So without further ado, let me get to the final two aspects that make suicide grief a unique type of loss.

5. Loneliness, isolation, alienation (disconnection from the norm and from peers)

When a partner or close loved one dies by their own hands, we as the closest survivors, have been thrust into a new paradigm, a reality without any signposts. Suddenly a fissure’s appeared in the way we used to see and experience the world and now nothing can be trusted. The structures we normally held onto for conscious or unconscious support have collapsed. Our minds have been fucked by the unnaturalness of the sudden and terrifying suicide of our loved one. But the structures are still in place for everyone else; their minds are still in tact. We are forced into this new reality alone. This reality shift, unfortunately, creates an empathic barrier between the immediate survivors and everyone else. Months after the death, other people’s lives have gotten back to normal, ours haven’t and may never in fact, be normal again. Unless they’ve gone through it, it’s impossible for anyone to know what this death (yours and your beloved) is like. Nothing anyone says or does helps; they’re offering help from another world- a world that no longer has any bearing on where we are. The old world goes on around us like nothing’s happened. But for us, time stands still on the day our beloved left. We are left alone in darkness trying to make some sense of a tragedy we didn’t ask for. Four months after John died, I was rudely awakened by the fact that it was my 3oth birthday. I couldn’t believe it; time had actually passed, life had continued, and somehow I had aged. And aged I had. While my friends were going about the humdrum of their  normal twentysomething/thirtysomething lives– work, school, partying, career planning, family building— as was appropriate for their stage in life, I felt like I was a hundred years old wrestling with emotions and facing my own mortality in ways beyond my 30 years of age. While I was figuring out how to breathe without my beloved or how to express my volcanic rage at my fucking life, my peers’ carefree chitchat, ironic joking, and conversations about pop culture, current events, or relationships seemed meaningless, frivolous, and insignificant. It was old world stuff. And I was too old to care. I had had a firsthand trip to hell and back; battling through my grief and scrounging up strength to find a will to live gave me a perspective about myself and about life that most people don’t quite find till later on or perhaps when their own parents pass on and they have to confront death.

As time goes by though, and the months turn into years, the sense of disconnect from others fades as the rawness of the wound has subsided and it’s no longer a bleeding hole front center on my chest. My trip to hell has faded somewhat into the background and I can choose to enjoy material world frivolity, play, and most importantly feel joy and humor in any capacity. In fact, the sense are heightened and the capacity for connection to life and its endless pleasures, and to people living with all ranges of suffering is deepened and expanded.

6. Suicide temptations.

One of the biggest factors that makes experiencing the loss of a loved one to suicide unique is that it inspires suicide ideation in its survivors. It is not widely known by most people, but in fact, according to the suicidology literature, if you have survived a suicide, you are at risk for your own suicide. On the suicide hotline where I worked, we specifically ask our callers if they are survivors to find out how likely they are to make their own attempt.  If you are a survivor, there’s a greater chance you might take your own life. The grief is that acute, that intense. Additionally, widows in general, are a group of people notoriously at risk for suicide. A suicide widow, therefore, is even more at risk for her own suicide.

Suicides in general, give others who are suffering permission to take their own. If someone else goes first other people in pain are more apt to follow. Hence the copycat suicide phenomenon. According to the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, suicides occur more frequently than homicides, however, the media doesn’t report the amount of suicides because of the tendency for people to mimic them. The more suicides are reported in the news, the more people make attempts.  And so too with the death of a very close loved one, especially a partner, spouse, husband/wife– the temptation to follow our loved one through the opened door of death is magnified and highly dangerous. In facing the suicide of a loved one we are confronting our own mortality. How badly do we want to live?; how badly do we want to die? Which desire wins out? Which carries more weight? If a beloved or child has died by suicide, half of our being has been murdered. The lingering question is how can we carry on with half a self? How do we repair and rebuild the missing half? It’s an enormous task and requires much strength, tenacity, and will power. And in the early days and weeks after a suicide (especially after funerals and memorials), when life feels so dark and cold, so lonely, we barely have the energy  to hold our bodies upright let alone rebuild. We have to somehow try to survive this danger zone until we find sufficient reserves within us to propel us forward and until we find deeper meaning to our loss and greater reasons to live. But until that time comes, the haunting, the desire to reunite with our loved ones, continues.

I hope these last three posts have resonated with all the survivors out there reading this and it helps you make some sense of what you’re experiencing and why it’s so painful. This is not an easy road. Please remember you are not the only one walking this path. Others around the world are going through their own grief and feeling the same kind of bleakness and suffering you feel. You must hold on. The pain does lessen, and in time, as you continue with your healing process (whatever form that may take – dance, prayer, meditation, writing, horse back riding, therapy, grief groups, meditation….) you will emerge a stronger, more whole version of yourself. So stay with it.

Sending much love and strength………………………………..xoxox

Sarah

As I wrote in the last post, I’ve noticed  6 aspects, from my experience, that make surviving the suicide of a close loved one a wholly unique grief process, different from other kinds of losses. Those 6 aspects are 1. terrifying, mind-blowing shock. 2. darkness. 3.  confusion. 4. guilt. 5. loneliness, isolation, alienation (disconnection from the norm and from peers). 6. Suicide temptations.

We covered the first three in the last post. And I don’t want to overwhelm you with so much writing (I know I can write too much and blog posts are supposed to be short, so i hear) here we are going to explore the fourth aspect of suicide grief, the big one- GUILT. Before we go there I just wanted to say that I have been extremely touched by all your comments, be it through this blog directly or through Facebook. I am deeply grateful for all your repostings and “Likings” on Facebook and it moves me tremendously to hear from you. So thank you and please always feel welcome to comment or send me a message!

 

4. Guilt: The guilt we experience in the wake of a suicide of a loved one feels like a 100 pound boulder suffocating and clamoring down on our chest. The instant we hear of our loved one’s act, our minds snap to thousands of thoughts about what we could have done to save him/her. without a seconds hesitation, we take our loved one’s choice onto our own shoulders. “Why didn’t I do this…?” “I should have done that….” “If only I had done…..” or “If only I hadn’t done….” The inner wrestling begins immediately. Everything somehow becomes our fault. The “if onlys” can go on forever, haunting us and torturing our waking and sleeping realities. We can play out the last weeks of our loved one’s lives over and over again and each time revise and tweak something we remember having said or done that maybe, quite possibly, if done differently, could have reversed their fate, and reversed our own. This mental editing is torture. In some ways it is a form of bargaining. It’s a way of blaming ourselves, taking over-responsibility for another’s fatal choice, and it reinforces a lack of self-forgiveness, over and over again. It also subtly tells us that we are somehow more than human; that somehow we could have played god, had more control over another than in fact we had, and super-imposed our version of what we think should have happened for another person’s destiny or soul’s purpose onto their life.

 

 

We are merely human: It’s a stark and sobering lesson to unpack, and may come with time (certainly not in the early weeks after a suicide). We do not have the power to save another in such a way; our hands are tied.

Yet the guilt can fester indefinitely. It can eat us up alive; casting a shadow on our own sense of worthiness. Unfortunately, this a “normal” and common after-effect of suicide. We all feel this in some ways after the suicide of our loved one. There are many lessons to learn in resolving our sense of helplessness and guilt over the deadly choices of another. Like with an alcoholic family member; everyone around him takes responsibility for his drinking, except him. So too with suicide. It’s a hard truth to see for a long time, but the one who took his own life is the one responsible for his choice. No one else.

I wish you the eyes to see this truth and the surrendering of any anger and self-hatred at the things you innocently did or said, or didn’t do or say in the weeks that led to your loved one’s departure. May your heart be filled with kindness for yourself and for all you’ve had to endure.

Gonna get to the last two aspects on the list in the next couple of posts.

Sending strength and self-forgiveness………………xoxo

Sarah

 

 

In response to last post’s comments I’ve been wondering about why it is I feel that not all human pain can be shared and empathized. Some experiences take us to a place that’s so foreign, dark, and alone; unless you’ve visited yourself it’s hard to know what it feels like. However, people who have experienced and overcome suffering from severe traumatic loss share a similar look in their eyes – a wounded twinkle; they stand with a warrior-like presence as they’ve fought the invisible horrors of existence. There’s an unspoken camaraderie a Knowing that’s shared about what it’s like to wander through hell and return alive.

Experiencing the death of a loved one to suicide, especially a partner and beloved, is a unique kind of loss with unique features for grieving. It’s an existential nightmare that rocks our very existence to the core. While as human beings we all have a shared language of emotions from which we can empathize feelings such as love, anger, guilt, heartbreak etc., experiencing the mind-blowing, heart shattering devastation and agony of surviving a suicide is a pain that cannot be imagined or fathomed unless you’ve experienced it yourself. It is not akin to breakups or deaths of other kinds; it is a Trauma and needs to be recognized and framed as such.

My intention is not to minimize anyone else’s pain, heartbreak or loss. As we meander through the trip of life, we each have our fair share of suffering; no one can determine whose pain or loss is the gravest, most painful, or most “special.” Ultimately, it’s how we handle and overcome our suffering and life challenges that makes us who we are and creates a life full of beauty, strength, and character. However, since this is a blog about suicide and I have experienced sudden loss of a beloved to suicide, I’ve come to know that surviving my beloved’s death was the hardest, most painful thing I have ever experienced and will ever experience. I am asserting, both on a personal and professional level, on behalf of myself, my readers, and my clients, that surviving a suicide of a close loved one, and the grief that ensues, is unique, different from other types of grief, death, and loss.  And here’s why:

Based on my own experience and reflection (these are not clinically researched findings), I’ve identified 6 aspects of survivor grief that make this type of loss specific and different and color the experience with a unique intensity that unless experienced firsthand, the magnitude of the pain and intensity is quite unimaginable.

These  6 aspects are 1. terrifying, mind-blowing shock. 2. darkness. 3.  confusion. 4. guilt. 5. loneliness, isolation, alienation (disconnection from the norm and from peers). 6. Suicide temptations.

I’ll explain the first three here and elaborate on the rest in the next post.

1. Terrifying Mind-Blowing Shock: The death of anyone or any traumatic life changing event causes shock. The actuality of the disappearance of someone you just saw, spoke to, touched or hugged does not make sense. One day they are here and the next day they are not; they have vanished into the ethers never to be seen or return again. While this concept can be understood conceptually and intellectually, it has a very different effect when it happens, in real life, to you.  That alone is unfathomable and mind-blowing. With a suicide, however, the fact that your loved one conspired behind your back, presumably for quite some time, to take his/her own life and murdered his/her own body is a terrifying reality (and betrayal) that challenges the very biological/physiological, moral, social, intellectual, psychological fiber of our being. We are hard-wired to survive and the fact that a person over-rid this programming a) speaks to the amount of pain he was in, and b) is horrifying in the unnaturalness of this act. And even if you have an open mind about suicide and can understand on an intellectual or empathic level why someone would choose to take their life; even if you understand that being here is a choice and so too leaving here is a choice, it does not take away, minimize, or soothe the shock and terror of the reality that someone you knew and loved succeeded at crossing the huge invisible boundary between life and death. All the constructs we’ve held onto in order to make sense of the world come crashing down into darkness. All we thought we knew about life is over. Nothing is stable. Our minds are blown out as we try to make sense of a reality we no longer recognize.

2. The Darkness: There is nothing light about suicide. The act of suicide speaks to the amount of pain, darkness, and suffering our loved one felt. People who love life and who feel good simply do not kill themselves. Unfortunately, when our loved ones take their lives, they leave behind a legacy of their pain and suffering. We inherit their darkness. And it’s like a never-ending night with no dawn, no twilight; like a vortex of pain that swallows us up. And each time we try to understand the whys and the hows of what they did we get sucked into the vortex of pain that instigated their attempt and remains to haunts their act. Every time I imagined John walking to the train tracks and laying down beside them wearing his sleep mask, I was wracked with waves of terror and agony that plunged me deeper into the dark, deeper down into hell. In my quest to understand why he took his life I couldn’t help but review his death march in my mind over and over again. I must have relived the morning of his death thousands of times. This is a kind of darkness, existential and cutting, that knows no other. I’ve mentioned before in other posts, the darkness we experience is proportionate to the light and brighter sense of aliveness and joy we will feel when we come out of the darkness.

3. Confusion: The confusion following a suicide is tremendous. What happened? How did this happen? How could he really do it? Why didn’t he tell me about any of this? Why did he choose that method of all the ways to kill yourself? How much pain and suffering was he in? Why didn’t anything I/we did or said help? Why wasn’t I enough? What more could I have done to help him? How could I have saved him? How could he do this? How could he really do this? How could he actually f*ing doing this? How did he do this? The stream of unanswered questions is endless. And will be, forever. Even if our loved ones leave a note, it barely answers our questions; questions that will never have answers. The confusion and terrifying mind-blowing shock reinforce one another until our minds become complete blanks and nothing is known anymore.

Added to the confusion about the motivation and execution of the suicide is a deeper layer of existential confusion. Who are we now that the limits of our own mortality have violently been challenged, erasing our minds into nothing? How do we actually have the capability to stop our hearts from beating? And what the f*ck does this mean? How important is our life, actually? Is it precious or expendable? How do we go on living without our beloved? How do we make it through the day knowing there is a way out, a pathway our loved one forged, and if we just follow it we can be with our partner/loved one again? Why do we bother going through the motions of life? Why do we bother trying to help ourselves, trying to function, or maybe one day healing and living a so-called “happy healthy life?” What’s the point? What’s the use? Why bother getting back to the world of the living when no one understands? Why get involved in another relationship when it won’t compare to the one you lost, no one can compare to the person you are permanently and involuntarily separated from? Why get attached to people when at any moment your beloved can disappear into thin air? How do we make meaning of this kind of loss, this kind of abandonment, and the irreversible permanency of what has been done? How do we assuage the gaping wound of missing someone we can never see again?

If you are a survivor, I’d love to hear about your experience and if what I’ve written rings true for you. I hope this helps give you a context for some of what you are experiencing. I hope you know you are not the only one in your own existential hell. If you are a therapist, healer, or friend of someone who has lost a close loved one to suicide, I hope reading about the experience offers you ways of being supportive and understanding that perhaps you hadn’t considered before.

In the next post I’ll expand on the other aspects of suicide grief, so check back.

Sending strength……………………………xoxox

Sarah

(P.S. Thanks to blog reader John’s comments for prompting me to think about these things in-depth )