After Willie died, I went to a few counselling sessions and was introduced, personally, to the term “suicide survivor”. I disliked the term at once. I didn’t like the way it sounded and I didn’t really understand why those of us who have lost a loved one to death by suicide are called “survivors”.
I can say that now, almost 2 years later, I understand that term and how aptly it conveys the truth.
For those who have had someone they love die by suicide it is truly survival…for me it is at least…for right now. There is a big difference between living, really living, and just surviving day in and day out.
Since February 1st 2012, it has been survival. The first few months are a blur, I barely remember anything from that time and have no recall of specific days or even weeks during that time. I don’t know how I got my youngest son to school every day or made lunches or dinners, how I shopped for groceries and did laundry… I know I did it, but I don’t know how. I know I learned to let a lot of my standards slide during that time and to be ok with just getting by. That’s what happens when you’re surviving. You learn to live with less than. Less organization, less structure, less planning and less things that you always considered “must-haves”.
Then eventually for me something else happened. I learned to live with less of the more important things that had already slid during that time of shock. In those first few months I was incapable of feeling, it seemed, anything other than pain and loss. Even that was dampened and felt numb in a way. After a year or so, I realized that the pain was getting worse and have learned that as the shock wears off, you really actually “feel” the loss. Surviving kicked in for me..again. I tried to shut down all those feelings and muster them into a way that I could handle and process. It didn’t work and I am now on the other side of understanding how toxic that is to myself.
Part of the surviving though is that I also learned to live with “less than” in terms of emotional and physical. I learned to live with almost no physical contact or emotional connections. Joy and enjoyment of things became fleeting and I didn’t seek it out. I started to merely exist and survive in my life on an emotional level. Life is all about balances and for me to live with joy and happiness again means that I also have to open myself up to experience all the hurt and the pain. As I work to process and face the painful emotions I need to constantly remind myself that without the balance of joy, my life isn’t living… it’s surviving. And I don’t want to just survive, I want to live. Losing Willie brought to the forefront what I already lived… that life is precious and uncertain. Just getting by every day is not how I wanted to live my life and it still isn’t.
Being a suicide survivor is not what I want to be and I’m not; because to call myself that implies, for me, that I’m not really living, I’m just existing…and that’s no way to live a life.
As I make plans for the upcoming year of things I want to do and places I want to travel to (finally!) I see that a corner is turning and joy is starting to be a consideration for me in my life. The balancing will always be a struggle – I don’t believe the pain will ever diminish to the point that it’s not there every day – but I do believe that I have to be the one to make a conscious choice to keep that balance in check. A work in progress, but at least in the right direction.