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I have to be honest, I have thought about this post for years now and every time I start, I doubt myself and delete it all. There are several weeks in January and February that my heart feels particularly soft so here I am attempting to write these words yet again. Suicide. How do you talk about something so incredibly personal on the internet where everyone has an opinion and hate-filled trolls are just waiting to attack?
I’m not sure how to even start but I feel in my heart that someone needs this, so I’m going to give it my very best try.
I have lost several people in my life to the cold grasp of suicide. Each had an unbelievably beautiful soul and each their own unique set of circumstances. Each life made me better and each loss left a scar on my heart.
When I first really understood a loss to suicide, I was an 18 year old girl in my first year of college. It was a different time and people didn’t talk about hard things. There was no counseling, no healing. My heart was shattered, I was so scared, and I didn’t know where to turn. I spent YEARS of my life with nightmares and flashbacks. Of our group of friends, my nightmares were nothing compared to what they battled.
Two years ago, I found my heart breaking again when a precious family friend of mine died. I had always thought of her as a little sister. I did her hair for prom, let her borrow my clothes, taught her chords on the guitar, and served cake to the guests on her wedding day. The wound in my heart from losing her is still so unbelievably tender. I can’t even begin to imagine how my childhood best friend, her real sister, feels.
I’m not here to talk about suicide prevention and I’m not a therapist or trained in healthcare. I’m just here as someone who has been there, willing to share, hoping to make a difference. What I want to talk about today is how to support those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Why? Because I think we as friends and neighbors can do better. We’ve got to do better.
I don’t have all the answers but I do know what I’ve learned from my own experiences and mistakes and that’s what I want to share with you today. Every experience and every person experiencing it is different so take what you need and leave what you don’t.
One of the most important things you can do to support and lift someone experiencing this kind of grief is not to judge. Don’t make assumptions. This is NOT a “classic case”, there is no such thing. No, you don’t know why, you weren’t in their head, and you sure didn’t feel their pain!
The things people said to me would make you vomit. The weird messages, nosey questions, and terrible opinions made my head spin. It was baffling. What in the world are people thinking? That’s just it though, they’re not. I’ll never forget when someone told me my loved one was going to hell and that there was no hope for them now. My face burns just thinking about that conversation! Before you do or say anything, put yourself in another’s shoes. Please, please try.
THIS talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard was of great comfort to me during that time. I love where it says, “Peace came to me only when I recognized that only the Lord could administer fair judgment. He alone had all the facts, and only He would know the intent of the heart of my friend. I was reconciled with the idea that a lifetime of goodness and service to others must surely be considered by the Lord in judging the life of a person.”
So, what am I saying here?
If you aren’t God then you don’t get to judge, plain and simple.
Everyone needs a place to get away that is warm, inviting, and safe. Be that place, be that person. BE THERE. This means being genuine, being heartfelt, and being you. Reach out with love and though you may not understand their pain, wrap them in your arms. You don’t have to understand to be compassionate. Call, text, visit, hug. Be there. Be present. Reach out a hand. Please be there.
Shut up and listen.
I think this is the #1 thing you can do to help when it comes to grief and goes hand in hand with providing a safe place. Allow your friend to talk about it, to cry about it, to tell you their fears. Let them get out what they are feeling. Don’t try to say anything wise, you probably won’t know what to say anyway. Just listen.
Sometimes listening looks differently than we’d think it would.
I don’t know how to stress this one enough, but there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Allow your loved one to express their grief in their own way. This is where I made a huge mistake. I’m so embarrassed to share this, but I’m going to anyway. Maybe it was because of my hard experience in college, but when my Rosie passed away, I wanted to talk about her. I NEEDED to talk. The problem is, my loved ones weren’t ready to and I tried to force them. I didn’t want them to feel what I had felt, alone and hopeless, so I pushed and I pushed some more. Oh, you guys, when I think back on it I am so sorry.
Not everyone is going to want to talk. Not everyone is going to react how you think you would. It’s hard to get a grip on, but grief is painful and we all handle pain differently. Anger, depression, tears, violence, bottling up, hiding, distance, coping, weakness, fear… all ways humankind works through heartache.
I had no right to push my loved ones and neither do you.
When they are ready to work through their grief, they will.
All you can do is be there when that day comes.
If you don’t know what else to give, give of yourself.
For more ideas on how to serve, go HERE.
It doesn’t have to be grand, just make an effort to show you care. That’s all they want and need, someone to be there.
Provide ongoing support.
They say time heals all wounds but I don’t believe that’s true. Time doesn’t heal everything. The pain might lessen but it may never truly go away. Please don’t give up on them. Continue to be there in the years to come. Think ahead to the hard days, the special occasions. How can you help? Is it their first Christmas without their loved one? What can you do?
I challenge you to do something.
Be there for the long haul.
Sometimes my mama and I take my honorary mom on a drive to the cemetery to visit our girl. We pick up a diet coke and then go check to make sure her headstone is cleaned off and tidy. It’s a little thing that may not seem like much but I know it fills her heart to be there and have us with her. We talk about the fun times, that 100 watt smile, and her deep love of animals. It isn’t the drive that fills the soul, it’s simply being together and knowing that no matter we’ll always be there.
I don’t know if these words means anything to anyone, but now it’s out of my heart and I can breathe again. Long story short, you can make a difference. Yes, you! A life is so much more than how it ended. I beg you to not allow the end to erase the rest of the story. Though we long for those that have left us, there is so much life left to live and we must live it. Deep down we know that. Sometimes we just need a hand to hold along the way to make the living possible. Reach out your hand, my friends.
If you know someone who needs support working through a loss to suicide
and you don’t know how to give it to them, please reach out for help.
There are support groups all over that know how it feels and have been there.