Last week I talked about some reflections from when my father committed suicide. This post will be a continuation of that, but with a more practical focus on the fallout. What can we as Christians and the church do when suicide happens? Can we better help the grieving? How do we process the loss? How do we handle the aftermath of suicide?
It’s Okay to Just Listen
I first want to give a general tip to those who know someone grieving a suicide and want to help. Grieving can be an awkward experience for everyone. It’s okay to not say anything. We all want to help, show our support, make it clear that we care, and give words of comfort. The problem is it’s really hard to find anything meaningful to say. We instead resort to generic phrases like “I’m sorry for your loss,” or the ever formal, “My condolences.” I know it is well meaning, but unless this is like the office condolence card where you don’t really know the person well, I would advise against it.
Alternatively, don’t feel pressured to say anything at all. In my experience, often the most powerful sign of love is simply presence. People being willing to sit with me, maybe talk with me, but sometimes just sitting in silence, are some of the most prominent memories I have. This also ensures you don’t say anything unintentionally foolish or hurtful, which can be very easy to do with such an emotional issue.
Check in Later
The pain of loss does not go away after a few weeks and a funeral. Time helps, but all too often we assume people recover faster than they do. After the tragedy happens, everyone wants to talk to you, to the point of it being overwhelming. Then a few weeks or months pass by, and everyone either assumes that you’re doing better or that you would not want to talk about or be reminded of the loss. Check in periodically. Make it clear that it’s still okay to talk about this months or even years later.
What if you are the one grieving though? What are some ways that you can be prepared to personally handle the aftermath of suicide?
Don’t Hide It
Suicide is an extremely awkward topic. At best, it’s an easy way to bring down the mood of the conversation. At worst, it brings up issues of pain, shame, guilt, fear, and many other painful questions to the surface. What caused them to kill themselves? Was there something you could have done differently to stop it? He was you family member and you saw him every day, so how could you not notice something was off? Did you somehow cause this to happen? What will people assume about me? Should I hide it all and never speak about this to anyone? What if this happens to me or someone else in my family? What if I miss or cause it again?
Okay, shut up and breathe for a minute. That kind of spiraling is common when we bottle all of this up and don’t properly talk about our grief. It is okay, and I even strongly encourage you, to talk about suicide. Not so that we can normalize it as an acceptable thing. Quite the opposite. The more suicide hides in the shadows, the more easily we can ignore and hide it, which keeps these questions bottled up. People typically want to help you, but do not know how.
3 Basic Tips for the Aftermath
Sometimes when I tell people my suicide story, they are shocked at how calm I am. I don’t fully understand it myself. I am not the most emotional person to begin with. Beyond that though, I think the three most important parts of my own process, are God, Family, and Church.
1. Expect the Suffering
Prior to this, I had been pretty well shielded from real suffering. As Christians, we know to expect trials and suffering. We are not promised health, wealth, and happiness. Quite the opposite really. No small part of my grieving process was the years preparing for hard times. They say that the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle. I think the same applies here. The more immersed we are into both the truth and love of God, but also the realities of this world, the less we will be taken off guard and broken by the suffering.
2. Don’t Stop Talking.
I’ve made this point pretty clearly already. It helps a lot that I am very close with my immediate family. We were able to be constantly talking through this, being there to help each other better process this tragedy. Unfortunately, not everyone has that. If you are going through this, find some people you can regularly talk with. Maybe it is a friend, a counselor, or even something organized like Grief Share. That was a big help to many people in my family.
3. Lean on Your Church
I don’t think there has ever been a time I have felt more loved by my church community than this grieving process. Don’t cut yourself off. We are not always the best at preparing for tragedy, but when push comes to shove, Christians consistently step in to help with the aftermath. Let them do what they do best and help you.
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