Monday, July 2, 2007

Suicide Survivors


“If he loved me as much as he said he did, why did he kill himself?  Why would he do this to me?”


 “I know my dad was sick, but how can someone be so sick that they don’t care about their kids anymore?  Didn’t he know how sad I would be?”


“They said it was suicide, but I think it might have been an accident.  My sister would never have killed herself on purpose.”


“He knew I was on my way to his house.  It’s as if he purposely killed himself at that moment so that I would be the one to find him.  Why would a father do that to his son?”


“I came home from school and found her dead on the couch.  I got scared and called my dad, but we couldn’t save her.  They said she took too many pills.  I don’t understand that.”


“We never fight.  But we did that night.  Those angry words were the last words I said to him and now he killed himself.  How do I live with that?”



These are all people that have one thing in common – they are Suicide Survivors.  A Suicide Survivor is not someone who tried to complete suicide and survived.  They are the loved ones left behind to grieve the loss of someone who has completed suicide. 


Whenever someone loses a loved one, it is extremely painful, but there seems to be some losses that are a bit more complicated than others.  Losing a child is one example, losing a loved one to suicide is another example.  Why should losing a loved one to suicide be more complicated?  Because of all the questions that have no answers, the guilt, the anger and the blame.  Not only is a suicide survivor dealing with typical grief issues, but they have all this other stuff going on as well. 


When we counsel someone who is going through the grief process we advocate the use of support systems to help talk about the loved one and cry about the loved one.  In most cases, this can be a difficult task because the griever does not want to burden their family or friends.  For a suicide survivor this task is even more difficult because it can be difficult talking about the suicide.  Perhaps they fear that they will be judged, or their loved one will be judged.  Also, the details of the death may be difficult to talk about.  People often share how their loved one died, but in the case of suicide, these details can make people quite uncomfortable and the suicide survivor picks up on these subtle cues and learns to keep these details to themselves. 


When you take away these support systems from grievers, there is no way for them to movethrough the grief process and everythingstays bottled up inside.  This can lead to a prolonged grief process, physical and emotional reactions.  This is where a grief counselor can be most effective.  The suicide survivor needs to talk about their loved one and the details of the loved one’s death.  I try to provide an environment where they feel safe, where they feel they can say anything they want and they won’t be stopped or judged.  Many times, that is all they need, just to be able to say all their thoughts and feelings OUT LOUD.  I also try to provide an educational setting where the suicide survivor can eventually accept that their loved one’s death was not the survivor’s fault, but a choice made by their loved one.  I wish there were one case that I could share, but the nature of the suicide survivor is that they often maintain a relationship with me, as needed, throughout the years.  I believe this is due to the complicated nature of their grief. 


Are there success stories?  Sure!  If a suicide survivor can learn to decrease the expectations they have of themselves in grief, they are a success story.  If they learn to shift the responsibility of their loved one’s death off of themselves and onto the loved one, they are a success story.  If they are able to share the memories of their loved one, without fear of being judged, they are a success story.  If they can remember ALWAYS that we do the best we can, with the information we have, at that time, they are a success story.   Most importantly, if they can learn to love and trust again, they are a success story.



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