Support for those Coping with Grief
Suicide is not only a choice that ends a life – it is a decision that can devastate and destroy the lives of loved ones left behind. International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, or “Survivor Day,” will take place on November 17, 2018. It is the one day a year when all those affected by suicide loss unite with one another around the world in support, comfort, and understanding. Survivor Day was established in 1999 by Senator Harry Reid, a man who survived his father’s suicide. The day now falls annually on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving, and is a time for those affected by suicide to gather with friends and family for support. If you have been affected by suicide, know that this November, and throughout the year, there are resources available to help you cope with your loss. While your life may never be the same, you can learn how to soothe your pain, take comfort in your memories, and find support from those around you who have also experienced loss and who understand the challenges of healing.
For survivors of suicide loss, the days, months, and even years that follow a loved one’s death may be plagued by unanswerable questions. It is important to understand that suicide is often the end result of a serious underlying mental illness complicated by difficult life circumstances. Over 90 percent of those who take their own life are suffering from an underlying, and often undiagnosed, mental health condition at the time of their death. Such conditions may include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or substance abuse. Such disorders cause terrible suffering, and can affect an individual’s ability to think rationally and make positive decisions such as seeking support and treatment.
In addition to suffering from a mental health disorder, those who take their own life are often dealing with difficult life circumstances which lead to feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and the belief that improving their circumstances is beyond their control. When someone loses their ability to believe in the potential of their future feelings of pointlessness can become dominant, and they may feel that they no longer have anything for which to live – even though it is not true.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide and find yourself feeling guilty, confused, or wounded, understand that you are not alone. It is normal to be left wanting answers to difficult questions, or feeling like you could have done something to prevent your loved one’s death. However you do not have to suffer such feelings forever. There are steps you can take to begin the healing process:
- Connect with other survivors of suicide. Find a local support group in your community, or participate in a Survivor Day event this November.
- Consider reading memoirs from other suicide loss survivors. Immersing yourself in such stories can allow you to heal. Finding shared grief, understanding, and empathy from those who have suffered a similar loss is a powerful part of the healing process.
- Speak with a grief counselor. A professional can help you deal with your unresolved feelings and can help you to find closure and forgiveness.
- Prepare for difficult days. Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays can be especially difficult. Talk to your friends and family and be honest about how you are feeling. You may want to continue past traditions, take the opportunity to start new ones, or travel away from home if that makes coping easier. Give yourself time and space to heal during these challenging times.
- Take care of your health. Make sure to maintain a healthy diet, exercise routine, and sleep schedule. If you feel able, continue those hobbies and activities that bring you joy, and allow yourself to take time off when needed.
- Honor the memory of your loved one in a way that is meaningful to you. Plant a tree or make a donation in their name, write and share your memories, participate in their favorite activity – anything that you feel honors their spirit and brings you feelings of closeness and warmth.
The most important thing you can do for yourself as you heal from your loss is to allow yourself to grieve. You are now missing an important person in your life that will never be replaced. Learning to accept the way that your life has changed will take time. Give yourself patience and understanding, and believe that it will always be okay to grieve, and it will always be okay to move forward as well.