by Jessica Mead
At a recent speaking engagement one survivor stated, “I keep my grief right here on my hip. I cannot keep it in front of me, because it gets in the way of my functioning. I cannot keep it behind me because when I cannot see it, it can creep up in front of me. I keep it next to me right here on my hip because it is a part of me and I know that it is there.” In my work at Loving Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS), I talk with many survivors who keep their grief “behind” them and tell me that it is a constant battle to distract from the pain. It takes a lot of energy to keep our painful feelings out of consciousness.
We all know that suicide is different, its grief process more complex. Most of us never expected our loved ones to die in this way. Not only were their deaths tragic, but many survivors walk in on the scene of death to discover their loved one’s body, and others witness their loved one’s death, adding another layer to the already difficult grieving process. I meet many people who heal and grow in the face of such trauma, but it is important to consciously recognize the pain of the loss and find some form of outward expression in order to promote healing.
Some people call our office the day their loved one died and others call many years later. Some survivors know immediately that they are going to need help and others realize much later that they never gave their grief any attention and that it has negatively impacted all areas of their life. In the aftermath of trauma, we can “compartmentalize”— put away painful memories until we have the time and energy to deal with them, or we can “numb out”— detach from any awareness of these feelings.