Survivors Of Suicide - Provident, Inc. - St. Louis, Missouri - Facilitators - 2006

Why Folks Don’t Understand Us: 

A recent survivor post remarked about not being understood. The question being and I quote, “Can anyone tell me why I feel like no one understands how I feel.” Many survivors ruminate on this thought in the aftermath of this tragedy. I know I sure did.

We change instantly at the news that we have lost a loved one to suicide. I spent months with scrambled thoughts and reflections continually churning inside me. They remained submerged just below the surface (a built-in protection mode for when I was in public.) All the while they were always active in my subconscious.

I have hashed and re-hashed this question for years, in suicide grief groups. It evokes the reality that survivors do not know what to do.

On top of that, there is seldom adequate support to provide guidance. In the end, it is up to the survivor to figure it out.

Suicide continues to happen, on average, < every 16 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in the United States. If anyone is going to bring change in this situation, it has to be us, survivors. Yep, it is all about educating others on support for the days ahead.

Like so many unfair things in this life, wanting others, who are not affected by the suicide of a loved one, to understand our inner emotions is merely an unreasonable expectation. Sure, they might pick out one piece of the emotional debris and give a comforting statement about a similar situation in their lives— but more than likely, they will remain silent and unaware. It is not all about them since our outward behavior plays a part.

External behavior of others (and ourselves) does not shed light on what is going on inside. We have heard the grief clichés: “looks like you are doing fine; time heals all wounds; God needed another angel.”

Yikes, what are these people thinking? At the same time, they are viewing our external expressions that are not reflecting our actual insides. These uneasy feelings have a life of their own, and we are all acting at times.

It is so helpful to encounter other survivors that identify with our situation. Finding others who understand some of the turmoil we contend with still render statements like “I completely understand.” While comments like this can bear a lot of truth, they don’t bear up under scrutiny. No one can fully understand anyone else.

If you look into research studies on human nature, you may initially get the idea that roadmaps exist that will take the mystery out of the situations we encounter. While some are helpful at times, even these are far from comprehensive.

The emotional turmoil after a suicide does not match up with other forms of loss. Not when you get down to sorting the debris left behind. With most other deaths some explanations can be helpful to you. The things that help others understand your feelings.

After a suicide, while there are endless explanations offered, they are based on a set of assumptions that can never be proven. The unanswerable questions such as what if, why not, could have, should have, remain eternally etched in our memory. The search for truth goes on, and on, and on.

Below are some reasonable things that may help begin the process of rebuilding a different life:

1st - Don’t try to go it alone. You can get off track quickly, and this can lead to isolation. I have never witnessed anyone going solo as a helpful approach. Many get stuck carrying-on alone till death. Sad, but true.

2nd - Don’t wait for help only from an identical match. Don’t expect to meet another survivor who has experienced the same loss as you have (i.e., relationship, age, gender, education, experiences and psychological personality.) While waiting for the “perfect match” (so to speak) is not a show stopper, it will delay you in finding the support you need.

3rd - Don’t contemplate these issues every day. A regular interval- once a week -- gives you six lighter days to know you are intentionally putting off the rumination. You need this contemplation time to reason things out. Then knowing the day and time you are going to address old and new issues sets some order and enforces discipline. It helps you prepare for “THAT” day.

That day being a support group, a meeting or a phone conversation with another individual.

4th - Don’t set an expectation for things to return to the “way they were.” That is not going to happen. A realistic expectation is an absolute requirement.

5th - Along this same line of thought, don’t expect some instant gold nugget, life-changing event. Survivors find creating a new life is a slow and methodical process. Just like after strenuous exercise you will get sore.

6th - Consciously look for blessings in your life, no matter how small.

7th – Begin the blessings search by getting some help to adjust your outlook. The concept of a “gratitude journal” was a stretch for me in the beginning. After a while, I could no longer argue it was a waste. It helped me change my moody thinking pattern.

Journaling can diminish the buildup of negative thoughts and feelings. A spiral notebook is sufficient; it does not need to be a leather-bound fancy thing.  Bedtime is an ideal time to do this.

8th - To help you become more conversant, when relating your story, regardless of the audience, journaling is a powerful skill. After you make entries, it is common to go back and read how you were thinking and expressing yourself – as life moves along. It is also common to change your mind and convey thoughts along the same line from a different point of view. When the value of the journaling exercises begins to sink in, some will re-write their current opinions. These writings can mature to the state of helping another survivor. A double bonus.

9th - Becoming conversant in written form will help you, when relating your story in conversation. This process of writing it down and editing it multiple times will help you understand yourself. The results are you will be better equipped to share yourself in various situations.

10th When you first attempt writing things out, it will seem unnecessary.   The value of journaling will become clear, once you get started. When you become aware of your core feelings, revealing them becomes more natural. You will have endless opportunities to express yourself as life moves along, i.e., meeting new people and answering their questions. It still happens to me - like going to a new doctor, for example. Nothing helped me rebuild more than writing and face-to-face support sessions.

I was reported to have said -- “I am hiding out inside” - during my wife’s memorial service. It would be a long time before I realized how accurate that statement was. That would likely be true today if it were not for journaling and support sessions.

Don’t miss doing your emotional exercises. They will make you stronger.

11th Pick out realistic things you can do to help someone else, walking this same path. It tends to move your focus outside of yourself. The realization that you are not who you once were, unfortunately, is just some of the baggage that survivors inherit. Knowing your friends expect you to be – as before – they are uncomfortable.  Being around a moody person is not going to hold up indefinitely. Yea, another hard pill to swallow.

It is common to get angry over this issue. Finding another survivor to assist can be mutually beneficial. Finding the right audience to share needs - should be on your bucket list.

12th Keep your goals realistic. I don’t recommend the idea of starting a foundation (for example) to stop the stigma.  Suicide has been recorded in historical writings and will be around long after we are gone. Taking on an unrealistic task will only compound your frustrations there is too much rejection with which to deal.

Start out working on one or two individuals, if you feel compelled to change the world’s view of Suicide.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that addressing a crowd is going to improve your odds.  My experience reflects it will lead to more isolation and rejection. Sad, but true.