Sometimes death comes without warning, but at other times there is a period of pre-mourning. For almost a decade before my husband’s suicide, he dealt with active Bipolar Disorder. His rapid cycling and bizarre episodes left us both drained. He was at the mercy of his illness, and as I tried to help him and get help for him in every way I could, I was at the mercy of his illness as well.
This pre-mourning leaves us few resources with which to cope with grief. Physically, I had used all of my strength. I had no reserves left. My body was anemic; my mind was in a state of constant crisis. Even the moments between emergencies became crises because those were the waiting and worrying times. I never knew what would be coming next, but I knew it would be horrible.
When life itself became the single biggest stressor in my life, my fight-or-flight response became stuck in the “on” position and I lost the ability to “shift back into neutral.” Since my husband’s death in 2007, I’ve worked alongside other survivors of suicide to try and understand what happened during this pre-mourning period...to mourn, to heal, to rebuild my own strength...and to help others who are struggling through similar situations.
In the aftermath of suicide, that can mean becoming suicidal or watching for family members to become suicidal. That is the new normal for those who lose loved ones to suicide. From my experience, it seems that most of us find our way through this time without a second major loss, but for some the nightmare begins again.
This happened yesterday. In my online community forum, a woman who had lost one of her children to suicide posted about her fears for a surviving daughter. This morning, she told us her worries had been warranted. Fortunately, help arrived in time. Her daughter was hospitalized and has a chance to get the help she needs.
Sometimes pre-mourning, grieving, and hope become entangled in a cycle that repeats itself over and over. The key word here is “hope.” Like faith, hope is a concept that is difficult to hold onto when the future seems to contain nothing but more of the same.
Hold onto it, we must, however, even if we have to borrow the strength – temporarily – from others.