A short time ago, I read an interesting post on our forum, from a woman who recently lost her husband to suicide. She wrote:
“All of us here on this forum are considered to be ‘survivors.’ We did survive the unimaginable acts of our loved ones – but I want to do more than survive.
Surviving, in my definition, means merely getting by. I want to live a purposeful and happy life. I want to smile, laugh, feel loved and wanted, and be someone’s priority instead of the one who must pick up the pieces and survive. Survival is merely existence to me. I don’t know how much more time I have left on this earth, and I desperately want to be able to live a fulfilled life. But the complications of this single act performed by my husband will most likely deter that.
I’m praying that God will define the purpose of all of this, grant me the life I crave and that eventually, I will not be “just a survivor.“
I understand this widow’s desire to go beyond the pain and beyond just surviving. I appreciate her yearning for purpose – and I know that many of you will as well.
The Context of “Journey”
I believe it is especially important to offer the context of “journey” to new loss survivors like the woman who wrote this post. When I talk with new survivors, they often ask: “How long will I feel like this?” “How do people survive this?“ And in the midst of their devastation, many also say they hope that something of value might eventually come from the loss.
I always tell new survivors that people do survive and even eventually go beyond just surviving. I think most don’t believe me – and that’s understandable – but I believe it is important that it is said. It’s important to hear that there is the possibility that with time and griefwork, the pain will diminish, and loss will become integrated into our lives. Our losses will inform us. They will influence us. They will color how we relate to others and the work we do in the world. They will deepen our compassion and our courage to reach out to others in pain.
After Traumatic Loss, We Move Forward Incrementally
Most survivors say the consuming pain diminishes slowly — far too slowly. Yet all the while, something else is happening that often goes unnoticed. As we process the devastation, we are strengthening our capacity to be with the “duality” of what life offers. We grow in our ability to navigate a world that includes love and loss, joy and pain, good and evil.
Two survivors on our site have written eloquently about duality and going beyond surviving:
The first, Johna Tichenor, lost her husband to suicide 10 years ago. Johna wrote about duality:
“There are two aspects of surviving – a duality to surviving. You never get over your loss, but you move forward to live a happy life. … The most tragic event of our lives will become embedded in our souls, but we will also be happy again someday. That is a very hard concept to get your head around. Forget about trying to explain it to a broken heart.”
The second survivor, Elizabeth Neeld, wrote about the later stages of the grief journey when one begins to integrate their loss and turn back into life:
“We have known from the moment of impact that our life was changed forever. As we travel the journey of grieving, we come to a place where we realize that we must change too. From the moment – a very valuable moment – that we even ask the question of how we will replan our lives – we are making the turn back into life. We don’t have to know the answers to make The Turn. We just must realize that replanning our lives is critical to our finding our way forward on this journey.”
(Elizabeth Neeld outlined seven phases of the survivor journey. You can read more about that here.)
After experiencing the loss of my stepson Channing and working with so many other survivors for over two decades, there is no doubt in my mind that suicide loss is one of the most complex and devastating losses one can experience. The collateral damage of suicide shatters the foundations of life. One must first determine they want to survive, then find a way to survive, and eventually go forward.
It is no easy journey, but thankfully, there are now many ways to connect with others who understand, and many more people are speaking openly about their loss. In support groups around the country, and on the Alliance of Hope Forum, there are thousands who have traveled the journey, and who understand. They have walked the walk and are not afraid to reach out with support.
Please know we are here for you during the difficult days of this holiday season, and every day. I hold you and the community in my heart and my prayers.