In the sequence of daily life, we move from situation to situation. Most are mundane, and you pass through them and move on to the next thing. Suicide puts the emergency brakes on . . . an encounter that never ends.
In the general public suicide is undoubtedly recognized as an extreme traumatic tragedy, yet few have any feel for what it does to those left behind. An outsider's, common consensus is rather simple, “you need to get over it, put it behind you, or move on.” I suppose that every tragedy begs for a simplistic solution. Suicide is no exception.
I am reminded of a past group session, of the stress, the survivor (from the suicide of a family member) endures as they emerge from shock to face reality. The intense period of mourning tends to fade during the three to six-month time frame. Then concerns and misgivings dominate survivor’s thoughts of the past, present, and visions of the future. Cornerstones of who we were ripped from their foundation. Then the grief stage sets in and consumes those left behind.
A huge obstacle that surfaces is a common belief that I can (or should be able to) work through the aftermath on my own. Deep inside, everyone wants to be the master of our destiny.
A survivor can get caught up in trying to control autonomous things. Being unable, they turn to a life of pretending. Pretending is a tough role to master. It does not represent who you are. It is an on the self-styled fly modification of character. The internal wrestling match continues. Survivors compound the issue by offering statements like, “Oh, I am doing fine” or “I am okay.”
Survivors continue to wrestle with the question . . . Who am I now? What is life going to be like in the world after the suicide? Though rarely mentioned, this can become permanent behavior.
Moving ahead on the survivor trail, it is so easy to get caught up on the woe is me status. While it is essential to acknowledge honest feelings, survivors should not let this become a permanent campground. There are alternatives.
Some things are etched in stone and cannot be changed short of destroying the stone. This is a permanent marker in your personal history.
The workable option is to develop coping skills since the circumstance will never change. With strong coping skills, the reality can fade into a manageable state where purpose and satisfaction can return. It is about accepting a different life, one that you have to construct. Always reflecting on “I am no longer who I use to be.”
Not being who you use to be should have been obvious, yet at first, that seems unacceptable. I held on too long to the deep desire to rewind life and live it all over – of course, with the insights of the present. For me, suicide was never in my thoughts, and neither was dealing with and adjusting to the aftermath. Reality is a survivor faced with living a life different than previously envisioned.
With all this internal turmoil going on, survivors are faced with dealing with family, friends, associates, and the public in general over the long haul. This factor cannot be avoided.
Compounding this situation, individuals offer long-standing platitudes like “time heals all wound,” “you will get over this,” “you will find someone else” or “put your trust in GOD,” among others. These statements do not calm the immediate anguish and generally make things worse . . . Not better. Most folks (even some of my closest friends) began to distance themselves and in time some just vanished.
Suicide comes with the built-in belief that it might be contagious. There are slants on that theme that are persuasive, but I have found most or misguided. There exist studies that lean to genetics, educational guidance, environment, and encounters. In the final analysis, no one truly knows. The research continues, none-the-less. Suicide has occurred throughout recorded history. If I were told the complete causative details leading up to the event, I would not be able to digest it.
While expected help did not materialize, other folks I hardly even knew, stepped up to the line and became involved in meaningful ways. Several have continued, and I am now closing on two decades.
Another common topic centers on the idea . . . Survivors do not know how to go about finding help.
While there are books on the subject and various crisis counseling therapies available, most lack that special touch that can be provided by someone who has actually experienced this dilemma. Through study and research, one can know a lot about a subject, but knowing it first hand is another thing.
Over time I wanted a road map and astute insights as to how to work through this crisis. I wanted to physically see and judge for myself how successful individual approaches were. If you think back to when you were a child, being instructed by parents, relatives, and teachers and on and on . . . There was also this observance thing going on. In most cases, it was not a conscious thing really . . . It was visual learning. Visual demonstration over time has sticking power lectures cannot provide.
On a personal note: I was reminded during these discussions of how much is lost without visual learning. There is something about seeing inflicted grief that penetrates the hardest of hearts in ways a word can never do. Writings invariably fall short.
In turn, to consider trying out and adopting suggestions can be better done in a face-to-face setting. Again, the observed perception is always competing with the academic knowledge available from many sources.
Another topic offered was the desire not to get stuck and subsequently the desire not to stay stuck. The theme of “stuck” comes in many flavors. In the beginning, a survivor might better be described as frozen or as one survivor I recall expressed it as “petrified.” Being stuck is real and can decimate the remainder of your life.
In the end, each survivor has many choices to make as to what approach they take in the Era following the suicide. Not to make a decision is, in fact, a choice that they are staying camped out where they are.
Again, on a personal note: I have watched some take a quick stance only to see it dissolve. Take your time, and don’t be pressured. You have to live with the tact you choose, not your advisor's. Generally, the more verbose in public a survivor is, the harder it is to backtrack and correct course. Blessings, dJ