The Choice to Live Despite the Darkness Pt. 2
by Katrina Howe
Katrina Howe is a 28-year-old electrical engineering student and art minor who has lost three friends to suicide and survived an attempt herself. She held an event in the Great Hall on Nov. 1, showcasing an art piece she created as a way to express her emotions from her experiences. She hopes to engage people in a healthy discussion about suicide. Part one of her article ran in last week’s issue.
Not only have I battled against depression and fought against thoughts of suicide, I’ve had dear friends lose that war and take their own lives.
One of my friends noted that “grief is weird” and it’s true.
We all know the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But I think a lot of people aren’t aware that grief is not necessarily a purely linear process. I don’t think I’ve once experienced grief in a linear manner.
You can experience all five of those in a row in the first 30 seconds of learning of your loss, and then go on to experience them over and over again for a while, or you could bounce around to any of them (acceptance might come before denial, and then you go through acceptance again…)
Sometimes when grieving you can go from laughing hysterically to absolutely sobbing within the space of a few seconds. It is weird, but it’s also completely normal.
Crying itself is really healthy. It’s our bodies’ natural way of releasing pressure and expressing deep feelings. Refusing to cry just causes you problems, and studies show held-in grief can actually make you sick.
Art is a great way to process your thoughts and emotions. I drew a picture when I was trying to keep myself together in class the Monday after my friend Jason Bourne killed himself, and the drawing became a sculpture I made as I processed my feelings (including renewed grief remembering my friends Colin Staley and Nick Sorum, who also killed themselves.)
There are many ways to work through grief and resources around town for people dealing with grief and/or depression. I’m starting a Facebook group called Choosing to Live where I’ll be posting the video of my speech, from the Great Hall event on Nov. 1, links to different resources and discussion boards.
When my friend Nick took his life, his Facebook wall became a place where his other friends and I shared memories, ‘like’-ed each other’s stories and replied to each other’s posts. That’s where I got the idea for this group, and I hope it becomes as therapeutic.
One thing I’ll be posting to the group is an invitation to a thing I’m doing in a week. At my art event, I had a box where people could write letters to friends who have died, saying the things we wish we could have said. In a week or so, I’m going to take this box outside and set it on fire and watch the sparks fly up skyward. If you have letters you wish to add, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you’ve lost someone to suicide, it’s natural to start asking, “What if I had done this or that?” I’ve questioned myself each time, especially with Colin and Jason, where I felt like I should have seen it coming, or maybe could have done more to help, or… the list goes on.
Asking these “what-ifs” can kill you. Truly, if someone is set on killing themselves, the best you can do is stall them because they’re going to do it either way. Asking “what-if” won’t change what they’ve done and all it can do is make you miserable.
You’ve got to let yourself off the hook for the decision they made. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s health or happiness, and you can’t change the past.
One way I’ve dealt with these “what-ifs” is by applying the pay-it-forward concept: whatever I wish I could have said or done, I say or do now to the people around me.
I’m more intentional about saying hi and checking on people I care about. I can’t change time or the things I’ve done or didn’t do, but I can make a difference with the way I do things now.
Despite the fact that suicide and depression are so prevalent here, there are people that don’t deal with deep depression and haven’t lost anyone to suicide. I’m glad for that!
When I was grieving I could always tell whenever I was talking to someone who hasn’t lost anyone, because if I mentioned that a friend committed suicide, a look of mixed emotions would cross their face. It was always a kind of pity mixed with an almost comedic sense of panic.
They looked like, “Oh no, what do I do? What do I say? Is she going to cry? What do I do?”
If you’ve ever been in this situation and wondered what to do to help, first off, don’t panic! Listen if they want to talk, help them change the subject if they don’t (it’s different for different people.) Most people like hugs when they’re sad, and if they feel comfortable crying around you, let them cry. Just be there in the pain with them, accepting their grief however it shows up.
For myself, I found that sometimes it was easier to talk to someone who’s not involved in the situation I was going through because I could lay out the whole situation without feeling like they already know it, and that really helped me to process.
Whether you’re working through your own or your friends’ grief, or are fighting with depression, you need to know that you are so special, valued and loved.
You can have no idea what an impact you make just by being around and being yourself. You touch more people than you realize.
If you need a reason to live, any reason will do! Live for the sakes of others if nothing else, until you can live because you’re happy to be alive. Above all, never give up.