“Life is precious, and you never know when yours will change”

“Life is precious, and you never know when yours will change”

In December 2012, I lost my husband Gerry to suicide. He suffered from bipolar disorder since college.

Shortly after his death, my three kids (who were 12, 15 and 17 years old at the time) and I sought counseling through the LOSS (Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide) program at Catholic Charities in the Des Plaines, Ill. office.

To make sense of this situation that seemed not to make much sense at all, we immersed ourselves in the program, seeking out the spouse support group, individual therapy, eight-week group and children’s therapy.

As a nurse, I was aware that it is extremely important to express feelings of confusion, loss, frustration, sadness, guilt and anger as quickly as possible and not to suppress them.

I remember moments when I just wanted the pain to stop, but I knew avoidance is never a good option and would result in untoward effects both physically and psychologically in the long run.

I also keep an “open door” policy with my family and friends and make sure that no subject is taboo when we talk about Gerry.

Just recently, my 20-year-old daughter, who was 15 at the time of my husband’s death, told me she was glad that I got them involved with the child psychologist at the LOSS program right away because she was able to validate the emotions she was feeling (even years later) were common and normal to survivors of suicide.

In the 4 ½ years of being a part of LOSS, I have become more involved in the organization and the good they do for family members who have lost a loved one to suicide by helping find hope again.

Recently, I’ve completed facilitator training to lead the monthly spouse support group in Des Plaines. I feel I’m paying it forward to help other spouses/partners find some hope, as this newfound family did for me.

Facilitating a group can be challenging. A range and intensity of emotions are present at every meeting, as we can have an array of survivors at different stages of their grief as well as different time spans from the suicide event. I feel that my empathy and listening skills as a nurse comes through during those meetings, allowing survivors to speak freely or just to listen in a safe and caring space with kindred spirits – the only ones who can truly understand the feelings they are experiencing.

Suicide of a loved one is traumatic, and the grieving process is more complicated than a “traditional” death. The important thing to understand is that the grief process ebbs & flows. There is no a checklist to complete – just an understanding that these feelings come and go and can be overwhelming at times. The important thing is to accept and own these feelings and realize the suicide does not define your loved one’s life or you.

Programs like LOSS provide hope for survivors. In time, the light in your life begins to shine again. In a recent facilitator training session, one of my fellow facilitators said a few words regarding the death of her son. She quoted a line from Hamilton: “And the world is going to know your name.”

I make sure every day that Gerry will never be forgotten.

If you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, be sure to find positive, healthy and effective activities and outlets that can help with coping, such as:

My entire outlook on life has done a complete 180. I appreciate the little joys, value the relationships and time I spend with my family and friends – and I just don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.

Life is precious, and you never know when yours will change.

Yvonne Papciak is an Appeals nurse at Advocate Health Care. Her nursing career began in 1989 on the medical/neuro unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. Yvonne is a facilitator for the Des Plaines Spouse Support Group for the Catholic Charities LOSS Organization.

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Comments

6 Comments

  1. CATHY A PEDERSEN May 9, 2018 at 12:06 pm · Reply

    I have never heard of the LOSS program/ group. i lost my husband 15 years ago and i wish i had been able to reach out to people like myself, broken and shocked on a daily basis.I still often wonder if his suicide was my fault.
    THANK YOU!

  2. Giselle Grob May 9, 2018 at 1:19 pm · Reply

    Thank you Yvonne for sharing your story and am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for serving those going thru similar loss, your help is much needed.

  3. Yvonne – Thank you for sharing your personal story. Your kindness, strength, and compassion is comforting and encouraging. Thank you for reaching out to help people in need.

  4. terrence ward May 9, 2018 at 6:58 pm · Reply

    Thank You for sharing your story. Notwithstanding all the emotions you had to deal with,there were more than likely insurance or estate issues related to the suicide. Wishing you and your family peace and health.

  5. Thanks for sharing your personal story, Yvonne. Raising awareness around mental and behavioral health is so important. And kudos to you for taking your personal experience and transforming it into something positive that will help others going throug circumstances like your own. I can relate to your kids as I was only nine years old —with an older sister and a younger brother — when we lost our father to mental illness too. I’m forever grateful for my mom and all she did back then and continues to do for my siblings and I to allow the grieving process to happen naturally, including embracing the ebbs and flows of it. I count my lucky stars every day that I’m surrounded by the best support system of friends and family alike.

  6. I lost my husband 8 mnths ago not by suicide by cancer is this program only for family that has lost members by suicide

About the Author

Yvonne Papciak
Yvonne Papciak

Yvonne Papciak is an Appeals nurse at Advocate Health Care. Her nursing career began in 1989 on the medical/neuro unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. Yvonne is a facilitator for the Des Plaines Spouse Support Group for the Catholic Charities LOSS Organization.