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by Janice Price
It is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The weather is crisp and clear. My yard is buried in colorful leaves. It is a beautiful day to celebrate life.
It is also a day to grieve.
The e-mail message from Carol was fairly short. Its 2 a.m. Ive just been on the phone with Doris my best friend in PA. Her son Troy committed suicide today by shooting himself. Im devastated, shes devastated, so weve been crying together. Her kids and my kids grew up together. Im in shock. And of course sleep is the last thing Im looking for so I thought Id write and tell you. I cant say much more right now. I think my mind has turned off. I have a big day tomorrow and someone else is going to have to push me through it.
I wanted to be there for Carol in person, but we live too far apart. We were close friends as teenagers. She married Bob and had four healthy, mischievous children. I moved away and we lost touch for many years. We regained contact four years ago through my brother Bill, but it has only been within the last few months that we have regained communication on a personal level. I know she meant what she said; she is truly devastated today.
Carol is a survivor of two suicides. Fourteen years ago Carol and Bob buried their son Robbie. Five years later, on his twenty-second birthday, they buried their youngest son Jay.
Until this summer, I thought that the subject of suicide should be avoided, but I learned that it is not a verboten subject. Tiptoeing around the subject, or avoiding it altogether, does not help those left behind. Family members need to talk about the loss of their loved one. It is part of the healing process. Carol put it succinctly, Yes, its painful, but its a lot more painful if I dont talk about it or if everyone goes around it. Time does not heal, but it dims the bad things and brightens the good ones.
She sent a photograph of her children. The last time I saw them they were toddlers. It was the first time I saw them as teenagers. It was hard to imagine the hole that was left in the family with the loss of two good-looking young adults. How does a parent cope when a child dies...by violence ...by his own hand? Not well and not easily, by Carols own admission. Your world is out of kilter when you live to bury your own children. It must be especially hard when they are young.
There are no words equal to the task of consoling those left behind. How do you comfort someone who is haunted by nightmare images of the death scene, who battles self-recriminations, and who must bear the unbearable?
Prayer is the most loving thing we can do. We can pray for their peace of mind, for proper rest for their minds and bodies to recuperate from the extreme stress they are undergoing, for their financial needs in the crisis so they can bury their loved ones and have opportunity to grieve the list of needs is endless. Most importantly, we can pray for their faith to be strengthened and for them to lean on God and not turn away from Him or blame Him. He can attend to all their needs by sending some neighbors with food, some friends with financial donations, some church members with cleaning supplies, and even some strangers with a warm heart and a listening ear. He can give them strength to endure the funeral, to accept condolences, and to survive one moment at a time.
But the family needs more than prayer. They need moral support. They need love, hugs, and assurances that their deceased loved one will not be forgotten. He died; he wasnt erased. They need reminders of happy memories of the deceased. They need to know that not only are you here for them today, but that you will continue to be there for them tomorrow. As Carol said, the pain of a suicide never goes away. Occasionally, there is a need to talk to someone about the loved one because the anniversary of his death, or his birthday, or his favorite holiday is approaching. Will you or I still be willing to listen ten or even twenty years down the road?
It would be easy to criticize or try to assign blame. That seems to be what we often do when we havent faced a particular trial ourselves. Someone who has never been through a depression couldnt understand how a person could reach the point of ending it all. Someone who has never faced what could appear to be a failure on the part of the parents could not empathize. The truth is that suicides happen in broken families as well as perfect ones. It isnt the fault of the parents.
Suicide is a baffling subject. Depression is a major motivation for wanting to self-destruct. Some think you can will yourself out of it, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, or freeze a grin and whatever is bothering you will just go away. It simply doesnt work that way for most folks severely depressed. Depression has also been described as anger turned inward. Some doctors say it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, while others say it is all in the emotions. Some ministers will tell you that it is totally a lack of faith in God, while others will say you are demon possessed or influenced. The truth is, in most individual cases, we probably wont know. Speculation, and even worse, assigning blame, isnt going to comfort those left behind. None of us know what it would take to push us over the edge. We do know that it is not in our own strength that we win this war. So our task is to minister to the broken left behind.
I admire Carol. She has slogged through the pits wearing leaden shoes. Most days she manages to laugh and to be positive. Today her heart is breaking. She is carrying the weight of her friends loss along with her own. There is fresh pain mingled with the old.
I cannot imagine the depth of her pain or her friend Doris pain. But I do know that Carol is uniquely qualified to understand how deeply Doris is wounded, to offer comfort, and to listen with her heart without judging or condemning. She might not be able to make the long trip for the funeral, but Carol will definitely still be listening and lending moral support to Doris many years from now. She can be a friend for Doris long journey of life, with grief.
In many respects, the age of a child when he or she dies is inconsequential to a grieving mother. There is something awkwardly and grievously wrong to our sensibilities when a child pre-deceases a parent. A mother assumes that title for life she is never not a mom. As far as she is concerned, sons are forever, too. Lets make sure as friends, were part of that forever support that a grieving parent needs in the face of catastrophic loss and pain.
Author: Janice Price
Publication Date: November 30, 2002