Tragic death such as suicide can be among the most shocking loss of life. The news is emotionally disruptive and evokes a wide range of reactions. Sometimes it is not a surprise; maybe the person was in misery due to drugs, alcohol or a mental disorder. Whatever the circumstances, suicide stirs up unresolved grief, a sense among survivors that they may not have done all they could to help the victim when he or she was alive.
After a death occurs, it is very normal to start reviewing that relationship and thinking about things we wished had been different, better or more. This is particularly the case when someone takes his or her own life.
In these situations people often spend a great deal of time looking for missed clues that there was a problem. Even if there were something we felt in our “gut,” those feelings now become even more exaggerated, based on the fact that the cause of death was suicide.
Those feelings, whether we call them guilt or not, are related to all of the unfinished business in the relationship. This often includes all the conversations we wished we had. All of this keeps us focused on that one moment in his life when he chose to deal with what was, perhaps, a temporary solution with a very permanent solution. That one moment was hardly the story of the rest of his life. The actions of that moment hardly define an entire life. But lifelong memories of him are now being lost to the actions of his single act.
After a suicide a natural reaction is also to think about the family and friends left behind. As our minds and hearts go over the news and assign emotional value to what we’ve heard, we automatically are triggered to remember other significant people from our lives who have died, either recently or long ago.
Since sadness is the most common emotion we attach to death, our brains also search for what we know about sad feelings. Therefore, we will not only summon memories of people and beloved pets who have died, but also of divorces, estrangements, job losses, health issues, and any other life events that cause pain and sadness.
In thinking about some of the people who are gone, we often realize there were things we wish we’d said to them or done with them, but we missed out. We also may remember that there were things we wanted to thank them for or things we wished we’d apologized for, but we never took the time.
When a person takes his or her own life, we may feel robbed of the things we wanted to say or do. We are left with some unfinished emotions.
That means making sure we say the important things we want to say to the people who mean the most to us. We must not wait for later, because we can’t guarantee there will be a “later.”
For the past 25 years, Jeff Zhorne, founder of The Grief Recovery Program in Santa Clarita, has offered group workshops, weekend intensives and personalized counseling for those suffering the pain of loss.