How to Stay Positive When Someone You Love Has Committed Suicide
Updated: Feb 1
Firstly, I will be upfront, initially you will not stay positive and it will take time before you smile and laugh again. I know this from experience.
Over 20 years ago, I joined a club that I wish I never had to; those of us left behind after a suicide. Being a member of this club is unpleasant. There are no pastimes and no ideal vacations. No one ever applies to join this club. Many club members even prefer that you not know they are members. Members of this club cope with loss. Additionally, they must deal with two distinct sorts of grief: one for their own lives, which are now empty and lonely due to the loss of a loved one, and another, profound mourning for the unhappy life of that loved one.
You can never fully comprehend what it's like to lose someone to suicide unless you've personally gone through it. Members of this club may be people you know, and they may talk to you about their experiences or even stand in front of you sobbing, thrashing, and screaming. Some people might be stoic, giving you tight-lipped smiles and saying, "Everything's OK, thanks for asking." However, unless it has happened to you, you can never completely comprehend the extent of their suffering.
We were close, me and my brother Gary. I was his pillar of support and did my best to help him deal with his despair. He had failed in his previous two suicide attempts. I always assumed he would eventually commit himself, and I believed I had accepted this and was ready for it. But I wasn't. I was utterly unprepared for the phone call that told me he had passed away.
I never thought I would lose control the way I did, beating the ground while yelling "No! No! No!" and racing up and down the hallway and out the front door. I never wanted my 3-year-old daughter to witness her mother spiralling out of control, being completely crushed, and being beyond words inconsolable. I didn't want my neighbours to run and drag me, yelling inside the house. This event was not part of my perfect life plan. I didn't intend to carry my brother's casket or give a poised eulogy at his burial so that he would be proud of me. No, I wasn't ready. Nothing could have prepared me for this information.
My entire existence drastically changed after Gary passed away. Because of the breakdown of my marriage, I had to return to my previous job full-time. Then I received another blow to put me even more to the test. I was given the devastating and painful diagnosis of Crohn's Disease just a few months after Gary passed away.
Naturally, I did not handle the situation very well after Gary's passing. I had the impression that I had been pounded in the stomach, losing all feeling of air. Every morning when I woke up, all I wanted to do was turn over and go back to sleep, never leaving the relative tranquillity of sleep. There were times when I wanted to discuss my brother's passing with everyone and everybody because I wanted the world to pay attention to his passing. I found it challenging to comprehend how the world kept moving and how everyone kept grinning and going about their daily lives in the stores and at work. My brother had recently passed away. "Wait for a second! Just pause for a second!" I continued to think. How is it even possible for strangers to go out for dinner and drinks tonight? My brother passed away! My entire body felt raw as if every nerve were exposed. I had the impression that everyone could see my suffering via their gaze.
This kind of thinking continued for a while. However, after acknowledging that this upheaval in my life was "permanent," I gradually began to put the pieces back together. There were some significant construction pieces to take care of, and occasionally, despite my best efforts, a few would come tumbling down. I would therefore keep going back to lift them back up.
However, Gary's passing resulted in many more adjustments in my life—changes that, oddly, helped me advance in it. I doubt I would have started a blog if he hadn't passed away.
I lost all interest in meals and started having stomach problems because I was grieving my brother. I was sure that the stress of his passing caused these problems. I dropped to 47kg, which made my depression worse.
When I was taking my dog for a walk one day, one of my neighbours said, "Deb, you look dreadful. Don't put your brother behind you -- put him beside you and walk on." Those few words changed everything. I realised that I had to live my life for myself and my brother, so I did. Everything changed after those few words, and I'm confident that my neighbour Patrick is still unaware of how far his comments travelled and how strongly they connected with me.
On that day, I decided something. I knew I had to come to terms with Gary's departure. I had to get used to this and find some inner strength. I reasoned that his passing is simply one of the difficulties I must overcome. Other difficulties existed, but I overcame them. But I had no idea it would shake me to my core and put my resolve to the ultimate test. I was unsure of how much of my mental, physical, and emotional resources it would require for me to accept his death. Although it was simple to say, it would not be simple to implement. Fortunately, I didn't realise that at the time. I now reflect on that period and ponder how I managed to survive it.
Even though I still would give everything I possess right now to have Gary back, I must acknowledge that without his passing, I would not be the person I am today. I gradually adapted to the shift in my life, and now I am capable of things I would never have believed possible. Even though this experience was harrowing, I managed to find the strength I didn't even know I had, which is why you are reading these words right now.
My tips to try and become more positive after losing a loved one to suicide:
Accept that you are grieving, and don't hide it
Realise that one day you will start to smile again and even laugh
Take time for yourself and do something that makes you feel close to your loved one. In my instance, Gary was an artist, so I would paint, and I felt his presence helping me.
Write your raw feelings in a journal
And when you are ready, take your loved one by the hand and live your life for them too
Gary visited me after his death. You can read about his visit here.