Growing into Life after Suicide Loss By Michelle Ann Collins My neighbor has the most beautiful flower garden. On my daily walks, I see him lovingly tending a gorgeous...
Growing into Life after Suicide Loss
By Michelle Ann Collins
My neighbor has the most beautiful flower garden. On my daily walks, I see him lovingly tending a gorgeous variety of flowers. New blooms come, while older flowers lose their luster and wither away. I delight in the sights and smells of the lilacs, irises, daffodils, roses, and even a tropical hibiscus. I even downloaded a plant identifier to try to keep up with the amazing array. Sometimes I am filled with joy when a new bloom opens with a surprising color, and I’m sad when it withers too soon. Last year we had a record-setting heat wave, and a large swath of his garden was scorched. Surprisingly, some of the garden continued to thrive.
When my husband, Glen, died by suicide in 2016, my life garden was scorched. My world went dark. Beauty and joy were absent. I didn’t understand how people could still be going on with their full lives around me while I was flattened with grief.
In my book, Surviving Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss, I call it the grief cave. The place where nothing makes sense, everything feels bad, and there is very little hope of finding a pain-free place again.
To survive any loss, especially suicide loss, we must reassure ourselves there is a way out of the darkness, find the support we need, and nurture ourselves as we grow our new life.
Our culture is somewhat grief illiterate
Grievers are expected to move right on a few days of bereavement leave, if we are lucky, and back to work. We are told, “Get back to normal, and you will feel better.” The trouble is there is no going back. Our lives are forever altered by our loss, and we need time, space, and energy to grieve.
It is quite possible to create a normal, even joyful life after losing a loved one to suicide, but it takes effort. Just like a garden after a scorching, we can nurture our new life. It will grow into something different, but it will grow. There is life all around, and even though suicide loss is an exceptionally difficult path to walk, I feel I am obligated to live a life full of beauty and joy to honor my late husband.
There are two things suicide loss survivors need:
To nurture and allow.
Prepare the soil and plant the seeds of a new life by finding a team of supporters and a place where you can be nurtured. Find groups of people who share your loss. If you don’t have a local grief group, try checking out Grief.com. There is a whole online community there. If you lost a spouse or partner, Soaring Spirits International has in-person and online support for partner loss of all types. If you lost someone associated with the military (in any way, retired, discharged, active duty, reserve) check out TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, as they offer a variety of support including fee-free wellness conferences and your very own peer mentor.
Just like a garden needs good soil, water, and sunlight, our lives need the basics provided consistently to begin to thrive. We need to eat and drink nourishing food, get good sleep, and move our bodies. We need to practice stress management through gardening, meditation and mindfulness, and nature walks. We need people who know how to support us.
Once we have the basics in place, we need to step back and allow healing to grow. Sometimes that means allowing a crying day. (I call these wet days, and I still have them sometimes.) Other times, it means moving through a Grief Yoga® class to release pain and anger. Once the soil of our new lives has been prepared, we can make choices about what to plant and allow beauty to grow.
Time and patience are required, just like when a bone is broken. All the rushing in the world will not speed the healing. We heal through tenderness and care, focusing on nurturing ourselves and allowing space and time to heal and grow into our new lives.
Then there is the weeding. Guilt may be the toughest weed in the garden of our new lives. I grew tired of people telling me Glen’s death wasn’t my fault, but it took some time to remove it from my garden. After pursuing tools and processes to release guilt—articles, books, online courses, therapy, coaching, movement, writing, and art therapy—the weight of guilt began to dissolve and move. Letting go of guilt is like clearing the nastiest of weeds.
There is life after suicide loss. Survive and thrive by nurturing the life you have now, removing weeds from your life, planting what you choose, and allowing it to grow.
Michelle Ann Collins, author of Surviving Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss: A Mindful Guide for Your Journey through Grief and Supporting a Survivor of Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss: A Mindful Guide for Co-Journeying through Grief. She is a Grief Coach and Yoga Therapist growing her garden in the Pacific NW.