By Brad Hearst
This time of year, we hear the phrase, “New Year, New You” thrown around quite a bit. It can have a different connotation to each person. For some this means getting back into a workout routine or restructuring their diet to create a healthier body. For others this could mean going back to school to focus on education to achieve a more rewarding career. For a survivor of suicide loss, it means beginning a new year without your lost loved one. It can be one of the most challenging times of the year for a survivor. If one can focus on the resources available to them getting through the new year doesn’t have to be as trying as one might think.
The holiday season is one of the toughest times of the year for both people struggling with mental health and those who have been impacted by suicide loss. We just get through Thanksgiving and Christmas and are immediately slapped in the face with New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. People are excited to celebrate but finding enthusiasm in the future can be challenging. The old mentality of just getting up and dealing with it no longer applies. At times, we have to make an effort to put one foot in front of the other.
When struggling becomes too much to handle in the holiday season it is important to remember your resources. Start by making sure to talk to your family and friends about the emotions you are feeling. As survivors of suicide loss, we often feel alone or abandoned because those closest to us that have not been impacted have a tough time understanding. We have to remember, that while they may not fully comprehend it is still healthy for us to discuss our emotions. By discussing these feelings with family and friends we are not only allowing ourselves to grieve more effectively we are also allowing those around us to understand what we are experiencing.
If you have a counselor, making sure to keep your regularly scheduled appointments can be key. We get busy with work, children and the responsibilities associated with everyday life. Trying to make sure that we are taking time for ourselves can be difficult. Trying to keep appointments to discuss our thoughts can feel like a waste of time and money. While it may not seem like it, those appointments are more important than you may realize. Having that time simply dedicated to your emotions allows you to better grasp and recognize when you are struggling. Not only does it help us with our own grief it helps us with our relationships because that internal stress caused by grief has been discussed. Thus, allowing us a release of pressure keeping us from taking out our emotions on those close to us.
Whether it is a formalized professionally led group, peer-led group or just a bunch of survivors getting together for some coffee, a support group can also be a terrific way for us to find guidance and hope during this time of year. There is a bit of a stigma surrounding support groups that keep people from utilizing them as a resource in their grief process. A few of the excuses I have heard are:
- “I don’t want to get up and talk in front of everyone”
- “I don’t want to be judged for what I say”
- “I don’t like the leader or people of the group.”
While these are all valid thoughts and feelings, they all of have simple resolutions. The nice thing with attending a group is that no one is required to stand up and discuss their feelings. Simply attending and hearing the perspectives of fellow survivors of suicide loss can be therapeutic. It can help postulate perspective on your own emotions without speaking a word.
When it comes to not wanting to be judged I think everyone feels that way before attending their first group. I feel that way before I attend any new group. Most support groups are a judgement free zone, and everyone respects that. There are usually rules in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen. My views and perspectives differ greatly from the individuals surrounding me. I may have lost a brother but the person to my right has lost a child and the person to my left lost a spouse. The feelings and emotions they are going through are much different than my own. The thing with being a survivor of suicide loss is that no two losses are the same. Even if you had lost the same exact person, the survivor’s perspectives will differ. The goal is for each survivor to simply share their feelings and allows others to listen without judgement. No one is there to compare or rank losses.
As for not liking the leader or people attending the group the solution may be a bit more challenging if there is only one group in your community. You are limited by the availability of groups in the area. For this reason and many others, I’d highly encourage any survivor of suicide loss to attend multiple groups if possible. This gives you the opportunity to find one that is a fit for you. Similar to finding a counselor, finding a support group may require multiple attempts until a match is found. A lot of groups are also just once a month. By having multiple available you might be able to attend one twice a month or if you’re really lucky every week.
Last but certainly not least, utilize the non-formal routes of decompression. These can be in the form of going to the gym, writing in a journal, expressing yourself on a canvas with paint or even meditation. Tools such as these are crucial in the moments where you just want to be alone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with just taking time to be alone with your thoughts and express yourself in a healthy manner. They can also be the most rewarding and relaxing for a person struggling with grief. A counseling session or support group may not always be available when you are challenged with grief and having this in your back pocket can provide relief in demanding times.
Starting a new year after losing a loved one is never easy but if we can be self-aware and utilize the resources that surround us, we can find hope as we close out the holiday season. Obviously finding time for all of these resources is easier said than done. Life is full of distractions and dealing with grief isn’t easy. We set resolutions for ourselves and hope to change our lives for the better. Utilizing this time of year as motivation to set a resolution for your grief process might just be the jump start you need to move forward.