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As a survivor myself, let me say as I launch Dr Nandini’s book Left Behind that no suicide loss survivor is responsible for what their loved ones decided to do (or not do) with their lives!
Trigger warning: This has themes of suicide, loss, and grief, and may be triggering for survivors.
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, that I found myself, over and over again. But not often am I moved enough to write to the author, and appreciate her for resonating with her readers and for making them feel heard!
That’s exactly what I did when the book 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, a well known urologist to suicide and 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 (and 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. What I instead received, was a lot of contempt, moral policing and having my name mercilessly trashed (sometimes 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 it should be? 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 this and more, and holds up a mirror to the society and shows them how their moral judgements are perceived, in the voice of a suicide loss survivor, the same 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 of the perception of suicide loss survivors by the outside world.
Let’s just say that the roles are reversed and a girlfriend/ a wife died by suicide, people would be more than happy to just brand the dead lady as a ‘mad woman’ and most times are sympathetic towards the man who is left behind. I am not saying his pain in losing the loved one is any less, but at least he is shown some empathy, and is allowed to mourn in peace!
Think of how the media tortured actress Rekha in the early 90s after the suicide of her husband, and even as recently as last year, the circus around SSR’s suicide and Rhea Chakraborty being forced into the eye of storm. I am sure the media’s attention towards men in stardom, who lose their wives to suicide, would predominantly be on a more empathetic and sad note. How is it that none has questioned it so far?
Not just this, in India, we also lack the support system needed for suicide loss survivors from mental health point of view, for unlike in the west, we do not have support groups and the mental health professionals here are not as well trained in dealing with people like Dr. Nandini and me.
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 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.
Fast forward to today, I am nothing like how I was back then, I am a confident person who can’t take any form of bullshit; well travelled enough to know that the world is big enough to accomodate everyone’s dreams and desires; and have worked sufficiently hard to earn 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 was 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 that kind of support? 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 what 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 believed I deserved. 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 know I have the courage, which I did not have then, to be able to choose who would be in my circle (and who wouldn’t).
I am glad I chanced upon Dr Nandini’s book 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 some much needed validation for my decade old feelings.
Having been moved by the account of my suicide loss experience, Dr Nandini invited me to release her book, at the book launch that happened in her hometown in Madurai. She believed that when her book is launched by a fellow suicide loss survivor, her cause would have more meaning.
I would like to reiterate a few words from my speech that day : “Like all suicide loss survivors, I did go through 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 that trip to Madurai. What made me go ahead were Dr Nandini’s words, she told me that to speak the truth I do not have to be afraid, and the truth my dear ladies and gentlemen is this – 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 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 bigger one. lt IS liberating, and is also enabling me do my part in making life easier for some people, who would have gone through something similar to what I went through, for not everyone has the support and encouragement I have to be able to speak up about a topic as taboo as suicide and it’s aftermath.
Dr Nandini has not stopped with writing a book about surviving suicide loss, she has also started an initiative called SPEAK, (which incidentally came before the 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. She has graciously invited me to be a part of it and to help with some of the initiatives, which I have gladly agreed to.
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 them feel heard, and offer the needed support to help them wade through their waves of grief. For nobody’s life needs to end with their loved one’s decision to end theirs!
I know that 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 this tiny spark 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.
First published here.
If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call.
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080–25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040-66202000, 040-66202001
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