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Library: Thoughts & Ideas from the Bereaved & Others

(This is a long page - with literally "thoughts" of grievers and others - if you want to submit, please send us an email).

NANCY WILLIAMS’ DO'S AND DON'TS

A Suggested List of Do's and Don'ts in order to be specific, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous:

Note to myself: remember that what I have found comforting would not necessarily be so to others, so I speak only for myself. Also, emphasize, if possible, my understanding that we are here to discuss a a (mutual) problem: parents whose children have died are often, it seems to me, screaming to be heard and there seems to be no one who will listen. And standing a little to the side are clergymen and medical people and friends who are wanting terribly to help and don't know what to do.

DON'TS:

DON'T wait for "the right words." Many kinds of words are possible and bereaved parents need them right away and as time goes on, as well. If you are writing a letter, don't worry if you can't spell or write what you perceive as "a good letter."

DON'T say nothing. Almost anything is better than nothing. Several of my friends have still not said anything to me about Rhys. What it has meant to me is that because I am a different person since his death and they have not acknowledged his death, I am in a sense a stranger to them. We have not met under the new circumstances. They may not feel estranged but I feel so.

DON'T stay away on the assumption that you're not wanted, that you'll be in the way. I'd rather have too many people coming and going or get overly tired than be ignored.

DON'T feel that you will make the person who is grieving feel worse or that you may remind her of her loss when possibly she has forgotten for the moment. I think of Rhys constantly on some level, so when someone speaks of him, I feel more real, more normal, than when I am cut off and in a world full of strangeness and loneliness.

DON'T use busy ness as an excuse. I find that I am more impatient with this reaction than with almost any other.

Example: A. wrote: "I have been thinking of you a great deal since you called me about Rhys two months ago and I hope you know that. I've been too busy to write but am finally grabbing a few minutes under the dryer."

DON'T say "I know exactly how you feel," or, "It's like when my mother died." No one knows how another person feels and no one's experience is like another's; similar, perhaps, but not the same. In the same category, comparing a parent's feelings after a child's death with the feelings of a divorced person is not helpful.

GO EASY on "How are you?"s. It's hard to say, "Fine," when you feel lousy. I find it very soothing when I meet people on the street who say, "Hello, Carole." Period. Or answer the telephone and hear someone say, "I've missed seeing you," or something like that. It's a little thing, perhaps, but sometimes it takes more energy than you'd believe to respond to the conventional question, "How are you?" People sometimes ask you pointedly that question, and that's a different matter.

DO's

DO's (less specific and more complicated): REMEMBER that people's timetables differ. Where one person may be beginning to see light at the end of five or six months, another may be just starting to cry. So be available.

DO LISTEN not just to what's being said by the person experiencing grief, but to what's not being said. Rather than rush in to support or agree or just to fill a void, sometimes just wait, even when it's painful. Your friend is on new ground altogether and needs space and time to formulate her thoughts.

IF you can't think of anything to say, sometimes the SIMPLEST GESTURES OR STATEMENTS are comforting and remain in the grieving person's memory. Examples: B. came to my door recently and said very quietly and with feeling, "I think about you a lot but I don't know what to do. I guess I'm not a very good friend."

C. came up to us after Rhys's service, face red with weeping, tears streaming down cheeks, put his arms around us and left without a word.

D. was working at the polling booth and, as Robin and I finished voting and turned toward the door, she came up behind me, touched me on the shoulder and said, "May I just hug you?" Then she did.

The bringing of BOOKS, ARTICLES, SENTENCES EVEN.

Examples: E's bringing me the sentence of Camus: "In the midst of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer."

F's sending me the excerpt from Anne Lindbergh.

G's bringing me the quote from Alan Paton.

LETTERS have been, for me, especially good, partly because they can be re read. Also, sometimes people can write what they can not say. Example: H., who is hurtfully cheery in person, wrote a marvelously sensitive letter. And often letters will stimulate thought, maybe because what people write under these circumstances requires thought, perhaps more than speech. And people who grieve need to think. Examples:"Find the strength to accept the pain." "Let him go a little." "I've never known how parents survive the loss of a child, but that is what survivors do."

ANGER AND PASSION of friends helped me. Example: H.'s fierce, "There is no comfort!!"

DO let people talk about their child and their feelings. Sometimes it's almost like a game to get your friends to let you do that. Example: Lunch with several friends, particularly intelligent, warmhearted women who had asked me to lunch because of Rhys's death. Since no one mentioned him for an hour and I was beginning to get that unreal feeling, I waited for an opening and pounced when someone mentioned Anne Lindbergh. I said that she had inspired me to write down my thoughts and feelings recently and that I had been doing a lot of that. No one responded and we went on to talk about the high cost of houses.

THINGS I REMEMBER: a single rose, cuttings from plants of a neighbor. People don't need to send expensive flowers. In fact, though one appreciates the thought and is grateful to the giver, floral arrangements can become very depressing, just because they accumulate and your house begins to look like a funeral parlor.

ENCOURAGING COMMENTS: Losing a child is such a horrendous experience that often you don't know whether you are functioning normally or making any sense at all. It helps when people tell you you're doing OK. Example: I.'s comment when I said once that I felt as though I were under water. She wrote to me that for a person under water my voice carried very well to her on shore, in fact was unusually resonant.

P.S. to example: A sense of humor also helps, in one's self and in one's friends. I remember that within the hour that we heard that Rhys was dead, we laughed quite naturally over something our baby granddaughter did.

General remarks about my minister and ways in which I think the clergy can be helpful to their parishoners and friends:

What touches me most about our minister is his attitude and solicitude. He has spent a lot of time at my kitchen table, just sitting. Though his belief in God is strong and his whole life and actions are rooted in his faith, he has never mentioned God to me unless I brought him up first. He has said this: "If you're going to love, you're going to be vulnerable, and if something happens to the person or creature you love, you're going to get hurt. But if you refuse to love and to take risks, and to do it again and again, then you're not living. You have to decide what kind of person you are."

A friend's minister helped her and her husband in a special way by asking them to tell him, if they could, how they felt, what they were thinking, reading, doing after the death of their college age son, so that he could better understand what they were enduring. Some of my friends, not necessarily clergymen, have also done this, have wanted to know what my experience is like, an experience they hope never to have but want to have some understanding about. I find such questions, such loving curiosity, helpful because it gives me a chance to do something useful at a time when I feel quite barren. My daughter recently wrote me that she thought my depression was inevitable, since one of my creations was dead. I think she's right and that because parents have lost a child, they need to create something new, if it's only an idea.

And finally, maybe most important, some very practical suggestions given me by my husband:

Friends and relatives, if you can, tend to the awful details about what to do with the body of the dead child, particularly if there has been an accident and the child is not already at a hospital. Find out who are trustworthy morticians and what the costs involved are. If it is appropriate, suggest alternatives to a funeral, such as cremation followed by a memorial service. Parents are numb at such a time and unless they have thought a great deal before their tragedy and/or have friends who are knowledgeable, they may make mistakes.

Clergymen can be of enormous help if they know facts and can, for instance, assure parents that costs need not be excessive. Our minister helped us not only with some of those larger details, but also with a small but equally important matter. He explained to us that Rhys's ashes would not look like ashes exactly and that we should be prepared for them to stay on the ground for a while after we had scattered them. I had never seen human ashes.

And, my husband suggests to clergymen, know your people's beliefs before you talk about theology. Let them give you clues as to what they want to hear or talk about. Avoid cliche's of comfort. Just be there, help them get through a little time. I should add that my husband and I consider ourselves very fortunate that in the five months since Rhys's death, not one person has told us that it was God's Will.

And rather than say, "Can I help?" try to suggest specific things that you or someone you can ask might do, like meet relatives at the airport, always a dreadful chore, or take children to school or market.

A final comment, which is a Helpful Thing but is more general than the other more personal suggestions. I think clergymen can profit from reading books about grief. There are many of them, some very good. Talking to people is still the best avenue to understanding, but sometimes grieving people do not know themselves why they act or react in certain ways. I was not aware, for instance, until I read about it, that restlessness is a by product of grief. It's easy enough to recognize signs of sorrow like tears or silence or withdrawal, but other indications are more subtle and reading will be helpful.

On our deathbeds, all of us moms here will almost certainly look back on our child's death as the worst moment of our lives. We thought the pain would kill us. Hopefully, we will also be able to recall how we went to a beautiful place, a WEBSITE, where we found love and understanding, and at least some of the strength we needed to move on with our lives. I know I have gotten all of these gifts here. And I hope we all found that there were still people to love, and a reason to live. There still is much beauty and goodness in this world. — Grieving Mother

As I acknowledge this the second anniversary of Dan's death, I think back to that horrible morning when I found him, and the failed attempt at CPR, I have come to terms with his death and feel now is the right time for me to move on. You all have been wonderful to me and I have taken a lot out of this group that has helped me cope and prove to myself that there is life after death for those of us who remain.

Those of you that are new to the whole process of grieving keep in mind we all heal in different ways and in different time frames. Baby steps is the safest way to approach life these days. And my motto for the last two years has been one day at a time, one crisis at a time, it has gotten me to the point I am today.

It took almost 22 months for me to realize, it was ok to look and want more out of life than tears and emptiness. The why questions may never be answered, the need for understanding and acceptance will be greater than ever. The longings will never be dismissed and the bills will still find there way to your desk, the point is some things never change.

I think back over the last 24 months and am in awe of where I am today, I work full time, am a mother and grandmother, and now too I am a full time student, and I am not yet 50. I've made some new friends there at school as well, one, in particular that I might hope to be friends with for a long time to come... I will never forget the friendships that I have forged here each of you mean a lot to me. I welcome your continued friendships and ask that you keep in touch with me as well, I am still an e-mail away for those who might want an extra ear (or set of eyes) to share their thoughts and concerns with.

I remember the day we scattered his ashes in the Ocean at Seal Cove in Maine, I remember how I waded out in the frigid water - me about knee deep - when I poured his ashes into the water - they lingered for a time and encircled me - as if for one last hug. I remember that although the weather was not great and the waters beyond the cove appeared rough, the water's edge was calm no surf, no waves just gentle lapping of the shore line. The seagulls even stopped to watch. I will always remember but now I will not linger for I am ready to move on.

There is a Garth Brooks song that contains the lyrics ...'"there are two dates in time that they'll carve on your stone, and everyone knows what they mean, but what's more important is the time that is known that little dash there in between. ..." That dash represents life and for us remaining here on this earth, that has yet to be determined. I tried hard to make him understand that but to no avail.

I believe it is time to learn to live again, and with that enough said. I will not say good-bye, but so long and wish you all the ability to seek happiness again, you deserve it. Be good to yourself and it is ok to be selfish now and again.

I hope that you manage to surround yourselves this holiday season with only good and happy memories and the understanding that it is ok to want more out of life. — Donna in PA - Grief-Widowed

I guess that the 9 years since my Breck died at 23 make me a senior here, and I tell you unhesitatingly that Yes, it does get easier. There was no pain like when a part of me was torn away, like a cherished thing that flies out a car window without warning.

But it does get easier.

Like any other wound, we will be scarred forever. But the rawness of the wound will lessen and it will not always fill our every moment and be the center of our thoughts.

All the new behaviors that we think are abnormal are normal. These are well-known symptoms of grief that we see each other exhibit. What we are experiencing is totally within the range of Normal in our new reality of life as a parent who has lost a child to suicide. They are issues that each of us must deal with. The postings that are shared in this group emphasize that it is "each of us," not some of us, who go through these stages.

Allison, I am glad you have found this group. I hope we can provide some comfort and strength to you. For me, one-on-one counseling and the company of other suicide survivors has been crucial to my getting on.

I am glad you wrote at such length, and you sure wrote about some very familiar territory.

I tend toward overly lengthy responses, so the rest will be just an outline. I or any among us could write an essay on any each of these topics and issues, but I will be brief this morning.

The time we spend in each station is uniquely our own. It is a journey of growth.

We will never stop loving our child, and we never stop being a parent. Fathers Day will always recognize my being Breck's dad. Mothers Daywill always be for you, and we will each have our own personal "Remembrance Day" every day for a very long time.

Talking helps. Tell your story. Other survivors of suicide want you to share because we know that this is how we make it.

We're on an emotional rollercoaster with an endlessly new layout.

We did not fail as parents. Our children acted -- more likely impulsively the younger they were -- to end their pain. We would have taken on some of their pain if we could have, but we couldn't. Now, later, we have.

The severe stress of mental illness can be fatal.

We have experienced the worst trauma that a parent can.

It does get easier.

"Healing" is incomplete, "moving on" takes on a new meaning, and the concept of "closure" exists only in media stories.

In response to "What can I do?": Take care of yourself first. Later, the opportunity to help others may present itself -- take it when you can. Much later, some put their knowledge and experience to work for suicide intervention and prevention. Each of us becomes a potential community resource in a desperately important field.

And stay with us as long as you can. We are parents who sustain and encourage each other with love and compassion. — Michael, father of Breck (1971-1994) - Griefparents-Suicide

Linda, No I don't think it will ever go away. Not only can we not go back to the time when we had our partners, we can't even go back to being the people we were. Ken and I used to go out a lot to hear local musicians and just to socialize because Ken was a big music lover and a people person. For awhile, I told people that when I got myself more together, I would come back out to see them. Now I realize that this isn't going to happen because I am no longer that person. Our edges are blurry right now Linda. We have to redefine ourselves in this new reality. — Love, Deb - Grief-Widowed Email

time ebbs, time flows, time doesn't move at all...

Death ends a life....not a relationship. — Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

Life after loss is.....a new normal. — Ted Bowman

If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to heaven and....bring you home again.

Fighting the entropy of life can make peace feel elusive, but it is always somewhere inside of us, waiting for our attention.  Even when we can't find the moments, we can believe in its ongoing presence. — Cendra Lynn

"It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, (protecting its sanity), covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But, it is never gone." — Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

My Dad's Words of Help from Daniel Lins

The best tribute you can make to a loved one is the life you live after the death.

A CUT FINGER

A cut finger
is numb before it bleeds,
it bleeds before it hurts,
it hurts until it begins to heal,
it forms a scab and itches
until finally, the scab is gone
and a small scar is left
where once there was a wound.

Grief is the deepest wound
you ever had.
Like a cut finger,
it goes through stages,
and leaves a scar.

Source unknown

Submitted by: Alicia Wells, a young daughter trying to deal with mom's death.

Have courage for the great sorrows in life, and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.— Victor Hugo

When we rely on other people for what we need to know, we are vulnerable to their mistakes. What others give us may be sincere and it may be genuine, but all information is a matter of how we read it. What one person says with one meaning may reach the ear of another with a different understanding. Wisdom comes from the same source regardless of where we hear it,but it is better to take the words of wisdom and work them through our own minds for direction and understanding. If we tune our ears to answers within ourselves, we will find our way. . . — from A Cherokee Feast Of Days

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. — Rainer Maria Rilke - Letters to a Young Poet

There is a way in which I have come to see evil. A person relinquishes parts of himself, retains one fragment of his total humanity. The cleverest can represent that fragment as the whole person. The people around him don't realize he is not accountable in the same way others are, that he doesn't experience himself in the same way. There is an emptiness that can give place to anything, that permits behavior unacceptable and unthinkable to others. — Mia Farrow

My colleague's daughter, in the 3rd grade, lost her teacher to a fast cancer. The woman began the year in September, left in December, and died this month. The daughter wrote a little about it, including "I wish I could recycle time."

"Face the fact that you must grow old until you die. Develop a sense of the benign absurdity of life-yours and those around you-and thus learn to transcend the world of experience. If we can abandon our missionary zeal, we have less chance of being eaten by cannibals." — Carl Whittaker

"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief or bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares." — Henri Nouwen from Out of Solitude

This quote I came across in a book called Fireflies. It is written by the same guy who wrote the books the three Rambo movies were based on. After they were written he watched his 15 year old son die of cancer. He wrote of this experience and his son in the book Fireflies. The quote on the inside cover says it all for me after watching my 5 year old son get hit and killed by a car.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.
Macbeth, Shakespeare — Jack Standeven

"When you come to the edge of all that you have known, there will be two possibilities awaiting you: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly."

A Turtle Creek Chorale member.
(After goodbye: an AIDS story, a PBS video broadcast in 1995 and 1996
on WTVS-TV, Detroit, Channel 56.)

To submit quotations or ideas for this section, send an email to GriefNet.

 

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Grace happens.