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From My Heart to Yours: Coping after Suicide Loss

CW: suicide loss Losing someone to suicide is one of the most painful experiences imaginable. The grief can feel like a relentless storm, battering your heart and soul. But I've learned that healing is possible, even when the pain seems unbearable, and learning the ways my particular self and system functions has helped me cope after suicide loss. Let me share what has helped me through this journey, from the depths of my heart. 

The grief of losing my dad to suicide in 2011 has been an agonizing journey filled with waves of heartache that my family and I have grappled with. Suicide loss shatters you to the core, and the path of healing has been a heavy burden to carry at times. We've had to find the courage to rebuild our lives in the wake of this terrible tragedy, riding the turbulent emotions of grief as gently as we could.

a person's silhouette, standing tall against a blue and pink skyline in nature

Photo: Miguel Bruna/Unsplash First and foremost, be kind to yourself. Yes, that is simple but not easy! I remember being harder on myself than usual after my father died but I quickly saw it only harmed me more. Your grieving process is unique, and there's no "right" way to do it. Some days, the sadness hits like a tidal wave. Other days, you might feel a glimmer of peace. It's all normal and valid. Try not to fight your emotions or try to follow some predetermined timeline. Just let them flow, and be gentle with yourself. Try not to judge your process even if you feel out of control. Trust that your inner wisdom will guide you even if it doesn’t look like something you’d wrap nicely with a bow on top. Your deepest-knowing wears many costumes. 😉 


And please, lean on your loved ones. Reach out, let them listen, and accept their support without judgment or pressure to "move on." Even though some won’t fully grasp this specific kind of loss, they will love you through it all. Believe me, having someone to walk beside you in the darkness makes a huge difference. Finding others who have gone through a loss by suicide was a crucial step for me once I was ready. (And it took me a good while to be ready, by the way.)


It's also crucial to practice self-compassion. Wow, did I learn a lot about self-compassion through this experience! Guilt and self-blame often come knocking after a suicide loss. But please understand: You didn't cause this, and you couldn't have prevented it. I know we try to make sense of it and we want to put the blame somewhere. Let me tell you, it may never make sense but blaming yourself will not rewrite the story or undo the tragic events. I learned to treat myself with the same kindness I'd show a dear friend. Try that out. Take care of your needs, whether that's going for walks, listening to music, or simply resting. I often remind myself with a phrase I’ve learned in 12-Step, “Keep it simple, sweetheart.” (You see, I changed it from “stupid” to “sweetheart.” I wouldn’t call my dear friend stupid. Would you? This is a good example of how a simple tweak can really change the intention to self-love.) 


Another lifeline for me has been creative expression. Writing, painting, playing music – these outlets have been a way to release the torrent of emotions and find moments of clarity. If art speaks to your soul, let it be your refuge.


When you're ready, you might want to find ways to honor your loved one's memory. Some have decided to plant a tree, craft something to memorialize the person, volunteer for causes they care about, and share beloved stories. These acts have kept the spirit of their loved one alive within them.


My most valuable actions since the death of my father have been in seeking support, both professionally and from peer survivors of suicide loss, moving through my feelings, many times while moving my body, and journaling. Writing letters to my dad and writing letters to myself have been incredibly impactful to my mental health and wellness.


Something very important to remember is that we all heal in different ways and in different timelines. I have tried not to compare “where I am” to where I perceive others to be in their process. First of all, we can’t really know how anyone else feels beyond what they say and secondly, it’s a nebulous and messy space after this loss, especially in that first year or so. Some days, I felt like “Okay, I’m getting the hang of this,” and other days, I felt like a hot mess. I learned that there’s room for all these different expressions of me. By letting them out, the space grew, and I think you’ll find that as well.


Twelve years later, I still have hot mess days but because of all this time practicing, I can work with those days with minimal to no negative self-talk. Did I want to learn this way? Of course not, but it's what happened so I accept it and- in many more moments- I accept myself.


The way ahead after suicide loss is undoubtedly daunting, but I implore you to move forward one courageous step at a time. Be infinitely patient and kind to yourself on this arduous journey. The pain leaves scars that don't easily heal, yet you possess an incredible well of strength to keep walking. 

Remember, you do not have to walk alone. I am right beside you with deepest empathy, as are many other survivors of suicide who have walked the path you’re beginning. I am holding space for the whole of our collective grief, yours included. 

Though the heartache may never fully subside, I hope you can find pockets of peace and discover meaningful ways to honor the beautiful memory of your loved one over time. This path demands tremendous courage, but this experience also builds that courage. May this article be of benefit as you are navigating the turbulent waves of love, loss, and rebirth. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Don't stop looking for it, okay?

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