Losing Multiple Family Members to Suicide: Eight Concepts That Have Helped Me Heal
25 Oct 2022 — 5 min read
By Heidi Bogers
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, also known as Survivor Day, takes place each year on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving, with virtual and in-person events in communities everywhere. Learn more and find an event near you.
This year, 2022, International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day takes place on November 19.
I am a “survivor of suicide loss.” This term means I have lost a loved one to suicide. More specifically – and heartbreakingly – I have lost four family members to suicide. This happened over the course of five years. An uncle in March, 2015; a cousin’s son in February, 2016; a cousin (the son of my uncle who died) in October, 2018; and finally my brother in November, 2018. The impact on my family was devastating each time. It has changed the way we spend time together and how we support each other. We are left to wonder: will there be another phone call to share sad news? Ultimately, some things that helped us included being willing to talk openly with one another about our own mental health and our lost loved ones – something it’s difficult for some families to do after a suicide loss – and to check in on each other often, even over long distances.
Something else that helped was attending one of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s local International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day events. Also known as Survivor Day, it is an opportunity for suicide loss survivors to come together, share their experiences, and gain both hope and understanding.
My husband and I found it so encouraging to be with other people who have been affected by suicide. Since that time, we have both become active in planning and leading these events through our local AFSP chapter. The multiple losses my family experienced have given me a purpose and drive to help others. I am proud to say that I am currently the event manager for the local International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event here in central Iowa.
Over the years, I have come to understand certain things that have been helpful in my own personal journey of healing. I share them in hopes of helping others who have lost someone they care about to this leading cause of death:
- It’s natural to feel many emotions, including guilt – but no suicide death is another person’s fault.
When I lost my brother, I asked myself: “How did I let this happen again?” I had seen the warning signs and knew the risk factors. He battled with his mental health for many years and had attempted to end his life previously. We thought he had been doing better, but since we didn’t ask, he didn’t share. When we did notice he was struggling again, we all reached out, but in the end, we couldn’t keep him with us. I felt like I let my brother down, and wondered if there was something else I could or should have done. This is a common feeling with suicide loss, and I have come to realize I am not to blame or responsible.
- Where there is great love, there will be great pain.
Love and grief are both big emotions. Grief is the love left to give the person you’ve lost after they are gone. The love doesn’t stop because they are no longer here. I was angry with my brother for some time for leaving me. (Another common emotion with a suicide loss.) I came to understand that his death was a result of his being in pain and not seeing another way out – and that I can still love him even through my own pain.
- Pain from loss is inevitable, but suffering is not.
It is because of the great love we have for the people we’ve lost that the pain is so great; but you do not deserve to suffer because of it. Instead, try to focus on continuing that love in honor of them. I still have times when a wave of grief will wash over me, and the pain of the loss feels so fresh. But I now know that it will pass, and that I can look forward to the next moment.
- It’s helpful to focus on the time you spent together.
I am grateful for the time I spent with my brother and other family members we lost. I had 33 years with my little brother and many great memories that I hold dear. I love to share these wonderful memories with anyone who is willing to listen. He was so smart, had a great personality, and left behind three beautiful children who I still get to spend time with.
- Our grief must be witnessed, not fixed.
Suicide loss survivors are not looking for someone to wave a magic wand and make the pain go away. What helps is when others simply acknowledge our loss and share in our feelings. The most helpful thing another person can do is to listen and be present on our journey through the unknown.
- No feeling or emotion is final.
Emotions are ever-changing and each grief journey is different. That is okay! Healing from a suicide loss is not a straight line with simple steps to follow and complete. Even those who have lost the same loved one – other family members, for instance – may not be on the exact same journey or schedule. Our individual relationships are different, and so are our journeys through grief.
- There is hope in the darkness.
Even in the midst of great loss, there is always hope! It is so important to make connections with other people and to look to what’s next. I have met some amazing people along this journey – at Survivor Day events, at AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks, through my AFSP chapter and elsewhere – and learned things about myself I never knew. I realized I could get through this experience with support and love from those around me.
- It’s okay to not be okay.
Mental health and emotions are a part of everyone’s life. I have a strong conviction now to reach out and help anyone I can who struggles with mental health, or who has lost a loved one. I have found it helpful in my own process of recovery to get involved, volunteer, and help others.
My hope is that you are able to find love through the pain of loss, and I encourage you to get connected and involved. Reach out to your local AFSP chapter, and attend events such as an Out of the Darkness Walk or Survivor Day event. Find others who are on a similar journey and connect with them. Share your story, speak up, and elevate peoples’ understanding of mental health and suicide prevention. Mostly, be kind to yourself and show love to others.
Learn more and register for an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event.