Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Guest post: My loved one did not complete a suicide

Here are some of the posts I promised on this topic for suicide-loss survivors and supporters of those who have tried to die by suicide.  Many thanks to Laura Anderson and Hollis Easter for working with me on this.  Names and identifying features have been altered to protect the identities of those involved.  - sm

My loved one did not complete a suicide

Suicide touched my life when I was young.  I was in sixth grade when my cousin killed himself, and I didn’t really understand how to respond or what I should feel.  But my parents, in spite of their grief, were good about making sure that I was okay.  They checked in with me to ask about my feelings and see that I was grieving in an appropriate way.

Far more difficult for me to process, however, were the attempted but not completed suicides.  I suddenly became caretaker, or helpless, or confused about my role in someone’s life.  Doctors would talk to me about the best way to help my loved one through this tough time.  I would sit in waiting rooms, trying to have conversations but struggling for a good topic.  Some of the other patients had tentative grasps on reality (Tom’s roommate said something about touring with a rock band); some were in rehabilitation for drug addiction; some had attempted suicide; some had made bad decisions (such as attending a party, getting really drunk, and then a couple hours later taking a sleeping pill to help them fall asleep).

Nobody ever asked how I was doing.

My pain was left to me to deal with.  My husband Sean had an emotional meltdown a week after his brother, David, came home.  We had to be strong because Father-in-Law and our final housemate were incapable of dealing with their emotions.  We had to be capable of handling David’s needs, make sure that David’s mother was doing okay (being out of town when your child is hospitalized is awful), managing Father-in-Law’s and housemate’s emotional states, and taking care of our own emotional states.

After my ex-fiancĂ© John came home, his roommate and I had to go through the house and remove any items with which John could injure himself.  We had to help him fill out paperwork and make certain that he made it to doctor’s appointments.  I had to call his boss and tell him that John wouldn’t be coming in to work, call his parents to tell them what had happened, while dealing with the grief of my near-marriage erupting like a volcano only a month prior.  And nobody asked me how I was.

I was too distanced from my sister, and we all had the attitude that she had just been trying to prove a point, to show how desperately in love she was for a boy – she would cut her own wrist for him.  My parents and I dealt with the pain by accusing and grumbling. 

Nobody asked me how I was dealing with it.

The only time someone ever asked how I was doing was when my cousin killed himself.  But that was the easiest, emotionally, for me to deal with.  I didn’t have to look him in the eye and know that he was suffering so badly that his only option was to kill himself, but that he had not completed the suicide and was now in an uncertain position with people around him.  There was no awkwardness, no trying to get him to open up, to talk to us, to talk to a therapist, to take medication.  I was allowed to talk about my pain, I was allowed to cry, I was allowed to grieve.

But the other three times, I had to be strong.  My loved one needed me more.  They needed me to take care of them, to help them out, to be willing to listen at any time of day or night.  Nobody really considered that I, too, might be struggling with this situation.

By the time David had his crisis, I had a decent idea of how to handle my emotions.  I knew that I needed an outlet, needed a way to relax and take the stress off.  I scheduled time to drive down to visit my parents and spend the day with them.  They were so removed from the situation that I was able to clear my head a little bit and actually enjoy myself.

Then I was able to start talking.  I talked to my husband about my emotions.  I made sure he was okay, because this was his first brush with suicide, whether completions or attempts.  We sat and cried together.  We hugged each other.

But we had no real resources, because nobody thought to ask how we were doing.  Everyone’s concern was for our loved one, who had attempted but not completed suicide.

I wish I had some great advice to give to all of you who are dealing with an attempted suicide that was not completed.  But I don’t.  Because when a loved one attempts suicide but does not die, everyone focuses on taking care of that loved one.  We have an attitude that they “sank really low” (I hate that terminology, by the way) and needed us to help them regain good mental health.  And while that’s true, we tend to forget that people are dealing with the fact that somebody they love tried to kill themselves. 

How do you deal with that?  The only thing I really know is this: comfort in and dump out.  When you have someone in crisis, you want to comfort that person but not neglect your own emotional state.  So you talk about it to people who are more distanced from the crisis and offer comfort to those who are closest to the crisis.

This means realizing that you are upset.  That you’re dealing with an emotionally charged situation, and that you’re not okay.  And it’s fine to not be okay.  Just because your loved one is dealing with powerfully negative emotions doesn’t mean that your pain is meaningless.  Just because they are hurting doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to hurt too.  You need to be tactful and sensitive to their pain, but you must also acknowledge your own pain and work through it.  Join a support group.  Talk to a friend.  Find a therapist.  Go out to breakfast with your parents.  Cuddle your cat or dog.  Cry.  Sob.  Write blog posts.  Write personal essays.

Just make sure that you don’t neglect yourself just because someone you love is hurting.

-- Laura Anderson


If you are thinking about dying by suicide, please, talk to someone.

This article can give you some ideas about what to expect when you call a suicide hotline:
  • In the US, anyone can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline free from anywhere at 1-800-273-TALK.   You can also livechat from their website,
  • In the US, LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.  You can also text or chat:
  • In the US and Canada, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people can also call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.  Please see their website to confirm staffing times:
  • In the UK, you can call the Samaritans anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 08457 90 90 90. 
  • In Scotland, you can call the Breathing Space phoneline, which is available 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday - 6am Monday), and 6pm - 2am on weekdays (Monday - Thursday), on 0800 83 85 87. 

You are sacred.  Your life matters. 

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