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suicide + mental illness

Touched by Suicide.jpg

excerpted from: 
"Touched by Suicide:
Hope and Healing After Loss" 

by permission of the authors Michael F. Myers, M.D. and Carla Fine

3 minute read

pages 12 - 14.  Published by Gotham Books. Copyright 2006.

How Can I Deal with the All-Consuming Guilt and the Unspeakable Sorrow and Longing I Feel?

You know you have to go through the devastation of losing a loved one to suicide in order to get through it. But how?

Seek out other survivors. Survivors share the same language; when you’re able to describe the indescribable out loud, it makes suicide more real and less like a dream that you have somehow found yourself in. You can confide your fears and regrets openly and without shame to other people who know what it’s like to lose someone dear to you to suicide. You can describe the details of the actual act, no matter how graphic or grizzly, and know that you won't be blamed for the death. You can engage in a safe exchange of information that isn't based on prurient curiosity and won't be fuel for future gossip.

Suicide survivors do not judge each other--just the opposite. Survivors tell each other: “You did the best you could.” “How could you have known in advance?” “It wasn't your fault.” And gradually you begin to see that if other people are not responsible for their loved one’s suicide, maybe you aren't to blame either. That if other people don't have the power of life and death in their hands, neither do you. By feeling genuine compassion and empathy for others, you gradually start to become less judgmental and kinder toward yourself


Find a support group in your community or a chat room on the Internet where you can connect to others who are now residents in this strange new land. Share your experience with people who understand that mourning a death by suicide is long and everlasting; who can nod in agreement with your story and not turn away; who know that you will get through your pain even if you may never get over it.

“Going to a support group for the first year after my daughter's suicide gave me back my life,” says a Chicago teacher, “Not my sanity, but at least my life.” There is laughter as well as tears when you talk about losing a loved one to suicide with people who have been there. The stories of other survivors can help break the isolation and alienation that make you feel different and strange.

“When I exchange e-mails with other people who know what it's like to be grief-stricken about the death of a sibling whom you have not spoken to in years, I feel comforted and relieved,” relates a middle-aged woman about the brother she lost contact with 20 years before. “I was crushed after my nephew called to tell me that his father had shot himself. And yet my brother and I had parted angry, and I thought I didn't care.”


Surround yourself with people you feel comfortable with. Compassion comes from unlikely sources. People whom you least expect may come through for you during your time of need. On the other hand, you may also know the hurt and betrayal of friends or relatives or coworkers turning away from you, unable or unwilling to deal with your grief.

Your life sifts out after the suicide of a loved one. Everything is turned upside down and inside out. You almost have to re-create yourself in order to continue on. Be with people who are not uncomfortable with your pain. People who don't turn away or change the subject. People who don't judge you and can look you in the eye. And maybe even more important, people who are able to accept the new person you have become, through no choice of your own. Recognizing these people may be a matter of trial and error, but trust your instincts to help you along.

Accept that you have changed. Dr. Edward Rynearson, a psychiatrist whose wife killed herself, writes in his wise and perceptive book Retelling Violent Death: I cannot change the end of Julie's story. The best I can hope for is that I change myself as I retell it. There have only been two stages—who I was before and who I am now: changed by Julie's dying. Instead of recovering, the best I can hope for is an acceptance of how I have changed.

Although you didn't ask for this test of your endurance--and would reverse the circumstances if given the choice—you will discover that you are more resilient, less afraid, more empathetic and understanding as a result of what has happened to you. You are not the same person you were before the suicide and will never be. Your life will be different, your friends will be different, and even your dreams and expectations will be different. Sadness and pining for the old you will be offset, hopefully, as you embrace the new you and your new reality.

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