On November 17th, International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is observed. No one wants to have a connection to this day. Grief and loss are difficult enough to experience without the shock of someone we love taking their own life.
Those that are left behind after suicide have a difficult journey ahead of them. They may also feel a wide variety of emotions. These emotions may include sadness to anger to even unnecessary guilt if suicide loss survivors feel they should have done something to prevent the loss from taking place. They need much support from friends and family. Here are seven tips to show suicide loss survivors you care as they walk their grief journey.
Be very careful with your words.
Sometimes some of the cliche statements made when someone experiences a loss have the opposite effect of what we intended. Telling someone that their loved one “is in a better place” for example, may be painful even if they believe that statement deep down. Such statements seem dismissive as if suicide loss survivors should just “get over it”.
Also, don’t try to tell a loss survivor that he or she should feel differently. Guilt is a very common feeling with loss, and it will pass although it may take awhile. Statements such as “No one blames you” are better than “You shouldn’t feel guilty.”
You may be tempted to avoid the situation to avoid saying the wrong thing. This can hurt and seem dismissive too. A heartfelt look, hug and an “I’m sorry” can go much further than you realize.
Let loss survivors lead the conversations.
Allow suicide loss survivors to talk about the deceased person as much as they want. Don’t try to “distract” them when they want to talk about the deceased. It may not be comfortable conversations for you, but remember that the grief they carry is constantly with them. Eventually the conversations will become less frequent, but know they need a listening ear from time to time.
Likewise, don’t force them to talk about it. Grief is a very personal thing. No two people handle it the same. When the loss survivor wants a distraction, allow them that as well. Grief is not over and done. It comes and goes for a long time.
Don’t try to make loss survivors “feel better.”
You can’t make someone feel better when they are grieving as much as you wish you could. Suggesting they should be in a better place when it comes to dealing with their grief suggests that what happened was not a “big deal.”
You cannot force someone through grief faster either. It is a path that in some ways must be walked alone. Survivors of suicide loss as with all survivors of loss, don’t want to feel better when they begin grieving. It may take weeks, months or years before they feel like “themselves” again. A great tragedy has taken place in their lives and in many ways they can never be the same again.
Treat loss survivors as you always have.
Even though grief must be walked alone, that does not mean you should leave someone alone completely. Even if the loss survivor says “no” one hundred times, still invite him or her to join you on outings like you always did before. Don’t take a refusal to get out of the house personally. Even though it may seem at the time that your friendship is not important anymore, loss survivors need your friendship more than ever before. Eventually, he or she will accept your invitation again.
Check on loss survivors in the evening.
Daily routines are filled with needed distractions for loss survivors. Evenings can seem long and difficult because he or she may be alone with nothing to do but think. This is a good time to call or stop by. Small daily tasks and self care can seem overwhelming when you’re struggling with loss. Stopping by with his or her favorite meal will be very appreciated.
Remember that grief doesn’t stop with the funeral.
Everyone else seems to “move on” after the funeral. This can make loss more difficult for those who are close to the deceased. Check on loss survivors frequently months down the road. Chances are they are still struggling, but will try to hide their feelings since everyone else is back to their routines.
Remember significant dates.
Nothing shows someone you care more than simple acknowledgment. Know the dates that are important to him or her- birthdays, anniversaries and death dates. A simple note or card can mean a lot to him or her. Offer to accompany them to a favorite spot to share memories of their loved one or to the cemetery to place fresh flowers at the gravesite.
If you are struggling with grief, you have our sincerest sympathies. We invite you to take place in our grief education and support services. Learn more by visiting ccmhhealth.com/pastoral-care/.
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