It has been fifteen years since my husband’s suicide. My sons and I have survived his death, but we are forever broken, due to the impact of this one act, on our lives. Losing a loved one to suicide is extremely traumatic for the family, ushering in feelings of shock, shame, guilt, anger, grief, loneliness, even mental illness and PTSD. It was a complete disruption of our family; it left never-to-be-answered questions, and it seemed like he took all of the pain he was feeling and handed it to us. He didn’t even say goodbye.
In the first fractured months, I saw a Hospice counselor and read many books about suicide. I learned that the level of stress from the suicide of a family member is rated as “catastrophic.” It is trauma from two events occurring at once, the death of a loved one, and the unfathomable fact that he took his own life. While 95 percent of suicides have a diagnosable mental illness, the rates of suicide continue to rise, leaving massive grief and depression in their wakes.
A friend invited me to go to the Crisis Center’s monthly group for suicide survivors, but I was in such shock and denial, I could not imagine myself attending such a group. The thought actually filled me with horror. I would never have chosen to belong to such a group. But as the reality sunk in, more and more, piercing through my denial, I did join the group. I was glad I went. I met others who were experiencing exactly what I was going through. I felt less isolated and ashamed, from the deep kinship of our sorrow. I could talk freely about the suicide in the group, and I appreciated the co-leaders for always being there for us, for listening and giving encouragement.
At one point, one of the facilitators was leaving and I was invited to co-lead the Coping with Suicide Loss Support Group. I felt honored to be asked. Though it is difficult, I can set my own grief aside and focus on members’ stories and pain. New survivors have a deep need to talk, and I identify with their feelings, can share aspects of my own journey, and try to be an example of someone who has made it through great pain to survive nearly 16 years. I am grateful to be there for those who have the courage to come out.
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