Psychologist John Schneider poses three questions for the bereaved that are worth exploring for those living with suicide loss (as well as those grieving any type of loss during this pandemic). The questions are simple yet generative: What is lost? What is left? What is possible?
It’s crucial to address these in the most despondent stages of grief after suicide when the sense of loss is overwhelming and it’s difficult to see a way forward--to acknowledge the terrible loss while opening our eyes to what we carry with us from our loved one and what we may yet be able to do, love, understand. It’s also revealing to see how our responses evolve over time.
I recently found two sets of responses to these questions, one from a support group several months after my son Noah’s death and one from a blog post I wrote four years later. Before looking at the lists too carefully, I took stock of how the questions strike me now, seven years after the suicide. Some of my current responses:
What is lost?
What is left?
A few years ago, I got a gratitude stone as a keepsake from a Survivors Day gathering. I put it by Noah’s high school picture more out of aspiration than conviction. Recently, while singing prayers for Shabbat at home, I happened to notice the stone when I glanced at Noah’s photo. I felt a wave of appreciation for my son’s life and love without the usual pang of pain that comes with missing him. So it’s become possible, finally, to feel the expansion of gratitude as the bitterness subsides. I can’t always access or sustain the feeling--but at least I’ve learned it is possible.
To My Fellow Survivors: Where do your thoughts go when you see Schneider’s three grief questions? Your answers are your own; there’s no recipe or timetable. It’s OK to feel stuck, OK to not know, OK to feel anger or forgiveness--whatever. Maybe you have other questions to add to the three. Keep a record of how you respond today and look back on it in a year or two; you may be surprised.