I have been attending Survivors of Suicide support group meetings since 1999. Throughout these meetings I have witnessed countless numbers of survivors apologize for their grief. Some seem to apologize because they feel they are being too emotional. Others apologize for not having the right words to express what they’re experiencing. But the most frequent apology I’ve grown accustomed to is the apology from one survivor to another stating, “I’m sorry – I know my pain can’t compare to yours.”
Within a few months of losing my dad to suicide, I was fortunate to participate in a structured eight-week process group. There were six survivors present for this program. Two of us had lost our dads, two had lost their spouses, one had lost her sister, and another had lost his son.
Each one of the participants left a lasting impression on me – each one brought a different perspective and story to the group. However, it is the man who had lost his son who made the biggest impact on me. He was barely functioning. He was physically present and going through the motions, but he always appeared to be elsewhere – trapped in a place where none of us could connect with him. His son was young, not even a teenager yet. This man’s pain oozed out of him, not so much in words because he struggled to speak, but we could see the torment in his eyes. The weight of his grief was evident in the way he walked, and in the way he would sit and stare as if none of us were present. On the occasions when he would speak, his voice was raspy and choked.
Over the course of the eight weeks we were lead in discussions covering different aspects of our grief. I vividly remember each one of us experiencing moments of deep emotional heartache while openly discussing our loss. I also remember that during these moments, each one of us would look over at the man who had lost his son and we would apologize to him. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know for myself that I apologized to him because I didn’t think my pain came anywhere close to what he must be experiencing.
For years I have attended support groups where I felt guilty for expressing my struggles over losing my dad, feeling that my pain couldn’t compare to those who had a lost a child or a spouse. A few years ago I was participating in a support group, and like many support groups, we started the meeting by going around the circle introducing ourselves and saying who we lost. We had nearly finished when we reached a man who was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his head bowed between his hands. He slowed raised his head, and with tears in his eyes, he looked at each person in the circle, sighed and with a shaky voice said, “I’m so sorry. It was wrong for me to come here. I only lost a friend. I shouldn’t be here discussing my experience with people who have truly suffered loss.”
The man got up to leave, but as group, we managed to convince him to stay. He never shared his story and he never returned to the group. That along with other similar experiences made me realize that there is an unspoken hierarchy of pain within the community of survivors of suicide and unfortunately, that hierarchy prevents some people from experiencing the benefits of being part of this community.
I have never personally witnessed a parent whose been touched by suicide suggest that their pain is greater than that of someone else. I have, however, had several people apologize to me when talking about the loss of their friend, cousin, or former boyfriend, etc.
A few days ago I received a message regarding a recent blog post from a friend of my brother. In his message, he explained to me that he, too, was a survivor of suicide. He shared his story with me, expressing the love he had felt for a woman and then the immense pain he felt after learning she had died from suicide. As he was wrapping up his message, he wrote, “I know the loss of a former girlfriend can’t compare to the loss of a one’s father …”
My heart was breaking for this man. His description of the love he had experienced and the anguish he had been consumed with after her passing was no less real than the love I had felt for my dad, nor the pain I had felt after he died.
Regardless of the relationship one has with those who have lost their lives to suicide, the pain we feel is substantial and real. We should not feel guilty or feel the need to apologize for expressing our grief or for sharing our story with others. Each one of us is justified in feeling shaken, lost, confused, angry, sad, and consumed with questions. Each one of us is looking for comfort, support, and answers.
So now I ask, what can we do as a community to ensure that ALL survivors of suicide feel safe to share their story without the need to justify the grief they feel?
Blessed │ Wife │ Mom │ Friend │ Founder of GOOD │ Author │ Public Speaker │ Golf Fanatic
It took me years to find my voice and even longer to learn how to use it so that I’m creating GOOD rather than just fighting the bad. Now I use my voice to heal myself and hopefully others along the way.
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Sending love to all those who struggle with mental health and/or have lost a loved one to suicide.
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