When Someone You Love Completes Suicide
Author: Alan Wolfelt
Opening to the Presence of Your Loss
This article is excerpted from Dr. Wolfelt's book The Wilderness of Suicide Grief: Finding Your Way.
“In every heart there is an inner room, where we can hold our greatest treasures and our deepest pain.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Someone you love has completed suicide. In your heart, you have come to know your deepest pain. To be bereaved literally means to be torn apart. You have a broken heart and your life has been turned upside down.
While it is instinctive to want to run as far away as possible from the overwhelming pain that comes with this loss, you have probably already discovered that even if you try to hide, deny, or self-treat your pain, it is still within you, demanding your attention. In acknowledging the inevitability of the pain and raw suffering that comes with this grief, in coming to understand the need to gently embrace the pain, you (in effect) honor the pain.
The word honor literally means recognizing the value of and respecting. It is not instinctive to see grief that erupts following a suicide death and the need to mourn as something to honor. But I hope you discover, as I have, that to honor your grief is not self-destructive or harmful; it is self-sustaining and life-giving.
You have probably been taught that pain is an indication that something is wrong and that you should find a way to alleviate the pain. In our culture, the role of pain and suffering is misunderstood. This is particularly true with suicide grief. Because of the stigma and taboo surrounding suicide, many people think you shouldn’t talk about it, let alone honor your pain by openly mourning.
In part, this article will encourage you to be present to your multitude of thoughts and feelings, to be with them, for they contain the truth you are searching for, the energy you may be lacking, and the unfolding of your eventual healing.
Setting Your Intention to Heal
It takes a true commitment to heal in your grief. Yes, you are wounded, but with commitment and intention you can and will become whole again. Intention is defined as being conscious of what you want to experience. A close cousin to affirmation, it is using the power of positive thought to produce a desired result.
When you set your intention to heal, you make a true commitment to positively influence the course of your journey. You probably know the cliché, “Time heals all wounds.” Yet time alone does not heal the wounds of grief that come with suicide. I like to remind myself and other survivors that healing waits on welcome, not on time! Healing and integrating this loss into your life demands that you engage actively in the grief journey.
A Vital Distinction: Shock versus Denial
Shock, along with elements of denial, is a temporary, healthy response that essentially says, “The reality of the suicide death of someone dear to me is too painful to acknowledge right now. Therefore I refuse to believe it.” While this is a natural initial reaction to suicide, you will hinder your eventual healing if you stay in long-term denial.
There are various forms of denial that, as a survivor, you must work to break through:
Conscious Denial: This is where you hide the fact that the death was suicide. You may tell people it was a heart attack, murder, or an unexplained sudden death.
Innocent Denial: This is where you hold onto the hope that the findings that ruled the death a suicide were a mistake and will be changed at a later date.
Blame as Denial: This is where you blame someone else for the suicide, thereby denying the choice someone made to take his or her own life.
Pretense and Denial: This is where the unwritten family rule is that you never talk about the death or use the word suicide at any time. The motivations for these types of denial are multiple and complex. Often people don’t even realize they are in denial. So if you discover you have gone beyond shock into some form of prolonged denial, do not shame or ridicule yourself.
But here is the problem: by staying in denial, you miss the opportunity to do the grief work related to your feelings. Until denial is broken through and the pain is experienced, you are on hold and authentic mourning cannot take place.
Face Any Inappropriate Expectations
You are at risk for having inappropriate expectations about this death. These expectations result from common societal messages that tell you to be strong in the face of life losses. Invariably, some well-intentioned people around you will urge you to move on, let go, keep your chin up, and keep busy. Actually, you need to give yourself as much time as you need to mourn, and these kinds of comments hurt you, not help you.
Society often makes mourners feel shame or embarrassment about our feelings of grief, particularly suicide grief. It implies that if you, as a grieving person, openly express your feeling of grief, you are being immature. If your feelings are fairly intense, you may be labeled overly emotional or needy. If your feelings are extremely intense, you may even be referred to as crazy or a pathological mourner.
As a professional grief counselor, I assure you that you are not immature, overly emotional, or crazy. But the societal messages surrounding grief that you may receive are!
If you fear emotions and see them as negative, you will be at risk for crying alone and in private. Yet being secretive with your emotions doesn’t integrate your painful feelings of loss; it complicates them. Then even more pain comes from trying to keep the pain secret. You cannot hide your feelings and find renewed meaning in your life. If you are dishonest about your pain, you stay in pain.
Grief Is Not a Disease
You have probably already discovered that no quick fix exists for the pain you are enduring. Grief following a suicide is naturally complex, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But I promise you that if you can think, feel, and see yourself as an active participant in your healing, you will slowly but surely experience a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
Grief is not a disease. To be human means coming to know loss as part of your life. While the grief that accompanies suicide is a powerful, life-changing experience, so, too, is your ability to help facilitate your own healing.
I invite you to gently confront the pain of your grief. Be open to the miracle of healing. Integrating the grief that comes with a suicide death requires your willingness. You must already have some willingness or you would not have picked up this article. Follow your willingness and allow it to bless you.
In large part, healing from a suicide death is anchored in a decision to not judge yourself but to love yourself. Grief is a call for love. So if you are judging yourself and where you are in this journey, STOP! When you stop judging the multitude of emotions that come with your grief, you are left with acceptance, and when you have acceptance (or surrender), you have love. Love will lead you into and through the wilderness, to a place where you will come out of the dark and into the light.
By Dr. Alan Wolfelt, PhD: Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School's Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including Understanding Your Grief, The Mourner's Book of Hope, and The Depression of Grief, from which this article was excerpted. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning and to order Dr. Wolfelt's books.