Grief and Rebirth : Finding the Joy in Life | Alexandra Wyman | Suicide Loss

Alexandra Wyman is a pediatric- occupational therapist, a mom, a widow, an author, a podcaster, a speaker, and a grief guide whose husband Shawn died of suicide. The aftermath of Shawn’s death, complicated by the grief of others and expectations of Alexandra’s own grief process, prompted her to write her important new book titled The Suicide Club: What To Do When Your Loved One Chooses Death. Writing this book that helps others work through their own grief process was helpful to Alexandra in her healing process, and it also offered her the opportunity to reflect on the healing she needed to do from her childhood, including the limiting core beliefs that were impacting her life as an adult. As she started to unravel those beliefs and heal emotionally from her past experiences, Alexandra began taking small, baby steps forward, and now, she is actively helping others start to take their own baby steps towards healing and finding joy again. Tune in to hear Irene and Alexandra talk about Alexandra’s journey of mourning and healing after losing Shawn, the need to change the rhetoric around suicide, and much more, for what is a very moving and insights filled interview with a highly authentic, inspiring woman!

 

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:

  • The tragic day Shawn died of suicide.
  • What neuroscience-based research says about the important messaging we get from birth to age seven.
  • What it is like to attend a suicide support group.
  • How consulting with a medium helped Alexandra to connect with Shawn.
  • We cannot heal present grief until we heal past grief. 

SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS ALEXANDRA:

  • What are Shawn’s childhood experiences that led to his limiting core beliefs?
  • How was the aftermath of Shawn’s death made more complicated by the grief of others?
  • Why is unsavory behavior not unusual when a death occurs?
  • What did you learn about the importance of boundaries during your journey of mourning and healing?
  • What is the difference between grieving in private or in public?
  • What can we do when a loved one chooses death?

Get your copy of: The Suicide Club: What to Do When Someone You Loves Chooses Death

 

Get connected with Alexandra:

Listen to the podcast here

 

Alexandra Wyman: What Can You Do When Someone You Love Chooses Death?

 

 

 

 

Introduction

I hope this finds each of you so very well. I could not be more delighted to have the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Wyman, who is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, a mom, a widow, an author, a podcaster, a speaker, and a Grief Guide. When Alexandra met her late husband, Shawn, in 2017, she was looking forward to a successful happy life. In 2020, that successful, happy life tragically slipped away when Shawn died by suicide. The aftermath of Shawn’s death is complicated by the grief of others and expectations of Alexandra’s own grief process prompted her to write her important new book titled The Suicide Club: What to Do When Your Lone One Chooses Death.

Writing this book that helps others work through their own grief process was not only cathartic and helpful to Alexandra in her healing process. It also offered her the opportunity to reflect on the healing she needed from her childhood and how the past experiences that negatively impacted her had led to limiting core beliefs that were impacting her life as an adult. As she started to unravel those beliefs and heal emotionally from her past experiences, Alexandra began taking small baby steps forward. Now, she is actively helping others start to take their own steps toward healing and finding joy again.

I’m looking forward to talking with Alexandra about past experiences that led to limiting core beliefs. How negative core beliefs impacted her life as an adult, Alexandra’s journey of warning and healing after losing Shawn, the need to change the rhetoric around suicide, and much more for what is surely going to be a very moving and insights-filled interview with a highly authentic, inspiring woman.

 

Grief and Rebirth : Finding the Joy in Life | Alexandra Wyman | Suicide Loss

 

Alexandra, a heartfelt welcome to the show.

Irene, thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to our conversation. It’s such a pleasure.

Alexandra’s Childhood

It is and we have a lot of commonality between us because we both lost the love of our lives. We’ve taken what’s happened to us and we’re making lemonade out of the lemons. We’re helping other people with it. It’s so much so rewarding in a way you hate to have gone through what you went through, but now you’re on the other side of it. You’re helping other people with what you’ve learned. I want everyone to learn about you because you’ve got such a wealth of wisdom to share with everyone. Let’s start from the beginning. Do you want to describe your childhood to us and the healing you later needed to do as a result of your childhood?

I’m the youngest in my family. There are three of us and my father is a Russian Orthodox priest at my big fat Greek wedding. That’s usually where people get that connection. We moved around quite a bit with different churches or parishes that he was supporting. That ended up being a tough environment to be in. Additionally to that, my mom struggled with substance abuse and alcoholism.

She did go through rehab and was in recovery, but there are a lot of dynamics that come in through that. For the most part, I’d say I excelled pretty well in school. I was involved in sports and got into a decent college. I’ll say, as you mentioned, it is a tragedy to lose my husband the way that I did. Yet, at the same time, it has taken me a while to come to terms with the gratitude I have towards the amount of healing I’ve done and needed to do since then.

In doing that, I’ve reflected on some of those dynamics and things that came up in my childhood. For instance, one of those core beliefs is a people pleaser. I learned very early on that I was to ensure that I did not rock the boat and that I was constantly being monitored. It’s something, a dynamic of being in a church, being the priest’s daughter. People are monitoring. What are you wearing? How are you behaving? People always have an opinion.

It was a reflection on him. There was even more probably pressure on you that you had to be this perfect little kid.

You touch on the perfectionism that comes out, hence the good grades. It ends up being like, “These experiences are so uncomfortable. What can I do to avoid them? I can try and strive for that perfectionism.” I can be that people pleaser so that I stop understanding what opinions I have of my own.

That also did connect to my grief because there was so much that happened right after Shawn died that I was faced with trying to work through those and found that I had to stop being the people pleaser. I had to reflect on that perfectionism. As you said, we have to set boundaries and be able to say, “Wait, what is happening right now, and what’s healthy and good for me? My son was one when his dad died.” I knew early on I needed to make some changes so I could raise him a little differently.

Relationship With Shawn

You’re very wise because a lot of people would be attached to whatever they learned and you were already thinking that what you learned was not going to be helpful for what you were going through. You were starting. It sounds like you needed the help to do it, but you were starting to separate from some of those dysfunctional, negative, toxic messages you’d been getting. I had a similar experience from my own dysfunctional childhood, too. Let’s talk about how you met Shawn and describe your relationship with him. How old were you when you met him, Alexa?

I was 35. When you talk about that nice little wrapped-up successful life, it becomes the checklist, as I call it, like you go to school. This is, again, messaging that I received. If you finish high school, it is not an option to not go to college. You go to college. My family emigrated from Russia. I’m first generation on one side, second generation on another. It’s like, look at what your grandparents did to set you up here. You are going to college. There’s that whole mindset. You go to school, meet someone, get married, and have your house and picket fence, and none of that happened to me. I’m so much later.

 

Grief and Rebirth : Finding the Joy in Life | Alexandra Wyman | Suicide Loss

 

Shawn’s Death

I wish you were doing more for yourself now. Tell us about that tragic day that Shawn died of suicide and what the shock that was for you.

Shawn and I had had a roll-wind romance. We met each other. It was like love at first sight, a total soul connection. It was everything came together nicely. We started having our house. We found out we were pregnant all around the same time we got married. I want to be clear. If you want to look for signs, you can. I’m a believer that was suicide. There aren’t signs because you can take two people who are feeling or going through the same thing and one may end up dying and the other one may not.

Sometimes, there can be things if someone says, “I’m contemplating suicide.” Obviously, that’s a sign to get them help, but someone saying that does not mean that that’s how it’s going to end. There weren’t any signs. It was during COVID. There’s a lot of pressure and stressors going on. Shawn had been at his best friend’s birthday party the night before. I’m pretty open. We did have an argument. I thought he was coming home. He was staying out, which I think a lot of arguments come from miscommunication.

I stayed home with our son and the following morning, he essentially went missing for about six hours. He had sent me what I consider to be a goodbye text first thing in the morning. There’s something in me that knew. I knew what was happening. I spent that time trying to get in touch with the friends he was with the night before. I’m not a very technological person, even though technically, I’m at the beginning of the Millennial generation or whatever is supposed to be correctly used for that generation now.

I never thought to do the ping where I could track him at any point in time. We didn’t do that. Trying to find that, eventually, I was able to figure out where he was. He wasn’t at home. He did reach out to a couple of people basically to say goodbye. At about 2:30 that afternoon, I collapsed on my kitchen floor. I didn’t have any contact from him from that original text, but collapsed. I started screaming and I said, “I know he’s gone. I do. I cannot tell you how.” It wasn’t until an additional four hours later that I was actually informed that he had died one minute prior to when I collapsed.

That was a huge message. Can we ask how he took his life?

Yeah, he died of a gunshot wound.

How painful. What are the past experiences from a young age that led to Shawn’s limiting core beliefs that he would take his life? I know there’s neuroscience-based research that says something about the important messaging we get from ages birth to age seven, which I’ve heard many times. Give me a child to age 6 or 7. A slight argument with your wife and now all is lost and I’m going to take my life. What happened to him?

I can only speculate, but I do know that at a young age, Shawn’s mom had left and she had subsequently met someone else and started a new family. I don’t know the details, but I know that he didn’t have much contact with her after that. His dad was left as a single parent with two kids at the time. He did talk about some of the difficulties that he had and dealing with some of the emotional abuse and potential physical abuse that he endured. I don’t know from where. I don’t know who it would have been in his life. He didn’t necessarily disclose that, but what I can say is, what I speculate now is with all that going on, there wasn’t any teaching or guidance on healthy coping skills.

How to come back and repair that? How to be able to find ways to work through that? Instead, Shawn internalized it and he took all of that on. Everything that was happening, he took that. As kids do, this is a very natural thing for kids to take on that it’s their fault. I go through this with my own son now, like him thinking through that it’s his fault that his dad is not here. It’s a natural thing. It takes a caregiver to come back and say, “No, that’s not the case.” I’m a believer that that and the culmination of other stressors that continued and not being able to manage or work through. I don’t think you can get rid of stress. I get a little frustrated when people out there like, “Just have to get rid.” You cannot get rid of your stress.

Life is stressed to be alive and you say you’re stressed.

We have those tools, which is exactly what you’re doing, Irene. Now, you’re providing a tool for people to manage their stress and work through that. He didn’t have that foundation. I think it became that everything came up and he couldn’t outrun it. That emotional pain, which we cannot see, was high enough that it seemed like the one way that he could end it was to end his life.

It’s so interesting because it feels like he was invisible to not only his mother but also his father in many ways. The way he coped was by taking his life to become invisible again.

That’s actually a good point. I think one of the things that I’ve found and have grappled with is this idea of being broken. Shawn and I talked about and prior to this, again, we all have stressors. What do you need to manage your stress? Is it exercise? Do you need therapy? Do you need more social time? What do you need to help manage that? We all have certain things that we can do. I think there are certain methods or strategies that Shawn and I talked about for management. He inevitably would come back and be like, “What’s the point? It’s not going to work on me.”

I think that there’s that internalization of being broken or not enough where nothing’s going to help. I’m sure I can do that, but it’s not going to work because I think he believed that something was almost structurally wrong with him, which obviously I didn’t believe that. Others didn’t believe that. I heard this and I love it. No amount of outside love can ever overcome the decrease of self-love or the lack of self-love. I think that that’s where he was.

That’s so sad. I’ve known a lot of people who had this attitude. They’re in a swamp of suffering their whole lives because they believe that they cannot help themselves. I have found that it’s a choice and it takes a lot of courage because when you go to therapy or you go to get healing, it means that you’re going to, in some ways, see ways that you need to change the way you’re thinking about things or the way you’re tackling things or the way you’re processing things. That takes a lot of courage and a lot of work to change those patterns. You have to be very open-minded to it.

Especially as you’re seeing with the neuroscience behind it. Our brains are wired to take more negative experiences and it becomes more ingrained than positive experiences.

Why is that? Do you know why that is?

Neuroscience is my hobby. To have it and if it’s continuous, the more that connection gets deeper in the brain. You’re right; it takes a lot of courage and work to overcome that. You need the smallest bit of belief. Like, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. Like there’s got to be something different.” I think that something different for him was truly ending his life. Though I think what you’re doing and what I’m hoping to do is help people see that there is something else that can be an option.

Many rewards at the end, if you’re willing to heal your stuff. I’m your perfect example of it. I changed my whole life with the healing that I’ve been through and all in the book to free yourself, but it isn’t easy and open and all of that, but it’s worth it. I know that you talk about that there are ways that the aftermath of Shawn’s death was made more complicated by the grief of others and I surmise that that came from those original dysfunctional people in his life who decided to displace their stuff onto you.

The crux of it did. Yes. There were a lot of things that I discovered after the fact. I’ll say this, day zero, the day that he died, is when things started for me. It did take about eight months before I was able to realize it. My grief process and my therapist helped me understand this because there are times when I’m like, “Why am I not farther along? Why am I still struggling?” We’ll get into that a little bit more later but yes, there’s this thing about suicide where you cannot blame the person.

It was his choice at the end of the day, it was his choice, but it must be like, what drove him to that choice and it must be the wife. I’ve been on the opposite side where I have heard other people who’ve lost their son have themselves blame the wife. It must be the wife who did it. That one’s hard for me to hear because I’m like, “No. Contribute, sure. There are absolutely stressors within our marriage that probably contributed.” There are also other relationships that would have had the same stressors where it didn’t end this way.

It’s hard to say. It was easy to blame me. I was there. It turned out that there were other individuals involved, including family and friends, who didn’t like me. I did not know this. It became how they preserve Shawn to the best of their ability while trying to get me out of the picture. My son, as you mentioned, there were whispers about wanting to get custody of my son. There were lawyers that ended up getting involved.

With everything else you’re going through now, you also have all these financial problems because you have to get lawyers, and you have to represent yourself. How terrible. They want to take your son away from you.

There was a belief that if I was still his mom, if I was allowed to raise him, I would not ever share anything about Shawn with him. Not only this group of people would share about Shawn, which, again, all of these things. Like for your listeners, if you’re listening to me, that’s ridiculous. I’m like, but this is the ridiculousness of grief. This is what happens when people have a massive loss and it doesn’t have to be by suicide.

When there’s a change or shift, it’s like we cannot maintain control of our emotions. Especially if we haven’t been taught how to handle our emotions in a healthy manner, this is what happens. The ugliness comes out. The grasping for control, that anything to help us feel like for whatever reason, these people felt that if they put their time and energy into trying to stop me and to get on social media and do a whole campaign against me, like that somehow made them feel better. It was horrible.

It’s amazing how unaccountable people are, but their part in anything and how they love to displace everything. I have a real short little story about that too, because when you talk about your husband dying by suicide, but I have been married twice and in my first marriage, I had a terrible first marriage, all kinds of problems. Anyway, when I finally went to divorce my ex-husband, my son was very little. He was like a year and a half old.

My in-laws had given me all their, to me it was ugly, French provincial furniture that filled up my house, but at least I was very poor and it filled up the house and there was even a piano there which I thought was wonderful because music ran in my family. All of a sudden, I make the moves to divorce this man who’s abusive to me and all these things that are going on and a furniture truck, without announcement, rides up to the front of my house. These men get out and they have been paid to take everything the in-laws ever gave me out of that house, which I didn’t even originally want, but why were they taking that piano away from their little grandson? I could never understand that, but it’s the same thing. They were punishing me.

It reminds me of hurt people, hurt people. May were hurt, so you’ve got to hurt Irene because look at what you’re doing. It’s that mentality, “I’m hurting, so I need you to hurt as much as I’m hurting.” It’s not healthy and it’s not helpful. It is a reality of lots of situations. I think what was especially hard for me is that we lost a whole bunch of family. We literally lost access to family and friends in that instant. It wasn’t the loss of Shawn. There are so many losses that come with it. There’s a loss of Shawn.

There’s a loss of who I was with him and what our life was like. We were trying to expand our family. We were hoping to get pregnant with our second child. There’s all of this mourning. In addition, there’s a whole line of family that, to this day, I won’t have contact with. I am prepared for the day that my son might ask more about them and we’ll take it as we do. There are people from Shawn’s family that we are still in touch with. You lose this whole support system. Now, granted, it’s probably not the best support system, but you lose all these people. It was a lot. I will say that it was a lot and it took me a while.

The Three Stages Of Grief

You were pummeled. I totally identify with that because I lived through my time of being pummeled also, a few times in my life. I know that in your book and all, you talk about three stages of grief, shock, and awe, now what? Finding the collateral beauty, which comes with acceptance. Can you teach us about that? What about each of those stages in Los Angeles?

Absolutely. The shock and awe is the immediacy, the acute stage of losing someone. For me, that was four months. It’s different for every person. I’ve known people where it’s two months. For me, when my shock lifted, it was very palpable. I felt it lift and I was flooded. The thing about shock is that it’s a protective measure that our bodies naturally do, and our brain naturally does, because it doesn’t think we can handle the enormity of what is coming for us.

It’s like we numb out for a while.

Exactly. You fit like for me, I was like, “I’m doing life. I’m trying to figure this out.” When it lifted, I went, “No.”

There it is.

There was so much more coming at me. I got flooded with a lot of emotions. I was like, “What is this thing that’s happening?” That’s where I started to go, “He’s not coming through that door. He’s not coming back.” It’s almost like up until that point, I was a shell of a person. People would say that they’re like, “There’s no light in your eyes. You cannot see anything.” I was like, “I am like a living and dead person at the same time. I am a shell of a person,” then now what? That shock and awe, you’re functioning.

Now what is when you’re still dealing with the intensity and, as I said, the enormity of this grief thing that’s starting. It’s not like your bills don’t stop. Your work doesn’t necessarily like, “Yes, my work was great. It helped me out. I could not have asked for a better work situation.” You still have these things. They don’t stop because you’re going through this thing. This thing that we have at the time, I was like, “I’m going to blow through this. I’m going to go get my service.”

Get super wonder woman.

I’m going to get to the other side of this. Young, I was like 38. I was like, “I got this. I’m going to get through all of this.” It’s like, “No, this thing is going to hang out here for a while. It’s going to be here.” The now what is where you’re straddling both. You got this grief thing, but yet it’s almost like there’s this expectation that you’re supposed to look like everything’s okay. You go to work, everything’s fine. You still may have this grief thing. How do I start to take those first steps?

How do I start to rebuild what has imploded in front of me? Then I found the collateral beauty, and I think that any of these moments can happen at any time. For me, the finding collateral beauty, I’m going to actually watch that movie a couple of times. I was like, “I see this.” It’s being able to look outside of the tunnel vision. For me, my grief was the abruptness of everything. I was tunnel vision when I was able to pull back a little bit. The first experience was realizing I was looking forward to taking my son to his swim class.

I was like, “What is this thing I’m feeling? It almost feels like I could attach to some happiness again, but how is that possible? I’m supposed to be committed to being sad and upset the rest of my life.” The acceptance is not, “This person died.” The acceptance is I can trust myself. The acceptance is I can rebuild one small block at a time because, before all of this, my idea of acceptance was like, “This must be what God wanted.” Getting into that. I’m like, “No.”

Talking like the true daughter of a religious man.

All of those. This is the way God wanted. “No, it’s not.” I don’t believe any of that now. It’s not something overarching. It’s not like you’re going to go to an event and realize, “Look at all this joy that’s here.” I don’t see it. That could happen. I see it more as we have these little moments like this year. I will tell you a huge moment of joy for me is that I finally have my backyard planted the way I want it. Now we have butterflies and bees and robins that come looking for worms. All of this life that has come into our yard.

One evening, I was like, “That brings me some joy.” I get to see this cool thing. I never thought I would be that person, honestly. It’s finding those small moments of realizing that if I take myself and pull myself back a little bit to see the bigger picture, I can see something that still makes it worth it for me to be here. I did not go through a lot of suicidal ideation myself, but I definitely had moments of like, “I have so much left of this life here. I cannot live.”

I could do this. I totally identify with everything you’re saying. I like it too. If you look at your life, it’s like a domino board, and you’ve got all the dominoes lined up, and then someone dies or something happens to you. It’s like throwing all the dominoes up in the air, and they land everywhere. How do I pick up all these same pieces of my life, but they’re all in a different order or they’re all screwed up. Wouldn’t you identify with that?

I love that.

The other part I think about, which I learned, is that just because you’ve gone through something horrible doesn’t mean you cannot have joy again. The whole point of healing is so that you can. What does that do for your son? I had the same experience. What did that do for my son? If I stayed in grief and pain the rest of my life, it was good for him in a way to see that that’s normal for you to go through stuff like that, but it’s also important for them to see that you can come through it. I like it until you can get hit by a grenade in life, but somehow keep on going.

Healing Journey

That’s such an important message for them. Let’s talk about your healing because we’re talking about that. All those dominoes up in the air, landing everywhere around you. You want to talk to us about your journey of warning and healing after losing. Shawn, I know you worked with both a talk therapist and a therapist practicing what is called Thought Field Therapy, which I honestly am not familiar with. I’m excited to learn about that. How did you get help, which is so important?

I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. Of course, like I said, being my Aries self, I was like, “I’m going to take this on.” I contacted therapists early on. The two that I worked with both said, “We’ve not been touching you for a couple of months.” They both said, “We can help you with descended to or lowering the intensity of the anxiety and depression I was experiencing.” Some of the PTSD, I’ll say some of the PTSD and they said, “We cannot speed up your grief. We cannot speed up that process.” I think that’s a huge point for your listeners, too, because I was like, “Let’s speed this up. Let’s get this over with. I don’t like this.”

Moving on, right?

Yeah, exactly. I did that. This thing happened and I did it and I handled it and now I’m good. We’re years out and I’m still dealing with that. Remember, it’s hanging out.

You do for your whole life. Every once in a while, for me, it’s years later and something will pop up and I’ll go up again, trigger, there it is.

You don’t always have control. I can go one day and I’m fine. The next day, something very similar could happen. I’m crying in my car, like, “What happened?” What I found is I use the two Thought Field Therapy is fascinating to me, but essentially, what it is in the way that my therapist describes it is that you’re on this road and things happen. You get different-sized boulders that block your road. You can analyze what those boulders are. You can talk about them. You can look at them. You can intellectualize them. You can understand your feelings, but that doesn’t mean you’ve removed them.

This aligns with the idea that these events ourselves hold on to events in our lives and the feelings that we have around them. If we work through the emotions and we work through the thinking piece, but we don’t actually allow ourselves to release the impact, it can continue to come up. Thought Field Therapy uses a combination of tapping and muscle testing to essentially let go and help the brain rewire a new connection that is different. We don’t have to continually deal with those deep connections of those core limiting beliefs that we’ve taken on. It’s not meant to be something.

 

Grief and Rebirth : Finding the Joy in Life | Alexandra Wyman | Suicide Loss

 

It’s meant to be your initial set like a set of sessions to work through and things initially. I do now what is called tune-ups where I’m like, “I think something is coming up for me and I’m not releasing it and I’ll go see that therapist.” I used that for some of those core beliefs to help me remove them so that they weren’t constant barriers. Like I said, when I was first dealing with what was happening after Shawn died, people were saying things about, “I must have done something. Mom and I didn’t know him long enough.” People were calling my marriage into question.

How ignorant and harmful.

I became the people pleaser. Why would they say mean things? That was where I went to. Why would they say mean things unless they were true? I had to pull back and go, “It’s not about me. It’s not about how true or not true they are.” I would use my Thought Field Therapist for that. My thought therapist, what I appreciate about him is that he continues to help me figure out ways to communicate. As I’ve talked about, we work on communication, having other strategies and tools, and setting boundaries.

It honestly has been once at a time, one session at a time. Sometimes, I’m venting and crying and sometimes, I’m able to access, but I believe it’s helpful to have some. Mine is a specific grief therapist, which I do think from my journey was important because he understood that some of what I was experiencing and helped me understand it was not always about me. It was a reflection of what the other people were dealing with, which was very big for me.

One day at a time, one step at a time. Share on X

Huge. You were witnessed and validated, which I don’t think you got too much from your family of origin. It sounds like it is so important. Did you also attend a suicide support group?

I do, yes, I did. I still do. There is something to be said because at a certain point, and I don’t know, Irene, if you went through this, I’ve met quite a few people who, after a loss, have gone through this, where people are available. For me, people were available, I’d say, for about a year. They were bringing meals. They wanted to know how to help. The food is always the thing. It took me a while to be able to say, “I don’t need to be fixed. People wanted to fix me, my son, and our situation. We don’t need to be fixed.

This is something that we’re going to continually work through.” What I found after that, though, is that people went back. Even now, like even some of my own family members, they’ll bring up Shawn when it gets close to his anniversary, and then otherwise, we go back to our regular lives and we don’t have to think about him because it’s not his anniversary. What I found with the support group was the first time I could walk in without explaining anything. I didn’t have to say anything.

One of the facilitators and since Shawn died during COVID, I initially went virtually and the first time I was in person, she’s like, “I want to give you a hug.” It was the first time that I had a hug where I felt completely 100% that she was there for me because I think sometimes this is more the pressure I put on myself, that I feel that people want me to comfort them, to let them know I’m okay. Like, “I’ll give you a hug, but I’m supporting you and knowing I’m okay.”

They’re uncomfortable with what happened. They don’t have the language or the tools. It’s so convoluted because they’re looking towards you to comfort them. It’s making them uncomfortable, and they don’t know what to do. That’s why a lot of them leave your life sometimes, which I’ve also experienced, and they cannot deal with it.

This support group has become like another type of family for me. I can say the same thing every month and they let me be. They let me work through it at my pace. That’s what I appreciate too, is that other people can come in. We’re all at different lengths, and we’re all at different times in our lives dealing with this loss. It’s a safe space to be. Even recently, someone had looked me up and saw what had happened. It’s one of my son’s coaches. He’s like, “I looked you up and saw everything.” I had this moment of, “Come on. We’re enjoying tee-ball.” Now I felt like I had to shift a little bit to almost come, like, “We’re okay. We’re doing fine. We’re figuring it out.” I taught myself.

You also got help with the healing modality that I love very much also. I wonder if a lot of people in your suicide support group use that modality, which is consulting with a medium to help you get in with Shawn and they believe in that. How much after the suicide did you connect with Shawn through a medium?

Initially, and I’ve done it several times and honestly, we have two local mediums here who both lost partners to suicides. They also are huge supporters of our support group and they’ll come and they’ll do readings for people with an effort, which was amazing and healing. The first medium that I consulted with was about four months after he passed. I have been guided that maybe that was too short a time. I don’t know. I don’t know what the amount of time is.

I think it depends on the soul on the other side because my husband and I communicated with him. It was two months after the accident. He came through like gangbusters. I think it depends on the healing they’re going through and what’s happening to them on the other side.

I agree. The first one was hard because I was still in the throes of everything going on here. I was still trying to understand what I had experienced, what he had experienced, and how I was going to work through all of this. Since then, I have consulted a couple of mediums again. It has been different. He does come through and every time, they’re always like, “He’s the life of the party.” It’s like the same thing every time. He’s the life of the party. He’s a jokester. He’s like elbowing other people out of the way to make sure he gets through things. I’m like, “That’s how he was.” It’s definitely his personality.

You know it’s him. What does he say to you about what happened? What wisdom has he brought to you through his communication?

That’s such a good question. Initially, a lot of it was helping me understand what it felt like for him to have all of this stress. He’s internalizing it and felt the weight of the world. He didn’t want to perpetuate ancestral patterns. He didn’t want to perpetuate. He had fears about repeating patterns, and he didn’t feel like he could break. He didn’t want to do that to me or our son. As time went on, he’s been very encouraging. I’m here with you. Sometimes, he comes through and it’s about dating, which cracks me up.

He’s giving you permission to date. They’re not jealous over there. I get the same messages. They’re not at all jealous.

How he’s going to help me find someone and he’s like, “I’m going to be the gatekeeper,” cracks me up. I think it does change the more healing there is on both sides. I’ve heard this. The more that you’re impacted by some of the sadness and the grief and it weighs you down, the harder it can be to connect, but then the more that you can have those healing moments. Sometimes I’m like, “I know I can connect with him.” I do get those signs. Sometimes, I want that translator for me. I’m like, “Can you tell me how things are going?”

The Importance Of Boundaries

I am the same exact way. I can connect. I know my husband’s around me, but every once in a while, I like to get validation, a second opinion, or a second experience. It’s very comforting. This is another loaded question for you. What did you learn about the importance of boundaries or a journey of warning and healing? What boundaries did you have to set? What happens when people do not accept these new boundaries? There is not a person reading this show, I am sure, who doesn’t have a need to create boundaries with someone and they don’t know quite how to do it. They’re worried about if they do that, are they going to lose people from their laws?

You might.

Could you speak to that, please?

That was something I thought I was okay with setting boundaries and this whole situation helped me understand in this process, helped me understand how much work I needed to do on learning to set boundaries and to work through the fear over what is going to be the result of new setting boundaries. I’ve set physical boundaries before, and I said, “These people are no longer allowed in our lives.” I’ve had to set emotional boundaries and say there are certain topics that I’m willing to talk about and other ones I’m not because this is not a safe place for me to do that emotionally.

I’ve even had to set boundaries with myself. Social media was a big one. It was hard for me when that was still an activation for me. That still comes up when I see cute, cohesive families and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with someone having this cute family. It hits me a little bit because that’s where we were going. That’s what we were in the process of doing and growing our family. For me, I had to get off social media for a while and be like, “I cannot see that.” It’s not a problem with what they’re doing. It’s how I’m responding to it.

It was triggering you and making you very unhappy.

Yes. Continue to say, “You don’t get this.”

People give you a hard time when you set those boundaries. Did they say things like you said, You cannot come here anymore?” You must have gotten a lot of blowback from that. “What are you doing?”

I had someone early on who said, “You want to have a relationship with me, you have to come to me.” I was like, “You’re making this boundary easy because the way you’re treating me is not okay.” Essentially, what I’ll say is when I initially set a lot of these boundaries, I went to what I am teaching my son. If I’m saying that it is okay for individuals to speak about me openly, to say things to me that are completely inappropriate and not okay, what am I teaching my son in saying, “You can go hang out with them.”

Someone made a comment very openly right after Shawn died that it should have been me who died and not Shawn while they were holding my son. What I had to fall back on, it’s like, “What am I teaching my son about the people that we are around in order to help him understand what those healthy boundaries are?” Yes, some people don’t. I’ve set boundaries with my family and sometimes get pushed back. I’m like, “I recommend you don’t call my bluff on us. I want to have a relationship. Should this continue, this is what’s going to happen.”

Do these people know you’re in counseling and all or you don’t tell them? Does that give you a little reinforcement to say, “I’m healing and I’m in therapy? This is the path I’m on whether you resonate with it or not.” Does that help, or do they get more angry about it because they’re losing more and more control over you?

I think it’s part of it because I think what ends up happening is the fact that I’m healing in some weird way is intimidating or threatening. I try and sink into finding words. Someone early on said to me, “Whatever you’re going to say, make sure you could stand behind that at any point in time.” I try and be thoughtful about how I’m sharing things. Sometimes I don’t tell people and it’s when it’s appropriate. I used to be telling people all the time, “I’m setting a boundary with you.” It wasn’t always necessary. In my own process, I’ve had to learn, like, “I don’t have to tell them about this. Here’s when I can.”

This is not okay for me. That’s it.

I’ll say for your listeners, there’s a fabulous book. The author is Dr. Nedra Tawwab. I’ve heard her on the podcast. She has a great way of explaining boundaries, how to do it, and how to go about it. It was very encouraging and empowering for me.

Grieving Styles

That’s good to know because boundaries are a big issue for a lot of people. I also want to ask you if you’re a private griever and then there are public grievers. Can you explain that to people? People don’t know that you have different personality styles and there are different styles to the way people grieve and that’s okay.

It absolutely is. I run a lot of public grievers. They did not understand. I did not realize that I was a private griever until this. Even now, I don’t always like hugs. I was very huggy, like every person who loved to cuddle and out cuddle with my son, but sometimes I’m like, “Please don’t. I shy away. Please don’t hug me.” I found that it was easier for me to be at that level of vulnerability when I was by myself and I could ugly cry and I could scream and I could be, I don’t know, like the ugliest form of all of this. It’s not ugly to grieve.

It’s for me to be that most vulnerable where it would be so difficult for someone to see. My mom and my sister, I think, were in the house when I collapsed on the floor and they were beside themselves when Shawn died. They did not know what to do and I could see how they were completely helpless watching me scream my lungs out because I knew that he was gone. There were other people who, because I looked stoic, I kept saying, “Hold on to it and wait until you’re in a safe place.”

That translated to other people that I was unfeeling, that I didn’t care that Shawn died because I wasn’t grieving the way other people thought. It reminds me of all these criminal shows, like these investigations, where they’re like, “The widow didn’t react the way we think she should.” That was very much what this is. I wasn’t crying enough. I even had someone tell me I was crying too much. I was like, “I cannot win with this. Let me be. Let me be in grief.”

How did you handle it when you didn’t want to be hugged? Didn’t they keep that personally?

I appreciate there were some people, word got around and then people would ask. I would say, “That’s okay.” What I found was that I was allowing people to hug me because I knew it was for them. It wasn’t helping me. I found that I had to find words to be like, “Do you mind not at the second? Give me a moment, and then I can hug you,” thing or I would create a space and walk backward from people to create.

I can understand that, too, because some of their energy was probably not that healthy and you didn’t need that coming in at you while you’re struggling yourself. Maybe some of that depends on the hugger.

That’s so true.

Changing The Rhetoric Around Suicide

Tell us what you’ve learned about the need to change the rhetoric around suicide. You have something to say about this comparison culture that we have, too.

Yes, because I think there’s so much shame and guilt right now. We have this idea about suicide. If you look at current suicide prevention, what I envision is we’re all putting on capes and we’re going to go save a life. If you don’t save that life, something’s wrong with you. You did something wrong. Your cape wasn’t right. You didn’t say the right thing. You didn’t smile at the right time. You didn’t figure it out. I wish we could shift that. Don’t stop doing that. Smile at someone. Check in on them.

I think I am a personal believer that prevention is about connection and healthy coping skills. Connect with people, but do it for real. Enough of this division, enough of you don’t agree with me so then we cannot be friends. How about it’s how are you? The one thing I’ve learned is life doesn’t discriminate. I’ve had this horrible tragedy and I could have another one. I hope every day I don’t, but I could.

It’s life.

Someone helped me understand with the example of like life is an ocean and you’re on a surfboard and sometimes it’s nice and smooth and still and sometimes you’re in the middle of a squall and you’ve got your surfboard and so you hold on to that so that you can trust yourself, you can handle whatever happens. That connection piece is what I find so important. Current prevention, to me, is a little late because someone has already dealt with this stuff. It’s not that when people die, it comes up.

This is that things have been building for a long period of time, and this is the answer the person finally chose. That’s where I’m like, let’s go earlier. Like, let’s help kids and schools. Let’s stop cutting mental health support in elementary schools and add it. How can we provide more support to parents when they’re dealing with emotions, especially post-COVID?

I wish we could change this whole idea because even if you look at some of the leading websites that talk about the science, they’re like, “The person discloses, they’re going to harm themselves.” I’m like, how often does that actually happen when someone actually dies by suicide and it’s not very much? I think that’s why I wish we could shift from this idea of, like, again, here’s our checklist. Let’s go look at our checklist and then intervene versus saying, “Just check in on each other.” Do it from a place of being genuine and saying, “I care about you.”

The Suicide Club

The other part about that is I think that aside from teaching kids their ABCs and how to count and everything, I think that it would be very useful to have a class in emotional IQ and conflict resolution and all those things because people grow up with thinking, being taught how to think and all, but not being taught the healthiest way to deal with their feelings or to deal with other people’s feelings. All that spills out on you. Let’s talk about your new book. It offers comfort, guidance, and inspiration to make meaning out of loss. From this conversation, I am sure our audience is saying, “There’s a lot I can learn from this book,” which is true. What would you like everyone to know about the Suicide Club? What to do when your loved one chooses death?

Grief and Rebirth : Finding the Joy in Life | Alexandra Wyman | Suicide Loss

The Suicide Club: What to Do When Your Lone One Chooses Death

The whole premise of this was that I felt like there weren’t a lot of resources in there, and I didn’t know how to fully access them. I thought if I’m going to go through this, maybe I can help someone else go through it. Let me say this book is not for someone who’s had a loss by suicide. We have losses that include not losing someone by death. There are different ways that we grieve.

There’s death by marriage, there’s divorce, there’s all kinds of things that co-heirs, moving, transition, all kinds of things that bring about grief.

It is a memoir that shows my process, and it talks about that process and losing Shawn, but I think the big picture is how we get to the point of forgiveness. How do we get to a point of finding our joy? How do we have more compassion for people that we don’t even know? How do we have more love and be able to quiet all those work through the negative experiences we’ve had and be able to get to the other side to find that joy so that we can maintain and look for that connection with each other and see that we are way more connected than often we feel in our day to day lives?

Grief Coaching

That’s wonderful. It’s a worthy book for people to get. I know you’re now a grief coach. How do you coach a person to take his or her first steps to work through grief? Do you coach both men and women? What does that look like for you in your practice now?

I’m open to coaching anybody. I think I tend to speak more with women than I do men at this point. My goal is to help people become more aware and start thinking that critical thinking, like what you were talking about, is not always taught anymore. How do we start thinking critically about our habits around our physical or nutritional health now? How is that created by what we were taught or what we were exposed to as children?

What are those limiting beliefs that are coming up and how are these impacting us creating a life that works for us or that we want to attach to our line? My goal is, once people have that awareness, is to help them find those higher upper-level resources of people who are more clinical or have the education at a higher level, whether it is a therapist, whether a trainer or other groups or things that can be more beneficial for people.

That’s wonderful. I know you have retreated. Tell us about that and anything else you’d like to share that people can avail themselves of so that you can help them or help loved ones that they have.

One of the retreats is around identifying one area of your and then working through, like what grief needs to be worked through, or at least starting to work through, bring awareness to that and to try and release whatever is that barrier and to be able to start to again, get those tools and resources. I’m a fan of guru culture. I’m another resource. How can we get more tools towards that?

The other thing that I do is partner with a yoga instructor and we’ve created a whole system and program around attaching yoga to grief and being able to work through those other losses that happen. Usually, this is related to a loss by death, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. It is how our life shifts and changes when we have that loss. It’s attached to certain yoga sequences and poses that are meant to help the body release that emotion.

I know there’s something called brief yoga.

It’s like that. It’s not under the umbrella. We would say that it’s grief yoga, but there are specific sequences that go along with that. We actually created this one from the ground up. This was like doing research and figuring out what areas of the body tend to hold our grief more and then be able to release that.

Do they have to do this in person, or do you also do things online?

Preferably in person. We’re still the yoga and grief when we’re starting to launch a little bit more, so we tend to refer in person, but that’s actually a good point of being able to do that virtually.

Do things virtually if they reach out to you for a private or something like that?

Yes. That’s okay.

Healing Past And Present

I love this statement, but I’d like you to explain to everyone that it has to do with healing. Please explain your statement. We cannot heal present grief until we heal past grief and why it is important to work through our own limiting beliefs and core wounds to move towards healing. We’ve been talking about perpetuating generational patterns, like in Shawn’s case. He took his life, but the generational patterns could continue. If you didn’t create boundaries to protect your son from them, they could bleed right through into his life. Would you like to talk a little bit about that subject?

We cannot heal present grief until we heal past grief. Share on X

That was something I didn’t understand at first, but then, through my own process, I was able to figure it out. One of the things that I found and there are different people I’ve read and followed around this and I’ll say like the Grief Recovery Handbook is a good resource as well. The idea is that if you don’t heal a past moment of grief, then when another moment comes up, it keeps adding and compiles and compiles. There were things, even in my situation, that were coming up from the past that I didn’t realize were grievous to me. It was like, “Why is this coming up? We did have a big move that I didn’t want to make when I was a kid.”

I was like, “Why are all my feelings around that move coming up right now?” I wasn’t feeling connected. I was feeling like I didn’t belong. Here are these other things. Now, I’m in a situation where I’m not feeling connected. I’m not feeling I belong.” It brought that up again. , the idea is to go back and address that particular move, for example, and work through those feelings. It’s almost like a ripple effect, and it puts some of those current feelings to rest. It’s like grief begets grief, which is what I’ve heard, too. It keeps piling on until you address some of those core issues at the crux of it.

I actually think sometimes grief is weird. It’s a sense, it’s a blessing because if it gets you to address, like if you’re grieving, which is appropriate on a scale of 1 to 10, but you’re grieving on a 20 or something. It usually has roots. My family abandoned me for many years. When my husband died, I felt abandoned by him. The blessing in it, even though at the time it didn’t feel that way, was it made me address and heal those original issues of abandonment.

I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

Embracing New Self

Thank you. It’s many years worth, but that’s the same type of thing. We don’t realize how the things that have happened to us in the past fuel our present reactions and what a blessing in a way if you have the courage to address those past wounds and heal them so that the forward movement of your life is unencumbered by, or when you get triggered and it pops up, what it is and how to deal with it. I totally understand that. Let’s talk about one of my favorite subjects. How have you embraced your new self and found collateral beauty through compassion, love, and forgiveness, the new Alexandra? What is your personal tip for finding joy in life?

I’ll start with a personal tip. I’ll say that is to look for those small moments. It can be very overwhelming to think of progressing into embracing joy. The way that it works for me, though, wasn’t necessarily intentional. The way it works for me is I started noticing when my good days were starting to even out with my bad days. My good days started to outnumber my bad days. I recognized I would make a plan with someone. I was like, “I finally have the capacity or energy to actually make a plan with someone. I can do this.” It was a little, I would say have compassion for yourself and take it one day at a time.

As long as you are committed to wanting to work through it, it will happen. For my own healing journey, it’s so interesting you asked that question because I’m still on it. I’m still trying to find my own self-love. I have recently been working on this idea of my worth or conduction being related to what I’m doing versus who I am. Also, I am discovering self-discovery. Who am I now? Who am I as someone who had this thing happen? Who was this person when I was with Shawn? Now I like to say the rules are out the window. I get to make them up now.

The dominoes, all these in other ways. You get to collect them. How are you going to do that?

However, I want to put them back together. That’s where I am now with my healing. For your readers, I still have hard days. I still have days where I break down. As you’ve mentioned, Irene, I may have that for the rest of my life. It’s about being able to continue putting one foot in front of the other and knowing that I can still get through it when I have one of those days. I call it getting through the sledge because as soon as you get through that sledge, the hard stuff and you see how it feels on the other side, that to be on like, “I’m attached to that. What do I have to do to keep feeling that joy and connection?” My spirituality has that whole area of my life has been enhanced and trying to feel that connection with a higher source.

You’ve been able to give yourself permission to be in despair sometimes, but it’s also okay to have joy when you can do that.

I definitely had a lot of guilt at first. Like I said, “How can I be doing this? I’m supposed to be so upset the love of my life has died.” Then I realized he was not in despair anymore. He is not upset anymore. The things, the grudges that I’m holding on to, he’s not holding on, so why would I hold on to those? That has helped me. As I said, there are those days where I’m going to have to feel this and sink into this. The point for me is not to avoid, but to sink into what I’m feeling for that particular day.

That’s so wise, and you’re role-modeling a wonderful way to get through things for your son. It’s also because people don’t realize that how they choose to process and heal it all affects the generations behind them. You’re scripting them in many ways, like what happened with Shawn, that they can fall apart if something doesn’t go quite right or, “This is a moment in time and I can work through it somehow.” For me, it was so important that my son saw that I was able to find joy again and move on from my despair. I’ve seen him deal with things in his life now. That lesson got through nothing is a pile. The end, but we have a lot in common with our stories, Alexandra.

I know.

Closing Remarks

Thank you for talking with me. It’s wonderful to talk with you. In closing, I want to share this very meaningful passage from your important book. It is an important book, The Suicide Club: What to Do When Your Loved One Chooses Death. We are all connected energetically and rather than contributing to the divides, we have a duty to heal those hurts, wash away our perceived differences, cease the comparison culture, and let go of the desire to beat one another to the finish line. That is so important.

Thank you, Alexandra, for opening your heart and soul to share both your anguish and your healing in the aftermath of Shawn’s tragic death. Your book, The Suicide Club: What to Do When Your Loved One Chooses Death, will surely provide suicide survivors, family, and friends with healing hope and empowerment so that they are able to live and experience joy again. I thank you from my heart for these moving insights built into you on the show. Make sure to follow us and like us on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, including YouTube. As I like to say, to be continued. Thank you so much, Alexandra. Many blessings and bye for now. Thank you so much.

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

 

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