For clarification, the use of the word “better” in this article is meant to imply “improved condition as survivors progress through the healing process”.
by Lois A. Bloom
It always takes me back in time when a survivor asks me, “Does it get better?” I knew a survivor whose husband hung himself asked me that recently. I have talked to more than a hundred survivors in the past six years, and this is the most asked question. The person really wants to know if his/her pain will lessen in the future. It’s an important question. If the response comes from a believable source and it is positive, it can have a significant effect on the survivor’s recovery. I remember asking this question when I first talked to a survivor and my husband (who is a born optimist) asked it the first time he called a survivor’s program a few days after our son’s suicide in 1982. We were in a state of shock and the full impact of the tragedy hadn’t hit us, but we sensed an urgent need for a message of hope.
Several months later my husband and I attended a Survivors Meeting. As we listened to the varied suicide stories, I felt a terrible feeling of despair. Sensing my struggle, a few of the group gathered around after the meeting, wanting to help. “Does it get better?” I managed to ask one woman who earlier in the evening had shared that she had lost two loved ones to suicide several years before. “Oh yes,” she adamantly replied. “It gets better as time goes on.” I recall desperately wanting to trust her words. As my pain got even more severe in the months ahead I thought about her a lot.
I reflected not only on her words but her example. I did believe that the pain would eventually lessen but kept wondering how and when it would happen. Certainly time alone wouldn’t make my pain go away; I would have to confront the grief and work through it. I believe that in order to have a successful grief experience one must be fully aware of what is happening, have the courage to confront the issues head‐on, be open about them, take the time to work them through, find caring support and avoid getting trapped in a place where your life revolves around the suicide.
It took tremendous effort and energy to face my grief. I was totally unprepared for the numerous unexpected setbacks. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries were and still are very difficult times. During the first months, all memories associated with my son were painful. As time passed, this changed and the good memories returned and they weren’t painful. Participating in a survivors’ support group, where we could listen and share with people who have suffered a similar experience, was a tremendous help. Talking with other survivors helped us not feel so alone and provided us with much caring support.
It also helped me to read books about bereavement. As I was experiencing my grief, I was learning about it. Reading books about suicide helped me to resolve some of the questions I had about the way my son died. Each of us must find our own way through our grief experience. It’s a personal journey with one’s own timeframe. Experts have found it takes much longer than previously thought to work through the process of recovery. In my experience, I found that after a year and a half the all‐consuming pain had lessened. By the end of two years, my son’s suicide was no longer the first thought when I woke up nor the last one when I went to bed, although this still happens on occasion.