For loved ones left behind, suicide is deeply painful. It leaves you holding your heart in your hand, vibrating with emotion, and reeling with questions. The ground may feel as if it's given way, like you are free-falling through space.
It may feel at certain moments like things are never going to return to "normal" again. The key to healing is processing your pain, rather than running away from it — along with patience and self-compassion.
To help you on your journey toward healing, Here are five pathways to help you land back on solid ground once again:
1. You. Are. Not. Responsible.
If someone you love takes his or her life, you think, somehow or in some way, you could have done something to stop the unthinkable. If only …
Let’s be very clear: The suicidal death of your loved one does not mean you have failed or you did not love enough … or try enough … or anything enough. They made this choice without you.
And while that realization may feel even more confusing, remember this: they didn’t do it to hurt you. They did it because at that moment in time — and with the likely impact of extreme emotional pain, haywire neurochemistry, constricted thinking, trauma, or influence of substances — suicide felt like the only response to end the misery of their life.
2. You have to feel to heal.
You might be furious. How could they do this to you? You loved them. You cared. And they chose ending their life? How could this happen?
Anger and fury are understandable responses to suicide. There is also likely guilt, regret, shame and sadness. The key to this aspect of healing is really letting yourself feel. If you feel angry, you are not a bad person. It's natural to get stuck in a loop of recurring “what-ifs” and “whys,” and if you can learn simply to accept these feelings and questions, you will be supporting your journey toward healing.
That said, you may feel numb and/or overwhelmed, and that's OK too. And if you have been dealing with a chronically suicidal loved one who has been on-and-off meds and in-and-out of hospitals, you might even feel relieved that the chaos has ended. Accept these reactions.
All kinds of feelings will be bouncing through the shards of your broken heart. There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Your full complement of all-over-the-place feelings will guide you toward healing.
3. As a survivor, you are now considered at risk of suicide.
This isn't just my observation, but a research finding — and is something to just keep in mind, at the very least to educate yourself. Perhaps you witnessed the suicidal act itself or discovered the aftermath or cleaned up the horrific mess. Or your mind repeatedly replays the specifics you saw or imagined.
Because the taboo of suicide has been broken and that threshold crossed, you may consider suicide as a way to end your own pain.
Trauma, shock, grief, and broken barriers may feel like they are conspiring to bring you to the edge. But go gently. Get help. It gets easier with time and compassion for both yourself and your lost loved one.
4. You have to do it your way.
Research aside, grief is not the same way for any two people. It's an entirely personal experience. Nod politely to those who give you deadlines and concrete conclusions. There is no one way to grieve, and there is no grieving time limit. It is going to take as long as it takes. Grief is another way to love and remember love.
Grief is also complicated, tremendously nuanced, and can feel totally crazy-making. And like Pandora’s box, grief triggers memories of other losses, and the trauma of suicide triggers memories of other traumas. Dealing with suicidal grief is not for the faint of heart. It is, indeed, a hero’s journey, and you are a hero.
5. Acceptance and forgiveness will bring you relief.
Step 1: When you are ready, accept the suicide of your loved one. You cannot move toward peace until you are able to accept the reality of what transpired.
Step 2: Forgive yourself and forgive your loved one for all the real or perceived injuries and hurts, both given and received. If you do not forgive, you stay stuck in the past and mired in old energies.
In acceptance and forgiveness, you honor your lost loved one and allow yourself to go forward. And know there will come a time when you can take a full breath with your newly pieced-together heart.