Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. ~ Helen Keller
A reader writes: Six months ago I learned that a dear friend’s husband died by suicide. He was found hanging in their garage. As horrible as that was, I’ve just been told that yesterday their 17-year-old son took his own life too, and in the very same way. We are all in a state of shock. I don’t know what I can do to help her. I don’t even know where to begin. Would you have any suggestions or words of wisdom for me?
My response: I'm so saddened by your friend's unspeakable losses and so very sorry to learn of the horrible circumstances surrounding these deaths. I can only imagine how awful this must be for her, and for you as well.
You've asked what you can do to support your friend, and I'll offer what I can. As I'm sure you already know, she is living with two of the most difficult bereavement crises imaginable ~ not only the horror of her husband's suicide, but also the loss of her precious child to the same terrible fate. Although suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people in this country, we still see in our society a very strong emotional reaction against this form of loss.
People your friend knows may have reacted to the news of these deaths with silence, hoping that if they ignored these dreadful events or refused to take note of them, they would simply go away. At a time when she needs the support of others the most, she may be left feeling very isolated and alone. Suicide is different from other deaths in many ways, and the grief experienced following these losses may feel very different as well. With your understanding and encouragement, I hope that your friend will claim her right to grieve these deaths and find the bereavement support she needs and deserves.
By now your friend may know about many of these resources already, but I think you might find them helpful too, as you look for ways to offer your support to her. Coping with grief effectively comes from understanding what is going on, learning what to expect and discovering what one can do about it. You might begin by visiting some of the sites listed on the Suicide Loss page on my Grief Healing website and, if you feel comfortable in doing so, you can let your friend know about these resources as well. See especially Grief Support for Survivors of Suicide Loss.
If she hasn't done so already, you might also encourage your friend to contact the local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, whose mission is to assist families coping with the death of a child.
See also an article I wrote in response to a woman whose husband died by suicide, Surviving A Spouse's Death by Suicide.
I'd also recommend a wonderful book that is written by a man whose partner died by suicide, as I found it to be quite uplifting, spiritual and hopeful. You can read more about it by clicking on Signals: An Inspiring Story of Life after Life, by Joel Rothschild.
While on my website, be sure to check out the links listed on my Death of a Friend page too, as I think these will be helpful to you as well ~ most especially Helping a Friend in Grief, by Alan Wolfelt.
I hope this information helps, my dear. Please know that your friend is in my prayers as she travels this difficult journey. Know, too, that I am holding you in my heart.
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