Last week, one of our forum members posed a question that we’ve all asked at one time or another: “How the heck do I get through this and come out the other side? How will I ever heal?” The member had lost both her parents to suicide and my heart went out to her for that terrible loss.
One of the things I’ve learned as a survivor, and from working with thousands of loss survivors, is that there no simple answer to that question. Someone once said after losing a loved one to suicide, “everything helps a little, but nothing helps a lot.” This may be true. We do know however, from research as well as subjective survivor reports, that some things seem to help a little more than others.
One of the unique things about suicide grief is that it is a traumatic grief. It contains components of post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, counseling and treatments geared to helping people with PTSD symptoms are generally very useful.
The loving, non-judgmental support of friends, family, and community is also very important, particularly when grief is new. Many survivors have told me that, in the beginning, they were not sure they wanted to continue. They found themselves faced with a choice: to go on living – or to join their loved one. Many have said that they went on for the sake of those around them, still living, whom they held near and dear.
Over time, I’ve noticed that there is one more very important thing that makes a difference. It is our ability to make a commitment – or take a stand – about how we want to live our lives. When survivors of suicide loss resolve to make a positive or meaningful difference as a result of their loss, their paths begin to alter.
In the immediate aftermath of loss, and in the months and early years that follow, most survivors are consumed with debilitating emotions as well as very real-world challenges resulting from the death of their loved one. That takes tremendous energy and some survivors say it is an accomplishment just to get their head off the pillow in the morning.
Yet, as months turn into years, survivors do move forward. They grow visibly stronger and wiser about the nature of life. And I believe that most become more compassionate as well. It is at this point – usually several years out – that so many survivors turn their attention to contribution – to making a difference – each in their unique way. For some, it may mean supporting other survivors. For others, it might mean building playgrounds or baking bread. Our ways of contributing are as varied as the handprints on our hearts.