11 Lessons I've Learned About Grief Since Losing My Soulmate to Suicide

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March 15, 2015 was the day I lost my life partner and soul mate to suicide. To quote Michelle Steinke, “All other bad days before and after have been defined by that moment.”

“Beware the Ides of March” was the soothsayer’s message to Julius Caesar, warning of his death. According to Wikipedia, some have said the death of Caesar made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history, as one of the events that marked the transition from the historical period known as the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

The death of Steve has surely marked a transition point in my life, from over 33 years of having a loving and fun-filled relationship to a life of loneliness.

As I reflect on this sad one-year anniversary of Steve’s death, I have observed the following and have come to some conclusions:

1.  People I thought were friends were not there for me during the lowest time in my life.  This could be because they were really never a friend in the first place or they were so caught up in their own grief, they cannot bear to talk to me, as I am a reminder that Steve is no longer here. The silence of these “friends” is deafening.

2.  People that I least expected to reached out to me and supported me in my time of grief.  These were people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in quite some time or people who had known Steve but didn’t know me, yet they reached out to me with such compassion. I was always touched and amazed by the kindness of complete strangers when I would have a meltdown in a public place.

3.  It is OK to cry in public. Crying is part of the human condition, and to this day, I still will break down in tears over a simple reminder of Steve. There is no rhyme or reason as to what that might be. It could be seeing a car like his or hearing a favorite song of ours. Hearing a special song one day may tear me apart, yet on another day, hearing that same song will make me smile at the memory.

4. Intellectually, I understand one needs to remain positive and have gratitude for things to change for the better, however, putting that into practice is so difficult, harder than anything I have had to do in my life.  I try to do all the “right” things: exercise, yoga, therapy, group therapy, socialize, volunteer work etc., and I will continue to forge ahead in my new life without Steve.  But, when one is so depressed it is easier said than done. I remember thinking how could Steve find it so difficult to exercise for only 20  minutes when he had been such an incredible athlete, once so committed to his training. Although he suffered from clinical depression and I am suffering from situational depression, I now understand how hard it was for him to help himself. Exercise has always been a focal point in my life, whether it was dance, tennis, lifting weights, cycling or race-walking.  Yet, now it is exhausting for me to do the simplest exercise and I must force myself to do it.

5. Bringing food to people who are grieving is so important. I never understood why this custom was so essential until I was the recipient. If it wasn’t for my friends bringing me cooked food, I probably would have wasted away to nothing.  I didn’t and still have no desire to cook, and I eat to live when I used to live to eat.

6. Most people are clueless on how to deal with someone who has suffered an incredible loss, let alone a loss to suicide.  Showing compassion and even just saying “I’m sorry” or “How are you doing today” or just giving a hug with no words is appropriate.

7. No two grieving processes are alike. I lost both my parents years ago and yes, I grieved and cried. However, my grief over the loss of my mom and dad pales in comparison to what I am experiencing with the loss of Steve.

8. One can never “move on” after such a devastating loss.  I can only move through it. “Move on” is something I have learned to never say to someone who has lost a loved one.

9. I notice when some people ask me how I am doing and I tell them the truth. I usually never hear from them again. But I will not lie and say I am doing great, just so they can feel good about asking me.

10. I believe that not being Steve’s wife has made a huge difference in how some people have treated me. Society deems marriage to carry certain tangible and intangible benefits.

11.  What I do know for a fact, and no one can ever dispute this, is that Steve and I were like two peas in a pod. We knew each other so well and could finish each other’s sentences.  Our love was so strong, and no one can ever take that away from me. Yes, there were trials and tribulations for us in the last two years of his life that were exacerbated by his mental illness, but we never stopped loving each other. Unless someone has walked a mile in my shoes, they have no right to judge my actions or dispute the never-ending love Steve and I had for each other.

Mental health professionals and bereavement counselors have all told me my feelings and experiences are not unique to me. As it is with mental illness and suicide, no one likes to talk about death and grieving, and most people choose to remain silent.  My hope is that someone who reads this blog can take away something to help a person in their life who may have suffered the loss of a loved one.

To this day, I am still grieving and trying my best to move through life without my beloved Steve. Sadness over what has transpired since Steve took his own life continually haunts me.

There are some bright spots in my life, and since I don’t want this blog to be a total pity party, I will end it on a positive note by expressing my eternal gratitude to my closest friends who have been by my side every step of the way and to those people who have shown me such compassion and kindness  in my journey of grief.  I am so blessed to have them in my life.

Although I may always be lonely, I will never be alone.

The author and her husband on the beach.
Jean and her husband, 1985

Follow this journey on Slipped Away.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Student Issued Problematic 'Wellness Agreement' After Disclosing Suicidal Thoughts

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A student in Canada has spoken up about signing what his university calls a “wellness agreement” while seeking help for suicidal thoughts last October.

Brody Stuart-Verner, a student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, went to his university’s Residential Life Office for support.

The residence life manager promptly put the pen and the piece of paper in front of me and I was given very little clarification,” Stuart-Verner said in an interview on the CBC Radio show “As It Happens.” “There were just a few things that just popped out at me that didn’t sound completely right but again, at that time, I was in such a fragile state that I thought that I had to sign it.”

The agreement, which Stuart-Verner shared with CBC Radio, states he must call a helpline in times of crisis, see regular counseling and that he “will not discuss or engage in conversations with residence students regarding personal issues, namely the student’s self-destructive thoughts.”

The contents of the agreement must also remain confidential. “Should you break the agreement,” the document reads, “you understand that you will have to vacate your room in residence and your lease will be terminated.”

“The way I understand that statement is that I can’t talk to any of my friends on campus about how I’m feeling,” Stuart-Verner told “As It Happens.” “It really did lead to a sense of embarrassment and I felt ashamed.”

After Stuart-Verner went public with the agreement, Mount Saint Vincent University responded on Facebook.

The full post reads:

A message from Paula Barry, AVP, Student Experience:

I was saddened to see the Global story broadcast last evening.

This situation is not in keeping with the Mount’s stance on mental illness. We are committed to the health and wellbeing of all of our students and we work very hard to ensure they are supported. That is why this situation is especially upsetting.

The intent of all of the Mount’s residence life policies is to ensure the support and safety of all of our students. As clarity, wellness agreements are plans put in place, in collaboration with our Student Health Services and our Counselling Team, to support (not isolate) residence students in rare crisis circumstances only. In the past year, the language in question was included in one of only two plans.

There are many supports available to students facing challenges. Peer supports, including trained mental health responders, residence assistants and dons, are an important part of that community of regular support. This group is always available to our students.

We don’t want any other student to feel the way Brody did. And we’re committed to continually improving. We are consulting with our Students’ Union and will ensure the continued input of mental health professionals as we work to review and modify the agreement.

According to Active Minds, more than half of college students have had suicidal thoughts, and one in 10 students seriously consider attempting suicide. An estimated 67 percent of college students tell a friend they are feeling suicidal before telling anyone else.

Stuart-Verner says he’s hoping the school will change its policy.

Paula Barry, Associate Vice-President Student Experience at Mount Saint Vincent University, told The Mighty, “On behalf of the Mount, I am sincerely sorry for what happened to Brody. I spoke with our Students’ Union office yesterday morning to initiate a review of the wellness agreement. This review will include our students as well as mental health professionals and will focus on ensuring that, in future, no student feels the way Brody did.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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5 Things to Know If Your Loved One Dies by Suicide

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I have written a lot about what to do before, during and after a suicide attempt. I guess that’s because the people who are here on my blog are the survivors and the loved ones, mostly, of suicide attempt survivors.

But there’s a underserved community in conjunction with suicide — the loved ones left behind by suicide. They are suicide survivors, too. These people are left with a void. These people are left with a hole in their hearts and a hole in the information that’s available. But there are things I think you should know if your loved one dies by suicide.

1. His (or her) suicide is not your fault.

This is a big one. Huge. You have to understand no matter how it went down, the suicide is not your fault. You didn’t force him. You didn’t give her that final push. Even if the last thing you did was scream at him — that didn’t cause his suicide.

His suicide was about him (and most likely his mental illness), not you. His suicide is not your fault.

2. It’s OK to feel angry with, and hurt by, the person who killed himself.

When a person dies you feel loss and you mourn that loss, but mourning a loss due to suicide is more complicated because there are so many contradictory feelings in play. You feel guilty because you didn’t do more. You feel hurt because he didn’t come to you. You feel angry the person won’t be there at your wedding. You feel profound sadness this person is no longer in your world.

And so on, and so on, and so on. The feelings pile up one on top of each other until you’re standing on a hill of confusion, seemingly, with no way down.

This is normal. Those horrible things you’re thinking about the victim of the suicide? Normal. Feeling angry? Normal. Feeling hurt, loss, sadness, guilt? All normal, normal, normal, normal. In short, whatever you are feeling is normal for you. It will hurt and it will be confusing but you will work through it.

3. You may never understand why someone you love died by suicide.

There are exceptions to this, but predominantly, you’re just not going to understand what drove that person you loved to suicide at that moment. You’re not going to understand why he didn’t call a helpline. You’re not going to understand why he didn’t reach out to you or someone else and say he was suicidal. You’re not going to understand why, of all the moments, he chose that one to end his life. I can tell you that it had to do with ending pain, but that’s about all we know.

You’re just not going to understand his suicide — you can’t. It’s not possible. Even if you were one of the few who were left a suicide note, you still won’t understand all the deep questions that come up. Sometimes we need to learn that there are no answers, only painful questions.

4. You will try to look for the logic behind your loved one’s suicide.

Because you’re a thinking, feeling, rational human being, you will try to look for the logic behind your loved one’s suicide. You won’t be able to find this logic because suicide is not a rational, logical choice. Acting on suicide only makes sense in the mind of someone who is in such extreme pain that most would find it unfathomable. The logic exists in the illness and if you don’t suffer the same way, you’re likely never going to see it.

5. The pain from suicide will get better.

The emotions will be almost unbearably painful and they will seem to swallow you whole — but that won’t last forever. The anguish that you feel will lessen. The outrage you feel will quell. You will heal from this wound that feels impossible to heal from. Grief often feels like the end of the world but it really never is. It’s just an interruption to your world. A horrible, nasty, massive, painful, angry interruption — but one that won’t last forever. I promise.

While You’re Processing the Emotions of Suicide

And while you’re working through all the painful questions and emotions tied to suicide, remember this — take care of yourself. Going through something this difficult makes you vulnerable emotionally and physically so make sure you meet the basic requirements of sleeping, eating, drinking enough water and going outside from time to time. I know those things tend to fall by the wayside during times like these, but you need to focus on them because they’re going to only make you stronger to face the pain that suicide leaves in its wake.

Survivors of Suicide Resources

If your loved one has died by suicide, you may wish to check out:

And there are many, many more that are more local. Just Google “suicide survivors support your area.

My thoughts are with you. You shouldn’t have to go through this, but you don’t have to go through this alone. Reach out.

Follow this journey on Bipolar Burble.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When a Suicide Attempt Has No Warning Signs

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Suicide. It’s a terrible word. One of the worst words for a parent to hear. As I was writing this, I received an email from the National Alliance on Mental Illness about suicide prevention. There are tons of posts on social media about suicide prevention because reports just came out about suicide rates being at an all time high.

This post is different than most posts about suicide. This is about impulsive suicide.

Last February, I got a call from my son’s school telling me I needed to come there.

They did not tell me why. When I got to the school, they told me to come sit down. I knew something bad had happened. They told me I needed to get my son evaluated. Wait, I need to go to the ER? I was so confused and disoriented. Everything had been OK. He was fine that morning. He was fine the day before.

The school informed me my son had suddenly tried to take his own life by running into oncoming traffic.

We went to the ER. They would not let him go home. I asked what would happen if I
tried to take him home. I was told that was not an option. The hospital psychiatrist actually kept using the word suicide attempt. It was so hard to hear. He had talked about wanting to die before, he would bang his head for long periods of time trying to hurt himself, but suicide attempt? That is not something that any parent wants to hear.

As a parent of a child diagnosed with a mental illness, losing my child this way is my worst fear. Even just hearing him say he wants to kill himself is excruciatingly painful. He’s not currently in crisis. If you asked me today he’s suicidal right now, I would tell you no. Not at all. If you asked him, he would say he is fine. That day in February, I would have told you he wasn’t suicidal either. He would not have met any warning signs.

But my son is impulsive. His moods change rapidly and he gets angry and upset without understanding why he’s angry and upset. If something triggers him, his anger and sadness can quickly escalate.

Most suicides are planned. These can be prevented. You need to listen to people, take people seriously and look for the warning signs. This is important and crucial. We need to advocate for funding, for reducing stigma, for early intervention and resources.

But in some cases, suicide or suicide attempts are impulsive, unplanned acts. Some happen within five minutes of thinking about it for the first time. An article recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology states that “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, and impulsivity has emerged as a promising marker of risk.”

So what do we do about that?

When the incident happened last February. I was devastated. I was scared. He was
scared. We were all scared. He acted impulsively. He could have died. Did he truly want to take his life or was he just angry and at that moment that was what his impulses told him to do? His flight reflex. I fear it will happen again.

Luckily, I was right there and was able to calm him down within an hour or so. But what happens when I am not there?

Suicide prevention is important. We need to know the warning signs and what to look out
for. But we also need to learn more about the underlying causes of impulsivity and the illnesses that result in our children acting this way. We need funding for more research for mental illness in general — the causes, medications and therapies.

For now, how do we prevent that from happening again? I do not have the answers, but
this is why I am doing what I do. More research needs to be done. As the email I received from the National Alliance on Mental Illness says, we need to advocate for funding, for answers, for the stigma to go away, for awareness.

We have to be vigilant. We have to learn triggers, continue to work on coping skills and how to manage and teach these children and make sure that behavioral programs in schools are adequate and appropriate.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on Think of Happy Things.

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The X Ambassadors Song That Reflects How I Heal From Suicide Loss

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You know how it is. Sometimes you’re driving along in your car and a song comes on the radio that touches on something deep within. And before you know it, your vision is blurred as you drive through your tears.

One year has passed since my father’s suicide. More than 365 days since the call that changed my life forever. The ground shifted beneath my feet the moment the words were spoken. And I’ve not known what it feels like to be on solid ground since.

How do you love someone through a loss like mine? It is fraught with so many layers, pitfalls and obstacles. You can’t walk this path for me. You can’t drag me along at a pace that you believe will hasten my healing. But you can accompany me.

The song by X Ambassadors is called “Unsteady.” Today was the first time I’ve heard it. The chorus is simple, yet deeply profound.

Hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady

And that is all I ask. In time, I will find my footing. I will learn to carry this altered sense of self with strides that are more certain and strong. I will wear my status as “survivor” with a greater depth of purpose, but a lessened degree of palpable pain. I’m learning. It is still new. And I am hurting, even as I am healing.

The song says:

If you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

Hold tight to my hand. Walk with me in loving silence. Open your heart and listen. Let me tell you my truth. I do not trust this ground quite yet, lest it shift once again just as I find my stance. What was never supposed to happen, did. My faith provides no clear compass through this new terrain; like the GPS when I make a wrong turn, it is constantly recalculating.

So how do you love me through this loss, this unfamiliar terrain of suicide loss? The song says it all…

Hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This blog was originally published on Reflecting Out Loud.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Survivor Who's Just Lost Someone to Suicide

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To the new Survivor of Suicide,

I was you. 

We will be Survivors for the rest of our lives, but in those first moments, everything is too raw to really understand what that means. So take a minute and breathe. Your life has just completely changed, but you will be OK.

The first person I called was a best friend, hoping she would tell me my boyfriend is probably fine behind that locked door to our back office. But she said she and her husband were on their way, and I needed to call 911. It’s OK if your first thought isn’t to call 911. What’s happening is  traumatic, and you’re in denial. You’re probably hoping the situation can be anything but what’s actually happening. Your first acceptance that you’re encountering a serious situation is tough, and it’s about to get tougher, but you will be OK.

“I’m sorry to say this, miss, but your husband — I mean your boyfriend is deceased.” When the statement finally comes, and your loved one’s death is confirmed, brace yourself for reactions you don’t expect. I was oddly silent. Maybe you’re hysterical. Nothing about the situation will be what you expect, but just remember to breathe. It might seem hard to believe in this moment, but trust me, you will be OK.

I walked outside to sit on my stoop, and a young officer followed and told me he’s not supposed to leave me alone. “When my friends show up, can you tell them?” I asked. It’s OK to ask for help. No matter what, you need to ask for help. It’s time to put humility aside and let people go out of their way for you. You need to heal, and eventually, you will be OK.

My friends arrived, and the officer pulled them aside. A gasp and suddenly there were arms around me. You will receive so many hugs in the coming days. A hug is someone physically telling you that you are loved. Don’t you ever forget that: You are loved and you will be OK.

My friend kept telling me when to breathe in and out. I’m pretty sure I would have forgotten if she wasn’t there. Basic things might seem hard for a while. If this happens, don’t be embarrassed. People love you and are sympathetic. If they can remind you how to do something simple and it’s successful, that’s something to celebrate. But maybe later. I know right now it seems like celebrations will never be possible again, but as time goes on, you’ll learn to love more and not get upset over the little things. You will be OK.

Another friend showed up. I handed her my phone and told her I didn’t want to see it for a few days. She needed to make The Call. I threw up. Staring at the concrete and vomit, I suddenly thought of some of his and my friends. Where were they all in that moment, blissfully unaware? I envied them. I gave her a few names, knowing others could help spread the word. The Call is not fun, so don’t do it if you don’t want to. Always ask for help when you need it. Keep yourself in a safe place so you will be OK.

I realized I still hadn’t cried yet. “What is wrong with me?” I thought. If you experience this, it’s OK. My therapist would later tell me that is normal during shock. You’re not broken, just hurt. The crying will come tomorrow, and every day for a long time. But crying is healthy, so you will be OK.

Over the next several hours and days, people from all over the country were suddenly here. I dreaded the thought that everyone would eventually go home again and leave me all alone. But know you are never alone. You are loved. There is always someone who loves you. I love you. You will be OK.

I am sad to say I had some scary thoughts in those first two days and am eternally grateful no one left me alone long enough for me to process those thoughts fully. Suicidal thoughts are normal in the aftermath of a suicide, but you must not believe any of it. You are valuable. You are loved. There is help. I know suicide is suddenly more real than it ever has been before, but please believe me, you will be OK.

Since his death I have learned a lot. I have healed a lot. I read some books on grief by survivors like us. Coloring books are also oddly therapeutic. Stick to the things you love to do. Focus on you. Ask a friend to help you find a therapist, and if you can, one that specializes in grief. Finding the right therapist can be tricky and may take some trial and error, but when you get there, it is so worth it! There are support groups for survivors like us. Other survivors and myself are living proof that life after the suicide of a loved one is possible. I will always miss him, but I am OK, just like you will be too.

For life after those first 48 hours, I made a blog.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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