The Forgotten Mourners — Disenfranchised Grief of Siblings Bereaved by Suicide: Interview with Dr. Lena Heilmann | Episode 46


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Editor of “Still with Us: Voices of Sibling Suicide Loss,” Dr. Lena Heilmann joins me for our shared reflection on the experience of losing a brother or sister to suicide. We speak about how in this form of loss, siblings experience losing their past, present and future. Lena also suggests many strategies for coping with the grief and trauma of suicide loss.

On November 22, 2012, Lena lost her sister Danielle to suicide. Seven years later, she is turning that tremendous grief into energy to help other siblings who have experienced suicide loss. Her book is an anthology of sibling loss stories, organized by time since loss. She says “there is no gatekeeping on what it means to be a sibling,” meaning meaning a sibling is defined as anyone (a cousin, a friend, a relative, a family member through marriage, a soul connection, etc.) who fills a sibling role in our lives.

Reading reminded me of my journey of losing Carson from:

  • Feeling like I lost a part of myself

  • Later grieving the lost dreams I had imagined of us raising families together in Colorado

  • Still later I experienced survival guilt because I have learned so much about suicide since his death

  • Now I miss his presence greatly with the transitions I face in my life.

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I was so honored when Lena asked me to be one of the storytellers in her book. Together with many other sibling survivors, we are holding honor guard, as my friend Sarah Gaer calls it, for our loved ones by honoring their lives and sharing our stories. Many of us carry forward our loved one’s legacy and help others, so that we can make meaning out of our unimaginable loss.

In this podcast, Lena and I discuss many topics including the connection between suicide and trauma and the importance of storytelling in cutting through the loneliness of suicide grief.

About Dr. Lena Heilmann

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Lena Heilmann lost her sister Danielle to suicide in 2012. In response to this traumatic loss and as a way to honor her sister, Lena transitioned to the world of suicide prevention. In her work and volunteer roles, Lena centers her lived experience and identity as a sibling suicide loss survivor. Her recent project is a collection of essays titled Still With Us: Voices of Sibling Suicide Loss Survivors (forthcoming), which includes 23 essays written by sibling suicide loss survivors. These essays share a common message: No matter how much time passes, our siblings are still with us.

Lena left the world of academia where she taught as a college professor in the areas of German studies, English, and gender, so she could work in suicide prevention full time. I have come to know and admire her work, strength and thoughtfulness through our shared tenure on the board of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado. We are also proud graduates of Regis University’s Masters in Nonprofit Management program. 

Twitter: @LenaSchatz

Contact email related to book:

Show Notes

Heilmann, L. (Ed.) (Forthcoming). Still with us: Voices of sibling suicide loss survivors. Atlanta, GA: BDI Publishers.


Cerel, J., Brown, M. M., Maple, M., Singleton, M., Venne, J. V., Moore, M., & Flaherty, C. (2018). How Many People Are Exposed to Suicide? Not Six. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 1-6.

Halous DeSousa, M. (2012). The forgotten mourners: Sibling survivors of suicide. Outskirts Press.

Linn-Gust, M. (2001). Do they have bad days in Heaven? Surviving the suicide loss of a sibling. Roswell, GA: Balton Press Atlanta. 

Linn-Gust, M., & Cerel, J. (2011). Seeking hope: Stories of the suicide bereaved. Albuquerque, NM: Chellehead Works.

Wray, T. J. (2003). Surviving the death of a sibling: Living through grief when an adult brother or sister dies. New York, NY: three Rivers Press. 

Weinstock, C. P., & NPR. (2017, August 25). After a suicide, sibling survivors are often overlooked. Retrieved from news/2017/aug/25/after-a-suicide-sibling-survivors-are-often

Suicide Prevention Organizations

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) –

American Association of Suicidology (AAS) –

Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado

Resources for Supporting Lived Experience

Live Through This –

The Mighty – 

Speaking of Suicide –

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Regis University’s Masters in Nonprofit Management Program:

Trauma and Suicide:

Storytelling and Healing from Experiences with Suicide and Suicidal Despair:

Ritual and Suicide Grief:

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