Michelle Linn-Gust is, without a doubt, one to persevere through the multitude of hurdles that life can present us. An established woman, Michelle has written several books on grief and bereavement, suicide, and divorce for women. Unsurprisingly, these accomplishments did not come without struggle.
Michelle lost her younger sister, 19, when she was 21 and in college. Her sister had committed suicide. While unexpected and shocking to her and her family, she describes it as a part of a road that she had to travel, a part of her life. It’s been a hardy 21 years since her sister’s death. Yet, Michelle also revels in the idea that her sister’s death does not completely define who she is, in that she is still her own person. At the end of the day, she is neither confined nor consumed by her sister’s death. Rather, she has matured and grown from the experience to make her the impassioned and strong woman she is today.
“I’m a better person than that person,” she asserts, “I wanted to write a book about being a survivor of sibling suicide, and I found that there was no book like that out there. I then wanted to travel the world to talk about suicide prevention, to talk about grieving, to help others.” That person, that being the person who she was before her sister’s death, had evolved and changed for the better—a person who not only moved past her sister’s death, but also embarked on a road of altruism to help others do the same.
However, there are aspects of her sister’s death that she won’t ever understand. “I’ll never truly know why she died by suicide,” she admits, “I have an idea, but I’ll never really know.” Yet, it didn’t stop her from remembering her sister the way she wanted to. Michelle did not only refuse to define herself solely by her sister’s suicide, but she also refused to define her sister solely by her suicide. Michelle moved on by separating the person who died and how that person died—“What people need to do is remember who they were--that’s the actual, integral part of that person.”
So she remembered the best of her sister. And she would retell the story of her sister’s death over and over and over again, relentless in her narration, unyielding in her personal way to move forward. She realized that in her case, talking about her sister’s death was her way to cope, and she refused to shy away from it. She sought out people with whom to talk. People who wanted to talk to her about it sought her. “I had some really good friends who wrote me letters throughout the years, who would be willing to talk about it. Just having the opportunity to tell the story helped me.” Nonetheless, she warns, “You will wear out your friends, but you have to tell it over and over again.” Yet, she is not unaware of the idiosyncrasies of coping with death. “Find a way to grieve that works for you—you may run a lot of miles, you may cycle a lot.” She later adds, “Find a support group; these groups are very good, and you meet other people who have been through the same thing.”
Now, Michelle has written several books on suicide prevention. Commenting on what to do should one consider ending his or her life, she says, “When somebody is on the verge, you should find some help for that person. No one should go through this alone. We have a national suicide lifeline, so you can call it. When you call it, it’ll connect you to the closest local crisis center, and local resources. No one should be alone.” She emphasizes, “They need an opportunity to talk about why they think their life is so bad.”
Furthermore, following her livelihood of not shying away from the subjects of grief, death, and hardships, she ruminates, “We have a tendency to not be with people through the pain, but if you want to make the pain go away, you have to stay with them—just having someone to listen is all they need.” You can do so much with communication, and you can do so much by accompanying those in need of help.
If you need help with suicide, or are struggling with suicide, she stresses, “You should call the crisis line. If you call someone you know, you have to be careful, because they may not know what to do, or are unsure about helping. It’s better if you call someone who is trained to listen. See a psychologist; find a therapist, and counseling, find a resource. You can contact your primary doctor. They may be able to offer a referral, if you think you have a mental disorder, depression. Find someone professionally trained.”
Michelle Linn-Gust has since improved the lives of others. She has moved through helping those with bereavement and suicide to divorcees. While now she focuses on helping women who have had divorces, she nonetheless states, “A lot of what I write about is going forward, a lot about trusting. How do you go forward? How do you go moving forward? These are self-help themes in fiction. I do have a book I am working on for divorced women about going forward.”
However, she doesn’t forget about her roots, and from where her desire to help others stems. She has written books on sibling suicide, helping families cope with grief, helping, healing, and companionship. But above all, in helping others find and set their goals and in helping others attain motivation, she remembers the question that started it all after she moved on after her sister’s death—“I’ve been able to help myself, now how do I help others?”
“Not necessarily how to help with others with grieving—helping people find a direction in their life,” she adds. Michelle Linn-Gust focuses upon the entirety of moving on—the moving on not only after death, but after the slew of obstacles one faces through life, however little or big, trivial or dire. It is, in the end, about never forgetting who you are, and about maintaining the attitude that causes you to pursue any ambition, to endure, and to learn.
Michelle still tells the tale of her sister, and will always remember her. “You have to travel the grief of the loss. The bond is never broken with that person; but it’s about getting used to having them in a different way. It’s an unbroken bond, but a changed bond. You are processing through that person’s memories, but it’s also about making new memories.”