Trigger Warning: Suicide, Grief
If you or someone you know is in crisis or struggles with mental health and might be thinking about suicide, please call 113 (Dutch, English) or seek help under 113.nl
The following writing offers a personal account of someone who survived the suicide of a member of their community. The text talks about grief, mourning, and traumas related to suicide extensively. If you feel strongly about any of those issues, please be aware that the writing might trigger intense emotions.
The writing intends to break the stigma and silence surrounding suicide by describing a personal experience. It does not attempt to treat the topic comprehensively or claim absolute truth. If you made similar or different experiences and would like to share those with us or the author in confidence, write to us.
His name is Simon. This is his real name. I want him to be remembered.
What should have been the happiest day of my year turned into the worst of my life. This morning I was accepted to my dream grad school. Four hours later, I became a suicide survivor. In the afternoon, I had to break to my 16 years old sister that her friend had taken his own life. Telling her is the hardest thing I have ever done. The only thing remotely as hard was watching her, my brother, and my oldest friend cry in my living room. I forced myself not to cry, I forced my voice to remain steady while I talked to them, and I forced myself to be a rock for my little community that suffered such a cutting loss.
To me, this came without warning. The death of Simon, certainly, but what hit me the hardest was the responsibility I took on. My parents are abroad, my two teenage siblings and I are home alone. I planned to spend the day with my nieces and nephew. Instead, I shattered the world of my sister. I have never done this before, ever, in any way. This is much to take for a parent to begin with, but I am a brother and just 21. I have no idea how to deal with this, I have no idea how to emotionally carry a teenage girl whose heart has just been broken into a million pieces by an incomprehensible truth. I have no idea how to deal with my own feelings on this. Right now, I feel bleak, and numb.
I knew Simon. When I taught judo, he came into my group as a pre-teen. I trained him, I trained with him, but when I moved abroad, I stopped seeing him. We were clubmates. Not friends, but part of the same community. Recently, I started to play football with him on Fridays. For my sister it’s different. They were closer. They saw each other two to three times a week. Trained together, laughed together, travelled together. When I came home today, someone had broken the news to her that Simon had passed, but not how. I knew that he ended his life, and I knew that it would come out, and I knew that I wanted her to hear it from me, in a safe environment that gave her space to be in shock and grieve.
When I am faced with crisis, I switch to autopilot. I usually know what to do to keep swimming. Not this time. I called two people, two friends of mine. One is a social worker, and one experienced loss at a young age. Neither could tell me how to be a parent, a sibling, and a friend all at once while introducing a young girl to the concept that a person close to her heart had died through his own hand. They both tried to catch me, and to be as helpful as they could by telling me about their own experiences. But there is no step-by-step to becoming a suicide survivor.
Suicide has never before touched my life. And now I know why, because suicide does not ever just touch alife. It ends one and wreaks havoc in all others. I don’t know what broke my sister, knowing Simon had passed or knowing he had taken his life. But I know what broke me. It was when I tried to speak the words no one prepares you for. “You know that Simon has passed. There is something else you need to know, and I want you to hear now instead of some other time. Simon took his own life.” What broke me was when, as soon as I finished my words, her eyes widened in raging disbelief, sighing “what?” before burying her face in my brother’s shoulder.
Both my friends told me that I did not have to be strong, that it was ok for me to grieve. I do grieve, but so far, my shock kept me from breaking. I know that I don’t have to shut down, I know that I am allowed to cry, I know that I do not have to be a parent to my sister, that I can be a rock with cracks. But knowing this does not matter when I look into hers and my brother’s eyes filled with painful confusion and violent sadness. Don’t mistake this for self-destructive masculinity. I called my best friends, different ones, for emotional support, but right now I am stuck in denial. But that’s alright, because it’s only day zero.
Today I cried. I crumbled. Late at night, when the house was asleep, and my thoughts caught up to me.
Yesterday, writing felt like a relief, a help in structuring my thoughts and trying to put a finger onto the emotions I felt. Because truth is, yesterday and for most of today, I did not feel much at all. For most of today, I dreaded writing, it felt like a task, because I felt empty. I know it’s something I need and want, and after I finished crying just now, writing does feel like a relief again. I am closing day one. My first day as a suicide survivor.
I have never had to tell anyone that their friend or relative had passed. I imagine it’s quite hard. Yesterday I did a weird fraction of that when I had to tell my grieving sister and brother that Simon ended his life. I don’t know how long we sat together until her tears dried and she calmed. At some point after, my brother put on a silly animation movie for kids, just to give our minds a break and because things like getting up from the couch, eating, or going for a walk were off the table.
In trying to carry my sister through her devastation and be by her side in grieving I was utterly lost myself. Before bedtime, I searched for resources, things to learn about how to accompany people, especially teenagers who lost someone through suicide. I found a booklet by the NHS, of which I printed the chapters “What You May Be Feeling” and “Getting Through and Facing the Future” and put them on her nightstand. I thought it might help her understand her own grief.
Through the booklet, I learned that I, my brother, my sister, and my friend, we all, were suicide survivors. Survivors are all those who are affected by the suicide of a person, whether it is family, friends, colleagues, classmates, or those who tend to others grieving. Every survivor relates to the victim differently and has their own way of dealing with what happened. Just as much as my sister relates to Simon and his death differently to how I do. While she mourns for the loss of a friend and tries to understand, to fathom, what “he took his own life” even means, I too cry for the young man my community lost to his demons. But for me, surviving Simon’s suicide mostly means experiencing a sort of secondary devastation because I am trying to catch and carry other survivors that were closer to him than I was, to make their pain more tolerable. As I leave the denial stage of grief and I begin to realise the finality of Simon’s passing, this might change.
As a suicide survivor, I constantly ask myself whether I truly have the right to suffer, the right to be in pain about his death and the devastation brought to my community. After all, I am not his next of kin, his sister, his mother, or his friend the way my sister was. I do not put my pain next to that of those who lost a son or brother or close friend, and I do not want to compare my experience to theirs. But am I allowed to mourn, or am I less of a survivor than they are? Do I have to right to cry, to call my friends and ask their help, burden them with my agony the same way? My head, of course, tells me my feelings are valid, and so is my grief. But the question stays.
As a survivor I also feel that I must be careful whom I tell about Simon’s suicide and my hurt. Because who am I allowed to inflict my secondary pain on? My close friends, who I am asking for emotional support, sure. What about others? What about that person that I have to tell that I will not be able to follow up on something because of a personal issue? Do I have the right to cause a stir in their world, to bother them with an inconvenience just because they asked “how are you?” to be polite? Or would I usurp undue attention because I was making too big of a deal for as little as a survivor I am? And those who I do tell, I immediately feel like carrying as well. I was texting a friend about this, I told them that I was fine talking about Simon’s death and my tending to my sister, but I also told them that it was ok if they did not know what to say to me. Because how could you expect anyone to know what to say to someone who just survived someone else’s suicide? How could you expect anyone to even understand? By: Vincent M. Rump