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SHOLEH: Suicide: Understanding survivors

by SHOLEH PATRICK
| September 20, 2022 1:00 AM

Loss is part of human life. In a way, it’s a balance that helps us appreciate all the good we still have, and can yet experience.

Everyone experiences it, but the experience is not as universal. The last few Septembers I’ve skipped a once-annual column for Suicide Prevention and Action Month. You’d think it would get easier to talk about it as the years pass, not harder.

And yet…

Grieving has no guideline. Suicide can be as complex for those left behind as the one who left. Perhaps it’s time to focus on the former.

Before I do, please, sometime this month consult any suicide prevention sites or source, refresh your understanding of how to recognize signs and try to help prevent it if the moment arises (nami.org, suicidology.org/resources). Then, please consider perspectives of families and friends whose loved one died this way.

First rule they’d want you to know: There are no rules.

With any kind of close death, especially of someone integral to daily life and feelings, mourning looks different from one person to the next. Some withdraw and keep a tight lid on it. Others let it pour out. Or do both, back and forth, with changing frequencies.

Some are very public with their grief, expressing on social media day after day. Year after year. Some just stop talking about it, at least outside of close relations.

Some just want to talk about the good times and ignore the bad as years pass. Or vice versa. Or both, once in a while.

That’s all OK.

Once more: That’s all OK.

Many things make marks upon our lives, including loss. Every relationship is different and each individual has different ways of absorbing its loss into their life, of adapting and of dealing with it. With suicide, it’s more than just grieving. It’s living with questions and facing stigmas about suicide that intensify grief.

As described by the National Alliance on Mental Illness those commonly haunting unanswerable questions include:

Why did they give up hope? What could I have done differently to prevent this? Why didn’t I see the signs (what makes one depressed person do this and not another)? How could they do this if they loved (me, their spouse, children)?

There is no blame to lay, including on the one who died. More often than not, they expressed a belief that others would be better off without them before they died. Suicide isn’t “selfish.” It’s desperate and hopeless, a feeling everyone can relate to at some point in life.

The other difficulty after a suicide is to see others remember their loved on not as the unique person they were, but as “the one who killed himself.” That makes people uncomfortable, so they don’t want to talk about or even mention them.

That sort of unintentional “ghosting” hurts. They lived. Their memories include joys and laughter too. Close survivors want to hear their names as much as anyone else grieving would, not erase them.

Ten weeks, 10 months or 10 years later the pain of close loss does not lessen, but it does find a place inside where it can live, along with the good memories and feelings. Grief is a river, sometimes calm and sometimes turbulent. Waves still come, in ripples or with hurricane force — but with less frequency.

Just hold on and ride.

It’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to be OK. If it’s your experience let it be what it is. If it’s another’s, let theirs be.

The nice thing about rivers is the bank is nearby. You can get off in calm waters and enjoy all the beauty of life yet lived.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, dial 988 for the suicide hotline.

• • •

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email sholeh@cdapress.com.

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