Finding yourself afloat in the wake of a suicide is an experience I cannot really describe to you even though I am going through just that. Life almost seems impossible after you become a suicide loss survivor. On September 22, our daughter took her own life by morphine toxicity. I found her lying in her bed, breathing, and completely unresponsive. She was pronounced dead officially on September 23. By September 25 she was saving lives through organ donation. On September 28, 2015, she was buried. I am not here now to talk about that story, I just wanted you to briefly know where this was coming from. I am here to talk about how you are supposed to stay above the waves in the dark waters of suicide.
You hear people talking about the rug being ripped out from under their feet, and how hard it is to get back up when a tragedy occurs. When you lose a child and find them in the state I found her in there was no rug ripped out from under my feet. The entire world was torn away — instantly. The feelings and emotions did not come at first. At first, there was panic. Not just normal panic. It was a panic intermingled with shock. I have no idea how I managed to make the phone call and talk them into sending paramedics to my home. I have no idea how I managed two other children in the house while it was all going on, but somehow I carried on and managed to crawl out from under the pile of bricks and stones that were suddenly dumped on top of me.
I decided immediately that I was going to make every feeling, every thought, every emotion, and every action public. Primarily to try to stop the problem from spreading. I have seen suicide in one person move on to another, then another, and then another. It is almost like it is contagious, and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. I wrote as candidly as I could. I wrote as much as I could. By the time I was done I had strangers and friends alike telling me that I should either write a book, or start a blog, or do something constructive with what I had been doing.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do to proceed. Not about what was suggested, though. I wanted my daughter to live on and do as much good as she could even though she was no longer here. It started with organ donation. The next logical step for me was to start planning a non-profit organization set out to educate, raise awareness of, and prevent suicide in every case that I could prevent it in. The response has been bigger than I ever could have hoped in such a short time…but it is nowhere near enough.
I watched a lady raise $22000 for a $3500 service dog riding the coat-tails of me asking for donations to start a non-profit organization to combat suicide. It just makes no sense how that works out. Every time I would post that I needed help, she would reply to it with her post about her service dog needs. The funny thing was that she had a photo of herself with a service dog. I guess she needs two so the first one can take extra naps. In all the time it took her to make $22000 from GoFundMe…we managed to raise about $1400. A whopping $2100 in the end…I watched a woman raise $22000 to get herself a second PTSD dog because she suffered a home invasion, and could not raise more than $2100 to talk to people about suicide. I will tell you that directly through organ donation we saved the lives of 5 different people. I can tell you that, to date, we have intervened in 177 suicidal threats — either people who came to us for help or who had someone come to us for a third-party. I can also tell you that if there has not been a suicide that touched someone very recently, typically people do not care to hear about it, and no one will donate.
Now that the introductory stuff is out-of-the-way, and my shameless plug of me begging you for your money is complete we can get on with the point of this writing.
This writing is all about finding strength when you feel like you have absolutely nothing left. Believe me, my wife and I both feel like our hearts have been taken from us and there is no way we can get them back.
Specifically, this is being written for the person who is struggling with the suicide of an immediate family member, or a close friend. It is not a general “get through anything” guide. I am sure that some of the things I will talk about here will apply, but not in every case, and not in the way I will describe them.
There is no “pull up your bootstraps” approach to something like this. Suicide and attempted suicide will devastate you physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, and motivationally. It rocks your very core and knocks the wind right out of your soul. There will absolutely be nothing for you in the aftermath. Even if you have other children, it becomes almost impossible to notice them at times — no matter how badly they need you. Your entire world literally just leaves you. You lose all desire to even wake up in the morning, and when you do wake up you just don’t want to get out of the bed… at all.
These are the things that I have found that have helped me the most. I cannot tell you that they will work for you, but I really hope they will help in some way.
Spend Your Time With People Who Will Support You
The biggest thing I can tell you honestly is to spend your time with people who are supportive, and do not promote negativity, or drama. You have enough negativity for everyone already on your own. Try to avoid the “fair-weather” friends, and people who have a habit of needing to bring attention to themselves. Stay away from people who are constantly cruel, selfish, or demanding. Do your best to find supportive, caring, creative and fun people. The more love you can bring in, the better off you will be. This will occur because people willing to put so much into you will make you realize that you do indeed have value…and losing a child to suicide will immediately put you into the position of feeling completely worthless. Oh and approach your friends. Often times when something like this occurs they will completely avoid you thinking they will just upset you or bother you. Let them know that you need them.
Learn to Accept Yourself and Your Feelings
You are going to be angry at times. You are going to completely break down at times. You are going to laugh at times. You are going to feel like you are of no use a lot of the time. You are going to feel guilty at times. Emotions will hit you so hard and so fast, and you will have absolutely no idea they are coming. Even worse you have no idea what form they will come in. This has to be one of the worst things I have experienced through all of this. One of them was the realization that I had misread something in Chaney’s suicide letter, and I honestly laughed and cried at the same time for over an hour when I realized it. It was like being stretched completely in two directions at once, and I had no idea what to make of it. No matter how much you feel at fault for what has happened, or how many “what if’s” come to mind, you have to come to accept the fact that you probably had very little to do with the outcome thrust upon you. Mental illness, distress, and depression all play a huge part in suicide, as does substance abuse or self-medication. In our case, it ended up being a combination of the two, and what I would honestly say had to be the worst weekend I have ever heard of one little girl having. It was like everything was stacked against her, so she turned to self-medication, which in turn led her down the road of no return.
Self-Medication, Substance-Abuse, and Alcohol
There is not much that I can say here. All I can tell you is that it DOES NOT WORK. Do not ever attempt to ease your pain through prescription medication some “friend” or family member is willing to give you. Do not attempt to ease your pain by turning to alcohol. Do not attempt to ease your pain by turning to drugs. All of these things will lead you down the same road she walked. Seek out real medical and psychological advice for assistance with your problems. If you are taking medication for situational depression, it needs to be monitored by a doctor who knows the side-effects of the prescriptions you are taking. Only a medical professional can prescribe you medication and monitor you to ensure that it is working as expected and that you are not suffering any adverse side-effects.
Try and Do Things That You Love Doing
For me, I started writing. I do not spend immense amounts of time writing normally, but I do find it to be therapeutic. Writing helped me a lot, and because of what I was writing some of the comments and suggestions I got drove me into something that I am absolutely dedicated to. The non-profit organization that I have decided to start has absolutely become my life. It is what I can do to make sure that my daughter lives on, in a positive way bringing as much good and help as she can to everyone she manages to reach. I cannot guide you on this part… it is completely up to you. I chose to write mainly because I wanted to stop the ripple-effect that suicide can cause in communities. This led to me starting By Chaney’s Hands, which in turn has now led me to where I am now. Writing ended up being three-fold for me. I ended up using it as a sounding board. I could write and publish in places like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter and get direct responses from people. Sure there negative comments, but you just learn to skip past those. I would honestly say that 99.9% of the feedback I received when I was writing was helpful and positive. Then there is the third way that writing helped me… It led to me creating this non-profit organization. Having something to distract your mind with is a great way to help relieve some of what grief and depression will bring to you.
Try and find something to do as a hobby. If you have trouble deciding on a hobby to get into, get into one with an instant affectionate return… get a puppy. If you are more of a cat person, get a cat. I suggest the puppy thing over the cats because puppies absolutely adore you, completely unconditionally. Just make sure that you have it in you to return the affection, and are able to care for a new pet. Make it your best friend. One that will love you no matter how low you are feeling.
Remember the Good Things
There are more good things than bad in your relationship with the person you lost. When you start thinking about them and finding yourself sinking deeper into the water, shift your thoughts to good and funny things that they used to do. Our daughter would randomly blurt out words like TACO or BANANA. She was also getting very good at marching with the high school band. She was becoming prouder and prouder every day of that fact. Chaney was often guilty of random laughter, which almost always made everyone around her smile.
Build a Shrine
Okay, we did not actually build a shrine. But we do have places in the house where we keep certain things that belonged to her. A table in our office has her marching band hat and plume on it, along with pom-poms in the schools colors. The Marching Band had become such a huge part of her life that she is buried in her uniform. It literally defined her when she was happiest. Little reminders of those good things we just talked about can work in two ways. At times, you will see them and be hit with sadness, but you just have to do what I said before and shift those feelings into happier ones. More often than not, though, you will look at those objects and remember the best of times.
What to Do When It Comes to Family
Family issues always exist. Especially when everyone is grieving. People grieve in different ways. I was attacked verbally. I was told that I should learn from my mistakes with my daughter and apply them to my other children. The only solution I found to those types of comments was to eat them. Eat them…and hurt from them. Hateful and spiteful people are really not worth your time, nor do you have the energy or will to fight them right now. Either walk away from them or let them spew their bile and walk away on their own while nodding your head and saying things like “yes” and “okay”. For every one person in your family that will treat you that way, there are 2 or 3 more that will treat you the way you need to be treated. Suicide is not a decision that people make. It is the result of depression and illness and it is not always so easy to decipher or understand. We make great strides in the mental health community every year, but we still do not understand much about what exactly drives people to suicide. Even with those great strides, suicide rates continually climb, and new trends develop.
Never, Ever Be Afraid or Ashamed to Ask for Help
Whether we want to admit it or not the simple truth is that we all need help sometimes. No one is immune when it comes to depression or suicide. As a suicide loss survivor you have experienced a type of pain that most people will never have to endure and many people cannot understand. Even those who have not lived through that type of experience need help. It should be obvious to those suffering from losing a loved one to suicide would need help, but often times we simply are not able to see it… or worse, we just don’t care to. Losing someone to suicide raises the chances for everyone touched by that loss for them to die by suicide tremendously. There are outlets for you if you feel you need help. We have contacts on the very top of every page of this site. You can also reach out to us on Facebook directly. We strongly suggest calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline by phone (1-800-273-8255) or texting Crisis Text Line (just text ‘START’ to 741741).
Avoid Jealousy; Don’t Avoid Social Networks
Just about every thing that I have read says for you to avoid social networks because it is easy to look at how well someone else is doing and feel like things are just unfair. Things are unfair, the situation you are in makes it that way… with or without seeing someone else posting that they are happy with the date they just went on does not lower your outcome any more than it already is. If after using a social network for a few days you feel like you can’t handle it…then stop using it. It can be a coping tool just like it can be hurtful. Figure out which one it is for you and decide whether or not it is good for you.
Go and See Your Doctor
Go and see your doctor. See if he or she can prescribe you medication to help with anxiety and situational depression. If you have had *ANY* thoughts of self-harm, be honest with them and let them know so that they can write your prescriptions accordingly. They won’t give you “weaker” medication to help, they just won’t give you 100 pills when you could get them in smaller quantities and refill as needed to get the right effect. Having smaller amounts of pills on-hand makes you safer when things feel bleak.
What If You Own Guns or Already Have Lots of Pills?
Get one of those people we talked about before that you can depend on that will affect you positively. Have them come to your house, and have them help you go through your things to help you remove items that you could harm yourself with temporarily.
Do Not Be Ashamed of What Has Happened
I said it before, there will be negative people out there who are going to criticize you. Put on your thick skin, and ignore them. More often than not, though, your entire community will rally behind you and do everything that they can to help you through the roughest times. We had no idea how much of our community would come to our aid when our daughter left us. The stigma of mental illness and suicide is absolutely inappropriate. Do whatever you can to avoid trying to cover up the truth. Face it. Let it be known. Work through it.
So What Happens When Nothing Works?!?
If you reach the point that you have absolutely committed yourself to suicide, do the following. It is very easy. It does not involve weighing pros and cons or making any tough decisions. Just sit on it for at least 3 days, preferably a week or two. Don’t react to it immediately. If you do that, you WILL find reason to change your mind. During that time, look for counseling or go and talk to your doctor.