When you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide it is sometimes hard to know what to say or what to do to help.
When you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide it is sometimes hard to know what to say or what to do to help. It is not unusual to feel at a loss, to feel that nothing you do can make a difference. The most important things are to be there and to listen. The intensity of the grief and trauma will be overwhelming for most people and so that you can be there and offer comfort and support is most important.
It is unlikely that you can say anything that will take the depth of loss away, but it can be immensely comforting that you are willing to be present, listen and perhaps do some practical tasks to help.
The following is a guide to help you support your friend or family member:
Reach out to the bereaved
You may want to give them space out of fear of saying the wrong thing or making the situation worse,
however, this silence often reinforces the isolation, stigma, and shame that the bereaved person may already feel.
If you are unsure of what to say, express concern and explain that you don't know what to say, rather than avoiding the person.
"I can't imagine what you're going through. I don't really know what to say, but I'm here for you if you need someone to listen."
It is usually best to make contact in person, but sending a private message online or a text could be enough to let them know you are thinking of them.
"I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking about you and I'm here for you if you need anything or want to talk."
Offer to perform practical tasks like cooking a meal, or doing cleaning or washing, or picking up groceries. Actions, as well as words, are an act of care.
Sometimes your offers to talk or help may be refused, but try again at a later time. Also, bereaved people may not always have the energy to let you know what they need in terms of practical assistance. Making a specific offer of something you can imagine that needs doing, for example, meal preparation, child care, gardening, can help the bereaved person immensely.
Additional advice for managers and the workplace
People cope with grief in different ways. For some, grief can be completely debilitating, and the bereaved person may need time off work. Others may prefer to be at work as a way of keeping a routine and coping with their grief.
It's important to understand that, at first, the bereaved person may be in a state of shock and overwhelmed by grief. In addition to sadness, reactions can include problems with concentration and memory, fatigue, and loss of confidence.
Discuss options with your employee about time off work and any changes in duties when they return and come up with a plan together. Check in regularly to see how they are going. Listen to the response and try to understand.