When someone chooses to end his or her life, the survivors are unwillingly forced into a world filled with grief and confusion. A world that has no road maps.
It’s a world I’m familiar with because I’m a survivor of a suicide victim.
Over the past four years, I’ve learned how to be a survivor. My learning curve included recognizing and holding onto things people said and did that helped and quietly stepping away from those that didn’t.
I’ve learned most of us don’t know what to say when someone dies by suicide. In many cases, we say or do the wrong things.
I reached out to other survivors and asked them what they found to be helpful and not helpful in the aftermath of their loved one’s suicide. These are their responses.
Thank you Gale, Amanda, Jacqui, Lisa, Susan, Carrie, Christine, Suzanne, Vanessa, Leslie, Aimee, Reva, Debbie, Abigale, Natalie, Trish, Sharyl, Morag, Elizabeth, Lezlie, Charley, Stephanie, Kristal, Shari, for your contributions.
• Ask for details of our loved one’s death. “How did he do it?” “Did you find the body?”
• Ask invasive questions that have no answers. “Do you know why he did it?” “Did you have any indication he was going to?” “Did you know she was suffering?”
• Offer advice or opinions unless asked.
• Say things like, “Suicide is a sin, he’s in hell now.” “He’s in a better place now.” “At least she’s not suffering anymore.” “At least you have two other children.”
• Complain about petty things like how annoying your husband can be, bad service at a restaurant, or how much your ankle hurts.
• Say “I know how you feel” then compare this death to your divorce, loss of your beloved cat, or any other loss.
• Tell us how you felt when your grandmother died. With all due respect, we probably don’t care at the moment.
• Ask ”How are you?” The better question is “how are you today?”
• Say “Let me know if you need anything?” We won’t and in most cases don’t even know what we need.
• Ridicule, judge, blame, or minimize our situation. Don’t tell us it’s time to move on, take off our wedding ring, or “get back in the saddle.” Don’t say, “You’re still young and have your whole life in front of you.”
• Say things like, “I’m thinking about you.” “I’m praying for you.” “I’m sorry you’re in this terrible situation.” “We’ll get through this together.” “I’m here for you.”
• Help with practical things without being asked. Grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, funeral arrangements, take the garbage to the curb, yard work, put gas in the car and keep a list of who brought what to the house in the days after the death.
• Pay attention to our health concerns. Encourage water, vitamins and prescribed medications.
• Research community resources and attend support group meetings with us.
• Talk about our loved ones but allow us to dictate how much is said. “I’d love to hear more about (say his or her name!) if you’d like to tell me.” “May I tell you a story about him?”
• Spend time with us and include us in group activities. “Let’s go for a walk and get some air.” “I’d like to come to your doctor’s appointment with you.” “Let’s meet for coffee.”
• Continue to reach out. Most survivors report the loneliest time is several months after the death when the phone stops ringing. Put a card in the mail, send a text, make a call or stop by.
• Listen, be a shoulder to cry on.
When it comes down to it, for me personally, the thing that helped the most was the time people gave me.
The time they took to sit and listen until I was all cried out, the time they took in the morning to send a text, to call just to see how I was doing - to help me overcome an obstacle I’d encountered, to attend appointments with me or to let me know they were thinking about me.
That’s it, just their time. The gifts were nice, the advice they offered was well-intended, the meals provide were helpful…but the time they shared was by far the most valuable thing anyone gave me.
I was lucky, I had an army on my side. Many survivors do not. Will you be part of someone’s army?
Missy Palrang of Chandler is the author of Frantic Unleashed, Navigating Life after Suicide, A Survivors Journal – Part 1 and Frantic Caged, Navigating Life after Suicide, A Survivors Journal – Part 2. Available on Amazon. Contact the author on facebook.com/franticbooks or email@example.com