The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) defines a survivor of suicide as, “a family member or friend of a person who died by suicide” . AAS estimates that over 41,000 suicides occur annually in the U.S. and for each 1 suicide, there are approximately 6 survivors, which is a modest estimate. Based on this data, there are approximately 6 million Americans who are survivors of suicide from the last 25 years . To honor Suicide Prevention Week 2017 (Sept. 10-16), I was fortunate enough to interview three different survivors of suicide: a friend, a significant other, a sibling, as well as one mother who nearly lost a child. Their stories are below.
Losing a friend when one is young, is devastating. Losing a friend when one is young to suicide, is unthinkable. A man, now 36, lost his friend, his teammate, and his classmate when they were both only 15 years old. Before Facebook, Twitter, or any social media, school counselors were the ones to break news to students about important events. Upon learning the news of his friend’s death to suicide, the man remembers feeling confused and left with numerous unanswered questions. He remembers his friend being happy and fun loving. “What would life be like if he were still alive?” He empathizes for his friend’s mother, as the man now has children of his own. Even now, he continues to be confused as to the reason for his friend’s death. The man, who describes himself as being more logical than emotional, wishes he was able to have closure. The image of how his friend died continues to fill his mind. After the news broke in his high school, the school offered grief counseling. He feels the main factor that helped with his grief was not just time, but being a kid. He did not fully grasp the concept of suicide at that time. Presently, the man feels this loss has changed how he views relationships and has given him a unique perspective on life. He recognizes and recommends that people see how the lives of others are outside their control.
Love. We spend most of our lives searching for that one true person. When that person is found, we would give anything to protect them. A woman, now 27, lost the love of her life to suicide and continues to struggle today with the “what ifs.” She remembers her boyfriend’s daughter calling her and informing her of the death. Shortly after the death, the woman, who was 25 at the time, sank into a deep depression, stayed in bed for 2 weeks, and drank alcohol excessively. The boyfriend, who died at the age of 40, struggled with depression during their relationship. The woman shared how he would talk about suicide and she would rush over to his house to ensure his safety. Shortly before his death, the boyfriend had gotten into drugs and she could no longer distinguish between honesty and falsehood. She continues to wish he would have told her that he loved her at least one more time. The woman expresses her gratitude for her wonderful support system. In the wake of her boyfriend’s death, she sought care through her primary care physician, family members, and friends. The boyfriend’s daughter and the woman became extremely close and they are now great friends. The woman continues to be challenged in intimate relationships. She questions whether or not she is good enough for love and will oftentimes compare another man to the boyfriend she lost. The woman recollects her father telling her after the death that she would find herself crying 500 times a day, and then months later 50 times a day and then only once a day. The boyfriend’s birthday came around recently and the woman found herself crying while looking up to the stars. She prayed he would see how much she loved him and continues to love him. She has learned healing takes time, moving on does not mean letting go, and that she should continue reminiscing about the good times had with her boyfriend.
Siblings are our first playmates, enemies, and role models. Siblings shape our lives long after the youthful days of room-sharing and arguing over the television. At the age of 14, a woman lost her older brother to suicide. He was 20 years old. The woman, now 34, remembers a police officer coming to her home at 2:05 A.M., and instantly knowing the news would be life-changing. Six days before the death of her brother, her parents separated and she was learning to adapt to her “new normal.” She immediately felt pressured to mature due to her mother falling into depression and needing to have someone care for her. The woman primarily sought support from her friends, with whom she continues to be close to this day. She also spent many moments in isolation when she would write in her journal. Her friends were the same age as her and were unclear of the words to say. They didn’t fully comprehend her brother’s suicide. The woman feels she never truly dealt with the suicide until seeing a therapist recently and revisiting these events that molded her life. The woman continues to miss her brother dearly and believes that if he were still around, he would be a “silly uncle” to her children. Her son is the “spitting image” of her brother and has similar mannerisms. She remarks what a bittersweet feeling it is to see this in her own child. The woman questions: “What would bring her brother to suicide when he was so young?” He had three younger siblings who looked up to him, and left so many loved ones behind. She still carries around guilt; however, she believes his suicide is not her fault. She is confident suicide is a result of mental illness that is often hidden. She wishes that anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one would know they are part of a very special group of people, who she has learned are some of the strongest people she has ever met.
A mother’s love has been said to be one of strongest things in the world. It is a love with no boundaries or limitations. A mother who has multiple children is capable of loving them all; however, there is something special and different about the first born. Only a few short months ago, a woman, 60, nearly lost her first born and only daughter to suicide. The daughter, 37, called her mother on a Sunday afternoon to express her apologizes for the things she had done in her life and that she no longer had the will to live. The 2 reside in different states. Frantically, the mother attempted to get ahold of the daughter’s friends and the police in an effort to save the daughter’s life. Not until the next day did a friend of the daughter contact the mother to inform her that the daughter was on the way to the hospital and may die soon. The mother immediately got on a plane and went to the hospital. The mother, filled with guilt, confusion, and vulnerability, sat in a hospital hoping her daughter would be okay. She relied on a therapist, her children, her grandchildren and her job to provide her with support following the months after her daughter’s suicide attempt. The relationship between the mother and her daughter continues to grow and she focuses her energy on life’s present chapter. The mother realizes that storms come and we need to open ourselves to others in order to let the storms pass and that in the beginning, one must “cry and cry and talk and talk.” The woman now knows that she did not cause her daughter to attempt suicide and she could not have “fixed” it.
Grief that follows a suicide loss has no time constraints. The survivor may be experiencing multiple emotions while attempting to learn how to adjust their lives to the loss. Several of those who know others dealing with this sort of grief may be looking for a solution to assist the survivor, and the best support for someone grieving is to listen. There is a stigma that surrounds suicide. Overcoming false perceptions and educating yourself on suicide can greatly assist the survivor and help them feel understood. Everyone grieves in their own way, and not knowing what to say to the survivor is alright. If you or someone you know is a survivor and/or would like more information on Suicide Prevention, please see the following resources for further information.
Survivors of Suicide www.survivorsofsuicide.com
Suicide Awareness: Voices of Education (SAVE) www.save.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) www.afsp.org
 “Survivors of Suicide Fact Sheet.” American Association of Suicidology, 2014, www.suicidology.org.
 “Helping Survivors of Suicide: What Can You Do?” American Association of Suicidology, 2014. www.suicidology.org.