By Karen and Jaimee Sullivan, Survivors of Suicide Support Leaders
Unfortunately working as a Suicide Survivor Support Leader, we see the impact a suicide has on the people involved and it is a hard thing to be left in the wake of. All support leaders have experienced a loss as well, so we understand how hard it is for those who come to our meetings to help move through the grieving process and get toward their new “normal.”
From the perspective of a suicide survivor, when the loss happens, it is like being struck by lightning on a clear day. It’s unexpected and the trauma it leaves in its wake is tremendous. Survivors are left reeling from the suddenness of the loss. There is an array of emotions from shock and guilt to anger and depression. Sometimes they wonder if anyone else could possibly feel the same way that they do. Each person reacts in their own way to the trauma they are experiencing.
Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are difficult. Survivors often find that people seem to relate differently to them after a suicide. The best thing to do is offer support and listen. Do not tell them to “get over it,” as it is just as traumatic as suddenly losing that person in a car accident. Some people may avoid talking due to their own lack of comfort and the stigma associated with suicide. The survivor may also be reluctant to talk due to fear of condemnation. Different things can also re-trigger the trauma, especially for those who have found the person who completed suicide. Those survivors often need to seek professional counseling, as the trauma can be profound.
Survivors may feel like a failure because someone they cared for so much chose suicide. They often ask “what if” and sometimes put the burden on themselves. It’s debilitating, as it can cause them to be fearful of other relationships and become protective or unable to form new ones.
Talking about it may be difficult for those who have experienced the loss. Suicide can often isolate those left behind. Understanding death by suicide is clearly a difficult thing. It’s important for survivors to have a healthy support network and the proper resources and information to recover from their loss in a healthy manner.
The Door County chapter of Survivors of Suicide (SOS) will hold their monthly meeting at 7 pm on Dec. 19 at the Sturgeon Bay Library.