An opinion by someone who was left behind.
“It’s funny. The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you’ve got something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.” – Steven Moffat. Writer. Doctor Who. 2015
Suicide. Intentionally taking one’s life. It is what most people think of when they hear the word. Friends and family come together to mourn and remember the person that has passed on. After all pictures are put away and the dust clears, everyone goes back to their daily lives.
But there are still the people who are left to deal with the ripple effects of this painful act. Who are these people and what happens to them? We are the Suicide Survivors.
After our tears have dried, our world is now a little darker with our loved one gone. A daughter will be raised without her father. A little brother has lost the one he looks up to. Parents outlive their child. Relationships are strained and even broken. We start to wonder what WE did wrong. What did WE miss? What could WE have done to avoid this? These answers most likely will never come. It’s enough to drive a person mad.
I became a suicide survivor in April 2015 when my cousin took his life. It is not something you can prepare for. Suicide is such an unexpected act that it hits you square in the gut and leaves you gasping for air. Your whole world and that of your family has been shaken to its core. Yet how do you deal with it? The unknown? The good days and bad days?
Honestly, as a suicide survivor myself, we don’t know what we’re going through because every day is different. One day we’ve accepted it and we try to move on with the day. But tomorrow, we’ll be holed up in our room, crying for hours. One minute we are blaming the person who is gone. How could they have done this? Didn’t they know they were just passing their pain onto us? Then the next minute we are blaming ourselves. How could we have missed the signs? How could we have missed their pain?
As time moves on, our hearts heal with a scar in the shape of the one we have lost. It’ll never be complete again. No one can take their place. We’ve begun to function with our new normal, a new normal without them. We’ll go through the stages of grief, which mostly consists of anger or depression. There is no time limit on each stage or if you’ll even go through each. I personally, spent a lot of time in anger. I was mad at him for what he did to himself, what he did to us. How he broke us all. When I finally accepted what he had done, I forgave him. He wasn’t himself anymore. It wasn’t his fault. The choice had been made and there would have been little we could have done to stop it. A silent mental illness was too much for him to bear.
Someone you care about may be a suicide survivor. How do you help them? What are they going through? Is it taboo to even talk about? Every person is different, so what my family went through may be different for another. Here are a few things I’ve learned in going through this journey:
1. Don’t compare. Survivor pain is different. Unless you have lost someone to suicide, it’s hard to understand what they are feeling. Instead of comparing, just listen to them. For however long it may take.
2. It’s okay to talk about those who are gone. We want to remember them; we want to hold on. It’s okay to share funny or sweet moments of those we have lost. Don’t feel guilty if we cry. Expect it to happen.
3. Be patient with us. We may not feel like being around anyone for a while. We are going through waves of emotions. It can change on the hour. After someone has lost someone to suicide, we feel vulnerable and exposed. We feel guilty. We will come around; it will just take some time. So, hang in there with us.
4. Continue to check in. A lot of times we won’t reach out, even though you said too. Check in with us long after our loved one is gone, especially around holidays and birthdays. The “year of firsts” will be the hardest.
Suicide is difficult. It’s the unknown, the questions, and the big “why”. To those of us left behind, it’ll be a mark that is forever on our hearts. But with a strong and caring support system, we can learn to live again for those who are no longer with us.
**September is Suicide Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, please know that you’re not alone. Please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline is free, confidential and open 24/7. There is help, there is another way.