“Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!” Chris Stevens (Northern Exposure)
In the aftermath of loss, many survivors enter despair so painful and intense that they lose all hope for a day or two … or more. For most survivors, this does not represent inherent or latent mental illness, but the depth of the trauma and loss they have incurred.
On the Alliance of Hope forum, we see many posts from survivors who have begun to have suicidal thoughts themselves:
- “This emotional pain is so severe it takes my breath away and leaves me feeling that I too would be happier dead.”
- “A shrink, the suicide hotline, my friends and family, and this forum are keeping me alive while every nerve ending is screaming GO TO HIM.”
- “I’m tired of the senselessness, of the waste, of the pain. I want to rail at all of this, but I don’t know who to yell at. And sometimes, I just want to be done with it all. Sometimes, I just want God to take me home.”
Sometimes people weather the initial loss of their loved one but are swept low by a second or third trauma that comes their way soon after the first. This happened to me 26 years ago. Within a few months after the death of my stepson, my husband told me he was leaving our marriage. This had not been on the horizon before the suicide. With no warning, family, social and economic structures slipped from under my feet. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not see a future of anything but loneliness and despair. The pain I already felt exploded geometrically and I began to think about how to end my life.
This had never happened to me before. As a counselor, I knew I needed help and asked for it. I created a circle of support: a psychiatrist, a counselor, an acupuncturist, and friends to be with each evening after work so that I was not alone in an empty house.
I was committed to life getting better. Some part of me was choosing to do things that might make life better. The rest of me was scared senseless.
In the well-known book Seven Choices, Elizabeth Harper Neeld describes points of decision in the grief journey that follows traumatic loss. She describes a journey that takes place over months and years, noting that at various points we must choose to suffer and endure, to look honestly, to act, and to engage in the conflicts that arise in order to gain freedom from the domination of grief.
Choosing to move toward freedom from the domination of grief does not mean that we love or miss the deceased any less. It means that slowly, we have mustered our courage and moved back into the world. Most survivors will tell you that little by little, they moved back with greater wisdom, courage, and compassion for the pain and discomfort of others.
It is important to know that with time, the pain does diminish and transform. Survivors take ground, inch by inch – in incremental steps forward. The loss does become integrated into who we are. It becomes a part of who we are, and it influences us in ways we never expect.
If you are feeling alone, please reach out. If you are feeling hopeless, please reach out. One of the most remarkable things about suicide loss survivors is their compassion and willingness to support others who are going through traumatic loss. Find the courage to connect with others at a local support group or tap into the strength of the community on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors, at any time of the day or night.
Please know, you are not alone. Thousands have experienced suicide loss. They have fought their way back into life and you can do that too. New survivors often say they have “joined the club no one wants to join” … and that is understandable. Yet, in truth, the survivor community is one of the most compassionate and wise communities around. In the aftermath of loss, those things that commonly divide us fall aside. They become inconsequential. We connect with kindness, guided by our humanity.