In the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one to suicide, there is generally a lot of activity in a family. People are very thoughtful in sending over meals and other signs of thoughtfulness such as cards and flowers. These wonderful gestures of support last for several weeks and months. They eventually drop off as people move on in their lives and other activities take up their time and energy. It is not that they have forgotten but they have moved on.
Sometimes survivors hear comments or are asked the question such as “Aren’t you over this loss yet?” This could be after three or four months. Survivors become enraged at such a question or comment as well they should. People who don’t know the impact of a completed suicide of a loved one say such a thing because they have not experienced such a loss. They are not mean spirited or insensitive, they are merely ignorant of the fact that such a loss leaves an indelible mark on the psyche and soul of survivors.
Survivors’ lives are permanently altered by the death of a loved from suicide. Nothing is ever the same after the death and friends and acquaintances oftentimes are ignorant of this fact. They want nothing but the best for survivors but they fail to realize that there has been a sea change in their lives and nothing is going to be the same after as before.
There is a letdown for survivors in very much the same way as there is a letdown when the summer season is over and people return to the mundane and the ordinariness of life –back to work and back to school. The good times of summer are over and there is a return to the ordinary activities of life. For survivors of a suicide there is a venture forth in a very new way of life and that is to create a life after the death of a loved one. This is a major adjustment in one’s life.
Survivors can experience a letdown from all of the attention that was afforded them in the immediate aftermath of a suicide. Survivors are challenged to realize that survivor’s lives are permanently altered but the lives of friends and acquaintances are not changed in that way. These friends and acquaintances are moving on with their lives and they expect the lives of survivors of a suicide to do the same. Such is not the case. Sometimes survivors experience disappointment when people fail to afford them what they (the survivors) feel is the proper support and understanding.
Survivors can share a gentle reminder to friends and acquaintances that lives are permanently altered after such a tragic event and life will never be the same. It is not that life will never be enjoyed again or there will never be any pleasure in the life of a survivor because there will be good times and pleasure but everything is different as a result of losing a loved one from suicide. Survivors are not dragging out or prolonging the grief journey. They are just reacting to this fact of life that losing this loved one from suicide has left such a void. One that can never be filled because this person is gone forever. That is a very cruel experience to absorb but that is what the grief journey is all about.
The journey is an experience whereby survivors learn to accept the fact that their lives are different and will never be the same. Survivors will always be frustrated if they try to get back the life they had before this loved one took their life. That aspect of life is over and a new life will evolve and be created once this fact is absorbed and believed and accepted. This takes time and patience. This part of the grief journey cannot be rushed or raced through. It takes time to evolve. Patience is a vital part of the grief journey. It can and will take place over time and a lot of hard work.
Keep On Keepin’ On,
Fr. Charles Rubey
Rev. Charles T. Rubey is the Founder and Director of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) a non-denominational program offered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Starting in 1979 with one small group, LOSS has grown to be a leader in the field of suicide grief, offering support groups and counseling for survivors of all ages, in and around metropolitan Chicago. ‘From the Desk of Father Rubey” appears as a monthly column in the LOSS newsletter and is reprinted here with permission. For more information or to request a monthly copy of the LOSS newsletter, please contact LOSS.