Friday, December 15, 2017

The Gifts of The Season

Sharing tales of those we've lost is how we keep from really losing them. 
― Mitch Albom

For many, the holidays represent a time of cheer and togetherness. Holiday songs and stories remind us to rejoice and be merry. In the media, family celebrations are depicted with joy. But for anyone who has experienced a loss during the prior year, these normally happy aspects of the holiday can be complicated and sad. And for survivors of suicide loss, the holidays can be particularly painful. We who are left behind, need our friends and family. We need support. But when we see you at events that are normally joyous occasions, we want you to understand our unique feelings.

Regardless of the amount of time that has gone by since we lost our loved one, during the holiday season our grief is often fresh once again. For those of us who've lost someone during the past year, this is the first season we are experiencing without that person. Remembering holidays past can be emotional. Whether it has been days, months, or even years - please do not expect us to be 'over' our loss. Pressure to move on from our grief is not what heals us, in fact, it usually makes the pain worse.

There are ways that you can help support us during this season, though. These are the things that are most important.

Please do extend invitations.

We do want to be invited and included in events and celebrations. Being left out hurts. As one survivor put it, bluntly, 'our loved one died, not us.' 

At the same time, please allow us to determine which events we feel able to attend, and which ones are too overwhelming. We might feel ready to attend a party when we RSVP, but no longer feel up to it the day of the event. Please be understanding if we change our minds.

Emma Mulqueeny lives in England. She lost her nephew to suicide this past year, and she explains why she still wants to be invited to holiday events even though she may not be up to attending.

"I have become selfish with my time so that I can be with everyone I need to be with. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want things to be normal again one day. In a new way."

Please remember that something heartbreaking has happened to us, but we are still here.

Some survivors are frustrated when they hear from family members during the holidays, who they haven't heard from at all since the loss of their loved one. 

"If they can't contact me the rest of the year, they shouldn't be reaching out now," says one survivor. 

If you are hoping to bridge a similar gap, try saying 'I'm sorry I haven't called you before now, I wasn't sure what to say, but I want you to know that I care.'

Michele Statile lives in New Jersey, and she lost her husband to suicide a decade ago. However, she says that it is still important to her that people not define her by her loss.

"I would like them to know I am the same person they knew before it happened," she says.

Lisa Mayne lives in Wisconsin and she is the mother of two young daughters. This past year, she lost her husband to suicide. She says that it has been particularly difficult for her to see photos and Facebook posts from years prior. She can see how appreciative she'd been for her life, and especially her husband and family.

"It never occurred to me then how absolutely fragile life is or that it was possible to lose anyone I loved and cherished so much, in the blink of an eye," Lisa says. 

So yes, our lives have changed. There are parts of our hearts that may be broken, on some level, forever. But we are still here, and we need you to see us and to reach out.

Please talk to us about the loved ones we've lost.

Perhaps this was the most important request made by fellow survivors of suicide loss. Again and again, this was one sentiment that was repeated. Please allow us to remember our loved ones and please join us in our reminiscing.

Stacie Hill Brant lives in Ontario, Canada. She says that knowing her family and friends are thinking about her loss is important. More than the sadness of the loss though, "I just want to know they remember my son," she says. 

And a grieving widow from Arizona explains the reason why sharing memories of her husband is so important.

"Talking about him helps keep him alive for me." 

My boyfriend John's mother, Jo Macaluso, lost John's brother David to suicide eighteen years ago, and then suffered the heartbreaking loss of John, also to suicide, this past April. Jo explains that it is important to her that people remember her sons, but she doesn't expect anyone to spend a great deal of time talking about the sorrow of the losses. At least not at holiday gatherings that are meant to be joyful.

"It's the funeral and the memorial services where the main focus is on the person lost, I know that. But I still want to be able to talk about my sons at other events, too."

Another mother explained that when people remembered her son, she wanted them to remember his laughter, and not just his sadness. 

Christie Coffey of Indiana reminds of us the importance of talking about memories that were prior to the loss of her husband. "I want to talk about him, not how he died," she says.

Finally, know that your efforts to reach out and include us are appreciated.

If you see us and aren't sure what to say - sometimes the simplest sentiment means the most. "I'm sorry for your loss, and I am glad you are here," can go a long way.

Be patient with us and know that we are working hard to get through the holiday season, and most of us aren't doing it for ourselves - instead we are doing it for our children and loved ones.

We will try to extend our appreciation, but sometimes we too are without words. Some of us are experiencing anger, others of us are in shock or we may feel unbearably sad. For those of us who are still overwhelmed with our loss, it may be difficult for us to express or show how grateful we are for your support.

Please know that even if we aren't able to express it, we are still thankful.

Lisa Mayne puts it beautifully.

"Gratitude is more than a feeling, it’s an awareness that we have been blessed."

So, when you are celebrating the holidays please do reach out to us. Please include us. And please include the memories of our loved ones, as well. These are the things we appreciate the most and for us, these are the true gifts of the season.

Thank you.