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Understanding Suicide: Tools and Resources for Parents & Their Kids With Alexandra Wyman

Dads With Daughters

Release Date: 10/30/2023

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More Episodes

In this episode of "Dads with Daughters," host Christopher Lewis welcomes guest Alexandra Wyman to discuss the challenging topic of suicide and how to navigate the aftermath. The episode focuses on providing support and resources for individuals dealing with the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Christopher introduces Alexandra Wyman, an advocate and public speaker who experienced the loss of her husband to suicide in August 2020. She shares her journey and the inspiration behind her book, "The Suicide Club: What to Do When Someone You Love Chooses Death."

Alexandra recounts her life before her husband's suicide, emphasizing societal expectations of a successful life and family. She details her personal journey of meeting her husband, getting married, and having a child, which led her to believe she had achieved a successful life.

However, four days before their second wedding anniversary, her husband took his life, leaving her in shock and disbelief. Alexandra discusses her initial struggles, including the lack of consistent support and the need to make immediate decisions. She explains that during the early stages of her grief, she began documenting her experiences, emotional states, and any helpful strategies she discovered.

The conversation transitions to addressing the guilt and self-blame that survivors of suicide often experience. Alexandra emphasizes that it's challenging to predict or prevent suicide, emphasizing the importance of spreading love and checking in on loved ones who may be struggling emotionally.

Christopher inquires about how to support individuals affected by suicide from an outsider's perspective. Alexandra recommends being present for them and offering specific help rather than asking them what they need. She also highlights the significance of ongoing support beyond the initial shock period when most people tend to withdraw.

They discuss the complexities of explaining suicide to children and how to approach age-appropriate conversations about the topic. Alexandra emphasizes the importance of honesty and using concrete language when discussing suicide with children.

Alexandra mentions various tools and coping strategies she has relied on during her grief journey. These include therapy, journaling, meditation, exercise, reaching out to friends, and seeking information from blogs and books on death and grief.

The episode concludes with Alexandra's message of hope and resilience, encouraging those who have experienced suicide loss to keep moving forward and find meaning and purpose in life. She underscores the importance of anchoring to something meaningful as a source of strength.

Christopher mentions the significance of the "988" suicide and crisis lifeline, urging anyone in need to reach out for help.

Alexandra provides her website, Forwardtojoy.com, as a valuable resource for additional support, coaching, and information about her book, "The Suicide Club."

The episode offers valuable insights, resources, and guidance for individuals dealing with suicide loss, as well as those seeking to support loved ones through this difficult journey.

If you've enjoyed today's episode of the Dads With Daughters podcast, we invite you to check out the Fatherhood Insider. The Fatherhood Insider is the essential resource for any dad that wants to be the best dad that he can be. We know that no child comes with an instruction manual, and most are figuring it out as they go along. The Fatherhood Insider is full of valuable resources and information that will up your game on fatherhood. Through our extensive course library, interactive forum, step-by-step roadmaps, and more you will engage and learn with experts but more importantly with dads like you. So check it out today!

TRANSCRIPT

Christopher Lewis [00:00:06]:

Welcome to dads with daughters. In this show, we spotlight Dads resources and more to help you be the best dad you can be. Hey, everyone, this is Chris, and welcome to Dads with Daughters, where we bring you guests to help you be active participants in your daughter's lives, raising them to be strong, independent women. As you know, every week we are chatting together about how you can raise amazing daughters in your lives to help them be strong, independent women. And every week I love being able to chat with you about the journey that you're on and help you to learn from others. This week we've got a really great guest with us and I'm so excited that she was willing to join us today. We're going to be talking about a topic that is a little bit tougher. We're going to be talking about suicide and coming out on the other side of suicide.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:02]:

But it's important. It's an important topic and it's hopefully a topic that you may not have to deal with in your life, but it's important to understand what to do in these situations. So our guest today is Alexandra Wyman, and she is an advocate and public speaker for resources in the aftermath of suicide. After she lost her husband to suicide in August of 2020, she found a need to change the language around suicide and decided to write about it. She wrote a memoir called The Suicide Club. What to Do When Someone You love Chooses death. And you can find it on Amazon. I'm going to put a link in the notes today for you to be able to find that.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:46]:

She's spoken at many conferences about this and really worked to try to help others to understand this. So I'm really excited to be able to talk to her today, to be able to learn from her and have you learn from her and the journey that she's been on. Alexandra, thanks so much for being here today.

Alexandra Wyman [00:02:04]:

Oh, Chris, thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be able to speak with you today.

Christopher Lewis [00:02:09]:

It is my pleasure having you here today. And I guess let's start at the beginning because this as I said, it's not an easy topic to talk about. But talk to me about what led you to this book and the situation that ended up bringing you to being the person that you are now and talking to people and helping people through suicide.

Alexandra Wyman [00:02:33]:

Yeah, well, yeah, that's kind of a loaded intro there. I don't want to take up too much of your time on that, but I'll start with that. Coming out of college, I kind of bought into that idea with a successful life being. You meet a partner, you get married, you find your house, your white picket fence, you get your 2.5 children, your 1.5 dogs, you know the deal. And you get into a career, you stay there forever and then you retire, go travel, and then watch your kids and grandkids grow. That is so not how things went for me. So getting out of college, I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Had studied pre law, decided that wasn't the direction that was right for me.

Alexandra Wyman [00:03:12]:

Traveled a bit, did not have a partner house nor children, and then just continued on. Eventually did get my master's in occupational therapy and was getting pretty comfortable in the single life in my 30s when I met Sean. And it was happenstance I had sworn off, I was like, I'm over this. I'm not doing this anymore. And of course, that's always when the person comes into your life. And we had a very strong connection, just really hit it off. And being a little bit older, decided we didn't want to mess with all the niceties. Sometimes that comes with dating and getting to know each other.

Alexandra Wyman [00:03:47]:

So within about a year after meeting each other, we got married, bought that house, and found out that I was pregnant. And finally I thought oh, okay. It took me a little bit longer than other people I know, but let me check off that list of what this successful life looks like. And both of us were in our successful careers, and life looked great. And nothing is ever perfect, let me say that. There's nothing perfect about our marriage or our relationship. Like, there isn't really in any relationship. And then four days before our second wedding anniversary, sean ended up taking his life.

Alexandra Wyman [00:04:20]:

And talk about rug being pulled out from underneath you and looking at this going, Wait, I thought I got there right? I got to the successful life. What do you mean now he's dead. This is not how things are supposed to go. And then in addition to that, so not only is there massive grief, our son was just over one when Sean passed. And then there's some complications with trauma and additional drama from other individuals involved in the situation and trying to sort through all of that. And I kept finding that even initially, within even that first four to six weeks, where I just was like, what are the tools I can use for this? And I found that it's very inconsistent, the support that's available to individuals and survivors. And so in my particular personal situation, I was told there'd be an advocate from the county who would come and support me. And I had one conversation with that person and never heard again from the county.

Alexandra Wyman [00:05:11]:

So there's so much that has to happen. And often we say, don't make any decisions in that first year, and you have to make decisions immediately. Like day zero, I had to make decisions. So I started jotting down notes of things that I found helpful or didn't find helpful or ways that things that I was experiencing, such as cognitive overload or not being able to really function past a certain time or even eating. I started jotting notes over, I was able to eat today, I wasn't able to eat yesterday. And then I figured out that what I essentially wanted to end up doing was help someone else. So that whatever path I had to forge on my own because there wasn't as much support that someone else wouldn't have to go through that even three weeks after Sean passed, I got a phone call saying, so a friend's husband just died by suicide. Can you reach out to them and be a it doesn't stop.

Alexandra Wyman [00:06:00]:

Even though I hoped it would have stopped with Sean's passing, it didn't. And so people are passing this way still frequently. And so I decided that maybe if I could write a book or give tips and tricks of what I found worked for me, that maybe it would help someone else along the way. And so that's how the inception of the book came. Really didn't think I would ever publish it. And then it all just kind of fell into place. And here we are now being able to really talk and hopefully empower and encourage other people to have conversations and start talking more about this. Because as much as I'd like this type of death to go away, it isn't.

Christopher Lewis [00:06:34]:

One of the things that comes to mind before we get into some of the tips and tricks post suicide is, I guess, after this happened to you in your life, I'm sure there's a lot of questioning, there's a lot of things that probably go through your head of what should I have seen? Or were there things I could have seen that could have helped along the way? And I'm sure that there have been many people that have asked you questions that you've supported along the way and probably asked those same questions. What do you say to those individuals as they go through that questioning process?

Alexandra Wyman [00:07:09]:

It's so complicated because on the one hand, absolutely you're going to run through the scenarios. What could you have done differently? How could you have been a different support? Was there something I still go through that? Was there something I could have done the day of? I knew ahead of time what was happening and spent a considerable amount of time trying to access Sean before he passed. So there's so many different scenarios that you can run through and do that. And so there's a few different ways I look at this. One of the ways that I'll say is there aren't really obvious signs that someone is going to pass this way. As much as that would be very comforting and provide some safety and security, that our loved ones aren't going to go through something like this. There just isn't. That doesn't mean that if people are hurting that you can't reach out or check on them or ask them directly, are you thinking of harming yourself or being able to have tools to help, not confront, but help someone who you think is struggling.

Alexandra Wyman [00:08:08]:

Sean did have his own struggles and stress that were going on and I just took ask. I won't say I didn't ask the right questions. I think I just didn't provide enough of an avenue for him to feel more comfortable talking to me as he got to that point. And to be honest, I don't think there's any right or wrong way to do can't. I've had to work through holding on to the guilt around that. So it's easy to take on the responsibility that someone getting to this point, that it was any of us involved around Sean, that it was our responsibility to, quote, save him. The other thing I'll say is when it comes to questions around that, of thinking back on what we could have done differently or how to approach people, I'm just a big proponent now of just spread the love. Just tell everyone that you love them or how much they mean to you and really see people for who they are.

Alexandra Wyman [00:08:58]:

And I think that is a missing link that sometimes we just miss in general. So often it's almost as though we understand that someone is hurting when they've been hurting for quite a bit of time and just haven't known and then something like this can happen. So those are kind of like the first two ways that I go about it and when I'm asked or if I'm talking to someone about it. Shifting the death away from ourselves to the individual is one of the things that I recommend only because it is easy to take responsibility for someone else's actions and it is easy to wonder again what could we have done? You can always do something differently, but to what extent is it your responsibility to have done something differently? And the truth is, for my situation, I could have done something completely different in all the different scenarios and the outcome still could have been the same. And that's still hard to kind of wrap your head around. But when I was able to start shifting Sean's death away from it was something that happened to me and more to this person was in this much pain that this was what they ended up finding was their way to end their pain. For me, it created a bigger opportunity for compassion because it's not easy to get to that point and to have that immense amount of emotional and mental pain or physical pain. Whatever is going on, in my opinion, there's pain.

Alexandra Wyman [00:10:19]:

And an individual who gets to a point of contemplating suicide is that that's what they're seeing is the only way to end it at that point in time.

Christopher Lewis [00:10:26]:

So as you talked a lot right there about things that you had to do to be able to get through this. And I guess one question that comes to my mind is from an outsider perspective, when someone you know is going through this, not that person that has committed suicide, but the person that has been affected or the family that has been affected. From an outsider perspective, what are some things that others can do to best support those that have been primarily impacted? Not to say that everyone in that circle and the concentric circles are not being impacted in some way, but to offer that support, to be able to be there. Because like I said at the beginning, it's not an easy thing to talk about.

Alexandra Wyman [00:11:15]:

Very true. And that's such a hard question because I do think it's individualized. However, at the same time, I think what often happens is when we see someone who's hurting, we often look to that person to almost bring us comfort. So in my situation, I can say people are like, what can we do for you? How can we help? And it's this idea of, we can't fix it. We're watching someone hurt. And it's unbearable to watch someone in so much pain. And oftentimes what I need, you can't give me. I need him to walk through the door.

Alexandra Wyman [00:11:45]:

You can't do that for me. What I did find was helpful was when people would just reach out and say, I'm here for you when you're ready. And rather than leave it up to me to say, what do you need? I had people who are like, I'm going to bring you some food. I'm going to pick up your son and we're going to go. I'm going to offer babysitting for you. Just having that opportunity or that offer was very helpful. There are sometimes people are like, I'm coming over just to see how you're doing. That I found more helpful because in those moments of stress, it's so hard to make decisions, right? You're already making decisions, but you're still in shock.

Alexandra Wyman [00:12:18]:

There's so much that's going on emotionally and mentally and just trying to wrap your head around everything that is going on at once. And as I mentioned, my situation was not unique in the additional stuff that was going on and threats of legal action and having to figure out where we were going to live. I mean, all of these things that come up. And so just being there and also patient because I find and just like any type of loss or death, actually people are available in those first two to three weeks. What can we do? We're here for you. And then as the dust settles, most people go back to their lives. For me, it was the people who were still hanging around checking in on me after that who I found once I was out of my shock and actually had to start living again or trying to figure out how to live while also dealing with this massive amount of grief. Those people who would check in on me at that point in time were extremely helpful.

Alexandra Wyman [00:13:10]:

Again, just saying we're here for you was a good reminder to me of, oh, I can go ask for help. It's still hard to do, but to go ask for help and to reach out to those people and that's what I would say is it's almost like just being present for the individual and letting them know that you're there when they can handle having that relationship or figure out what exactly they need.

Christopher Lewis [00:13:33]:

So earlier you said that when this all happened with your husband that your son was one and that's pretty young and not everybody is going to have a young child. So your situation is probably going to be different than other situations as you've talked to others and worked through this with your own child and are probably still working through this with your own child. What are some of the things that you've learned about how best to talk to a child about this, whether it is their parent, a grandparent, or other family member or friend? What are some of the best ways in which you can help a child to work through this?

Alexandra Wyman [00:14:16]:

This is a great question and definitely still something I'm learning. My son asked about his dad about six months earlier than I was expecting. That was a nice Sunday morning and I went, okay, we're going to do this now. So from everything that I've heard read and also found in my own therapy is honesty really is the best policy. If we leave up too much and concrete honesty, that's age appropriate. If we leave too much ambiguity in what we're saying to the child, they're going to fill in the gaps. And I will say that I thought with my son that I was being really honest and concrete and have found I wasn't. So when I initially had the conversation with him, he was three and a half, and I said, Daddy chose to die.

Alexandra Wyman [00:15:01]:

He was in a lot of pain and didn't know how to ask for help. And a big thing that came up for me with this was I wanted to make sure that I was communicating to my son that if he was in pain to ask for help. And also to say if you scrape your knee and it hurts, you're not going to die. Pain does not equal death. So I tried to do that and thought I was very concrete and then actually have been working with a play therapist with my son to help with this process as well and have done some group therapy myself. And essentially what happens is they fill in that gap of, well, where's this body, where's this person? And so saying daddy did something to his body to make it stop working. And that's again, using age appropriate language. My son is four now, so still along that.

Alexandra Wyman [00:15:52]:

But there are different ways to kind of scaffold what that language would be depending on the age. But I've had a friend who didn't initially give her kids the honest answer and she said it was far worse than when she was actually able to sit down and tell them the truth. And even I've been coached that even for four, using the word suicide is okay because it gives them a word for what happened. Again, that concrete perspective. So I think being able to say Daddy died by suicide, which means he did something to his body to make it stop working, which I love that I'm able to say it now because I still haven't been able to say it to my son yet. I get a little of a clemped and then I'm like, oh gosh, I can do this. And he still asks, but with the support of other people. That's kind of the direction that I've heard, but definitely going with that level of honesty as early as you can.

Christopher Lewis [00:16:40]:

So what I'm hearing from you in this journey, and I'm going to use that word, this journey that you have been on since you lost your husband, your husband took his life, and you've had to move into what is your new normal. And I'm sure that's still evolving and it will continue to evolve. Talk to me about some of the things that you have had to and ended up putting in your book in regards to some of the tools, the strategies, the resources that you've had to rely upon that others should know about or should help and provide and to support others.

Alexandra Wyman [00:17:18]:

So tools change daily. I just want to start there because sometimes I don't know for your listeners, but I know for myself that I will pick a tool and I'm like, awesome, I found the magic thing that's going to make everything feel better. I'm going to use this every day and then I get to the next day and go, oh no, that doesn't work. So I'm a big fan of having a toolbox and finding which tool work on which day, and there's been lots of them. Therapy is definitely one that has helped with a grief specific therapist. I think that helps only because grief is so random and such a roller coaster that even now approaching three years where I'm like, okay, good, I'm great, I'm having a great day. And then I'll still get hit with something and go, oh, right, okay, I'm not where I thought I would be. And you were right earlier.

Alexandra Wyman [00:18:08]:

This is a journey and it's a lifetime journey. It just changes and morphs and certain things. I could maybe go a couple of years and feel great and then another year something will hit me harder. So it is very up and down. I have used so therapy, journaling, meditation, definitely screaming, done my own scream therapy. I have exercised, although initially I was encouraged very early on to exercise and I became like a child myself and told the doctor, you go exercise right now. It's hard for me to even get out of bed. But it is true.

Alexandra Wyman [00:18:43]:

It is helpful, even if it's just a short, slow walk. I have relied on friends to even talk through things to see. I've looked at blogs, researched all sorts of parenting books to figure out how to do this as a single parent. So there are lots of different ways to go about this. I think the main thing is to try certain things and definitely work through whatever is going on in front of you. Skirting around it, ignoring the grief or the emotions doesn't help at all. And in fact, all it does is kind of prolong that process. And it's horrible.

Alexandra Wyman [00:19:19]:

It's a horrible process. It's extremely hard, but it's very rewarding once you get to the other side. Oh, I even consulted a medium. Where am I going? I started reading all sorts of books on death. What happens in different cultures and how different people view death. I went down a whole rabbit hole on that. So I'd say quite the gamut of tools for the emotional piece. There's definitely some other things for kind of the business.

Alexandra Wyman [00:19:43]:

I don't know if you want me to go into some of the business stuff, but there is a lot to have to manage. But I think just take that first step forward of trying something is the.

Christopher Lewis [00:19:53]:

Most important for someone that is picking up your book and they are looking for some answers and wanting to get those resources that you've been able to capture and be able to identify for yourself. What are some of the biggest takeaways that you're hoping that people are going to take from the book itself?

Alexandra Wyman [00:20:12]:

Probably the biggest takeaway is that you can get through this. I had someone say that to me. It was actually one of the sheriff's officers who had to inform me that Sean had passed and she had lost her husband by suicide eight months prior. And she said, you're not going to believe me, but you can get through this. And she was right. I did not believe her. But it is possible. Taking 1ft in front of the other, finding something to anchor to, to help you on those days where it's ridiculously hard and you don't want to live, that does happen.

Alexandra Wyman [00:20:44]:

But finding something to anchor to that keeps you here, because when you can get through the sludge is what I call it. When you can get through those horrible feelings, when you can start to let your mind and body start to heal, it is worth it and you can find joy that's left in this life. It looks different. I'll say that how I view things now in life is very different than before. But it is possible to do that.

Christopher Lewis [00:21:08]:

Talk to me about that anchor, because I'm sure that you have to retether every so often and it may be even be on a daily basis. So what do you have to do to re anchor yourself now that you've gone through this? It's three years later, and you are looking toward the future.

Alexandra Wyman [00:21:25]:

Yeah. So initially, I'd say my anchor was my son. Very early on, I was aware that while I knew this situation was going to impact us, I didn't want it to dictate things for us. And I wanted to make sure that while I could talk to him about his dad, I didn't want his dad's death to just be hanging over him or over me. To the point where if I couldn't continue to move forward, how that would impact him and the anchor does change in a sense of now I can look and find a different meaning and purpose. My life was going in a very different trajectory before Sean died and realizing how it's different now and then finding meaning and purpose in that. And so while my son was able to help me work know that initial shock and get through those and he still is my anchor for sure. Finding that meaning and purpose of how I want to take the aftermath and my experience in this journey and be able to pay it forward and help other people has now become my anchor that's now become how I keep putting 1ft in front of the other.

Christopher Lewis [00:22:27]:

Well, Alexandra, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your story, for sharing what you've gone through and for helping others that have gone through similar situations or may go through similar situations. Because this is kind of as I said at the beginning, it's a topic that it's taboo in society. It's hard to talk about, but it's important to talk about and to confront and to ask. I mean, I've gone through training at work, and we've talked about suicide and suicide prevention. And one of the interesting things is something that you said at the very beginning was the fact that if you truly think that someone is going to harm themselves, you need to ask that question. You need to say, Are you planning on harming yourself? And it's not something that you typically would go to a person and say, but it is so important. Are there other pieces that you want to leave for anyone to think about if they're concerned about someone, if they're concerned for themselves, that you would leave today?

Alexandra Wyman [00:23:31]:

Yeah, it's such a good question. I would say if you are someone who is hurting and feeling that this is potentially a way to end that pain, you're not broken, you're not defective, and there is some hope and help for you. And if you can take that step to actually reach out and just let someone know you need help to be seen, absolutely. I see you. Chris sees you. We're here to see you and to see that pain. You're definitely more than that pain. And for other individuals who are worried about their loved ones.

Alexandra Wyman [00:24:07]:

Like you said, Chris, ask the question. Shower them with love and see your person again for who they are and to tell them that you care about them, that you're there. And again, no matter the outcome. It's not our individual responsibility, because we all have that choice. But to just show someone that you genuinely care and are there for them is what I would say.

Christopher Lewis [00:24:28]:

And one of the resources that I will share with you is something that any of you should be able to access in your own area. And that's nine eight eight. Keep that number in mind. We have 911, but now you have 988, which is the suicide and crisis lifeline, and it is open 24 hours a day. They have multiple languages. And if you are hurting, as Alexandra said, if you feel like you need to reach out, have a lifeline, dial nine eight eight. Talk to someone, they will talk to you, they will work with you and they'll help you through it. And that is such an important resource that has not been there very long, but it is now available throughout the United States, and it is something that I would highly encourage any person to take advantage of.

Alexandra Wyman [00:25:16]:

Absolutely. Yes, please do, Alexandra.

Christopher Lewis [00:25:19]:

If people want to find out more about you about the book, where should they go?

Alexandra Wyman [00:25:22]:

So my website is Forwardtojoy.com, all spelled out. You can email me at [email protected]. I'm on Instagram at Forwardtojoy. But definitely there are also additional resources on my website for any individual who's in this aftermath of trying to handle some of the business with the estate. There's also one on one coaching that I offer for going through this process. So definitely check out the website. That'd probably be the best way. And the book is on Amazon and on a couple of different websites as.

Christopher Lewis [00:25:51]:

Well, and I will put a link in there. It is forwardtojoy.com. As Alexandra just said, I love the quote that's on there. Life is unpredictable as a notion. What is predictable is how we handle what life hands us. And I think that is such an important thing to think about and to think about for your own self and how that impacts you and your family, because it is so true. Alexander, thanks so much for being here. I truly appreciate you sharing your journey, and I wish you all the best.

Alexandra Wyman [00:26:23]:

Thanks so much.

Christopher Lewis [00:26:23]:

Chris if you've enjoyed today's episode of the Dads with Daughters podcast, we invite you to check out The Fatherhood Insider. The Fatherhood Insider is the essential resource for any dad that wants to be the best dad that he can be. We know that no child comes with an instruction manual, and most dads are figuring it out as they go along. And The Fatherhood Insider is full of resources and information that will up your game on Fatherhood through our extensive course library, interactive forum, step. By step, roadmaps and more. You will engage and learn with experts but more importantly, dads like you. So check it [email protected]. If you are a father of a daughter and have not yet joined the Dads with Daughters Facebook community, there's a link in the notes.

Christopher Lewis [00:27:09]:

Today Dads with Daughters is a program of fathering together. We look forward to having you back for another great guest next week. All geared to helping you raise strong, empowered daughters and be the best dad that you can be. We're all in the same boat and it's full of tiny screaming passengers. We spend the time we give the lessons we make the meals we buy them present and bring your A game because those kids are growing fast. The time goes by just like a dynamite glass calling astronauts and firemen carpenters and muscle men get out and be the one to now be the best dad you can be be the best dad you can be.