When You Are the Survivor of Suicide

Suicide is not an easy conversation. Period. It is weighted with the feelings of real or perceived judgment and taboo.

Survivors search and seek for answers and clues about the thinking and feeling behind their loved one’s choice to irrevocably end it all. How could this be? Why did this happen? What caused this? What was the tipping point? Didn’t you love me and the kids enough to stay? What could I have done differently? Why aren’t you here? You know it was their choice, but you still feel responsible — in a conflicted, connected way — and wonder if you could have done anything to change the outcome.

For the survivor, suicide is unbelievable and surreal. It is a game changer. Your life is permanently altered. It is the day time stands still. It is the day you stop taking a full breath. It is, alas, the day people can avoid you; talk about you; and, even, blame you.

Suicide is frequently sudden, leaving you reeling with shock and trying to grapple with the reality of an unexpected death. There is the tearful awareness that your loved one was struggling and hunkered down in a tight, dark hole, where, to them, there was only one permanent solution to end their pain. And you find yourself doubled-over in a private hell of your own grief and anguish, trying to make sense of the unimaginable.

Your world is upside-down and makes precious little sense. There are ricocheting emotions from anger to guilt, to sadness and shame and everything in-between. Nothing seems the same anymore. The world swirls around you in its ebbs and flows of daily routines and tasks, and you swim in the surreal and incomprehensible. What is real anymore? You feel everything and nothing – from numbness to seething with rage or sucker-punched with real or imagined images of the final moments. You sometimes think about suicide yourself. It is overwhelming. Suicide leaves you in a place of complicated grief and completely traumatized. This is no ordinary goodbye.

You wade through the muck and mire of grief, horror, outrage, hate, shame, fear and misery. You have a huge need to understand why. You read; you talk; you look for answers. And the build-up of heartache calls for expression; be it the repetitive movement of walking or running or the inner flow of something like writing or drawing. You may return to school so you can understand more and, in turn, help others. You may advocate for mental health issues. You may join a support group. Or you may redirect your attention to your remaining family and look for normalcy anywhere you can find it. There is no one way. Grief is an individual journey. It takes as long as it takes. There is no right or wrong. It’s a matter of picking up the pieces, one by one, and re-configuring them into a new way of being.

Slowly, you begin to accept the unacceptable. This opens the door to forgiveness. You forgive yourself, your loved one and anyone else involved, again and again, until there is no more fight and no more fury in you. There are no more walls or resistance. Everything has been stomped out of your heart. You have been broken. You are empty – and, equally, you are fully open.

This openness creates a perceptible shift of your internal axis. You are no longer knotted and pretzeled. You feel altered, changed, different. You begin to breathe a little deeper. You have found a more expansive understanding and a bigger, more inclusive love. These are the holy grail of your healing journey.

Surviving a suicidal loss is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts, tenacity and a will of steel to negotiate the labyrinthine emotions and psychic pulls of life and death. This healing journey is an alchemical process where darkness can be transformed into a compassionate heart.