On Saturday November 18th 2017, I attended a local Suicide Survivor's Day event hosted by St. Mary's hospital, and sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I was very honored to be one of the few mental health clinicians facilitating a group discussion with individuals who had lost loved ones to suicide. I will admit I was very nervous about attending, because although I had personally lost a loved one to suicide, I was not emotionally close to that relative. Nonetheless, I went in with an open mind and learned so much more than I could have anticipated from the attendees. So for those of you out there reading this and wondering how to get through the next day or keep on living yourself after your loss, I want to impart a few words of wisdom I learned thanks to the kind and warm hearted individuals I had the chance to speak with.
It's ok to talk about what happened
One of the biggest messages I heard from individuals at the event was how many people felt unable to talk about their loss. Some reported feeling as if no one wanted to hear about the emotional impact after the fact, or encountered family and friends who didn't even want to discuss details about suicide. Some also talked about expectations from family and friends that they would simply return to their daily routine as if nothing had happened after a certain period of time. The group I facilitated made it clear that talking about their loss and what happened wasn't a negative thing to do, and helped them personally work through their grief. Being apart of a specific event or group over time also helped them connect with others who were experiencing or had experienced the same emotions.
For a while, focus only on the basics
Another important message I learned following a loss was to take life in small steps. Don't expect to return to work, family time, or hobbies as if nothing has happened or changed. Focus instead on the very basics in the beginning: ensuring you've eaten for the day, gotten up out of bed and taken a shower, spent even 2-5 minutes outside of the house. Maintaining even a small routine can help greatly in the long run when you start to feel ready to return to those activities at greater speed, and reduces your chances of falling into a deeper depression yourself.
It's ok to feel relieved after a loss
Some individuals at the event discussed recognition of the warning signs that their loved ones displayed before they ended their life, and after their loss experienced a sense of relief. Reasons for the relief were often explained due to the recognition that their loved one always appeared to be suffering and was never in a state of emotional peace. Subsequent guilt would often follow that sense of relief, because although the pain had ceased, their loved one was now gone. It's ok if this is what you're feeling too. It's only natural to want to take away pain from someone you love, and to know that despite the loss of life they are at peace. Know that you are not alone in those feelings, as many others who've lost loved ones to suicide have been there and have felt those emotions too. Relief is not something everyone feels after a loss, but it isn't something to feel negative or ashamed about.
Slowly, but surely it gets easier
A message of hope for those who might have just lost someone, or their loss is still fresh in their minds. I would say this was by far the greatest take away I learned from everyone in attendance at the survivor loss event. Life gets easier over time and slowly you regain a sense of yourself once again. There is no specific time frame for grief though. Losing someone to suicide creates a wound that requires time to heal. I was informed by the members in my group that with time pockets of joyful moments or feelings of peace slowly began to emerge, and with each new day those moments would grow in duration and frequency. Embrace those moments of happiness when they arise!
The last part of the survivor loss event entailed a candle lighting ceremony, song, and connection activity. Although everyone there had lost someone different, (parents who had lost children, siblings that had lost brothers and sisters, friends, and those who had lost significant others or spouses) no one stood alone. Everyone stood in solidarity and support of the person next to them. Know that your pain is not singular, but heard and reverberated by many, and that you are not alone.
For those in the Grand Junction area who have lost loved ones to suicide, there is a place for you. "Heartbeat Grand Junction" is a local survivor's loss group. There motto: "We know the anguish...we've been there....You are not alone."
Contact their local chapter leaders Chet and Renee Little at 970-985-4551 to learn more about meeting times.
Grand Junction Crisis:
Mind Springs Health
24/7 Crisis hotline: 888.207.4004
24/7 Colorado Statewide Crisis: 844.493.TALK (8255)
24/7 Textline: Text TALK to 38255
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule a free consultation today at 970-644-2392