Surviving Bill
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Surviving Bill: Book Introduction
Every year, over 30,000 people commit suicide and leave behind an estimated 180,000 'survivors' who are intimately affected by their loss. As a survivor of my brother's suicide, I wrote this book to speak to them. However, I believe the elements of healing found throughout will also speak to those who've lost loved ones to almost any other circumstances as well.

As survivors, we're the ones left behind by a family member, friend or partner to sift through the confusion, pain and rejection. We're the ones who were involuntarily designated to make sense of the most senseless thing someone could do. We're the ones who are forced to hunt for answers that will never come and to move through this dark, cold period.
While we're left with the "basic" feelings of loss--shock, denial, isolation, anger, grief and fear--we also find ourselves with a set of emotions that few of those who lose loved ones to anything but suicide experience. These include rejection, abandonment, guilt, self-recrimination, confusion, shame, and an intense fear of our loved one's surrender that we can never bring ourselves to understand.
Suicide is unique in this respect. It beats the survivor down with all that loss can create, but then strikes with a whole new set of weapons. Regardless of what's left behind-a note, a book of poems, an audio or video tape-we're left with questions that will never be answered and confusion that's constructed on the simple perplexing notion of how a person can take such a final, self-destructive step. How could they have left us, our family, children, brothers, sisters, friends-all those who are so completely dependent on their existence? What could have been so bad? Didn't they know I loved them? What did I do wrong? Did I drive them to kill themselves? Did that thing I said yesterday make them do it? Different questions arise around the method and place, the time of day or year. As survivors, we're forced to continue on, to live our lives and move beyond the towering array of emotions that infest our bodies and minds.
But how? We cry, plunge into despair and desperately cling to those closest to us. We seek out counselors, support groups and friends who are willing to hear our pain. We search for whatever answers we can find, and we try to figure out, mostly on our own, ways that we can get through each day, slowly venturing back into the world of the living. But we often don't do the one thing that could prove beneficial to our healing and other's as well-share our stories. This may be due to the shame felt from the stigma of suicide, the fear of having to explain the "why's" or the simple assumption that people just don't want to hear it. However, our existence as humans, our traditions, knowledge, beliefs and values were all derived from the communication of the common human experience. While this process allows the storyteller to learn from introspection and the exchange of perspectives that inevitably follows, it may also provide the audience with new information and ideas from which they can understand and develop their own lives and stories.
I'm not a psychologist, psychiatrist or even a suicide expert (which is one of the reasons this book isn't laden with analysis). What I do know is that I have survived the suicide of my brother Bill. I have evolved into a more confident, happy, secure, and outgoing person as a direct result of Bill's death and my management of it. I have an excellent relationship with my family and have had the good fortune of developing strong friendships and an array of romantic involvements. Of course, my life isn't perfect and every day isn't bliss. But I've been able to move significantly away from the tragedy that is Bill's death to concentrate on the triumph that is my life.
My story isn't particularly unique. In many ways it's very similar to that of countless survivors. I'm taking the time to tell it because I believe the structure I've chosen and the elements of healing on which I've honed in fill a void on the information for which survivors search. The majority of books I've found focus on the victim, the epidemic or the societal factors that create both. If books do target the survivor, they're often bogged down in clinical analysis or with the umpteenth take on the five stages of grief. They ignore the power and effect that many "ordinary" moments have throughout all of our lives. The decisions we make, synchronistic moments we experience, pivotal relationships and realizations that make up all of our healing processes are just as important as counseling or, for some, religion. These details have pushed me ahead with my healing and have made the difference in allowing me to become who I am. Hopefully, my story will help you identify your own.
My journey begins with the day before Bill's suicide and ends with my life now. Beyond the descriptions of the days following Bill's death, all I have concentrated on are those moments that have moved my healing forward. The moments are presented purely for what transpired. I left out any interpretation so as not to cloud your own specific application. My moments include the introduction of Death, increased insight into why Bill took his own life, the instances when Bill came back to me, my places of safety and refuge, the construction of my "enlightened" perspective, counseling, my relationships and brushes with my own mortality. In their own ways, these instances propelled me towards the social, positive and self-assured person I am now.
The progression in my healing, however, couldn't have occurred if not for one basic principle instilled in me by my family, in particular, my mother. Through her own example and loving, persistent prodding, she made us clearly see that our lives didn't end with Bill's. While we undoubtedly experienced one of the most horrid tragedies imaginable, we couldn't shut down and wither away. We had to stay open to all that life offered, to learn the new exciting things that would always stoke the fire within our hearts, to live life in every way we could possibly imagine. She refused to lose the rest of her family as she had lost Bill. As a result, I was able to welcome each moment described throughout this book. It's this idea that's at the heart of all that you'll read. And it's this idea that I beg you to keep at the forefront of your mind in order to move your own life forward.
I hope you find solace and camaraderie throughout this book, and I hope your journey leads you to the same wonderful place that mine has led me.