With that heading, this post probably doesn’t require a CW, but if you’re not in a place to read about this topic right now, close the tab and don’t scroll down.
This post hasn’t captured everything I want to say, perhaps because it’s too soon, but it’s a start.
A few months ago my son’s friend took his life. Everything about the death of a young person is sad, and suicide makes it even harder to come to terms with. It was a tragic introduction to post-school life for my son and his group of friends. But he’s okay and he will continue to be okay, as will his friends – they have each other and the support of their families.
This has triggered many memories for me. Of the time I was a bereaved family member following the death of my sister in a car accident in 1987, and the loneliness I felt. At the time I most needed support, people I considered friends avoided me. Some left the room if I mentioned my sister; some even blatantly told me they couldn’t cope.
I, the one who’d lost a family member, felt a responsibility to protect others from my grief. And at the blackest time of my life, support dwindled.
Of course there were friends who stepped up to the plate, who had the courage to face me and offer support in those early days, and I’ve never forgotten their kindness.
It has also triggered memories of times in my life when I’ve felt pain to such a degree that it was a comfort to know I could opt out if I wanted, when my thinking was so distorted I thought I’d be doing my family and the world a favour by leaving it.
If you take nothing else away from this post, let it be this: Suicide is a result of mental illness. At its root is depression and deep, uncontrollable pain. Getting angry at someone for taking their life makes as much sense as getting angry at someone for dying of the complications of their diabetes because they couldn’t control their pancreas.
And suicide is not contagious: you will not catch it via a conversation with or holding the hand of a grieving relative. And avoiding them will not protect you from the same thing happening to your family.
Talking about suicide with someone will not put you or them at higher risk. The suicide rate has not increased because we’re talking about it more, as someone tried to tell me recently. Suicide risk increases during periods of socioeconomic stress, like during the Depression, and when people feel isolated. We live in a completely unnatural society these days, disconnected from each other and our village. Maybe if we reached out to people who are struggling instead of avoiding them, we might help lower the rate.
When I hear people say: ‘It’s too much to cope with,’ as an excuse to avoid a grieving family, I want to say, But it’s not about you. This might be the first death you or your child has faced, but it won’t be the last. The road of life isn’t always smooth, and you’re going to have to face these things at some point.
I know it’s hard and I know it takes courage, but it’s not too much to spend time with those who are grieving – you will survive seeing someone cry. You will survive shedding a tear yourself. You might even feel better afterwards. You might feel better, too, for showing someone kindness, compassion and love. And you might make a difference to someone’s life.
What is too much is expecting people to grieve alone.
My son was grief-stricken following his friend’s death and, for a time, felt a degree of guilt, wondering if he could have done something to prevent it. But he knows now that he couldn’t have taken all his friend’s pain away.
He knows, too, that he will be a stronger, kinder young man as a result of having gone through this.
And he will never forget his friend – he will always, always hold a tender place in his heart.
If this post has brought up any issues for you, don’t forget you can always phone Lifeline on 131114.