The Legacy

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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.

 

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The Second Year

I survived the first year after the suicide of my spouse. The statistics tell you that there is the highest likelihood of a “copycat” suicide within the first six months to a year after a suicide death, so you hit that one year mark still breathing and you think you’ve beaten the odds. Sadly, the reality is that the likelihood just drops. There is no parade, no pat on the back, no prize, no finish line and no miracle lifting of the pain you’ve just endured. Your race still goes on, your loneliness and grief are still there, you have to try to keep pushing through trying to hold onto the belief that at some point it just gets easier. 

I’m in my second year without him. I still feel incomplete. I still struggle with being lonely but wanting to be left alone. The sleepless nights still come, the thoughts that he’s somehow still alive somewhere else in the world still invade the harsh reality and my brain still cannot accept his absence. 

I want the handbook. I want to flip through to the section that tells me how to reclaim me, how to reclaim a life when the two things that gave this life any meaning have been ripped from me. 

I lost my job and my livelihood to PTSD; in that I also lost the person I knew I was and struggled to find her purpose in this life. In the end I settled for being a wife/housekeeper, despite the hit my self-esteem took, I was determined to be the best damned domestic on the face of this earth. I was just starting to accept this new role when I lost my husband…but I didn’t just lose him, I lost him to suicide.

Trauma. Again. Not the same type but a trauma nonetheless. My entire deck of cards was once again tossed up in the air and scattered to the wind. I’m trying to pick up pieces but more are gone than I had to work with after the first hit. 

The second year is not miraculously easier. This should be the disclaimer on any spousal suicide loss pamphlet. You just have to keep surviving. 

An average day for me revolves around the dog – let him out, feed him, walk him, wonder why he’s still whining, get lost in the PTSD induced hell that is a mind wondering what I did wrong or what I missed and can I keep him alive. After all, I let my husband die…

I know the reality is that it was not my fault, I can say it and hear it from people repeatedly but such is survivors guilt – you and everyone else are to blame except the person who actually performed the suicide. There is no blame. There is no answer to be found. These are hollow words to a heart that thrives upon reason. To a brain that needs resolution. 

Nope, the game I’m playing now is a survival game. The reason I’m doggedly taking myself out on marathon hikes? It’s easier to have something real to survive than it is to face and survive what is in your own head. 

I need to stop moving. I need to stop running. I need to sit still in silence and get comfortable with my internal self again. I’ve lost touch with my internal state because it was too much for me to face.

 The grief, the depth of loss after suicide it is so great that we often run from it, deny it and try to bury it. We think that if we smile, laugh and forge on pretending everything is fine, if we tell only good stories or avoid using their name, that somehow it will just skip over us. It doesn’t. It worms it’s way in deeper and infects our bodies, poisons our minds and keeps us stuck. 

Last week I received an envelope in the mail for my husband from his workplace. It was addressed to him as though he were still alive. It’s not like they’re some big multinational company, he died 13 months ago, perhaps a little more compassion or empathy could have been employed, but regardless,  it shook me to my core. Retraumatized. The intensity of the depression I’ve been struggling with since is frankly quite frightening. I tried to bury it before I realized what I was doing. 

It must be faced. It has to be allowed to exist. It cannot be put off for another day. 

I’m having a “nothing”day today. This means there will be nothing going on other than basic self care, no walks, no outings, no chores, no distraction. If the pain sees fit to pour from me today, I won’t stop it. Today is about dealing directly with my inner state and confronting the pain of my loss.

 I will allow myself enough time as it takes, a day, a week, a month, a year or years. As in previous trauma, recovery is accomplished in the most minute of steps, at the pace of snails and only in gazing back at the years will we see the progress made. 

So sets the stage for Year Two. 

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