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Chicago, IL 60654
Main Line: (312) 655-7283
Fax Line: (312) 559-1530
In December we celebrate Christmas as well as Chanukah or Hanukkah. That is a time for gift giving and gift receiving. Those of us who received gifts can fondly recall all of the excitement leading up to the day. We are trying to guess what is in the various packages and can hardly wait to be able to open the packages and see the surprises. Our parents try to calm us down but the excitement wins out and the anticipation of the gifts is too much to bear. I can remember as a child my parents would finally relent and allow my sister and I to open a few gifts just to get some peace and quiet around the house. It is truly a time for children. One of my earliest memories of Christmas is when my father took my sister and I for a walk through the town. It was snowing out and the town was playing Christmas music as we made our way through the downtown streets. My mother did not go with us because she said that she was sick. When we arrived back home we discovered that Santa had been there and that my mother had "slept" through the whole event. We excitedly began opening our presents. We would be ripping open the presents and throwing away the paper and ribbons that had been carefully tied. Sometimes we would have to rip through many layers of wrapping until we finally found the gift. How our eyes would open with delight as we discovered the gift that we had so desired and presented our requests to Santa Claus. I could not get over how my mother could sleep through the visit from Santa. I am sure that many of our LOSS family members have similar stories about the season and the gift giving and the excitement.
Those are such pleasant memories and ones that we cherish and fondly recall. As we grow older those memories are still there but our lives have been impacted by many other events –some pleasant and some very painful. That is all a part of life. Our LOSS family members have had the tragic event of losing a loved one to suicide. This event has clouded over and destroyed any happiness that this holiday used to bring. All of those pleasant memories are overtaken by losing a loved one from suicide. Certainly for the next few holidays the happiness of the season is over shadowed by the grief from suicide. This is a very normal reaction and a reaction that must be lived through and respected. There is no way to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is the same as past holidays. It is not. Life has changed. A loved one has found life too painful to want to continue living. The pain has become intolerable and the prospect of living has become impossible to endure. This loved one opts out of life in order to end the pain. Little do they realize that their death has transferred the pain from them to those people who are surviving the devastation of a suicide of a loved one. These survivors now experience life without a special loved one. That person has disappeared from life and from a family and has left that family bereft of joy and pleasure and good times. This does not have to be the way it is forever. Certainly the pain of the grief journey is very piercing and painful. It is very lengthy and time consuming. There is, however, and end to the excruciating pain that consumes and envelopes a survivor and renders them almost paralyzed. At the beginning survivors are almost like zombies going through life but not really investing themselves in the various obligations of everyday living. There are the necessary tasks of life such as working, taking care of the home life activities and caring for the rest of the family. Survivors are almost on auto pilot. This is the life for the next several months. It can take that long for the pain to become absorbed into one's psychic makeup. In the words of one survivor, "the pain becomes ordinary". It is just there.
After a few years survivors have to peel away some of the issues that have gripped them as they traversed the journey of grief. Those issues can be the guilt, shame or embarrassment and anger and a myriad of feelings that have gripped them during the initial stages of the grief. These feelings have been processed and resolved during this part of the grief journey. Are they ever peeled away and thrown away like wrapping paper that hid our Christmas or Hanukkah gifts? No because the residual of these feelings linger on throughout our lives but they do not haunt us like they did at the beginning of the grief journey. As survivors have resolved these feelings they become less daunting and scary. Survivors come to the realization that they are not bad people but that their loved ones suffered from some unknown or untreated malady that engulfed them and led to their death. The death was not caused by these loving survivors but was caused by this untreated condition that plagued these souls for some time leading up to their death. How long? Only these loved ones can answer that question.
Survivors are challenged to peel away the various feelings in much the same way that they peeled away the wrapping paper that hid their gifts for the holiday season. The surprise that awaited them as children can now await them as adults as they begin to experience joy and pleasure after the suicide of a loved one. The only way that this can be experienced is if the various feelings that accompany a death from suicide are successfully absorbed and processed either alone or with the help of a seasoned therapist. This will not take place automatically or with the passage of time. The end result will happen only after a lot of work which entails a lot of pain and tears and suffering. This is a very time consuming task but one that is worth enduring because a survivor's future depends on how well this journey is traversed. If survivors give the necessary time and effort to this endeavor the results can be very surprising. Will it equal the opening of a gift as a child? And the joy and happiness that accompanies the discovery of a much wanted toy? Probably not but there will be happiness and pleasure and joy once again in the life of a survivor. This has been the experience of thousands of survivors who have taken the time and put in the effort to come to grips with the pain that accompanies a completed suicide.
As always, I want to assure each and every LOSS family member of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis and I encourage each of you to do the same for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin' On,