Relationship Connection: I can’t cope with my sibling’s suicide

Question

Recently an older sibling of mine committed suicide. I am devastated along with the rest of my siblings and my mom. This has been the most heartbreaking thing to happen to any of us. My sibling left behind two young children who are having a really hard time understanding. We love them and want to have them in our lives. We hope the other parent will allow it.

I feel like I am on a roller coaster of feelings. One second I’m not crying and the next I am totally sobbing. As cheesy as it may sound, there truly is an empty space in my heart. There is a hole that will never be filled and an ache that will never go away. Some days I feel crazy because it just hurts so much and it seems as if it will never get any better.

There are too many questions that will never be answered. Too many “could-haves, should haves and would haves” that I will never be able to do. All of a sudden I have a new reality and my brain isn’t recognizing it. I don’t feel like doing anything. The normal day-to-day things are really hard. Going out in public is a challenge. I feel sad, deeply sad. I thought I was strong in my faith but this has shaken me and left me with so many questions.

How can I start to get back to living my life and letting go of all of the deep grief and sadness that I feel. I know I will always miss my sibling. I know there will always be sadness regarding the loss of such a wonderful person in my life. But I need to find some peace and start the healing process. Where should I begin?

Answer

I am so sorry to hear about your family’s loss. You couldn’t have said it any more accurately when you described the aching hole left by your sibling’s absence. One of the biggest challenges for those left behind in the wake of a suicide is to make sense of the uncertainty surrounding the suicide.

While your reaction is normal for anyone experiencing the unexpected death of a loved one, the additional stress brought on by the possibility that it could have been prevented leaves everyone feeling powerless and overwhelmed.

Please don’t feel any pressure to move past the grief and sadness in a certain time frame. In fact, it’s not a linear grieving process where you eventually don’t feel sadness ever again. Instead, it’s a roller coaster of emotions full of unexpected twists and turns. The best thing you can do is be gentle with yourself and your other family members as each person is on their own path of grief and will need to support each other in different ways at different times.

It’s normal for family members and loved ones to blame themselves for not doing more to prevent a suicide. However, it’s critical that each person close to your sibling accept that this was a deeply personal and private choice made by your sibling that is highly complex. There is so much unnecessary suffering that happens after a suicide when loved ones privately suffer shame and guilt that they could have done more. It’s just not that simple.

Instead, recognize that there are things you just don’t know. Searching for answers can unintentionally lead to blame of self and others. Blame never brings peace.

This is a time when you will benefit the most from reaching out for comfort and connection to others and to God. Even though you are struggling spiritually in the aftermath of your sibling’s suicide, connecting to a power greater than yourself will ultimately give you more perspective and reassurance than you can get alone. Let others comfort you and allow yourself to talk about your feelings with loved ones as much as you need to.

There are no shortcuts to grieving. While it’s normal to want the pain to go away, suppressing it will only prolong the agony. Allow yourself to have good and bad days without any guilt. Your sibling wasn’t one-dimensional and neither should be your grieving process. Allow yourself to enjoy good memories and allow yourself to feel sad. It’s all part of being human.

We are complex creatures full of dark corners and brilliant light. Your sibling deserves to have all aspects of their life remembered, even though the ending was tragic and unexpected.

Stay connected!

 

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • Mary May 28, 2013 at 11:30 am

    So so sorry for your loss 🙁

  • Utah Suicides May 28, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Utah not only has the highest anti-depressant use in the country, it also has one of the nation’s highest suicide rates.

    What makes Utahans depressed and have suicidal behaviors?

  • shane May 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I was on anti-depressants for quite sometime, and during that time had three seperate suicide attempts. I personally believe that doctors in Utah over prescribe anti-depressants, and hand them out to people who dont really need them.

    That being said i do believe that there is a valid use of these meds in certain cases, i kept my dr informed of my sucidal thoughts and instead of taking me off of the meds, he would prescribe stronger doses or different meds.

    I decided that for me what i needed was NO MEDS. I did continued with counseling and now am a well adjusted happy person.

  • Hatałii May 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Please remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to mourn the loss of a loved one. Everyone is different, and everyone has different ways of coping with loss. Please know that you are not alone during this time of your grief.
    There are some common “stages” to what you are going through. The following is a copy and paste from Web MD and the full article can be found here:http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-grief

    How Do People React to Grief and Loss?

    There are specific stages of grief. They reflect common reactions people have as they try to make sense of a loss. An important part of the healing process is experiencing and accepting the feelings that come as a result of the loss. Here are the common stages of grief that people go through:

    Denial, numbness, and shock: Numbness is a normal reaction to a death or loss and should never be confused with “not caring.” This stage of grief helps protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It can actually be useful when the grieving person has to take some action such as planning a funeral, notifying relatives, or reviewing important papers. As the individual moves through the experience and slowly acknowledges its impact, the initial denial and disbelief will diminish.
    Bargaining: This stage of grief may be marked by persistent thoughts about what “could have been done” to prevent the death or loss. Some people become obsessed with thinking about specific ways things could have been done differently to save the person’s life or prevent the loss. If this stage of grief is not dealt with and resolved, the individual may live with intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process.
    Depression: In this stage of grief, people begin to realize and feel the true extent of the death or loss. Common signs of depression in this stage include difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, and crying spells. The individual may also experience self-pity and feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost, and anxious.
    Anger: This stage of grief is common. It usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment because of a death or loss. Sometimes the individual is angry at a higher power, at the doctors who cared for the loved one, or toward life in general.
    Acceptance: In time, an individual can move into this stage of grief and come to terms with all the emotions and feelings that were experienced when the death or loss occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the individual’s set of life experiences.

  • Ramona Lundquist May 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    My brother took his life 28 years ago and we were blessed that his wife made sure that their kids stayed in touch and went to family events. A couple of years ago the son lived with my husband and I a few months where I shared a few memories of his dad with him. Now I wish I had taken the time then to write more of our growing up memories so that I could share them with his kids.
    Sorry that you are goinng through this loss it is painful, but you can help his kids by writing down your memories to pass them on when it is time.

  • Fred May 28, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Read some of the books by Dr. Michael Newton on his research. He has hypnotized people and discovered the choices we make (good and bad) between lives before we are born and then must act out these choices on Earth. Sometimes we make choices that are for others to grow spiritually and learn.

  • debbie May 29, 2013 at 8:38 am

    i think the article was so classy.. for such a tough subject.. as far as so many suicides in utah… its been my theory for years that how people look at themselves and what influences that in their life can cause immeasurable pain.. God loves us all.. Christ said, “to love on another”.. and that should be it. we put too much pressure on each other… instead of lifting one another up in song to our savior.. for those who just hurt.. maybe its genetic.. or something.. i sure hope help is found some day.. if someone is hurting so badly as to want to harm their self.. i hope and pray they decide to go volunteer somewhere… and see the usefullness of their lives and i hope they can steer clear of the things that cause them great pain.. b/c they are loved.. rather they know this or not.

  • Anonymous June 4, 2013 at 11:31 am

    I know why I’ve considered suicide and how it relates to Utah. My wife is an overzealous hypocrite who takes every opportunity to tear me down if front of my children, neighbors, and church members. The whole perfection thing seems to be warped in Utah society. It was meant to inspire us to be better, not tear down others because they are not. I feel like no matter what I do it will never be ‘perfect’ enough for her approval. It makes me want to disappear. It definitely makes it hard to cope with life.

    • My Evil Twin June 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Man don’t waste your life with a quarrelsome woman. Take a look at Proverbs 21:9 ESV “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.”
      Sooner or later, one or the other of you will get sick enough of the situation to end the marriage. Or worse still, to take the other one’s life.
      Rather than waste the rest of your life in a unhappy marriage, get proactive. Divorce her and go on with your life. If you have children, it will be tough on them. But they are better off living with parents who are divorced, than parents who are at each other’s throats.

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