One of the most difficult things about grieving a suicide is the fact that so few people know what to say or do in order to help. Many pull back or pull away entirely, because the topic of suicide is too sad, too depressing, and too scary for them to confront.
I did lose a few good friends. People who slipped through my fingers either because of the discomfort of it all, or because in my grief I was at times selfish and insensitive and for them it became too much.
But, I know so many survivors of suicide loss who've become estranged from their entire family and who feel they now have no one to be there for them or to help them get through. It is a loneliness on top of a loneliness that is truly unimaginable for those of us who have not experienced it ourselves.
And I'd be lying if said that there aren't still times when I feel deeply heartbroken and perhaps alone in the sense that I am missing John, and he won't ever be back.
But from day one, from the first moments after he died, I have never questioned whether or not there were people who cared about me. Never.
I know I am blessed. I know that this is not everyone's story. I know that I have been afforded something profoundly beautiful in the fact that I've been surrounded by so much love.
If you want to support a survivor of suicide loss, but aren't sure what to do - here are some ideas.
This what courage, kindness, friendship, and character looks like.
These are just some of the things that the people who loved me, did for me.
- Brought me jello and fruit cups and toilet tissue and paper towels and diet coke, without my having to ask.
- And brought me more diet coke.
- And brought me more tissue, too.
- Brought me flowers. And kept bringing me flowers nearly every week for an entire year.
- Worked in my yard and cleared a tiny forest of weeds, in 100 degree weather nonetheless. And then came back and did it again. And again.
- Told me about their memories of John.
- Laughed with me when I talked about my own memories of John, and cried with me too.
- Texted me every single day for weeks on end to remind me that that it was important to them that I stay alive.
- Gave me momentos that had that belonged to John. Clothing, books, toys and more.
- Let me sleep on their couch night after night after night after night. And then told me I could come back and sleep on their couch if I needed to, again. (Which, I did.)
- Slept on my couch when I wanted to be home but still didn't want to be alone.
- Met me in parking lots so I wouldn't have to walk into any building or any room all on my own.
- Gave me rides to places, even when it was inconvenient, so that I wouldn't have to find my way in a world that, to me, was suddenly upside down and backwards.
- Told me I was family. Treated me like family. Became my family. Called me and checked on me and then reminded me I was family again and again, until I began to believe them.
- Played scrabble with me, and cards, and trivial pursuit.
- Read my writing and then read my writing and then read my writing some more. And then told me that they liked what they read.
- Answered my phone calls and returned my texts, no matter what time I called, even if I all I wanted to do was say that there was no way I was going to make it through this. Or to just weep. And weep. And weep some more.
- Asked me to go to movies. Asked me to go to barbecues. Asked me to volunteer at events and help out. Let me say yes. Let me say no.
- Thanked me for helping to keep the memories and the best parts of John alive.
- Gave me gifts that reminded me of John and our love for one another. Drawings and cards and jewelry that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.
- Took me to go bowling, and miniature golfing, and to little league games. Paid for me to spend a weekend in Tahoe with wonderful women. And took me river rafting with old and new friends.
- Moved every single thing I owned into a new house. Spent hours with me as I unpacked and cleaned up and organized.
- Told me that I was loved. Told me that I was loved. Told me I that was loved again.
- Told me and showed me and held me until I understood, that I was loved.
- Let me cook for them, and pretended that my distracted half burnt poorly seasoned food was good enough to eat.
- Fixed my car and my cabinets and hung shelves for me too.
- Invited me over to play with a pack of puppies that were cuter than cute.
- Called me and emailed me and texted me again and again, day after day, week after week, to tell me:
I was cared about.
I was surviving.
I was in their thoughts.
I was brave.
- Gave me arms to fall into and hearts to hold me up and spirits to buoy my own.
- Taught me that grief is made bearable when it is met with grace. Showed me that sometimes kindness and redemption are one and the same. Helped me to understand that compassion is one of the most important things in the world.
- Reminded me that even in the face of terrible loss, there is still a loving God who can hold us and even heal us, during the very worst of our heartbreak.
- Cheered me on and kept me company and told me they were proud, as I began to learn that finding a purpose in life helps to alleviate pain.
- Told me silly stories about their day to day activities. Asked my advice about problems they were having. Let me be there for them. Knew that I was going to learn to live again, even when I wasn't sure.
- Never rushed me. Never shushed me. Never told me to move on.
Some of these things may seem small, but all of these actions were full of love, and love is the biggest thing of all. I have learned that there is nothing bigger.