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The Unique Solidarity Among Suicide Loss Survivors

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Author Joan Didion, who passed away in December of last year, wrote the following in her book, “A Year of Magical Thinking,” after the unexpected, sudden death of her husband, John Dunne:

“People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look on their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness.”

I completely agree.

But I also think that there is a very special, unique kind of solidarity that happens when you learn of another… someone else who has survived the hardship of losing a family member to suicide.

When I was in high school a classmate lost his father to suicide.

I remember a group of us went to the funeral home to support him. I recall looking at him and his face, considering for a moment how his family had just crumbled. I felt so badly for him, though I had no words — what could I possibly say? I didn’t know his pain, but I had enough insight even at 16 to know that I couldn’t understand whatever he was going through.

Now I think, if my life were a movie, this would be a scene ripe, no — dripping, with foreshadowing.

Because at one point in my future, from my own loss, I would experience this too.

One of my graduate mentors told me perhaps the best response, to date, that I have ever heard, after I shared with her that my father had died by suicide:



“…suicide is so hard for those left behind.”

Yes. Thank you.

This isn’t to say that all death and grieving isn’t hard. Of course it is. There are people who form relationships, find kindred spirits in the midst of that pain… perhaps one of the silver linings of grief, what makes mourning more bearable, helps us to get through it.

But there is also, undeniably, something unique about suicide

I would also say that it is especially challenging to sit with, to know, that you’re related to people who chose this way of premature death, who chose to die…. facing that you share a blood line with these folks, family members who resorted to this exit, ending their own story, because they can’t be in this world anymore, in this pain.

I told this recently to a student of mine, who confided in me that her father had died by suicide. After sharing some resources with her, I told her the same thing, pointed out this solidarity.

This moment of almost relief, of, oh, they can get it, when so many others cannot.

You don’t wish this on anyone, but you’re glad to know that the hell you face and endure, the pain and grief, is something others have lived through, and are living through.

There is an undeniable, unexplainable comfort, a salve, a solace in that, and it is perhaps one of the only kind that suicide survivorship affords.

To see more from Danielle, visit her Substack.

Getty image by Liusia Voloshka

Originally published: February 21, 2022
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