Is it possible? Absolutely! ~ By Heidi Bryan

Sometime in the mid-1970’s my older brother’s attempt at suicide was thwarted; my mother walked into his room while he was writing his suicide note.  He was hospitalized, during which time I saw him once for a therapy session which my mother also attended (my father was probably working and unable to attend).  He was discharged and brought back home and life was just supposed to go on as if nothing happened.  My mother did say that my brother was always jealous of me so she was going to yell at me more in front of him to make him feel better but not to take it personally. I don’t remember much else about that time except that I felt so strange around my brother.  I was afraid to talk to him, to interact with him.  I was afraid I might upset him and maybe he’d try again and this time he’d die.  I didn’t know how to think or feel so I did my best to keep to myself, avoid him, and interact only when necessary.  What I do know for sure is that no one gave us any resources, tips, booklets, family therapist referrals, anything.


Flash forward 30+ years and now I’m working in suicide prevention.  I’ve had my own aborted attempt and suicidal behavior and my older brother succumbed to suicide.  As a person who lost someone to suicide, I met a lot of other people who also lost loved ones, many of whom had had a prior attempt.  As I began talking to them, I was dumbfounded.  I assumed that in those 30-some years, things would have changed when someone left a hospital after a suicide attempt. Sure, my family didn’t get any resources, but that was in the 70’s and we didn’t know as much and there weren’t as many things available or accepted back then.  Surely things had changed.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.


Time and time again I was told how the person came home and nobody at the hospital or on staff gave them any information on suicide, especially including how a suicide attempt puts someone at risk for a future attempt.  No resources on how to help the attempt survivor, no referrals for family therapy, not even for a cleaning service if one was needed when the person was admitted. Nothing.


But what impacted me the most was talking with a young woman who had just been released after her second suicide attempt.  It was at a support group for attempt survivors and her mother had driven her to the meeting and was waiting in the lobby to take her home.  One couldn’t help but feel the mother’s anger and see it on her face.  The young woman explained that her mother dropped her off for her community college courses and picked her up, taking her back home.  She wasn’t allowed to close her bedroom door and all phone calls had to be screened by her mother. She was a prisoner and felt trapped. The other group members and I broke tradition and commented on her situation saying that her mother was only doing those things because she was afraid of losing her. The young woman nodded in agreement, but it didn’t help anything.  After the meeting another group member and I were walking out together in silence, until we reached our cars.  We then turned to each other and I said, “She’s going to attempt again, isn’t she?” and my friend shook her head and said, “I’m afraid so.” I had the woman’s e-mail and reached out to her; she never attended another meeting and I have no idea whatsoever what happened to her. Every time I think of her I pray she’s alive and is healthy and happy.


So, I wrote a booklet called After an Attempt: The Emotional Impact of a Suicide Attempt on Families because I realized there wasn’t much out there. We need to do more to help people who have just tried to take their own lives, or who are suicidal, and we need to help those people surrounding them because if we help them, we’ll help the suicidal person as well.


I always tell people (after an attempted suicide in the family) that whatever you are feeling is normal for the situation.  You might feel angry or guilty. Maybe you feel a sense of shame, or you may be in shock.  Suicides and suicide attempts are traumatic events and we need to recognize them as such and treat them accordingly.  There will probably be a period where you feel hopeless, or that you have no control over events in your life or are afraid.  Afraid it will happen again or afraid something else bad will happen now that your blanket of security has been ripped from you.  That’s OK.  Feelings aren’t facts and they don’t last forever. In time you will begin to think of things other than the attempt and go back to your daily routine and your life will improve.  Will it ever be “normal” again?  Not the way it was, now you’ll have to create a new normal.  My point is that things do and will get better but that this is big, really big, and you will need help to get through it. Whether it be family counseling, a support group of some kind, through your rabbi or priest, or just some very good, helpful friends, you will need to get help to help you through this.  Like the airplane safety instructions, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can put it on others.  As the dust subsides and your grief lessens, because you are mourning a loss, the life that you knew is gone and now you have to build a new one, you and the attempt survivor can begin to work together and find out what helps and what doesn’t and what can be done so the person stays alive.  Is it easy? No.  Is it scary? Yes.  But is it possible? Absolutely.


I’m very fortunate to have a spouse I can turn to or friends I can go to when I am struggling with my suicidal ideation or am feeling jammed up. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that just by verbalizing it, by sharing it openly and honestly with someone you trust, just that act alone often diminishes the pain and intensity of the situation and for me, is often all I need.  It didn’t happen overnight, my husband and I had to work at it, but it does work and I can’t imagine what I’d do if I couldn’t turn to him when I most need to talk to someone.  By working together, we can heal and find the hope and happiness we know is out there waiting for us.

Heidi Bryan is a guest contributor. You can learn more about her work at and download the booklets she has written from her website.


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