Question: How can I best minister to someone who has lost a family member to suicide? My good friend’s son recently took his own life, and I’m at a loss as to what I should do or say to her. Can you help me?
Answer: The first thing you need to realise is that, in addition to her grief, your friend is probably experiencing a wide range of conflicting emotions and working her way through a huge amount of guilt and self-incrimination. Parents of suicide victims tend to blame themselves. They run through the “what ifs” and the “if onlys” a thousand times in their minds. They tell themselves that they ought to have seen what was coming and that they should have done something to prevent it. If they don’t blame themselves, they may blame their spouses and end up destroying their marriages. If you’re going to reach out effectively, you need to be aware of all this.
You also need to be very careful that you don’t make the wrong use of this information. Once you understand what’s going on inside your friend’s head, you may feel tempted to rush in and try to “fix” the situation. Avoid this at all costs. If circumstances offer an opportunity, you should by all means assure your friend – gently and quietly – that her son’s death was not her fault. But don’t push this idea on her. Try to find the middle ground between “doctoring” her on the one hand and steering clear of her on the other. Some people in your situation say, “I’m so overwhelmed by this person’s loss that I don’t know what to do, and therefore I’m not going to do anything.” That’s not a good idea.
The better plan is to resolve to be a good listener. Practice empathy. Draw your friend out with carefully worded questions. Try to get inside her feelings. Be there for her as she processes her emotions. Encourage her to seek professional counselling and to fight any tendency she may have to withdraw into herself and “clam up” about the terrible thing that has happened. Do what you can to make it easy for her to talk about her feelings and grieve openly.
Finally, urge your friend to seek the help of others who have walked this path before her. If you think it might be beneficial, we’d also like to invite you to call and discuss your questions with a member of our Counselling staff. Your friend is welcome to do the same, of course.
© 2014 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.