Robin Williams’ recent death left many of us, who didn’t even know him, feeling bereft. How could he, who was loved by millions, take his own life? How could his life have been so unbearable that he had to end it? And how do we cope with the aftermath?
About 40,000 people in the U.S. commit suicide a year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in America. If one of those 40,000 is someone you love, it can be devastating. In the wake of a dear one’s suicide, it can leave you thinking that you might be somehow at fault. Wondering what you could have done to prevent it. Feeling guilty for surviving and not making him survive. Aching to know how he could leave me if he loved me.
Your grief can be so overwhelming that you don’t know how you can go on. That’s when you need to seek therapy. You don’t have to face the world alone after a loved one’s suicide. Others can understand your suffering and help you.
Expect a Tidal Wave of Emotions.
Denial. At first you might find the whole idea incredible and hard to accept. He couldn’t possibly have done such a thing. You reject the thought of it. But as reality sets in, and the numbness recedes, you experience a whole variety of feelings.
Anger. You might be angry with him for abandoning you—a really fundamental emotion that leaves you feeling robbed. Violated. And so angry that it’s hard to forgive him. After all, no matter how he took his own life, it was no doubt shocking. Especially if you were the one who found him. That image of him can be enough to overshadow all the good memories you have of this person. Don’t let it. Remember that his suicide is just one moment in his life and it does not define him. Strive to remember the good things too.
Guilt. Often people feel guilty when a loved one commits suicide. Surely you could have saved him if only you loved him more. If only you had been a better friend or parent/spouse/son/daughter/sister/brother—you get the idea. You play and replay scenes in your head where you missed clues of his upcoming demise. If only you had intervened. If only you had done more. But the fact is, no matter how imperfect you are, you did not do this. He did. You cannot blame yourself.
Despair. Finally, you may plunge into a state of despair. The loss you have suffered leaves you physically weak. You are besieged with helplessness and sadness. Nightmares wake you at night. Concentrating on the simplest tasks becomes impossible. You withdraw from your daily life and lose interest in your normal activities. You feel hopeless.
This is when it’s wise to seek help. Or even before you reach this state. Because it is quite normal to feel sad, and you may need help in working through your grief. It will take time, and there is no magic end to your mourning period. Every individual has a different path, and yours will be unique to you. But you don’t have to go through these emotions alone.
Next week I’ll talk about some strategies for coping after a loved one commits suicide.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.