September is National Suicide Prevention month. Usually the focus is on those at risk as is appropriate; but, what if you’ve lost someone to suicide? I’d like to address the loss experienced by those who are still living.
Literally, complicated grief. We have the grief and loss experienced by those who lose someone by death, but then there are the questions – Why? Why didn’t I see it? Why couldn’t I stop it? Why didn’t they tell me? Why did they think that was the only answer? How do I get that image out of my head? The questions seem to be never ending and repetitive. There are millions of unanswered questions. I know. I lost my brother to suicide.
My brother didn’t want anyone to know. He ended his life. He didn’t leave a note and it would be 4 months before we knew what happened. It was a week after we filed a missing a person report that his car was found. After several search parties were conducted it would still be several months before his body was found. To say that that time and grief was difficult, or a struggle, is not enough. There aren’t words that I feel express the depth of these feelings. Shortly after the memorial service for my brother I told someone that my heart felt like hamburger. It was all ground up – raw. It was all there but in too many pieces.
Seeing stories on suicide, like the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who had both struggled with depression, and all the content around them makes me sad. I know mental health professionals would say, “the stories don’t ‘make’ you sad”, I suppose that’s true but if I hadn’t seen them I wouldn’t be experiencing this sad feeling related to the suicide I survived. I would have had a different day – my thoughts would have been on something else. I would not have had to manage my feelings around the event – again. “Managing” might simply be acknowledging the feeling - yes it’s sad, I feel for that family, those friends, etc. and then I go about my day – or it might have more of an impact and take more time and energy to keep focused on other things.
Let me just say – feeling sad isn’t bad. As healthy people, we have pleasant and unpleasant feelings. We each manage these in various ways and we need to be sure that we are managing them in healthy ways, including seeking professional help if feelings become overwhelming or consuming.
As I see stories of suicides reported, my thoughts jump back to that time - did I see signs, did I miss signs, the finding, the wondering, the hurting, I didn’t have enough time with him, he didn’t have enough time to live his life, etc.
Are you a suicide survivor? Someone that cared about someone that suicided?
The second blog on LifEdvice was, “I Survived Suicide”. I’m thinking of those that are the survivors – all the people that knew the person and now, perhaps often, try to make sense of the loss. I haven’t been able to. I accept it. I grieve it. I live with it. My heart goes out to you. Try to process your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, family member, take a walk, journal, meditate, pray, whatever will help you and not harm you. Manage your feelings – this includes expressing them, protecting them, evaluating them, and experiencing them.
I’ve been told that I’m a strong person, resilient. I believe that each of us can be these things. Unfortunately it takes practice. Maybe you haven’t seen yourself with these characteristics in the past - you can start now - today. Remember what was lost, feel your feelings, act benevolently and live with gratitude. Live like the person you want to be.
Since the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two other influential and well-known people died from “natural causes” – Aretha Franklin and John McCain. These two seemed to live life to the fullest, on their terms, impacting millions through very different means from each other. People knew what they were about – what their mission was, it would seem they didn’t have enough time either. The mourning and out-pouring of appreciation for each, has been great. Losing someone we loved, respected, even from afar, hurts. The suggestions in the preceding paragraph still apply.
It’s hard work learning to live life well but well worth it!