Yes, there is a way you can help af­ter

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT -

Reach out — and know there is no timetable for grief af­ter sui­cide, writes Michael Voumard

IN my work at Life­line’s StandBy Sup­port Af­ter Sui­cide Pro­gram I am fre­quently in con­tact with peo­ple who are af­fected or be­reaved by sui­cide.

Of­ten I am asked by friends or fam­ily what is it like for me at work. I proudly re­ply that my work gives me the unique abil­ity to be with peo­ple who are do­ing the best they know how to ad­just their lives to an un­ex­pected tragedy.

Daily I am in awe of the peo­ple who – whether they are aware of it or not – are show­ing me ex­tra di­men­sions of what it means to be hu­man, as they deal with a grief that moves into ev­ery part of their life.

To­day is In­ter­na­tional Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day.

In 1999, US sen­a­tor Harry Reid, whose fa­ther took his own life, in­tro­duced a res­o­lu­tion that led to the cre­ation of In­ter­na­tional Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day. Also known as Sur­vivor Day, it is a day when those af­fected by sui­cide can come to­gether for heal­ing and sup­port.

Of course, peo­ple be­reaved through sui­cide are im­pacted ev­ery day by their loss. Nev­er­the­less, the day of­fers those who are be­reaved the op­por­tu­nity to re­mem­ber those who have taken their life, to re­mem­ber the life they lived and to re­mem­ber the ways in which their liv­ing and their dy­ing con­tin­ues to move and shape our lives.

A com­mon strug­gle for the be­reaved is try­ing to find rea­sons and mean­ing in the sui­cide and the life lived. At Life­line Tas­ma­nia we have found that sui­cide be­reave­ment and the griev­ing process af­ter a sui­cide is as unique as a fin­ger­print.

When some­one takes their own life, those of us left be­hind of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence a very com­pli­cated form of grief caused by a com­bi­na­tion of feel­ings, thoughts and be­hav­iours.

On­go­ing thoughts of guilt, anger, blame, be­trayal, stigma, shock as well as dis­tress­ing dis­rup­tions in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and sup­port sys­tems can leave us feel­ing ex­hausted and over­whelmed.

A per­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence of sui­cide be­reave­ment is made harder in a com­mu­nity, like ours, that con­tin­ues to be fear­ful of death and un­cer­tain in how to talk about loss. It con­tin­ues to take enor­mous per­sonal strength, and courage, to ac­knowl­edge that a per­son we have loved has died by sui­cide.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing In­ter­na­tional Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day is valu­able for all of us. The day alone is not the only way to sup­port peo­ple in our com­mu­nity be­reaved by sui­cide. The pain of sui­cide loss can­not be eased quickly, but there are things we can do to help.

So, how might you sup­port a friend or loved one to make sense of what has hap­pened and live with and through their grief?

Con­tact­ing the per­son, as

you would with any other death, and let them know you ac­knowl­edge the sit­u­a­tion and you care for them.

It is im­por­tant we keep in touch with the be­reaved reg­u­larly af­ter the sui­cide and that we con­tinue to talk about the per­son who has died, in­clud­ing us­ing their name.

This helps the be­reaved per­son fo­cus on the life of the per­son who has died, as well as on their death.

It’s in our na­ture to want to help a per­son who is strug­gling. If you are un­sure how to help, it is use­ful to be hon­est: “I don’t re­ally know what to say … is there any­thing I can do?”

Warn­ing: you may be turned down the first time, but please do not feel of­fended. Con­sider ask­ing them again on an­other day.

It is of­ten hard for be­reaved peo­ple to find an in­di­vid­ual they feel com­fort­able talk­ing with about their loss. You can try to be that per­son through hear­ing their story, of­ten re­peat­edly and al­ways with­out judg­ing.

Re­mem­ber, your role as the helper is to lis­ten and not to solve their grief. Plus, there is no for­mula for grief af­ter sui­cide or a time­line or end date to their grief.

It can feel daunt­ing to know how to sup­port peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­enced the death of some­one they were close to through sui­cide. We can be so fright­ened of ‘get­ting it wrong’ that we end up with­draw­ing from a per­son who needs our sup­port.

It is worth know­ing that peo­ple will not re­mem­ber so much what you said or what you did – they will re­mem­ber how you made them feel.

On In­ter­na­tional Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day it is a chance to re­new our sup­port for peo­ple be­reaved by sui­cide, to help them feel sur­rounded by our care and touched by our con­cern for how they are go­ing.

Michael Voumard is the co­or­di­na­tor of StandBy Sup­port Af­ter Sui­cide.

For sup­port 24 hours a day, Life­line 13 11 14, Sui­cide Call Back Ser­vice 1300 659 467, and Life­line Tas­ma­nia’s StandBy Sup­port Af­ter Sui­cide 0400 183 490.

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