The suicide of your loved one irrevocably changes you. The process of profound, complicated grief leads you deeper into your heart. The three mileposts of acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion become your pathway to peace. Dr. Adele Ryan McDowell assures you that the day will come when you can once again take a full breath and your newly pieced-together heart will remain intact.
Remember the theme song from the show M*A*S*H, “Suicide is painless?” From the surviving loved one’s viewpoint, nothing could be more wrong. Dealing with suicidal grief means overcoming enormous, overwhelming loss. It is, indeed, a hero’s journey.
A loved one’s suicide marks the day you stopped taking a full breath; the day you were left holding your broken heart in your hands and, unfortunately, the day people started avoiding, or, even, blaming you. You are left in a wake of surging emotions and self-doubt. The taint and taboo, the rage and despair, the guilt and regret are–in some brutal way–yours to sort out.
How do you make sense of this kind of heartbreak?
It is a colossal challenge to regain solid ground when you are rocked by waves of shock, grief and, most likely, trauma from what you witnessed or envision in your mind’s eye. Reconnecting with yourself and reclaiming your desire to live fully after such a devastating loss requires wading through a minefield of emotional residue.
When you feel ready to face the journey of letting go, let these three guideposts keep you on your healing path. Each will help you piece together your shattered heart, find your feet again and settle into your own kind of peace and resolution.
- Start with acceptance.
There comes a moment in time when you accept the unacceptable. Admittedly, this is not easy. You accept the reality of the suicide; it is no longer so surreal. It happened and there is nothing you can do to change the fact that you lost your loved one to suicide.
You also accept–and this is core–that the suicide was not your fault. Your loved one made a choice without you. He or she did it because, at that moment in time, and with the likely influence of extreme emotional pain, haywire neurochemistry, trauma, the influence of drugs or alcohol or, even, impulsivity, it felt like the only response to the encompassing agony.
Acceptance is not an easy step in the grief process. It requires determination and grit.
With acceptance, you cease and desist. You lay down your weapons and let down your defences, and you walk away from the battle. You realize the time has come to tenderly and mindfully move away from your conflicted feelings around the suicide and accept what has transpired.
- Seek to forgive.
Forgiving your loved one does not mean you agree with or condone the suicide. It means you choose to no longer carry the weight of your jumbled emotions. You release the “what if’s” and “if only’s.” You also forgive yourself for any real or perceived wounds you may have caused.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the right or wrong of the other person’s (or your) actions. Forgiveness is about letting go of that which burdens you. If you do not forgive, you stay stuck in the past and stew in your own rage, anger, bitterness and hurt. Forgiveness allows you to release that which hardens and constricts your heart. When you forgive, the ego steps aside and allows the heart to take the lead.
Forgiveness is not for the timid or unfocused. It takes courage and strength to forgive. And, when you do forgive, you bestow on yourself the essential gift of self-care.
- Walk in the other person’s shoes.
The alchemy of acceptance and forgiveness opens the heart and creates space for compassion.
Compassion means understanding the context, the bigger picture, of what has taken place. It may not have been your choice or your way, but with compassion, you can perceive the circumstances with your heart. You are able to have an open-hearted response towards your lost loved one, as well as yourself.
Compassion not only expands your heart, it expands your worldview. You can see the panoply of human frailties, idiosyncrasies, quirks and sorrows without critical judgment. You see in a way that honors the context, accepts, forgives where necessary and acknowledges what has come to pass.
The suicide of your loved one irrevocably changes you. The process of profound, complicated grief leads you deeper into your heart. The three mileposts of acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion become your pathway to peace. Be assured that the day will come when you can once again take a full breath and your newly pieced-together heart will remain intact.
This article originally appeared on Maria Shriver.com
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