Suicide – A Survivor’s Guide

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Suicide – A Survivor’s Guide

The suicide of a loved one

The suicide of a loved one has been rated as one of the most stressful of events
—for those who are left behind.
But you can cope healthfully
—you can live again

They touched my life: they called me friend; they wounded my heart. Because each of them died. Without saying good-bye. By his or her own hand. 

The first was an attractive woman in her early 30s; a woman who one would say had everything – heaps of money a genial husband, three delightful children, a tastefully-appointed home. She jumped from the terrace of her multi-storeyed building.

The second was touching 50, an ebullient bachelor, successful and sociable, with a big, doting family. And one morning he didn’t wake up, having swallowed a heap of sleeping tablets.

The third was a young, extremely intelligent boy, the elder of two children, whose parents had dreamed of his doing them proud by becoming a doctor. He sat on a railway track on the eve of his H.S.C. results and allowed himself to be hacked to pieces.

Each one of us personally knows of suicides or suicide attempts. It is said that, for every suicide, there are 7 to 10 people affected, from family to close friends. Researchers say that the suicide of a loved one is the severest stress that a human being can undergo.

Edwin Shreidman, founder of the American Association of suicidology, uses the word Survivor” to refer to those who are left behind. Survivors can suffer the whole gamut of psychological effects. If emotions remain suppressed or unrecognized, they can even trigger off mental or physical breakdown.
A suicide always leaves unanswerable questions and mixed feelings behind like….
…. “If only I’d made her feel more loved”
…. If only I’d listened”
…… “I’m terrified that my other daughter will do the same thing.”

…. What did I do wrong?”

Split or strength?

I know of two families who suffered the loss of a loved one – in both cases, by hanging.

A young boy, probably fearing censure from his parents because he was caught cheating in an examination, ended his life. His parents and siblings avoided talking about the affair and ended up avoiding one another. For months they shunned their friends and eventually moved to Canada. I am told that the wife is an alcoholic, one child is on drugs and the other has left home, while the husband is involved with another woman.
But the other family, who lost their breadwinner, suffered but clung to one another. They reached out to their nearest and dearest for support and love. They are getting on with life and living.
Faced with the same problem, why does one family disintegrate at the seams, while the other pulls through and even becomes stronger.

The aftermath of suicide

Suicide is a triple threat—the sudden death, the loss of a significant person the emotional stings, some of which go on for a lifetime.
All of them are normal and often occur concurrently. They are:

Anxiety while the person is still alive and hints at, threatens or attempts to commit suicide while you look on helplessly, afraid to sleep at night or to pick up the phone.

Shock of discovering the body, of being told or of finding out that what you thought was a normal death was really a suicide.

Guilt caused by… interminable questions from the policy who fine-tooth the vent, looking for evidence of foul play… by your own past acts of omission or commission… by feeling relieved that the years of anguish are over… or just because you are still alive.

Shame because you feel that people are avoiding you, or are whispering behind your back or because your religion condemns suicide as a sin.

Worry about that to tell people and the press.

Grief, every death results in grief and anguish. With a suicide all these feelings are more pronounced, a hundred-fold. Quite often grief shrouds itself in liquor for men and tranquillizers for women.

The American Psychiatric Association paraphrases the typical behavior of a suicide survivor into three phases:

You experience the trauma by recollections, dreams, and feelings of recurrence.

You become less involved with people and activities (especially those that bring back the memory of the lost one) and feel empty.

You suffer from memory loss, insomnia and lack of concentration.

The sad part of trauma is that the symptoms can show up immediately and they can last for a short time or forever.

The wrong ways

There are certain ‘strategies’ that hinder recovery.

Scapegoating Ramesh R’s son, a manic-depressive, consumed rat poison five years ago. He still blames the psychiatrist for not making him well.

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