I recently spent a few weeks on vacation in Mexico. While I was away I read several books which is a great passion of mine. One of the books that I read was about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I love reading about how all of these documents evolved and what went into the preparation of these treasures of our country. All of us are created equal and have the right “to the pursuit of happiness”. That is a very familiar phrase to all of us and I was struck by it in a different way. I was thinking about those survivors of a suicide who feel that they don’t deserve to be happy because they have lost a loved one to suicide. During the journey of grief survivors go through a myriad of feelings and oftentimes they beat themselves up unmercifully because they failed to comprehend the severity of the pain of their loved one. I usually ask survivors if their loved one had shared the depth of their pain. Most often the response is that the loved one did not share how desperate they were or how much pain they were in. This could be because the suffering person was confused about what was going on within their souls or didn’t realize the depth of their pain or just could not express how much pain they were in. They also might have been embarrassed or ashamed about this pain. The fact of the matter is that survivors were completely unaware of the depth and severity of the pain of this loved one. There was no way that the survivor could know the depth of the pain or the hopelessness that was overcoming this loved one. Words could not adequately describe the despair and hopelessness that overcame this cherished person. They literally had come to the end of their road in life. Suicide was the only way out. The pain had become more than they could bear.
During the grief journey survivors experience many different feelings as the journey unfolds. Some feelings are more common such as guilt, anger, embarrassment or shame and the feeling of isolation. Suicide is a different type of death. It is not as if a loved one was struck by a car or drowned or died of some very tangible illness such as cancer or a stroke or an aneurysm. It was completed by one’s loved one. There are a lot of ensuing issues that accompany a death from suicide. One of the most pressing ones is the question of why did a loved one resort to such a permanent answer or solution to the pain in their life. Weren’t there other solutions available?
As survivors traverse the journey and allow the pain to filter through their psychic systems they become transformed into different people with a different outlook on life. Things that were formerly important lose their importance. Survivors oftentimes feel totally responsible for the death of their loved ones. Sometimes survivors lose themselves in the grief process and feel as if their lives are over and they themselves want to die to be rid of this horrendous pain. Survivors would welcome death in order to be free from the pain of grief. Survivors lose sight of the world around them. They become consumed with the ensuing pain of the grief journey. Sometimes survivors express that they are not worthy of experiencing fun or pleasure or good times that were a part of their lives prior to the death from suicide.
What about the right “to the pursuit of happiness?” This has become part of the American creed and it applies to all people. Survivors don’t feel worthy to experience joy or happiness because a loved one took their life on the survivor’s watch. Survivors feel the need to be punished in order to make up for their failing to keep a loved one alive. If the “blame” is to be placed anywhere it rests with the person who took their life. Survivors find it too difficult to “blame” their loved one. Survivors want to take full responsibility for the death of a loved one. In doing this they try to make up for the fact that they failed their loved one. Survivors will forego a future in order to make up for the fact that a loved one found life too painful to want to continue living. In order to break this vicious cycle survivors have to convince themselves that they have the right “to the pursuit of happiness”.
Such a conclusion is not going to come about automatically. Survivors need to make a concerted effort to pursue pleasure and happiness. In doing so survivors need to introduce themselves to the world of happiness and pleasure. At the beginning of this pursuit there can be feelings of guilt because a loved one has died from suicide and survivors don’t deserve to experience pleasure or happiness. That is a natural reaction and that feeling of guilt needs to be experienced and dealt with. The more survivors experience these pleasant feelings the less guilt they will feel. Survivors sometimes feel that they are being disloyal to their loved ones because they are moving on with their lives and are pursuing other and newer experiences. Survivors are afraid that they are going to forget their loved ones and want to hold on to the pain because the pain is the last tangible connection to a loved one.
As with so many experiences in life it takes practice and the more one practices to experience pleasure and happiness the easier it becomes. Survivors have a choice to make about whether they want to become mired in the pain that results from losing a loved to suicide and allow this pain to govern their lives permanently or to allow themselves to once again experience pleasure and happiness that they have every right to pursue. It would be disloyal to a dearly departed loved one to forget them and move on as if they never existed but it is not disloyal to move on with one’s life and begin again to experience pleasure and happiness.
Rituals are devised to remember a loved one who has died. The rituals are observed on any and all significant dates as a way to ensure that this loved is still seen to be a part of a family. When a loved one dies they do not stop being a part of a family. They are and always will be a member of a family. Their presence is different but they are still a member of a family. Their presence can be a lighted candle burning near a picture of this loved one.
As always, I want to assure each and every one of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on daily basis during my quirt time and I encourage you to do the same for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,