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  • Surrinder Johal

Heartbreak to Healing - Losing My Mum and Husband to Suicide - How I Coped and Healed



Experience - What happened...

I still remember the day my Mum took her own life, l was only 37 years old and a part of me died forever. I recall being frozen in place as time stood still, as my whole world collapsed around me into darkness. My heart shattered into a million pieces. I had so many questions that I knew I’d never get answers to. Why? What now? How could she leave me? I felt abandoned.


My thoughts went to my brother and his family with whom my Mum lived in Scotland with and l was worried about him. I traveled to Glasgow in Scotland to be with him at this difficult time and hoped he would say it was not true - unfortunately, he only confirmed it.

I cried an ocean leading up to the funeral but still no answers to my question of WHY and then before I knew it I was supposed to carry on with normal life responsibilities. Work, childcare, housework, and my role as a wife. My routine, my everyday tasks, had changed completely for me in my world but to everyone else, life resumed as normal. l still recall returning home on Friday after the funeral and being expected to go to the pub with my husband because it was a Friday night and that was routine for Fridays. I felt totally isolated and broken, with no choice but to go as it was easier than having an argument. That day l switched off my emotions and went through the motions of living without actually living. Not processing what had happened because l knew if l did l would break down and not be able to keep all the plates spinning.


I put my Mum's pictures away as it was too painful to see them, l worked harder in my job and started a post-grad qualification just so I didn't have time to feel the pain. The only person who had loved me and worried about me and my health was my Mum but she was gone. So I made a pact with myself that l would keep going for my children until they were settled in their lives and l was no longer needed and l would follow in my Mum’s footsteps (in my mind it all seemed so logical).

l recall going to a close family wedding 3 months later, putting my makeup on and dressing up was difficult. l looked around thinking it was not fair, that my Mum should be here, l was jealous of my cousins and everybody whose parents were still alive, since mine had both died. I had only lost my dad 2 years earlier to a sudden heart attack.

I buried my emotions for years and pushed them down till I stopped feeling. l numbed everything I felt, became a workaholic and studied hard. I even had a pre-prepared script of what I would say if anyone asked how I was coping or what happened to my Mum, I repeated it until I almost believed it myself.

Fast forward 13 years later, when l was 50 years old, I built up the courage to leave my husband due to abuse but after 3 months of separation, he also took his own life, in the same way my Mum had, death by hanging. I was so angry with him, full of rage but at the same time these emotions were so different to when my Mum died.


How could he do that to his children? Towards me? I felt like it was his final act of violence towards me, that by ending his life he had the final say and l could not do anything about it.

He was punishing me for leaving him.


I didn’t feel guilty for leaving him but instead, I felt sadness and rage for my children because he could have sought help and rebuilt a relationship with his children. Instead, he didn't think about them, just his obsession with me not wanting to live a happy life unless he was living with me.

What made my late husband's death 100 times worse was that family members and the community blamed me and my children. After my husband's death, I went for counselling, where l spoke about my married life and the anger and rage l felt towards him but also the grief of losing my Mum that was still buried deep within me.

By attending counselling l thought l dealt with the grief but I only dealt with the initial emotions. Counselling was only one part of my healing journey, it doesn't cure you, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Grief does not like to be ignored and it never goes away no matter how hard you pretend.

Life continued for my children and me, as we dealt with our grief in our own ways. I was very protective about expressing too much anger about my late husband as he was the father of my children but I held a lot of resentment towards him which l could not forgive.

The question of WHY kept eating at me

My Mum suffered from depression her whole life due to her own trauma and after my Dad died, she felt that as her children had grown up she no longer had a purpose. She believed she had no voice, that she did not matter and that she was invisible.

For my husband when l had calmed down from the rage l realized that he too suffered from a form of depression after l left him and he could not see a reason to live without me.


Lessons I learned and how l healed

Seeking professional help

I sought help through counseling about 6 weeks after my husband's death to help me understand and overcome the initial shock and rage. I was asked if I wanted to continue, to delve deeper but I refused and thought 6 weeks was enough. It turns out that it wasn’t and a few years later I went back again. During these times it seemed that l was not ready to deal with the loss of my Mum and l was still in denial.

Feeling all the emotions

I moved to Ashford when both my children were grown up and living their lives and l had to create a new chapter for myself. This was scary and exciting, I had experienced waves of grief but now when the grief returned it was a tsunami that engulfed me for weeks. It was my body's way of saying you pushed your emotions down too long, now deal with them.

I grieved through an array of emotions from sadness, shame, regret, rage, guilt, anger, abandonment and frustration. The emotions were uncomfortable but l sat with them, I felt them fully and allowed them to exist rather than avoid them as l had in the past. I realized slowly that all my feelings were valid, they were my way of grieving and personal to me and for my healing. I also grieved for how life could have been if both my Mum and Husband were still alive and had got help.

Each time I was hit by these emotions l thought that was the final wave but l have learnt that the grief never goes away, not completely, it becomes part of your being. There is a void inside you which stays with you as a reminder of the person that you loved so dearly. I was honest and sincere about my intense feelings of grief and the toll it put on me which l shared with others who were close to me.

Journaling

I also started writing down how I felt, this helped me to acknowledge the grief that l had experienced rather than shut them down, especially regarding my Mum. It helped me to process what happened to both of them and also recall happier memories.

Forgiveness and Acceptance

We cannot change what has happened, for my Mum l felt that she abandoned me. Didn't she know how much all her children loved her and needed her? In the same way, my husband abandoned his children. How dare they. These emotions came up on my journey of grief, but there is another side to both their stories. I can say how selfish they both were and go on and on about how much it affected me. But they were both adults who had experienced major trauma in their lives which they felt they could not get help with BUT instead chose to take their own lives. For me understanding what they had been through, their struggles and challenges helped me to forgive and accept what happened, as sad as both their stories were. On reflection, by accepting it was their choice no matter how painful it was, l found a shift in me, a weight being lifted and a sense of calmness.

Practice self-compassion

Through the endless hours of crying, l learnt that l had to show myself compassion. Be kinder to myself, nurture myself, it was OK not to be a machine and just keep going BUT instead approach things with a kinder outlook and forgiving nature to myself. The old me would have just kept going, numbing everything out. Instead l look after my body and mind through healthy eating, exercise, grounding myself through walking, reading a book and journaling.


I realized that I needed to give myself compassion so that l could heal and look forward to life rather than my old belief that l was no longer important once my children grew up but that l still mattered

Celebrating their lives


“The future is always in the process of interpreting the past “


I’m not sure who this quote is by but to me it means that to move forward and grow we need to understand our past.

For me, by healing the grief in my heart, l am able to understand myself better, have more authentic relationships with the ones that are dear to me and celebrate the ones who have died because they would want us to be happy. To show that they were loved we celebrate them in our daily lives and always will.

My husband was passionate about music, especially certain artists like Bob Dylan, who was his idol. My daughter had a collection of music that her dad loved at her wedding to remember him.

When my Mum died part of me died as well as I chose not to accept her death. l tried to vanish her from my day-to-day life by hiding all the pictures of her and not talking about her because it was just too painful. Now the pictures are backup and l find myself talking to her as if she is with me, l feel connected to her again. Instead, l want to celebrate her life so that she is remembered and not forgotten for the lovely person she was. I talk to other family members to understand her better and to my children. My Mum showed her love for her family by cooking amazing food and l realized that I am the same. I cook Indian food in the same way she did and l have passed this love to my children. For me, I also honour her through my work in supporting Asian Women to realize they matter in their own right not just as a mother or a wife.

I support South Asian women who are feeling isolated, lonely and have experienced trauma to discover their purpose, heal their thoughts and find their confidence.

If my story resonates with you and you would like to work talk further then please book a free 30 min consultation:

Email on info@becomingvisibletherapy.com

Text on 07940238855




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