Life After Loss: Jo’s Journey

*Content warning: This post mentions suicide.

Jo, a NorthKey team member, shares her experience as a survivor of suicide loss.

It has been a little over a year since our lives were forever changed. They say the pain the person is feeling when they are suicidal doesn’t go away if they die, it just gets passed on to those left behind. I wish I could go back to being ignorant of the pain, the trauma, and of being shattered into a million pieces.

His cancer was terminal…his time was limited but we had no timeline to work with. Inoperable tumors were found in his lungs but he was not having any respiratory distress. We thought we had more time. He was struggling with incontinence and pain but otherwise seemed okay. We thought we had more time. While we did make the most of the time spent together, keeping in mind his physical limitations… we thought we had more time…then I received a phone call stating my brother had ended his life……and the journey of the “after” began.

I have always been a person who wanted to help others, the one to listen and offer support. I have always strived to understand where people came from and the road they are traveling. I’ve worked with countless people/families during their darkest times, and still, I didn’t really understand. I truly believed I was listening and supporting my brother, but I know now that I was not hearing him. I stood up for him…by him…. when he said he didn’t want to continue chemotherapy. I don’t know how many times I said “Your body, your decision. You are the one that has to experience the consequences” ….I was listening, but not hearing. I listened to him talk about how he was feeling, but one can only say, “I’m sorry, I wish there was something I could do to make it better” so many times…I was listening but not hearing….a year later I am still struggling with “Did I cause him to think there was no hope, that no one cared, or did I help set him free?” “Why couldn’t you have waited one more week, we planned on visiting you in one week?”

There have been many times I’ve wanted to go back to the before, so many things left unsaid, so many things to apologize for… could he not know the impact he made on the lives of his family, friends, co-workers? Countless questions…none with any answers. I can’t even begin to understand or know the thoughts he was having at the end….when he decided to end his time here on earth. It’s a struggle to remember his smiles and laughter before the pain was too much and all that was left was the sad, hopeless look that was so evident in the last pictures we have of him. I have put myself through the if onlys, what ifs, the whole gamut…. but that road didn’t lead to any answers or peace. I also knew that he would not want me lost on that road to nowhere.

Now that we have made it through a year of firsts, I still don’t have many answers. But, here are some things I do know. I know time doesn’t heal all wounds. The wounds that were created by unspeakable pain, loss, grief, and guilt are replaced by scars. Scars do not go away, but they do fade. I know the struggle bus is a real thing. Some days the ride is fairly smooth and other days the bus flattens you, then backs up to roll over you again. And while I do still spend time on the struggle bus, the time spent is a little less than the time before. I know that time doesn’t make it all better. The pain and loss will always be there, just like those scars.

However, I also know, that time gives us the opportunity to learn and grow. Time gives us the knowledge that it is okay to feel, it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to break down, it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay that I couldn’t/can’t be the support for my family, I can only help them find the support they need. I know that time gives us the knowledge that if all we can do at the moment, is put one foot in front of the other, we have at least taken a step. I know that time gives us the opportunity to reach out to others who may be feeling hopeless and/or alone. I know our experiences are meant to be shared with others. I know in my heart and soul he is truly in a better place and is truly free from the physical and mental pain of this world. That it was his decision, and there wasn’t anything I could have done. I had already helped by planting seeds which ultimately led him to having a relationship with his heavenly Father, his chosen higher power.

This journey, the “after”, is the opportunity to grow in my faith, and grow as a mom, sister, daughter, aunt, nurse, and as a person. I would not want this journey for anyone, but if you are on it, please know that you are not alone, it just feels that way. I cannot tell you how/when to travel the journey to healing. I can tell you that finding ways to honor my brother’s life and ways to shift my focus from what was lost to what was gained, was how I have found my way to the path of healing. I lean on my higher power, God, to help keep me on that path.

Whatever your journey, there is help, you are not alone, and hope can be found.
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