By Daniel Casciato
Ellen Gerst’s widowhood came suddenly when her husband committed suicide. She was married just short of 20 years when her first husband died. According to Ellen, her husband was the sanest and most rational man she knew and this was purely a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide brought up complicated grief issues for her because she also had to work through her survivor guilt before she could even address the myriad of “normal” grief issues.
“In general, a survivor attempts to apply logic to this event, or look for a cause-and-effect, because that is how we, as humans, understand and bring order to our world. Herein lies the dilemma, and the root of the guilt, of the survivor,” she says. “It is virtually impossible to successfully apply logic to an illogical situation and expect to arrive at a satisfactory answer. In truth, there are very few good explanations of why someone would choose death as a solution to a problem. When logic fails to supply any answers, guilt and self blame are always there as alternatives. The survivor continues to berate herself for missing the signs and stopping the fatal act.”
Ellen adds that it’s so easy to recognize clues in retrospect, but life can only be lived going forward and decisions made with the information in front of you at the time. Eventually, the survivor needs to have her emotional mind and rational mind travel concurrently (which is not always an easy task), eventually merge and come to a resolution.
“The resolution is that responsibility for the act lies solely on the shoulders of the person who completed the suicide,” she says. “After much soul searching, I came to accept this fact. It was then I could start to heal.”
Today, Ellen is a grief and relationship coach, author and speaker, now living in Phoenix, Arizona, and has two sons from her first marriage. Nine years ago, she remarried. She recently responded to a list of questions we had for her via email in our ongoing Q&A series.