Bereaved Spouses/Partners, The Road Less Traveled

I Am Not a Canadian Goose (spouse suicide part 3 of 3)

by Barb Hildebrand
Suicide Shatters
Surviving Suicide ~ The Aftermath

Barbara Hildebrand
Barbara Hildebrand

The emotions experienced after losing a partner/spouse are intense, immense, and best described as an emotional roller coaster. You can be up one moment, then down the next. You can be doing quite well for days, weeks, months and then, all of a sudden, seem to go completely backward and feel almost like you’re right back to when the loss occurred.

Please read Barb’s previous posts on this story

This was all part of my self-development work that helped me learn more about myself; what I had done in the past and what I wanted to create for myself in the future. The forgiveness exercise is one I still use eleven years later. I was not ready to forgive the women Rob had had affairs with. That was my decision and I knew it. I was at a place last December, while on an amazing ten-day holiday in Germany with Rob’s Mom, sister, and my son, that I did my forgiveness exercise one early morning. I forgave all of them! I forgave his family for all that I felt they’d contributed to his demise and way of being. I forgave myself for anything I may have done knowingly, or unknowingly, to have my relationship with my in-laws become distanced. I felt an amazing shift. The best way to describe this feeling was in my heart and I knew something had left my body. That release would propel me along my journey in a much healthier way.

The common bond of suicide can either bring people closer or drive huge wedges between relationships. I’ve seen families get incredibly close, far closer than they were before the suicide. But sadly, I’ve also seen suicide tear a great many families apart. The emotions and thoughts that go hand in hand with suicide and how each person reacts to the suicide based on their own feelings and beliefs dramatically impact the outcome of the relationships.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve after a suicide. There is only your way. You get to decide on whether you will grieve in a healthy way or whether this will consume you and destroy your life.

The emotions experienced after losing a partner/spouse are intense, immense, and best described as an emotional roller coaster. You can be up one moment, then down the next. You can be doing quite well for days, weeks, months and then, all of a sudden, seem to go completely backward and feel almost like you’re right back to when the loss occurred. This, too, is quite natural and normal, but your response to it is what makes all the difference. I learned long ago to just let the emotions come up, go with them when it’s happening all the while knowing that it won’t last forever and that I’ll be okay. I learned not to fight and stuff down how I was feeling. I also knew, after going through what I’d experienced, that if I’d not fallen apart then, that I probably never would. For me personally, that was an exceptional lesson to learn and taught me how strong I actually am. It gives me great comfort in knowing that to this day.

I have learned that you need to be very gentle and kind with yourself. When you’re having a really bad day, allow it. Know that tomorrow is another day and it can be better. Surround yourself with loving, caring, and compassionate people who will support you, but not enable you. Discover ways to allow hope and joy back into your life even when it doesn’t feel that way. Reach out and talk about your loss. Talk about suicide and feel no shame. There is no shame in suicide. But society has placed a stigma on suicide for centuries. You will probably encounter some of that. Learn not to take on that stigma and to be able to freely discuss your story without judgment. If those in your inner circle cannot do that for you, restrict your exposure to them and set clear boundaries of what protects you. Find other loss survivors to connect with either through in-person support groups specifically for suicide loss or online through the many wonderful support groups. Suicide/Grief/and Education ~ This is a closed group on Facebook. If you are on Facebook you can do a “search” and asked to be included. You MUST have had someone die by suicide to join the group.  Seek out trained professionals to help you if you need it.

Do whatever it takes to heal yourself. Never forget that healing is possible, but it takes incredible perseverance and work on your part. Your life will never be the same again nor will you. We can’t be who we were before the suicide, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be a different version. That doesn’t mean it has to be negative. You will always miss your partner/spouse, but with the process of healing you can learn to live again in a healthy and happy way keeping your loved one with you in your heart and memory.

One thing I really want to emphasize is that our loved ones did not do this to us, they did it for themselves. They did this because they were not well and not thinking clearly, and for whatever reason, felt that by taking their lives, this was the only way to alleviate their inner turmoil and pain. There are exceptions to this of course, some do actually take their life to spite someone, but it is not usual.

I personally started a journey of self-discovery; why what had happened had occurred and what I was supposed to learn from it. Suicide has put me on a path that I never would have started had suicide not entered my life. I have learned so much because of it. Personally, I feel that I am a much better person because of it. I have become a much more patient, compassionate, and understanding person since my loss. I decided to start a blog recounting my journey and all that I have learned. I had kept a journal while all of this was ongoing, not so much in long hand, but in short point form and that allowed me to go back and recreate a timeline for my blog. Last September 2011, I started a Facebook fanpage called Suicide Shatters where I share posts educating on suicide, prevention and postvention, grief, healing, mental illness, and many other related causes I’m passionate about. I also include many self-development and inspirational posts. I feel our personal stories are the most powerful way to educate others about suicide and in doing so, hope to dispel the stigma that keeps so many from seeking the help they need and deserve. I have made friends (mostly online) with some of the most amazing and resilient people I’ve had the privilege to know. We have connected over the phone and become personal friends as well.

There are many ways to heal. Some survivors will do as I do and take the advocacy route. Others volunteer with suicide prevention organizations or participate in walks to raise funds and awareness. All of it helps, especially connecting with other loss survivors who innately know the pain suicide brings. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) does not recommend, nor do many other suicide prevention organizations, getting involved in suicide prevention type work for at least 18 months to two years after your own loss. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is to allow enough time for healing. Time alone will not heal you, but time with correct actions does. Dealing with the topic of suicide day in and day out can become very overwhelming, draining, and depressing. It is something that is not for everyone and you must be mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared before beginning it. Many who work within the suicide prevention and mental illness communities have themselves experienced both these situations on a personal level.

Understand that loss survivors are themselves at risk for suicide. It is important that you get familiar with the signs for yourself as well as others. Knowledge truly is power and learning as much as you can about suicide will help you better understand what your loved one experienced as well as keeping yourself and loved ones safe. Some of the best knowledge I have learned is from attempt survivors and those who have mental illness with suicidal thoughts. We can all learn from one another, support one another, and get through this together.

Suicide can be very isolating. It is up to each and every one of us to figure out what works best for us to help us heal. Knowing you’re not alone on your journey and that you can reach out and get help is critical to your well being. Do not be afraid to ask for help should you need it. There is no shame in asking for help. Knowing you need more than you can do on your own is critical.

Recovering from suicide loss to me is a lifelong journey. I want you to know that the intense pain lessens. I no longer have any pain when I think of Rob. I will always feel sorrow that he felt he had no other options, but I no longer feel pain. I think of him pretty much every single day especially as my Facebook page deals with suicide. I am now able to remember the many good times we shared. I am forever grateful we had our son together and that he’s turned into an amazing young man now age 21.

Our loved ones are far more than what they did that one day. We must honour and respect them by focusing not on that one brief moment in time. Talk about them, say their name out loud, and honour them by telling their story and sharing their life.

I know depending on where you are in your journey, that it may not feel that you’ll ever be able to heal and recover from this tragic loss. I am here to tell you that you can and want you to have that hope and knowledge. Our society doesn’t cope well with death to begin with and when you add suicide to that, it becomes even more complicated. I also do not believe in “stages of grief” which I’m sure many of you have heard about. I never did experience any of these so-called stages in the order laid out. I have encountered many who hold steadfastly to those stages, questioning their own journey comparing it to what stage they’re at and whether they’re experiencing it correctly. The stages of grief come from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, and was written in 1969 for those who were terminally ill facing their impending deaths. Not at all ever meant for what takes place after a death. I’ve seen far too many hold themselves back feeling they’ve not been in a particular stage long enough,or haven’t experienced it in the order as listed . If we were better educated and prepared on how to cope with death, dying, grief, and loss, we would all have far quicker and healthier, less painful recoveries. Death to me is part of life, but when suicide ends a life far sooner than expected, it presents such a different and difficult aspect.

My heart goes out to each and every one of you reading this post. I know the pain suicide brings. I know the pain the loss of a partner/spouse brings. But I do not know your story exactly and would never presume to tell you I know how you feel. You are on this journey unwillingly, but as with all that happens in life, it is not the things that happen to us so much as how we react to them that matters. We all get to choose how we react to our loss. Some will do very well, others will not. Please know it is possible. I have done it and so have many others. I am so thankful that I discovered my life purpose which is to be a passionate advocate for suicide prevention and mental illness. That would not have happened had suicide not entered my life. I learned to look for the positives even out of the negatives. I am in charge with creating the life I want and deserve. Please be gentle with yourselves and learn to love yourself first. Above all, please know that you did the best you could with what you knew at the time of your loss and choose not to blame yourselves or beat yourselves up with our often harsh inner critics. I wish you all much love and healing on your journeys. I hope that I may have helped you in some small way by sharing my story with you.

About the Author: Barb Hildebrand lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, with her 21-year-old son. She’s in the process of reinventing herself and wants to help survivors of suicide heal from the devastating loss of a suicide. She is passionate about advocating for suicide prevention as well as mental health, feeling education on both is the only way to dispel stigma. A big fan of Law of Attraction, loves self-development/personal growth, gardening, blogging, travelling, constantly learning, and living life positively. Barb strives to live life with passion and purpose and loves to share her gift of support with others. You can follow her blog at Surviving Suicide ~ the Aftermath and her Facebook Page, Suicide Shatters.

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