Her Advice Based on “Living Beyond the Why: Navigating the Journey of Suicide-Related Grief”
Offering relevant information on how to navigate through grief by experts in the field of bereavement, author Dr. Bridgette Everhart Hardin writes about her personal journey through suicide-related grief. Order her 5-star reviewed book here.
Specifically, the book provides information on how to Identify personal grief patterns, insights on how to recognize relevant and beneficial coping strategies used to promote emotional healing; and information on the various resources available to anyone traversing the journey of suicide-related grief.
Seven Questions with Dr. Hardin
How important is it to pull in other family members/friends into a “grieving circle?”
Quick answer- it is EXTREMELY important. When we lose a loved one to suicide, we often feel isolated and alone. Our grief holds us hostage, only feeding us sadness, guilt, and possibly, regret. Recognizing that there are other individuals ‘out there’ who are grieving over the loss of your loved one, be it an acquaintance or a close relative, helps us to realize we are not alone and that we do not need to feel isolated in our loss.
Suicide is a tricky, sensitive subject to talk about. Establishing a grief circle, comprised of fellow mourners, allows for opportunities to communicate and emotionally heal without judgment, criticism, or stigma.
What’s the top thing that you hold onto that keeps you moving forward?
Daily, I have to work at focusing on the love I have for my brother, and not the anger that wants to invade my thoughts. I have to remember how fortunate I was to have been loved by my brother and that my love for him continues on. This form of emotional redirect allows me to focus on the positive aspects of the relationship with my brother, while minimizing my tendency to fuel the negative thoughts focused on loss, sadness, and anger.
Did you feel that you needed to radically change your daily emotional/physical routine in order to break the cycle of misery?
This is a tricky question to answer, for when someone is in the ‘throws’ of raw grief, they do not readily recognize how their grief is shaping their day-to-day routines. Over time I realized that I was not truly living, but merely existing through each passing day. I knew I wanted to experience joy again, and authentically smile and laugh when opportunities presented themselves to do so. Yet, I didn’t have it in me to ‘step outside’ of my grief. I allowed the grief to rule my existence.
Then, by chance, at a wedding reception, I found myself authentically laughing at a story being told during the Best Man’s speech. The Best Man had the crowd in stitches, and me along with them. This was a breakthrough moment for me. I realized I needed to take inventory of my actions and my emotions, and find my way back to ‘the land of the living’. So, while I didn’t find a need to ‘radically change’ my routine, I did recognize the need to empower myself over my grief. Once I felt empowered, I was then able to take gentle steps forward to live a life full of promise and hope.
Did you feel like you could have done something, that guilt, and how did you manage it?
Oh yes- the guilt. I refer to guilt in my book, and reference the ‘HAVE Siblings’- Would Have, Could Have, and Should Have. It was so easy for me to go down the path of guilt over my brother’s suicide, as I was the last person to see him alive, just moments before he took his life. I often wondered if my brother was mentally swirling in his thoughts of suicide as he conversed with me during our last conversation. For quite some time, I harbored such guilt over not being able to influence my brother to stay ‘with us’. If only I would have been able to talk with him about the issues he was dealing with. If only I could have read or recognized any warning signs. I should have been able to see my brother’s emotional pain.
Again, those HAVE siblings were fueling my grief. The only way I conquered my feelings of guilt was be stopping those guilty thoughts in their tracks by recognizing how my brother’s actions were his to own, and not for me to own. I did not have the locus of control over my brother’s actions.
Did you feel like maybe that person was better off and that you were being selfish? If so, what’s your take on that emotional quandary?
With regard to my brother, I felt sorrow in that he didn’t feel as if he could share his issues with me. I thought my brother and I shared everything with each other. Between the moments of typical sibling bantering, we had great conversations and experiences together. I thought I knew everything that there was to know about my brother- alas, I was wrong. I think it is often easy for us to see the lives of others as ‘the grass is greener on the other side of the fence’. When, in all reality, we don’t take into account the struggles our loved ones endure on a daily basis. I think if we all step back and realize that one person’s ease over something is another person’s struggle, it would allow for all of us to be more empathetic.
Were you or are you a victim of PTSD before or after the suicide?
This is another area I bring up in the book. Before my brother died, I didn’t have any post traumatic episodes. After my brother’s suicide, I encountered many episodes. Having been the person to hear the gunshot go off in the house, and find my brother post-gunshot, was traumatic for me. Seeing my brother lying lifeless in his own blood spurred a series of nightmares for me right after his passing. There was one instance when some family members thought it would be a good idea to throw a surprise birthday party for my mother, as a way to break her out of her intense sorrow. When my parents and I walked into the room, and heard the booming shout-out of ‘SURPRISE’ from the party guests, I found myself shaken. My heart began to race, my chest tightened, and sweat began to bead at my brow. I was reliving the sound of the gunshot and wanted to run out of the room as fast as I could. To this day, I have flashback moments whenever I witness a scene in a movie involving gunfire, or whenever I see anything red split on the ground.
What advice do you have for those who find or identify the body at some point?
The image of your loved one, post-suicide, will always stay with you. Allow yourself to process what you have seen, and give yourself permission to be shocked by it. There is strength in recognizing our emotional and mental limitations. If you find yourself having nightmares about the last visual of your loved one, or find yourself unable to stop thinking about what you have seen, then you may benefit from talking with a mental health professional. For me, I turned to my parents and a counselor for support as I worked through the mental images of my brother. Over time, I was able to replace the horrific image of my brother’s death with images of happier times- such as traveling together and other common experiences (mental redirection).