Yesterday I wrote a blog post on International Suicide Survivors Day and have decided to expand on this discussion under the Friends Like These series on this blog. (I have also since published Picking Up The Pieces – tips for survivors – on this blog too.) It concluded with a key takeout that guilt is very much the most difficult effect on suicide survivors and that there is a very real lack of awareness of the prevalence of suicidal behaviour.
I chatted to a friend of mine, Carrina Niemand, on her experience on surviving suicide. I’ve known Carrina for more than 5 years and have never had a real conversation with her on this. She agreed for her story to be published saying
“if I can assist in changing the perception of people saying those that try suicide are cowards and judge them then I will be eternally grateful”.
I immediately tensed up at hearing those words as this is exactly how I have viewed suicide for most of my adult life – selfish. I’m not quite sure when I developed this attitude as I vividly recall the day I heard of one of my school friends having shot their brain out under a pillow in her bedroom – I was sad then. I felt really sorry for Tanya and that she was unable to find a better solution.
Surviving suicide – by Carrina Niemand
My past is a little juggled and jaggered around the edges but it has made me – ME and I am exceptionally grateful for that life. I was born in Pretoria in a heavy apartheid time and due to my parents not being married at the time I was not allowed to be baptized as I was a child of sin. My mother was an alcoholic from when I was 12 (that’s as early as I can remember – believe it was happening earlier). She lost her life to liver failure a couple of days after my 19th Birthday. My father then turned alcoholic and passed away when Dammien (my eldest) was 2 – his heart gave way due to the abuse his body had been subjected to… I had been through 2 rehab sessions with my Dad and moved back home with him to try and help him “dry up” but the constant exposure to the emotional damage was too much and chose to leave his home and build my life on my own. My father passed away 26 days after I moved out. I have an older brother who is 40. A very successful and powerful business man in the IT world. We are slowly getting closer, a lot closer – We drifted terribly when our mother passed away.
I want to tell you about my Angel, my Heart, My Craig…. He was my teen sweetheart – my first love . Don’t get me wrong, Grant (Carrina’s husband) is the man for me and I would never do anything to ever lose the love we have… Craig was a gift in my life that led me to realize how special Grant actually is and how lucky I am to have him in my life and the father of my children.
Craig and I met when I was all of 14, him 16. It was “love” at first site and we were inseparable until the age of about 20 when his addictions got the better of him and the law caught up with him and he was convicted of drug crimes. Around the age of 18 Craig started using various drugs but mainly cocaine. He knew my feelings and understood my views but I still stood by him and tried my best to just be there for him and never be a “judge” or an enemy. He suffered from adult ADHD and cocaine gave him the same effects that treatment medication would have – but obviously with huge amounts of danger and damage. Even when Craig was released from prison I would visit and write to try keep him motivated. I did all I could to support him and even purchased his wedding ring when he found out he was going to be a father and married the mother of his child.
As time progressed Craig slipped back into his deep level of addiction and would often disappear for days.
I would be his safe “place”, his comfort and friend when he’d finally come round and come back. I would put a delivery message on sms’s I sent him when he was missing so that I would know when he had put his phone back on so that I could trace him. I never ever enabled him with finance but realize today I enabled him with acceptance of his addiction with my deep love for him. I never ever fought with him, judged him or had a screaming match over his disappearing acts but always made it very clear as to how disappointed I was in him and tried to get him to enter rehab programmes.
To cut a long story shorter, 5 years ago Craig went on another disappearing weekend… this time 5 days after a robbery at the family home. As the week progressed enough evidence was found to prove that Craig was linked and the robbery was “arranged”. On that Sunday 28 May 2007 Craig’s phone “activated” and I called him straight away as I always did. This time I was not pleasant, I was not calm and I was not friendly. It was the very first time I was angry with him and confronted him as this was the final straw – he had crossed the line and I needed him to know I was angry. The call ended with me begging him to come home and come clean – even if it meant him spending time in prison. This was my very last conversation with Craig. I received a call from his father at 6:30pm telling me Craig had been found in an empty house and had hung himself. He was dead and had taken his own life.
Carrina says that suicide had absolutely never ever crossed her mind nor had Craig ever made mention of it – not even during their last conversation. “Suicide to me before this was the view of many today – a cowardly act, an easy way out… I was exceptionally negative about it.”
So many questions
I asked Carrina if she could remember what her immediate reaction was to the start of picking up the pieces, this is what she said: “Survival mode kicked in and I went into over drive in making sure the family was ok. His Mom wanted me at her side immediately and refused to show her face to anyone. My darling Grant catered the funeral as this was his way of being a support and doing what he could for us all. Once the funeral was over life really hit and it hit hard. He was gone – He was really gone. I no longer had to look for him and wonder if I’d find him in a ditch or in a mortuary. His Mom and I would spend endless times talking and crying and accepting his death was the hardest thing I think I ever had to face. I would spend time with his son talking about Daddy no longer being here and that he was with Jesus where he belonged and where he was safe. My son was just as attached to Craig and was 3… He didn’t seem to understand why his Craigy was gone.”
We went on to chat about what family and friends of potential suicide candidates can do to help right now. Carrina’s feedback was in line with the theme of keeping conversations and relationships ‘real’ which I touched on in 6 Degrees From Reality. She said “Open your eyes to the signs. They are out there. We enable behaviour by ignoring it in the hope it will go away. Never ever judge when they threaten but be firm and take the stance of tough love.”
How does a remaining family member cope with the grieving process of unnatural death? Carrina gradually learnt to accept Craig’s choice and respect it.
“We may never understand why but need to accept that this was their choice and inevitably, death is death and comes in many forms.”
She has chosen not to hide from the fact and not to be embarrassed by it. “Just love the person and be proud of what they stood by and meant to you”, she commented. I could never console Craig’s mom as a mother and so I found a friend’s mom who’s son had also taken his life under very similar circumstances and connected the 2 mothers…. Never ever stop talking, start changing the perception that suicide is cowardly ! By no means am I saying it is acceptable but we all have free choice and it is a choice “they” have made.
What I know now
“Craig’s passing has been the biggest gift ever given to me in my life! Him leaving this earthy world allowed me the opportunity to love and accept my now husband for the true man he is. A man of honour, respect, love and passion. I learnt that addiction is a very severe disease and comes in so many forms and is the same as any other vice in life and needs as much attention as world peace, but without the judgemental views. This suicide taught me to be grateful for the life I have, the opportunities that lay before me and the learnings I can impart on others in bettering their lives – That they are worth it, that they can do it ! What would I do differently ? Not sure I have this answer for you today.
I still question whether my confrontation was the final straw for him and led to him feeling I gave up on him….
I do know that I am a lot more tolerant now, a lot more aware and a lot more willing to help – really help those that are so desperate that the thought of taking their own life is their only option ! During his eulogy I promised his son that I would continue to remind him of how much his father loved him and that I would care for him no matter what. I will do this to the day I die.”
Carrina said to me that while she feels that telling her story is important, there are other survivors in this tragedy who she respects and loves dearly and wouldn’t want to offend in any way by her openness. This is YOUR story Carrina. May you find some comfort here.
Many thanks to Carrina for sharing your story with me & allowing me to publish it here.
Resources Carrina used the following sources for information and support:
- Grieving.com (forum for survivors and families)
- Alliance of Hope (a special care unit of late for group sessions with Teens & Early Adults)
- Akeso Care (a care unit covered by medical aid that covers ALL types of assistance)
Sadag runs South Africa’s only toll-free suicide crisis line – 0800 567 567 – open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. www.sadag.org
Also on this blog: Picking Up The Pieces (tips for survivors)
Please take care when commenting on this blogpost – no judgement of survivors, victims and my friends & family will be allowed. I simply won’t publish your comments. I’m sure you understand. Thank you. Melanie