Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
— Helen Keller
This upcoming Saturday, November 23rd marks the 15th Annual International Survivors of Suicide Day. Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the suicide prevention community comes together to support those who have lost a loved-one to suicide. On this day, survivors of suicide loss around the country and the globe will come together at local conferences, in person or online, to listen to stories from others who have lost someone and how they have learned to live with and through the astounding pain that comes with such a tragic loss.
The first step after loss is allowing yourself to feel grief. This may sound simple, but long-time survivors will tell you that the feelings you may experience are anything but simple. In fact, emotions following a suicide are often very difficult and complex. It is important to understand that grief looks different for each person so try to listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Try not to set expectations about what your grief should or shouldn’t be. Also, try not to allow others to set those expectations for you, especially when it comes to how long your grief should last. If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please discuss these feelings promptly with a hotline or mental health professional to help you get through this time safely.
Finding your unique path through this grief will depend on the time and determination that it takes for you to begin overcoming your own feelings about the loss: blame, guilt, shame and continuing to ask yourself those “what if” questions. This is where you have to make some decisions: how are you going to cope with the overwhelming amount of emotions that you may experience; how will you begin to make and adapt to changes in your life; what will your new path look like; and how can you begin to incorporate tools for self-healing into your routine? Remember that all of these things are unique to you so please be kind and patient with yourself. If you do not set expectations about what this journey will look like, but rather take each day and each event in stride, then perhaps each step, no matter backward or forward, will be a new triumph.
Here are some ways that survivors might choose to heal:
- Identify a non-judgmental support system
- Share your feelings and thoughts openly with your support system
- Be honest and forgive yourself – it is not your fault
- Engage in positive and patient self-care
- Educate yourself on mental illness or read stories from other survivors
- Connect with others through a Support Group or by seeking professional help
- Participate in community, religious or spiritual activities
- Get creative – keep a journal, write poetry or music, make art
- Become a champion for the cause – volunteer for a crisis hotline, attend community mental health events, influence public policy
During this time, whether or not you choose or have chosen any of these strategies, remember that whatever you’re doing, so long as it’s healthy and safe for you, is the right thing to do. Over time, though your sadness may not ever leave you, these feelings will begin to shape a stronger version of yourself, who will learn and develop a new outlook on life.
Because each person’s grief is unique, it is hard to say for certain what will happen on your journey, but hopefully on days like this you are able to look back and see that despite your loss, you have grown and changed. We hope that, from this new perspective, you are able to remember your loved one(s) as they were on their happiest days.
Please be kind to yourself on this day and know that HelpLine is here to support you.
Our sincerest condolences and thoughts for swift strength and hope,
To participate in a community gathering near you, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.