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What the Complicated Grief of Suicide Can Teach Us

By Kalia Kelmenson on Wednesday August 15th, 2018

Image: Unknown

The Path of Grief is Never a Straight Line

I got the call on a Wednesday evening from my husband. Earlier in the day, he had driven by a cliff where traffic had been stopped, with helicopters and fire engines on the scene. He had heard that a truck had gone over the cliff, but that’s all he knew. Later that day, he found out the truck had been driven by our friend. The place where it was driven off the cliff made it clear that it had been purposeful.

The day before, I had heard news of Kate Spade’s suicide, and that same morning had heard statistics on NPR about the rising number of suicides in America, calling it an ‘epidemic.’ The next day, I heard about Anthony Bourdain. The collective confusion and grief were accentuated by the suicide of our friend, who was only 46, and leaves behind two teenage daughters who will never really know the big-hearted, fun-loving, extreme athlete that was their father.

Deep wells of grief sprang open inside of me for these girls—I know the pain and confusion of losing a father to suicide. My dad took his life almost five years ago and yet it feels like just last week when I come across an old friend and burst into tears at the memory of him. I don’t know if those moments of raw tenderness will ever stop. A friend recently told me that it is a sign of the love that I had for him–which is true–but I believe it’s more complicated. The path of grief is never a straight line. My father had been ill for years —a complicated illness, fueled by addiction and depression. Rabbi, Ben Kamin, writes in his book The Blessing of Sorrow:

What is grief, if not the most painfully informative experience we humans come to know? It is also a chance to visit with somebody who is gone from this world. We do best homage to our dead when we apply the truth to our visits—just as we tried to do when they were on this side.

GrievingGrief is never easy, nor predictable.

The service for our friend was held last weekend. Friends streamed to the beach, carrying flowers and surfboards for the paddle out. We all wished he could have seen how many lives he had touched, how much love there was, and is, for him. The family made the difficult decision to speak openly about his struggles and his death—I imagine this was not an easy decision, but it was a powerful one. The complexity of emotions being felt were honored—sadness for the loss, guilt that we hadn’t been able to help him, and anger that he had made the choice he made were spoken of in equal measure. I felt a palpable relief in the group around me as the truth of our complicated feelings were said aloud.

Changing the Epidemic

The takeaway for each of us was to love each other, to look around and see our community. If we feel hopeless, reach out. If we see someone struggling, take the time to help that person, or help them find someone that can help them. I know from experience that it’s not as simple as that. Addiction and mental illness do not present themselves in an uncomplicated way. There are people who will feel there is not a way out of their pain. The last words from my father, left on a voice message, were “I just can’t take it anymore.” How I wish I could have helped him bear his burden; figured out a way to do something I hadn’t done.

Dr. Nadine Kaslow, former president of the American Psychological Association, spoke recently on NPR and offered these suggestions for how we can start to make a difference in this epidemic:

  • Reach out. Most importantly, says Kaslow, “ I think all of us need to do a better job connecting to each other—reaching out to our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors—and not just reaching out once but continuing to reach out to each other. I think we all need to be part of the solution to this problem”
  • Make mental health services more accessible and affordable. Often mental health issues go undiagnosed or left untreated because of financial barriers.
  • Teach kids coping skills. Life stressors are only going to increase. When we teach children methods for handling stress, we are giving them a chance to make it through those challenging times.
  • Ask for Help. Kaslow suggests reaching out for help if you are feeling lost and suicidal. She suggests hotlines, clergy, doctors and friends–and even apps that you can turn to that can be helpful. And finally, she implores,

Please reach out to mental health professionals when you really are struggling—there is help, there are evidence-based psychotherapies can really make a difference and help you feel better about yourself and your life.

ConnectionIt’s easy to assume those we love are OK, but we must continue to reach out and connect.

In the wake of the suicide, I heard comments of anger and blame, “look what he did to his family, how could he?” My only response is that he clearly couldn’t see another way. Both our friend, and my father, loved his children more than anything. In that moment, as I imagine it, they just needed the anguish and the pain to be over—and felt they had nowhere to turn.

Rose McGowan spoke out after Anthony Bourdain’s death, and offered these words for anyone struggling—I wish I could have spoken them to my father five years ago, and to our friend two weeks ago.

If you are considering suicide, reach out. We need you here. You matter. You exist. You count. There is help a phone call away, reach out.

USA : 18002738255

United Kingdom: 08457909090

Australia: 13 11 14

Canada: 1-833-456-4566

For a USA Crisis Text Line, please text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.

Words By Kalia Kelmenson

Originally posted on

 

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3 Responses to What the Complicated Grief of Suicide Can Teach Us

  1. Beautiful article. I am a medium and have also lost a few people I know to suicide, including a dear friend years ago. I witness the pain it causes in families, all too frequently. Thank God i know they are not lost, and that there are always second chances, even on the other side. The relationship with your dear ones never ends, and all are welcome into a better reality, lessons learned. An organization I’ve run across that helps parents who have lost kids is “Helping Parents Heal” and they do fantastic work.

  2. I attempted suicide in July 2016.

    Wells Fargo was attempting to foreclose on my home of 20 years after a car accident I’m wh I was passenger caused injuries requiring me to quit my job of over 10 years. Unfortunately, the insurance companies can (and do) drag these cases out and Wells Fargo not only opened a fake account in my name I am one who was denied a loan modification from Wells Fargo, which would have allowed me to stay in my home instead of being forced to sell below market. At the same time I was denied Social security disability, which was subsequently received upon appeal.

    I say all of this to say, until you live the nightmare of being systematically screwed up one side and down the other you have no idea that which those around you are bearing.

    • Barbara I totally understand you and hope your mortgage situation was resolved. Unless you walk in someone else shoes you can’t really know what other feels. I was accused of things I have never committed and sued in our civil court by a con artist who was doing this for money. I felt so crashed and betrayed that I was close to commit suicide. I spent a lot of money for an attorney. I lost many days of work, I spent four years being dragged to court just because the other individual wanted to extort money this way. It was a torture and a nightmare which was never ending. I came from it stronger, I prayed and pushed forward. It finally ended with dismissal. I don’t look back anymore. My heart goes to you and I wish my words could give you strength to fight.

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