For loved ones left behind, suicide is not painless. It leaves you holding your heart in your hand, vibrating with emotion and reeling with questions. The ground has given way and you are free-falling through space. Here are seven things you need to know after losing a loved one to suicide; they can help you re-find your feet and piece together your broken heart.
1. You. Are. Not. Responsible.
If someone you love takes his or her life, you think, somehow, or in some way, you could have done something to stop the unthinkable. If only... If only... If only...
Let's be very clear: The suicidal death of your loved one does not mean you have failed or you did not love enough...or try enough...or anything enough. They made a choice without you. They didn't do it to hurt you. They did it because at that moment in time -- and with the likely impact of extreme emotional pain, haywire neurochemistry, constricted thinking, trauma or the influence of substances -- it felt like the only response to end the misery of their life.
2. You have to feel to heal.
You might be furious. How could they do this to you? You loved them. You cared. And they chose this? Anger and fury are understandable responses to suicide. There is also guilt, regret, shame and sadness. You can get stuck in a loop of recriminating "what-ifs" and "whys." You can feel numb and overwhelmed.
Trauma, shock, grief and broken barriers can conspire to bring you to the edge.
And if you have been dealing with a chronically suicidal loved one who has been on/off meds and in/out of hospitals, you might even feel relieved that the non-stop chaos has ended.
All kinds of feelings bounce through the shards of your broken heart. There is no right or wrong, good or bad. But feel, you must, to work your way through this labyrinthine journey of grief. Your full complement of all-over-the-place feelings will guide you towards healing.
3. Go gently. The path is treacherous and risky.
Perhaps you witnessed the suicidal act itself or discovered the aftermath or cleaned up the horrific mess. Or your mind repeatedly replays the specifics you saw or imagined. Your brain and heart are in overdrive.
Trauma, shock, grief and broken barriers can conspire to bring you to the edge. Because the taboo of suicide has been broken and you are fully immersed in deep, gut-wrenching grief, you may consider suicide yourself as a way to end your own pain. Go gently. Get help. It gets easier, bit by bit. Surviving a suicidal loss is a precarious passage. Patience and compassion for both yourself and your lost loved one help ease the way.
4. Grief is a kind of love.
Grief is a personal experience. You have to do it your way. Nod politely to those who give you deadlines and concrete conclusions. There is no one way to grieve. There is no time limit. It takes as long as it takes. Grief is another way to love and remember love.
Grief is also complicated, multi-nuanced and can be crazy-making. And like Pandora's Box, grief triggers memories of other losses, and furthermore, the trauma of suicide triggers memories of other traumas you may have experienced. Dealing with suicidal grief is not for the faint of heart. It is, indeed, a hero's journey.
5. Acceptance brings new energy.
Acceptance of the reality -- the reality you probably hate -- allows a shift in your energies. The density of your heartache cracks open. What you have been battling, resisting and fighting is no longer the focus of your energies. You have moved from battling the past to acceptance. You are open to the present. You are not forgetting anything about your loved one. You are opening the door to a broader perspective and the opportunity for finding a peaceful understanding around your loss.
6. Forgiveness helps the heart heal.
If you do not forgive yourself, your loved one, and, even, the other influences or circumstances that may have contributed to the suicide, you stay stuck and remain in the past. You stew in your juices of rage, anger, bitterness and hurt. You are in big pain and wild fury.
The energies and the emptiness of loss transmute and take new form.
Forgiveness asks you to take the real and perceived hurts, given and received, and to let go of all that burdens you. This is not a matter of right or wrong, good or bad of the other person's (or your) actions. Forgiveness is releasing all that has hardened and constricted your heart. It takes courage and strength to forgive, but when you do, the ego steps aside and your heart takes the lead.
Forgiveness is excellent, high-vibratory self-care. And, forgiveness paves the way for personal peace and serves as a precursor to compassion.
7. Give yourself away.
Unwittingly, dealing with a suicidal loss often becomes a catalyst for transformation. Pain has become your teacher. Compassion and hard-won wisdom come to the fore.
The energies and the emptiness of loss transmute and take new form. Some transform their grief through helping others or supporting the wounded, the bullied and the disenfranchised; others advocate for awareness and education. You might create art, write books or get more education to be of service. Whatever your choice, you have refashioned your loss into something meaningful.
In the following two excerpts from his poem "Epitaph," Merritt Malloy suggests that you give yourself away in love. How beautiful is this -- to create and perpetuate a legacy of love.
"And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me."
"Love doesn't die, people do.
So when all that's left of me is love
Give me away."
May there come a time when you are able to remember your lost loved one in gentle ways and when you are able to give yourself away again and again and continue the cycle of love.
If you or someone you know is at risk please contact your nearest Crisis Centre or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counsellor.
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