We Each Have Our Personal Cocktail of Emotions Following Suicide
My journey began long ago, decades, in fact, yet still, the same feelings I had when I first learned of their deaths arise from time to time. When my mom committed suicide at the end of 1993, I felt more relieved than anything else. She was a difficult person to live with at the best of times, and my own crappy attitude which I hugged to my breast protectively magnified her faults far beyond anything even resembling reality. For years after her death, my primary emotion was guilt. I felt guilty for feeling relieved, even though, for a little while, it took some of the pressure off my life as a single parent in a high-pressure job, and the messy divorce I was in the midst of.
Though I attribute much of that guilt to my Jewish upbringing and my mother’s masterful ability to administer it, even from the grave, I discovered in retrospect that most of it was self-inflicted as a result of my over-active sense of responsibility.
When my dad took his life nearly 10 years later, the anger I carried towards both my mom and myself reared it’s ugly head. Like my guilt over mom’s death, I tried to stifle what I deemed inappropriate anger. Mostly, I was angry because he followed my mom’s lead knowing how much her death had devastated everyone around her, especially him. But I was also angry because he chose to check out the day before his granddaughter’s birthday, and on the same date as the one, two years earlier that had shaken the U.S. to it’s very core. And yet, as his reasons became clear after I learned he’d received a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer two days before his death, I was a little more understanding and a little less angry.
Learning How To Live Again
Still, it was 6 more years; years in which I was lonely and self-contained, before I realized my unreasonable reactions to small setbacks was a sign I needed to stop suppressing my feelings over their deaths and allow myself to feel them in all their ugly, messy glory. At that point, I was not ready to share those feelings with anyone, even when they showed themselves without my willingness or active participation.
Instead, I turned to what has, over the years become my confidante, my therapist, and my healer. I spent 9 years writing a memoir focusing on myself and others who had shared the unwelcome and traumatic experience of family suicide I found we are the forgotten victims of suicide. We are the ones who deal with our own guilt and colossal cocktail of emotions. We’re the ones people look at and say “why didn’t you see they needed help and get it for them before they chose suicide?” And we’re the ones who are left to pick up the pieces of a life that ended too soon, wishing we had all the answers and had known to act, even if, in the end, it might only have been a temporary fix.
The Healthiest Emotions Are the Ones We Express Without Filter or Reserve
Yet, through my writing, I let the emotions fly as they would, releasing years of lies, anger, guilt, and sadness, replacing them with forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and most of all, compassion. I won’t say the experience was enjoyable. Even today, I read the words I wrote over those 9 years and some of them bring me to tears again. I hear of a suicide on the news, or from a friend, or even within my own extended family, and something inside me becomes the scared, guilty child who ruled my life until 9 years ago.
Each time it gets a little better. I don’t find the blame or the guilt as often any more because the most important lesson I learned in the process was that in the end, it isn’t and never was about me at all. The path my parents chose was taken for reasons known only to them. I can conjecture until the end of time, but will never have all of the pieces to their personal puzzles. And that’s OK. They would never have wanted my life to end when theirs did, and in fact, in some ways, I believe they cleared the way so I could live better without trying to heft their burdens as well as my own as they aged and succumbed to illnesses both mental and physical.
Clearing Our Path for a Life Lived Well
Because I let the emotions play out, I can now think of them without the anger I once felt, and more often with gratitude that they spared me the agony of watching them sicken and die. I’ve learned to share what I came to realize as I wrote out my pain, anger, guilt, and more. When you lose someone to suicide, let your emotions be the balm that heals.
Let anger, guilt, blame, and everything else flow in any way you can. Like tears, it will wash away some of the pain of loss that, though it may never go away, will lessen with time. When we dig deep into our own emotions after a suicide, we find compassion and love, not only for the person who is gone, but for ourselves as well. It’s a gift we don’t often think to give ourselves, but it is one of the most valuable and lasting gift of all.
My journey, like my life, is a constant work-in-progress, but the writing of Forgotten Victims has taught me many things. The most important of all is that trying to travel through life alone, even for an introvert like me is not a sustainable option. No matter how big you build your walls and how strongly you fortify yourself against escaping emotions, they will eventually escape. The more deeply you suppress them, the more explosive and cataclysmic their ultimate escape will be. The solution is to reach out to people, and to put aside fear and embarrassment over the actions of another. Your emotions do not define you, except perhaps to include you in the community known as Humanity.
Sharing Our Journey
I learned at great cost that suppressing the feelings and emotions which arise naturally after losing someone in any way, much less suicide are real, necessary, and are designed to attract people who can and will help us survive and thrive after our loved one’s death. Only when we accept and even embrace those emotions will our true healing begin.
My travels have taken me outside myself where I’ve found others who endeavor to help the real victims of suicide. Here are a couple of places I’ve found if you’re in need of an understanding forum. And of course, you can always reach out to me. I am happy to help those who are trying to climb out of the pit of despair which all too often follows a suicide.
These are the only ones with whom I currently have personal experience, but will post more as I become acquainted with what they do. If you know of a website or Facebook group which deals well with support for suicide survivors (those who’ve lost someone to suicide) I encourage you to post a comment with a link to the site or group as many others can benefit from them but don’t know where to find the support they need.
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for article writing and ghost writing to help your website and the business it supports grow and thrive. Her specialties are finding and expressing your authentic self.
Be sure to watch this space for news of the upcoming release of “Forgotten Victims: Healing and Forgiving After Suicide”.