Our guest writer for this article is Hui Yen Ling.
The Complicated Nature of Bereavement by Suicide
It is normal to experience grief when we lose a loved one, such as a family member or friend, regardless of our religious beliefs or views on the afterlife. Grief hits us in waves from time to time. And life never goes back to how it used to be. When we lose someone dear to us, the thought of it alone can be daunting, and regardless of whether we lose a loved one to a fatal car accident, chronic disease, or under any other tragic circumstances – it is one of life’s most emotionally challenging experiences. The experience of grief can be one that is prolonged, sometimes lasting months or even years. This emotional pain of losing is especially painful when we lose someone to suicide. It’s not merely coping from day to day without the loved one, moving on and coming to terms with the reality of what life has become. And sometimes, our lives stay difficult. It’s the fact that a loved one made the decision to take their own life, to make us feel left behind, that changes the nature of this form of grief.
Compared to other forms of grief, bereavement by suicide can get complicated and prolonged to the extent of causing detrimental effects on the bereaved person’s psychological well-being . Bereavement may also heighten susceptibility of negative physical health issues. The process of grief by itself does not represent a risk factor for emotional or physiological health challenges, but it is the pathological consequences, especially in the form of complicated grief, that heightens one’s susceptibility to chronic health issues . Often, suicide survivors struggle not only with the grief experience itself but also with the emotional suffering of trying to find out why their loved one made such a decision in the first place , .
The Shame of Sharing, the Struggle to Understand
Furthermore, suicide survivors are often unable to disclose the cause of death because of their feelings of guilt and blame for the loss of their loved one. This is mainly due to suicide survivors’ feelings of shame, which makes it difficult to talk openly about bereavement by suicide . Suicide loss can be far more emotionally tormenting simply because of the nature of the loss from suicide. It would be easier to blame fate for a fatal car accident, or to accept that cancer can take away one’s life. When it comes to suicide, however, it is a decision made by the loved one lost. Regardless of the reason, family members are left behind in an emotional turmoil of self-blame and anger. Specifically, suicide survivors suffer agonizing thoughts on why the suicide happened, feelings of abandonment, resentment, and guilt . In short, when a person takes his or her own life, there will be an intense effect on the person’s family members and loved ones .
There is the tendency to ask, “Weren’t there signs?”, “Why was the change in behavior overlooked?”, and pass remarks such as “It was so selfish of the person to take his own life.” These thought processes may seem to make sense to us, indeed – they’re the first few question suicide survivors ask themselves. However, what is perceived is not always true – sometimes it is the underlying layers of emotional turmoil that causes them to internalize these stigmatized attitudes towards them. Instead of finding faults and blaming one another (ourselves included), it would be more meaningful to understand and learn from the suicide survivors’ stories. Perhaps the very first step anyone could do is to lend an ear with an open heart, because little moments like that could be an enlightening experience of knowing what it’s really like to lose someone to suicide behind closed doors.
Riding (and Surviving) the Waves of Grief
The experience of grief is very much like the feeling of falling sick. From time to time, our body’s immune system drops and it’s only natural that we fall sick. Sometimes it’s a minor cold that requires a little bit of rest, other times, we take much more time and remedies to recover. It’s just like how grief comes in waves, there will be times that it comes in torrents, causing us to feel the emotion at full force while other times it laps at us like gentle waves, it’s like our moral compass, nudging us to stay on the right track. And it’s okay that we fall from time to time, because each time we fall, we get back up stronger than before.
Sometimes being strong means taking baby steps, surviving week by week, day by day, and other times coping by the hour is all that we need to do. In fact, it takes so much courage to admit defeat, to accept that we fall at times, and to reach out for help. If you’re struggling with bereavement by suicide, or grieving over a loved one, begin with forgiving yourself for all the guilt and blame you’ve been carrying with you. Occasionally, the memories would come in waves. And when it does, allow yourself to take time off to do what works best for you (spending some time crying alone) to recover. But most importantly, know that it is neither a sign of weakness nor shame, it just shows that your loved one has been missed so dearly.
Yen Ling would like to dedicate this article to a very special person:
In remembrance of a loving dad, who showed me the meaning of unconditional love, and always believed in me. He will always be my moral compass and live in my heart forever - 26th September 2019