Navigating the Loss of a Child

Bridge Over the River Why

In this episode, I talk with David & Deborah Cooper. Authors of “Bridge Over the River Why” about their experience losing their son Eli to suicide and the birth of Eli’s Place (, which will be Canada’s first long term rural residential treatment centre for emerging adults with mental illness – and learn about the benefits of applying the recovery model in treatment. They are courageous and poignant with their intimate understanding of their journey. You can find their book here – Bridge Over the River Why ( Please let us know what you think!! Peace

Excerpts from the Book & Interview


We believe that our son did not want to die; he just could not go on living. Choosing to end his unbearable pain was his last measure of control. If love could have saved him, our son would be alive today.


In this guide, we offer hope and healing to parents where none may have seemed possible before. We have learned much in these past few years, and have come far on our journey to create a blessing from the darkness of watching a child suffer, and experiencing tragic loss and infinite grief. A child’s death is an instant in time that changes the course of every parent’s life forever. It is the beginning of endlessly questioning why? questions that may never be answered. In these pages, we have tried to bring a modicum of comfort, awareness and a compassionate presence to guide you. We hope to assist you to find courage and resilience within yourself as you cross the The Bridge Over the River Why.

We prayed for strength, understanding, and connection once again. The rhythms of intimacy seem to be absent, and we learned a very hard lesson that the bitter and the sweet each have their seasons. A life has come and gone and nature has not paused a second for it. The world has carried on without us; is this not truly inexplicable?


We go from being a parent to being a bereaved parent, and even that doesn’t accurately describe the depth of our loss. One might use the word surviving parents, which alludes to the trauma. We have not yet found a label to adequately describe the identity of the parents in our society that have lost a child to suicide. Perhaps this inexplicable loss defies description. When our child dies, how do we heal the suffering? How do we balance the grief when death violates nature and the order of the universe? How do we know how to mourn? How do we get our control back?


We found that families who have not had help to understand and make sense of the death are far more likely to get stuck in repetitive talking about the death without resolution. Going over the events in detail allows family members to hear each other’s perspectives, to appreciate that everyone is in pain, and to realize that they may all be at different stages in their grief, with each attributing a different meaning to what has happened.


Eventually we realized that a death by suicide is a result of factors too numerous to count. We thought we needed all the answers in order to cope with our new reality, but in truth we learned the answers were not forthcoming.


It is important to ask why and to consider why, because it is part of the grieving process. However, one finally exhausts all possibilities of discovering the why. A maze has an entrance and an exit, with a complex path between the two, a place where you are challenged to wander to find your way out. Mazes test the navigation and directional capabilities of individuals. In our case, our ‘maze of why’ had an entrance but no exit. Ultimately it was a fruitless search. Sometimes we think that staying in the question of ‘why’ while seeking answers may help us to feel better. However, the real challenge for us was to allow ourselves to actually feel all those emotions that engulfed us. The intensity may change but the hard thing for both of us was to have the courage to feel our feelings, and begin to move toward awareness and healing.


It took a very long time until we came to the realization that we could not have prevented his death.


Eventually, we learned to accept the journey even when we didn’t understand it. We trusted in something that was bigger than ourselves, larger than our own vision, and capable beyond our own hands, which led us toward some semblance of peace. When we let go of our need to know why, our struggle lessened and the healing began.


We learned very early that if we wanted to keep our friends and family, we needed to teach them what we needed. Suicide is unique among losses, and friends and family usually do not have the life experience or the language of loss needed to comprehend the experience. Most do not know how to respond, so they simply don’t, while some may respond inappropriately. Emotional support is very subjective. What feels supportive to one individual may not feel supportive to the next. We found the most effective way to get what we needed was to ask for it.


We will always appreciate a close friend who sat with us shortly after Eli’s death and said, “I care for you so much, but I don’t know what to say. I want to acknowledge your pain and be able to talk to you. How can I help?” We answered, “Don’t be afraid to talk about our loss and use Eli’s name whenever you are with us.” The greatest comfort is an accepting and compassionate presence, someone to nourish your soul.


Give your grief meaning by talking about your feelings. Grief will never end because love will never end. We cannot heal what we cannot feel; talk about your child often, and use his or her name. When you acknowledge your feelings, you are able to begin to move forward. Honour your child’s life, family and yourself by making a commitment to work on your own grief, and thereby move towards healing and growth. Do not ‘should’ yourself or let anyone else ‘should’ you. In fact, consider removing the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary.


Anger is a natural reaction to the unfairness of our loss. Anger has no limits and can extend to family, friends, doctors and yourself. For some, anger can extend to your child, God—in fact at life itself. We learned that anger is an emotional connection from us to our child, as we attempted to hold on and not let go. Anger is a normal part of grief—a bridge of energy across the river of loss. It is known that, in mourning, people experience anger in varying degrees of length and intensity. Anger tells us that we are alive and we love someone very much. We are angry because our child is dead. We found anger was actually progress; it allowed us to feel the profound emotions of grief needed in order to heal. Anger tends to come and go before it is finally resolved. Yes, anger can be resolved. Rather than being held in the grip of prolonged anger, you can choose to deal with this powerful emotion in order to eventually be released from its control. If you hold on to anger for an extended period of time, it can become a stumbling block in your recovery. Even though it is normal to feel anger, it is important to deal with it purposefully and with awareness; resist feeding it with negative thoughts.


Your friends and family may believe that the last thing a bereaved parent would want to talk about is the death of their child. The reverse is almost always true. We needed to talk about the death of our son. Grieving parents need to talk about their tragic loss, to express their sadness, to release their anger, to express their guilt, and have others understand and hear the crying of their soul. They need to confront the reality of what happened to them. Your loss is always right under the surface of other emotions, even moments of happiness. Others need to know that you would rather be moved to tears as they speak your child’s name while remembering them, than be shielded from the pain and live in denial. We


Sometimes the best way for friends and family to respond is to simply express their sympathy and be free to say that they do not know what to say. Statements such as “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I too, am sad and I wish I could do more” or “We are praying for you and thinking of you,” are just fine. They are truthful, honest, and direct.

Moving Mountains

“I have had to join the club that I cannot ever leave, but this club is full of the most shining souls I have ever known. The survivors of suicide I have met over the course of a decade have become instrumental in re-shaping my new life; they are the life changers, the game changers, relentless warriors who re-define the word ‘brave’. Every day survivors move mountains in honour of their loved ones who have gone too soon. They have started movements, changed laws, and spearheaded crusades of tireless activism. They have learned to alchemize their grief into a force to be reckoned with. They have turned tragedy into transformation and loss into legacy.” Sandi Roher, Suicide loss survivor

Supporting Salespeople’s Mental Health in the Workplace

Over the past five years, there has been a lot of “talk” and promotion surrounding the value of mental health in the workplace. The question we want to understand is; why are things not getting better? And, how do we move from talking into action?

The large marketing campaigns about mental health can inspire, but only for a short period of time. Our optimism is restricted because the talk is limited to special days and occasions throughout the year. We need to move beyond talking and show people and organizations how to navigate this troublesome situation.

People’s fear of being honest about their mental health feeds a pattern of stigma and avoidance. No one wants to talk and no one wants to listen.

92% of people with mental health conditions believe that admitting these conditions in the workplace would damage their career. (Delloite)

But can you blame them?

56% of people would not employ an individual who had a history of depression, even if they were the most suitable candidate. (Delloite)

No one is to blame. Developing the courage to face your suffering is difficult. Add the discomfort of accepting the suffering of someone else and knowing how to help them, is one part of this complex situation.

We seem to be losing our ability to understand our emotions, thoughts, and how to communicate those to others. The solution lies in reducing the fear of opening up, which can only happen once we develop the awareness and the knowledge of how to do so.

Why Start With Sales

The World Economic Forum estimates that mental health problems will cost the global economy approximately $6 trillion by 2030. Action is needed and prioritizing the mental health of your sales team is a good place for your organization to start. Here is why.

Salespeople, more than other employees, face constant pressure to perform. Their days are filled with rejection, anxiety, stress, endorphin rushes and mood swings.

A deal will close one minute and the next, a “sure thing deal” falls through. Newer salespeople may feel overwhelming dejection, while tenured salespeople tend to dive back into their pipeline trying to rescue or chase down lost revenue.

All to reach that ultimate goal – achieving target and the lucrative commission cheques that come with it.

It’s exciting, intoxicating and emotionally exhausting even for the most hardened sales veterans. We suspect this environment impacts salespeople struggling with their mental health more compared to the average employee.

The mental health spectrum helps us understand how the mental health of a salesperson can fluctuate on a daily basis. At any point throughout the day, week, month, etc, we can move across this spectrum. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness can help to navigate the stress of working in sales.

Without the proper awareness, behaviour and support system the daily stresses of sales can lead to a variety of challenges for any organization.

These are common problems related to mental health that are gaining more attention and that negatively impact workplace performance. (World Health Organization).

  • Absenteeism:
    • Increase in overall sickness, absence.
    • Poor health (depression, stress, burnout).
    • Physical conditions (high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, sleep disorders, skin rashes, headache, neck and back ache, low resistance to infections).
  • Presenteeism – Work Performance:
    • Reduction in productivity and output.
    • Increase in error rates.
    • Increased in accidents.
    • Poor decision making.
    • Deteriorating planning and control of work.
  • Staff attitude and behaviour:
    • Loss of motivation and commitment.
    • Burnout.
    • Working longer hours but diminishing returns.
    • Poor timekeeping.
    • High turnover.
  • Relationships at Work:
    • Tension and conflicts between colleagues.
    • Poor relationships with clients.
    • Increase disciplinary problems.

Now, the pressure salespeople face need not be a hindrance. Stress and pressure push salespeople to achieve great things – but too much causes them to breakdown.

According to a Nationwide survey by Morneau Shepell, 83% of Canadians believe stress itself is not universally negative, asserting that workplace stress can be positive or negative depending on how the workplace supports and responds to the employee.

The National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, further supported this claim:

“Workplaces with a positive approach to psychological health and safety on average are better able to recruit and retain talented workers, have improved worker engagement, enhanced productivity, are more creative and innovative, and have higher profit levels”

Data shows the benefit of addressing Mental Health, but 77% of Canadians still do not feel comfortable talking about it in the workplace.

How can this be? Why is this number still so high?

Stigma and the lack of skilled training prevent the creation of mental health programs at scale. The purpose of our work is to create solutions to these barriers and to soften the clutch of silence that is common in the competitive ‘Sales Culture’.

Salespeople can never be weak, depressed, sick or miss target if they want success – they must be infallible. Any sign of vulnerability is often viewed as a direct sign of weakness. It is hard to be honest when your career is so closely linked to your performance.

When salespeople fall behind their forecasts, there is a tendency to forget that they are a colleague and are treated more like a number on a dashboard.

They are pushed, pulled and stretched to perform with little consideration of this stress on their wellbeing. Empathy towards their personal struggles is overlooked because the company must meet target – no matter what.

The Sales Floor

In our highly connected world, we are losing our ability to pause, slow down and have meaningful conversations with each other. It seems that we can’t even acknowledge that we are lost in unawareness.

The recent rise in open office concepts has not brought about the increased communication and employee engagement it was purported to. Read more in this fascinating study from Harvard.

Open environments are not new to sales. There has always been the “sales bullpen” or “sales floor” that carries infectious energy when salespeople are pitching. With the walls down, privacy is restricted and everyone must be “ON” all the time.

These days conversations with customers, managers and colleagues rarely happen face to face. They’ve been replaced by digital communication under the assumption of improved productivity. These tools turn human experience into emoticons and remove non-verbal communication.

The digital channels create more problems than they solve. According to some research up to 80% of human interaction is done through non-verbal cues that only occur in face to face interactions. It is no wonder that when mental health challenges arise, individuals feel lonely as they are left to confide in a hug emoji.

Workplaces can benefit from creating opportunities to have difficult face to face conversations onsite.

One primary benefit of dialogue is practicing how to think through problems. Salespeople will benefit greatly from these discussions because they can learn how to regain perspective and balance their mental health after stressful moments throughout the day.

Without these opportunities, salespeople often turn to after-work trips to the bar where they can vent and decompress. However beneficial a pint with friends can be, it is rarely conducive to solving emotional and psychological problems.

It can be difficult to have a thorough understanding of how these suppressed emotions and fluctuations in mental health are draining productivity, engagement and retention.

What to Do? Where to Start?

Sales organizations that acknowledge and action change around mental health stigma have the opportunity to unlock their sales teams full potential.

Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers has shown an average of 230% return on every dollar invested in creating a mentally healthy workplace. This represents a 33% decrease in absenteeism, presenteeism and disability claims.

The Mental Health Commission also confirmed their research and stated improving mental health in the workplace can decrease productivity losses by as much as 30%.

Sales productivity, engagement and employee retention is connected to revenue generation more so than any other function. In addition – Sales KPIs are measured closely, which means efforts to improve mental health in salespeople can be measured through the same metrics.

We must create experiential learning opportunities to help salespeople cultivate their innate capacity to be resilient, mentally fit, and self-aware. The Sales Health Institute  and Starts With Me have partnered to create mental health training programs for salespeople to do exactly that. We teach practices to help reduce short and long-term disabilities claims, absenteeism and presenteeism within sales.

Motivating our work is a sincere desire to help people become healthier human beings and ultimately to create a more prosperous and cohesive world. Drawing from our personal and professional experience, we have put every ounce of effort to bring forth a program that can change lives. We hope to meet and work alongside you on this journey.

If you’re interested in exploring our mental health workshop for your sales team or organization please get in touch.

This is a co-authored article by Mike Stroh & Jeff Riseley

Learn More

We’d love to hear your thoughts about mental health in the workplace. Please let us know or contact us for more information about our work.

Starts With Me | Workplace Mental Health

From Mental Health Struggles to Purpose Driven Entrepreneurship

Meet Amanda and David. Two lovely humans who discuss their work in mental health advocacy and how they are creating a business through their passion and experience!

Amanda Lederle

Amanda Lederle is the creator of CreateBeing. A company that focuses on mental health awareness through mindfulness and creative expression. As an Artist, Amanda collaborates with people to tell their mental health stories through printed digital art on home decor, stationery, and apparel. This gives people an opportunity to see and use their stories in a new way. See more of what CreateBeing does on their website ( and follow them on Instagram. Check out their event calendar for workshops and community engagements. Amanda works with her business partner and husband, David. They both live in Toronto with their chinchilla, Chewbacca.

David Lederle

David Lederle works with his wife and business partner at CreateBeing, a company focused on spreading mental health awareness through creative expression. He has a background in Mathematics, Teaching and I.T. In his free time, David loves playing puzzles (Kakuro is his favourite) and listening to music.

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