No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear-C.S Lewis
Death and loss of a loved one is painful no doubt. The family and friends are left the difficult task of grieving the loss. Suicide is a death like no other and so is the grieving process. One often feels as though they are left standing in the shadow of their loved one’s actions. They have to fight against the emotional roller-coaster and socially driven stigmas that this shadow cast. Therefore, they are called survivors. This dark space brings about several feelings and emotions that can last for years or sometimes the bad feelings never fully resolves. For these survivors, the beginning of the healing process is to first acknowledge these feelings and the second is to accept that it is okay to have those feelings.
Confusion & Guilt
Confusion or guilt is usually one of the first feelings that are felt. Confusion was the first feeling that I felt about my mother’s death. I describe these feelings in Painful Truth. This feeling stayed with me for a very long time. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started to gain some clarity. Others may experience confusion as they did not pick up on any signs of the impending suicide.
Trying to make sense of your loved one’s actions when you didn’t suspect that anything was amidst, can lead to a lot of unanswered questions. Memories of what seemed to be happy moments, now come into question. Questions with no answers often lead to misplaced responsibility, a.k.a guilt. The mind becomes filled with the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. A flawed thought process that makes one feel as though their actions or lack thereof caused the suicide.
In the midst of the feelings of confusion and guilt lies anger. Anger with themselves or their loved one. Not everyone will feel angry but, some may experience this. Like many others, I felt anger towards my mother because of her actions. In Painful Truth, I talked about how I was angry because I could not understand how I was not important enough to stick around for. My anger was also combined with feelings of abandonment and rejection. Her actions made me feel unwanted and in return angry.
Shame & Embarrassment
I grew up in the 80-90’s era. During this time, there was a huge stigma surrounding suicide. Generally, anyone that committed suicide was considered crazy. In the black community, suicide was unheard of. I can’t count how many times I was told: “With all the things already killing the black community, no one would kill themselves”. In the church community, anyone that committed suicide was going straight to hell. So, it was always easier for me to just say she was murdered as this kept the dirty and shocked looks to a minimum.
I used to be so ashamed and embarrassed to admit that my mother killed herself. The stigmas of the world only pushed belief in the need to keep it as my “secret shame”. When I was in eighth grade, I attended Catholic school. Since my teacher was a nun, I thought it only appropriate to ask her if my mother was in hell. She told me no one knows what her final words were and if she asked for forgiveness before she died, then she went to heaven. I held on to that kind word for a long time. For some reason, it gave me peace. When I became an adult and was looking to get closer to God, the question popped into my mind again. This time, I asked someone who was helping to guide me along on my spiritual journey. They told me that no matter what she said she went to hell because the act alone was sinful. After that day, that person didn’t help guide me along anywhere, least of all on my spiritual journey.
Society has gotten better about attempting to understand suicide and its effect on the survivors. However, the stigma never fully went away. Judgment and flawed perceptions are still out there. As for me, I still hear whispers when I say how she died but, I feel no shame.
We can’t talk about the grieving of suicide survivors without talking about sadness. Sadness that goes so deep it can take you into the darkest pit of a well of emotions. Sadness so strong that it can leave you wishing for the fate of your loved one. It’s funny how the very thing that played a role in the loss of a loved one, can cause you to feel that same hurt and pain. When I could truly understand my mother’s death, it sent me into a depression. It was like I could feel her hurt and pain. As a wife, mother and woman, I could finally understand what she felt. I described her pain in He Said, She Said. I also felt this longing to be with her, to beg for her forgiveness for my shame and anger. For many, these feelings can last for a lifetime. It can even manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder. That is why it is important to express yourself and seek help during this grieving process when necessary. It is also important to know that it’s okay to feel this way.
Your Turn To Reflect
- What are some stigmas you have heard in regards to suicide?
- Are you a suicide survivor or know someone who is?
Source: Serani Psy. D, D.(2013, November 25). Understanding Survivors Of Suicide Loss. Retrieved from http://www.psychologtoday