I read this a few minutes ago and found it so profound that I was compelled to share it with you. I cannot say it better than Father Rubey does, so I’m not going to try. I am copying the entire post here for you to read and encourage you to check out this website.
The one thing I would add is that this is not limited to survivors of suicide. I think that we, as bereaved parents, often feel that it is disloyal to our deceased child if we enjoy life. It’s not. There is nothing more important that we can do to honor them than to take the precious gift of life and live it.
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From the Desk of Father Rubey: A Special Gift
by Fr. Charles Rubey
Survivors should give themselves the gift of deciding that it is acceptable to experience joy and happiness in the future.
During December many of us celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah which are very happy times for the celebrants. It is the festival of lights where there is a lot of gaiety and celebrations. Families come together and exchange gifts and eat all different types of food. Years ago I went to spend Christmas with my family in Ireland. My cousin shared with me that many Christmases the main meal was ruined because there was too much celebrating and she forgot that the meal was in the oven!
One of the key elements of this season is the giving of gifts. Small children get their lists together for Santa with the hopes that Santa will honor all of the requests. This time of the year is also very painful for those grieving the death of a loved one from suicide. There is and always will be a key loved one who is missing from the gatherings. The first few Christmases are especially painful for those left behind because this loved one is sorely missed. There is a major void in the gathering, a gift missing from this loved one and a lost opportunity to buy something for this loved one.
I think that survivors deserve a special gift during this season. By this I mean that survivors should give themselves the gift of deciding that it is acceptable to experience joy and happiness in the future. That is not something that is going to happen during the intense aftermath of losing a loved one to suicide.
First, there is the work of resolving the pain in the immediate aftermath of the suicide. This is the most painful part of the journey of grief, a very lengthy period and a very taxing task. One’s future depends on how well this part of the journey is traversed. But at some point, survivors have to be willing to decide that in their future they are going to experience joy, happiness and pleasure. There are a number of steps that survivors have to go through to reach that goal, but the decision needs to be made.
What are some of the obstacles in this decision? One is that if a survivor makes the decision to move forward and experience joy and pleasure that they are being disloyal to that loved one who died. It is almost a need to be in pain in order to punish survivors who feel responsible for the death of that loved one. I don’t want to be simplistic but is important to realize and think about why survivors feel a need to hold onto to the pain that results from losing a loved one to suicide.
Another reason to hold onto the pain may be because survivors think that the pain is the last connection to their loved one. If a survivor relinquishes the pain they might lose the last connection to their loved one. Survivors are always going to remember their loved ones and that is the role of rituals. Rituals provide survivors with an exercise to remember these loved ones who found life too painful to continue living.
Survivors would give anything to have this person in their life again, even if this life was sometimes somewhat chaotic due to the mental illness that this person suffered from. Survivors long for the life that they had while this loved one lived with them. That is all part of the grief journey and all part of the work that needs to be done if the survivor is to have a chance for happiness and pleasure in the future.
The world around the survivor has been seriously altered because of the death of a loved one from suicide. Everything is different. A portion of their own life has died and was buried along with their loved one. Part of the healing process is to grieve the loss of the life they knew prior to the suicide as well as the person they used to be. There are dramatic changes within the survivor –sometimes for the better. Survivors can develop a deeper sensitivity to the world around them and become a better and richer person in how they relate to the happenings in the world.
When survivors move on into the future, there is always the fear of forgetting the loved one. Again, that is the role of the ritual. We all remember those loved ones who have gone before us. Saying a prayer for those loved ones is one way to keep them a part of one’s future. Certainly, as time marches on there are less and less people who remember these loved ones. These loved ones will always be a part of the lives of the survivors who loved them. I have never heard of survivors who have forgotten their loved ones. They do a lot of storytelling about these loved ones and the stories bring up the happier days when these loved ones were a part of a family and a circle of friends.
One of the issues that survivors have to grapple with as they venture forth during the grief journey and begin to experience pleasure and joy is the issue of guilt. Survivors feel as if they have no right to experience joy or pleasure because their loved one took their life. This is a very normal reaction. Survivors need to continue with these experiences and in time the guilt should subside. Survivors need to realize that their loved ones died, but the survivors continue to live and all living beings have the right to have good times and to laugh. Survivors did not die. The feeling of guilt at the beginning of joy and pleasure is not to be construed as a sign that the survivor is not entitled to joy, happiness and pleasure.
Getting on with one’s life is a very important step. There might be the worry that the survivor is going to forget their loved one. It is not that the survivor does not care about their loved one. It’s just that the survivor is not in some type of a time capsule where life stands still. Life continues in the world around them and survivors are a part of this world. It means that the survivor cautiously puts their foot into the world of the living and allows him or her self to breathe in the experiences of the world around them. They are not being disloyal to their loved one nor are they on the brink of forgetting this loved one. Instead, they are gradually experiencing what goes on in the world, part of which is joy, happiness and pleasure.
My suggestion to survivors this holiday season, after the initial stages of the grief process, is to decide to make a sincere attempt to venture forth in life and to experience joy and pleasure that comes with that life. Survivors might not like that prospect of living a life without this loved one, but the alternative is to live in the shadow of the loved one and to spend the rest of one’s life grieving the loss of this loved one.
The grief journey is never over but there are opportunities in life that can transform a person and bring joy and pleasure to the survivor. In order for that to happen, survivors have to be willing to be open to these new situations and allow them to enter one’s life. Sometimes survivors need to search for them and be willing to try different things. These new experiences are not just going to happen and come into someone’s life. Survivors are asked to get out of their comfort zone and be willing to try something new and different. There is risk in such endeavors and very often the risk pays off. The first step is to make the decision to recreate one’s life and redirect one’s life into the world of renewed happiness and renewed pleasure –albeit different that it might be.
There are a myriad of surprises awaiting survivors if they are willing to plan and make some changes as they forge forth into the future. There can be a life of joy and pleasure in the future if survivors are willing to search for and develop such a life. It takes much thought and planning to achieve this goal, but it is certainly very possible. Give yourself this gift this holiday season. You will never regret it.
As always, I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers during my regularly scheduled quiet time. I encourage all of you to do the same for each other –and especially for those who have recently joined our family and especially for those who find these holidays so very painful.
Keep On Keepin’ On,
Rev. Charles T. Rubey is the Founder and Director of Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) a non-denominational program offered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Starting in 1979 with one small group, LOSS has grown to be a leader in the field of suicide grief, offering support groups and counseling for survivors of all ages, in and around metropolitan Chicago. ‘From the Desk of Father Rubey” appears as a monthly column in the LOSS newsletter and is reprinted here with permission. For more information or to request a monthly copy of the LOSS newsletter, please contact LOSS.