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.
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?
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.
I’ve been dealing for years with this issue of people not knowing how to talk to me once they find out I’m a bereaved mom. Given it’s been over fifteen years now, it’s getting a bit monotonous. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. There are plenty of other bereaved parents who struggle with the same reactions I get once people find out I’ve lost a child. In fact, I’m certain many bereaved people routinely experience the discomfort of those with whom they have shared their loss, no matter who has died. People in general, just don’t know how to talk to the bereaved.
While it’s rare for me to talk about my daughter with just anyone, it isn’t because I don’t want to. It’s because I learned early in my bereavement that I had to take extreme care in choosing who to share my loss with simply because of the overwhelmingly reactions I got when people found out I’d lost a child. (Usually this was in response to them asking me how many children I had). All of them wanted to know how she had died, which only made their discomfort even worse because it was a suicide.
When I first became bereaved in 2005, after the suicide of my daughter, I felt confused and distrustful of everything. My entire world had fallen apart. I had no idea how I would ever live without my child and was terrified something else really bad would happen to my family. I couldn’t imagine what I could ever do again that would feel worthwhile. I felt isolated and different from everyone else and in pain so extreme, I didn’t think I could survive it. I felt powerless. There was no relief in sight.
But I did survive. More importantly, I’m starting to truly live again through a healing process I can’t wait to share with others.
Though I wish everyone reading this the absolute best for this new year, I’m not going to start this post off by saying how glad I am to say goodbye to 2020. In fact, and with the greatest respect and compassion for all those who have suffered hardship during 2020, I am grateful not to have been impacted negatively by the Pandemic. Nor was any of my family. We were spared.
Whew! I do not want to endure any further hardship in my life. In fact, I am so happy to say I am finally doing a darn good job turning things around in my life when it comes to healing and embracing positive change.
However, for those newly bereaved who have suffered loss of a loved one, economic hardship, unwanted lifestyle changes, a relationship breakup, family separation, or their hopes and dreams, all because of something way beyond their control, it’s a new year. You can have a new life by developing a new mind set. Change your thoughts. Change your life and all that. Or can you?
Wow, these past few days, news outlets have been reporting the deaths of several high-profile people from suicide, accident and illness. Deaths that have included people young and older, but none that would have been expected because they were a suicide, weird accident or someone we would consider way too young to be dying from disease or illness.
My spiritual practice over a span of four decades has taught me (and millions of others) that we choose our manner and time of death. While there can be different exit points throughout our life, it is the final one we must respect as what any person chooses as the way and time that is right for them to end their physical existence on this planet. At any age.
Any life event that has uprooted you in some way may be keeping you stuck in pain. This could be from a childhood trauma or as an adult, the loss of a loved one, relationship, job, money, health, lifestyle or friends. Pain is pain, no matter where it comes from. It can feel just as devastating for everyone, dependent on what we are here to experience.