Tragic events, whether natural disasters or from the recent actions of humans, have ripples of impact. Those most personally connected to the area or the beings who directly experienced the tragedy are most affected. Many others feel less intense ripples of impact. We each have the opportunity to help, starting with our own healing as needed, and then through our interactions with others. The key is to let compassion be the guide.
Douglas County, Kansas, USA has recently experienced the tragedy of two sets of deaths that are believed to be from suicide-murder. Families and friends close to these four people in life and with their deaths, will never be the same. Those close ones have been shattered. They need and deserve help with their grief and healing.
As community members, we can prepare to help by identifying our beliefs about how such tragedy happens, and who it happens to. “Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion, “ says Jack Kornfield, internationally respected psychologist, author, and teacher of mindfulness meditation.
Do we believe that pain, emotional or physical, can be quickly relieved by following a great suggestion? The truth is that pain, as well as happiness, are expected parts of life. For emotional pain, one of the most powerful “remedies” is listening without judging, without interrupting, without providing answers. In the 2017 book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, M. Scott Peck, author, Christian, and psychiatrist wrote, “An essential part of true listening is the discipline of bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.”
Do we believe that talking with someone about our, or their, thoughts about suicide increases the danger of acting on suicidal thoughts? This is a myth.
Do we believe that suicide only happens because of bad parents or bad partners? As I have the long-time honor of being trusted to provide support for people who have lost loved ones to suicide, I assure you that wonderful, loving people lose loved ones to suicide each year. And wonderful, loving people die by suicide each year.
Do we believe that grief is like a road trip that takes a certain amount of time and then we get to the destination? The truth is that grief is with us forever. With healing, our life grows and the intense pain from grief is no longer the only thing in our awareness. Throughout life, the pain of grief will come and go in waves, sometimes when we expect that pain and sometimes as a surprise.
Do you wonder why I write “suicide-murder” instead of “murder-suicide”?
Do you believe that suicide-murder happens because the one who ended their lives is always acting in anger, wishing to cause pain? Colleagues in the national suicide prevention community provide some perspectives. As with all life events, there is no one explanation. The limited research on suicide-murder within families leads to the understanding that dying by suicide is the primary goal, the perceived need. However, the suicidal one believes that they must kill family members who would not be able to bear the pain and life changes resulting from the suicide death.
We have no opportunity to prevent deaths that have already happened. We must focus on the living, those who are grieving, as well as those who are struggling for other reasons. That may include any of us. Helping includes listening and also practical help. As poet Toni Morrison said about grief, “Sorry doesn’t do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor of something.”
Those who are grieving need to share their emotions, thoughts, questions, how they are feeling physically, how their behavior has changed, and stories about the people they are grieving. They need listeners who will not judge, and who can “hold” that pain, without trying to remove it. If the listener fears for the griever’s safety, that concern must be discussed, so together they can agree on supports for safety. In the USA two of the free, 24/7 sources of guidance are calling 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or texting Crisis Text Line at 741741
Listening is doing something to help, especially when compassion is the guide.
~ RESOURCES ~
For grief support, including for those thinking about suicide
Personal Supports for Grief
- Faith or spiritual or atheist communities, for those who are part of these
Some Free, 24/7 Supports in the USA
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Phone 988
- Crisis Text Line: Text 741741
Your Local Grief Support Groups and Helpers
The Light Center Grief Support Team, for those in the Douglas County, Kansas, USA area
Contact Marcia Epstein, LMSW at M.Epstein.LMSW@gmail.com
Some Resources and Information for Grief and for Suicide Grief
Some tips for helping someone who is grieving
- From Poet Toni Morrison, “What do you say? There really are no words for that. There really aren’t. Somebody tries to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ People say that to me. There’s no language for it. Sorry doesn’t do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor or something.”
- Video from Megan Devine, author of It’s OK You’re Not OK, “How to help a grieving friend” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2zLCCRT-nE
For more information about suicide-murder
- 2017 blog by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, “From Vegas to Columbine to Workplace Violence: Understanding the Complexities Surrounding Murder-Suicid”e at https://www.sallyspencerthomas.com/dr-sally-speaks-blog/2017/10/17/from-vegas-to-columbine-to-workplace-violence-understanding-the-complexities-surrounding-murder-suicide
- 2016 book The Perversion of Virtue: Understanding Murder-Suicide by Dr. Thomas Joiner.
- 2016 book A Mother’s Reckoning: Living In The Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold, the mother of a young man who shot and killed people at a school
About Marcia Epstein, LMSW
I am a mental health social worker who is a long-time member of the USA-and-beyond “suicide prevention community”, a person living with grief from close ones who died by suicide or other causes, and more. I work with teens and adults experiencing life challenges and changes. My areas of special expertise include grief; reducing suicide risk; support for suicide grief; and support for trans and nonbinary youth and adults. My home is Lawrence, Kansas, USA where I served as a volunteer, then as Director for 34 years, of Headquarters Counseling Center, now known as KSPHQ, which serves Kansas on 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. December 2013, I established my private social work practice rooted in compassion, expertise, accessibility, and collaboration. I help people learn the skills for thriving, while also carrying our variety of experiences. I do this through individual and “family” work, as well as support groups, retreats, as well as special events for people affected by suicide and/or grief. I provide training and consultation to other helpers and/or learners. The support groups I offer: Healing After Suicide Loss, for survivors of suicide loss; Stayin’ Alive, for people living with suicide thoughts, self-harm, and attempts; and Thriving Family-Friends, for family-friends of suicidal loved ones. I am a member of the Steering Committee for NAMI Douglas County, Kansas. I am part of the Grief Support Team based at The Light Center in Douglas County, Kansas with Robin Goff, founder of The Light Center; social worker Rose Eiesland Foster; healers Donna Hanschu, Shannon Musgrave, and Jancy Pettit; and life coach Ronda Miller. Since September 2021, I am very active in two international movements: Coalition of Clinician Survivors, for mental health caregivers with personal and/or professional experiences with suicide loss; and PAUSE, People Addressing and Understanding Suicide Experiences. I also host a podcast and events at “The Intersection of Art and Emotional Wellbeing.”
Posted on https://MarciaEpstein.biz
Lawrence, Kansas, USA
December 18, 2022
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