Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosts an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. This day offers survivors an opportunity to gather with others like themselves, to hear answers to the questions so many survivors face, and to better understand suicide prevention and bereavement.
Although all of us have experienced losses in our lives, loss by suicide is a unique type of loss for those who journey to survive in its aftermath. Unlike other losses, loss by suicide can involve stigma, secrecy, guilt, utter confusion and isolation. As people who care for and love their loved one, survivors often question themselves in the aftermath believing there’s something they could have done to prevent it. The unfortunate statistical reality of suicide is that ninety percent of those who die this way suffer from a mental health condition. When someone is suffering with tremendous emotional pain and can’t see an end in sight, suicide can begin to look like a sensible solution – this is depression for sure – and not something over which the survivor has any control.
Over time as survivors mourn the loss of their loved one and healing begins to happen, the sense of responsibility begins to transform into a sense of regret. Anger at the loved one begins to shift to being angry about the situation and about what was left behind. A new normal evolves over time as the intensity and rawness of the grief becomes less intense. You don’t get over it but you do get through it.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way. There is only your path and the hard emotional work of not allowing death to be the last sentence in the story of a loved one’s life. During this holiday time, my heart goes out to all of the survivors and to those who continue to struggle with a living loved one. Realize there is support for you whether that comes through a support group, a hotline, a therapist, your church community, friends…you are not alone.