In February we celebrate the birthdays of two of the great statesmen of our country, we commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They are two of the most important icons in our nation’s history. George Washington brought to the presidency a sense of dignity and service while eschewing any regal titles or other aristocratic trappings. Abraham Lincoln saved our country from being split into two different federations. It was through his leadership that we were able to survive and thrive as a single country. These two men are rightly lionized because of their leadership and their dedication. They are remembered fondly because of what they did for our country. Their legacy is very rich.
One of the fears of survivors of a completed suicide is the legacy of their loved ones. Are people going to remember these loved ones by their final act of desperation? Is their suicide going to be their lasting legacy? In the immediate aftermath of the suicide people are going to remember these loved ones by this act. During the initial stages of the grief journey the suicide is in the forefront of the journey. The suicide is not the defining issue but it certainly is very present during this part of the grief journey. It is very difficult to ascertain how long the issue of the suicide is going to remain as one of the important aspects of the survivors. In time the fact that this loved one took their life is going to take second place and will no longer be paramount to the person’s life and death. These people who found life too painful to endure are greater than the way they died. These loved ones had a greater and richer legacy than how their lives ended. They brought much happiness and joy to the members of their families. There might have been times of struggles and pain but there were also many good times with their loved ones. Survivors look back and recall some of the great qualities and characteristics that these people brought to the world. The world is at a great deficit because these people are no longer a part of creation. Families experience a great void since the death. These people are remembered as having brought a great deal of talent and creativity to their families and their circle of friends. Were they perfect? Obviously not but who of us is perfect? The main point is that these loved ones were much more than how their lives ended. Their lasting legacy is not their suicide but is the totality of their lives.
In the immediate aftermath of the suicide, survivors want to make sure that other family members and friends know that there was much more to this person’s life than how they died. Survivors almost want to protect their loved ones so that people don’t think less of this person because of how they died. Survivors go to great lengths to ensure that the surrounding community knows a lot about this loved one and the many talents that they possessed. This is a very normal reaction because of the stigma that is often attached to suicide. Many segments of society have a very skewed impression of people who complete suicide. Society is very ignorant about mental illness and those people who are suffering from such an illness. Survivors almost feel as if they have to apologize about how their loved one died. Such a reaction does not happen if the death is by some other means. People don’t feel that they have to explain or defend a loved one who has died from cancer or heart disease or some other illness so why the necessity to defend someone who has died from suicide? The answer is because of the ignorance of our society and because of the stigma attached to suicide and mental illness.
The family who has lost a loved one from suicide oftentimes are under the impression that they have to explain that the family is a very normal one. They almost feel obligated to explain that they are not a dysfunctional family. I remember working with a family years ago and the younger son didn’t want anyone to know how his father had died because he didn’t want anyone to conclude that he came from a dysfunctional family. I explained that we all come from dysfunctional families and some are more dysfunctional than others but there is no such thing as the perfect family like Ozzie and Harriet or the Brady Bunch. Those are made for T.V. but they do not exist in real life. Every family has to deal with some negative issues that can cause stress on other members of the family. None of us comes from the perfect family system.
In time how a person died is going to fade into the background. It will never be forgotten but as time goes on it is no longer the defining issue in a person’s life and the legacy is a much richer and more fruitful one than remembering that the person died from suicide. All of our lives are laced with wonderful accomplishments and these will live on long after we have gone to the hereafter. People who find life too painful to continue are no different than the rest of the population. Like everyone else they leave a very rich and rewarding legacy. It is up to the survivors to remind the rest of the world that these loved ones had a plethora of talents and the world is better off that they lived here and there is a real deficit in the world since they have died. No one is completely bereft of worth and talent and it is up to the survivors to remind the world of this fact. My suggestion is for survivors to remind the world of the worth of people who found life too painful to continue.
As always, I want to assure each member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis during my quiet time and I encourage each of you to do the same for each other –especially for those people who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,