I can only tell you what I have experienced. I have seen the darkness of great loss and heard the agonies of others who lost precious loved ones to suicide. I have touched and been touched by the changes sorrow makes to the human heart. I have tasted the difference between tears of joy and tears of grief. And I have re-awakened to the scents of life in a way I never knew before my husband died.
Now, almost seven years from the greatest loss I’ve ever known, I still feel the love we shared. I’ve found a new way to keep my husband in my heart and to make his life continue to count. For a time, though, the love that had lasted a lifetime was invisible to me. At some point, I realized the terrible pain of losing Ron had covered up that love, had covered everything. I thought I had lost it all.
Those were dark days. Survivors who share that kind of darkness understand. I struggled forward, struggled to live, just to survive. And I thought my life was over.
It was. And I did not want the new life that was suggested.
I would not be able to hold onto the old life. Realistically, I knew that, but I was not ready for a long time to accept it. The struggle this situation caused in my heart increased the pain. I felt anger each time someone well-meaning tried to draw me into the present. I did not want to leave the past behind, but the hands on the clock kept turning.
Have you ever watched a clock, measured the seconds as they pass? They seem to fly so quickly and, what’s worse, they are unstoppable.
After life-changing loss, there is a period when we are trying to stay with our lost loved ones, a place between death – where they have gone – and life, where we are supposed to be. Somehow, we must find our way back to life, if only for the simple reason that we are, technically, living.
We find reasons to carry on. Practical reasons such as crying babies who need to be fed and changed and loved. Bills must be paid. Jobs don’t wait forever. Then other reasons motivate us. People in our lives need us. We feel the instinctive pull of life. We need to do something with the new compassion and wisdom we’ve found.
The visual that came to my mind back then was a virtual house. There was a hole in the floor, a huge hole. All I could see was the hole in my life, the absence of the one I loved, the one who meant so much to me, whose life mine centered around.
Gradually, I began to see parts of the floor in my visual aid that had not been torn away. The jagged edges of the flooring around the hole. I liken this visual and the progression I’m describing to what was happening in my life. At first, I could see nothing but my loss, feel nothing but pain.
As time went on, and as I interacted with other survivors and emptied myself of some of the pain by telling my story and responding to the stories of others in pain, I began to see more and more of the room my life was in. Slowly, piece by piece, I became aware of the entire “house” that represented my present life. I began to see things other than the pain.
The hole was still there, but it seemed smaller as my world vision grew. I saw blessings I had left in my life. Miraculously, I began to see and feel my husband’s love again. It came first in dreams and then in my waking moments. I grew stronger.
As I recalled more and more of the good memories I had of my husband and family, I realized those were not gone forever, as I had thought. They had only been covered by the pain. Surprised that the love was still there, I felt joy again. I did not have to let my life with Ron go.
My life still has a hole in it. So does my heart. But there is much more there, too. I am surviving and even thriving. I made my way to that new life and found it a haven instead of the hell I had expected. I never thought I would feel joy or happiness again, but I did. And you can too. Maybe not today or next week. The first step, I believe, is connecting with other survivors. In your darkness, watch for the tiny lights they offer. Grab onto the hope and help you find, no matter how small. Build your new life. Try.
Yes, you have lost so much. But the love you shared is still there. It is a forever kind of love. Use it to rebuild. Treasure it. Thrive.
Originally published on the Alliance of Hope Blog, Feb. 26, 2014. Jan McDaniel lost her husband to suicide in 2007 after 33 years of marriage. In the years following her husband’s death, Jan has founded and facilitated a local support group and authored two books – Lost and Found: rebuilding your life after loss to suicide and Hope in the Aftermath of Suicide. She has contributed many wonderful essays to the Alliance of Hope Bog and continues to serve as an Alliance of Hope forum moderator. She teaches college-level English in the Atlanta Metro Area.