Scraps: The Best Advice I Received by Dianna Matzo

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This article is difficult to write, because re-living the fresh pain of losing a loved one to suicide is not enjoyable. But, I feel compelled to put this out there, because it involves some of the most helpful and relevant advice I received after my sister died by suicide in May 2015. And when I talk about this with other survivors, it is always received with knowing nods of agreement. So, onward.

The days following Amanda’s suicide were a blur. I travelled by plane to be at the side of my family of origin including Amanda’s only child. One of the necessities in the wake of any loved one’s death, is the spreading of the news by various means: the obituary, Facebook, phone calls. In this case, Amanda had left strict instructions: no funeral, no wake, no grave, no headstone, only the scattering of ashes in a faraway city. We had to contact a lot of people.

 

baby amanda 2

Dianna’s sister, Amanda, as a small child.

It was almost immediately clear to me that the fact that Amanda died by suicide was going to influence how people reacted. Suicide is misunderstood, scary, taboo in our society. Often the deceased is judged as cowardly, selfish, ungrateful. Some religions teach that it is a ticket straight to hell. (Note: This historically-based opinion is categorically false.) Could there be a more uncomfortable subject?

In light of this, one of my surviving sisters shared with me some advice that she was given by a bereaved mother of a young man who had suicided months earlier. She was a long-time friend of but we had never expected to walk in her shoes. Her advice: “Appreciate the scraps.”

She gravely recounted that acts and words of compassion in the wake of her son’s suicide had been few and far between. She and her husband were well known in their community, so it was not for lack of friends. Was it for the reasons I listed earlier? Regardless, it was the truth. HER truth and soon to be mine, although I was yet unaware.

But I took it to heart and I am so glad I did. Because that attitude of painful but honest expectations helped keep me sane and aided in keeping relationships intact while I was grieving long and hard.

Appreciate the scraps of compassion.

Only a few notes of sympathy when everyone in my life was aware? Many thanks to that small cadre of souls. And shun the thought of “why don’t more people care?” Appreciate the scraps.

Words of acknowledgement when I ran into people who knew the story were so rare. I was often greeted by silence. For those who ventured to say “I’m so sorry” or took the time to mention Amanda by name, I was grateful. Appreciate the scraps.

Those who I thought of as close friends who initiated no contact at all? I understand it’s hard to know what to say. I will call YOU when I am feeling stronger and we can still be friends. Appreciate the scraps.

Hurtful comments? “You must have seen it coming.” “Suicide is so selfish.” “You’re her sister, you should have known.” “Isn’t it time to move on?” I’ll sweep them away into the back of my mind and replace them with the kinder thoughts I hear. Appreciate the scraps.

The well-intentioned but painfully inappropriate advice? They just don’t understand, but they care. Appreciate the scraps.

I’m not recommending that you lay down and give up. There is a time to advocate for suicide and mental health awareness, but for me, that was not the time. If your expectations are rooted in the reality of how suicide is treated by our society, you can more easily move through what could have been devastating encounters, or lack there-of.

And, the unexpected feasts are so much sweeter.

To the tattoo artist who listened to me cry and looked at pictures of Amanda as he penned her name on my arm, and then waived the fee? I will never forget you.

To the former coworker kindly met for coffee promptly after finding out, and then listened to the horrifying details for two hours while barely flinching? Your compassion has a place in my heart forever.

To my best friend and my Pastor who dropped everything the day I got the news, and managed every detail of my entire life for me and didn’t leave me alone for a moment? Both of you are precious gifts from heaven.

To my ex-husband and his wife who upheld the kids, went beyond the call of duty, and even presented me with a flower and cupcake on my birthday (as I still cried on my couch)? I will always be amazed at your reflection of God’s grace.

To my Pastor, whose door was open for months to listen and encourage as I grappled with one spiritual question after another? There were days I would have burst if I hadn’t been able to talk to you.

To the suicide grief group I found in a neighboring town? Words cannot describe what a relief it was to be surrounded by so many understanding hearts at my first meeting.

So I learned…

“Appreciate the scraps” …

But also …

Savor the feasts.

In memory of my sister, my heart, my Amanda.

 

 

12 Responses

  1. LaRita Archibald
    | Reply

    I love this piece….and still, after 35 years, recall the “scraps” that kept me sane and helped me heal.

  2. Nate Wagner
    | Reply

    Thanks so much for this beautiful piece. As a fellow sibling suicide loss survivor, your story rings a bell. Thanks for the hope you share.

  3. Shane
    | Reply

    ♡ A wonderful articulation I can tragically identify with. Thanks for sharing, Dianna.

  4. Rhonda Lee
    | Reply

    Having lost my dad 51 years ago when I was 16 and just losing my mom this past May the grief has expressed itself much differently, each time.. though both died of natural causes….my dad having been 37 and taken suddenly but Mom at 90 and 4 mos., …I can’t even imagine the pain and agony of losing a loved one from suicide….thank you for shining a light on this so your readers can learn and see how not to respond when confronted with a friend of someone who’s lost a loved one from taking their own life…

  5. Kim L
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing your heart, Dianna. Such a tragedy. And yes, treasuring the scraps is so important.

  6. Rebecca Huff
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing! I can so relate. Just knowing We are not alone in this process. Right now I have no words. ♡

  7. Carol Borrelli
    | Reply

    This was so beautiful, it made me cry, and reminded me to appreciate the scraps and the feasts in my own life! Thanks for such a beautifully written and touching piece!

  8. Karley
    | Reply

    Beautifully written as you are beautiful inside and out.
    Love you,
    Karley

  9. Jerry M.
    | Reply

    I remember Reid not only as the adult male who cud cook, fish, play golf and be a total
    friend to those hurting, but also as the 4 or 5 year old whose photos are around and
    about always….smiling up at me….yeah, tears all the time the past months since Feb of
    2015….but also a lotta’ memories –good and bad….it’s what life is all about for those we
    love…May it always be so…
    Thanks for letting me share, Jerry

  10. Joann Jungels
    | Reply

    I loved this post, and what great information you shared with us. Thank you

  11. Hank Tilbury
    | Reply

    Hi, Dianna–This is a very late reply, but I just discovered your letter of remembrance for Amanda. I knew your sister the summer she worked at Interlochen. I was a recording engineer there, and she was part of our staff at the music camp. Yesterday, I was looking up some of my old Interlochen acquaintances on Facebook. I came to Amanda’s page and saw the word “Remembering”. It was a shock, and it set me on the search which brought me to your lovely and heartfelt essay.

    I just want to say how sorry I am to learn of your loss. I remember Amanda as one of the most outrageously funny and creative people I ever met. She had such an original way of turning the world on its head and making us all laugh. I was responsible for editing and copying concert recordings, and the technical notes I received from Amanda were not only accurate and complete, but filled with entertaining drawings and jokes. We had several enjoyable conversations about our shared passion for offbeat comics and weird phenomena. I cannot recall Amanda without seeing her wide and brilliant smile. She was loved by all of us at Interlochen.

    Some months after she had gone back to school, I got a letter from Amanda. She used an old-style labeling tape gun (the kind where you punch out the letters) to write the address, and she wrote my name as something like “Hankenstein Rototilberries”–just no-holds-barred creative silliness, and I adored that. I hope I still have the letter. If I find it, I will send you pictures.

    And so, I was hoping to re-connect and say hello to long-ago kindred spirit. It breaks my heart that I can’t, and that you and your family have lost such a bright, shining light. I feel fortunate to have known Amanda for the short time I did, and I hope this “scrap” is of some comfort to you.

    • Dianna Matzo
      | Reply

      Hello Hank: Thank you so much for leaving this note. Everything you said about Amanda was the real-deal. Her sense of humor lasted into her final days and in some ways, camouflaged her inner angst. I love to hear new stories about “old times” like you wrote, because there will never be any new memories. If you would like to contact me, my email is firstname.lastname@gmail.com. I do not check Facebook anymore. Dianna

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