I had the pleasure of speaking with someone recently who said that as a bereaved parent, nothing’s changed throughout their grief experience of many years. These sentiments echo my own. I’ve been bereaved since 2005 after losing my daughter to suicide.
I’ve written before about my frustration as a bereaved parent, in that we really don’t talk about grief. Which makes the recovery process that much harder. But whenever I have it mirrored back to me through someone else’s experience, especially long-time grievers, I think it’s important to talk about again. And again. Because nobody knows when their world is going to be rocked by a loss or something else that can feel almost as devastating. Read on to discover the 5 ways to change this.
There are SO many things we don’t get about grief whether we are the ones in it or have not yet been touched by loss. The most interesting thing about grief is that anyone can be grieving any type of loss, without understanding that the pain that they are in is the result of their grief.
What is grief?
Grief is described as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss, sharp sorrow and painful regret. It causes us to be in a state of mental, emotional and physical suffering that can arise from a variety of situations. Many that we don’t ascribe to grief. For example, losses that are not physical, illness, calamity or persecution. Which ranges from minor to catastrophic mistreatment and injustices experienced as an individual or by a community.
I recently came across this article that as an alternative practice to a more stressful pattern of living, describes how to minimize our regrets and maximize our happiness at the five main stages of life that each last 18 years. (It immediately brought to mind the five stages of grief that to be honest, I think seem more applicable to the dying than the bereaved.)
Anyway, while not wanting to sound doubtful that anyone could achieve major success by integrating any of these practices into their life at the appropriate stage, I found the system to be built entirely on the pursuit of success. Which isn’t a bad thing depending on how it’s pursued. But like many other mainstream manifesting practices, it doesn’t address the gaping holes the system leaves when you stop to consider the needs of those hard hit hit by loss or other chaos, which are:
This recent UK article caught my attention (it’s a good read). It talks about the fear that disabled and chronically ill workers face if they were to reveal their conditions to their employer. Penalties and job loss being two major ones. It also questions whether the pandemic has helped to change our mindset about this or whether our biases are too entrenched to implement changes that would better support the vulnerable. Which got me thinking. This is exactly the same for the bereaved. Are you keeping symptoms of your bereavement a secret from your employer to protect your job?
Sadly, I had a reminder recently of just how much our grief culture today remains unchanged from sixteen years ago, when I lost my daughter (and decades before). One of my family members shared with me the difficulty they had in knowing what to say to an acquaintance, who has a family member who is critically ill with COVID 19.
Given our own bereavement and the isolation we all felt as a result of it, I was somewhat taken aback to learn that this encounter for my family member still felt extremely awkward, despite everything we’ve gone through after the suicide of my daughter. It turns out that the bereaved can be just as tongue-tied when having an unexpected and/or unpleasant conversation with someone going through stress, worry or trauma. In this case, someone coping with the serious illness of a loved one that could potentially lead to their death.
Are you someone who is more comfortable saying no to opportunities than yes? Can you recognize opportunities when they come knocking at your door? Looking back, do you have any regrets over the relationships or opportunities you let slip away?
Whether any of the above relates to a missed business opportunity, relationship you passed on or a job you turned down. Or it was the moment you hesitated to ask for a promotion, shied away from becoming an entrepreneur or hesitated to pursue an education. When you didn’t believe enough in yourself to make your dream career come true, or change anything else about your life, do you wonder what would have happened if you’d just said yes to something or someone instead of no?
After experiencing earth-shattering death or any other harrowing experience that for many, can represent losing something of great value and life-long devastation, can we really find the Divine in loss? The Divine, as defined by many as something of or from God, or Supreme Being of another name. Which hails from the celestial realm and in its sacred power, guides us to develop our personal form of worship. Where in our faith we believe that all good comes from or through the Divine. We trust that there are no mistakes. Not even when the worst of our experiences occur.
In fact, we may not even question why bad things happen to us. Instead, we become willing to let go of our tragedy. To replace our sorrow with peace so that we can move on with our life. Maybe even find happiness again.
Bereavement is the result of deprivation or loss. Many people (including my former self) do not equate bereavement with an experience other than physical death. However, bereavement can arise from anything that has caused us to live with intense grief.
No matter what has happened in our life to create adversity or knock us off our feet, we can change. We can free ourselves from whatever has trapped us in our mind and physical circumstances. From feeling hopeless we could ever move beyond whatever has thrown us our raw deal. From whatever has left us bereft of all happiness and the things we once wanted.
Recently I watched Our Silent Emergency by Roman Kemp (young UK media celebrity) who recently lost his best friend to suicide. While it focuses on what can be done to get younger males to start talking about their struggles amidst increasing rates of suicide, I found it helpful. I lost my daughter to suicide in 2005.
Regardless of age, gender or circumstances, mental health problems remain shrouded in secrecy and stigma. It’s been this way for years. I’m not sure what will ever change this regardless that we are talking more openly about the subject. It was no different when my daughter died .
The tragedy is that when a young person dies by suicide, it leaves a traumatic impact on the best friend(s) left behind. They seldom ever get over it. The guilt and regret can haunt them well into their older years. Just like loving family members believe they were responsible in some way for any family member’s suicide, friends believe they should have saved their best bud from dying. My daughter’s best friend struggled with these same feelings. Specifically, not confiding in us the best kept secret my daughter shared with her. Which was her wish to die.
Suicide the best kept secret
One statement by Roman that struck me poignantly in his documentary was that it would only have taken him 3 minutes to run to his friend’s house. He could have been there. He should have been there for his buddy. And he would have been there if only he’d known his friend was in trouble. A guy who was the life of the party but had obviously kept his troubles hidden from everyone.
But then, who truly knows when anyone intends to die? Suicide really is the best kept secret. It doesn’t matter who is at risk.
The other thing that caught my attention was how much we hesitate to dig further into finding out how “okay” our loved ones really are. While some females may be more willing to discuss their needs than males, nobody’s talking much about suicide. If they were there wouldn’t be so many deaths.
The number one reason people choose suicide
The number one reason people choose suicide is because they believe they are a burden to their loved ones. Hearing this in the documentary helped me let go of some of the searching I’ve been doing for years. Feeling desperate to know why my daughter chose to die. This was what she believed too.
Prior to discovering this after her death, the thought never crossed my mind that my child thought she was a burden to us. I assumed she knew we would be there for her no matter what. As a mom, it makes me feel less inadequate and more the same as millions of other parents who couldn’t have done any more to prove this was simply not true. Having said this, it’s clear all survivors missed the chance to talk with our kids, friends and other loved ones about their mental health and other struggles.
Why we don’t talk about suicide
Talking about our problems helps to squash all the negative things we tell ourselves that simply aren’t true. False stories ramp up in our heads and sometimes force us to make terrible decisions. But in the end, they always are just our stories. We can never presume to know what anyone else is really thinking.
One reason why we don’t talk about suicide is because we cannot fathom that anyone we love would want to kill themself. But people of all ages do kill themselves. Every day! We need to start accepting this as a fact. We are ALL vulnerable to a single moment that could compel us to make an irreversible decision. One that creates lasting emotional damage to all survivors.
It would have taken Roman only 3 minutes to reach his friend’s house to check on him. It only took about 3 minutes of the slightly more than twenty-two years of life my daughter had lived for it to be wiped out. Minutes I’ve thought long and hard about over the last sixteen years. Trying to end my suffering that’s been exceptionally hard to overcome.
What we can do to better support each other in our mental health needs:
Ask twice. When we ask someone how they are, and they reply “okay”, ask again. People often reveal how they are really feeling after being asked more than once.
Talk. Confide in someone we trust about how we are feeling and what we are thinking. It can change our story.
Listen. Listening without judgement to what our loved ones and friends are going through can literally save lives.
Fur babies. Someone interviewed in this documentary who had survived a suicide attempt found talking to his dog served the same purpose as talking to a human. Animals bring us renewed hope and optimism with their unconditional love. If you don’t have a living pet, a stuffed animal works just as well.
Honesty. While there is still stigma attached to mental health issues and it is difficult admitting we have a problem, being honest with ourselves and our closest loved ones about our mental health can set us on our path to healing.
For other support, books and resources related to grief, suicide and healing visit vonnesolis.com.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how often we are called to act with more kindness and sensitivity towards others when we don’t really feel like it. Yet, the moment we become aware that we can respond to any situation in a more positive way, is the moment we can’t turn our back on trying to be kinder, gentler people. With ourselves and each other. I say trying because it can be difficult wanting to be nice sometimes.
We can change the way we treat others
While it’s vitally important we treat ourselves with kindness and gentleness to heal, this post is more about how we can change the way we treat others to alleviate any tension we all face in our relationships. In normal times when we are regularly challenged to juggle our competing emotions with others, the pandemic has ramped them up. Nearly every other news article is about how the pandemic is affecting us. Millions of people are facing a variety of challenging situations.
There’s been a noticeable increase in mental health issues, divorce, people struggling with isolation, loss, illness and a host of other problems. It’s a whole other level to manage our emotions in more trying times. People are frustrated. Situations are unpredictable. For many life feels scary. We all deserve to feel supported by each other and in particular, by the people who surround us. Which is where emotional charity comes in.
What is emotional charity?
Emotional charity is when we decide to be kinder, gentler people with others. Which isn’t a whole lot different than being able to feel compassion for what anyone is going through. Demonstrating emotional charity happens when we are willing to be the first to forgive. When we can accept where others are in their life and we don’t expect anything from them. Which helps us become more compassionate human beings.
While we can choose to be emotionally charitable just by deciding to be nice, the truth is that being nice is a challenge for many people. As a long-term sufferer, I can easily feel the suffering of others. At the same time, I know how difficult it can be to want to be nice to others. Especially, our nearest and dearest.
Behind every act of meanness is someone in pain
Behind every act of meanness is someone in pain. While it’s tempting to run from conflict rather than face it head on, responding to someone in pain with gentleness and kindness is more helpful. We can end all conflict in our relationships by understanding there’s always a deeper reason for anyone’s outburst, silence or misery.
Compassion is a powerful emotion for healing
While our brains haven’t developed to allow us to always feel compassion for others, when we can feel it and are on the receiving end of someone else’s care, we can start to heal. In fact, compassion is one of the most powerful emotions for healing
Anything we experience as trauma has a profound impact on our body, nervous system and brain. Physical sensations include a racing heart, rapid breathing, body rigidity. Emotionally, we can’t connect with others. We feel isolated, angry and sometimes rage. Compassion helps to ease these symptoms. (To read more about compassion related to trauma and PTSD click here.)
Understanding another person’s situation is effective
Research has shown that subjectively understanding another person’s situation is highly effective for our healing. For any one of us, deciding to be more emotionally charitable is essential to helping each other get through the trying times.
We don’t have to be severely traumatized or suffering to benefit from the compassion of others. Being more understanding of anyone’s situation is a significant part in all of us contributing to the creation of a more inclusive, tolerant, caring society.
To be more emotionally charitable:
Use a gentle tone of voice when responding to someone acting out.
Ask your loved one how they are REALLY feeling (like you mean it and have the time to listen).
Offer your loved one specific support rather than tell them to call you if they need anything.
We still have a long way to go to get more comfortable airing our mental and emotional discomforts without feeling any stigma. However, if there is something positive about the pandemic, it’s that it is allowing us to express these and some of our other vulnerabilities more frequently and in an open, inclusive way. Which is a great thing to help bring about the longer-term changes that we all need.