by Ronnie Walker
Two days ago, I received an early morning call informing me that one of the members of our community forum had ended her life. It was heartbreaking news. A mother – grieving her child – didn’t make it.
For many years prior to her daughter’s death, this mother had suffered from debilitating depression. Following the loss of her beloved daughter, she fought long and hard to endure, survive and make a meaningful difference as a result of her loss. She wrote a blog. She wrote a book. She reached out to others.
As the devastating news spread though the survivor community, dozens of posts appeared on our forum.
"I am reeling at this news. My first thought was "oh no - she didn't make it."
"I read her posts … I identify so much with what she was feeling."
“My thoughts are with her family and friends.”
"Suicide is such a terrible scourge. I hate it."
A few members expressed anger or disappointment. “How could someone who knew the pain left behind, end her life?” Others countered with words like these:
"People who live with major depression have incredible strength to get them through each day. To lose her daughter to this vicious disorder while she suffered from it herself...well, that shows she had superhuman strength for a while. Bless her heart. She tried so hard to stay and she did for as long as she possibly could. I doubt I would still be here if I suffered from depression AND had to deal with my child's suicide, as she did. … Depression has the ability to wear a person down, convincing them they are worthless and their loved ones would be better off without them. Doesn't make sense to us, but it's their reality. It's heartbreaking." – Joni
One of the most notable things about the comments left on our forum, was the number of people who said they identified with what this mother had been feeling. These comments were left by people who had not suffered from depression prior to their loss.
This is not a surprise. Over the last 6 years, hundreds -- especially new survivors -- have posted that they too, had suicidal thoughts. Some have been actively suicidal, lacking hope, considering plans, wanting to join their loved one. Others were more passive: “It would be OK with me to get hit by a truck … or develop a fatal disease.” Many said they would go ahead but for the pain they would leave behind.
Most survivors recognize that the complex challenges of suicide bereavement are not well-understood by the general public – or even many mental health professionals. Over the last decade, a vast amount of funding has been directed at “Suicide Research” and “Suicide Prevention” programs, yet relatively little has gone directly to the study or funding of support of those left behind.
It’s clear that “post-vention is prevention.” We need to let more people know.
As we grapple with the emotions and questions that arise following the loss of our forum friend -- or the loss of anyone who dies by suicide – many will question whether they could have done more. Emotions like sadness, anger or anxiety may be reactivated. Some may even wonder if they will be able to make it.
It’s natural to spend time grieving, questioning and processing. It’s also important at this time, to recognize the healing power of community and that the vast majority of survivors do make it. Forever altered, they survive, and go far beyond just surviving.
Ronnie Susan Walker MS, LCPC is the Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors.