The keynote speaker had asked, “Why are you here?” In my mind I was there to honor the survivors and to remember those who have left us. I was also there as a representative of The Gathering Place, doing my part in raising awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.
It was a fundraiser walk. We carried candles and helium balloons with lights inside. We walked the River Walk, across the Fox River on the Walnut St. and Main St. bridges and ended up on the City Deck for the balloon release.
I let my balloon go in memory of a colleague of mine who committed suicide 10 years ago, Jim Madox. Jim’s son had been killed in an accident and it is believed that Jim’s heart couldn’t take the pain and loss. Jim was a strong mental health advocate in Madison. One of his accomplishments was implementing the NAMI Consumer Council within NAMI Wisconsin. He had many ambitions and a promising future. We lost him much too soon.
Survivors of suicide include not only family, but anyone intimately connected with the person who killed himself. Survivors of suicide face many challenges as they try to move on. Feelings are intense. Survivors tend to have a greater feeling of rejection, abandonment and anger. There can be many unsolved questions that may never have resolution. Often there is intense resentment over the manner of death.
There is a strong feeling of guilt and a tendency to blame self, especially if there was a conflict before the suicide. There is the thought, “What should I have done or not done?” Sometimes there is the worry that they had some part in pushing the person to take their life.
Survivors feel isolated. A vicious cycle can appear with survivors of suicide. Since the issue is filled with unexpressed emotion, people might not know how to provide support. Survivors may see lack of support as rejection. Feelings of isolation and being shunned often contribute to the cycle beginning again.
Survivors face declining health. They tend to be depressed longer, have a greater risk of developing anxiety disorders and are more likely to die of suicide themselves.
Survivors need to search for meaning. Survivors have a harder time finding meaning in the loss they have just suffered. Trying to grasp the reason WHY someone died by suicide and the frame of mind of the person who has died. There is generally the internal question: Could something have been done to prevent it?
Suicide is never an easy subject to talk about. But it is an important subject and we need to raise awareness.
—By Susan C. Mader, MSSW