Friday morning I woke up, watched a little bit of news on TV, cooked some eggs for my husband and he headed off to work and I prepared to enjoy a day off. It was completely normal. Before getting out of bed, I mentally tallied the chores I needed to get done, such as dealing with my expired vehicle inspection tags and taking the dogs to the vet.
Somewhere else in the community, a soldier who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with my husband woke up and decided, “today’s the end. I’m done with the pain.” He took his own life, leaving behind a wife, children, and millions of unanswered questions from family, friends and fellow soldiers.
Ever since I heard this sad news, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this family. Their lives imploded on what was a perfectly normal day to the outside world. Nothing will ever be the same.
It just so happened that the next day, Nov. 22, was International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. I’ve not been directly impacted in my life by suicide, but I attended our area’s gathering of survivors with my friend. We met a little over a year ago when I wrote about her loss of her mother to suicide, and I’ve tried to be there for her in any way I can.
During the luncheon, I was amazed by the strength of these survivors. Each of them was so brave, and so willing to share. One woman who lost her teenaged son just seven months ago showed a tattoo she’d gotten of his name — written in his own handwriting pulled from schoolwork — in a heart. At the end of her story, she gave everyone there a bracelet bearing his name. She doesn’t want him to ever be forgotten. I will never forget him or her strength.
As I listened to everyone speak and watched the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s survivor day documentary, my mind kept going back to this soldier’s widow somewhere still grappling with her own loss. Her pain is no doubt still raw and if it were me, I imagine I would still be in a state of shock.
I wish I could share with her what I really learned from Saturday’s lunch: She’s not alone. There are others out there who know what the guilt, the anger, the confusion, the hurt, the unanswered questions and the sadness feel like. I could tell that each of the lunch’s participants felt better, maybe safer, being in a room where their pain was universal.
Each person described their own loss, the initial feelings, and where they are today. Then, they described that moment when they laughed again, or woke up and were able to get out of bed on the first try, and thought, “I can do this.” It didn’t mean every day following was progressively better than the last, but the process had begun. They continue living. It’s a different life, but it’s life.
I know that this family is not ready yet, because the pain is too raw. But my hope is that each family member or friend impacted by this sudden loss can find their own healthy way to heal. It doesn’t have to be today or next month, but eventually.
Support groups and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention seem like a place to start.