Suicide by Train:
Creating a Space for Hope

(Originally published July 22, 2015)

Creative Commons image “Just After Sunset” by Greg Jordan via Flickr.

Earlier this week, it was so heartbreaking to learn about yet another suicide by train here in Orange County, California. I know something of the anguish and guilt the family of this young man is experiencing, because I’ve been through it — two years ago my husband completed suicide by train.

I would like to share with his family and friends what I have learned, with the sincere wish that it might give them solace and hope.

I know your hearts are broken and your lives have been shattered. Your pain is so intense you can hardly breathe. Most likely, you feel guilty, and relive over and over in your mind what you could have done differently. You will replay many different scenarios in your head, all with different endings, in which your loved ones get the help they needed and don’t resort to suicide.

And you may be angry at the same time — how could they do something that would cause such pain to so many people? It may seem like they rejected all your efforts to help and chose suicide somehow to punish you.

But eventually, you will let go of anger.

Your loved ones did not and could not think about how suicide would hurt you or anyone else. They could think only of ending their own anguish, and that you would be better off without them. They saw no other possible solution.

And eventually, you will let go of guilt.

Although it may take a while to get there, you must understand that in some cases suicide represents the failure of our healthcare system to deal effectively with mental health issues. But in other instances, even the best medical treatment available may not have helped. We simply do not understand the human brain, mind, and soul fully enough to treat all mental illnesses effectively.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

There should be no pressure to move on.

There is no “acceptable” intensity or duration of grief.

Just make sure you don’t suppress your grief.In order to heal, you must express your feelings, whatever they are — sadness, anger, despair, confusion. Talk with your friends, family, professionals and support groups.

If you can, express your feelings in writing, in a journal or in letters. Every bad feeling and emotion that is expressed is a small release that ultimately will help lighten your emotional burden. Sharing stories about your loved one will give you a bit of joy, even if it is tempered with sadness and grief.

Your stories and memories comprise the narrative of love for the one who has died.

Some of your friends may not show up to comfort you when you need it, or may not call or attend the funeral, wake, or memorial. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let this destroy an otherwise valuable friendship. Many people are uncomfortable about death and don’t know what to do or say, and may stay away because they feel like saying something or showing up would be an intrusion.

Our society doesn’t know how to deal with death in general — and death by suicide is even more difficult because of the lingering stigma and emotion attached to it.

Make sure you create a space for hope, for peace, for relief, and even for some joy.

Your grief does not have to be “all or nothing.” One feeling can sit right beside another — and will, perhaps, for a long time to come. But life will soften and you will become more comfortable with your new life without your loved one.

You may even find that your grief comes with unexpected gifts. In time, with a lot of hard work, you will discover that you now are capable of loving more deeply than you ever imagined possible.

You will look at life — and the whole world — differently. The little things matter far less, and the people that are there for you become far more important.

Grief is not the enemy.

Grief is the teacher.

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