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Surviving Suicide
© Copyright Lotus ~ July 9th, 2004

A young woman whose father committed suicide at the age of forty-eight was heard saying,
“You never get over a suicide. You just learn to deal with it. Our friends get over it right away
but it’s something we live with for the rest of our lives.”

Losing a loved one to suicide leaves those left behind stunned, not able to comprehend the word
“suicide.” This death feels foreign, as though it has suddenly risen from the depths of “nowhere.”
The World Health Organization projects that one million people will die from suicide this year -
a global mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds and the Journal of the
American Medical Association reports that 95% of all suicides occur at the peak of a depressive episode.

Stigma associated with depressive illnesses can prevent people from seeking help. A willingness
to talk about depression and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first
step in helping to prevent a suicide.

Suicide is a difficult subject to understand, to talk about and to accept because of the intensity of
emotions that surround the experience. When we love someone, we inevitably set ourselves up
for pain and grief when that love is severed. Suicide severs that love without warning, leaving us
without closure and a journey of complex grief to resolve.

Coping with a suicide death is more complicated that anything you could have ever imagined. As
shock and denial begin to wear off, you are left with exaggerated feelings. Feelings of rage,
anger and guilt can often leave a family in a "hostile atmosphere." Each person feeling hurt and
betrayed yet not understanding the "why" of this death makes it more difficult to share their
thoughts and feelings leaving mourners more isolated. The subject of suicide becomes "taboo"
and the silence stunts the mourning process as loved ones simply hide what is really going on.

Neither poverty nor wealth account for suicide. Being anxious, feeling stressed, divorce, single
parents, pressure and anxieties, loss of a job, fighting/arguments, none of these cause suicide.
Bad parenting does not cause suicide and good parenting does not prevent suicide. The causes of
suicide are multiple and do not necessarily involve dramatic tragedy or failure in love or life.
Biology, genetics, psychology of mind and personality, and life events can all be villains that contribute.

It is extremely important to understand people contemplating suicide usually feel hopeless. They
believe there are no answers to the pain and problems in their life but death. This bleakness, as I
mentioned, can come from various sources however most often, feelings of hopelessness and
desolation are symptoms of clinical depression, a medical and psychological condition that
afflicts at least one in every fifteen people.

Most survivors admit that there is little anyone can say to provide comfort. Yet, connecting with
someone usually leads to greater peace. This is also true for those who have attempted suicide themselves.

Like anger, intense guilt is not unusual in this situation. Despite the fact that we know and
understand we can only be responsible for our own choices, when someone we love takes their
life, we tend to think that we could have done something to prevent it. It is crucial to recognize
the limitations of one’s ability to have prevented this death. This was a decision made by
another. It is also important to remember that suicide is not a disease that can be transmitted.
Suicide is not a rational or clearly thought out action. If suicide is any kind of choice, it is a
choice in which someone is unable to see alternatives and consequences when all else has failed.
The person who completes this act dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths trying to
relive those moments and understand why.

There are many “myths” surrounding suicide …
Myth: “People who talk about it don't do it.” Studies have found that more than 75% of all
completed suicides did things in the few weeks or months prior to their deaths to indicate to
others that they were in deep despair. Anyone expressing suicidal feelings needs immediate attention.

Myth: “Anyone who tries to kill himself has got to be crazy.” Perhaps 10% of all suicidal people
are psychotic or have delusional beliefs about reality. Most suicidal people suffer from the
recognized mental illness of depression; but many depressed people adequately manage their daily affairs.

Myth: “If a someone is going to kill herself/himself, nothing can stop her/ him.”. Someone
contemplating suicide is ambivalent - part of her/him wants to live and part of her/him wants not
so much death but wants the pain to end. It is the part that wants to live that tells another “I feel
suicidal.” If a suicidal person turns to you it is likely that he believes that you are more caring
and informed about coping with misfortune.

Myth: “Talking about it may give someone the idea.” Not true. People already have the idea. If
you ask a despairing person this question you are showing her/him that you care and are willing
to listen to what fills their hearts and/or spirits with pain and sorrow.

Myth: “Depression is part of the aging process.” It is NOT normal for people of any age to
suffer from depression; this includes our elderly population. Major depression is an illness, a
chemical imbalance in the brain and can strike people regardless of age, race or economic
position. The illness can appear after a triggering event or for no apparent reason.

How often have you heard, “Those problems aren’t enough to commit suicide over.” You cannot
assume the person you are with feels the same way you do. What seems like a simple problem to
us may be overwhelming to another.

Suicide is one of the most difficult deaths to cope with. It is vital to understand that suicide is not
solely the result of some sudden, bizarre impulse nor is it one single act that can be isolated and
analyzed. The final life-taking act cannot be “stereotyped” as it is a combination of a whole life
context. Try to deal with the facts of the suicide as soon as you are able to, making sure you
understand all the information you are given. This can help relieve any doubts and leave you
better equipped to cope with the truth.

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we

Surviving a Suicide ~ Things You May Experience …
Historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, "There are always two parties to a death; the person who
dies and the survivors who are bereaved." Unfortunately, many survivors of suicide suffer alone
and in silence. The silence that surrounds them often complicates the healing that comes from
being encouraged to mourn.

As a result of fear and misunderstanding, survivors of suicide deaths are often left with a feeling
of abandonment at a time when they desperately need unconditional support and understanding.
From Crisis to Recovery is a gradual process of healing as you re-channel energy from mourning
into living. Do we ever completely recover? No, life has been altered forever but with patience
and understanding, survivors learn how to reconcile themselves to the reality of loss. With time
you can learn to move in and out of various emotions, and begin to understand that healing does
not run a straight path but is a lifelong journey.

Your mourning process will differ in two ways:
You will have the added burden of understanding the motivation for the death
Your grieving process will be of longer duration.

As a survivor, you may find yourself preoccupied with your loss trying to reconstruct what
happened as you work your way through the painful aftermath.

Your grief will involve constant change and show itself in all spheres of your life … spiritual,
mental, emotional and physical resurrecting old losses, feelings and unfinished business from the past.

You will grieve for many things, lost hopes, dreams and unfulfilled expectations. Give yourself
permission to grieve. Lean into the grief and draw it closer. You can't go around it, over it or
under it. You must go through it to survive and begin the healing process. There is no other way.
As difficult as it is, please do not be afraid to use the word suicide.

Thinking that you are losing your mind does not make it so. Most grieving people experience
this. Feeling scattered and overwhelmed are natural reactions to this devastating loss as are
feelings of depression or experiencing waves of intensity.

You may feel angry at the person who died, angry at yourself and/or others and yes even God.
You may also find yourself exploring your faith and religion especially if you have been taught
that persons who take their own lives are doomed to hell.

Express your feelings. Suppressing grief keeps one in a continual state of stress and shock,
unable to move from it.

Acknowledge any feelings of anger or guilt. Sudden death intensifies emotions exaggerating
anger and guilt. It is natural to wonder if you could have helped prevent this from happening but
the actions of another are beyond your control. Persistent self-blame can only result in self-damaging.

You may experience shame because of the social stigma, either real or perceived, by which you
are affected. Many are taught from childhood that suicidal people are shameful, sinful, weak,
selfish, and so on. None of these ideas are true.

Certain dates, events and celebrations may bring an upsurge of grief.

Looking After Yourself
When you are grieving, looking after your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being is
extremely important and often neglected. Taking care of all aspects of “self” can have an
immense influence on the mind, body and spirit.

As I mentioned earlier, grief is a journey we take from the person we use to be to the person we
will become. To help ease the transitions, simple steps can be taken …

Insomnia is common to grieving and sleep is a necessary ingredient to healing. If you are having
trouble sleeping, talk to your family doctor, or health care practitioner. Practice meditation or
gentle stretches before climbing into bed.

A warm bath can be soothing and help you unwind as can listening to music or reading a “light” book.

Massage is very comforting, healing and useful to help promote relaxation.

Nutrition is a major factor in how you feel and even if eating seems like an unachievable goal, it
is important to try and maintain a healthy diet.

Some form of exercise is also vital and can often improve your mood.

Keeping a journal is a wonderful way to help sort out your thoughts. It can provide a means for release.

Give yourself simple pleasures. Although they don’t offer solutions, they do provide relief.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Support groups can be an important source of help for survivors.

You can benefit enormously by sharing your concerns and feelings with others who have, like
yourself, experienced anger, guilt, confusion, fear, and all the emotions that erupt during a
devastating loss.

To share times of pain with another, is a touching sacred moment, from which we emerge as a
wiser, more sensitive human being.

Give Yourself Permission …To Grieve –
The death of a loved one is a reluctant and drastic amputation, without any anesthesia. No scale
can measure the loss. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and openly express your grief. Don’t
allow anyone to tell you what you should or should not be feeling. Remember, you are unique
and so is your grief.

To Cry - Tears release the flood of sorrow filling our hearts and spirits. A good cry can make
you feel better and more at peace. Each tear released helps relieve the brutal force of hurting and
missing our loved one. Tears are a way to mend the pain and suffering of life. They are neither
something to be ashamed of nor something we must force.

To Laugh - Laughter is not a sign of less grief or less love. Laughter is a wonderful tonic and has
marvelous healing power. It can also enhance your over-all well being and encourage happy
thoughts and memories to resurface. Laughter is the best medicine!

To Heal - Patience and perseverance will help you get in touch with your feelings. As the months
pass, you will find yourself slowly moving away from outward grieving. This is not an indication
that you have forgotten your loved one, it is merely a sign you have come to terms with your loss
and healing has begun. Trust your instincts and live one day at a time.

As time passes, you will heal but your scars may never fade. The broken pieces of ourselves are
often our greatest teachers. From them we gain wisdom, understanding, compassion, faith and
insight. It is from them we learn that we can go on.

I am including an article that I feel goes hand-in-hand with the above. If you know someone who
is thinking about suicide, please read this …

Most people have suicidal thoughts or feelings at some point in their lives, feeling totally alone
or wondering if life is worth living. Yet less than 2% of all deaths are suicides. Most people
contemplating suicide suffer from conditions that will pass with time or with the assistance of a
recovery program. There are many steps we can take to improve our response to those in crisis
and help reduce a great deal of human suffering. Education, recognition and treatment are the
keys to suicide prevention.

I don’t know who you are, or why you are reading this but I can assume that you are because you
or someone you care about is troubled and possibly considering ending their/your life. If it were
possible, I would prefer to be there, sitting with you talking, face-to-face, heart to heart. But
since that is not possible, we will have to make do with this.

Now I’d Like You to Call Someone
I have known many who have wanted to kill themselves, even I contemplated suicide many years
ago. So I have some awareness of what you might be feeling. I know you might not be up to
lengthy discussions but if you can spare me a few moments, I have some things I would like to
share with you. I won’t argue with you about whether you should kill yourself and I don't want to
talk you out of your bad feelings. Obviously if you are thinking of ending your life, you must be
feeling pretty darn lousy.

I’d like to ask you to stay and read some of my thoughts. I hope you will. It may help you see
that even in the deepest darkness of despair, you may be not be sure about ending your life.
Being unsure about dying is okay and normal. The fact that you are still alive at this minute
means you are still a little bit unsure. It means that even while you want to die, some part of you
still wants to live. So let’s hang on to that, and keep going for a few more minutes.

Let's begin by understanding that "Suicide” is not chosen, it happens when our pain exceeds our
resources for coping. That’s all it’s about. You are not a bad person, or crazy, or weak, or flawed,
because you feel suicidal. It doesn’t even mean that you really want to die - it only means that
you have more pain than you can cope with right now. So I need you to understand that when our
pain exceeds our coping skills, suicidal feelings are the result. Suicide is neither wrong nor right;
it is not a defect of character; it is morally neutral. It is simply an imbalance of pain versus
coping resources.

You can survive suicidal feelings if you do either of two things:
Find a way to reduce your pain, or find a way to increase your coping resources. Both are
possible. You need to hear that people DO get through this - even people who feel as badly as
you are feeling now … the longest journey begins with just one step.

People often turn to suicide because they are seeking relief from pain. Remember that relief is a
feeling. And you have to be alive to feel it. You will not feel the relief you so desperately seek, if
you are dead. Remember Feelings and Actions ARE two different things. Just because you feel
like killing yourself, doesn’t mean that you have to actually "do it right this minute."

So I am going to ask you put a little distance between your suicidal feelings and suicidal action.
Some people may react badly to your suicidal thoughts and feelings, either because they are
frightened, or angry. They may actually increase your pain instead of helping you, despite their
intentions, by saying or doing thoughtless things. You have to understand these are people who
care and that their reactions are about their fears, not about you.

But there are people out there who can be with you who will not judge or argue with you, or send
you to a hospital, or try to talk you out of how badly you feel. They will simply listen to you.
Find one of them. It is okay to ask for help. Try “The Samaritans” by phone or e-mail
worldwide, or look in the front of your phone book for a Crisis Line. Call 1-800-suicide in the
U.S., carefully choose a friend or a minister, priest, rabbi, or doctor, someone who is likely to
listen. If you are too shaky to locate a number, call the operator and ask her to direct you to the
nearest Crisis Line. But don’t give yourself the additional burden of trying to deal with this
alone. Just talking about how you got to where you are, releases an awful lot of the pressure, and
it might be just the additional coping resource you need to regain your balance. “

Adapted from "Now I'd like you to call someone" and reprinted with permission.

Written by Martha Ainsworth © Copyright 1995-2002 and based on work by: David Conroy
PhD and as a Public Service.

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