I’ll always remember a friend sharing her experience of losing someone to suicide. She spoke of her friend with love and compassion. She spoke of the excruciating mystery it is to know and love someone who makes a decision to take their own life. She shared her heart and her tears with me.
“She forgot who she was,” she said in describing her friend. “In that instant, I think she forgot what an amazing, creative, dynamic person she was.”
She forgot who she was…that thought has always stayed with me. That in the moments when someone has chosen to end their life, perhaps they’ve forgotten all the things that make them wonderful or unique or miraculous. They’ve forgotten their own beauty and gifts and place in the world. They’ve perhaps forgotten all of the people who care deeply for them – people who would have helped had they known. Forgotten.
The words resonate with me still.
That when someone we love deeply makes a decision to end their own life there are no answers. And there are also lots of possible answers that we can never really know or grasp. Perhaps that person has faced difficulties for a long time. Maybe they’ve lived a life of suffering with untreated depression or mental illness. Or perhaps they are currently struggling with a difficult diagnosis or are caught up in addiction. And really, is there any answer that would ease the pain behind the questions?
We can never know the inner journey of another. Even those we are closest to.
For my friend, it was this idea that her friend forgot…forgot her deep and abiding relationships as resources. Forgot that there were any other alternatives in the face of the difficulties she was having. Forgot how to ask for help. Forgot…and in forgetting left those around her with no answers to the questions.
And yet, my friend had a desire to remember her friend. She wanted to remember for herself not so much how she died, but how she lived. She remembered how dynamic and beautiful and creative and amazing her friend was. In sharing her experience she recalled that her friend had been loving, thoughtful, kind and compassionate. She told me stories of their friendship and what it meant to her. She remembered with a gentle heart for herself and her friend.
What struck me about her friend’s forgetting and her own remembering was that it actually gave her friend a lot of grace for her decision. Certainly it was difficult being on the side of survivor. And, it would have been easy to blame or rage at the decision her friend made. And perhaps my friend had those feelings too over time and across the process of grieving the death of her friend. Maybe she, and her community were able to name the full range of feelings attached to this death; anger, sorrow, regret, anger, confusion, doubt, deep grief. And, in noticing any and all of these feelings as they came up, she and all of those who loved this person found the tiny steps it takes to go on.
For my friend, even in telling her story she was taking the tiny steps needed to remember. To live into all the feelings of her loss – with kindness for herself and for the one who took her life.
Love is complicated. And so is mourning the loss of someone who completes suicide. There is no right way to be present to all the feelings of grief that come with this death – or any death for that matter. IN taking the tiny steps, getting needed support, talking through the loss and remembering the one who died we are able to slowly, slowly find grace. For ourselves and for the other. There is only finding grace for the person who died one day at a time. To live into the mystery of their decision with as much love as possible. When we live into the mystery of it all, slowly the edges of our pain become less jagged. And we are able to see the person who died with deeper compassion for the pain that led them to their own decision. We can remember our way around their final act to the bigger picture of who they were over the course of their lifetime.
Deb Buehler is a certified funeral celebrant, certified creative grief coach and professional writer. She works virtually and in-person with individuals and families as they tell their stories of grief and loss. Deb co-authored The Hollowed Heart; Inspiration for Women Awakening from Grief and Loss. You can learn more about Deb and her services at www.growingbeyondgrief.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org