November 19 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. On this day survivors of suicide loss gather at hundreds of simultaneous healing conferences around the world every year to connect with others who have survived the tragedy of suicide loss and express and start to understand the powerful emotions we experience. For more information about a conference near you visit the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention HERE.
My story of suicide loss begins more than 35 years ago. My cousin’s mom died by suicide when he was just a baby. All these years it never occurred to me that she was probably suffering from postpartum depression — or perhaps even postpartum psychosis — at the time of her death.
It’s not something my family openly discussed, but my perception had mistakenly always been “Oh, she must not have wanted to be a mom.” How very naive of me.
After years of experience with my own depression and mental health issues postpartum, it’s become clear to me that she was suffering like so many women from a postpartum illness like postpartum depression. She needed treatment that apparently she never got, in a time when such topics were even more taboo than they are today.
Last year, my life-long friend Dina died by suicide at Christmas. She wasn’t in the postpartum period at the time. (Her son was 15.) But many years ago when he was just over two she came to me with suicidal thoughts. We were in our early 20s and I had yet to experience mental illness.
She and her husband were splitting up, and Dina believed her son would be better off not knowing or remembering her. I knew without a doubt that wasn’t true and found the courage to tell her parents and then husband what she told me.
It turns out that wasn’t her first suicidal ideation. In fact, she was probably predisposed to mental illness. And during that prime postpartum period with the stress of being a young mother and impending divorce, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had also been suffering from postpartum depression never properly treated. And I’ve come to learn that a postpartum illness not treated often leads to ongoing chronic mental illness.
I’ve had other friends attempt and complete suicide, too many times in fact. I’ve also experienced my own times of suicidal thoughts. I write this not for shock value but because this is a topic that is so important to me to keep talking about. To advocate for mental health awareness. To help others feel not so alone in their struggles.
Today, most importantly I want to honor those of us who are surviving the loss of a loved one to suicide. The grief, the guilt, the intense sadness never fully goes away.
Suicide is a permanent answer to a temporary or often treatable problem. And it’s estimated that 90% of suicides are by people with mental illness that has most likely gone untreated, such as postpartum depression or psychosis.
The family and loved ones who are left behind suffer the consequences, the questions, the stigma. My cousin, my friend’s parents and son, me and other loved ones. For every death by suicide there are tens or even hundreds more who are living with it every day, those who often times blame themselves for an act that in all honesty was out of their control. An act done out of intense pain and true illness.
The grief of suicide is not a competition. One person does not “grieve more” or have a right to grieve more than any other. I have the right to grieve Dina in my own way, just as each of her loved ones do. I say “in my own way” because I’ve also learned that each of us lives with suicide loss in very different ways. And that’s OK.
If the grief and pain of loss begins to overtake you, it’s unbelievably important to seek the help and support you need to heal through the loss. To find others who understand. To share your story of love and loss with those who need to hear it. I promise it will help you too.
Today I’m here to say that I am the face of suicide loss. And I’m here if you need me.
What beautiful person have you lost to suicide? How are you doing surviving his or her loss? Share your story and break the stigma.
~ Cristi Comes