Survivor’s Guilt: Dealing With Being “One of the Lucky Ones”

Survivor’s Guilt: Dealing With Being “One of the Lucky Ones”

Imagine being in a tragic event such as an earthquake that killed dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people, but you survived. Yet you had to bury family members and friends. You were right next to someone who didn’t make it, and you don’t understand why them and not you?

Days, weeks and months go by and you can’t shake that feeling of guilt, loneliness and wondering if you could have done something different to save someone else. When everyone is telling you that you should be happy that you survived, you don’t feel lucky. You may even feel undeserving of having survived.

You may feel like you can’t talk to anyone about what you are going through, after all, what do you have to complain about? You lived! You survived. You were one of the lucky ones! However, for many people who survive such horrific events, being a survivor is just the beginning of what can be a life-long, debilitating relationship with survivor’s guilt.

What Is Survivors Guilt?

Survivor’s guilt is something that may develop in some people who experience and survive a traumatic, life-threatening event. It is something that is common in war veterans, airplane crash survivors, survivors of natural disasters and mass shootings.

In her blog on Psychology Today, the Stoic Warrior, Nancy Sherman, PhD states that survivor’s guilt begins with an endless feedback loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong”.

Recently two of the Parkland mass shooting survivors killed themselves a year after the tragedy and one of the father’s of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting also committed suicide. According to their family and friends, they all had a very difficult time coping after the tragic event and appear to have been suffering from survivor’s guilt.

While not everyone who survives such tragedies will experience survivor’s guilt, some signs and symptoms include:

  • Having flashbacks
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling numb or disconnected
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling an intense sense or fear or anxiety
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and heart palpitations
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Survivor’s guilt is a normal response to loss, even if it may appear abnormal to someone from the outside looking in. They may be bewildered to why this seemingly “lucky” person is suddenly withdrawn, depressed or even suicidal.

Some studies suggest that individuals who suffer with depression or have experienced childhood abuse may be more susceptible to survivors remorse since both issues appear to break down a person’s healthy defenses and coping skills making dealing with such tragedies even more difficult.

If you or anyone who know may be suffering from survivor’s guilt, I  have gathered these helpful tips from the Psychology Today website:

  • Give yourself time to grieve.
  • Consider thinking about who was really responsible, if anyone.
  • Remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically.
  • Think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation.
  • Remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it.
  • Try to be of service to someone or something.
  • Remind yourself that you’re not alone.
  • Be patient.
  • Share your feelings with those you trust.
  • Try to stick to a daily routine.
  • Consider journaling your feelings.
  • Get professional help, as needed.

I think it it important that after such tragic events, especially man made, horrible events like mass shootings, that while we are grieving for the ones we loss and reaching out to their families, that we don’t forget those who survived, the “lucky” ones, and reach out to them as well and continue to reach out and support them.

As you can see by the recent suicides, it can be a year or several years after the incident where the survivor reaches his or her breaking point. It also goes to show the bigger pictures of such tragedies and the very far reaching affects they can have on our society.

 

A Personal Note On Suicide

A Personal Note On Suicide

***TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call your local suicide hotline or visit http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

Suicide sucks. Plan and simple. It always seems to hit us when we least expect it and it always hurts. It doesn’t matter the age, the circumstance. It always feel like a life was taking before its time.

The last half of 2018 has been a helluva time for me. Over the past 6 months I have dealt with the deaths of five people who were either directly or indirectly under my care. One died of an accidental heroin overdose, the other four were suicides by hanging.

I have seen CPR performed heroically and tirelessly, but in vain on two of those deaths and it is an indescribable feeling to see someone I knew, someone I had spoken to earlier that day, laying on the ground motionless. Someone so young (one was in her twenties, the other in her thirties) and so full of life at one point, now lifeless.

Suicide is an unfortunate evil we have to deal with in the mental health field. My current job puts me in the role of dealing with suicidal patients all day long.

I am used to dealing with suicidal patients, even patients who attempt suicide or self-injure, but I am and never will be used to dealing with completed suicides. I take each death personally, even if professionally and ethically my staff and myself did everything we could to prevent it.

Suicide is often an impulsive act. At least one of the suicides appears to have been the result of rage. Suicide is often thought of as anger turned inward.

Suicide sometimes builds overtime and is the result of unbearable psyche pain. Three of the suicides, at least on the surface, appear to have been thought out. One woman was grieving over the loss of her sister and blaming herself for her sisters death. She was filled with depression and guilt she found insufferable. Another man was facing a lengthy prison sentence and decided he would rather die than go back to prison and spent years locked away. He was the only one who left a suicide letter behind. It was obviously something he had given some thought to.

Suicide, as we have seen too often lately, is sometimes the result of bullying, which appears to have been the case in the last suicide and another serious suicide attempt a couple of weeks after that one. Adults in correctional settings who are exposed to bullying are at high risk for suicide.

There weren’t any obvious warning signs that could have prevented any of these deaths. Accept for the accidental heroin overdose, these individuals seemed to have been determined, in those moments, to end their lives. I wish I could have saved them. I wish I could have saved them all. I cried after each of those suicides because I knew those individuals, maybe not terribly intimately, but as close as you can professionally under these circumstances.

I even thought about resigning because I felt like we failed them although multiple internal and external reviews showed that we did not. However, I know that for these five lives lost, there a countless numbers of suicides we have prevented. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps us all going.

 

 

 

 

Learning From Someone Who Tried To Commit Suicide

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The other day I was speaking with a man in his early twenties who had nearly died from a suicide attempt. I mean, he was on the brink of death, unconscious and had to be resuscitated.  I had spoken with him a couple of hours before the incident and what I saw was a young man going through a rough patch in his life, not someone who would hours later decide to end it all.

After he was saved from death, I spoke with him again because I wanted to understand what had driven him to that point. I wanted to know if there was anything I had missed earlier and I wanted to learn from what could have easily turned out to be a tragedy.

Several factors played a role in why this man felt his life was a failure and no longer worth living. I’m sure there are more, but this is what I gathered our conversation.

Egoic Mindset

Talking to this man what I learned was, that besides his pending and ongoing legal issues, he was trapped in his “egoic mind”. In our egoic mind, our thoughts are in control, not us. As many of use know, our thoughts, when left unchecked can cause us to suffer in many ways.

Our minds are extremely powerful. They can catapult us into greatness or they can hold us hostage in a hell we create.

If we do not control our thoughts and believe our thoughts that tell us we aren’t good enough, that this person must do this for us or that this must happen in order for us to be happy, then we will live a live full of anguish.

This young man’s thoughts had not only created his depressive state, but also had driven him to attempt to take his own life. They had convinced him that he was such a screw up that his life was not worth living.

Society

Society tries to force us down similar paths, even when most of us are meant to go down very different paths. When we resist that push by society or simply don’t fit in, many of us start to feel abnormal, different or even broken. The harder we try to fit in, the more insecure, uncomfortable and unbalanced we feel. The more we resist society’s pull, the more we may feel ostracized, rejected or even unsafe.

We start to compare ourselves with other people. Our peers, our siblings and even people we don’t know. We start thinking that we are not as happy as our friends appear on social media, not as successful as our brother who went to law school. In comparison, we start to feel like failures.

As people we always seem to look up, meaning we always compare ourselves to those who are in higher positions.  The person with the masters degree compares himself to the person with the doctorates.  The person making $75,000 compares himself to the one making $100,000. The person living in an apartment compares himself to someone living in a small house and the person in the small house compares himself to someone living in a larger house.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve yourself, but when we get locked into this type of thinking we tend to not appreciate where we are right now which keeps us from being genuinely happy. We start to think that we will not be happy until we reach the next level, and then the next level and so on. What this does is keeps us from enjoying life right now for what it is, as it is.

This is the kind of thinking that caused this young man to suffer. His internal thoughts told him that despite what I saw as his successes and strengths, he saw himself as a failure. He wasn’t even close to 30 and had already given up on life, assuming that he was so off track in comparison to other people his age that he could never get back on.

If we compared down sometimes, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so bad about himself. Maybe he didn’t have a house, but he had a place to stay, he wasn’t homeless. Maybe he had dropped out of college, again, but at lease he had some college under his belt. And yes, maybe he was in jail, but it was for a misdemeanor and not a felony and he was facing months, not years.

Not Taking Responsibility

Another thing that helped create the situation was that he didn’t take total responsibility for his life. As an adult, he had created nearly all the obstacles in his life, yet he wanted someone else to magically make them go away.

He was hoping that his girlfriend would do certain things, that his parents rescue him. This caused him to live in a state of helplessness because he allowed other people to control the way his life was going and it wasn’t going in the direction he wanted it.

Once you realize that you are 100% responsible for your life, including your mistakes, your happiness, your future and your present, you’ll realize how much power and freedom you really have. You realize that once you learn how to control your thoughts, that yes life will happen, certain events will happen, but it’s our thoughts that determine how we feel about them and our actions or inaction that will determine how we experience life.

This young man is in jail. He can blame his girlfriend for his current situation, his parents, his up bringing or whatever. He can stay in jail depressed because his girlfriend isn’t answering his phone calls or waiting for his parents to stop showing tough love and come bail him out. He can be waiting forever on all of that, but the moment he starts taking responsibility and control of his thoughts and feelings, his life can change in an instant.

He can say, yes I am in jail and it’s my fault. I did something stupid, how can I avoid doing that again? How can I use this time to improve myself? What lesson am I meant to learn from this?

Or he can continue to blame his girlfriend and his parents, be miserable in jail and come out the same person or worse than he was before going to jail.

Not taking responsibility for creating the life you want will leave you in a perpetual state of uneasiness which will keep you from ever reaching your full potential.

Attachment To Rigid Expectations

This man, like a lot of us, has high and rigid expectations. What I mean is that he expected by his age (although he is still very young) that he would have to accomplish several things in order to be happy or successful and when that didn’t happen, he deemed himself a total failure and didn’t know how to cope with that.

Suppose for example that you expected to be married by 25, have 2 kids and be living joyfully in a house on the beach. Yet, here you are at 35, divorced with no kids and living in a small apartment.

You can reflect on life and feel like you’ve failed and of course you’ll become unhappy and maybe even depressed. You can blame life and the things that happened in your life for keeping you from meeting those expectations and again, you’ll be miserable. Or you can take control of your thoughts, take responsibility and learn to flow with life and say “I would have preferred not to be divorced, have 2 kids by now and living on the beach, but that didn’t happen, what do I do now? What can I do with what I have to create the life I want?”

If however you are attached to rigid expectations, you’ll create misery for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations, but don’t be so attached to them that when life happens and things don’t go as planned, you fall apart. There are no guarantees in life.

Tony Robbins says that it’s our expectations that make us unhappy and to trade your expectations for appreciation. This is something I have been working on hard over the last several months.

Trying to control or change things that are out of our control will always cause us pain. That’s part of the egoic mind. Instead, we need to learn to accept what is, embrace reality and adjust to life as it happens.

When we can’t do that, we may find ourselves in some degree, like this young man and millions of others who suffer needlessly in life. For most of us, life really isn’t all that bad, but we create our own suffering. By taking control of our thoughts we can end that.

If you are anyone you know are struggling with suicide please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

13 Reasons Why: A Brief Review By A Mental Health Professional

13-reasons-whyI recently finished watching the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why. I have to say that it is definitely worth watching, especially for those of us who are parents, work with teenagers or are in any helping profession.

Last night I was talking with one of my interns who said she recommended that her class watch 13 Reasons Why, but that her professor felt like the show idolizes and romanticizes suicide, so her request was rejected.  I think most people who believe this haven’t watched all 13 episodes of the show.

13 Reasons Why isn’t just about a teenage girl committing suicide, it’s about her life. It deals more with the way she lived and what she experienced than it does with her death. It’s  also about the lives that teenagers today live in with the age of social media, sexting and where embarrassing pictures and videos can be shared with a single tap of the share button.

The show deals with drinking, drugs, bullying and other uncomfortable issues such as rape and yes, suicide.

Some critics believe that 13 Reasons Why is a dangerous show that may actually encourage teenage suicide. They fear what is called a suicide contagious effect where publicized suicides have a tendency to increase suicides and suicide attempts among the general population.

While there has been shown a correlation in publicized celebrity suicides on an increase in suicides and suicide attempts in the general population, there isn’t any evidence of fictional portrayals of suicide in television or literature having an impact on actual suicides.

13 Reasons Why explores the lives of modern teenagers in a sort of reverse murder mystery where we already know who killed Hannah, the character who’s life the show is mostly focused on, but through the eyes of Clay, the other main character. We get to reconstruct the pieces to why this happened.

In the show, the parents appear mostly clueless about what’s going on in their kids lives. The bullying, the drugs, the alcohol, the suicidal tendencies. It highlights how so many parents today are so focused on their own careers, relationships and even images of the family being perfect that they can’t see the self destruction going on right under their noses.

I spent five years working in a high school as a mental health counselor, and many of the issues those kids were facing and the things they were doing, their parents had no clue about. Not just including the drugs, alcohol and sex, but also the anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Most felt like they couldn’t talk to their parents, that their parents didn’t care or that their parents were already too overworked and over stressed to be “bothered” with their problems.

In 13 Reasons Why, there were many opportunities and people in Hannah’s life who could have possibly intervened before she got to the point of taking her life, but none of them did.

Her parents were too busy trying to keep their business afloat, her friends were busy being teenagers and not necessarily friends and the teachers and counselor all seemed rather clueless or even uncomfortable when it came to dealing with topics such as sexual assault and suicide.

Much like in real life, there wasn’t one single reason Hannah decided to kill herself. There were at least 13 as the title hints.

Many times when someone commits suicide, even with a suicide note left behind, loved ones are at a loss trying to figure out why the person did it. They may focus on one single event or reason such as depression or a break up, but usually it is more complicated than that.

In the show, much like in real life, Hannah talks about the many reasons that have led her to the point of taking her life. It doesn’t appear as if Hannah had been struggling with depression until the end, but that she lived a rather melodramatic life that was complicated by many different issues.

The show never really talks about mental illness or depression. Realistically, most teenagers who become depressed and suicidal don’t necessarily realize that they are suffering from a mental illness so it’s realistic for the show to never really talk about it using those clinical words.

The suicidal mind doesn’t think that way. It doesn’t think that “I feel really horrible about my life, but I know it’s just the depression talking”.  Instead it makes the person feel hopeless, that things will never get better and that no one cares for them; even if they say it or show it, the suicidal mind will tell the person that they are just lying to spare their feelings.

Most people think that suicidal people are weak or just aren’t trying to cope. The suicidal mind is exhausted from trying to cope, of caring, of being hurt and in pain. It’s a dangerous place to be and it’s where suicidal people spend most of their time, in their mind.

In the end, Hannah felt as if she had no other choice, but to kill herself. She was never offered an alternative to the despair, agony and loneliness she felt other than to turn to drugs and alcohol like many of the other students in the series.

“We all let her down… She took her own life. That was her choice. You, me, everyone on these tapes, we all let her down. We didn’t let her know that she had another choice. Maybe we could’ve saved her life, maybe not.”, says Tony, one of the characters on the show and Clay’s friend.

The suicidal mind believes that it has a choice; to live or to die. Only the suicidal mind doesn’t fight fair because it is overly emotional, irrational, unrealistic and incredibly persuasive.

For those, who are afraid that the show will increase the likelihood of suicide or suicide attempts in teenagers, I suggest watching the entire season before coming to a conclusion.

The show deals with the uncomfortable issues facing teenagers in our society and in the least it’s gotten more people talking about those issues which in itself makes it a show worth watching and I’m glad it got renewed for a second season because I hope it can further this much needed discussion.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “help me” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

 

Those Left Behind: The Aftermath of Suicide

young-women-comfortingEarly yesterday morning I got a call from the Health Services Administrator (HSA) at the jail informing me that a nurse had committed suicide overnight.
It was a shock because I knew this nurse and had just saw her two days earlier. The HSA wanted me to come in and help break the news to the other medical staff and offer support to those who needed it.
I prepared myself for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was getting a call from her grieving fiancé who of course was having a very difficult time dealing with the tragedy.
He had spoken to her before she committed suicide, through text messaging. She had texted him a picture of a bunch of pills, but she had done that before and he thought it was an attention seeking, manipulation game and so he ignored it.
Now that she is gone he is blaming himself.
The night shift nurses, the ones that worked closes with her took it the hardest. Especially one young nurse who had grown attached to her. She broke down and sobbed continuously. She kept talking about how strange it was going to be to come to work and not see her there.
This woman also left behind two young children.
It is estimated that each suicide affects at least six people, including family, close friends, co-workers and neighbors.
After a loved one has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for those affected by their death to start falling apart from the intense grief and the fruitless search for the answer “why?”.
The people left behind to deal with the impact of suicide often find themselves so emotionally devastated that it’s hard to move forward.
This feelings often include:
  • Shock– most people experience shock or a sense of emotional and physical numbness as the first reaction to learning someone they care about has committed suicide. It’s the mind and bodies natural way of trying to slow things down until it can try to make sense of what happened.
  • Anger– people often feel anger, either directly or indirectly. They may be angry at the person who committed suicide, angry at themselves for not being able to prevent it, or angry at the persons therapist for not being able to “cure” the person.
  • Guilt– Loved ones, in an attempt to find answers to why a person killed themselves often ruminate on signs they may have missed. They may blame themselves for not expressing love, for being too distant, for not believing the person when they said they were depressed for the 1ooth time. The “what ifs” can go on and on.
  • Fear– Once someone has committed suicide, it’s not uncommon for family members to become afraid that they will lose someone else to suicide or that even they themselves could possibly commit suicide.
  • Relief– It’s also not uncommon for family and friends to feel a sense of relief, especially if the individual suffered from chronic mental or physical illness (i.e, intense pain) or even if they person had been on a long, steady decline of self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction.
  • Depression– While it’s natural to go through grief when you’ve lost someone close to you, it’s not uncommon for grief to turn into depression if that loved one took their own life. The person may experience sleep disturbance, lose of appetite and loss of energy.  This can translate into feelings of life being worthless and losing joy in things one once found enjoyable.
In normal grief, all of these feelings will start to ease up overtime, it only becomes concerning when they remain very intense and do not seem to improve with time.
For people affected by an individuals suicide, it’s important that they:
  • Stay Close to family and friends– having a good support system is important to keep an individual from isolating themselves and ruminating on the suicide, especially in the first 6 months. The person may not feel like being around others and may not be ready to talk about their feelings, but they still need to have supportive contact.
  • Give children special attention– Children especially may have a hard time coping with a loved ones suicide. They need special attention so that they can express their emotions and talk them out. They need to know that grief is a normal process and need the adults in their lives to model healthy grieving for them, including open communication, sharing feelings and reminding them that they are loved and supported.
  • Be aware of special occasions– holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., can all be very stressful times.People may need extra support or checking up on.
It takes time to heal from the loss of a loved one, especially when that person has committed suicide. While the pain may feel like it’s never going to go away, it will get better. Having the support of loved ones will help with that process.
Remember to express love for the person that was lost, love for the family and friends that are still here and and love for yourself.

One Day At A Time: Dealing With A Highly Suicidal Person:

So this is a delicate post to write about so I will try to do it without giving too much detail. This week I came face to face with a highly suicidal person in possession of a firearm.

As the Director of Mental Health at a county jail I deal with suicidal inmates everyday, but they of course are never in the position of anything as lethal as a firearm.

This individual was very distraught, hopeless, felt worthless, overwhelmed and had a history of  mental illness. It was an intense situation because of the firearm and the fact that this person repeatedly said that they wanted to die and had nothing to live for.

What made it more intense is that there were officers near by waiting to see if I could diffuse the situation. The number of officers quickly grew from two to at one point as many as six before I was able to get them to give us some space, yet at least two officers remained nearby at all times.

The funny part is that I was never scared. I think I was shocked when I saw the firearm and at times afraid that I was going to witness someone kill themselves. I was more afraid that this person was going to get shot by the officers either accidentally (by the way they were handling the firearm) or on purpose (suicide by cop).

It definitely was a stressful situation that played out over the course of over an hour in the Florida heat. It was a situation that tried my patience, skills and instincts as a therapist.

I was appreciative that the officers on the scene were also patient and allowed me to pretty much take control of the situation. I knew that I was the only one there who could get that close to the person without feeling threatened myself or causing them to feel threatened.

During this “standoff” of sorts, we talked about everything from this persons depressing home life, dysfunctional childhood, isolation from family and friends, and frustrations at work.

We talked, but mostly what I did was listen and attempt to encourage this person to live just one more day. I said, “If you are convinced you want to kill yourself then no one can really stop you, but don’t kill yourself today.”

One day at a time.

After sometime I convinced this person to contact someone in her family over the telephone, something they had been unwilling to do because they were convinced that they were going to kill themselves that day.

Eventually this person agreed to relinquish position of the firearm and was willingly taken into custody where they were transferred to a mental health hospital for evaluation. The situation ended peacefully. That was all I could ask for.

I received several “thank yous” from the officers involved who were also happy that the situation ended peacefully. They didn’t have to shoot anyone. They weren’t shot at. They didn’t have to notify a family member of this persons death.They told me multiple times that they were worried about my safety, but I never was. I never felt threatened or in danger.

I don’t feel like a hero and I don’t feel like I was brave.

What I saw was someone in emotional pain who needed someone with a level head to guide them and that’s what I did. It almost came natural. It’s something I do at work nearly everyday. The only thing that was different was the firearm and the fact that his person was out in the community and not in jail.

I don’t know what happened to this person after they were taken away. I may never know. What I do know is that at least for that day, they chose to live.

One day at a time.

 

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Earlier this week I was called to talk to a juvenile who had witnessed her boyfriend shoot himself the night before. He didn’t make it. She was obviously upset and making her way through the various stages of grief, but what was most pronounced were denial and anger. She is only 15 and he was 18. His life already over. Her life changed forever. As I listened to her talk, first with disbelief, then with anger at herself for not stopping him, then anger at him for leaving her, until she finally broke down in uncontrollable sobbing before returning back to anger and guilt directed towards herself.

Sadly, during my career I have dealt with a lot of death, but suicides always present their own unique set of challenges. People who have lost someone to suicide often not only feel the grief and tremendous loss that comes along with death in general, but they often also feel guilty that someone they knew decided that whatever they were going through was too much to bear.

A couple of years ago in an auditorium filled with crying high school students, teachers, and parents, after a popular student athlete killed himself, what I heard most was people blaming themselves for not recognizing signs that weren’t there. While sometimes suicides come with warnings, often they are very abrupt.

The irrevocable pain the loved ones of someone who committed suicide feel can cause them to become an emotional and mental wreck. Those of us looking in from the outside often want to help, but are unsure how.

You don’t have to be trained as a mental health professional (trust me, often times all the training in the world doesn’t make it easier), but here are some ways you help someone you know who has lost someone to suicide.

Let them come to you.

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As part of the Crisis team I had to go to several schools over the course of five years after a student had committed suicide. I would walk into a school I didn’t know and come face to face with distraught students, teachers, and parents I didn’t know. It is scary. The best thing I did was to be there and let those who wanted to talk come to me. If I saw that someone was obviously very upset I would go to them, hand them a tissue, sit next to them, and wait for them to open up to me. It always worked.

As a friend, try to normalize things. Let the moment be as natural as possible. When they are ready, they will talk as long as you are there.

Remember the good times.

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This is a lesson I learned from watching other, more seasoned mental health professionals during those crisis moments. While acknowledging the tragedy of what happened is important, it can be just as important and powerful to help them remember the good times they had with the person they lost. While this may seem counter-intuitive, I’ve seen it work miracles in helping someone stop reflecting on death and to start celebrating someone’s life. I’ve seen people go from sobbing to laughing and from being unable to process the tragedy to opening up completely. So, when they are ready, encourage them remember and talk about happy memories about the person.

Ask good questions.

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The young lady I spoke to earlier this week said what most people who lost someone to suicide say at some point; “I don’t understand why he did this.” Naturally I wanted to help her process that, but I knew it was more important that I resist that urge and get her to talk about herself.

It’s important to avoid statements like, “I’m sure you did everything you could”, but instead ask questions like, “Tell me what have you been thinking?”, “What was it like the last few times you were together?”, “What did you see?” These questions allow the person to open up as slowly and as much as they want to.

In the case of the young girl I spoke with earlier in the week, the last question was a big one because she had witnessed the suicide and it allowed us to process that entire scene at her own pace.

Be there, be mindful.

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When someone experiences such a tragedy, often they are inconsolable. That is one of the few things that bothers me about getting sudden calls to talk to someone when they have just lost a loved one. I know that generally, with everything so raw, there’s not much I can say that is going to make them feel better in that moment.

What I do, and what you can do as well, is just be there. I sit with them and make myself available. I allow them to cry or to say nothing if they don’t want to. As a friend, you can do the same. You can put your arm around them, hug them, or just be there as a source of comfort. That can be more powerful than trying to find the right words to say.

Find the balance between intrusion and distance.

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It is common after someone has lost someone that they will want to be alone so that they can figure out their own emotions and thoughts. You can give someone mental space while still remaining physically present.

What that means is, you can be in the same room with the person, but allow them silence if that is what they want. Allow them some space if that is what they need. You can even be in another room and remind them that you are there for them if they need you.

Offer practical help.

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After an incredible loss, the person suffering will need help if they realize it or not. After my father died I spent countless days not eating, not showering, and only wanting to sleep. I didn’t even realize I was doing those things, I just remember that my life felt upside down.

Allow the person to go through the natural grief and mourning process, but also offer to help do things to make this time in their lives a little more manageable.

For instance, go grocery shopping for them, pick up the kids, and remind them to eat, to shower, or even ask them how you can be helpful. They may not know that they need help or even have the awareness to be thankful for the help you give them, but trust me, it will help them make it through the darkness.

Allow them to problem solve on their own.

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Eventually, the person will ask more of the tough questions about why the person did what they did and what they could have or should have done. Try not to get caught up in problem solving for them, but allow them to work through that themselves. You can be there for them by asking intelligent questions like; “What thoughts did you have when the suicide first happened?” What thoughts do you have now?” But allow them to reflect and figure that out on their own so that they can put it in perspective for themselves.

Suicide is a tragedy and people who have suffered such an extreme lost need good friends to help see them through it.