Loss is a topic we all would rather avoid, but nothing is more inevitable. As humans, it is part of the fabric of our being to focus on survival and attempt to control as much of life as possible.
So, when loss hits, for ourselves and those near us, we cannot help but be shocked. Even though, if pressed, we can admit that our logical brain understands things are not always predictable and that disappointments and death come to us all. When we are shocked and dismayed, we get overwhelmed. When we are overwhelmed, we do not always think clearly and may shut down emotionally and even physically. It goes without saying that loss is hard. Period. Perhaps the hardest thing to handle in life.
Grief is a process, a journey and optimally we need help and support as we forge our way. As a mental health professional, it is a daily part of my work to assist people in healing from losses of all kinds, most often relationships, jobs and deaths. No one’s grief process follows the same pattern, but there are common stages, in no particular order: shock, anger, sadness, bargaining (this isn’t really happening, is it?), numbing, denial, acceptance and sometimes guilt. It is important for our mental health to not attempt to “shut down” grief, but to let it come in all of its messiness, without judgment. Allowing this process in ourselves, or witnessing it in another, is difficult work. It is meandering, unpredictable, and follows no time table.
One of the most important things I’ve learned as a therapist is that great richness and closeness come from sharing another’s pain. Contrary to what most grieving people think, they are not a burden. It’s just that many people don’t know what to say. I can’t provide a formula that works for everyone, but the most important basic skill is to be there in the grieving person’s presence and be compassionate. You may not have to say very much. Listening is a powerful healing tool.
Also, I need to say something specifically about suicide loss. Losing a loved one to suicide is a particularly painful and confusing loss. Survivors often feel tainted and very alone in their grief. Not knowing what to say takes on monumental proportions and the discomfort often causes people to avoid the survivors of suicide loss. While not everyone may be able to “step up” in this circumstance, it is important to remember to go back to the basics. If someone you know has lost a loved one to suicide, just be kind. Say you are sorry they are going through this. Offer to spend time hanging out with them. You can and will survive being the witness to grief. You may be surprised to find that it bonds you closer to your fellow humans…and that there will come a day when you, too, will need someone to sit with you in your grief about your own losses in life.
Dawn Sopron, LCSW is a member of the Sheridan County Suicide prevention Coalition and a psychotherapist at Clay Pot Counseling, Inc. in Sheridan. She facilitates a free and confidential Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group the second and fourth Thursdays of the month from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at her office, 205 W. Loucks St.. Sopron may be reached at 307-752-7016 for more information.