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What It's Like In the Aftermath of a Loved One's Suicide

I know several people have mentioned they can't imagine what it's like to go through what I am. It occurred to me to try to describe it, at least what it's been like. It's worth mentioning for the reader that as I'm writing this it's now been about six months since the police were at the door to tell me they'd found Ariel's body in that hotel room. Some of this is still very pertinent to what's going on, but thankfully some of it has faded a little. Our language doesn't really have words to define this. At best, it seems like something that can only be described with parallels and metaphors. Given that, here goes...

It's kind of like what happens when you get a bad cold or flu. It's hard to think straight. I know what's going on around me and where I am, but getting the thoughts into coherent order is hard, sometimes impossible. Things suddenly feel unreal, even if it's circumstances that have been familiar for years or more. Sometimes those simple, basic things just don't click or make sense. In an abstract sense, they do. The ideas are still there. Getting them to click together, though, to feel like they've become REAL, is sometimes just impossible. It's like trying to put together a 3D puzzle with pieces made of barely-tinted glass that's coated in oil. Along with that, the level of energy present for doing much of anything is drastically reduced. The thought comes to mind more than once that it's like watching the Energizer Bunny trying to keep “going and going and going” with only one or two of it's four batteries. There's no lively little step or smart rap of the drum. Instead, it looks like it's trying to drag its way through a swamp of cold molasses, wondering how many more times it can hit the drum before its arms just go dead and drop.  Sometimes it's better, sometimes not so much, but it's never what it used to be as far as energy for doing—or even enjoying—things goes.

Suddenly even normal, routine things are complicated and hard to understand and kind of scary. It's again like having the bad flu and having to go up or down stairs when I'm weak and shaky and my balance & equilibrium are just shot. Something like walking into the grocery store where I've been dozens of times before feels like walking through a field of tazer mines. They're not going to kill me, but I don't know when something will suddenly pop up and hit like a blast of electricity...and hurt. The same is even true about thinking about who's now gone, who's been lost. It's kind of scary, as there's no way to know what will suddenly pop up in association with those thoughts. And none of them will just take me out, remove consciousness, no matter how bad they hurt. If several go off in a row, they just keep adding to each other....and taking what there is of me at the time apart. When it gets bad, reality starts to bend, and what's most scary about that is that at those times I'm aware there's less of me to be afraid than there was before it happened.

It's the same with emotions. They're all a bit scary. There's no way to be sure of how something will make you react. Something that's sad or dramatic to “ordinary” people doesn't touch me at all, when I'd expect it'd scrape you raw across wounds that were torn open. On the other hand, things that are funny and make me laugh sometimes suddenly leave me with tears running down my face and gasping because I'm suddenly sad and hurt. Fear's pretty consistent. It just shows up with almost everything, especially at first, when I don't know how it's going to hit you or how well I'll be able to deal with things....or not. Anger also flares at times, in response to unexpected things. It's kind of like a jet of scalding, superheated water and steam expelled from a hidden geyser when the pressure builds too high and just won't be contained anymore.

Thinking gets just....strange. Odd and unexpected thoughts come up sometimes. Some of them make sense, like wondering why it happened or what I did to bring this to myself in this life. Sometimes it seems like life's not worth living, especially when it hurts that bad. It's not the thought of ending myself, but just wondering what the point is anymore. It's hard to see something good coming. It's hard to see much in the future at all. In that way, it's like coming back to consciousness in the middle of a thick forest in heavy fog. I can see about five feet in front of me but that's it, and I have to get out. There's no way to hurry, too many low-hanging branches and rocks and unstable footing. I just have to pick a direction and hope I'm going the right way, 'cause I just....don't.....know. And it seems to go on and on and on and on and on.....with no real way to tell whether I'm getting anywhere or not. I just know I can't stay where I've been.  Sometimes my brain just seems to shut off and I find myself staring at whatever's there for....I don't know how long. Especially if there's not someone else there that snaps me out of it. 

Physically it feels like I've gone mostly numb, mostly dead. The closest I'd felt to it before was pneumonia, where I just had no energy, where even standing up sometimes was a colossal effort and achievement. The energy required to open a drawer and lift a spoon to eat some oatmeal is gargantuan. And that's just one task at the start of the day. I know exercise is good for me, and once I get moving, I do OK, but it's like inertia has suddenly become much, much more intense.  Things don't feel so good anymore a lot of times. Pain doesn't hurt as bad, either, but it's more draining.

One of the things that also stands out is that humor and joy are pretty much just gone. For awhile, sure, there's nothing that's funny or in which I find joy. That's bad, but not the worst of it. The worst comes a bit later when I started regaining at least the wish for it, the impulse to sing a song or make a joke or do something silly and funny. In the beginning, the impulse would half-form and then die in a cloud of sickening futility and despair. Over time, it's changed to where it doesn't die that quick. Sometimes I'll get out a line or two of song, the start of a silly voice I'd used before....and then it collapses. In some ways, it hurt less when there was just no capacity for it as opposed to the conception and then abortion of some of the more enjoyable things I used to treasure....and take for granted.

It's been impossible to shake feeling broken. Psychologically, it feels like the equivalent of having every bone from your jaw down to your knees and from your elbows up and in just shattered. Somehow I'm still alive, but nothing feels right, even things that were just automatic...like breathing. Sometimes it's just numb from overload. When the pain is there, though, it's worse than I thought I could survive. I sometimes wonder how I have. And it's hard to look at myself and not see what's still broken, what's still not “normal.”

Maybe the worst part is that it feels like there's something important, something critical—something VITAL—that's missing. Remember the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? How he didn't have a heart? It's kind of like that. It's what makes laughing and smiling possible and rewarding. It feels like it's the thing that makes life worth living and enjoyable. It's the lynch pin that made the world feel OK. Nothing really seems to take it's place, either. Sometimes things provide distraction, for a little bit at best. Coming back to it is always hard. Sleep is one of the best escapes, assuming there's no dreams that remind me even more pointedly and painfully of what's changed, what's gone. 

Praying helps some. At best, the sense of God being around provides some comfort. As of yet, it hasn't replaced that lynch pin. It just helps to feel like God knows what I'm going through and is sad, too.

A few friends I've shown this to have suggested putting in a summary or a positive spin for the ending. I thought about doing that. From what I'd learned in high school and college about a good essay, it should have one or the other, so it doesn't leave the reader hanging. I've come to the conclusion that doesn't fit here, though. For someone who's living in the immediate aftermath of a loved one's suicide, there is no ray of sunshine guiding them to a quick way through it. As much description as can be put to it, there's no way to really sum it up. For someone in the middle of it, it never quite makes sense and it just goes on, with at best the hope that the fog will lighten and the darkness of the forest clear.

What are some of the needs of Suicide Survivors?

Let us be who we've become -- people changed by tragedy. Just try to "be there" and support whatever form our grief takes. Trying to understand is okay, but just caring is enough. Realize that you can't possibly relate to what we are experiencing. You don't have to. 

Mourning a death by suicide is a lengthy, intense and confusing process. It is also unique; each of us experiences grief in our own way.

Because suicide is a sudden, unexpected and often violent loss, the grief it causes is excruciating, prolonged, and still often stigmatized. This may cause us to withdraw socially. We may even feel responsible for our loss. Those who witness the suicide or find the body may suffer post traumatic stress.

We don't "get over" a suicide. The effects may stabilize, but the loss is forever felt. Our personal values and beliefs are shattered and we are changed emotionally.

Every suicide survivor needs immediate support at the time of the loss. Individualized or family counseling, medical care, and participation in on-going support groups can be extremely helpful.

To read a heartbreaking first-hand account of the aftermath of a loved one's suicide, click HERE.

Suicide Survivors

"There are always two parties to a death; the person who dies and the survivors who are bereaved."
-Arnold Toynbee

A suicide survivor is an individual who has lost someone he/she cared for deeply to suicide. The victim may have been a parent, child, spouse, sibling, other relative, partner, or friend. It is estimated that every suicide leaves six to eight "survivors."



More YouTube Videos:

Dedicated to Suicide Survivor's

Katie Couric's Notebook: Teen Suicide

National Survivor's of Suicide Day

Lidia's Story: Suicide Loss Survivor

Survivor's of Suicide Day

Clip from AFSP's National Survivors of Suicide Day Program (2009)

Abraham: Son's in Non-Physical

"One often calms one's grief by recounting it." ~ Pierre Corneille

It's okay to talk about "it" because that's all that's on our minds. Let any statements we make about respon-sibility, blame, or guilt just flow. It will sort itself out over time. Please mention our loved one, whether it was a child, spouse, sibling, parent or other loved one. Avoid setting any timetable for recovery as there isn't any.

Some suicide survivors find it uncomfortable to speak about the loss. With this in mind, it's wise simply to ask, "How are you feeling? Can we talk about it?" And then be willing to listen.


Taken in part from lifegard.tripod.com.

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Suicide Prevention

If you have an emergency, please call 911.

If you or someone you love is in need of suicide prevention support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website for more info.

For local support please call the UNI Crisisline at 801-587-3000.

Resources are also available on the Utah Department of Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health website.