By Cynthia A. Beevers, M. A.
This week’s counseling corner is dedicated to the memory of Noah “Koko” Kokoszka and to the Kalamazoo College community that grieves his loss. Losing a friend to suicide is unexpected and devastating, leaving us to make sense of what happened. It may feel impossible to find the words that express your grief and the ensuing rush of thoughts and emotions. What research tells us is that after someone dies by suicide, it is extremely important to understand the unique experiences of grieving as suicide loss survivors, and to learn more about suicide.
When someone we know dies by a natural cause or cancer, we have a framework for understanding why we have lost this person. When we experience a loved one’s suicide, the reason may be less clear; making the first and most common question we ask: why did he kill himself? It is also common to feel guilty and wonder what could have been done differently. Many survivors replay their loved ones’ last days, searching for clues. In response, survivors may feel intense sadness. Survivors may also have thoughts about their own potential for suicide. While these can be typical responses, it is important to remember that there is help and that grief does diminishes over time.
So how do you start to heal? Seeking support from others, especially other survivors, is invaluable to your healing. Keep in mind that each person grieves differently and that there is no set timeline for healing. You may experience unexpected waves of sadness; anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays may be especially difficult. You are encouraged to practice any cultural or religious rituals around death, especially during the most difficult moments. Be kind to yourself and know that continuing to enjoy life is not a betrayal of your loved one.
Research also shows that learning some basics about suicide can assist with healing. First, it’s essential to know that 90 percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. Just as people can die of a physical disease, people can die as a consequence of mental illness. Second, suicide is almost always complicated, resulting from a combination of painful suffering, desperate hopelessness and underlying psychiatric illness. Finally, despite their deep suffering, people who are considering suicide can be very good at hiding what they don’t want other people to know. It is very difficult for those around them to help in those situations.
In conclusion, remember that you are not alone in your grief. The Counseling Center is available to you for individual meetings and is also offering a suicide loss survivors’ support group on Mondays from 4:00pm to 5:00pm for the rest of the quarter. Anyone affected by Noah’s death is encouraged to come to the Center for support.