How to Hurt a Suicide Survivor by Victoria Banks

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How to Hurt a Suicide Survivor – by Victoria Banks

Five years ago, my Mom took her own life. She did it after six months of sudden-onset, undiagnosed mental illness at age 68: manic highs and depressed lows that forced our family to commit her involuntarily to psychiatric hospitals over and over again. Since her death, I have learned how to live with the reality of being a suicide survivor, and how to heal over the gaping wound in my spirit. But sometimes – especially when a high profile suicide happens and a public dialogue is opened up – I find that wound opening again. I guess it’s because much of the language society uses to try and prevent people from committing suicide is extremely painful to those of us who have lost someone to it, and it’s very difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of loss first-hand to put themselves in the place of someone who has.

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Photo Courtesy of Victoria Banks

 

These are some of the things that are most hurtful for a suicide survivor to hear:

1) Suicide is weak and cowardly. There is nothing more painful in the wake of having lost someone you love than to hear someone insult their character. Not only does this lack compassion, it’s ignorant. My mother was NOT a coward. She was one of the strongest women I know, and she fought like hell to protect the people she loved. In the end, she lost her battle with mental illness, like a gladiator losing a fight with the lions. She was beaten by it…but she was not a coward.

2) Suicide is a choice. I don’t pretend to understand what drives people to commit suicide. But I do know that my mother spent about 60 years of her life putting everyone else’s needs in front of her own. She was compassionate, nurturing, funny, and kind. She was the person my friends went to for advice or confided in when they were suffering in a way that nobody else would understand. My mother would NEVER hurt me. She would NEVER hurt the people she loved. Not if it was a choice. And yet, her suicide hurt me more than anything else in my entire life. So IF suicide is a choice, it is one that’s made in a place of such delusion, such desperation, and darkness that you can’t think straight. Is that still a choice? I guess so. But maybe we need a different word for it.

3) Suicide leads to damnation. This is a lovely little stumbling block for the suicide survivor to try and navigate. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I have to admit that I spent my share of tears on this one. Let me just say that if there is one person in my life who deserved salvation or heaven or eternal peace, it was my Mom. I would have said that about her before she died, and I believe it even more now. So if someone tries to claim that suicide is an unforgivable, go-directly-to-hell act, I don’t buy it. Not for a minute. Where’s the compassion in that? Where’s the understanding? And I just can’t bring myself to believe in a God that isn’t compassionate and understanding.

4) Here’s another thing you can do…Here’s something else you can do to hurt a suicide survivor: let the way their loved one died overshadow the way they lived. Let the darkness steal the joy that person brought to the people around them. Let their suicide outweigh everything good in their memory. I’m not saying there isn’t a time to discuss it…as painful as it is, the dialogue is terribly important, and it’s natural to grieve. But we have to let it go. Eventually, we’ll need to think about that person and laugh with pure joy again. We’ll need to laugh, so we don’t let their death matter more than how they lived. I still struggle with this. I find myself looking at pictures of Mom holding me in her arms as a child – pictures that should make me happy – and sometimes I cry thinking about the kind of end her life was headed towards. But here’s the thing: we ALL die. For some of us, it’s a cancer cell that multiplies in our body. For some, it’s a heart attack. For some, it’s turning our car onto a specific street at a specific moment. For some, it will happen in old age; for others, it will seem to happen before our time. We are ALL ticking clocks. That’s just life!

So how do we deal with that? We laugh. We love. We live. We shine our light out into the darkness for as long as we can, as brightly as we can. And we celebrate the light in others, every chance we get. Even after they’re gone.

 

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Victoria Banks is a staff songwriter for a publishing company in Nashville, where she was labeled “One of the best songwriters in the business” by Music Row Magazine. She has penned ASCAP, SOCAN and Covenant-award-winning hit songs for Sara Evans, Jessica Simpson, Terri Clark and more. Victoria was named Female Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association on the strength of her 3 self-produced albums. Check out her Website to sample her music and see the upcoming tour dates!

42 Responses

  1. Myra LeBlanc
    | Reply

    I agree that suicide is not a choice, same as people with diabetes, we don’t have a choice. I believe in celebrating a persons life, not look back on the bad stuff, relive the joy and love that you shared. That will never change. As for “god” I believe he is an all forgiving god, (not that she needed to be forgiven), and that he doesn’t cause suffering in the eternal life. I am sure your mom is in heaven watching over your family, of that I have no doubt. I am sorry that you have had to go through this, but we all grow with life experience, good and bad. You are such a heartfelt songwriter, you have a huge heart and I am 100% sure your mom is sooo proud of the woman you are. You are a survivor for sure!

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      Thank you, Myra! I appreciate that!

    • Crystal Durham
      | Reply

      How healing this is for those of us who’ve known and loved people who died of suicide. When one Catholic friend took his life, I was afraid to go to the service at the local Catholic church. I was relieved and grateful to hear the priest describe what happened to our loved one as a disease, something he could not escape, and it took him down. That is what it really is.

  2. Elizabeth Roark
    | Reply

    I lost my 18 year old son to sucide three months ago today,and I just love what I just read,well said

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      I’m so sorry, Elizabeth. There are far too many of us with this experience in common. Sending love to you.

  3. Julie
    | Reply

    Exactly how I feel. Thank you

  4. Dana
    | Reply

    You are so brave for sharing your story. I’m a mom who struggles with depression. Thanks for your courage. You are helping not just survivors of suicide and not just those of us who struggle with mental illness, but you encourage us all to be more human. To show kindness, mercy and love when we don’t understand is always a better way to live.

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      Thank you, Dana. I really believe that openness and dialogue is important when it comes to any kind of mental illness, so that people understand how important kindness and compassion is in these situations .

  5. Gayla
    | Reply

    i lost my brother January 28 and I needed to see this today. Thank you so much for posting it.

  6. Linda martin
    | Reply

    I lost My gorgeous husband of 30 years. 8 weeks ago. My heart is broken and his children’s every day seems to get worse not sure I want to live without him. Actually I know I don’t x

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Linda – right there with you. I lost my husband of 32 years at thanksgiving. You can and will get through – it may not seem like it, but we are still alive. Embrace those children, and just take each day as it comes. It will get better.

  7. Christine Laney
    | Reply

    Lost my daughter 3 years ago at the age of 16. There are so many good people with helping conversations but like you said many people cause more pain. Sorry to here of your mother.

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      So sorry to hear about your daughter, Christine. Sending love to you.

  8. Wendy
    | Reply

    Thank you for this. Another way to hurt suicide survivors – don’t mention the death, don’t ask how they are, avoid the subject, avoid the person who has experienced the loss. This has been my experience. I have also experienced a lot of tactless comments as well so maybe it’s better if people say nothing. It feels very isolating though.

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      I hear you! Yes, I think people feel so awkward about it that they don’t know what to say, so they choose to say nothing. Unfortunately that can be just as painful. One of the reasons I chose to speak up about my Mom’s suicide so openly is because I think that openness and frankness is the only way we’re going to break the stigma that makes people so afraid to talk about it. People need to understand that losing someone to suicide is not something to be ashamed of.

      • brandylidbeck
        | Reply

        Amen to that! I agree. The stigma, even among other survivors, is a disservice to everyone! The more we can talk and dialogue about it, the more we can truly walk with others through this journey and get lessen the shame and guilt!

  9. Sandy
    | Reply

    I can’t believe God would give you an illness such as depression only to send you to Hell because you succumbed to a major symptom of it. I’ve been struggling with depression for 4 years and everyday is a struggle.

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      Amen to that, Sandy. My heart goes out to you.

  10. Jennifer Grigg-Veitch
    | Reply

    Hey Victoria I knew your Mom…she was beautiful and compassionate and always, always a joy to talk to. Everything you have said I agree with entirely…much love to you and your entire family❤️ Jenn Grigg-Veitch

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      Thank you Jenn!

  11. Andrew
    | Reply

    I knew your mom and dad briefly when I was much younger, we rented at Silver Lake. Id heard she passed but not how. As someone with depression myself this was difficult to read, but knowing more of her story is important…

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      Thank you, Andrew! It’s always nice to hear from people who remember her from the good ol’ days!

  12. Jason Ellis
    | Reply

    Hi Vicki , I’m deeply touched by this “podium” you’ve created here and your initiative and courage in this make me very proud to say ” I know her !” . Although I have never been directly affected by suicide , I don’t know how anyone could state it as an act of cowardice. Statements as such I consider to be obviously ignorant , selfish , very un-informed and cowardice in their own act by their ignorance to view reasoning from the other side of the fence . Coward and shame are two words that truly don’t belong here !

    …… Just my two cents from nowhere ! Keep up the great work Vicki !

    • Victoria Banks
      | Reply

      Thank you, Jason! I think sometimes people try to paint suicide as “the cowardly way out” in order to prevent people from doing it. Not only does that hurt those of us who have experienced a suicide loss, but I really don’t think anyone considering suicide would be helped at all by being shamed!

  13. Julia
    | Reply

    My son did not want me to know of his depression or problems because of these very reasons and the stigma associated with not being “normal” in popularity or whatever else went thru his head. I know now that mental illness be it depression or another cause can be hidden because fear of society’s stigmas. It breaks my heart to know how he suffered. Suicide is preventable. We need to speak up more. Thank u

  14. Janet A.
    | Reply

    What a beautiful heartfelt piece of writing…. you say it so well Victoria, I met your Mom the night I bought my first cd of your music at a gig you played at the Rivoli… It was a wonderful night and she was so happy to be there helping to sell your music !!! What love and support she had for you. Blessings to you and your family.

  15. Joan Lee
    | Reply

    I lived in Bracebridge for 59 years and I remember your Mom as a lovely caring person. I didn’t know about her death but I do remember your family as I used to be in a group called Cellar Singers and they always came to our concerts. We have a mentally ill problem in our family as well, so my heart goes out to you and your family. Yes I agree. God is compassionate, and don’t let anyone tell you a suicide victim goes to Hell (if there us such a place). Good for you, a lovely article and Best Wishes in your career and your life.

  16. Beth
    | Reply

    QThank you

  17. Libby
    | Reply

    For those who claim that our loved ones cannot go to heaven because they took their own life, they need to read Romans 8:38,39. I know that I will see my son in heaven when I get there, because nothing can separate us from God if we have trusted Him as our Lord and savior. Not even death.

  18. Lisa A Patterson
    | Reply

    I could add to that … I hate to sound biased, but I think my addendum should be #1 on the list!!

    Never, and I mean NEVER say to a suicide survivor like myself, whose life has been wrecked and destroyed by the suicide of my precious baby sister, “If only you would have called me or us, then I/WE could have done something.” <— Please add this. It should be #1 in my opinion.

  19. Connie Surman
    | Reply

    i lost ahusband and i had 1yr 3yr 5yr then 2yr later a brother n law a few ago lost my father n law same family my children are n there thirties now are fine young men life goes on and i have read and i been to counseling but everytime you hear of someone doing this my heart drops its always the question WHY but i am good now but it never goes away its made me a stronger person God does not give you more then what you can handle it takes a while to learn that but i refused to fall and get back up and loved yer article GOD BLESS YOU!!!

  20. susanne t.
    | Reply

    My daughter ia a survivor of her husband’s suicide in december, 2008. He left her with a 21 month old daughter and a special dog thatwas their first child. My daughter is still filled with so many questions, so much love and so much hate. This summer has been tougher since she had to put her beloved dog to sleep and she will also probably be sharing information with her daughter on how her daddy died. It does lighten up but the triggers always bring it back

  21. Carol C
    | Reply

    So sorry for your loss. I am part of the survivor club. I lost my 17 year old daughter (Avery) just over 26 months ago. She was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. She was an honors student (4.4 GPA), 2 sport Varsity athlete, an editor of her school newspaper, Jr Class Treasurer, Freshman mentor, a friend, a shoulder to lean on, a true ‘listener’, and a most loving daughter. I live to honor her legacy of helping others (although very hard at times). This year we passed legislation that requires public school district to provide suicide prevention classes that allows our teachers to take them and will count towards their professional development, I got certified this past spring to teach the ‘Signs of Suicide’ (to administrators, teachers, students, parents, communities, etc), I support the AFSP in their annual ‘Out of Darkness Walks’, and a local foundation for youth suicide prevention (Chads Coalition). I also have a little Community FB account (Avery’s Army for brAvery) that I post things I find that may help someone who is struggling or has a loved one struggling … or worse, another survivor of suicide. No one needs to feel they are alone. Your words are real and resonate so deeply. We must stand up to fight the stigma of mental illness as many suicides (especially with our youth) can be prevented. Blessings!

  22. Ide-Marie
    | Reply

    I lost my 13 year old son 7 months ago. He was funny, clever, very kind and thoughtful. We were close, but he didn’t share the depth of his stress. I want to remember the good times, but still find it difficult. I survive for his two older siblings who also struggle. Thank you for this article.

  23. Caitlin
    | Reply

    This story is so similar to mine. My mom died by suicide last year and I have had to navigate all the issues you mention here. Surviving a suicide loss is horrific l, and impossible for those who haven’t experienced it to understand it. Many people unintentionally hurt you because they are either uncomfortable or clueless as to how to provide comfort to something so horrible/ inconceivable. Writings like this are important for improving how we as a society deal with suicide, grief, death, etc. Because we (primarily Americans) suck at it.

  24. Barbara Swanston
    | Reply

    My son, Terry, suffered from profound depression and died by suicide on August 21, 2010. I had heard these myths but had not given them much thought until then. Since then I have felt the sting and we just need to keep repeating this message over and over again. I have become a Suicide Awareness Advocate. Those of us who are survivor and who can must speak out. Here is a speech I gave at a suicide prevention conference in Belfast N Ireland in 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSy3hU5hMEQ

  25. Phoebe Evans
    | Reply

    First of all, I’m so sorry about your wonderful mother. Many prayers and love to you and your family. Thank you for this article. I lost my 29 year old son to suicide 2 years after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He too had multiple admissions in a psychiatric facility for stabilization. Your article touched on everything I feel and have questioned myself but something so refreshing was the last point of celebrating who he was (not his choice to end his suffering), a handsome, funny, intelligent, incredible athlete whose smile lit of the whole room. Thank you so much, a much needed point of view.

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