Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and the media is (rightly) awash with articles and posts on how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. My black/inappropriate sense of humour would like to point out that I’m obviously not very good at keeping people alive so I’m going to leave it to the experts.
But all joking aside, today is an important day because it gives us a chance to talk about this epidemic of loss that sweeps the world.
If one person dies globally from completing suicide every 40 seconds, and almost 80% of those people are men, there are many, many wives, girlfriends and partners left behind. This post is for those who are still here and have to live with the grief and trauma of knowing someone who chose to end their life.
It’s not your fault
No matter what you did or didn’t do, no matter how much your loved the person who died, it’s not your fault. You didn’t see it coming, you had no way of knowing what would happen. Perhaps now as you look back, you can identify places where you could have done things differently, but at the time you didn’t have the perspective of hindsight. You did the best you could in the unfolding moments of life.
Other people will blame you
When someone completes suicide, people are left with the unanswerable question of ‘why?’ A question without answers makes people uncomfortable so they will transfer their discomfort to you. They will whisper about you behind your back and invent a history of exaggerated conflict or dysfunction within your relationship. You can’t control what other people think of you and the stories they invent to make themselves feel more at ease. Trying to change other people’s minds is a waste of energy. Ignore them and move on.
It wasn’t always rainbows and roses
Loving someone who has a mental illness is not easy. It is more than likely that your relationship wasn’t full of honest communication, affection and support. There is no shame in acknowledging that you didn’t always live in blissful harmony. Just because a person is dead doesn’t automatically make them a saint. Death doesn’t erase or minimise the pain you suffered while that person was still alive. It’s normal to feel relief alongside grief and sadness.
At some point you have to let go
We all drag around our ghosts — the memory of our first boyfriend, the unrequited love of the person who didn’t love us back, the dream of the fairytale marriage that didn’t come true. The ghost of a dead lover is ever-present and all-consuming. He’s the first person you think about when you wake and the last person on your mind when you fall asleep. You feel angry, abandoned, alone and in agony. We keep our ghosts alive by letting them take up space in our thoughts, space that might be otherwise filled with light and love. When it’s time to let go, you’ll know it. Say goodbye and let him leave. Life is for the living.
If your religion isn’t helping, then you can change your mind
Whatever you believe about the afterlife will come into serious question when you lose someone to suicide. For some people, anticipating a heavenly reunion is a comfort but for others, their faith in the benevolence of the universe slips away. You can believe whatever you want to believe, believe in nothing at all, or simply put off making up your mind. It is perfectly okay to not know or to change your mind.
Love will come again
A heart that has loved so deeply can love again. You deserve to find happiness again. No one will ever take the place of your late partner, but you shouldn’t want them to. A new relationship will be exciting and scary, different and surprising. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, for a few years or for a lifetime. Be open to love and it will find you.