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.
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.
Loss and trauma – making up for past failures. Have you experienced loss or another traumatic event recently or in the past? Do you feel tied to your pain? Are you working yourself to the bone trying to make up for a past failure? Here are three questions to ask yourself:
Do you appreciate all that you have accomplished since that event?
Do you even think about all that you’ve done and are still capable of doing?
Can you slow down?
If you answered no to any of the above, read on. This post is for you.
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.
Now, I realize that suicide is not a topic most people openly want to talk about. But sometimes we have to. I guarantee that everyone knows someone who has died by suicide, if they haven’t experienced it in their own family or close circle. Suicide is a global crisis that every country admits to, but doesn’t know how to solve.
As a mom of a daughter who died by suicide in 2005, I was thrilled to recently learn that a 9-8-8 national suicide hotline number has been proposed for Canada. I remain hopeful the motion makes it before Parliament for a vote within weeks, and that it is approved and turned into law within the next two years. I agree with mental health professionals and advocates that the hotline will be a game-changer for Canada. It will transform the way we think and talk about suicide and improve support for those at risk who call in. I am certain it will save lives. People just have to call!