On a recent vacation in Turks and Caicos, I attempted kayaking for the first time. As part of a large family group, I had concerns with keeping up. Our guide assured me with her help, I would be fine. She explained the basics of how to get into the kayak and how to hold the paddle.
It seemed pretty straightforward, except instead of paddling straight, I kept turning right. I headed off-course, away from my family. The guide instructed me how to correct myself quickly to join the others who had already entered the tangled mangroves. She patiently provided direction drawing on wisdom she had gained through her experience. She’d been kayaking in those mangroves for many years and knew the way. This journey was not new to her.
So it is with grief. After losing my son to suicide, I felt lost and alone with no one to guide me. Thrust into uncharted territory, I faced a plethora of unanswerable questions and deep heartache. Like the mangroves, the way seemed dark and twisty.
While there’s no manual for suicide grief, there are those who have been through this devastation of loss. Only those who have experienced it can guide you through the trauma. Godly counsel and the loving, outstretched hand of those who walked before are necessary for the healing of our hurting hearts.
God comforts us so we can comfort others.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
As humans, we will all experience loss; it is unavoidable. I’ve heard many pastors say, “You are either in the valley, just came out of the valley or you are about to enter the valley.” We find the path of grief is well-worn. However, if we look closely, the helpers are just ahead with willing hearts and open hands to lead us. The support of those who walked this road before us brings a healing balm to our hearts.
Grief is isolating. We often erect invisible barriers to insulate against further pain. The pain is intense, and our natural tendency is to block as much as possible. When we face trauma, our bodies experience a fight-or-flight response, a physiological event to find protection. Seclusion is one way we may find ourselves coping with the loss. But God created us for community, and we need people around us, pouring into us and loving us—especially in our darkest hours.
Our hope comes from Him. In our brokenness, His light shines through the cracks and brings hope in the midst of heartache. It’s a hope we can eventually share with others.
When we connect with those who have walked before us, a slight ember of hope becomes a flourishing flame. The pathmakers show us the way and help us see how they and others created—through their own losses—a way in the wilderness.
As time goes on, the natural progression is to become the one who offers the helping hand. God comforts us so that we can turn around and comfort others with that same comfort.
“…who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:4, ESV)
Here are a few ways to comfort and help others with the comfort you’ve received:
- Listen and witness their grief
- Sit with them without trying to fix it
- Offer practical help, such as doing laundry, babysitting, or running errands
- Let them know it’s okay to not be okay
- Affirm their feelings are typical after a loss
- Gently lead them to scripture
- Pray with and for them
- Allow them to express themselves without judgment
- Invite them to share stories about their loved one
Our grief needs to be acknowledged; it is, in large part, witnessing the expression of our deep love. When our loved one dies by suicide, our very breath is knocked out of us, and the world we know is changed forever. Our hearts and minds overflow with questions that typically cannot be answered this side of heaven. In the suffering, love remains.
Due to the stigma surrounding death by suicide and mental illness, many survivors suffer cumulative losses. Changes or loss of relationships are typical, and there is often lack of support because others often step away instead of leaning in. Suicide survivors must navigate their loss like a ship without a sail, drifting without a safe place to land.
The path of grief is murky, tangled and unpredictable. Healing through the wisdom, support and guidance of other believers leading the way allows us to see light and hope for our future.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13, ESV)
Faith Griffin Sims is a wife, mom of six and “Mia” to 17 grandchildren. She writes about grief, suicide loss and living with hope. She began a local chapter of Survivors of Suicide (SOS), recently earned a certificate in grief education, has contributed to several books and websites, and is writing a book. Faithgriffinsims.com IG @faithgriffinsims