“My brother committed suicide a couple of years ago,” Michael explained staring into space. “I had no idea that he would do such a thing. His wife had died of cancer three years before, and I assumed he had gotten over it. My younger brother said that he must not have dealt with her loss well … only stuffed his feelings. Generally speaking though, he was a difficult guy to get next to.”
Identifying a potential suicide victim is not always easy. Yet failure to do so often brings guilt after they are gone.
One of the many things suicide victims like Michael’s brother have in common is their inability to deal with a loss of some kind. Learning how to be a better friend to someone who has experienced a loss can go a long way in preventing suicide.
Loss comes in many forms. The death of a loved one is an obvious loss, but events such as divorce, job loss, friends pulling away, a pet that died, social harassment, health issues, and a general feeling of hopelessness can be hard to deal with well. Instead of viewing these events in the lives of those you know and love with an attitude like “That’s life, deal with it,” make a commitment to longer-term assistance. In other words, true friendship will often be a better response.
Understand that many losses can take weeks and even months to adjust to. You can be a better friend by checking in with your friend about their loss every few weeks or at regular intervals. I suggest reminding yourself by writing on your calendar or setting a reminder on your phone to “check on Michael” in three weeks.
Even a simple question like, “How are you doing today with your feelings about your loss?” can open the topic and bring a bit of healing to their heart.
You can be a better friend in many cases by helping the depressed person talk through how they are doing. Let them “think” out loud about the way they are processing the life issues that have worn them down. Often a little guidance about ways to react to the loss or the act of violence they experienced can be the best thing to help them make decisions about their life.
Depression affects 20-25% of Americans daily with only one-half getting assistance to deal with it. Just coming alongside with concern can be exactly what your friend needs to realize they are not alone and that they do matter to someone.
They may tell you about their sense of loneliness, hopelessness, and even abandonment by God, or perhaps your gut feeling about their situation reveals their desperation. These can be signs that they need your friendship and need you to listen. It will be of help.
It is not necessary for you to have all the answers or to even fully understand what your friend is going through. Letting them know that life has ups and downs and that we all go through them can be a comfort.
Women attempt suicide from depression more than men. Alarmingly, 79% of men who attempt suicide succeed. The instances of suicide are on the rise among the young and elderly. Over 117 Americans die from suicide each day.
Remember, to aid a friend in need, avoid getting “in their face.” Short, direct questions can open a necessary conversation that doesn’t have to be long. You can be a better friend by erasing their thinking that “nobody cares” when you show yourself to be the one who does care.
If you sense that your friend may have undiagnosed mental illness issues or has made direct statements about ending their life, do not ignore them. It’s okay to suggest professional counseling. Just by talking about that option breaks down the stigma. Directing them to a professional can be the most friendly thing you can do.
What if, by being a better friend to a person you know who is vulnerable to the suggestion of suicide, YOU save your friend’s life?
The extra text, phone call, or coffee date would be worth it, wouldn’t it?
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Her hair was up in a pony tail, her favorite dress tied with a bow.
Today was Daddy’s DAY at school, and she couldn’t wait to go.
But her mommy tried to tell her, that she probably should stay home.
Why the kids might not understand, if she went to school alone.
But she was not afraid: she knew just what to say.
What to tell her classmates, on this Daddy’s DAY.
But still her mother worried, for her to face this day alone.
And that was why once again, she tried to keep her daughter home.
But the little girl went to school, eager to tell them all.
About a dad she never sees, a dad who never calls.
There were daddies along the wall in the back, for everyone to meet.
Children squirming impatiently, anxious in their seats.
One by one the teacher called a student from the class to introduce their daddy.
As seconds slowly passed, at last the teacher called her name.
Every child turned to stare.
“Where’s her daddy at?” she heard a boy call out.
“She probably doesn’t have one,” another student dared to shout.
And from somewhere near the back she heard a daddy say,
“Looks like another deadbeat dad, too busy to waste his day.”
The words did not offend her as she smiled at her friends, who told her to begin.
And with hands behind her back, slowly she began to speak.
And out of the mouth of a child came words incredibly unique.
“My Daddy couldn’t be here because he live so far away.
But I know he wishes he could be with me on this day.
And though you cannot meet him, I want you to know all about my daddy,
And how much he love me so.
He loved to tell my stories, he taught me to ride a bike.
He surprised me with pink roses, and taught me to fly a kite.
We used to share fudge sundaes and ice cream in a cone.
And though you cannot see him, I’m not standing all alone.
‘Cause my daddy’s always with me, even though we are apart.
I know because he told me he’ll forever be here in my heart.”
With that her little hand reached up and lay across her chest.
Feeling her own heartbeat beneath her favorite dress.
And from somewhere in the crowd of dad, her mother stood in tears.
Proudly watching her daughter who was wise beyond her years.
For she stood up for the love of a man not in her life,
Doing what was best for her, doing what was right.
And when she dropped he hand back down, staring straight into the crowd,
She finished with a voice so soft but its message clear and loud.
“I love my daddy very much, he’s my shining star.
And if he could he’d be here, but HEAVEN’S just too far.
But sometimes when I close my eyes, it’s like he never went away.”
And then she closed her eyes, and saw him there that day.
And to her mother’s amazement she witnessed with big surprise,
A room full of daddies and children all starting to close THEIR eyes.
Who knows what they saw before them. Who knows what they felt inside.
Perhaps for merely a second they saw him by her side.
“I know you’re with me Daddy,” to the silence she called out.
And what happened next made believers of those once filled with doubt.
Not one in that room could explain it, for each of their eyes had been closed.
But there, placed on her desktop was a beautiful fragrant pink rose.
And a child was blessed, if only a moment, by the love of her shining bright star.
And given the gift of believing that HEAVEN is never too far.
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It’s oh, so hard to know what to do when you are watching a heart break.
You want to reach out and make it better, make the pain go away, make a difference. But it seems like nothing you can do will matter much in the face of such a huge loss.
While it’s true that you cannot “fix” the brokenness in a bereaved parent’s life, there are some very important and practical ways you can support them in their grief-especially as the weeks turn into months and then to years.
Here are five practical ways to support grieving parents:
- Remember anniversaries and birthdays. Take note of the date our child left this life, his or her birthday, the day of the funeral-trust me, you aren’t reminding us of anything-we cannot forget! When someone else shares that they remember too it is so, so encouraging. It means my child is not forgotten, that he still matters to another heart and that someone else recognizes that the world lost a treasure.
- Keep showing up. Keep inviting me to lunch. I may have turned you down a dozen times in the first few months, but that was because I just. couldn’t. do. it. As my heart begins to comprehend my loss, compassionate companionship sounds more inviting. I need to talk, but it may take me awhile before I am able to do it. Please don’t give up-keep trying.
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Five Practical Ways to Support a Grieving Parent
Five Practical Ways to Support a Grieving Parent
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My father died suddenly while on vacation three years ago. The event rattled the bedrock of my life in ways that are difficult to describe, and taught me lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way.
One of the truths I discovered, is that when you lose someone you love—people show up.
Almost immediately they surround you with social media condolences and texts and visits and meals and flowers. They come with good hearts, with genuine compassion, and they truly want to support you in those moments. The problem, is that you’re neither prepared nor particularly helped by the volume then.
The early days of grief are a hazy, dizzying, moment by moment response to a trauma that your mind simply can’t wrap itself around. You are, what I like to call a Grief Zombie; outwardly moving but barely there. You aren’t really functioning normally by any reasonable measurement, and so that huge crush of people is like diverting thousands of cars into a one lane back road—it all overwhelms the system. You can’t absorb it all. Often it actually hurts.
This usually happens until the day of the funeral, when almost immediately the flood of support begins to subside. Over the coming days the calls and visits gradually become less frequent as people begin to return to their normal lives already in progress—right about the time the bottom drops out for you.
Just as the shock begins to wear off and the haze is lifted and you start to feel the full gravity of the loss; just as you get a clear look at the massive crater in your heart—you find yourself alone.
People don’t leave you because they’re callous or unconcerned, they’re just unaware. Most people understand grief as an event, not as the permanent alteration to life that it is, and so they stay up until the funeral and imagine that when the service ends, that somehow you too can move ahead; that there is some finishing to your mourning.
That’s the thing about grief that you learn as you grieve: that it has no shelf life; that you will grieve as long as you breathe, which is far after the memorial service and long after most people are prepared to stay. Again, they still love you dearly, they just have their own roads to walk.
Sometimes people leave because they suddenly feel estranged by the death. They may have been used to knowing you as part of a couple or as a family, and they aren’t able to navigate the new dynamic the loss has created. They simply don’t know how to relate to you the way they once did, and so they withdraw.
Or sometimes people see you from a distance and mistake your visible stability for the absence of need, as if the fact that you’re functioning in public doesn’t mean you don’t fall apart all the time when you’re alone—and you do. We all carry the grief as bravely and competently as we can in public, but none of us are strong enough to shoulder it alone. People often say of a grieving person, “They’re so strong”, but they’re not. They’re doing what they have to in order to survive. They need you to come alongside them.
Other times people avoid you because they believe that they will say the wrong thing; that somehow they will remind you of your loved one and cause you unnecessary pain. Trust me, the grieving don’t lack for reminders. They are intimately aware of the absence in their lives, and you acknowledging it actually makes them feel better. It gives them consent to live with the grief, and to know that they can be both wounded and normal.
Friends, what I’m saying is that it’s wonderful to be present for people when tragedy occurs. It’s a beautiful thing to express your love and support for those you love in any way you feel is right in those first few days. It does matter. No compassion is ever wasted.
But if there’s anything I would tell you, as someone who’s walked through the Grief Valley, is that the time your presence is most needed and most powerful, is in those days and weeks and months and years after the funeral; when most people have withdrawn and the road is most isolating. It is in the countless ordinary moments that follow, when grief sucker punches you and you again feel it all fully.
It’s three years since I lost my father, and on many days the pain is as present and profound as that first day.
Remind yourself to reach out to people long after the services and memorials have concluded.
Death is a date in the calendar, but grief is the calendar.