Suicide: A Story from a Survivor
By Joanna Lynn
A little over five years ago, my husband committed suicide. It was the hardest single experience I have ever gone through. Unfortunately, the aftermath has been even worse. Suicide has to be one of the worst ways a person can die. The main reason for this is because of how the person who dies leave the survivors, those who love them most. They are left with so many questions:
What could I have done to stop him?
Why weren’t we enough?
What could bring him/her to do this?
Did I do or not do something to make him do this?
There are also the feelings that just won’t go away. There is depression, guilt, shame, broken hearts and so many more. It’s a confusing and horrible way to leave those in your life. It takes whatever feelings you are feeling and places them firmly and fully onto the shoulders of those who cared and loved you through everything. It is so important for survivors to know that you are not responsible for what they chose to do. They are the ones who took the steps to end their life, not you. At times, it’s very hard to accept this as truth, but it is truth.
When Children are Involved
The situation only gets harder when children are involved. I have two boys. When their dad died, it was within weeks of both of their birthdays. This was terrible for them. They both asked why he killed himself right before their birthdays. It was painful to watch. I was left to try to explain something to two children, aged 8 and 11 on this particular birthday, which I didn’t even understand. Most of the time I just honestly said I didn’t know. I made sure to never discount their questions or feelings. I knew if I was confused they had to be even more. One thing I was sure to say numerous times about their dad’s decision was that he made the wrong choice. Even though I couldn’t make sense of much of it for myself or for them, I wanted to be sure they knew that suicide wasn’t ever the right answer.
My oldest really struggled for the first month, but he then was able to come to terms with the idea that his dad made a choice and he was gone. There wasn’t anything he could do about it even though he wished he had chosen to stay. My youngest still struggles, to some point, to this day. It has been horrible. There were so many nights, for several years, when I would be walking by his door and he would yell something and then come out crying asking me why he had to go or saying he really missed his daddy. It absolutely broke my heart and anger would often come towards my husband for doing this to his family, for seemingly not caring what it did to us. I never could comfort my son without tears of my own streaming down my face.
Over the years, I finally came to the conclusion that I would probably never fully understand or be able to wrap my mind around what my husband had done. However, both fortunately and very unfortunately, I discovered some information that gave me some of the reasons he felt he would rather die than face the consequences of the choices he had made during his life. It has been awful. I’m not going to sugarcoat the feelings. It has been horrific and so often I didn’t know if I was going to make it through it all. It was only by the grace of God and His walking me through not only day-by-day but on so many of those days, breath by breath. I say that it was somewhat fortunate I found out some reasons because there are so many survivors who don’t get any clues. The person is just gone. My husband also left a suicide note, which others do not always get. A suicide note is helpful to know the state of mind the person was in right before they died. I was able to see what was on his mind as to why he thought he had to do what he did. However, it doesn’t make it easier at all in the long run. One positive was that he addressed some comments made in our marriage that had been rather hurtful, which I never would have heard if not for the note. But when the words came after he had run away from the circumstances of his choices and left me to pick up the pieces of the fallout, the words meant very little. I have often thought they were only said so that he could “someday be just a fond memory” as he stated in his suicide note. A note written at the scene of the crime is only evidence of the tragedy left behind.
Where my story is concerned, there were different people who were mourning the loss of my husband, but they needed to do so in very different ways than I did. Since they didn’t know what information I had found, their grief was only of the person they had lost. That didn’t decrease the importance of their loss in comparison to mine; it just wasn’t nearly as complicated. It also made it impossible to keep the relationship intact. Because they didn’t want to know any of the bad, they made it a rule that I really couldn’t speak of my grief. It got to the point where I couldn’t even mention my husband’s name without someone quickly changing the subject before I finished or getting up to leave without hearing what I had to say. I wasn’t even saying anything bad about him. I was just telling a story or memory from my time with him. But, because they knew I had very different feelings towards him than they did, they didn’t want to hear from me about my husband. It felt like I was doing something very wrong by not just being sad while remembering with a smile the times we had had together. That wasn’t something I could do.
I was also told many times by several of the people involved that I needed to respect how they needed to grieve no matter what they did, while my grief was bound by rules that I could not break. What they required of me so their loss would be easier only put my grief and feelings on hold. I pushed them back so I could function, follow their requirements and still be fully available to whoever needed me. This just made me put up walls around my grief that I’m still trying to figure out how to break down. It became a relationship I couldn’t continue if I was going to not only survive this loss, but especially if I wanted to heal and move on with my life in a healthy way. Don’t allow anyone to discount your feelings. You have to work through what you’re feeling and be honest about it.
I know others have had similar experiences as well as ones I didn’t have because there are so many survivors of suicide. I have researched many aspects of suicide over the years in an effort to try to make sense of something that made no sense. I found that over 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year. It is listed as the 10th leading cause of death in the US when considering people of all ages. It is the 2nd leading cause of death for those 18-25 years of age. There are around 4.5 million survivors of suicide. That is staggering. This one act causes so much pain for so many. The act starts with one person but the number of people it really affects grows exponentially. One doctor told me another statistic I needed to be aware of, especially with my children. He told me that the chances of survivors committing suicide are increased dramatically. The reason for this is because the idea of suicide as a choice for “resolving” problems in life becomes very real. They’ve experienced it. My heart sank.
But what are the reasons for suicide? They are many and varied. The leading reason for suicide is mental disorders including depression, bipolar, psychosis, etc. After speaking to several doctors in the medical and mental health field, without ever asking for the information, I was told by three of them that it sounded very much like my husband had been bipolar. This cleared a few things up about the past but it also left me with major feelings of guilt because now I wondered if he was somehow not accountable anymore for the choices he had made in his life and our marriage. But, as I was told, he knew what he was doing wasn’t right and he did whatever he wanted to do anyway. He had no desire to seek professional help. He was more concerned about appearances than getting the necessary help to change the choices he was making.
But no matter the reason, suicide is never the answer. It causes no good. The wasteland is vast and it doesn’t care who someone is, his or her status, economic standing or age. When thoughts of suicide are just beginning to be entertained, you need to seek help immediately. Suicide is a very isolating experience. In my opinion and from what I have read and heard, it is a self-centered act where all that matters at the moment is what the person is going through with little or no thought to how it will hurt those around them. I have a cousin who attempted suicide and when she was asked how she could do that to her children, she said that she didn’t even think of her children or anybody. She just wanted the pain to stop. I have heard this thought echoed in the media by others who have made failed attempts. A number of people, like my cousin, are going through a horrible experience and they are struggling to survive that one moment in time. But these times are only temporary. Things do change and life can and almost always will get better over time.
Even when the problems are medical, there is still hope. There is always treatment, medicine, therapy, a change in lifestyles, etc. In most cities, you can even find these services free of charge or at a greatly discounted rate. New jobs are found or created for those suffering job loss. Relationships heal or new ones form in time. Fights are resolved. Treatment is there for those addicted to drugs and alcohol. And even when there are criminal issues, there is still hope for restitution and purpose. All you need to do is reach out and be willing to do the work. Nothing is impossible. God made each and every one of us with a purpose and a future and He numbers our days. He works through any choices we make and is there to carry and walk with us through the healing process. Friends and family will gather around you and help you find the help you need, be available to talk and will support you through it all.
My boys and I started seeing counselors within a month of the suicide. My oldest has handled this without a lot of problems, so he hasn’t had to return to anyone. My youngest has been to see several counselors over the years. I have continued seeing my counselor and am on several medications to help with depression. I also have family and friends who are there for me when I need them. This is what works for me. I’ve tried other forms of therapy, support groups and reading books, but they just weren’t the right fit. For me, while they helped me realize some areas of hurt and the way I had handled and processed them as well as how I have taken those not so healthy learned experiences and still apply them to my life today, they weren’t comfortable and they caused me to be very anxious. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. I know quite a few people where support groups made all the difference in the world. Others find that their family and friends’ support is all they needed to get through it.
The biggest problem in healing for me, though, is that there was so much more than the suicide to work through. Everything I thought had been my life wasn’t reality. I had to deal with the feelings surrounding the information I had discovered, while learning to run a house by myself, how to get everyone where they needed to be, since I was now the only driver, while also being a newly single mother with two hurting kids. I was, and still am to some degree, experiencing all the feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, betrayal, abandonment and having no value. My entire life was rewritten after his suicide and the information coming to light. Nothing I thought about my life could ever be looked at the same way again and some had to be blown apart totally because they weren’t real. There are really complex issues I need to sort through and it’s hard, hard work. However, I am already seeing and experiencing the outcome of my hard work. My life and feelings mean something.
Both of my boys also found a lot of solace in going to an organization called Brooke’s Place. It is a place where, a couple times a month, kids can get together to talk about the loss of someone close to them that they have lost. Parents also meet, if they choose. It is a place where you don’t have to feel alone in your loss. Suicide is not only isolating for the victims but the survivors as well. The kids were able to see that they weren’t the only kids who had lost a parent. This was one of the main reasons my oldest was able to get through the loss of his dad easier. For him, being the only person he knew going through this at his age was something he couldn’t sort through his mind. We attended for 2.5 years and it made all the difference for him. My youngest benefitted from it a lot as well. Look to see if this type of organization is available in your area if you are a survivor of suicide and have children. I can’t say enough good things about this organization.
Don’t Give Up
Life is beautiful and it is worth fighting for and living. I cling to God’s promises to help me. He says in Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope”. The next few verses after this one tell us that if we seek Him we will find Him and He will gather us where He wants us to be in our promised land. The thought of God loving us so fully that all we have to do is seek Him with our hearts and we will not only find Him, but He will gather us up and release us from captivity. This can be any captivity. Anything that is holding us in a place that isn’t good, He can save us from it.
Always remember that you are never alone. NEVER. There is always at least one person on earth that is there for you and many places to work through the issues in your life. This is true for those contemplating suicide as well as survivors of suicide. Fight for life. Hold on to Hope. Look past the experiences of today and know that you have so much to offer this world. You were put here for a purpose and it is worth anything you have to do to fight for your life and win.