When Does Grief “End” in the Loss of a Loved One to Suicide?

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Written by Colleen Sybert, our AFSP Western PA Chapter’s Chair of Loss & Healing Programs and also co-facilitator of the Suicide Loss Support Group at St. Peter’s Reformed Church in Zelionople, PA. She is pictured below (right) with her sister Leanne (left) at Colleen’s wedding.

October 17, 2017 – At times over the last 12.5 years, how I’ve wished I had a crystal ball that would have put a definitive date on this question … and yet, I’ve realized after losing my middle sister, Leanne Adele Duke to suicide 12.5 years ago, I don’t actually believe I want a ‘date’ for my grief to ‘end’ as I’ve found that my grief also helps to keep Leanne’s memory and legacy alive. I confess, however, that it has taken me a long while to come to this conclusion, with plenty of Faith and prayer along the way.

As Sheryl Sandburg, chief operating officer at Facebook and author, stated in an interview with Oprah Winfrey recently and in conjunction with her newest book Option B: “Death does not end a relationship” and “death does not end love.”

Words couldn’t have rung more true to me as I sat on the couch watching this interview several Sunday afternoons ago.  My relationship with my sister, Leanne, continues to this day and will for the remainder of my days on this earth as I work to keep her memory alive via working to help others either newer to their grief, and as I continue to share stories of Leanne to my two boys. Leanne served as Godmother to both boys and we speak of her very frequently – not necessarily about the manner in which she died but more about the manner in which she lived – the many good and positive things so many loved about Leanne.

I often wonder when I am doing a variety of things, and clearly over the last 12.5 years, there have been so many milestones in my life and the lives of my family, lives of my children, my marriage, that have come and gone and still I wonder:

“What would Leanne be doing if she were here?”

“Why isn’t Leanne here for this milestone?” and

“Damn it – Leanne SHOULD be here for this milestone!” 

Yet, I know in my heart that Leanne (who suffered from depression most of her adult life, and often chose not to properly treat her disease of depression, ultimately resulting in her untimely death in 2005) felt that choosing to end her pain and suffering in the manner in which she did was the only avenue she felt plausible at the time.

(Pictured below: Leanne (left) with their mother in 2003.)

I have learned on this journey that dealing with the death of a loved one to suicide is vastly different than losing a loved in any other manner; I know that due to the stigma that still exists with mental health, depression and suicide conversations. I know that due to the looks I have received on countless occasions when someone I am speaking with is made aware that I lost my middle sister to suicide; it can certainly be a conversation ‘stopper,’ an awkward silence often ensues and people generally just don’t know what to say so they often choose to say nothing at all. I have learned that grief doesn’t ‘end’ when losing someone to suicide and have learned that for me personally, speaking up about it and working to help others via education, research, advocacy and support has helped to heal me on my journey of loss. AFSP has taught me many of these invaluable lessons along my grief journey, and I am forever grateful.

With the recent passing of Leanne’s 49th birthday, August 18, 2017, I choose to honor Leanne’s memory and legacy by speaking out about mental illness, depression and suicide to keep that conversation going and to work to help others along my continuous journey of grief – because LIFE isn’t about avoiding suffering; LIFE is about finding meaning along your own journey.

Click here to learn more about the support group that Colleen co-facilitates.

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