By Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD
Loss is part of being human.
The possibility of losing someone is always there.
We either accept it as the natural course of things or we fight it, deny it, and reject it…until we are finally forced to submit.
When someone you love chooses suicide, he or she chooses to make the possibility of that loss reality.
For those left behind, acceptance is then much harder to embrace.
Suicide transforms human loss into something less expected and less tolerable.
It is excruciatingly mysterious, unchangeable, and premeditated.
All that is left is to cope.Your traumatic loss may always be with you but you can slowly begin to gain some perspective to begin the healing process and ease the guilt and shame.
Cope with suicide? How?
It is entirely normal to feel blindsided, abandoned, guilty, depressed, or angry in the wake of your loved one’s choice. As you begin to process the loss, the ebb and swell of your emotions may seem unbearable.
Though you feel deserted by your loved one, hang on to the truth.
You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
You can grieve and cope with suicide in a way that moves beyond the tragedy and brings you peace.
Consider the following guidelines for helping you secure support, gain perspective, and ease your feelings of guilt or shame.
1. Talk to a therapist. No, it’s not indulgent. Yes, you do deserve to feel better. When every conversation you start with anyone else seems choked with things that can’t be said, a skilled grief therapist will understand. She can help you begin to express your feelings and cope with suicide loss. She will help you recognize that you couldn’t have and shouldn’t have been responsible for the ultimate decision that your loved one made.
2. Take time. This will be the worst time of your life. You’ve suffered a huge trauma and you will feel it in every corner of your being for a long time. No one, especially you, can expect that you will be able to continue with your normal life. You will regain your life piece-by-piece. You will lose it again just when you think you’re finally getting over your grief. Tears may follow a relatively happy day. Give yourself as long as you need to regain your equilibrium.
3. Take care of yourself. You’re already working on your emotional trauma, but your body needs attention too. Exercise is great medicine for depression and stress. Even a walk around the block can increase your endorphins and help you relax and sleep better. Your body needs good nourishment; grief is hard work. Eat healthy food, but be careful not to overeat to distract yourself from your pain. The same caution applies to alcohol and drugs, even prescription drugs; you may be tempted to overdo it in hopes of making yourself feel better but the result will be worse.
4. Prepare for triggers. Suicide shockingly rips through the fabric of your life. All the places, events, and dates you shared together are woven into your life. For a while, painful awareness of your loved one’s decision will be pricked by an assortment of reminders. Give yourself permission to hold off on traditions or celebrations for a while. As a birthday or anniversary approaches, if necessary, it’s okay to share with others that you aren’t ready to mark the occasion.
5. Find a way to say goodbye. You and your loved one likely have unfinished business. You may experience feelings of rejection.and anger.Someone you loved chose to end their pain in the only way they knew how, leaving you feeling abandoned or alone. Perhaps you have some idea why, but it may never make total sense. Consider writing a letter or keeping a journal with all that you didn’t have the chance to say. Allow yourself to think of the good times, not just the ending. In time, closure can eventually come through acceptance and a conscious decision to honor your loved one’s life, even with its painful pieces.
It may comfort you to learn all you can about suicide, volunteer with a suicide hotline, or set up a fund in your loved one’s name to help others in pain.