Living as a survivor of suicide
Updated: May 23 2013 (originally published in 2010)
I am a survivor of suicide–this means that someone close to me completed suicide– was successful in their suicide attempt. So, I am a survivor, the one left behind. In my case the first time I was put into the survivor category was over forty years ago when my mother completed suicide.
A number of years ago, I began to explore how suicide affected my own life. I attended a Survivors of Suicide meeting for a few months and found it helpful. Equipped with a little understanding about these type of meetings, I then led a SOS meeting overseas where I was living–we met for over a year. We lost a colleague to suicide in the last few years and the topic came up again and led me to write about my journey once again. I am grateful my sharing led to conversations with a few people. I attempted to be a safe place for people to process their pain by listening to them tell the story of a past suicide in their life. I guess that is the best we can do for anyone who is a survivor of suicide.
A comment on a post about suicide that I made in 2007 got me thinking again. SOS used to have a helpful website. They still have a website with some information and a link to survivor of suicide groups on the suicidology.org website Unfortunately, there are not many meetings around–I counted half a dozen in the Dallas area and one in San Antonio for Texas where I live–none in Houston, the largest city where I used to attend my SOS meetings. Perhaps they still exist in another form or by another name. If anyone has information on that, I would appreciate them making a comment for others.
I wonder if college students are any more uncomfortable talking about these topics but if they are survivors, talking seems to be a requirement to move on to healing in my opinion. Anyway, I found the following that may be helpful to some. It is designed more for those who lost someone recently to suicide but I think it may be helpful even if the suicide happened a long time ago. Here is another post I made about why not to commit suicide.
Suggestions for Survivors
by Iris M. Bolton
- Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
- Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know, or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
- Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but know that all your feelings are normal.
- Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.
- Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It is okay to express it.
- You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.
- Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
- Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
- Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
- Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing. Give yourself time to heal.
- Remember the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another life.
- Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
- Try to put off major decisions.
- Give yourself permission to get professional help.
- Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
- Be patient with yourself and with others who may not understand.
- Set your own limits and learn to say no.
- Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
- Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups. If not, ask a professional to help start one.
- Call on your personal faith to help you through.
- It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, e.g., headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.
- The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
- Explore your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go.
- Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.
Know that you will never be the same again, but that you can survive and even thrive.