Suicide and Grief

Suicide-1024x682Not many people want to talk about suicide. It’s often swept under the carpet…unless it happens to a famous movie star. Then we all take notice. It brings the topic into focus for a while – which is a good thing. The death of our beloved comedian, Robin Williams, has stopped us in our tracks and pushed a very difficult subject to the front pages of our own lives.

Grief following suicide is very difficult. There are so many unanswered questions; so many “what ifs”. The emotional turmoil experienced by those left behind is extremely intense and difficult.

I have cared for many people who have gone through the trauma of grief following the suicide of a loved one. I know from experience that so many want to keep the conversations around death by suicide a secret, hidden from those around them. In my world of thanatology, we call this “disenfranchised grief”.  Grief that goes incognito, almost like a taboo that we don’t want to talk about for fear of people’s response to it.

If you are one of those who have gone through or who are mourning following death by suicide of a family member or friend, you are hurting at a level that not many of us can understand. We can’t possibly understand unless we have gone through this experience ourselves. We can only listen without judgment.

True compassion exists only when we leave our personal viewpoints at the door and become available to a fellow human being. We can’t offer answers where no answers exist. But we can meet where two hearts come together and speak only what is really necessary.

Be kind to each other.

Gripping Grief

Are We a Community in Grief?

Once in awhile a community is gripped by grief. The ripple effect from Brandon Thomas’ death has been felt by many in our community and beyond. Any death is difficult, but the circumstances surrounding this young man’s death, a teenager whose life was just beginning to flourish, touches us in deep places. It leaves us with many questions and forces us to look at our own lives differently.

We think about the vulnerability of life – what we can’t control and what we can. We think about our own children and grandchildren or reflect upon those who were special to us and have died.

I heard the stories of many people following Brandon’s celebration of life service – stories that clearly indicate that we in Cochrane are experiencing grief, even if we did not know Brandon or his family very well. This death, combined with the “happiest” time of the year has left us feeling sad and asking questions: Why? How come? What if?

It did not matter where you were this past week in Cochrane; people were talking about this tragic event with sad hearts. Christmas joy turned into Christmas grief.

So what can we do?

Grieve well.

Be intentional about our grief.

Community grief is a complex thing. It’s a combination of people who are experiencing loss of their own in different forms. This tragic death tips us over the edge and in some way gives us permission to grieve not only for Brandon’s family but for the losses in our own lives – because loss IS a part of life. Losses can accumulate and should be faced head on.

Grief is a hard thing but not a bad thing. It is a necessary and ongoing process that can and should be thought through and planned forward wisely. There are some things you can do that are helpful and some things a friend can do to help you along the way.

The truth is any loss in our lives causes grief. If you are experiencing loss you are grieving at some level.

I often ask people, “What is it that you had last year that you won’t have this year? If you had it last year and you don’t have it this year then it’s missing and anything missing leaves a hole in your life and that’s loss. And loss is grief.”

So what are you missing?

Indeed the death of a loved or in this case the death of a child must be one that is overwhelming. And unless you have gone through it you will never understand. I don’t.

But a community in grief begs a more personal question that all of us should be asking ourselves and ultimately each other: What are you going through? What’s happening in your heart? Are you grieving in some way?

A community is a group of people in relationship with one another. Entering into grief together involves people talking to each other and listening to each other one-on-one in the coffee shops, in our homes, at recreation centers or in our neighborhoods.

Do you have a good friend to sit with, someone who will listen to you, asking your real and honest questions. A friend who does not have all the easy answers and platitudes but is willing to allow your story to come first over there’s?

You don’t want grief to have a grip on you for too long. And so you need to do something about it. It begins with your own authenticity and an honest look at what’s happening in your own life.

To help you explore healthy grief in your life, here are two resources that may be helpful.

First, you are invited to visit Rick’s website at www.intentionalgrief.com (this website) for more information about death, dying and grief. You are especially invited to check out the blogs and to enter into the conversation by sharing your personal comments and stories about death and grief.

Second, on Thursday, January 10, 2013, the Cochrane Country Funeral Home will be sponsoring a one-evening seminar entitled “How to Care for a Grieving Friend”, presented by Rick Bergh. Learn what you can do and say to help a friend grieve well. It all starts at 7:00 pm at the Cochrane Legion located at 114-5th Ave. west.

This seminar is free for the community to attend.

[Our special thanks to the Cochrane Eagle for running this article in today’s edition – page 20.]

Making People Happy

It was sad news. Devon’s college friend. His wife had died leaving a 3-month old baby without a mother. It happened so quickly.

I wonder if people will try making him “happy” this Christmas. This is what we often try to do, especially after someone’s death and during the most celebrative time of the year…Christmas.

Have you noticed how people become so kind and unusually cheerful during this time of the year? It seems that people are desperately hoping it’s going to be a joyful time because perhaps life hasn’t been all that joyful the past few months. It gives them permission to feel a certain “happiness” that will cover over anything else that makes them sad and lonely. But the happiness is short-lived.

Christmas will end and then what?

We glibly shout out the greetings “Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Have a wonderful time with your family and friends!”

But maybe not.

Will Devon’s friend be feeling particularly happy on December 25, 2012? What will the holiday season be like for him? What will be on his heart and mind as he gazes into his baby daughter’s eyes, celebrating her first Christmas…without…that’s a good definition of loss. “What will I be without this year that I had previously? And how will that impact my Christmas?”

Reflect upon that for a moment.

Then consider this truth….

One thing you will never be without is Emmanuel, “God with us”. Jesus was born so that we will never be without Him in our lives. And if we trust Him, we will never be separated from each other because of the gift of eternity.

Most likely, there is loss in people’s lives around you. Do you know what Christmas loss they might be experiencing? Are you trying to cheer them up?

It’s not our job to make people happy. Some people don’t want to be cheered up. They’re waiting for someone who is willing to acknowledge their sadness and lonely heart this Christmas.

Rather than saying “Merry Christmas”, we might want to ask, “Is anything different about Christmas for you this year?” That question could lead to a heartfelt response about their loss. It also gives you an opportunity to meet that person where they’re at, happy or sad.