Recently I attended a support group for survivors of suicide loss.
I joked a lot with my wife beforehand that what I was most looking forward to was the donuts. Seems like every time you see a group like this on TV or in the movies, there are donuts.
There were no donuts at the group I went to, though.
Even so, I’m glad I went. In November, I lost my dad to suicide very unexpectedly. It’s been a difficult grieving process for all of us, so going to this group was another step forward.
One of the first things I noticed when I got there was a little note on the table that basically said, “What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas.” This type of support group is one of immense hurt and vulnerability, so the appropriate thing to do is to respect the privacy of those in attendance. That’s why I won’t be saying any names in this post and I’ll do my best to honor those who shared with the stories I incorporate here.
We started as one large group sitting around a long table. One by one, we went around the circle sharing our name, who we lost and how they completed suicide. I’ll admit…that was jarring for me. To hear the many ways the act was completed, even within a group that size, and to hear the words out loud…it was difficult. But it was important, too. I believe part of that exercise was to force ourselves to say it and to believe it. It’s still so hard sometimes to believe it actually happened and I heard that same sentiment over and over – how long it took for people to actually believe it happened. It also allowed us to see who has shared a similar experience. The loss of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, friends…all were represented in this group.
We also mentioned how long it had been. For some it had only been months, for some years and for others decades. I loved the diversity of the group and especially appreciated those who attended to encourage us newbies. Honestly, as I write this, I still feel the encouragement given to me that night. The acknowledgement that we were brave just for being there. Just for getting out of bed! For moving. It was good to hear from those who’ve been through it and understand the unexplainable feelings this type of grief puts one through. To see heads nodding up and down as you share something that once made you feel alone and maybe a little crazy.
One of the main insights I left with that night was the realization shared by a gentleman at our table after our groups had split. “It took me years,” he said, “to realize that, just as I had no influence over or responsibility for his successes, I also had no influence over or responsibility for this decision he made.” It’s so true.I totally identify with that line of thinking. I’ve never once thought about the good things my dad did and took responsibility for them. But when something like this happens, we suddenly wield all of the responsibility and influence in the world; and we didn’t use it well enough. The truth is, I have to accept the fact that my dad’s suicide was not my fault, nor could I have prevented it. “BUT!” my mind shouts at me. And it probably always will.
These types of small group settings are not my favorite. That is to say, being forced to participate with a small group of people who I don’t know is one of the most draining activities I can think of doing. But, by the end of this night, I felt comfortable and supported. I’m glad I went. I’m not sure if I’ll go back right now, but I’m certainly not opposed to it. It was helpful. In fact, there was one woman who started the night across the table from me and she looked, well, she looked terrible. She looked scared and hurt and nervous. When she walked back into the room at the end of the night – no hyperbole – she looked like a different woman. She smiled. The muscles in her face had relaxed. Her eyes had cleared. I told her so and she looked at me, tears welling-up, “Really?? Thank you. I needed tonight.”
We all needed that night.
I’d love for you to share how participating in a support group has helped you to heal.
If you’ve lost someone to suicide and have never attended a support, I’d encourage you to go to one. Just see what you think. AFSP.org has a section with local chapters to help you find a safe place to go through the healing process with others.
I’m so sorry about the loss of your father.
I read your blog because it’s funny. I like funny stuff. Our house is constantly full of people being funny. Lots of funny kids. One with a limb difference. She’s hilarious. I proudly get to be her Mommy. I think I need a support group sometimes too. Your paragraph about responsibility really hit home with me. I’ve never been through something as tragic as you have. Not even close. But sometimes I want to sit around a big table with lots of other Mommies who have limb different kids. I’d like there to be donuts and I want to say “I think it’s my fault. It has to be my fault”. And I want to hear them say “The good things aren’t your fault and neither is this. You didn’t make her hair blonde. You didn’t cause her to be so adorable. It’s not your fault that she has a little hand.”
I wonder if 80 year old mothers with limb different children still wake in the night and say “I wonder if it’s my fault?” I wonder how long it takes someone who has lost a family member to stop saying “I wonder if it’s my fault?”
I know what we all need to do. We need to take immediate responsibility for the things that we have done that are sin. I know that this is different than sin. But my mother’s heart gets all lost in the confusion and sometimes it feels like my child’s difference must be my fault, even though I know for sure it isn’t.
I hope you’ll be gracious since this isn’t comforting in the loss of a loved one, as almost nothing is.