The question: Almost three years ago my partner committed suicide. He suffered from depression. We were only dating for a year, but I find his death still gets to me. It's especially difficult now for me to date people. I used to be a very patient, happy, joking person. Since it happened, I feel as though it's a charade I'm putting on so my friends and family don't notice the change. How can I move on?
The answer: The death of someone we love is one of the most difficult life experiences we will ever face . As a society, we are terrible at dealing with and talking about death. We are never taught in schools what to say to someone who loses a loved one, despite the fact that all of us will, at some point in our lives, have to deal with the inevitable losses of those we care about.
Dealing with a death that occurs from suicide only adds more layers of complexity, confusion and, in some cases, self-blame that further amplifies what is often a difficult recovery to begin with. Those that are closest to someone who dies by suicide (partners, parents, children) are left with the biggest burden to carry. They are often left with myriad emotions: sadness, guilt, anger. Recreating past conversations, thinking you could have done or said something differently, questioning why you weren't 'enough' for the person to not take their life – all are common thoughts for survivors.
Unfortunately so much misinformation, stigma and shame continues to be associated with suicide, making it even more difficult for your support system to know what to do or say, which then further prolongs the grieving process for survivors who are struggling to make sense of the nonsensical.
I've lost both an aunt and a cousin to suicide – and one of the things that stood out to me so strongly was how uncomfortable so many people were about their deaths. Friends and family that I knew to be caring and otherwise articulate stumbled through awkward conversations. Some avoided the topic altogether, others became visibly distressed, and others made well-meaning comments that were ultimately unhelpful. These are common themes I have heard again and again from patients and friends who have been affected by suicide.
When we talk about "moving on" or "getting over" a loss, what we really mean to do is find effective ways to cope. This includes maintaining positive memories and thoughts of your partner, while still getting back to all of the elements that make life worth living – which, in your case, includes dating.
It makes absolute sense that it's difficult for you to date – you are in a self-protective mode, not wanting to make yourself vulnerable to another potential loss. There is no magic formula for how long or what the grief and recovery process looks like, as it is so individual. There is one thing I can say with certainty, however: Not processing your loss – having to present a facade to those that are close to you – will only prolong the ordeal.
I would start by opening yourself up to the idea of speaking about your loss, as there is so much therapeutic value in simply talking through the thoughts and emotions you'll have inevitably bottled up. Consider approaching those closest you: Tell them you don't need them to say anything, that you just want to talk through what's in your head. If you feel reticent to approach those you know, I would strongly suggest seeking the support of a psychologist or other registered mental health/grief professional that has expertise in suicide to help you move on.
I would also seek support online. Some recommended websites are www.suicide.org, www.survivorsofsuicide.com and www.allianceofhope.org. Have faith that with time and with the support of someone you trust, you will be able to move forward in your life.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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