Our Grief is Impacted by Who We Lost by Brandy Lidbeck

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The following post is a chapter in an upcoming book I have been writing. This information is the result of countless interviews, surveys, and conversations with other survivors. This is not the finished product by any stretch, but I would like your input as a fellow survivor. Would you please read it and respond to me at thegiftofsecond@gmail.com to share what you like, what you hate, what you would add, etc. The book is intended for anyone impacted by suicide and this chapter simply serves to normalize what you may be feeling and experiencing when we, otherwise, feel all alone. Your insight and constructive criticism will help make this book the best it can be and help other survivors in their journey as well. Thank you in advance! 

 

Suicide is devastating for those left behind regardless of their relation to the one who died. The guilt, shock, and grief are universal and even overwhelming at times. After talking with and interviewing countless survivors for The Gift of Second though, I began to notice some common beliefs, emotions, feelings, and experiences within specific loss groups. I created subgroups (parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends) and then began surveying folks in order to get a better understanding for the commonalities within these subgroups. I share this research with you now in hopes of normalizing your own feelings and also allow for you to hear from fellow survivors who have expressed similar experiences.

Of course all the information shared below is not absolute, but these are the most common responses received and hopefully you will be able to find common ground with others and recognize again that you are not alone.

 

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Losing a child:

The resounding emotion for parents who have lost a child is the intense and profound feeling of guilt. Parents expressed this sentiment more than all other survivors in all of the other subgroups combined. Parents articulated time and time again feeling guilt as it pertains to not being able to save their own child. Approximately 95% of parents interviewed and surveyed explained they feel guilt for not seeing their child’s pain and the impending suicide, not being able to save their child, and for not doing more to get them the help they needed. Several parents interviewed also expressed a level of second-guessing themselves in the way they parented. “Was I too hard on him?” “Where did I fail as a parent that my own child could not come talk to me about how he/she was feeling?” “Did I not convey how much I loved them?”

Most parents also shared the common fear for the safety of the remaining living children. “Will they also kill themselves?” is a common question for which parents find themselves ruminating. The fear of a repeat suicide within the home caused parents a tremendous amount of anxiety and pain. Some parents; however, used this fear to become more protective of their children and also more involved in their lives. They became more proactive in talking with their children as they were, this time, more in tune with the symptoms of depression and the benefits of open dialogue.

I asked each survivor if they had wisdom or advice to share with other survivors within their specific subgroup and the following is for parents who have lost a child.

“You are not alone. You did nothing wrong. It is not your fault. It is horrible. It sucks. There are days you don’t know how you will live on, but you do. You have to. Take your experience and use it to educate and raise awareness. One day at a time. It’s okay to not be okay.”

“Keep moving forward, keep talking about it. Don’t let the way they died be a secret. Keep your face toward hope. If we keep talking about it openly we can help save others.”

“This is the hardest thing you will ever deal with in your life. Nothing hurts and breaks you like losing a child, especially to suicide. Don’t let anyone tell you when to do things or tell you how you should feel.”

“Grief counseling is very important. You never get over it; you work your way through it. It helps to talk with others who have suffered a similar bereavement as others (who have not) don’t understand how we feel.”

 

Losing a parent:

This subgroup had several common themes dependent on the age of the child at the time of their parent’s suicide. All participants in this study were adults at the time of this interview, but the age of the individual at the time of their parent’s suicide varies greatly. Small children, for example, expressed an intense development of anxiety and fear. They conveyed that after their parent died they constantly feared the other parent would also die, leaving them to become an orphan. Several expressed a continuing struggle with anxiety in adulthood as well.

A similar belief in several children, regardless of age at the time of their parent’s death, is the feeling of not being valued enough by their parent to want to stay alive. Several children expressed not feeling loveable, worthy, valuable, or enough in the eyes of their parents. Almost all of the participants expressed the suicide impacting their ability to trust others, explaining, “if my own parent could abandon me like this, how can I ever trust others to stick around for me?” These doubts of self-worth and the inability to trust others have continued throughout life.

Children also expressed intense levels of anger toward their parent for leaving and abandoning them. Some children, who were adults themselves at the time of their parent’s suicide, expressed great sadness for their parent missing out on major milestones in the child’s life such as getting married, having kids (the first would-be grandchildren), and job placements.

Some wisdom from others who have lost a parent to suicide:

“The pain does eventually become less intense. I would encourage you to seek out a support group for survivors of suicide loss. Connecting with others who “get it” can be just the help you need.”

 “Write them a letter or do some journaling and tell them that you love them and in time you will forgive them for leaving you.”

“Your parent’s choice to take their own life speaks nothing to your value or worth. It merely speaks to their own mental state.”

“Let yourself be angry and not okay. Let yourself feel all of it. Focus on all the good memories but also accept the bad ones, too. Work on it. It’s going to be a long journey but don’t do it alone. The worst thing you could do is not talk about it.”

 

Losing a Spouse:

Many spouses expressed intense grief at the loss of their future together with their spouse. Several survivors conveyed a deep sadness and could remember feeling an overwhelming desire of wanting to join their spouse in death in the aftermath of the suicide because the grief was simply too much. Each survivor expressed feeling lonely. One woman shared, “It’s a couple’s world. I never noticed it before. It’s really lonely to all of a sudden be single.”

This subgroup explained the unique struggle of trying to help their children through their grief while grieving themselves and not wanting to show too much pain and emotion for fear of scaring their children. These parents also explained that one of the only things that got them through the pain and devastation initially was the responsibility of continuing to care for children in their home.

Anger was a common theme within this subgroup, but the cause of anger varied. Some were angry with their spouse for leaving them to raise children alone and angry their spouse caused so much pain to their offspring. Many were angry about the financial burden they now carried alone. One sentiment that was repeated endlessly was anger about both being single again and anger toward friends and family for trying to set the survivor up on dates because “it was time to start dating again.” One survivor remembered feeling, “I don’t want to go on a date with another person, all I want is my husband back!”

Many spouses expressed feeling betrayed because they had no idea the depth of pain their spouse was experiencing or they discovered a ‘hidden life’ their spouse was living (such as an addiction or debt) that the survivor can never get answers to, causing the survivor to question how much of their relationship was real.

Some wisdom from other spouses:

“You’re going to be okay. It doesn’t feel like it right now but you are going to be okay.”

“I have been angry at what my wife did to me and our children. I have found that talking with other survivors of suicide loss has been the most helpful.”

“Our loved ones were thinking with a broken brain that was more powerful than their heart, which was still full of love for us.”

 

Losing a Sibling:

Many of those who have lost a sibling explained they feel looked over and minimalized. They conveyed that their parents received a lot of emotional support as did the spouse and children of the sibling, but the surviving sibling received minimal attention and care. Many expressed feeling as if friends and even family members discounted their loss.

Guilt is a recurring theme within this subgroup as well. Several siblings conveyed being best friends with their sibling and feeling guilty for not doing more to help them or even recognizing the amount of pain they were experiencing. One sibling expressed guilt for not helping her brother more and instead “waited on the sidelines for something to change.” Overwhelming anxiety is commonly shared within this subgroup as well, “I suddenly feel like life is fragile and anyone could die at any moment.” Anger and grief were expressed as well with one person sharing, “I feel grief for happy childhood memories that are now tainted.”

Many siblings expressed the suicide strengthening the relationships with their parents and being able to talk openly with them about their sibling while others conveyed the overwhelming stress and responsibility of having to now care for the grieving parents that seem unable to move forward. One survivor wrote, “I’m now an only child and provide the emotional support to my grieving parents who can’t seek external support on their own.”

Some, not all, siblings have felt the pressure, whether consciously or sub-consciously and whether expected or not, to fill in the gap from their now absent sibling; whether it be personality traits like humor and interests or being readily available to other family members. One sibling expressed, “I feel the pressure to be smarter, healthier, and funnier. I’m always trying to be like my brother to keep my dad happy.”

 

Some wisdom from other siblings:

 “Don’t let your sibling’s life choice affect you to the point where you can’t live your own life.”

“I am not sure there is a right set of words. I would hug them, tell them I understand and let them cry or talk or be quiet or whatever they need to do. I would just be with them.”

“No two people grieve the same way. Your relationship with that person was your own and therefore your grieving might be different than others.”

“Don’t blame yourself and be kind to yourself.”

 

Losing A Friend:

The overwhelming feelings for friends are feeling alone, isolated, and discounted! Several friends expressed feeling left out and forced to grieve alone because they were not family. One friend shared she wanted to be more involved in planning her best friend’s memorial service as a way to honor her but the family refused to allow her to help. Some friends explained the difficulty in not being known by the surviving family because they lived in separate cities or states but had been extremely close to the one that died. As a result, the family, despite her close relationship to the friend, treated the surviving friend as a stranger. Others explained if there were not mutual friends to grieve with, the surviving friend is isolated in their own pain.

Guilt, again, is a common feeling within this subgroup as these friends shared everything with one another and to not know the enormity of depression and agony their friend felt is overwhelming. Frustration that their friend did not speak of their pain is common. Some expressed anger and confusion as they had made plans with their friend in the coming days and then their friend killed themselves without any clue. Some conveyed sadness that the one who died left a note to the family only and without any mention of the friend.

One survivor expressed not feeling like he fit in at a grief group he attended because he was ‘just’ a friend and felt the family members in the group discounted his grief as minimal because he did not lose a family member.

The themes for this subgroup were alone and lonely. These were mentioned time and time again.

Some wisdom from friends:

“Be gracious with yourself and take care of yourself. Don’t expect things to make sense. Don’t expect forgiveness to come easily. Don’t expect to have it all figured out. It doesn’t make sense. It may take a really long time but be kind to yourself.”

“Don’t let their death shake your love for them. It’s okay to be mad and hurt but when those feeling are gone you will realize that you still love them and miss them.”

“Attend a bereavement group specific to friends such Friends in Grief”

 

The responses from these subgroups clearly illustrated the fact that each person’s relationship with the one who died is unique in the same way the impact of each loss is equally as unique. Carl Jung once said, “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” I think the same can be true for grieving and yet there is something freeing and valuable in knowing others who have suffered the same type of loss fully understand the depth of pain. In these subgroups we realize we are really never alone.

10 Responses

  1. Mary Jean Hunt
    | Reply

    Hi,I was wondering if you spoke with anyone who falls into my category. In this case we were his very close cousins. I was 20 when he was born and he was like my first child. The families were always together, vacations, holidays. When his mother was too distraught to do the necessary things following a death, I did everything, along with his sister. It has been 1.5 years, I still cry at some point everyday. My son looked up to him as an older brother, he refuses to talk about to. We all have sought therapy. None of us will ever be the same

    • brandylidbeck
      | Reply

      Hi Mary Jean, I am so sorry for your loss. I, too, lost a cousin I adored from suicide. So sad and devastating. Unfortunately, no, I don’t have any data on that specific relationship. I narrowed it down to the five most common relationships that tend to seek out support after a suicide. These 5 subgroups were the ones that the majority of people responded had lost.
      Thank you for taking the time to read it.

  2. Kathy Ivanov
    | Reply

    These are all really good observations, I like the section with wisdom from people in the same category, it adds credibility and is reassuring. The common thread of wisdon I see in all of the different relationships to the person who died, is the idea that you will be okay. If I’m honest here, the thought of suicide has crossed my mind in the very dark days or when the grief seems overwhelming. Being “okay” feels like a consolation prize. The more resounding feeling I think is what Mary Jean said in her comment, we will never be the same.
    My brother killed himself on new years eve, so we have the added grief of his death being on a holiday that the whole world universally celebrates everywhere. We also know exactly how many years, months and days ago he died simply by the new start of the calendar – one year, two months and 28 days ago. There is nowhere to hide from the parties and noisemakers, the countdown is a cruel reminder of the worst day ever.
    For me there is just incredible sadness. I also cry every day. We were very close and talked every few days, went on vacations together, were planning our retirement years together. He would be 50 this year. Our parents both died relatively young (cancer), so he left me alone in this world. I don’t feel angry, just sad.
    I have stayed in close contact with his wife and son that he loved and adored as well as his lifelong best friend. Collectively, we still cannot believe this happened. There was a very deep hurt and shame that was a secret never shared.

    • Tracie H.
      | Reply

      Dear Kathy, I am so sorry you have had to experience the pain and devastation of suicide. My heart aches for you and with you.
      I can understand why hearing “it’s going to be ok” would sound or feel like a consolation prize, especially now, the pain is so fresh.
      As someone who has had more time, 13+years to process the pain, I want to say there is hope. It might not feel like it today, but there is hope and maybe that will resonate more than “you’ll be ok.”
      Even if you don’t feel the hope, I pray that you will see it in the little things, like a sunrise, a kind word or hug from a friend. I pray that you will see the beauty and value of who you are.
      For me the source of this hope was and is Jesus. He took my pain and brokenness and turned it into something beautiful over time.
      There is hope dear one. ❤️

      • Kathy
        | Reply

        Thank you for the encouragement Tracie. I too know that Jesus can make beauty from the ashes, it’s just very hard to make sense of what happened. I think from all I’ve read, most people come to the conclusion that there will not be an answer in this life, and somehow you have to find a way to press on. I have been a Christian most of my life, my brother was also. He was a leader in his church and spent the past 20 years leading the youth group, went on dozens of mission trips, was a foster parent, and poured himself out serving the poor and vulnerable. He was the real thing. It is very hard to think of him being so despondent and without hope that he would end his life.

  3. Wendy
    | Reply

    This was helpful and somehow comforting to read. I lost my partner last year. I had been with him for 4 years and we had just moved into a house together when he took his life. I suppose I fit into the loss of a spouse group the most, but I often feel that people dismiss the depth of my grief as we had not had 20, 30 etc years together nor a family together, as many people who lose a spouse have.
    His adult children and sister shut me out after his death. They wouldn’t answer my phone calls, organised a private funeral for only his children, refused my offer to help sort out his possessions. It was such a hard time as I had hoped we could turn to each other for comfort. It is also very sad that his children had not supported him through his depression and had spent little time with him in the last few years, yet they took over. The few days they spent cleaning up his unit after he died were the most time they had ever spent there. It constantly bewildered and deeply hurt him that they wouldn’t speak to him and he never knew why. My counsellor has said families often close themselves off and shut others out. I feel he has looked down and seen their behaviour and it makes him deeply sad. I have learnt to look for support from friends who are capable of giving it and that it is best to treat my partners family with respect and kindness when I have needed to speak with them, otherwise stay away as they are not going to be a positive element in my life.

    • brandylidbeck
      | Reply

      Wendy, I am so sorry for the whole experience you described. It seems that you have had a similar experience as those mentioned in the ‘friend’ section, not being accepted by the family. Your experience sounds incredibly hurtful and also very devastating. I cannot even imagine how painful that would have been for you. Thank you for your comment, and I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

    • Kevin
      | Reply

      Same here Wendy-
      My partner and I were together ten years; his remaining family (mom and brother) never came-down, never helped: it was always only-us.
      Through the years, his mom called me Her Adopted Son and Son #2 and herself Mom #2; That “I was the best thing that ever happened to-him”….yet, after his suicide, she’s never mentioned me to her friends in Ct.; even refused to honor his Last Wishes of: cremation, then scattered in the ocean and forest…but never! buried, he was very adamant about That.
      Her plans are to bury him with either herself or an ex-wife of twenty plus years-ago Who he hadn’t spoke-to in as-long, only because his mom and her have remained friends.
      *I read the Losing A Child, thought of his mom…and am-still in-disbelief (and Why she could-never be my Mom #2…nowhere near how great my mom is/has-been):
      -A week before he Completed, I called his mom, pleading with her to come-down (money, time, etc. were not an issue) to help me-help him: I had been his sole caregiver and he’d had fear/distrust of anyone else…
      including his mom (physical Child Abuse by two of her male companions); me suggesting him getting-help was tricky, without scaring him. A spouse’s input doesn’t matter, more-so That his paranoia seperated Homelife from our work/”outside” lives: noone knew and he swore-me to secrecy, Home was a private hell.
      His mom knew enough, but her only response was to call 911 (we lived in Florida): but unless the person themselves states Intent with-Means, nothing is done.
      When the police showed, he acted as-if he was “having a bad day, etc.”, and the police would leave. This caused him more frustration That his mom, instead of actually helping, just pawned him-off to the police.
      So, though I’d consoled her two years before, when her Common Law Husband passed, she REFUSED to come-down, and apologise to-him for the abuse (he’d said he wanted an apology from his mommy…at This point, I really realized his struggles/confusion as-to why mommy allowed the abuse).
      Even having my mom call her, figuring mom-to-mom might help: she told my mom to stop harassing her…That she loved her son.
      From empathy/ living every day with/ knowing-him well, he still sought help/support from his mom and brother: They, I truly believe, could’ve given him hope, had they “bothered” to come-down.
      He killed himself in front of me. My words not enough to save him.

      Our boss, Who contributed a lot of stress over the years (much longer story), not 12 hours after, actually told me to tear-up his final check! Later, saw to-it That I missed his Service in Ct. (yes, the family That never-cared got his remains……never coming, again, down to help, but shipping his ashes.
      It was Three Weeks before I was graced with a copy of his Death Certificate That I knew What Time he’d died; an email from BCBS with ER charges told me Where.
      Our boss’ harassment forced me to quit: his sudden, fake concern…showing-up at the house daily/unannounced.
      I told his family they needed to deal with his affects (That they were doing the Greedy Family bit) and That, now-jobless, I couldn’t afford to stay: they never came-down, I fought The House, alone, for three months ….throwing/ giving-away 90% of our belongings (couldn’t afford the move).
      An anxiety of going-inside made me shake/nauseous, but I had-to with noone helping….finally abandoning It: no matter how-much I did-inside, it seemed like more popped-up….I got so bad, it was like The House was alive, trying to keep me there….a prison without bars.
      The weekend After, his mom actually yelled “there should’ve been an Intervention”…..That was the last time I ever spoke-to her. To this day, I’ve never even seen an urn or ?, or know where his ashes are exactly…….yet for Our Ten Years/his fifteen in-Florida, his family never bothered, but was just-handed 100% control within hours.
      Even now, his mom has everyone thinking she was the world’s greatest mom, Who did everything she could…….but noone knows who I am.
      -I wear my heart on my sleeve, how a mother could be so cold, then two face-it to everyone has blown my mind.

  4. Jennifer Lane
    | Reply

    Amazing, Brandy! I’m so glad you are gathering this information and writing about it. I know this will be helpful to so many people.

    I would be in the sibling category, and I had (and continue to have) feelings of anger. I had to deal with so many arrangements and details after the loss. My parents were to distraught to make decisions. I also was mad that my brother would hurt our parents so deeply!

    Thank you for sharing your writing during the process of putting it together!

  5. Mary Jean Hunt
    | Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. I find your articles so helpful and sometimes I feel as if the person is speaking of me. What is difficult for me is that people don’t understand that I am still so devestated and sad and angry. They don’t realize that it is with me everyday. I stayed by his side till his mother got there, I stayed by his side when they did the tests to declare him officially brain dead. How are you supposed to just walk away from that and go back to “normal”. But I think people see it differently because of the relationship-not a husband,child. What people need to realize is that suicide effects the whole family.
    I also think people don’t want to hear about it. They don’t want to think about it, it’s not like a death from an illness like cancer.

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