After our recent series on bullying, we felt there was a need to follow up with even more specific information on teen suicide. This four part series is authored by Heather Harlan of Phoenix Programs, Inc. Heather's credentials include CRPS, Certified Reciprocal Prevention Specialists, ACRA (Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach) Certified Substance Abuse Therapist/ Supervisor, and GAIN (Global Appraisal of Individual Needs) Certified Administrator/Trainer.
Part Four: Now What? Ideas to Comfort Family & Friends
Individuals and family members following a non-lethal suicide attempt need attention, too. What can you do?
Visit the person and the family just as you would any other person needing hospitalization. Few things are harder than reaching out to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Don’t allow your lack of the right words to deprive them of your comforting companionship on an excruciating stretch of their life journey. Spring into compassion the same way you would for anyone who has suffered loss. Your caring presence is your most powerful offering. Show up. It’s an act of faith to believe God will multiply what you bring. Encourage others to reach out too; acknowledge their awkwardness, “It would mean a lot to the family if you just stopped by, even if you don’t know what to say. . . .”
Friends of mine who lost Cody, a son and a brother, to suicide in 2009 generously shared with me what was said/done that was helpful to them. Here were three things they listed:
Presence. “Just provide quality time. Sit with someone, bring a dish, hold hands, it doesn't matter - it's comforting to know you're not alone.” Friends of the young man stopped by to comfort the family, “They told stories . . . They weren't afraid to face us or the reality of the situation. They treated us like family. That meant a lot to me. “A hug without words goes a long, long way.”
Supporting the family in a meaningful response. “Working to educate others concerning what we learned from our experience was an effort to put our loss to some logical good.”
Updating the language. “I don't like the terminology around suicide. . . I would prefer someone say ‘He lost his life to suicide’, ‘he passed away’, ‘he died’ or ‘his mental illness became too much for him to handle’ or ‘he lost the battle of mental illness.’ Those things make more sense to me and I believe they more accurately describe my precious brother.”
Help for reaching out to the family and planning memorials/observances for those who have died by suicide.