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After losing her brother, then her sister, Monica Pedersen learned the value of support

MonicMichele Michael Pedersen 1976

Monica, Michele and Michael Pedersen in 1976

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Updated: February 16, 2013 6:06AM

January is often a month full of hope and goal-setting for the year ahead. Unfortunately, for many, it painfully marks the start of another year without a loved one. I know this experience well; on Jan. 6, 1987, I lost my twin brother Michael to suicide. Then, on May 7, 2008, I lost my sister Michele to heart disease.

Both were incredibly tragic losses, and I remember both times going through the motions that so many of us do during the grieving process, which is especially heightened during that first holiday season: the fake smiles and forced responses, the hiding of tears every time a significant Christmas song came on (“Silent Night” still leaves me paralyzed), the desire to stay in bed and that nagging reality that life will never be the same, especially during a season that is supposedly filled with joy.

I also know after living through these difficult times that we as human beings are built to survive the toughest of life’s challenges, even the unexpected loss of a loved one. Shortly after my brother died, my family was contacted by a program that offered free counseling. This non-denominational program, sponsored by Catholic Charities, is called L.O.S.S, or Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide.

Having the support of people who knew exactly what we were going through gave us comfort and, even more important, hope. If you are suffering from depression, loss or any of the many challenges out there, I encourage you, too, to seek comfort from those who share your experience. And if you want to reach out to someone you care about and are not sure what to say, may I suggest: “I can’t imagine what you are feeling, but I want you to know that I am here for you.”

Bottom line: WE is the operative word when it comes to finding healing and hope. Let’s all make a promise to be there for someone who needs us this year.

Monica Pedersen donated her fee for writing this column to Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (L.O.S.S.).

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