How to journey with those grieving the suicide of a loved one
Chen Xi // September 24, 2021, 11:08 am
Three years ago, my brother committed suicide.
Facing that was a real struggle — I felt so lonely during the first couple of years, since it’s not something we talk about in our culture and there was no awareness in the church then about how to care for those who are hurting.
During those days, I came across the story of author and pastor Rick Warren, who shared about his own grief journey. He and his wife eventually created a support group for parents who have lost their child to suicide, and a lot of people showed up.
I believe the grief ministry is an underrated one. Most of us are uncomfortable with loss and mourning, even as we’re called to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).
People who are grieving also face a lot of questions and doubts, and the church plays an important role in helping people keep their faith.
As a church, here are some practical ways we can help those grieving over the suicide of a loved one.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DEATH
1. Instead of asking “What happened?”, ask “How are you doing?”
When my brother passed away, a lot of people asked about the cause of his death. While I believe that people had good intentions, and I didn’t want to lie about what had happened, it was uncomfortable getting the same question several times a day for months.
Even if we’re genuinely concerned, it’s wiser to postpone this question, or simply wait for the family to share when ready. It can be exhausting and painful for them to repeat their story over and over.
If we really want to ask, we could go with questions like, “What was he/she like?” or “What do you miss most about him/her?”
For me, I really appreciated friends who didn’t ask about the details, but instead asked how we were coping with it.
Questions such as, “Have you been able to sleep and eat?”, “What’s on your mind right now?”, and “Is there anything I can do or pray for in this moment?” can go a long way in helping the grieving feel cared for.
2. You don’t have to say much. Just be there.
If a family member chooses to share details, then provide listening ears. We don’t have to say much, our presence is enough. The deeper the pain, the fewer words needed.
I remember my college friend texted me to say that, after attending the funeral service, she went home and cried in her pillow till morning. There were no Bible verses, positive words, or motivating lines in her text. She wept as I wept, and in all of this, I could feel Jesus, too, was weeping with us in that moment.
To show presence during or even after the wake, opt to share your good memories of the person. My brother’s friends wrote on their social media pages about their college years, sharing what he was like back then. It’s comforting to see your family remembered as a specific person who made an impact in others’ lives, not just someone who died of suicide.
3. Offer tangible support if you can.
A funeral isn’t cheap, and is exhausting to put together. Some families could be struggling with funds, while others are too shocked to manage the logistics of it.
Offer help by sending gift cards and food, providing rides to and from the funeral home, or even offering to clean their house and get groceries, if possible.
In our case, some of our church friends offered help by picking up my family and driving us home. Others took me to lunch and asked whether I had enough sleep.
These little acts took a load off our minds and allowed us to focus on grieving my brother.
AFTER THE FUNERAL
4. Remember his or her life, particularly on special occasions.
The first birthday, first Christmas, and holidays after a loved one has passed on are the hardest.
I remember crying through the first Christmas service that year, thinking about how he was still with us the previous year, arranging music for the service. Now he is gone, and no one seemed to remember.
Remember the family by calling them, or sending some nice words through text messages or handwritten cards.
Something like, “We remember ____ always laughs at the jokes every time we ate at this restaurant. We miss him/her, and he/she is always remembered. We are keeping your family in prayers.”
5. Prepare to journey with them for the long haul.
The grief flows and ebbs, but the trauma stays.
Even after I attended counselling, there were times I still wanted to talk about what had happened, but it was hard to bring it up when everyone around me seemed to be enjoying their lives.
Surviving suicide grief is a long journey. Even as the family jumps back to work and life, it doesn’t mean they don’t need to talk about their grief. Stay close, check in regularly to see how they’re coping, and listen patiently.
The most loving invitation we can offer to the grieving family is, “Would you tell me about them?”
6. Pray for the family
I really appreciate those who have been praying for me and my family, even until today. By God’s grace and thanks to their support, the journey feels much easier now.
Regularly ask God to bring comfort, peace, and assurance for the family left behind. The family may struggle with anger, frustration, and doubt, so the church needs to journey with them patiently before asking them to get back into ministry or share their testimonies.
TO THE LOVED ONES LEFT BEHIND
The bereaved family often gets less support because suicide is a very sensitive issue even within the church. If you are struggling to reach out to your community, here are some practical ways to help you cope:
1. Go online for grief support and seek professional help.
Since this topic is very taboo in my country, it was really difficult to find support.
But thanks to the pandemic, more online support groups came about. I found an online group called Samaritan’s SafePlace.
Knowing that a lot of people are going through the same journey helped me persevere.
I also underwent Christian counselling and joined another support group for several months to help me untangle my emotions. It was one of the best decisions I’d made, knowing that I was dealing not only with grief, but deep trauma.
Counselling helped me learn to name my emotions, and recognise what triggers my crying and what makes me feel better.
If you are struggling with sleep and work, please seek professional help.
2. Try journalling.
Instead of posting everything on social media, jot down your thoughts and emotions on a notebook or note-taking app instead. One option is to make a gratitude journal, where you can write down things that make you feel “okay” today.
Some days, the waves of grief get so strong that I will sob uncontrollably. Journalling has helped me label my emotion and recognise the patterns of my moods and thoughts.
Aside from writing, you can also try making playlists of songs, or photo collages, and other crafts that you find comforting. They can be related to the feelings you’re trying to process, but are also helpful in general, as part of self-care.
I kept all my journal entries, poems, and Bible verses about suffering (especially the Psalms) in a special notebook. Whenever I’m overwhelmed with emotions, I open the notebook and read those verses aloud to speak to my emotions.
3. Read the Word and pray.
For the first two years, I focused on the books of Job, Lamentations, and Psalms. To my surprise, the Bible has a lot to say about grief and sorrow. There’s nothing more comforting than knowing our God also suffers and He understands our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3, 2 Corinthians 1:6).
Don’t forget to pray and tell God how you feel. Most of the time I felt angry, confused, and sad. It’s a mix of everything, and there were times I couldn’t even utter a single word. Still, God hears and understands.
Bring your prayers back to God’s Word. There is nothing truer than the Word of God. Reading the Bible has helped me get a good grip on hope. It speaks truth to my inner being and gives me enough strength for each day.
4. Stay close to a trusted few.
While it can be easy to want to be alone during this season of grief, it is better to stay close to at least a couple of trusted friends — those who will support us through prayers and listening ears, and accompany us when we feel too lonely in this journey.
As an introvert, the grieving period caused me to become even more isolated than before, because I thought no one would understand what I was going through.
Those who knew me well often prayed for me and checked on me. They took me out to lunch and gave me hugs (this was before the pandemic) whenever we met.
Grief is a long, hard road, but we need not go through it alone.
Over time, after my emotions became more stable, I pushed myself to join the community again, and it helped me not to focus on myself but to bear others’ burdens as well.
Grief is a long, hard road, but we need not go through it alone. And as time passes, we will see ourselves — and what we have experienced — differently.
As that change happens, we’ll begin to see ourselves being remade into a Christ-follower, one who is more dependent on Him than ever before.
This article was first published on YMI and is republished with permission.
THINK + TALK
- What are your thoughts on suicide? Have you ever lost someone to suicide before?
- What are your go-to responses in comforting loved ones left behind by suicide?
- Do your responses align with the words and deeds the author found to be helpful or comforting?