They say that suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary challenge. There are many people who chose to make a permanent decision due to a temporary problem, which then causes permanent, painful damage to themselves and their loved ones. The unfortunate truth is that the challenge they thought was so permanent was actually something that could have been a temporary issue. It could have been resolved if they would have sought out the help they needed. Many who struggle with suicidal thoughts think things like, “My (friend, kid, wife, husband, etc.) would be better off without me,” which could not be further from the truth.
The truth is, we need each other. A person who takes their life gets so caught up in focusing on self that they are completely blinded by the fact that other people need them, and that’s sad. I am someone who has lost loved ones from suicide and have walked this complicated road of grief over the past several years. This is for my fellow friends who have lost people they love from suicide.
My story: It was a Monday afternoon, following a weekend where I had been on a church retreat with my sister and a few other friends. My sister had flown out from California to North Carolina for the weekend to hear me speak on a panel with some other women. It was a special time. We had just gotten back from the beach where the retreat had taken place and I got a call. Looking down at my phone, I saw that it was another (half) sister of mine. I decided to take the call and before I could even say hello, she asked if I was sitting down and went on to explain that our dad had been found dead that morning, alone, in a hotel room with cocaine everywhere. Three months previously, my dad’s only brother had been found dead in his home as a result of a drug-induced suicide. Now this.
To this day, I do not one hundred percent know if it was suicide, but I do know that my dad struggled most of his life with mental illness and substance abuse, which included heavy drinking and drug use. I was shocked when I got the news that my uncle and dad had died, both deaths seemingly similar; suicide by way of a drug overdose and both only three short months apart. I hadn’t spoken with my dad in the years leading up to his death because of the boundaries I needed to put in place to protect my heart. I had a hard time connecting with him relationally due to his lack of sobriety when we would talk. It was unhealthy for me to speak with him when he was drunk and be in a relationship with him when all he would ever do was ask for something and/or be verbally abusive.
There finally came a time when I had to ask him not to call me while he was inebriated. After that conversation, he never called me again. I had always hoped that someday he would get clean or at the very least call me when he wasn’t wasted so we could have some form of a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, that never happened. I can’t say that I have fully processed these events. It may take years for that.
It has been a little over three years since they left this earth. Some days my grief is still very raw, other days it doesn’t affect me as much. I have compiled a list of things that have helped me in my process and I want to pass them on to you as you move forward in your grief journey:
It’s not your fault.
I know. You can’t stop thinking about the “If I would haves” or the “I should haves” or “I could haves.” The truth is, you are not responsible for any of the events that took place. It’s easy to believe the lies that you could have or should have done something to prevent this, but that will do you a great disservice. The best thing you can do right now is to hold fast to the truth that there is nothing you could have or should have done to change what happened.
Let it all out.
When I first began my grief process, it seemed intense. I would be watching a movie that reminded me of him and I would suddenly start ugly crying. You know the kind. I compare those early days of grief to pouring out a full jug of milk. In the beginning, the jug is heavy, harder to pour and it rushes out quickly sometimes splashing out and getting on the counter…but the more you keep on pouring, the jug gets lighter and eventually, it gets a little easier to manage. In the beginning, your tears may seem a little intense, but as you let them out, they eventually get a little lighter and more manageable. Make sure to carry a pack of tissues with you wherever you go, because you never know when the tears will strike. Sometimes it can hit you out of nowhere, like at Target when you’re wandering around the isles and you happen to see something that reminds you of them. Take it from someone who knows, it’s nice to have some tissues with you at those particular moments. If you’re not fond of crying in front of strangers like I am, take it to your car or save the tears for later that day…. but please don’t hold it in. It will only make things worse if you do. Letting it all out is an incredibly healing, important part of the grieving process.
Talk about it.
When you’re the friend of someone who has lost a loved one, sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when you’re around them, especially right after the loss. Your friends might not know what to say to you about it, how much to pry, what questions they should ask, etc. You can choose to be the one who shares what you’re comfortable with, when you’re comfortable with it. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person you loved and lost. It’s healthy to talk about the good memories you have and maybe even the not so good ones. The point is, we all need people we can process out loud with. Don’t hesitate to bring it up, even if it’s a little awkward at first. You’ll be glad you did; sharing can be very therapeutic.
Ask for prayer.
A few days after I got the news of my dad’s passing, I was driving and I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to drive to the Billy Graham Library (I live in Charlotte, so it’s local) and get prayer from someone in their prayer room. The Lord knew I was feeling distraught. So, I listened and I went, not knowing at all what to expect. I walked in, sat down, and the second I sat down, a wave of emotion washed over me, and I started to cry. Soon after that, a woman on the prayer team came and sat down next to me and just started to pray. I told her a little about what had happened, but not much. As she sat there and prayed over me, it was one of the most powerful prayer encounters I have ever experienced. She prayed the word of God over me and it was powerful. The Lord just kept on giving her Bible verse after Bible verse that pertained to my life, and He also gave her insight into things that I had not told her about. She must have sat there and ministered to me that day for at least 30 minutes. It was what I needed at that moment and I will never forget it. I look back on that prayer time and use it as a spiritual marker in my life. Never negate the power of prayer. It will change your life.
Take care of yourself.
Drink water and exercise. Endorphins and hydration are so important. I remember well the day I went and spoke with a Care Pastor of mine at church, not too long after I had lost my dad. The first thing he told me when I sat down in his office was to drink water and exercise to keep my endorphins up. The thing you don’t think much about when you are in the middle of grief is hydration. Our bodies lose water when we cry, so we need to stay hydrated. Going on short walks during this trying time will really help your mental health while you are dealing with the trauma of everything.
The year of “firsts.”
I’m not going to sugar coat this one. The first year after losing them is hard. It will be the first year you don’t get to celebrate your birthday with them, their birthday with them, all the holidays, and all the other special days. It’ll be strange when you see their name and number programmed into your phone and you can’t call them. You’ll try to save all the old voicemails they left, the cards they sent, etc. The memories will overwhelm you at times during that first year. A friend of mine shared with me once about the black armband that was first adopted as a sign of mourning in 1770’s England. The black armband was worn around the left arm to signify mourning during the entire first year following the loss of a loved one. It would be worn so people would know that the person was grieving. We don’t do that here in America, but part of me wishes we would adopt that idea or do something similar. The first year can be brutal, so go easy on yourself. Rest when you need to, talk about it when you need to, cry when you need to and give yourself permission to just grieve.
Get some counseling and find supportive friends that you can lean on.
I am a firm believer in gaining healthy tools to use while navigating hard things in life by way of counseling. While we sometimes feel like we might not need it or that we already know it all, but oftentimes we don’t. Also, self is not a cure for our ills, community is. When I found myself in the predicament I was in after my dad died, I quickly realized I didn’t really have the type of people I needed in my life that I could open up to and talk with about the deep issues that were going on. During this time, I sought out leaders in my church that could mentor me, and my husband and I went to counseling together. I have gone to different counselors over the course of many years, for all different kinds of issues and I have found it incredibly helpful in gaining the necessary tools and resources I have needed in order to navigate and overcome difficult situations.
Will I get to see my loved one in heaven?
Following my dad death and uncle’s death, the biggest question and greatest concern I had was this: Will I get to see them in heaven? After years of wondering and processing this, I still don’t have an answer. I don’t think I’ll really know until I get to heaven. I heard a pastor recently say something beautiful in reference to suicide that really encouraged me and I want to pass it along to you. He said: “Your loved one will stand before the most loving person that has ever lived and He will not judge them on the most stupid thing they’ve ever done.” What a relief. I think this statement is so true and so comforting for the many of us that have lost loved ones to suicide. That being said, I want to clarify that I don’t think the pastor was making a guarantee that they will go to heaven.
The point he was making is that God is kind, good, and loving. He truly sees the big picture of our loved one’s lives, deeply knows their hearts and mistakes, and He probably won’t take the stupidest thing they’ve ever done (like suicide) and use that one thing as the deciding factor for where they end up. Today, I live in the tension and the mystery of not knowing if I will see my dad in heaven. I cling to the fact that God is God and He is good. It’s up to Him to decide whether or not I’ll get to see or talk to my dad and uncle again. Until then, instead of asking Him why this happened, I’ve chosen to ask Him what He wants to show me through this, and what He wants me to do with this. I let Him take my pain, knowing that He can use it for something good.
Featured Image by Kerri Shaver