The brutal terrain of trauma and loss from suicide can be a challenging path to take. In this episode, Suzanne Anderson, the Author of You Make Your Path by Walking, walks us through her journey to restoring her life from trauma and loss because of suicide. She also explores the different capacities of resilience and how to embody them. She draws from her experience of losing her husband to suicide to guide us through making our path through these challenging times of loss. Tune in to this episode to learn more about some tools to set us through this journey.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.
I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country.
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You Make Your Path By Walking: Restore Your Shattered Life After Losing Your Spouse From Suicide With Suzanne Anderson
This conversation is with the author Suzanne Anderson. She is allowing us to look into her life and she doesn’t hold back anything. She talks about the death and suicide of her husband, David. She talked about how her life was shattered. She spoke about how difficult it is to rebuild and what that looks like, but she also shares helpful tools on how you can walk your path by taking what she has to offer. Let’s get into the conversation now.
Our guest is Ms. Suzanne Anderson, the Founder of the Mysterial Woman, a Psychologist, Author, Coach, Leadership Consultant, and Transformational Teacher. Her pioneering work is in guiding women to awaken their full feminine and masculine strength, insights and practices from ancient wisdom, depth psychology, and modern neuroscience. Combining her graduate studies in Women’s Developmental Psychology together with her decades as a leadership consultant, Suzanne wisely guides women to awaken to the next level of consciousness and leadership capacity, making the changes in themselves they want to shape in the world.
She facilitates global online programs, workshops, and retreats, and is the author of You Make Your Path by Walking: A Transformational Field Guide Through Trauma and Loss. She is the co-author of the triple award-winning book, The Way of The Mysterious Woman: Upgrading How You Live, Love, and Lead. Originally from Canada, Suzanne now lives in Seattle, Washington. She also provided us with an advanced copy of the book and we’re going to have a good amount of conversation about that. Let’s get into the discussion now.
Suzanne, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m excited to have a deep conversation with you.
I am excited to have you here. Widowhood, we have Ms. Suzanne Anderson and we have an advanced copy of her book, You Make Your Path by Walking, because it is about our individual journey. I’ll let her talk about her book instead of me getting into that because I have a couple of little places I’ve read into it and we can’t get into everything because there’ll be nothing to read. However, I want to pique your interest because Suzanne told me she just started getting the final copy and has some events. Before we get into the discussion, I’ll let her talk about where you can find some things that she has going on.
Thank you. I’m in the birth canal. The book comes out on June 13th, 2023. There is that feeling of sliding toward coming out and launching, which is a very exciting energy. Right before the launch, I’m doing an in-person retreat for the first time in over ten years from June 8th to 11th. It’s for women only and it’s called You Make Your Path By Walking Retreat. It’s meant to be a deep nourishment for women right now for what it is to be in the world the way it is as we come out of this pandemic phase.
Some of us have been through some quite substantial losses during that time. We’ll be talking about my particular loss here in the show if the retreat doesn’t work for you. Although, I highly encourage it. There is something about being in person again that feels so good, but I have an online book launch and webinar that one of the local bookstores is posting on June 22nd, 2023. All of these things are on my website but thank you for letting me let women and people know about that.
I wanted to make sure you had that information upfront because sometimes you can get lost in the conversation. It’s like, “Hold on. How do I get in contact with her? I want that.” I want you to have this upfront. Suzanne, thank you for being willing to share your story with the world and be able to not only share your journey but put it in a way that helps other people going through something similar. Tell us a little bit about your life journey. This is not the only book that she’s written, but this is the book that is geared towards grief. Tell us a little bit about how you got here.
Perhaps just how I got to this book or how far back do you want me to go?
I want you to go back to the genesis and bring us to where we are now. When they finish this, I want them to say, “I know who Suzanne is. I want to read this book because I’ve got to know who she is and I know I can connect with her.”
I had a very circuitous life path. I had gone in many different directions, but I’d say a thread that I tugged on early in my life and followed was a desire to awaken consciousness and unlock potential. Even when I was a little kid, if I learned how to dance, I wanted to teach someone else to dance. When I was in high school, if I learned how to do something and I was good at it, I would naturally want to help someone else do that. That was my nature.
My mother was a teacher, although in the early phase of my life, the phase I was growing up, I oriented more toward my father. My father was a very successful man in the world or I was the father’s daughter. Therefore, you could be a doctor. You could be an academic, or you could be a lawyer, but being a teacher was not the thing I wanted to do. I remember my mother saying early in my life, “You’re such a good teacher. You should be a teacher.”
My little self at that time was insulted by that because I had that attitude then that somehow to be successful in the world, you had to do one of these more masculine things. Certainly, she was very right. It was my deep passion and love and I found my way to it. That was a path throughout my life and it took me, ultimately, into leadership development and working with people in that space. At the end of probably the early ’90s roughly when big corporations were shifting and becoming more nimble and needing to get out of the more masculine model of leadership, I was working in these Fortune 100 companies doing that.
I was observing women who were up against the limits of their worldview but were not open to change. It was shocking. There weren’t that many women management consultants at that time at the senior levels I was working at. I thought they’d be so excited to see me and in fact, they were so resistant. That opened a door for me to explore that further. I was like, “Something is wrong with this picture.”
It was so hard for women to get to these levels of influence and yet, our influence wasn’t any different than what the masculine model of leadership was saying, command power over, hold onto your information, and all these ways of being. I’m going to fast-forward through my life here. I left the consulting firm that I was a part of. I started a private practice working with women and began to realize I needed to go back to graduate school to figure out more about how women develop, what is the issue here, and what’s going on.
That brought me to the United States. At that point, I was living in Europe and then ten years of research. That’s what I’ll say. I put my programs in universities right from the very beginning. The study of women in leadership and the way I was looking at it would be considered mainstream. It was at the end of ten years of that work that we had, that was my first book you referenced, The Way of The Mysterial Woman. My co-author and I were getting ready to bring that out into the world at the end of 2012. On January 3rd, 2013, I came home to find my husband dead by suicide.
I am so sorry. If I can just pause for a moment. I know you are going through a timeline of a lot of different things and being a widow myself, I know we share our stories, but it still sticks with us. It may not be that type of pain that we’re out of pocket for years, but it impacts us. I want to pause and say, “I am sorry for your loss.” I am grateful that you are learning to be able to share it with the world, but I’m sorry that you had to experience that.
As you know from what I know of your story, the shocking aspect of it when there are many different ways people can die and we’re left with this enormous loss and the grief that follows. Also, they have different characters to them. Whether you’ve been with somebody over a long illness, then there’s something about that sudden loss that has its own nature. That’s a very fast timeline through things, but I bring it to that moment because it’s where my life totally shifted. It’s because I was getting ready to come up and out with my new work in the world and life said, “Not so fast. You’re going to go down.” That’s a little bit about me.There are many different ways people can die. It leaves us with enormous loss and the grief that follows. Click To Tweet
Let’s pick up from right there. What was your husband’s name?
How did you and David meet?
I say this in the book and it’s true. Since I was a little girl, I had the word David. I felt like I was going to be with David. I don’t know whether it came to me in a dream. I don’t know how to think about that, but I do know that when I was younger, every time I would meet a David, I would think, “I wonder if this is the David or I wonder if this is the David.”
Eventually, when I lived in France, I married a Robert who’s from South Africa and not a David. It was with him that I came to the United States. When our marriage was breaking up, which was happening as we went through a very difficult period of trying to have children and not being successful and the brutality of that journey with the grieving and the challenge in a relationship, I met David shortly after that or maybe six months later. We met on the ferry. I lived at that time on an island just off of Seattle.
At the end of the night, when you’re rushing to get the last boat so that you’re not stranded on the mainland, if there’s a car ahead of you that’s going fast, you usually get in their slipstream and hope that if anyone gets pulled over, it’s not you. I got in David’s slipstream behind his gray Saab and we’re zipping through the streets of West Seattle. He got on the boat. I got on the boat. I was the last car on the boat. I remember saying, “If that person walks by my car, I’m going to say hello because that was brilliant.” He walked by. I said, “Hello. Thank you. That was great driving.” We went upstairs to the boat. It’s about a fifteen-minute crossing and started talking on the boat. That was the first time we met.
Did you find out his name was David at that first moment or was that later down the road?
What was interesting was I knew and maybe eight months earlier, I was still with my first husband Robert. I had gone to a concert at his incredible property, an estate where he had brought these amazing antique buildings from Indonesia over and there were temples and all sorts of things. Ultimately, I lived there, so it was my home as well. We created something quite magical there.
I was about five minutes away and I’d gone to a concert in the temple of this Indian music and I asked somebody, “Who owns this place? Who is this?” They pointed to the man across the way. He looked British to me and he was a very thin and elegant-looking man. I took note of it, but I was still working on my marriage. I wasn’t thinking of anything else.
Someone pointed him out and said, “This is his home,” and they said, “I think he might be gay.” I thought, “Okay, whatever.” I wasn’t paying attention. When I met him that night on the boat, I had that sense of safety with him. It’s like, “He’s not interested in women. It’s all good.” I realized when I had been out with girlfriends and had been talking about the fact that I was going to be a divorcee. I was getting divorced.
On our little boat trip, apparently, according to him, I said, “I’m divorced. I’m going to be divorced,” ten times. He thought, therefore, I was coming on to him and letting him know I’m available. I’m thinking he’s safe. I’m only practicing saying this new word like a little kid who learns how to say poopy-poopy or something.
You’re out there, “I’m going to a divorcee. I’m doing this.” You’re thinking, “Might as well just be saying it to the wind,” and he’s taking notes.
In some ways, it was good because I don’t think either one of us was ready for something just then, but it wasn’t even on my radar that I was in the middle of this divorce process and he was enjoying the field, so to say. He thought that he’d never marry. He didn’t think he’d ever do that. He was a very eccentric kind of individual and he didn’t think he could ever find someone who was a match. We started off slowly, then.
How did you become this woman to change his mind after all these years?
I do feel he was the David that was in me all along that I was destined to meet. I don’t think it was destined for him to leave the way that he did, but we were so comfortable together. His niece, who I loved, said that they thought, “Will he ever find somebody who could be a match?” We went out for dinner with her one time and David used to always ask for gluten-free and he’d say, “Water, no ice with a slice of lemon,” and all of these things. I did the same thing.
At this restaurant, I order the same thing and Claire looks at her brother like, “Oh my God. I think he’s met his match.” Anyway, that’s only a simple example, but we were such a beautiful resonant combination together, and over time, being comfortable together, things started to shift and I could feel it happening and he could feel it happening. It tilted over from friend into the more intimate part of our connection.
The friendship was built. That’s nice to be able to leverage that friendship on top of it. I know you talk a lot about the relationship in the book. I’m teetering between asking more questions to hear the verbal versus what I’ve read. I’m trying to control myself in doing that. I’ll share this. Hopefully, I’m not doing too much. “In part one of this book will take you into the life before, during, and after the shocking event of my husband’s suicide and disseminating of my life. In part two, I will take you deeper into each of the eight critical capacities that help me meet my shattered inner and outer world and rebuild a robust new life. In part three, I will offer you some inner tools, rituals, and broader perspectives needed to transform through trauma and loss.”
Let me back up by saying any type of grief, the grief that we’re speaking about is resonating with the loss of a spouse, but I think your book trespassed the idea of that into grief in general as you provide the different steps that people need in dealing with that. If we can go back a little bit because in that opportunity, you did share a lot and I wanted to circle back to a few things if I can. I know the idea of suicide can come with so many different thoughts and the way people respond. Being a professional person giving people coaching, how is the idea of David leaving this world by suicide do you think different for you and how you deal with people because of that?
What I would say is that there’s no preparation for what the force field of suicide is until you’re in it. I didn’t have any familiarity. I am a professional. I work with women in developmental traumas, but that is its own trauma field. I think David left and I know that he left in a lot of shame. His business was going to come down. He had built a castle in the air and it was about to come down. I know for sure because it landed on me.
The shame is so much a part of suicide and I was very deliberate from the beginning to be clear that this was not my suicide. David did have the right, the free will to choose how he left. The impact of it was enormous on me and the people around him, but I wasn’t going to take that on as mine. I was very deliberate about that from the beginning and which simply meant noticing when the shame would come up and not hiding how he died if somebody asked me.
I didn’t always tell random people that I met on a plane or something because there would be no point in going into that story. For many people, it was too traumatic for people to take that in, but for others on the island I lived on, I was very direct about it. I think that was an important piece for me in going through this. I did a lot of things on the island itself to help people adjust to this loss.
It was a huge impact on the community on the island I lived on. He was very well-known, well-respected, and very loved. There was the David that took his life and the David who showed up in all of these incredible, loving, and generous ways. It was so far apart for people and for me as well. That shock was hard for them and for me.
The idea of the shame and your giving that example is going to be so helpful for people that are reading this. Their loved one passed because of suicide by their own choice and letting them know that it was his decision. It was not your suicide. That ownership rests with that individual. Thank you for explaining it like that.
I’m glad we can underline this a bit because it’s so important. It isn’t that anybody who goes through a loss by suicide like this, but it doesn’t even have to be suicide. However, let’s say this. Always, we are going to be thinking, “What could I have done differently? Maybe I should have seen something.” That’s true. When you lose a loved one, often you think, “I wish I’d caught that illness earlier. I should have noticed it. I should have taken them to the doctor.” In this case, that sense of, “Couldn’t I have seen this?” or, “If I’d been home if I hadn’t gone to work.”
You have to wrestle with those things. It’s not that they won’t be there. They were there for me and the thoughts were there for me. I had to go through that kind of thinking and make my peace with that. The truth is that when somebody wants to go leave this world by their own choice, they will find a way to do it. It’s very compartmentalized often. There’s the person that is outward facing and then there’s the person who has made the plan and is planning to go and that person don’t show.Somebody will find a way to leave when they want to leave this world by their own choice. It's often compartmentalized. There's the person that is outward facing, and then there's the person who has made the plan to go. Click To Tweet
For example, some of David’s very close male friends, he had said to them in the month prior, “I’ve been considering suicide, and here are some of the methods I was thinking about, but I’m not doing that now. I’m doing well now. Whatever you do, you have to swear you won’t tell your wife or Suzanne any of this. I just want to share this with you.”
When he died, the horrible reality there of what they’re left with, which is, I think, a very unfair burden that David gave them. It’s the feeling of, “I should have told somebody. I should have said something,” but that’s just to say that someone who’s ready to go by suicide will make that split and make it very hard for you. The night before he died, as you will have read, coming up that weekend was the wedding of his dear niece Claire and her beloved Chris, who’s the son of his best friend in Indonesia who had helped him start this Indonesian antique business.
He had introduced them. They had fallen in love. They were getting married, and the night before, we had this beautiful dinner at his sister’s house and he was the life of the party and so happy. He was making a toast to love and love is all there is. That person is not the person you could imagine doing something like this the next day.
Thank you for sharing that because you’re right. People wrestle with, “What if,” in so many degrees. For someone trained or someone working with people in trauma, people will hide things that you have no way of telling and knowing because they are determined. They know their loved ones. They know how to hide things from them and to be able to do that. That is going to be very helpful for people to hear and understand.
If I may ask another question. Let’s go back. The ten years of research you had done on the first book, the life coaching, and the different things you had been working with people and doing things like that. Now, you are probably in the most difficult fight in your life from the day that you found him. How was that for you and what did those initial days look like?
There was a total shattering of my identity as I knew myself. I had the ideal life. I loved my life. I am a transformational teacher. I am teaching my programs. I’m making a difference in the lives of many women. I had a wonderful husband I loved. I had a beautiful home. We lived in a wonderful community. We were about to go to the wedding of our dear niece and Chris.
The shattering of that self was enormous. It was such a contrast to who I experienced myself to be and what I experienced myself, the life I was in. The very first few days, as for anyone in any kind of enormous loss, as I’m sure it was for you, you’re just in shock. You’re in a surreal, “This can’t be me. This can’t be happening.” Also, because of the work that I did, I knew there was this 100% trauma and that as soon as I could, it was going to be important to be able to be with what was happening. To be able to get landed, “This is what is happening.”
Denial is a very useful mechanism that we have in our bodies. It helps us because our nervous systems get overwhelmed, but if we stay there too long, that won’t be helpful. I had a lot I had to take care of after he died. Early on, there was a profound moment. Maybe you’ll remember when I surrendered, I did that surrender with my friend Michael Meade. Should I tell that story?
Yes. That’s the circle of people and then everyone there. Go ahead.
It’s not that one. That’s a different one. That was another powerful moment. This was the next day and I invited a good friend of mine who lived on the island who’s also an author and does rituals, works with men’s groups, and works with Vietnam vets. He did work with suicide in our local high school and I asked him to come over. There’s a Greek myth called the Persephone-Demeter myth, which is one of those dissent myths.
It’s the Greek myth and the highest version of it, and I use it in my programs with women, but it’s where the innocent Persephone is picking flowers and Hades, the God of the Underworld, rides up in his chariot. He grabs her because he wants her as his bride and takes her into the Underworld. She resists that and won’t eat anything. In the very end, when she is about to be released from Hades and go back to the upper world to her mother, she eats three pomegranate seeds. It’s because she eats the fruit of the Underworld, she’s required to spend six months in the Underworld and six months in the upper world.
That myth lived in me. I work with that myth for women as an invitation to come into the body that you could say the yin-yang symbol. The dark is the yin and to be with our embodied selves. Michael said to me, “Suzanne, you are going to be called to go to a deeper place, in a darker place than you’ve ever been called to go before but remember that you are Queen Persephone and you can go down. You’ll go down and you’ll we’ll learn things there for others. You will go for yourself and you will go for others and we’ll hold space for you in the upper world.”
I remember that moment very clearly. It’s almost like a pathway opened for me. It was a surrender to, “This is my life now and I do not know if I will survive this.” It was both an enormous surrender to, “This is my life. This is what life has brought me. I will go through this. I will go through it in the way of the mysterial woman. I will go through it in the way I’ve been teaching and embodying to some degree, and I’ll see if I make it out.”
I think that is very well said, the idea of not only your loved one passing but to find them and the level of shock that it places on the body. My late husband Mark, most of his passing, unfortunately, by a heart attack, was in my presence. We were on vacation and by the time the medical people came to take him, he had already suffered 60% or 70% of heart loss. It was them trying to resuscitate him over time.
I say it to say I can relate to that level of shock. Also, the point that you make about facing that death. I know, as you also said, denial does serve us well, but there’s something also to be said about coming to terms with, “This is my life,” and leaning into what life has given us instead of trying to avoid it and to start that work of what my new life looks like.
You also mentioned something that so many people deal with that when that spouse passes, their life is shattered, whether it’s mentally, physically, economically, and all these different things. The economic part oftentimes is not something people like to talk about and connect, but it certainly becomes a part of the change. How have you rebuilt your life over time economically?
This was important to say because when David left, as I mentioned, his business was coming down. We had very separate businesses. I had my women’s leadership business and he had his business, but our big asset together was that I had also invested in, which was our property. It was this enormous estate and all of his debt, as it turned out, was connected to this one asset.
When he left, he had more debt than the asset itself, which was a very substantial asset. That was my retirement. That was to be the place we would live. That was everything. Have you ever seen the Tibetan mandalas that they do with little sand? The monks all sit together and chant for days and create these beautiful mandalas out of one grain of sand at a time. I’ve been in one of these rituals. When it is complete, they take a stick and wipe it all off and it’s gone.
Within six months, my life, my outer life as I’d known it, was literally gone. It was like I was exiled from my life. The financial piece was real and terrifying for me because I was going to have to rebuild from literally zero to the ashes and that is what I did. Many beautiful things happened. The amazing thing to me about a journey like this is where if you give room for the mystery to come in or for the magic to happen or for synchronicities to happen and generosity and loving and caring to happen, things can occur that you wouldn’t expect.Things can occur that you wouldn't expect if you give room for the mystery to get in, the magic to happen, synchronicities to happen, or generosity, loving, and caring to happen. Click To Tweet
I was able to find a new place. I left the island. Certainly, I had to sell the estate. The fact that I could sell it was remarkable. It was a very unusual property, as I mentioned, with all of these antique buildings on it and it was essential that I sell it before the bank took it. I was able to move to Seattle and begin again. I’ve been very steadily building my life again with a lot of hard work, presence, and a lot of blessings from many other people in my life.
There are many people struggling to rebuild their life. I want to circle back to your book and when you talk about your inner tools and rituals, I know it’s too much to fully unpack that and then you talk about the eight critical capacities. Is there one capacity that maybe you can give a little bit of information on to help people understand how this will benefit them?
Maybe I’ll begin by sharing what these eight capacities are and then you can fill in whether there was one that stood out for you, also. In the last chapter of the first book, we had already identified what we called meta-capacities. It’s these ways of being that women were starting to embody that we’d never seen before. I’ll give you these. Multidimensional knowing is just using a logical mind but also our intuition. Also, information from other realms, our emotional intelligence, and our spiritual intelligence.
Also, there’s embracing paradox. It’s the ability to hold very different things together at one time. Authentic presence is another one. Energy stewardship is how we work our energy so that we can be in a sustainable way in our lives. Generative mutuality, which is how to be in relationships and work, and intimacy that is truly generative where something new is created in the connection together.
Attending the field, which is we are in a field of consciousness or relationships and how do we tend that? Notice that, first of all, influencing system resonance is a way of saying, “How do we recognize the systems we’re a part of and help them come back into harmony, especially during a shattering like this.” There is also something we call unfolding the emergent, which is how you partner with the mystery when we’re in the midst of these times that are so uncertain and ambiguous and everything.
We’d identified those already. We are starting to see them and then all hell broke loose, we could say. It took a couple of years for me to get back to completing this book and getting it out in the world. Also, years of living and then finally doing some writing. Ultimately, I decided that there was something that I wanted to be able to offer to others, and not just writing for myself, which was also important. After I’d written down all of these stories that were so impactful for me, I realized, “I’ve been living there.”
It’s like I had seen them, as the map maker, you could say, pointing in the direction of these are the capacities that are needed to be in the world now the way that it is. I realized I’d been living them. The book goes into a story basically with each one of those capacities. I can tell you one that I would say maybe was the most important for me, but I’m also happy to go where you are drawn.
I have three. I don’t have one. The first to me is multidimensional knowing. It seems to start off from there. Everything else builds on top of that. I can see how that can be relevant in each part of the process, but we live in a world with so much community and so much interaction. Attending the field had a different type of weight than the last one you mentioned.
Is it unfolding the emergent, maybe?
Yes. Those three are the places I’ve landed and I don’t know if I can put heavier weight on one than the other so we’ll go with the one you are working with.
I was going to go unfolding the emergence, so that’s perfect. One thing that I’ve been delighted by and one hope is that if you’re in the midst, those of you reading right now, of a recent loss, you could read this and see, “This is something I’m going to need to cultivate here to get through this.” This is learning to see in the dark in a way.
However, if you’ve gone through the loss, I’ve found other people have said it’s been helpful to read and realize, “I did cultivate that. I did grow this capacity in myself,” because one of the most important things that I think my book is offering is none of us want to lose our beloved partner. We do not want this, but it happened though. Here we are. It’s what the life deck of cards dealt us and if we can hold it like, “This is a journey I am on now into my new life and my new life is unfolding right now as I walk.”
Rather than, “The thing I’m waiting to get back somewhere I was before when that life is gone or I’m not really in my life. This isn’t my life. My real life is coming in the future.” It’s like, “No. This is my life now.” Every day, I would remind myself of this because every day, I don’t get that day back again. It’s going to be gone and there aren’t that many days in life, as we know, when you are face to face with someone whose life ended.
Unfolding the emergent is what I know now rather than planning like crazy because the best you can do in your plans is usually fairly limited because you can only see from the consciousness you have right now. However, if you’re really on a path that’s transformational and that I think is possible, you will land somewhere you couldn’t imagine. Doing things and being in ways that your current mind couldn’t imagine. Unfolding the emergent is saying being one step at a time. The path rises up to meet you as you take that step.
That is key in any trauma, especially this, and as you speak about that, it brings to mind to me the idea of the grief fog brain or however you would articulate that in trying to see too far down the road can cause more stress and more difficulty because you can only do as the road rises up one step at a time. I remember during that time having a little notebook in that I would write down what I needed to do and line those things out. It’s like, “I accomplished that.” I’m glad you mentioned that because as you talk about life being shattered in trying to, “That’s my real life,” that was the life we had before. That is not a life that we will never have again. That life has transitioned into the life that we have now.
Also, the life that we’ll create will come out of how we live this life now. That is true, but it’s a hard one because, as you say, the prefrontal cortex goes offline. The neuroscience of it is our amygdala says, “This is a massive emergency.” All the blood and energy goes to the back brain and you don’t have that available. I work in the field of trauma I knew that. I was lucky and I made sure that I had people helping me. Who could do that? It’s because I had things I had to take care of. I did not have the opportunity to not do anything.
There’d been an earthquake, David’s death, and then the tsunami came, where all of the reality of the situation and what he had left behind started to show itself on the beach. It was like, “Whoa,” and all of the things I had to take care of. I needed to have some people help me hold some of those structural things initially in the early days. I think what you did of having a little book with the note, I did many things like that, making copious notes to remind myself or structure my day. That’s key.
Thank you for mentioning having other people help. Sometimes when we are successful at work or other areas, we feel like when we’re dealing with something, I have it all and I don’t need anyone else to help me. Did you find it not only helpful but rewarding to open up and allow people to take pieces of that process to carry?
Totally and I’ll say I was surprised to see it because I was a teacher. I offered a lot. I was a guide for others and how much I gave this way. Even though I thought I had received it, I realized I had given much more than I received. It was very humbling for me to let go of the ego part of myself that thought I was the one that would be the giver to everybody else and to let myself be a receiver was essential that I do that. First of all, that was my work to do. Also, I will say what was so key, and I would say this to anyone, is that I had this beautiful love field around me of my dear friends and my family.
That is important because sometimes I use the analogy of a tuning fork where you hit a tuning fork. If you have several tuning forks together and you hit one, the others will all start resonating with that same note. It’s a very beautiful thing. We’re the same as humans. Whoever’s around you, that’s the field that you’ll be resonating in.
It was so important for me to be in fields of love and to be able to receive that to welcome people’s input and have them come in and they wanted to come in and help. People wanted to be helpful and I needed to rest into that loving care. When you’re at the center of something like this, the loss of your beloved, it is a shift to let that in and not have to be the great Wonder Woman heroine.
Thank you for expounding upon that to be able to just rest. What I also heard you say is that you gave people permission to come in. Going back to the idea of how David left this world, the idea of a beloved one passing that people are standing on the outside waiting to try to figure out what to do, and if we give them a little bit of guidance, they’ll jump in as they know us and as that friendship and that relationship. We only need to give them a little bit of an inch so they know how to proceed.
Sometimes, I will say I was surprised that some people showed up that I wouldn’t have imagined and others that I thought didn’t. I was okay. I had no judgment about that. I had more deep appreciation for whoever could show up in the midst of the trauma and I was so grateful for it. I don’t know why. I’m all of a sudden thinking of this one time where I had so many different women friends around all the time and this was a few weeks in. Somebody had decided to be helpful by organizing my cupboards in the kitchen where there were plates and things. We had it somewhat chaotic, but it was the way I lived and David lived and it was fine. I came down and went looking for something and it was not in the right place. I lost it.
It was like, “No, this is not all right. Put everything back. You got to put this back. I was not ready for this to be changed,” and they did. I would say to anybody on the edge of somebody going through something, don’t think that you’re going to be helpful by cleaning up, changing things, and throwing things out until the person’s ready for that. It’s like you come in around them where they are, and in my case, my dear friends were understanding of my freaking out about it, but in other words, you come in and help. You’re going to make a mistake, maybe, but it’s okay. Your person hopefully will let you know that wasn’t okay and I need this or I don’t need that, but be willing to come into the trauma field, I guess we could say.On the edge of somebody going through something, don't think you will be helpful by cleaning up, changing things, and throwing things out until the person's ready to do that. Click To Tweet
I hear that. As we’re allowing people permission to realize things will not always go smoothly. It’s important to know when the people were doing the cleaning and the rearranging, is there sometimes a sense that you’re snatching my old life away from me too soon than what I’m willing to let go and I need to be part of that process.
I wasn’t ready for that, even when it came time to move his clothes. You and I and the people reading this will have to deal with that, but you’ve got the life of that person and their outer effects, all of their things. Also, because I had to stage and sell the house, it all had to happen very fast, way too fast for me. In the ideal world, you could take the time that you needed to take to let those things move.
Fortunately, David’s sister Pam was wonderful with me. She came over and took the clothes as we had to pack up the house for moving again. It might be correct for somebody to not touch that at all if they’re staying in the same house for a year. I know initially, I like to have his clothes and I would smell his clothes. I wanted to be connected. It’s the same thing about the way the shelves were arranged. It was like, “That was still us and I hadn’t yet let go of us.”
Thank you for expounding upon that. When I talk to people sometimes, when they hear and they go, “Everybody feels like that. I’m not the only person having these types of thoughts, that things are happening too quickly,” and in each one of those steps of change, is a part of us leaving that life that we used to have. Also, in that middle ground of the life that we have, and as we’re trying to develop what our new life will look like. It is quite the path that by walking that we’re doing in that process of doing that. If I were to come to you and say, “My spouse just passed and I don’t know what to do. I want to quit.” What part of you that was at that place that chose not to quit and keep going? How did you find that in yourself?
I think when you’re right up against the edge of life and death as you are when your loved one leaves, there’s sometimes that feeling of, “Just take me with you. I want to cross over too.” I will say that for me, I love being in this world and I think David would’ve loved it too, and I’m so sorry he didn’t have the capacity to walk through what he would’ve had to walk through that I did walk through. I had a ritual I did first thing in the morning, which was I’d swing my legs around and sit on the side of my bed. I would say, “I am so grateful to be alive and in this body.” In other words, “David is not. I am here. May this day be a blessing to everyone I touch,” or something like that. I would say this every day.
Early on, I didn’t believe it necessarily. I wasn’t grateful to be alive necessarily, but it was a way that caught my mind. My mind can go in a lot of different directions. I am not my mind. I already know that I have had a long meditation practice for years. I’ve been watching my mind for a long time. I am certainly much more than my mind, but you come out of the unconscious in the sleep state and your mind wants to take you somewhere. I was going to set sail toward the day and the life that I had and that I was here. That was a simple practice that I did every day, but it was hugely impactful for me. I still do it. I don’t do it every day now, but on the days when I wake up and it’s hard, I do that same prayer.
What I hear you saying is you know it’s going to be difficult. You know you’re not going to like it, but as you said before, there’s beauty in the process. There is beauty in the people that you will connect with and also, you mentioned about people showed up that you didn’t expect. That is a beautiful gift to realize the people that need to be there will be there and they’ll do the things that need to get done.
It’s so interesting. When it’s a spouse, and this is my experience, I’m sure it’s got another nature when it’s a child that you lose, but as a spouse, if there was a lot of love in that marriage or that relationship, it’s like you crack that open and that is what’s available. It’s almost like they’ve left this dimension, they’ve left this world, but what happened around me was this love field that, and there was so much love.
I do believe that love is all there is. It’s everything. Do you know what’s interesting, Tina, was that he died on the 3rd. On the 1st of January, and I write about this in the book, David had tinnitus, this terrible ringing in the ears, which is an affliction that nobody would want, and quite a lot of people have. You can get it from listening to loud music or people don’t exactly know and there’s no known cure for it. Some people describe it as this constant crickets in your head or someone constantly putting their nails down a blackboard. It’s horrific.
I had tinnitus from being in the military for 21 years. I can relate to it.
He’d had that for three months and it was driving him literally crazy. He was not sleeping. It was horrific, but we were starting to find our way through it. We were starting to figure it out to get it resolved. When he left or even before he left, I had started reading. I was obsessed with reading these books about life after death, like the Journey of Souls, the Destiny of Souls, and from the Tibetan tradition, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I was fascinated by all of these things. I was going back and forth, comparing different systems.
David would say, “This is so crazy that you’re listening to this. You’re so involved in this.” In some ways, I think it was helpful for me to have a map of where he might be going so that I knew something about where he might be going after he left. When he was not there, the very first thing I did when his body was with the police, I did a ritual. It’s because ritual’s a great way to have the conscious and the unconscious speak. I needed to do this for me, I think. One of my friends who was there led it and the person who led it said, and I felt it, that I said my goodbyes to David and I just released him.
She said that it was like he was already gone and he knew what he was doing. I think he did know what he was doing. I think he couldn’t bear to be here with the condition that he had and with what was about to come down on him. Those of us who did stay and were able to be present, we still are the best friends. It’s like we found our deepest friendship in the trauma tribe. It’s what we called each other.
That is a unique term. I’m going to coin that with the Widowhood. It is that group of people that are with you during this process and that relationship becomes deeper and richer because you have experienced something most people don’t go through. You have pulled each other through when you were stuck or they were stuck and pulled each other along. That is wonderful.
I want to do a bit of a pivot. Taking what you have learned and the bit that you’ve been able to share with us, and when the people pick up the book, they read it, and go through it, they’ll have an opportunity to expound upon that. What does the workshop look like in person? What would one expect to find if they participate in that?
The workshop is not designed just for people going through an immediate loss, but I would say there’s nobody right now that I know or come into contact with who isn’t dealing with loss in some way in their lives. It isn’t only for widows. It is for those of us coming out of the pandemic. It’s for women. It is designed to be deeply nourishing where you get a chance to come back to yourself. We’re all carrying so much responsibility in the world and many of us, we’ve had one life sort of pre-pandemic. We went through the pandemic and we’re trying to figure out what is this new life. The idea is the book The Mists of Avalon, do you know that book? It’s a book about King Arthur’s kingdom.
I’ve read several different books about King Arthur in college, grad, undergrad, and seminary but go ahead with that.
It’s a story or another myth where the women were in King Arthur’s kingdom, which was a rough world. It’s a rough world right now that we live in here and some of us are rougher than others. There are a lot of challenges, traumas globally and locally, and traumas personally. The women would go get in this little boat and go across into the mists of Avalon. If they had the eyes to see, the mist would part, and then they’d see the sacred isle of Avalon.
They would go and be nourished by women who also were in the world and wanted to make a difference. They are wanting to show up lovingly and be present in the lives that they were in to make a difference. That’s what I’m imagining the retreat is. I’m doing it with a woman who was in all my programs but is also a yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner. There will be yoga and a chance to be into the body and there’ll be movement. There’ll be walks in nature. There will be looking at our lives that brought us to this moment, which includes a lot of loss for many of us. Gathering that up and then looking at what we want for the life ahead.
That, in this time, definitely is very welcoming. People have gone through so much and just to be connected after being so disconnected in so many different ways, there’s so much value in that part altogether.
In my longer programs, which are fifteen months that I do with women and they’re global, the last one ended in December. People flew from all over the world, from Australia, all of Europe, all across the US and Canada, and Barbados, and we did a final retreat together. There were 24 women plus 7 faculty. It was something after being online for so long and through part of the pandemic, being together in the flesh, I still think we’re shy about it.
Our bodies are shy. We’re coming out of this pandemic going, “Whoa,” but maybe, as women, we need it more than ever to be together with other women. Also, to meet other women who are also trying to make the best of their lives and show up in new ways and be transformed. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m looking forward to it.Women need it more than ever to be together with other women, to meet other women who are also trying to make the best of their lives, show up in new ways and transform. Click To Tweet
I love what you said about showing up in new ways and trying to help others. I believe this book, as you talked about, was somewhat therapeutic for you, but also trying to provide a roadmap for other people that are experiencing trauma. There’s something to be said to say, “Somebody else went through this and they survived us and not just survived it, but they have a life that they enjoy. They have things that they enjoy about their life and want to wake up every morning and encourage themselves through the good and the challenging days.
It took a long time, Tina, for me. Certainly, that first year of making my path or I wondered initially, would I feel happy again? Would I feel that? I felt not as much trauma initially, that’s true, but would I feel happy? Could I love again? What would my work look like? What was ahead for me? I will say, and I share this in the book. I do feel now that the total in that situation was the breaking open to more of myself and not less of myself. The contact was more of me, my authentic me, but also to the world. Also, a deeper compassion and connection to others.
In that way, I would say, you have to stay on your path. You are making your path by walking. Also, because that first year, which will always be very hard, you are making your way in the darkest layers of the journey, but you will learn to see in the dark. My own experience is to say that light is in the darkness. You can find the light in the darkness again, but not by not being in the dark. You’re going to have to be there for a period of time. Also, when you find the light, there’s something about knowing the darkest dark and then finding the light again, the joy again, that is very rich.
It is very vibrant. Thank you for going back to that and being clear. It is a journey, and I love that you said walking the path. Sometimes you may get two steps in one day. Sometimes you may get three, but it’s not something that we can rush. It’s not something that we can push through, but when we look at the path that we’ve gone across, it is very enriching. It is beautiful for the people that have shouldered the responsibility and traveled with us on this path. I’m extremely thankful for being able to talk to you about your book. I have a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go. What gives you hope?
I’m going to speak to that in a personal and global way because I think these times are so hard. The resilience of the human spirit gives me hope. My own capacity to move through something as completely devastating as this is something I found. If you had asked me if would I be able to get through this, I might’ve said, “I don’t think so,” and you don’t know. You are discovering it, if you’re on the journey now, that resilience is there in the human spirit. It’s amazing to me.The resilience of the human spirit gives Suzanne Anderson hope, and her capacity to move through something as devastating as her loss is something she found. Click To Tweet
It’s like Mary Oliver, the poet has this wonderful poem. I forget exactly how it goes, but it’s basically this tree is blown down and dead, but then out of one little branch starts coming, this little green shoots. Everything is gone, but life is still there. It’s the beauty of the life force that we each carry and hold. I would say the other thing is the capacity for opening our hearts to one another.
As I’ve said already, love is everything, and in an event like we are all walking through or have walked through, you open to that even though you’ve lost your love. That’s what you crack open to, and that is how you bring that into the world. How you are a stream of a more loving presence in the world gives me a lot of hope.
Thank you. If you had an opportunity to talk to Suzanne at any point in time in the past, how old would she be and what would you tell her?
What a profound question. That’s hard to do a fast answer to that, but I think it wouldn’t be to say, “Don’t talk to that guy on the boat.” It would be to say, “Something hard is going to come your way in the future, and everything right now that you are learning and friends that you’re developing are going to be there to help you when you go through this.”
Take in your life. Don’t miss a single moment because it can all change in a nanosecond and you will have the strength you need. It’s because you’ve taken it in so fully, your life, what you’ve loved about your life, the people that you’ve loved and been around, that will be what helps you go through. It’s true that being loved by David and my loving David gave me the capacity to meet his leaving in the way that he did. Probably that would be what I would say to the me many years ago.
That is fair. Thank you for being here. Thank you for allowing the Widowhood to hear your journey, and I look forward to hearing what people say about the book. Any closing comments?
No. Thank you also, Tina, for what you do and for providing this show in the midst of your life and everything else you do. Also, the service you provide is a resource of hope and support for people going through a difficult moment when you lose your loved one.
You’re welcome. Talk to you soon, Widowhood.
Thank you for being here for this conversation. I am sure that this discussion with Suzanne Anderson provided you with the insight of knowing that you are not alone if you are even dealing with the suicide of a loved one, that her opportunity to be able to share and give insight. The way that she said she separated herself and that was David’s decision and it was not her suicide. Those are some empowering words.
For her to be able to share that sometimes people are good at hiding and you don’t have to, “What if this,” and, “What if that,” that you weren’t able to know. I love how she was able to share how to rebuild from a shattered life and understand that it does take time. The process is just that. It’s a process. Give yourself grace as you go through this. Keep being part of the Widowhood. Keep being encouraged, have hope, and know that healing is possible for you. Talk to you soon.
- Suzanne Anderson
- Mysterial Woman
- You Make Your Path by Walking: A Transformational Field Guide Through Trauma and Loss.
- The Way of The Mysterious Woman: Upgrading How You Live, Love and Lead
- You Make Your Path By Walking Retreat
- Journey of Souls
- Destiny of Souls
- The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
- The Mists of Avalon
About Suzanne Anderson
Suzanne Anderson, MA, is the founder of The Mysterial Woman, a psychologist, author, coach, leadership consultant, and transformational teacher. Her pioneering work in guiding women to awaken their full Feminine and Masculine strengths combines insights and practices from ancient wisdom, depth psychology, and modern neuroscience.
She has dedicated the past thirty years to decoding an embodied, integral, and accelerated archetypal pathway to unlock the next level of our innate potential. Combining her graduate studies in women’s developmental psychology together with her decades as a leadership consultant, Suzanne wisely guides women to awaken to the next level of consciousness and leadership capacity, making the changes in themselves they want to shape in the world.
She facilitates global online programs, workshops, and retreats, and is the author of You Make Your Path by Walking: A Transformational Field Guide Through Trauma and Loss and is the coauthor of the triple award-winning book The Way of the Mysterial Woman: Upgrading How You Live, Love, and Lead. Originally from Canada, Suzanne now lives in Seattle, WA.