It was six years ago today, I received a phone call informing me our youngest daughter Sandie had taken her own life. At that moment, my wife and I entered into a strange fraternity – parents who have lost children. Our area of the group is a sub-set of parents who lost a child due to suicide. It is a hard place to be and it is difficult for people who have not experienced this type of loss to understand.
I am no expert on grief or death. Nor can I make the claim the loss of a child to suicide is harder or more difficult than other losses people experience. All I can speak about on this subject is what I know. But I do know, this was – and still in many is – quite a rough road.
It has been six years and while the initial wave of grief has subsided, it still resurfaces itself on certain occasions. The grief is not nearly as intense as it was in those first months but it is reappears none-the-less. Sometimes those occasions are random and just happen, while other times I can anticipate them. Today is one of those days. It is June 18.
My point of this post isn’t to make you feel bad for us. God’s mercy and strength have sustained us. I could give you many examples of how we experienced His comfort over these six years. You don’t need to feel bad, but you do need to hear something. Don’t be afraid of hurting us or hurting anyone who has suffered a loss. Whether it was the death of a spouse, sibling, or child, making a point to remember our loss goes much further than pretending it didn’t happen.
It doesn’t have to be much, just a quick note to say, “Hey I know today is kinda rough, I just wanted to let you know I’ve been thinking of you” carries considerable weight.
At the end of yesterday, one of my co-workers gave me a pack of coffee flavored M & M’s. There was no note, no long winded explanation, no Bible verse, just a brief comment as she headed out the door, “Since I will not be here tomorrow I thought you might want these.” The simple act of a pack of M & M’s encouraged me in a profound way. This is how to minister to someone whose has experienced a tough loss years ago. Just acknowledging her death and our pain in this day is so encouraging.
Not everyone responds to grief in the same way and I do not claim to be any sort of expert in this field. Yet from comparing notes of other people who have experienced the loss of a child, this acknowledgement of our loss goes a long way, especially on this day – the anniversary of their death.
Here a just a few quick points about grief:
- Don’t stay away. Don’t pretend our loss didn’t happen. Don’t ignore the day. You don’t need to do something elaborate, just let someone know you remember – let them know you care.
- WARNING!! Do NOT say “I know how you feel.” NEVER say that – because you have no idea how they feel. Each death is unique and each person grieves differently. But you can acknowledge the day for what it is. A reminder, a yearly marker of a deep loss.
- Cut us a break that day. Let us cut out of the office early. Don’t quiz us too hard on why we’re more melancholy than usual. We’ll be fine – just probably not today.
- I really don’t like to lie so be careful about asking me “How are you doing?” unless you really want to hear a potentially difficult and emotional response. I’m probably not “fine” today. It’s better to just say, “Hey, I’m just thinking about you today. Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
- If you sense someone might want to talk about their loss, just listen. Say nothing. This isn’t the time to interrupt someone saying “that’s just like my friend’s situation……. blah, blah, blah.” They will tune you out and shut up. The conversation will stop right there. Say nothing – just listen. We really don’t expect you to have answers. We just want you to listen.
Do you know someone who has experienced a loss of a spouse, sibling, parent, or child? My guess is you do. Find out which day is especially rough for them. When that day rolls around, just acknowledge their loss. Cut them some breaks that day and be encouraging.
Today is June 18. I’m probably leaving work early today. We’re likely heading over to a favorite spot of ours on Lake Erie and just reminiscing. We’re probably shed a few tears, but we’ll laugh some too. Sandie had such a sense of humor. We have many pleasant and funny memories of her. We’ll watch the waves and listen to them crashing onto the shore. Maybe later, we’ll get some ice cream. My wife and I have a pretty good support system of friends who look out for us. I have an understanding group of co-workers who will give me plenty of grace. It will be a hard day – but it will be a good one too.
My wife and I have learned to lean on each other over the years and we know it is best to experience this day with as much life as we can put into it. We will probably end the day better than we began it. God’s grace and comfort will come through again and we will experience Him in an even deeper way.
Now I must face the day one step at a time. It’s June 18.