a shadowy portrait of a grieving man

After the death, we enter the very new and complex world of grief. We’re grievers! With the understanding that we all grieve differently, there is one thing for certain. Some, as was my case, will grieve much deeper than others. And therein lies a problem. Many of us will get caught in a little known, understood, or talked about grief trap. Emotional suicide! After Annie passed away, there wasn’t many days that went by for the first three years that I didn’t commit emotional suicide. I was guilty of getting caught in a trap that I had no concept of. It was all consuming–the five hundred year flood, so to speak.

What is emotional suicide?

This paragraph could easily be consistent with a person committing emotional suicide: quite frankly emotional suicide is living in misery–always, and I do mean always, thinking about and revisiting our loss, and not leaving any room for hope. One gets locked into the world of pitiful thoughts, and just stays there. Our focus is usually on the bad, and we’re unable to see or realize that we’re always stumbling deeper and deeper into a world of darkness, and therefore we have no way of escaping the pain and torment.

Most things we see represents the darkness in our life. And at that point we’re on the road to self destruction. Some people turn to alcohol or drugs to try to ease their pain, but the truth is, it will only make it worse in the long run. You can run from grief, but you can’t hide. After all, it’s pitched a tent inside of your head, and until you kick it out, it has no intention or reason to leave. Your sorrow becomes its comfort. Remember, in almost everything we do, and no matter where we are, happiness or wanting to be happy is being blocked at every turn by our grief. It’s a horrible place to be—if you loved deeply, it follows that you’re going to hurt deeply…And that’s just the way it is!

In my case, family and friends would come to my home, recognizing my unhealthy lifestyle and try to lift me up by inviting me out to family gathering or other events. To me, they thought they knew how I was feeling, when in reality they had no concept to the depths of my despair. Why would I want to go out with a bunch of happy people expecting me to be happy when all I can think about is my loss? And what’s happy about that! So instead of trying to pull myself out of the darkness, I alienated myself from my family and friends, shutting the door on almost everyone. They became nothing more than nuisances, a bunch of people that didn’t get it. Some would say to me, oh Bob, you’re just depressed over your loss, which in my mind was the understatement of the year.

My life was spiraling out of control and way beyond the world of depression, as when one loses all hope, one is approaching the point of no return. It is thought that depression is the leading cause of emotional suicide, but guess what, grief drives depression to a much higher level of despair, and over time can shorten one’s life span through some self-destructive behaviors…like, not taking care of yourself. There is little room for error, and a weak/unstable safety net for those of us that were, or are committing emotional suicide.

Escaping Emotional Suicide

We are kidnapped by our grief and taken to a place where we’d rather not be, and locked up in a world we don’t want to be in, and see very little opportunity for escape.

So here’s my question to you. Metaphor! What would you do if you were kidnapped by someone, taken out into the woods and locked up in a an old shed with no water? Would you try to escape, or just give into the fact that you were now a victim and just going to set there until you were released or died of thirst? Yes, you could argue that I’m mixing apples and oranges with this metaphor, but the concepts are the same. Personally, I would try to do everything I could to break out of that shed. So why didn’t I do that when I was grieving? Why did I turn everyone away? As I now know, my home was my shed, and all those people that tried to help me were the door I needed to walk through to escape, even if only for an hour or two.

We have to try to break the hold grief has on us, and by doing so we are lessening the chance of committing emotional suicide. Think of it this way. When I was on lock down in my home, everything I saw every day, was the same thing–it never changed from day to day. I was totally locked in a world of sorrow, sadness, and many unpleasant memories. Of course, my home represented many good memories Annie and I made together, but to a griever, those memories are hard to come by until we break the hold grief has over us.

I think I should have spent more time with the happy people, had what fun I could, and celebrated her life, rather than wallow in her death. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying…we have to grieve to get better and there will be plenty of grieving. But, it’s also imperative that we break the emotional suicidal hold grief has on us, and we do that by changing our routine. Perhaps, doing things differently once in awhile. If you go out for two hours, and part of that time you’re not thinking about your loss, you are breaking the cycle of grief. Any good that comes from your two hour break starts from your head and flows down through your body with a certain and much needed healing effect. A normal cycle of grief for many grievers is basically 24/7. They go to bed with it, and wake up to it. I certainly did.

Four months after Annie died, I flew out to Northern California to visit with my family, some friends, and do some fishing. My thoughts were that if I took a break for a couple of weeks, and got a much needed change of scenery things wouldn’t feel so bad. So I put on a mask and tried to run from my grief. To my surprise, for a few days me and my mask did okay. Then one day the mask fell off, and all I could think about was, “I want to go home.” Then on the plane ride home it hit me. When I get home Annie won’t be there and our normally warm and cozy home, is no longer going to feel that way either. And it didn’t–I walked straight into the arms of extreme loneliness once again.

Unknowingly at the time, the trip gave me some much needed hours of escaping the heavy grief, therefore, breaking the cycle of grief a bit. Although that didn’t change my overall battle with grief, it did give me a chance to build up my emotional reserves needed to fight the extended emotional battle I was in with grief.

Emotionally grief will drain you, or as some would say suck the life out of you, if you let it. When that happens to a normal griever, we have the ability to fall back on our emotional reserves to get us through the tough times. But at some point when committing emotional suicide through our continued visitation with our loss, our emotional reserves can be used up too, and when that happens, we hit the old proverbial rock bottom.


So as I see it now, it’s not only important, but imperative that we find ways to distract ourselves in an effort to break the cycle of grief, if only for a short while. During that small break from grief the body will start to heal. Yes it will be a vicious circle, and you will go round and round on the merry-go-round for quite possibly a long time, but after spending three long years in grief, and experiencing healing in the fourth, I know what needs to be done. I only wish I had of known back then. My grief would have been easier, not as complex, and I would have been able to kick that squatter out much sooner, that was camping out in my head.

I suffered terribly from grief because I didn’t have the tools and lacked the understanding to help myself heal. I was relentless in facing my worst fears and nightmares head on, on a daily basis in an effort to heal. My theory was, what hurts you the most, will in the end be what heals you. And as I’ve said before, it take’s grief to heal grief. And that’s all true, but I should have been taking a break from my grief through creative distractions, giving my body a chance to start healing. Instead, I chose hand to hand combat with grief on a daily basis, which is not a good idea, and in my case did more harm than good. I stayed the course, but now know I was committing emotional suicide.

When I talk about my grief, I have no regrets. I was doing everything I could to survive. However, now that you’ve read this article, I hope it helps you and you get the message loud and clear. Don’t stay in the trenches too long, you have to get out and take a break, do something for yourself. Take some “me time.” I know it won’t be easy, and then there is the guilt factor, grief in disguise, but as messed up as I was, if I had it all to do over again, I would have walked through that shed door into the arms of some happy people. People that loved and cared about me. It won’t change your grief, but over time it will help your body heal. That’s so important to your future well-being.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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  1. Linnea, thank you for the kind words. I love to write and share my life experience, all the battles, the heartache–but if I could change just one thing, none of this would have come to pass. Imagine a world without blood cancer. Take care.

  2. Thank you Bob. I feel a little less guilty after reading your article

    • Hi Kathy, when grieving, guilt represents the dark side of grief. Grief wants you to feel guilty, and just about every other negative emotion. Understand that as you move forward, and remember, your grief is yours and yours alone. All I do when I write is tell folks how it was for me, offer up a solution or two on how I might have done things differently if I had only known, and try to validate the feelings of other grievers as they navigate the trouble waters of grief, through my message. I wish you the best.

  3. I can so relate to your story. I know what your saying is true however most days I simply don’t have the strength to open that door nor do I even have the slightest desire to do so. This is my safe haven and should I occasionally venture out, I’m not fully content until I return. I feel numb most of the time and if I could sleep round the clock, I would. Unfortunately, I fluctuate between insomnia and unconsciousness; seems like 2 days awake and 2 days asleep. I have plenty of books in the house to keep me occupied when I can’t sleep; Nothing else sparks my interest or seems worth the effort anymore. I feel alone and abandoned… 40yrs is a long time.
    Just wanted you to know I understand and feel your pain and thanks for the words of encouragement ….don’t quite have the energy just yet, but perhaps one day.

    • Hi Barb. It was 39 years for me, and your comment sounds like a carbon copy of how I handled grief. And I know now if I had it to do over again, no matter how difficult, I would have done some things a bit differently. You’re really suffering, navigating the world of sanity verses insanity. I did that–there really is no escaping your grief, but my point was to try somehow to give your body a break. You can and you will get sick if you are not careful. Care giving and grief are very stressful, and over time can lead to a multitude of problems. All my life I’ve felt like the invincible man, so healthy. I am now dealing with heath issues I could never have imagined. When I was a caregiver for Annie, the doctors warned me, “if you don’t slow down and give your body a break, one day you will pay the price.” And I am., Add very stressful grief to the caregiver stress, and it becomes a ticking time bomb. Just be aware, and do what you can to help yourself. I wish you the best, and am deeply sorry for how you are feeling. I felt that pain, and know it is impossible for others to understand unless they’ve been in the trenches too. Lets hope they never have to feel it.

  4. This is beautiful, and so wise and helpful. Thank you for sharing your heart.


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