About a year ago I became acquainted with a new term: suicide survivor.
It was in an email from a woman whose husband had recently killed himself. She had read both my current and old blog and was looking for advice to help her make it through another day as a suicide survivor.
I found the term suicide survivor confusing. But with a little research I realized that the term didn’t refer to one who attempted suicide and survived; rather, it refer to the loved ones left behind.
I reread the woman’s email, and pondered what to say to her. Usually I can find some pearl of wisdom or my own experience to be of help to those who email me.
But this time my mind was blank.
After a few days I emailed her back. I can’t remember what I said but I was left with the feeling that my words wouldn’t be of much help or comfort.
Then a few months later another email arrived from a different suicide survivor. I replied but again felt my words would be of little comfort.
But the emails kept coming. Every few months another suicide survivor contacted me wanting to know how I put my life together. And every time I’d shoot off an email and think I really had nothing to say.
The emails from those suicide survivors lurk around in my mind and during an occasional quiet moment, I ponder what I could have shared with them that would have been of some value.
Though it’s taken awhile to gather some thoughts on the subject, I finally have some words to share.
So to those suicide survivors who have wanted to know how I put my life back together and I learned to live again, this is for you.
It’s been said that time heals all wounds.
That may be true in matters of love. But the suicide of a loved one is a unique monster. The scars remain long after the person had died. Anger, feelings of betrayal, and lingering questions can last a lifetime.
It’s been four and a half years since my first wife killed herself.
I can still hear the sound of the gunshot echoing from our bedroom. The acrid smell of gun smoke still stings my nostrils. The memories of that day are just as vivid as the moment they happened.
Memories of that day will never fade.
That is probably for the best.
After my first wife died, I labeled myself a widower.
I was no longer Abel. I wasn’t a brother, a son, or a friend. I was a widower â€“ a victim of my first wife’s suicide. And for a long time, I thought I’d never be anything more than someone whose wife had died when he was 26.
Looking back I see the widower label hindered my ability to grow emotionally. And I started thinking that everyone else viewed me as a widower instead of Abel.
When I started dating again, I worried that the women I dated would only be able to see me as a widower. I never thought that someone out there would be able to see the positive things about me.
But someone did.
As my relationship with Marathon Girl become more intense, I realized a choice needed to be made. I could continue to think of myself as a widower, or I could become Abel again.
I chose to become Abel.
And with that choice came emotional growth, a wonderful relationship, and a more positive outlook on life.
So what does that have to do with being a suicide survivor?
Labeling yourself a suicide survivor is will stunt your spiritual and emotional growth just as much as labeling myself a widower did.
You’re not a suicide survivor. You’re a friend, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, a mother or father. Think of yourself as James or Betty â€“ whatever your name is. Think of yourself as anything other than a suicide survivor.
You didn’t become a suicide survivor by choice.
So don’t let the unfortunate actions of others define who you are. Don’t let their bad decisions stop you from living your life.
Before my first wife took her own life, I never knew anyone who had killed themselves. Suicide was one of those things I thought was something reserved for depressed teenagers, the businessmen who had lost everything and couldn’t live with the debt they had incurred, or those who were severely mentally ill.
Occasionally I heard stories about a friend of a friend of a friend who had committed suicide. These stories always seemed to be told in hushed tones as if to indicate they were never to be repeated. But in reality, the whispered conversations only emphasized to me suicide wasn’t something ever to be discussed.
It wasn’t until after my first wife died that I really understood why the someone’s sucidie, was discussed in quiet way: no one really knows why a person would take his or her own life.
In the weeks or months that followed my first wife’s death, I saw that very question in the eyes of family and friends: Why had my first wife killed herself? Their sad expressions pleaded for an answer that I didn’t have.
Four and a half years later, I still don’t know why my first wife killed herself.
And I probably never will.
It was difficult to learn to be okay with not knowing answers I desperately sought. When bad things happen, we want some justification for our lives being upended. For months I pondered my first wife’s family history of mental illness or the incredible stress she was under in the weeks leading up to her death.
I soon learned that thinking about the reasons for her suicide were pointless.
The truth won’t change what happened. Agonizing over the past would not bring my wife back from the dead.
Instead thinking about questions that could never be answered in this life, I started thinking about what I could learn from the experience and turn a negative into a positive.
Do the same.
Don’t dwell on what you don’t know.
Concentrate on your blessings and lessons learned.
Those who have lost a loved one to suicide and read my old blog always seem to have the same question: Where was my anger? Was I not upset that my wife killed herself?
The answer is yes, I was angry. Very angry.
The reason my anger doesn’t appear in that blog is because I couldn’t write when I was angry. But that doesn’t mean the anger wasn’t there.
I never knew what it was like to truly hate someone like I hated my first wife in the months following her death. I was mad that she killed herself and furious that she shortened the life of our unborn daughter in the process.
The anger was so intense that my first wife was blamed for anything that went wrong in my life.
Bad day at work? I blamed my dead wife.
Car problems? I blamed my dead wife.
The Broncos lost a football game? I blamed my dead wife.
My anger was so bad that I couldn’t even write about how my first wife died on my old blog. Every time I tried to write about her suicide, I found myself typing out some drivel that I ended up deleting.
So for nine months I hid the manner of my wife’s death from the readers of my blog just so I could write a coherent sentence.
At some point, however, I realized just how unproductive all that anger toward my dead wife was.
And once I could put the anger aside, I found my outlook on life improved. I found a richness to living I hadn’t noticed before.
I’m not saying anger is a bad thing. I think anger toward someone who has killed themselves is beneficial. It’s a natural emotion and part of the healing process.
But prolonged anger will eat at your soul.
So be angry at the person who took their own life. Scream your hatred into a mirror. Dance on their grave if it will make you feel better.
Then get over it.
Clear your soul.
Let’s go back to the beginning. The part where I mentioned it was for the best that memories of my first wife’s suicide are still a vivid part of my memories.
Those memories remind me how short life is and how fortunate I am to be blessed with a second wife and two wonderful children.
The memories remind me to live every day to the fullest, to take nothing for granted and let those whom I love know how much I love them.
So to those who have lost a loved one to suicide, I’ll say this: go and live your life. You live in a beautiful world that offers endless possibilities.
Don’t wallow in misery, sorrow and anger.
Embrace life and choose to live.
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