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.