Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Last year I didn’t even realise this was happening… but not because suicide had never impacted me before. A friend I had been very close to during my university years committed suicide by gun in 2015, a couple days after Christmas. When I was younger I attempted suicide myself, at age 17. And I have known a plethora of other people who have suffered the impact in suicide in various days.

And yet, this year, on this day, when I saw that #worldsuicidepreventionday was trending on Twitter… it held a new significance for me.

Just over 5 months ago my mother, after battling a few months of the most intense anxiety she had ever suffered in her life, convinced that medicine was wrong, persuaded that she would never improve, and resolved that her impact was too much a burden on her family (wrong) – decided to look up a slew of ways she might take her life. And then she resolved to do it. And she did.

Since this life-altering tragedy I have had many people come to me with their own stories of grief. As noted in my previous post, the number of people who found solidarity in speaking to someone who knew, at least a little, of what they were going through is numerous indeed. The number of people who have confessed to knowing someone close who committed suicide is appalling.

On one hand it makes me angry – I wonder what we aren’t doing that we need to do better… we need to be more proactive, we need to raise awareness, we need to ensure no one feels this way.

And it’s true, we do need to do those things.

But likewise, I realise that sometimes I throw myself into those angry feelings because I wish I had done something, I had been aware, and I had ensured she didn’t feel that way. Which, of course, isn’t healthy.

So here are the five tips, the only ones I can currently offer, for those who are enduring the horror of someone they love being there one day…and gone the next…by their own volition.

  1. Don’t blame yourself. You’ll want to. It won’t help. Maybe sometimes it will feel like it might help, because then maybe you can rationalise it in some way… A lot of dealing with suicide is searching for the answer to that unanswerable question: ‘what if’. But you can’t answer it. It cannot be done.
  2. It’s okay to grieve.Take your time doing so, and don’t worry if your grief looks the same as how others do it. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay not to cry. It’s okay to scream into a pillow. It’s okay to reminisce. I would suggest that as long as whatever way you are grieving is not tail-spinning your own life in a long-term manner…you are doing okay.
  3. It’s okay to do things. Living life type things. One week after my mother died, I was in the USA with my four younger sisters and dad. We had been visited by myriads of people…friends, family members neighbours… and one of the things I was most adamant that we do during one of the ‘down times’ was something normal. We went to the zoo. We went to a bookstore. It’s important to live your life and continue doing things. It can be tempting to feel guilty… ‘my mother can’t do these things anymore, so why should I enjoy them?’ But you are still alive…and for the sake of your own mental health, you should still live. And remember – living doesn’t mean you’ve moved on. Indeed…
  4. You’ll probably never move on. Regardless of the means by which you grieve, it’s unlikely that you will ever reach a point where you can look back merrily and say ‘oh yes, I’ve gotten over that horrendous part in my life.’ It will stay with you. Always. And this is okay… Because the reason this is impacting you so significantly, is because this person is part of who you are. Who you have become. You shouldn’t let go. Be the person they helped you become.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the difficult questions. Think and ruminate on them. As I said above – a lot of these questions will remain unanswered, since you will never be able to reverse time, so you don’t want to obsess over the unchangeable questions, such as ‘what if’. Instead, allow these difficult questions to shape you and change you. Turn the ‘what if’ question into ‘what now?’ What can I do now to raise awareness. What can I do now to reduce the likelihood of someone else I know doing the same thing? What can I do now to help people understand grief and mental illness. Allow the questions which plague you to help shape you and change you; don’t let them overwhelm you.