Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery   St. Louis, Missouri

About Closure After a Suicide:

Closure is a term off associated with some form of loss.  In the news (and the general public) it is tossed out as final solution for any residual upheaval.  Grief Groups often promote the idea of closure as the end of mourning and return to tranquil life. 

For those left behind by suicide, closure is more complicated.  In the wake of a suicide, the emotional debris makes returning to tranquility an insurmountable goal.  Simply put, unthinkable.

If you ask folks what closure means you get various definitions?  For folks distant to the situation of a loss, the definitions and implications are not urgent. For those directly affected, closure is urgent.

For those left behind by suicide the word closure is of acute interest, yet seldom discussed.  The driving motivation of a survivor is to end the uncertainties and calm the prevailing agonies.

So how do we reach closure?

It is important to establish realistic expectations.  Following a suicide, survivors are transfixed on a return to the good times.  Often the foremost thought center around what would have, should have, could have been done differently.  Then envisioning what the resulting affects would have had on the outcome. There are few thoughts of anything less.

Adjusting expectations comes slowly, partially due the resident emotional pain, impaired ability to reason and sheer exhaustion. Trying to reason how taking one’s life was a solution will never be validated.  That will never be possible.

It is imperative that you grasp reality that you have to walk away from the closure process satisfying yourself.  You cannot adopt someone else conclusions, nor can you be told what to accept or believe by anyone else.  You will live out your life with whatever you decide and it is not necessary to convince anyone else of your conclusions.  There is significant risks of confrontation when dealing with others.

It is possible (and common) to reflect on known struggles your loved one faced.  Clearly things that we know about play a role in their decision, but there endless issues and circumstances that you can never know.  In time you have to accept that a survivor cannot replicate the thinking or decision process for the suicide.

As a survivor we are faced with a long winding path that we have never considered.  Everything about it is new.  The closure process is riddled with holes that cannot be filled.  Though sorting through what we know and seeking details we wonder about can be disturbing, in the end they can bring peace to your conclusions.

If you are like me, you will change your mind and rethink all manner of details.  It is just a natural happening as you work and rework the closure process.

I have adopted a number of explanations for “closure” specific to survivors of a suicide. These do not apply to suicide attempts, since attempts encompass a unique set of circumstances.

Closure is not a finality but an ongoing process.  In certain aspects, it will continue so long as you live.  I have encountered a few survivors that claimed total victory in this struggle.  I applaud them and wonder how they did it.  For me there is a continual string of triggers that draw me back into the closure process.

Initially the central question is WHY?  While “Why” churns inside our subconscious, survivors cannot avoided the question internally or externally . . . in the present or future.  It is intertwined in our personal history.

Coming to some conclusion (which can never be validated) is necessary and unavoidable.  A bit of structure and organization can help.

I have developed my process built around a filing system.  The central feature was a drawer labeled Closure.  The draw could be easily opened and closed . . . but NEVER LOCKED.  While it had to be opened at times, it could be shut allowing me to engage in other things.  It is stressful to have that drawer open for extended periods of time.

There were memories, reflections of past conclusions that I reveled in and those that made me rethink my past.

If you look inside my closure drawer you will find a half dozen folders organized by categories:

1. Folders containing open/unresolved issues that need to be looked into (you might say the temporarily unknowns?).
2. Folders with all manner of gathered details (noting the source and date) that no conclusion had been reached.  You might say a “cold case” file.
3. Folders of details on issues “actively in progress” (but presently unresolved.)  These included people and/or places to look.
4. Folders for things I still wonder about but am afraid it would disrupt someone else’s life if I pursued them.
5. A folder for things I am satisfied there is nowhere else to go and I need to stop the search.
6. Finally my “wonderment file.” This is for things that are clear yet impossible to render suicide as a solution.

This process lead me to writing a Peace Letter.  In retrospect, I see this as the beginning of the letting go process. Forgiveness to her and all the cascading events that involved others. Some might assess this as an end to the blame game.

Admitting that there are a lot of ways I did not measure up to her expectation and I attribute them as failures on my part.

I tended this analysis process through years of struggles. This approach has ended in a state of peace. In some ways a period of acceptance that “I can never (really) know the why.” There are no further options at this point.

Work on all this leads me to my own understanding that taking one’s life follows no formula.

For most of us left behind, there were insufficient signs this was coming. It is typically a very tightly held secret our loved one maintained under wraps. One of the things I did discover by going to counseling with her was the childhood traumas she faced, yet remained hidden for almost fifty years.

Then after her death, I would discover some of her friends at church knew. So to be unaware is not a mark against your relationship but more of a developed defense mechanism of the one you have lost. Certainly, some are more accomplished at this than others.

Rebecca was a masterful performer and even with years of therapy, she slipped by all her counselors.

During our last counseling session, I now realize she was telling me and the counselor (by the way, a very experienced older fellow) that the barn was burning. Then less than three weeks pass and she is gone. Just 5 days before our next counseling session.

You have to open the closure drawer to work, but you cannot leave it open permanently. You have to close it to maintain all the activities of life. It can never be sealed.

Here is where a survivor support group comes in. Once a week is an ideal routine. I suggest opening for that once a week session, work on stuff and close it for the next six days. It is not helpful to continually ruminate on all this. But healthy in the end to sort it all out and come to some personal understanding you can live with.

Nothing else (or persons) matters in this process, just yourself . . . period.

FHAS-About Closure After a Suicide V7-G-0B04.2017