January 27th, 2016 11:07am
Certainly we all face challenges in life. But not all challenges are the same. What would you do if someone close to you, like a spouse or child committed suicide? Could you get over something like that? Would you die along with the person, condemned by that event, and forever defined by it? How would it impact your physical, mental, and spiritual health?
Not too long ago, Mellissa—British, born in Kentucky, but raising her family in Belgium—faced a devastating loss. Her husband and father of their three young children, publicly committed a violent act of suicide. I first learned of this when she contacted me on www.fb.com/CoachMD very shortly after the event.
At the time of this blog, it has been about eighteen months since the event and I have remained in touch with Mellissa. She and her family is not only surviving, but thriving. I asked her to share the secrets to her ability to move on. The first six in the list below are some of the things she has done. The others I have added taken from my personal and professional experience and observations.
1. Get back to routine ASAP
Her kids went back to school the very next day. She went back to work a week later. They did sports, they did what they usually did, even attending children’s birthday parties. Because you cannot change what has happened. Being in a routine helps pass the time, because time goes by very slowly...and you must have a routine to pass the time.
2. Surround yourself with support
In other words, children, family, in laws, neighbors, colleagues, friends who can be there with you 24/7 when the shock of the situation comes flooding back. She could literally call out of her bedroom window at 3am and her neighbor(s) would come running over. Her colleagues waited for her every morning at 8am to have a coffee. If she was not there by 8:30am they would phone and come looking for her.
3. Open discussion about what has happened with your children
No, they are not too young and will respect you for being open with them and then in turn being open about their feelings. No sugar coating. Open dialog.
4. Start making a list of the good things you still have in your life
Mellissa said this was the key for her. After all, isn’t that the power of gratitude? At first her list was just 1: her kids. But then 2 came: her health. But now...her list is over 30+. She carries this list with her everywhere she goes. She keeps it on her desk at work, and whenever she feels a bit ‘wobbly’ she reads the list, and even adds some more.
5. Have a good therapist one who specializes in victims of suicide (or trauma or bereavement, for instance)
She had never know violence in her life, until her husband’s suicide, so the violence of this mental illness and the publicly violent action of killing himself was incompressible to her. Talking to a psychiatrist trained in this area helped her to understand and come to terms with it.
Although the memory never fades, time does lessen its effect as long as you do the work.
7. Let go fully and completely
This means letting go of any guilt, resentment, or anger—much easier said than done. The tendency is for you to feel as though you contributed to the person’s death or that you could have done more to prevent it. But it happened and there is no going back. You may feel extreme anger or resentment. Yet, again, there is no going back. Unless you are to die along with the person, your only option is to stop replaying the past, let go, and move on.
8. Permit yourself to be happy again
The fact is, when you begin enjoying anything in life, thoughts will creep in to try to steal your happiness—as though, ‘how could you be happy?’ Your brain will try to pull you from being happy again, because it processes happiness has something causing vulnerability. Don’t follow its lead but continue to follow the steps above. Make sure you say to yourself that there is “no danger, there is no threat” when you find yourself retreating from happy times.
Sometimes life deals us very serious blows, often blind siding us. But these events need not destroy us. While we are alive, we owe it to ourselves to keep living. Mellissa has made a choice to do that and you can too. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying that you can make a choice to keep living, growing, and thriving even when faced with the most devastating life challenges.
© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD