Dear Survivor …
I’d like to tell you a little about Iris Bolton, an amazing woman from Atlanta,
Georgia. Iris is the Director of the
Link Counseling Center, a survivor of the suicide of her son Mitch, and author
of the eloquent book “My Son, My Son.”
Iris has been helping survivors of suicide for many years, traveling,
speaking, writing and supporting families in countless ways.
Recently I was invited to participate in training new Volunteers
of TIP (Trauma Intervention Program). When asked to share information that was
(or would have been) helpful to me at the time of my husband’s death, I started
to write out a number of suggestions and thoughts. I quickly realized that I was
reinventing the wheel, as I have something Iris wrote called “Beyond Surviving”
(which is in my packet of handouts for SOS) that beautifully covers a multitude
of tips for survivors.
Before you read “ Beyond Surviving”, I would like to preface her ideas with a
few of my own suggestions for immediate help. Please note that there is a little
overlap, since some of Iris’s tips are so vitally important, they bear repeating ….
………Jeri Livingstone, SOS / Crystal Cathedral
SURVIVING A SUICIDE
SOME IMMEDIATE SUGGESTIONS
…. Jeri Livingstone
Your family has been touched by tragedy. You can survive
this tremendous sorrow … please believe that.
From the very first day, make caring for yourself a high priority.
Although you may have enough adrenalin to rise to the occasion … even making
arrangements, spreading the word, caring for other family members, receiving
condolences, etc, you must safeguard your physical and mental health to the best
of your ability. For instance:
- Accept offers of help. Surround yourself with loving, competent friends who
are quick to listen and slow to give advice.
- Tears are extremely healthy. Drink a lot of water and keep them coming – they
are nature’s way of washing away the toxins that build up from stress. Then, eat
bananas to replace the potassium that you lose from crying.
- Get as much sleep as you can, but avoid excessive use of alcohol or medication.
- If you must drive a car, BE SO CAREFUL! You are distracted and forgetful, and
as such, very much at risk when you get behind the wheel of a car … as are other
drivers who share the road with you. MAKE A CONSCIOUS EFFORT to put your grief on
HOLD when you fasten your seat belt. Postpone it until you get where you are going!!
- Similarly, if you find you are
being overcome with sadness and tears that interrupt your work or other necessary
activities, try this: Say to yourself, “I can’t do this right now, but will make
an appointment to do this at ____ (7 PM, Bedtime, etc.)” It just may allow you to
get through the rough spot, since grief cannot be IGNORED but may allow itself to
be POSTPONED. Then keep that appointment – at 7PM, go to your room, lay down, and
cry until you can no longer cry. In this way, you will have taken control of your
grief, instead of vice versa. This may be easier said than done, but is worth a
- Reach out for help. Although you may not be ready to go for counseling or attend
a support group, make initial contacts … it may be comforting to know what kinds of
help are available when you are ready. If seeing a counselor, find one who has
experience with trauma and grief issues. If a counselor makes you uncomfortable,
find another one immediately.
- The Orange County SOS Group meets twice a month at the Crystal Cathedral, and
is both free and non-denominational. We offer a website, a lending library of books,
video and audiotapes and pamphlets, and numerous handouts as well as immediate and
ongoing telephone support.
- A word about sharing details or answering questions … you may want to freely
communicate to others the “story”, or may feel very protective of this information.
Remember – this information is yours to disseminate, or to keep as private as you wish ….
You may instinctively know how much to say, to whom, and when. If you are very open
about the manner of death, you may be surprised to hear that many others have
experienced suicide in their own families, and that information will be readily
shared with you.
- From Iris, I borrow and repeat the following: Be patient with yourself. Wear out
the “why?”, the anger, the guilt … know that whatever you are feeling is normal. Don’t
let anyone tell you how to feel or what to do. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint…
find your own way through it and don’t let anyone “SHOULD” on you.
- One final thought …many people who are contemplating ending their lives are able
to do so by a thought process of de-valuing their own existence. They may perceive
themselves as a burden, and – although we may see it very differently !!– actually
feel they are doing what is best for the family. If your loved one has been very
troubled, has led a chaotic existence of physical, mental and/or emotional problems
that led to hopeless despair, you may take comfort in knowing that his or her
suffering has surely ended and they are now at peace. This sounds very obvious, but is
worth a reminder as you go through the days of your new reality. Try to turn the
energy spent caring for that person toward caring for yourself….. one day, one
hour, one minute at a time.
Following is Iris Bolton’s “Beyond Surviving – Tips for Survivors.”
Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors
- Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
- Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until
you are satisfied with partial answers.
- Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but all your
feelings are normal.
- Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy,
you are in mourning.
- Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at
God, at yourself. It’s OK to express it.
- You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can
turn into regret, through forgiveness.
- Having suicidal thoughts is common; it does not mean that you will act
- Remember to take one moment or one hour or one day at a time.
- Find a good listener with whom to share.
- Remember the choice was not yours.No one is the sole influence in another’s
- Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be
experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
- Try to put off major decisions.
- Give yourself permission to get professional help.
- Be aware of the pain of family and friends.
- Be patient with yourself and with others who may not understand.
- Set your own limits and learn to say no.
- Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
- Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as
Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide.
- Call on your personal faith to help you through.
- It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, i.e.
headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep.
- The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
- Wear out your questions, anger, guilt or other feelings until you can
let them go. Letting go does not mean forgetting!
- Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and
even go beyond just surviving.
Iris M. Bolton (reprinted from Suicide and its Aftermath)