How did you get over a family member's or friend's suicide?
April 16, 2016 8:13 PM   Subscribe

My cousin took her own life two years ago, and it has been a long, painful process trying to find a creative way to help me cope with her being gone. What I have found most effective for my coping style is hearing how other people moved on from their losses. Hearing stories about hobbies, projects, and adventures dedicated to their loved one, or even something like a great book recommendation would be helpful.

Some things I've already done:

Started watching her favorite show, which was Doctor Who.
Moved away from our hometown/big city to a quieter place where I can do more hiking and camping.
Planning some trips to Europe to see places she planned on visiting.
posted by Become A Silhouette to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A best friend of mine has been gone for four years. Today I'm hungover because every year for his birthday, which coincidentally was yesterday, another friend and I go out to dinner and get drinks and talk about WTF went wrong with Murray. Last night we had a couple other people who knew him, my friend's wife and another mutual friend who was more in touch with him over his last years (my friend had gone into law enforcement and so there was some estrangement). We just drink and hash over everything, whatever comes to mind. It will probably go on as long as all of us live in the same area.

I think about posting stuff to his Facebook and whatnot, but overall I think the best thing I try to do is to have a better life and live up the awesome ideas we had about the world.
posted by rhizome at 8:53 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

My mother's suicide when I was young shook me to the core. Some years later, when I was still suffering from the fallout, I took a leave of absence from work and walked from Utrecht, the Netherlands to the west of Spain (+/- 2500km). The focused time walking helped clear my head and start seeing her as she was-- a flawed but lovely woman. (Wild by Cheryl Strayed isn't about suicide, but it's a pretty good book for discussing walking as a way to handle loss.)
posted by frumiousb at 9:14 PM on April 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't have one to share myself, but I've heard good word about Survivors of Suicide and other similar groups - the folks there should be interested in sharing what has helped them recover.
posted by SMPA at 9:32 PM on April 16, 2016

In the short term I read an enormous amount of fiction, because other people's lives were vastly preferable to mine. I also worked a lot, but that wan't really an effective coping mechanism, even thought it seemed like it at the time. I really only wanted to hang out with people who had been through this specific kind of loss and sought them out within my networks. Over the longer term, being in relationships with people who understood about grief and loss was essential for me.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:03 PM on April 16, 2016

Disclaimer: I am extremely peripherally related to this group, but if your cousin was active on social media, you may be able to donate her data (or yours for that matter) to help prevent and understand suicide. It may help your healing process, similar to joining a marrow registry in honor of someone who had leukemia.
posted by supercres at 10:58 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Might it help to memorialize your friend in some way that could help encourage other people who may also be in difficult situations?

After a school friend's suicide, I helped start a small scholarship in her memory (with her family's full knowledge and support). We collected financial contributions from her family and friends, and connected with her teachers to work out how best to pay some kindness forward in a way that felt right. The award goes to a student who shares her interests and her capacity for great passion and depth of feeling, and who is working hard amid personal challenges. I've gotten to know a few of the scholarship winners and they are lovely, incandescent people who have later said how timely that encouragement was for them. I am very glad to have been a part of giving them a little boost in a tough time.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:56 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

More than thirty years ago, a friend and mentor took a step into gravity from a high place. He was led there by the black dog, which may have been instantiated by brain chemistry effects of overindulgence in this or that recreational substance. I have written and drawn and talked about my admiration and love for him since and have been privileged to have made contact with his sister and her son, who appreciated my attempts to capture my friend's contributions to my life and viewpoint.

A few years before his death, my younger sister died in a car accident, and on both sides of my friend's suicide, people I knew and loved died in murder, drug overdoses, war, war-inflected suicides, of AIDS, of disease, and of old age.

Of all these losses, his is the one I'm most at peace with. I was mad at him afterwards for a few years. Now I'm mad that we take this shit for granted when so much of it was predictable and preventable, especially the post 9-11 suicides and overdoses. I'm definitely at better terms with his suicide than the death of my sister, which preceded his death by about five years.

How did this happen? I dunno. A carefully cultivated disdain for and rage toward conventional values and systems of authority? That gives me too much credit and overstates the emotional intensity. I couldn't really tell you, I guess. I'm not mad at him anymore: I'm mad at the same shitbags he was mad at, and see them as his killers.
posted by mwhybark at 1:06 AM on April 17, 2016

I totally changed my career path around as a result of a close friend/mentor's suicide. Really.

I helped to plan this friend's memorial, so the week's immediately after his death were a blur of conversations and logistics. In the process of doing all that planning, I learned more about his time as an AIDS/harm reduction activist, which blew me away.

Once the planning whirlwind ended, I took a temp job cold-calling for an agency I hated. I had that immediate, visceral "oh my god, I CAN'T reaction," made worse by the rawness of the loss. I was feeling old and washed up at 25, and I realized there was no way that could be true. And I got to thinking about my friend's activism, and realized that I still wanted to do direct care work myself. Carry on his legacy, if you will. I'd had a social services job straight out of school that was dysfunctional and abusive (that my friend had in fact helped me to quit), so I wasn't especially eager to try that route again, but something similar. Somehow I hit on nursing.

I'm graduating from nursing school this year, on the exact four year anniversary of his death. I do nursing volunteer work I absolutely adore at a homeless shelter, and I want to keep working with that population in the longer run. I've heard that you shouldn't make major decisions for a year or so after a loss, but I think I did okay.

(Before I started nursing school proper I also trained as a nursing assistant, and wrote a zine about that experience formatted as a series of letters to my friend. Memail me if you want a copy.)
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:53 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Susan Berger posits there are five identities to which grief changes us as we greive. Nomads (unresolved grief), activists (good work on issues related to the person/disease/method of death), seekers (become spiritual/religious), normalisers (life carries on), and memorialists (creat public art, scrapbooks, endow chairs etc as a concrete reminder of the person). Perhaps identifying which one feel "right" to you will help you.
posted by saucysault at 7:09 AM on April 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

I did the opposite and moved to the hometown I shared with my aunt (we were only 5 years apart in age, so more like a cousin/big sister), and I do not recommend that! It has only made it harder, honestly.

It's been almost 3 years and I am still angry. Something that I try to keep in mind is a comment I read here in the immediate aftermath: "My uncle was murdered by my uncle." For some reason, putting it in that light has helped me.

Other things I try to do is stay active in her son's life and I call her mom (my Grandmother) every single Sunday, because that was the day Grandma spent with her every week.

This book has also been helpful. I need to revisit it.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:22 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you heard of The Overnight walk? It's an event where many survivors walk from sun down to sun up to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide prevention. But it's also an environment where you are encouraged to meet and talk to other survivors about things that often feel inappropriate or discomforting in almost any other social scenario. I did it one year for a friend and it was deeply cathartic. There are a lot of positives: walking is good for you, raising money to help raise awareness is good, meeting other survivors is powerful, etc.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:51 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

rhizome, thank you for sharing how you remember Murray. It's great that you all still get together and crazy coincidence that the anniversary was a couple days ago.

frumiousb, sounds like an amazing walk. I'm hoping the focused time I spend hiking will lead me to the same realizations you discovered. Wild is definitely on my to-read list now. Thank you.

SMPA, I've briefly visited the website, but now, I'll make sure to give it a more thorough viewing.

gingerbeer, I've also been reading a lot of fiction. Empathizing with complicated fictional characters has helped me understand why my cousin would feel desperate enough to commit suicide. Glad to hear someone also used fiction in the short term.

supercres, my cousin didn't post much on social media, and with the exception of something I wrote on her birthday, I don't post much either. I'll send the link to her friends that might help the project with their data.

pseudostrabismus, creating a small scholarship is a wonderful idea. My cousin did a lot of tutoring in high school, and several of her teachers spoke at her funeral. I think this is something her teachers and I can accomplish. Thank you so much for sharing!

mwhybark, for a while I was angry with my aunt and uncle for not being good parents. But there's no healing in staying angry. I don't know who you and your friend stood against, but I would suggest not blaming anyone.

ActionPopulated, congrats on getting through nursing school! Learning about my cousin's passion for debating blew me away. Similar to you discovering your friend/mentor's activism. Me and my cousin were always huge introverts and avoided attention whenever we could, but when I saw the videos of her confidently on stage it inspired me to get out of my comfort zone. Now, I'm in the spotlight everyday teaching adult education classes.

saucysault, thank you for the article. So far, I think I've been grieving like a seeker, normalizer, and memorialist. It definitely may help me if I start concentrating on one.

getawaysticks, I relate with you 100%. It is so hard to go back home. I felt like such a bad person when I hated being in the place we grew up. Glad someone else felt the same way. The link to the older comment definitely is a perspective I haven't thought about before. Thanks for the book recommendation.

pazazygek, I've never heard of The Overnight Walk, but it may be exactly what I've been looking for. It has been very uncomfortable for me to share my feelings about my cousin's suicide in most social situations. This would be a great way for me and my family to meet other survivors.
posted by Become A Silhouette at 11:32 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't say that I'll ever "get over" my son's death by suicide in the way that you might get over a bad illness or an injury, and you're basically back to how you were before. It's never going to stop being painful; it's just a matter of letting time lessen the pain and learning to live with it when it comes back around, less continuously but still surprisingly frequent and a major theme in my day-to-day thoughts.

Things I've done, that have been helpful:
(a) connecting with other survivors. I've personally connected with a lot of people through Parents of Suicide/Friends and Family of Suicide (POS-FFOS). I don't hesitate to recommend them, but my only caveat is that the majority of communication runs through an archaic email list-serv type forum that I think can be a bit of a barrier to participation. I've heard good things about the Alliance for Hope forums, however, and they operate a more standard bulletin board type forum if you're looking to connect with other people who are closely touched by suicide loss.
(b) a few rituals. I'm not much for rituals, but lighting candles on significant dates for my son and the children of other survivors in my network is a nice ritual. I have a candle that my son gave me for the last Christmas we had together, and that's usually the one I light on his memorial date. I keep his website alive and visit it, and his facebook page, his twitter, etc.
(c) more recently I have started to get involved in suicide activism. Right now I'm working with a small organization that is campaigning at the national level to get legislation requiring mandatory suicide awareness/training in all public schools, in a manner akin to mandatory drunk driving awareness/training. I know a lot of parents who wind up pursuing activist projects of some sort.
(d) in a similar vein but honestly requiring not a lot of commitment, I actively post about suicide and mental health issues on my social networks, including the 'filters.
(e) But wait! There's more! to say this...I keep an eye out on the younger (and not so younger) people in my social circles. I try to practice kindness and talk to them about strategies for when they're feeling anxious, or overwhelmed, or depressed...If someone I know on social media sounding even vaguely anywhere on the suicidal ideation spectrum, I will contact them and let them know my concerns and offer to help in any way I can. I also talk to survivors of suicide who are grieving much more recent losses and offer any hope or compassion or understanding that I can from a position of experience. The old story of the boy throwing starfish back into the sea, I guess. You can't save them all, but you can make a difference for someone.
posted by drlith at 7:56 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

One of my college friends killed herself. (Close friend, not just acquaintance). I coped with the aftermath by talking with other friends who knew her, sharing stories, and writing to her parents - who she had been estranged from for several years - with a "we're so sorry for your loss - this is how I remember M" letter. Which was more for me than for the parents. But they responded a couple of months later saying that they appreciated having an insight into who M was as a person at college, and that they were glad that she had good friends and that she had good memories as well as bad.

Years later I started volunteering on a suicide hotline. (I was in no state to do that in the immediate wake of my friend's suicide, it took several years to get to a place where I could do that. But I'm so glad I did.) You can't change the past, but you can pay it forward and be there for someone else in a way that you wish someone had been for your cousin. Something to store in the back of your mind for now, maybe...
posted by finding.perdita at 12:53 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

There was a quote that kept coming back to me after my friend's death. It was from a childhood movie. The main character's nanny suddenly decides to leave after raising her for years, and she described the feeling as having a tiny hole in her heart that wasn't there before. It's been nine years since it's happened, but when I think back and think about him, that's how it feels. The hole will always be there, and there will always be days when I'll still get real sad about it, and that's just something I'll learn how to live with. Accepting that I'll never "get over it" has helped somewhat.
posted by monologish at 8:43 AM on April 18, 2016

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