Before I start the story of what I experienced when we had a suicide in our family, I am going to begin this blog with a request. This has been a very painful and difficult journey for our family. As we have talked about before, we all grieve differently. Knowing this truth, I would like to ask that if you have any questions or want to discuss this that you would direct the questions or discussion my way instead of approaching my other family members. I have several family members that would only like to talk about this very painful time at a time of their choosing. They would prefer not to be asked about what occurred or about what I have written. Thank you for understanding and respecting the feelings and grief of my family members. I truly appreciate you each honoring this request to all those who know my family members. Thank you so much.
If any of you have experienced suicide in your family or with your close friends, then you understand why I titled this “tremendously complicated grief”. Tragically, when someone takes his or her own life, then those who are left behind are left with so much more to try to understand, work through, and heal from. The family and friends who are left behind in a suicide have to deal with all of the “normal” parts of grief, of missing that person, of wishing that they were a part of all of the future life moments that were still to come, and of all of the other “normal” feelings that we have when someone dies. As others experience who are grieving, then they also have to try to learn to adjust to living their lives without the presence of the one who is now gone and with all of the pain that grief brings. Tragically, the family and friends who are left behind after a suicide are additionally left with so many more questions of why, and so often have to battle not feeling responsible for what has happened. The family and friends who are left behind are not responsible for the suicide, but heartbreakingly, many times have to battle many of those feelings and thoughts for a long time into the future. Grief and loss are already so painful, but suicide brings so much more heartache and questions. My experience with the suicide of my grandma is through the eyes of a 16 year old and how this tragedy affected me at that time and in the years to come.
May 9th. I was 16 years old, and I was finishing my sophomore year in high school. I was in class when my dad came to my classroom door. My dad motioned for me to come out into the hall. My dad had tears in his eyes. “My mom has died Kristi,” he said. He told me that he and my mom were leaving and driving the approximately hour drive to be with my grandpa, her husband. My dad told me that I could go home if I wanted. I remember going home and having a lot of questions. I did not know that my grandma was battling any physical illness. I did not know or understand how she died. This was my dad’s mom, and he was the oldest and had one younger brother and sister. This was before we had cell phones. I waited at home for what seemed like forever. I truly do not remember how long I waited. I do remember the very troubled and pained look in my parents’ eyes and faces when they got home. I remember asking, how did she die? My mom sat down and talked with me and explained that it was a suicide. She also shared the tremendous pain that my Grandpa, my dad, and my aunt and uncle were in.
This was my first encounter with suicide, and I could not believe that it was my grandma. I spent a lot of time thinking back on the memories that I had with her and searched for understanding. I remember wondering during some of those memories if she was happy. She spent a lot of time in her home and did not venture out much. I could look back and see that she was emotionally struggling. I had never seen my dad in the pain that he was experiencing and a fierce protectiveness built up in me for my dad. During the days that followed, I learned that my grandma hung herself in their basement when my grandpa was sleeping. My grandpa found her. I could not imagine the horror, pain, and devastation that he experienced when he walked down those basement stairs. A fierce protectiveness arose in me for my grandpa as well. I could not imagine what he was experiencing and all of the pain he felt. I remember hugging my dad and grandpa and just wanting their pain to go away. I felt so helpless. I felt so confused. I was hurting. I was scared. I remember seeing my aunt and uncle and all of the pain that they were in. My heart was just breaking for my family who was experiencing this horrific amount of pain. I do not remember a lot about those days and weeks that followed. I do remember my feelings.
I remember singing in church just days after this happened. I remember standing at the front of the church with my friend and singing a song entitled, “Mansion Builder” and looking at the back of my church where my dad sat with tears rolling down his cheeks. My heart was broken for him. This was his mom. I wanted so badly to help my dad, my grandpa, and our family and there was absolutely nothing that I could do. “WHY” my heart would scream. I could not even fathom what had happened in our family!!
The other thing that I was feeling so much of was fear. I had not experienced suicide of anyone before, and I was internally battling a lot. My grandpa was the only one who had seen my grandma when she had hung herself. Despite the fact that I did not see her there, I continually battled images of her hanging in my mind. It was a constant battle for me. Those pictures of my grandma in that position. These were just mental images that would pop into my thoughts and would leave me with so much fear. I would feel so scared at night and even though I was 16 years old, then I would go and sleep on my parents floor. I was so scared. I could not get those images out of my mind. I could not understand. I was so upset and hurt. I was so hurt at the amount of pain that my dad, grandpa, and family were experiencing. To this day, I will still not watch a scene in a movie, tv show, or look at pictures with people hanging. It is too emotionally traumatic for me.
In just three weeks, it was time for me to leave for camp for the summer. I had the opportunity to work at a Bible Camp near me in the Youth Service Corps. My position was going to be spending my summer working with people who had developmental disabilities. I was very excited about the opportunity to go and work at the camp for the summer. I had spent a week there every summer and loved the whole camping experience including the campfires, the kayaking and canoeing, the awesome people and singing, and all of the wonderful memories that I had from these times of camping. I had been so excited to go and spend my summer there. We were located on a beautiful lake, and it was truly one of my most special places. I was really battling leaving my dad and the amount of pain that he was in and was not sure how much I would be able to see my grandpa while I was there. I was an emotional mess and did not know how to process all that I was feeling and all that was happening to my wonderful family.
After I had gotten to the camp, then we had staff training before the campers were to start arriving for the summer. I remember one session of staff training and the emotional breakdown that I had experienced there. From what I am able to recall, I think I was trying really hard to hide all of my feelings that I did not know what to do with and to just be a part of the training. A counselor was training our group. I do not remember what the counselor was discussing. I just remember all of our staff sitting in a circle in the lodge, and I remember all of a sudden, I just started sobbing. I could not control it. I was trying to stop, and I could not. The counselor walked over to where I was and had a lot of compassion in his voice. I remember him asking if it was ok for him to ask me what was happening with me. I remember telling him, “My grandma committed suicide three weeks ago, and I just do not know what to do.” I remember him asking if I had someone to talk to, and I remember telling him that I did. It was one of those huge cries where you feel out of control and can not stop it. My body was shaking. I was in a lot of pain, and I was so worried about my dad, grandpa, and his family.
As I was at the camp, I was trying to process my hurt and continued fear. I was trying to cope with all of my worried feelings about my grandpa by writing him letters every single day. I could not imagine the trauma that he was experiencing. I noticed something new with me. When someone seemed upset, then I became scared that they were going to commit suicide. I did not verbalize those thoughts, but I truly struggled with them internally. As the weeks went on through the summer, I was trying to manage my feelings and fear. I was staying in a cabin with the other female youth service corps workers. One night in our cabin, one of my coworkers Heather tried to overdose while I slept. When I awoke to the chaos of what was happening then fear once again felt like it was overtaking me. I could not believe this now happened in the very room that I slept. Thankfully, Heather was going to be ok and was leaving the camp to get help. I felt so filled with pain and fear. This only magnified my fear that when people were upset that they were going to kill themselves.
Suicide has devastating effects on those left behind. If you have experienced suicide with someone that you are close to, then please get help to deal with the effects that you are experiencing. The fear and pain that I felt took a long time to process through and to try to heal from. My protectiveness for my dad, grandpa, and family was fierce.
For many years, I had to fight the fear that when someone was upset that they were going to kill themselves. This was an effect from the reality that I had lived through with my precious family. The past few years, someone that I have been close to through the years has talked a great deal about suicide. This has been terrifying to me. I have learned through these experiences that people who are considering suicide are in a tremendous amount of pain and often they feel trapped in whatever situation that they are in. If you ever feel this way, then I would plead with you to get help. There are trained professionals that are able to help you to find ways to reduce your pain and to find ways to increase your coping resources. Please do not try to deal with your pain alone. Please get help and remember that even though your pain feels permanent that there is help and hope for your situation and your feelings. Suicide is preventable, and your family and friends need you. There is free and confidential help and support for anyone who may be in distress.
1-800-273-TALK (8255) is a 24/7, toll-free hotline available for you.
Please get help if you are struggling. There are many trained professionals who will know how to help you even though you feel like there is no hope. There is.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmond Tutu
To my Grandma, I am so sorry for the pain that you experienced and that you did not feel good about the woman that you were. I am ever thankful to you for providing our world with three amazing people: my dad, aunt, and uncle. My dad is the best dad that ever was… I am ever grateful to you that you had my dad. We love you Grandma. Always.