It was the week of my 16th birthday and my team had made it to the finals. Life wasn’t perfect. School was too easy and I spent most of my hours there in study hall, my step-dad and I did not get a long whatsoever, and I was the tall awkward artsy type in a class of maybe 30 students. But that day, that week, was going great. A couple of my paintings had made a national competition, my history project was being featured at the Uni, there was talk of enrolling me into college classes, and my whole family was sitting in the bleachers for the first time ever. I even got to start in the game. I was beyond proud of myself that my mom and step-dad were getting to watch me start in a finals game.
I don’t much remember the outcome of the game. In all honesty I do not remember much more of that night other than after the game the crisp winter air felt great against my sweat soaked jersey. We lived 30-45 minutes away from the school and never once through the car ride did it even dawn on me that something was wrong. Maybe I was too ecstatic over how the night was going…or maybe it was even my favorite fast food meal sitting in my lap. Either way I was oblivious.
It wasn’t until we got home and I stepped out of the shower did I realize something was up. My mom was propped against the sink and my little sister was crying on the toilet. Not a word was spoken as I glanced between the two trying to figure out what was unfolding in front of me. And then she said it.
At first I tried to pretend I hadn’t heard thinking if I played the hard of hearing card on those words they wouldn’t be true. And so she repeated herself…my father was dead.
I tried to wrap my mind around the words as my head filled with questions and the floor slipped out from under me.
The rest is a blur. For years I dealt with anger and pain that I could not process. I went to a horribly dark place. Never once did anyone say the word suicide or even admit it, but we all knew the truth. Today is the 12 year anniversary of that day. To this day I still struggle with those events, but slowly the pain is residing.
Today I wanted to do nothing more than lay in bed and curse the universe. But, maybe…just maybe, my words can help someone else who has been affected by suicide.
When I first started processing and questioning I turned to facts. Facts can explain everything right? Like did you know:
- Every 40 seconds the loss of a family member or friend who has killed themselves shatters someone? Every 40 seconds.
- Suicide is among the three leading global causes of death in people aged 15-34 years old.
- Suicide rates have increased 60% in the past 50 years.
I read, and read, and read. It doesn’t matter how many facts you manage to absorb…those words do nothing for easing the emotional pain.
How can you help someone dealing with pain from suicide of a loved one?
It can definitely be a daunting task. Hopefully this article will help you take your care and turn it into positive steps for helping a survivor of suicide (I hate the word victim).
Accept the Intense Emotions: More times than not the level of emotions that one will feel after a suicide death far surpass the limits of grief, anger, fear, shame…the whole tsunami of emotions from other types of death. Don’t ignore what someone is experiencing, don’t tell them to “get over it”, and don’t try to fix it for them. Just be there. Listen. Let them express themselves. Hold their hand as they walk through this dark period of their life. Be who they need you to be, not who you think they need. If you let them guide their way through it and just stay by their side they will come out on the other side. However, once you start trying to force or control what they are feeling you will most likely force them inwards to a place you cannot reach. Be compassionate, patient, and understanding.
Avoid Miracles in a Sentences (Cliches): These words can be extremely painful. Death is not a simple thing to process, do not attempt to provide a simple solution.
Listen from Your Heart: Your physical presence and willingness to actively listen without judgement will be critical tools helping someone cope.
Respect the Need to Grieve: Suicide is in many cultures taboo. One of the things the I struggled with greatly is that due to our religious beliefs suicide is an ultimate sin. There is no redo button or magic words for forgiveness. Because of this it wasn’t talked about. It was whispered here and there and then locked into Pandora’s box. If you know someone who is dealing with grief from suicide let them talk about. Erase the shame, let them grieve, and allow them to process every thought and emotion that crashes to the forefront of their mind.
Understand the Individual: Every person is unique and therefore they will all grieve in their own unique way. Remember that for survivors their life is under reconstruction. While it is possible to discuss similarities, do not expect someone you know to follow a direct path of grief. Don’t criticize and be patient. The process of grief may take a long time.
Be aware of holidays, anniversary’s, and faith.
And lastly if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts please speak up for help. If your voice is going unheard reach out to someone that will listen without judgement. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an amazing resource for connecting you to local help.