By: Karen Peloquin
The saying, “There is comfort in misery” is often viewed as a negative statement. But not when it comes to being surrounded by others who truly get where you’ve been, where you are and where you have no idea of where you are going.
After losing my beloved brother, David, to suicide, I found myself in a form of grief I couldn’t navigate alone. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to hide from the world. I too wanted to die because the pain was too unbearable. But I knew I had to go on and I knew I needed help.
Losing a loved one to suicide has so many layers of guilt, fear, abandonment, despair and confusion. We not only grieve our lost loved one to suicide, we also grieve ourselves, our families and our future that all appear to be lost in grief.
A dear friend of mine who sadly lost her brother to suicide years before I lost mine, introduced me to our local Triangle Survivors of Suicide group that met weekly. My friend attended my first meeting with me and held my hand the whole time.
That first meeting was very difficult. I was forced to touch my pain and it hurt so very much. I remember hyperventilating, trying to get my words out to explain what brought me to the group. I could have passed and if you ever attend a group, please know that passing is always an option.
But something inside told me I had to get it out and I could feel I was in the safest place to share all of my pain and sorrow. The group listened. They didn’t offer advice. They didn’t flinch when I said the word “suicide.” They didn’t interrupt — they just listened.
When I finished sharing what brought me to the group, everyone else shared what brought them there as well. And I listened. But not in the usual form of listening with my ears. I felt my whole body listening, especially my heart — and I didn’t have that overwhelming feeling of being alone in my grief. They heard me and I heard them. They saw me, the me I was, the me I am and the me I wanted to be — even though I didn’t even know who I wanted to be. And I saw them the same way. They shared things they would never share with even their closest friends and I shared the same.
It’s been almost three years since I lost my brother. Some days, I’m truly living a life I’m proud of after such a profound loss. Other days, I still feel that overwhelming feeling of grief that brings me to my knees. But I know that’s OK.
Group taught me that I loved my brother for 34 years and my feelings are valid to miss him for more than what society expected my grief timeline to look like. Group taught me that grief is going to feel like your emotions are on a rollercoaster and you can experience “high highs” and “low lows” — sometimes even in the same minute. And that’s OK. Group taught me that even though the world sometimes seems fast, scary, vain and harsh, there are people who are full of love, empathy, compassion and support. It is also full of people who are rooting for you to live your best life.
Who knew that just sitting in a chair, in a circle, and only speaking for roughly five out of 90 minutes, could be so therapeutic? It’s amazing how the quote, “Find your tribe and love them hard” is so true, especially when you add, “Find your tribe and let them love you hard.”
Larry Bernstein has been the Triangle Survivors of Suicide Bereavement Facilitator for over 20 years after losing his son to suicide 27 years ago. He has opened the doors 52 times a year (no matter if it’s a holiday or inclement weather) for those who have lost a loved one to suicide to come and share. He knows the power of talking and listening with others who understand, and he makes it possible for people like me (and hundreds and thousands of people through the years) to not feel alone. He’s a hero, he’s my hero — and I’m honored to know him.
I’m also eternally grateful to him for seeing a light in me I thought I had lost after my brother died. He asked me if I would like to facilitate our amazing Survivors of Suicide meetings and paid for me to attend the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention Survivors of Suicide Bereavement Facilitator Training. I’m now a facilitator once a month and I’m able to try to give back all the group has given to me. When I unlock the doors for our group to meet, I know I’m giving others a safe place to share their suicide grief.
If you have lost someone to suicide, I hope you have a Survivors of Suicide bereavement group near you. If you don’t, I hope you find that beautiful, burning light that still shines deep within you to have the courage to start one in your area.