Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group - Madison, NJ

Posted: Mar 12, 2019


One challenging aspect of losing a loved one to suicide is dealing with acknowledgement. Can you acknowledge that you lost your loved one to suicide? What I am talking about goes beyond just saying the words that you lost a loved one to suicide (while that in itself is a big challenge), what I am talking about is acknowledging to yourself that you have survived a suicide loss.

Acknowledgement takes place in both your brain and in your heart. Early on in the healing process I remember struggling with the concept of acknowledgement, I think in some ways it is easier to define acknowledgement by saying what it is not.

    • Acknowledgement is it is not agreement. I remember thinking that I could never in my heart agree that we lost our son to suicide. I remember feeling that if I agreed with it, I would be condoning it. I remember feeling that I could never agree with suicide as an acceptable way to die. In my thoughts he should have died like other people, by old age or accident, not at his own hand.
    • Acknowledgement is not approval. In my heart I could never approve that suicide is how our son should have died. I remember thinking I could never in my heart approve of the method, or the time that he died by suicide. Approving of his suicide felt equivalent to participating in his death.
    • Acknowledgement is not support. Supporting a suicide just felt wrong in my heart. Like so many other suicide loss survivors, I always questioned in the back of my mind that I had somehow supported his suicide by my actions or inactions. I could not in my heart believe that I would have actively supported his suicide.
    • Acknowledgement is not having all of the answers. Inherent in a suicide loss is that the person who died took many of the answers with them to the grave. Those that have found a suicide note often don’t have their questions answered by the note. The search for an answer will continue forever until you stop looking for it. I believe that there is not a singular answer to a suicide, just a long list of unanswered questions.

So what is acknowledgement? Now that I am ten years into the healing process, I tend to believe that acknowledgement is much closer to acceptance.

    • Acknowledgement is accepting that I did not agree with, approve of, or support our son’s suicide. Our hearts were shattered by his suicide.
    • Acknowledgement is accepting that there was little more we could have done to prevent the suicide. Unfortunately suicide is final, you also need to find a way to make your doubts become final and go away.
    • Acknowledgement is accepting that there is no guilt or fault to be assigned to the suicide; it is just a tragic outcome of the circumstances. Assigning guilt and blame are just weights you carry into the future if you don't drop them.
    • Acknowledgement is accepting that the knowledge I have today about suicide was not the knowledge I had then. Hindsight bias causes us to have inflated beliefs about what we would have done with the knowledge.
    • Acknowledgement is accepting that the suicide happened in a method and in a way that you were unable to change the outcome. You could not stop someone who did not let you .

Acknowledgment and acceptance occur in both the heart and the brain. It involves our feelings and our logical thoughts. It involves a hard look into ourselves and the search for deeper answers. It involves facing our fears and forgiving all involved. It is about moving from being a victim of our loved one’s suicide to becoming a survivor of our loved one’s suicide. Acknowledgement is accepting there are things we can change and things we cannot change.

One final way to capture this thought is often known as the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

I would like to add one final line to that classic prayer:

And the strength to survive.