Everyone will experience loss at some time in their lives. Loss means having something or someone leave or be taken away from you. It has the idea of separation or detachment.
Loss is a natural part of life and comes to all, whether through death, illness, children leaving home, retirement, financial instability, divorce, the death of a pet, or selling the family home.
Coping with loss, particularly the death of a close friend or loved one to suicide will be one of the hardest challenges you are likely to face in your life. Suicide is always a tragic end.
To help you survive such a challenging phase of your life here are ten things you really need to know about loss.
1. It is a prelude to grief
Whenever there is loss, there will be grief. Grieving is the natural way of working through loss, particularly that of a loved one.
Dr Louis E. Legrand says, “How we grieve depends on the complex nature of our relationship to the loved one and our past experience with loss.”
2. It may not be permanent
We tend to think of loss as being forever. If you have your leg amputated you accept that it’s not going to grow back. You may regain your mobility by having an artificial limb fitted but the original leg is gone.
But loss can also be temporary. We may be made redundant at work but over time find alternate employment.
Death generally falls into the category of permanent. The person who has died ceases to exist, or do they?
Richard Paul Evans says, “Death is the punctuation at the end of the sentence. It’s up to us to decide what kind of punctuation it will be.”
There are those who see death as a full stop. Life is over. There isn’t anything else. They argue that the grave provides undeniable proof, death has conquered.
There are others who see death as something other, perhaps an exclamation mark. They accept that the physical body wears out and ceases to function. They don’t deny ‘death’s legacy of pain and emptiness and loneliness.’ Where they differ is in their emphasis on the spirit. They argue that the body is corruptible but the spirit is eternal. So death may mean separation but only for a season. There is life beyond the grave and thus the hope of reunion.
3. It may be too painful to think about
The process of adjusting to painful loss as in a suicide is complicated. Some people find it difficult to be open about the cause of death. They may choose denial as a way of avoiding unbearable pain. It may seem fitting to repress their emotions and reconstruct a different story line, such as,
“Our son took an overdose. He was experimenting with recreational drugs.”
When what happened was: the son’s long-term relationship had ended; he became depressed and wouldn’t talk to anyone; he drank excessively to numb the pain; he wrote on Facebook that he had no reason to go on living; he took an overdose; he was found in his bedroom; the door was locked.
4. It causes shock and confusion
When a loved one dies by suicide, overwhelming emotions can leave you reeling. It can be hard to accept what happened. Disbelief and emotional numbness might set in. It is not uncommon to feel a sense of emptiness, as though all life has drained out of you. This is not evidence that you don’t care. Rather, it’s a stage of grief that helps protect you from the intensity of the loss
5. It may be humbling and lead to self-doubt
Those who survive the suicide of someone they love are left with one nagging question, why. Understanding may be denied because often times the decision to suicide is, in the moment, one of solitude.
Rabbi Earl Grollman reflects on our failure to find answers. He says
Now death has shaken your faith, “Why?” “Why must life be one of sorrow?” “Why?” There are no pat answers. No one completely understands the mystery of death. Even if the question of why were answered, would your pain be eased or your loneliness less terrible?
6. It drains your emotional reserves
Dr Christina Hibbert suggests, “All forms of loss take an emotional toll.” It is the price you pay when your life is battered. There is no avoiding the burden for it is yours to carry.
The emotional cost of losing someone to suicide has the potential to wear you down. This must be acknowledged and appropriate steps taken to help restore the loss of energy and emotional weariness.
Research indicates that the emotional toll of a person’s suicide can put surviving friends, family and other loved ones, at greater risk of dying by suicide.
7. It adds to your understanding of suffering
Loss is common to all. Some losses overwhelm causing intense pain and suffering. There is a danger of seeing suffering as something that detracts from life and robs you of the opportunity to be useful.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross argues that suffering is necessary for personal growth. She says,
“You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful garden and somebody brings you gorgeous food on a silver platter. But you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand but take the pain and learn to accept it not as a curse, or a punishment, but as a gift to you with a specific purpose.”
Losing a loved one to suicide is all consuming. There is no escape. You are surrounded by sorrow and sadness. Suffering allows you to learn the lessons you might not have otherwise learned. It qualifies you to support others who are walking a similar path.
8. It equips you to face the challenges of life
Overcoming loss builds resilience. It provides the confidence to face life’s greatest challenges.
But some people are overwhelmed by what comes their way. They are conquered by their circumstances. They feel the weight of impoverishment or suffering. Maintaining a positive outlook on life allows you to overcome but sometimes it’s not that simple as Katherine Weber points out.
“Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That’s the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.”
9. It helps sharpen your focus on what’s important in life
Death is often a wake-up call. It is a salutary reminder of our mortality. It says to us, “Are you making your life count? Do you have a sense of destiny? Are you finding your purpose? Have you discovered the secret of fulfilment?”
Dr Louis E. Lagrand offers the following helpful explanation:
“Death is a giver of meaning. It causes us to take a look at what is important in life and develop and maintain our existing relationships. It also causes us to think about our own death and ask why our loved one had to die.”
10. It influences what you choose to remember
I am reminded of a holiday I spent with my brother and his wife at Wewak, located on the northern coast of the island of New Guinea. My brother went swimming in the surf and lost his wedding ring. He returned to look for it the following day, hoping for a miracle, but it wasn’t found.
The loss of the ring was disappointing, annoying, frustrating and probably avoidable. But it is important to keep loss in perspective. The ring was a symbol of the relationship, the union of two people who loved each other. The ring was gone but the relationship remained and prospered.
Our son Adam took his life over five years ago. We remember him with thanksgiving and appreciate who he was and what he meant to us. He is forever in our hearts and minds.
Frederick Buechner says, “For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost.”