If you are survivor of suicide loss, please always remember this: you are not alone.
Suicide loss is a grief like no other. There is no 'getting over' the loss. Most of us learn to live around the grief. I've described it this way: the heaviness of the pain does not go away, but the muscles we use to carry it get stronger.
Studies have shown that the grief related to suicide loss is felt more intensely and often lasts longer than the grief related to other types of loss. For some, the grief is completely incapacitating. When these incapacitating feelings last beyond a few months, we may be experiencing Complicated Grief Syndrome (known clinically as Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder). Without help, it can be very difficult to overcome the symptoms on our own.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of complicated grief are often the same as with other types of grief, but they do not lesson or abate as time goes by. These symptoms may include:
- Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss of your loved one
- Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
- Problems accepting the death
- Numbness or detachment
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Experiencing overwhelming guilt or self-blame
- Believing that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
- Experiencing overwhelming anger or blaming others
- Feeling life isn't worth living without your loved one
- Wishing you had died along with your loved one
It is very important to know that survivors of suicide loss are a a higher risk of suicide themselves.
While a genetic predisposition may be part of the reason we see more than one suicide among family members, it is undeniable that the intensity of suicide-loss grief seems to play the largest role in elevating the risk factor of individuals who have lost a loved one. In fact, it is the spouses and partners, and then the parents of those who have died by suicide, who are most likely to die in the same way - although other family members are also at risk. Given this, the increased risk of suicide seems to be less about genetics and more about unbearable heartbreak.
If you are a survivor of suicide loss, several things are critically important:
Always remember that you are needed in this world.
Reach out for support as soon as possible.
Professional help is almost always of benefit to your grieving process. Reaching out to others is also very important. Talk to friends and family. Join support groups for those who have also lost someone to suicide.
Allow yourself to talk about and move through any guilt that you might be feeling.
Guilt is a normal stage of grief, but try to remember that suicide is very rarely the fault of another person. Reach out to other survivors and talk to counselors about how you feel. Getting support from others and listening as they share their own experiences can make a big difference.
You may find yourself blaming others for your loss. While it is important that you be patient with your feelings, it is critical that you not let those feelings dictate your behavior.
Being angry about the death of a loved one is also natural and can be expected. However, if you find that you can't stop blaming another person for the loss, speak to a professional about your anger. This is particularly important if there is any chance that you might lash out at another survivor of suicide loss.
Because of the circumstances, when the person who blamed me for my boyfriend John's death lashed out at me, her behavior represented severe bullying. I was particularly vulnerable and unable to defend myself. I can't help but think that she would have liked to have had as much support as possible from others - but because of her words and behavior she ended up alienating herself from John's family and his closest friends. Ultimately, many people were heartbroken because of John's loss - but she was the only person who was lashing out and purposely trying to exacerbate other people's pain.
Do not be the person who is attacking other survivors of suicide loss.
Remember, feelings of guilt and anger are normal, and it is important that you be patient with all of your feelings. But, if you find that your guilt is leading you to thoughts of harming yourself, or if your anger toward others is so great that you may attack them (in writing, on the phone, or in person), please get professional help immediately.
I can not emphasize this enough. In my situation, my own guilt was already excruciating, but it was the bullying by this other person that was the most significant factor in my own suicidal feelings. I am not sure I would have survived, if it were not for my reaching out for professional help of my own.
If you are not a survivor of suicide loss, statistics suggest that you likely know someone who is. Please always be cognizant of the fact that we are enduring a heartbreaking grief that is made worse by the stigma associated with suicide. We need you to reach out to us. We need to be allowed to talk about the person we lost. We want to hear your own positive memories of our loved one. Our grief will likely be more intense and last longer than the grief associated with other types of loss. We need your patience, understanding, compassion, and empathy.
And if you are a fellow survivor of suicide loss, know that our collective strength has inspired me and at times it has eased the worst of my grief. My heart is always with us. Always.