What is the legacy of a spouses’ suicide? I can start out by listing off the immediate reactions, the shock, that numb that you live in for months and sometimes years afterward, that phase where everyone is surprised at how well you are coping and you repeatedly hear the words that make you want to scream, “You’re so strong”. You feel anything but strong, in fact, you’re often feeling nothing at all because you are completely focused on surviving, on doing, on moving because you’re afraid if you stand still death will reach out and grab you too. You’re in survival mode.
And there is the intense grief, this is grief on steroids, it feels like it grips your very soul and starts to slowly tear it into strips, the pain is unbearable and you actually wish for death to just take you. The thing about this grief reaction, at first, it is almost constantly there and you can’t breathe and you can’t function and you want to die because it is so overwhelming but then it goes away, but it’s never really gone completely away. It comes back. It wells up from somewhere deep inside you and it attacks you again, just when you feel like you are starting to cope and starting to “get better”, it rears it’s ugly head and it swallows you down for short periods as though just to remind you what pain really is.
There is loneliness, this is another tough one because it is so pervasive. After a suicide you lose more than just the person who died, it is very common for people who do not know how to deal with the suicide to see you as a constant reminder of it, it will make them uncomfortable and they will slowly lose contact until one day you notice that you haven’t heard from them in quite some time. Many times you will realize that you are actually alone and have been for a long time, thanks to the social media illusion of connection, many people will choose only to superficially connect to you. Again, very common. Suicide changes people, but the suicide of a spouse, a person you thought you knew inside and out, a person you trusted with your own life, well, it leaves you reeling and often past-focused. Many people are very uncomfortable with this, they want you to be the happy person you were before the suicide. They wait for you to “bounce back” and when, after some set time, you don’t, they too will start to lose touch. Please remember, you are not the only survivor of spousal suicide in the world, you are not alone in this. Seek out those who can help you normalize your losses.
The loneliness can make you act in desperation. Please don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself craving human contact to the point where you start trying to have conversations with complete strangers, or you find yourself telling your story to the cashier at the grocery store or a crossing guard. Humans need some amount of social contact to survive. After the loss of a spouse, people will sometimes find themselves in other relationships fairly quickly and quite often in inappropriate or unhealthy relationships. Try to evaluate whether your actions are motivated out of desperation or for true self care. Your goal after a suicide loss should be self care, talking to strangers in public places is fine but be wary of anything that places you in a vulnerable situation.
Loneliness leads to depression. The depression can be very pervasive as well. Smiling depression is common especially in those who have to return their lives quite quickly to “normal” after their loss, especially if you have children to care for. Society expects you to grieve for your loss for a set period and then Move On as though nothing has changed, but something has changed and it has changed irrevocably. The shared life you had no longer exists. This is a huge adjustment and will take a very long time to get used too. It will be hard to get in contact with your positive emotions. Your outlook will be quite dark, your mood will be quite down and you will find yourself lost in your own mind sometimes. This fog is different from the emotional numbing of shock. This fog is depression. It will feel like you have no future, no present at times and no purpose in life. It is hard to navigate days with no concept of a future, it is hard to focus on tasks when there is no sense of a purpose. It is hard to find self worth when you are basically alone and acting only for yourself. You have become a one when you were so used to being two; so used to living for that other person. Your whole identity in this universe has suddenly changed.
This is a big one, depression can lead to suicidal thinking. I mean, this should be a no brainer here, the person you trusted, depended upon and loved so much you thought you knew them inside and out has just up and set the absolute worst example for you in how to deal with life when things get tough, painful and lonely. Even when we are coupled, we are still individuals but once that couple is gone, you become that individual again, which means there is no sounding board for your thoughts, your grief, your pain or your opinions. That other trusted voice that helped you through all moments painful or joyful is now gone. It’s lonely, it’s depressing and you may actually think about wanting to die. This is so common. In the first year after a spousal suicide there is a high risk of suicide loss of the surviving spouse but just because you make it past year one does not mean the risk is gone, so it is important to keep practicing the things that helped you to hold on during that first year.
The legacy of the suicide loss of a spouse? Walking through murky bogs of tar trying to stay afloat, trying to survive and create meaning in your life because after the suicide of the one you dedicated your life too, nothing seems to have meaning anymore. Many of us get lost after this type of suicide, still others seem to bounce back and recover so quickly, but that is fine, you are on a path and that path is yours to walk in whatever way you walk it. Please know you are not the only one walking and that what you are feeling is perfectly normal for the situation you are in.
Each day I wake and face my days is a victory, even if the most I do on any given day is basic care, it is still a victory. No one can take those victories from me. I am a survivor. I will continue to survive simply because there is nothing left for me to do.