a letter to myself

Dear N.

Before we get into this proper lets tackle the elephant in the room and acknowledge something. You even know yourself that when someone acknowledges the loss and the pain you face it helps. You have been through a trauma. A very deep personal trauma that is life changing. You have to remember that life will never be the same. You lost someone from suicide. Someone close. Someone who you thought you would have for years to come.

Dad.

He was 50 years old and you were 24 years old. Life is seemingly become defined by before or after his death. It is the mark in the sand for everything else. Did you know me when my dad was still alive or not?

Grief. The never ending grief that becomes heavy and draining.

Grief that no one seems to understand or have any recognition of what might help.

Feeling lost wandering through the fog.

At first that grief was locked away deep down inside of you. Untouchable and out of sight. You needed to do that in order to home and travel like you had planned. Dad would have wanted to go and you lived the experience fully seeking all sorts of opportunities. To live life in the now. For over 16 months you saw the world, met amazing people, saw sights some people could only dream of and you did it with all the grief locked up inside.

You have always acknowledged that your dad was ill particularly in the last six months of his life. You did not have the tools or the knowledge to help him help himself at that point in your life. You have not played the what if game knowing that his death was a result of his illness and that he did not want to die but could not cope with the pain of life anymore.

Coming home was the hardest. Opening what felt like Pandora’s box to that grief. It swallowed you to start with due to your own lack of understanding and knowledge.

You faced more loss, more grief. Betrayed by someone who had helped you through that inexplicable grief. The wrong person at the right time. You thought that person understood you but the grief over rode your gut instinct.

It seemed the signpost to what to do next was invisible, like nobody wanted to acknowledge what had happened. No one knew how to help. Grief counselling started the process but it unearthed anxiety that has woven itself into your personality. Depression followed. Rejection manifests as fear not anger.

You have been down into the black pit and looked further down into the gloom of the abyss but have pulled yourself back from the brink. Things got worse before they go better. However, you have brought the shattered pieces of your heart and mended them back together. It has been hard it has been tough.

Recovery has no line. There is no finish.

You struggled through talking therapies but they did not help the grief. They all felt too clinical, that the therapist did not understand and there was always not enough sessions to get into the nitty gritty. None of them were designed for complex grief though.

You tried medication but it just numbed everything. After 4 years you wanted to feel like you again and work out where the emotions and feelings were. Now 2 years later you are still off medication.

Feelings are hard but it is better than numbing.

Some days are so deeply black and others it lifts and you wonder why did you feel so bad yesterday?

So what has worked? How is life more liveable?

Connection. Building my people around me mainly in the form of very good quality friends. Then using those connections. Saying when days are hard or you are starting down that black road.

Being sober. Alcohol was another numbing agent and it lead to some not very nice situations. People do not understand not drinking it but you do it for you not anyone else.

Sharing the sh*t. At first you relied on one or two friends but it is hard for them to support you. It becomes overwhelming. Now you spread it amongst friends so it does not become dumped all on one person.

Taking care. Self care if you will. This includes baths, eating well, trying to sleep well, making plans, taking time when needed, meditation, women’s groups, massage, mindfulness, and exercise. The list goes on but it is always a little bit of effort done often helps to keep on top of your mental health.

Acknowledgment from close people. It is not that they know what you have experienced but that you are in pain and some of that will never shift. That themselves cannot change things but they can be there to support.

There is still a long way to go though. Life is a journey.

You carry the burden of pain heavily and you could be a lot kinder to yourself. Recognise you are not as broken as what sometimes it feels and you have lots of way to help yourself.

You still keep a lot about your Dad hidden from public view for fear of shame or misunderstanding. Keep sharing if you want to but at the same time do not feel you have to.

You use your talents in so many ways that your Dad would be proud. The dedication you bring to things, perseverance and hard work are all values from him. He lives within you.

You have so much to live for.

You make a difference in the world just being you.

You are enough.

You deserve to be here.

You are loved just the way you are.

You are not broken or shattered or falling apart.

You are you.

Be kind.

Love more.

N.

“There are no spare parts Mum”

“The world is like a machine Mum.  If you look around you, the world is like a really big machine and we’re all parts of it and everybody needs everyone else for the machine to work properly.  Sometimes if someone is annoyed or grumpy, it means they are a bit rusty.  It just means that they need some oil and in a couple days they’ll be okay again.  They’ll be working well in the machine again.  I know you don’t want me to think about this Mum, but if somebody is thinking about suicide what they need to think about is that they’re actually part of a big machine and they are really needed because, well because, there are no spare parts mum.

The machine gets new parts – that’s when babies are born, and when really old people die that makes way for the new parts . . . but there are no spare parts.  So if someone decides to take their life they really need to stop and think about how much they are actually really needed by lots of other parts around them.  No one else can be that part.”

As I rode my bike beside my ten year old son, listening to this incredible analogy, I was bursting with joy on the inside that his thought processing around this complex issue had taken a positive turn so beautifully.  I asked him if he had heard it from someone, but he answered no, that he’d just thought about it.  I recalled that he had watched (again) the movie Hugo just the previous evening in which a young boy finds a magnificent hand made mechanical robot, designed and built by his late father.  The concept must have got my own son’s cogs turning and been the foundation upon which such a mature insight was built.

I said to him,”That is so true because all of us are needed by other people and when someone is ‘rusty’ as you say, then the people around them can help them to get shiny and work again.  And if somebody leaves the machine too soon then the other parts don’t work as well any more.”

As we continued our bike ride together we kept chatting about various things before we suddenly found ourselves thrown off our bikes and sprawled across the bike path.  A trip to hospital, 3 needles and 5 stitches in my son’s chin later, we arrived home and snuggled on the couch together.  It wasn’t a nice end to what had been a beautiful morning spent together riding, but alas it will be a day we always remember!   The next day as I drove him to school I said, “You know mate, you’re a little bit rusty at the moment but I’m going to help you get all nice and shiny so you’re working again soon!”

He looked at me and smiled.

It’s moments like these that I look at my kids, and wish with all of my heart that their lives had not been touched by suicide, and at the same time, am so thankful and grateful, that we are gradually building their understanding and resilience to keep them safe after experiencing all they have in such short lives.

Bronwen (alias, Mum)

Suicide grief is different.

Suicide grief is different.

It is no surprise that following the death of my brother by suicide, people didn’t know what to do or how to respond. I remember in one instance that on telling a very close friend of the suicide of my brother, his response was, “Well that was stupid wasn’t it?” So if the pain of the loss wasn’t enough, now there is a question mark over his level of intelligence? There were many others that offered awkward, superficial platitudes, some that just looked at me with big, wide eyes and a panicked expression and others that simply got as far away as possible. At the time, I resented the inability of those around me to provide comfort in my pain, but over time I realised that my pain was so intense, I may have been reflecting an energy that could have been intimidating for some.

Suicide pain has an energy all of its own. Without minimising the grief associated with any loss, particularly the loss of life, death through suicide comes with its own special type of grief. It’s the grief that comes from both mental and emotional pain, as not only do we have to come to grips with what, but also the inevitable questions that are associated with why.

When somebody dies from an explainable cause, whether it is sickness or maybe an accident, though traumatic, those that are left behind can rationalise what happened. There seems to be a clear reason as to the probable cause of death and though we may not like it, we at least understand it. When it comes to terminal illness, you generally have time to say your goodbyes, mourn the impending loss or celebrate a life well lived. In the case of an accident, as tragic as it is, we can understand the events that led to the accident occurring. In these cases, the individual involved has had the choice of living or dying taken out of their hands. Circumstances have transpired to bring about the outcome.

Not so with suicide. The main issue that anyone bereaved by suicide is the fact that the individual concerned made a choice. A choice that leaves behind so many questions that need answering, so many misunderstandings, so many unexplained conundrums that the emotional grief takes on a form of mental anguish as well. This mental anguish has an intensity to it that can manifest itself for a period as anger, bitterness, resentment, hostility, regret or blame. This intensity may direct us to push people away, respond in a way that is out of character or lash out at those that are around us. All of which can culminate in people no longer feeling that they can express themselves clearly, when in our company. As unfortunate as this is, it can result in damage to seemingly stable relationships that have significant tenure and intimacy.

For those that are trying to support an individual bereaved by suicide, here is some simple advice.

  • We are not OK and we are not coping. We are experiencing emotional and mental pain that will not go away for a long time.
  • Do not be put off by behaviour that is out of character because coping with suicide will change a person forever. For a period of time, we will not be the same person.
  • You don’t need to take that pain away, you just need to understand it and allow us to be. In the same way, we don’t need you to do anything but be present.
  • Your support needs to be unconditional and for as long as it takes.
  • You don’t need to ask permission to help. If there are defenses, they are feeble at best and easily overcome. Your help is appreciated, though you may not feel recognised for it. We have other things on our mind.
  • Simple kindness is the easiest and most valued kind of support. Any gesture will be valued, regardless of the type or size.

For those that are already doing these things, thanks. For those that have supported someone bereaved by suicide, thanks. For those that showed compassion, empathy and love, your impact is more profound then you realise. Let’s not wait to have the opportunity to display these characteristics. Bereavement is over-rated and prevention is much more powerful. Suicide prevention starts with these characteristics being shown to someone that you feel is in need. Reach out to those around you with a view to changing the life of someone in a meaningful way. It could mean that we no longer have to worry about those awkward conversations, after the event.

Layne Stretton
Roses in the Ocean Board Director