By Brad Hearst
Recently, I had the privilege of going on a business trip for my employer. After wrapping up the first day of the conference a fellow co-worker and I went to a restaurant for a beer and some recapping. After a day of socializing and presenting my tank was running on low. As we sat there getting to know one another he asked me, “are you lucky?” I have three beautiful boys, an incredible wife, a job that puts food on our table and takes care of its employees. With that in mind I answered, “Yes I am extremely lucky.” We bantered back and forth the rest of the evening but for some reason that question stuck with me. Are you lucky?
I instantaneously jumped to that which makes me joyful when I responded but a lot of us would jump right to that destructive perspective. That downward spiral. I’ve certainly had my fair share of negative experiences in my life. I’ve had failed relationships, been laid off by an employer, failed business ventures but none of them add up to the loss of my brother. When he passed away by suicide, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be the same. The cloud that surrounded me was overwhelming. The idea of being lucky would never have been considered.
So, what does asking if I’m lucky have to do with suicide? In the last five years since his passing not one person has asked me If I consider myself lucky and frankly it changed my world. The last five years I’ve struggled with the grief that came along with his passing and I was able to look my co-worker in the eye and with sincerity in my voice tell him I am a lucky man. My perspective had evolved to a point where I now was seeing past the grief. It was a feeling of relief that I didn’t even know I had within me.
As a survivor of suicide loss grief can last years to a lifetime. No one can tell you just how long your grief will last because it is unique to you. Every one of us grieves different than the other. In this moment, I knew that my grief had finally turned to hope. I felt as though I just wrote my last page in my life’s chapter on grief. I’m still unable to fully comprehend how incredible it feels.
This doesn’t mean that I’m letting go of the memory of my brother by any means. My thought process has just shifted a bit. My feelings of guilt have just definitively seemed to subside. As his older brother, I felt a tremendous amount of pain for not being by my brother’s side to support him in his darkest hour. I’ve mentioned before that as the older brother there is a sense of responsibility in our society that you are to look over your younger siblings. His passing put a tremendous amount of guilt on me that weighed me down. In my own heart of hearts, I thought the guilt I felt after his passing would never go away.
Having this new-found sense of relief has allowed me to see a bit clearer. As a survivor of suicide loss, you are initially surrounded by a fog unable to focus. You immediately point the finger at yourself and ask why? What if? It allows that pain and guilt to compound and magnify the confusion even further. After being asked if I’m lucky it’s as if I have driven out of the fog and found a new street to journey down. Yet, I didn’t even know I was there until someone provoked my own thought process.
Think about that for one second. I was there all along but didn’t realize it until an outside party pushed me in the right direction. I allowed my own guilt and pain to prevent me from seeing how far I had truly come in the process. How many other survivors of suicide loss out there might be in the same boat? I’m guessing more than one can count because as a society we are afraid to discuss it. The stigma still inhibits our discussion around the topic. The amazing thing is the conversation had nothing to do with suicide loss. It was just a conversation between two like-minded individuals over a beer.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is all it takes. The conversation doesn’t have to be difficult. We just have to be open to conversing with one another. The mobile devices have to be put down for a second and we have to take a general interest in one another. The topic of suicide can be scary for even seasoned therapists, so it won’t always be this easy. Depending on where someone is in their journey through grief will determine the level of comfort and depth of conversation. It can be done though.
The major point that I want to drive home with this article is that as a survivor of suicide loss it is easy to let the pain and grief take over our lives. Without even realizing it, we may be further through our journey than we are able to comprehend. We can’t allow that fog or grief stop us from moving forward with our lives. It doesn’t mean we have to completely let go or forget the loved ones that we lost by any means. It simply means that we have to take care of ourselves and be open to discussion.
By allowing the grief to take control of our lives we may even push away the ones we love most. The ones that truly make us lucky to be alive. I’d encourage each survivor to step backwards a bit and take a new perspective of the world. Get that breath of fresh air and ask yourself, “am I lucky?”