by Bruce Ray
As dark as life gets when you lose someone to suicide, you can truly experience hope. You may have serious doubts today, and wonder how you can possibly go on, but you will survive. Your life will never be the same—that is true. Fellow survivor Albert Hsu wrote,
Those of us who have experienced the suicide of a loved one are like the survivors of the Titanic. Our lives are irrevocably divided into “before” and “after.” It is something that we will never forget, a tragedy that will affect us for the rest of our lives. (1)
Grieving strives for what we often call “closure.” Closure is hard to define, but it involves bringing an experience to a final conclusion. Closure requires a resolution of issues that will allow us to leave behind the past in order to go forward into the future, and it requires an acceptance of reality. Survivors of suicide loss rarely find acceptable closure. Some people think closure means being able to go back to a “normal” life with normal routines and patterns, but in truth “normal” has changed and life will never be the same again.
What was “normal” was shattered by the suicide of someone you love, and you are left feeling broken and empty. All of your hopes and dreams died with your loved one, and the future appears only black. But this is not the end of your narrative. You can’t stay where you are. Getting stuck emotionally will only make you bitter. To make you better, embrace the hope offered in the Bible (Romans 15:4). Faith feeds hope, and hope sustains faith. The God of hope will
fill you with all joy and peace as you truth in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NIV84)
Ruth Padilla Eldrenkamp’s husband was murdered in front of her and her young children on the mission field. Later she wrote,
Brokenness is not the end of the story. Our pain is deep, but it is not all-encompassing; our loss is enormous, but it is not eternal; and death is our enemy, but it does not have the final word. (2)
Don’t let the death of your loved one be the death of you!
Some survivors fear exactly that—they think they might die by suicide just like their loved one. It is not uncommon for family and close friends to experience suicidal thoughts themselves after a suicide, but these thoughts usually pass without incident. Family members may also be afraid because they mistakenly think that suicide is hereditary. But there is no “suicide gene.” Some families have suicides in their history because of the example or permission provided by family members: “If Uncle Fred solved his problems by ending his life, then I can do the same.”
You can’t go back, but you can and must establish new patterns that become your “new normal.” David Powlison states,
It’s important at this time that you don’t neglect the basics of life. Your food might not have much taste, but you need to eat. You may not feel like getting out of bed in the morning, but you need to get up and get dressed. You might have little interest in your work or household responsibilities, but you need to keep going. Take time to grieve, to process…and get back to normal living. Doing these things makes the statement that life continues despite what has happened. (3)
These things can’t be rushed. It may take two or three years or even more before new routines feel “normal,” but step by step and day by day they will become more comfortable.
Excerpted with publisher permission from Bruce Ray’s mini-book resource, Help! Someone I Loved Died by Suicide.
(1) Albert Y. Hsu, Grieving a Suicide (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160.
(2) Ruth Padilla Eldrenkamp (now DeBorst), in Hsu, Grieving a Suicide, 159.
(3) David Powlison, Grieving a Suicide, (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2010), 16-17.