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Interacting with a family who has lost a loved one to death by suicide; advice from a grieving family.

Approaching a loss survivor of suicide can be a difficult and awkward thing.  Grief affects everyone differently so there is no “right” way to approach a survivor. I have found, through our family, there are certain actions that we all have similar thoughts about.  First, never hesitate to mention their name.  They are always on our minds.  Secondly, be prepared for varied reactions.  One day someone can say something and you are fine, and another day it hits you differently.  Grief comes in waves with no warning.  Please don’t take our reaction personally and don’t try to avoid the subject in the future.  We are emotional and it is freeing when we can let our guard down and feel the feelings. Thirdly, please don’t be offended if we don’t have a valid reason for not attending a seasonal party or function that we may not feel up to.  

As a father, losing my son, I could talk about him all day long.  When his friends stop by for a visit and sit and tell us stories about him, we get to have a glimpse into a side that we didn’t get to see.  I always learn new things that I may not have known about him.  It always fascinates me what others remember about him and how he has impacted their lives and how he was loved; I wish that I would have taken the time to get to know his friends better when he was alive. 

It seems as time goes on without him, people have stopped asking how we are doing.  They just assume we are back into the routine and must be fine. This is the hardest most challenging thing that I have had to endure.  Some days it seems hard to breathe and that there is an elephant sitting on my chest.  One of the hardest things for me is knowing there are so many experiences he is not going to experience and, in turn, me too.  When you express the joys and excitement of your children’s accomplishments it hits us differently, we are excited for you and your child, it may just be hard to show that at certain times.  Please don’t let this stop you from sharing, as we want to know.

I ask that you don’t avoid the subject or me.  I see some people look and when they see me, look away.  It is difficult to know what to say.  Saying nothing and just being with me is perfect.  There are no words to ease the pain or acknowledge what a long, tough road we have ahead.  Just be kind and caring. Tell me your memories, or how he impacted you, let’s laugh about those good times.

Just remember there is no one plan that fits all when it comes to loss and grief.  I can tell you from my family’s experience that everyone handles it differently and it’s okay to ask and not be offended if they don’t want to talk today about it.  It’s us, not you.  Keep trying.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, we feel like it takes a village to lean on and carry us when we think we can’t move forward.  We have been blessed to have a large extended family and community that showed us an outpouring of love and support.  

For all the love and support, we have been given, I would like to try to pay it forward.  Although I am not a trained therapist, I am someone who can understand the depths of pain and can offer an ear or a hug.  I am at the point, where I have to turn this into something positive and rewarding by listening and offering support as best I can to help me heal.  Bottom-line, you will never be wrong with reaching out and talking or just offering a hug.  Kindness is something that there can never be enough of.  You never know what someone is going through, but you can try to make their day better with a smile.  Life is short.