The dictionary defines the word survivor as a person who is able to continue living his or her life successfully despite experiencing difficulties. That is, indeed, one way to define a survivor. But for some, surviving is simply about figuring out how to continue to live. Forget successfully. Just how to survive with the loss, the trauma, the experience they’ve endured and to navigate a painful road ahead with some sliver of hope for some measure of peace.
November 20th is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day designated by the US Congress as a day when family and friends of those who have died by suicide can come together for healing and support. In September 2018, my 21-year old stepson died by suicide and there is not a single day that goes by where I don’t think, ‘how in the world are we surviving this’? For his father, who loved his son more than anything else on this planet, he often asks ‘How can I still be here? How in God’s name am I surviving this?’ For us, it defied logic to think that we could actually continue to function, no less want to live after such a brutal and devastating loss. But three years later, here we are.
For anyone who has experienced a loss from suicide, they learn very quickly that it is a complicated, messy, and often lonely journey. There is nothing ‘natural’ about it; nothing rational nor understandable. Loss by suicide leaves those behind with unending questions and very few, if you’re lucky, answers. And the stigma surrounding suicide often clouds the compassion lens and loved ones and friends are left to endure their loss with minimal support. So how to cope after a loss by suicide and find a hint of light at the end of a very dark tunnel?
We were fortunate to find Mental Health America’s Survivors of Suicide support group in our community; having a safe space where you can talk with others who have the misfortune of being part of this club and know there is no judgment, only compassion, understanding, mutual respect, and a deep, deep desire to support one another. Having that support has given us perspective and wisdom; it has afforded us the opportunity to support new members and give them the glimmer of hope that surviving suicide loss is possible.
If I were to define survivor in the context of a loss by suicide, I would say that a survivor is someone who has the inner strength and courage to try each and every day to live their life with as much purpose and hope as possible. Life is never ‘normal’ again, never the same, always missing that person who should be there. For us, we know that but for the sheer grace of God we are able to move forward, honor him and do everything we can to help others survive what is, quite frankly, unimaginable.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression or another mental health disorder or has experienced a loss by suicide and is in need of support, contact us today. Our compassionate professionals are here to help find the resources to support you and your family.