Grief, Loss, Death & Dying

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In the Wake of SuicideReview - In the Wake of Suicide
Stories of the People Left Behind
by Victoria Alexander
Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998
Review by Neal Gardner
Dec 20th 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 51)

I recently became a person left behind. A member of a support group I attend committed suicide about one month ago. While not particularly close, I did share some moments with this person and was decidedly shocked by the suddenness of the act. She was someone who seemed to handle her illness well, and seemed able to laugh about it easily. We shared some discussion in a local coffee shop along with others from our group. Now she is gone.

"Suicide robs us of everything we take for granted about our lives and the people we love. The most painful lesson of suicide is that each of us has the choice of living or dying every moment of our lives. It is a choice that most of us are never even really aware of unless we are somehow touched by suicide--whether our own thoughts of it or the suicide of someone we love." (p.163)

In the Wake of Suicide is a collection of stories as told to the author by survivors of suicides by friends, spouses, parents, children, and lovers. Alexander follows their stories from the immediate reaction to the death, through the mid portions of their grief, and looking back from a few years distance. Alexander reveals that she is a survivor of her own mother’s suicide.

The grief after suicide differs from that of a normal death. The path from shock and denial to acceptance is one of twists and turns, more unpredictable, erratic at times, and longer and more difficult to follow. One survivor notes that her husband, who had committed suicide, in her interpretation, really did not consider her important enough in his life to live on. She had considered herself so important to his life and now saw the reality that she was not all that fundamental to it. "I would rather feel guilty than unimportant." (p. 186) After five years she had finally accepted this fact and found it very freeing.

Alexander makes some good points about the grieving process, post suicide. Often the second year is worse than the first due to survivors expectations that the grief should be over by then. Family, friends, and colleagues start to withdraw their support in the belief that the survivor should "get with it" and put away their suffering in a neat little package. We do not want to be reminded of the pain of possible loss and abandonment.

One point that the author brought out is that the actual number of suicides or suicide attempts is probably double or triple the number reported. Drug overdoses, auto collisions, substance abuse, and risk-taking behavior all contain an element of self-destructive behavior. These events can also have devastating consequences.

The end of the book contains some resources and a selected bibliography. I was startled to find no world wide web addresses, though the copyright date of 1991 may have something to do with that. Still, this paperback edition was published in 1998 and including some URLs seems simple enough. I did happen to find the American Association of Suicidology site on the net and found it very instructive and informative.


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