Dealing with My Daughter’s Suicide

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Reader’s Question

I recently lost my eldest daughter to suicide, and am now almost convinced that I will lose one or all of my surviving three daughters in the near future. Is this a normal, if irrational, part of grieving, or possibly a mental health issue? (FYI: I have bipolar disorder.)

I also believe that I had a daydream before her death, in which I saw the message “R.I.P [daughter’s name]” on her Facebook wall. I don’t know if I am making this up or not, but it feels very real to me.

Psychologist’s Reply

First, please let me offer my condolences on the loss of your daughter. It is unbelievably difficult to lose a child, and dealing with suicide is even tougher. In the United States alone, there are over 34,000 people who die by suicide every year. Each and every one of them leaves behind loved ones who deal with intense emotions like shock, confusion, betrayal, anger and helplessness, that are added to the general feelings of loss. As such, I am not at all surprised that you are struggling with this; the surprise would be if you weren’t.

Like so many emotional processes, grieving is quite complex. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve and everyone does it differently. A lot depends on the circumstances of the death, the social support available to you, your relationship with her, and the place you are in your life. Hopefully, you have a lot of people around you who are helping you go through the grieving process. If not, you may find it helpful to connect with groups in your community that deal with loss, or visit websites of organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, that provide resources and general support.

Grief is often a vehicle for us to worry about other losses that could occur. Thus, fearing the loss of one or more of your surviving daughters seems like part of the grief process. If this fear is left unchecked, it could become a mental health issue. However, the general rule of thumb in mental health diagnosis (particularly for depression) is that grief supersedes dysfunctional symptoms until after the first six months. In other words, if your loss is fairly recent, then fears and sadness should be attributed to that instead of a mental disorder.

People are connected to others in ways we often cannot understand. Sometimes people unconsciously pick up on a nonverbal signal that our conscious mind misses, or a strong bond between two people can elicit undercurrents of emotion that seem psychic. These are just two possible explanations for the Facebook daydream (there could be others), but accounting for how you had the daydream is not really the point. The true issue is about how your ‘prediction’ of her death makes you feel. If it makes you feel better to believe that you could do that, then allow it to comfort you. If it scares you to believe that this happened, then realize that memory can sometimes be constructive (meaning that we make things up), and move forward. At this point, it seems best to go with whatever helps you feel better.

The days ahead will be quite difficult, as fresh grief is very raw. I hope that you allow other people to help you through this hard time, and that you can keep looking ahead. Time helps heal all wounds, so work on getting through each day.

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