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"The grieving begins the moment you hear the news, the moment (people say) 'oh no'. And there will be many 'oh no' moments". Harold Ivan Smith
In many communities, including faith and belief centers, there is a deep amount of confusion around suicide. There are theories, myths, a whole host of illegitimate ideas that seem to circle communities of all kinds. Yet, while we argue its legitimacy, the "World Health Organization has found that for every death due to war in the world, there are three due to homicide and five due to suicide".(Prevention and Treatment of Suicidal Behavior: From Science to Practice) It is happening right in front of our eyes.
"There is no one reason why people kill themselves". (Mark Williams)
It’s important to know that when a suicide death occurs, there all kinds of responses from family, friends, and the general community. In many instances, people don’t really know how to acknowledge this trauma much less any kind of painful episode of suffering. They may respond with an outburst, shame, silence, or avoidance.
May I suggest the following points when a suicide death enters your world:
1. Avoid the temptations to try to be the investigative sergeant of arms. If you don’t know the details, it’s probably not your place to know the details.
2. Be careful with your words and tone. Shame and guilt may be part of what you grew up with but shouldn’t be part of anyone else. It’s not our place to put equal signs next to anything that is so complex-there are too many variables within. Don’t pass judgement, especially during this time. Don’t let the corrosive poison of guilt link to your words and actions.
3. Keep in mind the family dynamics and how these types of trauma tend to expose more of the underlying problems or concerns. Don’t judge these. You’re not perfect. No one is.
4. It’s important to remember that there are conflicted emotions. We are prone to fix things but we cannot fix a completed suicide. We are also prone to have a season of depression. This is normal. Another reason why it’s very important that we talk about our feelings with professionals.
5. Practice your faith traditions and beliefs. Calling on the higher power of God, in my tradition, for instance, is essential for me to get through this. I pray, consider what I am feeling and ask the Lord to bring strength and healing to what seems so broken and far from reason.
6. What to do- listen with your presence. Words, never alone from your presence, is key. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who are glad. Show up!
7. Do something. Many people offer casseroles and flowers during a time of death and suffering. Do that. Others say, “if you need something... call me”. Don’t say that! Don’t impose one more task on those who are grief-struck. Do it! Their garbage needs taken out. Their leaves are going to need to be raked and bagged. They are going to need groceries. Just do it.
8. Have a long-term plan to encourage people suffering through this time of heartbreak. Put on your calendar to call, write notes, and bring coffee. Invite them to the game, for lunch, to sit with you at the holiday banquet.
Suicide death is excruciatingly challenging. Help others by providing an encouraging hope.