Suicide is now mainstream. From teens, to veterans, to celebrities, rates of suicide deaths are rising in almost all groups of people. The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have further opened up communication for this epidemic that has always been taboo and shameful.
How could our idols living our dream lives be suffering from mental illness so debilitating they see no other way out than to end their own lives? Lives that millions would give it all to have. Their status and public suicides bring more light to a hell millions of people are living with. As the statistics rise so do the numbers of devastated family members, friends, and sometimes millions of fans left behind. These people are suicide survivors, now living in a cycle of grief that alters their lives.
Seventeen years. I have lived (not sure you could call it that at some times) half my life in a post-suicide world. During the beginning of the spike in suicides nationwide. Now a leading cause of death. The CDC calls this an epidemic. The world is finally beginning to acknowledge that suicide isn’t a sin or shameful and that maybe we should start to do something. With every suicide, loved ones are left behind in a complex grief process. Suicide survivors are experiencing the overwhelming grief of losing a loved one in addition to anger, shame, guilt and other complex emotions. Paired with feelings of rejection and isolation of the stigma surrounding suicide while enduring the psychological aftermath of trauma.
To add to the complexity of what suicide survivors are coping with, a portion of those people also hold the unbearable weight that their loved ones were involved in a murder/suicide. I hate being part of this statistic, which is just small piece of the complex grief cycle that it bears. Living in a very rural and religious community the stigmatization of being the girl whose brother committed a murder/suicide was isolating.
Time went on, life kept going, but my family’s story stays the same. An easy question to ask when beginning new relationships is do you have any siblings. It’s been so long now since his death, life has changed so much, that it is sometimes easier just to omit him when asked these questions in the basic get to know ya conversations. Murder/suicides are not great for small talk. But this cycle just feeds into the stigma. A stigma that needs to end in order for us to rectify this epidemic and better support the bereavement of survivors of suicide.
Suicides, more often than not, are traumatic to all involved. From the shocking and usually public news, to the unthinkable of being a witness to or discovering the final act. Suicide survivors are likely to develop PTSD from the initial trauma and the extreme cycles of grief. Thus increasing the chances that they too will ideate or sadly commit suicide. The trauma of suicide completely alters the survivors life, significantly increasing the risk of depression and other mental illnesses. As with the stigma, the trauma is also very isolating. Survivors sense how uncomfortable it makes people when talking about their loss. An important part of healing with grief process.
These stories are hard to share. In every chapter of my life from high school, to college, to moving as far away as possible, to marriage, and motherhood I have had to repeat this story. The increasing number of suicides leaves me emphasizing with the people left behind. Knowing what they face. Sharing this trauma has never been easy, it probably never will be.
When I became a mother I never thought that my grief would affect my parenting. I would love to simply put a smile on my face and not ever let me children know of the this story but that just isn’t possible. Even though so much time has passed there are still those days that just stop you in your tracks. Time is healing but it can also bring you back to all the parts the grief cycle you’ve lived through. My kids see me. My kids experience it. I still haven’t decided if it’s just not age appropriate or if I don’t want to burden them with my stigmatic past and stories of an uncle they will never get to know.
Regardless of knowing the details of why mommy’s big brother died a long time ago they are everyday witnesses to the impact it’s had on my life.
New research suggests that trauma can be passed through generations. Parenting as a suicide survivor provides many opportunities to openly discuss grief while still being a present parent. There are days where I am not the best. Sometimes we avoid the world. We talk about how its OK to be sad. Everyone is allowed to have bad days. Not being allowed to openly feel and process these emotions in a supportive environment are how the cycles are passed on. So I choose to do better.
I find hope in these not so pretty moments to teach my children compassion, understanding, and empathy. I choose to love all, to live freely, get messy, enjoy the moments, let go of guilt and accept people for who they are and honor the process that I have gone through. I will find the way to tell my children. I will continue to share my experience. I will offer comfort to those who are suffering. I will support leaders and policy that provide support, care, and assistance to the millions suffering from mental illnesses. We all have faced trauma. I cannot protect my children from the grief that they will face, but they will not carry the weight of mine.
This is how we break cycles and end the stigma.