Facing Suicide Loss at the Holidays

Serious loss of any type is always re-triggered during the holidays. The holidays themselves are a kind of tribal celebration, thought to have originated in the hope that a celebration would help with the darker, shorter days. We are more confident and energetic in the lighter, hotter weather.

A Survivor of Suicide may not yet be recovered and stable when the holidays come. Some people may not yet know of the death. the Survivor has to "start all over" with the story. Some others are inclined to ask in a well-meaning way how you are doing. Some people may want details about the death. This can have the effect of ripping off a newly begun scab and exposing the injury again. Most of us already fear other families are so perfect compared to ours. Facebook and other communications misrepresent what is going on and we feel others are all having great fun. Of course, this is not true.

It helps for the Survivor to be aware that there will be triggers to pain all through the holiday experiences. Don't be surprised by sudden surfacing of pain relating to random holiday situations. As we remember Tom always made the pies, or even just really enjoyed the pies, and he is not here, we feel pain. Perhaps the lost person loved a particular Christmas song. When we line up to do pictures and the person is not here of course if feels different. As we gather we may impulsively think of something we'd like to say to the lost person, and remember...oh, I can't call him.

The holidays will pass and they pass soon. Am much as possible try to be "in the moment", enjoying what is available still. Try to notice what's funny and interesting. Pets and children can be helpful. They are experts at the "Mindfulness" of being in the moment. Maybe the dog tipped over the roast, or we can't believe Mom gave us this...Ask for something material you've wanted for a long time and enjoy getting it. Give it to yourself if no one else will. Work emotionally with what is still there to enjoy. Celebrate the people you do still have.

If other people seem too cheerful or it feels over- whelming it's perfectly ok to cut a visit short and return to what is nurturing. Don't worry about people judging you. Few among us have such hard hearts that we cannot understand you are struggling a bit. Get a massage, call a friend who will support you, see a funny movie, escape and listen to favorite music or play with a pet. The brain will respond to distraction and it does help. As always, I suggest not much sugar (and alcohol is fermented sugar) because of the mood swings that go with spikes and drops in blood sugar. Exercise needs to be a regular part of our self-care and there are clinical studies that support the efficacy of exercise in treating trauma.

Perhaps plan something different to really distract your brain. Go somewhere you've never been, get in touch with an old friend, return to a sport of hobby you used to love long ago. Try something new. Many activities will feel like you are forcing yourself. that's ok at first. Make yourself do it, but the be honest with yourself: if the activity is not having the desired effect, stop it and regroup. This is a time to be especially kind to yourself, not a time to soldier on in a punishing way. Be flexible and try out different things. The one thing you don't want to do is isolate and be bombarded by negative thoughts.

I personally had a very hard time when I was a teenager. The joy just wasn't there in my family. When I had my own child I created traditions "from scratch". Make an ornament for the lost person, assemble some pictures or songs into a video, make cookies, help in a worthwhile organization. Experiment.

Time is a help, cliche that that is. Do your best to care for yourself and if things are less than perfect, tomorrow is another day. A new day. I wish you the best in your journey and know that it is a very difficult one.

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Marshall, M.A., L.P.C. is a practicing clinician in eastern Pennsylvania. For eight years she facilitated a group to help people who lost someone to suicide. Her new book is GETTING THROUGH IT: A WORKBOOK FOR SUICIDE SURVIVORS.