Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Grieving Suicide Loss in a Time of Pandemic

To My Fellow Survivors After Suicide:

Deserted streets. Stages and stadiums dark. Schools, workplaces, houses of worship suddenly empty. The world as we know it has shut down.

It reminds me of the windows going dark in my son Noah’s mind and the light draining from his eyes during his decline. How by a month before his suicide, he was almost completely shut down and we couldn’t get through to him. How after his death, life as I knew it collapsed. 

If you’re a recent survivor of suicide loss, you've likely been immersed in mourning one tragic death. Now, you’re surrounded by a global tragedy, unthinkable numbers ticking ever upward, each number another person gone and another circle of family and friends plunged into grief. Maybe you’ve struggled to see a path forward for yourself after the suicide; now the whole world is awash in a sea of uncertainty. Just when you’re trying to adjust to your own “new normal” without your loved one, everyone around you is talking about multiple “new normals.”

Maybe you’re so consumed with private anguish that you feel numb to the larger disaster of the pandemic and have to wall yourself off from it. Our son’s mental state was in shambles at the time of the Sandy Hook school shootings in December, 2012; I was so preoccupied trying to figure out how to help Noah, I didn’t have the bandwidth to follow the news or mourn along with the nation. Noah’s seventh death anniversary last month coincided with the declaration of a world pandemic and the first stay-at-home orders in the U.S. My eyes teared constantly at the thought of so much death; I had to tune out the grim statistics.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

-       Your body is still reeling from the shock and grief of suicide loss, just when doctor visits have been restricted, eliminated, or shifted to videocalls.

-       You already felt isolated in your bereavement; now, you’re ordered to self-isolate. You desperately miss your lost loved one, who would have helped you get through this time.

-       The friend you used to walk with who really listened to your grief doesn’t want to meet in person anymore. Others who might check in with you by phone, text, or email are now checking in with lots of people, meaning less time for you; some of them are on “empathy overload.”

-       You finally joined a survivors’ support group and now it’s either on hiatus or switched to an online format—better than nothing but you really miss those hugs!

-       The comfort you used to find in your faith and religious community has been upended by social distancing. Online services, prayer, meditation, or classes are OK but you really need that fellowship coffee hour when you can hold someone’s hand or look into their eyes.

-       You’re already depleted by grief and here comes a whole other layer of exhaustion and sleeplessness on top of new routines for getting work done, watching the kids, buying groceries and staying safe. It’s enough just to get through a day.

-       You’re grateful every day to be healthy, fearful every day for another loss that touches you.

-       You’ve read about how grieving people shift back and forth between a loss orientation (preoccupied with mourning and memories of the loved one) and a restoration orientation (taking steps to return to living). You were just getting back on your feet, spending more time returning to living, but now you feel triggered by each day’s news.

On days when you feel anxious or overwhelmed, you can limit your exposure to the news and try mind-body exercises to calm yourself, like this yoga-inspired alternate-nostril breathing exercise that appears in my memoir, I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother’s Quest forComfort, Courage & Clarity After Suicide Loss (Jessica Kingsley Publishing, 2017):

With your right thumb over your RIGHT nostril (closing it), inhale slowly through your left nostril for three beats. Now lift off the thumb and close your LEFT nostril with your right index finger as you exhale through the right nostril for three beats. Then reverse: Keeping your right index finger where it is (over the left nostril), inhale through your right nostril for three beats.Finally, with your right thumb again over your RIGHT nostril, exhale through your left nostril for three beats and repeat the four-part pattern. Repeat the pattern for a few minutes, then sit quietly to feel the effects of the exercise.
Traumatic grief, depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings and other mental health struggles often feel magnified amidst a larger emergency. Below are a few resources for coping with your grief and staying mentally healthy in this tough time, in addition to whatever your county mental health department has to offer:

- From What’s Your Grief  

- From the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention  

- From the CDC  

- From National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)  

- From the Suicide Prevention Lifeline  

Please remember: You are doing the essential work of grieving. Your needs matter. Limit your exposure to the news and social media. Reach out for fellowship and support however you can. Find one way to take good care of yourself every day. Have compassion for your grieving soul.

In shared sorrow,


If you or someone you know are in crisis and thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, at 800-273-8255.

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