ARTICLES, I NEED HELP: TEEN SUICIDE PREVENTION
4 Unspoken Ways to Support a Friend Who’s Lost Someone to Suicide
Suicide accounts for nearly one-quarter of deaths of people aged 15 to 19 in Canada, making it one of the leading causes of death for teens. That means many of us know someone who’s lost a friend or loved one to suicide.
It can be hard to know how to react when a friend loses someone to suicide. They’re grieving, and when someone is grieving, sometimes words fail us. What can I say to make them feel better? What will make it all go away?
The truth is, while there’s nothing wrong with offering words, support doesn’t always have to come through what you say. So here are four unspoken ways to support your friend when they’re grieving a suicide.
Just Do Something
After a suicide, it’s easy to worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. Many people, afraid of doing something wrong, choose to do nothing.
Your friend is dealing with a lot of strong emotions. He may not have the presence of mind to do the little, everyday things that he normally does. Anything you can do to help him in small ways can be majorly helpful.
You can do things like collect your friend’s homework and bring it to his house, or offer to drive his younger sibling to basketball practice so that he doesn’t have to. Buy his lunch on his first day back at school so he doesn’t have to pack one, or bake cookies and drop them by his house. Offer to mow his lawn so he can focus on other things.
Whatever you say you’re going to do, follow through with it. Be reliable. If you’ve promised you’ll brush the snow off his car after school, make sure that you get to the car before he does, armed with your snowbrush so that when he gets there, he can just get in and drive.
If you’re not sure about a specific chore or action, ask your friend if it’s ok for you to do it. Be specific; don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Say, “Could I come over tomorrow after practice to drop off this card that our whole team signed?”
Bottom line: Don’t worry too much about whether you’re doing the right thing. Just show up in the best way you know how.
Your friend may not seem like herself during the time immediately after the suicide. She may act in ways that surprise you or say things that seem out of character.
Just remember, if your friend seems to be acting differently, or saying things that don’t sound like her or don’t make sense, it’s because something huge has just changed in her life. So don’t expect every decision she makes or every word she says to seem rational to you, especially when the grief is fresh. She’s finding her own ways to cope. Your friend will eventually be able to return to something resembling normal, but it may take some time.
And that’s ok.
Try not to take it personally. It’s not about you. What your friend needs most is for you to just be patient and let her do what she needs to do to cope with what she’s feeling.
Listen and Be There
When your friend is grieving, sometimes the best thing you can do is listen. You may want to share your thoughts, but he may need to talk it out.
If your friend opens the conversation and starts to share, don’t offer your words. Just listen. Let your friend process his thoughts, questions, and feelings verbally. Let your friend feel heard. Sometimes, the most important thing to a person reeling from a loss is not what you say – it’s your presence. He may not say it, but he will appreciate that you took the time to listen to his pain and make no attempt to tell him how to grieve.
After a suicide, more than ever, your friend needs to feel connected and cared for, especially if he’s just lost a friend or family member who was part of his support system. Make sure you listen to him if he needs to talk.
Keep Checking In
Many people will tell you that grief often lasts longer than sympathy. During the first few days and maybe even weeks after a suicide, there is usually a massive outpouring of love and support. But one by one, the goodwill begins to fade as sympathy-bringers get over the shock and start to move on.
But one of the most helpful things you can do is check in with your friend months after the suicide. Chances are that, if she was close to the person, her grief didn’t end when the well-wishers stopped coming by. Set a reminder in your phone to check in on your friend on especially difficult days – like their friend’s birthday, or the anniversary of their death, or maybe even just a random Tuesday. And keep it up months later – or even a year or two later.
Your friend will appreciate that you have shown care long after the funeral is over. It doesn’t have to be big – even a simple text saying, “Thinking of you” or, “I’m here for you” can mean a lot.
A Different Approach
After a suicide, the thing that matters most is you showing up to support your friend in whatever way you know how. Be there for your friend, listen, and remember: a lot of the time, the best support you can offer isn’t your words – it’s your presence and your actions.
Written by Nancy Razkalla