Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to Help Family after Suicide

This week was a week of advice requests. My facebook persona is successfully exuding confidence and resilience. In all reality today I had two guest boys and got five kids in bed before nine PM so I feel superhuman today.
I am still sort of not sure how to handle the feelings I've had since May and other things I am not sure how to process or that I'm not happy with but sort of just exist so here's my advice. 
1. Death is not absolution. Before you forgive the person for every bad thing and expect a family member to do the same just remember- your need for absolution is actually a need for silence. Death is noisy. Read about the grief cycle if you need to and about normal human responses to death. Anger is part of it. I remember when my friend's husband died she was angry and I was SO CONFUSED. Being angry at someone who is dead seems so futile.  It's normal though. I remember being pissed at my husband when I was married about cleaning up after him. Sometimes I'm still mad. I'm still cleaning up. I'm pissed that my kids are sad. I'm pissed at people who don't understand and I'm pissed at his family. Then I'm not anymore. I'm pissed at people who say it's weird to mourn an ex. I mean seriously there's a lot of information out there that would suggest that it's a normal human response so you're surprise is just a sign of your ignorance. It's just a lot of feelings all at once. So my first piece of advice is to educate yourself. Google- "Is it normal...." It will save you a lot of fights.
2. Things get worse before they get better. My friend Robyn told me that. She was right. Two months after everyone was done and they didn't care anymore and I went home at night and didn't know what to tell my kids and hung up the pictures of Dad and Mom with hearts around them that my son drew. Go by after two months as thought it was the day before because No One cares anymore.
3. Don't ask what you can do. Just DO something. In most cases social security takes a few months so if the father was the breadwinner go give them a gas card or something. My friend had her husband die unexpectedly and people showered her with flowers. I remember talking to her and she said- save your money on flowers and get me a costco gift card. It takes months and longer to sort out financial stuff. I got to find out that my ex didn't have the life insurance policy we had. And social security took months. Luckily I had been working but for most people there is a financial strain and they need a break. My ex died owing me a lot of money and emotionally that was a BIG adjustment. I didn't get flowers which sort of felt weird since I felt like maybe someone would send them to the kids?
4. Be there. Text or in Person. Sometimes just having a person there is what you need.
5. Remember that the risk of suicide goes up in family survivors. My children have an increased risk. I do too. It's a different possibility I never considered when I was making the HORRENDOUS transition from being a stay at home mom to being a single mom and sole provider. I guess you can just quit. Everyone will worship you. Be gentle with people and their family. The other day at Yoga I talked to a friend that confided that she was suicidal after the early death of her husband. It was an interesting interaction because it was intensely difficult for me and I didn't understand why or that it was normal to wonder about that during grief. It reminded me of when I got married and the sealer said some super weird stuff about how sometimes you know someone before this earth and you promise to save them even if they don't make it and I was like- DUDE WHY IS THIS SATURDAYS WARRIOR and I sort of thought it was funny. Then all that funny religious stuff gets weird and you feel like you are in some kind of bad horoscope. Religion has really helped my kids feel like their dad was with them and supporting them.
6. Send constant reminders that you haven't forgotten. I have a friend that sends me articles. Her brother committed suicide several years ago. She knows about support groups. They are just articles and I don't even always respond but I always read them and IT MEANS A LOT.
7. Remember holidays. Like their anniversary. My ex sister in law is sending the kids something for my ex husband's birthday next Friday. His high school girlfriend sent my kids stuff for Christmas. Holidays are hard. I sort of disappear from my friends on holidays whenever possible.
8. Don't tell small children. My kids don't know yet. I feel like I TOTALLY blew it telling them how their dad died. They think he got in a car accident. We go to his grave to clear off the snow and write notes. They love their dad and know he loved them.
9. Suicide isn't a sign of a lack of love. These deaths are far less supported than an unexpected heart attack or cancer. In my case us being divorced made it even more complex and my kids got less support because it was complicated.
10. Write them letters. Another sister in law writes my kids letters. She listens to me even though I'm sure I say stupid things.
11. Hang out with them even if they aren't being present. When you have too much to process emotionally you aren't as present and it can be really hard on friendships and work. Remember it's not about you it's just an emotional reality.
12. Tell the kids stories about their parent. Or the spouse. My kids LOVED hearing stories from John's friends. They have a CD of him that they play for their friends and a book of pictures they all look at. Then they talk about minecraft. It's very strange to watch how it gets mixed in with different Gconversation but the stories are part of their narrative. The stories keep their dad alive.
13. Go places together. I do a lot of yoga and like to work out. I have awesome friends that go with me and I think they realize that's part of me dealing with emotions- I work out. It makes you feel more normal when you are going through something hard. Encourage the "normal" things rather than wondering what that means.
14. Don't tell them they are young and will find someone new. They will never find what was lost. Just like in divorce you can't ever get that version of your life back. It is gone forever and new might be better or it might be worse but it is irreplaceable. That person was important and saying they will find someone is like saying the person didn't matter. I was envious of couples that could co-parent and I will never have that successful relationship. I don't always show up for dates right now. It's nothing personal I just can't handle it. Or if I do they make a joke about how they would have committed suicide too if they had been having trouble or had me as an ex spouse. I didn't even know what to say.  I offered to show the texts before he died about how I was a horrible person and then we didn't go out again. The food was super good and he was a great planner though. Don't rush other people into that.
15. Hugs are good. Today someone randomly asked about my kids' dad and I said he passed away (up from three weeks ago when I blurted out he's dead) and she hugged me and I almost started crying. She knew I had been divorced first and asked how I was. It's super nice to ask and then hug people. No matter how long it's been.

I don't really know what advice to really give people. I'm just sort of being normal and sometimes sad and sometimes just tired. I could barely move for a week after it happened I had no idea your body could shut down like that and I didn't understand what was going on. I don't know how to handle John's family but I never did. My kids cry less now and they have fun and then sometimes they talk about how their dad is always with them and sing a song to him. They want to be a part of him. I'm sometimes good at that and sometimes not as present as I want to be or should be. My daughter said she knew I was sad when he died and she was too. She wants to be with her grandmother who is also sad. All the feelings. Remember all the feelings.

I'm always there to talk when I can. I've been supported and lifted up by friends and strangers and family.

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