‘ She has committed suicide’.
‘I never wanted to believe it. I told everyone including you that it was an accident. I was lying to my self too’.
‘Coz she was never that type of a person. I was feeling guilty of myself. Being her best friend I couldn’t save her. I was three minutes away from her but I still failed. I was lying to myself right throughout that it wasn’t a suicide’.
I received this text message two hours ago from a dear friend who recently lost her best friend to suicide. It struck a chord in me and with the recent deaths by suicide that have taken place in Sri Lanka, it got me thinking about the impact suicide has on those who are left behind, on those who survive. What happens to them? What happens to us?
A death by suicide, when it occurs,most often shatters the existing status quo of a family, community and society. It’s like being tossed around in a whirlpool, I suppose. All that we once believed in is shattered and those of us who are left behind often have to pick up the pieces, and piece together a fabric of something that possibly could help us find some solace, barely.
I remember how I cried when a classmate from my Bachelor’s course in India, took her life, when I was far away, in Norway. I couldn’t be there with the rest of my classmates. There weren’t any pieces to pick up. Nothing to hold on to other than Facebook messages sent by classmates, and a few photos that were online.
My friend found her.
The guilt of surviving, shame, feelings of regret, anger, abandonment, emptiness and a whole plethora of feelings come gushing through, maybe not immediately, maybe later, and maybe not at all- there is no one way of feeling about something so ambiguous like suicide. You might ask the question ‘ why’ or you might not. You might wonder what you did wrong, of how you could have saved your loved one’s life, of that one thing that could have made a difference, but from a different point of view, it might seem pointless to think about it at all, I don’t know. But, what I do know is that it is okay to feel, whatever you feel- because they are your feelings and it is important that what you feel is acknowledged. However, silence sometimes becomes convenient for some and although deafening, a way of coping for others. Feelings tend to go unacknowledged and unheard, leaving a survivor of suicide in a mass of isolation, heaviness and despair. There is a ‘wall of silence’ that erects itself around an individual or family who has lost a loved one to suicide and in Sri Lanka, we often see the stigma and shame surrounding suicide only making the wall taller and thicker. It doesn’t have to be that way, and we as a community have the power to change that.
It is important not to isolate individuals and families who have experienced loss due to suicide, even though it might seem rather daunting and confusing to think about ‘ what to say’. I’ll get to that in a moment, but reaching out and not waiting for survivors to reach out is a great way to start. They may not want to talk, or even look at you, but it’s your presence that matters. It takes away the isolation and emptiness. It is often not immediately after a loss that the most support is needed, but it is when a month or two has passed and people slowly begin to forget. People gradually begin to trickle away, and contact with the community decreases, and this is when you can help sift through the debris. You don’t always have to say much, but checking in regularly, and creating a permissive environment for feelings to be expressed can go a long way in someone feeling supported and cared for. I must also bring in the use of language when talking about suicide. ‘ Died by suicide’ rather than ‘ committed suicide’ is an useful way to talk about suicide. It makes it seem less like an offense or a crime. ‘ Took his/her own life’ can be used instead of ‘ completed suicide’. ‘ Ended his/her life’ can be used and not phrases like ‘ a successful suicide’. You get the gist right?
Are you a survivor of suicide loss?
What can you do to cope in the aftermath of a loved one taking his/her own life?
- Try not to isolate yourself.
- Speak about your deceased loved one with other members of your family and friends. Share positive memories you have of the person you lost. It is okay to acknowledge that the person both lived and died.
- Use creative mediums like journalling, art based activities etc to work through your feelings. Psst, you can also speak to a mental health worker.
- Keep your loved one’s memory alive- photos, letters, memento’s etc can be used to help you through the process of grieving. The person may have died but can still live on in your memory.
- Allow yourself to cry, to express emotions, even difficult one’s like guilt, shame and regret. They also need to be acknowledged.
- Take care of yourself- get adequate sleep and nutrition.
- Seek support- there is no shame in doing so,
Where can you seek support?
Sumithrayo- No.60B Horton Place, Colombo ( 0112692909). 9am-8pm.
CCC Line- 1333. 9am-9pm
Shanthi Maargam- 0717639898. 24hrs