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Talking about Suicide Loss

Trees against a grey sky and sea

Losing someone to suicide can be a very lonely feeling. Some people simply do not know what to say, and quite often this means they say nothing at all. I have found this silence devastatingly hurtful, and at times it has also made me extremely angry. I think its pretty rubbish actually, that someone cannot even say "I'm sorry for your loss" or "How are you coping?" particularly during the first year or so.

There are a very few friends whom I no longer consider friends because they simply left us alone in our tortured new existence. No card, no message, no phone call. One couple we've known for years did not bother to contact us after Anton died (even though their daughter came to his funeral) and when we bumped into them earlier this year, they acted as though nothing had happened; cheerfully chatting to us as though we had not lost our son in the worst possible way imaginable since we had last met. Thankfully, in our experience these individuals are the exception in terms of close friends and family, who have been absolutely fantastic in their support.

It can be tricky to know what to say when I'm meeting new people. I made a decision quite early on that I would be open about my loss and about how Anton died, I certainly don't feel I have anything to feel ashamed about (I know some do struggle with this, and I will try to publish a post on this topic at some point). But even having made this decision, I found it difficult to know what to say if someone asked about whether I had any children. I didn't want to deny Anton's existence by saying I had one son; neither did I wish to cause upset or awkwardness for others, which might also be upsetting for me, by telling them my son was dead. And I didn't want to answer the questions that might follow this disclosure, because I wasn't sure I could do it without breaking down. In the end I decided I would take each situation as it came, and assess whether it was appropriate or not to discuss Anton's death, based on how I felt about the people I was with. This seems to have worked fairly well so far.

At the start of the pandemic I joined the army of volunteers who did shopping, collected prescriptions, or took people to medical appointments, and I continued with that throughout all the lockdowns. This work helped others of course, but it also helped me. I felt part of a community, I enjoyed doing the practical tasks, I kept busy and distracted. I didn't need to tell anyone anything about myself other than my name. It was safe. There was another task that came up sometimes, which was doing check in calls to lonely elderly or disabled people living alone. After a few such calls I found that task impossible. I really struggled with listening to others who were feeling depressed and lonely, on top of my own loss. So I simply stopped accepting those tasks.

Since January 2022 I have been volunteering locally with refugees. I teach English once a week at a drop in. I realised there that it would be best if I could be open about my situation, and so when I went for a chat to discuss volunteering I told the leader. I explained that I might not be there every week, because I still had bad days. She was great and very supportive. Gradually, as I began to know other volunteers I explained to them that I had lost my son - I said that if I seemed a bit off or was upset at any time, that would probably be the reason. I told them in a very open and straightforward way that Anton had died by taking his own life, and at that point I was able to do it without tears. They have now become friends, so when I started the blog I shared the link, and many have visited the site.

We lost Anton a few months before lockdown in the UK, which was of course a strange time for everyone. I can't say whether it was better or worse for us, as I don't know any different. It just was. I do know people who weren't able to hold a funeral for a long time, or had severely limited numbers at the funeral, or waited months or even years for inquests to take place, or who were alone and unable to see friends and family. My heart goes out to you if that was your experience. In retrospect, we were extremely lucky that we could hold Anton's funeral before restrictions came into force in the UK in March 2020.

But being someone who thrives on communication and contact with others, I didn't let lockdown prevent me from talking. Whether by speaking on the phone or by message, email or writing in my journal, I talked and talked, and then I talked some more. Every time I talked, I felt something, some subtle little shift inside. That may have been from feeling a connection with someone, a shared sense of loss, or simply from knowing that those who loved me were reading and responding to the hundreds, maybe thousands of messages I sent them. I felt heard. I felt cared for and loved. I didn't ask people if they wanted to be barraged with messages about how devastated I was; I just sent them. It didn't take away my pain, but it definitely helped me feel as though I was less alone, and I felt part of a common humanity.

Common Humanity is a phrase that is linked to Self-compassion which is about being aware of our own needs, and being kind to ourselves, particularly in times of pain. The last thing we need when we're suffering is to make the suffering worse by criticising ourselves, denying others the opportunity to assist where they can, or by telling ourselves we don't deserve their help. I'm sure that many of my friends and family felt utterly inept when reading my messages, knowing that any response would be totally inadequate in the face of my grief. That didn't stop them trying, and I was very thankful to get their replies, even if it was just a heart emoji. The fact that they read my message and thought of me gave me comfort.

I'm lucky in that I find it very easy to talk, especially about emotions, feelings, fears. I also find it easy to cry, to be fairly in touch with how I'm feeling, and to stay awhile with the fear, the pain, the desolation of loss. Maybe you're like me, or perhaps like my husband you find talking openly and expressing feelings quite difficult, even excruciating. If you're in the latter camp that can sometimes make grieving feel even more difficult than it already is. If it's easier to write than to speak, you might try writing the words, or journaling your thoughts, or even writing a poem. You don't have to show it or share it with anyone else.

Reading about others' experiences with grief and loss, and listening to others speak about how it has been for them can also really help. I find that I always learn something from someone else, because we all perceive things differently and because human minds are so creative and clever, there are myriad and limitless ways of describing the processes we are going through. The Compassionate Friends (TCF) has a raft of videos and guest blogs all by bereaved parents and siblings, and I have gained something from all of them. All these courageous people found different ways of coping with their loss. I hope you will too.

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Sep 20, 2022



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