rare birdOn an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace. In Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. Visit her blog, An Inch of Gray

Until Death Do We Part

by Sydney Vickers

Sydney and Peyton Vickers

Sydney and Peyton Vickers

When I think of Peyton, I see his dancing blue eyes and dimples.  I see him doing what he loved most – helping others be their best.  I see him wearing his University of Miami football shirt and celebrating a win.  I see us walking hand-in-hand exploring a new city. I see him on the golf course. I see him at the grill and reading his paper on the patio.   I see him at my side, always at my side.

When I think of Peyton I try not to see the cancer that took him in 24 months.  I try not to remember hearing the diagnosis of esophageal cancer and the subsequent rounds of chemo, radiation and brutal surgery.  I try not to remember a stranger telling me that the cancer had spread to his bones and that he had six months to live.  I try not to remember Peyton’s face when I told him the news.  I try not to remember when we were told to call Hospice.

When I think of Peyton I want to always be grateful for his worry over me and the way he wrote lists of things for me to do after his death.  I want to thank him for his little book called the AP Book (After Peyton) with names and phone numbers of plumbers, electricians – anyone I might need to help with the house, finances or life in general.  I want Peyton to know how much I appreciate how hard he fought for life, celebrating our 28th anniversary just a week before he died. (more…)

out of ashes“Out of the Ashes: Healing in the Afterloss” by Benjamin Allen is a chronicle of the author’s journey through the loss of his wife and two sons to the same devastating illness. Over the course of 13 years, his family died one by one, leaving Benjamin alone in The Afterloss. The world of pain and grief left him reeling, but he did find his footing. His journey to peace is told in raw, vulnerable words that will help others heal as well.

10 Reasons Why You Need to Give Yourself Permission to Heal from Grief and Loss

by Maurice Turmel, PhD

maurice-turmel1) You will feel better knowing you are not alone with this experience of grief as a result of losing a loved one. Many individuals have traveled this path successfully and, those of us who study these processes, have been hard at work creating the tools and strategies necessary to help you safely negotiate the recovery experience.

2) You will feel better as you become aware of how manageable the healing experience can be while you grow accustomed to using tools that will help you get in touch with your feelings. Once aware of what you are feeling, you will be encouraged you to express those feelings and see for yourself how your stress level will begin to recede. Strategies of denial, anger, withdrawal and repression will be abandoned as they should because you are now aware of what’s necessary to safely manage your recovery experience. (more…)

First Step Hope: Not All Wounds Are Visible

The Sweeney Alliance is proud to announce our newest educational experience for emergency responders and law enforcement professionals: FIRST STEP HOPE: Not All Wounds Are Visible. Peggy Sweeney, editor of the Grieving Behind the Badge Blog and Mr. Shannon Pennington, founder of North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network, present a very unique, interactive dialogue addressing grief and traumatic loss, PTSD and suicide intervention.


The Twelve-Step Approach to PTSD

by Doctor Joel Brende

Editor’s Note: It has been stated many times that first responders have a kinship with Vietnam Veterans. Why? Because, like these Vets, they are asking – no, demanding! – help  in coping with the horrific images, nightmares, and the other mental and emotional casualties of their professions. Lewis Epright, Sr., a Vietnam Veteran and firefighter, has asked me to share these twelve steps that he and others have found invaluable in coping with their traumas. Thank you, Lewis, for your service and your friendship.


US military casualties at Hue during the VC Tet offensive – Jan-Feb 1968

Step One (Power)
Our first step is to accept the fact that we have become powerless to live meaningful lives. Even though we had the power to survive against the worst combat conditions, we must admit we have become powerless to win the battle against a new enemy—our memories, flashbacks, and combat instincts. Some of us have become powerless over the continuing wish to gain revenge over those sudden impulses to hurt those who cross us or unsuspectingly annoy us. We even hurt those who try to love us, making it impossible to love and care for our friends and family. So we isolate ourselves and cause others to avoid, dislike, or even hate us. Our attempts to live meaningful lives and fight this psychological and emotional hell which imprisons us seems to be in vain. We now find ourselves powerless to change it. (more…)

Coping After Homicide

by Lynn Jett Minick

In loving memory of my daughter, Denise Minick Cveticanin who, along with her unborn daughter, Laura, was brutally murdered. ~~~Lynn Jett Minick

weepingWhen someone you loved is murdered, your emotions become intensified to a much greater extent than you can imagine. You feel as though you have been thrown into an emotional tailspin. Shock, grief/heartache, guilt/self-blame, disbelief/denial, and anger seem to know no bounds – all seem to become entangled. You may possibly feel a loss of faith in God and mankind. You may feel stigmatized and suffer a loneliness you have never known, all the while confused and wonder why this horrible tragedy occurred. At times, you will wonder if anyone cares. Overwhelmed and confused, you may experience a loss of memory. Your mind seems “fragmented” and you may feel that you are losing your sanity. You will probably be depressed, impatient with yourself and others. You sometimes feel as though you have no emotional control. These are all normal reactions.

Reactions to shock vary with the individual. The shock may be so great that, unable to absorb it, you may seem in a daze with no outwardly visible reaction. You may feel totally helpless and look to others for direction. Although there is no way to determine exactly how long this “zombie” stage will last, it will pass in time.

The grief and heartache ordinarily associated with the death of a loved one are compounded when the loved one is lost through violence. You will be wracked with emotional pain, but don’t try to conceal your emotions. To suppress one’s grief and heartache not only delays the healing process, it can result in a deep, debilitating depression as well as physical illness. You have a right to grieve – don’t stifle it. (more…)

Will I Ever Get Over the Death of My Pet?

Memorial Pet Portraits from your Photos
by Emma Kaufmann

Emma Kaufmann

Emma Kaufmann

When you lose a pet you can feel overwhelmed with emptiness. There is that aching feeling at the center of your days. Something is missing  - some essential part of you. For a long time you feel that loss. Sometimes it is hard for your friends to understand that a pet you loved so much is gone and that is why you feel lost without your pet companion.

I have talked to those who have lost a pet and know that they feel very alone with their grief. I tell them they need to reach out to friends and family – people who understand and will listen to them in their time of crisis.

I also tell people to surround themselves with laughter. Yes, this might seem odd to you if you have just lost a pet, but finding ways to laugh at yourself and to surround yourself with positive, funny people is one way to move forward from your loss. Laughter is the best medicine. (more…)


Bethany's JtG1000X

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Join the Voices of Recovery

PA program

Click here for 2014 conference registration

Addiction and Post Traumatic Stress: Avoiding a Crisis in Your Home, Workplace and Community

Presenter: Peggy Sweeney, The Sweeney Alliance

Program Description:
Depression, addiction, and post traumatic stress are today’s hot topics. National, state and local leaders scramble to find a “fix” for these problems, but are coming up short on results. Budgets are being stretched, medical costs are increasing, and family cohesiveness is being strained. The numbers of those most in need are growing at an astounding rate. Sadly, too many waiting for help are turning to suicide to cope. This workshop addresses these issues and provides valuable resources available to every person, including our community first responders – law enforcement officers, 911 dispatchers, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel.

Shannon’s Gift

by Nate Bennett

Nate Bennett

Nate Bennett

In September of 2011—just about a month after our 26th wedding anniversary—I lost Shannon. We were just weeks into being empty nesters, having recently dropped our younger son off at the University of Colorado. Shannon had waited until our son was settled to schedule routine shoulder surgery. Post operation, the doctor came out to tell me the procedure was a success and he sent me to get the car. In those few moments, Shannon collapsed and never regained consciousness. Shannon died, and I went from being half of a couple, anticipating the joy of time and travel with an amazing partner, to a person struggling to find a way back into the light.

After she passed away, I looked for stories that might help me understand my pain. I wanted to know what to do to stop hurting. I wanted to know what to do so I could be there for the other people who were hurting with me—especially our sons Spencer and Reid. I was in a place that was completely unacceptable; I had to find a way out. What I found didn’t help cut through my haze of grief. None of it came close to describing how hopeless I was. None of it pointed me to the set of concrete steps towards the recovery I desperately wanted. (more…)

The Living Memories Project: Keeping Memories Alive

by Meryl Ain

Meryl Ain

Meryl Ain

My mother would have turned 93 this year. When she died after a brief illness in November 2006, although I knew she had lived a long life, I was bereft. There is never enough time with a loved one.

My mom was my best friend, a reliable loving, comforting, and wise presence in my life.  I spoke to my mother several times a day. When there was a lull at work, she was the one I called. When something wonderful happened, I called her. When something challenging happened, I called her. When I needed advice, she was the one I trusted. I could always count on her to be a calm and intelligent sounding board.

She looked at least 10 years younger than she was, and even when the freak cancer attacked her, her mind and heart were still intact. Although I was in my 50’s, I was now officially an “orphan,” my father having died after a long illness a year and a half before.

I was in a funk, going through the motions but not really enjoying it.  I was told it would get better after a year and that I needed closure. I began speaking with my friends about how to achieve it and came to the conclusion that there is no closure with those we love deeply. They are in our lives and in our hearts forever, although they are not physically present. Some keep alive their memories through small acts, such as looking at photos and making recipes.  Others do big things to carry on the legacies and values of their loved ones, such as establishing foundations.  (more…)

Speak His Name, Please

Bart Sumner

Bart Sumner

Bart Sumner is an actor, screenwriter, improvisational comedy teacher and performer, and national presenter on grief. His son, David, died in 2009 from a severe brain injury suffered while playing football. He is the author of the book HEALING IMPROV: A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF TO LAUGHTER, writes the blog “My Stories From The Grief Journey” at the Healing Improv website, and has contributed articles to many other grief support sites online. He is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit HEALING IMPROV, which provides no-cost Comedy Improv Grief Workshops to people struggling with finding the road forward after loss. You may contact Bart through his email or Twitter @Healing_Improv. Visit his Facebook page.

The following is a chapter from his book- HEALING IMPROV: A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF TO LAUGHTER. Available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” ~Bansky

When a person you love dearly dies, one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the reality you will never see them again, you will never hear their laughter, you will never hug them, or feel their touch, or smell them or simply enjoy the presence of them being there beside you watching the idiot box silently from the couch. All interaction is gone. The only place they live on is in your memory. The good things cement themselves in your reminiscences forever and much of the bad or annoying things fade away. The fact that there are no new memories to be made is oft times crippling. Because of this, tears and weeping happen at the drop of a hat. And let’s face it, most people are uncomfortable when someone they are talking to suddenly becomes misty eyed, and their voice begins to tremble. Perhaps this is why most people are afraid to mention the person that died in conversation. The trepidation of bringing the griever pain and heartache keeps people from discussing them at all. (more…)

Join the Voices of Recovery: The Mind and Body Connection

Editor’s Note: I will be presenting a workshops entitled: Addiction and Post Traumatic Stress: Avoiding Crisis in Your Home, Workplace and Community. Open to everyone, but target audience is firefighters/EMS/Corrections/law enforcement/dispatchers. Peggy Sweeney

guidingheartswhopeRecovery is possible and that people recover. Whether you are an individual in recovery, a family member, a friend, a professional in the field, a co-worker or an employer of a person in recovery , we need YOU there. Our message is simple: Recovery Works!

September 2014 marks the 25th Anniversary of the observance of National Recovery Month—a time to reflect on the impact of disease of addiction and mental health, the lessons learned, the lives saved, lives lost and that RECOVERY is possible. Each day of the year is a call to action to continue to build upon our efforts to teach, educate, support and encourage RECOVERY. We are energized because we truly feel that someday we will change how society sees the illness of addiction and the beautiful gift of recovery, so the time is NOW! TOGETHER, we can and must do whatever it takes to ignite the NEW RECOVERY MOVEMENT!


Resources for Healing Grief

by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Grief is overwhelming. We confront grief whenever we experience a loss or a traumatic event. Divorce, loss of a job, a missing child, catastrophic illness, disabling injury, addiction, abuse, the aftermath of a fire or flood, post traumatic stress, caring for a loved one at the end of their life, and, of course, the death of a family member or friend are some examples of grief. Healing our grief is a life-altering and very personal experience. No two people will work through their grief experiences in the same way.

Because grief affects each one of us differently, I have included some resources here that may be of interest to you, especially in the early days, weeks, and months that you are in mourning. Be sure to search for articles on this blog under the heading Healthy Grieving for specific articles on this topic.

This is just a short list of recommended reading. For additional titles, you can view our current list of books in the Good Grief Books section. If you would like to recommend a book(s) you found helpful, please let me know. Include a brief synopsis and why it was beneficial for you. If possible, I will invite the author to share an article for one of our newsletters. peggy@sweeneyalliance.org. (more…)

I Am Not a Canadian Goose (spouse suicide, part 1 of 3)

by Barb Hildebrand
Suicide Shatters
Surviving Suicide ~ the Aftermath

Barbara Hildenbrand

Barbara Hildenbrand

I lost my late husband, Rob, to suicide in December 2000 right at Christmas. We’d been together for 29 years; I from the age of 14 until I was 43 when he passed. Rob was 47 when he died. So young. So much more life to live. Nothing in our many years together could have prepared me for what transpired. I certainly never would have thought Rob, of all people, would take his life.

Rob was very gifted mechanically. He was, in fact, a Master Mechanic and we shared a business together for 17 years in the automotive sales/repair arena. He’d always loved all things mechanical since a very early age, taking everything he could get his hands on apart and putting it back together to figure out how things worked. When I met Rob his big love was cars. He was always tinkering, rebuilding, repairing or improving his beloved vehicle. Having an unusual or distinctive car was very important to Rob, it somehow defined him. That love turned into our business and he had such talent and passion that it was a match made in heaven.

Things went incredibly well for many years because Rob had such a natural ability to be able to educate the customers on what was wrong with their cars. We also had a high performance clientele who came to Rob for very personalized and specialized modifications. All was well until he discovered his new and second love which was boating. It became an obsession with him. (more…)

I Am Not a Canadian Goose (spouse suicide, part 2 of 3)

by Barb Hildebrand
Suicide Shatters
Surviving Suicide ~ the Aftermath

Read Part One

Barbara Hildenbrand

Barbara Hildenbrand

This was taking place during Christmas 2000. I knew Rob was in dire shape, but also knew I had to give my son some sort of normal Christmas. So even though we were separated, we’d agreed to go to my sis-in-law’s for Christmas Eve as we’d always done. They were German and celebrated on the 24th. Rob had said he’d be there. We’d had a suicide hotline team come out to the house on December 22nd, but they were of no use at all and we sent them on their way. I got my doctor to see Rob even though he was not her patient and she prescribed a mild sleeping pill and antidepressant, but only a few so he couldn’t overdose. We both knew it would take 4-6 weeks for the meds to take effect and hopefully help, but Rob was only on them about 3 days when he died.

Rob did not show up on Christmas Eve and my anger resurfaced because he’d promised our son he would be there. The thought had crossed my mind to call Rob that day and offer to drive up together, but I was back in anger mode and burned out and decided he could get himself there, so we didn’t speak that day. Rob’s family was very concerned; his Mom kept trying to call him and got no answer. We later found out he was still alive on the 24th as he spoke to a common friend, more or less making his last goodbyes but without actually coming out and saying he was about to take his life. Learning later the signs we all know now, this is a classic sign of those about to take their lives. He was saying his goodbyes, saying he valued the friendship, and that he hoped he had a good Christmas. (more…)

I Am Not a Canadian Goose (spouse suicide part 3 of 3)

by Barb Hildebrand
Suicide Shatters
Surviving Suicide ~ The Aftermath

Barbara Hildenbrand

Barbara Hildenbrand

The emotions experienced after losing a partner/spouse are intense, immense, and best described as an emotional roller coaster. You can be up one moment, then down the next. You can be doing quite well for days, weeks, months and then, all of a sudden, seem to go completely backward and feel almost like you’re right back to when the loss occurred.

Please read Barb’s previous posts on this story

This was all part of my self-development work that helped me learn more about myself; what I had done in the past and what I wanted to create for myself in the future. The forgiveness exercise is one I still use eleven years later. I was not ready to forgive the women Rob had had affairs with. That was my decision and I knew it. I was at a place last December, while on an amazing ten-day holiday in Germany with Rob’s Mom, sister, and my son, that I did my forgiveness exercise one early morning. I forgave all of them! I forgave his family for all that I felt they’d contributed to his demise and way of being. I forgave myself for anything I may have done knowingly, or unknowingly, to have my relationship with my in-laws become distanced. I felt an amazing shift. The best way to describe this feeling was in my heart and I knew something had left my body. That release would propel me along my journey in a much healthier way.

The common bond of suicide can either bring people closer or drive huge wedges between relationships. I’ve seen families get incredibly close, far closer than they were before the suicide. But sadly, I’ve also seen suicide tear a great many families apart. The emotions and thoughts that go hand in hand with suicide and how each person reacts to the suicide based on their own feelings and beliefs dramatically impact the outcome of the relationships. (more…)

Patch Adams: The Death of a Comic

by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Patch_AdamsI fell in love with Robin Williams during the movie, Patch Adams. I disliked Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same movie. Over time, I came to find both actors on an even par, I loved them equally. Now they are both dead.

Depression is an evil demon that reaches into the core of someone, be they Robin, Philip or the thousands of men and women who die by suicide each year. I have had a brother-in-law take his own life. I have read story after story after story of brave men and women in the armed services and those who serve their communities as police and correctional officers, firefighters/EMS and 911 dispatchers who fight this same demon, but lose the battle over depression.

Please do not judge Robin or Philip or the others. Do not call them weak. They suffer from a mental illness that, at times, is cast aside as not an important illness, something that we only talk about in whispers. They are often told to suck it up. Be a man! They are shunned.

If you learn nothing else from this posting, please do NOT take depression lightly. If you have a loved one that struggles with depression, please hold them close and do everything in your power to help them. (more…)

Tommy’s Life: It’s The Legacy That Matters (a story about seizures)

By Mike Ross

tommy-and-seizuresAll of us are going to die, and it doesn’t matter how long you live, but rather the legacy that you leave behind. Quality vs quantity is how you judge it, and my son Tommy changed a lot of people’s views in his five years on Earth.

Tommy was born on July 21, 2004, and I’ll never forget seeing him for the first time. His blond locks of hair, blue eyes that just seemed to sparkle, and his closed fist when he entered this world. He even gave a “thumbs up” on the warming table. To see this eight pound five ounce baby, and to hold him in my arms was an emotional experience. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried tears of joy, and the feeling of being a father was a remarkable, special moment that changed everything. (more…)


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