I am in a dark space after my sister-in-law committed suicide

REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
Year-end shoppers wearing protective face masks are reflected on mirrors at a shopping and amusement district, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan December 31, 2020.

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 40s. My husband runs a clinic, where I work as a medical technician. My husband’s younger sister, who had also worked at the clinic as an administrative staff member, recently committed suicide.

The sad news arrived when our family was seated around the dinner table. My husband — who was in shock — could not conceal what he heard on the phone, including all of the details. I didn’t want our children, who are in elementary and junior high schools, to hear the specifics, but I can’t blame my husband as I understand how deeply it shocked him.

I’m having a hard time with this, too, as the sister-in-law sometimes appears in my dreams, and she looks like how she did when she was happy. I now handle my sister-in-law’s tasks at the clinic, in addition to my own duties. Partly because of my mother-in-law, I told the other staff members, “My sister-in-law has taken a leave of absence because her chronic disease has worsened.”

I’m nearing a limit both physically and mentally, but I can’t talk to my own mother as I don’t want her to feel shocked, too. I would love some advice.

— H

Dear Ms. H:

It’s so heartbreaking to hear how sorrowful the suicide of your sister-in-law, who had worked together with you, has been. Though the death of someone so close is always tough, the added shock of suicide contains an aspect beyond my imagination.

First, I recommend you give yourself time to heal, along with your husband and other family members. I understand your wanting to concentrate on your job to contain or avoid such negative emotions. However, I recommend spending time together with your family members in places with rich greenery on weekends or after work. Though we can’t go far during the pandemic, I think it is good to go to a nearby park or such places and try to get some exercise.

You might have contained your feelings and suppressed tears in your workplace and in front of your children, but you need a place where you can openly cry. I think you should not hold on to such sadness alone, and you can disclose such feelings and share them with your own mother or close friends, if there is someone you can turn to. It is important to regain your mental health and not forcibly bottle up your sorrow. You should shed tears.

Also, people tend to blame themselves, asking why they were not able to notice a problem when a close person dies. However, there are cases where people cannot be saved however carefully those around them pay attention. Don’t blame yourself; take care of yourself.

— Junko Umihara, psychiatrist

REUTERS/Issei Kato
A visitor wearing a protective face mask takes photos at the waterfront area of Odaiba Marine Park, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan, January 22, 2022.