During the month of October we celebrate Halloween and with that comes all of the ghosts and goblins. A few thoughts come to mind that relate to the members of the LOSS family. One of those is the rather lighthearted way that people portray death. There are cemetery renditions that people erect in their yards. There are also rather gruesome looking creatures that are hanging all around people’s homes and yards. Halloween has become the second most decorated holiday in America. It is surpassed only by Christmas which has more decorations. People mean well, but for those survivors of suicide who have been exposed to all of these decorations and the way that they are displayed, it can be a very painful reminder of the loss of a loved one to suicide. Death is not a lighthearted experience. It is a very traumatic experience and one that leaves a trail of pain and sorrow. There is no humor connected with losing a loved one to suicide –especially if this loved one took their life by hanging. It would be nice if people would consider the impact of their Halloween decorations on their neighbors and people in the neighborhood. One never knows the impact that seemingly innocent symbols can have on people. We can all learn a lesson from this and be sensitive in the way we use language and phrases that have become common place in conversation. Phrases and gestures can deliver a very powerful message and at times a very insensitive message. Phrases such as, “I could kill myself” or “I could shoot myself if ……”. People try to deliver a message by pretending to point a gun at their head. This can be a painful reminder to a survivor who lost a loved one by shooting themselves. To many people such gestures and phrases can seem to be very innocent and innocuous. To survivors of a suicide such phrases and gestures are very painful reminders of the loss of a loved one.
Death is a very profound experience and an experience that alters the lives of the ones who are left behind as well as the one who has died. None of us knows what lies ahead and beyond the here. We don’t know what the hereafter holds in store for us –if there is a hereafter. I personally believe that there is something beyond this life but I don’t know what it is and I am very intrigued and look forward to experiencing it. Because it is so mysterious the hereafter can also be quite scary. Halloween displays the superficial and humorous aspect of death. For those who have lost a loved one to suicide there is nothing superficial or humorous. It is very profound and sad.
Should a survivor see a Halloween display in their immediate neighborhood that is offensive and upsetting it is ok to approach that neighbor and express your feelings. In most instances the person probably was unaware that the decorations could cause a raw emotional response. That is an example of how survivors can educate people and get the world around to develop a more sensitive approach to feelings of others. Generally people are very well meaning but there are times when people need to be educated about how the things that they say or do that can have a very deleterious effect on other people. Survivors should not have to suffer in silence. There are very polite and courteous ways to let people know that there are things that they say or do that are harmful and hurtful.
Another aspect of Halloween is the wearing of masks and costumes. Young and old get dressed up to portray someone who is famous or infamous. There are contests to see who can come up with the most unique costume. People of all ages like to dress up and pretend that they are someone else. Survivors often wear masks to hide their real feelings. The world around the survivor has no idea of the depth of the pain that is engulfing them. The survivor suffers in silence because people don’t understand the depth of despair that is part of the grieving process. Survivors feel that nobody understands the feelings that are a part of the grieving process except another person who is going through the same experience. In many instances the survivor is correct. Survivors don’t know how to respond when someone asks them how they are feeling. My suggestion is that survivors give an honest response. One does not have to go into every detail of the pain but a simple response such as, “The grief process is a painful process”. The world has no idea of the devastation that takes place when a loved one dies from suicide. Survivors can share a little about what is going on within their souls and leave it very simple but get the idea across that there is pain in this experience. People are eager to hear that the survivor is fine. Eventually the survivor is going to be fine, but for the time being the survivor has to experience the profound pain of grief. It is alright to come out from behind the mask and admit that there is a lot of pain in this process. Family and friends want the survivors to be over this experience and get on with life. When survivors get the impression that the surrounding world wants them to be alright, the survivor puts on the mask to hide their real feelings. It is the valued friend or family member who allows the survivor to openly experience the pain of grief and not try to fix it. The grief process cannot be fixed. It is an experience that needs to be processed and lived and felt. Eventually the pain will be managed and will become softer but it takes time and a lot of work. In the meantime the survivor needs to be allowed to feel the pain and be able to express the pain without the attempts to fix it.
As always I want to assure each and every one of the LOSS family members of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis during my quiet time and I encourage you to do the same for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family. It is our profound honor to journey with you and assist in the grief process.
Keep On Keepin’ On,