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Friday, September 28, 2012

Helping those who are dealing with grief

September 21st is my least favorite day of the year.

Two years ago, on that day, my brother, Daniel took his own life.

Last week, on September 21st, one of our former students from Hattiesburg chose to end his own life. 
He went to school and pulled out a gun in class. He waited for the entire school to be evacuated before he shot himself in the head.
His name was Ryan.

Ryan never knew Daniel, I have no idea why they both chose that same day.

Dennis and I drove up to be with Ryan's family, and it was such an odd feeling, putting my arm around his mother while she wept at his casket. Telling his brother the things I knew he needed to hear, because it wasn't so long ago that I was in those same shoes. It was a bit like reliving the same scene, but playing a different part.

Before we lost Daniel, I'd never really known grief. I realize now how awkward and silent I was toward friends when they lost a a friend or family member. I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing. After Daniel died, I realized how wrong that was. It was the intense outpouring of love that our family got (and is still getting) that held me up through those first, terrible days. 

I know it's hard to know what to say or do when you know someone who is dealing with such a tragic loss. This post is just my little way of trying to help you help someone.

Just show up
Simply being surrounded by people was such a comfort to me. There were many moments when I had to literally sit with my eyes closed and consciously tell myself to breathe in and out. I needed people around me to hold me, to take care of my family, to remind me to eat and sleep. I needed someone to be a sane anchor when I felt like I was being carried away by my grief. 

I think it's a fear of saying something wrong that keeps us from saying anything, but, at least in my experience, it's not what is said, but simply that something is said. Or just sitting in silence, even.

Bring food
Oh my goodness, did people bring food. Someone actually had to bring by an extra refrigerator to hold it all. 

First of all, tasks like cooking or even fixing myself a plate of food were too overwhelming for my grief-wracked brain in those first few days. All of those plates and bowls helped to sustain us physically, and also served as "I love you and I care" reminders. It got to be kind of a joke how much fried chicken poured in, but we certainly weren't complaining about it. :)

Grief is hard. It's much harder if one hasn't eaten and is dealing with low energy and low blood sugar. I don't know about you, but my coping skills get way worse when I'm hungry.

If you go see someone who's coping with a loss, take food. Ask that person if he/she has eaten today. Fix a plate, sit down and make him/her eat. It sounds silly, but it's so important.

Look around you
What needs does the family have that you can meet? These don't have to be directly related to anything involving the loss. Cats and dogs still need to be fed through it all. Someone needs to take the trash out, wash the dishes, sweep the floor, etc. I'm telling you, at first, grief is an all consuming monster that will cause all normal daily tasks to be forgotten.

Right after Daniel died, so many people reached out to my family in so many ways. I remember someone came and mowed the lawn. It needed doing, and my Dad didn't need to have to even think about tasks like that right then. Again, it was another "I love you and I care."

Someone put a lock on our bathroom door because we didn't have one, and it was very needed with all of the friends and family pouring in. I think of him every time I go to my parents' house and see that lock.

When I went to see Ryan's family, I tried to take care of as much housekeeping as I could so that they could come home from the wake to a clean house and feel how much they were loved by me.

On the day of Daniel's funeral, my mom's hairdresser came by and redid her highlights so she could look nice.

One of Daniel's friends, who is a photographer, had a picture he had recently taken of my brother blown up and gave it to my family to display at the funeral and the visitation. He also make copies for each of us in the family.

If there are small children, someone will need to look after them so mom and dad can take care of themselves.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, just do something, just do whatever you can.

Even seeing people that I barely knew was such a comfort. I guess I had always assumed that people didn't want to see anyone but their closest friends and family when they are dealing with grief. Maybe some people are like that, but for me, I needed all of the love and support I could get, and there was no-one who came by that I didn't want need a huge hug and an encouraging word from.

Things to say when a person is grieving over a loved one who has committed suicide
These are the things that I found most comforting:

"He's healed now. He was sick, but he's not anymore. We're sad and we're hurting, but he's okay."

"There is no way you could have known. The only person who really knew he needed help was him. You are in no way to blame for this."

I think it's important to remind them that their loved on is not in a casket or in the ground, but in heaven.  I say go look at the sky if you're having a hard time remembering that.

For Christians:
At some point, the survivors are going to get told that a person who commits suicide cannot get into heaven. You cannot remind them enough that yes, taking one's own life is a sin, but it's not a sin strong enough to nullify what Christ did on the cross for all of our sins. We all makes mistakes and yes, committing suicide is a sin that ends a life, but it's no worse than the many other sins God forgives every day.

Even if you disagree with me and you believe that people who take their own lives don't make it to heaven, I think it goes without saying that you should keep your mouth shut when visiting the family of someone who has committed suicide.

Also,  I think this is also pretty obvious, but if it's questionable if that person did ever believe in Christ or even if the person was of another religion altogether, when a family is grieving is not the time to bring that up for debate.

So readers, what do you think? Do you disagree with any of my ideas? Any books or Bible verses you recommend? What helped you out when you were in a time of grief?

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with everything you said. You are a very wise woman who is loved by all. Having just dealt with a death in the family last week, it is fresh on my mind. The little things done, kind of behind the scenes, are the most helpful in the big picture. (cleaning dishes, cooking, etc.) Thank you for sharing.