It’s impossible for me not to think of my sister every July 10, September 10 and November 10. My sister committed suicide when I was 23 on a balmy Northeastern July 10 night, World Suicide Prevention day is September 10 and her birthday is November 10.
I remember every single detail of the night she died as though it just happened. I just received my dream job in NYC, and was just coming off a euphoric dream date in Soho, when I received a text from my mom: “Urgent. Call me.” My world was forever changed. In an instant, I knew that I would never, ever be able to look at life the same again.
World Suicide Prevention Day is vital to educating the world on how suicide can be prevented, but it’s also an important day for survivors to speak up about what suicide does to those left behind.
Here are five of the most helpful pieces of advice that have gotten me through the past four years without my sister:
It Was Their Decision
A few hours after I received the news, I curled up in the fetal position on my bed, and felt my sister embrace me. She said, “This is what I wanted. Don’t be sad. This was my decision.” I remember this anytime I begin the millions of questions that come when a loved one commits suicide: Was there something I could have done? Did I not say the right things? Was I not enough for her to stay? At the end of the day, it was her decision to make, and a decision that I am left to accept.
It’s Okay To Be Angry
I was the first member of my family to hit the ‘anger’ stage, and I was incredibly chastised for being mad at someone who tragically died. I was angry that I had just started my new job and now was facing a horrible tragedy, I was mad that my parents were so upset they didn’t even know how to communicate with me, I was mad that my sister followed through on my mom’s greatest fear that she clearly communicated to all of us, which was to lose a child. I was mad for a long time, but, here’s the thing, in my own time the anger transformed into understanding and four years later I have made my way through the grief cycle and am in a place of better acceptance and understanding. I needed to process my anger, and it’s unhealthy for anyone to tell you not to.
One catch here, though, is that with anger, oftentimes comes guilt for being angry at the person. Don’t feel guilty. You have a right to be angry, and need to be angry, in order to move through the next stage of grief.
Your Friends Care, Even If They Don’t Show It
When I flew back to my hometown after the news broke, my friends treated me as if nothing had happened. They were all smiles and energy around me, taking me to my favorite places and showing me that there was still life to be lived amidst tragedy.
I was stunned by their reaction. Didn’t they care that my sister just died? When I brought it up to my Christian therapist, he quickly defended my friends. He explained that suicide is an incredibly hard topic for people to bring up in conversation, and, due to the nature of my sister’s death, my friends were just waiting for me to approach the subject before I did to ensure I was comfortable.
Looking back, they did the best thing they could have for me by keeping a positive mindset. I was able to get strength from theirs.
Take Your Time
I literally could not date after my sister died. I hated every time the first-date question came up, “How many siblings do you have?” Or if someone asked, “What have you been doing lately?” The days after my sister passed away were filled with grief and trying to navigate my new world without her, and that isn’t necessarily first date conversation.
Take your time healing. Don’t rush first dates, or meeting new people, or feeling one hundred percent again. There’s a wonderful quote out there about the fact that we do not ever “get over” a death, we rather create a new life living with that scar. You need to take some time to figure out what the new life looks for you, and don’t be concerned about trying to fit into your old life again. You need to change your perception of what you feeling one hundred percent means, because it is naturally going to be different than what it looked like before you lost someone.
Turn It Into Something Meaningful
After my anger subsided, I decided that in order to cope with the tragic suicide of my sister I had to turn it into something meaningful in my life. For me, this meant following through on my writing because it’s something she always encouraged me to do. I wrote this blog post about her impact on my writing recently, as she is still with me every time I look at a blank page → One Life For Another.
I make a point of writing about my experience, my grief, her decision, in order to educate others. I also live my life everyday for her, because I know that she never gets to see another day. Whenever I feel down or upset, I remember that at least I have today, which is more than she has now.
Figure out what you’re good at, and how you can turn your experience with losing someone to suicide into something that positively impacts and changes the world.
I read an interesting tweet today that survivors also need to be thought of because they are the ones left with the pain in the end. It’s so true. Suicide hits families, relationships, careers like a bomb, completely destroying any previous perceptions you had of life. It’s essential to find the strength to rebuild your life into something beautiful from the remnants, it’s essential to survive.
- Marji J. Sherman