Survivor Day: Thriving After a Suicide Loss

November 10, 2016 |

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is November 19th. Find an event in your area

Some months ago I was invited to participate in AFSP’s 2016 Survivor Day documentary, Life Journeys: Reclaiming Life after Loss.  I was honored to join other suicide loss survivors as we shared our stories to make a film that would give heart to more recent loss survivors and inspire those further from their loss to keep reaching out, to find new insights into their loss, to continue their healing.  Even more than two decades after my loss, I have found value and meaning in that.  And Survivor Day is a great time for me to meet with my special “tribe”: it feels like a family reunion to me.

It was a cold, rainy night in January 1993, around 10:30 p.m., two days before our son’s fifth birthday, that my husband David ended his life. He also left behind our older son (age 11), a house about to be foreclosed on, and a failing business for me to run. David left a note for the boys telling them this was not their fault and that he loved them. Unfortunately, his note to me was not kind: he blamed me for his death.

Although to this day I think of David as the love of my life, our marriage had been rocky, and I had recently filed for divorce. David struggled with a mental health condition that caused us all to be afraid of him. Counseling had not helped, and David refused to seek the inpatient psychiatric help that was recommended for him, so I had given up on our marriage.

When the coroner gave me the tragic news the next morning, my immediate emotions were shock, anger, guilt, embarrassment, and sadness (probably in that order). I was overwhelmed. It was hard to imagine how we would ever make it through the mess David had left behind—emotionally or financially. I was afraid my sons and I were scarred for life, and that we might never recover. However, despite it all, I remember making the vow early on: “This is going to CHANGE our lives, but it is not going to RUIN our lives!”

Twenty-three years later, I can report my prophecy has come true. My sons are now 35 and 28, and though it hasn’t been easy, we’ve survived. In fact, in many ways we have THRIVED. David’s death started me on a spiritual journey that I could not have imagined; it took me back to God and church, and then to seminary. As our family healed from our tragedy, it became a life goal for me to help others going through similar types of emotional pain. I am now a pastor and part of my ministry was to start a support group for survivors of suicide loss at my church.

Now, all these years later, my primary emotion when I think of David is gratitude: for the happy times we had, for the lessons he taught me, and for our sons. I finally stopped blaming myself, and came to a place of peace and forgiveness. I know now that David was not trying to hurt us; he just wanted to end the pain he was feeling. My sons and I now try to focus on the entirety of his life, and don’t define David by the way his life ended. I believe now that there is no shame for having a brain that doesn’t function correctly, any more than there is for having a heart condition.

In keeping with my beliefs and my own life goals, I joined the Board for the North Texas Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention a few years ago. I continue to be impressed with the mission of AFSP. I believe it is the best place for survivors of suicide loss to direct our efforts to help prevent suicide and to support the people left behind.

Because David’s death is woven into the fabric of my family’s story, as is the healing journey it put us on, I want to continue to share that special understanding and legacy with others, especially on Survivor Day.  Whether your loss is recent or more long-term like mine, I hope you will join us this year!

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is November 19th. Find an event in your area

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