Health & Fitness:Mental Health
Katie Thornton MSW, LCSW Loss of her Father S4 E2
My guest is Katie Thornton, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and EMDR trained therapist, licensed in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Maine, North Dakota, Texas, Nevada, and Wyoming.
Katie has extensive experience working with individuals, families, and groups through a variety of challenging circumstances. Katie believes that change happens when people are given the support they need to draw on their strengths and realize their potential to live fulfilling and happy lives.
Katie provides both counseling and assessment services for children, adolescents, adults, and veterans. She approaches both services as healing processes, helping answer deep-seated questions that individuals might have. With a passion for supporting neurodiversity, Katie provides an environment of compassion and support to help individuals and families learn and thrive.Get in Touch with Katie
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[00:00:00] Elaine Lindsay: And it's good to be here once again. So, uh, without further ado, I'm going to go ahead and bring Katie up on stage. Hello? Hello. Hi, uh, again. I will say thank you very much for joining me on the show. It's always, difficult to start the show in a positive way because we are often talking about things that are painful.
Mm-hmm. and, , I, I'm going to let you. Tell your story starting where you will. Mm-hmm. . Cause I think that's really important and you can, you can go ahead and I'll pop in when it's appropriate. Okay. Okay.
[00:00:54] Katie Thornton: So my name's Katie. I am here because I lost my dad to [00:01:00] suicide. I was a freshman in high. So we're actually coming up on 20 years this year in March.
So it's kind of like a big milestone moment, I guess. But yeah, I did lose my dad back in March of 2023, or sorry, 20 of oh three. So 20 years ago, March 18th. . It's been a, a rough road, but I think I'm kind of in this place now and it took me a lot of, a lot of work and a lot of time where I'm like in this post-traumatic growth stage where for the longest time it kind of shaped who I was, but not in a positive way.
I'm from a very small town, so everyone in my town knew me and knew my family, and knew my dad. They knew what happened. . So it kind of became my identity in high school. But it's not the identity that I wanted to live my life as, so I [00:02:00] worked really hard and it, it was a journey , that's for sure. Where there are times that I maybe looks like I was kind of like running away from the situation to create my, my new identity of whatever my identity was outside of that girl that lost her dad to suicide.
but I think that I found her over time, . And going through it defined me in a negative way to like, it has shaped me and it has motivated me and pushed me to where I am and who I am today. So I am a licensed therapist now, and I have no doubt that that's why I'm in the path that I'm went on. I developed like this sense of travel and adventure, which I.
is also part of what, I don't know, it was like part of my journey of discovering myself and who I was, cuz I would go and travel out on my own. So it was just me and my thoughts and my myself [00:03:00] of figuring out who I was. So I think it helped, it helped me to figure out who, who Katie truly is. Like just Katie by herself, who is she?
And I think that that helped me a lot. . Well, I, I have to interject there because just that like, I hope you give yourself enough credit or how, how together that was mm-hmm. , because as a teenager , we don't always react to things really well and, and smaller, much smaller things than, than losing your dad.
[00:03:40] Elaine Lindsay: Right. It, it had to be very difficult, especially in a small town because everybody does know what's going on with everyone else. Yep. Are you an only child?
[00:03:51] Katie Thornton: No, I have a younger brother. He is three years younger than me, so it's the two of. , we have very different lives. . You would think that we have [00:04:00] different parents and grew up in different houses, but yep.
Here we are. Same parents, same house . Yeah. It's, it's funny how we can be that different. My sister was five years younger than me. Mm-hmm. and chalk and cheese . Other, other than, you know, the family ResSem. We were absolutely nothing alike, . But how old were you when you first traveled on your own? I was, it was after college, after my undergrad.
So I went to college at 18 and I intentionally picked a university where basically no one from my high school was going. I think two people from my class went. , I mean, isn't that many? So I was like, okay, I'm fine with that. So I intentionally picked a college that no one else was going to, so no one else would know me.
I ended up transferring two years in and I [00:05:00] ended up transferring to the school that most of my high school went to . But it's, I mean, it's a large school. It's, it's Ohio State, so it's a large school, so Oh, yeah. I saw plenty of people from high school, but I also made a lot of connections outside of my high school.
So it was good. And then I graduated from college in 2010, and then in 2012 I moved to Korea and I lived there for two years. , and that's where like my traveling really started is any long weekend or any break that I had from work, I would go to another country. And then when my, I did that for the two years, so 2014 I was working on my master's and I had to come home for my internship basically.
But instead of coming straight home, I took the long way around and traveled around Southeast Asia and traveled Oh wow. For like three months. I got back in 2014, but I did three months of traveling at that time. Oh, wow. Were [00:06:00] you an adventurous child? I think it's always been in me. I like to, I, I mean, I grew up camping and sailing and all of that with my, my dad was a sailor, so that's what we would do all summer.
Every summer was go to the lake and we would camp and we would, would sail or get, we had a power boat too, so we did those. As a kid our traveling as children always kind of revolved around my dad's sailing. Ah, okay. So it's not like we did a lot of international travel or anything like that. So it was around either sailing or soccer cuz I played soccer.
So Uhhuh it was that. So I think it was always kind of in me, but it looked different because of life situations and I didn't have the power and the say or the money to go where I wanted to go as. . Yeah. It's a little different when you're a kid because you, you are at the mercy of your parents mm-hmm.
Right. Right. And what it is they wanna do. For sure. [00:07:00] Did your father compete in sailing mm-hmm. , or was it just He did. He did. Yeah, he did. He did. Every Sunday. . Wow. Ooh, okay. . That's it's a, it's a, a huge community, the sailing community. Mm-hmm. , but it's a, it's a very it's very different. , let's say from land lovers.
Mm-hmm. . Yeah. It's a very, very different community. Yes. and, and your mom. Mm-hmm. . How did this affect your mom at the time? I think, I mean, her and I have talked about it a little bit, and I won't totally speak for her, but I think it was a rough time. They were, they were still married, they were still together.
It. In our house that it happened. So it was, I mean, I don't know. I, it would be really, really hard. I can't imagine to lose your husband is one thing, [00:08:00] obviously. So she lost her husband. She lost the father of children. Of her children. And then so navigating, how do you, how do you grieve that loss but still show up for your kids?
And I don't know how she did. . She did it , but I don't know how it is. I would imagine a very, very hard juggle to have to, to have to juggle, so, oh my God. Yeah. We thankfully have a, a lot of really amazing supports between friends or family. So I think that that is the number one way that we all kind of got through it is, I mean, the night that it happened, we probably had 25 people all there.
whether it be help take care of us or help take care of her, help take care of the house or him, or whatever the case may, may be. They were there the next day to be like, okay, my, my dad was the one that made the most money. So finances were, were a struggle and we didn't have [00:09:00] life, life insurance. Oh.
Right. So figuring out like, how do we navigate this whole thing financially? So she had friends show up and like, here's this application, here's what you need to do. Mm-hmm. , I will do it. This is what I'm doing. So I had a lot of people really take the reins on things and help us out. Oh, thank God for that.
[00:09:21] Elaine Lindsay: Cuz that doesn't always happen. Right?
[00:09:23] Katie Thornton: No, we were very, very fortunate that we have, we have a good team. Mm-hmm. . And it must be a good small town too. It, it is. I have my moments on how I feel about it. Yeah.
but there, there are definitely good things that have come out of it.
[00:09:41] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah. I, I think that, I think that's normal.
I think we all have mixed feelings about where we grew up and mm-hmm. and the people around us. It is of course, harder when you go through something traumatic, especially in high school.
[00:09:57] Katie Thornton: Right.
[00:09:59] Elaine Lindsay: You know, it, it's [00:10:00] hard for, it's hard for younger children and, and I'm, I'm sure it was very hard for your brother as well, but being in high school, on top of it being an awkward time as a human being, right.
There's all those hormones and, and you know, as you said, you didn't know who Katie was.. and this certainly didn't help.
[00:10:24] Katie Thornton: Right.
[00:10:24] Elaine Lindsay: But you're to be commended because not all of us who had a loss in our teenage years chose a good path or, or chose any path for that matter. Mm-hmm. in some cases because some people freeze.
Some people hide. Some people. , take the bull by the horns and, and mm-hmm. , go on and live their life. And, and you obviously did that, which I think is quite incredible. Yeah. Yeah. And also speaks to probably the, the strength of your mom. Mm-hmm. [00:11:00] did, was there, was there any indication, like, do you, you ever ask yourself, did you see something in your dad?
[00:11:13] Katie Thornton: I knew that night. Oh, we were we were supposed to go, well, we weren't, I wasn't going to go, but I ended up being in the car somehow, . We were supposed, the circus was in town, so we were supposed to be going to the circus that night.
[00:11:26] Elaine Lindsay: Okay.
[00:11:26] Katie Thornton: And there was like a whole thing of events that happened that day in that evening before going, so I ended up, I'm like, fine, I'll just go with everybody too.
and he was in the car, but he was still upset about the things that happened before. And he actually got out of the car and started to walk home.
[00:11:46] Elaine Lindsay: Oh.
[00:11:46] Katie Thornton: And my brother was like, let's go to the circus. I'm like, Nope. We're go like, we need to go home. And my mom knew we needed to go home. So I knew, and that's not the first time I knew like he had been in the hospital before.
Not that it had always been [00:12:00] communicated with me. Yeah. On that I. . I also knew at that time that there was something going on, whether I knew the extent of it or not, I don't, I don't know. But I knew something was going on, but I knew that night that things were not normal and not okay. And that we needed it to go home.
[00:12:19] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah. Yeah. And, and that in itself were you closer to your dad than your. mom?
[00:12:27] Katie Thornton: My dad was always my coach for soccer, so we spent a lot of time together for sports. My mom and I are still very similar on a lot of things and I think that that caused a lot of tension and a lot of issues growing up. Yeah. My mom is my best friend now as an adult and everything, so I don't, I mean, I probably was closer with my dad cuz I just spent more time with him. with soccer and everything.
[00:12:56] Elaine Lindsay: But the reason I asked is because [00:13:00] often when it's children, if you are very close to the parent that you lose, you do have thesenot premonitions, but maybe feelings ahead of time.
[00:13:13] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm. ,
[00:13:13] Elaine Lindsay: even, even when you don't know as a child, you, you know, there's so. .
[00:13:19] Katie Thornton: Right.
[00:13:19] Elaine Lindsay: You may not be able to articulate it.
[00:13:21] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm. ,
[00:13:23] Elaine Lindsay: but that does make it difficult. And one of the reasons that I do this podcast is because I, I want us all to end the silence and, and deal with the stigma and the shame that people go through,
[00:13:40] Katie Thornton: right.
[00:13:41] Elaine Lindsay: Because, You lose a loved one. It does not matter to me how it happened. Mm-hmm. , you, you are suffering a loss of someone that you loved and
[00:13:51] Katie Thornton: Right.
[00:13:51] Elaine Lindsay: And that's what we need to remember.
[00:13:54] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm. ,
what was your dad's first name?
[00:13:58] Elaine Lindsay: Mike, okay. [00:14:00] That's, that's I don't know. It's something that I've always asked people because I think it's important to. To give voice to the names of those we've lost.
[00:14:11] Katie Thornton: No, I agree. I agree. I like making sure when I'm working with other people and talking to people that we are using their names too, so I like it.
[00:14:24] Elaine Lindsay: And do you have children?
[00:14:26] Katie Thornton: I do. I have two.
[00:14:28] Elaine Lindsay: Okay. And what are your thoughts on age appropriate for children when. As a therapist.
[00:14:38] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm.
[00:14:39] Elaine Lindsay: when do you believe it's a good time to share? Like, maybe not in excessive detail, but share that you've lost someone?
[00:14:49] Katie Thornton: So, I mean, our kids are young, so I have a four, she'll be five in March, and then the other one is four months, so she's still itty bitty.
[00:15:00] Our four year old. . She, well, she looks at pictures of my dad and she, yeah, looks at him. She knows that that's her grandpa. She'll ask like, what's his name? Cuz she knows, like she knows that my mom is her grandma, but she doesn't call her grandma. So I let her name him cuz she's. also their first grandkid.
So I'm like, you get to, you get to name him, what do you wanna call him? So she calls him Pop Pop. She has pictures of him. She has her favorite pictures of him. She does ask, she has asked before, like where he is or if she can see him or visit him or something. I can't remember how it all happened exactly, but she has asked where he is.
and the conversation kind of threw me off guard at first cuz I'm like, you're two and a half where, why are you asking where pop pop is . Yeah. But we've gone to, and I think every family's gonna be different on how they handle the conversation and yeah, granted our [00:16:00] family is not super religious or anything like that, but I don't know.
The first thing that kind of came to both of us, cuz her other grandpa has also passed. . So the first thing that kinda came to both of us is like, your grandpas are in heaven. Yeah. And right now that's good enough for her. And she's like, yeah, they're in heaven. They're happy. So cuz we've had the conversation too of like, we've lost our dog.
So we've had to, to explain what happens and like why that's where her dog is. So then she's like, , our dog is with pop Pop, like they're having fun. So it gives her like that sense of peace and comfort, I guess. I don't know. And content. That's where, yeah, that's where we are with the conversation right now is pop, pop is in heaven.
And that's all she really knows. And that's all she's really asked. I'm sure that as she gets older she might ask more questions. . And I think that it's important too that at some point, whenever that point is, and I don't know when that's gonna be, , it is gonna be [00:17:00] important for her to to know at least a little bit.
She doesn't need to know the details if she doesn't want to kind of thing. But I think family history is important in mental health is part of her family history and our medical history. So at some point I think it is gonna be important for her to know. I just don't know when that time is gonna be yet.
We're just playing our cards as she throws them at us a absolutely.
[00:17:23] Elaine Lindsay: And that's actually why I asked because. , we are seeing kids younger and younger, not, not only not understanding
[00:17:33] Katie Thornton: mm-hmm. ,
[00:17:34] Elaine Lindsay: but not understanding the thoughts in their own brains.
[00:17:37] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:37] Elaine Lindsay: And the fact that we don't talk about it, we need to bring it out so kids know. Not every thought that runs through your head.
[00:17:45] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:45] Elaine Lindsay: is real. Or, or is true. And, and sometimes we, we can talk about those things now. and allow you to get that out of the way and, and not, [00:18:00] I don't wanna say cover up, but
[00:18:01] Katie Thornton: mm-hmm. ,
[00:18:02] Elaine Lindsay: you know, not, not push it aside.
[00:18:05] Katie Thornton: Right. Right.
[00:18:06] Elaine Lindsay: It's, it's important for, for us to acknowledge all of our mental health
[00:18:12] Katie Thornton: mm-hmm.
[00:18:12] Elaine Lindsay: and the fact that, you know, people in the family have gone through something, and you know, after P T S D affects so many people for so many reasons. I think it's really important that kids understand that as well.
[00:18:30] Katie Thornton: Yes, I think this kid is definitely a therapist child because we're very big on using our words and she's very big on her feelings.
[00:18:39] Elaine Lindsay: Oh, that's good. That's good. , you probably don't think so all the time,
[00:18:46] Katie Thornton: but not all the time. There are times that it can be challenging as a parent. But then I just remind myself of like, we want strong, independent women and that's what we're raising her to be, and. . It'll all be good. [00:19:00] It'll all be good for her in the long run.
[00:19:02] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah. Yeah. There are challenge, there are definitely challenging days with children, for sure. . But I wanted, I wanted to say, and, and do you, do you think your, your father's death led you down the path of your career? or was it something you, it wasn't something you were leaning towards prior?
[00:19:29] Katie Thornton: I was always thinking about being in the field of like working with people and helping people.
So yes, in that aspect that's always been a thing. But specifically working on therapy and mental health? No. No, I think his death and the way that he did die is absolutely what pushed me into the mental health direction of helping people and working with people.. Because I was looking more like the medical side and the medical aspect, but after that I was like, no, that's [00:20:00] not the route that I want to go.
[00:20:01] Elaine Lindsay: I, it's, it's a very double edge sword that we have to live through these things to have full empathy for others who are going through these things.
[00:20:15] Katie Thornton: Right.
[00:20:15] Elaine Lindsay: And, and that makes you. very good therapist because you, you understand, right?
[00:20:22] Katie Thornton: I think, I mean, it definitely, it definitely gives me kind of that benefit is I've been through something too.
So yes, it gives that relatability and I, I say that all the time when I'm meeting with potential clients is like I can have the entire alphabet behind my name and I can have all the degrees and all the certificates and all the training in the. , but if you feel like I can't relate to you or I don't understand you, or you just don't like my personality, cuz that's a big thing too, I'm not the right therapist for you because that relationship between a therapist and a client is so [00:21:00] important and that is gonna be more important and more impactful and lead to more success than having the whole alphabet behind my name.
[00:21:11] Elaine Lindsay: Absolutely. I totally agree with. and it's, it's interesting cuz I've had this discussion about the medical field in general. . Mm-hmm. , I firmly believe that doctors, all doctors need to go through the process of surgery before you can fully understand how to be a good surgeon.
[00:21:34] Katie Thornton: Right, right.
[00:21:35] Elaine Lindsay: You know, and, and the same for dentists.
And I think it's really important for you to be able to have had that, that knowledge, that understanding, so that you can be much more empathetic.
[00:21:52] Katie Thornton: Right. No, I agree. I agree.
[00:21:54] Elaine Lindsay: And it will resonate, I'm sure, with your clients as well. Yeah, yeah. [00:22:00] And you have a, you have a rather broad based practice as well.
[00:22:06] Katie Thornton: I've definitely been in a lot of different areas throughout my career for sure.
Whether it be in working with children, working with families, working in schools, working in child protection. So I've definitely been in a variety of areas and then also working in like nonprofits or community mental health agencies. Oh, okay. So, and then private practices. And then I have just recently gone out on my own.
So now that I'm out on my own, I am being a little bit more like strict and narrow about what I take and like really honing in on my skillset and my area of expertise and all of. So now that I'm on my own, I am being a little bit more picky and strict about who I'm working with, but I feel like I kind of can be, and that's how I'm gonna be the most successful, is just really absolutely honing in on my, my [00:23:00] strengths.
[00:23:00] Elaine Lindsay: Absolutely. Because when, when that's what you bring to the table, then that's where you can be most effective. Absolutely.
[00:23:07] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:09] Elaine Lindsay: on that note we talked briefly before this about some, I think, I think it's exciting upcoming news.
[00:23:19] Katie Thornton: Yeah.
[00:23:20] Elaine Lindsay: What is it you're going to be doing in March?
[00:23:22] Katie Thornton: No, I am excited about it.
It's something that I have been wanting to do for a, a while in. life kept happening. So it hasn't happened yet, but it's going to, in March, I am going to start a group for people that have lost someone to suicide and working on helping people to find that strength again after losing a loved one to suicide and, and helping them through that process and that journey.
And I think in the mental health world, we always say it's okay to not be. Yeah, and that's absolutely true. Like it is okay for us to not have good days all the time because that's reality. Mm-hmm. , [00:24:00] we're human beings. And I feel like the other thing, especially with a suicide loss, is reminding people that it's also okay to be okay.
[00:24:10] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah.
[00:24:11] Katie Thornton: Because we have so much guilt, I think when it comes to suicide of like they were obviously in this not so good head space and that's where they were. And they were clearly struggling and battling and. fighting with themselves internally. So I think sometimes when we, we work through that grief, grief is hard and it's complicated and there's all these different things.
Yeah. And then when we get to that acceptance stage of grief, we can also be like, Ooh. Then there's this guilt of I shouldn't be okay. I shouldn't just be like going and living my happy life when. This person was going through all these terrible things and this is what happened. Like how can I, how can I be okay and live my life and be happy and excited?
So you feel guilty? And I [00:25:00] think it's a normal part of grief, especially with the suicide grief.
[00:25:04] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah.
[00:25:04] Katie Thornton: And I also want people to know that like, it's okay to still like be happy and excited about life. .
[00:25:12] Elaine Lindsay: And another piece to that is there is no timeframe.
[00:25:20] Katie Thornton: No, there's not a timeline on on grief, unfortunately. And just because there's the stages of grief and you've gone through the stages of grief.
doesn't mean that it's not gonna come back up for you another time. Life events seem to bring that grief back up where it's like, I've already gone through these things, so why am I going through, like, why am I depressed again? I was, I went through depression. Mm-hmm. . So why am I depressed? But life events seem to bring.
those things back up.
[00:25:50] Elaine Lindsay: I totally agree. I I've often thought it's kind of like a merry-go-round. Mm-hmm. , I, I don't wanna get back on, [00:26:00] but it's there and, and it's attached to me and there are things that. that are part of my history. Mm-hmm. and, and you find yourself sometimes right back on there.
[00:26:11] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm. . Yeah.
[00:26:15] Elaine Lindsay: I know that over the years that's, that's been a, a common question for people is, well, how long is too long? Like, or How short is too short? And, and I think it's really important that we reinforce the fact. , everybody is individual.
[00:26:37] Katie Thornton: Mm-hmm. . Absolutely. It's gonna look different for everybody. Yeah. And it's gonna feel different for everybody.
[00:26:42] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah.
[00:26:43] Katie Thornton: And I mean, you can go back to the fact that my brother and I are in the same family and the same household, and we had the same like upbringing, but we grieved differently. And that doesn't mean that either one of us grieved right or wrong. No. We grieved the way that we needed to grieve at that.[00:27:00]
and, and that's a really super point. There is no right or wrong.
[00:27:07] Elaine Lindsay: to grief. It just is however it is for you.
[00:27:13] Katie Thornton: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:27:16] Elaine Lindsay: And, and that's the other reason that I do the podcast is because we found that in sharing your story, it can somewhat lighten your. and can give you the opportunity to sometimes bolster the good memories and remember to say their names.
[00:27:40] Katie Thornton: Right. No, I think , I think it can be really empowering to share your story because there is so much stigma and there's so much judgment and negativity around mental health and around suicide specifically. . Where II think that there's times that we can be shamed for,
[00:27:58] Elaine Lindsay: yeah.
[00:27:59] Katie Thornton: For our [00:28:00] lives and our stories and our journeys, but when you go through it and you finally find your voice to be able to share your story and know that it can actually impact other people in yes, really positive ways.
It is also really empowering and therapeutic to just like get it out of you so it helps you and it can help other. .
[00:28:21] Elaine Lindsay: Yeah. And sometimes that's the, just that extra incentive you need. Mm-hmm. to deal with. Another little piece of your grief is to share your story.
[00:28:32] Katie Thornton: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:28:35] Elaine Lindsay: So is there something you would like to leave the audience?
That either something you find useful, something that, that you tell your clients, something that's intrinsically you.
[00:28:53] Katie Thornton: Ooh, I don't know. That's a hard one. I mean, [00:29:00] I do remind my clients like making, making yourself a. Especially as like as a parent you still have to put yourself first. And I know not everyone agrees with that, but we do have to make ourselves a priority so that we can take care of ourselves and we can show up the best way that we can show up in all of our other areas of life.
And then I also do, I like to, especially when it's suicide and those that have lost someone to suicide, is just reminding them that it is okay to be okay and it's okay to be happy and excited about life again. because that's what you deserve.
[00:29:41] Elaine Lindsay: That was beautifully said, Katie. Thank you so much.
[00:29:44] Katie Thornton: Of course.
[00:29:47] Elaine Lindsay: I really appreciate Katie Thornton being with us today, and I look forward to perhaps talking with you again, Katie.
[00:29:56] Katie Thornton: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:29:58] Elaine Lindsay: I'm Elaine Lindsay. This is [00:30:00] Suicide Zen Forgiveness. As per always make the very best of your today, every day.
I look forward to seeing you next time. Bye for now.
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