Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Together Through Pain {suicide}

I'm thankful to have the opportunity to share today's Together Through Pain post since this topic is not only a touchy one, but also one that seems to be less often addressed. We are going to hear how to walk with someone when they have lost a loved one to suicide. I am so glad that we get to hear about this separately from unexpectedly losing a loved one since this situation can present it's own set of issues.

So welcome Lindsay to this blog series. She and her husband Wayne live in Michigan with their two adorable kiddos. Lindsay happens to be an excellent photographer with a thriving business. If you met Lindsay with her winning smile and bubbly personality, what you wouldn't see are the scars left behind from her world flipping upside down eleven years ago. But I'll turn the rest of the story over to her...

Suicide's Real Victims
When Alyssa approached me to share my story about how to be a blessing to someone who has been impacted by suicide I quickly and happily agreed. As I reflected on the most helpful moments I had 11 years ago after such a tragic event, I began to re-live the emotions that brought me to the point I am at today. I pray that you may be blessed with the articles in this series and that you might recall them in the future should you find yourself in a position to be a calming voice in a time of sympathy. Here is my story.

May 3rd, 2002 started like any other, it was a bright and beautiful Friday morning and upon waking up I quickly dressed and headed to work. All day I tried to focus on work tasks but my excitement was far too much for me to handle as the evening before my fiance Wayne, (who is now my husband) and I had purchased a small fishing boat and I couldn't wait to take it out later that afternoon. I was waiting tables at the time and with a stroke of luck I got “cut” from my shift a little early, I could NOT have been any more excited. I jumped in my little car and headed back to my apartment, quickly changed my clothes, and was ready to walk out the door. Wayne stopped, 
“Do you want to call Josh? I bet he’d love to go out on the boat with us.” 
I knew he was right, but selfishly I didn't want to share that first boating experience with anyone other than Wayne. I remember feeling guilty and selfish yet I still replied something like, 
“Next time. We’ll bring him next time.” 
I mean, there’s always a next time, right? With that, and if I’m being honest, without a second thought, we drove to Wayne’s parent’s home where we were keeping the boat. Wayne’s parents ended up joining us for our first venture out on the water and just as soon as we sailed to the middle of the lake, Wayne’s phone rang. It was a call that changed my life forever. 
I watched as the blood drained out of his face, I saw the pity, sadness, and horror flash through his eyes and I knew, I just knew, without him uttering a single word that life as I had known it was changed. He hung up the phone and I remember just standing up and screaming in sheer panic, “What? WHO? TELL ME!” Quietly he spoke, “It’s Josh…. He shot himself.” I only remember bits and pieces from there. I remember my father-in-law grabbing me when my legs suddenly gave out under me and I remember my mother-in-law crying. I remember the ride back home and started replaying something that I had witnessed a few hours before. 
On the way to the lake we passed the street that I grew up on. At the end of the street there was an Eye Doctor’s office and the parking lot was FULL of people, news vans, and what appeared to be panic. With further notice I saw the “SWAT” team on the side of a home just 4 houses down from my parents. Never once did I think anything had happened within my own family, I honestly thought it was a drug bust, not that we lived in a drug infested area but when you grow up in a small town crime, guns, and crazy people are the last thing you really think of. 
It was all becoming clear to me; we had driven past a crowd of people who were gathered because a gun went off in the bedroom that had shared a wall with my own. A crowd gathered because my brother made a decision to end his own life at 17 years old. In that crowd we had passed stood my mother, clinging tight to my brother who was just 4 years old. She stood there waiting on some word, not knowing all the details, only that there had been “gun shots” which in reality was just one gun shot. One thing I will be forever grateful for is that Josh called 911 and did not take his life until police arrived in front of our home. I will always know that he did that for our younger brother, a little boy that ran up to Josh’s room every day when he arrived home to see his “Joshie.” I believe he didn't want our younger brother to find him and for that I was relieved. 
The days after and the funeral were filled with words and actions that impacted me for a lifetime, not all were good. In moments of tragedy, I have found that those around you will do their best to relate, give words of comfort, or reflect on their own experiences with the person who has passed. I encourage this kind of sharing, be a blessing with your words, memories, and prayers. In those times when someone you know has lost someone to suicide (or any loss I suppose), do ask yourself if your actions and words are helpful or hurtful, not everything we say to comfort someone really “helps.” Here are some suggestions based on *my* personal experience, these may not be helpful to everyone but these are things that helped or hurt my own grieving process along the way and I pray that these suggestions are a blessing to you in the future.
Pray for them. The best thing I heard back in those early days, weeks, months, and even the first 5 or 6 years was, “I’m praying for you.” The power of prayer and knowing that someone is praying for you is more emotionally empowering than you may know. When someone would say, “I’m praying for you” vs. “I’m so sorry” I would feel immediately uplifted, even if only for a second. It was a simple reminder that God was on my side and at my side, walking each step with me and carrying me when I didn't have the strength to move another foot on my own. 
Please, don’t say, “I understand what you’re going through.” Most likely, you. do. not. No two relationships are the same so you could never possibly understand relationships that do not directly involve you. Aside from that, a suicide leaves a train wreck of questions and emotions that are not typical (in my experience) of other types of death. When someone passes, our hearts break, that is a given. When someone decides to end their own life, we become more like an emotional onion with so many layers of conflicting emotions and questions that can take a decade to sort through. Saying that you understand someone’s loss due to suicide can induce anger, bitterness, and more grief than you may realize instead of what your initial intention is which is to simply relate. A better idea is to say, “While I do not understand what you are going through and I can only imagine how your heart is breaking, I want you to know that I am here for you.” 
Don’t ask “Why.” In the beginning, people used to ask me, “Why do you think your brother killed himself?” First of all, just the words alone sent an automatic picture into my head. Not a picture, more like a slow motion movie of how I imagined it all happened. Choose your words wisely, no matter what you say, words can ignite a fire that is dangerous and nearly impossible to put out. People who have suffered a loss due to suicide don’t know “why." The “why” is a very slippery and scary slope for those left behind. Often, we believe that WE may be the “why.” Was it because of something I said or something I didn't say? Was it because I didn't reach out? Was it because I wasn't the positive influence I thought I was? Believe me, a victim of suicide (that’s what you are when you’re left behind) is asking themselves “why” every second of every day, when they are ready to share their thoughts on the matter, they will. I can tell you that I have asked myself “why” at least a million times and some of the most comforting words to me have been that we may not know why, but we know that with steadfast faith, God is control and giving up the “why” grief to him is the most burden-lifting thing one can do.
Encourage and uplift those left behind by telling them just how much you know the person who passed loved them. Chances are that they feel guilty, no matter how unrealistic that guilt is. The hardest thing for me as I recovered from Josh’s loss was an overwhelming sense of guilt. The guilt quite literally ate at me until I could no longer recognize the good in myself. I hated myself, I truly hated myself for being so selfish when Wayne suggested that we call Josh to have him come out with us. If I had only called him when Wayne said then maybe he would have changed his mind. I used to believe that it was 100% my fault that he was gone, that my selfishness sealed his fate. That was nothing more than Satan doing his dirty work, I know this now but no matter how many people told me that back then, I just didn't believe them. I felt guilty too because the last time I was with my brother he tried to give me the money out of his wallet and something else of his and I thought he was just being “weird.” I even had a few people ask me if I felt guilty and while I’m sure that they were really just trying to see where my mental state was so that they could reassure me that I was in fact not guilty, it only lead me to have further conviction in my guilt. The best thing you can do to uplift someone is to pray for them, pray with them, and more importantly, DON’T STOP.
Press on with them. Flowers fade and phone calls stop. It seems as if the phone calls and encouraging words fade almost as quickly as the funeral flower arrangements wilt and wither away. People always say, “Call me if you need ANYTHING.” Well, sometimes it’s just awkward to call someone and cry on the phone. It just is! Be a support system and a blessing, take initiative to call the person in mourning, not just a few days after, but six months after. When everyone else has continued on with their busy lives and the person grieving is still trying to figure out how to assemble some sort of new life after loss. You don’t have to dwell on what happened or be sad every time you call, but be prepared to let the grieving person mourn for as long as they need to in whatever way they need to, just be there. Sometimes it’s helpful for someone to talk it out. Some people don’t like to share but others find it therapeutic. I found myself, for a period of time, talking it out with anyone who would listen. Looking back now, I think I was trying to convince myself, even a year or two after it had happened, that it HAD in fact happened, I had lost my brother. I still have my moments, eleven years later, where I need to talk it out. The day I married my husband, the days my children were born, those were days I expected to relive the emotions, but driving down the road on the way to work with a million other things on my mind when “our” song comes on the radio and I just don’t see it coming, those are the moments that take my breath away all over again. There is no special length of time that someone will be “in mourning” in my opinion I believe that when a loss is so devastating, you will always find yourself mourning and missing that person in one way or another. Be prepared to be there for a week, a year, a decade, or lifetime, because these moments of emotional havoc creep in when least expect them too and it’s a blessing to have someone to talk to in those dark days.
Pray, pray, pray! Last but not least, again, encourage you to pray. Prayer is the most powerful tool that God gave us, it’s costs us nothing, fills us up, and we can do it anytime, anywhere. It was the prayer of those I didn't know who were praying that lead me back to the Lord after several years of walking a dark path through anger, guilt, and feelings of betrayal. My testimony is a story that is built on the prayers of others, prayers that literally saved my life when the guilt had overtaken my every thought and moment. My personal testimony revolves around how suicide impacted my life so greatly that I no longer felt the desire to live and began to relate to Josh in ways one never should. Had those who had been praying for me not prayed, I don’t know where I would be today, or if I would even be here to share this story. I was blessed and saved by prayer after suicide, not by flowers or cards, thoughtful as they were, the most powerful gift I was given was mention in the precious whispers between others and the Lord. 

May God bless your path in the days, months, and years to come. Thank for you taking time to read this story.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautifully written, Lindsay. I am so very sorry for your loss. My heart ached for you as I read each word of your story. We lost my young cousin to suicide several years ago and it rocked our entire family. It is a devastating way to lose a loved one. Thank you for sharing this. I know others will find comfort and hope in your words. This is also great advice for loved ones of someone suffering this type of grief.


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