The days and months following his suicide were an ugly blur of numbness, searing pain, difficult emotions, and confusing family interactions as we each sought explanation, blame, anger, and comfort in different ways and always at different points in the random cycling of the officially labeled stages of grief. I've often described that part of the journey as being lost at sea alone, swimming night and day towards an island I could see, but never reaching it. Each day brought more exhaustion and hard work and little or no apparent progress, yet somehow I kept swimming and one day found shore and sunshine again.
I sought and recommend two things from medicine following suicide: drugs so I could sleep well and a professional therapist with some direct experience with suicide. Exhaustion, emotional and physical, is a given following suicide. Lack of sleep is a major problem that can be easily relieved, so I recommend that those not sleeping well seek short-term help quickly from their doctor. I also chose therapy very early and started by asking several therapists if they had direct experience with suicide. I chose the one who had lost a patient in her active treatment to suicide, and I think her practical personal experience helped my journey. My goals in therapy were to understand any risks I might have and to gain tools to survive and heal that loss and future ones. I chose not to seek answers to the unexplainable, nor to ascribe blame to our parenting or any other past events or decisions we could not change, but for several months therapy became a weekly roadmap towards positively moving away from the center of the damage and towards healing and away from danger back to comfort.
Loss and sadness stalked me for years. If the subsequent five years, I would lose a best friend who was a key longtime employee of my small company to a sudden heart attack at the age of 43, and then the toughest blow came in 2005 when our 20-year-old son was killed in an avoidable volunteer firefighter training accident in our small town. During that time it seems that we would just start to heal from one untimely loss and another body blow of untimely loss would slam into us. All three of these events are in the top ten hit list of major psychological traumas, but to me suicide remains the most confusing loss.
For some years, I wrote a column in our local weekly paper at the invitation of a fearless editor. I often addressed natural loss, untimely loss, and suicide. I chose to stop writing after over 200 columns spanning five years, but I may one day go back to it. I felt that I might seek a place where what I have learned about loss was more relevant, a place where I might find a way to help wounded souls and hopefully do more measureable good that I was doing among mostly normal, mundane daily lives.
Having healed well and as fully as possible from these untimely losses, I know that the human soul can survive almost anything so long as we have a vision of some value in our life and some hope that no matter how dark today is that tomorrow might be better.
I come to the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors hoping to be of help to others experiencing the blinding pain and absolute confusion that follows suicide. You own journey will be different than mine was, but sharing parts of my journey may help you find your way. I'm hoping to be just one of many lighthouses you find along your way through darkness to a place called acceptance.
I must tell you honestly that you will be changed by grief, but hopefully you can make the right choices and find ways to heal. I always resist saying you can be like you once were again, but as impossible as it may sound, you can become even stronger than before, strong enough to carry this extra load through a long, happy life.