by Candy Arrington
Fear is a primary life emotion. Following suicide, a variety of fears come into play – fear of the unknown, fears regarding a potential move, fears about lifestyle changes, strained relationships, financial concerns, and how others view survivors. Along with these fears come the more intangible fears of feeling violated and vulnerable. Providing survivors the opportunity to express fears defuses anxiety and aids the recovery process.
Sharing your concern for a suicide survivor will help her know she is not alone in her pain. In Hope for the Troubled Heart, Billy Graham writes, “Being available is difficult, because it takes time, but being sensitive to the small amounts of time we can give could reap large rewards in someone’s life. It doesn’t really matter what we say to comfort people during a time of suffering; it’s our concern and availability that count.” Realize the most difficult period for the family is probably still weeks away. During the initial period of shock, the survivors are not feeling many of the emotions they will feel later. You may meet the greatest need six to eight weeks following the death.
Be a good listener.
Because suicide is an awkward, uncomfortable subject, people tend to avoid the truth. Hiding from the truth only makes recovery more difficult. Allow suicide survivors to talk about what they are feeling. It’s not unusual for survivors to vent feelings of anger toward the suicide victim, medical professionals, or God. In listening, you should be prepared to hear – and accept – a wide range of emotions. You may be uncomfortable with the intensity of expression of these emotions. However, it is important for survivors to express themselves without being silenced. Don’t try to calm survivors down or cut short their expressions of emotion. Working through anger and grief is a uniquely individual process and often does not follow a prescribed pattern. Listen without judging or challenging. Don’t feel you have to inform or justify. Simply be there to listen and comfort with your presence.
Those left behind following a suicide death often experience frustration and guilt over not realizing their loved one was contemplating suicide, and taking action to stop the act. Remind survivors that someone intent on suicide often carefully hides his intention to self-injure and responsibility doesn’t rest with them.
Offer practical support.
What can you do for a survivor right now? Can you provide childcare, meals, or transportation? Often survivors are immobilized by their grief. Even routine chores can seem overwhelming. Your willingness to provide acts of service will be invaluable.
At some point, a survivor may struggle with depression to the point of needing professional help. Do not hesitate to suggest counseling or support group attendance. Offer to provide transportation or babysit so the survivor can attend a meeting or counseling appointment.
Barnabas was known as the “son of encouragement.” You may be the only Barnabas a survivor of suicide has. Suicide survivors need someone to come alongside them and walk with them through the difficult days ahead. Encourage survivors to treasure the good qualities and pleasant memories about their loved one rather than remembering only the manner of his or her death. Remind survivors of the victim’s love for them despite his or her final action. Pleasant memories of a lost loved one are pearls amid the rubble of suicide devastation.Taking the initiative in reaching out to grieving survivors will make a tremendous difference in their lives. What seems to you to be only a small act of kindness will mirror Christ’s love and compassion and go a long way toward aiding the recovery process.