Whenever you’ve lost someone to suicide, one of the most difficult things about your new normal is figuring out what to say. The stigma attached to suicide is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It makes the whole matter so murky, it can be tough to navigate.
As I have begun to heal from the loss of my brother, I have felt more empowered to speak out, to drive away the darkness of that stigma by shining the light of the hope I have in Christ.
There are times, like as I write this now, I feel strong when I share about living with my brother’s suicide.
I even begin to think it is my responsibility to speak up, to elevate the stigma, to be a crusader that educates every chance possible. Doing any less feels like a disservice to my family.
But there are other times when I just don’t have the peace or the braveness to talk about my loss. Worries about making others uncomfortable or how others will think about me creep into my brain, and I stay silent.
Another thing that makes it difficult is reactions I have received when sharing about my loss with friends that have experienced losses very similar to mine. I can get a range of reactions. Sometimes they are thankful that I have reached out and brought up how difficult our loss feels. They are grateful someone else recognizes that about their life. But sometimes I have gotten puzzling responses that seem to just change the subject.
In receiving those reactions, I have to remember that they are in the same murky “what to say?” waters I am. I have to have grace. I also hope to receive grace when I’m having a tough moment with no words.
Grace always applies, especially to yourself. Don’t criticize yourself, thinking you are responsible for pushing back all the stigma, when you find those moments when speaking out and sharing seem impossible.
The ugly truth is that some people are incapable of giving grace and understanding. Sharing your story of suicide loss might be completely wasted on their ears. They will judge you and decide you’ve done something to warrant such a devastating time in your life.
These judgements grow out of their fear. They don’t want to think that a person just like them could experience this loss without deserving it. They want to think that there is something they can do to make sure they are never in your position.
But we all learn something as we experience a loss from suicide. We all now know this could happen to anyone. It happens to typical, everyday families about 117 times a day in the United States.
Don’t let fear rule your life, but don’t take it personally when someone treats you ungracefully because of their fear.
Even well-meaning, kind people who are trying their best will say offensive things. It is just so easy to be ignorant of what loss from suicide is like. Before I had lost my brother, I would have had no idea what to say or how it felt. I pray most people will never experience this type of loss.
Even people who have become familiar to the issue of suicide through research will never be able to have enough information to know what this loss is like. They can be more sensitive with their words and actions, and that is such a gift to someone who has suffered this type of loss.
What to say, now that you are a survivor of suicide, will always be an internal struggle. What might be right in this moment will be wrong in the next. Just know that you are far from alone in feeling the ache from the stigma. Let grace be abundant in your life in the times full of brave truth and times full of silence.