Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Survivors of suicide loss are left behind to attempt to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. The wintertime holiday season oftentimes proves to be particularly challenging for survivors of suicide loss.
There are self-care strategies you can employ during the holiday season. There are also some steps you can take to find at least some joy during such a challenging time.
The Reality of Suicide of a Loved on at or Near the Holiday Season
If you lose a loved one by suicide at or near the holiday season, you have a fresh, painful hole in your heart. The loss is all-encompassing. The landscape of your holiday season changes dramatically. You have one less person at your holiday table. You have one less person for whom to buy gifts.
Many people in this situation automatically assume that they must forge ahead and put on a brave front and celebrate the season in the same manner as in the past. In fact, marshaling onward with a traditional holiday celebration may be the exact opposite of what a person should do in this situation. You may need to consider seriously commemorating the holiday in a markedly different way when you’re a survivor of suicide loss.
This may mean forgoing any communal celebration of the season. If you relatively recently lost a loved one by their own hand, you must understand that you have the absolute right to forgo celebrating the holidays. That doesn’t mean you should wallow in sorrow. However, you need to take a course that feels more comfortable to you and that aids you in addressing your grief. That may mean no traditional holiday celebration.
Finding Glimpses of Joy in Different Traditions
On the other hand, you may find comfort in carrying forward with different seasonal traditions. The bottom line is that you can honor the holiday season in a manner that is most consistent with and helpful in addressing your own grief. For example, rather than a large gathering of friends and family, you might want to consider commemorating a holiday with a few close loved ones. Not only will you face the grieving process in your own way, but you also have every right to find simple joy in what is a challenging holiday season in your own way as well.
Love for a Suicide Victim Endures
When a deceased loved one is memorialized, we oftentimes hear that the individual carries on in spirit and in our hearts. Love endures for those of us who’ve lost a loved one to suicide.
There most definitely is a positive and comforting aspect to the idea that love endures the loss of a loved one. Nonetheless, the reality that love endures can bring forth a renewed sense of grief during the holiday season, even if a family member or other loved one was lost a good deal of time in the past. Because love endures, the sense of love during the holiday season may be sharper and more intense than what you’ve faced as part of your routines if day-to-day life. Self-care during the holiday season must include addressing these more intense emotions.
The immediate response for many people experiencing magnified loss during the holidays is to try and push those feelings away, to try and bury the emotional responses. In fact, for many suicide survivors, the preferred response is to embrace and accept the emotions that arise during the holidays.
Attempting to bury emotions is not considered a healthy course to take. Burying emotions prevents you from addressing them and allows them to fester and persist.
Burying emotions also tends to cause people to withdraw and shy away from other people, which is not what you need to do during the holiday season when experiencing renewed grief as a suicide survivor. Yes, you may need time alone to deal with your emotions. However, some time alone is not the same as emotionally withdrawing from people who care about you.
Be prepared for a resurgence of grief, even when a suicide loss is a considerable amount of time in the past. Remind yourself that a primary reason why grief returns during the holiday season is precise because the love that exists between you and a person who is gone does endure.
As you celebrate the season, consider small ways in which you can celebrate the love that persists between your departed loved one and yourself. This can be done very simply by doing things like lighting a seasonal candle to celebrate not just the life of the individual who is no longer present but the bond of love that still exists to this day.
Holiday Triggers Can Overwhelm and Derail
Time and again when people consider the holidays, they nearly always make reference to a trio of the senses. People speak of the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays. Indeed, the sights, sounds, smells of the holidays can prove to be so profound that they stir memories of the holidays when encountered during other times of the year.
The sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season also stir memories of holidays gone by during the current season. Moreover, the sights, sounds, and smells you encounter this holiday season very well may trigger memories and thoughts of loved one lost to suicide. In point of fact, these sensory stimulations can prove to be so profound and even disturbing because of the manner in which they bring sharp memories of a loved one now gone.
If you’ve become a survivor of suicide loss relatively recently, one course you might need to consider taking is a modification of your holiday rituals. An understandable reality is that when the memory of a lost loved one is fresh, encountering these sights, sounds, and smells might trigger emotions that are so extreme as to be debilitating. In addition, perhaps modifying some holiday traditions, at least for the time being, can also be an advisable course to take. As time marches on, and you put some distance between the loss of a loved one and the current juncture in time, these elements of the holiday season are likely to become less of trigger points.
Keep in mind that making some adjustments in your holidays doesn’t mean you need to abandon celebrating the season, particularly if you’ve some time between the loss of a loved one and the current time. For example, if you historically enjoyed more grand celebrations that brought together many people, something simpler might be the advisable course. Consider gathering a small group of loved ones together for a lovely and yet simple seasonal celebration.
Know Your Physical and Emotional Limitations
A crucial factor that you must be cognizant of during the holiday season is your own physical and emotional limitations. In the more immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one to suicide, you likely will have significant physical and emotional limitations. Over time, these limitations will be less extensive. However, they are likely to remain or recur in the future.
Knowing your physical and emotional limitations typically is not a challenging task. Your body will “let you know” that you are reaching your physical or emotional limits.
Many people think the answer to facing physical and emotional limitations is to marshal on, to fight through these limitations. In the vast majority of case, taking the course of marshaling on only leaves a person more physically or emotionally overtaxed.
The preferable and healthier route in dealing with your physical and emotional limitations is to retreat and take a break to regroup. This isn’t giving up. Rather, taking a break is a recognition of your humanity and your understandable limitations, particularly as they have been aggravated by an untimely loss of a loved one.
Embrace Your Memories – Don’t Run From Them
As mentioned previously, your emotions are likely to be heightened during the holiday season, even if some time has passed since you became a survivor of suicide loss. You are highly likely to experience what very well may be a broad spectrum of emotions associated with your memories. Many people attempt to bury or run from these memories, particularly during the holiday season.
The reality is that memories of a loved on that has died any type of untimely death, including suicide, can evoke a wide range of emotions and responses. You may be sad or happy, depending on the emotions a particular memory brings forth. You may cry or you may laugh, depending on the memory.
Rather than avoid these memories, embrace and celebrate them. Taking the route of embracing memories of a loved one no longer physically with you is a vital aspect of the broader grieving process.
Depending on existing facts and circumstances, you may need to consider engaging the services of different types of professionals. For example, if a family member or other loved one takes his or her life near or during the holiday season, you may require the need for a suicide remediation specialist.
If a person took his or her life in a traumatic manner, you don’t need the added emotional and other challenges of tending to the death scene. There are professionals with the background, experience, and compassion to assist in remediating the aftermath of a suicide death.
You may also benefit from the support and assistance of a grief therapist. There are grief therapists that focus specifically on assisting survivors of suicide loss according to Survivors of Suicide Loss. SOSL maintains a support line that is in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including on all major holidays: (619) 482-0297.
By incorporating these tactics and suggestions into your life over the holiday season, you will be in the best possible position to balance your grief and loss with the potential for at least some joy during the holiday season. You will be able to make a holiday season as meaningful as possible, even in the midst of potentially tremendous challenges.