At the beginning of November, we lost my 18 year old brother Max, who took his own life, after suffering depression for a number of years. We are devastated and each day is difficult, particularly for my parents. However, during grief you learn many things about yourself, your family and your friends.
I remember reading many years ago a lovely blog post (which I now cannot locate!) which shared the author’s thoughts on grief and what she found helped her. I have often thought about this blog and therefore, I have been inspired to share with you just a few of the lessons I have learnt since Max died, in case it resonates with someone.
I am sure everyone’s experiences are different, but this is my experience and what I found helped me to cope.
Often in times of grief, it may seem that the right thing to do is to avoid talking about the difficult stuff, or maybe the normal stuff, or what you are going to do tomorrow, or what you should wear to the funeral, for fear of being inappropriate. What I found was that being able to talk about the specific situation, or talking about what you did at work yesterday, or choosing not to talk at all, was the best thing that we could do. In other words, when we didn’t feel we had to censor everything that came out of our mouth, for fear of saying the wrong thing, or trying to say the right thing at the right time, that everyone was more relaxed and felt supported by each other. Life will go on, although sometimes that idea seems impossible. So it is ok to act normal. It is ok to act irrationally. This is grief. There aren’t any rules.
Laughing Is Ok
I am well known for having a very loud laugh. It may not be a great laugh, and what I’m laughing at may not be all that funny, but my laugh is loud and people know when something tickles my fancy. It is a natural part of me and trying to ignore it or block it didn’t work for me. When I decided that it was ok to laugh, I noticed that other people would laugh too, or at least smile. I think they felt more comfortable, more relaxed. When they didn’t act shocked or chide me for laughing, I know it made me feel more comfortable and relaxed. Maybe they felt a little better too.
This may sound slightly less ‘deep’ than my other points, but until we were in the midst of the turmoil I didn’t realise how appreciated food parcels were. With nothing in the cupboards, no one wants to go to the shops, let alone try and cook for the family, plus all the extra visitors, when people arrived unexpectedly with boxes of groceries, take away pizzas or a frozen lasagne it was the best thing they could have done. It was also great for people searching for some way to help us when there was nothing else they could do. I know now that food will be at the top of my “what can I do?” list the next time someone I know is going through a difficult time.
A Phone Call Is Welcome
A lot of people ask themselves “what can I do?”, “how can I help?” and feel that nothing they say or do can possibly help. Often they feel that you are in such deep grief that a phone call from them is the last thing you want. Yes, there were times when I didn’t want to speak to anyone, but that is where the novel concept of ‘not answering the phone’ comes in to play. However, often I was happy to talk and could talk openly. We also found that it helped those that weren’t with us to understand that although we were devastated, we were coping, we were ok, and we were happy to talk about what had happened.
One of the most consistent comments I have had from people is that they appreciated how open our family was with Max’s suicide. Suicide is an extremely difficult topic to talk about, and is one that makes the majority of us feel uncomfortable, because it is so tragic. Somehow (I’m not sure how), our family right from the start, unconsciously decided that we would be open about Max’s death, that we wouldn’t shy away from the fact that he had depression and he had taken his own life. We aren't ashamed of the way Max died. We believe that Max had an illness, as one of my friends later termed it, a terminal illness. Talking openly helped us as a family to deal with our grief. What we didn’t necessarily realise was how much it helped all of those who knew Max, knew u,s and wanted to come to terms with their loss. If there is even one person out there who decides not to commit suicide because we talked about Max’s death, then this shows how important it is to be open and honest.
I’m sure there is going to be much more for us to learn, much more to go through, and many times when we don’t know what to do. At least I know that sharing your thoughts and feelings, when you feel comfortable to do so, is a big part of dealing with your grief, and maybe some of you out there have experienced some of the same things I did.
Are you suffering from depression, or do you know someone who is? Have you been impacted by suicide? Here are some support tools you may find useful.
beyondblue – the national depression initiative – http://www.beyondblue.org.au
Headspace – National Youth Mental Health Foundation - http://www.headspace.org.au/
Silent Ripples – a support group in the Murray Bridge South Australia, for those bereaved by suicide - http://www.silentripples.webs.com/
Lifeline – Crisis Support, Suicide Prevention, Mental Health support - http://www.lifeline.org.au/