During the month of September the summer months are brought to a sad denouement, as the barbecue sets are put away, the leisure days and evenings of summer become fond memories and people settle in to the fall activities. Students are back at the books and a more routine schedule is developed for most family members. During this month Americans celebrate Labor Day, this final long weekend traditionally brings the summer months to a close. On this day we remember especially those people who make a living as members of the various trade unions, such as electricians, carpenters, plumbers and other trades of that nature. We remember those people who work for a living by using their gifted hands to make things work.
My father was very gifted in that way. He was very handy around the house. He was able to do basic plumbing, electrical and carpentry work around the house. He truly enjoyed doing these types of projects, would finish them and take great satisfaction when the project was completed. He was very interested in trying to show me how to do these kinds of tasks. Unfortunately, I did not share his interest in these household tasks and did not derive a sense of satisfaction when projects were completed. I found pleasure and satisfaction in reading and engaging in music and theater. On one occasion my father commented that he hoped I would never have to make a living with my hands because if that were the case I would probably starve. He was right. Luckily, I found my niche in life and have never looked back.
Work oftentimes has a very negative and arduous connotation. Sometimes work is very unpleasant and dissatisfying. Grief from suicide fits that description. It is work and it is very painful and arduous. It is work because it taxes survivors physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually. Survivors oftentimes indicate that they are very tired since losing a loved one to suicide. It is natural to experience fatigue during the grieving process because the grief journey entails work, and a lot of it. In order for a survivor to get through the grief process one has to be willing to engage in work. The grief is not going to be resolved automatically with the passage of time. Survivors often hear the adage that “time heals all wounds”. I have never ascribed to that axiom. Grief is resolved by working hard over a long period of time. Time in and of itself is not going to do the job. If that were the case we would not be getting calls five, ten or twenty years after the suicide and people seeking our help. We get calls on a regular basis from survivors who experienced the death of a loved one from suicide years in the past. Something is not quite right in their life and they are seeking help. What did not happen in these situations is that the person did not resolve the pain from the suicide.
What does it mean to resolve the pain? For this to happen, survivors need to embrace the fact that a loved one found life too painful and ended their life. The pain became intolerable, and to continue living became impossible. The ensuing pain from this death needs to be incorporated into the psychic life of the survivor so that the survivor can continue to want to live. At the beginning of the journey, this fact seems almost impossible to accomplish. Sometimes survivors have no desire to want to live. This is a normal reaction. As the journey continues, survivors need to find reasons to want to live. This takes work and effort. Survivors look around the world that makes up their life and discover reasons that spur them on, such as other family or friends, or work or other interests that formerly brought them joy and satisfaction. This takes work.
Survivors will always be frustrated if they desire to have their life back the way it was prior to the suicide. That aspect of life is over, and that life ended with the death of that loved one. That is the first task of the grief journey. Unfortunately, because the suicide occurred, there is no return to the former life. Death is final and the lives of the survivors have been permanently altered. That realization needs to be incorporated into the psyche of the survivors. That takes a lot of work. Generally, survivors liked their lives the way they were. Was it the idyllic life? Probably not, because few if any have the idyllic life. Virtually everyone has challenges in their lives, but rarely is there a challenge like surviving the death of a loved one from suicide. This experience can be described as the nadir of one’s life. Literally, survivors rebuild their lives from the bottom up. It is very similar to the phoenix that arose from the ashes. In order to accomplish this task it takes work, and a lot of work. This kind of work is not for sissies.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to accomplish this work. Sometimes survivors attempt to find an easy way to do this work. There is no easy way. There are no shortcuts either. The re-creation of a life after the trauma of losing a loved one from suicide is a very lengthy and perilous task that also entails a lot of pain. The length of time should not be an issue. What should be an issue is the thoroughness of the work. No one does it perfectly, but survivors should attempt to do it as perfectly as humanly possible. The future of one’s life depends on how thoroughly grief is resolved. There is a direct relation between the happiness of one’s future and the thoroughness of the grief process. The ultimate goal of the grief process is to develop a comfort level with the fact of losing a loved one to suicide. This does not mean that a survivor will like the fact that a loved one took their life, but it does mean that a survivor is no longer afraid of this fact, and has been able to embrace this fact with all of the ugliness and ensuing pain that goes with the journey. The survivor is able to live with the fact that a loved one found life too painful to continue. The survivor is not just enduring life. They are enjoying life and are able to experience pleasure and happiness. This will not happen automatically or with the passage of time. This will happen as a result of a lot of hard and painful work.
As always, I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis during my quiet time. I encourage all of the members of the LOSS family to do the same for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family and are engaged in the work of surviving this pain.
Keep On Keepin’ On,