I wanted to share the opening letter from the August LOSS (Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide) support group newsletter. It hit home with me as I know it was difficult for me to see other people around me move on pretty fast after my Dad died. I thought others might be able to benefit from this reflection about moving on after losing a loved one to suicide. I remember how upset I’d be when people would say, weeks and months after my Dad’s death that my brother and I “seemed to be doing great,” as if we were done grieving. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that they weren’t as affected as I was.
Moving on After Losing a Loved One to Suicide
“As we move into August the ‘summer doldrums’ set in. I don’t think that people tire of summer but it is more like people get used to the summer months. Most look forward to the summer and longer days and warm weather. Now that we are in August the newness of the summer and the anticipation has worn off and we are spending the last month of the summer enjoying the last vestiges of the season. Come September we anticipate autumn and the winter. During August we make the most of family outings and barbecues because these events will soon come to an end for another year. Our lives move on.
The moving on with life is one of the more painful experiences of those people who are grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide. Survivors are almost afraid to move on with their lives. The reason that this is so painful is that survivors will in fact move on with their lives but in doing this their loved ones are not a part of this “moving on”. This loved one is deceased and there is no moving on. It is like this loved one is in a “time warp”. This loved one is imprisoned in death. There is no moving on with this loved one. They are in a permanent state and their lives stopped with their suicide. A major void has been created by their death. Another chapter has begun in the lives of survivors. One of the biggest fears of survivors is that their loved ones will be forgotten. One important fact for survivors is that these loved ones are still a part of a family and a social network. The stories about these loved ones can continue and a new and different relationship can be established during the grieving process.
Another painful experience of the grieving process is for survivors to witness that the world that these loved ones were once a part of continues to move on. If it was a child who died it is painful to see the friends of this child move on in school, graduating from high school or college, developing a career, getting engaged, getting married and starting a family. All the while the survivors of this child come to the realization that none of these experiences will be a part of this child’s life. This child is still deceased and will never experience these accomplishments. This is a very painful part of the grief process. The same can be said of any other relationship that was lost. If it is a parent who took their life, and left a spouse and children to grieve their absence, the survivors will not have this person witness the accomplishments that take place in the lives of the survivors such as the graduation of children or the marriage of their children. This is all part of the grieving process. For those left behind their lives will continue to evolve and events will take place without the presence of this loved one. This loved one is frozen in time.
As the world around survivors continues to evolve there can almost be resentment that life continues without their loved ones. It might be resentment or jealousy that the world continues without this loved one and this is a very normal reaction. For survivors of a completed suicide the world has stopped very suddenly and tragically. Life will never be the same without this cherished one. Will there be a life after losing a loved one from suicide? That is the biggest challenge that any survivor will have to face. It is a harsh and cruel fact to realize that the world does continue to evolve without this loved one. It is not that the surrounding world of the survivor does not care about the loss but it is a reminder that for the surrounding world life did not come to a screeching halt like it did for the immediate survivors. In the immediate time after losing a loved one from suicide there is a lot of attention and pouring out of comfort and support to survivors. There are meals sent over and cards received in the mail and a lot of visits. This is all part of the outpouring in the aftermath of a suicide. The cruel reminder is that after some time these wonderful signs of support trail off. Does that mean the extended family and friends and acquaintances don’t care anymore? Not in the least. Their lives did not stop completely. They were impacted by this suicide but not in the same way that the immediate survivors are impacted. For those people whose lives were impacted by a suicide life will be somehow interrupted but not to the extent that an immediate survivor’s life is completely shattered. This does not mean that the deceased person was not loved or cared about. It does mean that the life of someone who was somewhat impacted by a suicide will continue without the devastation that is felt by the immediate survivors.
Survivors of a completed suicide are often disappointed as they witness how people move on with their lives in the aftermath of a suicide. My suggestion is for survivors is that they come to the realization that the suicide of a loved one does not impact the lives of other people in the same way that the suicide impacts the immediate survivors. The level of devastation is going to be directly related to the level of love or need that one has for a person who has taken their life. The greater the love and need one has for a loved one, the greater the pain will be if that loved takes their life. When survivors witness friends or other family members moving on with their lives it does not mean that this loved one who died was not loved or is not missed. What it does mean is that for these people their worlds did not stop. They do not have to create a new life in the aftermath of such a tragic end of a life from suicide. Are they impacted by the suicide of this loved one? Most assuredly but not in the precise way that the life of an immediate survivor is impacted. Their life did not stop.
As we move on in the summer I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis and I encourage each of you to do the same for each other – especially for those people who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,
Father Charles T. Rubey, LOSS founder”