Last September, 2015, when my book Let Go and Let Love: Survivors of Suicide Loss Healing Handbook was published, I was a little unprepared for one of the prominent comments regarding Loss as it related to my book, where suicide loss was the predominant topic. Mind you, it was a positive and enlightening barrage, but surprising in that it was not something I had ever considered. It was this: Loss is loss, and no matter what the origin of the loss, the book’s tools worked for anyone who had sustained personal tragedy of any kind.
My audience had expanded exponentially right before my eyes, and I didn’t even realize it was taking place.
From that moment on, I found a whole new set of terms to be used when I spoke to people and groups about Survivors of Suicide Loss and other losses as well. What are some of these other losses?
- loss of self-esteem,
- loss of a friendship or partner you thought would last a lifetime,
- loss of job or livelihood,
- loss of health, both acute or chronic,
- loss of domicile or home,
- loss of stable mental health,
- loss of a loved one through accidental death or illness,
- loss of mobility,
- loss of independence,
- loss of youth,
- loss of memory, on and on.
Who is competent or knowledgeable enough to even think about putting a measuring stick to any pain that someone experiences? My loss is worse than yours? Your tragedy is more intense than mine? I would never do it. I once met a man whose entire world consisted of his job and his two German shepherd dogs. He had no other family near him, or family who included him in their lives. When both beloved dogs died within a short period of time from each other, he was so depressed and lonely, he lost the will to live.
After digesting much of these post-publication discussions, I truly felt the connection between the loss of my son and the many forms of loss that thousands of other people traverse through. As an example, I had one member of the audience come up to me after I finished speaking and say, “I know my loss cannot compare to you losing your son to suicide, but….” I took her hands in mine, looked into her eyes and said that “every loss is personal and deeply internalized to the person experiencing it – there is no measuring stick capable of indicating whose is more painful. It is all tragic.”. Thus; Personal loss should never have a Pain Rating.
Another measuring stick that is often imposed on the grieving person is: How long is the right amount of time that they should grieve? At my last speaking engagement, an older gentleman asked a question for the group to hear. It followed a discussion surrounding when I decided to write about my experience as a survivor of suicide loss. The question was, “how long was it before you decided to step up and use the tools that would help bring you out of the dark hole of sadness?”. This was a little tricky and my pause was a little longer than usual, but here is (paraphrasing) what I said. The timeline for sadness will probably never end. It is when sadness inhibits you from re-entering and participating in the world of your functioning life that you need to be aware and alert. Sadness is not a bad thing – we are human and we are alive with emotion. Frankly, I will experience sadness with my loss until my last breath. My personal measuring stick for each bout of sadness is that it doesn’t last any longer than it takes to have a happy memory move right up into its place. Setting a timer for how long the sadness hangs in there is something that each one of us can set for ourselves, but I do believe we should set it. The big kahuna is when sadness interferes with getting up, getting out and getting on. My actual answer to this gentleman’s question was somewhere about a year and a half. Interestingly, he and his wife were at the 1 1/2 year mark. He was ready, his wife not quite so much. There is no marker that is good for all.
Finally, please do not let anyone tell you when it is time to get on with “things”. Those that do are probably wanting to make their life more comfortable around you. The critical point to make is that if you are concerned about your mental and physical situation, you should consult your primary care provider and ask them how you are doing? Paralysis or depression in the place of daily life is not a good spot to stay in. A healthy life includes smiling, laughing, socializing, loving, sleeping, creating, adjusting, and yes, being sad. It is not so much about how many weeks and months that it takes to get there, but rather that you are indeed taking steps and making change to get there. THAT is what you measure.
Excerpt from Let GO and Let LOVE: Survivors of Suicide Loss Healing Handbook, CreateSpace Publishing, $12.87, paperback and ebook available September 2015.
CONTACT: Gabrielle Doucet