What to Say and Do

The following is an excerpt from the book “Night Falls Fast” by Kay Redfield Jamison:

Suicide is a death like no other, and those who are left behind to struggle with it must confront a pain like no other. They are left with the shock and the unending “what if’s.” They are left with anger and guilt and, now and again, a terrible sense of relief. They are left to a bank of questions from others, both asked and unasked, about Why; they are left to the silence of others, who are horrified, embarrassed, or unable to cobble together a note of condolence, an embrace, or a comment; and they are left with the assumption by others–and themselves–that more could have been done.

When I read these words I knew them to be true. I’ve experienced all of the above, except the relief – as there was no reason for this emotion in our story. The family who lost the loved one has a grief so deep that it cannot be put into words, yet they have all these other things to contend with as well. Other family members remain silent and unseen, distancing themselves from the grieving person; neighbours lower their heads and avoid eye contact so that they don’t have to chat with the person; co-workers whisper and tiptoe around leaving the bereaved person feeling uncomfortable, as well as isolated; and, friends cross the street rather than approach the grieving person and talk to them.

It makes the person, or family, feel alone and this does nothing to ease their pain.

Many people said “I don’t know what to say to you, but I want you to know that I’m thinking of you” to me, during those first days (even now I have someone say this at least once a week). Let me tell you this–these words are better than saying nothing. In fact, they are often better than trying to tell the person that you know how they feel, because the grieving person doesn’t care if you know, or think you know, how they feel. They just want to know that people care for them in their hour of need.

The grieving person knows that no words can fix the void. They know that nothing you say will put things right. So…don’t try to do these things. Let the grieving person grieve. But let them know that you are there to support them, if they want it. Don’t abandon them. It’s at a time like this that they need you more than ever before.

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2 thoughts on “What to Say and Do

  1. I just want you to know I periodically read your blog to see how you’re doing. Your pain jumps out to me from your words. I so much want to give you a hug and let you know that you are at the worst right now and there will be brighter days ahead.
    So glad you’re reading about grief, that comforted me too. Something odd that helped me was a book about grief that was peppered with accounts of the deceased loved ones trying to send messages back to their families. I felt so much better, I felt Jim was still with me in some way and that it wasn’t just about my loss, that he was relieved of his ‘dispair’ as you called it, and that he was in a good place. I’m sure Jim was also depressed and I blamed myself for not seeing any signs. I still do. Many people didn’t understand why I was so affected when he died. We hadn’t dated long. One friend told me I needed to ‘just get over it”. I’ll never forget that. But that friend just didn’t understand the guilt I felt and how I was so helpless. Suicide is so different from other grief.
    I think you’re doing great, and doing what you need to do. Remember that many people care about you but just don’t know what to do or say and are afraid of making you feel worse.
    At some point people will expect you to stop talking about it. That was hard because I felt so alone and in such a deep dark place. I joined a suicide support group and that helped me alot.
    Please take good care of yourself. You are still loved and needed here.

  2. Thank you for sharing such personal details, and the kind words of support.

    As for “people will expect you to stop talking about it”, that’s already happened to a degree. It makes me angry, and I refuse to stop talking about it. We are still grieving, we are still emotional, and we need to talk about it. When we talk about Barry, it’s obvious that people don’t know what to do or say, but all that is required is acknowledgement. All they have to do is remember him and include him in normal chat about the past, not forget he existed because that hurts.

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