Dear Fellow Griever,
The pain of loss to suicide is unlike any other grief. All loss is painful, and suicide adds layers that survivors must navigate. With the help of mental health professionals, fellow grievers, and a close network of friends, I have started my journey of grief recovery. Yes, this journey is about me. Not my late husband, but me.
My husband, Darryl, died by suicide in July 2022. There were no signs – he was not struggling with addiction or behavioral health. I found that Darryl was keeping secrets, though, and when I discovered those secrets, I told Darryl to leave the house. I fully expected I’d take a day or two to sort through some thoughts, and my husband and I would do what so many other couples have done – we’d talk and figure out our future. When my phone rang at 3:45 AM, I knew it wasn’t my husband calling. Instead, it was the call that shattered my world. Darryl had died.
Nothing could have prepared me for the changes I was going to experience.
First, I had to survive. I had to get through the details of the death inquiry, of cremation, of notifying friends and family, of posting an obituary. I had to sort through bills, close accounts, and decide if I could continue to live in our home. I had to arrange to take a leave of absence from work. I had to deal with filing forms. I had to go to my doctor and ask for medication to combat anxiety and insomnia. Why are these the tasks a survivor must perform when least equipped to handle those tasks? It would be months before I could arrange a Celebration of Life.
Then I had to learn to live again. How? I sought professional help within hours of receiving the death notification, both through individual counseling and at support groups. I knew I could not survive on my own.
To my fellow grievers, do not let anyone tell you when or how to “move on.” Do, however, seek the help of mental health professionals. Find someone with whom you can share all those questions and emotions that come with death by suicide. The “why” questions, the “what could I have done differently?”, the guilt, the anger, the immeasurable depth of pain, the three steps forward and ten steps back, the shock of reminders and fresh grief, the secondary loss of others in your circle because they do not know how to address your grief, and so many other thoughts and emotions that I cannot even begin to describe. I felt them all. I felt them all at the same moment. I felt like I was drowning in grief one moment and then staring at the world in awe of the loveliness that still surrounded me. I had to learn that laughter, humor and seeing beauty did not mean that I had forgotten Darryl; that Darryl’s death was not my fault; that I had a right to be hurt by his secrets and demand time to sort out my feelings; that his death, because of his own guilt and burden of his dishonesty, was most likely inevitable. I also learned that I have a right to feel whatever emotions I feel at any given moment, and that I will feel them for the remainder of my life.
I had to learn to care about myself. I have had to choose to exclude some people from my circle because they cannot comprehend why, more than a year after Darryl’s death, I still cry, I still hurt, I still get angry, I still struggle. Some people just do not understand that grief doesn’t disappear after three days of bereavement leave. Others think that a year is enough time to “get over” a loss. Some simply do not understand why I decline invitations to certain events – I just have not had the time to be able to face some settings again, and my responsibility is to protect myself. Setting boundaries is a huge and very necessary part of self-care.
I make those therapy appointments and group meetings I mentioned earlier a priority as part of my self-care. It is important to know that I am not the only person to have had a loss by suicide and that my feelings are valid. It is important to hear how others are finding strategies to cope and that they are finding purpose again.
Time helps. I hated hearing that grief recovery would take time, but it is true. Time has allowed me to forge new friendships, to find new opportunities, to remember Darryl and be able to smile at those memories. Time has allowed me to pick my new path and decide what I want to accomplish now. Time has allowed me to sort through feelings, to come to realizations, to “pick up the pieces,” to decide which pieces will continue to serve me or which pieces need to be discarded.
That’s another thing I learned. Some pieces will be discarded. When Darryl died, I could not imagine putting away his things, sorting through belongings, or deciding what I wanted to keep. I was living as Darryl’s wife even after his death – I felt like the wife of a ghost. One day, something in my mind clicked. I could no longer limit myself to the definition of being Darryl’s wife. I had to be Brenda, and I had things I wanted to do! Changing my living space, adding new decor, donating his clothing to a worthy foundation, and taking down old pictures to put up new ones has been helpful in finding myself again.
Grief does not have a time limit. I will grieve the loss of my husband as long as I continue living. I miss him. I love him. There are memories we will never make together, and I grieve the loss of those memories. I have, though, begun to create memories in Darryl’s honor. I have gone places we had planned to visit and spoken to Darryl about what I was seeing and how I felt at that moment. I have taken ashes to places that were extraordinarily special to Darryl. I have more places to see where I will honor Darryl.
I keep Darryl in my heart always. I still have days that seem like they will crush my soul, but I have learned how to reach out to my support system and ask for a lifeline. I will continue to need that system and I am thankful for all those in that system. Make no mistake, though – creating my own path is where I’m heading. I will participate this year in the Out of the Darkness Walk in remembrance of Darryl and the many others who have left us so suddenly. I am finding my new purpose. I am going back to school to pursue a master’s degree, an item on my bucket list I had started to fulfill but was temporarily derailed by Darryl’s death. I am reaching out to others that have survived suicide loss with the hope that I can offer support and guidance, as well as gain knowledge and find more support. I talk about Darryl, suicide, the need for mental health resources, and how grief affects suicide survivors.
I am an infant in my journey. I continue to grow, to learn to walk as an individual, and one day I will learn to run again. I am learning to trust again, and how to conquer fear. I have discovered some comfort in what Life has yet to offer me.
May we all find moments of peace, comfort, and happiness.
Written by: Brenda Rank