On a “stay-at-home” Monday, after I had tackled a lengthy list of phone calls, I decided to clean up my neglected emails following a busy weekend. I wanted to get lost in several of my reading books. But reluctantly, I opened my computer and started deleting the most recent junk mail until I saw a message from one of my distant dear friends. Shocking news grabbed me by the throat as I made it partway through the first line of her statement. My friend’s adult son had died by suicide the previous night. Tortured through a sleepless night, the family was amid unimagined brokenness.
A gut punch, and my brain whirled. This was too much for my friend, who had already been dealt many blows. How could I ever offer enough words or comfort or assurances? How could I ever be enough friend for her? And then, hours later, sneaking insinuations of despair would creep in with thoughts of who of us would be next to suffer significant loss and grief.
Seeking Out Prayer Warriors
In my life, bad news has to be shared, so I called my husband. This man travels the country talking to mental health professionals about suicide. Yet, he rarely deals with parents who have lost a child to this kind of death. He could not offer me anything extraordinary. We know counselors that we can refer to people. I needed prayer warriors and lots of them for the depth of this level of loss and pain. So I anxiously made a request on my church’s prayer page without giving the family names. I thought about who would be respectful with this news and contacted a few other people in my friend’s home state. By mid-morning, my friend had posted photos of her son and released the report of his death on her Facebook page. Responses started pouring onto the page.
The next day I sent a text message to her phone of continuing prayer and love. She responded that she had finally slept but was crying all morning and stated, “I can’t do this.” I assured her that she was “doing this” and that crying was necessary. Yet, I haven’t previously been challenged to attempt to provide long-distance support of this nature. It is a trial of faith in ever-widening circles for everyone who knows this family. However, the spiritual bonds are growing and vibrating with Holy Spirit energy and caring.
I read a lot of articles online this week about helping friends with suicide grief, and I have picked up some ideas I will use. One of the best is to make sure that I stop using the word “committed” when referring to suicide. Hurtful associations exist with that word, reminding the family of “being committed to institutions” or “committing crimes” as in mental illness or planned evil actions. There are no easy answers or clear diagnoses when death by suicide occurs. Many who attempt to die want to escape some form of intolerable pain.
Each morning this week, I prayed for my friend and sent some text messages. Then I remembered a different Christian friend from another time in our lives who told me several years ago that one of her adult sons had died from suicide. My other friend is willing to listen and share what has helped her cope. So now I have a contact ready if these friends can be of support to each other. We all have had losses, but some are very soul-rending.
Other tips for supporting friends dealing with grief:
Be accepting and patient with your friend’s grief process and your own not knowing what to say, or just say, “I can’t imagine how you feel.” It’s rarely honest to say that you understand.
Remember to use the child’s name, memories, and stories of him. Don’t let him disappear.
Stop asking questions and seeking to blame his death on his choices, his marriage, or what went wrong—there may not be an answer. There is an enemy at work in the world to destroy, yet, some of us trust that God’s love and goodness will prevail. The reasons for the suicide may be among those things that belong to God.
Be the person to follow up on memorial dates of the suicide at one month, or even every month for the first six months when everyone else has done their duty and left. Try sending cards or calling every day for the first several weeks or months. Of course, know your friend and how much attention is welcome.
Find a way to honor the memory of the loved one through donating to a non-profit or a school, a tree planting, a special quilt, a scholarship, or a fund for a grandchild left behind.
Prayers will continue to be important for the family of the person who died by suicide, but don’t be the friend who just faded away.
Questions for personal journaling or discussion:
- Has anyone in your extended family or friends lost a loved one by suicide?
- “There may not be an answer for suicide.” How do you respond to that?
If you liked this, you might also like A Lesson From Suicide
Karen Spruill writes from Florida.© 2002 - 2023, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.