I am writing this for anyone who has lost someone they loved and cared about by suicide. I am a Survivor of Suicide, defined as anyone who has lost a loved one by self inflicted death. Eleven years ago on December 5, 1986, my boyfriend, Andy, shot and killed himself. He was 17 years old. At the time, no one seemed to doubt my pain or my significance in his life and his in mine. His family included me like one of their own in the memorial and funeral services.
I remember during that time, my life seemed to have no purpose or value, full of seemingly endless pain. Well intentioned comments such as “You’re young, you’ll have many more loves in your life” deepened the excruciating wounds they intended to soothe. How could I ever replace this dear person? I never will. I don’t want to spend my life alone, but risking love again? My love is no good, it only causes pain and despair. I felt broken. And who could I trust enough to love? Would they leave me too?
As time went on, the well intended comments turned to “You should be over this by now, after all, he wasn’t a relative of yours.” Causing me to feel more alone, crazy, and believing there was something terribly wrong with me. Everyone seemed to want me to be “normal” again. I wanted to be “normal” again. I would vacillate between putting on a brave face and a good act and shutting down in isolation. My continuous attempts to be what everyone wanted crumbled in my hands, feeding my belief that I was damaged and always would be.
My mother, sensing my extreme pain and desperately wanting to help, found the name of a woman at the local counseling center who had lost her son by suicide, Iris Bolton. I don’t remember much of our meeting, as I have lost memory if at least two months of that time, however, I remember feeling real hope for the first time in months. My Mother later told me I said two things when I left her office; that she thought she was going crazy too, and at least she knew the pain. Here was a woman who didn’t make me justify my pain, she accepted it to be real and valid. And in that simple acceptance, she gave me the gift of hope that I too would survive and one day live a happy productive life.
After that I entered therapy with a counselor she referred me to, went on to college, completed my Masters in Counseling, and began working with Survivors. Currently, I’ve been happily married for three years and coordinate The Link Counseling Center’s National Resource Center for Suicide Prevention and Aftercare. I still get the occasional well intended question or comment such as “What was so special about Andy that he made such a profound impact on your life?” And I think to myself “Please don’t ask me to explain … again.” You see, I don’t mind telling my story, because in the telling there is healing for me and education for others, but I refuse to justify my pain to anyone. I have learned that it is valid just because it’s mine. It doesn’t need to follow anyone else’s rules or guidelines based on how they think I should feel.
Whatever brings you to read this article, the loss of a parent, child, sibling, spouse, friend, or any other relationship, do not compare your pain to others, it is unique and different. For the person you lost was unique as was your relationship. There are common threads that bind us as we try to put our lives back together. It is not our old lives, but different ones. We will never be the same. We will create a “new normal” for ourselves defined by our own healing and growth. Know that your pain is real and valid. And that there are people willing to listen and be with you in your pain and not ask you to justify or explain.