Suicide Prevention for Suicide Survivors

Today being World Suicide Prevention Day, I am reaching out to those who’ve been bereaved by suicide.

As someone whose brother took his life in 2004, I understand all too well why people who have lost beloveds to suicide are at risk of following in their footsteps.

As I describe in my book – Did You Know I Would Miss You?in the days, weeks, and months following his death, I strongly identified with him:

“…on a bad day, I can feel like an aging, lonely, broke, homeless loser. A damp shroud eclipses all joy, even the simplest task is an effort, and feral hounds of the mind howl about lost opportunities and unending failure. Is this how my brother felt as he drove his truck down his last road? Is that why he made the decision to end his life?”

I’m far from the only suicide survivor who has struggled with such feelings. According to a 2015 Action Alliance for Suicide report, people who’ve lost someone close to them by suicide are three times more likely to attempt to follow suit than are others similarly bereaved.

Writing Did You Know I Would Miss You? helped me to give words to my acute grief, and to offer ways in which others can live on and live well after a loved one’s suicide.

Here are three of them.

The words that helped me the most in these 15 years since Steve’s death were spoken by one of the ministers who conducted Steve’s memorial service:

Death ends a life, but not a relationship.

That profound realization helped me to see my brother as a soul on a continuing journey that I could continue to share with him. For the first few months after his death, I wrote daily letters to him in my journal. Sometimes I dialogued with him. The journal writing helped me deal with all kinds of feelings – love, sadness, rage, and everything in between. I no longer communicate with him in that way because I don’t need to. Having extended myself toward him in words at that time, all feelings of loss and separation eventually dissolved.

The process of writing unsent letters and dialogues is described in my book and can be beneficial at any stage of the bereavement journey, even if your loved one died many years ago.

A second way that supports my living well is my yearly ritual – around the time of his birthday/death day, both of which are in May – when I make a vow to live well for both of us. Sometimes I go to a quiet place in the woods or by the ocean, or I find a private moment at home and light a candle in his honour. Wherever I do it, I talk to him directly and declare my intention to live well – whether it’s to reach a particular goal, to change a habit, to fulfill a dream – or just to be kinder to myself and others. When I do this, Steve becomes a real support for me; his final act no longer defines him.

The third thing I do to support my living well after my brother’s passing is to regularly connect with people and activities that inspire me. If my life has been particularly steeped in routine and I’m feeling uninspired, I will take a few minutes and list the things that inspire me, and then make a point of connecting with one of them – immediately!

If you’re like me and have lost someone you love to suicide, may you find your way through your grief and discover the many opportunities to live your best life – for you and for your loved one.