I did not know that after a suicide, your guilt could kill you until my brother died in June of 1994. Two years later, my mother began showing symptoms of a neurological problem, and she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I believe that the brain tumor occurred because my mother kept going over and over the horrible tragedy of my brother, Mark’s, suicide. She felt guilty for not being able to know that he was in such despair, and that he would take his life. She just kept beating herself up saying, “If only I had…, if only I had….” It wasn’t until my own son committed suicide that I realized how harmful it is to keep rewinding the story of his death.

Four months after my son died, I realized that I could be my mother when I looked up and saw a cobweb on my chandelier. It was at that moment that I realized it was my mother’s gift to me, because I first knew in June, 1996, that there was something drastically wrong with my mother when I saw a cobweb in our house for the first time in my 46 years of life. That cobweb was representative of the brain tumor that caused her lack of sight in the right visual field, not allowing her to see it hanging in the window.

When I looked up and saw that cobweb, I realized that I had a choice. It all goes back to the fact that grief can render a person powerless until they remember that they have a choice. At that moment, I knew that if I kept going over the details of those moments that led up to my son impulsively taking his life, that I could end up with a brain tumor just like my mother.

So you have a choice. From that moment of realization, every single time that the image, that night or a detail of that night comes up, you can simply say out loud, “If I could. . . cancel, cancel, cancel” and that is enough to cancel the image. Then you can take a deep breath, look around at your immediate surroundings, focus on a beautiful flower arrangement or something outside or focus on what you are doing right in front of you and say, “Oh, yes, yes, I’m going back to baking these muffins” or whatever it was that you were doing.

At some difficult moments, you can return to yourself by turning 90 or 180 degrees in order to bring yourself to a different viewpoint. Then take a deep breath. The book, The Brain that Changes Itself, says that when you do these things, you are laying down new neural pathways in your grief. So, as you go through this grieving process, and you go over the same images again and again, you are laying down the same pathways in your brain, and you don’t want that to happen. Doing something as simple as saying, “Cancel, cancel, cancel” can interrupt that sequence and allow you to lay down a new neuron pathway.

The idea is to become very conscious of your thoughts and feelings. When you begin to think of what you could have done, stop, take charge of the moment and do battle against those feelings by cancelling them, and immediately looking at something else.

Kathy-Anne Lewis says, “We will always be as powerful as our inner and outer dialog allows us to be.” So, you have to decide if you are going to give your inner dialog power over you. At some point, you may need to just surrender and say, “These thoughts are overwhelming me.” You will need to seek help from a professional, because you simply can’t do it by yourself.

Personally, I realized that this grief track playing over and over in my brain is truly determined by my choice to rewind the image over and over, keeping me stuck and forming a habit of negative thoughts. When I realized this, that is when I began to say, “Cancel, cancel, cancel.”

One million people die by suicide every year. The World Health Organization estimates that suicide is the 13th leading cause of death around the world. The National Safety Council rates it the 6th cause of death in the United States among teenagers and adults under 35. More men than women complete suicide. It is estimated that 10 to 20 million non-fatal attempts of suicide occur every year worldwide. These are pretty staggering statistics.

Remember, guilt can kill you. It killed my mother.

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