Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Surviving the Aftermath of Suicide
When you first receive word of the suicide death of a loved one, it’s as though the world has tipped on its side. I’ve survived this nightmare twice, and both times as the news descended I felt as though the ocean was roaring inside my ears. There is no way to prepare for this kind of loss. After the initial blow, thankfully a sense of numbness prevails. This is followed by the welcome intervention of the Comforter. Somehow you get through those first difficult days carried by the Spirit. In a state of shock, you handle things you never dreamed you would ever face. Then finally, the funeral, the visits, the final decisions are made. That time passes in a blurred haze—and then the pain descends.
Suicide goes against everything we’ve ever been taught about enduring to the end. As such, when a family member chooses to exit this mortal world by their own hand, we are left without the comfort of knowing it was their time to go. We are inundated with emotions that threaten to tear us apart. Guilt, anger, and grieving pain alternate for attention as we struggle through a loss we can’t put into words. It helps to know that this life isn't the end, nor does progression stop on the other side of the veil. I know that loved ones who commit suicide live on, and receive the help they need on the other side of the veil. That witness has come after years of prayerful research, talking to priesthood leaders, and sacred moments within the temple walls. What a comfort that knowledge has been in my life. It is not our place to judge--we do not fully understand the mindset of those who commit suicide. That task is left to a loving Father in heaven who will take all things into consideration. Our responsibility lies in continuing on, letting go of the pain, and finding peace in forgiveness.
I was told in the days following my father’s suicide that this type of loss is comparable to the trauma experienced by those who survive a war. I would agree with that analysis. Thankfully, we are not left alone in our suffering. It has been my experience that heaven’s eyes are upon families torn apart by this type of tragic loss. We witnessed miracle after miracle in our family following my father’s demise. Hearts around us were touched to help when the need was great. How grateful we are for those who followed through on important promptings.
Since we’re all different, we tend to heal in varied ways. In our family it took a combination of things to repair our broken hearts. We learned that heartache is truly a physical pain. For the longest time I felt as though a stone was wedged tightly inside my heart. Then one day I stumbled onto something that eased that discomfort: serving others.
Nearly a month after losing my father, I was called upon to take dinner into a sister who had been ill. At first, I was resentful. Because of the way my father had died, I had been treated like a non-person. This loss had taken place during a time when suicide was a rare occurrence. Most people didn’t know what to do or say; I can count on one hand the number of people who were brave enough to wade into the mire of grief that became my life. So when I was asked to help someone else, I wasn’t overly thrilled. An overactive conscience prevented me from declining.
I’m fortunate I didn’t cut off a finger as I angrily chopped vegetables for the homemade clam chowder I had decided to make. I was still upset as I toted that kettle of soup inside this sister’s home. But when I saw how sick she really was, the iceberg that had settled inside my heart began to melt. Her need for help was great, and as I did minor household chores before leaving, I pulled outside of my own grief to serve. That was a turning point for me. Serving others proved to be a healing balm for my aching heart. Soon I was looking for ways to help those around me who were struggling. Each time I rendered service, the pain I carried lessened.
On the nights when I couldn’t sleep, I found that if I wrote out everything I was feeling, it also eased the pain. I shredded those pages and with each tear, peace replaced the anguish. I later learned that I had been guided toward taking care of my own therapy. Writing things out is an important release, and something that is recommended when facing traumatic loss. Writing became another healing balm for me and in time, I would become a published author. I truly learned that when much is taken, much is given in its place.
Something else that helped: letting go of the guilt. We had done the best we could under extremely trying conditions. We had to realize we were not to blame for Dad’s death. He was very ill at the time and committed an act he never would have considered had he been in a healthy state of mind. I suspect this same fact is true in most cases, including the more recent suicide death of my brother-in-law. The “what-ifs” can eat us alive if we’re not careful. Prayerfully seek help to heal from this volatile emotion. Professional counseling is a great way to work through this part of the healing process.
Holidays and special family events tend to bring back intense grief. For years I spent nearly every Father’s Day in the bathroom at the church, trying to paste myself back together. In time, those days soften. But at first, they rub salt in an extremely tender heart wound. Prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, and remembering there is strength in numbers are all crucial helps to surviving difficult days. We still gather together as a family to weather the holidays. We try to focus on the good memories of the past, and aim to make fun memories for the future.
Another tip to enduring a difficult day: reflect on the blessings. I would often make a list of the good things happening in my life. It was a needed reminder that despite all that we had lost, numerous positive blessings were also taking place in our lives. Instead of blaming God for what had happened, I tried to realize it was through His help that we were surviving.
I am living proof that it is possible to work through the devastation of a loved one’s suicide. That darkened tunnel can be survived. If this has been your challenge, place your hand in God’s and take each day as it comes. Step by step move forward knowing that eventually the pain will cease. The sun will return to your life and you will feel the warmth of knowing you are not alone in this trial.
It was mentioned to me at the completion of this article that it might be helpful to know how our family did in the years that followed Dad's unfortunate demise. Here is a brief run-down. As you'll see, we were each able to go on with our lives and enjoy a certain amount of success despite the tremendous heartache we endured:
I was a twenty-two year-old wife and mother when my father passed away. My two younger sisters were both in high school, and our brother was nineteen. Our mother was forty-three when this tragedy struck. A remarkable woman, she moved the family to Logan, Utah so everyone would have access to a college education. She then attended a trade-tech where she graduated as the valedictorian of her class. She worked for several years as a dental assistant and is now retired. She is still a great example of perseverance and fortitude.
My brother was able to serve a mission compliments of some friends of our father who wanted to finance that opportunity in honor of Dad's memory. He left for the mission field about 6 months after we lost our father.
Both of my sisters graduated from college. They are married, have great families, and enjoy wonderful careers. One works as a technical writer for a software company. Her first novel was published this year. The other works for a medical research company where she is a Clinical Research Coordinator.
Our brother served a successful mission in Montreal, Canada. He returned to Logan where he majored in psychology. He eventually obtained a master's degree and he works for the state of Utah, counseling those who are injured in accidents. He is also a talented web designer. He and his wife have three beautiful daughters, and they reside in Utah.
Kennon & I are the proud parents of three sons, we have welcomed two wonderful daughters-in-law to our family, and we love being grandparents to a cute tiny girl. I am a published author with nine books to my credit at this time.