Grieving a Loss by Suicide

Grief After Suicide (1)

Episode Description

The grief of losing a friend or loved one to suicide is complicated and can be especially difficult. In addition to the grief, sadness, and loneliness of any loss, people might experience guilt, confusion, rejection, anger, and shame. The stigma of suicide complicates it even more, often preventing survivors talking about their loss or getting the help they need. In this episode of Mind Your Mind, Tim Unsinn visits with Dakota Family Services' therapist, Christy Wilkie. Christy helps listeners understand the complicated nature of suicide grief and how to move through it with compassion and self-acceptance.

What to Expect

  • Understand the complicated nature of grieving someone who died by suicide
  • Recognize the importance of working through grief instead of around it
  • Learn how to make your own path through grief
  • Learn about your "grief ball"


Things to Think About

  • Have you been affected by suicide?
  • If so, can you give yourself space and time to grieve?
  • Have you thought about seeing a therapist to help you through this difficult time?
  • How can you support a friend who has lost someone to suicide?

About the Guest

Untitled Design (1)

Christy Wilkie provides therapy for children and adolescents, ages 5-25, who have complex behavioral health issues. She combines her extensive clinical expertise with a belief in kids, and has a unique ability to find and develop their strengths. She works hard to be an ideal therapist for her clients, doing what is best to fit their needs.

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Transcript
Grieving a Loss by Suicide

Featuring Christy Wilkie, Therapist, Dakota Family Services

Tim Unsinn:

Welcome to "Mind Your Mind," a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services, an outpatient behavioral health clinic located in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, North Dakota. In this podcast, I will talk with our experts about understanding and nurturing our mental health and wellness. I'm your host, Tim Unsinn. Join me each episode, as we explore the intricacies of our minds, decrease the stigma of mental illness, learn practical tips for managing our mental health and wellbeing, and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Join me now to Mind Your Mind.

TU:

Welcome to this episode of "Mind Your Mind." Our guest is Christie Wilkie. Christy is a therapist in Fargo and provides outpatient therapy for children and adolescents ages five to 25. Christy, great to have you on Mind Your Mind. Our topic is people grieving the loss of someone by suicide. That's a tough topic. Before we get to the topic, we would like to know why you do what you do.

Christy Wilkie:

Why first of all, I'm super happy to be here this morning. I'm thankful to be able to share whatever I know to help somebody out. Why do I do what I do? I love to see people be able to process through the deep feelings and emotions and thoughts that come with just the things that happen in life. And a lot of times people can't do that on their own, and they need someone to help them through that and see that there's a different way to see things. And to see people come out on the other side, a better version of themselves, is really the best thing for me in my position.

TU:

Today's topic is people grieving the loss of someone by suicide. And I know for most of those that are listening with us and joining us have lost someone to suicide or know someone that has. And I think it reaches long and far and anything we can do to help you through that process, I think is going to be a huge help. So my first question for you, why is this important and how is it different from grieving any other loss?

CW:

Yeah, any kind of loss is hard. I did a podcast before on suicide and how to see the warning signs for somebody who might be thinking about suicide. And I feel like we put a lot of our energy into that, because people want to know how to respond to someone when they have that feeling or they say something to them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that end up dying by suicide because of a mental illness. And so I don't feel like we put as much energy into that side of things to say, well, this is where I am, now what do I do? Are the things that I'm feeling or the things that I'm thinking, okay? Are they normal? All of those things come into people's heads and it's a very difficult loss to bear.

CW:

It's especially pertinent right now, because spring is the season where there's the highest rates of suicide, which people kind of go what that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Usually when I ask that question, people will say the holidays or something like that. And that's definitely a time when it's, when it's higher. Springtime is interesting because in the winter, we can justify feeling crappy. You feel gross and it's dark, especially in Fargo. It's cold and windy. And so you're kind of like, yeah, it's that seasonal stuff, whatever. And then spring comes around and you can see people outside. You can see, you know, when spring comes, you get that feeling, that feeling in your body when it's just kinda like, "Ooh, I can feel that there's a little bit more spring in my step." And some people that are suffering from depression don't get that feeling.

CW:

And so they feel like this is how they're just going to feel like forever. And that's just too great of a burden to bear. The other part of that is that spring might give people just enough energy to act on the thoughts that they'd been having. They might have been having suicidal ideations or have been figuring out ways to maybe end their life. And so spring will give them just as much as much energy to do that. Now that I've said that, you'll notice it. It'll come through in the news, it'll come through in your Facebook feeds. There will be increased rate of suicide. The other thing is that with the pandemic, the rates of depression have gone up, the rates of suicide have gone up. There was an article that I read in a New York newspaper that had said that in Queens alone, there were more suicides in a six week span during the pandemic than in four months, the year before.

CW:

So it's just, the suicides are happening way more frequently. And that being said, there's 132 people that die by suicide every day. Which is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death among adolescents. And so that's every 11 minutes, someone dies by suicide. And you'll notice, I try to catch myself to not say commit suicide; I try to say die by suicide. Commit gives it kind of a negative connotation or it's like something that they did. And rather saying that it's something that they died by. Suicide, as a mental health professional is just, it's a fatal symptom of depression. And you had said too, when we opened, you had said, you know, it's rare to find somebody who hasn't been affected by suicide. The latest statistic that I saw that said that for every one suicide, there's about 135 people that are directly impacted by that suicide, which is a lot. So, as a professional, the odds that I'm gonna have somebody come into my office that haven't been impacted by it are very, very rare.

TU:

I think with those numbers too, the fact that with 135, that means there are 135 people that may have direct contact with that person at some point. Are we looking for the warning signs? Are we paying attention to things around us without, you know, without judging people, but I would encourage you go back and look for the podcast that Christie did on suicide. And I'd like you to listen to that, listen for information in there, get that information honed into yourself because pandemic, depression, all the other stuff, those numbers are unfortunately not going to go down, but if we're able to be the person that helps that other person avoid and go away from suicide, I think that's obviously a win, but there's information out there. That's what I'm trying to say. There is information to help us in looking for warning signs and helping those around us, especially during the spring and then coming off a pandemic.

CW:

Absolutely. The other thing about that is that I think that's why it makes the loss of suicide even more difficult because you have somebody who had died by suicide and he's left all these people. Or she has left all these people in their wake saying, what did we miss? And the guilt and the confusion that comes from being somebody who feels like, at some point you could have inserted yourself somewhere, is a very, very difficult burden to bear.

TU:

So is there a normal way to grieve these losses?

CW:

No. I wish that there was an answer for that. Every person that I know that has dealt with somebody who's died by suicide, the path to grieving is not linear. There is no right or wrong way. There's no way around it. I think that's the thing that I want people to know, is that you can't avoid it. A lot of times, that's what people want to do. They avoid feeling it. So they throw themselves into distractions. They throw themselves into something else to just make them not think about it, and those feelings aren't going to go away. So we really put the emphasis on working through it instead of around it. And the emphasis is on recovery and not necessarily recovered. You know, having somebody in your life that you lose in that way, you're never really recovered, but you're always recovering and finding ways to do that I think is really difficult and also important.

CW:

There was a quote that I had, I was actually in a training last week. And one of the quotes that they had said was from LaRita Archibald. And she said, "To assume responsibility for this death or to place responsibility on another, rob's the one who died of their personhood and invalidates their pain and their desperate need for relief. For had I been responsible, this death would not have happened." Which is really deep. And it basically says, you know, you are not responsible for other people's choices. And in the human brain, the human spirit, we are built to survive. That's what we want. I mean, everything we do, we are built to survive. We go in that fight or flight that keeps us alive. That is the one thing that our brain is like meant to do.

CW:

And so to think about how deep the cognitive distortions are in someone who is contemplating suicide, or somebody who's died by suicide, to override the human spirit to live, like the human nature to survive, is really saying something about the power of depression and the thoughts that you have. And so I think that, to me, was a comforting thought for someone who's grieving the loss of somebody by suicide, because it's so easy to take that on and say, what did I miss? What could I have done? You know, and at the end of the day, if it was your responsibility to keep someone alive, you would've kept them alive.

TU:

Right. The depth of that, the fact that, wow, I'd never really thought about it that way, that, you know, we are, we are wired to survive. And if we're at a dark enough place that suicide overtakes that really, what can we do? Let me look for warning signs, do all those things, but how do you really help? So I guess at that point, it's more about healing recovering ourselves and maybe not taking on all the weight of what we missed, because if the will to die is greater than the will to survive, I don't know that there was much that we could do.

CW:

Yep. That's absolutely right. You know, I always say that I believe that suicides are preventable by asking the right questions and noticing the right things, even small little tweaks in behavior could be very telling. But there are a lot of people that are contemplating suicide and they don't want you to know that; they don't want you to know that because they've come to terms in their head that that's what they want to do. And so they'll avoid loved ones because they know that their loved ones are the ones that are going to talk them out of it, or that are going to notice that something is wrong. So even if you notice a pattern of somebody avoiding you, or just not talking to you, not reaching out like normal, that's a warning sign for a lot of people.

TU:

So then now that we've talked about healing, recovering, what are ways that we can find for closure or acceptance of the death?

CW:

Sure. There's a lot of ways to go about that. I always would like to say that it's best to work through this with a therapist. The grieving process is very difficult. In fact, I'm just going to throw this in as an anecdote, because I found that it's really helpful in talking about grief and I actually stumbled upon it on Twitter. And then it kind of became a part of just the toolbox that therapists use. And they talk about a grief box and it's a mental vision of a box. And in the box, there's a button and the button is your grief button. And every time that button is pushed, it brings back the grief that you had, just like you had just found out about the loss and when you put a ball in the box.

CW:

And so, when you first find out about a loss, you grief ball, is what we call them, is very big. It's very big, it's overwhelming. It takes up that whole box. It is hitting that button all of the time. And then as you go toward recovery, the ball never goes away, but it gets smaller and it hits that button less frequently. But when it hits the button, it hurts just like it did before. And I think that's the thing that catches people off guard. When they're talking about suicide is just kind of like out of the blue, it will hit them. And they're like, I was fine. Like I had a really good week. I was fine. Why am I hurting now? And it's like, it doesn't go away. I mean, it's a part of who you are.

CW:

And in learning that it's okay to have that feeling, I think is a huge thing. You validate people, you validate their emotions. I had said earlier, lots of people think, is it weird for me to think this way? Is it weird for me to be mad at the person that I loved? Is it weird for me to be resentful towards this person, even though I know now that they were in terrible grief, that they were very much suffering. Can I be mad at them for that? And there's just so many confusing emotions to be mad at somebody and feel sad about something. And none of those emotions are wrong. Grief is weird like that. Like it can come and go and, and it's very common to have all of those emotions.

CW:

Learning that it's okay to have it, go in, experience it, name it. If you can name an emotion, this is a fun fact. You can name any emotion and say it out loud. And just say, "I'm angry today," that will decrease the intensity of the emotion, because it gives you control over the emotion instead of the emotion controlling you. And that works with everything; that works for anxiety, that works across the board, but naming those feelings and having people really sit in their grief instead of avoiding it is really, really good. And a lot of times, the way to do that is to try to remember the person that they've loved, not by the act that ended their life, but by the way they lived their life. Getting photos or stories or things from people that knew them, that make them laugh or that help them remember them as they remembered them, understanding that that person's life was more than just that moment that they took it, is super, super important. We've seen people do a lot of memory quilts with, you know, clothes or sweaters or that kind of thing. A lot of people will throw themselves into advocacy, joining suicide walks, or even doing something that the person loved to do. If that person was really passionate about children, for example, they could get involved with that sort of charity or doing something that meant something to that person to honor their life is super important.

TU:

All right. Some ways for us to deal with the grief now, how do we support those that are grieving a loss?

CW:

Yeah. That's a big one. People who are grieving a loss need to understand that self-care is important. It's easy to get into a rut where you feel guilty feeling good, because there's this horrific thing that happened. There's this tragedy that happened. You're getting pressure from people all around you to do certain things. And I think that's the biggest thing is that, when somebody is grieving something, allow them to make decisions based on what they're doing in that moment and to not judge them for it. A lot of people worry about what other people are thinking when they're making decisions, especially directly following a death. And so to just support them and listen to them and not question everything they're doing, to be like, is that really what you want to do? At the end of the day, adults will do well if they could. You're doing the best that you can under the situations that you have, and that's super important. And trying to get people to take care of themselves and say, it's okay for you to laugh. You don't have to be sad all of the time. You don't have to be sad for the rest of your life. It's not a death sentence for you because somebody else has gone. You can, you can have moments of enjoyment and you shouldn't feel guilty about that. And that gets to be really, really hard for people.

TU:

Yeah, I think it's being there, just being that support system for them. No right or wrong answer, just being there. Too often we want to have every answer and fix everything. And sometimes it's better not to do that. Any other thoughts on helping people that are grieving the loss of someone by suicide before we wrap up?

CW:

The last quote that I have is from Nancy Rapoport and she's, she's an MD. And she said, "The art of trying to remember somebody who's died by suicide in the therapeutic realm, is working to construct a bond that transcends death and ultimately leads to healing." So constructing a bond with that person that transcends the death, but that leads to healing and recovery is really the goal that we're looking for.

TU:

I love that. Our guest has been Christie Wilkie on Mind Your Mind. She is a therapist in Fargo providing outpatient therapy for children and adolescents ages five to 25. We've been talking about the topic of people helping people grieving the loss of someone by suicide. And as we wrap up today, I always have one last question for all of our guests. And that question is simply, what do you do Christie, personally, to mind your mind?

CW:

Well, I mean, previous to the pandemic, I loved to travel. That was my thing. I like to get out of town. I love to travel. I love to go to Vikings games and twins games, huge Minnesota sports fan. And so I'm really looking forward to that opening up again. So I can do some of those things that I've very much missed.

TU:

So how will you grieve the loss of Kyle Rudolph? I mean, what a superstar super person and no longer a Viking.

CW:

I know; that one hurt. That one really hurt, but I feel like the Rudolph family's going to be involved in Minnesota sports and in the state for years and years and years to come. So I'm hoping it's just a little hiccup. I think he went to the Giants that at least it wasn't, at least he's not a Packer, Tim, that I don't know if I could handle.

TU:

I was pulling for him to be in green and gold. I was absolutely because he haunts my memories of our games. So that's all right. Well, thank you, Christie. We always appreciate your time and your insights.

CW:

Yes, anytime. Thank you.

TU:

Thank you for joining us for "Mind Your Mind," a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services. You can't have health without behavioral health. Remember to mind your mind. For more information, links to additional resources, contact information, and much more, go to dakotafamilyservices.org.

 

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