Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all the darkness. ~Desmond Tutu
In many survivor groups across the world, December ushers in a special ceremony of remembrance and hope. Survivors gather together during this darkest time of the year, light candles, and recite a communal prayer or affirmation. Each phrase is punctuated with the sentence: “Light will return to my life.”
During the years I facilitated support groups here in Chicago, we gathered in a circle and repeated this ceremony. Members brought photos of loved ones and passed them around. It felt very special to see the images of loved ones — faces filled with intelligence, compassion, humor, and warmth. Many were strikingly handsome, surrounded by family — with never a hint of how things would end. Sharing photos always brought group members closer together.
Sometimes new members would tell the rest of us that they had little hope light would ever return to their lives, and we understood how they felt. In the immediate weeks and months following loss, it is often difficult to believe in anything, much less that “light will return to one’s life.”
Newly bereaved survivors struggle – many in the battles of their lives – with debilitating emotions. Some report a surreal quality to their first holiday season after loss. They say they feel profoundly disconnected from the rest of the world, which is immersed in decorating, partying, and buying presents.
I believe it is particularly important at this time of the year for our survivor community to reassure the newest members that the pain does diminish and transform and that those who have died do not stop being a part of our families. Those who have died are still loved as strongly as ever. We consciously and unconsciously find new ways to relate to them and carry their spirits with us as we complete the journeys of our own lives.
Carl Jung once wrote: “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” It would be hard to find a survivor of suicide loss who has not been immersed in darkness at some point. It is in touching the darkness that we come to know more about Life and Light.
Recently, I read an anonymous quote: “I stopped looking for the light. Decided to become it instead.” How simple and how profound. I believe that is what most survivors do eventually. While they may not acknowledge or even recognize that’s what they are doing, a close look at any group of loss survivors reveals their profound compassion and courage to reach out to others in pain.
As the year comes to a close, I want to wish everyone a peaceful holiday season. I pray that light will return to your lives in the coming months and years and that each of you will become a source of light and inspiration for others.
Ronnie Walker MS, LCPC is the Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. She is a survivor of suicide loss. This essay was originally published on the Alliance of Hope Blog in 2013.