A website visitor has this question for author Comfort Shields:

Q: I saw that the author C. Comfort Shields will be on your radio program next week. I am grateful for this and can’t wait to tune in. I spent years searching for a book specifically written about surviving a partner’s (in my case, it was my boyfriend, too) suicide and can’t begin to tell you the relief that Shields’ book, Surviving Ben’s Suicide, has brought me since reading it a couple months ago.

In Ms. Shields’ memoir, she talked about how cruel people often were when she told them her boyfriend committed suicide. They didn’t take her grief seriously, because she “only” lost a boyfriend. My question is, what would Ms. Shields say to those people now, all of these years after her boyfriend committed suicide, knowing what she knows now?

Comfort Shields responds:

Thank you for your excellent question. I am so sorry about the loss of your boyfriend to suicide.

I often felt disenfranchised after my boyfriend, Ben, died. Upon telling people about Ben’s death, they would often say, “His poor family!” and not mention me or ask about my grief. It seemed as if I didn’t have a right to feel such pain or to be included as one of the nearest and dearest survivors of Ben’s suicide, since I was not related to him or tied to him by marriage. As you know, not being validated as someone who deserves to grieve can be extremely painful for survivors.

Even to this day, fifteen years after Ben took his life, people still sometimes dismiss my experience as being somehow peripheral. When this happens, I remind them that, when death occurs, one must not simply assume that the only people close to the deceased are tied by kinship. I also talk about the very special role a partner has, when coping with a suicide.

Partners are often the most intimate with the deceased. We tend to be the confidante and the shoulder to cry on. We are also the people who witness many of the deceased partner’s final struggles and have accompanied him or her on a journey of highs and lows. In some case, like mine, we even endure abuse (mine was verbal) due to the suicidal partner’s mental illness.

Then, left in the wake of a partner’s suicide, we are often left with a tremendous sense of guilt, abandonment and stigma. We often feel that society is judging us for what we were not able to do and that we are somehow tainted by the “taboo” of suicide.

We also may look at ourselves and ask why we weren’t good enough to “make” our partner “stay”. Of course, these questions are not always rational, but nevertheless, many of us ask them as a way of making sense of our role in our partner’s life and death.

Usually, once I explain how close I was to Ben and what I went through with him before his death and alone after his death, people begin to understand just how intimately affected partners of suicide are. This is a topic that I feel very strongly about and I hope to answer in more detail soon.

Comfort Shields appeared on “Open to Hope” radio.

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