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Can Our Regrets Help Us Heal From Our Suicide Loss?

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Recently, I took a walk with a friend who, like myself, has also experienced loss by suicide. I asked her, “What regret did you experience in your loss that you might offer to someone who has a loved one currently struggling in a suicidal crisis?”

“That’s a great question.” She paused. “I would say, ‘Listen to everything and anything the person has to say. Just keep listening.'” She repeated, “Just keep listening.’”

I love this answer. Sharing a regret together felt so good to both of us. Talking about our best learning after losing someone to suicide was a new and unexpected moment between us. Suddenly, we both had something to give.

For so many years after my loss, I did not think of myself as having anything to offer because of my overwhelming grief and guilt. This brief exchange between my friend and myself helped me to change my perspective.

I now recognize that losing my son has changed me. I am not the same person I was before losing him. When my son was struggling, I did not understand that he was at risk for suicide and I did not know that it was an option to try to be in his struggle with him due to my own upbringing.

Now, I no longer back away from emotional distress I do not understand. I am now more likely to “walk into” a situation that is uncomfortable for me in order to try to do better, to try to understand.

Over the years, I have learned a lot about forgiveness for my son and for myself.

Perhaps each one of us who has lost a loved one to suicide has a lesson from which we can learn. We have survived a tragedy and reflected upon our lives. If we are lucky enough, we come to the place where we empathize with our regrets.

I ask myself the same question that I asked my friend. Keeping in mind that each experience is different, what regret am I aware of that I might tell someone else in a suicidal crisis? What have I learned?

I would say, “Stay close.” My regret is that I wish I would have said that I felt something was wrong, and that I wanted to understand. And then follow that up with being willing to go to great lengths to understand.

I would have given anything to have someone who had more experience than I had at the time to say these things to me.  I may not have been able to save my son, but I might have had the chance to try.

What would it look like if we talked about our best learning from our suicide loss experiences? Can we share these regrets among ourselves? Is it possible that sharing our regrets might also help us heal and possibly diminish our shame?

What do you wish you might have done differently if you could have a second chance? What have you learned that you feel you might contribute toward helping another?

Getty image via gbh007

Originally published: November 4, 2020
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