When my father died by suicide I was brought to my knees by overwhelming feelings of shock, disbelief, confusion, pain, guilt, anger, and love for him.
If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, you share something profound with others who have experienced this life-shattering event. You are forever a member of a group you never wanted to belong to. Membership in this group means that you will likely struggle with confusion, anger, pain, and frustration at the person who has died – often all at once. Complicating the issue, you will love the person as much as you loved them before the suicide. The deceased is at once the person you loved, the victim of a horrendous death, and the source of your anguish.
Human beings understand and mostly accept that we will lose our parents to old age. Throughout our lives we experience the loss of friends and relatives due to accident and physical illness. We cope with these events and we find support from those around us because these are universal experiences. However, we don’t know how to cope with the loss of a loved one when the death makes no sense or when it is a kind of loss that rarely occurs in an average person’s life—as when we lose a child, when someone we love is murdered, or when we lose someone to suicide.
Most of us don’t know how to deal with the complex feelings that arise from these kinds of traumatic losses. Complicating matters, we often feel isolated because the people who care for us and would otherwise be our support system don’t know how to relate to us, and though they want to help, they don’t really understand how. Because they don’t know what to say or how to help – and because it is painful for them to watch us suffer – too often they want us to just move on.
If you’ve lost someone you loved to suicide, you are not imagininghow bad the pain is.
There is no way to avoid grieving. There is no way to circumvent the painful journey ahead. It isn’t fair and you didn’t volunteer for it but you have no choice but to find your way through the darkness.
It’s often said that time heals all wounds. I do not believe this. Time can ease pain but we are complex beings and maintain feelings of love, and therefore the pain of loss, all our lives.
But there is hope: my father died twelve years ago and my pain is now manageable. After the first horrible year the anguish began to dissipate and though it has been a difficult path, I have since learned to accept a life without him and to once again embrace happiness. The pain I feel from his loss will never go away but now I can think about my dad without crying. I’ve come to terms with his death and I’m no longer consumed by pain.
You can find peace too.
Ronda Gallawa-Foyt, LMHCowns New Direction Counseling in downtown Vancouver. Her specialties include working with people who have lost someone to suicide – both individually and in group. She also enjoys working with couples and individuals who strive to bring joy to their lives and relationships. Her book, The Weight of Ashes, will be released winter 2018. Contact her for more info.