She said, “Tonight, I tried to kill myself. I had everything ready to go, but I couldn’t go through with it. I just want this pain to end.” A post inside a Facebook grief support group for bereaved mothers. A woman desperately pleading for help to a “room” full of strangers. I couldn’t just scroll by.
I felt compelled to respond to her plea, but what do you say? There were already almost 100 comments to this post that had only been live for 8 minutes. Surely someone knows so I clicked to see other’s were saying. As I scrolled, my heart sank.
In a group of over 85,000 people, we were failing her miserably! Fellow grievers, many of which who have experienced loss by suicide, were saying the exact things we as grievers hate to hear! Comment after comment of, “I know how you feel” or “Sending prayers” and “I’m so sorry”.
I wanted to scream.
This wasn’t the time to wish her well and send her off with our own story of loss and grief, but that’s exactly what we were doing. In grief it often feels as if the rest of the world keeps going while we drown. Here she was drowning and no one knew how to offer a life preserver.
I left a comment. I don’t remember exactly what I said now, but I know I put a lot of effort into making it about her and genuinely trying to offer support. It wasn’t enough.
Her post stayed with me. It was the very first thing I thought about when I awoke the next morning. Something inside of me was pushing me to find her post and reach out to her directly and follow up. Let her know someone else in this world cared. Her post was gone.
It’s possible she deleted it to end the constant notifications from Facebook. Each one a reminder of her pain. It’s also possible she erased the post so she could pretend it wasn’t real and it never happened. I had no way of knowing who she was or how she was doing.
Why hadn’t I done more that night?! The feeling of failure stayed with me.
As bereaved parents, we think about death. Many of us wish for our own, myself included. Yet, there is a difference between the yearning we do for death and seriously contemplating suicide. Some may say it is a fine line that exists. I’m starting to believe it.
When we hit our lowest moments in life we simply want someone to acknowledge our pain. The rest of the world feels so wrapped up in their own lives to notice we are spiraling. For those brave enough to seek help, we need to meet them with genuine compassion. The focus needs to be on the person in pain, not our story of how we can relate to their pain.
As bereaved parents, I believe we need to be armed with this information. We know grief. We need to be better at supporting others on this same journey.
So, what do we say when someone mentions thoughts of suicide?
1. Really Listen
Stop whatever you are doing and take time to hear them. Don’t dismiss the things they are saying or blow them off. They need to feel you are there for them and understand just how big their problems are. Even if you don’t agree, it is important you acknowledge them. Don’t judge.
2. Show You Care
Don’t share your stories and try to relate to how they are feeling. Keep the focus on them. Let them know how much you care about them and be in the moment with them. Show them while the rest of the world keeps going, you only care about what is going on in that exact moment. Nothing else matters.
3. Get Help
This is bigger than you. Don’t try to play psychologist and help them fix their problems. Help them seek professional support. Don’t leave the burden on them. As you know from grief, we won’t call those people that say “I’m here for you, let me know how I can help.”
I believe it is more than sharing a suicide hotline phone number. Again, they may not be able to make that call on their own. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1.800.273.8255, by the way. Did you know they also offer chat support for those that prefer not to call? Their website: Suicide Prevention Lifeline Website.
It is an incredibly brave thing to ask for help. Don’t judge them or look down on them. Until you have walked in someone’s shoes, you can never know their perspective or their pain.
Thank you for this brilliant post. I don’t understand why there are no other comments on it – maybe I’m just not seeing them, or maybe this is a topic that is just too scary for most people. Thank you for being brave enough to write about it.
You are so right that, even as grievers ourselves, it’s easy for us to slip into repeating the same empty platitudes to other grievers – the very same words that have hurt and infuriated us at times.
Part of it is we all grew up with a strong cultural script around grief – and what we have learned is “normal grief behavior” based on that cultural script. Once you’ve suffered a significant loss, though, you know that there is no “normal” anymore.
Another issue, I think, is that the impersonal well-wishes, platitudes, “thoughts and prayers” are offered because we are (unconsciously, usually) attempting to protect ourselves from even more pain. While that’s totally understandable, it does nothing to help lift up another person who is in desperate despair.
I think your tips about helping are spot on: *really listen,* and pay attention to the details of the other person’s story and connect to THAT, instead of relating it back to our own pain. It doesn’t take a lot of fancy words strung together to do that. And going beyond the social media comment, sometimes sending a private, direct message can help. Someone is cutting through the social media “crowd” and addressing the suffering person privately and directly, which in itself can provide tremendous relief and gives the other person the feeling of truly being seen and heard.
Also, your point about doing more than “just sharing a suicide hotline phone number” is exactly right. That can come off as very impersonal, and feels dismissive. Again, sharing a number might be the right thing to do, but in addition to other things – like an attempt at direct engagement by private message. And in hat same message, simply letting the fellow griever (or any person in any kind of pain) know that you are present, available, and that you recognized the uniqueness of their suffering.
There is no easy answer – every situation differs and calls for a nuanced response based on the particulars. But in general i think, follow the lead of your empathy; keep the focus in the other person’s story, as you said; and don’t assume that “someone else” will step up and take action if it’s needed. Sometimes, that “someone else” is going to be me or you. 💖
Again, thank you so much for this brave and honest post.
Wishing you much love and continued healing from your own loss.