, Jen, our good friends, Pat & Kim and Asti (Jen’s best friend and our much loved ‘adopted’ daughter) and her beautiful son, Dash who flew up from California (we missed you Rob). On Saturday Pat & Kim hosted a wonderful pot luck birthday party for Jen attended my many good friends. On Sunday we went to see a fantastic play in the afternoon in downtown Vancouver (Asti & Dash went swimming); then out for a wonderful dinner. And on Monday Jen, Asti, Dash and I went out for breakfast and then to the aquarium – it was magical and Dash adored it. Later that day, Asti and Dash flew back to California.  Over these days I was very conscious each day of what had happened on that day 4 years ago and had moments of deep sadness and grief. Yet this year we built some joyful, magical memories too and I am so very, very grateful.

We humans are amazingly resilient and there is always hope. We can experience many, often conflicting emotions at the same time – that is the wonder of life.  Terry will always be the undercurrent in my heart, not always obvious to the world. Sometimes, not even so obvious to me, but he gently flows throughout my life, ever-present, always missed. I will always be Terry’s bereaved mum, but today I also feel happy and at peace.

Resiliency and Grief ~ Part of life!

Jill Smolowe expresses so much of what I (and I think many other people who have lost beloved ones) feel. She asks – why would I want to get over my grief when the sting of it reminds me of my love? That is the part of the paradox of being able to find joy again and feeling sorrow at the gaping hole. Jill’s book has helped me so much and I found this article inspiring too. 

A Surprising Way to Handle Grief

A widow asks why she should ‘get over it’ when it is a reminder of love

By Jill Smolowe

In the days immediately following my husband’s death, I heard this sentence not once, not twice, but three times: “It takes five years to get over grief.” In each instance, the message was delivered by a widowed man or woman, and, frankly, it didn’t sit well.

I’d just been through two-and-a-half years of care giving. The thought that my life might be on hold for another five years weighed far too heavily.
Today, I hit that mark: five years without Joe. Did it take all this time to get over the grief of losing my cherished husband of 24 years? Am I over my grief?

It may sound like a contradiction, but the answer to both questions is no.
During my first year of widowhood, my main challenge was to figure out how to keep going with a huge hole at the center of my being. Joe’s absence was so raw and palpable that he remained a presence throughout my days. The first six months, no matter what I was doing, Joe was constantly there, reminding me that he was gone. I remember actually telling him silently (but quite firmly) that the bathroom was off limits; hey, a girl needs some privacy.
Even after I met Bob, a widower, seven months after Joe’s death and began to discover that it was possible to experience both giddy happiness and deep sorrow at the same time, Joe was still on my mind most of the time.
The Second Year Is Harder   
That changed in Year Two. No longer awaking to thoughts of Joe every morning and no longer falling asleep to thoughts of him every night, I also no longer felt him as a constant presence throughout my days. When he would visit my thoughts, he never stayed for very long, which is perhaps what many people mean by “getting over grief.”
At the same time, however, I felt Joe’s three-dimensionality begin to flatten. My memories of him and us began to seem more like vacation photos than the actual experiences. As Joe grew a little less vivid with each passing day, I felt like I was losing him all over again — this time irretrievably. Heartsick, I wondered if this dimming was what widowed people meant when they said, “The second year is harder than the first.”
By then, I’d mastered the special occasion thing. A birthday? An anniversary? A holiday? For predictable dates like those, my instinct was to begin girding weeks in advance. By the time the actual day arrived, I was sometimes so defended that I forgot the occasion. What I couldn’t gird against were the moments that would catch me by surprise, suddenly summoning a memory that left me aching. 
And Then, Year Three…  
In Year Three, memories of Joe and the pain of his absence resurged with sometimes biting vividness. The ache started after our daughter, Becky, received her first college acceptance letter late in the fall of 2011. Bob had accompanied us on most of our campus tours, nearly a dozen in all. Yet, as Becky and I jumped up and down, shrieking like two little kids, Joe was the man with whom I shared the moment. Can you believe this? I marveled silently. Our baby is going to college!   
Six months later, Bob was again the man at my side, Joe the one on my mind, as I sat at the high school crew team’s spring awards banquet. Becky had been an indifferent athlete through her elementary and middle school years, so Joe and I had been delighted, but surprised, when she announced her freshman year that she wanted to take up the grueling sport of rowing.
In coming years, Bob’s was the male voice that cheered Becky on as she racked up city, state and national medals. But on this night, it was Joe’s absence that left me blinking back tears as the coaches handed Becky her varsity letter. Can you believe this? Our daughter, the non-athlete. A varsity letter. Who would have thought?
Grief Comes as a Wallop  
Now, as I hit the five-year mark, those unanticipated moments keep coming, each time packing a similar emotional wallop.

Most recently, when Becky, a college sophomore, identified and secured a summer internship in the music industry, the swell of pride I felt was attended by a powerful punch to the gut. Her passion for music? She says that comes from Joe and me and our eclectic tastes. Her determination and tenacity? That definitely comes from us, too, Type A personalities, both. But the internship? She did this, all by herself. Where are you, Joe? You should be seeing this! 
Looking to the future, I expect the milestones in Becky’s life — some that I can anticipate, some that I cannot — will continue to hurt. They remind me that Joe is not on hand to witness our daughter’s evolution into a stunning woman. They remind me that Becky doesn’t have her adoring dad present to express his pride and joy in her every achievement. They remind me that our “Becky sandwich” is one irreplaceable slice short.
Although I’m now happily married to another man, I am also still Joe’s bereaved widow. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. The best — and the worst — days are those when my memories feel alive and more vivid than a flat image in a frame.

Get over my grief? Why would I want to? Each time I feel the sting of acute longing, it is reassurance that Joe, and Joe and I as a couple, are for me still very much alive. 


Defeat Depression Walk, May 25, 2014

I am passionate about raising awareness and eliminating the stigma of mental illness and suicide.  Last year I helped organize a Defeat Depression walk in Campbell River, where I live. Four women who had all lost children to suicide got together to make a difference. We heard about the Defeat Depression walks and decided to organize one. We hoped we would get 20 people but on the day nearly 200 walked, many carrying home made signs remembering their loved ones.

Defeat Depression is a cross Canada campaign sponsored by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada. 

This year the walk will take place on May 25.  Here is a link to our website.  Please check it out.  We are raising money for the Campbell River Beacon Club which offers a wonderful meeting place, programs, outings and support to adults living with mental illness.  If you would like to sponsor me you can click the Pledge to Participant button and enter my name in the boxes.

Victoria Broker and Barbara Swanston


Finding the Light Within – Mural for suicide awareness in Phillie


Terry lived in Plymouth Meeting, PA a suburb of Philadelphia. I learned about a project by muralist James Burns, to shed a light on youth suicide by providing a voice for survivors, attempters, and their families and friends by creating a new community around this issue. Through this project, we hope to educate the public about warning signs of suicidal behavior and how to seek help for loved ones before there is a loss of life.  I was honoured that Terry’s image was included in that mural.  Michael was in Phillie in 2013 and visited the mural with the host of this website, Rob Westle who has become a good friend.

Say their names to us


The time of concern is over. No longer are we asked how we are doing. Never are the names of our children mentioned to us. A curtain descends. The moment has passed. Lives slip from request recall. There are exceptions . . . For most, the drama is over. The spotlight is off. Applause is silent. But, for us, the play will NEVER end. The effects on us are timeless. Say THEIR NAMES to us.

On the stages of our lives they have been both leading and supporting actors and actresses. Love does not die. Their names are written on our lives. The sounds of their voices replay within our minds. You feel they are dead. We feel they are dead and still they live. They ghostwalk our souls, beckoning in future welcome. You say they were our children. We say they are. Say THEIR NAMES to us, and say THEIR NAMES again.

It hurts to bury their memory in silence. What they were in flesh is no part of our now . . .
You say not to remind us. How little you understand we cannot forget. We would not if we could. We understand you, but feel the pain in being forced to do so. We forgive you because you cannot know. And we would forgive you anyway. We accept how you see us, but understand you see us not at all. We strive not to judge you, but we wish that you could understand . . .

We do not ask you to walk this road. The ascent is steep and the burden heavy. We walk it not by choice. We would rather walk it with them in the flesh, looking not to spirit worlds beyond. We are what we have to be. What we have lost you cannot feel . . . And we would not have you. But at least say THEIR NAMES for they are alive in me.

. . . They and their lives play light songs on my mind, sunrises and sunsets on my dreams. They are real and shadow, were and are.

Say THEIR NAMES to us and say THEIR NAMES again. They are our children and we love them . . .

Written by Don Hackett

Grief is NOT a problem

This is a brillian article and I agree with it completely.

Solving the Problem of Grief: The Solution Is Not What You Think

By Megan Devine

Solving the problem of grief is a problem in itself: if the ways you are broken cannot possibly be fixed, why does everyone keep giving you solutions?

Before my partner died, I was reading There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Dr. Wayne Dyer. It’s a great book. When I tried to pick it up after Matt died, though, I couldn’t get back into it. It just kept feeling wrong, like there was a burr inside the words that scratched uncomfortably. I kept trying to find comfort in the words I found comforting and helpful before, and those words were just not doing it.

I put the book down. I picked it back up. The burr rasped and the words didn’t fit, and I put the book back down.

It was several weeks later when my eye happened to catch the title of the book as it lay on the coffee table: there’s a spiritual solution to every problem.

Every problem.

Suddenly, it made sense. There may in fact be a spiritual solution to every problem, but grief is not a problem to be solved. It isn’t “wrong,” and it can’t be “fixed.” It isn’t an illness to be cured.

This book no longer worked for me because grief is not a problem.

I was relieved. For one thing, I really like Dr. Dyer’s work, and I wanted to keep liking it. But the larger relief was in suddenly seeing how just changing the orientation to grieving from a problem to be solved to a fact to be carried made a gigantic difference.

Seeing grief as a problem is very common — it runs through much of the grief literature, and most people approach it that way when someone they love is in pain. Part of that is in the presentation: we assume that if something is uncomfortable, it means something is wrong. People conclude that grief is “bad” because it hurts. We hear about relieving the pain, getting out of pain, dreaming of a time when there is no pain.

We behave as though grief is something to get out of as soon as possible, an aberration that needs healing, rather than a natural response to loss — in short, we treat it as a problem.

It may seem like a small shift, just the change of a few words. But small shifts at ground level make for huge differences in trajectory. Think of the space shuttle: two degrees difference on the ground translates into thousands of miles through space. Especially for the outside observer or support person, the foundation you stand on as you approach grief influences everything – you will either get where you most truly wish to go, or you will widely miss your mark.

Let me give you an example. If you feel that grief is a problem, you will offer solutions: you should get rid of her clothes. He’s in a better place now, so try to be happy. Maybe you should get out more.

You will encourage your grieving friend or loved one to do what you suggest, because you are trying to relieve their pain — which means, solve their problem. You get frustrated because your friend seems defensive. They don’t seem to want to take your advice.

The more you try to help — aka: fix it — the more obstinate they become. Clearly, they don’t want to get better.

The griever, on the other hand, knows that their grief is not something that can be fixed. They know there is nothing wrong with them. They don’t have a ‘problem.’ The more people try to fix their grief, the more frustrated (and defensive) they feel. The griever is frustrated because they don’t need solutions, they need support. Support to live what is happening. Support to carry what they are required to carry.

Grieving people expend a lot of energy defending their grief instead of feeling supported in their experience of it.

If this sounds familiar, you may need to check your orientation. Do you think grief is a problem to be solved, or is it a process to be supported? How you view it dictates your actions and your response. It’s that difference in orientation that changes everything: the wrong foundation can make your best intentions fly wildly off course. The right foundation is supportive and helpful, even when words are hard to find.

So here’s the thing — if you truly want to be helpful and supportive, you need to stop thinking that grief is a problem to be solved.

This is true on a cultural level as well as on an individual level. We’re talking about a whole orientation change in the ways we come to grief, the ways we understand grief.

Here’s what you should know:

• Grief isn’t something to be gotten rid of so that we can get back to life. It IS life.

• Grief is not a problem, it’s a reality: a natural experience of love and pain.

• Our friends, our families, our books, our cultural responses, are most useful, most loving and kind, when they help those in grief to carry their reality, and least helpful when they try to solve what can’t be fixed.

That change in orientation isn’t just for the witness to grief. For the person in grief:

• It might help you to know that if something feels like a correction or solution rather than a support, it probably isn’t for you. Some things, like Dr. Dyer’s book, are specifically designed for problem solving, and may feel more grating than useful.

• You may find that you expect to feel corrected so often, it can feel hard to hear anything as supportive.

• The work here is to find — and receive — the things that help you live with your reality: softening into grief, finding your heart, offering yourself kindness.

• Understanding these things as supports rather than solutions is a subtle change, but an important one.

We need to develop some skillful means both to witness grief, and to live in grief. We need to learn how to support rather than to solve. We need to practice being in there with grief, rather than getting out of it. And we need to hear the distinction between the two.

When we don’t see grief as a problem to be solved, but instead as an experience to be supported, loved, and witnessed — then we can really talk about what helps. When we stand on the same ground together, our words and actions can be truly supportive and useful.


Suicide Prevention Week

Suicide Prevention Week

On the 10th anniversary of September 11 I heard someone speaking about the people who jumped from those terribly high floors to escape being burned. I thought it was an analogy for someone how completes suicide. This week I found this quote which expresses it so well.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” David Foster Wallace

Every 40 seconds someone, somewhere dies by suicide.


Depression can be fatal

Depression can be fatal

Depression – deep, crushing, hopeless, worthless, and feeling ashamed.
Depression – the liar, the devil, the thief of heart and soul.
Depression – so very hard to admit, so very hard to reach out, to get treatment, and if you do, so very, very hard to manage. The side effects of many anti-depressants are like depression.

We must understand that depression is a disease like any other, not a deficit of character, not something you can just ‘get over’.

Look into Terry’s eyes – see depression.


Terry’s 33rd birthday

Terry's 33 birthday

Thirty three years ago today, August 28, 1980,  my beautiful boy, Terence Swanston, was born. Going to the hospital was déjà vu as his sister had been born in the same hospital 2 years previously – her birth day is August 29. They would have shared the same date but Terry was born in a leap year so there was an extra day in February.

It was a much easier labour and delivery this time and we were so excited to welcome our little bundle of joy. We had seen the second Star Wars movie a few weeks earlier and Terry reminded us of Yoda – be we decided not to name him that.

The next day Michael and Jennifer came to pick us up. The same nurse who carried Jennifer out to our car that Labour Day weekend 2 years earlier carried Terence. She remembered us and was so pleased to see Jennifer again (gosh she must have carried hundreds of babies). We had a little birthday party for Jennifer the next day to help her feel special too.

When a new baby is born life seems so hopeful, and it is hopeful. We must never lose hope (for long anyway). Looking back today, I am surprised that this day the grief pit is deeper and darker than the one on his memorial day one week ago. As I sat by the beautiful carved bent cedar box that holds his ashes I lit a candle and was overwhelmed with grief. My son, my beautiful boy, my Terry. I never thought that a crushing depression would eventually suck all the joy and ultimately life from you. I love you with all my heart and miss you forever. Mum xxx