What I Know For Sure About Grief

KateE1 Lily Cummings Photography

The best way to describe my experience with grief is like having my head in the clouds, only my entire being is not just in the clouds, but of the clouds, floating around half-numb, half-deeply stricken with a pain that is uncontrollable and at times unbearable.

If that sounds horrible, that’s because it is, and it is nearly impossible to predict when a wave of depression will come along and take me out with its force, knocking me under for days or weeks at a time, giving me no other choice but to rest, slow down and surrender.

I used to try and fight it, telling myself my deceased loved ones would want me to be happy. Stay positive, remember the good times, don’t cry, it will be ok.

I have love and compassion for people who have not experienced a great love and loss, and have no idea what to say or how to react to losing someone so dear to suicide. But just like you would not tell me to try and control Mother Nature and the ocean, please do not suggest I can control my grief.

Believe me if I could, I most certainly would. It does not feel good. Like a surfer being taken out by a huge, powerful wave, you simply and literally have to ride it out.

I never thought I would be an “expert” in healing from and dealing with grief, but after two of the loves of my life both killed themselves in one year, I’ve come to understand grief more than I’d care to.

If you are or have been experiencing grief, here’s what I’d like you to know:

You are not going crazy, you are recovering: 

The intense, uncontrollable feelings of pain, confusion, shock, fatigue and exhaustion were foreign to me. I remember leaving work one evening, walking into a coffee shop, ordering my drink and sitting down at a table to relax. Seemingly out of nowhere, I started sobbing. There was no stopping my tears. I missed him. I didn’t understand why. I couldn’t bear to think of the amount of pain he must have been in to jump off a bridge out of nowhere, unknowingly transferring his pain on to those of us who loved him so much. I cried knowing I would never see him again, touch him, look into his eyes and smile, hear his voice, hold his hand.

It was all too much. And there I was, sitting by myself in a coffee shop in the middle of Manhattan, surrounded by people, feeling isolated and alone—that same feeling my two friends must have felt when they took their own lives at such a young age.

When I reached out to friends and family, I got the, “I’m sorry, you’ll be ok,” response. I felt more alone. They couldn’t feel my pain. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody, but was it normal to be feeling this sad?

Whatever feelings are coming up for you are “normal,” and are there to help you heal. As the saying goes, “You have to feel it to heal it.” Try to embrace your emotions, rather than fight or control them. Find a friend or support group who understands what you are going through, and try to remember your loved one is now at peace.

Stop judging: 

Some days I think to myself, “Shouldn’t I be feeling better by now?” Even though it’s only been five months. I get irritated that all my body wants to do is rest. Really, another nap? I have things I want and need to do! How much time is it going to take to get over this?

The answer is, all long as it takes.

It isn’t about getting over something, it is about creating a new normal: 

Surviving the death of a loved one, especially a sudden, traumatic suicide isn’t something to “get over.” We have to accept that we will never be the same person, and that’s ok. Opening up and sharing your story will help both you and others heal. You can choose to turn your pain into your purpose, and offer some sort of peace and comfort to others.

Easy does it: 

Be extremely gentle with yourself. If this means not getting out of your pajamas and staying home all day doing nothing then so be it. No judgment. Radical self care goes a long way when it comes to healing and dealing with grief. Bubble baths, healthy, nutritious meals, walks in nature, journaling, spa treatments and naps are always on my agenda.

If we want to be supported, we must learn to support ourselves first. Check in with your body, head, heart and soul, and ask, “What do you need to feel better/great/happy/cared for?

Grief is different for everyone: 

Comparison is never a good idea, but especially when healing from grief. One person may deal with their pain by staying extremely busy and active while another may need to stay in bed for a week. There is no right or wrong, good or bad when it come to healing, unless you are causing harm to yourself or others.

You are not alone:

There are dozens of professional organizations available to those of us who need grief counseling. All it takes is asking for help. People want to assist us in our recovery.

Pennies From Heaven


I’m a great believer in signs. I think they are always all around us, guiding us, and giving us the insight and inspiration we need in the moment.

A significant sign, to me, is noticing an increase of pennies, nickels and small coins in my path. I’ve learned that one of the most common signs that our deceased loved ones are visiting us is the use of small signs and symbols.

About a month after my dear friend Sam passed away, I started seeing coins in my path quite frequently. I would find pennies randomly and seemingly out of place. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but when I started finding coins staring straight back at me on a regular basis as I went about my day, I started paying more attention.

Like the day I was leaving a photo shoot at a pristine Wall Street building. I was feeling stressed and anxious about a work situation, and was rushing to another appointment. As I was speed walking and working up a sweat in my scarf and heavy winter coat, the shiniest penny I have ever seen was right in front of me on the immaculately kept marble floor. There literally wasn’t even a speck of dirt on the floor, but there in front of me, a penny.

After weeks of seeing coins in my path, I slowed down, smiled, looked right at the penny, and said, “Hi baby, I love you.”

I knew it was Sam. I knew he was telling me, “It’s ok. I’ve got you. Everything is going to be ok. Everything is going to work out. I am with you. You are supported. You are valuable. You are loved.”

Whatever tension I was holding onto was immediately let go. I relaxed. I knew it was all going to be ok.

I had gotten used to seeing pennies, sometimes nickels and dimes on my path, but it had been about a week, and I found nothing. I remember saying to Sam, “What’s up? Where have you been? I miss you.”

That same day, on the subway, I looked down, thinking I saw a penny, and it was just old gum stuck to the ground in a circular shape.

Now I was joking with Sam like we always did in person, asking him again, “What’s up? Oh, you think you’re funny. Ok.”

The very next day, I met my friend Melissa at a Thai restaurant in Jersey City. She was already seated, and waiting for me at the table. I sat down, ordered some food, started talking, and telling her about Sam and all the coins, and how I hadn’t seen any in a while.

About a minute later, I looked over to my left, and I was literally sitting next to about 200 coins spread out all over these Buddha statues. I literally laughed out loud and got the chills from head to toe.

Sam and his hilarious, very dramatic sense of humor! I could hear him laughing hysterically and saying, “I’ll show you, Kate, I’ll get your attention in a big way!” It was such a beautiful moment with my recently deceased friend. I felt so connected to him, and so silly for ever doubting he is always with me and loves and values me so very much.

Whether you have recently lost a loved one or not, finding coins is a major sign that we are highly valued. Please take this to heart, and when you notice a coin that seems out of place, take a moment to take in this important message.

I believe when our loved ones cross over, they want to let us know they are doing well, watching over us and sending their love. I also believe they send small signs and symbols by placing something like a penny in our path to point us in the right direction.

I continue to find comfort in these “pennies from heaven.” I see the significance of the number 1 as unity and a oneness. To me, it’s a sign that there is unity and Oneness in the afterlife, and also a unity and Oneness between my loved one and me. I feel his spirit move with and through me.

I know it also means my deceased loved ones are always visiting, guiding, protecting and loving me while showing me I am valued and never alone. The coins are a gentle reminder to slow down, enjoy the present moment and be thankful.

The next time you see a coin cross your path, allow yourself to pause and remember:

You are valued.

You are loved.


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