Yes, there is a way you can help after
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.