The phone rings. You don’t answer. It’s early, You’re awareness is still between wake and sleep. It goes again; Once twice and then a third time, in quick succession. It goes again. As the urgency and frequency registers, your stomach flips. Something is wrong. You know this even before you are told. The broken voice at the other end of the line tells you, they are gone.
The shock of the news slaps you hard. In those first few moments trauma has already begun to work on your body. Adrenalin and cortisol is surging through you. Your heart maybe racing. Your thinking brain may be unavailable now but your body and more primitive self is unwillingly registering the truth. You may scream or shout 'no!'. You will not want to believe it. You may feel panic. This can’t be true. A nightmare. You may find yourself flailing and sobbing. Or you may feel frozen, like ice, your muscles rigid and tight. You may feel utterly cold, both physically and emotionally. To the core of your being.
You maybe the first person to discover the nature of the ending, the horror of which can not be described. Images may play over and over. You may not be able, despite your desire, to rid them from your memory.
When someone takes their own life we console ourselves that they are finally at peace, at rest, but what they leave behind is a much greater a more devastating damage. They leave others to struggle on vicariously. It is hard not to hate them for this. Don’t be afraid to hate. Hate is frozen love. There will be anger in there too. Lots of it. It will come in waves. Let it flow through you. You will be dazed for a while, searching for something in the faces of others. The world going on will seem strange and unreal. Time slows right down. Time can stand still.
The days that follow for the closest will be filled with ‘duties’, practical needs and decisions that have to be made and put into effect. Not least the funeral. This occupation may hold the profundity of the loss at bay. Friends will rally. Neighbours may offer comfort with tea or a gentle voice. Others may avoid eye contact not knowing how to react at all. Death by suicide is a death like no other. It is a violent choice. We are left feeling impotent and bewildered. Sometimes shamed and humiliated. We are left to deal with the fall out.
Then there is guilt. 'I could have done more.' 'I should have done more.' You may try to piece together the final moments of the person’s life will to make sense and meaning out of what has happened. You will want to go back in time to change the outcome. You may have the details. You need the details. The how! The why! Has any message been left? Suicide is done to you by the simple fact that you were not enough for them to stay. It is a separation without a goodbye.
We are hardwired to fight for life, to stay alive whatever we are faced with. When a person ends their own life they go against everything they are genetically programmed to do. But we are not machines and this choice does does not occur in or from a place of balance. In fact it is precisely the imbalance within the person that renders them so desperate. Obliteration is the answer.
In a state of deep despair being alive and existing can in itself be an intolerable torture.
Even if we know despair, it is hard to comprehend what someone who commits suicide goes through in those final moments of life, and something hopefully we will never know. Though many of us fear death, when we contemplate our own end we wish for a peaceful and tranquil passing, surrounded by those we love and who love us. Suicide is not that.
If you have been plunged into unbearable pain and darkness by the horror of another’s suicide, reach out, and keep reaching out. To your loved ones, your closest friends, people you can trust. Look after yourself on every level. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Seek help wherever you can. Allow and accept all your feelings, of every shade, for there will be many. Don’t be afraid to speak.
It will take a long time, but you will get through.
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About Jane Dudley
I have been a registered psychotherapist for many years but with a background in teaching, training and lecturing. I have a passion for writing about people, our human condition, the workings of culture, and the ways of the world.