September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. As someone who has lost a loved to suicide, a day like this makes me reflective, a mix of hopeful and sad. It’s too late for my loved one, but not for others. There’s the bitter, and the sweet.
Survivor perspectives are an important part of prevention. We are often silenced and ignored but our voices matter. We are the ones who know better than anyone when, where, and how things went wrong. We are the collateral damage, what’s left behind, and like our loved ones, our lives are forever changed. If lives are indeed to be saved, including our own, survivors need to be included in the conversation, and heard. Today, in addition to thinking of my loved one, others who have lost their lives, and those who may be in crisis, I’m also thinking of the ones who often go unnoticed, my fellow survivors.
When my loved one passed, I wanted to change the world right away. I never wanted another person to lose their life to suicide, or for another family to suffer the unfathomable pain we were experiencing. But how? In reality, I was suffering with intense PTSD, and struggling to keep the broken pieces of my family together. It was enough. It was more than anyone should have to endure.
At first, I didn’t write at all. Writing meant acknowledging the permanence of what had happened, and I wasn’t ready to face that. There was a time I thought I might never write again. What was the point? Nothing mattered anymore.
But I’m a writer. It’s how I process this thing called Life. Eventually, the words came, a trickle then a surge. Seven years later, I completed my novel about this loss like no other and was fortunate enough to find an incredibly supportive press to champion it.
When people ask, I describe SIDE BY SIDE as a suicide survivor’s story. I write intimately about trauma, grief, and recovery from a survivor’s perspective in an attempt to combat stigma and challenge negative perceptions about mental health and loss by suicide. There’s even hope, but an authentic kind. A portrayal of the real work it takes to rebuild a life after unimaginable loss.
Every book I endeavour to write is an act of place-making. SIDE BY SIDE was no different. I wrote the book I needed at the time, the book I wish I had found. A place to go with my broken heart. A place to feel the violent spectrum of emotions assailing me. A place to confront shame and stigma. A place to feel I wasn’t alone. And, of course, a place to heal.
Nine years later, certain aspects of my grief have changed. The intensity. Feeling every second of the day, wondering how I was going to make it through. And, sadly, certain things haven’t changed. My loved one is still gone. I will spend the remainder of my life learning how to cope with that harshest of realities. But coping and healing are possible. As is learning how to live a meaningful life in the wake of tragedy. It will always hurt. But all is not lost.
So, on this day of awareness and action, I offer to survivors what was given to me. Love and kindness. Reach out to other survivors because they are the only people who can truly empathize with what you’re going through. The rest of the world around, no matter how well-meaning, have no idea what you’re facing on a daily and, at times, moment-by-moment basis. I hope one day that will change, and society at large will become more enlightened and empathetic. Until then, find your people and lean on them. Connecting with other survivors made all the difference to me.
Please be kind to yourself. You deserve compassion.
And remember, you’re a survivor.
Below are some resources in case you need them.
Bereaved Families of Ottawa: http://www.bfo-ottawa.org/programs/support-and-share-night/
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors: https://allianceofhope.org/
Self-Compassion Meditations and Exercise by Dr. Kristine Neff: https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises
World Suicide Prevention Day: https://www.iasp.info/wspd2019/