Disclaimer : I am not doing this to gain publicity and being a suicide loss survivor is NO badge of honor for I did not choose to become one. In a heartbeat, I would trade anything I have today to be able to go back in time and change the circumstances, so as not to have become one in the first place. I am doing this because what suicide loss survivors go through has to be heard and it will be, only if more of us speak up! And here I am doing my bit!
Finding immense comfort and solace between the leaves of a well written book is nothing new to me. It’s while getting lost in some really good books, I found myself, over and over again. But not often am I moved enough to take the trouble to write to the author, appreciate her for resonating with her readers, and thank her for making them feel heard! That’s what I happened to do when ‘Left Behind’ left me in tears, having helped me find the voice that I have silenced for over a decade.
Dr. Nandini lost her husband, Dr. Murali, a well known urologist, to suicide in the year 2017. This book is her account on overcoming not just from the ensuing grief, but also from the shame and the stigma she had to put up with as a suicide loss survivor in India. It’s no surprise that in this country suicides are treated with contempt and the survivors who are left behind, particularly if they are women (or girls), are stigmatized, shamed and ridiculed mercilessly for what would be something they are not even responsible for.
Like Dr. Nandini, I am a suicide loss survivor myself, and like her, I have experienced enough of shame and stigma, which I wouldn’t wish upon even the worst of my enemies. I was only 19 years old when my ex boyfriend passed away due to suicide, a few months after we broke up. I still remember how overnight, most of my so called friends had turned from well-wishers to top gossip mongers. All I needed at that time was some compassion, empathy and understanding, for I was confused myself; I wouldn’t have even minded indifference. What I instead received, was a lot of contempt, moral policing and having my name mercilessly trashed (many times even within my earshot), by known and unknown people.
It wasn’t easy to go through those days, the memories of which still sends shivers down my spine. Recovering and healing from any form of suicide loss is a lifetime work and thanks to the support and love from my parents and a few friends (who did not desert me), my recovery has been better than that of most suicide loss survivors. But is that how suicide losses should be perceived? Why should suicide loss survivors be at the mercy of only a few empathizing loved ones? What’s the need for the rest to get on top of their moral high horses and pass some unsolicited, unwanted and hurtful remarks that could leave scars that might take a lifetime to heal?
Dr. Nandini’s ‘Left Behind’ talks of all these and more, and holds up a mirror to the society to show them how their moral judgements are perceived, in the voice of a suicide loss survivor, the very voice that is threatened to be silenced from the word go. I am sure writing this book wouldn’t have been easy for Dr. Nandini; as it is living through those experiences must have been quite harrowing, re-living them while writing this book would have been unimaginable; especially, after losing a loved one she shared her life with for over 30 years. Yet, she found the courage to talk about the life after his death and boldly give her take on how people around perceived his death and her responsibility (or lack thereof) in it.
Dr. Nandini also talks about the gender dynamics that plays a role in the perception of suicide loss survivors. If the roles are reversed and a girlfriend/ a wife dies by suicide, our society would easily brand the dead lady to be a mad woman and most times would be sympathetic towards the man who is left behind. So much unlike the women and girls left behind, who need a lot of resilience to face the vultures of the society! Think of how the media (which is nothing but the reflection of our society) once bulldozed actress Rekha’s reputation after the suicide of her husband and, even as recently as last year, remember the circus around SSR’s suicide, and his girlfriend being forced into the eye of storm.
Watching the kind of stuff Rhea endured on social media, I was sorta glad that we weren’t as tech savvy back in the year 2009, and I am grateful for the limited modes the society had then, to spread the gossips and lies about me. I’m sure you can’t quote any atrocity of such humungous proportions heaped on men celebrities, or even non-celebrity men, when they become suicide loss survivors, because, society magically moves on from such events and those men move on to normal lives shortly after. I am not saying their pain in losing their loved ones is any less, but at least as a man he will be shown some empathy and may even be allowed to mourn in peace!
It’s not just the media and the people around who are insensitive, in India, even mental health space is not very helpful. We conspicuously lack the support ecosystem needed for suicide loss survivors, for unlike in the west, we do not have support groups nore are the mental health professionals as well trained as in the Western world. I remember how when I went to a shrink during the aftermath of my loss, after a 5 min conversation with him, I ran away, dragging my parents along. Let’s just say he did his part (just like every one of my so called friends) in blaming me, my age, and my stupidity for falling in love, which, in his opinion, made me deserve all that had happened to me. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have just run away, I should have given him one tight slap and then run away, for he (or anyone for that matter) had no rights to decide what I deserved.
But then, if I had to slap every insensitive person I had come across, I would have nursed a very sore palm for many days then. Today, I wouldn’t mind giving tight slaps as many times as it would take for insensitive folks to keep their opinions to themselves, sore palm or not! I am nothing like how I was back then. I’m a sufficiently confident person who can’t take any form of bullshit, well travelled enough to know that the world is big enough to accommodate everyone’s dreams and desires; and, have worked sufficiently hard and have earned a decent name for myself in my profession. Unbeknownst to myself, and thanks to the right support I had in form of parents, mentors and loved ones, I have been able to convert what would have been a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) into a Post Traumatic Growth (PTG).
But let me ask you this, how many suicide loss survivors in India would get the support and love I had? And how many of you, knowingly or unknowingly, had judged any of us, and hence made one such growth impossible for many a hurt soul like mine? Ask yourself, would you have whole-heartedly been friends with the 19 year old me, when she was the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons, or would you, like many of my so called friends then did, have run away without looking back?
I am not bitter about all that happened to me, not anymore at least, I had to go through that storm to emerge as a stronger person, capable of far more things than what society once believed I deserved. I sorta was able to get back at this society in a way, for all the unfairness that was once heaped on me. Recently, I removed many from my friends list on Insta, Facebook, Whatsapp, and other social media sites – those, who at some point made my life very difficult, not because I still harbor hatred towards them, but because today I have the courage that I did not once have, to be able to choose who would be in my circle AND who wouldn’t.
I am glad I chanced upon Dr. Nandini’s Left Behind, and I am all the more glad that I wrote to her in detail on how her book and her courageous words gave my decade old feelings some much needed validation. Having been moved by the account of my suicide loss experience, Dr. Nandini invited me, with a royal welcome fit for a celebrity, to release her book, at the book launch that happened in her hometown in Madurai. She believed when her book is launched by a fellow suicide loss survivor, her cause would have more meaning. For the first time ever I was not just celebrated for what I went through, but was also being honored for it. More on the book launch here.
I would like to reiterate a few words from my speech that day : “Like all suicide loss survivors, I did go through a lot of shame, stigma, secrecy and silence, (the 4Ss Dr. Nandini speaks about in her book), for many years. The continued fear of what society would think of me, made me slightly hesitant to take this trip to Madurai. What made me come here are Dr. Nandini’s words, she told me, to speak the truth I do not have to be afraid, and the truth, my dear ladies and gentlemen, is, I wasn’t responsible for what my ex boyfriend did, Dr. Nandini wasn’t responsible for what Dr. Murali did and let me tell it loud and clear, no suicide loss survivor is ever responsible for what their loved ones decided to do (or not do) with their lives!“
That day, I had my opportunity to come out of the closet of suicide grief in front of a smaller audience, today I am doing it in front of a much larger one. lt IS liberating, and is also enabling me do my part in making this cause get some much needed attention. Just to provide some context, there are over 100,000 recorded suicide deaths in India every year, and every suicide loss leaves in it’s wake at least 6 suicide loss survivors. There are millions like me and Dr. Nandini in this country (per records, I am sure there are millions more left behind from unrecorded suicides of loved ones), and yet all of us go through our own isolated and stigmatized moments of grief with little to no support. Like Dr. Nandini, I want to change that! For unlike many suicide loss survivors, today, I can, without worrying about what others would think, speak up about a topic as taboo as suicide and it’s aftermath.
It’s this newfound conviction that made me whole heartedly agree to Dr. Nandini when she invited me to be part of her initiative called SPEAK, http://www.speakinitiative.org (which incidentally came before her book) for helping suicide loss survivors find footholds in their lives, especially when they are struggling to stay afloat when overwhelmed in oceans of grief. If you know of someone, ANYONE, who could use some help from SPEAK, please do feel free to reach out to us, we will do our part to make him/her feel heard and offer the needed support to help them wade through their waves of grief. For we strongly believe that nobody’s life needs to end with their loved one’s decision to end theirs!
I know by choosing to speak up about my experiences, I would some day be able to give courage to someone else to speak up about theirs, the way Dr. Nandini’s words encouraged me to do so. I hope one day, as many of us start to speak up, the tiny spark that it is now, becomes a ravaging fire, singeing away in its wake all the barriers of stigma and shame associated with suicide loss. And I hope I live to see the day when suicides are no longer a taboo and anyone with even small such thoughts could get the right help at the right time and the concept of death by suicide would become a thing of past. Just so that, there would be no suicide loss survivors left behind to make sense of their loss, the way many like Dr. Nandini and I do every single day!