It was so heartbreaking to read of another suicide by train yesterday in Orange County. I know something of the anguish and guilt the family of this young man is experiencing because I’ve been through it.
My husband completed suicide by train two years ago. I would like to share with his family and friends what I have learned, with the sincere wish that it might give them solace and hope.
I know your hearts are broken and your lives have been shattered. Your pain is so intense you can hardly breathe. Most likely, you feel guilty, and relive over and over in your mind what you could have done differently. You will replay many different scenarios in your head, all with different endings in which your loved ones get the help they needed and don’t resort to suicide. And you may be angry at the same time—how could they do something that would cause such pain to so many people? It may seem like they rejected all your efforts to help and chose suicide to punish you.
But eventually, you will let go of anger. Your loved ones did not and could not even think about how suicide would hurt you or others—they could only think of ending their own anguish and that you would be better off without them. They saw no other possible solution.
Eventually, you will let go of guilt. Although it may take a while to get there, you must understand that suicides represent a failure of our healthcare system to effectively deal with mental health issues. But in others, even the best available medical treatment may not help. We simply do not fully understand the human brain, mind and soul enough to effectively treat all mental illnesses.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There should be no pressure to move on. There is no “acceptable” intensity or duration of grief. Just make sure you don’t suppress your grief. To heal, you must express your feelings, whatever they are—sadness, anger, despair, confusion. Talk with your friends, family, professionals and support groups. If you can, express your feelings in writing, in a journal or letters. Every bad feeling and emotion that is expressed is a small release that will ultimately help lighten your emotional burden. Sharing stories of your loved one will give you a bit of joy, even if mixed with sadness and grief; they are the narrative of love for the one who has died.
Some of your friends may not show up to comfort you when you need it or may not call or attend the memorial. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let this destroy an otherwise valuable friendship; many people are uncomfortable and don’t know what to do or say, and they may even feel like they shouldn’t intrude. Our society doesn’t know how to deal with death, and death by suicide is even more difficult because of the lingering stigma attached to suicide.
Make sure you create a space for hope, for peace, for relief and even for a bit of joy. Your grief does not have to be “all or nothing.” One feeling can sit right beside another—and will, perhaps for a long time to come. But life will eventually soften and you will become more comfortable with your new life without your loved one.
You may even find there are gifts that come from your grief. And in time, with a lot of hard work, you will discover that you are now capable of loving more deeply than you ever imagined possible. You will look at life—and the whole world—differently. The little things matter far less, and the people who are there for you become far more important.
Grief is not the enemy. Grief is the teacher.