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What Suicide Loss Survivors Need From You

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

March 27, 2020 was a perfect day. My whole family was together because, thanks to COVID, both my school and my brother’s school had gone remote. We had stayed up late the night before playing cards and eating takeout from Olive Garden, and got to sleep in that morning. We had lunch together, eating leftovers and watching “How I Met Your Mother.” We went for a walk that afternoon, and talked about nothing and everything. It was the perfect day — until it wasn’t. Until I went to get my brother for dinner and found him. Until my mom and I got him down and I started CPR. Until the paramedics arrived and tried to resuscitate him for 45 minutes. Until they stopped trying, and we were told that my baby brother had died by suicide.

Close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year. That is one person every 40 seconds. And people talk about this. There are entire organizations dedicated to preventing suicide. There are hotlines to call or text if you are feeling suicidal (call 1-800-273-8255 or text HELP to 741741). In October, Congress approved a three-digit phone number to connect directly to a suicide prevention specialist.

We talk a lot about the people who attempt or die by suicide. But what happens to the people they leave behind? The families, friends, partners and other loved ones? Losing someone to suicide is a very unique kind of grief. It’s all of the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one, compounded with the knowledge that they had a hand in making this happen. In the weeks following my brother’s death, people sent me dozens of books and articles about loss and grief. But they didn’t help. They didn’t prepare me for the fact that people would distance themselves from me and my family because of the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide. They didn’t tell me that I would spend the next three months playing amateur PI, trying to find any clue that might explain why my brother wasn’t here anymore. They didn’t prepare me for the guilt and blame I would place on myself, even though rationally I know there is nothing I could have done.

November 21 is Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. And it’s a day I want you to remember. Because while we as a society mourn the loss of people who die by suicide, us loved ones are still trying to survive in this world — and we need your help. We need you to know losing someone is like a hole in your heart, and it takes a long time before that hole is not the only thing you notice. You need to help us see what else is there in the world. We need you to understand that suicide is not contagious and staying away from us only makes it harder for us to heal. You need to stand by us, even when it’s hard. We need you to believe that things will be OK. Because sometimes, we forget, and count on you to remind us.

Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. That means, every 40 seconds, people are experiencing the visceral pain I felt on March 27 and every day since. We need you to see us. We need you to be there for us. We need you to help us heal.

Lead image provided by contributor

Originally published: November 19, 2020
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