Listen to Understand by Nate Wagner

posted in: Uncategorized | 8

My mission in life is to eliminate the stigma related to suicide loss. I lost my brother to suicide in 2002. For a long time, I hid from the reality that I was impacted by sibling suicide loss. The unfortunate reality, up until 2014, is my friends didn’t even know about my deepest loss. They didn’t ask and I didn’t share it.

Why did I not share? I was afraid of being judged. It is hard to understand and my experience has been that people generally don’t want to enter into this pain. There are obvious exceptions to this and for this, I’m forever grateful.

All I wanted was someone to listen to understand rather than try to respond to make everything better. Nothing is going to make it better. We can’t bring Brian back…


We can listen to understand. What does this mean? At least, in part, this means listening without trying to fix anything. If I share this with you I’m not looking for you to fix my situation. I just want to know that I matter and that my emotions matter.

I am a therapist, author, and speaker by profession. This is exactly what I provide in my office, through my book and through any opportunity I have to share my story.

If as a therapist I start to listen to respond then I am no longer providing a helpful opportunity for my clients to learn, grow and process.

Let’s be the best listeners. This isn’t something that we spend a lot of time talking about, but society needs those who are willing to listen to understand- not to fix the situation. There is a time and place to work through and problem solve.

I think by genuinely listening to understand we can help support others in their grief. I believe that the most helpful thing a few of my friends did at the beginning was listening to understand. They didn’t try to provide answers. I didn’t want answers.


I think writing our thoughts and feelings down in a journal is a tremendous way to express our deepest emotions and to be “listened to.” The great thing is that the journal always listens and it only provides “answers” over time.


Nathan S. Wagner MA LPC is a therapist in Harrisburg, PA. He is the author of Sibling Suicide: Journey from Despair to Hope. Pick up a copy at Amazon today. 


8 Responses

  1. Vicki

    Great advice.

  2. Dianna Matzo

    I know it’s made it’s way around, but just the other day I was reminded that the words “listen” and “silent” share the same letters. Thank you for reinforcing something I needed to hear. My grief journey moved into a phase of wanting to help others who are hurting in various ways. Listening is always part of the answer. Best wishes to you…

    • Nate Wagner

      thank you Dianna. Yes, all I really ever wanted was someone to listen. Now I can be that person to someone else.

  3. Joann Jungels

    I think your advise is very wise, so many people want to help you after a loved one commits suicide and offer advise that it made my head spin. I use my journal to release my feelings and thoughts that only the survivors understand. It is a wonderful outlet for my thoughts and feelings without any judgement. Thank you for your story, it is so true.

    • Nate Wagner

      Joann, yes, when we are struggling to is so important to have someone who is willing to listen not just to respond, but to truly listen. The last thing we need is advice (at least at first). Thanks for reading.

  4. Marin

    This is a wonderful reminder….I lost my brother in feb and I know even the closest people in my life often say to me they dont know what to say and that’s just it….saying something or giving advice won’t bring back my best friend….but listening on a hard day or laughing at good memories with me makes the pain just a little bit better! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Nate Wagner

    Marlin, thanks so much for reading and writing a comment. Yes, we don’t need anyone to say the “right thing.” All I needed was someone to be there and listen or just be in silence. Thanks for your response.