By R. Jade McAuliffe
As a trauma and traumatic loss survivor I’ve spent a lot of time grieving, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the fallout following my sister’s suicide.
I struggled to stay alive inside that desolate grief space, even after surviving two suicide attempts of my own and twice witnessing the wreckage of both my sisters’ traumatic and unexpected deaths.
After all I’d put my family through in the past and everything I’ve experienced since, how in the world could I consider checking out… again?
It was the pain.
Within seven months of my sister’s suicide, my marriage dissolved and I was once again a single parent.
To make matters worse, I had to draft and file the paperwork myself because we couldn’t afford attorneys. This was my lowest point and, for awhile, I feared might have a nervous breakdown or end up hospitalized.
I didn’t, though. I forged on, one moment at a time, and cared for my kids as best I could and vowed to honor myself and the pain of the loss, in every way possible
The following are five tips which saved my sanity and, very possibly, my life.
I hope some of these support you as well.
1. People won’t know how to support you. Always validate yourself.
Platitudes. Oh, the platitudes…
People fear grief and loss, so when approaching someone in significant pain, they often fumble in their attempts to offer helpful consolidation.
To make matters worse, suicide is still stigmatized, so survivors are often guilted, blamed or shamed for their losses, either overtly or covertly.
This, of course, only adds insult to injury and is completely unfair. Unfortunately, it tends to be the norm for suicide loss survivors, so make a promise to yourself: Grieve authentically, in spite of ignorance, and don’t allow anyone to judge or dictate when your time of mourning “should” be over (especially you).
Grief, when honored and companioned, can actually bring lost loved ones closer, and validating your own experience is the first step to empowerment.
You aren’t to blame for your loss, and you don’t ever have to “let go” of or “get over” it either. You likely won’t anyway.
Grief is only proof you dared to love, and love isn’t something from which people “recover.”
Love is yours to keep…
so keep it close, nurture, and cherish it.
Forget about moving on, and concentrate instead on connecting to this love in its new form and, by all means…
take your sweet time.
This isn’t a race and there is no finish line. You’re still in a relationship, albeit a different and altered one. This time, though, you can make it whatever you want it to be.
2. Your body knows how to heal: Follow its lead.
Nobody knows what you need more than you do. You live in your body, and now is the perfect time to gently and mindfully follow its lead.
Grief requires lots of quiet solitude, so use this time to rest and reconnect, with yourself and your lost loved one.
You might need more sleep, or need to nap during the day because you’re unable to sleep at night. Follow your body.
If it wants to sob and shake, don’t resist. If you feel enraged, go ahead and scream, smack a floor pillow with a plastic bat, or throw some old dishes into a garbage can and listen to them shatter. (This is strangely satisfying.)
Honor your body’s specific requests.
It knows exactly what it’s doing, and it will lead you, slowly and eventually, to a place of healing and relief.
Be sure to eat (something) throughout the day, and drink a lot of water. Grieving requires stamina and energy, and this will help you go the distance.
3. Silence can be deadly: Grieve out loud.
It isn’t mainstream knowledge, but the people most at risk of attempting suicide are suicide loss survivors trying to navigate the wreckage.
If you’ve made past attempts, lost other family members to suicide, or battle depression or unresolved trauma, you’re at even greater risk, so take this very seriously.
The body desperately needs to express itself and suicide grief hurts. Give yourself permission to mourn like a superhero!
Give voice to the good, the bad, and the ugly, and bring all of your feelings to life. Make them big.
Share them out loud with someone you trust (and also your lost loved one) and/or write them all down on paper, uncensored.
Don’t minimize, hold back, or purposely omit anything. Tell your story and tell it often. Repeatedly hearing your own suicide loss story while communicating the feelings associated with it (especially fear, betrayal, and anger) will eventually help you integrate the loss.
Express yourself creatively if you feel led and your energy allows. Sometimes words alone don’t do our feelings justice.
Get it all out. You feel that internal pull for a good reason. Again, follow the prompts of your body.
4. The grief journey is lonely: Make your connections count.
Unfortunately, suicide grief is heavy and messy, and it’s a road we must ultimately walk alone.
No one can know exactly what you’re going through, and it can been exhausting trying to explain yourself and your feelings to others.
People might drop out of your life after suicide loss, and it isn’t uncommon to lose family members too. Everyone and everything is reorganizing around the loss, and this can be one of the most difficult and painful parts of the grief journey.
Guard your heart and steer clear of people and things which might drain or upset you, especially negative media, toxic people, and anyone who tries to minimize your experience.
Your energy is probably at an all-time low now, and nothing will deplete it faster than exposure to another’s anger, fear mongering, and/or anything even potentially upsetting.
Choose wisely, and spend time with others who accept you and your current reality without trying to rescue or fix it.
You aren’t sick, and you don’t need fixing. You’re grieving, and you only need to be seen, heard, and validated.
Supportive people might be hard to find, but they’re out there. I found many online through coaching and support groups. Be relentless in your search, and connect with those who help you feel safe, accepted, and connected.
Connection is the key to survival.
5. Accept your current reality as much as possible, even though it sucks.
I know the “why’s” are killing you, and you’re beating yourself up for words said and unsaid, missing “the signs,” or not being more supportive.
You did your best in the moment, and beating yourself up won’t bring your loved one back. Trust me, it’s also the quickest route to your own demise. We can’t change the past, no matter how often we replay it.
Your loved one made a split decision and didn’t ask for your permission. You didn’t get to choose or say goodbye.
You’ve been shaken like a snow globe, and now you’re doing all you can to survive this experience. Give yourself a break. Give yourself a lot of breaks.
Don’t expect to keep up with things as you did before your loss. Your body and brain are processing and integrating, and it will take a significant amount of time to feel any sense of normalcy again.
Go easy, and above all else, let go of anything not completely necessary for survival. (The cleaning? It can wait.)
I know it’s difficult, but ask for help with chores you can’t do now. Solicit child care so you can have blocks of time when nobody needs you. (Schools, churches, and work friends might know of people who can help.)
Give yourself permission to grieve, in your own way, and for however long it takes.
You didn’t ask for this and you didn’t deserve it either.
You deserve to live the rest of this life on your own terms and in your own way.
You get to decide now what that life will look like going forward.
I know our experiences are different and if you’ve lost a parent, child, or spouse, my pain in no way rivals yours. I get that.
Still, within this vast and lonely wilderness, I hope you feel a quiet kinship anyway and know, without a shadow of a doubt…
you always have a silent partner in me.
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