“You can love someone every second of every day, but if the person is hell-bent on killing themselves, then they will. No amount of Jesus or love or miracles or medication can stop it once someone has made up their mind. The only thing that can possibly stop someone from suicide is for that person to choose life, in all its messiness and heartache. To choose life, with its uncertainty and anxiety and depression and to embrace the ups and the downs. To ride the wave and cling to hope, when all seems lost.” – Robert Vore
When the role of caregiver gets dumped in your lap after someone tries to kill him or herself, you may feel selfish for wanting to have someone care about your own pain. When someone you care about tries to end their own life, it’s also natural to to feel betrayal. In addition, you might feel fear, concern, anger, uncertainty and guilt. It’s OK. Even if they are still alive, you have some grieving to do. It’s such a bittersweet experience to live with someone who wants (or wanted) to be dead.
You have already seen them at their worst, and you will also see their small victories after a therapy session. You’ll see their joys and their pain. You’ll sit in the circle of grief with them as they cry over their own guilt. You will both experience moments of great relief when you can laugh at a joke or a television show and it somehow feels like you’ve been transported to a time when nothing seemed wrong.
Don’t skip over them. Let them all wash over you and learn from each experience and emotion. Being able to name your pain, your struggles and frustrations and even your greatest hopes will lead you toward a path for your own healing after nearly losing the person you love.
Life is stressful, no matter what. Yet, continuing to cultivate a relationship with a person with mental illness is a different kind of stress. There’s so much pressure to always have your sh*t together because you aren’t sure what kind of day (or hour) your loved one is having. Remember, friends, you are only human. Do everything you can do, but remember you can only do what you can.
Take time for yourself. Sometimes it’s impossible to leave your responsibilities. In that case, find moments of quiet to enjoy something simple, a cup of tea or a few pages of a book, even within your routine. Give yourself space to breathe and to grieve. It matters, and it can remind you that you are doing more than simply surviving the day.
A few reminders:
- This is not the end of a life. This is the beginning of a new story.
- You cannot change your loved one. You have to accept the brokenness and love unconditionally.
- Do not carry this alone. Do not walk through this alone.
- This is not about you, your loved one is responsible for his/her actions.
- Show grace. Forgive the person for the suicide attempt.
Another important reminder is to set clear boundaries, even if they are only internal. When something frustrates you, you may want to speak up. I understand. Nothing seems worse than an old sore that’s been left to fester. Yet, when a person is actively suicidal, they have proven that rational thinking isn’t their strongest suit at this point.
When something hurts, many of us want to say so. However, sometimes walking away and allowing the moment to pass, letting yourself cool down and remembering this is not your fault is the best thing you can do. In this scenario, you offer your loved one dignity and respect by believing they do not need you to rescue them. Your ability to be OK doesn’t depend on their OK-ness.
Offer support, encouragement and love. However, you cannot heal or change anyone. You have to love them enough to trust they are capable of walking down their own path of healing.