Ten days after my eighteenth birthday, I received the news that a close friend I had grown up with had taken his own life. He was nineteen, and like a brother to me. His brother, only sixteen years old, found his body.
As I held my phone in my hand and my body broke down in shock, the first thought to hit me was:
"I am never going to make it through this."
Since then, I have lost other close people in my life in the same devastating way.
But, I got through it, and so can you.
Facing the loss of a loved one to suicide is something both so unexpected, and overwhelming, that it may feel impossible to get through. Especially at first, it may feel as though we will never find our balance again. This article addresses the ways you can cope physically and mentally in the middle of such a tragic situation.
Firstly, remind yourself- It will get easier.
In the immediate stages, it is important to brace for the painful emotions that you may experience. Remember that everyone will respond to grief differently, and there is no ‘wrong way’ to feel in a time such as this.
Resource: Mayo Clinic
Anger. You might be angry with your loved one for abandoning you or leaving you with a legacy of grief — or angry with yourself or others for missing clues about suicidal intentions.
Guilt. You might replay "what if" and "if only" scenarios in your mind, blaming yourself for your loved one's death.
Despair. You might be gripped by sadness, loneliness, or helplessness. You might have a physical collapse or even consider suicide yourself.
Confusion. Many people try to make some sense out of death or try to understand why their loved one took his or her life. But you'll likely always have some unanswered questions.
Feelings of rejection. You might wonder why your relationship wasn't enough to keep your loved one from dying by suicide.
It can become frustrating or hurtful when we see people grieve differently or respond in ways that we don’t feel suitable, but it is important to remember that they are coping in their own way.
You might continue to experience intense reactions during the weeks and months after your loved one's suicide — including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal and loss of interest in usual activities — especially if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.
It is important, however, that we don't go through this alone. Although there will be times when you need a break from people (especially in the first few weeks) and you will need to rest, it is important to try and be as open as possible with those around you and ask for help when you need it.
Coping mechanisms to remember
The aftermath of a loved one's suicide can be physically and emotionally exhausting. As you work through your grief, be careful to protect your own well-being.
Keep in touch. Reach out to loved ones, friends and spiritual leaders for comfort, understanding and healing. Surround yourself with people who are willing to listen when you need to talk, as well as those who'll simply offer a shoulder to lean on when you'd rather be silent.
Grieve in your own way. Do what's right for you, not necessarily someone else. There is no single "right" way to grieve. If you find it too painful to visit your loved one's gravesite or share the details of your loved one's death, wait until you're ready.
Be prepared for painful reminders. Anniversaries, holidays and other special occasions can be painful reminders of your loved one's suicide. Don't chide yourself for being sad or mournful. Instead, consider changing or suspending family traditions that are too painful to continue.
Don't rush yourself. Losing someone to suicide is a tremendous blow, and healing must occur at its own pace. Don't be hurried by anyone else's expectations that it's been "long enough."
Expect setbacks. Some days will be better than others, even years after the suicide — and that's OK. Healing doesn't often happen in a straight line.
Consider a support group for families affected by suicide. Sharing your story with others who are experiencing the same type of grief might help you find a sense of purpose or strength. However, if you find going to these groups keeps you ruminating on your loved one's death, seek out other methods of support.
Look after your physical health. Although keeping routine can be very hard in these circumstances, eating, sleeping and trying to get small amounts of exercise each day can be very helpful. Keeping your body physically strong helps keep the mind strong too.
Dealing with Grief
Grief is a process of reinvention. You will need to figure out a new way of being. For now, focus on the things that you have control over.
For example, consider a person who has lost their leg. They need to learn to accept this and then slowly learn to live life differently over time and re-adjust to a new way of doing things. This may be in some ways similar to what you will experience.
There are many moments that you won’t be able to control. Moments with a lot of tears, and a lot of heartache. However, there are still some things in life that you can regain control over. Doing so will help you find stability, and conquering the small things helps us feel more equipped to deal with the bigger storms we face.
Grief is not an orderly thing. It may hit you all at once, you may go through certain phases of it, and then you may circle back around. You may begin to think about all the things that you could have, or should have done and wonder whether or not you could have saved them.
You will have a lot of unanswerable questions about their life, suffering and your own actions. Many of these questions don’t have answers, and never truly will. This is something that with time, you will have to find peace with and accept, in order to heal.
Creative processing can be a useful way to deal with grief. Find a way to tell your own story- express your thoughts, feelings, and personal story. This may be through writing, drawing, or something else.
Ultimately, all you can do is keep moving forward. Be present in each moment, and try with all your strength to live it to the fullest.
Dealing with Guilt
Guilt is a natural, human response to such an incident. The instinct may be to blame yourself, which is very common among those left behind after a loved one takes their life. It is terrifying to realise that you are still here, and must continue living without this person in your life. It is important to realise that these feelings where you carry guilt and blame are untrue, and irrational.
People train for years to help those who struggle with mental health. Some people prefer to see suicide as though it is a physical illness. The loved one has passed away after experiencing illness for some time, like a person may live and die from diabetes.
You’re still here- living after suicide - A summary:
Speak to your negative thoughts
You need to speak to your negative thoughts, and constantly talk to yourself in the hard times. When you experience guilt, no matter how often it is, you need to continuously tell yourself:
“It isn’t my fault.”
Guilt is an irrational emotion, but a very common one which we need to learn to fight against. An important way to rationalise these difficult thoughts and feelings that we have is to continue t be open about them with close friends, family, or mentors. These people can help guide us towards a healthier, more realistic perspective on the situation and a clearer mindset.
Take each moment as it comes
Go through the moments and pain. Grief and pain often come in waves. Allow it to happen, and to pass. Take each moment as it comes.
Allow yourself to laugh whenever possible. Laugh with friends, find things to help you laugh. Even In the smallest of moments, don’t be afraid to allow yourself to be lifted in the darkness.
Get out of bed
Just keep getting up. Some days, this is going to feel very hard. Even still, keep trying, and keep encouraging other loved ones to get up as well. Rest when you need it, but don’t stay in bed longer.
After some time, it is important to try and gain some normality. This may be through returning to work, school, or whatever else your daily routine normally consists of. Try to get back to it.
This won’t be easy and some days and weeks will feel harder than others, but be persistent. So, do what you can and don’t forget to give praise and acknowledgment to the small victories that you face every day.
These small accomplishments are ultimately footsteps in the right direction that all add up and contribute to conquering much bigger mountains. In the middle of such a disorienting and painful time in your life, it may be difficult to see how accomplishing small things has been anything but difficult and may not feel beneficial, but one day you will look back and realise that you carried yourself through this with a lot of strength, by putting one foot in front of the other each day. Don’t give up.
Talk about all of it: the grief, the guilt, the things that make sense and the things that do not. Talk with loved ones, mentors, counsellors, pastors. Talk to God.
Make the decision to stay
You may feel as though you are in control of very little right now. The one thing you do have the choice over, is whether you continue to press on. Make the conscious decision to keep living and find a way forward. You do not have to make the same decision to end your life. Though things may be hard, find your reasons to stay and reassure family members. You are staying.
Make a List
Write a list for yourself, as a reminder of the ways in which you will get through this. Put it somewhere that you will see, and be reminded of every single day.
This is a list written by Amy Biancolli, which she pinned to her fridge as a reminder to herself how she would keep going.
Live- Keep on living
Give- Giving to others can help to get you out of your own head and distracts you from the guilt.
Love- Learning to love again can be terrifying because you can lose again. It is scary, but it is vital.
Grow- Don’t be static. Keep changing, keep growing. Assess failures and strengths and continue to grow, change and adapt.
Learn- In some ways, this is like growth. You may not feel like you can control some of the thoughts and painful ideas in your head, but you can control what you add to your mind. You can learn more, expand your own world and find things to consume your thoughts and mind. This could be the likes of learning an instrument or studying something that interests you. Acquire new skills.
Be grateful- Don’t forget to look at all the good things you still have: your life, friends, family, God, purpose. Remind yourself often.
Be present- try not to fall into the past, the future, or fall into the way of trying to make sense of things. Everything may seem uncertain, terrifying and beyond your control. Just be where you are, in this very moment.
Make music- Continue to create and find healthy outlets for your emotions.
Stand up straight- Like exercise, posture sends messages to your brain. Stand strong and straight, be ready for the day.
Exercise- look after your body. Exercise also releases endorphins that can help alleviate your mood.
There are so many resources out there on how we should deal with issues such as these. At the end of the day, we know that none of the things we do can bring back our loved one, but they can show us how to live on. We know that those we have lost would want that for us too.
For me, nothing has been truer than the saying "time heals all wounds." Although things may never go back to how they were before, you will learn how to live again. How to laugh. How to love. It just takes time to recalibrate and re-adjust to a different way of life.
Don't lose hope. Some time from now, you will look back on this and you will be proud of your strength (even if you don't feel strong now) and you will be glad you stayed.