Suicide Survivor Series with Gretchen Kubacky
In March 2009 I started a Q & A series in order to bring awareness and healing to those who lost a loved one to suicide. With a 5 question and answer format my goal was simple: provide hope, guidance and comfort to recent survivors of suicide loss.
The 7th installment of this Q & A series features Gretchen Kubacky. Gretchen is a VERY unique survivor. She lost her father AND brother to suicide. Gretchen is an inspiration to me and I want to personally thank her for taking the time to share her story here at Giggle On.
In her practice as a Health Psychologist and Certified Bereavement Facilitator, she uses her experience as a dual survivor of suicide loss to help other survivors. Gretchen made a conscious choice to use her painful experiences, educate herself and apply what she learned in order to help others heal.
Mucho kudos to you Miss Gretchen!!
Are you a Survivor of Suicide Loss?
If you lost a loved one to suicide, please accept my condolences.
I encourage you to read the new interview with fellow survivor Gretchen Kubacky and past interviews with survivors Annie DiMattia, Jayla Boire, Kelli Karlton, Erica Volkman, Dempsey Rice and Laura Velez. All the survivors in the Q&A series found ways to giggle again after loss. It may take some time but trust that you DO have the capacity to laugh. You WILL be able to experience joy again.
As often happens in my world, I met Gretchen through the internet. My pal, Lissa Rankin from Owning Pink, referred Gretchen to Giggle On. Earlier this month I received a very sweet email from Gretchen and it immediately lifted my spirits. <thanks girl!>
Gretchen’s email to me is below. My comments/reactions are in bold.
Earlier this week, I met with Lissa Rankin, and she told me about your site. It caught my interest, because of the reasons you founded it. I too am a survivor/thriver after suicide (my father and brother). [My first thought was..."holy s**t! - DOUBLE suicide loss in the family?!? How did she get through THAT?" *shocked face*] I’m a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles, and one of my specialties is helping people with suicide losses. [Wow, that's very cool. Figures though...why are all the really cool people in California? Damn it. Wish I had HER to talk to after my losses. Survivors REALLY understand other survivors. They 'get it' when others don't even have a tiny clue.] I always tell them, “I know it’s impossible to believe it right now, but within a few weeks, you’ll have laughed about something – including suicide – and it will be a huge sign of progress.” [YES YES YEEES!!] They never believe me, and it’s always true. Laughter is so healing. [Yup, sure is. If they don't believe you, send them to me. I'll prove it to them. If I survived and learned to laugh again, ANYONE can.]
Thanks for creating something really cool. [Say what? COOL? I nearly cried when I read that sentence. Here comes this stranger lady telling ME I created something she thinks is "cool"! How cool is that? That's like cool squared in math, isn't it? As I've said a few times before, both publicly and privately, I lost a great deal of my excitement and energy for Giggle On after the suicide of Jim #2. I've had some personal and professional challenges in the last 2 years and I've been evaluating whether or not I'm on my true and correct path. Just when I thought my GiggleOn.com days were nearly over, along comes Miss Gretchen to tell me I've still got come coolness left. Perhaps Giggle On still has some value in the world after all.]
Without further delay, I give you the Giggle On Interview with Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D.
Survivor Q & A: Gretchen Kubacky
1. How was grieving the loss of your loved one by suicide different (if at all) from grieving the loss of other loved ones who did not die by suicide?
I lost my 46 year old father, Fritz, to suicide when I was 13, and my 27 year old brother completed suicide when I was 30. (Note: I say “completed suicide,” because it was a long, drawn-out, and painful process of him getting to the point of making that decision. This is often the most accurate terminology to describe a suicide). In both instances, although people certainly knew, there was a family tendency and desire to put it away as quickly as possible. For many years, I didn’t talk about either loss. In contrast, when my grandmother died of old age, everyone knew, and there was no shame or stigma associated with it. These two losses were so much more profound because of the lack of preparation, being unable to say goodbye, and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. With my father, it was the aftermath, and how it made life so difficult for my now-single mother with three children. There was also a lack of community support or approval; we were treated badly by our church because my father’s death was a suicide, and it felt like a gut-wrenching slap in the face. I think the grieving process was disrupted because of that. With my brother, it was more of the build-up of my brother’s uncontrolled/unmedicated bipolar disorder, and the chaos that accompanies someone’s refusal to take medication. By the time he died, we were exhausted from dealing with him, and trying to save him.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love. ” – Washington Irving
2. In the aftermath of your loved one’s death, what 3 Things helped you learn to enjoy life and laugh again?
1) Getting help, in the form of a Survivors After Suicide group, and some psychotherapy, as well as reading books. By getting some answers, I was able to focus on life again, and not the deaths.
2) The passage of time is helpful. When your grief is fresh, you’re raw, and it’s hard to take note of the humorous things. My sense of irony finally kicked in, and that made life funny again.
3) Good friends who were able to be there without being fixated on the fact that I’d had a suicide loss. They were their usual funny selves, and I started laughing again.
At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. — Jean Houston
3. Did you feel guilt for laughing again and enjoying life after your loved one’s death? Meaning, did you feel you were not honoring their memory because you moved past intense grief?
Absolutely not. I was always clear that their decisions, while life-altering for me, did not mean that I should be deprived of pleasure, fun, and laughter. Both my dad and my brother were pretty funny in their own ways (sometimes unintentionally!), and I value laughter too much to ever sacrifice it in the name of grief. The best way I can honor their memory is to do the work that I do, helping other people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Suicide is a terrible kind of “gift,” but since it’s the gift I was given, I’m using it to the best of my ability, to help as many people as I can.
If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble. — Moliere
4. For those of you past the 12 month mark of a loved one’s suicide, what advice would you give to someone who has recently lost someone to suicide?
I am several decades out from the first loss. What I would tell you is this:
• You will laugh again, perhaps even about the suicide itself. I know that sounds disturbing, but it’s true. People do some freakishly funny things when they set about killing themselves.
• You will eventually feel better.
• The second year may actually feel worse than the first, because you’re through the crisis, the numbness has worn off, and now your feelings are so much stronger and more palpable.
• There are many, many others who have survived the loss of a loved one to suicide. Many of them are willing to support you in your healing journey. Take advantage of it.
• Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help from a group, a book, or a psychotherapist. This is likely the most profound loss you will ever sustain.
It dawned on me then that as long as I could laugh, I was safe from the world; and I have learned since that laughter keeps me safe from myself, too. — Jimmy Durante
5. What type of resources do you feel survivor’s of suicide need the most?
• Good friends, who are there through thick and thin, and all the tears.
• Plenty of sleep, quiet time, good food, and exercise; in the first year after a loss, you are much more likely to become ill or have an exacerbation of a chronic illness.
• Groups are wonderful – Google terms such as “survivors after suicide,” “survivors of suicide,” or go to www.afsp.org for more information.
• Information – books, groups, websites, well-trained psychotherapists. There are so many questions, and so many complexities. Getting information helps to put your mind at ease, so you can stop questioning and start feeling.
Count your nights by stars, not shadows; count your life with smiles, not tears. — Italian Proverb
Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D. is a Health Psychologist and Certified Bereavement Facilitator located in Los Angeles, California. She serves on the Board of the Los Angeles County Psychological Association (LACPA), Chairs LACPA’s Health Psychology Committee, and is a frequent writer and speaker on health psychology, work/life balance, women’s health issues, and grief and loss. To learn more about Dr. Gretchen, see www.drkubacky.com, or e-mail her at AskDrGretchen@gmail.com.
Participate in the Survivor Q & A Series
For more posts in the Survivor Series, click the links below. If you would like to be a part of this series, please answer the 5 questions and send a photo of yourself with your loved one. Send your email to christa at giggle on dot com.
Post Script for Survivors of Suicide Loss
For additional resources about suicide survivor support, grief counseling, suicide prevention, mental health awareness, laughter yoga and laughter therapy please visit our RESOURCES page. Remember, Don’t Give Up! Giggle On!
With love and laughter,