Be There for Survivors of Suicide Loss. Sponsor Our Forum!

Advice to Someone Who Is Feeling Guilty

Guilt is part and parcel of “survivorship.”

I had not spoken to my sister for the six months prior to her death. The separation itself was not ‘pretty.’ Her parting words to me were the most hurtful of all the things she had ever said to me in anger. I did not retaliate, I just separated for my own survival.

I spent the first three months after her death beating myself up, crying over the separation, and hating myself for not being a part of her life for those last six months. I kept thinking that if I had been, she would still be alive.

The truth I’ve come to know is that I was not powerful enough to change her decision. While I might have delayed what she did, I believe that once she decided to go down that path, I could not have stopped her.

I allowed my guilt to turn into regrets instead. Regrets for me are things that I might have done differently, while guilt is taking the blame for things I caused. I did not cause my sister’s death. It was her choice and her decision alone. If I could have stopped her I would. I don’t blame myself; I just regret my decisions and choices, but I have finally let myself off the hook.

Concentrate on all the good you brought to your loved one’s life. Try to remember all that you did for him or her instead of what you didn’t do or what you perceive as things you might have done differently. Don’t forget the love you gave and all the ways you helped. Allow, if you can, yourself to let go of the blame/guilt and replace it with regret. Guilt is such a soul-wrenching emotion and makes healing from this grief much more difficult.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

6 Comments on Advice to Someone Who Is Feeling Guilty

Is the Second Year Worse?

Is the second year after a loved one’s suicide worse? The simplest answer to that question is, “It depends.” It depends on many factors. For some, the first few months are the absolute hardest and once those pass, it becomes not easier–but less hard, if that makes sense.

Some people find the entire first year is absolutely the worst pain they could possibly feel. Then, after getting through all the “firsts” (birthday, anniversary, holiday season, and other dates that have special memories) it gets easier.

Other survivors are in a deep “fog” during the first months or year and sometimes find the second year harder than the first one. Their minds went to such lengths to protect them during the first year, they did not have a chance to truly grieve for their lost loved one. Once that fog lifts and the subconscious mind begins to allow”reality” to intrude, it can feel like the pain is worse than it was at the beginning.

Is the pain that comes with reality worse? Perhaps “worse” is a poor choice of words. “Extremely different” might be more accurate. I’ve compared the pain of losing my son to being on a roller-coaster of emotions. The highs and lows hit fast and furiously in the beginning.

I’ve also compared grief to being on a beach during a storm with huge waves. Devastating at first, but as the storm dies down, the waves become a bit smaller with greater intervals between and it’s easier to remain on one’s feet when they hit. Now I tend to think of myself as being on a spiral staircase. I find myself passing those emotional “dates” on a slightly higher level of awareness of my own emotional balance.

On significant dates, I imagine myself leaning over the railing of that staircase, looking down at where I’ve been in my healing journey and realizing that, although I still feel the pain and the sorrow and still miss my son as much as at the first moment I learned of his death, I’m moving forward on the stairway to healing.

There is no timetable for grief. There is no set of rules. You will know what is best or most healing for you along the way. Listen to your own heart first and know that there really is no “end” to the journey, just that upward climb back to life.  Allow yourself to trust that life will be good again and it will. You will always remember. You will always have an ache in your heart and feel like a part of you was ripped away, but there comes a time when you will no longer feel that overpowering pain that takes our breath away and leaves us unable to function.

Suicide Loss Survivors’ Bill of Rights

  • I have the right to be free of guilt.
  • I have the right not to feel responsible for the suicide death.
  • I have the right to express my feelings and emotions, even if they do not seem acceptable, as long as they do not interfere with the rights of others.
  • I have the right to have my questions answered honestly by authorities and family members.
  • I have the right not to be deceived because others feel they can spare me further grief.
  • I have the right to maintain a sense of hopefulness.
  • I have the right to peace and dignity.
  • I have the right to positive feelings about the one I lost through suicide, regardless of the events prior to or at the time of the untimely death.
  • I have the right to retain my individuality and not be judged because of the suicide death.
  • I have the right to seek counseling and a support group to enable me to honestly explore my feelings to further the acceptance process.
  • I have the right to reach acceptance.
  • I have the right to a new beginning.
  • I have the right to be.

Tips from Survivors: Finding Your Way

It’s been 4 years, 10 months and 3 days since John left. My world imploded and exploded simultaneously. I measure the time now by season changes, years and privately important dates. No longer months, weeks, days, hours and minutes. There was a time when I did not think that was possible. There was only before John died, and after.

In that time I have been broken, devastated, despairing, anguished, shameful, guilt ridden, heart and soul broken. With each piece of time passing I’ve really struggled to understand exactly what and where I am in this remarkable and thoroughly cruddy journey. No one should have to travel this path, but in truth there are far too many souls that have no choice.

In a moment of reflection today, I realized that ultimately what I have been, for the most part, is lost. I lost my love and truest of friends, I lost a family, a future, a past, a normal, a reality and a present. I lost my innocence, I lost my naivety, I lost my ability to be carefree. I lost my real smile, I lost my mind, I lost my life, in short – I lost myself.

I am a survivor of the consequence of suicide and so are you. I have come through this despite myself and a mostly unfair world around me. I did not come through it unscathed. I did not come through it without issues and baggage; I did not come through this as the same person I remember. I did however, get to this point. I’m aware that I’m not fixed. I am a work in progress. I’m aware that there are twists and turns still to be revealed. Most importantly, I have found that in being lost, I have been finding my way all along. I just didn’t know it.

Up until today – well about 2 hours ago, I was so quietly desperate to have a way out, I forgot I was finding my way out. I’ve been impatiently and harshly demanding answers from myself and the mostly invisible universe, for a way that ironically would not have been my own. So this I think is a path that we ignore or just don’t see within our grief and loss.

In loving, we became someone else mostly without realizing it, so without them, without the life and beliefs we knew – we spin and flounder. We lose ourselves completely. We are so focused on our loss of them and how we are to blame for it and how we wished we had known and done more, that we missed a big point. We also lost who we were, not just who we became with them. We evolved from our solitary selves into ourselves with others and now we are evolving again. It takes time, effort and will to evolve – things we feel are often in short supply.

If John were here now, he would say “Babe, so that probably wasn’t the best decision in hindsight and no, I had no idea that my decision would have such an enormous consequence for you, my family, and friends I didn’t even know I had. I can’t change it, sometimes I truly wish I could, but I can’t. I was lost. I didn’t know how to find my way out because I don’t think I really realized how lost I felt.”

I would offer, “My angel, we all get lost, we all get overwhelmed, we are all disillusioned that our dreams and hopes didn’t materialize as we had imagined, but we get there. Not always easily and not without struggle and pain of so many kinds but we get there. Step by step, knock by knock, moments of pure joy, moments of realizations, moments of different kinds of love and experience. Life is just a series of moments, they constantly change, they evolve, they retreat, they endear, and they destruct but they keep going regardless.”

John would reply, “Don’t waste more moments than you need to, in traveling this new path you did not choose, because my path is not yours. I will never leave you because you keep me with you. You have to be lost to find your way.” He had many moments of brilliance!

I share this with the new and old, the practiced and the novice. It’s okay to be lost. You are going from point A to point B, with only a partial map filled in by others and your own experience. No one can control or imagine what happens in getting to point B. You just have to keep that as the end point and keep following the route as it appears.

I think the entire point of life is to evolve and adapt to what’s in front of you – we do this with experience and learning. None of us have a life handbook – well if any of you do, please drop me a copy. I have found a lot of joy in far simpler things. I laugh. I cry with happiness. I cry with sadness. I feel. I hope. I dream. I have found a lot of peace in my heart and mind and I have found that I am strong enough to face myself and that is good enough.

I may not have found my purpose–may not have found all the solutions I am looking for–but because I now know I have been lost in this new “me”, in this new reality, that I am finding the way. We all find a way. It’s one dream to the next, one personal realization to another, one step, one day, one 10 minutes – it’s a string of small steps.

Take faith in knowing that we can and do survive ourselves and this arduous journey. At times we do it alone, at times we do it with those we love, with strangers, and with those we thought forgotten or lost to us.

Patience, time, reflection, objectivity, a little self-kindness, stamina, endurance and faith in our capability – these are the tools and skills we have to develop. We can only get those through experience.

May joy and peace find you in every dark corner fold or wrinkle, stitch your wounds and ease your pain. May these experiences make you invincible!

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

16 Comments on Tips from Survivors: Finding Your Way

Tips from Survivors: Don’t Try This Alone

Dear Surviving Parents,

Your world has completely stopped, but at the same time, it is spinning wildly around you. You can’t stop sobbing. A sound is coming from you like you have never heard. Your knees are buckling under your weight, and you are falling to the floor. You may be physically sick, vomiting until your stomach is empty. You watch professionals take your child away and wonder what he or she will look like when and if you see him or her again.

You are being asked to make decisions about what comes next for your child’s physical remains, but you are not able to decide. Your mind keeps going back to the last time you saw your child alive. You replay your last words with them and wonder if you hugged them and told them you love them. Then you go further back and think about the signs you somehow missed and how this must be your fault. Your mind will also go back again and again to the last time you saw them dead.

You will stand in the grocery store with everyone moving around you like nothing has happened. You will want to scream out, “My child is dead!” so they understand your pain. It will be like a movie playing in front of you.

You will want answers. Maybe your child left a note that gives you some solace. But the note’s content will not be enough. There are always going to be more questions. You are likely never going to understand completely why this happened. You will spend a lot of time thinking about it. You will go through his or her room, backpacks, notebooks, and computer files, looking for more information or a special keepsake he or she left for you. You may or may not find it. Either way it will still not be enough.

Some of your friends won’t know what to say, so they will stay away. Others will try to find the right words and will say something hurtful without meaning to. Some will research the right things to say to someone in your situation. Some will send you cards and e-mails months from now, and you will be grateful they have not forgotten your loss and pain. Some will offer to sit quietly and hold you.

You will have a hard time making decisions—not just big ones, like what to do with your child’s belongings or room or what the headstone should look like, but rather little ones, like what to have for dinner or what to wear.

The first few months will be a blur. You will have memory issues where chunks of time are missing or you cannot remember conversations. Your work will suffer.

You will not enjoy socializing as you once did. You will hide behind closed doors and pulled shades so you do not need to interact with others. You will avoid phone calls and texts. You will turn down invitations that you would have once happily accepted. When you do find the wherewithal to go out, you will come home exhausted and emotionally drained. It will not be because people are unkind. It will be because interacting with others will enervate you.

Some of your friends, family, and coworkers will want you to get over it and will tell you so. Your grief will make them uncomfortable. You will give yourself deadlines for feeling better. After the holidays. After the child’s first birthday that he or she is not with you. After the first anniversary of his or her death. But you won’t get over it. Grief does not have a timeline.

You might consider going to counseling and then decide you don’t need it. Go anyway. This is not a journey to travel alone.

You will be changed. But you will not always feel as hopeless and helpless as you do right now. Things will get better, but it will take time and effort.

Please. Take the time to connect with resources especially developed for those who are traveling this road. Check out Facebook and online survivors’ groups. Go to meetings. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. You will connect with people who understand your journey, who will say what you are saying is exactly how they feel. You will feel at home, especially when home feels so empty now.

You are not alone.

Peace, love and light to you on this journey.

(C) 2016

Book Review: I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach

Auerbach’s intimate story will resonate with anyone who has lost a child to suicide. She is a gifted writer with a unique ability to observe and articulate what she was feeling as she journeyed through shocking loss and complicated grief. Readers will relate to her emotions, admire her courage, and be inspired by her commitment to make a difference. It is rare to find such an eloquent and powerful work in suicide grief literature.”~Ronnie Susan Walker, MS, LCPC Founder & Executive Director, Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors

A mother came home from work to find her 21-year-old son Noah’s body in her garage. She was no stranger to suicide. In her mid-twenties, her father had ended his life while severely depressed. Still, the deliberate death of her son brought her to new levels of pain, regret and confusion. She knows from her first loss that she must remain “fully awake.” In the course of taking it all in, she learns to embrace her vulnerability and express her sorrows—not always encouraged in our society.

Susan knew her son Noah was troubled but he had never been diagnosed with chronic mental illness. The suicide of a close friend in college may have triggered the depression and anxiety attacks that two years later led to his downfall. He left school and came home but like his grandfather, he rejected medical help, preferring to “man up” or die trying alone. The author laments that men in our society do not respect themselves or others if they have to ask for help.

Susan takes us through her struggles to ever so slowly regain her sense of identity and security. But this is more than an intimate portrait of the author and her family. At the end of each chapter, Susan shares useful tips for coping with grief of this magnitude and complexity. She blended her rich Jewish heritage with mind-body therapies including: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR), collage-making, meditation, dance and yoga.

For the author, writing proved especially therapeutic. With each chapter, she adds another loop or line to her grief map. Instead of an oasis or pot of gold at the end, Susan’s map through the wilderness has way stations with little gems that could easily be overlooked–like the heart-shaped stones she found under her feet when the tide went out at the beach. The only answers the universe may give is that we can survive the pain and one day recover a sense of connection to our loved one without their physical presence.

We never know how one brief interaction may affect another person. Susan recounts the experience of her friend who was in an airport when she got the call with the news of Noah’s death. Her words and sobs caught the ear of a stranger, a 15-year-old girl who handed her a note. It said she had been suicidal in the past, but after witnessing the depth of pain it caused in another, it made her “realize how valuable her life really is…so thank you…You’re beautiful.”

Susan’s story of two losses to suicide is beautifully told and full of insights. At three years past Noah’s death, she could see that for a time, constantly going over the details of her son’s life and death served a purpose. It was part of a naturally healing process of reconnecting to her son and the world in unfamiliar ways. Post-traumatic growth is the “counterweight to post-traumatic stress.”Grief after losing a loved one to suicide does not always mean disorder. It does entail a complete re-ordering–rearranging–of what we thought we knew about ourselves and others and who and what we can count on.

For survivors, there is enormous comfort in reading the personal stories of others who’ve suffered this catastrophic kind of loss and emerged transformed. It is a great relief to know that suicide can and does happen to good people in good families. Other readers can peer into the abyss of sorrow from a safe distance to see that those who die by suicide, their families and friends are not so very different from themselves or people they may know.

Tips from Survivors: Find Your Tradition

It’s so rare to find something uplifting, but it can happen. My brother’s fifth Loss Day was a couple weeks ago. Five years seems like such a significant milestone.

His Loss Day is always really hard. My family & I have never really known the best way to honor him on such a difficult day. But we figured it out this time.

I was browsing through his digital files that were saved on my hard drive so long ago–looking for a picture or something–when I came across a document he had saved with some of his recipes (in his own words!). My brother loved to cook and share his homemade meals with others.

So on his Loss Day this year, my family and I made a feast of his foods. It was amazing! It was such a sensory experience –smells and tastes –that really made me feel like we had reconnected to him. We all agreed without a doubt that this is the tradition we’ve been looking for. It was such a beautiful way to remember him.

If you have any of your loved one’s recipes or know their favorite foods or restaurants, I recommend using food as a way to reconnect with them!

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

Leave a Comment on Tips from Survivors: Find Your Tradition

Tips from Survivors: Accept Help

I just replied to a post here from someone whose family had just left and they were now alone. This really got my mind spinning, so I’ve decided to write this post.

On the day that my husband Tom took his life, the first person I called was my nephew. He’s 34 years old and a pastor. A year earlier his own father-in-law had taken his life. Jeff made calls to the rest of the family for me and then headed up here -a 500 mile drive -early the next morning.

That first night I was alone. I had told my neighbors I was just fine and needed to be alone. Wrong. I ended up calling the chaplain’s 24-hour hotline with a lot of worry about whether to call 911 for myself. I couldn’t stop shaking -my legs just continued to kick, my head was pounding, I was crying so hard I felt like I couldn’t get a full breath. That wonderful woman explained what was happening to me physically and the hormonal flush that was happening to my body due to stress. She talked to me from 11:00 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. I finally had calmed down. She told me I had to lay down, I didn’t have to sleep, but I had to rest. I never did sleep that first night, but I did finally calm down a bit and rest.

I don’t even remember my nephew Jeff actually arriving that next morning -lots of memory gaps in those first few weeks -but I clearly remember us sitting on the deck and him talking to me. I listened intently because I knew he’d been through this situation only a year earlier and I knew he loved me very much.

I clearly remember him very seriously saying: “You are a strong person, but you cannot do this on your own. You have to accept help from your family and friends. We’re all here for you. Don’t tell them you’re fine, you’re not, and it’s going to be a while before you are.”

The first time I laughed was that day when he so very gently said, “I mean nothing by this, just asking. Have you showered?” I told him I actually had showered that morning. He told me, all anyone can ask of you right now is to eat, drink, and sleep. If you shower, that’s a bonus. No one can expect anything more, including yourself.

His analogy of this grief was like walking into the ocean. In the beginning, every wave is huge and will take you down. Eventually smaller waves will hit you and you’ll stumble through them, then another huge wave will take you down. He said the waves will get smaller and there will be more time in between, but there will be times a monster wave will come out of nowhere and take you down again, but you will get back up, you will not drown.

He urged me to seek grief counseling, offered to take me to my doctor for medication, he cooked my meals, he offered to do ANYTHING, including clean my house. He sat in the living room and read while I talked with Tom’s sister in the kitchen. He wanted to give us space, but wanted me to know he was there for me if I needed him. He was my perfect first angel. He was calm and loving and he truly understood how I was feeling.

A week and a half later I saw a grief counselor for the first time. She urged me to call my doctor asap for some medication. I went home, called the doc, and saw him that afternoon. He did prescribe anti-anxiety meds for me for a short period of time to just help me breathe/sleep/calm down.

I had family and friends visit over the next few weeks, some staying for three days, one for ten days. I don’t know how I would have made it without all of them. They overlapped each other -as one left, another would arrive. I needed company, but I need peace, so one at a time was perfect for me.

I am extremely fortunate to have a couple next door that I’m very close to. They were here “that day” and have remained my guardian angels. In the beginning we had a code -once I was up, I opened the garage door. She would appear in her robe with her coffee within minutes. She and I would sit on the deck and just drink coffee and chat for a little while. I had dinner at their house numerous times. Sometimes one of them would just bring me a plate of food. She drove me to counseling since I couldn’t possibly drive myself -I had no focus whatsoever.

It’s been just shy of six months now. Of course I’m still not “okay,” but I realize I am going to survive this. In the beginning I couldn’t even function. Everything was difficult. I clearly recall having to purposely breathe. I’d get dizzy and realize I’d just stopped breathing. The first 10 pounds just fell off, then another 7 over time, but my weight has stabilized. I will survive.

I would just urge all of you to accept the help that’s offered to you. This is too huge to get through alone -at least it was/is for me. Whether it’s the county chaplain, your religious leader, doctor, counselor, family, friends, neighbors, accept the help. The people that care about you want to help you too. They can’t fix the situation, but I know that just cooking a meal for me helped them feel that they were doing something.

Sorry to have rambled on so long, but today I’m looking back and realizing how much help I was offered and accepted and how extremely grateful I am to all those people for the love and support they’ve shown me. I hope all of you have good people to help you through this time also. I also include all of you in my prayers regularly. I hope you feel the love of everyone on this forum. This forum has always been here for me too, 24/7, and it’s been a tremendous support.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »

2 Comments on Tips from Survivors: Accept Help