Chelle Summer

suicide loss

Honoring Quietly

Michelle Rusk

About fifteen years ago, I remember sitting in the local support group for the suicide bereaved, this several years after my book for sibling suicide had been published, and we were talking about ways to honor a loved one who had died. A man who had lost his mother to suicide said– as he shook his head– "I have no idea what to do."

I responded, "That's okay. You don't have to know right away." 

Many more losses later I am well versed in this. For me, figuring out how I will honor them is how I move forward, but I also realize that we don't have an answer to how to do that right away. 

However, what I choose to do today is much different than when I lost my younger sister nearly twenty-four years ago. While it wasn't instant, I knew I had some need to help other sibling survivors of suicide, mostly because the world was different (the internet was very limited and there was no social media); we couldn't connect to each other like we do today with a simple Google search. That turned into a book which launched a speaking career and traveling around the world, educating and helping people both with suicide grief and suicide prevention.

For my dad's death eleven years ago, I was still deep into suicide work and inching my way toward a doctorate. I didn't have the time– or energy– to figure out what else I might do. But after my mom's death in 2014, my perspective had already begun to shift and I saw where it tied me back (as I have written recently) to the person I wanted to be growing up.

But also in this time, I have watched people launch foundations in loved ones' names, hoping to raise funds to help people or causes, or where they do walks and run, with the goal of doing the same. 

Recently I saw something someone was doing in a loved one's name and a thought struck me– I don't have the need to be so public about saying, "I'm doing this because of my mom." And then  at a party last weekend a friend and I were discussing this, how my journey in that way has become more private: I don't need to share it all with the world.

And yet what I still share is what I create– my writing, my sewing, my painting. I know that pursuing a creative life is honoring the three family members I traveled with in the station wagon (long after my older brother and sister stopped taking family trips with us). I also know that getting my education (particularly before I married– per her instructions) was a way to honor my maternal grandmother who couldn't go to college because she had to help her brothers financially get college degrees. It was never something I talked about, more something I did. 

Today the journey is about doing without having to say why I'm doing it every minute of the day. Sure, there are aspects I share, especially when I particularly know how they inspired something, but mostly it's about taking time each day to pursue what makes me happy is what honors them and makes my life an authentic one.

 

My Identity

Michelle Rusk

For so long I had such a need to identify myself as a first, a suicide survivor, and then as the language changed, a suicide loss survivor. It was clearly part of my grief road in the early parts of the past twenty-four years. But I have found myself not disconnected from it, but like the surface of the road beneath me has changed.

I know there are people who will read that and be dismayed that I'm saying that. However, it's a good thing that I say it. I have found that in the years since I have moved on from doing suicide-related work full time, that often people are upset that I am not doing it. But to me, I am showing that you can still have a great life despite all that happens to you.

Traditionally, parents who have lost children have been the ones who have been the loudest voices (and I say that with a  positive note to it!) making suicide prevention a prevention and organizing support groups for those left behind. What I have realized over the years is that they had many years of life before their children died. I was only twenty-one when my sister died and now, as I come up on twenty-four years since her death, I see that I didn't have much life before being hit with the loss. I find today that I don't want my life to be consumed by it. As a friend said to me recently, "You don't have a need to wear the black armband." For a long time, I did feel like I needed to– or wanted to. 

Instead, I see the road much differently today. As my life continues to be filled with losses and the world feels a bit challenging, I'm working to stay focused. Each day I pray that I continue to be creative, to write and sew, and that my sister and my parents help me to stay inspired.

What I couldn't see in all those years of helping others– which taught me so much– that there would come a day that it would swing back to me and remind me of the person I always wanted to be. It's as if I have traveled through the loss to be able to find my way back to my relationships with each of my deceased family members. Now they can help me– although not in the same way as if they were here– continue to create, to sew, and to write. There is only love where they are now, no pain of anything that happened here in life. But it was my journey to get where I could see beyond the pain so that the four of us could have a relationship without it causing a block on my end.

And they could remind me of who I always wanted to be. And help me make that happen.