About Early Emotional Distress:
I remember the day, date, time and place when I received the news. Only five words – over the phone . . . “Rebecca (then . . . a long pause) has taken her life,” and then silence. After that darkness.
Most baffling time ever. Prostate Cancer, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, CPR, AED Paddles nor open heart surgery have been as troubling to me.
All of us have unique experiences, yet many of our reactions and feelings are similar.
Some early encounters annoyed me . . . like "time heals all wounds." Other sayings that made me mad were “I know exactly how you feel . . . or when my grandfather (worst yet – 'my pet') died.”
At the same time, most said nothing and just faded away. This is not a condemnation of them. Before this happened to me, I would have had no clue as to what to do or say. The best comment ever to use is a simple, "I am sorry." A true expression of feelings plus I did not have to try and concentrate. Avoidance is the more common treatment.
When the Massachusetts State Troopers arrived with a local trauma unit, they must have had something to say, but I don’t remember a word. I would find a packet they provided, years later, unopened. When shock takes over, our brain goes into a spin and our rational shifts into park and lock.
With the passing of years, I have come to appreciate what the work site did for me, on that otherwise ordinary Tuesday afternoon. The night plant manager, who took over the training room's brother was the local parish priest. He arrived during all the mayhem. While I don't recall a thing about that encounter, he would come and have lunch with me at subsequent times. Those times were meaningful and I remember them with fondness.
Days turn into weeks before coherent thoughts surface. Here everyone is widely different. My attitude became "nothing really matters." I could not even do routine things. I was uncomfortable being with anyone and I certainly did and did not want any help. At that point . . . everything fell into the unimportant bucket.
Although I do not recall, it was reported that I told friends, “I was hiding out inside.” Blank stares out the patio door consumed a lot of my time.
After eighteen years, I still feel inadequate in expressing the emotions that swirled in my mind. My brain cells just have a hard time getting along together.
I had nothing meaningful to share in those early months. I realize that now. Not sure why I expected my friend to provide meaningful help. It is just a needy state to be in. You have to be cautious not to let your emotions get the best of you in front of your friends. Realize your friends are just as uncomfortable and uncertain as you are. All of this will increase your chances of becoming more isolated.
I do not know a single thing that could have been changed nor anything that could have brought significant relief, back then.
This whole thing takes time, but not time alone. There is no other way I am aware of. Time alone will not heal anything. That is a myth and can become a permanent barrier to discovering your way out of "the pit."
You (and your contacts) have to realize you can never go back to “the way we were.” You have to discover the new "you" and they have to accept or reject you. Tough statement.
Now (if you are a new survivor or you are an exception to the rule) nothing I have shared will make sense for a while. The over-riding question for most is one word “why?” The sad part (maybe not) is that is unknowable. You can never validate why these deaths occur, yet, you along with everyone else will wonder and speculate.
It is human nature to make judgments. You will face questions and statements about why. This is something that just comes with the territory. I don’t have a solution for that, but I have developed some coping skills to deal with the early on questions.
My suggestion for the beginning days, weeks, months . . . concentrate on listening and remembering (write them down) the positive things about your loved one. There will be a lot of them. These stories will be important building blocks as to how you will remember (or think of) your loved one in the years ahead.
Know that there are no right things you should do or say.
If you start off verbalizing your thoughts early on, you will increase the risk of some of them coming back to haunt you. Generally saying little is best.
As soon as you hear negative stuff, turn your listening volume off. You will exhaust your emotional gas tank quickly if you get confrontational about all this. Again, saying little is better.
With some soul searching, you will be better able to balance your own thoughts and decided for yourself how you will remember and judge this situation over the long haul. And the only judgments that matter is your own.
You can influence others, but you cannot change them. And always remember that your emotional tank will run dry quicker than you think.
I am old now and have experienced 3 different suicides. A co-worker, a best friend, and my wife. That does not make me an expert on anything. But I have also listened to 100’s of others in survivors in support groups over the years.
Here are a couple things to avoid in those first weeks:
Don’t make statements about your disappointment, the cause or who is to blame. The best single statement that will give you room to maneuver is “I am doing the best I can right now.”
Later on, you will have had some time to collect and reflect on your own thoughts.
Avoid dialogue with others (most of whom will be ill-prepared as well). Just say something like “I am not ready or prepared to discuss this right now.” You might also add “Maybe a little later” for those you will be obligated to, like family.
This will give you time to sort out the crowd that you told: “maybe later.” Some will be in the category where “maybe later” could be never. Don't let yourself feel obligated to engage the teller at the bank, or your car mechanic. If you don’t do this you will accentuate your distress, and tire of overlapping dialogues that drain emotional energy.
We all have - to have - a pop-off person. Someone that will listen. Plus they have the time to allocate to you. You probably know who those individuals are and yet some will surprise you.
Families Dealing With Suicide is by and large a benign place to start. Nothing is right or wrong here but avoid confrontations because they only bring everyone down. Blessings, dJ