Mental Health Awareness Month: Understanding Survivor’s Grief

Many of us do not want to dig deep into what it is like to lose a loved one to suicide. Even saying that “s” word brings feelings of doubt and even embarrassment. Why couldn’t I save them? Will others think they failed? That they gave up? These questions add to a fire that is ablaze with thoughts and feelings after experiencing such a loss. I’d like to share more about survivor’s guilt and survivor’s grief when you lose someone this way.

Maybe this will be a cathartic process or more importantly, maybe it reaches someone who knows. Or better yet, someone who is struggling. It goes without saying, that everyone who struggles with any type of mental illness has valid and real feelings/thoughts. So, sharing about survivor’s guilt isn’t to make someone struggling FEEL guilt themselves, but maybe it shows their value. Their worth. Their place in the world – in your world.

We know the stages of grief – the denial and anger; the hopeful acceptance. We know the stages are never by the book or follow one after the other. It’s the same with survivor’s grief and/or guilt when you lose someone to suicide.

arms over balcony with hands clasped

The Why

We spend time trying to understand this one most of all. Was there a trigger? Should I have known more? Could I have saved them from the very reason they left? We don’t research the statistics; just sit in the thoughts that ramble over and over in our minds. So along with the guilt, you have the mental fatigue.

The Shame

The stigma around anything “mental health” is improving though we are nowhere close to where we need to be. If I am ever asked how my loved one died, I brace myself for impact. The judgement. The guilt again. You have the shame for your loved one, and the shame you carry as a survivor.

The Anger

Anger is one of the deepest and most tiring parts of grief. We are angry at the loved one; angry at ourselves for not doing more. Angry at the world for moving on while we move nowhere at all. It can isolate us in any form of loss but especially when it was this loved one’s choice to go.

The Loneliness

When we grieve, we often sit on an island alone. We know others who have loved and lost. We offer our condolences. We wish could take their pain because we KNOW their pain. But, we cannot predict our journeys will be the same. We can’t say “I know the feeling” because in fact, we don’t. So the loneliness of survivor’s grief ensues. The danger of isolation is yet another “stage” suicide grievers experience.

painted rock on a wooden board.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a good time to reflect on those who have lost. Those who are struggling. Those who are stuck. And those who feel alone.

I fully believe in talking. Maybe not a grand post on social media declaring your anxiety or depression, but talking to a trusted loved one. An understanding therapist. A support group.

Losing a loved one to suicide is a grief that knows no bounds. We will not “get over” the loss just as those who struggle with not “get over” their mental illness. But, we can gain perspective in sharing stories of hope – ones who took small steps to reach. I still greatly miss my loved one; I still have questions. I struggle with my own worth every single day, but I have to believe the peace comes when it comes.

Scrabble tiles on map that spell HOPE

There is light, friends. My heart goes to you if you lost someone to suicide. I see you.

And to those we did lose, we are getting there. With grace. With a reminder that your story is worth telling.

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Kim Reed
Kim R. was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana but is a Texan now! She graduated from Texas A&M University {Whoop!} in 1999 and moved back to Houston to start her high school teaching/school counseling career. That Houston move resulted in meeting a cute next door neighbor at her apartment complex who later became her husband. Kim and that cute neighbor moved to the Cypress in 2005 where they now raise Griffin {October 2008} and Emmy {August 2013}. Life has had some hardships, and Kim is open to sharing her story of enduring grief and encouraging moms to take care of their mental health. Her other passions include reading all the books, watching reruns of Friends, sweating it out at Orangetheory Fitness, and a good margarita. Kim also believes in working hard to make each day better than the one before. Read more on her blog – alwaysanewdayblog.com.

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