by Donna Berger –
Last month in my blog, Death by Suicide – Part I, I spoke of the challenges of having a loved one suffering from the depression and despair that can lead to suicide, and, the complicated grief of survivors that follows when a loved one dies by suicide. Today I would like to explore how we can all be part of the narrative. How we can make a difference whether it be in the life of someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, or in the life of those who are grieving the death of a loved one by suicide.
If we suspect that someone is struggling we can first, familiarize ourselves with the warning signs, which are a cry for help. Then, we should speak up if we are worried and talk with that family member or friend. If he or she says they are thinking about suicide and it appears to be a crisis situation, call 911 or bring the person to the emergency room.
The person in our life who is suicidal ultimately has to make a commitment to his or her own recovery, we cannot do that for them. But, we can get them the help they need, follow up with them on treatment, stay in contact with them by calling and visiting them, and continuing to support these loved ones as they work through their depression and despair.
As we follow the suggestions above, let’s not forget to pray for those who are in such blinding pain that they feel the only way out is death. Nothing moves the heart of God more than the prayers of the faithful for others in crisis.
All of the tips that I have listed above are explained in great detail in the Suicide Prevention Help Guide which can be accessed through the following link:
This is a helpful guide that I believe we should all take the time to read through, but particularly so if you have a loved one or friend whom you are concerned may be suicidal.
Sometimes there are clear warning signs and sometimes it happens out of the blue. While there may be a single event that appears to have been a trigger, that is rarely the only cause. The survivors of a person who dies by suicide are in no way responsible for that person’s death, and yet often they have to live with the fact that they will never fully understand what caused their loved one to take his or her own life. Survivors can have anger which is difficult to channel as they do not want to put the blame on their loved one and often tend to blame themselves which complicates their grieving. The greatest barrier to healing for survivors is guilt. The enemy’s favorite weapon is imposing guilt on mankind, and those who have lost a loved one to suicide are easy targets. So how can we help?
It can be uncomfortable or even awkward to find the words to say to those left behind, particularly after a loved one dies by suicide. Not addressing the situation at all or avoiding mention of the person who has died can leave those who grieve feeling shunned and isolated. Unfortunately, there are no perfect words of comfort as every situation is unique. But here are a few things we can say and do to express our love and care for others.
If you truly don’t know what to say, you can give a hug and then say, “I am so sorry for your loss.” You can say, “I don’t know what to say,” or “I don’t have the right words,” “but I want you to know how much I care for you.” At this point, pause, and listen. Most often a willing listener is what survivors need most. That means putting the phone away, making eye contact with the person and really listening. The greatest comfort we can offer is that of listening with our mind and heart.
If we have suffered a similar loss, we may be anxious to share our understanding of the situation. But, no two circumstances are the same, so we need to resist the urge to offer advice unless we are asked for it. When that time comes we can be supportive in sharing our ideas by framing it with, “What I found that helped me was….” or, “I was able to get through by…”
As we engage in face to face conversation or even in written correspondence remember to mention the name of the person who has died. We acknowledge and honor the dead person by doing so. Avoid the urge to use ‘reassuring’ phrases such as, “I know how you feel,” “Time heals all,” “He or she is at peace,” “things happen,” “heaven needed another angel,” or “You are so strong.” We have all used them at some time, but now need to understand that while phrases such as these are well meant they may not be what newly bereaved individuals are ready to hear. Also, to say that the person who died by suicide, “was not in his or her right mind at the time,” or that they were selfish or cowardly can be untrue and offensive to his or her survivors.
Helpful words to say or write are, “I am so sorry for your pain,” “I was so sad to hear about [name]’s death,” “I can’t imagine how heartbroken you must be,” “My heart aches for you,” or “My heart goes out to you.” Share a fond memory of the deceased if possible or comment on a positive aspect of the person. If you are writing a card you might close with, “Remembering [name] with you today,” “Wishing you hope and peace at this sad time,” or “Praying you will find the hope and comfort of the Lord in the midst of your pain.”
If we offer to help out survivors, be specific and practical and follow up with visits, calls and cards or notes. Bringing a meal, helping with child care, shopping or household chores can be such a help. Also, if possible remember the “year of firsts” ahead. The first birthday, first anniversary, Christmas, Easter, Father or Mother’s Day etc. without that family member or friend is always difficult. A simple card, call or text saying, “Remembering [name] with you today, or “Your pain is not forgotten on this day,” means so much to those who are grieving on those special days. Consider adding a Bible verse such as,
Jesus understands your pain. Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
Your tears are precious to Christ. Psalm 56:8 Lord, You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
The hope of the resurrection carries us through grief. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 [We] will not grieve like people who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
You are not alone in your grief. I am here for you. Ecclesiastes 4:12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.