I know that you are hurting. The date on the calendar is looming and soon you will mark the one year anniversary of your father’s suicide. The mere thought of it feels like a ton of bricks have been laid upon your chest. It is hard to breathe, and even harder to fathom that 365 days will have passed since your world was changed forever.
I know that you are tired. It’s okay. You have been a full time student of traumatic grief. You have sat in support groups and therapy, facing the hardships head on. It is called grief work for a reason. The stages of grief have been anything but linear and navigating through them is depleting. Some days all you want to do is lie in bed, and pull the covers over your head. It would be easier to hide from all of the emotions, the firsts, the triggers and the loss. But you don’t.
Every day you get up and out of bed. You put one foot in front of the other and you live your life. You take care of your precious family. You make room for love and laughter. You are present for those you care about. You turn to the things that bring you joy; taking a hike, reading a book, listening to music and the creative joy of cooking. It is time that you give yourself credit for all of that.
You have not hidden from the truth of your loss, not once. You told all who would listen that your father died by suicide. You were honest about his struggles with depression and anxiety. Right from the start you were determined not to allow his death to be a source of shame or stigma. And you wrote the story of your grief, sharing it with loved ones and strangers alike. You have turned pain into purpose, even when you have done it through an abundance of tears.
I know that one year later you look in the mirror and you feel as if your father’s death has aged you. And I know that you are wondering why you are not further along in your healing. Sometimes you allow a perception of weakness to sneak in and take hold. You think to yourself:
If I was stronger, it wouldn’t still hurt this much
If I was stronger, I’d have found a better balance by now.
If I was stronger, my grief would be a thing of the past and I would once again feel whole.
But deep down you know that is not true.
You lost your father in a traumatic way and it has left a painful imprint on your soul. The news of his suicide forever altered you and you were shattered. One year later, I want you to see the strength it has taken to simply gather up the pieces. You are slowly putting them in new places, even if they are held there on little more than spit & a prayer. I want you to honor the emotional healing that you have worked so hard to attain, and that allows you to turn towards life & hope. Anyone can go to therapy, but you do the homework. The session begins and you allow your feelings to come spilling out. I want you to forget about that imaginary finish line on the road of grief and instead look back and see all of the things you could not do or feel in those early days of loss, that now you can. Those are victories & milestones to be savored.
I want you to think about that letter you wrote to the women who cared for you when you got that devastating phone call in Whole Foods that morning; and how it has traveled across social media, around the country and across the ocean. You helped to humanize the face of suicide loss and got people to talk about a subject that most never want to look at, lest it happen to them. Writing is healing for you, but you must see that your writing has helped to bring some healing to others. You have heard from survivors of suicide loss, survivors of suicide attempts and those living with mental illness and something you said allowed them to feel less alone. And in turn their words reminded you of how many accompany you on this journey, strangers in every other way, but connected in this struggle.
You are a survivor of suicide loss. And survival takes strength, tenacity, courage and resilience. To survive is to carry the hardship that life has dealt you and to persevere, to strive to move forward. Survival is the opposite of defeat. So please don’t be defeated.
One day, one moment, one breath at a time you are carrying this loss. And you continue to move through the valley of the shadow, striving towards life’s peaks. Some days your stride is certain & quick. Some days your legs feel weak and you inch along ever so slowly. And some days you take ten steps back and surrender to the sadness. But every day you get up and you keep going.
April 20, 2016 is coming. You will have endured a whole year of firsts without your father. You have honored his memory. You have learned to honor the grief & the loss. But you must also take the time to honor yourself and all of the growth that you have shown. Honor the brave survivor that you are. Let your scars be a testament to your strength & spirit. And keep on striving towards healing, one baby step at a time. You will get there. Look how far you’ve already come.