Saturday, July 03, 2021

Patience for Those Who Grieve

Anger, Grief & Pain © Douglas Cootey

❝My son fricken tried to commit suicide, so I had to drive all the way over there to deal with it.

A few months ago, I pulled up to the one remaining branch in my area that US Bank allowed to be open during the pandemic and tentatively approached the entrance. I had banking to do, but they had bizarrely limited hours and, of course, they were closed. So I entered the ATM area and began my bank transfers with hundreds of dollars tight to my chest, hoping nobody would come in and rob me blind while I was feeding the money into the ATM.

As I was doing my banking in the comfort of their ATM fishbowl, a woman entered behind me. I made some polite comment about how I was almost done, and that magically opened up a flood of information from her that I never would’ve expected. Strangers usually don’t open up to each other, especially about the subject that she was dealing with. The quote above is the choicest one that she shared with me. I remember thinking at the time how callous and insensitive she was. I prayed that her son would find the support that he needed during his struggle with surviving suicide.

Recently, a family in my neighborhood suddenly dealt with the death of a son. His family went on vacation without him and came home to find a surprise. It was a traumatic event since the children were there, I believe, when they found his body, and the whole family is struggling with anger, shame, and survivor’s guilt. As usual, many family members will not talk about it. Suicide is the death act that shall not be discussed. It is taboo. Meanwhile, other family members openly discuss it on Facebook, angering or hurting those who want to keep the matter private. It seems older generations are more reluctant to acknowledge suicide than the younger generations who wish to discuss it openly.

At first, I presumed that my banking friend fell in with the older generation, but she discussed her son’s suicide attempt openly, though with contempt. I couldn’t tell if she was callous because she was a heartless mother, or if she was in shock and angry. I don’t read minds.

When I was dealing with that stranger, I was trying to stay polite in the onslaught of her anger. Her unsympathetic comments seemed inappropriate and unwarranted. I was just somebody she was venting at. Personally, I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now I wonder how alone she must have felt to open up and vent her feelings to an absolute stranger. Having struggled with suicidal ideation off and on in my life, I would like to think that my family will not be griping to strangers about me if I should ever stray. However, having dealt with people who survived a loved one’s suicide, I realize that grief transforms rational people into raw nerves. I do try not to judge.

My advice is two-fold since there are two issues being dealt with here.

  1. If you encounter somebody who is grieving over the suicidal death of a loved one, you need to be compassionate even if you disapprove of their method of grief. Grief is very personal, so be patient and allow them to grieve initially however they need to. They will run through a spectrum of emotions, and it is not your place to police those emotions, especially within the raw hours following the bad news. Try to resist the urge to correct their thinking while they are doing nothing but feeling. In the days to follow, there will come a moment when the rage or grief will abate, and then they can receive your suggestions for better, more constructive methods of dealing with their pain and depression.
  2. If you are the one grieving over the suicidal death of a loved one, you might not want to open up to a stranger at the ATM. It is imperative that you find people you feel safe talking to. You shouldn’t bottle your feelings up, or bury them deep inside in order to “be strong”. Being strong is being in touch with your feelings which will give you the strength to help those who are struggling with theirs. Avoid negative friends or family members who feel compelled to force their viewpoints on you. Lastly, don’t decide for others when they have grieved long enough.

I’m not sure what I can do to help the family in my neighborhood. I’m not extremely close with them. They have not turned to me for comfort. It’s not my place to shoehorn my way into their life, but I am sure I can find some way to serve them without intruding. Mostly, I am glad that I did not lose my patience with that outwardly hard-hearted mother. It is possible that I saw the reason why the young lad tried to end his life. Perhaps she isn’t a very good person. However, if she dumped her frustrations and darkness on me instead of family members, then I’ll consider that my good deed for the grieving family.

I wrote a book a few years back that has advice on how to deal with suicide. You might find it helpful.