While studying victimology in my course, I came across a survey where the family of suicides were regarded as victims of non-criminal incidents. It hit home as I have struggled with this from the start. Death is death, but death due to an accident, illness or old-age is categorized differently, both in how people respond to it and also how it affects those close to the suicide casualty. I know that each person who suffers loss does indeed suffer. You can’t measure suffering. And my pain isn’t greater than another’s. But it is different. As bystanders of the horrific act, we somehow become complicit. Those left behind after a death in the family don’t endure the guilt someone close to the suicide victim does, nor are the survivors, in some cases, held accountable for pushing the suicide victim over the edge. It is a unique experience, with the survivor burdened for years with guilt, self-imposed or otherwise.
And as I searched for free suicide survivor grief groups in Calgary, a city of over one and a quarter million people, I found none….zero!! To me, that speaks volumes of how suicide is still stigmatized. There are groups facilitated by counsellors and cost money, but nothing that fit what I was looking for: free (read affordable), casual and a safe place for folks to share their experiences. I contacted a couple of services to see if they knew of any groups that aren’t showing up in my search, but I may have to start a group myself. And, you know what? I will.
It has taken me this long, five years, to acknowledge I may need some help in working through my guilt. The burden of culpability weighs heavy on my shoulders, and it would be nice to lay it down. This is easier said than done. What the heck happened to me in my life that makes me accept so much responsibility for things beyond my control? Good grief! And it isn’t even good grief. Good grief would be reasonable. Mine is out of all proportion.
I had a lovely chat with a friend this week. I hadn’t seen her in over a year, and we had a lot of catching up to do. She has been through her own hell and has acquired some fantastic skills along the way. She gave it to me over how I am still in the enabling mode, how I am allowing Greg to reach out from the grave and drag me down with him. She laid some things out before me, that I need to forgive myself for enabling Greg (and that church) to beat me down for so many years, thus becoming a terrible example for my children, particularly my girls. I need to stop feeling guilty that I was finally standing up for myself, to stop blaming myself that he took his own life. Once again, easier said than done.
Two days later……..I did manage to find a drop-in suicide bereavement group that meets every two weeks. All are welcome, and it is free. The Kleenex is free as well…….which is a good thing. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room once we got started sharing our stories. It was good therapy though I’m not sure if I will continue. I was the only person who spoke of the anger I felt towards the person I lost. There were things we could all share and empathize with, but it would appear that rage isn’t on that list. And I can understand why. Most of the people there had either lost a child or a parent. Only one other person had lost a spouse. There is a different dynamic in that relationship. And that other person had known her husband was in a dangerous place and had supported him in his battle with his mental health. I, on the other hand, did nothing to help Greg. But I think I would still feel anger towards any of my children if they took their own life because, damn it, that’s not the answer! What a family goes through when they lose someone to suicide shreds every semblance of normalcy that may have existed. It was good to see a husband and wife together sharing their grief over the loss of their son and supporting one another through their pain. Two sisters spoke of losing their mother and comforted each other in their sorrow. I have to say, I have felt very much alone from the beginning. And, once again, this is my own fault. I was too busy pretending everything was normal that I didn’t exactly open my heart to others or share with my children. We were all fighting our own private war against the pain. And I did not have a happy marriage.
I am happy that I went, though, because it was in downtown Calgary and I had forgotten where I had parked once our time together was over. It was dark and about -8ºC (17.5ºF). As I was wandering and wondering I watched as a man stumbled across the street towards me and fell down. He was in rough shape, and I tried to talk to him to make sure he was okay. But he wasn’t getting up, neither was he coherent. So, after gently shaking him I decided to call 911. I couldn’t leave him there. He would have frozen to death. I waited with him until the EMS first responders arrived and then went on my way, still wandering and wondering. I passed them by a couple more times on my travels as they administered help to the gentleman, hoping they didn’t recognize me, and was almost to the point of calling an Uber to get home, thinking I might have better luck in the daylight when I finally recognized a landmark and located my car. What a relief! But, see, I was meant to lose my way in order to get help for that poor soul laying on the road.
I was freezing because I hadn’t planned to be outside for over an hour in the cold and hadn’t dressed for it. I sure hope this was just a case of absentmindedness, but I’m finding it more and more difficult to retrieve information from my weary, overworked brain. I had a lovely soak in the tub to warm me up when I got home. I had to keep adding hot water because I was so cold my body was cooling off the water!