Traumatic deaths, such as suicide, accidents, or homicide can be a debilitating experience for those left behind. I have learned that it is often not just about you, it’s also about those around you. For example, children of family friends were upset by our sudden loss, even though they didn’t their friend’s father that well. Each of our children carried their own grief and sense of loss differently when their father died. Later it was compounded by learning that he suicided. I found I was carrying my grief as well as our children’s. When I was missing their father, they were missing their father, when I felt miserable, for example during his favorite holidays, our children were miserable. As a result, holidays were really tough for a while.
I learned that there was a community that felt the unexpected loss and the shock about losing him along with the knowledge of losing him to suicide. It was about how people were finding out about it, it was about their reaction to the suicide, and it was about how they did or did not reach out to myself and our children after the fact. It was also about the unspoken beliefs and opinions people have about suicide that often show through their actions, or lack of actions. I have learned that some types of tragedies are really hard for people to deal with. And because it is hard for them, they are unable to be there to support you.
I have also learned that everyone grieves differently. I’m sure you have heard about that friend or family member that everyone knows is grieving but has chosen to go off on their own to process what has happened. Then there are those souls that set aside their grief and just show up, asking what you need and wanting to help in any way they can. They knowingly make themselves available to support you. Sometimes they can also sit in the pain and sadness with you. They are empaths and live with their hearts open. And there are those that respond through the unspoken rules of social etiquette – by sending messages on social media, or they send cards and flowers. There are those that call and those that love from a distance. I had several people I didn’t know contact me through social media to send heartfelt condolences. I received phone calls from people I had never met just to connect and share how they knew my ex-husband. I’ve had people I didn’t know bring us gifts and send over meals. And I have had friends show up in many unexpected ways – for example to take the children for the weekend. Each person will respond their way. And it’s good to honor the way they are reaching out.
Regardless of how people choose to respond both to you and the loss itself, it’s vitally important that you don’t grieve alone. Yes, there is a solitary experience in losing someone you love. It’s a unique relationship because it’s your relationship. You built that relationship, you lived it, and, in some way, no one will ever understand your experience, or your heart’s investment in that person. They will never really get your sadness because it’s yours. I get that. There is also a solitary experience in losing multiple family members over a relatively short period of time, as was my case. It was only later that I realized what an incredible amount of loss that was for me. And I can say that I have grieved alone and with community, in various ways over the years.
Along with the solitary experience of loss, there can also be a need in us to connect, to tell our story, to formally remember that loved person, or to lean on others, literally by being in the physical presence of other human beings. To get a hug, to share tears or a moment when the silence in the togetherness says it all. Togetherness is also good for the soul. And connecting with others is not just about you. It’s good for others to hear your story and show support. It’s also good to put emotions into words and to develop a language around loss. It’s vitally important to your being and your wellness to find your balance between aloneness and connectedness as you travel through the valley of loss. There can be healing here. Traumatic loss offers a long difficult journey, and you don’t have to do it alone.