People often reach out to me and ask if I’ve written anything about the grief that follows loss from suicide, which is a complex, multifaceted experience of traumatic loss.
I support people processing these kinds of losses, and have also experienced it myself.
Traumatic loss refers to the loss of someone we love due to traumatic circumstances like suicide, accidents, war, pandemics, homicide, or even natural disasters. The deaths we often do not see coming that are tinged with some element of violence to them.
While we can experience all loss as a shock to the system, there is something particular about the grief that follows a traumatic loss that is different.
I still remember the day I received news that a dear friend of mine had suicided years ago.
We’d just been writing to each other, catching up after years of life moving us in different directions.
It felt sweet to hear from them; it nourished my soul and we felt delighted to finally be catching up…and I hadn’t responded to the last email yet. Several days later I got the news.
My heart was filled with tremendous grief—also shock, fear, and a profound questioning of everything I knew about this person.
They were as many say of those who take their lives, a “bright light,” a profound soul, someone who served others selflessly and was endlessly positive and kind, to literally everyone they met.
It doesn’t mean anything, and that’s quite a difficult thing to grock, I think.
We live in a world that lives more off of how things look, what people project, and how things appear to be, with little regard for what we deem to be inconvenient, like grief or depression or complex trauma.
There’s a lot of expectation in our society for people to be present in a certain way.
And, this modern culture, especially here in the West, in North America, rewards fawning behaviors and hyper independent trauma responses we might call individualism or “sovereignty.”
In other words, performance over authenticity.
When I received the news about my friend, it plunged me into a space of simply not knowing the what, why, how of their circumstances that were truly going on in their lives.
I didn’t know if I could have done something differently, or at all, to have helped them.
It broke my heart.
When faced with traumatic loss, we might leap to opinions, fear, judgement, defensiveness, or even leap to educate ourselves or others.
It’s a leap into problem solving, into the mind, into “action,” which is a form of flight and fight. It’s too much to be with the complexity of all we are feeling.
We suddenly question ourselves if we could have done anything…like what if I had replied to that email sooner?
It renders within us a sense of powerlessness in the face of the mystery.
A bubble is popped in our illusion of how the world works, how death “should” happen, how well we know people, and the shocking revelation that we might not actually know how people are really doing or what is really going on with them—no matter how well they seem to be doing.
This bubble popping is an aspect of grieving and healing trauma that naturally arises as we are processing events and metabolizing our emotions.
It’s painful, shocking to the heart. The mind wants to leap in and make meaning, to find the answers, and so on.
We want to find something to help us feel better about what happened.
The truth is that there are no answers.
That’s the hard part.
We don’t really get to know why a person did what they did, why life works the way it does, or why people end up dying the way they do.
When dark things happen, it’s hard to understand where God had a hand in this or if God was even there, because why do things like this happen if God is everywhere and life is supposed to be so benevolent?
Why is there so much pain in the world we haven’t been able to metabolize?
We are in a deeply dense time of suffering and loss and trying to go on like nothing ever happened.
What can we do to cultivate a greater capacity to process this collectively?
It’s this pain we need to turn to, to find ways to love on it in order to move through it.
Grief is complex, even more so when we simply do not know why a loss happened and all we thought we knew comes into question.
Especially the things we cannot know that call us to perhaps seek refuge in the places we find ourselves doubting the most.
The loss is big, we are longing for answers,
the part of us that thought we knew a person
or felt rooted in our beliefs about goodness
and how life and death operates, this part of us
dissolves within us.
We need to find our way back to the love
we have felt disconnected from,
to find some sense of meaning within
the liminal dreaming of our grief
lean into the certain emergence
that something beautiful could possibly arise from all of it.
It takes time.
It’s a massive cracking open.
A wake-up call if we are paying close enough attention.
In the meantime, it can help to tend to the animal body as much as we can—feed ourselves, drink, rest, move in ways that feel good and support the movement of the grief in the pain body.
Return to the basics.
It’s a profound time to engage in rituals, sharing stories, connecting with nature and the earth.
The symbolic mind and the psyche of the land can be harnessed to bring healing and a sense of holding, refuge in the midst of much unknown and heartbreak.
We can tend to the shadows that arise within us, the places we haven’t known how to love or be with.
We can be honest with the multitude of emotions we feel from raw grief to shock to anger to despair to powerlessness to doubt to deep love, and so on.
It’s important to reach out for connection, with friends, our support people and others processing the loss we are.
This is a powerful time to become honest, authentic, and dig into what matters the most and find ways to seed these deeper prayers so they take root and life emerges in a way that reflects the deep heart in our connections, in our lives.
My favorite prayer in grief, when things are the most unknown, is to ask for help taking this pain and transforming it into something beautiful.
Even if just in my own heart.
It’s simple to whisper this prayer to the wind, into a glass of water, and pour it on the earth or sing it to a tree while walking in nature.
In our heart of hearts, to be human is to be gifted with this profound creative, intelligent capacity to transform our pain into something beautiful—and perhaps we can begin to create a more beautiful world where more of us want to stay.
And, maybe, just maybe, it all begins with listening more.