Insight from Another Survivor by Cherie Johnson

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My background:
My father committed suicide in 2001. I was 30 years old and had just gotten married. My brother committed suicide in 2010. He left behind 3 children under the age of 11.


What is it like to go through such a devastating tragedy? Those of us that have been through the suicide of a loved one know. We are an exclusive group. wink…wink…
It’s incomprehensible. It’s beyond one of the worst things imaginable. It can be such an extreme trauma. The world stops turning for you, while everything is going on around you.

It changes your life forever.

This is how I would describe the days and years after my father’s suicide. The world, my world, stopped turning. All there was – was excruciating pain. Pain, anger, extreme grief, questions of why, guilt thinking I should have done this or that. There are no answers, or there may be some, but the pain didn’t go away.

No one explained the grief process to me. I did stumble upon that on the internet (the stages of grief). Being familiar with that is helpful, so you know you’re not going crazy, but that you are human. Thus, be kind to yourself.

Everyone grieves differently. Do what you need to do for yourself and other survivors. Be patient, kind and understanding to others affected as they grieve in their own way. Some people need to be alone for a while. Some need to reach out and talk to others. We go through the grief process in our own time. There is no explicit timetable. Know you are not alone. This has happened to other people. Do what you need to do for yourself. However, do not isolate yourself from people too much. If you want to reach out, look for support groups in your area. Look for resources on the internet. Go to a counselor if you want. However, find one that has had experience with suicide or survivors of suicide. Not all counselors have experience in that area and thus can’t provide the level of support you may need. Looking back, I think it would have been helpful for me if I had been able to talk to other survivors that were further along in the grief process. Just to talk to someone that had really been there and knew exactly what I was going through, a lifeline. The counselor I went to was not experienced in suicide and did not know what to say to me. She just looked at me dumbfounded. She would listen to me, but not provide any advice, just schedule the next appointment. The support group I went to had recent survivors, and telling “your story” is ok and can be helpful, but the advice may or may not be there. Thus, I think a counselor experienced with suicide or talking to other survivors of suicide further along in their grief process would be the best options for support.

I went between excruciating pain and numbness in my body, to anger and back and forth again many times. You have to take it one day at a time. Sometimes one minute at a time. I won’t give you the cliché that you will hear a lot, “things will get better”. You don’t think the pain will ever go away.

The reality is your life will never be the same again.

However, the pain will lessen month by month, year by year. Even though, your loved one and thoughts of your loved one will always be in your heart. Some days will be better than others in the beginning days, weeks, and months that go by. For me it moved into a hurt and sadness that comes up every once in a while and I still miss them both! Now, I am working on remembering the happy moments and memories, when thoughts of my loved ones come up, instead of the sadness. With my beliefs, I like to think they are my angels now watching over me and most importantly – they are not hurting anymore.

Write in a journal, seek help, let yourself cry. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself comfort. I put one foot out of bed and then the other. I went through the motions in life, felt like a zombie at times. The birthdays, holidays, certain days were all painful. But year by year that gets better. I will always miss my dad and brother though. Sometimes it’s a struggle.

I have realized that my perspective about life has changed completely. I know that I am a much stronger person and can now handle a lot more than most people. I see people freak out or worry about, what I now see, as small minor things in life. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. I have learned that your own mindset is everything, your self-talk is huge. Pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself because this really does impact your own life experience.

Thus, I figure, if I have been through everything that I have been through in the almost 15 years now, I can most certainly handle anything that life now dishes out at me. I now live by the saying “live life to the fullest”. I am living my life for my dad and brother and want to   experience all the good things that life can offer, that they didn’t see or couldn’t experience.


5 Responses

  1. Susie
    | Reply

    Yes. Amen to this! I am only 9 months into grieving my brother’s suicide but have already found all of these things to be true. I especially connect to your advice about our self-talk. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have healthy self-talk. For me that means that I involve God in the conversation. I have to listen to what He knows about me and what He says is true. That has to drown out the other messages I hear from myself and from others.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. The Gift of Second is a great resource for me. It is so helpful to have the common ground to stand on, because even our closest and treasured friends can come alongside to love and support but cannot know what we are going through if they have not experienced it themselves.

    • brandylidbeck
      | Reply

      Susie, I am so glad The Gift of Second has been a great resource for you. That is why it exists, trying to come alongside survivors on this difficult journey!

  2. Wendy
    | Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I have tried to find a support group for suicide survivors since my partner died nine months ago, but there aren’t any in my area. I have found some useful sites on the Internet and this is one of them. You’re right, we don’t need to talk to others at the same place but people who are further down the track have a lived experience that can be so helpful to others. 2 months after my partner’s suicide a work colleague lost her husband who was diving and was killed by a shark. While not a suicide and the two deaths are completely unrelated we both feel so grateful to have each other for support. In some ways our experiences are similar as both deaths were sudden, unexpected and traumatic. Support from others who deeply understand is so invaluable.

  3. Julie
    | Reply

    I enjoyed reading your insights Cherie. It’s been almost 24 years since I lost my first husband to suicide. It does get better each year but it still hurts, terribly so at times. Anniversary dates are still so hard as is the month leading up to those especially. I still dread that death date. Ebb and flows. However, I too grew from this horrible loss. I’m stronger. I look at things more deeply, more reflectively. I don’t sweat the small stuff either. Life does go on and I thank God for every day I’m blessed to be alive. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Cherie Johnson
    | Reply

    I just got back on here after a friend reached out with her experience. I am happy to see the comments here, and hope that my words and those of others here have been helpful.
    For anyone experiencing this type of loss. Please reach out and know you are not alone, because it is so easy to spiral into a depression yourself. However, reaching out to others that have been through it lets you know – You can Survive and are a Survivor of Suicide…

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