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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Advice Needed

(For politics, please scroll down)

A few days ago, a beloved member of our extended family committed suicide. He was twenty-five years old and leaves behind two children under the age of seven; one of the children is a toddler.

There was no warning that a suicide was coming: no drugs, no alcohol, no financial problems. I'm not sure about the status with his girlfriend and mother of his children, but I believe that the young man and his longtime girlfriend had recently separated.

I've already sent a peace lily to the family, and food is flooding in at the immediate family's house.  There is no physical need for me to address.

Mr. AOW and I are struggling with what to say to the young man's parents and siblings.  What do you say in a situation like this?

The funeral is in one week.  Give me some advice, please.


  1. As people, we try and derive meaning from events. When we fail, we sometimes blame G_d and/or the Devil for them. But the lesson of Job is that sometimes there is no meaning in them. Things just happen. And when they do, when must learn to accept them, and move on. Their is no "blame" or "shame" to find or be had. We should just remember the love we have and have felt for those impacted and affected. And silently promise ourselves, to keep it there, in our hearts, forever.

  2. Here's everything I was going to say wrapped up in a neat little bundle.


  3. Best just to be there for them..."I'm here if you want to talk." That's all I can offer.
    I'm so sorry for this great loss.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I think you've summed it up very well, Z. What else could anyone do at a time like this other than let those left behind know they are loved, and that you will be available to them if and when they feel like talking?

  4. Best just to be there for them..."I'm here if you want to talk." That's all I can offer.
    I'm so sorry for this great loss.

    1. Best advice from Z.
      You can't lie like other people can with "He's in a better place".

    2. Z,
      Thank you. This has been a great shock to all of us. What makes our hearts weep the most: those two little children. They adored their daddy, and all the nieces and nephews did, too. And all these little ones are so young -- not a one over the age of seven.

      Good advice. So far, the parents aren't up to talking much. One of the siblings -- the sister -- is able to talk and to post on Facebook. I'm in touch with her several times every day.

    3. I'll pray for the family.....what a huge tragedy, and yes, those poor, dear children are suffering and will need so much help. God bless them all.

    4. I'm curious, Ed. Why did you call it a "lie" to say "he's in a better place?"

      How could any of us in all honesty say for certain whether he is or he isn't?

      The phrase is a cliché to be sure, but it's harmless and I imagine it brings a bit of comfort to many.

      The poet Algernon C. Swinburne in The Garden of Proserpine expresses a profound desire that death bring not eternal life in heaven, but complete Oblivion instead.

      I'm tired of tears and powers
      And men that laugh and weep,
      Desires and dreams and flowers,
      And everything but sleep.

      Oblivion may very well have been Swinburne's idea of heaven.

      I, myself, prefer to think that all the knowledge, skill and wisdom acquired during a lifetime could not possibly go to waste, and that it somehow lives on, but I wouldn't dare to say I KNOW that to be a fact. If is ony my HOPE.

  5. I'm about to go to visit my sister.
    I just learned an hour ago her husband died.
    I will not be lying when I say he's in a better place.
    He's talking to Jesus right now.
    I have no idea what I'll say to her, except perhaps what I just wrote.
    I'm the only other Christian relative she has.

    1. Ed,
      I typically avoid "the better place" phrase.

    2. And I avoid using stilted clichés like "I'm sorry for your loss," and "Thank you for your service."

      That kind of thing is almost as bad as sending Christmas cards with a printed signature. UGH!

      Would you send plastic flowers to a funeral?

  6. There are no words. People drive themselves nuts, because they figure there must be 'something I can say'. Generally, there isn't. Your presence is what they need. A demonstration of love in a time of need. Words will come in their own time. Don't try to force them.

    1. Mike,
      They don't yet want any company other than the immediate family. I can understand that.

      Of course, at a moment's notice, Mr. AOW and I will be down the road and on the way to their house if they call us and ask us to come.

    2. One of the things to be aware of, is that apart from the shock and sudden sense of loss, will be this young man's immediate family replaying in their mind, every conversation, correspondence or interaction they had with him, trying to imagine something they could have done more or less or differently than they did before. Guilt real or imagined will be within a stone's throw of their every thought.

    3. Proof is right. There is nothing you can say. No one can understand such a tragic event let alone find words that would lessen the pain. Being there and letting the family know you care is all anyone can do.

      Being there is enough. I wish I could say that "being in a better place or with Jesus" would help but how can it?

  7. I have learned that the young man's sister is making all arrangements and tending to all the paperwork so far (including writing the obituary and dealing with the mortuary). She's a very strong person.

    The parents and the stepparents are unable to function at this point.

  8. You left me, sweet two legacies ––
    A legacy of love
    A Heavenly Father would content
    Had He the offer of.

    You left me Boundaries of Pain ––
    Capacious as the Sea ––
    Between Eternity and Time ––
    Your consciousness –– and me.

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  9. Would it be a comfortable situation to say, as you hug them, "words just fail me, 'Linda'. We're so sorry for your loss. We'll all miss him (if that's true! which it sounds like)." And I liked Z's "I'm here if you want to talk."

    Are you a good listener? YOU are in such a strong position to be an understanding shoulder. You’ve struggled with the “whys” of tragedy and lived through to the other side, so to speak. NO, I’m not suggesting you bring any of this up there. But they know, and the offer to be an ear could be more meaningful from you.

    Are they believers? Do you know them enough for it to be appropriate to add something more personal about praying for them (if it’s true)? “We’ve been praying for you. And that’s not a cliché with us. The Lord has carried us through some ugly stuff since ‘Bob’s’ stroke with His grace and the comfort that we pray for you.” Or that idea.

    I know it's a challenge to 'do' events with Mr. AOW, so I've prayed for smooth sailing through this for you both.

    Ed, so sorry to hear about your brother-in-law. As I close this post I lift up your sister and her family to our Lord.

    1. Baysider,
      Thank you.

      Yes, we can hug them, "words just fail me, 'Linda'. We're so sorry for your loss. We'll all miss him...."

      Are they believers?

      Some members of the immediate family are, but others are not.

      I know it's a challenge to 'do' events with Mr. AOW

      The funeral home is handicapped accessible. But going to the family's house is problematic. The young man for whom we're grieving was one of the people who always helped get Mr. AOW up the stairs and into the house.

  10. This is the kind of pain that sometimes doesn't heal.

    They will need you more as time goes on and the other well-wishers move on. Six months or a year from now many people will have forgotten, or worse, will start thinking it's time for them to get over it already. That's when you can start doing your best loving and listening.

    So sorry, AOW.

    1. Alec,
      You're right on all counts.

      The next "scheduled" get-together after the funeral rites will be at Thanksgiving. That will be grueling because this young man was always at the Thanksgiving table.

  11. AOW, Yes I agree with Z, I'm available if you'd like to talk, and if you're really close, "let me help you deal with those things that will need to be dealt with in order to move forward". If you want to.
    You can't do anything about any of the rest of it.

  12. My life closed twice
    Before its close.
    It yet remains to see,
    If Immortality unveil ––
    A Third Event –– to me

    So huge –– so hopeless to conceive
    As these which twice befell ––
    Parting is all we know of Heaven ––
    And all we need of Hell.

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-!886)

    I have lived long enough to see nearly everyone who ever truly meant anything to me pass into Eternity. Identifying closely with great poetry, and making the attempt to write verse of my own examining my thoughts and feelings in some depth has enabled me to cope with grief, and even at times to turn it to advantage.

    As Oswald Chambers wisely observed,


    Wallowing in self-pity while attempting to affix blame on others is as contemptible as it is useless and self-destructive. It should be avoided at all costs.

    The best way to deal with the pain of grief is to take on a compelling obligation as soon as possible. Right now THE most important thing any member of your family could do would be to realize their first ad foremost obligation is to those little children who have tragically lost their father.

    Do everything possible from now in to educate them and enrich their lives with as much exposure possible to good literature, art, music, plays, museums, science projects, worthwhile sporting events and places of interest, and to make sure they are required regularly to do chores, to help around the house, and to be honestly evaluated n the quality of whatever special projects they become involved with or routine tasks they perform.

    Forgetting Self in Service to Others is the best ––and really the ONLY –– constructive way to deal with Loss.

    1. FT,
      I appreciate your advice. But the problem with the death of this young man is his age. We can't say "It was his time" or "He had a good, long life."

      I'm sure that there is a police investigation ongoing as well.

      As for the children, some helpful people have stepped in to help out for the moment. The step-grandmother has a farm, so she probably has the entire brood (6 children under the age of 7) out there for the time being.

    2. Man proposes.
      God disposes.

      That may sound callous, but it's REALITY, and there's no getting around it.

      Life is for the LIVING, and it MUST go on to SERVE the SURVIVORS of Tragedies and Misadventures of every conceivable variety..

      And, as I said above, –– and know from bitter experience ––, the best way to assuage one's grief is roll up one's sleeves, and plunge into the performance of some necessary task.

      in her old age Katharine Hepburn was asked what she did when she felt confused or unhappy"

      "SCRUB FLOORS!" was her snappy reply.

      My father, also a New Englander of the Old School, would have said, "SAW WOOD!."

  13. I failed to mention these details:

    1. The stepmother, who was, for all practical purposes, the young man's mother (more so than his biological mother), just started a new job. I'm not sure how much leave she has. She carries the family's health insurance and cannot afford to lose this job; furthermore, she has chronic medical conditions (Graves Disease and some kind of dermatitis, which requires constant medical attention).

    2. The father, a master electrician, is self-employed and owns his own company. No work, no pay. I'm not sure how much time he can afford not to work. He does have some employees, but I'm not sure that the company can long stay afloat without the father's expertise.

    1. Their work will doubtless prove to be their salvation, AOW.

      Nothing could be worse than sitting around, licking one's wounds, wringing one's hands and railing endless against Fate for being too too cruel.

      The Golden Rule and the Serenity Prayer are the best answers to every contingency.

      Think of Others first, last and always.

      Accept what you have no power to change, and keep moving forward.

    2. FT,
      Easier said than done.

      I just finished a phone conversation with the stepmother. I can't say more than that in a public forum.

    3. I was speaking of the long run, dear friend. Of course the immediate after effects of a terrible event like this cannot be ignored or just swept aside and forgotten, but one CAN have a positive effect the eventual outcome with determination to look on the positive side, and concern oneself more with the needs and feelings of OTHERS than to dwell on misery and heartache, as though it were a grave injustice.

      "What doesn't kill you, strengthens you," or so they say, but nether passive acceptance of eternal misery, nor perpetual rage at the very idea that tragedy should DARE to strike YOUR life is a worthy response. Instead, I highly recommend cultivating SERENITY.

      I know it CAN be done, believe me.

  14. I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
    And Mourners to and fro
    Kept treading –– treading –– till it seemed
    That Sense was breaking through -

    And when they all were seated,
    A Service, like a Drum ––
    Kept beating –– beating –– till I thought
    My mind was going numb––

    And then I heard them lift a Box
    And creak across my Soul
    With those same Boots of Lead, again,
    Then Space –– began to toll,

    As all the Heavens were a Bell,
    And Being, but an Ear,
    And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
    Wrecked, solitary, here ––

    And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
    And I dropped down, and down ––
    And hit a World, at every plunge,
    And Finished knowing –– then ––

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  15. __ Of a Woman, Dead Young __

    If she had been beautiful, even,

    Or wiser than women about her,

    Or had moved with a certain defiance;

    If she had had sons at her sides,

    And she with her hands on their shoulders,

    Sons, to make troubled the Gods-

    But where was there wonder in her?

    What had she, better or eviler,

    Whose days were a pattering of peas

    From the pod to the bowl in her lap?

    That the pine tree is blasted by lightning,

    And the bowlder split raw from the mountain,

    And the river dried short in its rushing ––

    That I can know, and be humble.

    But that They who have trodden the stars

    Should turn from Their echoing highway

    To trample a daisy, unnoticed

    In a meadow of small, open flowers ––

    Where is Their triumph in that?

    Where is Their pride, and Their vengeance?

    ~ Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

  16. With things of this nature, there is really no platitude available which rises to the occasion considering the depth of emotion felt by the living.

    "He is in a better place" does not address the tremendous angst of knowing that the individual is forever gone from planet earth. I do agree with Alec that six months down the road, the family will need greater support. One individual told me, "Until about the sixth month it just kind of felt like they were on vacation. After that, reality hit." The grieving need ample time to talk about their loved one, and build a memory shrine which allows for a bit of solace. We offer the gift of time, and the gift of silence as we listen to their story.

    In the beginning stages of grief many individuals cherish their solitude. So practical things help. Sending along a lawn crew to take care of the yard, delivery of food items to the door, cards, short messages on the telephone all help.

    When someone we loves dies, it feels like a robbery. We have been robbed of their presence in our lives. I have found that it is the safest thing in the world to merely say, "I am deeply sorry for your loss." I have stumbled with my words in the past and said things I deeply regretted as soon as the words came out of my mouth. So I stay on script.

    Tammy Swofford, R.N.

  17. I've refrained from commenting because I have nothing to add. Thersites' words are wise indeed, and FreeThinke's advice of getting to work on something to overcome the grief is also great advice.

    Z nailed it. "Just be there."

  18. AOW: I lost my son in 2003 and the only advice I can give is to just be a good neighbor and friend. Instead of giving food, make yourself available, but not too close. They can never replace that child, and the children are the ones who will suffer the longest.

    Just being there and helping with household and child care duties can mean a LOT. Giving advice to someone who has just lost a loved one is fruitless, and can even make them angry. After all, one of the supposed stages of grief is anger, and it can be directed in many directions.

    My wife and I really appreciated our neighbors and family that came to our aid. Church members and cousins volunteered to be pall bearers, and old friends dropped in to visit. One of the most appreciated things we were given was a sympathy card with an Outback Steak House gift certificate. We didn't use it until long after the funeral, and long after the neighbors got back to normal. It was an extra little gift of love from a church member.

    God is love. We should just love our neighbors, and God will figure the rest of it for us.

    1. Bob,
      Thank you so much for those words!

      The gift card is a practical idea and easily arranged. I'll find out which restaurants are near them.

    2. BOB...I just love that idea of a gift card...an evening away, on your friends who gave it to you....thanks for a perfect idea.

      Also, AOW, I rec'd $300 from a woman I barely knew...and have been sworn to secrecy about who she is (she's someone whose niece you'd all know, by the way..all)...She wrote a note with it that said "Your husband would have loved to give you a Christmas gift this year....go spend this on something nice for yourself." I was stunned.
      So kind, huh?

      I love this idea of a dinner out on a gift card...just wonderful...a reminder that people care, and a way to escape what's going on for a couple of hours...at least away from the other relatives, etc!

  19. Just let it be known that you will listen. You never know, maybe your advice on the children's education will be needed. It will take time for the real needs to be known.

    by William Stafford

    They tell how it was, and how time
    came along, and how it happened
    again and again. They tell
    the slant life takes when it turns
    and slashes your face as a friend.

    Any wound is real. In church
    a woman lets the sun find
    her cheek, and we see the lesson:
    there are years in that book; there are sorrows
    a choir can’t reach when they sing.

    Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
    places where the scars will be.

  20. Please know that I appreciate all your comments and am reading each one when tome allows.

    I'm sure that you'll understand that I'm not in a frame of mind to respond to each comment individually.

  21. Gift Card - A 50's age girl at work recently was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer and it has spread already. It seem impersonal to throw money at something bu t what can anyone who knows here do. The company sponsored a donation event to help with expenses and collected 3300 the first week. It will help them and it will help in ways that being a listener or any other words possible could. So, yea, gift card is a great idea.

  22. Another therapeutic technique for dealing with grief from my past just occurred to me.

    Instead of trying to console or give "sage advice" to the aggrieved, instead ASK for their OPINIONS and ask for their ADVICE on how to deal with problems in areas not related to the tragedy.

    If you are in close proximity, instead of talking directly about the sources of pain and anguish, ask the victims of grief to accompany you on a shopping trip, have lunch with you, go to a movie or a play or a concert or a museum exhibit with you, spend time together playing cards, or board games, getting involved in a joint project. ANYTHING that allows you to share yourself without intruding on their sorrow.

    Nothing could be more irritating than giving "advice" such as, "You know what you ought to do? Get our of yourself. Stop thinking about it. Think of the children instead of yourself," and all that.

    Playing Checkers, or Canasta, or Parcheesi or Anagrams –– ANYTHING is better than harping on the pain.

    1. FT,
      I think that the immediate family members have already moved away from harping on the pain although there will certainly be an outpouring of grief at the funeral. Trust funds for education have already been established for the young man's two children.

      Distant relatives have begun to arrive, and a flurry of activity surrounds their arrival -- meeting the relatives at the airport, getting guest rooms ready, etc. The grandchildren, who were sent to grandparents' homes, will be returning in a few days.

      There is, of course, the ongoing struggle to try to determine the sequence of events that night. The timeline is still blurry.

  23. Empathy from a Sister in Sorrow


    When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
    you must count yourself lucky.
    You must offer her what’s left
    of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
    you must put aside
    and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
    her eyes moving from the clock
    to the television and back again.
    I am not afraid. She has been here before
    and now I can recognize her gait
    as she approaches the house.
    Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
    I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
    and count her steps
    from the street to the porch.
    Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
    tells me to write down
    everyone I have ever known
    and we separate them between the living and the dead
    so she can pick each name at random.
    I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
    because she misses Texas
    but I don’t ask why.
    She hums a little,
    the way my brother does when he gardens.
    We sit for an hour
    while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
    crying in the check-out line,
    refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
    all the smoking and all the drinking.
    Eventually she puts one of her heavy
    purple arms around me, leans
    her head against mine,
    and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
    So I tell her,
    things are feeling romantic.
    She pulls another name, this time
    from the dead
    and turns to me in that way that parents do
    so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
    Romantic? She says,
    reading the name out loud, slowly
    so I am aware of each syllable
    wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
    the sound of that person’s body
    and how reckless it is,
    how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.

    by Matthew Dickman

  24. Hi AoW. Having been through this at least 3 times, most recently last year, I have found trying to find something to say is difficult at best. Anything rehearsed ahead of time will come out stilted.

    Especially if this person was close/extended family remember that YOU are still grieving too. Better to grieve with them, along side them. That is the best kind of support you can give right now. Knowing you are there for them and WITH them speaks louder than any words you can try to come up with.

    And as you are doing this you will probably find the words will come.

    Phil's suicide is still very fresh for me, in no small part because I still work with a number of people who knew him and have for a boss the man who may have pushed him to the brink.

    So if you want or need to please feel free to call email or text.

    Until then may God bless and keep you and yours and may the angels rush your loved one to the face of God and may He let him be little again.

    1. Thanks, MR.

      In the case of this young man, it's already clear that he was pushed to the brink. Beyond that, I cannot say more in a public forum.

      The parents of this young man are not "working through" this right now. Nothing cathartic is happening nor has happened before now, either. Major depression has set in for these parents. I worry about their health; all the parents have chronic medical conditions.


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