Help Friends Mourning Loved Ones Lost to Suicide

man sitting on the grass from mfBy Jeenie Gordon:

            Mourning – a painful, long process for those who have lost someone to suicide.

Two years seems to be a typical time of intense sorrow and numbness for those who have lost a loved one. Over and over I have seen the time frame played out with students and clients in therapy.

 It takes about two years before the force of reality hits home. Truth knocks the mourner down with a blow similar to a heavyweight boxer hitting him in the gut. The person understands the great loss will last the rest of his life, and he hates it. Often I hear the expression, “I despise my life and I can’t stand the pain. It’s eating me up inside.”

Family and friends, who gathered close for the first few months or a year eventually go on with their lives. Rarely do they give the mourner’s loss another conscious thought. For the most part, there is no longer a human source in which to find comfort, thus, loneliness and isolation, can become overwhelming.

Talking things over with God helps the grief stricken person to slowly begin to move on with life. Journaling is also a valid, healthy way to start to resolve the issues.

How can you help your friends who are mourning loved ones lost to suicide?

 

I have made it a practice for many years to have a daily prayer list for those who are grieving the loss of their loved one. At the end of the year, I write them a note. Generally I begin: Each morning I have prayed for you and your family during your first year of mourning . . . I have received numerous return notes telling me how my prayers have impacted and comforted their lives. One mother at my high school wrote: If my daughter would have had you as her counselor, she would still be alive today.

We have a responsibility and privilege to continue to support those who mourn. Romans 12:15 states, “Weep with them that weep” (KJV).

Jeenie Gordon is a licensed marriage and family therapist, speaker, and author, including contributing to Too Soon to Say Goodbye, Healing and Hope for the Suicide Victims and Survivors, excerpted in this post and used by permission from New Hope Publishers.

Who Cares: A Poem by Charles R. Brown

By Susan Titus Osborn

 

If you are depressed and thinking about suicide, please stop for a moment. Think of the effect suicide would have on loved ones, your loved ones, left behind.

 

Image by Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following poem, Who Cares, by Charles R. Brown may sum up your feelings at this time.

Who Cares

by Charles R. Brown

 Indigo days.

Dark, deep sea nights,

Layer upon layer,

The grays of life

Are pressed into strips

Of midnight black.

 

Dilated irises stretch wide,

Thirsty for the smallest flicker of light.

Can’t see.

Can’t see any purpose in it at all.

I can’t tell if my eyelids are open or shut.

All I know is my life is shut.

 

The door has closed, the key thrown away.

Cold dungeon walls

Leave bruises on the mind.

Silence offers no peace—only fear.

The slamming in my chest

Rattles any semblance of sanity.

 

Why?

Who cares anyway?

No one will miss me.

They’ll be better off when I’m gone.

 

Is anyone listening?

 

You can indeed find someone to listen to you, if you are feeling this way.

God has a purpose for you—a purpose only you can fulfill on this Earth. And He is there, waiting for you to reach out for His help and healing.

Who cares? God does. We do. If you are depressed and thinking about suicide, please stop for a moment and consider the effect suicide has on loved ones, your loved ones, who are left behind.

There are a number of resources available as near as your telephone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.

You can also dial the following National Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services:

1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

1-888-SUICIDE (1-888-784-2433)

1-877-SUICIDA (1-877-784-2432) (Spanish).

This poem was taken from Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Suicide Victims and Survivors and used with permission by New Hope Publishers.

A Mother’s Grief: Coping with Death by Suicide of a Daughter

By Jeenie Gordon:

Coping with death by suicide of your own child is a grief incredibly difficult for any mother to bear. Here’s how one mother, Mary copes.

 

This article is an excerpt from Too Soon to Say Goodbye, Healing and Hope for Victims and Survivors of Suicide, used by permission from New Hope Publishers. Jeenie Gordon, contributing author to that book (and many others)  is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Mary has found that one way of coping with her daughter’s death has been to write about it.[Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net] 

One Sunday after coming home from church, I listened to my voice mail from my close friend, Mary, of twenty-five years.

“Jeenie,” sobbed Mary, “Paulette took her own life.”

Here are Mary’s words.  “Five months ago my eldest daughter, Paulette, took her own life. She had attempted this several times in the last twelve years but this time she accomplished her goal.

“It began when she was diagnosed with a mental illness (schizoid affective disorder). She was hospitalized many times during those years. Medications were adjusted and new ones introduced. One negative side effect of these psychotropic drugs was weight gain. During treatment she gained more than 125 pounds, which contributed to her depression.

“There were times in her life when the medications seemed to work and she’d feel better. I treasure the memories of those moments. We went shopping together and stopped at our favorite coffee shop. I know she felt my love as we sat and talked. I kissed the top of her head and said, “Paulette, I love you.”

“I also find peace in knowing that in fifth grade Paulette accepted Christ as her Savior. During her long illness, her faith brought her through many trying times.

“Shortly after my daughter’s death, thoughts of her constantly filled my mind. Several times I asked myself, “Do you believe that Christ died for you? Yes. “Do you believe in eternal life?” Yes. “Do you believe Paulette is safe in the arms of our Lord?” Of course I do. These conversations with myself gave me solace. Many times, I could almost hear her say, “Mom, I’m O.K. Enjoy your life.”

“Several things have comforted me during with their lives has helped. As one of my friends, whose son died from suicide said, “You get through it, but you never get over it.” Another friend wrote, “No more dark days for Paulette, only happy days with Jesus.”

“Every few days after she died, God seemed to give me insight into her death.

“I am comforted as I look at the pictures of Paulette – pictures of happy times. My favorite is one taken a year ago when she visited us in Oregon. Barefooted and holding a soda, she had a beautiful serene look on her face as she sat among other family members. As I look at this picture, I kiss it and whisper, I love you, Paulette.

 “Not everyone grieves the same way. I have never been embarrassed in front of others if the tears fall. They are tears of love for my sweet daughter.

“Those same memories give me courage to move on with my life. I have set some new goals in my life. Ten years ago I wrote a book. Paulette was the only one who read it in its entirety. I have started a writers group where I live and now am working on the rewrite of that book. This has kept me focused and I can almost hear Paulette saying, “Go for it, Mom.”

At Paulette’s memorial service, Mary requested that I read a special rendition of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd – that’s relationship.

I shall not want – that’s supply.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures – that’s rest

He leadeth me beside the still waters – that’s refreshment.

He restoreth my soul – that’s healing.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness – that’s guidance.

For His name’s sake – that’s purpose.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – that’s testing.

I will fear no evil – that’s protection.

For Thou art with me – that’s faithfulness.

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me – that’s discipline.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies – that’s hope.

Thou anointest my head with oil – that’s consecration.

My cup runneth over – that’s abundance.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life – that’s blessing.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord – that’s security.

Forever – that’s eternity.

                                                                                         –  Anonymous

Coping with death by suicide of a loved one will be different for everyone, including every mother who loses a child this way.  In addition to the Bible, one helpful handbook to walk through the grieving process is SOS, a handbook for family members who have lost loved ones.  You can find that on our Helpful Resources page and download to read. It does address mental illness, and how difficult it can sometimes be to understand the thought processes of those who take their lives. It also addresses struggles unique to parents.

A Parent’s Suicide

By Karen Kosman:

Photo by Anita Peppers

The loss of a loved one by suicide causes deep pain and struggles for families left behind–especially a parent’s suicide for children who only understand that Daddy or Mommy is no longer there to tuck them in bed, to hold them, to play ball, or to help with homework. Activities, no longer possible, that once seemed normal create a deep yearning in a child’s heart. Often they are too young to ask questions. People who are in a position to work with children can be a light that shines through their darkness. One such story is about a Sunday school teacher, named Jeanne Pallos, who started a special class for hurting children.

The following story was taken from Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Suicide Victims and Survivors and used with permission by New Hope Publishers.

Erik’s Papa’s Suicide

Jeanne Pallos

I knew about hurting hearts and how God could use safe, loving, caring people to bring healing. He had done it in my life. In return, I longed to reach into the hearts of emotionally wounded children and minister with God’s love and grace. So I started a class at church for children with hurting hearts. The staff knew I wasn’t a trained counselor, nor did I pretend to be, but they agreed to allow God to direct me.

Erik’s mother pleaded with me to let him into the class. “He’s seen so much pain in his short life,” she said. “At five years old, Erik lost his dad to suicide. He needs to be in your class.”

Even though Erik was only eight, and the other children were 4th through 6th graders, how could I say no? I thought, Love and support is what all these children need. “I’ll be happy to take Erik into my class.”

The first week, a shy little boy, with his head down, walked into the classroom. We sat in one large circle, and Erik took the seat next to mine. Although I knew the personal tragedies in each child’s life, I never mentioned them. I vowed never to pry into a child’s heart.

Erik rarely spoke, but at the beginning of each class, he scurried to sit next to me. One week I asked the children to make collages depicting people and things they loved. We searched through magazines and collected pictures. Then the children disappeared into their own private worlds as they cut and pasted pictures and words onto large sheets of paper.

Since Erik was the youngest, I often helped him with projects. As we sat pasting a picture of a father and son tossing a ball, he said, “Papa liked to play ball with me.”

Erik had never mentioned his dad before.

“That must have been fun and made you very happy.” I silently prayed, Thank you, God, for working in Erik’s heart.

The next week, during the class activity, Erik whispered to me, “Papa used to read to me.”

“That sounds so special,” I replied. “I’m sure your papa loved reading to you.”

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, our church held its annual memorial service. Families brought pictures of loved ones to display on a table and wrote the deceased person’s name on a list to be read. During the service, each family walked forward to light a candle.

I walked forward and placed my mother’s picture on the table. Suddenly, I noticed Erik walking towards me. He looked up at me with expressive eyes.

“Do you want to see Papa?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” I answered, taking his small hand. “I’d love to see your papa.”

Together, we found Papa’s picture—a snapshot of a man and a child secured in a cracked frame.

“Is that you?” I asked.

Erik smiled.

“I can tell your papa loved you very much. Do you want to see a picture of my mother?” I asked.

When the evening ended, Erik’s mother took me aside and told me the details of the suicide. “Erik’s dad and I were separated. He lived alone. One evening he phoned and threatened, ‘I’m climbing onto a chair and making a noose. I’m going to kill myself.’

“I pleaded with him, ‘Please get some counseling. Your kids will always need you.’ Then I heard a thud, and the conversation ended in an overpowering silence.”

I wanted to say something comforting, but couldn’t find the words. As I looked into her eyes, I saw sadness, but I also saw determination. Widowed, and left with three heartbroken children, she’d not given up.

Had my class touched Erik’s young heart? Could the love he received in a few short weeks bring healing for a lifetime? I knew it couldn’t, but it was a beginning.

Erik loved his papa, no matter how he had died. That’s all that mattered. Erik now needed me and others to listen, care, and affirm this love. This little boy had a lifetime to deal with his papa’s suicide. For now he needed help in treasuring his dad’s memory before it faded away.

See this touching video, Grief Through The Eyes of a Child, from The Child and Teen Program of Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado. It includes stories from kids about Camp Good Grief to help children cope with loss.

Suicide Prevention in the Midst of an Attempt

By Jeenie Gordon:

Many times there can be suicide prevention. Often people are so desperate that in a moment of insanity they choose to get out of their enormous emotional pain by an act which can be non-reversible. Even at the time of despair when the act has been taken, they wish they could turn back the clock. In those seconds, some are able to reach out in desperation for help.

One Saturday, a client, who had received my private number through a speaking brochure telephoned my home. My heart pounded as she softly slurred out her words, “Jeenie, I took a bottle of meds.”

I questioned what they were, but she didn’t know. Since I was not in my office, I did not remember the medication she was taking, nor her address. Over and over I asked, “Tell me your address.” Hesitantly she finally mumbled it.

Dialing 911 I was able to give her location. “We’re on the way,” the paramedics assured me. Later, I was able to locate her husband.

Immediately after, I called her psychiatrist on his emergency cell phone. He remembered what medication she was taking and stated “An overdose can kill her.”

After making the calls, my heart was nearly pounding out of my chest. I earnestly prayed, “Dear God, get them to her in time. Save her life.”

The next week she came in for a therapy session to continue dealing with her underlying issues. “I didn’t really want to die, Jeenie. That’s why I called you.”

I knew God had led my client to reach out to me in her time of desperation for suicide prevention. We continued in therapy for another year, and I saw great improvement and emotional health emerge. The suicidal thinking ceased.

Sometimes a suicidal person has time and the mental ability to call for help. In my experience, it is most often after pills have been ingested. In that short window of time, help can come if called immediately.

In the case of my client, I needed to speak with the psychiatrist to determine the medication so I could inform the paramedics in order for them to administer the proper treatment.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a solvable problem and is never the answer or way out. Families and friends are left in deep despair for the remainder of their lives, often wondering what they did wrong and trying to make sense of the tragedy, when there is none.

Never take lightly a call for help. Take immediate action and you, too, may help save a life.

In a crisis, contact: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free crisis hotline funded by the federal government that will direct callers to a nearby crisis center. The Lifeline will accept calls from non-English speakers.

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Deeply Depressed

By Jeenie Gordon:

Families often deal with a deeply depressed member for years, which takes an enormous toll.  Fear and anxiety become a familiar part of life. As grief recovery ensues, and reality begins to take effect, people eventually realize there was nothing more they could have done. They cannot force a person to seek medical help or take medication. They cannot prevent suicide.

Let me share with you the following story about a pastor.

He was a respected leader in his denomination – a wise and godly man. Young men sought his counsel when they believed God had called them into ministry. “What are the pitfalls? How will I know for certain God has put His hand on my life? Where will I go for training?” were some of the questions he fielded. Beginning pastors asked his advice, as did seasoned men of God.

Yet, something went wrong. He became deeply depressed and lived in a black hole from which he could find no exit. Not willing to seek medical help, he and his wife struggled for years. His wife did not want to interfere by seeking help or even mentioning it to their family and closest friends. They both suffered in silence.

One cloudy day, he drove onto a long expansion bridge over a Pacific Ocean harbor, stopped his car in the middle, stepped out, and jumped.

Many pastors in his denomination believed suicide meant eternal damnation, but at his funeral, they began to realize this was an act of a godly man who was deeply depressed,  and in a moment of insanity, made an instant and final decision.

His dear wife breathed a sigh of relief because the days of deep emotional pain had ended. Yet, guilt haunted her.

I’ve explained to grieving clients that guilt almost always follows death, whether suicide or natural death. We have the irrational sense that somehow we could have prevented the death – that we didn’t do enough. The “what ifs” and “if onlys” become our nagging companions. Emotional health comes when, in time, we are able to accept God’s gift of relief – without guilt.

Often members of the family need to be in grief counseling with a Christian therapist, as well as join a grief support group to help in the recovery process.

 – – -

Jeenie Gordon is a licensed marriage and family therapist, speaker, and author of ten books. This excerpt was taken from Too Soon to Say Goodbye, Healing and Hope for the Suicide Victims and Survivors, and used by permission from New Hope Publishers.

 

Comfort for Grieving Counselors and Parents: You Came!

By Jeenie Gordon:

It is devastating for a high school counselor to lose a student to suicide, as it is for that teen’s parents. Thankfully God offers comfort for grieving counselors and parents.

 

Stock photo with teen model, by anitapatterson.

Joe was an extremely emotionally troubled student, who often came to my high school counseling office.  He quietly waited until I was available.  Over several years we spent many hours together as he poured out his heart. I listened.

When a week went by and I hadn’t seen him, I called his home to check on him. I was told he had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital ward.

Within two weeks, he was released and was again sitting outside my office. I looked into his vacant eyes. Having counseled three years in a psychiatric hospital, I immediately recognized the look of a very disturbed teenager. Why in the world did they release him? I thought. It is obvious this young man needs long-term psychiatric treatment.

“Hi, Joe. It’s good to see you. I’ve missed you,” I softly said. This time our talk was disjointed. Joe was in no shape to deal with reality nor capable of receiving encouragement. His mind was apparently in mass confusion. I felt at a loss as to how to help him

Two days later my secretary said, “Joe’s mother is on the phone and said it’s urgent.” Sadly, Joe had taken his life.

Tears streamed down my face as I related the news to my secretary, then headed to the principal’s office. He hugged and consoled me when I needed it so badly.

My mind screamed, What could I have said to stop him? What did I do wrong? O God, why, why?

That afternoon I drove to his parents’ home, a simple humble abode that was clean as a whistle. It reminded me of my home growing up.

“Oh, Mrs. Gordon, you came. You came!” Over and over Joe’s mother cried as I held her in my arms, our tears mingling.

A few days later, I felt the intense presence of God and His sweet Holy Spirit comforting me as I sat at the funeral mass. Even though it was in Spanish, my heart was in tune. As the casket was carried down the aisle following the service, the congregation broke out in praise songs to Jesus – a cappella. Without a doubt, I had the assurance Joe’s mind was no longer clouded, and he was finally set free.

This time, Jesus came.

For families of suicide victims, sorrow and emotional pain is beyond description. It leaves a destructive mark on those left. Suicide is never an acceptable path for the current pain of the person contemplating a way out.

For those left, the questions are enormous – ones which have no logical answers. Self-blame is common. Seeking out a professional counselor, speaking to a pastor, confiding in close family and friends, and possibly temporary medication can be helpful.

This excerpt was taken from Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Suicide Victims and Survivors, and used by permission from New Hope Publishers. ©Jeenie Gordon with Susan Titus Osborn and Karen L. Kosman. (See:  Our Team.)