When Suicide Strikes Close
By Joseph Gallenberger, Ph.D.
First – you have my deepest sympathy because few things can be as traumatic. I know this because of my own suffering when my brother took his life. I would like to share some thoughts that may help you if a person close to you commits suicide or if you want to aid someone in that situation.
While you may feel isolated in your pain and confusion, know that you are not alone – even if some people you thought you could count on quietly distance themselves from your grief. In the United States, over 42,000 people (one person every 13 minutes) committed suicide in 2014. This is the highest rate in over thirty years, and even this number seriously underreports the problem due to the stigma attached to this act. It is the third leading cause of death in 10 to 14-year-old children and no age group is immune. Suicide has tripled in recent years in the military.
If suicide takes someone close to you, it is likely that you will experience a barrage of intermixed and intense feelings including shock, disbelief, sadness, guilt, and even anger. Depending on your relationship with the deceased and your own circumstances, these feeling may go on much longer than you think is normal or possible. There is no magic year of mourning and grief may resurface throughout life. There will probably be agonizing questions that have no satisfactory answer such as: “What could I, who loved this person, have done differently?”
It becomes essential to your own sanity and wellbeing to hold yourself, perhaps for a very long time, in greatest compassion and care. You will need to enlist support from your spiritual life, the beauty of nature, others who have experienced loss, and hopefully the safety and support of your immediate family and friends. It will call upon all your strength so that you will endure, and flexibility so that you will bend and not break. Blaming yourself or others, including the person who took their own life will not help. Yet secrecy and blame are society’s main response to this heartache. Keep your internal compass pointed toward healing and know even while shrouded in grief’s dark cocoon that we are resilient creatures and can re-emerge, never the same, but with great lightness of heart and richness of spirit. This is surely a sign that we are magical creatures!
My explorations have led me to believe that the act of suicide can span a vast set of differing circumstances, from removing oneself a few weeks early from terminal cancer pain, through acts that seem terribly impulsive, through plans extending years to end life if one’s struggles do not abate, to getting so exhausted by depression and lack of sleep that one simply doesn’t have the will to go on, to bursts of rage expressed as murder/suicide. Given this huge diversity of circumstances, it is nonsensical to assume that the act of suicide is met on the other side, in the world of spirit with a uniform response.
But some things seem universally awaiting on the other side, principally: unlimited compassion, deepest respect for the individual, no judgment and condemnation, and efforts to care for the person’s spiritual health and growth. No one goes to hell for all eternity but it can be a challenge to extricate a person from hellish thoughts of their own making. Efforts by what we may call angelic forces to help the person are varied and creative. For a person who takes his or her life in great turmoil, help may include putting the newly arrive soul in a type of coma so while they are nearly unconscious work can be done at relieving some of the limiting beliefs and dark emotions that they may be carrying.
Eventually, most souls will awaken and be held compassionately as they review their lives. Given that such a review can generate intense regret, support is provided so that they can process their emotions while knowing that they are loved. They have the opportunity to learn by understanding what might have happened if they chose to stay in the physical and if they had adopted different behaviors and perceptions. Suffice it to say that however complex and individualized their experience on the other side will be, my explorations indicate that your loved one will be cared for with extreme compassion and intelligence while at all times the choices of their soul are respected. You can trust that eventually, all death leads to light.
You may have the ability to help them while you are still living here. Most religions endorse praying for the dead as something that can help their transition to this new state of being. It seems our energy can be transferred to them. As your agitation settles you may be able to receive messages from them that may come in dreams, or as feelings, thoughts, or signs. These messages are often very consoling. The soul may try to reach back and help comfort you or undo some of the pain that their leaving has caused. It can be helpful for you to affirm that love can pierce any veil, see them in their highest and finest light, and trust that they will be cared for on their journey.
Meanwhile really take care of yourself. For me, it is helpful to see my own heart as a vast ocean where, much like putting a hand in water, people come into my life and are fully enveloped in my love. If they leave, my ocean heart goes back to complete perhaps losing a drop. I have put this concept into a meditation exercise found at OceanHeartCD.com. This works better for me than to think of my heart as a broken vessel, though with suicide it can feel like that for quite a long while.