International Survivors of Suicide Day (November 23) represents different things to different people—a day of healing, hope, tragedy, pain, anger, remembrance, forgiveness, love. Yet, regardless of what the day means for us as individuals, it is also a day that connects us in community.
“Suicide survivor.” Wow, each of those words is so powerful, and the combination is so accurate. Grieving the loss of a loved one who died by suicide is not something people get through unscathed; it truly parallels survival. The pain that often accompanies the loss of a loved one to suicide is incomprehensible. It is a spider web that weaves upon itself, with no way to untangle the threads, no one to answer the questions of “Why?” and “What if?” and “If only …”
Unfortunately, like many people, I know this pain and those numerous lingering questions all too well. My maternal grandmother and uncle both died by suicide, just one year apart. I remember the pivotal moments when I first found out, the thoughts and feelings it ignited, and how desperately I tried to make it make sense. My mother, who had just lost two of her immediate family members to suicide, recalls it this way: “There are no words to express the horror and anguish that overwhelmed me, body, mind, and soul, when I became a suicide survivor. For me, it is best expressed through Munch’s ‘The Scream.’”
We are familiar with the pain that oscillates as time goes on—some days easier, others dramatically more challenging. Our loved ones’ presence, laughter, hugs, and smiles are always missed, and we still yearn for a future that cannot be. Today, these are the things we remember and reflect on.
For those who participate in this day or read this as a survivor: I am so sorry for your loss, and I am so glad you are still here. Your presence makes a difference, and I hope this day reminds you of your ability to love, the power of connection, and—most importantly—how strong you really are. Because when I think about my personal experience as a suicide survivor, I think of pain, but I also think of strength.
Today, I encourage people to tell their stories, and I remind them they are not alone. My hope is that, while I cannot make sense of their loss, I can try to help them heal. My wish is that no one else would walk through this pain, that in time, no more people would join me today as a result of our losses.
International Survivors of Suicide Day is also a time I renew my commitment to keep living and to continue helping others do the same. I have learned through my family members’ deaths that even when I feel alone, when nothing makes sense, and when I am not sure if the good days will ever come again, it does get better. For that reason, today is also symbolic of humanity’s ability to overcome adversity—an ability we all have within us, whether we realize it or not. Days like this remind us we are not alone, and there are others who can understand or relate to our experiences. I write this in hopes that, today and every day, you know this to be true. Within me, within you, is a survivor.
From my mom’s perspective, this inner strength is a result of hope: “I hold a silent but true mantra: ‘Sometimes we are called upon to be the keeper of hope.’ Hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a friend who is in despair, hope for a client or loved one who is at risk, hope for one who is navigating the path post-suicide of someone they love. Hope that they will not stumble alone and in the dark. For all those with whom we connect, the best way we can nurture them is to listen with a heart that is open—and offer hope. Hope that sustains, hope that nourishes, hope that offers comfort and perhaps healing … So hold onto hope today, and if it is too hard for you to do, ask someone, anyone, to hold it for you.”
Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who struggle. Together, we can take the steps to educate and increase awareness. We can show people it is OK to ask for help and try to prevent suicide from happening. Because as survivors, we have the ability to spread the message that people can do just that—they can survive.
Written in loving memory of Rose Marie Moreau and Maurice Robert Moreau.
– Marie Battaglia, TWLOHA Spring 2013 Intern, Masters of Mental Health Counseling student
– Nancy Moreau Battaglia, Private Practitioner in Ontario, Canada