A very wise woman I once knew described the grief associated with losing someone to suicide as a heavy coat. It went something like this.
Imagine walking along on path on a bright sunny day. Wearing the lightest of clothing, each step is easy. You feel strong, nimble.
Now imagine if someone just dropped a great big, soaking wet coat onto your shoulders. The coat covers you from head to foot. The hood hangs over your face and obscures your view almost entirely. The sleeves are so long and heavy that it’s difficult to even lift your arms. Each time you try to take a step you find yourself tripping because this coat is so big and heavy.
This coat of suicide grief is overwhelmingly large, oppressive and just so very heavy. Along with the weight that most experience when losing one they love, there are additional weights in the pockets of this coat of grief. Making the grief even heavier.
There is the stigma. So much painful stigma associated with suicide and the loss of a loved one to suicide. It’s not unusual for those who have lost someone to be worried about sharing the cause of death with others. There is frequently shame, guilt and blame attached. Additional weights in the pockets. Adding to the weight of this coat of suicide grief.
New suicide grief can feel very much like this coat of grief. For some, it is not only too heavy to walk well, but it can be almost impossible to sit or even consider standing.
Still, the coat is not one that can be removed by simply unbuttoning and shrugging off of your shoulders. Instead, each person who wears this coat of suicide grief must understand that this is now a part of their reality.
Safe, healthy grieving takes work! And yes, it absolutely is exhausting. One of the many reasons why so often one who is grieving simply feels worn out. That coat of suicide grief is enormously heavy.
Over time, and with safe, healthy ways to express this grief, that coat can become lighter. It helps to begin considering those weights in the pockets. Is it really reasonable to accept and hold on to stigma? Who does that benefit? Letting go of that stigma, refusing to own it lightens the coat enormously. This is much easier for some than others. A process.
Each of these weights is a burden. Is guilt really fair or reasonable? Is blame helpful in any way? On and on, one at a time. As each of the weights is taken out and examined the coat begins to feel a bit lighter. Not as heavily saturated. And something else is happening at the same time. The person wearing the coat is becoming stronger. Again, a little at a time.
Over time, with work and hopefully with strong support from others, something rather miraculous begins to happen. Healing. It can be so subtle at first that it’s not recognized. The one experiencing this deep grief may shift their focus from the manner and moment that their loved one died to the lives that they shared together. The memories of smiles, hugs, and joy.
And slowly, the one who is wearing this coat of suicide grief is able to sit up. Stand up. Take steps and walk. Even to run.
Some say that they will wear the coat of grief their entire lives. Perhaps that is so, or not. For each person who has worn the coat of suicide grief the experience is unique, very individual.
Many are eventually able to take to coat off. It may be folded and put on a shelf, perhaps it is worn from time to time. But it no longer drags them to the ground all of the time.
Once again, the one walking the path is able to move forward. Rejoining life.