Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. I’ve been conflicted about posting about it for a few reasons. One, I don’t want to add to the noise. I don’t want to jump on the wagon at the surface because I believe the cause deserves more than that. Two, I don’t want to exploit those who have taken their lives, or exploit their families’ grief. I live in a fixed state of respect for their loss, and I would hate to jeopardize their healing for the sake of a blog post.
With that said, I would like to offer the following words as an advocate, not only for those who wrestle with suicide, but for those who grieve because of it.
The thing about grief that a lot of people don’t realize is that it doesn’t go away. It changes shape and it becomes easier to manage if you work at it intentionally, but it does not ever disappear. When you experience loss, you gain a relationship with grief, and in order to move forward, you have to learn about it, engage with it, and walk with it. Moving forward does not mean leaving grief behind. Ignoring it will never make it go away, just as ignoring your child will never make you a non-parent. It becomes a part of your life, a lens that colors the world around you. Learning to see joy and peace through the lens of grief seems impossible and contradictory, but with grace for ourselves and for others, I believe it forges the path to a deep, moving awareness and understanding of life.
I recognize Suicide Prevention Week because I believe that every parent, child, and friend who has lost someone to this tragic, incomprehensible, strident reality should be reminded that their grief is still seen, even after the funeral has ended. I recognize it because I’ve walked that road alone and alongside others, and regardless of how you travel, it is the most unbearable experience to carry. There is no logic. There is no comfort. For a time, there is no hope.
Even those who have faith are vulnerable to the utter darkness of grief, and while faith brings hope, loss brings sorrow that demands our attention. It cannot be dismissed, and we cannot keep trying to silence it or decorate it in a way that makes us look noble or heroic. We are not heroes for enduring pain, we are human. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is also not something to wear as a medal of achievement, as much as our culture would like to convince us it is. At that point, death is exploited and becomes vanity for the living.
The existence of hope also does not negate the pain, anger or emptiness that comes with death. It is the opposite of life, so there needs to be permission to hate it.
Too often, we are afraid that if we allow ourselves to grieve and feel the hollow pit of not just absence, but loss – feeling a presence fade away slowly and simultaneously in the blink of an eye – that we will get stuck there and lose our hope, as if grief and hope can’t coexist. But life isn’t a linear experience. We don’t reserve time for joy and then separate time for sorrow. It’s the complexity of that relationship that creates depth and meaning. To hush someone’s grief is to reject a vital piece of being human. While it is not pleasant, it is inevitable and it does us no good to banish it completely. Acknowledging pain and moving forward are not two separate steps, but one synergistic process.
It’s because of the synergy that we learn to heal, learn to understand and build life around loss.
At the same time, there also seems to be a lack of genuine healing in our impersonal world. We’ll post about our loss on social media because it’s easier to collect comments from those who do care and remain ignorant to the ones who scroll through. We don’t have to look someone in the eye and face our own uncomfortable brokenness. While it is, indeed, uncomfortable, it is necessary to clean out the dirt, examine our grief, and learn to live alongside it.
We sit in hopelessness that is inevitable for a time, but is also not sustainable for life. Remaining stagnant is not respecting the memory of those we've lost. Remaining angry does not bring them justice. There are a thousand ways to make a step forward, and no matter how clumsy or fragile that step may be, it is good. I think experiencing the full spectrum of grief is important to understand it. That means we experience the darkness for a time, but it also means that we experience the hard work of taking that step. Being sad is easy. Movement is difficult. But movement is living...and we are still alive.
I realize that these thoughts are fragmented and stained with a subjective view. So please, take what you can and forgive the rest. I am guilty of clinging to loss in an unhealthy way. I am guilty of glamourizing grief. There's an addictive poetry about "surviving" that only leads to more pain. But with every new day that I’m given, I am reminded that life is finite and time is unrenewable. Time spent as a victim is not fruitful, but time spent in sadness is not wasted. We just tend to lose sight of the difference. Just as life that is lost was given in its purest form, I aim to grieve with pure, unadorned sorrow so that I may find strength beyond my own and a world that is honest, selfless, and full of grace.