Suicide Loss Survivor: What I've Learned
One survivor shares about living with the anguish and finding help
I’ve learned a few things about suicide and grief since my brother’s death by suicide six years ago, and then after my wife’s closest friend died by suicide two years later.
Losing my brother, Mo, and then Amy, who was also my friend, to suicide, rocked my world and permanently changed me. These were people close to me, whom I’d known and loved for years. How was it that I didn’t see Mo’s despair, or the depths of Amy’s depression? What did I miss? Even though the circumstances surrounding their deaths were quite different, the anguish I experienced from not being able to somehow prevent them from dying was the same. Over and over, I kept thinking that each of their deaths was preventable, and so very unnecessary.
I’ve learned that living with this anguish, on top of the grief, is part of the experience of surviving a loss by suicide. And as with grief, the anguish eases over time, but will re-emerge unexpectedly as though no time has passed and no lessons have been learned.
I’ve learned that suicide still carries a stigma. People will criticize your loved one for being “selfish” or “cowardly” out of bias or ignorance about the causes of suicide. It’s painful to hear these comments, and they make me feel protective of my brother and my friend, even when I have felt intense anger toward them for leaving behind family and friends whose grief will last a lifetime.
I’ve learned that suicide is more common than I had realized. Each time I hear of someone’s death by suicide, I’m particularly concerned for those around him or her who are depressed or who are going through a difficult time because of the “contagion effect.” In this dynamic, suicide becomes a viable option to someone struggling emotionally who had not previously considered taking his or her life.
And, finally, I’ve learned that I am not alone. Being with other survivors of suicide loss has given me strength when I have needed it, has helped me to push through the anguish, and has given me the opportunity to pass on ways in which I have learned to cope and to heal.
Each year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) offers a program for people who have been impacted by suicide to find comfort, gain insight, and share stories of healing and hope. This program, called the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day (ISOSLD), will be held on Saturday, November 23 from 8:15 to noon at Parkland College in Room U140.
To register, go to afsp.org/SurvivorDay. This program is free and open to the public (though not recommended for children under 18). For more information, contact: Dennis Cockrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217/353-2254 or Katie Schacht at email@example.com or 217/373-3824.
Additional information about ISOSLD, suicide prevention, and educational resources can be found at afsp.org.
You can find information on mental health services and treatment in the Champaign County area on the Family Service website, www.famservvcc.org; at www.findhelp211.org; or by calling 211.
Parkland College students have free, confidential counseling services available to them in the Counseling Services office. Please contact Dennis or Katie at the numbers above.
[Marilyn Ryan is a retired counselor from Parkland College.]