It has been two years and four months since my dear friend Annie ended her own life. We’d been friends since the day we met, 14 years before she passed away. We met each other while we were both out walking our dogs in our neighborhood and became close very quickly. She stood for me in my wedding and after my son was born, she became his godmother. Since she was our neighbor, we saw her often. She would help us work on the vehicles and the house. She was close to the kids and came to most of their birthday parties. She lived alone so we would often have her to our house for dinner. All of my family and friends just loved her.
I won’t spend a lot of time discussing mental health here, I just wanted to say that I think the reasons for suicide are complicated. Depression and other mental illnesses are often a big part of the picture. I saw her declining yet she would tell me over and over that she didn’t want me to worry about her and she didn’t want to be a burden. Even the last few times I saw her, I voiced my concern, yet she tried to remain very stoic and insisted I had too many other things to worry about.
Regardless of who each of us survivors have lost, the underlying feelings are very similar. I do feel that the relationships we had with our loved ones can change what our grief looks like. I didn’t lose a spouse, so I didn’t lose the love from a lifetime partner or any financial or family support. I didn’t lose a child, so I didn’t go through the horrific pain of being here without them. I did, however, lose someone I cared about and loved very much. I lost someone I trusted. I lost someone who had helped me through some rough patches. I lost someone I had confided in. I lost somebody I enjoyed very much! I had never lost a friend before, nobody close to my age, and certainly had not lost anybody to suicide.
The beginning of this journey through grief was horrible. Shortly after getting the news, my son turned 8 years old and even though I was a wreck, I wanted him to have a good birthday. I had to keep on going because my kids were only 8 and 6 years old at the time. I was a busy mother and it was so hard to find the energy to continue to do what needing doing. The worst part by far was the feeling like the rug was yanked out from under my life.
Grief from suicide is often referred to as “traumatic grief” or “complicated grief.” I saw right away why. Not only was I intensely sad that she had died, but it came with so many other issues. The thought of my friend taking her life felt so violent. I wanted to know why she didn’t ask me to help her. I wanted to know why she reached for the gun instead of the phone. I wanted to know why she didn’t trust me after all that time. I wanted to know why I wasn’t important enough for her to stay! Hadn’t my family and my children meant anything to her? I cried every day. I would wake up in the morning and think for a second that it was all OK but would remember very quickly that it wasn’t. I would fold up in a ball on the floor and sob. I even occasionally beat up a pillow and screamed into my bed. But most of the time I would stare blankly at the computer screen or at a bad TV show, because I did not have the energy to do much of anything else. Every bit I did have was spent caring for my family. I felt terrible for turning down friends repeatedly... I just didn’t have the energy for it. I told them, “Thank you for your offer, but please don’t stop asking... I need to know you still want me around.” They were wonderful and did just that. I was really very lucky to have such fantastic friends and family during this time. A lot of the time they didn’t know what to do with me, but they were always there.
Enter the Alliance of Hope. I came across the forum just days after learning that Annie had died. I registered right away and started posting. I found out quickly that writing helped me feel better. At first nothing really helped a lot, but at that point I was happy for anything. As the months passed, I learned how people were able to lead happy lives again, despite their horrific losses. I didn’t know how or when I would get there, but I knew I would eventually get there too. If heartbroken mother or widow could heal, so could I. I started to reach out to other survivors on the forum, sometimes just to say “I’m here with you, for as long as it takes.” This made me feel a lot better, because I felt like I could actually do something good with all this horrible pain. As we say on the forum, “Pain shared, is pain divided.” In helping others heal, I was able to continue on with my own healing.