Every loss is different, and few people understand this better than the survivors of suicide and overdose. How a griever copes can often depend on who they lost, how old their loved one was when they died and how it happened. And for survivors, the “how it happened” can become as consuming as the loss itself.
Losing a loved one to suicide and overdose brings with it challenges that other grievers may not have to face, and for some, support can be especially hard to find. Recognizing and getting validation for these obstacles can be an important part of a survivor’s healing.
Here are 5 things that only a survivor of suicide or overdose may be able to understand:
- The blame you put on yourself: This type of loss probably brings with it more “should“s than any other. I should have gotten him treatment sooner. I should have seen this coming. I should have paid more attention. I should have been tougher, or I shouldn’t have been so tough. The “should”s create an endless cycle of second guessing and ruminating that leave a griever feeling helpless and hopeless.
- The sense that people around you wonder if it’s something you did or could have done differently: It’s bad enough when a griever feels that they could or should have done things differently. And while others may not actually be having these judgements, it will be hard for the griever not to see their doubts reflected back to them. Whether facing actual judgement or not, the truth is that people who lose a loved one to suicide or overdose do get treated differently. The hushed whispers, the assumption of shame, for most these losses are just too awful to talk about and the griever is left feeling especially disconnected and vulnerable.
- What it feels like to be isolated, even in a bereavement group: Reaching out and getting support is something I think just about any griever can benefit from. And for all the reasons stated above, those who have lost a loved one to suicide or overdose may benefit even more. But unfortunately grievers may find a lack of understanding even when seeking support. It’s not because other grievers don’t want to understand, but let’s face it, the issues facing the daughter whose 95 year old father died from a long term illness are going to be very different than the mother who buried a 21 year old son after he died by suicide. That’s why I always take time to speak to these survivors after our group meetings and encourage them to find additional and specific support like GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing) or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Because although there is still so much that can be gained in a general bereavement group, most survivors will find they can benefit in talking to those who can really understand this loss and what they’re going through.
- The feeling of, why wasn’t I enough? The daughter who lost her 95 year old father is probably less likely to ask herself this question, but it can haunt the survivors of suicide and overdose. Of course even here there can be some differences. Many overdoses are “accidental”, so while family may not have to wonder why a loved one would “choose” to leave, they may wonder why their love was not enough to keep them from drugs in the first place. And for the survivor of suicide, wondering why a loved one would “choose” this path can be terribly hard to reconcile. How could he choose to leave me, to leave us? Didn’t he know what this would do to me and to our whole family? Did he realize how much he was going to miss and that our lives would be forever changed?
- Having to live with questions that will never be answered: Obviously, both of these losses are filled with questions. And while there are few if any answers to be found, it doesn’t stop most people from asking these questions in their head over and over again. It can leave the griever to feel like they are on a doomed and endless quest for a resolution that will never be achieved.
In the end, that may be one of the greatest obstacles in being able to move forward. Accepting, TRULY accepting that, that for some questions it’s not just a case of not being able to find the answers… it’s realizing that the answers never existed.
Because if your loved one was able to come back just for a moment, and they were to sit down in front of you, and you had the opportunity to ask that one big question, “Why?”….
Their answer, most certainly would be, “I don’t know”.
Why does depression and sadness and addiction take us down these long dark roads? How can someone so loved be so lost? What hold does mental illness and substance abuse have on a person that it blinds them to the fact that the people who love them would have done anything to save them?
I don’t know.
Perhaps there can be some freedom in relieving yourself of the need for answers. See where your mind and heart takes you with the energy you are no longer pouring into that quest. See if there is space for forgiveness, grace, and hope instead…
Finding support is all about finding the right support. And finding the right support may mean connecting with those who have had a loss similar to your own. At www.griefincommon.com, you can participate in our forums. We have one for those who lost a loved one to suicide, or one for those whose loved one died because of substance abuse or overdose. You can also do a specific search for others based on the criteria that is important to you (like, “circumstances of your loss”) to connect privately and personally.
We are a strong and caring community of grievers, and we are here to help in any way we can, any time you need it.
Find us here: www.griefincommon.com.