The bereaved - not just the immediate family but the entire community - not only feel the raw grief of sudden loss, but may wrestle with the question, over and over again, “Wasn’t there something I could have done to prevent this?” As one clergy member shares, “It is as unexplainable as a bolt of lightning; more actually, because we all know how to stay safe during a storm.”
Suicide carries a stigma along with mental illness. It is important to keep in mind that mental illness is a disease; a chronic, cruel, and invisible disease that leaves family members isolated and lonely.
What can you do to help? Treat the death and the bereaved with compassion, as you would for any death. Suicide is a cause of death and not a source of shame. Your expressions of grief should mirror those you share for any other death.
What to say:
- “I am so sorry for your loss.”
- “I know this is a rough time for you.”
- “I won’t pretend to know how you feel.”
- “If you would like some company, I am here for you anytime.”
- If you knew the deceased, share a quality you admired, such as, “I will miss Alisson’s smile.”
- When you see them, greet them warmly and tell them, “I’m so glad to see you.”
- Do not try to offer a reason for the suicide. There is no way to pinpoint a trauma or specific moment that caused the deceased to make this decision.
- Don’t ask for details.
- Avoid judgmental statements, such as “It was a selfish act.”
- Don’t avoid the bereaved for fear of saying the wrong thing.
- Don’t disparage the deceased in any way. As one bereaved stated, “My husband was a good man. He just chose a bad way to die.”
One of the most important things you can do for anyone experiencing a loss is to listen. The bereaved will need to tell their story over and over again to make sense of it. This is an experience that they may never get over, but in time, their feelings will stabilize. Stay the course; you’ll be glad you did.
If you need help and want to talk to someone, or if you know someone who needs help, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, available in ebooks for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.
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