The title of this post is a bit misleading. Any survivor will explain that feeling normal again after a suicide is something that never happens. We often talk about our “new normal” – the way we adapt to live on after being rocked by such a traumatic experience. Emotions, traditions and even the way we move about our day changes. However, the old adage “time heals” does ring true for us, too. By no means am I suggesting that I am “over” my father’s death. But, what I have observed is that in the nearly two-and-a-half years since his passing, I have been able to make progress. This is something I didn’t think would be possible in those early days.
The Early Days
In the weeks and months after my dad’s suicide, his final act was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I visualized when I went to bed. Frankly, I was living in a nightmare. As my alarm would go off, I’d think, “Oh my God, did this really happen, or was it just a dream?” or “I simply cannot face another day in this life now that this has happened.” I remember commuting to work contemplating whose life I was really living. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to work (to do what I felt were inconsequential things at the time). I also wouldn’t have to drum up energy to go to the gym (ugh! Why do our bodies and health require it?), go grocery shopping, face traffic jams or any other annoying task. I just felt like the world demanded all these things of me that I frankly didn’t care to do. I wasn’t living life on my terms, I was living on society’s terms. What I did care to do what sit sullenly in the rainy windowsill like that woman in the depression drug commercial. But, I felt like my life didn’t even give me time to do that with all these to-do’s lining up. Better yet, I wanted to run away to some foreign country and set up a tiki bar. But, is that realistic? No. I also remember thinking to myself that my co-workers must be thinking I’m slacking off. I would build up these potential witty responses in my head for them if they ever approached me, like “Well, I’m sorry I didn’t get this to you on time. I’m still getting over the fact my dad was found dead in a river bank with a shot gun and that I learned about it on the internet.” Luckily, I never uttered that aloud. It seemed absolutely impossible to fathom a mindset that wouldn’t be this way ever again.
A Light Finally Appeared in My Grief Tunnel
After the one-year mark, I noticed a change in me that has continued to evolve into the second year and beyond. I was able to go through all of the seasons, holidays and special occasions at least once to see how they felt. In year two, I was better prepared for those days and knew how I might feel ahead of time, which helped. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, but my dad’s suicide is no longer the first or last thought of my day. I definitely think about him every day – just him – not necessarily the act. I miss him in my life and being able to call him. But, I think I have reached a peaceful place with the “rest.” Today, I try to be there for other co-workers who have lost someone. I noticed it’s also a bit more difficult now for me to go to LOSS meetings and hear the very newly bereaved talk about their losses. I absolutely want to be there for them and support them, but it does remind me of that dark place I used to be in and I am afraid to go back. I want to say, “It will get better,” but I am afraid because I didn’t want to hear that or believe it myself. And, life’s little annoyances are back to being just that. I’ll always hate getting up early, driving in traffic or waiting in check-out lines, but I realized I hated that before my dad died and that it’s just part of this thing called life.
There’s no magic answer to the question “how long will it take until I’m feeling normal again after a suicide?” But, when you look back after time, I think you will start to see this slow personal growth and evolution of mindset after at least one year, if not more. I will caveat by saying that I have been aided tremendously by weekly counseling, books, support groups, this blog and connecting with people like Lindsay and Jessica. The most important thing to remember is that everyone is entitled to their own timeline and grief navigation “strategy.” There is absolutely no rush to try and feel normal again or prove anything to anybody, including yourself. Be gentle.
If You Want to Read More
The Atlantic recently published an article on “The Secret Life of Grief,” which I saw a few people share on Facebook. It touches on one man’s experience with grief after losing his mother to cancer. You might find it interesting.
“Mourning, even for the resilient, is a study in extremes, and, for the family and friends filling out our house, the crescendos were violent. We would scream at each other, and then laugh over wine, and then scream some more, and back to the wine. Grief is not a steady process, but rather an ‘oscillation,’ like everything inside of us. Muscles tighten and relax, our bodies warm and cool, and so do our tempers.” – The Atlantic