How Grieving Death by Suicide Felt Different for Me
Within a three-month span, I experienced the death of my 30-year-old brother-in-law, my 68-year-old father-in-law and my 34-year-old brother. On July 7, 2015, my brother-in-law, Joe, was broadsided while piloting his private Cessna airplane only minutes after taking off. He and his passenger, my father-in-law, Mike, were killed instantly. The accident was a tragedy. They were good people of sound mind, a combined 98 year’s worth of accomplishments, accolades and pleasant memories.
My brother, Chris, died alone in his apartment on a Friday after work on October 2, 2015. The act was a tragedy. He was a good person, not of sound mind, 34 years of what ifs, heartaches and painful memories. In both cases, the deaths were sudden and our last words to them were about visiting us. This is where the similarity stops and the difference begins.
Here’s how grieving death by suicide felt different for me:
1. Death by suicide robs me of getting past part of the grieving cycle.
Bargaining is a stage that allows us to essentially blame others, in order to feel in control. With death by suicide, I find myself unable to get past the bargaining stage, as I think of all the actions I could have taken.
2. Friends don’t know what to say.
The sympathy cards, calls and texts poured in for all of July. Then in October, it was noticeably quieter.
3. Instead of pride, I felt pressure to feel shame.
Instead of a celebration of life, I felt pressure to scrutinize parts of his life as I sought answers.
4. There is no solace in musings of God’s timing or that his work was done.
People’s particular religious beliefs differ, but I had to do some intense biblical study to find personal peace that Chris is in heaven, whereas I just assumed that for Joe and Mike.
5. Reminders of him aren’t just heartbreaking, for they are riddled with guilt.
A song by his favorite band, a gift I had forgotten he gave me, a childhood tradition we shared, these cause me to stop and wonder what I should have done differently.
Death by suicide has been categorically different for me than grieving other loved one’s deaths. Special attention to my guilt-wrapped-heartache has been essential to my grieving. Coping with his absence is one facet. Coping with the stigma of mental illness and the guilt of not recognizing the ferocity of my brother’s depression is another. The best relief I have received has been through reading others’ stories of surviving this dual-faceted tragedy.