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by Father Arnaldo Pangrazzi, International Coordinator for ministry for the Order of St. Camillus/ posted on www.soslsd.or

The suicide of someone you care about is a devastating tragedy. It happens in the best of families and to the best of people, shattering the lives of the shocked survivors.

As you mourn the death of your friend or loved one, you probably feel a sense of betrayal. You have invested years of caring, loyalty, and patience with the deceased. Suddenly you are abandoned and rejected. Perhaps you have had such thoughts as, “How could she do this to me?”, “Couldn’t he think about the children?” Because you are bewildered by what has happened, you search for whys. A message left may help interpret what went on in the person’s mind before the suicide. Yet the painful questions remain: “Why did he do it?” “Was she angry at me?”

You may also be filled with guilt, for suicide seems like not just a loss but also an accusation. You may feel that somehow you did not love enough, or that your relationship was not good enough. You keep rehearsing all the, “if onlys”; “Why didn’t I realize how sick she was?” “If only I had been home on time.”

Working your way through

Recovery from suicide of someone close is a monumental task, for the process of mending a broken heart is painful and slow. The road to recovery requires you to accept your feelings, to draw from your inner resources, and to develop positive attitudes toward the past, present, and future. The journey of healing starts with small steps leading from darkness to hope, from death to a renewed commitment to life.

  • Learn to live with unanswered questions. We do have some clues about why people choose suicide. We know that suicide is often the response to some kind of loss: to real or perceived failure; to physical, psychological or spiritual pain. The person’s problems become the only thing that exists, and he or she cannot conceive that life will ever become any better.
    But even knowing all this intellectually, you can still feel very confused emotionally. Behind your questions is a broken heart that can’t be healed with simple answers. Struggling through the not knowing is extremely difficult. People who complete suicide often take with them the mystery of their life and death. You must gradually let go of the whys, accept what has happened, and go on living.
  • Allow time for bad memories. In the early stages of grief, survivors often experience playback of the suicide scene, in their thoughts or in nightmares. You may feel robbed of pleasant memories and oppressed by this replay of the details surrounding the final event. You need to own and deal with these negative images before you can get in touch with your good memories. As the hurt gradually becomes less intense, positive feelings will surface and become more frequent and longer‐lasting.
  • Acknowledge your feelings of anger. Instinctively, survivors tend to reject the way their loved one chose to end his or her life. They may resent the deceased for checking out of the relationship on his or her own terms. Anger is an investment; we don’t get angry at someone we do not care about. Anger, therefore, is not the opposite of love but a dimension of it – a sign of a love deeply wounded. Your anger can help you survive and reenter life or it can become destructive. It depends on how you channel it. You might try discussing your anger with an understanding friend. Or talking about it with God. Or writing a letter expressing it to the deceased. Ultimately, anger needs to be healed through a willingness to forgive.
  • Turn guilt into forgiveness. Most survivors blame themselves for what they did or did not do. They have the sense of something left unfinished, something suddenly interrupted. They find it hard to let go of their rescue fantasies. Guilt accompanies many of our experiences of powerlessness and imperfection. It can paralyze and demoralize us, or we can transform it into self‐forgiveness and a greater capacity for loving those that are still around us. Healing takes place when you realize that you cannot judge your yesterday with the knowledge of today, that love alone may not be enough to save another’s life, that there are limits to your power and responsibility, that you were not the only influence in the life of the deceased.
  • Accept the loneliness. Loneliness is the price we pay for loving. When a loved person dies, a part of us dies too. To some degree, the loneliness may last a lifetime because no one can ever replace that person. An anniversary, a place, a song may bring back the memories, the aching pain. We feel the keen disappointment of not having that special person there to share in the family’s changes, surprises, sorrows. Loneliness can help you realize the depths of your love. From it, you can lean to become more sensitive to other’s losses and to turn to God who is always there.
  • Draw from your own spiritual resources. You may be struggling with questions like, “Will God forgive her, or has he condemned her to hell?” While the act of suicide is objectively wrong, contemporary theologians emphasize that individual circumstances may make it subjectively guiltless. Those who take their life may be so disturbed that they act compulsively. Only God knows what is in the heart of each person. Obviously it does not take your grief away simply believing that God will view your loved one’s action compassionately. But faith will help you discover redeeming values in the midst of your suffering.
  • Rebuild your self esteem. The suicide of a loved one is a terrible blow to one’s self‐image. Rationally or irrationally, the survivors may feel judged by the community for having failed. They may feel that the suicide is a disgrace to the family or the school or even the community. Some have a strong urge to escape to a place where they are not known. And, unfortunately, the shame many survivors feel keeps them from acknowledging the suicide and taking about it – an important part of the recovery process. After the shattering experience of a suicide, you need to pick up the pieces, reaffirm your commitment to life, and rebuild confidences in yourself.
  • Be patient with yourself. Remember that time, by itself, does not heal. It is how you use the time that’s important. When you can stare less frequently at the past and can recognize the value of small steps you develop a framework within, which the passage of time makes the loss not easier, but at least less hard.
  • Reach out to others. You can choose to let your brokenness defeat you or you can decide to get up and get going. Once you have the courage to place your hurt, your sensitivity, and your compassion at the service of others, you have discovered the key to help yourself. For when pain is used to reach out to others, it becomes creative and transforming love.

Take Heart

Suicide leaves deep scars on the survivors. But there is no turning back. You cannot change what had happened. You can, however, change your outlook‐ from backward to forward, from death to life.

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