Phil (Heather’s manager at FeedBlitz) says:
This summer, I’ve had to watch two close friends endure the unfathomable grief of losing family members to suicide. Heather wrote movingly about the excruciating nature of Laura’s loss here and, as Connie pointed out yesterday this was not the first bereavement in Heather’s family this year. In another awful twist for me personally, my friend Anne Weiskopf and her family lost their 17 year old son, Jacob, a few weeks earlier when he, too, took his own life. It’s impossible for most of us to grasp what Laura and Jacob and their families were and are going through. Our hearts break as the devastation ripples through our friends and their families.
Heather and Connie have used their pain to provide tips and ideas for how you can have difficult conversations to make death and its aftermath, especially when unexpected, easier to manage. They have given to you.
But how should we care for Heather, Anne and their families? Death is one of the great taboos of western culture, and many of us are so poorly equipped to understand how to help those left behind. How do we help our friends through their agony?
Grieving for a child or lost sibling can take a lifetime. Initially, that grief can envelop the family in a mental fog – almost a fugue state, as Heather described it to me recently – and it makes it well-nigh impossible for them to function well. It’s not just unexpected tears; there may be flashes of fury, chronic insomnia, forgotten conversations and missed commitments. It might take them two hours just to find the right pair of shoes to go to the store in. And it’s all OK. You must cut them all the slack. Forgive every slight, social gaffe and painful moment. Their pain skews everything; suck it up and try to be kind.
Here’s the kicker. Ceremonies are not the end of the mourning for the family. They are the beginning. Funerals, wakes, sitting Shiva, memorials or whatever rituals your community performs are the time where we pay our respects to both the dead and, more importantly, to the living. We share anecdotes, pictures, songs; there are tears, and, yes, laughter too. Then, rituals performed, most people leave, duty done, back to the real world. At precisely the time when the family – suicide’s true victims – suddenly finds that the doing is largely done, and all that they have left now is endless time to contemplate their loss.
This is the most important time for you to step up, not away.
Everyone will at some point say, “Tell me what I can do for you” and the bereaved will nod – and you probably won’t hear from them. They mostly can’t. Grief comes with the emotions we expect – sadness, pride, survivor’s guilt, perhaps, with suicides and other unexpected deaths – and also with tons and tons and tons of pride.
Don’t wait for the phone call asking for help (and if you do get a call for help, by the way, the answer is “yes,” you drop everything, you do it, and you do it now).
No, instead, impose yourself on them. Pitch in. Don’t wait to be asked. Ask yourself instead what you can do, and then do it. For example:
1) Offer to babysit if the family has young children.
2) Give kids rides to and from school, the mall, sports practice, dance class, their friends’ houses, the movies.
3) Shop for them – “I’m at the store, what do you need?” is the perfect inquiry.
4) Be their chauffeur. It is hard and dangerous to drive when your brain is foggy with grief and your eyes full of unexpected tears because that song just came on the radio. Drive them to work, the store, the airport, church, the bank, the post office – wherever they need to go.
5) Cook. Fill their freezer and when it empties, fill it again. Buy a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
6) Clean it, wash it, fix it. Everything on this site, Home-Ec101.com? Do it for them. Coordinate with local pals and schedule.
7) Pop by; bring coffee. Be present and surround them with life and people. Visit – daily, if you’re close enough personally and emotionally. Set up a schedule. Arrange for friends from out of town to visit over time.
8) Out of town? Visit them, after the funeral. Take them out. Even party a little! It’s counter-intuitive and sometimes discomfiting to see, but they will need to reconnect with humanity and shed stress.
9) Share memories, photos, videos. Keep the “you are not alone” drumbeat up.
10) If they work for you (Hi, Heather), let them know it’s OK not to come in to work. That they have all the time they need. They should not feel pressured or guilty or God Forbid at risk of losing their job if they don’t show up. They will want to show up, mind you. And it’s going to be so hard for them to focus or be productive. Let them find their feet again over time.
At some point, all this imposition will be too much. When the survivors decline to come out, ask that maybe you visit later, request that you ease up on the food already, and start to do their own laundry – you can back off. That will be the time when the grief gets real and you simply need to be available to them when they need you. But this will be weeks or months after the funeral.
Which gets me back to Laura and Jacob.
This week is National Suicide Prevention week. Suicide’s true victims are the living left behind. But in the face of such darkness, we can shine a light. We – you – can save lives. If you can’t help Heather or Anne practically, please consider contributing to The Kristin Brooks Hope Center – funding an online chat-based suicide prevention service IMAlive.org. For young people; for women in abusive relationships, for those afraid or unable or unwilling to safely pick up the phone to ask for help, an online chat service is a great alternative to help them step back from the abyss.
If $50,000 is raised, the Kristin Brooks Hope Centre will be able to keep their chat service up and running 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, until next August. Currently, the total stands at just over $31,000, with a less than FOUR DAYS to go. Consider: If all of Heather’s Twitter followers gave $10, they’d crush that target.
No, we can’t know whether IMAlive would have helped Laura, or Jacob, or the million others a year suicide takes globally. But isn’t the chance of saving one life worth $10? The fund raising is run at Razoo.com, and we can organize communities into teams to help. Team Jacob, in memory of Anne’s son, has been up and running for several days. With Heather’s permission, I have created Team Laura in memory of her sister to unite her community around. Time is short, people. We need to do this. You need to do this.
• To give hope to women like Heather’s sister, Laura, please give to Team Laura here: http://www.razoo.com/story/Saving-Lives-Team-Laura/
• To give in memory of Anne’s son, Jacob, and help teenagers battling suicidal depression, please visit Team Jacob here http://www.razoo.com/story/Get-Punky-For-Team-Jacob
You must give by midnight eastern 9/15. Don’t wait. Please donate and share now.