Nothing prepares you for the searing, soul-shattering loss of suicide, but here are just ten of the horrific realities you will face in its aftermath, that I wish someone had warned me about. No one can protect you from them. All you can do is to try to muddle through.
1. Your brain will play tricks on you that they are not really dead.
Even if you were the one who found their body, or if you saw their lifeless corpse, you will at times suspect that it’s all been a mistake. That person looked exactly like your loved one, or somehow they did not die but ran away and will be back.
2. You will crave–but may not be able to access–sleep.
That sweet, sweet loss of consciousness will become your only escape from the grief. Unfortunately, your anxiety and depression may cause insomnia, permitting you only brief respite from the pounding reminders that your loved one has died.
3. You will seek to forget through addictions.
People don’t talk about this, but I think it happens to us all. If you’re lucky, your addiction will be sleep–which restores your body and brain. If not, you may turn to a drink, that turns into three, or shopping, sex, cleaning, working, gambling, exercising, overeating–any substance or activity that can temporarily crowd out thoughts of your loss. And as you know before you even read my words, none of it will suffice.
4. Sometimes, you may cling to the pain in terror that if you feel it less, you will be forgetting them.
It may seem that the depth of your pain equates to the measure of your love and loyalty; and besides, what else besides pain have you had access to since they left? It’s the only remaining shred of the relationship, and you may battle with yourself about whether to allow it naturally to subside.
5. Your memories will fade.
The first days, months, and years, you may have daydreams and nightmares, and you probably will ache to share your memories and hear others’ as well. But, just as time ravages the human body over a lifetime, it will rob you of the sharpness of your memories’ details and cause you to look at photographs and messages with a confused detachment you never, ever wanted.
6. You will live on, long after this loss.
Unless you don’t: Tragically, you and I face 3.7 times higher rates of suicidal planning, says the National Institutes for Health, than those who have not experienced suicide loss.–But if you’re reading these words you have surmounted that temptation, and now you face long years without them. As each birthday or death anniversary rolls around, the bridge stretches longer between the time you had with them and the time you’ll carry on without. It is excruciating to know this, and I believe the only way to cope is to dedicate each new day to honoring their memory.
7. People will judge you, avoid you, and offend you.
This type of death terrifies your neighbors, family, and friends to the point where they will say clumsy things at best and hold you responsible at worst. For your safety, you must tune them out and cling to those who see who you really are and how you cherished the one you lost. Turn to your therapist, sister, support group, or whoever respects you, because you may need to learn all over again to respect yourself.
8. The world will go on with a hideous sort of “normalcy.”
You’ll force yourself back to work, the grocery store, or the park, only to find families spending time together with no sense of cherishing it while yours is shattered, lovers holding hands as they walk or ignoring each other over a meal while your beloved will never again share your bed, and people everywhere chattering about banalities and complaints that feel like an affront to your raw nerves. It’s as if you live on a different planet now.
9. It will seem like everyone except you, forgets.
Another cruelty of time. People will touch base with you less frequently, mention their name less often, and fail to mark their special dates, while you hold their stamp like a branding upon your heart. Maybe people don’t actually forget but have just stopped talking to you about it, or perhaps the elixir of forgetting helps them to move on. Forgive them, even while you continue to hold your loved one in precious care.
10. More than anyone around you, you will need to find purpose.
You will not be content to clock in to work, eat your dinner, and watch the game. Now and forever you carry the awareness of the fragility of life and, for what little time you have, you will feel an imperative to make it matter. Whether it’s being kind to a struggling stranger, or volunteering in mental-health services, or supporting a cause or passion in honor of your loved one, I wish you well.
Wherever you find yourself in the merciless timeline that continues after your loss, I am so sorry. For you, for me, and for the future they will not experience. Please, above all else, be gentle with yourself and know that you really are now strong enough to face anything.
One resource that can take the edge off the initial pain is the SOS Handbook, written by Jeffrey Jackon for suicidology.org. It’s a manual for surviving suicide loss. If nothing else, take a look at “The Suicide Survivor’s Bill of Rights” (page 30), and believe that you DO have human rights in your grief, and you get to make the rules for your survival.
Thanks to eyasu-etsub-j3R9C-Xqe1w-unsplash from Unsplash for the open-source use of the scorching image featured at the top of this blog.