By Conroy Reynolds PhD
It is a devastating experience when a loved one commits suicide. Dealing with the death of one close to you is difficult but the thought that this person has chosen to end their own life has its own grief pathway and in many ways is more difficult to resolve. It involves dealing with negative self characterizations such as the thought that there is something wrong with my family. Suicide also affects the entire family and each person’s has his/her unique experience with it. How does one approach this very painful time?
1. Understand the power of choice
The greatest challenge dealing with the suicide of a loved one is the feeling that you are responsible, that you should have been able to prevent it. You think to yourself, if I was more perceptive, or not so self absorbed or more spiritual then I would have seen it and been able to do something about it. However in the final analysis, each person makes a choice and the choice to end one’s life is the ultimate choice. Besides, self blame always leads to shame and self hatred with their accompanying self destructive behaviors.
2. Resist Blaming God
In any tragedy how one relates to God becomes a major question. God is the ultimate power in the universe and when we experience pain of any kind, it is certain to impact the way we relate to him. The nature of our struggle will be shaped by our understanding of who God is and his role in human affairs. The Judeo-Christian God is one who loves everyone unconditionally and does not desire anyone to suffer. Therefore it is natural for one who believes in this God to wonder why he did not prevent such an awful occurrence. However like self blaming, blaming God only leads to shame and self destruction.
3. Understand the suicidal mind
Survivors often interpret suicide as their loved one choosing to die rather than live with them. This can generate a range of negative emotions ranging from sadness to anger. However the opposite is often the case. People who commit suicide often believe those left behind will do better without them, therefore in their minds they are actually helping others by choosing to kill themselves.
4. Celebrate the memory of the loved one
An essential aspect of dealing with suicide is to take the time to grieve the loss and celebrate the memory of the loved one. Contrary to a popular notion, people who commit suicide are not weak. In fact I think quite the opposite; it takes a great deal of internal strength to end ones life often in extremely painful ways. The decision to commit suicide should not be allowed to mar the usefulness and beauty of life prior to death, whatever the means.
5. Resist Judging
In 1942 Adam Czerniakow a Jewish Leader in Warsaw Poland, killed himself by drinking a cyanide tablet rather obey Nazi orders that would have led to the killing of fellow Jews. It is easy to draw harsh conclusions about some one who commits suicide. Jesus’ instruction not to judge should also apply to people who die by suicide.
6. Take care of yourself
For whatever reason, suicide appears to have a contagious aspect to it. It seems easier for others to think about suicide as an option when a loved has done it. They may feel, “I want to go join my loved one” or the loved is now free from the stress of life, or if so and so can do it so can I. Whatever the reason, those left behind may be open to the idea of taking their own lives. Take time to foster your own peace of mind, see a grief counselor or go to a grief support group.
7. Cultivate an attitude of trust
Trust is based on faith. Having faith in someone greater than self allows me to access supernatural resources I need to help get me through the crisis. Learning to pray the Prayer of Serenity will engender hope that tomorrow will be better than today. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can and wisdom to know the difference.” The other side of trust is the willingness to leave the fate of my loved in the hand of a God of love.
There is inevitable pain that accompanies the suicide death of a loved one but it helps to know that I do not have to be a helpless victim to its ravages. If I am willing to accept responsibility for my grief process I can experience a journey of personal renewal and hope.
Conroy Reynolds, MS MA is a mental health chaplain and ordained pastor. He is also the author of “Finding God in the Dark.” More information is available at: http://www.outskirtspress.com/findinggodinthedark.